I scheduled a work meeting in the Boston suburbs for Friday morning - so I planned on the 1am start - and sleeping from about 3pm until I needed to awake and prep for the ride. This almost worked - I dozed off in the hotel to a World Cup match at about 3:30 PM... but found myself up a 5, energized. I surfed the web, read some rondoneuring stories, emailed, and tried to sleep again. I managed perhaps 4 hours sleep total on Friday before getting up at 10:30 to prep for the ride. I stayed less than a half hour away from Hanscom - so I loaded the car and bike, grabbed some calories, and arrived for the first time with a comfortable cushion before the start. I layered well for the night temperatures and found everything on the bike just as I left it as I pedaled the parking lot.
The ride started in Bedford, MA and rode through very beautiful country to Bullard Farm (Western, MA) and then off to Ashfield for the mid point and essential turn around on the loop route back to Bedford.
I started the ride in a large group - sticking with other riders going my pace to ease the task of night navigating. The group was about 20 - 30 riders that would form and reform as we headed into the Berkshire hills - taillights blinking off into the night.
The sensation of riding in a group at night is very unlike that of a typical road ride. The sound of tires softly plying on the road, the efficient hum of the pedals, chain, and freewheel, and the occasional hushed chatter of riders catching up with old friends or discussing the route makes the night environment otherworldly. The site of the landscape punctuated by red firefly-like taillights and lit from the glow of human powered headlights is quite surreal - no whining engines, garish controls, or the smell of exhaust - just the steady rhythm of the pace line moving down the road - sometimes 3-4 abreast taking the entire lane on deserted country roads.
As the group fragmented and sorted itself out as we started climbing the hills along Rt. 119, I found myself leapfrogging with 3-4 other riders. Riding in a group at night was unique - riding alone in the forest with a half moon rising and the stars showing clearly in the sky was truly inspiring and humbling. I followed the Big Dipper up one pre-dawn, major climb - looking over my shoulder to see the moon glowing orange as the sun tried to peak around the horizon. The route at this point followed the road up to and through some Massachusetts state forest - and for most of the climbing I had the pleasant sound of a creek roaring somewhere nearby in the darkness. Alone on the road, under the stars and moon, listening to the human engine and simple machine take me up the road put me into a very peaceful, yet focused state of mind. The road and the night moved by and I felt tuned into the rhythm of the stars.
The night and predawn was cool as we climbed and descended the mountains - there was plenty of mist coming off the small lakes we passed. I wore wool socks, wool tights with windproof knees, and a wool base layer and felt great - the perfect combination of warm from working and covered from the chill. I lent my Putney shell to a rider I met along the way who was freezing - he left Bedford with only his jersey... and the temperatures dropped as we neared the early morning and climbed into the higher forest. (which, I realize by western standards is still pretty low!)
My split time to the first control was the fastest I've done this series - 75 miles in 5h12 min - with according to my Topo software 5,500 feet of climbing. This is slower than most riders - but for me the Brevet novice it was comfortable and as fast as I felt like pushing for a ride of 250 miles. I figure my midmorning ride had me right in the middle of the pack - folks in front of me riding a hammering pace and folks with and behind me doing it within their comfort zone. I liked where I was - felt strong, and new that if I slowed or had trouble other folks would be coming along - and if I felt like picking it up there were folks with me or just in front that would be a friendly site in the night.
At Bullard Farm I refueled on watermelon, cookies, and some summer sausage, reloaded water bottles, and debated changing into cooler clothes before I set out for control 2, 55+ miles away. I headed out and rode most of the second leg alone - enjoying the early morning sun that crept over the hills. We climbed to Warwick, Ma and then had a fun descent into Northfield - a town I routinely ride to on my 60+ mile Tri-State training loop. It was odd to roll into town from another direction, and knowing that I wouldn't be heading north to Vermont - but further west and back again - all within 30 - 40 miles from home. The route then rolled along following the Connecticut River from Northfield into Turners Falls. I was alone for a good long time - and I just as I felt some despair that maybe my cue sheet or navigation was off, a cyclist from NYC crept up on me and we rider 10+ miles together talking about "the City", timber framing, old barns, and cycling. We parted ways as we began the climb up 116 at Yankee Candle to Ashfield. I settled into a slightly slower pace - and for the most part enjoyed the climb - until the very end - as a light rain trickled down and I knew I was moments from lunch and a break - and the control was only a few more pedal cranks up the road... then despair set in as I was craving food and water and a chance to refresh.
