In 1987, as a young naive randonneuse, I headed off to France to attempt PBP. For various reasons, I ended up starting the event on a brand new bike, with somewhat untested equipment. It didn't go well, and I was initiated into Team Randonneé Abondonneé. You may have heard the AAA advertisement, "Someday you'll break down and join AAA." Well, I'd might suggest that folks may be playing it too safe and aren't really pushing their own boundaries enough, if someday they don't eventually break down and join Randonneé Abondonneé (RA)!
And I'd even go so far as to say that becoming a member of Randonneé Abondonneé can be a great opportunity, as lessons learned from the experience really stick with you more than anything you read in a blog! And in the years since my initiation into RA, I have applied lessons learned on that ride to many parts of my life, not just cycling.
The critical equipment lesson for me in 1987 was regarding tires. I learned to check very carefully for more than one hole when you have a puncture. I was at the end of a paceline when I rode through a very recessed manhole cover, and ended up with multiple holes in both tires, all of which I didn't find until several punctures down the road. The second lesson was that folding French tires may not stay seated on rims without a hooked edge. Guess what kind of rims were on that new bike? My spare tire would not stay on the rim, and I ended up with almost a dozen punctures in the first 100 miles before I finally figured this all out. In the meantime, I had decided to quit and sent my riding partner on his way. But then another rider came along and convinced me to give it another try and keep going. And sure enough I didn't have another puncture.
But lesson number two came later that evening, when the second wave of starters caught up to me. One of the riders from that wave had been staying at my hotel in Paris and we had done some riding together prior to the event. He was surprised to find me so far off pace. We chatted a while and I told him of my woes, but that I was confident now that I had resolved the problem.
He wasn't so confident and spent the next few miles trying to convince me to quit, with tales of what if...
His words got into my head and I stopped and turned back, soon checking into a hotel and really calling it quits. The next day I headed into the next control and hung out, waiting for friends to come back through, eventually riding all the way back to Paris.
I have DNF'd a few other rides since, but never again because I listened to negative words, either from others or those in my own head. Randonneuring is 90% physical and 90% mental with a little luck thrown in. The physical part we can train for. The mental part requires a different type of training, but being prepared for those negative thoughts can make a big difference in the outcome. And knowing when to ignore the naysayers and when to listen because their advice is sound is a big part of the mental game.
It a tough call for others too. Where to draw the line at encouraging and when to point out a danger or risk. It's a 100F and the rider is not sweating and not eating and speaking incoherently - this is likely a time to intervene and try to help. But otherwise, my attitude is to encourage and provide positive feedback, and that's how I want to be treated.
I'm often doing rides that are stretching my comfort zone, either in length or hills or pace or temperature. Make no mistake, I'm riding because riding a bike is fun. But sometimes it's also difficult or challenging, and I get great satisfaction from overcoming an adversity, or accomplishing a goal.
Maybe I just need those endorphins! But this is what makes me a randonneur. And it's why I keep coming back after more than 25 years. This blog post actually says it far better than I ever could.
So anyway, regular readers know that a few weeks ago, I had another DNF - when I broke my collarbone 4kms from the end of a 200km ride. For a few seconds, I thought I could finish the ride, and maybe I could have walked to the finish within the time limit, but I took the easy option of a lift to the end and a lift to the hospital. Soft - like kitten.
I opted for surgery the next day and thanks to the miracle of modern medicine, along with 6 screws and a plate, and some good painkillers, I was soon able to move around and do normal daily things like tie my shoes and wash my hair.
The doctors told me to keep active and had me start Physical Therapy a week after the surgery. I quickly had full range of motion back in my left arm. But the recovery wasn't so miraculous as to allow me to take part in what had been a big focus for my season, Green Mountain Double Century, 6 days after the accident. John and I had been planning to ride the tandem. But I put on a brave face, and sent him on his way to ride a single bike with his teammates. I moped about after he left, but my friend Dena, got me to go out for a hike on the Saturday. It was a bit painful, especially when I was caught off-guard and flinched when a deer leapt across the trail in front of us. But it was a lovely day and not one to spend inside being depressed.
The next day, I sent email out for my weekly Tuesday ride, announcing a substitute leader, but saying I was hoping to be back soon. I got a reply back from someone who really doesn't know me at all. He suggested I should take up Bridge.
I saw the doctor that same Tuesday, and he again warned of the risk of falling and potentially doing more damage, but also suggested I ride in a controlled environment like the bike path. I pointed out the open roads were far safer than the bike path, and took it as a green light to get outside. We got out for another very short tandem ride the next day.
Now don't get me wrong. I'm not a daredevil. But I couldn't take anymore sitting around and doing nothing, and riding the bike was really no riskier than walking downtown. Heck I almost got run over while walking to PT by a rude driver in a Staples truck while I was in a marked crosswalk with a green pedestrian light.
Anyway a few days later, I got my bike back and finally got out on my own. I was very cautious, and certainly had to fight my own demons and fears to ride. But I did it, and I even managed to ride past the site of the accident. Stubborn - like mule.
We got out for another tandem ride over the weekend. Standing is a bit awkward, and I am a bit achy in the evenings, but it's no different on days when I ride versus those when I don't. So while I'm slow and avoiding hills, I am at least smiling and riding.
So I sent out an email that the Tuesday ride was on! In a slight concession to the heat wave and my own recovery, it would be shorter and flatter than usual. Ten folks joined me. But the same know-it-all who suggested Bridge got even more aggressive in telling me all the what-ifs, and that I shouldn't be outside on a bike.
Soft - like kitten, might not have been his first impression of my response. But the lesson I learned in 1987 was to drown out the negativity. And do what your body can do.