I fully believe that one of the hardest parts of an event is signing up. When I made the registration plunge for the Coulee Challenge, I made a major leap out of my comfort zone and usual training for my "A" events of 200 - 240 miles like Dirty Kanza or The DAMn (Day Across Minnesota). None of my close riding friends had completed a brevet, so a randonneur event was uncharted territory for everyone in my riding circles. My typical "A" event might not equal the mileage of one day, which left me thinking that I could probably rally on the second day, but leaving me wondering about the third, or the fourth days. The year 2018 was going to be different; 2018 would be turn out to be the year of more. There would be more miles, more events, more tinkering, and more obsessing.
Being green to randonneur events, I was in awe of the determination of my fellow riders at the Coulee Challenge. From lack of sleep, fighting heat and humidity, or the many steep climbs, they all displayed courage and perseverance. All ages, experiences, types of equipment, and body types are represented. You simply "run what you brung". While participants and bikes look different, we're all united in our will to see the finish. In this respect, brevets are identical to the gravel scene that I'm used to. Reading about randonneur events didn't prepare me for the experience. People outside of RAAM really do ride all day and all night. Before this experience, it didn't really seem real to me that normal people actually do these type of events.
I consider completing the Coulee Challenge one of the biggest and most rewarding accomplishments of my life. I rode much farther than I ever imagined possible, coming from my longest event of 240 miles when I registered. At the ride I found myself instantly a part of an interesting multi-day reunion of sorts, even though my official randonneur experience amounted to one 600k only 6 weeks prior.
In long events I often ride alone. I prefer to ride with someone to be social and to quickly pass the miles, but I also like to control my own pace, control length of time at stops, or not worry about holding someone up after a climb, or needing to stop and stretch. Uncharacterisically, I rode the entire Coulee Challenge with my friend, Paul Carroll. Paul and I both broke out of our comfort zone and registered for the Coulee Challenge together. We train together and have completed many of the same events, but usually end up separated for one reason or another, even though our fitness levels are essentially identical. At the Coulee Challenge we made each other stronger, like when I was mentally deflated from leaving my water bottles at the control in Viroqua, which added 7 miles of hills onto the toughest day of climbing. There was also the time when we discussed best practices for treatment of saddle sores on day 4 at the grocery store in Plainview and Snyder Drug in Lake City.
During the pre-ride meeting I heard the term "Relentless Forward Movement - RFM", which continues to stick with me. No matter how tired I was from a leg breaking climb, the clock did not stop. I knew I must continue to move forward to defeat the clock. Just one more climb, one more control, one more day until all controls are accounted for. Efficiency after a day of riding was the biggest learning experience for me. Eating, showering, packing / re-packing, and bike maintenance took Paul and I roughly 2.5 hours each night. I couldn't imagine the efficiency of riders stopping for 2 or 3 hours including sleeping! Our goal was to finish and enjoy the experience, even if it meant a bit of time lost chatting to other riders at or after dinner, and getting as close to a good night's sleep as possible.
I encourage any long distance cyclists to try a brevet and to consider the Coulee Challenge. Although my recovery has been longer than anticipated due to Achilles tendon issues and nerve issues in one hand, I'm happy to have completed the event with a close friend and my new friends.