Thursday, September 10, 2015

Randonnesia, the Strangest Thing


With this year's Paris-Brest-Paris behind us, and the season of brevets at large drawing to a close, I am hearing (or, more likely, seeing) that endearing neologism pop up in conversations again: randonnesia.

Ah, randonnesia! Combining "randonneuring" and "amnesia," this word refers to the tendency to recollect brevets through rose-tinted glasses. With the passage of time, the more often a ride is remembered, the nicer, more idyllic, less stressful it becomes with each iteration. Forgotten are the hours of strain, discomfort and semi-crazed sleeplessness. Forgotten are the vows of "Never again, do you hear me? Never!" Instead, whatever tiny morsels of fun, beauty, and physical pleasure can be salvaged from the experience, grow and swell and spread in our gullible little minds until they gently push the icky parts out. Over time, the brevet morphs in our memories from a brutal athletic event, to a beautiful meander.

Interestingly, this summer I suffered from rather the opposite phenomenon (counter-randonnesia?), whereby the more time passed since my last completed brevet, the more unpleasant my memories of it became. In fairness, my 300K last May wasn't the loveliest of experiences. Stomach flu and other bodily "mechanicals" dominated the ride. It rained steadily all day and we rode into stiff headwinds. The views which had attracted me to the event were non-existent due to fog. And after it was over we drove home through the night on no sleep. Nevertheless, I felt strong and did not suffer too badly, all things considered. My bicycle was comfortable throughout. I had the benefit of a good friend's company. And, unlike my previous 300K attempt, I actually finished!

So, while certainly there were negative aspects of the ride, there were also positive ones. Had randonnesia taken effect, those positives should have grown exaggerated, until they'd come to dominate my recollections. Instead, all redeeming aspects faded, as memories of the horrible aspects grew more vivid - so that now I remember the ride as an endless nightmarish slog through fog, rain and wind along draggy hilly, visually unremarkable terrain - while my body steadily unraveled.

On the other hand, the 300K I had abandoned (with only 30 miles to go!) in the year prior - which had been an upsetting experience at the time - I now remember positively, even nostalgically. I have not retained the memories of the suffocating heat, the knee-breaking hills, the terror-inducing darkness, and the harsh sting of failure, which had defined the brevet. Instead, recollecting this ride is all beautiful views and fragrant pines and sun-drenched smiles. I remember vividly the thrill of crossing mountains, of traveling further than I had ever dared before on two wheels. I even remember how good the lunch stop BBQ tasted - despite the fact that, at the time, we were all too ill with heat stroke to actually enjoy it!

So why did randonnesia kick in for the failed brevet, but not the successful one? That's something I may never know. Few processes in the human mind as as subjective and unreliable as our recollections of events. They do not follow exact formulas or abide by strict sets of rules. They just... are. And despite their unruly, distortion-prone nature, our memories are crucial to shaping our our identities, our sense of past - as well as our future decisions.

want to remember my last brevet more positively. I want to see the brevet through rose-tinted glasses, but feel as if when I reach for them, they are missing. But time is a funny thing, and its effects may surprise me still. So perhaps I have only misplaced those glasses, and will find them again in due course. Is there such a thing as "delayed randonnesia?" Here is hoping that I may fall prey to it yet.

22 comments:

  1. If you keep trying you will catch it. It's almost inevitable. And PBP isn't that far from you now. You could easily ride it in 2019. You could even take a long holiday and do a brevet on part of the course, to practice.
    My own experience, in recollection, was never one of pain and failure. Even though it took years before I worked out the kinks so I could complete a 200K (I kept getting lost, and there was nutrition to figure out). It always seemed fun, or at least that's how I remember it.
    One side effect of randonneuring is that the rest of biking just seems sort of easy. I simply don't worry about getting passed, etc. Who cares if someone goes faster than me? I saw grown (and much younger) men collapsed in exhaustion at Dreux, as I walked past to pick up some freshly baked, still warm from the oven, chocolate croissants. Which I then ate and finished PBP, without undue stress. There's simply nothing else left to prove.

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  2. Not sure why randonnesia didn't strike on your most recent brevet, but I suspect that one of the root causes of randonnesia is the delayed endorphin release that endurance cycling causes. I'm often cursing the lactic acid in my legs as I'm climbing and and straining, but then there's an afterglow effect: my body feels fantastic for hours and even days after a long ride, and my mood is elevated. I wonder if it's that feeling that gets remembered, and subsequently equate with the cycling experience, more than the cycling experience itself, when the event is recounted much later on.

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  3. Long time no post and maybe its time to invent a new word: "Datingnesia". How many of us have great memories of the bar scene and dating. In all honesty, the vast majority of women I wanted to date didn't want to date me back, and all but one of the relationships I had didn't end favorably (the one that did is my marriage). Yet I still look back fondly (deludedly?) and I love sharing "dating" stories with my teen-aged kids, who find them very funny. Must work the same for childbirth. If it didn't, what woman would ever want more than one baby? Think about it: is a 300K brevet really any less painful or lengthy than childbirth? Just kidding (if it isn't brevets probably shouldn't be your thing). But getting back to the question, who knows why we remember some experiences more positively than others even though we shouldn't? Like you said, they just... are. Chances are your memories probably won't change to a more rosy color over time. That's OK as long as you don't give up; the next ride will better, which I suppose could be consider "Randoptimism".

