Meander to Manchester Brevet May 2022

Suzanne Rinehart, Claudia Langarica, Brian Farren and I got together to ride the 400 km (250 mile) Meander to Manchester, organized by Greg Smith. It took us over an hour longer than planned due to an accident, but we got ‘er done. It is a prequalifying ride for Paris-Brest-Paris in 2023.

The riders of the Meander to Manchester at the 06:00 start.

In a brevet, one rides a preset course with control points as fast as possible, collecting proof of passage at the controls (or these days, by providing a GPS file). There is a cut-off time for completion. The difference to a race is that cyclists are expected to support each other if someone has a problem, especially if you ride as a group. Randonneuring is about camaraderie, not cut-throat race tactics.

Suzanne, Claudia and I converged at the Bierstube in Le Claire the evening before the brevet, the traditional meeting place for the last 10 years or so of brevet riders from Champaign. Brian drove straight to the base hotel in Eldridge with his camper. The plan was to finish in about 14 hours of riding time, and 1.5 hours of stops at 7 controls or convenience stores to refill food and liquids: leave at 6 AM, get back at 9:30 PM. Reality of course had other plans for us.

The Quad Cities Randonneurs’ Greg Smith, who also runs brevets in Wisconsin and took over from Joe Jamison and Mike Fox, had plotted a course from Eldridge through Lost Nation, Monticello, and Manchester at the northern end, then back south towards the west via Anamosa, Mt. Vernon, Newport, Tipton and back to the Quality Inn in Eldridge.

Everyone was ready to roll out with bikes and night clothing inspected by the 06:00 start, and after telling us how wonderful the weather would be, Greg sent us on our way. Very quickly, a lead group of six formed, with a young rider on a rather heavy bike, a quiet gentleman in yellow who was planning on riding solo whenever he could, and us four as a group. We zipped against the wind and soon got to the first control in Lost Nation at 07:46 and out by 07:58, an auspicious beginning. The other two riders would variously ride with us until we dropped the heavy bike, and Mr. Yellow, who kept to himself, was off ahead after blasting through controls in under 5 minutes.

The day got hotter (high of 30 °C, 86 °F) and the sun came out relentlessly. This made for a tough ride after the few hours of morning cool had worn off. We reached Manchester at 11:25 on schedule, but dawdled around for 20 minutes instead of 10 to cool off a bit. Still I thought, a finish before 10 PM was in the cards now that we turned south.

By then, the wind had evaporated and we got back nothing of what we gave on the way north. However, the group drafted and took turns well, typically 5 – 10 miles since we were riding fully aerobically and had 240 km yet to cover! Our women were bigger water consumers than I, but Brian had extra bottles and saved them from drought in the long segment between Manchester and Anamosa. There was also a store in Prairieburg with ice cold Coke, Mt Dew and water to keep us on track. 

As we passed through Anamosa, Springville and Mt. Vernon, we saw Mr. Yellow more frequently and finally passed him: he was toiling mightily in the heat of the day riding alone, while we were relatively fresh with a group pulling and cooling breaks at controls. But then disaster struck.

While checking up on Claudia, Brian made a sharp U-turn on his bike and got his foot caught in the front wheel’s spokes, demolishing the wheel at a farm past Sutliff. Fortunately he got away with road rash. By an incredible coincidence, a friendly local who was wrapping up mowing a lawn was a cycling enthusiast with a nearby garage stocked with road-, mountain-, fat-bikes and wheels. This cost about 45 minutes. Suzanne, Claudia and I rode on, with the idea to wait for Brian at the next control at St. Mary’s Church of Newport if he could get his bike fixed. Brian did get his bike going and dutifully went to St. Mary’s Church in Solon. By the time we figured out Mary’s duplicity, another 45 minutes was lost and we had been ravaged by the ‘mosquitoes of the dusk’. With a free 1h15m lead Mr. Yellow was now safe from us.

But the group was finally back together, which is the whole idea! It was now close to sunset, and we stopped at 19:50 just before Tipton to put on our night gear. Brian was the rear guard to play it safe because the borrowed wheel was not compatible with his front brakes. For me, the main consequence of the delay was that I was totally off my 250 cal/hour, 1500 ml hour feeding and watering schedule, and thus dehydrated and starved. Later measurement showed a 7 pound deficit, of which only 1.5 were accounted for by fat loss. Fortunately, Suzanne and Claudia jumped right on the front and pulled for miles and miles into and past Tipton while I woofed down a sandwich, a chicken wrap, a donut, a Coke, and a liter of water, keeping my heart rate low in the middle of the group.

At 380 km I had partly digested and felt better again. I hopped to the front and took us home, well almost: in Eldridge, my ‘4 hour light’ failed after 2 hours and Suzanne went to the front again with her ultrabright, long-lasting light. Now I want one of course. We finished at 22:45, 1h15m behind schedule. Our riding time was exactly the anticipated 14 hours, so things went as planned except for the wheel accident.

I showered in Claudia’s and Suzanne’s room, snagged a couple of the sausages left over from Bierstube, and drove the 2h45m home to Champaign while staving off narcoleptic attacks.

It was a good day in Iowa, and will get us early application submission for PBP if we decide to go in August 2023 to do a similar 780 mile ride from Paris to the coast of France and back.