MG’s R-12: A Persistent Suitor


I have to say the great stories keep on coming from you all, and I encourage you to read this latest tale from MG. See her full account of an unlikely R-12 year Here. She didn’t set out to ride the R-12, and before you know it, she knocked it off without much drama. Well, not that much drama. Way to go, MG!

An R-12 Affair
by Mary Gersema
February 2009

Over the past three years I have incredulously pondered those randonneurs pursuing the R-12. Who wants to be riding 200K’s and more every month for 12 months, I wondered. Who relishes the idea of starting and ending a ride in the dark, cold, and who knows what else in the months of December and January? How fun is it to be glued to the weather forecast 24/7 while you plot the day that will HOPEFULLY best meet your R-12 needs and not have the road covered with snow or ice… or rain on you? What does pursuing and (hopefully) completing the R-12 get you? A medal you have to buy yourself? The appeal of it all eluded me.

My R-12 was a subtle seducer. At first, he was a guy at a party that I didn’t even notice, but my randonneur friends said was cool and I might like him if I met him. I was dubious and put the R-12 out of my mind.

In the meantime I started riding in earnest. Having finished graduate school in January, I was eager to get back out on the bike and reconnect with my cycling friends. In March I completed a fleche. In the succeeding two months, Ed and I rode ACP 200K, 300K, and 400K brevets, and in June we threw in a 600K permanent. Ed organized a 200K ride for the DC Randonneurs in July, and I volunteered with him; we rode the pre-ride together with our good friend Maile Neel. I loved the riding, but the R-12 was not yet a thought in my mind.

August arrived and everybody across the country readied for their RUSA Anniversary 200K. I didn’t want to be the only one who didn’t go to that party so I signed up and rode. This ride was special for me because even though I had ridden fleche rides on my single, it was my first brevet on my single bike. I was nervous, uncertain how the day would go. I hoped and hoped I would finish within the 13.5 hour time limit. As I reached the halfway point of the ride, I realized, hey I can do this. This is a good party. I’ll even finish in daylight. That’s exciting! I looked out from the Food Lion at the miles to come, and I saw the R-12 beckoning by the finishing line pizza, giving me a little wink. Hey, he’s sort of appealing, I thought.

The following month randonneuse and route creator extraordinaire Crista Borras told us during one of her weekend rides that she had a scenic new 200K permanent that she wanted to try out. I saw the R-12 taking a step toward me. Yeah, he might not be so bad. A small group of DC Randonneurs rode through sun, rain, beautiful scenery, a couple tough climbs, sun, and more rain and completed a September permanent. I half-heartedly counted the consecutive months where I had completed R-12-eligible rides, and gave my calendar a glance to see how the next few months were shaping up.

Ed and I had already planned to ride the October 200K DC Randonneurs brevet, since we wanted to take in the fall beauty of the Shenandoah; our path had been laid out for us by another great router, Lynn Kristianson. While the ride started out on a bumpy note stemming from the cold start, nerves, and sleep deprivation Ed and I were treated to exhilarating climbs that showed off the changing foliage of the Shenandoah.

We enjoyed many conversation-filled miles with club introvert Mark Vinette, who said he had been checking on my results (why, I am not sure) and noticed the R-12 and me seemed to be developing a rapport. Ed scoffed at this and later told me, “The R-12 is a harsh mistress.”

You don’t know the half of it, buddy, I thought, but I was becoming too intoxicated by the lure of the R-12. I wanted to get closer to the R-12, come to know it just a little bit more.

DC Randonneurs club president Nick Bull took note of my R-12 infatuation, and the following month asked if I would like to join him on a November 200K permanent. Oh, yes! That sounded so perfect. It would be the R-12 and me, together again. Oh yes, and Ed. Ed too! I convinced him this would be a great way to spend the day, and out riding we went.

By this time, Ed knew that he had some serious competition for my attention. “You R-12 people,” he commented one evening, looking at me. What? Me? An R-12 person? I looked at him coyly, and then returned to calculating my completed rides, refreshing every five minutes, and figuring out when the R-12 and I might reunite.

Fortunately for me, RBA Bill Beck organized the Woodbine Wallop 200K for December 13. Ed was going to be out of town that day so I would be alone with my R-12. When I arrived at the start, a bitter chill was in the air and a dusting of snow on the ground. I added an extra layer of wool for my R-12 date and hoped for warmer temps and clear roads. Maile and I left the start together, creeping our way over the snow, not talking or looking at each other for fear we would ditch the R-12 and run for home and our warm safe beds.

In that moment, the R-12 enraged me. How could you let me care for you so much, R-12, and then dump me out here in December to tread over snow patches in the dark? What happened to the sunny, start in daylight, finish in daylight, warm-all-day, R-12 I grew to care so much about? I wanted to commit to my R-12, but the R-12 was getting cold feet and trying to push me away.

