As a randonneur, I like to find out as much as I can about what a particular route holds in store for me. I research this both before and during the ride. It helps me mentally plan for the miles ahead. For a basic overview, I rely on the course description. But where can a randonneur turn for more detailed terrain reports?
The answer is nowhere. Never believe what anyone tells you about the course.
Take drivers, convenience store employees, and local residents. How many of us have had conversations akin to the one below?
“Where you riding to?”
“Blah blah blah town,” I answer.
“Oh, that sounds lovely,” the driver/convenience store employee/local resident responds.
“Really?! What’s the road like?” I inquire.
“Oh, you will love it. Just one small hill from here to there.”
“Great!” I answer, totally inspired and rejuvenated. And several miles later, as my legs throb away from the onslaught of climbs, I think about how I’d like to have a talk with that individual about his or her perception of “one small hill.”
Not all drivers/convenience store employees/local residents see the courses through such rose-colored glasses (or as I like to say, randonneur-colored glasses). Take this conglomeration of several terrain-related conversations I have personally had.
“Where are you riding to?”
“Blah blah blah town,” I answer.
“You’re going where?” Eyes engorge when told the route. “On your bike? You guys are crazy!” Shakes head. “Good luck! Whew!”
While this conversation may give me a better sense of what’s coming, I will not believe it, as it has great potential to create self-doubt and dissuade me from continuing. I always perform better with a hint of reality and a dose of delusion. It keeps my legs strong and my mind happy. Eyes engorged and use of the word “crazy” in reference to my ride and me provide little reassurance or inspiration.
After so many disillusioning exchanges with drivers/convenience store employees/local residents, I decided to limit my course questions to other riders. I am not sure why I thought that sleep-deprived randonneurs with over one hundred miles (sometimes 200) in their legs over multiple days and memories that only recall three cues at most were a reliable source for terrain tips.
Randonneurs who utter phrases like, “just one climb,” “completely flat,” even “mostly flat” should be treated with skepticism, if not disregarded. Smooth sailing from here to the end of the ride, someone says to you? Yeah, right. Don’t believe it for a minute, and keep the granny ring close by. By taking this approach you will either be: 1. pleasantly surprised by the ease of the next miles; or 2. you will not be totally ticked off when that 12% grade unexpectedly presents itself. In both cases, you will harbor no resentment toward your fellow rider regarding the accuracy of their information, as you had no expectations, anyway. Simply accept that no one is to be trusted, and all will go well!
As many of you probably read, Ed and I rode the “Old Rag 200K” in late April. I have ridden this course at least three times, and Ed has ridden it at least twice as many times as I have. As we departed our last control to embark on the final 20 miles of the course, fellow randonneur Gary Dean said, “I wonder how many hills we have left?” Ed and I assured him confidently, “Oh, just one.” A few miles and several hills later, Gary rode up to us and said, “It sure feels like more than one hill to me!” Oh right. About that…
Never believe what anyone tells you about the course.