Finding Your Soul on an Empty Stomach


Brandon, aka Brantonio Branderas, aka Don BranDon, recently was invited to take part in a randonee ride.  Randonneuring is a style of riding that evolved at the beginning of the 20th century in France.  Riders get a cue sheet and ride from point to point, against a clock.  They must navigate for themselves, and carry all their own provisions, food, water, repair materials.  There is no sag wagon.  Often rides take place many miles from home, so calling the spouse is usually not an effective bail out plan.  Before the group century ride, there was the Randonee.  The shortest rando ride is 200k.  The ultimate goal is a 1200k ride, taking place over multiple days with mere hours of sleep, often in roadside ditches.  Brandon set off on one of the 200 kilometer rides, to see what he was made of.  Here’s the story.  

Dan and I woke up at our respective houses at an unusually early 3:30 in order to make our destination by 6:15. He graciously offered to drive, so we met in his driveway and began the journey to Centerville, Maryland, on the other side of the bay. I breakfasted with two eggs, over easy, on a toasted english muffin, a side of mixed, salted nuts and a fruit smoothie. I packed three Austrian whole-kernel turkey and cheese sandwiches, a 28-serving bottle of Hammer Gel, a handful of Clif bars, a fair-trade chocolate bar, and a few granola bars.   

I tossed my bike on the fork-stand in the bed of his truck and my panniers, loaded with tights and wool jerseys (yes, multiple) in the back. The ride was easy-going, but I was tasked with navigation and wasn’t permitted any additional sleep. We arrived in the cold and dark, emerged from the heated cabin into sub-Brandon acceptable temperatures, and immediately climbed back into the cabin. Dan dressed himself inside while I decided to bare the cold concrete in the middle of a semi-deserted but rapidly populating city street. At one point, I was actually naked, standing on a sidewalk, whilst fellow riders drove by or walked around me. But that was just for a moment. I started the ride in the same clothes I ended it in; tights, bib shorts, knee warmers, booties, a wool short-sleeve jersey, arm warmers, a long-sleeve wool jersey atop that, and a wool cap with ear flaps under my helmet. The sandwiches lay in my saddle bags, still in the bed of the truck. I was doomed.

We left after a short grouping, riding next to Mike and Dave, two great customer/friends of ours. They rode their custom Waterfords, I rode my 1984 Trek 560 650B conversion. In the beginning, we rode as a giant peloton, or platoon, if you prefer the english translation. After the first checkpoint, the tandems were out-of-sight and the Paris-Breast-Paris participants were fast behind them. The placement didn’t matter; this was to be a race against only the clock, and we had thirteen and one-half hours to complete it.

We stopped at a few coffee shops and enjoyed the hospitality of the coastal Maryland and Delaware shop owners, who seemed to know more about the ride than I, which was a good thing, because I was following Mike and Dan, who had cue sheets.

Brandon and trusty steed 'Pocahontas'

By hour six, I was hurting. I had eaten Clif bars and gel, but I hadn’t had nearly enough water. The cold convinced me that I was hydrated enough, even though I could feel my lips cracking. My stomach soured and I felt like I might need to pull over and die somewhere, in a ditch, alone. We were seventy miles in and had sixty to go. Oh, and we had a headwind for the last twenty or so miles to the aptly named Slaughter Beach, DE, where we paused for a bite, then turned into a headwind for the return trip. We couldn’t believe our luck! Meanwhile, Dave was nowhere to be seen.

I do rides twice a week that are between fifty and seventy miles, plenty of climbing but never more milage, so I’m able to get home and eat some real food. The lack of hills on this “flat bread” ride provided no respite from the monotonous pedaling. This was supposed to be an easy 200K to break me in. The world grew dark around hour ten and my sweat decided to refrigerate my insides. My non-insulated water bottles were practically frozen, so I wasn’t about the drink from them, and I couldn’t take a bite of anything without that familiar mouth-watering feeling; not the good one. As if the situation weren’t already grim for me, I was relying on Dan and Mike for distance and time rulers, so whereas I heard “thirty miles left” and reveled in the distance I had covered so far, I heard the same cry thirty minutes later. I cursed myself for having not paid attention to the cue sheet throughout the ride. Next time I’d bring a computer as well. Perhaps even a watch with a perpetual countdown to remind me to drink and eat.

With twenty five to go, I sipped a Naked Banana Strawberry smoothie through a coffee stirrer and my stomach finally relented. Still, my legs were like steel pistons. They never gave up on me. We rolled into town in a sea of black, changed into dry clothing, scarfed down some pizza, and celebrated a most triumphant ride.

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The shop has built a number of randonneuring and Light Touring Bikes.  We rely on good parts with a solid reputation and simple operation.  Mainly we source frames and forks from Gunnar and Waterford Cycles, a small Wisconsin based factory specializing in fine American made frames.  These guys work with us to deliver a bike frame specifically spec’d to a given riders current and future needs.  We sit down with the customer and figure out a smart and reliable parts spec.  The build process is slow: hand built wheels, hand wired generator systems, racks, fenders, and other custom touches make the build out a work of love, not profit.  Many of the shop employees ride this style of bike: Brian, myself, Brandon, Dan the elder, John, Jim and soon, Dan the Younger.  Stop by to ask about them.  We have a demo Gunnar in stock, as well as a demo Soma Smoothie ES.  We also stock Salsa cycles, who make a few rando style bikes.  Our front display features a Salsa Cassaroll, a fine inexpensive rando bike, around 1,200 bucks.

Here’s a tiny gallery of these cats:

Dave's Custom Waterford

the shop demo Gunnar

brian's custom waterford

Mike's Custom Waterford

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Don’t forget the big ole’ sale tomorrow.  15% off 99 percent of all accessories, and every bike in the shop is on sale.

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Lastly:  the ride schedule.

Tuesday: 8 am mixed surface road ride leaving from the 7th street Starbucks.  70ish miles.  Basically an all day thing, ya know.

Thursday: 7am quickie from starbucks.  40 miles, coffee stop in the middle.  done by 11:30ish.

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