Boston 600k Ride Report (DNF)
In my first season of randoneurring, the Boston 600k was going to be my “event” ride – and “event” and ordeal is what it turned out to be!
The route was 388 miles with 20,000 feet of climbing from Bedford, MA in the Boston suburbs, through New Hampshire crisscrossing the BMB route; through Brattleboro, VT (just 8 miles from my home in Putney, VT); over the Green Mountains to Manchester, Sandgate VT, and Bennington, VT; then returning along most of the same route.
I arrived in Waltham, MA late Friday afternoon, enjoyed a pre-ride pasta feast at a local restaurant, then settled in for a fitful sleep. Arriving at Hanscom Field early my morning set up was flawless – and making a list and checking it twice worked well. I rolled over to the start table for the organizer's last minute instructions and was adjusting my Danolite LED headlamp when it popped clear off the aluminum bracket. Dammit! This was the second Danolite – and it failed the same way as the first. I’ll have to zip tie it or rig something up later… I scrambled to my car, luckily find my hiking LED from last weeks visit with friends, throw everything into my rack trunk, and off I went – chasing the lead group – as I had little way of reading my cue sheet! I rode with a mixed group for an hour or so, then settled into my own pace, eventually being caught by friend and BF member Spokenword and a larger group. The group rode together nearly all the way to Gardner. Aside from my headlamp mishap, the morning ride was pleasant – and this was the longest I’d ever ridden in a large group on a Brevet. Riding, chatting, meeting some folks I’d seen on previous BBS was very pleasant – the body and the mind felt strong, relaxed, and strangely sociable this morning. Life was good.
As we hit some flats near the Wachussets Brewery, I put my head down on the aero bars and Spokenword and I picked up the pace for the final few miles into Gardner. Something always clicks “on” when I see the mileage start to drop as I near a control. We rolled into Gardner just ahead of the group, chatted with the volunteers, did some quick reloads and headed off to Brattleboro.
45.2 miles completed
On the way out we chatted with 2 other riders who gave us some discouraging news about some of our route to Brattleboro – they had ridden Rt. 68 and 32 the previous week on a fixed gear camping expedition to Vermont – and had unkind words for the gradient and the road quality. With a bit of warning we pressed on towards Brattleboro – and excitement built as many of the roads on the cue were familiar to me – 119 from Richmond, NH through Hinsdale, up Rt. 5 to the Motel 6… my stomping grounds.
Of course before we got that far we had to deal with some of the gradients along Rt. 68 and 32. Warwick Road was a surprise – I came gliding along unawares of how short and steep this little road was – struggling to the top in the wrong gear for sure. Bliss Hill road, while dirt, was a somewhat pleasant diversion. I was on 700 x 25’s – so I took it easy – and we meandered along this stretch chatting about gear and bikes and tires – wondering why we jumped off of Rt. 32, and assumed that there probably weren’t any hills on that stretch so the organizers sent us up Warwick “for fun”.
Passed the Asheulot covered bridge, then Hinsdale, the dog track, the false feeling downhill to the green bridges on the Connecticut… all so familiar and friendly. A quick stop at a bike shop in Brattleboro for Spokenword to replace his mysteriously missing pump and on to the Motel 6 – and even with the bike shop stop I was ahead of the conservative schedule I set out for myself the night before. Wow. Refuel, reload, pack some extra water, and off we went. I knew what was coming – Middle Road to East-West Road to Rt. 30. I’ve done this dozens of times – at least once a week on my local loop rides. Just get over the top, take your time… it will hurt, but you've done this nearly once a week all summer.
91.9 miles completed.
What I haven’t done dozens of times is ride Middle Road with 100 miles in my legs. My pacing felt terrible, Spokenword drifted further up the road, and my stomach started to complain. Cresting the climb and starting the descent was a relief – but I started to dread the exposed ride up Rt. 30 over the mountains in the heat. Spokenword waited for me at the bridge, and we started the leg up Rt. 30 together. Again Spokenword drifted off the front – and I started struggling on very familiar roads. Hot, humid. Was that my right knee starting to throb? Maybe I should stop for lunch…
We regrouped in Newfane – which seemed a popular spot for Brevet riders. 10 or more cyclists were lugging bags of ice, Gatorade, and snacks out to the parking lot, hiding in what little shade was available. I downed a turkey sandwich, Gatorade, and chips, while sitting with a bag of ice on my knee. Loading up the water bottles again, and packing some extra h2o in my rack pack for the coming climbs, we headed off to Jamaica and points west.
