I started riding regularly at a brisk age of 6 (when the training wheels came off). My dad was a marathon runner and to spend time with him, I would ride my bike next to him as he ran. His training runs were in the 5-10 mile range. We lived in southern Ohio which is very hilly and at the time was bike path free. Fortunately, we lived in the outer burbs where there were few cars. Nonetheless, the planning of the route using a paper map and the execution (using hand-written or memorized directions) was big part of my early days. I tried to be a runner too and finished my first 10K run at age 8, but I had lots of knee issues and the bike seemed like a better fit for me.
When I was 11 years old, I had a 10-speed purple Schwinn that I loved dearly. In fact, as a 12 year old in 1981, I would ride my Schwinn over 20 miles to the local theater to watch Raiders of the Lost Ark at the bargain price of $1.50. Then I would ride back. I The route was hilly, highly traffic intensive and temps were sometimes in the 90s with high humidity and I never had any issues whatsoever with making the distances. In fact, I marvel now at the audacity of doing the route at all. My mother now says she must have been nuts to let me do it. I never had my Schwinn fitted to me, never had bike shorts, never had a water bottle (they didn't put those on kids 10 speeds in the 70s). For a 12 year old, these things were not necessary for the route. The high traffic meant there were lots of traffic lights and my lack of a bottle meant that I stopped all the time to find drinking fountains. I was 12 so my bum was the size of a salad plate and I weighed about 90 lbs, not a lot of pressure there. The many hills also meant that I pedaled standing up all the time.
When I was 13 years old, the Schwinn got stolen and I saved my pennies to buy a new bike. My new bike (which I still own and ride) was a Austrian Puch road bike. Measuring the bike today, I see that it was far too large for me and the bike shop actually hacked the seat so that it was really far forward to accommodate shorter legs. I suppose that this was the smallest road bike they had at the time. Getting off the bike required care to avoid slamming my most humble of parts into the top tube. Nonetheless, I was able to get used to the ride and continued my riding in the 20-40 mile range up until I was about 16 (and got my driver's license). This bike did not fit me, yet I did successfully avoid too many issues by virtue of the hacked seat and being in my early teens. But I do remember that there was a significant break-in period and that I did not love this bike quite the way I had loved my Schwinn.
So we flash forward many years. Between 1982 and 2004, I bought only one other bike, a Trek 2100 which I got in my 20s. It was also over sized (a 56 cm) because I had ridden an over sized bike for so long that anything else felt wrong. In 2005, I finally got back to riding as a major hobby and after my first 50 miles ride, experienced the soreness that most people think of when the think about bike seats.
At this point, I was 35 years old and no longer had the advantage of the recovery that you automatically get when you are a teenager. After only 3 months, I was pushing into the 70 mile range with lots of pain in my bottom and lower back. I had to step back and assess the situation. I read lots of articles, read books and visited a local bike shop. This was partially successful. The following suggestions were made:
1. New bike
2. New shorts (mine were 15 years old, but at least I had bike shorts at this point)
This bike was all carbon as I was assured that carbon and its dampening properties would solve many of my issues. I even had the bike fitted. Unfortunately, the fitter took the textbook approach which said that someone of my height and flexibility should be laid out flat like a Tour De France rider. And the new bike, though smaller, was still too long in the top tube. Even 5 years ago, there were still very few options for the "ladies". I spent a very painful year on this bike, but did my first centuries. I didn't realize how painful they were at the time.
My first century connected a couple of my favorite short routes with exploration of the eastern Twin Cities. I had only recently moved to Minnesota, so I knew almost nothing about local geography. I got paper map and planned everything as I had for years. I planned water stops about every 30 miles. The route looped Lake Minnetonka (about 30 miles) then proceeded along various bike trails to St Paul where it continued to the bluffs along the St Croix River and looped back to Woodbury where it ended at a friend's house. I rode it on a summer day in about 10 hours and loved it. However, at 70 miles my knee hurt and did the whole thing on 5 gels which led to me bonking on the unexpectedly hilly terrain I found in the east. I recovered using my fifth gel to get me the last 12 miles and it was a week before I could get on my bike again. I started riding to work regularly in 2005 and set a personal goal of riding outside at least one time during every week of the year in 2006. You can imagine that I spent quite a bit of $$ on bike clothing to accomplish that goal since it included a couple of rides that were sub-zero. I also learned to ride (from the commute) on snow, ice, and slush.
I rode the Minnesota Ironman Bike Ride (100 miles) in April of 2006. This day was in the low 40s with driving rain and crippling headwinds. I went to the ride alone and at one of the rest areas at 60 miles, noticed long lines to the SAG wagons. Dripping wet riders looked completely miserable indoors as they sipped cocoa. I sat down and several people announced they were quiting. At this point, I was wearing scuba gloves and a garbage bag over my torso and I felt like the stop itself was some kind of test. I stood up and said "I'm not dead yet" and walked out to finish the ride. As I road out of town, I was the only one to leave. But about 5 minute later, I heard something behind me and sure enough, it was one of the guys from the table. "Well, the next stop is only 10 miles away," he said, "and after what you said, I figure this is better than waiting for a bus". We worked together against the rain and wind with each one taking a turn at the front for a couple of minutes. After an hour, we got to the next rest stop and he thanked me for convincing him to continue as he boarded the bus. I still had 30 miles left, but there were others and I hooked up with some of them. Together, we all got to end of the ride. About 10 miles from the finish, the clouds broke and rays of sunlight appeared. I felt like a vampire waking up in full sun - it was dazzling. Then, as soon as it came, the clouds slammed shut and it poured harder than I have ever seen rain pour, so hard that water washed over my rims and it was hard to steer. We made it and that ride may is one of the finishes I remember most vividly; it was an accomplishment, a feat to be at the end.
Between 2004 and 2009, I made some friends in the cycling community who helped me. In particular, credit goes to one of my best friends, Rick, who liked riding rides far above the 100 mile mark. The two of us fell into a real sweet spot with rides between 120-180 miles. This is really a sweet spot for distance riding since it is a range that can almost always be done in the summer daylight. The two of us did quite a bit of exploration and riding in 2007-2008. He continues to be my main long-distance riding buddy. I also met George, currently on the TCBC board, who bailed me out of an asthma attack on a hot ride in 2006. He's a ride leader and though long distance isn't a thing for him, I really like riding shorter rides with him (especially in the hills of Wisconsin).
2009 was my first year to try randonneuring. I had heard of Paris-Brest-Paris, but in 2008, TCBC started hosting brevets and this seemed to be a good intersection between the two kinds of rides I was doing. I did 2304K of brevets and permanents in 2009. It was also my first year to log over 5,000 miles. I decided to ride my first 1200K in 2010, the Cascades.
So here we are today. I've made some major errors and had some major triumphs. And there is only one thing about the sport of randonneuring and long distances that towers above everything else in terms of importance "It's all in your head".