I changed into cooler clothing for the afternoon - switching out my Ibex tights for bib shorts and losing the wool base layer. Swapping shorts is something I think I'll do on all rides over 200k - what a great feeling to slip into a clean and fresh pair of shorts for the remainder of the day! I donned my shell for the drizzly and assumingly cooler descent. I refueled on a turkey sandwich, some chips (got to like the salt after sweating all morning) and a Coke. I downed more watermelon and a banana, and as I was heading out a half ham sandwich called out to me...
I figured that the long descent and short bit of navigating to Amherst would allow plenty of time for digestion. Waterbottles were reloaded and I struck out again alone - passing a few riders on the decent. I felt odd - too warm in my shell, a bit chilled (but better) after removing it. I hit the flats near Yankee Candle and my motor just quit. I struggled along on Rt. 116, getting passed by several riders as we headed to Amherst. I couldn't find a rhythm after feeling so strong all morning. I'm not sure if lunch did me in - but I felt bloated and slow - my legs were lead. I sat up for a long bit taking it slow - hoping my body would sort itself out before the big (unknown how big) climb out of Amherst. Turning out of Amherst I poked away at the route feeling odd and slow - and I noticed that I kept climbing. (I'm not sure how difficult the climb really is - this section of road was pure misery to me - and I plan on the short trip down from Vermont to ride it as a training ride sometime to verify if I was really sick - or if its really that difficult...)
I suffered through the better part of this 50+ miles to the Bullard Farm control. I hit a wall and it threw me down, very hard. I have never on my bike felt as I did for this section of road - absolutely demoralized, physically and mentally crushed, tired, and fantastically sore everywhere. My stomach was upset and my seat and saddle were fighting it out. My Brooks Saddle won - and I stood whenever I could - the pain far too great to tolerate. I started the "standing sprint" technique - stand, pedal up enough to spin out, coast a bit, REPEAT. I began to set small goals for myself - get to the next significant mileage point on the cue sheet, get to the top of the rise, get to that interesting looking tree... and when I saw the cue for the Pelham General Store I set the goal of a Coke slush, or popsicle, or something cold and icy. (Not sure why I was craving cold and icy - the temps were mild - but I think I was probably dehydrated. (not really able to eat or drink on this section...) I forced down some Gu and water... and atop the climb I felt my saving moment would be had - turn the corner and there would be the general store. My heart sank and I felt it hit the road. The general store was deserted - closed, shut down.
Crushed, I regrouped - and pressed on another 10 miles to the next place that I could find provisions and take a break - and as I limped up to the parking lot I found several of the folks who passed me earlier enjoying ice cream on the front chairs. A Coke slush was not to be had - but I enjoyed the most fantastic pospsicle I've ever eaten, followed by a liter of cold water. I sat and chatted a bit - and as the group that had been resting for some time donned their helmets and rode off, I restocked on cold water, dumped the Perpetuem and Heed and dreaded the next 10+ miles to the third control. Surprisingly as I got on the bike my saddle and seat decided to play nice. The pain in my rear was gone. My legs felt alive again, and the 10+ miles with some short, fun descents went quickly. I started to feel confident again, like I could finish. like my body was actually capable of riding, like after only a few years of being "serious" again on the bike I could start to look toward longer, more intense goals... and continue to get faster and fitter and enjoy these wonderful gifts of cycling days.
I rolled into Bullard Farm, chatted with some familiar faces, dumped out my pannier (which I will never again use for a Brevet - back to the rack pack or large seat pack) and set the stage for the last 60+ miles to the finish. It was a long way away. I had suffered quite a bit on this middle last leg, and I gave myself an ample time goal to return. I refueled, reloaded, oiled a slightly squeaking chain, and pedaled away - into some thunder and very large rain drops. I paused a bit under some trees - protected the Brooks with a bag from my coop, got the blinkers blinking and stashed the Brevet card in plastic. I rolled through the rain - actually enjoying the ride - slow - but enjoyable. Familiar faces passed me again - and I was confident that despite my previous melt down I would finish. As I neared the 200 mile mark my body again started complaining. I stopped for a quick break - and whatever my body asked for I gave it - so at MR. Mike's convenience store I downed some Pepsi and Combos (cheddar cheese filled) and grabbed some Twizzlers to go. (note - on a normal day the thought of eating Combo's makes me sick to my stomach!) I called my GF who was enjoying the day in Boston with friends to discuss my potential arrival time at Hanscom field (she was my designated post ride driver back to Vermont) - she was enjoying fine weather and clarified and boosted my confidence that I was only a short training ride from some good food and taking a well deserved rest.
