Today was a first for me: a 100k "populaire," a ride put on by the Oregon Randonneurs.
Randonneuring is actually something that I can't believe I didn't know about until recently. Randonneurs USA (RUSA) defines it as "long-distance unsupported endurance cycling [that is] non-competitive in nature, and self-sufficiency is paramount." This is just the thing for a crazy person like me who loves to ride as far as possible on her own power but doesn't necessarily care about going faster than other people.
It turns out it's pretty amazing. I showed up tired and bleary-eyed at the 7:30 registration this morning, after having gotten up at 5:30 to eat breakfast and make my bike/MAX combo commute out to where it started in Hillsboro. After getting over my initial shyness at not knowing anyone, intensified a bit by the fact that I found myself one of maybe three women in a sea of spandexed men, I got my randonneuring card and my cue sheet. The cue sheet lists out all the turns and streets for the route; the card is something you carry and have people sign at various check points--the "controls." That way, even though it's unsupported and you do it on your own speed, there's a mechanism for making sure that people did the whole route. It sort of makes it feel like a treasure hunt, actually, since every so often you have to stop and have someone sign your card, or answer a secret question like what color the flags on a certain road sign you go past are.
The riding itself is amazing. Since there aren't so many people who do it (especially compared to many of the summer organized rides in Portland), it feels much more spread out, like you're just out in the countryside taking a joyride. You can ride with other people, of course, and I did for portions of the route, but it doesn't feel like the bike-traffic-fest that some rides do. Though some people do try to complete the route in under a certain time, it's not a race, and everyone I ran into was super nice.
After about 4 and a half hours of riding on amazing country roads, with showers and sun and showers and sun and a huge puddle up almost to my knees that I had to bike through, I made it back to the start and turned in my completed card. I'm not sure what happens to it now, but I guess it's the way they keep track of who finished and in how long. I was the first woman to come in (heh--out of, oh, three;), though instead of hanging around at the pub (convenient ending location, no?) with the other people who'd finished, I opted to get my wet, cold, but thoroughly invigorated self back on my bike and head home. At the end of the day, I think it ended up being about 80 miles of riding--not bad:)
It turns out there are all sorts of different categories of randonneuring--populaire, brevet, permanent, and probably some others--and they come in different length varieties: 100k, 200k, 300k, 400k, 600k... I don't really know yet how that all works and what the different distinctions mean, but I'm psyched to get into it. I feel like I've found a style of riding that plays to what I like in a bike ride, and a community of people who also like what I like in a bike ride.
And maybe I can get some other women to come with me. We've got to represent:)