I lost Spokenword somewhere near Jamaica – even after he stopped in the shade to wait a few minutes for me. The climbs up through Bondville and past Stratton were lonely and uneventful. Was this road this hard last time I went through here? Is it really this hot? Am I getting enough liquid? Stratton – hmmm… focus on the tele skiing I did this winter when it was -28 on top. Cool thoughts. Keep spinning. Well, okay – don’t spin – how about standing? For a long time? Sure, hey, this is working!
Over the top and alone I dropped into Manchester – the last drop of water squeezed from my bottles. Refueling at a convenience store – Pepsi, Combos, Powerade, water – sitting outside I see Spokenword flash by – I yell and he stops. I assumed he was well up the road – but he stopped to enjoy some fresh fruit at a farm stand further up the descent. His tale of tearing into half a cantaloupe is funny. We ride together all the way to Sandgate – following the river, debating how we can build a raft of spare inner tubes and bike parts and float down to the end, envious of the folks splashing in the water - tempted to stop and wade in, cool off, and enjoy the day. Crossing the river I am jolted from my easy meandering thoughts by my rear wheel locking up… and I come to a screeching halt. My taillight came loose – and had been sucked around into the wheel! No damage to the tire though – and the plastic nut and bolt on the taillight are melted off. I bend the metal bracket to the left side… laughing as I’ll now have “side” visibility. Good thing I clipped my other blinky to my rack pack. We rolled into the control as a foursome – meeting up with 2 other riders on the dirt road who told us there was a wild party happening in Sandgate – something about a pool and food and energy drink. I walked the drive, just too tired to focus on skinny tires spinning in the gravel. Watermelon never tasted so good.
At Sandgate I found I was only ½ hour behind my schedule. I still felt good – tired – but not beaten. I stayed longer than usual, chatting and getting my bike in a work stand to have a look at my rear derailleur, which was finicky all morning. I also reworked the Danolite LED with zip ties so I’ll have navigational light through the night and changed my Schmidt E6 bulbs as they were yellow this morning and nearing the end of their service life.
My plan was to return to Sandgate by 10:30 – 11:00 pm, take a 2 hour dinner / recharge break, then ride through the night over the mountains – as I know the route beyond Manchester well – and wouldn’t need too much concentration navigating and reading my cue. I’d press on to Brattleboro – maybe taking an 8 mile detour to sleep in my own bed in Putney, or take a nap off the road in my bivy blanket, if required.
Well, I hear there’s some free food in Bennington. What say we ride over there and get some? Spokenword and I head out together for the 32 mile jaunt to Bennington.
157.7 miles completed
These roads are familiar to me as well – I’ve done some work in the Cambridge and Hoosick Falls area… funny to be riding here though – last few times through I was in my pickup full of tools and trudging to job sites in the snow. We make great time for the first 16 miles, each of us sharing pulls on the front, actually pleased that we can still put in 18 – 22 mph stretches. We start calculating arrival times to Bennington and extrapolating back to Sandgate – discussing how much sleep is reasonable knowing what route is left over the mountains to Brattleboro. Some familiar faces pass us going the other direction – waving as they glide by, telltale brevet gear a dead give away that these folks left Boston earlier that morning. We do some math – they must be 50 miles up the course from us. Wow. Impressive - something to continue working towards. How to get faster? A rider glides by going the other direction on his fine fixed gear. I can’t wait to read his ride report. Waves and nods to a few other BBS riders, and a few locals.
At some point my legs decide to quit, and our quick pace comes grinding down. Someone at the control suggested that this leg would be easy. What are these short climbs doing here? Are we on the right road? Spokenword started drifting up the road from me. I was hurting a bit. Eat, drink. Sit up. Relax. The moon was peaking out. Beautiful country - horrible locals. I’ve never been yelled at or buzzed by so many cars and oddballs on one section of road like Rt. 22 in New York State. Makes me want to start carrying some Halt! or pepper spray. I caught back up to Spokenword near the Henry bridge. “Hey, I’m back!” Spokenword jumped out of his saddle. He was daydreaming, dozing a bit. Glad I was back – as I didn’t want to see him drifting off the road. We finish the last few miles at a better pace, catch up to some familiar faces and had a chat with the organizer in Bennington. We rig up for night riding and head out to Sandgate. Back on my schedule – despite slowing down! Odd, but I’ll take it!
