Brevet Merselo 2013, 600km

[This does not really belong here – I rode Quest 620 on that ride to find get a real feeling for the differences between Quest and Strada. So sue me.]

I've been riding this brevet two and a half times already – twice as a brevet on my recumbent and the third time the part from Lelystad backwards towards Roermond, getting my Strada home along the scenic route. First time the weather was "bad" (good joke, laugh later) with a bit of rain, the second time there was full frontal wind for the first 200 km, wearing us all quite a bit down. Nothing yet prepared me for this trip, though…

On the day before the brevet I rode to Merselo (as slowly as humanely possible to avoid wearing me out). Instead of the promised southern wind I already got a taste of things to come getting 6 bft from the left and sometimes front. I took about 5 hours for the 150 km with a few breaks for shopping for food or waiting for the ferry (didn't I already mention that I'm slow?) as I had to adjust the Quests gearing and brakes on the way. Being used to disk brakes I didn't want to risk too much either.

Checking into the B&B Janssen at Merselo (I can recommend it, it's simple but all I need is a bed, a shower and a good breakfast anyway) I noticed that the weather was preparing to get worse but as it was nothing I could change I visited Jan an Osch and went to bed early around 22:00 as I had to get up before 7:00 to have enough time for a hearty breakfast.

Right from the start (at 8:00) the weather wanted to show us some nice surprises. Strong frontal wind of 5 to 6 bft was annoying the riders and from time to time there was some sudden heavy rain. Even the usually protected roads along the Wilhelminakanaal weren't that safe (just like last year, but quite a bit worse). But riding a VM is giving me quite an advantage – instead of being the last rider on the track (my usual position) I could easily keep up with the fastest although riding the Quest felt like riding a truck (after getting used to the Strada for a year) and the ride was designed for bikes. As I complained quite a lot about the track in 2012 (things like very narrow bike paths along the LF13 route aren't even much fun for a recumbent rider if you have to ride among electrically charged elders who don't even know how to behave at 10 km/h and are getting even worse at 25) most of the narrow places were left out but some roads weren't really inviting to be fast (especially with a Quest that hat the original spring for lightweight riders instead of a Risse shock installed) but I didn't have to work half as hard to get westward towards the sea. The ride towards the first checkpoint was rather uneventful (forgetting the fact that the wind was bad enough to lift the Quest onto two wheels when I didn't have room not to give in too being blown off the road); I arrived there with most of the other riders who were still riding groups to get out of the wind. Knowing the food there already I avoided eating anything, got some bottled water at a shop a bit further down the road and left a bit ahead of the others as is started to rain again. I really love my Schuimdeksels. I should have taken the race cap, though.

In order to provide us with some additional fun this year's track avoided the festival near Sharendijke but instead provided us with another nice diversion: The time trial at Waarde which was held on the road along the dike between Bath and Waarde. As they didn't close off the road I was getting in I must admit that riding among al those immaculately dressed real sportsmen got me a bit competitive and my instincts told me not to let any of them pass me. Yes. Fun. Lots of it. A VM is a weapon of mass disillusionment especially if the winds are blowing hard in your direction… If I just know where to look for the pictures the photographers took of me I'd be happy.

The second checkpoint at Wilhelminadorp was definitely better than the smelly Chinese fast food shop that needed 45 minutes to prepare some noodles. I got an extremely large portion of fries with heaps of mayonnaise and waited nearly three quarters of an hour for them to settle, something I never did before. After resting there and meeting a few of the other participants I hit the road again to get to the best part of the entire ride, crossing the Zeelandbrug with tailwinds so strong that the Quest is feeling like being pulled by a kite. Just to get me back to earth I have to find my own way around Zierikzee as the bike track would have forced me to carry the Quest across a bridge (I tried it with the Strada already and didn't have much success there). [Obviously this distracted me enough to completely lose my orientation and taking a detour of about 10 km on the way to Schaarendijke.] Like in the vicinity of Waarde there were a few marginally suicidal kite surfers on the water, probably having the time of their life as the wind is getting stronger all the time and they didn't really need the ocean to surf as they seemed to spend more time in the air than on the water. Not that the rest of the surfers were much less crazy…

Leaving the coast the track was heading towards Rozenburg, the first ferry we would take; I was wondering a bit how much persuading it would take to be accepted as a bike and nevertheless to be put on the head of one of the car lanes which was a bit of a problem the last time I took the ferry. I should have thought about something else: The track included some stairs here and I had to get the VM down there as I completely forgot the way around them. Good thinking on my part but I was able to get the VM down to the waiting area without damaging it or my dignity too much. And – of course – it started raining again while we had to wait for the ferry and there was no dry place for me and my Quest. Schuimdeksel to my aid (this time I only got wet down to my navel)!

