During the spring of 2007, my ankle continued to trouble me. It was becoming apparent that my distance running days were over. Three docs had confirmed this. Later that year, in October, I purchased a “semi-decent” road bike. It was the first road bike I’d owned since using my teenager tanks. I was looking for some long rides to do before the season concluded. I noticed, on a regional cycling website, a listing for a December ride in Southern Utah (it is generally warmer there in the late season) called the “Zion 200K Brevet.” Bree-VET? What is that? How long is 200K anyway? It had a posted roster and one member lived in my rural “never see another cyclist” county. That was Jim Smith of Gunnison. I called him and he shared with me his enthusiasm for this sport and another funny name — randonneuring. He also helped me with the correct pronunciation of brevet — “it is brah-VAY, not bree-VET!”
A few days before the ride, the forecast in Zion National Park was for rain, sleet and snow. SNOW? I e-mailed the brevet coordinator, Lonnie Wolff, and asked whether or not this event was still on. Unphased, his response was, as his website says, “the event will be held, regardless of the weather.” Wow. My first brevet AND it has to snow?
I went anyway and took a lot of my mountaineering clothing to stay warm…GoreTex jacket and pants, fleece layers, ski gloves etc. I was ready for anything. At the start, Jim and his friend were late arriving, due to bad driving conditions from Gunnsion (remember it was a snowy weekend and we were doing what? bicycling?). We finally got started, but 30 minutes late. It was cloudy with light sprinkles at the start line, and it rained off and on during the morning. Up high above the cliffs of Zion National Park it was snowing. During the first half of the ride I felt pressured to hurry because we started 30 minutes late. The ride did have a cut off time to qualify as a finisher. At a few points along the way I waited for my friends to catch up. Finally Jim told me the reason he was riding slow, was so he could hang with another rider in the rear, who, as it turned, had no intention of finishing the ride anyway.
The first store control was in Springdale, near the entrance to the park. As I was riding along, trying to find this store, I was looking to the left and then to the right, but ignoring what was in front of me! I managed to hit two deeply recessed water-main holes. They were bone jarring. It felt as if the jolt went all the way through to my rim & frame. I finally did find the store on the right and went to make a purchase and warm up a little. Lonnie was there and we talked for a bit while I ate. My friends had not arrived and the time was approaching where they might miss this intermediate cut off time. They finally arrived as I was leaving, just making the cut off time for that control. I proceeded to jump on my bike and discovered that I had a flat. A flat. Hmmm, frankly, this was my first flat on this bike and being a newbie to cycling, I hadn’t changed a tire or tube in years. I fumbled through the whole process and used Lonnie’s frame pump to fill up my tire. I believe it must have been a pinch flat (a term I later learned).
Lesson Learned: A cue sheet holder would have enabled me to reference the cues more frequently and then I could have seen that the store was on the right, perhaps avoiding hit those holes, causing me to flat. Since that ride I designed and sell cue sheet holders that clip to the STI cables.
I finally started again and went to the end of the road inside the park where there was an information control. I filled out my card and then started down the canyon. While doing so, another tire started feeling a little mushy. Geez. Another flat? I stopped and used my frame pump to top it off. I did so and then again, but while going through the town of Springdale both tires appeared to be getting low. The cue sheet indicated that there was a bike shop in town so I stopped to get some help. The guys at the shop generously helped me patch up my tubes and change them out. They said that on rainy days cyclists get more flats because debris, especially goat heads, get washed out into the road. I had little cash, but tipped them $5 and went on my way. It was still rather cold and as I went down the canyon towards Hurricane, there was a head wind and I was in my small chainring going downhill!
I made it to the La Verkin Chevron, at the bottom of the road to Zion National Park. My buddies caught up with me, and told them that I was just getting some water and to keep riding; don’t wait for me. I crossed the road into the parking area of this station. While doing so, I bunny hopped the small driveway edge with my front tire, but my rear tire hit the lip rather hard. I quickly went inside to fill up my bottles with water. I proceeded to the deli bar area of the store, which at the time was closed (off season I guess) and filled up my bottles in a bar sink. Meanwhile the clerk yelled at me for using that faucet, which I apologized for, and quickly exited the building and jumped on my bike. And behold! My rear tire was flat. I walked my bike to a nearby chain link fench. I proceeded to change out this tire and got the tube back inside and while pumping up the tire my bike rolled forward and consequently, it tore the stem on the tube, causing the tire to go flat again. At this point, I knew I was racing the clock. Lonnie and Susan Plonsky, (Ariz. RBA) were driving by, and noticing my predicatment. They helped me with this tire change and gave me a few more new tubes for the balance of the ride. Let’s see, was that 4 or 5 flats? I lost track.
