We are cyclists. We ride. One of the pleasures of riding is "riding the distance". Often, when we have spoken to a co-worker about a Saturday ride, they respond with, "You rode _____ miles on a BIKE!" Sometimes it is said with admiration, sometimes with incredulity. Either way, you know you are part of an elite group of people who ride the distance. How far is too far (or far enough)? That depends on you.
Your bicycle is probably capable of taking you as far as you want to go. The best long distance ride most of us will ever hope to achieve is the 1200K (744 miles). None of us may ever qualify for RAAM (Race Across America), but we could all qualify for any of the several 1200K rides in North America as well as the international ones with the premier ride being PBP (Paris-Brest-Paris) http://www.randonneursontario.ca/history/pbphist.html
That ride began in 1891. It was a bicycle race with professional riders entering until 1951 when Maurice Diot set a record which still stands of 38:55. Since that time it has been an amateur event, a Randonnee. It is still being completed in under 50 hours by many.
The organization RUSA (Randonneurs USA) promotes the sport of randonneuring. It is a sport in which self-sufficiency is paramount. There are no support teams or vehicles allowed. There are checkpoints along the way at which you have your brevet (pronounced bre-vay) card stamped, thereby proving you were there within the time limit (yes, there are time limits, although they are fairly generous). http://www.rusa.org/rules.html Upon finishing, you may purchase a medal (if that appeals to you), or you may simply bask in the knowledge that you've ridden the distance. How far?
In order to qualify for PBP or any other 1200K event, you need to finish a complete brevet series which is 200K 300K 400K and 600K. Most of you have ridden centuries so a 200K is only 24 more miles. Very doable. And the 300K (186 miles) is less than a double century which many riders accomplish each year. Again, very doable.
Imagine the fun you'll have and the stories you'll tell. On a website for the San Diego Randonneurs Matthew O'Neill writes:
"Speaking of forgetting gear...
I almost DNF'd (did not finish) once because I seemed to forget everything possible. About the only things that I did bring were bike, shoes, helmet, sleeping-bag, shampoo (why, I dunno), some food, and bike shorts/shirt. A few of the things I forgot to bring: jacket, gloves, warmers (arm, leg, knee, anything really), sunblock, prescription glasses, readily exchangeable currency of any kind (I had $2 Canadian in my bike bag for some reason), and apparently my brain. Somehow I finished the ride, despite the fact that it was wicked cold for most of it and that I couldn't really see where I was riding because I left my glasses at home. By the end of the ride, I looked like I was homeless as I had cobbled together cold weather gear from a dirty t-shirt that another rider lent me, newspaper, tyvex shipping material, and the one spare sock that I apparently saw fit to pack for the ride which was used as an impromptu glove. Ahhh, the stuff of memories. The ride was completed successfully by the way, albeit not exactly in style."
Makes you wish you were there, huh? Well you can be. We will be entering into this sport as a part of our club riding schedule next year. Check out the website http://www.rusa.org/index.html and start getting a feel for the joy of long distance riding you'll be able to experience in the coming years. We'll start with only a 200K and 300K (as allowed by RUSA rules) and we will build on that in the following years. PBP is scheduled for 2011, and if you want to travel and are able to complete the entire brevet series during that year (usually March-June with each brevet held during one month only and in order), then you will be qualified and can fly to Paris to ride that historic ride. There are indications that with PBP growing, they may begin to limit the participants by lottery for each country of origin. http://www.rusa.org/pbp.html There will still be 4 Randonnees (1200K rides) in North America which will be open to you even if you don't win the lottery. (And I would have to win the Power Ball lottery to go, I can't afford to travel to another state, not to mention another country just to ride a bike!)
Look ahead. As you continue to ride for pleasure, what are your distance goals? Have you completed metric centuries until they are old hat? Have you done every local century a few times, and are not challenged anymore? If you are looking for a challenging one day ride (actually 2 days in the case of the 600K), then look no farther than a brevet series. There are plenty of reasons to keep your fitness up during the winter, and plenty of reasons to build it during the riding season, but the best one is to knowing you'll be "riding the distance".