On the climb to the Wachusset Reservoir I was passed by some familiar faces again - folks who I thought would be far further up the road than I. They stopped for a break to wait out some of the rain. I commented that I was "dying" - and they offered some food that I did not need. As they crested the climb I saw a chance to ride with a group again and somehow I got the engine running and the legs turning. Somehow, somewhere I pulled some confident riding into my life - and caught the group as we started East on 62 for the final 25 miles to the finish. Recovering on the rolling descent I found my legs again, and actually pulled to the front of the group and put my head down. I felt strong once again - and with only a "short" 25 mile jaunt to the finish I picked up the pace and our little group started leapfrogging each other as we climbed and rolled through South Bolton and Hudson. I felt as if I were out on a club group ride - the pace would pick up and vary as energy and the terrain dictated. I settled off the back felt good about chasing after the climb.
Unfortunately I burned up the balance of my energy and about 12 miles from home I faded further and further back into the night... not even to see them at the finish. I struggle the last 12 miles (in my books Rt. 62 is now officially the longest road ever). Energy came in bursts - and when I could muster it I put my head done on the aerobars for a short bit and would ride as hard as I could muster... knowing that I was near the finish. Turning out of Concord I knew I was close - and following 62 somewhere I made a navigation error at the construction - missing Old Bedford Road. I could hear airplanes. I could see the glow in the sky from what I presumed was the airfield, but I could not find my way. I backtracked a bit - and recovered my steps - twice - and in my delirium passed the turn on 2 occasions. I caught a glimpse of a faint headlight - something I could not mistake for anything other than the bob of a climbing cyclist - and started to follow. Suddenly things looked familiar - the office parks - the last little climb, the left turn - the confusion of the Hanscom entrance knot... and I was home.
In all, I loved it. The first 130 miles was some of the finest cycling I've had the pleasure of experiencing.
I'm finding that the Brevet routes are always challenging and scenic. The company superb. The support and volunteer staff the nicest people I've met.
As a new randoneur I am continually adjusting what I think works and doesn't. This time out I carried too much - but had the clothing choices right on. I missed a great opportunity to use the drop bag (thought I'd be better off "being prepared") - and carried 10-12 pounds of gear in a single pannier. I should have stuck with my seat pack or rack pack - taking advantage of refueling and changing gear with the drop bag.
My tweaked bike set-up continues to work - with minor refinements in the works. Lights (dyno with dual Schmidt's) again worked flawlessly - and while I ride at night quite a bit here in VT - I'm always nervous about the cue sheet and being on strange roads. After this ride night navigation has dropped to the bottom of my worries.
Nutrition - I'm finding this to be a challenge. My normal riding ranges in the 30 - 75 mile range and Gu, a bit of solid food, and HEED or energy drink seems to work. I'm finding I hit a wall after the 120 mile mark on Brevets (including the 300) - and need to find a better way to fuel. Solid food seems to be what I want - but I'm not sure what happened on this ride. The bit of riding after the second control was the worst I've yet to experience - and I chalk some of it up to fueling choices.
As I handed Bruce my Brevet card I was nearly confident all thoughts of the 600k were successfully purged from my mind. This was tough. I felt great that I finished - but allot of it was physical misery and mentally challenging. My GF chaufered me to the ride - and I ate and slept in the car on the drive back to Vermont. Barely climbing the stairs I crashed into a deep sleep.
I awoke this morning craving breakfast and thinking about getting on the bike for a quick recovery spin.
As I ate I started scheming and planning. 600k is allot longer than 400k.... but in the early spring I have to admit I thought all of these rides were long - and now, its all relative.
I finished the ride in about 21h30min +/- (according to my chrono). Much slower than I hoped, but faster than I dreaded as I entered the mid leg.