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    1. I tend to meet people through shared activities and don't think I've ever "dated" formally. Maybe that is why the whole thing seems so cool and glamorous to me. Bar scene! My latest experience involved convincing the local pub to try making martinis. Hilarity ensued.

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  4. I continue to marvel at folks who hit themselves in the head with a hammer just so it will feel better when they stop.

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    1. Who says we stop?

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    2. Somebody asked me what was the best thing about PBP, and I realized the answer is, the sleep. Never have I slept so soundly, or fallen asleep so quickly. The grass beside the road was the most comfortable bed I have ever slept in.

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  5. I am not a randonneur, but experience something similar after the weekly club ride. Without fail, I hate every moment of the pummeling I get and swear I won't put myself through it again. But by the time a week passes, inexplicably it starts to seem like a grand idea again! I suppose it could be the brain's way of tricking the body into keeping fit.

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  6. Love the reference in the title. Does anyone else get it I wonder?

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    1. I would venture to say no.

      But now I'm curious!

      Tell you what: First person to identify it shall receive some tiny mystery bicycle-related item?

      I'll even give you a clue: Those affiliated with my former line of work are disqualified from replying :)

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    2. Synaesthesia: The Strangest Thing

      http://www.amazon.com/Synaesthesia-Strangest-Thing-John-Harrison/dp/0192632450

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    3. Don't know if this went through, so I'll try again:
      This has gotta be a reference to John Harrison's "Synaesthesia: The Strangest Thing," about the condition/state whereby people (synesthetes) mix up sensory feedback so that one sense informs another. Imagine being able to hear or taste a color? Remembering a painful experience as pleasurable is the mix-up here though!
      Strixbike

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    4. The closest guess I could venture is the book "Synaestheasia, The Strangest Thing". Now I must go listen to some Scriabin.

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    5. J Green's was the first non-anon comment. Drop me an email at filigreevelo (a) yahoo :)

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  7. This sounds like something bigger than bicycling -- I think of giving birth and lot's of other examples -- but with regard to cycling, touring has the same impact. Some days, weeks, were terrible and it was easy to think 'why' and 'never again' …. So, yup, isn't life interesting?

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  8. My first 200k Brevet (around most of Lake Champlain) I did with a damaged shoulder. 6 weeks prior I crashed off my bike and managed to tear my left shoulder labrum pretty badly in two places. Being young, invincible and a bit stubborn I opted to ride it anyways despite a constantly dislocating shoulder. I completed the Brevet within the time limits despite the screaming agony of my shoulder and collapsed into my car for the drive home in a percocet induced haze (thank Bobke for friends willing to drive my busted self home). Had my shoulder fixed two months later with 4 anchors pounded into my shoulder and then it was into a very long winters worth of rehab and recovery.

    By the time the spring rolled around I was healed up and it was time to sign up for Brevets again. So I signed up again for the Champlain Brevet (to improve on my time and style of riding) and away I went into training mode. I remember the first effort a lot more clearly despite the heavy painkillers I took post ride than the second. The 2nd effort has been reduced to a few key highlights, like getting the speed camera in Essex, NY to trigger and take my photo. My best guess is that since the first was all about suffering and my brain is trying to ensure that I don't do something that crazy again (yeah, no. Last summer was a string of 200-300k Brevets and crazy rides down the length of Long Island and into NYC and beyond. Not all went perfectly...). Where as the 2nd attempt around Lake Champlain went off without a hitch and was rather unremarkable for such a long ride.

    The unremarkable long distance rides I barely remember and think "that was fun, I wanna do that again". Once I'm on course I start remembering which hills I struggled on, where my legs locked up and I start questioning why exactly I thought this was fun again as I struggle to shovel down food/food like product to keep things going.

    Only to do it once more when registration comes back around...

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    1. A "constantly dislocating" shoulder over a 200K brevet and you wanted to do it again?!... randonnesia at its finest!

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    2. That summer was a little crazy... Went onto complete 2 other Centuries a month before the surgery and spent the day before surgery at my local DH park whooping it up (sorta, the drops weren't really worth the pain...). The running theory behind that less than brilliant scheme was "hey what the hell, the good Ortho will anything else he finds. And if not, then it'll be addressed in another surgery or PT".

      The nurses weren't buying it...

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  9. Just saw the movie Meru with a bunch of climbers. Wow, I think they've got it worse than cyclists! Or is it better than cyclists? ;) At any rate being in the moment is what it's about and I can understand the voice whispering 'come back' when logic might say something different.

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  10. That was a "fun" summer... Managed to squeeze in two more Century rides (one of which I'll never do again because it involved the Mt Hope bridge in RI. It tried to eat my wheels in the expansion joints) and spent the day before surgery riding at my local(ish) DH park. The running theory was "Hey what the hell, my Ortho will fix anything else I screw up".

    The OR nurses were less than impressed with my logic...

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  11. Related but different: what is the term for failing to recognize someone you've ridden hundreds of miles with, because you don't recognize them without a helmet or wearing a different kit or on a different bike etc?

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    1. I was actually surprised when the opposite happened to me: After venturing out on a local roadie club ride, I was recognised later on in the week by several club members when I rode home on my upright bike in ordinary clothing. I was impressed they could still tell it was me!

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