By Dr. Larry Preble
“So, you are driving all the way to St Louis to ride a 600K
brevet?” my wife asked. “How many miles is that?
This 600K comes in at about 375 miles which is just a bit
over 600 Kilometers.
“Is it a race?”
“No, but I have to finish in less than 40 hours or it doesn’t
“Do they give you a tee-shirt or some kind of prize for
“No, but if I finish, I am allowed to buy a commemorative
pin or medallion if I want to.”
“Do you get mileage credit with our Louisville club?”
Margaret looked at me quizzically. The unspoken “Why are
you doing this?” was written all over her expression. I
smiled and shook my head.
It’s a good question. Why does anyone get the urge to do
something difficult, and to see it to completion even though
there is no obvious reward, and there may be risks
involved? For me, long distance riding has been about
discovering that what I thought were limits, actually were
not. It began with riding my first 100 miler in 2001. It was
such a great feeling of accomplishment that it wasn’t long
before I was riding several century routes a year.
Randonneuring just goes a step or two further. A big part of
the experience is developing self-reliance. There are no
supported SAG stops and no repair crews to follow the
riders en route. Participants are expected to take care of
themselves. Riders unable to complete the course must
arrange for their own transportation home.
I began my first official brevet series early in 2012. Most
of the courses began close to home, starting from
Shelbyville, Kentucky. Steve Rice organized a beautiful,
but challenging set of brevets consisting of 200K, 300K,
400K and 600K rides. The course and the store stops were
well-planned. I completed the 200K and 300K routes
without much difficulty but found the 400K more
challenging. Of course, the challenge is what it is all about.
When May rolled around, it was time for Steve’s 600K, the
last in his series. I started out in good spirits and rode
strongly-perhaps a bit too strongly. The first 251 miles
followed the same course as Steve’s previous 400K brevet.
But I became overheated during the afternoon portion of the
ride which ended up taking a toll. Despite that, I finished
the 400K segment earlier than I had on the previous ride.
Then it was time to get some rest, a few hours of sleep
before finishing up the last 200K the next day. Ugh. No
I called Steve that morning to let him know I would not be
finishing the 600K. I was feeling exhausted and my head
was spinning. I recovered in a couple of days, but it was
quite a letdown.
I had one more chance to complete the series. John Jost
was offering a 600K brevet near St Louis, in Edwardsville,
Illinois. With just a moment’s hesitation, I signed up. I only
hoped it would not be quite as hot as it had been on my last
attempt. I saved the date on my calendar-June 30th.
Over the next few weeks, I
spent some quality time
conversing with more
experienced brevet riders,
learning what I could from
them. As the day of the event
drew near, the Midwest
entered a heat wave. Not
good, but I had learned a few
new strategies; the ride was
There were only three of us
planning to ride the 600K
No problem, I had three spares with me. I pulled one out
and installed it fairly quickly. I grabbed a CO2 cartridge
and inflated the tire.
Bam! The tube burst. In the darkness, I had failed to notice
that the tube had become pinched between the tire and the
rim. No chance of catching them now, I sighed and
restarted the process.
This time, I used my hand pump, hoping that I could
partially inflate the tire and then check to make sure the
tube was seated properly. It was. But I had 372 miles to go;
I wanted to get as much air in there as possible. What I
would have given for a floor pump! As I struggled to get
the maximum inflation, I gave one more mighty push-big
mistake. I snapped the metal threaded valve stem in half!
Have you ever had one of the moments where you feel you
could kick yourself? That was one of those moments. I had
one tube left. You would think I had never fixed a flat
before. I took a deep breath, calmed myself, and set to
work again. I checked and rechecked my work before
reinflating. This time, it held-and it had better, I thought,
because there were no spares left.
The next 50 miles went by quickly. At the next control
point, I caught up with the two shorter distance riders. One
of them was very kind to offer me one of his spare tubes in
case I needed it later in the ride. I accepted it with gratitude
and set off again down the course.
I had been cruising along at 18 to 20 mph with a moderate
heart rate of about 140, but as the heat of the afternoon
wore one, I began to feel its effects. As a precaution, I
backed off and monitored my heart rate in the 120s. By the
time I left the third control point, the official temperature
had soared to over 100° in the shade. Unfortunately, there
wasn’t much shade. My bike thermometer read 108°
degrees in direct sunlight.
Do they give prizes in physics for discovering a new
property of matter? Apparently, Markham road has a
melting point of 107.9°. The fresh asphalt had softened as it
baked in the sun. Pungent blisters in the pavement bubbled
up as I rode on. The odor of creosote wafted into my
nostrils and stung my throat.
