Our little Prattville detachment of the Montgomery Bicycle Club has been flirting with the edges of randonneuring for some time now. When Joe asked me what the difference would be between this Populaire and our normal Saturday rides, I answered, "Not very much." For those less acquainted with the term, it's an open road, land navigational style of riding that has as its purpose covering long distances within certain time limits (not too fast, nor too slow) and managing all aspects of the ride yourself. There are no organized rest stops or SAG vehicles and the routes are not marked. As you might tell from the name, it has its origins in France and it is slowly growing in popularity here in the USA. The shortest normal distance is 200Km, but as an introduction to the style for potential new members, a 100Km "Populaire" is often conducted. Many of us ride "metric centuries" at least a time or two during the year, so the distance is not too tough. It's a chance to see how this style of riding works and if we want to pursue it at greater distances.
I first heard of this ride in an email that organizer Steve Phillips sent to the club. Alabama and Randonneur were not normally used in the same sentence, so it was a surprise to see that Steve was trying to get some momentum going for the idea. He also posted it to our club Face Book page and while there were 5 maybes, in the end 3 of us made the drive 90 minutes north to set out from Leeds, Al on this new adventure. Unlike organized metrics such as the Marble City ride we did the week prior, this would have no T-shirt, prizes, or ice cream giveaway (which I passed on anyway) at the finish. It was also only $2, and that to pay for the "control card" or travel record we would each be using.
We (Frank, Joe and I) met at our usual rendezvous in Prattville at 5:15. All the bikes and gear fit in my car, so we took it up, stopping only just outside Leeds to hit the bathroom and purchase anything else we needed. Joe likes to travel in street clothes so he used the bathroom not only for its intended purpose but to switch into riding attire. It was during this part of the day that his ride cost multiplied by a factor of 10. He confided to us in a whisper later at lunch that he inadvertently dropped a $20 bill into the bowl and was actually willing to try to fish it out, however the the motion of his hand set off the automatic flush cycle and it was sucked down instantly. (note to self: have any money from Joe checked by a dog with a sensitive nose before touching) Of course, we told Joe that his secret was safe with us. Right.
We arrived in Leeds on time and got our control cards. I also signed up to be a randonneur with the umbrella group RUSA. Frank is already a member. Looking around, we had the only 3 true classic randonneur style bikes there. Plenty of racer style stuff in carbon and titanium, a sprinkling of rolling Barcaloungers (recumbents) and a pair of tandems. Organizer Steve was on a steel Masi single speed (which he is taking on PBP this year I understand. Paris-Brest-Paris is the ultimate randonneur event, and has to be qualified for in order to enter. It's 1200Km. Here are some of the riders getting ready.
And here we get our pre ride briefing from Steve.
There were about 2 dozen riders and we set off promptly at 8:00 AM. The roads were wet from recent rain, and the air was wet from near total humidity, but a cloud cover kept temps to bearable levels, and my fenders kept road spray off my feet. They didn't help much with the rooster tails coming up from other bikes though and I chose carefully who to ride behind and at what distance. The group stayed together for only a few miles, with the racer types rushing off to be the 1st ones back. By the time we arrived at the 1st "control," a store, they were about ready to depart.
The store clerks at each stop were gracious about signing our cards with the time of our arrival. The cue sheets were noted with the open and close times, and the stops were around 15 miles apart, so we knew we had plenty of time. We also generally made a purchase/used the facilities so these controls were just a formalized version of our weekend store stops at about the same spacing. Here are the speedy people at the control.
The ride was generally very scenic, and while there were plenty of rollers (adding up to about 2,800' of climb) none of the hills were individually as tough as what we ride here at home. I recall 9% as the steepest incline. We rode up a 20% er just this past Tuesday and get 12% to 15% most of the time we ride.
Steve pulled up at the 2d control and we asked him to take a picture of us:
Here are a few on the road shots.
Joe behind a local area rider:
Here I am coming up an interstate overpass and a sneaky side shot that Steve snapped while I was apparently working harder than he was.
Anyway, the Sun came out which made the air drier, but also made the air HOTTER. I ended up drinking 2 1/2 oz per mile which is a LOT for me. About 10 miles from the finish, I really lagged and it hit me that I still had a pretty full hydration pack. Pulling off the road at a stop sign and then again under a tree, I quickly had 25 oz and felt immediately better. No cramps or muscle strains, just fatigue, which was certainly manageable. Frank had other problems though. He has been a little off his racehorse pace the past couple of rides (good news for me, as it means I don't have to ride solo so much) unlike Joe who was way out ahead of us (and has been since he's shed 54 lbs and has the legs of one who rides everyday - which he does) Well, Frank dropped his chain (not in between his cogs this week, thankfully) and while replacing roadside, was stung by a wasp. You can see the red area on his leg here: