Photo by Jason DeVarennes

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Domestique to a Brand New Randonneuse

The greatest blog post ever written was almost ready to be published when I added one more link and lost the whole thing! Darn auto-save! I've tried to rewrite it, but it's not as good. What follows is the 2nd attempt... 

I met Constance Winters about 18 months ago on a Thursday morning ladies rides from Ride Studio Cafe. I was made aware of her very popular blog a few months prior and had become a fan. Constance is actually a pseudonym, and since she introduced herself with her real name, I didn't make the connection right away. But as we were riding along, I realized that I was in the presence of a celebrity, and suddenly blurted out, "Are you Lovely Bicycle?" To which she shyly replied, yes. We continued riding and chatting until we got back to RSC. Finding we had some common interests, we decided to get together again for more rides.

Constance initially cycled purely for transportation. Her blog focused heavily on bikes and clothes and such for the utilitarian cyclist. But she had also started to explore the realm of cycling for fun and sport, and was starting to do more and longer recreational rides.

We met a few times over the next few months for rides, including this one. I was quite surprised when I read that post, as I had recalled that she was smiling throughout the ride. Maybe she was just gritting her teeth. Fortunately, despite that less than stellar ride report, she continued to join me for more rides, including some with dirt roads and challenging climbs. And we soon developed a warm friendship.

Over the spring and summer, Constance completed many longer and more challenging recreational rides, including an overnight ride, and a few dirt road events. She also volunteered to work on the local 600km brevet, where she was seemingly inspired to consider riding some of these long and rule-riddled rides that we call randonnees.

This year, she planned to take part in the first ride of the New England Randonneur's calendar, a 100km populaire. She seemed a bit concerned about the overall distance, since she would have to add about half again as much distance riding to and from the start. I felt confident she could do it. In the meantime I was planning to my own Haystack Permanent a few weeks prior to the NER ride, and invited folks to join me. Constance and half a dozen folks did exactly that. She rode to and from the start, and completed the entire ride within the time limit and with a smile on her face - really. I checked for gritted teeth this time. The next week, Ride Studio Cafe had a rando-seaon kickoff ride and party, and Constance again did the ride, plus riding to and from the start. And then a couple of weeks later knocked off the NER populaire.

I'm not quite sure when she began to consider the 200km brevet. But since she already had done multiple 100km rides plus bonus miles to and from, it wouldn't be a big leap to do the 200km. However the route is based on one of my own routes and is scenic, which is another way of saying it's very hilly. It would be a challenge, but I had every confidence she would complete the ride. I sometimes joke that brevets bring out the stubborn people - the people who just stick to it and get it done. I knew she wouldn't give up.

Anyway a few days prior to the brevet, she joined my Tuesday RSC ride, saying if it went well she'd do the 200km brevet. As part of my cunning plan to get her addicted to randonneuring, I stuck with her that day to ensure she had a good ride.  At the end of the ride, we bumped into our friend Emily O'Brien back at the studio, and learned she would be away for the weekend so would miss the brevet. I was sad as I'd been hoping to ride with Emily. Emily and I have done a few rides together this spring and we are riding at a very similar pace these days. Upon hearing Emily would be away, Constance said "Ride with me." And while I knew she was kidding, I ashamed to say that I laughed it off, due to our differences in speed.

On the way home, I replayed a conversation I'd had recently with some female racers regarding getting more women into the sport. My response had been, "Just ride with them." Not every training ride has to be full-on. In fact, not every race has to be full-on. If you want to grow the sport, take the time to ride with the new gals and show them the ropes. A little nurturing goes a long way.

Well what a hypocrite I am.

I got home and fired off an email to Constance. "Let's plan to ride the 200km together." She immediately responded that she was only kidding and never expected me to ride with her on a timed event given our speed differences. I responded that it was about a fun-time not a fast-time. With 13.5 hours allowed, we would have no problem officially completing the event. Everyone gets the same credit, regardless of finishing in 7 hours or 13.

The one caveat was that I was leaving the next day to go to NC. I had sold my father's house had planned to go down to sign papers. But my father also has some on-going health issues and I'd need to go to a few doctor's appointments too. I wasn't sure if I'd actually be back in time. As luck would have it, I caught a flight late Friday. I didn't get a lot of sleep, but I did make it to the ride start.

I bumped into a bunch of old friends and we chatted briefly. Then I spotted Constance. She seemed more subdued than usual, but she was ready to ride. We headed out in a small crowd, that soon thinned down to 4 as we started up the first notable climb. I rode along chatting with another rider. When we reached the top, I stopped to adjust some clothing and wait for Constance, while the others pressed on. When she reached the top, she told me to go on, that she really didn't expect to ride with me. I told her she was stuck with me for the day. 
While I had every confidence that she could complete the ride, I know from my own experience how nice it is to have company. The time and miles just pass faster when you aren't so focused on the ride!
I also vowed to myself not to get separated like that again. I have an advantage on the climbs, not due to strength, but the gearing on my bike. I have a compact double, with 50/34 chainrings and a massive cassette, ranging from 12-36. This gives me a wide range of gears, including a low one that's less than 1 to 1. I may not use that gear often, but it's good to have when I need or want it. My philosophy, which I must credit to Fear Rothar, is "Better Looking at it than For it." This applies to gears, clothes, tools, etc. With my low-low gear, I can always just shift down and spin along beside. It's not like when I'm riding fixed and have to maintain momentum to get up the hills.

Constance has a low gear of 34X29, not nearly as low as mine. And I know she prefers a high cadence. We talked about how to get lower gears with her preferred shifters, and hopefully she can get this worked out.

Down to just the two of us, and on quieter roads, we did the next climb side by side, rolling along at a good pace. Maybe she felt she was on fire, but something reminded her that she had left a pair of bike shorts in the oven, and she'd need to stop to phone home. I was laughing so hard when she made the call, that I'm not sure if she gave basting instructions or just said they were done and time to come out!

The terrain for the next while was quite gentle, and we made good time and enjoyed the sight of lovely apple blossoms and other signs of spring - finally! Then we started up the first really big climb. I joked that it was the Pommes Frites climb, as we were going up Tater Road. Maybe I still had that vision of shorts baking away in the oven. We did this climb, side by side, again with me spinning away in a low gear. I know this route in my sleep, and was able to tell Constance where the gradient would ease off and start back up and where the best views are. Next thing we knew we were flying down into the first control in New Boston, seeing a few folks on the little bit of overlap on the return leg.

I headed into the store where I bought a delicious home-baked chocolate muffin, a cookie and an iced coffee. Constance checked out the food table at the control and told me she couldn't eat anything sweet or crunchy or with bread. Hmmm, I thought, what does that leave? A short while later she came out of the store with two bun-less hotdogs with a little relish on top. As long as it's appetizing to you, I say eat whatever you want on these rides! Just head out at digestive pace, so it stays down.

We continued chatting away about anything and everything as we rode, and I think Constance barely noticed the next climb. Near the top, I pointed out a feature on her GPS, that displays the predicted route profile and shows where you are. She was quite surprised we'd just climbed something big. I use this feature mainly to know when to put warm clothes back on for a descent in unknown terrain. But for this route, I didn't need the GPS. I knew we had a fun swoopy descent down into Purgatory (Falls).

The next climb is the toughest on the route. I had noticed earlier when looking through the cue sheet, that the organizer had eliminated the reward of the view above Paradise Farm, presumably to shorten the ride (my route is a bit over 200km). I had no intention of missing the reward of Paradise after descending into Purgatory, so I told Constance I would ride all the way to the top and swing back around and meet her at the info control on the lower road. It was a lovely clear sunny day and the 360 degree view was amazing. The Monadnock range to the north just glistened. Hopefully this part of the route will get put back in next year.

