It was raining Friday afternoon when I arrived in Marion Illinois, and the rain continued through the night. The 2013 spring in southern Illinois had been wet; wet enough to raise the Mississippi River and its tributaries to flood stage.
Steve Meredith, RUSA #8511, and I started the Little Egyptian 400 km brevet at 06:00 Saturday – in the rain. The first stop was at mile 38 in Dongola, IL. At a Dollar General store Steve purchased a second pair of gloves to wear, while I found another pair of wool blend socks. I had a dry pair of pure wool socks packed deep in my bag, but I wanted to save them for our night riding.
Although the rain had eased by the time we reached the information control in McClure, Steve, riding ahead of me, discovered that the next section of the route was flooded due to Friday night’s rain. A local resident informed him that the area had received perhaps 3” of rain in the past 24 hours, on top of the saturated soil. She told Steve that we could get around the flooded road by riding along the levee. The road proved to be slightly challenging due its coarse gravel surface, but Steve and I navigated our way across the levee to State Highway 3 and on to the next control at Olive Branch.
After 97 undulating miles, and a couple of steep hills, we turned on to the 55-mile long, Tunnel Hill Bicycle Trail. I’ve ridden the trail, which is usually uneventful, but scenic, on three previous rides. Last summer, the trail’s limestone surface was rock hard due to the severe drought affecting the area. Now, however, the trail was damp and soft. The soft surface severely slowed our pace. We were often only able to manage 8-10 mph on 2 to 3% uphill sections.
In Harrisburg, IL, about halfway, we stopped at the control and donned our reflective gear. A light rain had begun falling, a rain that would last throughout the next 12 hours. Daylight gradually disappeared and since the store at the next control in Wayne City, would be closed by the time we reached it; we stopped at a convenience store in McLeansboro to stock up for the long night ahead.
Somewhere between McLeansboro and Wayne City, we rode through a bridge construction zone, and both of Steve’s wheels hit a deep pothole that appeared to be just a puddle on the road, flatting his rear tire. Moving ahead to a clear spot, as far off the road as possible, Steve made rather quick work of replacing the tire. As I held the light, I thought about the challenge of changing a flat on the wheels of my new Volagi. With my rear rack, long derailleur, and disc brakes, getting the rear wheel off and back on the bike would have been a magic act. I was thankful that I did not suffer the fate of having to change out a flat in the rain tonight.
We reached the Wayne City control after 1:00 AM, and the town was empty. This area is rural, and this hour there was no traffic. The only lights we saw came from the farms we cycled past. Our bikes and the rain produced the only sounds we heard as we pushed on into the night.
The temperature had begun to drop and the rain increased in intensity. Conversation between Steve and I dropped to occasional sentences of encouragement, centered around trying to keep each other focused on the goal of finishing. Although this is his first series, Steve was exhibiting the positive attributes that produce successful randonneuring.
Finally, Benton IL appeared and with it a 24-hour convenience store. While we spent more time than typical at a control, it was important for me to change into dry clothes and to try to eat some solid warm food. Steve nursed a cup of coffee as he waited.
With only 20 miles left to ride, my body began to warm as we pedaled, and our imaginations began to anticipate the finish. About an hour and 15 minutes later we reached the Marion City Park. As Miles Stoneman, the RBA, got out of his car to greet us, relief spread like a warm tonic through my body and for the first time in hours a smile appeared on my face. 25 hours, 10 minutes after we started, Steve and I had finished. What a difference the weather can make. One year earlier I had ridden the same route on a hot, dry day, by myself, in 22 hours.
Miles congratulated us on our successful finish, and I was simply pleased to have finished within the time limit. Although I have ridden other 400-kilometer brevets, and I knew that other randonneurs had completed rides under even worse conditions, this was my most difficult ride to date.
I returned home late Sunday and found that the latest issue of Velonews had arrived. On the last page, in a section titled “At The Back” was an article, written by Dan Wuori. He put many of the challenging rides I have ridden, into words for me:
“Ours is a sport that seems to fetishize suffering. But to believe so is to miss the point entirely, It’s not the suffering we relish (truly, who does?) – it’s the joy of accomplishment and the satisfaction of facing down your fears without blinking. It’s about sticking it out longer than you think you can or should. Cycling is about doing the impossible.”
This, then, is why I enjoy randonneuring; the joy of accomplishment; the satisfaction of facing down my fears, and overcoming the mental block that says, “You can’t do this; you can’t finish the ride; It’s too cold; it’s too windy; you’re too tired; etc.” Randonneuring is about completing the rides – doing what seems impossible. The joy of that accomplishment can never be taken from you.
(The Little Egypt brevet series of southern Illinois is no longer held as RBA Miles Stoneman moved from Illinois in 2015.)