Lesson Learned: Don’t use super lightweight racing tires for randonneuring or brevets. Remember, racers have a support vehicle behind them with a spare wheels and other parts as needed. Also carry an extra tire if your route is not near many bicycle shops.
I proceeded on my way. After passing through Touquerville, I made the turn south towards Leeds. There was such a strong headwind that afternoon that I was using small chainring on the flats. I arrived at the next control, a small market in Leeds. I looked at the “close” time on my brevet card and it appeared I may not make the cut off for this stop. There was a long line of people inside waiting at the register. I grabbed some pastries and without paying for them, started to wolf them down. I motioned to the clerk I would pay once the rush subsided. I paid and headed out into the night. It was getting dark, so I donned my backpacker headlamp and turned on my brand-x blinky light on the rear of my bike.
A few miles later I heard the sound of something falling off my bike. Alas, the cover of my blinker light fell off and the batteries with it. I reattached it, but not having any rubber bands, it kept coming apart. I had no choice but to keep moving and eventually traveled with no light. Frankly, I did not think that a mere 125-mile ride would take this long, so I really hadn’t banked on using any lighting equipment.
Lesson Learned: Don’t buy cheap lighting equipment. Expect the unexpected. Carry backups.
In St. George, the route indicated a right turn onto Bluff St. I had no idea how many miles I had gone since the last cue. I noticed an unmarked road, bearing to the right. I took it and went up a slight grade for a half-mile or so. It started looking like a residential area and appeared to be going nowhere. I saw some pedestrians and quickly made a 180-turn to talk with them. In doing so, I almost ran right into them (remember all I had was a wimpy backpacker helmet light) and quickly fell over unto my side, unable to unclip in time. Wow, is that asphalt hard! My elbow got a little gash, but otherwise my pride was more hurt than I. I clarified the route (I was off route and had turned too soon). I backtracked and proceeded on my way. The St. George area is new to me — I didn’t know my way around the streets at all.
Several miles later, the route started to climb up a hill and into a area that had NO city lights. I knew there was a road or highway that went north up towards the foothills. I thought if I kept on I might end up there. I stopped again and flagged down a motorist. Where is Bluff? Oh, up over the hill and down the other side. Relieved, I proceeded again in the wilderness of St. George.
Lesson Learned: Calibrate your cyclocomputer. If the odometer on your bicycle is so far off that you keep getting lost, try resetting the “trip meter” after each control to better gauge your location.
To make a long story shorter, I finally arrived at the finish line, about 30 minutes past the cut off time of 13.5 hours. My friends had gone home. Lonnie had his trademark RV parked and filled with snacks like Coke and ramen noodle. While snacking, I pleaded with Lonnie to accept my time as I had started late, which was no fault of mine. He said “tough luck, better luck next time” — well no, he didn’t use those words, but he couldn’t vary the rules for me, so I got a DNF. Even though I finished. Perhaps it should be called a DNFOT (did not finish on time) — or use the term used in Paris-Brest-Paris brevet “OTL,” which must mean over time limit.
Lesson Learned: Despite the advantages of drafting behind others, sometimes the dynamics of a group can make for slower ride.
Lesson Learned: Randonneuring is a lot like backcountry (rando) skiing, mountaineering, ultrarunning, backpacking or any other outdoor endurance sports. At first I thought I would never be attracted to road cycling — you’re on a paved road and it is not an outdoor wilderness activity. Despite this, and after doing a few more brevets and century rides, I started to fall in love with this endurance sport. And as my ultrarunning friend & mentor Paul Hart frequently says, “half of it is mental.”
-> Cheers and safe riding,
After getting some snacks and visiting with Lonnie and a his friend (who gave me advice on tires — the abundance of flats really had me down), Lonnie & his RV left the parking lot. I went into the public park restroom to change my clothes for the long drive home. After changing, I tried to open the door to leave the restroom. It was locked and I couldn’t push it open. I banged on it REALLY hard, hoping to alert some bystanders (it was now about 10 at night). I shoved on it with all my might. Nothing. No windows. Brick walls. My cell phone was in my car. The door was locked with a electro-magnetic device at the top. I finally took the garbage can, stood on it, and McGyvered the wires and conduit leading to this device. I wasn’t careful, I just yanked on everything until the wires came loose, enabling my escape.
My word, what a weird ending to a tough day.