Next up was a very fast descent into Wilton and then a long gentle climb that would take us to the highpoint on the route in Temple. The store there would serve as an unmanned control. Constance asked if this store had similar fare to the one in New Boston. I told her of one ride where I lunched on hohos and bottle Frappucino after finding the pickings slim. This time I was in better luck and found some good cheddar cheese and a drink. See, I don't really live on hohos and coffee alone! My main other source of nutrients on this day was coming from Probars, my favorite on the bike snacks. Constance found a frozen hamburger and a microwave.

We saw a couple of riders here and I warned them about the rough roads for the next 10 miles. The road leaving Temple has always been a bit bumpy, but this winter took its toll and it was even more so. Still it was dead quiet and had some nice views. Neither of us took many photos on the ride, but we did both stop to get a shot of the dam/waterfall in Greenville before heading up the next climb to the "wow" view. Years ago, Fear Rothar and I were returning from a day of x-c skiing, when we stumbled upon this view. We decided that we would design a ride around this view, and that ride eventually became the 200km. The second year that the route was used, it was arrowed and someone painted "wow" on the road. So ever since then, this has been known as the "wow" view. It lived up to expectations on this day. We rolled along the ridge, until Constance could take it no longer and just had to take a photo. This ride must have been torture for her without a proper camera. She loves to take photos, and I've heard her say many times is that her goal is to get strong enough to be able to stop and take photos on these events. We actually stayed for a while watching a stunt plane do loops that would have made me toss my lunch!

After "wow", it was another quick descent and the final big climb up to Parker's Maple Sugar Barn. Sadly Parker's is not an official control, but it probably wouldn't be such a good idea to linger over a pancake breakfast at this stage of the ride. We continued on past the mini-lighthouse and covered bridges at the bottom of the hill and to the penultimate control in Brookline.

Now we were on the home stretch. More nice views and rolling hills and apple blossoms followed. Constance continued to smile and we continued to talk. We took occasional breaks to stretch, but she was still keeping up a brisk pace, and smiling. We took a quick break 15 miles from the finish, and as we started back up, I paraphrased one of Sir Edmund Hilary's well known quotes. Not this one: "It is not the mountain we conquer but ourselves." But this one: "Well, George, we knocked the bastard off." when I suggested we were within striking distance and could "knock the bastard off."

The next few miles flew by. I don't think my companion's tires even touched the ground. She was floating on a cloud. Every mile marked a new longest ride for her, and the reality was that she was about to become an official randonneuse. I think she could have eaten a banana sideways, given that ear to ear grin.

We arrived back at Hanscom to applause, and I managed to snap a photo on my phone of Constance with her completed card. What a rewarding day. I am so proud to have helped make the day fun and to witness as Constance truly got hooked and reeled in to the world on randonneuring. There's no turning back now!

Do you want the sport to grow? Nurture it. You will be rewarded!


  1. I came to read your previously failed post ... and ended up over on Lovely Bicycle.

    Constance is the second newbie randonneuse that I've seen describe Populaires as being 50-150 kms. I can't imagine where that is coming from. Anyway, I left a congratulatory and "nice write-up" comment; I also noted the correct distance for Pops and Perm-Pops.

    If needed, you had better vouch for me as being a reasonable person. (I don't know how to make a "scowling emoticon.")


    1. Oh, yeah: it seems you did a better newbie initiation than Jerry and I did.

      Wait a minute: Constance's newbie initiation was actually on your Haystack Pop --> you left the newbie alone just as JP and I did. At least we had Robert (who later told me he was recalling April-2010 when riding with Brad and Greg).

      Anyway, nice post.

    2. Hi M - Thanks for stopping by my blog. I re-paste my reply to you here:

      The Populaire distance was from a reputable ACP-affiliated source, which I forget at the moment and can't find via a quick online search. However, the Audax UK site seems to agree (here), unless I am misreading it.

    3. See my response on your blog.

      BTW, I used my actual name on your blog.

