Last year, after I had successfully done two centuries back to back, I was feeling pretty good and looking to taking my riding to the next level. As if the World Wide Web read my mind, I came across this line about randonneuring: “If you have done a century and are looking for the ‘next’ challenge, [randonneuring] may be it.”* All right, I thought to myself. I’ll try it. The 200K sounds like my next move– if I can do 100 miles, 124 miles should be achievable.
The Eastern Shore Flatbread ride sounded like it would fit the bill– hey, the terrain is flat! How hard could it be? I somehow convinced my fellow bicycling buddy J to join me, although she had some reservations. We decided to stay at a hotel on the Eastern Shore the night before, get a good dinner and a good night’s sleep, then head over to the start point early Saturday morning.
We made it to the start point a little later than intended, but all was well at the beginning. I unloaded my bike and began to put some air in my tires. I unscrewed the Presta valve cap of my rear tire– it broke off between my fingers. And that’s where my troubles began.
“J, I have a problem,” I said, and showed her the cap. “Oh, wow,” she said, “Do you have a spare tube? Can you change it quickly?” Up to this point, I’ve only ever changed the tube to my front wheel, not the back, and I was a little worried about the gears. She offered to change it for me while I ran over to the registration table to sign us in and get our brevet cards. Cards in hand, I ran back to the parking lot– and heard a bang! Hoping that that sound wasn’t what I thought it was, I went back to J.
“Was that my tube that exploded?” I asked hesitantly. “Yeah,” she replied, “I didn’t seat the tube in the rim right.” She was now installing her spare tube on my wheel– we had no spares left for the ride. Once we got the tube installed, correctly inflated, and the wheel back on the bike, we went over to the start– and all the riders were leaving the lot. We missed the introductions and hurriedly finished the registration before hopping on the bike and following the group.
“If we can keep up with the group for a while,” J said, “I think that would be good–” as we watched the pack take off and disappear from view. sigh. We were on our own. No problem– we’ll ride together.
The morning was chilly, but beautiful. We rode through fields and watched the sun rise. And then– the wind. Headwinds, side winds, buffeting us so strongly that it was a struggle to pedal. The wind roared in my ears so that I couldn’t hear anything else. J and I took turns drafting each other as best we could.
We got to Milford, Delaware, and stopped at Dolce Bakery, a welcome treat. I got a delicious pumpkin roll and iced tea, which perked me up. As we were sitting at the bakery, J noticed I had a pin stuck on my rear tire, and pulled it out. There was a bike shop further down the road, and eagerly, we rode to it– only to find that it was closed. We kept going.
Whew! We made it to the first control point at Slaughter Beach with plenty of time to spare. We rode to the beach and sat at the picnic area. There, we met a fellow rider, Rich, who was also a first-timer and rode on a recumbent bike. We chatted as we munched on the lunches we brought and enjoyed the ocean view. Rich took off first, and we were about to head out shortly thereafter– when I noticed that my rear tire was completely flat. ugh!
We went back to the control, on the off chance that the shopkeeper happened to have a spare tube lying around. No such luck. Luckily, J and I had patch kits, so it was then a matter of finding the hole in the tube and patching it up. One of the men thoughtfully brought out a bucket of water so that we could discern the hole easily. Found it– once again, J deftly fixed up the tube, put the wheel back on, and we were on our way.
Unfortunately, this repair job lost us a lot of time, and I was worried we weren’t going to make it to the next control before it closed. Worse, what if the patch didn’t hold? I couldn’t bear to think about it. I began praying in my head as we pedaled, please let me finish the ride. Please let me finish the ride.
When we got to the penultimate control, I tentatively asked the cashier, “Did we make it in time?” He told us we did. “But you’re late,” he admonished. “Everyone else got here at 11.” That stung, but not as much as realizing what the consequences of being so late meant– that we were going to have to contend with riding in the dark.
We saw the sun sink down the horizon and disappear. It grew dark, and the stars appeared. We turned our lights on– our lights weren’t high-powered enough to illuminate the road, but mine were just bright enough to see a few feet in front of us. With no streetlights to guide us for miles, we pedaled cautiously but quickly in pitch darkness. We had to stop every so often to check the cue sheet and check the GPS to make sure we were on course.
And then, a miracle happened. We saw the nearly full moon grow brighter, bright enough to light the way. It was magical, and was a great help at the right time.
We kept riding, losing sense of time, elevation, and distance. The last few miles seemed to go on forever. And then, just before our last turn, we saw a car parked on the side of the road– and two men came out.
“Hey! Are you J and Lisa?” one of them called out. “Yes!” we shouted. “We’re just coming to check up on you. You’re making good time– you’re almost done,” they replied. Relieved, we thanked them, and they promised to meet us at the finish. With renewed energy, we kept on, and true to their word, we saw them at the restaurant. We did it!
Chip and Bill congratulated us for completing the brevet, and after a few photos were taken, we headed inside to turn in our cards. We made it with 9 minutes to spare! Amazing!
I am so very grateful for Chip, Clint, and Bill, for the volunteers, for MG for giving us advice that proved to be very valuable, for R who was there at the finish to take me home, and most importantly, for J, who was a great riding companion– I really couldn’t have done it without you! Thank you all so much for making my first randonneuring experience an adventure I’ll always remember.