How To Ride Your First 600-K Brevet
An Easy-To-Follow Guide to Completing a Not So Easy Bike Ride*
By Sarah Schroer
Step 1: Just Say Yes . . . when your favorite tandem partner asks if you'd like to sign up for the Santa Cruz Randonneur's Surf City 600-K.
Step 2: Ask For Help . . . from many friends who have been there and done that.
Step 3: Make a Plan . . . then be ready to see it change on the fly.
Step 4: Test Your Limits . . . on a ride that exceeds anything else you've done before.
Step 5: Assess the Results . . . and start planning for the next one!
OK, maybe these steps weren't quite as simple as they sound. To begin with, when Paul McKenzie first suggested that we enter the Surf City 600K as a tandem team, I told him it was a bad idea. After all, he would have completed back to back Stage Race double centuries in the two weeks prior to this event, and I was planning to ride a 400K brevet one week beforehand. That didn't seem like much time for rest and recovery. However, when he started talking about riding the Surf City 600K solo, I decided that I didn't want to miss out on the adventure and quickly changed my mind. Note to self: as a general policy, say "yes" anytime Paul invites you to ride the tandem, then work out the details later.
With Step 1 taken care of, I started working on Step 2. I sent some emails to fellow randonneurs who have done overnight rides before, and received a huge outpouring of advice regarding lighting, layers for the cold hours of the night, and dealing with fatigue along the way. Armed with this information, I purchased the biggest seat bag I've ever owned and made a list of supplies that was two pages long.
As for the plan, Paul already had one. He told me that we would take a "civilized" approach to the event -- rather than riding straight through the night, we'd use our combined power to make good time in the first two thirds of the course then check into a hotel and get some sleep and still finish well within the 40 hour time limit. The first edition of the plan called for 8 hours of sleep. The final edition allowed for 4 hours of sleep. Hmm.
Paul has done several overnight rides in the past, but this was my first experience. I've had plenty of practice taking care of myself on long rides of up to 200 miles, but the 600K distance is a whole 'nuther beast. For the metrically challenged, we're talking about 375 miles here! I'm familiar with the low energy period that often hits me in the middle of a double century -- would there be another one somewhere beyond 200 miles? How would I weather that? And could I survive on convenience store food for that long? What about the lack of sleep? I was pretty sure that I could finish the event, but worried that it would involve a lot more suffering than I am used to. One thing was for certain -- as the back half of a tandem I wouldn't be suffering alone.
So how did it all turn out? For the full story you'll have to tune in to Paul's report, coming soon. I'll just say that while this was a very challenging ride, both mentally and physically, we came through it with flying colors. Our success was due in no small measure to the advice of many friends which helped us prepare beforehand. There was an intense period of planning that involved no less than 35 emails between captain and stoker in the three days leading up to the event which meant that no detail was left forgotten. However, the most important factor that made this long ride go so well was the teamwork that kept the bike moving forward (or not, as appropriate) throughout the journey. We are certainly a little wiser and humbler after this weekend's experience, but by no means deterred from doing it all over again. Next on the calendar: the Davis 600K on June 13/14th.
*For those not familiar with randonneuring and brevets, here is a brief primer:
Randonneuring is a style of self-paced, long-distance unsupported cycling which originated in France over 100 years ago. This style of riding is non-competitive in nature, and self-sufficiency is paramount. Friendly camaraderie, not competition, is the hallmark of randonneuring. Brevets are organized randonneuring events which are sanctioned by Randonneurs USA or Audax Club Parisien. Brevets vary in length from 200K to 1200K with time limits determined by the distance; a 200K event has a 13.5 hour time limit, while a 1200K event has a 90 hour time limit. Results are published alphabetically, not by arrival time, and anyone who finishes within the official time period is considered a winner. Riders are required to stop at specific checkpoints along the route and obtain proof that they passed through those checkpoints; this may involve making a purchase at a store to get a receipt, or writing down the answer to a location-specific question, or even mailing a postcard from a rural post office.
Sarah's tandem captain Paul McKenzie added this…
Thank you Sarah for the report on the 600K, and for leaving a bit of a Cliff Hanger. It prompted me to finish the report and get it posted!
As you all can imagine, this was an epic hard ride, into the unkown zone. While I've ridden this far before, I've never done so on a tandem, unsupported, brevet style, and I could not imagine a better partner in this grueling ride, than Sarah. Here's the full story: