If there’s a difficulty in finding who to grill about the allure of riding long distances, it isn’t finding subjects. There’s a strong roster of candidates: this year alone more than 230 riders completed three double centuries for the first time, according to Chuck Bramwell, Executive Director of California Triple Crown (CTC).
I realized, while struggling to massage the article into making sense, the second difficult part of writing about long distance riding: was I even asking the right questions? Once a rider has given in to his or her curiosity and finished a double, what keeps the fire going?
There are more than enough riders to choose from. It’s tough, though, to figure out whom. Not being much of a distance guy myself, I kept the search close
Chuck Bramwell was an easy and obvious choice…not so much because he’s so active in supporting, riding and promoting long-distance cycling, but because I know him.
His enthusiasm for bike riding is infectious. While he hasn’t recruited me into trying a double century, he proved to be a patient mentor when I started back into cycling. And when I was 75 miles into my first Amtrak Century with my 12-year-old son, who had trained to 75 miles and no further, Chuck saved the day.
We were a mile or so from the climb to Torrey Pines (which at that point loomed like a Himalayan peak), stopped dead. I was seriously thinking about looking for a SAG vehicle when along came Chuck. I can still hear his shout out:
“Jonathan, I can’t believe how far you’ve ridden! I thought I’d find you miles back. Way to go!”
And off Chuck went. It perked the semi-comatose kid right up. Then off he went. I wouldn’t have seen him until then end if there hadn’t been ice cream atop the climb.
I knew of Colin Stokes long before we met, through posts on “Brethren of the Bike” (a local club of sorts) and allusions to what next mega ride he was up to on Facebook. I think one was “The Everest Challenge.” Look it up: 29,000 vertical feet over a “few” hundred miles in the steepest climbs of the Eastern Sierra Nevada Mountains over two days. Others I vaguely remember starting with “Death” or “Horrible.” In 2014, which he’s wrapped with a few days to go, he’s logged more than 14,000 miles and climbed over a million vertical feet as part of an unofficial international social media call to action.
Finally I ran into him on a ride some friends had put together from Irvine to Solana Beach. Colin didn’t start with us, but “apparated” into the group in Mission Viejo. He didn’t seem to be working very hard and by the time we hit Camp Pendleton he didn’t seem to be working much at all. But he was conversing easily while pulling everyone at 25 mph. He reminded of Champion, the born-to-be-a cyclist character (and star) in “The Triplets of Belleville.” All legs, not much upper body. As close to a perpetual motion machine as I imagine is possible.
I sent them questions. We met for coffee, which was iced for Colin and straight water for Chuck. Between them they had at least a double-century’s worth of information, experiences, and if you could bottle their enthusiasm for cycling and long-distance challenges you’d never need another energy drink or gel. But we’ll get to that shortly.
In the course of the conversation it became apparent that there’s more to distance riding than the personal goals both checked off an pending. Chuck kept bringing up his wife Carol, others who have helped him, and riders he’s supported. Colin’s wife Julie came up even more often. It turns out that aside from being a key part of Colin’s cycling experiences and successes she’s also an accomplished distance rider. It was clear that her perspective and observations would add to what Chuck and Colin had to say, so this will go from two parts to three. Not quite a triple century…but just about as much work. I hope you’ll stick around for the next installment.
By the way, thanks for reading, and Happy New Year.