Monday, February 7, 2011

La Chica Rides: City Randonneuring

Randonneuring is cycling's equivalent of a scavenger hunt. You start at a particular place (like a convenience store), ride a particular distance in a particular amount of time (say 200km in 12 hours), and stop at checkpoints along the way (often more convenience stores, so that you can fill up on Little Debbie Snack Cakes at the same time) to get something called a brevet card stamped to prove you'd been there.

I've never been on one. This is mostly because, as far as I know, there aren't any randonneuring clubs in or near LBB, which in turn is probably because there doesn't seem to be much desire to ride long distances through an ugly landscape that is also flat, windy, dry, hot, and in love with large pick up trucks.

I've always wanted to try one, though, since I have the fantasy in my head about a day of riding down lovely, twisty, peaceful, pick-up truck-free lanes with a group of people who have a loose and benign purpose in mind, such as getting a card stamped along the way. Plus, there are the Little Debbies.

La Chica, my Salsa Casseroll that I've set up as a commuter, would make a pretty fair randonneuring bike. She's steel, which gives a smoother ride than aluminum, and light and nimble on her feet. I recently outfitted her with 28mm tires, replacing the 25s that were on there, and right away I noticed a distinct difference in the butteriness of the ride. This surprised me, since I hadn't expected jumping up a tire size would have such a dramatic impact. In any case, La Chica has become--if this is possible--even more of a pleasure to take out on a spin around town.

Over the weekend, we had some residual ice and snow from the front that moved through, so I took La Chica out instead of the Ruby. The Ruby is meant to be ridden fast, and wet streets, skinny tires, and speed are not a good mix. La Chica is speedy and nimble, but not Maserati speedy, and is just as much fun to ride slow. Plus, the new tires, which while still skinny, bridge the divide between race tire and mountain bike tire width, and have a fairly grippy tread.

On Saturday I rode La Chica to the store for groceries. That was so much fun that I rode to another store.  And then I rode around the 'hood for awhile, checking things out and monitoring the pulse of the community. Then I rode to campus. Then I rode to another store. And around the 'hood some more.

It was just too much fun to stop.

Sunday dawned wet, cold, and snowy. I had planned to ride across town to Petsmart to pick up some peanut suet for a bird feeder, and so at first I was disappointed to see more bad weather. But then I remembered a comment a colleague and friend had made last week on the Bike Garden's Facebook page when I was dithering about whether to ride in some of the extreme weather we were having. Jordan, who knows me well, posted this:

"You can do it! You are properly outfitted so you will be fine. You have done tons of rides but this is one you will remember."

When I say that Jordan knows me well, what I mean is that he knows that I am both drawn to adventure and afraid of it. He knows this because he and I, in fact, once went on many adventures together when we team-taught some courses for the Natural History and Humanities degree program. Here is Jordan, on the right, showing off some fresh bread he'd just baked on a canoe trip down the Brazos River:

You can end up talking a lot about life while paddling a canoe. Among other things, we talked about the willingness to take risks and worrying about things that we can't control. We talked about these things often because I have very little of the former, and do a great deal of the latter. Yet there I was, paddling a canoe, or backpacking, or bouldering, or whatever. I also worried ceaselessly, and out loud, every step of the way about every little thing that could go wrong. 

I am positive I drove Jordan crazy, but good guy that he is, he tried not to show it. Much.

Jordan is in Nebraska now, where he is still teaching others about the proper balance between risk and worry, I'm sure. But all those conversations we had together in the canoe must have stuck with me, because I thought about him and his comment from a few days before as I watched the snow falling outside my window. And I knew he was right. These are the rides we remember. 

So I rode to Petsmart. And it was cold, but not too cold. And I did worry, about the cold, about drivers not seeing me, about whether I was wearing too many layers and would subsequently overheat and perspire, thereby causing me to get chilled, which would lead to hypothermia, possibly before even reaching Petsmart, and I would become delirious and lost...

But then I heard some geese, flying low overhead, and lifted my eyes to watch them. 

And I heard water rushing along a gutter and spilling into a storm drain and thought, "Ah yes. Water. I remember you."

And I noticed that there was hardly any traffic at all, but what there was of it was friendly and respectful of someone so foolish as to be out in bad weather on a bike.

And I relaxed into the adventure.

When I got to Petsmart I had the idea of "checking in" on Facebook, since I'd posted something about riding across town in the snow. As I did so, it occurred to me that this was like randonneuring, only without the Little Debbies:

So when I decided to go through the drive through at Rudy's BBQ place to pick up some sausage and chocolate pudding for lunch, I checked in there, too:

And I checked in at Market Street, where I stopped on the way back, to pick up a couple of items for supper:

When I asked the clerk to take my picture, he asked what I was doing, and I told him, "It's like a scavenger hunt." 

Though there were not any Little Debbies involved with the trip, I was able to make do with the Girl Scout cookies that were being peddled there: 

La Chica rode through the sleet and snow like a champ. I was not wearing too many layers, or too few. Drivers gave me plenty of space and shared the road. I shared my day with geese and water. And there were Girl Scout cookies at the end.

Jordan was right.

I'm thinking that this was such great fun, I'm going to do it again. I'll plan a trip around town with check points, and post my status on Facebook as I go along. Who knows, maybe some friends will join me, and we can ride along along a peaceful road, full of conviviality and cheer, getting our cards stamped on Facebook. A little city randonneuring, if you will. They'll have to get their own Girls Scout cookies, though.


  1. you put me to shame...I am learning that I too can do it but first I have to get up and go...for now I will live through your blog while our snow melts hopefully soon...then I hope I can be on the mend enough with my back to get out on my bike...I so love it!!

  2. That is so cool! I am totally going to look for randonneuring clubs around Austin. And if I find one, you're welcome to come visit and join in. I particularly like the idea of taking Little Debbie along for the ride, although I'd be happy with Samoas, too. :)

  3. Leave it to a Messerer to inspire in such a subtle way

    Impressive loaf of bread as well - and while camping!

    Glad you got out. and had so much fun. I often find that it is getting out the door on the bad weather days that is the hardest part.

  4. Glad you went for it! You created a story to remember. I love the rides where you are reminded of our surroundings.

    I always said when Lubbock throws you a challenge you better take it since the other 290 days are beautiful.
    This randonneuring sounds interesting. I think you just inspired my next staff training.