Iron Rider from Pennsylvania writes:
"In a few days I will start my first 1200K Randonee. What should I take with me?"
First off, congrats on taking on a 1200K. Second, there's very little I can tell you that you didn't already learn in doing the 200, 300, 400 and 600 kilometer brevets that lead up to your 1200K, but I won't let that stop me from jotting some thoughts down here. Maybe some tiny bit of what I write will prove useful.
For those readers just tuning into the whole randonneuring scene, a 1200K is a 1200 kilometer bike ride that must be completed on a specified course within set time limits. It's not a race, but it is a timed test of endurance. A good starting point for those wanting to learn about randonneuring is the list of Frequently Asked Questions that my pals in the Seattle International Randonneurs assembled.
Let me start with some of my totally biased opinions on what you should NOT take with you. A lot of folks will disagree with me on these points and they're free to express their opinions in the comments or in their own blog posts. My thoughts on these matters have been formed by riding and observing other riders on Paris-Brest-Paris, Boston-Montreal-Boston, London-Edinburgh-London, the Rocky Mountain 1200, the VanIsle 1200 and various other randonnees.
Drop the Drop Bag Habit
In theory, a drop bag (a small bag of gear sent ahead to one of the check points) will contain some handy bits of gear and will let a rider complete the event faster and more comfortably. In practice I've seen more riders miserable because their gloves are in their drop bags and they "didn't think it'd be this cold, this soon" or wet because "it wasn't supposed to rain until tomorrow." Drop bags are one more logistical problem for controlle workers, one more time sink when you are stopped at a controlle and one great opportunity for sloppy thinking in your ride planning. If you need something, carry it. If you don't don't.
Try NOT to have a supportive spouse or friend meet you at a controlle
Again the theory goes that the moral support of a good friend or spouse saying "you can do it!" at some point 800 kilometers into a grueling ride can be just the thing to buoy your spirits and get you out on the road. In practice your loving spouse or caring buddy is more likely to say something honest and caring like "gee you look like hell! Are you doing OK?" And of course the odds are that you may feel like hell at that point and if that spouse or buddy has a car or some way for you to get home that doesn't involve riding your damn bicycle...well that's how a lot of rides end in the letters DNF.
The best controlle workers are either good folks you like who lie with conviction "You're doing great!" or grumpy strangers who push you back out on the road before you think you're ready. The biggest mistake new riders make is burning up too much time in the controlles. A good mental trick is to think of yourself as a spy and the controlle workers as inquistive border guards. You want to get in and out as fast as possible.
But What Should You Carry?
All randonneurs and bike tourists are constantly looking for the magic point of "just enough stuff". Vik wrote a great post, mostly about touring, but it certainly applies to randonneuring, titled You're Carrying Too Much Stuff and one of the things you should carry with you is the memory of that article and a healthy skepticism about every bit of your gear. That said, here are some bits, gadgets and do-dads that I tend to carry.
Repair stuff: Of course the pump, spare tube & patch kit. A good multitool. A bit of duct tape wrapped around the seatpost, a few nylon zip ties. A FiberFix spoke.
Food & Water: Always have something to eat and drink with you. It doesn't have to be much, but have something. Different flavors & textures of food are key. Something salty and something sweet. PayDay bars are awesome. Check out What Long Distance Cyclists Really Eat for advice. Chocolate covered Espresso beans can work like rocket fuel.
Clothing: You better have that figured out by now. I've found a Buff to be super handy and my Marmot Driclime windshirt is a super great layer. A really handy thing for sleeping anywhere is earplugs. Use the Buff as a sleep mask.
Lights: Again, something you should have already worked out. I don't care if you have the greatest, brightest generator hub/LED setup ever, carry something with batteries as well. When you're changing a flat on a dark road, trying to read a cue sheet or looking for a roadside sign, a helmet light is well worth the weight. A Petzl e-Lite weighs damn near nothing and a Princeton Tec EOS is bright enough to serve as a bike light. As always for night riding, bring all the required reflective stuff.
Emergency & First Aid stuff: Bandaids & the usual stuff. Bag Balm is awesome. Sunblock. A space blanket. MicroPur tablets.
The most important thing you carry: is what's in your head. Ideally you'll have stories and memories of folks going through tough times, fond thoughts of good times, bits of silly songs to get you through dark nights ("once upon a time there was a randonneur, rode his bicycle both far and near...")
It's a long strange trip. Good luck and Keep on truckin'.
Kent "Mountain Turtle" Peterson
Issaquah WA USA