Photo by Jason DeVarennes

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Soft Like Kitten, Stubborn Like Mule

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.


  1. Hi Pamela,

    I have been a reader for a while, but rarely comment (not just on your blog), I like your informative blog, thanks.

    Good on you. So often people will project their own reservations and restrictions on to you, you must do what you feel is appropriate for your situation.

    Now for the advice, I have been propositioned with the prospect of riding a re-creation of the 5th stage of the 1903 TDF, Bordeaux to Nantes (264 Miles) in one go, and of course on a fixed. I am not at the level of fitness I think I need to be at for this kind of ride (it's not until next year though). I have ridden fixed before, but haven't done for a while now and I am unsure of the kind/amount of prep I would need to do for this kind of ride. Do you have any thoughts on how best to prepare for this kind of challenge? I've ridden long cycle tours before, but nothing of this length on a fixed in one continuous ride.

    Thanks in advance,


  2. I love this! Here's to your eventual full recovery. Glad you're still biking around in the interim within your limits.

  3. Best wishes for a speedy, full recovery! When I broke my arm in Berlin in 1996 (in a stupid, careless bike crash), I had to spend 4 weeks in a cast, with my right arm at a 95-degree angle. Fortunately, I could still bike with the cast on. My doctor might not have liked it, had I told him about it, but he never knew. The physical therapy after the cast came off was a lot worse than riding in a cast, but eventually I regained the full range of motion, and I got a weather forecaster in my right elbow as a bonus.

  4. Taking up Bridge? What kind of suggestion is that!!! Glad to hear you are back in the saddle.

  5. Like everyone here, wish you a full and speedy recovery!
    Under, perseverance is as much important as the physical strength!

  6. Well said, Pam.

    Someone once told me that the hardest part of any ride is stepping out the door, and a lot of times that's awfully true.

    Glad you're doing better but, yes, please do be careful while things heal up.

  7. Bridge? BRIDGE?!

    I'm reminded (oddly enough) of Julia Child, who liked the "idea" of bridge, but hated it in concept. After failing at bridge, she did that cooking thing we all love her for.

    I think of you as the Julia Child of cycling. You make us believe that the impossible (boeuf bourguignon/a double century full of hills) is possible, and even fun.

    Hope your recovery is swift and complete.

  8. I admire that you are back on the bike so soon! Mind you, I would have been as well if I were in the same situation. Just take it easy and make sure the injury is getting enough healing time. Wow, I don't wish to rebreak my collar bone, but if it could be fixed for real with surgery......what a difference it would make. After my major car accident I was told I would never do this that or the other and refused to accept it, had to overcome a great deal I was back on my bike after the first winter post accident, but have had to accept certain limitations, which I do not like. One thing I have come to realize that as a tiny woman I have not had a proper fitting bike for years and part of the problem with my back. The top tube distances are too long, I can't reach the drops so have been riding upright which isn't always idea. I got a small vintage rando frame, but it is too long and had to find yet another handlebar.
    I imagine this is something you resolved long ago?

    I am waiting for hernia surgery, supposed to take it easy which I attempted for a few weeks thinking the surgery was going to happen right away, but could be late summer before that ever happens. So I am not okay with just sitting around. Earlier this year I was so ready to finally get back into longer distance riding, was so fired up, looking forward to cute rando pins. I imagine myself riding, but so not the same. I have kept up with hiking and scrambling around, still bike for errands, but did make the mistake of taking my limited gear commuter on a long ride(husband encouraged) with hills and paid for that, so really need a better bike set up which no amount of wishing has manifested thus far.

    I find it easy to get discouraged and give up, but anything physical even if I am cringing and complaining, I almost always push through. Being so small, I have always tried to overcompensate, but usually hurt myself at some point. Recently my mom was moaning that I was told old to ride my bike everywhere(I'm 38!), shouldn't be riding so far with my ailments and injuries, need a car. What kind of thinking is that? Also my husband is made of titanium and never lets me give up when I say 'I can't do it".
    Bridge or care games? Never!
    PS: Thanks for your blog and website, great resources and I love that stopping at cafes and restaurants are part of your rides. My husband loathes stopping at cafes-being made of titanium he never drinks coffee or eats tasty baked things, or anything outside his vegan gluten free sugar free realm. It gets hard to sit there with lattes or wine and stuffing my face with him scowling. Sometimes I make him ride around on a loop just to leave me in peace!