After this brief fallout, however, the day warmed up and the snow patches dissipated. My legs felt good on the pedals. Maile and I rode together over the passing miles, talking and sharing in what had become a pleasant and clear day. My R-12 brevet even took me to the Shepherdstown Sweet Shop in West Virginia (the best brevet stop ever), and I knew that the R-12 and I were back on track… for the next sixty miles anyway.

As I clawed my way along the last roads of the Woodbine Wallop brevet amidst the dark night and falling temperatures, resentment boiled in me again. R-12, why? Why? As the finish line (a Pizza Hut) came into view, though, all my ill feelings toward the R-12 vanished, the previous miles’ discomforts were put aside, and I was enveloped in a feeling of accomplishment and the sense that the R-12 and I were meant to be together! Meant to be! Whatever had passed between us before, we had worked through it. The cold and discomfort had been a test of my R-12 devotion… and I had passed! We were going make it together! I was sure of it.

I sustained this feeling until January, when it seemed like every weekend was cold, I had a conflict that left me unable to ride, or bad weather was predicted. Ed and I tentatively scheduled a ride one weekend, only to have foul weather obstruct our plans. The R-12 was playing hard to get. That’s ok, I thought. I’m used to getting the tough ones. Time was running out, though, and Ed, Maile, and I made a last ditch effort to ride Crista’s Roaring Lion 200K permanent out of Poolesville, Maryland on the last Sunday of the month. No matter how you might try, you will not get away from me, R-12!

Ed and I drove through the dark to meet Maile for a 7 a.m. start. As I stepped out of the car, the bitter air filled my nostrils. Oh R-12. I will not be daunted by the elements of the day. I will pursue you until you are mine. “I am a complicated and tortured soul,” the R-12 replied. “And difficult to tame.” That may be, I responded, but I’ve dealt with far worse. You will be mine! I repeated.

I did not say these things out loud, of course. This was the nonverbal dialog between my R-12 seducer and me. “Mary, we’re late! We need to go!” Ed said. Oh yes. Ed. Ha! And we all set off together.

The ride was a battle of wills between the R-12 and me. The day began frigid and sunny, and only warmed to just above freezing temperatures. By the afternoon the sun had faded behind the clouds, leaving the landscape brown and gloomy. I was singularly focused on my pursuit, however, and Maile, Ed, and I completed the R-12 permanent in high spirits. Ed even treated me to a McDonald’s hamburger. Perhaps he knew that he had to treat me right since the R-12 was now breathing heavily over his shoulder.

Paul Donaldson hosted my final R-12 brevet in February. Oh R-12, we have gone through good times and bad, I thought. Please, for this final February rendezvous, let us have a good time. I beg you. The R-12 would not answer me, and sent me some very confusing signals through the weather forecast. Tuesday and Wednesday before the brevet, the forecast said rain and a high of 40; Thursday the possibility of rain had decreased; and by Friday the forecast temperatures had risen to high 40’s and the day was to be partly cloudy– which meant partly sunny! Whatever ill will or past resentments the R-12 had harbored toward me were ebbing.

The day of the brevet arrived, and it was spectacular. Mild terrain, warm weather, sun, and high spirits pervaded my last dance with the R-12. Ed and I chatted the day away, and also shared some quiet stretches so that I could have a few contemplative moments with my R-12. I watched the final miles to R-12 nirvana tick away. 44, 43, and so on. The bike rode like a fine stallion, even though I worried that some unforeseen mechanical would rear its head in these final moments. We sailed triumphantly into the finish at Ashland Tea and Coffee (also a great brevet stop!).

We’ve had a good ride together, you and I, I told the R-12. I will never forget you. But we are not meant to be together long term so now that my final brevet card is signed, you must leave me. The fire is gone. Leave me! The R-12 gave me one final wink and did not linger, disappearing from my field of vision to tempt a new randonneur into its web, while I went home to fill out my application, write my medal check to RUSA, and close the book on my R-12 affair.

What a torrid 12 months! Will I miss the R-12? I do not think so. While I loved riding long during the months that were full of warmth and lots of daylight, scheduling in December and January was nerve-wracking. While I relish the feeling of accomplishing the R-12, I am also full of relief. Relief that I was able to stay healthy and keep riding throughout the year, and relief that my bikes performed so well. Relief that I was able to coordinate a 200K+ ride each month, and that the weather cooperated (mostly). Relief that I do not have to worry about when I will work in a permanent or brevet in March, or any month thereafter.

I mistakenly thought that successful completion of the R-12 would immediately transform me into a different rider, a “better” randonneuse, something like Clark Kent when he goes into the phone booth as an ordinary guy and emerges as Superman. It surprised me that I did not experience that transformation. I am not a randonneur super-hero, still just me, but the R-12 pursuit made me feel like someday I might become one.

I finally understand the attraction and lure of the R-12. If a person rides through an ACP series, does brevets or permanents during the summer, and gets out to see the fall foliage, s/he is suddenly eight months or so into an R-12. What may have seemed foolhardy in January suddenly looks really palatable (and achievable) in November. And that is when the R-12 affair begins in earnest.

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