I have been scheming. I have some high hopes of big rides this summer and in an effort to wrap my mind around being on my bike all day, I did what I thought best, incrementally increase the distance of rides I do by being on my bike all day. So, I decided to see what this whole Randonneuring thing was all about.
Leaving my apartment late for the Birkie 200k left little time to sort out the details of cuesheet, controls, and clothing. Being my longest ride and first official Brevet ever, it seemed fitting that everything not fall directly into place. There must be setbacks! At seven am, everyone left the parking lot of the Mcmenamin’s Grand Lodge in Forest Grove that doubles as the start/finish line for many of the Oregon Randonneur events.
While everyone took off, I was still getting all my kitten’s in a group in the parking lot. Jacket or no jacket, booties or no booties? These were the pressing questions of the morning as I continued pulling my arm warmers on and whacked myself in the face with my sleepy grip. I finally got my Garmin turned on and the route up on the screen as I was heading out of the parking lot when I made a left turn that should have been a right. Luckily, I realized this only about a quarter mile out, so my initial 5 minute delay to the rear of the group was now more like 20 minutes.
Much of the traffic in the early morning hours leaving the town of Forest Grove is, as you can probably guess, made up of two types of motorized recreational vehicles: large wide boats attached to hulking tank-sized trucks, and gun-toting OHV users with two or three quads piggy-back strapped to the back of a hulking tank sized truck as well. With not much of a shoulder on Gales Creek Road, this made for a very enchanting display of manliness. Needless to say, I was taken by their Red Bull fueled advances to my spandex-clad figure with nothing short of reason and understanding.
Crossing Highway 8 towards the town of Timber began what I imagined of Randonneuring - quiet mountain roads and far-reaching coastal mountain vistas. Leaving my mind to the sound of tires buzzing on the pavement, I started passing those that were doing more meandering than I prefer. With the intention of enjoying a bit more solitude, we shared a few nice words and I casually went on my way. From here I was left to reflect on what I ride like this means to me.
For those unfamiliar with Randonneuring, it is comprised of rides that are shorter than 100k (62 miles), called a Populaire and rides longer than 100k called, a Brevet. They are uncompetitive in nature, but you will surely hear talk of place and pace throughout the day and it is only natural for humans to compete for course records. Once registered ($25 yearly membership to Oregon Randonneurs) you will receive a control sheet the day of the race that has you acquire a time a stamp and signature from desired control’s along the course or answer a question if it is a more rural checkpoint, such as, “What color are the zip ties around the “Rough Road Ahead” sign on the right after the sweeping left hand turn?”
Randonneuring or Audax, as it is commonly called in many parts of the world, has a long history stringing together two cities farther apart than is typical for a leisurely ride. The Paris-Brest-Paris is the golden ticket of Randonneuring that requires riders to qualify by accomplishing rides of lesser distances for the chance to ride with several thousand of your closest friends for 1200 kilometers (750 miles) in France.
It seems that most of the riders that I met that day had once done Paris-Brest-Paris (PBP) or were preparing/hoping for a chance to ride the quadrennial event. In an event of PBP length, of which there are several, it is common for many to casually pull out their incredibly minimal sleeping shelter or nothing at all, and pull over for a quick nap on the side of the road. There are also those who will reserve a room and make a week of it, enjoying the sights and sounds of France in August.
A real understanding and confident smile came across the face of the cashier at the Shell station in Vernonia as I pulled out my cuesheet for the first control of the ride. She knew my business and graciously signed my card while I filled up with water for the ride up Highway 47 and 202 to our turn around just pass Birkenfeld.
The ride up the Nehalem River was unexpected. Blessed on this sunny Saturday with very little traffic on what I thought might be a busy stretch of road, I felt back in tune with the hum of my tires on the varying textures of asphalt as I smiled my way down the quiet road. Valleys laden with verdant farm plots staggered by a highway twisting through steep forested canyon walls kept the ‘long ride number games’ in my head at bay. One of my favorite things about long bike rides is that feeling after having been “away” for awhile on this trip, then slowly seeing mailboxes more frequently as you roll into a township.
Just past the town of Birkenfeld I hit the turnaround point, and rolling back through I decided to stop at a small town bar called The Birk, for a fluid purge and refill. Making up for small town resources with big musical acts, The Birk is a spirited music venue with a pulse. Decorated to the hilt with memorabilia, its 106-year-old old growth wood walls provide warmth and comfort. I can only imagine what this place is like with a full band on stage, Treager cooked bacon burger in face, and a back porch on the edge of Clatsop State Forest to let the sound carry.
Being an out-and-back course, the remainder of the ride was on familiar roads. A spicy V-8 and Snicker’s bar took care of my electrolyte/LBS (Low Blood Sugar) problem. I got my card signed for the last checkpoint on my way back to Forest Grove. With about 30 miles left, the excitement of finishing started creeping in. After all, the best thing about doing long rides is being done.
If you are looking to get out and push your limits on what distances are capable to you, randonneuring provides you with a fun, relaxing, friendly group of inspired people to help you get there.