For three miles, I slogged through patches of molten mush
which coated my tires like a chocolate glazed doughnut. To
make matters worse, there were patches of fine gravel that
promptly became attached to all the sticky parts. By the
time I arrived in Belle Rive, my tires looked like sesame
seed bagels, and my derailleurs and brakes were coated
with thick sticky gravelly goo. I spent the next 45 minutes
scraping asphalt off my bike parts and tires with a pocket
Melted asphalt and gravel
By the time I finished cleaning, the hot, humid air made me think of the steam room back home at the health club. It was time to start using my ice sock. I bought a small bag of ice and went to work. Three
Filling an ice sock
By the way, I understand the locals pronounce this like,
It was after sunset that I travelled the last 15 miles to the
hotel on a packed gravel bike path. The surface was mostly
hard and easily rideable, but every now and then I would
encounter a deep loose patch which was more like beach
sand than gravel. This would have been fine if I had ridden
during the daylight hours, but after nearly wiping out on one
such patch, I slowed the pace to allow for extra vigilance.
Around one curve, I crossed the path of a startled family of
raccoons. The mama and her five cubs scurried off into the
darkness. I arrived at the hotel in Vienna all bleary-eyed
and fatigued, but happy. Sleep came quickly.
Beep beep beep! Ugh. Alarms clocks can jangle the nerves,
but this one took a moment to pierce my mental fog. A
moment later, I remembered where I was and dragged
myself out of bed. It was 2:30 AM and time to get going. I
had 163 more miles to ride before the finish.
A light fog made the climb out of Vienna seem surreal.
There were no street lights, but the moon was waxing
gibbous and lit my way. Near Shawnee National Forest, a
family of deer crossed my path. Except for the deer, the
only traffic I saw was a police car which greeted me with a
momentary bleep on its siren. The officer waved and
I made hay while the sun wasn’t shining and kept the pace
up until mid-morning. The heat was beginning to build
again. The stops became more frequent, and I found myself
using the ice sock more often. By the time I got to
Pinkneyville, I had just 92 miles to go. I began stopping
every 25 miles to fill up on ice, then 20, then 15. So long as
I had ice in my sock, I felt great. Towards the end, I began
carrying an extra bag of ice on my bike rack behind me.
This served as a backup, in case I couldn’t find an ice
vendor before the sock melted.
It worked. I felt no sense of overheating and felt strong
while the ice held out. In direct sunlight, my GPS reported
a temperature over 110°. At the second to last control
point, I walked into the store and was startled as I saw the
EMS waiting. They were attending a motorcyclist who had
overheated while riding. The store clerk looked at my bike
jersey and shook his head, “I don’t know how you are
doing this sir. That other fella is suffering and he doesn’t
even have to pedal his bike.”
“Lots of ice, patience, and a slow pace,” I replied. With the
brevet card time-stamped and in hand, I smiled and wished
the others well as I continued towards the finish.
At Lilac road, I made a turn to the left. A woman in her
Lexus passed me, stopped, backed up and rolled down her
window. The vanity tag on her license plate said
JEANNIE. I thought she was going to wave and pass on a
word of encouragement, or perhaps a word of caution. I
had been hearing comments like that all day long. Instead,
she yelled at the top of her lungs, “Are you some kind of
lunatic?!” Then she screeched her tires and sped off. I
shook my head and smiled to myself. Maybe … I had 23
miles to go.
The bike path back into Edwardsville offered a bit of shade
as I rode on. About a mile from the end, I missed a turn and
had to backtrack to find Hillsboro Rd. At last, I pulled up
to the Edwardsville Police Station, the final control point
on the route. I looked at my watch. It had been a long day.
My 600K was complete with just under two hours before
I rode the last few blocks back to my parked car and smiled
as I thought of Jeannie’s comment. No Jeannie, not quite a
lunatic-I’m a randonneur.
Larry at Ride Start
course, but two more joined us for the first segment. Their
goal was for a 200K route. The 4:00 AM departure from
Edwardsville felt almost serene. We very quickly entered a
protected bike path under a heavy canopy of trees. But the
serenity was short-lived.
After three miles, the rear wheel on my bike started to feel
odd, a bit unstable. I pulled over and told the group I
would catch up later. The tube had a slow leak. When I
pulled it out, I saw that the rubber portion of the valve stem
had cracked; there was no puncture.
pounds of ice stuffed into a long tube sock tied off at the end can be wrapped around the neck with the ends stuffed under the jersey collar. The ice cools the blood flow to the brain, and as it melts, the drip water on the jersey further cools the torso-heaven! All traces of overheating disappeared. Reinvigorated, I rode on with enthusiasm. Every now and then, I would stop to buy more ice; this slowed me down but was well worth the effort. I continued on working my way towards Vienna, the evening rest stop.