    4. By the way Martin -

      Everyone is different in this, but I don't really see being left alone s a bad thing. Sometimes it's better than pressuring a beginner to ride at a pace that makes them feel miserable or inadequate. Then again I have a high tolerance for being on my own and enjoy riding alone. I did Pamela's 2nd Permanent (Blue Moon) that way, and it was fabulous.

    5. Martin,

      You are correct that I left Constance alone with her camera on the Haystack ride. But she did tell me up front that she would be stopping to use this antique device called a film camera and to leave her in peace to do so!

      As far as populaire distances, I'm quite happy that RUSA allows flexibility in distances for *permanents*, as opposed to arbitrary round numbers. This allows me to create a route based on nice quiet roads and scenery, rather than trying to squeeze something in to fit a round number. I think the confusion here may me that the AUKs have some official populaires that have to meet those round number criteria, similar to ACP brevets.

      It is the fact that this 200km is an ACP brevet that caused the organizer to cut short the full Paradise climb, as well as trading a quiet road for a busier, shorter option, trying to get as close to 200km as possible, since the time limit on an ACP 200km event is set at 13.5 hours regardless of actual length. For a RUSA (vs ACP) event, the times are based on actual distance. How's that for confusing. See why I call it a rule-riddled sport!

    6. Hey, Pamela, you know I'm (mostly) just yanking your chain about leaving C/V alone, whether that chain be fixed or of a honey style. After all, I rode off the front of Brad and Greg (and Robert) on that "Beach" ride. :-/

      I would have typed "engaging in banter," but the chain-thing came to mind half-way through typing that first sentence.
      V/C, I understand about riding alone. In 2011, I did 10 solo Perms (each 200 to 208 kms, plus some cycling to and from the start/finish for most of those). Last year, I managed to do not a single solo Perm, as people did insist on riding with me, blah, blah. Anyway, this year, I've already managed to SNEAK in two solo Perms (210k in Jan, 201k last weekend); I typed SNEAK because I didn't let anyone (other than the route-owner of the 2nd ride) know I was going to do either ride. Solo can be quiet relaxing, esp. for the brain.

      Also, as I explained to my buddy, Ricochet Robert, before his first credited RUSA ride (he did 2 brevets as a non-member before joining), I had learned on the first 400k I did that the bungee-cord that defines "riding with" on rando rides is a lot longer than the bungee-cord defining "with" on a club ride. On that first Ricochet perm ride, I was struggling and Ricochet was very upbeat bouncy; I finally pointed up the road, and Robert asked, "long bungee-cord?" I replied, "yep." Several miles later, I was again ready to be sociable as I had gotten through that purgatory moment.

      One more thing, V/C, you can probably trust Pamela on almost all things cycling and rando, but maybe not on how to keep track of your control card. :-O

      Enjoy the ride,

    7. Being semi-serious for a moment: your mentoring had I much better outcome than a lame effort I made last year: Fracquaintance Karen's July 'Egypt Mtn' report.

      My view of that ride.

      On Labor Day Sunday, when temps were expected to be a bit cooler, Karen and I tried MikeD's "Black Creek" perm (a mostly flat, officially 204k route). It was shaping up as deja vu (all over again, as is sometimes redundantly said); then, Karen's ride ended quite suddenly.

      After that September abandon, Karen decided that the 200k rides, and the R-12, was not for her. All her cycling friends and acquaintances have told her the same thing: "your saddle is too high and you are cramping because you are riding toe-down ALL the time. She once lowered her saddle some, but in less than 2 rides decided she didn't like it.

      Oh, well ...

  2. Pamela, I was both touched and embarrassed to read this. Embarrassed only because I do not like being the subject of posts. Everything you've written is accurate.

    You forgot to mention how afraid I was of you when we first started riding together! That seems hilarious in retrospect. I remember asking you "Will there be any hills? Will there be any hills? Is this THE HILL or not yet??" on every ride. Oh God.

    Thanks for reminding me about that little club ride last spring! I must have blocked it out, because I forgot that I wrote a post about it. I cannot believe that I once found it so difficult. The 200K went a lot easier in comparison!

    I think it is fair to say that in a sense you taught me how to ride a bike. I am not talking about this brevet, but the year and a half leading up to it. As you know, I have some balance/coordination problems and am extremely resistant to coaching, but you seem to know how to deal with me. Over time, I began to trust you and eventually would simply do whatever you told me. It's been working so far.

    Thank you does not seem like enough, so I won't even say it.

    See you soon.

    1. V/C,

      Apologies for any embarrassment. And I haven't taught you to ride a bike. I may have tried to steer you in the direction of fun rides, dirt roads and hills. Just glad that you keep coming back.

  3. Pamela,

    Thank you for this lovely post! I started with your website (pre-blog, I think) when I first became interested in brevet riding. I am a huge fan of yours and have been a huge fan of "V/C" ever since I stumbled upon her blog. I am an older rider who recently restarted cycling and completed my first 200K a year ago. It has taken me a full year to recover from that, and I will be attempting my second in a few days. As such, I am unbelievably impressed that "V/C" bicycled to the start of her first 200K! Thanks to you and "V/C" for all the wonderful reading over the years.

    1. I love hearing that I have at least one long time reader :-) Here's hoping you recover from the 2nd 200km faster than the first!

  4. Could you please explain further the GPS feature of profile preview?

    1. This is a feature on the Garmin Edge 800 (and possibly the 500). With a downloaded track, one can see the predicted route profile on the elevation page. There is a little circle that shows where you are! (This is not available on the 705, so I don't actually have it on my device. I have to ask Fear Rothar! It's the one thing that makes me consider getting a new device!)

    2. Thanks for the info which explains why I did'nt know about it as we are way behind and have a 605!

  5. Beautiful post Pamela! It is fun to read about the same ride from the other side. I am truly envious of the many ride opportunities in your area, though, there may be similar opportunities here that I am simply unaware of. Anyway, thanks for the long-distance motivation.

    1. Paul,

      I clicked on your profile. If the location is right, you are quite close to one of the most active randonneuring groups around, the DC randonneurs.

    2. Thanks for the tip. I just found them on line and joined. I see another couple of bloggers I follow (MG and Felkerino) are members of that group. Looking forward to making some connections.

  6. I appreciate the sentiment of nurturing and helping out new riders. While I have been riding for years and years, a bad car accident curtailed my riding and have trouble with distance, or at least finding a comfortable enough set up to handle distance. It's embarrassing considering what I used to be able to do. Anyway, I love bikes, bike blogs, and fully intended to get into randonneuring last year, but I got sick with something that caused me to lose my balance. It eventually settled down but still too late to start the brevet season this year for the populaires and shorter rides....and then just recently did something to make the hernia my doctor didn't think existed into a real bad one and can barely ride! I do not have a car, live in the country so this is frustrating as I like to be self reliant! So, another season scratched. At least I live in the PNW and can ride year round. The BC Randonneurs are quite active, but not in my area. Hopefully I will be moving to an area where there is an active group and get going next year. Their rules on permanents are that they must be 200km, while RUSA says they can be 100km, right? I'd be happy to do shorter permanents once I'm up and running again. Oh well.

    I also live in an area where people are afraid to road ride(it's all downhill and mountain biking) and do not have any female riding friends, which would really be nice. It's strange as it is right outside of Vancouver which has a high bike riding population and I have always biked no matter where I lived. I ride with my husband whom is a much stronger rider, and until lovely canadian health care deems me worthy of surgery, I will be sitting at home pouting except for basic 20km rides to town for groceries. I am used to riding alone(other than husband), but would really like the support of some women riders when I am ready to go.

  7. Simply put, I immensely appreciate this blog. I can't relate to your experiences as a competitive cyclist but am passionate about bicycles and bicycling and all that the lifestyle brings to one's life. I especially enjoy that you don't use a pseudonym and are not elusive in any way. You're insightful and humorous and humble. It helps to connect, knowing that you're real, and that's what life is all about. Keep it up Pamela Blayley!!