Left in the Parking Lot: Mary Gersema’s 300K

Mary Gersema has written up her 300K, and it didn’t involve any turkey sandwiches! Rather, she spent a day wondering what if.

By Mary Gersema
April 25, 2007

Hello, randonneur friends. You may be surprised to see that I have a brevet story, too. It’s the story of the brevet not ridden, the story of the one who stood for all of 2007 in the long dark shadow of the brevet series.

What is this story, you ask, and how can it compare to the brevet story that emanates from an actual brevet rider? While perhaps they do not compare, they intertwine or complement, as I imagine many readers have at one point or another been left in the parking lot for some reason while some part of life went on w/out them. And for me, 2007 represents the year I chose to leave myself in the parking lot.

Last year I determined that 2006 and 2007 were my time for graduate school. Ed and I originally deluded ourselves into thinking that my school schedule would still allow me the freedom to be a brevet card-carrying member. How much time can graduate school really take, I thought? Ha ha ha ha! Unfortunately, the reality has been that full-time graduate school and a full-time j-o-b are not the ideal recipe for brevet success. So for those of you who might be new to the randonneuring scene and wonder about setting the foundation for a successful brevet season, it is good to keep in mind that Full Time Graduate School + Full Time Job ≠ Ideal Foundation for Successful Brevet Series.

Some people suggested to me that I did not fully consider all my options. I needed to get creative about school and my study habits. Since Ed and I rode the brevets on tandem the past two years, some helpfully suggested that I just figure out how to attach a laptop to the stoker section. That idea was shot down, however, when someone else said that there was no Internet access on South Mountain. So I guess climbing up South Mountain with a laptop strapped to the stoker bars is not a good idea because there is no Internet?!?! These randonneurs are a funny bunch.

In addition, brevets become much more difficult to complete when Carradice bags and panniers that are normally filled with extra clothes, tools and other goodies like turkey sandwiches have to be discarded or combined with heavy textbooks and papers. I imagine Peter Springer would have approved of the textbook training approach, though. Last year he told Ed and me that he commuted for a time with a brick on the back of his bike. I am not kidding!

I give you those sad excuses so you can have a bit of background about my parking lot situation. However, even though I was not actually on the brevet, confining myself to the parking lot did not stop me from thinking about the ride, particularly this past weekend when the weather for the Warrenton 300K was so outstanding.

Here is how my 300K weekend unfolded. Thursday evening Ed advised the DC Randonneur e-mail list that he had space available in his room if anyone wanted to stay over in Warrenton the evening prior to the ride. Dave Gaudette immediately e-mailed and advised me that I should jump on that offer. I told Dave that I would definitely have considered sharing a room with Ed, but then I might actually have to ride the ride. Even though Dave thought that would be a small price to pay for a roommate as fabulous as Ed Felker, I stood by my decision. No brevet for me, only homework!

Friday night Ed took his brevet fever and his Rambouillet out to Warrenton to prepare for the upcoming ride. I went home and drank a glass of wine (or two). I was sure my friend Crista Borras would approve. A little wine after a tough week of work was a nice treat, and there was no reason for me to be concerned about dehydration! I wasn’t riding the next day. I did a bit of reading, thought about my pending group projects and papers, somehow ended up procrastinating them, and wandered off to bed at 12:30a.m.

The next day I awoke briefly to check on the time. 6:00a.m. Good grief, the randonneurs had been going for one hour already. Wow! I thought about last year’s 3:30 wakeups, but that prompted an immediate pang of sympathy fatigue and a little bit of guilt about still being in bed. I focused on the fatigue rather than the guilt and drifted off to dream for three more hours, finally starting my day at 9:30.

The randonneurs were four and a half hours into their ride. I wondered what the riders might be doing. How far had they gone? Were the morning dips into the Warrenton valleys full of little cold spots? How was Bill Beck’s flat tire coming along? Ha ha, I didn’t really think about the flat tire, ok? I decided I needed coffee to ponder these questions appropriately so I made a whole pot of coffee for myself. Yes, just for me! No need to worry about coffee for two, since Ed was out in pursuit of the perfect cup of gas station coffee. I found out later that he had given up on that pursuit, and instead started taking along his own thermos. I guess finding that perfect cup of gas station coffee was too much of a high-risk enterprise for Ed.

I sat at my desk, did a bit of reading for class, around two sentences I think, and then I wondered what great secrets the search engine of Google might reveal to me. The next thing I knew, the clock indicated noon had arrived, and the day was picture perfect. I imagined the riders were finishing their first century of the day and I felt my adrenaline rush. The randonneurs were halfway through their ride, and I still had two group projects, two papers, and copious amounts of reading to do!!!

Panic set in. I plowed through some group project material, sent out some emails so my fellow group members would know I was no laggard, and after a few hours I looked out my window. That Ed! Here I was, mired in schoolwork and off he was with our friends just frolicking in the sun. How could he do this to me!? Even though I was the one who had wanted to go to graduate school, I was sure my homework plight was somehow linked to Ed. I must have been looking for easy targets.

The mind has an incredible ability to selectively remember. Ed’s and my preparation for brevets was time-consuming and stressful. I spent all week prior to the brevet worrying about what gear to bring and what clothes to wear. Every 5 a.m. start last year my stomach would initially reject the idea of peaceful brevet participation. And the turkey sandwiches- – don’t even get me started on turkey sandwiches! However, now that it was 2 in the afternoon, the day’s splendor was all around me, and I was sitting at home by myself, all the little adversities were forgotten, and I could only think about just how great those brevets were.

I paused in my envy of Ed’s and the rest of the DC Randonneurs’ day to then consider how much I hated group projects. Group projects were to blame for my inability to participate on the brevet, I thought. Why did they insist on requiring group projects in graduate school?. Were these some kind of academic hazing ritual? Here I was, shackled to my computer so I could do my part for the group project, and everyone else in the whole wide world was off having the time of their lives. The birds chirped happily outside to further illustrate my point. Even the birds were having the time of their lives! Thanks for sharing, birds!

Those mental musings consumed another hour and I decided I deserved a break. Obsessing about things can really take a toll on a person. A half hour nap was in order—my little recompense for a beautiful day lost in pursuit of higher education and life-long learning.

A half hour later I got up and made a pot of decaf. Back to the computer for me. This learning gig wasn’t so bad, I considered. As Ed would say, I have to look at my assignments like brevets… I’m just going from one control to the next. If I can break it all down rather than see it as one gigantic task, I am better positioned for success… in brevets and life. Ha ha! Maybe I should see about making that a DC Randonneur mission statement! Life is like a brevet, just take it control to control. Maybe I can even buy myself a medal when I graduate, just like the brevets!

My glass continued to go from half empty to half full. Maybe these group projects are not sadistic rites of passage foisted on us by our professors after all, I thought. Maybe group projects make me a better group participant, a better person, even. Maybe, just maybe, they will make me a better member of the DC Randonneurs, a better fleche team member, a greater stoker! Ha ha ha ha ha! We all know the truth about group projects!

Eventually, I decided I did not need to resent Ed, group projects, or this perfect day, after all. While it is tough being in the parking lot while my friends are off enjoying camaraderie, great weather, and great athletic accomplishments, there are good things going on in the parking lot too, including a little bit of wine, a little bit of learning, 9:00a.m.start times for my weekend days , the consumption of turkey sandwiches without retribution, a reduced fixation on all the weather websites, and a growing anticipation for next year.

So don’t forget about me guys! I am not spending 2008 in the parking lot!

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