- Trading Post
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.
I 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.