The First Brevet of the Year

Posted by: Jan Heine Category: Rides

The First Brevet of the Year

Every year, the first brevet of the season sort of sneaks up on me. I’ve been enjoying bucolic rides with friends for the first months of the year, and then suddenly, the 200 km brevet is just a few days away. It serves as a reminder that if I want to be in shape this summer, my training now needs to be a bit more focused. The brevets are part of that training…
There are many different approaches to riding brevets. I enjoy challenging myself to see how fast I can complete the course, in the tradition of the French randonneurs of the mid-20th century. This means that for the first time this year, “the clock is ticking”.
Seattle has had a very warm and dry winter. The day before the brevet, errands took me to the University of Washington, where the cherry trees were in full bloom. Any hopes for a warm and dry brevet were dashed by the weather forecast, which called for rain and more rain. Welcome back to Seattle weather!
Having to qualify for Paris-Brest-Paris this year means it is not an option to stay home and wait out the rain. As it turned out, that was a good thing, since the brevet was great fun.
A 200 km brevet is both easy and hard. Easy, because pacing isn’t too difficult – I go pretty much all-out all the way. Hard, because, well, I am going pretty much all-out for close to 8 hours.
The “Escape from Seattle” 200 km of the Seattle International Randonneurs used a nice course that starts and finishes just a few kilometers from my house, making logistics easy. The course goes north through Seattle, where there is little traffic this early in the morning. Then we follow scenic backroads in a large loop before returning to Seattle from the east. The course intersperses short hills, where  we get to stretch our legs, with flat roads, where we can recover from the hills. It’s a perfect early-season ride.
The start is always exciting. I greet acquaintances whom I have not seen all winter, and I meet new riders. We sign in, sign the waiver, and get our brevet cards. I fold my route sheets in what I think is the best way. (I prefer folds to be at a control or during a long stretch of road without turns, so I don’t have to turn over the sheet in a rush.) It’s a beehive of activity, and anticipation is in the air. And then there are a few words from the organizer, Mark Roberts, and we are off.
Right after the start, I found myself riding next to Theo Roffe, inveterate randonneur as well as Compass Bicycles’ newest employee. We spun up the long incline to warm our legs. We did not plan to ride the entire way together, but fortunately that is how it turned out, since our speeds and riding styles were well-matched on that day. Rather than drafting behind each other, we rode a little offset to avoid the spray on the wet roads. When it got truly wet and windy, we rode side-by-side and chatted a bit.
We climbed up the many short rises as the course traversed the hilly terrain north of Seattle. We swooped down the steep downhills in the aero tuck. We enjoyed roads that we rarely ride, and we took turns navigating, since our cue sheets were folded differently. This meant that turning the cue sheet could wait until a straight stretch of road made turning the cue sheet possible without stopping.
We did not stop unless we needed to. A few times a year, going all-out is an exciting challenge and welcome change of pace. We did have time for photos, cafes or taco trucks, which is a different pace and mindset from the rides I usually do. It reminds me of what I enjoyed about racing, but without the competition. It’s like being in a breakaway without having to worry about the final sprint. It’s pure teamwork, and it’s exhilarating.
It was a very windy day. No trees were blown over, but fallen branches littered the roads in the forests. On the open stretches, the wind was an invisible wall. Riding into head- and cross-winds isn’t either of our strengths, so we struggled at times. After the last control in Carnation, we slowed down a bit to recover before climbing the last big hills on the way into Seattle.
As we descended toward Lake Washington, the clouds parted, and we got a gorgeous view of downtown with the Olympic Mountains behind. That’s when we decided that we wanted to try and finish the ride in less than 8 hours. So there was no time to stop, but I still snapped a few photos while descending at 30 mph – hence the blurry “impressionist” quality of the shot.
We had a flat tire (sharp, long shard of glass picked up on a highway shoulder), and we didn’t know whether we’d make our goal until we climbed one last rise to the house of organizer Mark Roberts’ house. And then we were done! Volunteers signed our brevet cards for the last time. After 7:48 hours, with no more than 10 minutes off the bike (including fixing the flat), the clock stopped ticking.
It had been an intense experience, and great fun. One of the volunteers took our photo seconds after we dismounted our bikes in organizer Mark Roberts’ leafy garden (above). It was nice to finish the ride in such a nice setting, rather than a parking lot or a noisy pub.
My bike was leaning against the railing, none the worse for wear. Thanks to its generous fenders, it wasn’t even very dirty despite having been ridden at speed in the rain all day. Unlike its rider, it was ready to continue for another 200 kilometers, or even 1000.
For me, it was time to sit down, catch my breath, enjoy a drink and some chili, and chat with friends.
Sam (left) and Steve (right) arrived shortly after us…
… and so did Ryan (right; with Theo). It was nice to see them all riding strong, but most of all, we all enjoyed the ride. It’s only the start to the season, but it bodes well for PBP. We’ll have a lot of fun this year!

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