I rode 75.2 miles on my bike on Good Friday — from my house near downtown Fort Worth, into the rolling ranchland to the west, and back to my house.
I was whupped at the end, beaten up by the humidity and hellacious wind and fighting off quad cramps. The four younger friends I was riding with patiently waited for me as I walked off the cramps on a long stretch of rolling hills that took us directly into a southerly wind.
My goal for the day was 75 miles. Despite the pain and discomfort, I finished, and I was pleased. Not bad for an old guy, I figured.
But then I had another, humbling, thought: Damn, if I were Jeremy Shlachter, I’d still have 300 miles to go.
Jeremy, nearly 40 years my junior, a longtime friend, neighbor and custom bike builder, is a randonneur — a long-distance endurance cyclist who racks up ridiculous mileages on a single ride.
On the previous weekend, for example, Jeremy had ridden 600 kilometers (375 miles) in 27 hours and 6 minutes on a course mapped out around Italy, Texas, south of Dallas. That’s 20 miles more than the distance between Chicago and Minneapolis, and just 18 miles short of the distance between Boston and Washington, D.C.
Jeremy’s 600-kilometer ride was the last in a series of endurance events to qualify him for the grandaddy competition of randonneuring, a 1,200-kilometer (745.6-mile) ride from Paris to Brest on the Atlantic coast of France and back to Paris.
This year’s Paris-Brest-Paris event, held every four years in August, will be Aug. 21-25. A competitor has to finish the 1,200-kilometer course in 90 hours to receive the prestigious PBP finisher’s medal and have his or her name entered into the event’s Le Grande Livre (“The Great Book”) along with every other finisher dating back to the first Paris-Brest-Paris ride in 1891.
All would-be participants in the Paris-Brest-Paris event must do a “Super Randonneur” series of “brevets,” or rides, of 200, 300, 400 and 600 kilometers in the year of PBP and finish the series by mid-June. The qualifying rides are overseen by the governing body of randonneuring in each participant’s country. The governing body for the United States is RUSA, or Randonneurs USA. The club for North Texas, which organizes and monitors randonneuring events, is Lone Star Randonneurs.
During a randonneuring event, the clock runs continuously. Participants ride through the night, sleeping as little as possible, sometimes catching a brief catnap beside the road before continuing.
For his final qualifying brevet, Jeremy took along, on one of his own custom-built bikes, spare inner tubes, lights, a camera, eight “bonk-breaker” bars, 10 hammer gels, four power burritos, three vegan bologna and pickle sandwiches and two packages of electrolyte tablets.
“One of my favorite things about randonneuring is that you don’t ‘get’ anything for participating in the ride,” he wrote on his blog. “No one handing you Gatorade and orange slices at a rest stop, no event T-shirt that ends up in the back of your closet or as a shop rag, no finisher medals or photographers trying to sell you unkempt pics of you sweaty and exhausted. Just the satisfaction and experience of the ride.”
He says he “should be in great shape” for the Aug. 21 start of the Paris-Brest-Paris ride and that he just hopes to finish within the 90-hour time limit and “make it into Le Grande Livre.”
I posted a note on Facebook on Friday about my own 75-mile ride, a piddling distance compared to Jeremy’s brevets. But the note and an accompanying photograph of me and my fellow riders prompted a nice comment from a Facebook friend: “And here I was feeling good about going 16 miles today. Thanks for showing me how much more work I gotta do to call myself a cyclist!”
Thanks, Mark, but everything is relative. And whether the distance is 16 miles, 75 miles, 375 miles or 745 miles, it’s all about the finish.