Last year I had planned my series of brevets out at the start of the year and cleared my calendar so I could ride each of the local brevets needed to finish an SR series. This year I didn't know which of the brevets I would do. However, Jim had mentioned a ride in Pennsylvania that visited ten covered bridges. In addition to it being a themed ride, Jim threw in that he thought that the rando scene had a lot more active members near Philadelphia and that I might enjoy a ride with more riders.
One of the conclusions I drew from last year's rides was that randonneuring is an activity that I would be doing primarily alone, even though I always started with a handful of other riders when riding locally. The long distances and my slow pace meant that I often found myself either left in the other rider's dust after the first few miles or wearing myself ragged, trying to ride with the faster riders. So, between the two choices, I learned to choose to ride alone and at a speed where I could enjoy myself. It was okay, and I had convinced myself that it went with the self-supported spirit of the rides.
So, with a winter of strength training in legs, a few permanents, and spin classes under my belt, I felt good about joining the PA Randonneurs and registering for the Covered Bridges 200k. Jim repeatedly mentioned that climbing in the PA rides tended to be much more challenging than in NY and that this was no exception. I learned this was more of a difference in philosophy between RBA(s) than a topographical necessity. Sure, it's hilly in PA, but having cycled around CNY, I knew you could easily create a real ballbuster of a route if you weren't actively trying to manage the elevation. The PA club has a good track record of completing PBP, partly due to the hillier routes they require their riders to ride to complete an SR series and qualify. Our talks about it made me feel a little nervous about getting involved.
Even so, I registered, and Jim and I rented a questionable AirBNB near the start of the ride in Wissahickon. The ride started at 5 am, and I enjoyed the spring air, the mix of rural and urban riding, and the 7900 ft of climbing. Even better, I was riding with 60 other riders! Sure, there were a lot of fast riders, but plenty of riders were riding near my pace. So I ended up in a loose cohort of riders that seemed to overlap at the controls and with whom I could have a brief chat as we rolled along without needing to push myself beyond my limits to try to keep up. In addition, the bridges were fun and historical way to break up the ride.
The ride ended in celebrating the start of the new riding season at a brewpub in Manayunk along the Schuykill River. Volunteers kept an eye on the bikes at the finish while everyone ate and socialized. I imagined what it would be like to magnify this scene by a few orders of magnitude in France, where thousands would be riding together, and the idea of it lingered in my mind for the rest of the season.