Newsletter - 2005 Archive

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The Art of Dawdle: Socialism and the August 200
by Kevin Bruce

About a hundred and fifty years ago, Karl Marx wrote that the faster information travels between two points, the more frequently commodity exchanges occur. Consequently, the more frequently commodity exchanges occur, the faster profits accrue. This process necessitates, of course, increasingly faster modes of transportation that deliver commodities from producers to consumers. Our modern day obsession with speed, therefore, is a symptom of capitalist ideology. An obvious question at this point is what does Marxism have to do with randonneuring? Well, with the above argument in hand, anyone who feels they must explain why it took them a seemingly long time to ride a particular distance can do so by simply claiming to be a socialist.

Actually, I had better reasons for riding slowly than a mere expression of personal politics. I hadn't ridden with Alard Malek in a long time and, since he was going to do the 400 which covered the same route as the 200 for the first hundred kilometers, I figured that this was a good opportunity to share a ride, shoot the breeze, and generally catch up on each other's lives. Enhancing the experience was the presence of Manfred Kuchenmiller who looks sort of like Albert Einstein and talks like him, too, by occasionally throwing words like "phenomenology" into the conversation. Where it's a challenge for Alard and Manfred to keep up with me on the hills, it's a challenge for me to keep up with them in vocabulary. It's a balanced relationship.

Alard, I should mention, is the one who first introduced me to the Art of Dawdle. Back in the summer of 2002, the two of us rode together for the first time at a point in our randonneuring careers where neither of us had completed a series and were still getting used to the idea of riding these long distances. That ride three years ago, a 300 km brevet, was on a perfect August day and we dawdled all the way down to somewhere in Washington State and back. At every control, we made a point of taking off our helmets, buying a cool drink, and relaxing in the camaraderie achieved through good conversation. In fact, we enjoyed the controls so much we took a couple of controls where there weren't any controls to be taken just so we could get off the bikes and enjoy the weather while we re-hydrated and talked about life, love, politics, and cycling. As I recall, Alard and I talked so much that day that we actually managed to solve all of the world's problems though I now forget what the solutions were. We finished quite late that night after more than 16 hours, but felt that the time taken to ride the distance was time well spent.

The August 20 ride that we did together this year was equally rewarding, though considerably shorter since I turned back after 100 km while Alard and Manfred pressed on to finish the 400. Up until that point, however, the Dawdle Philosophy appeared to be alive and well. While riding, we set an honest pace approaching 30 kph into a slight headwind, but at the control in Nugent's corner we replenished calories, answered nature's call, snapped a photograph, talked briefly about different types of bar tape, made a couple of off-color wisecracks, and eventually, gradually, all in good time got going again.

About forty kilometers later, we came upon the hamlet of Sedro Wooley. This was a control for me but not for Alard and Manfred. Though it was necessary for me to stop, they could have kept on going, but die-hard, dedicated dawdlers that they are, decided to stop, too. I was famished and so went to the local Subway for a foot-long vegetarian sub. Alard and Manfred just wanted a coffee, but the coffee machine at the Subway was not working. Manfred, resourceful person that he is, walked over to the gas station next door, got a couple of coffees, and brought them back. The gas station, it turns out, did not have restrooms that were functional. Strange place, Sedro Wooley: a restaurant without coffee and a gas station without restrooms.

Once refreshed, we got back on the bikes, said goodbye, and headed off in our separate directions. As I returned whence I came, it didn't take long to figure out that the slight headwind experienced on the way to Sedro Wooley had shifted an entire 180 degrees and was now another headwind that was quickly gaining velocity. (I seem to have terribly bad luck with headwinds. In fact, I don't believe I've ridden with a tailwind since March of 1997 but maybe it just seems that way.)

With a headwind and a fair bit of dawdling to this point, it had now become clear that breaking the eight hour mark for the 200 was impossible so I decided to take my time and see how many ways I could entertain myself. Since riders of all four distances would be traversing this same section of highway, it meant that most of them would pass on the opposite side of the road as I retraced my route, an exercise that reminded me of the scene in the Wizard of Oz where Dorothy looks out her bedroom window during the tornado and sees all sorts of strange goings on. It wasn't long before three riders came into view. Who they were, I have no idea, but they looked like they were riding the 300 distance. A short while later I gave a wave and a hello to Harold Bridge who was riding the 200, his first brevet of the season. About ten or fifteen minutes' after that came the first wave of the 600 distance riders: Eric, Michel, Jeff, and someone else who went by so fast I couldn't tell who it was - all capitalists, no doubt, expressing their political will through speed. Not too long after that came the steady, sturdy pair of John Little and Sarah Gallivan, followed shortly thereafter by a few others including the inimitable, jolly Roger Holt who was so focused on making it up a hill he didn't see me and so I had to yell, "ROGER!" just to get his attention. Poor Roger looked so startled at hearing his name shouted out of nowhere that he probably thought the Almighty had come to take him to Paradise. The only riders I did not see that I expected to were Scot Gater and Melissa Friesen who probably stopped off at a Bicycle Workers' Party rally or something.

