Keith Snyder
Door always open.

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I thought as long as I was going to die, I should do it honorably, so I got as far as Schooley's Mountain General Store before pulling the plug. When the numbers say you need to average 14 miles per hour in order to finish, and you haven't averaged better than 11 all day, it's time.

But at least you can finish the biggest climbs first, and call it quits around mile 120 at a general store where they make pizza instead of, say, standing on some rural highway, dispirited, out of Gatorade, eyed by a displeased horse.

Yeah, I DNF'd. That's Did Not Finish in Randonnese, and is a bad thing, as opposed to DFL, which isn't. Dead Fucking Last is still a successful completion.

My main misjudgment was how well I could expect to perform when sleep-deprived. I'd spent all night getting to the event (out of the house at midnight after trying unsuccessfully to sleep for two hours, ride to Penn Station, catch a 1:41am train, get to Princeton at 2:50, ride to the 4am start)—but I still might have been okay if not for the other misjudgment: I paid too much attention to the temperatures in the weather forecast.

A low of 58° and high of 70°? That's shorts and sandals! Maybe a little chilly at the start, but I'll warm up. And I love my cycling sandals. Love. Really, love. Epic love. Like Majnun loved Layla*.

Still coulda worked out, except for the rain and wind I hadn't paid enough attention to in the forecast, and that pesky internal temperature regulation thing that gets wonky when you don't sleep.

I'm actually not feeling too bad about the DNF. That Pollyanna stuff about at least knowing you did your very best is true. In the face of a really whiny personality—yes you are, shut up—I pulled out every—I said yes you are!—every mental trick I knew:

  • Just get to Controle #2 and then run the numbers and see what the average speed has to be.
  • Yes, I know you haven't slept. Stop trying out different line readings of the phrase to see which sounds the most masculine and just get to the controle.
  • You're really going to quit after blogging like you knew so much yesterday?
  • I know you haven't slept. I know.
  • You got loaned money for that bagel. Have some pride.
  • Just get to Controle #3 and then run the numbers and see what the average speed has to be.
I made it to Controle #3 with just seven minutes to spare before I'd have been declared DNF by default. It was at a lunch place. I got my card signed and told the volunteer...well, I don't remember, exactly, because I was swaying and shaking while I was talking. A little. Not horribly. Not just-before-collapsing bad. More like exactly-what-was-in-that-energy-drink bad. But certainly bad enough that my conversation was in auto-social mode. I do know I said several times that I just didn't see finishing, but I was going to eat first and then decide. Because I'm smart. See? I know to eat first.

One ham/apple/brie wrap, large orange juice, large iced tea, potato salad, four Tylenols, and four electrolyte capsules later, I tuned in to the conversation enough to agree that maybe I could just do eight more miles, to the top of Jenny Jump State Forest. I could do that much, maybe. And then I could decide. And he said my color was coming back, so...maybe I'd do just that much and then see.

The Jenny Jump climb is a pretty good one. Steep stretches alternate with brief plateaus that make you think you'll be done soon. You won't. I've gotten used to this in the last year of increasing my distances, and no longer believe I'm at the top of anything until I'm actually on my way down the other side. I know I can get up there regardless. I may need to stop along the way (twice, in this case), but I'll get there.

(Average speed up the hills on this ride: 4mph. Average speed down the same hills: 30mph. Down takes much less time, so your average speed is not 17mph.)

And somehow, heading up Jenny Jump, I got my first wind.

The electrolytes? The sun finally coming out? God looking at his watch and going oh-crap-I-forgot? I don't know. But suddenly I felt like the guy I'd needed to be nine hours earlier. I could take this hill, no problem. It's just a hill.

At the top there was a Secret Controle.

I don't really understand Secret Controles, which are guys standing next to cars saying "Secret Controle!" and signing your card when you stop. I guess I understand that you don't want people cheating, but this isn't a race. Do we really care if they cheat? Who but them loses if they cheat? It's not as though there's a first place, second place, third place. You being third doesn't push anybody down to fourth, and results are published in alphabetical order. But L'Audax Club Parisien has implemented anti-cheating policies, and since L'Audax Club Parisien is who gets to decide whether events count toward the various awards, that's that. You have to have secret controles.

"I can take you back," the volunteer said, and also, "To be on time, you needed to be through here at 1:30."

It was after 3:00. "I'm gonna go 'til I can't go anymore," I said, and accepted half a bottle of water and headed down toward the next turn on my cue sheet. Feeling pretty good. Doing math in my head, thinking, Well, I've never averaged 13 miles an hour before on this kind of course, but you never know when the laws of physics will temporarily suspend in your favor.

Before I got to Schooley's Mountain, it was clear that the laws of physics hadn't been as delighted as I was by that thought. The necessary average speed had risen to more like 14mph. I was finished, just hadn't stopped pedaling yet.


Maybe it's been too many samurai movies and detective novels during impressionable years, but quitting right before a major climb... No, that's wrong. Hills are for dying on.

The Schooley's Mountain climb isn't as steep-and-stagey as Jenny Jump, but it's six miles long, and there are small descents on it that can seem like you're about to head down the other side. You're not. They're just dips. They're just squandering your hard-won altitude and there's more climbing. I didn't even realize I was at the top of the mountain when I sat down on the bench outside the general store and got out the organizer's number to call in my defeat. I thought I was at least partway down.

"Yeah, the general store, that's the top," said the voice on the phone.


Well, I'm kinda tired and stupid right now.

The pizza at the general store was surprisingly good. One of the volunteers gave me a lift (which they're under no obligation to do) to a different controle, where another volunteer gave me a lift to the Dover train station, and I was showered, bathrobed, sofa'd, watching Red Dwarf, and eviscerating about a cow's worth of barbecue and half a paddy of yellow rice by 11:00. I watched the digital clock on the Time Warner set-top box approach midnight, the cutoff for the final controle. I think I fell asleep before it got there.

Brevets don't need to be ridden in distance order if you're attempting a Super Randonneur Series, and there's a 300K in September that starts right over the bridge from me in New Jersey. No transportation required; assuming the start time isn't before the bridge opens (which, come to think of it, will probably be a problem)...uh, hmm. Well, we'll cross that... uh...


Anyway, before that, the Hightstown 400K is in three weeks. Another 4am start time, but I think I can crash with somebody the night before.

This time I'm bringing tights and a Thermos.






God made Majnun love Layla so much that just her dog would cause confusion in him. —Rumi

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