Saturday, July 11, 2009

Lessons From Randonneuring

On Tyler Hamilton's website he refers to the "healing power of the bike". I agree with him completely. Time spent riding a bicycle is time well spent.

Leaving your ipod at home, turning off the blackberry and listening to the wind will heal your mind and soul. Watching the sun rise as you ride, or riding while the moon is high in the sky providing her gentle light to the fields lining your roadway will recenter your spirit and remind you of your place on the planet.

Randonneuring, self-supported long-distance cycling will provide all of this and will teach you how to live. As I rode today, I considered the following:

Randonneuring teaches goal setting, prioritization, and logical thinking to develop methods to accomplish the task decided upon. Wanting to ride 200Km or more is only a wish or idea until a date is chosen, a plan is laid out, and the resources needed to reach that goal are set aside. No one can ride every event, own every piece of gear, or participate in every sport or hobby that seems interesting at the time. Decisions have to be made, and choosing some things will automatically delete others from the list.

Randonneuring teaches self-discipline. While some are able to ride 200Km or more through genetically given athletic ability alone, most of us will have to train for long-distance cycling. This will mean setting aside time for riding and following a plan developed either by others or ourselves. Reruns of Gilligan's Island or Lost (the modern version, I suppose) will have to be watched by others, since we will need to get out on our bikes for training.

Randonneuring teaches self-support. There are all kinds of cycling events a rider could attend. Most have some level of rider support, from SAG stops to team cars. Many times, all a rider needs to bring to a ride is a bike, since water bottles will be provided full of some syrupy drink passing itself off as a sport drink. And the rider will pass tables of goodies every 15 miles or a team car will pull alongside periodically to refuel or rehydrate the rider. Then there is always the team mechanic or the SAG vehicle ready to change flats, repair broken cables, or reattach parts which are falling off a poorly maintained bicycle. Randonnuering is different. If you need it, you better bring it, or be able to buy it along the way, or you will do without it, and possibly not finish the event because of it. Successful randonneurs are watchful of extra weight on the bike, but counting grams is for others, counting on ourselves is for us.

Randonneuring teaches selflessness as a way of cycling and living.Cycling which has winning as a goal is foreign to randonneurs. Winning involves defeating others. Randonneuring is about working together to reach a mutually held desire - finishing within the time limit. Often, all that is needed for a cyclist to continue or finish, is a little help from a passing cyclist. Perhaps a spare tube, or an extra battery, or maybe even riding alongside for a while to encourage one another. Since all finishers are listed in alphabetical order, it makes no difference what the finishing time is, and riding with a slower rider to help him to finish may be just the way to increase your cycling karma, or pay back a debt to cyclists who've helped you along the way somewhere. In a competitive event, only one rider can win. Therefore, the logical conclusion is that all the others are losers. In Randonneuring, the only loser is the rider who helps only himself and ignores the riders around him. Otherwise, there are no winners or losers, there are only finishers.

Randonneuring teaches finishing as a way of life. The rider handbook given by RUSA to new members uses a phrase "Club Abandonnee Randonnee" to label riders who have been unable to finish a ride for some reason. The handbook further states that at some time, all of us will be in that club. It's inevitable. But avoiding it as much as possible is the touchstone of randonneuring. To the extent that it is possible to "gut it out" and somehow finish the ride, you are expected to, and should expect no less of yourself. Being prepared mentally and physically and having your equipment ready and tested will go a long way toward finishing. But at the end of all of that preparation there still remains the willingness of the rider to find a way to make it to the finish line within the time limit if it's possible.

As you can see, these, and other lessons taught by randonneuring, are applicable in all of our lives. Too many people today have given in to their weaknesses and are willing for the government, their parents, their spouses, their children, or SOMEONE to take care of them while they indulge in pleasure and fantasy. Choosing to become long-distance cyclists - randonneurs - would be a good place for all adults to begin. And while a return to the draft may be a good idea for some young people today to help them mature, a better idea would be a return to bicycling that many have left behind for a driver's license and a Ford Mustang.

And not just any bicycling, Randonneuring.

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