From there on, I saw no other familiar visages come my way, and so I continued solo back up the road. Arriving once again at Nugent's corner I stopped at the coffee shack there, got my control card signed, and ordered an espresso milkshake. "Would you like whipped cream on that?" the girl asked. At her question, I thought of those capitalist randos who drink nothing but Gatorade and eat only Power Bars as they forge ahead in their quest for ever faster personal best times. "Oh, yeah," I said, "whipped cream would be nice, thank you. And make it a double shot of espresso, if you please." Rather than slurp it down in a single gulp so that the calories would get into my system quickly, I sipped the milkshake slowly, letting the dark, chocolaty crush of the espresso sink slowly into the taste buds at the back of my tongue, while the heavenly lightness of the whipped cream danced about the top of my palate. I stood sipping this delightful concoction beside a stinking dumpster while watching fume-belching cars and SUVs roar past. It was there that I realized that if there is a Heaven, almost certainly they would serve espresso milkshakes, but equally certain it would not be located in Nugent's Corner.

Once back on the bike, and invigorated by the milkshake's high caloric intake and caffeine boost, I carried on toward Sumas and the inevitable border crossing where getting through customs has become an amusing mini-adventure. Border guards are mostly male, tall, serious-faced people who are practiced in the way of asking Serious Questions. Their hair is short, their speech is clipped, they like to wear sunshades whenever possible, and the dark, somber clothes they wear make them look terribly official albeit undeniably unfashionable. The border guard who checked me through on this occasion was no exception.

"Where are you headed?"

"Back home to Vancouver."

"How long have you been out of the country?"

"Since about eight-thirty this morning."

"Are you bringing anything back with you?"

"No, nothing other than the food that's in my stomach."

"Okay. On your way."

Quick and efficient, yes, but what's with the 'On your way' parting comment? The fellow was about two-thirds my age and speaking to me as though I were an errant schoolboy. I'm not sure what to make of this, but having had previous experiences of being examined by a younger doctor, being issued a speeding ticket by a younger policeman, having taken university courses taught by younger professors, and now having been 'sent on my way' by a younger border guard, I think I can safely conclude that authority isn't what it used to be.

(Since I've fallen into a chronological account of this ride, I now come to the part of this particular route that perplexes me. The country roads through Abbotsford to the Mission Bridge are lovely, quiet, and scenic. Why then, do we cross the god-awful bridge risking life and limb, and then head down the ever-busy, inadequately-shouldered, uneven Highway 7? Why can't we just take Harris Road, over to Riverside, and then get on the Albion ferry? It's far more pleasant and civilized, and exactly the same distance. Oh, wait a second… I forget myself. The route I suggested would be slower due to the Albion ferry and this is a speed-crazed capitalist society, after all. Je m'excuse.)

As I neared Maple Ridge and the final control, I checked my clock and saw that even with all my dawdling, I was heading for a respectable time of around eight and one-half hours for the 200 km distance. Fortunately, I was able to manufacture one last dawdle before the end. As I swooped down the decline towards the Albion turn-off, Bruce's Country Market and Deli came into view. So what if I was just three kilometers from the finish? I was determined to dawdle and my stomach demanded that I do so. Off the bike I got, and went straight to the restroom for a cool splash of water on my face and healthy wash-up. Then to the food service counter where a quick perusal of the menu let me intuitively towards the shrimp and avocado sandwich on whole wheat bread with lettuce, sprouts, tomatoes, cucumber, onions, pickles and mayonnaise washed down with a big bottle of cold water. This filling and nourishing lunch just three kilometers from the finish added about forty minutes to my final time. And, just to ensure that I got full value for my dawdle, I gingerly picked up every stray alfalfa sprout from my plate and savored its delicate texture as it slid down my throat.

Some nine hours and twenty-two minutes after I started this mere 200 km trek, I had my card signed at the final control. As I rode the remaining 40 km back to my home in East Van, I wondered how Alard and Manfred were making out on the 400. When I arrived home, I sent an email to Alard inquiring how their ride had gone. The next day I received the reply: "Would you believe 26 hours?!" Apparently, the route sheet had been somewhat confusing and they went off course twice. When it became apparent that they were going to be out overnight, Alard's email relates the following tale:

"We decided to catch a quick sleep in Bellingham, but the only motel in the area only rented by the week or by the month. The fat, Cro-Magnon slob who operated the motel refused to rent us a room for even two hours. I had considered inflicting some intellectual decimation on the moron, but I realized he would be unaware of the insults as it was likely a retarded flatworm could outwit him."

Well, what do you expect from a capitalist country? It wouldn't surprise me if the motel operator has offspring who work as border guards.

At twenty-six hours, it appears that Alard and Manfred managed to dawdle without even trying. Surely, that is the height of the Art of Dawdle; bred in the bone; intuitive; exemplary; raising the art form to a new level. I am in awe. Their finishing time deserves rich applause.

Next up is the Flatlander, again at 200 km. My challenge will be to find ways to stretch it out to eleven hours. I'm not sure yet how I'm going to do that. I may have to find creative ways of wasting my time like earning a post-graduate degree in psychology or reading a chapter of Das Kapital at each control. I'm sure I'll think of something. I'll start by planning to ride with Alard and Manfred.

August 25, 2005