Inevitable Question

The other day I punctuated my usual non-riding with a ride up Tunnel Road. As my heart rate increased and my breathing grew more labored, I heard a chipper voice behind me. “Nice jersey,” it said. Then the voice’s owner drew even with me. It was Elmar Stefke, a very strong rider I know both from Paris-Brest-Paris preparations in 2007 and from Berkeley Ironworks cycling workouts. I said hi. He said he was going to complete the interval he was doing and would talk to me at the top. We wound up riding a little way together, and the inevitable question came up; actually, more than one inevitable question:

Elmar: You riding much?

Me: I’m just trying to remember how to ride a bike.

Elmar: You thinking about 2011 [the next running of PBP]]?

Me: Um …

Elmar: Are you?

Me: Well, you can’t help but think about it.

To get the full import of the conversation, you need to imagine me gasping for breath and Elmar spinning along easily. The discussion didn’t come to a conclusion, but we did review briefly how the ’07 PBP concluded for each of us. I had the onset of Achilles problems about a quarter of the way into the ride and quit (the weather–rainy and cold, didn’t improve my outlook any either). Elmar, a superb athlete who’s a physical education instructor at UC-Berkeley, had knee problems that forced him to back off a fast pace and limp in for the final 100 miles (still: he finished an edition of PBP that the weather turned from a challenging event to a grueling one).

It’s true: If you’ve been to PBP, if you’ve been part of the little randonneur community (by numbers it’s a tiny subculture compared to the world of marathoning or Ironman triathlon, for instance), you can’t help but think about it. Of course, there’s a big difference between thinking and riding, and PBP and all that leads up to it is all about riding.

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