"I've never been really good at anything...except randonneuring...because it's non-competitive." When Dan said this a few hundred miles into our ride, I used it as an excuse to find out many other things he's really good at. Then, as we had a few hundred more miles to go, I thought about it some more. I thought about each part, what they meant, and the complexities the phrase suggested. I was going to ask him more about it, but a control was coming up, so I saved it for another time. "Yet knowing how way leads on to way, I doubted if I should ever come back," thought Robert Frost, and so did I. Yet, on this long drive home, looking at the photos and videos, let me try to revisit Cracker Swamp and share it with you now.
When people along the way ask about our ride, about what we're doing, I'm never sure where to start. I look at their faces and take just a moment to see if they're really interested. I almost never tell them how many miles we have been riding, or how many more we have to go, because that's like telling someone at a cocktail party that you're a dentist specializing in root canals. "Is it a race?" They might ask. "It's not a race, but, it is timed, and they do post your time, and the first finisher is noted and often there are records made or broken...and you get a medal...although you sometimes have to buy it yourself." Their faces become unreadable. Often there is silence. "It's fun!" I sometimes add.
Okay, let's be honest, it is competitive. It's a physical and mental challenge that requires specific skills, training and mindset. Talent isn't required, experience isn't enough, although it's helpful. Being retired and/or wealthy is really all it takes. Just kidding (mostly). At the Cracker Swamp 1200, there were many examples of what it takes to be a great Rando. It was like an all star game of randonneuring. Many of the riders have completed dozens of 1200kms. There were multiple K-hounds (10,000 RUSA kilometers in a year). There were RBAs (leaders) from all parts of the country, There were record setting ultra distance winners. There were riders from all over the world. We all got to do this beautiful ride, so in that sense, every one of us is a winner.
Okay, so even in the relatively small world of randonneuring, there are those who are successful and those who are not. Hey, we all have good days and bad days, so if your ego is dependent on winning, competition will often disappoint. But there are a few things you can learn and practice if you want to be good at randonneuring. Firstly, you have to be in tune. Everything needs to be in tune- your bike, your mind, your body, the weather...What I'm saying is that you need to prepare. What that means for each person is different, but for me it means going to the gym regularly, riding my bike at least 5 hours a week (often more), getting the right nutrition, enough sleep, and the occasional fermented beverage (for, you know, stress reduction).
Secondly, you need a plan. What are your goals? How will you reach them? Victor and I work up a spreadsheet before big events. Looking at maps we calculate likely average speeds, allow 15min rest stops, and list it all- start times, control points, arrival and finish times. Our goal is to ride in the daylight as much as possible. This way we get to sleep, enjoy the scenery and avoid teenagers throwing empty beer cans at us in the middle of the night. A plan helps at those low moments when you're not having fun, and also at those moments when you're laying on the bench in the sun thinking a nap would be better than riding another 100 miles. A food plan is also key. Much time can be wasted walking around convenience stores trying to make decisions. Know what works for you and stick to it.
While there are a few more secrets I could share, Victor and I realized something really great at Cracker Swamp. Since we are lucky to have each other, we often ride on our own. When we're on the tandem it's especially hard to ride with others because most people can't ride in sync with us. You have to keep on our wheel on the flats and downs. Plus, the tandem is slow to start, slow uphill and doesn't surge quickly, so usually we get dropped, drop others or pay leap frog all day. This brings me back to Dan. He's one of those people you meet and feel like you've been friends with your whole life. He's a great Rando (although he did drop us after a while the first day). We had a little group with Dan and Kent for the last three days. Plus, some of the time we had Gunnar and Toshi and Mark and various groups that jumped on our train. What a joy it was to share the ride. How great it was to share the pulls. It was so much better together, which is a lesson I don't get tired of.