Wednesday, May 29, 2013


Opening disclaimer:  This event is in no way officially recognized, endorsed, encouraged, or promoted by the Sheetz corporation.  Yet.  Hopefully, the same company that has the sense of humor to erect billboards with the slogan "Grab life by the meatballz" can appreciate the spirit in which I do this and won't send me a cease and desist letter.


On the Randonneurs USA website, we find the following definition of randonneuring:

Randonneuring is long-distance unsupported endurance cycling. This style of riding is non-competitive in nature, and self-sufficiency is paramount. When riders participate in randonneuring events, they are part of a long tradition that goes back to the beginning of the sport of cycling in France and Italy. Friendly camaraderie, not competition, is the hallmark of randonneuring.

Eric and I out on a characteristic 100+ mile ride including lots of gravel forest roads.  We had set out after lunch with no route planned.  Note the setting sun.  We still had 30 miles of gravel to ride and a house party to crash.

As my friends and enemies will agree, this describes my cycling (and running, mountaineering, etc.) habits fairly accurately.  On a day of riding, I like to strike out with only the vaguest notion of where I will end up.  Still keeping the 21st century at arms length, I will shove a paper map or two into a back jersey pocket along with a non "smart" cellphone, a $20 bill, and my ID.  Throw a banana in for good measure.  Top off your water bottles and ensure your headlight is charged and you're set.  Now all that is left is to pedal 60-100 miles in an indeterminate loop.  Any appealing side road, inviting diner or friendly local is a welcome diversion.  A day without a plan is one ripe for new discovery.

Some folks just call this "riding a bike" and don't need the benefit of a definition.  But in an age where many cyclists I talk to are on specific training regimens for their next "tri" (or triathlon) and question me on what cycling app I use, I am heartened to see a side of the sport devoted to getting out, riding a long distance just for the hell of it, and having fun.  Randonneuring is the neighborhood pickup football game of cycling.  Except instead of only playing one game at a time, you're playing three in a row.  Or twelve.

For those of you living in the mid-Atlantic United States, especially central and western Pennsylvania, the Sheetz chain of gas stations needs no introduction.  For those of you who are still unawares, Sheetz is a chain of gas stations.  The thing that sets them apart is that they have a smorgasbord of made to order food that tastes divine.  While some may argue about the healthiness of some of the items on the menu, no self-respecting long distance cyclist is going to think twice about devouring one of everything.  Especially not this string bean cyclist.  The company began in central Pennsylvania and now extends into several neighboring states.  I can remember twenty years ago, going into a Sheetz and writing down my submarine sandwich order on a paper slip, which was one of maybe three offerings on their menu.  Now you stroll in and their touch screen ordering systems has about 100 different options for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

My bicycle gets 20 milez per donut.

It should come as no surprise that when I lived in Pennsylvania, these stores were a favored stop on my long bicycle rides.  Early in the morning, I would stop at one closest to my house and pick up some breakfast Schmuffins and coffee.  (Sheetz adds the "Sh" prefix to many of their foods' names and pluralizes with the letter Z as in "Would you gentleman like some donutz along with your coffeez?")  Later in the day and 50 miles into the ride, you could get a sub or whatnot.  And of course when you're still riding well after dark and fighting off exhaustion and sub-freezing temps, you can fill the gas tank with hot chocolate and some fryz.  Don't get me wrong, I like to stop in small local eateries and try new places, but nothing beats seeing the red awning of a Sheetz down the block and knowing that you can dependably refuel.


While I am content to blithely ride about the countryside with nary a plan, it's hard to get other people to rally around this concept.  This is where the idea of a brevet comes in: a predetermined ride of 200+ kilometers with checkpoints, but in the spirit of randonneuring where everyone is self sufficient and enjoying one another's company.  There are preexisting randonneuring groups in the Durham, NC area where I now currently live with annual events as there were in Pennsylvania.  But what I am interested in is a really low hassle, low cost ride that everyone can enjoy.  And Schmuffins.

For these events you must check into a control at certain spots to make sure that you're on course and sticking to certain time restrictions.  Since I don't want to bother with any volunteers at control points or officials (or bother with anything really) I realized that some place (e.g. Sheetz) could serve that purpose for me.  When you order food at Sheetz, the receipt that you get is time stamped.  Voila!  Obviously you're going to want to eat every so often when you're riding 120, 200, 600 miles.  Order some scrumptious edibles, save your time stamped food receipts and present them at the end of the ride.  While I didn't get this idea off of the ground when I lived in the Pennsylvania heartland of Sheetz, I realize that my dream can still become a reality with their empire now reaching the Triangle area of North Carolina. 

If you are interested in participating in such an event in the greater Durham/Raleigh/Chapel Hill, NC area, send me an email at tfmrotek AT gmail DOT com.  Time and date have yet to be determined.  I have one 120 mile route that I am going to scout next week as a possible first event. Categories for awards or prizes have yet to be determined.  Actually nothing has really been done yet beyond writing this inane post.  So if you wanna get in on the ground floor of this, let me know.  The first ride will be around 200k/120mi travelling through both rural and urban areas and hopefully include some gravel portions just to annoy folks on really skinny tires.  Steel bikes and alter egos are always encouraged.

P.S.  For anyone who thinks that Wawa warranted even an honorable mention in this post, just go home.  No one cares.  Sheetz rules.


  1. You had me chain, crank and freewheel until you introduced the gravel path and it conjured up bad memories of last year's bone jarring twenty mile section of the C&O towpath on my skinny tires. Maybe I'll have to take the long route on pavement and just wait for you at the next Sheetz.

  2. Hope sheetz funds your event. Let us know if you do something like this in PA, we'll help promote it.

  3. Hey Tom! Just read this highly-entertaining-as-usual entry and was just plain hurt after seeing your comments in the end regarding my beloved Wawa. I'm from Wawa-land, my friend. Wawa is distinctly different from (read:better than) Sheetz because they built their dynasty on convenience stores selling food from THEIR OWN DAIRY. This was important because most local dairies were closing down as they were being taken over and subdivided for housing developments. If not for Wawa, we would have had to buy grocery-store milk (blech!) Sheetz was just some Wawa-copycat store that I first noticed in 1989 when I came to college. Just saying - show Wawa some respect :) Miss you!