At most 15 km behind the ferry I arrived at the secret checkpoint Delft (it's so confidential that there even was a marker on the track) which reminded me of home as we were fed there with hot soup, sandwiches and coffee by friends of Jan. It is not really necessary to keep the riders from taking a shortcut as the next checkpoint is just around the corner at Wassenaar but it is a great place to get fed because randonneurs just know what to feed you with. Again I spent an incredible amount of time there (more than 40 minutes, compared to about ten the last time around) and I'm really grateful for the food there.

Like always I was too late at Wassenaar to reach the checkpoint in time so I had to enter to some great pub close to it – and their coffee machine was broken. Tough luck. Pepsi for me and then off into the dunes towards Katwijk and Noordwijk. And here I had yet another new experience: A real sandstorm. There is still sand worth half a dune in the Quest which I was too lazy to remove. If full frontal rain and hail weren't enough to freshen my skin the sand peeling did wonders for my face. And my chain. Nothing I could do about it but the weather was not getting better.When I found some protected corner I pulled to the side, set my alarm clock to 60 minutes of rest and got an hour of sleep.

Leaving the wilderness to continue northward between Haarlem and Schiphol I was at least out of the area of the suicidal rabbits that tried running into me all the time (only one succeeded but didn't damage the Quest – I don't really know about the rabbit though, it was beginning to get dark). I took care to stock up at a gas station on the way as I knew I wouldn't have a chance to get to the designated checkpoint at Berkhout (I had problems getting there on a recumbent before). And a few km later, just before arriving at the second ferry at Spaarndam I stopped at an uninhabited windproof bus stop and got 60 minutes of uninterrupted sleep. Also a new experience for me.

The way to the northernmost point of Broekerhaven, the entry-point to the Markerwaarddijk was uneventful and mercyfully kept in the dark. The year before I was nearly falling asleep on my bike and crawling ahead at 15 km/h; this time it was different. I got onto the dike by 2:40 and arrived at Checkpoint Charlie by 3:00. As I noticed yet another change in the weather when the bike track got to the other side of the dike leaving me in the wind and light rain I stopped below the only trees along the bike path and decided to get another round of sleep. Besides being interrupted by another group of riders I peacefully slept for about two two hours until I awoke to the already rising sun around 5:00. Within a few minutes all hell broke loose. The wind turned into a storm which tried blowing me into the sea, the rain got really heavy and added yet another round of hail. Maximum speed was about 18 km/h because I couldn't really see where I was going and staying on the narrow bike path without being turned over became tricky (and things got worse the more the road turned southwards). The weather stayed that way until I reached Harderwijk about two hours later. I was wondering (and hoping) whether most of the other riders had passed me while I was sleeping (most hadn't as I found out as Merselo as I was the fifth participant to arrive there) as I didn't believe they would have had appropriate protection for this.

Harderwijk gave me another riddle to solve; the checkpoint is a gas station along a highway with a rather heavy self-locking door to pass through. After trying everything I found in the vicinity of the door I used some velcro tape to keep the door open in order to get the Quest through. I didn't really feel like leaving the VM outside… I love my Velcro tape.

Leaving Harderwijk the weather was getting better and better and the modified track towards Nijmegen was as boring as before but much easier to ride. The alternative entry into Nijmegen (Jan sent us across the other bridge this time) saved me from having to carry my VM around quite a few obstacles I nearly couldn't pass on my recumbent the year before. Getting something to eat there was a good idea, too (I couldn't resist the special offer of a steak and fries along the way) as the next check point wasn't more than a German gas station on the side of a Dutch road (so it specialized in one thing, cheap fuel, and didn't offer much food.). Getting a coffee to flush down a Red Bull was the only thing to do there but it definitely got me up to speed again. Don't ask me about the next two check points on the way to Merselo, though, as I can't even remember how or when I passed them (but I can prove I stopped there).

The final result was surprising. I spent 30:44 hours on the road but only 24 of them I was in motion; considering the fact that I added some detours I rode nearly 640 km, had to turn around often (because I was too stupid to read my GPS), got slowed down by obstacles and was not in best shape right from the start an average speed above 26 km/h seems quite surprising. Last year I needed 33 hours and didn't get a single minute of sleep or took a real break. Obviously riding a VM is turning a brevet into some kind of leisure trip for food connoisseurs. And into some kind of cyclocross race. With chances to win any time trial one might encounter.

I should have known this before I even bought my first racing bike or recumbent – I could have saved a lot of money.