This is the what, when, where, why, how page. Kind of like FAQs, I guess.
The Gold Rush Randonnée (GRR) is a Grand Randonnée. Randonnée means, loosely, a long ramble in the countryside. In the cycling context, it means a somewhat strenuous touring ride. Events are at set distances. Throughout that distance, there are controls. Riders get a card at the beginning of the ride and have to have it stamped at each control within a specified time window in order to complete the ride successfully and get credit for it.
A Grand Randonnée is a ride of a particularly long distance – 1200km, or about 750 miles. The most famous Grand Randonnée is the quadrennial Paris-Brest-Paris which was first held in 1891. Like the Gold Rush Randonnée, it is a 1200k ride out and back. And like the GRR, riders have to complete the distance in 90 hours or less.
A randonnee is different from a century (100 mile) or double century (200 mile) in a number of ways.
For one thing, in a century or a double, you sign in, sometimes the night before, and ride until you finish without checking in anywhere along the way. So long as you finish before the folks at the finish line go home, it doesn’t matter when you hit the rest stops along the way.
Another difference is that randonnées tend to emphasize more self-reliance on the part of riders. You are expected to have tools and some parts and be able to take care of your bike if it breaks. And the number of riders in randonnering events tends to be smaller. Centuries can draw hundreds of riders. The GRR is capped at 175 riders, and the qualifying brevets have drawn fewer than that.
Yes, you have to qualify to ride a Grand Randonnée. Specifically, you have to complete a series consisting of a 200k, 300, 400, and 600k brevet in the same year prior to registering for the Grand Randonnée. Brevet literally means certificate. But it is generally used to describe the “shorter” randonnees.
There is a lot of . . . stuff . . . associated with randonnées. There’s the French terminology (e.g., a male rider is a “randonneur,” a female is a “randonneuse”). The distances are metric, not standard. And then there’s the whole “tradition” thing. Randonneuring has been around about as long as rideable bicycles, and many riders seem to get into the traditionalist mode around these rides (“Steel is real,” referring to steel frame bikes – as opposed to, say carbon fiber – is a rallying cry). I can’t say that’s good or bad. It’s just kind of interesting to note.
The GRR started at 6pm on Monday, July 6, 2009.
2009 was the third running of the Gold Rush Randonnée. The GRR starts and finishes in Davis about 1/4 mile along the greenbelt from my house (how cool is that?). The course runs roughly north to Oroville, turns northeast and crosses the Sierra Nevada mountains, then goes more or less north again to Davis Creek, California, about 20 miles shy of the Oregon border. Then returns back to Davis mostly along the same route. It starts at 6pm on Monday, and closes at noon on Friday. There is close to 30,000 feet of climbing, and most of that compressed into the middle half of the course. You can see the GRR route here.
Good question. I’m not really sure why I rode it.
Part of the reason is that I was in reasonably good shape, and the ride only goes every four years. It seemed like a good time to do it, if I was ever going to attempt a Grand Randonnée. I really liked the fact that I could ride – or walk – to and from the start/finish line. Also, I knew a good number of the people working the event. They were fellow club members and many were people whom I ride with. I can’t imagine a more supportive atmosphere to try something so challenging.
On a different level, well, there’s insane, and there’s insane. I think I’m the former. A major goal like riding 750 miles in 90 hours or less is a little extreme. But it’s also really a good way to focus my efforts. It gives context and meaning to training. It allows me to spend a lot of my waking hours thinking about things that were really interesting to me at that time.
I thought of it an endeavor like blue water cruising. On a boat sailing down the coast to Mexico, say, you float along at so many miles per hour. Usually, it’s around 5 to 8mph. The boat moves 24 hours a day. You get time to sleep, but you also have to be ready to jump on board at any time and help out. It’s very hard for a day or two – hard to watch the coast go by so slowly, hard to grasp that no matter what, your destination is days away, hard to adjust to an entirely different sleep pattern. But eventually, you settle into it. It’s very liberating. It’s really wonderful to watch the world go by at 8mph and take the time to watch sun cross the sky because you don’t have shit else to do other than watch it take its time. It’s really wonderful to be able to take all that personal time and to devote it nothing other than what you’re doing right then. Which in a randonnée is riding a bike.
In my training, I rode 130 miles in 8 hours, which was hard for me. I did it partially because I could, but more because I had to in order to squeeze a long ride in when my son, Kazu, was at school and under someone else’s watch. Then, after going through that effort, I had to readjust instantly to being off the bike, to being a good dad, to getting dinner ready, to doing homework . . . whatever. I love all of that. But I looked forward to being on a bike for multiple days and not have to be anything but a good bike rider.
I got to experience that on the four days of the NorCal AIDS Challenge in 2007, and really loved it. Of course, we only rode 80 to 100 miles a day, and slept 8 hours a night . . . but that’s beside the point.
So, for three and half days, I would get to ride a bike up to Oregon and back across the Sierra Nevada; there would be other riders doing the same thing to spend some time with along the way; people would be driving by to make sure I was okay; there would be controls, like ports, to pull into, staffed by people whose only purpose is to feed and take care of me. And all I had to do was ride my bike. It sounded like fucking heaven to me.
There’s a truism in sailing that at every moment of a voyage you experience some combination of being cold, sick, tired, hungry, and scared. But we do it anyway, I think because if you give yourself over to the experience, it is something that can be profoundly moving. I thought the randonnée would the same. Only different because, you know, it’s on bike not on a boat. I couldn’t wait.
Yeah, how . . . now there’s a good question. That’s kind of that the first entry in another blog – Body, Mind, and Bike – is all about. The good news is that at a certain point, the effort doesn’t increase linearly. It’s not twice as hard to ride a double century as a single. On the other hand, I had never ridden more than 200 miles at a time. By the time I started the GRR, my longest ride was a 600k, half the total distance. Common wisdom has it that most of the challenge in a ride this long is mental, not physical. Maybe. You can rad about it and come to your own conclusions.
Next: Davis to Oroville >