190.1 miles completed
Feeling sluggish up the climb to the Bennington monument I encourage Spokenword to drop me if he feels like pressing on alone. He spins slowly away from me. The locals are out en-masse for the fireworks in the park at the foot of the monument and I dodge pedestrians, sparklers and the occasional bottle rocket. Atop the climb I panic a bit – I’m now alone, probably near the last bunch of riders on the road, and I’ve got some night riding to do in hostile territory to return to the control. Ahh… but the moon is up… there are fireworks in the sky… all is not lost.
Somewhere before Rt. 9 my primary Schmidt light pops. I just changed it! Out with a new one. DanoLite on, fumbling through my seat pack. Its getting cold. DanoLite quits. Wow, this thing is hot… is it melting the zip tie? I can’t see. Schmidt bulb in hand, light open and I can’t find my way to do this blind. Where’s that hiking LED… good thing I kept it with me. Light. I fumble with new batteries for the DanoLite. Nothing. Wonder if it needs to be in contact with the aluminum to act as a heat sink? Wonder if the heat fried the LED? Pissed that this is the second DanoLite to fail for me, in exactly the same way. What does the manufacturer use to fasten the LED to the aluminum clip? Why are these so fragile? Why did it work flawlessly on the 400k and now decide to quit, in the middle of nowhere? Argh!
Get the light replaced and layer up. Why am I freezing standing here? Knee warmers on and my shell. Hope its enough. Am I dehydrated? Rig the hiking lamp to my helmet. Press on. Wow, I’m feeling better, even if this is going to be a grind. I’m physically miserable all the way to Cambridge. Saddle issues. My quads and glutes are really sore. I’m cold. I force down some Gu and the pretzels I snagged from the control. Moon is glowing behind clouds. Beautiful. This is why I do this – challenge – and for those moments when the stars pop out and the sky is clear and everything is right with the world (except for the pain in my body).
Mental games for the next 10 miles. Maybe I’m not cut out for this. WTF was I thinking? I’m no endurance athlete – I’m still that pudgy kid who ran with a limp and was the slowest, fumbliest kid in grade school. I need to lose even more weight. If I were only 165 rather than my 180 – think of how much easier this climb could be. Why did you bring so much stuff? How do those guys do this with a tiny seat pack?
Somewhere along 313 my left knee cries out in the most shooting pain I have ever felt. I nearly double over on the bike, but manage to glide to a stop. I guess this is a good time for a nature break. What was that…? I’ve never had any knee issues. I get back on the bike and start pedaling again. Seated climbing is near to impossible. I have to stand on even the mildest rise in the road. Every 10 turns of the crank my knee screams at me. Knifes in there. Maybe a porcupine crawled into my knee warmers. 10 miles of really ugly riding. Is that the Battenkill… it is beautiful here. Pain again. I struggle to Chunks Brook Road. No way to pedal anymore. I unclip and start walking. How many miles to the control? It’s god awful late. I can’t do this. No way I can ride over the mountains tomorrow. No way I can finish another 166 miles. No way. Yes you can. Just rest, eat. Try. Finish the ride. Always finish the ride. This is 90% mental. Finish the ride. I want to crawl into a hole and sleep until someone finds me. 3 riders pass me, pedaling and checking in on me. I fear I am now the last rider on the road. It’s dreadfully quiet and dark. My LED is pretty faint. Surreal walking as I’ve pedaled all this way. I hear some grumbling / growling off in the woods. What was that? Maybe I’ll get eaten and this will all be over. Am I crying? I’m too dehydrated for that, I tell myself. Boys don’t cry. You’re being dramatic. You’re hallucinating. Suck it up and do this. Dog barking – oh yeah – that little beastie is probably waiting for me! I clip in and pedal 1 legged (good thing I did a lot of this on the trainer this winter!) up to the driveway. No way I’m going to attempt this. Walking again. Another rider passes me.
I stumbled into the control and collapse into a chair. One of the ride organizers finds me and I tell her that I am abandoning. Quitting, right here, right now. She takes my Brevet card and signs me in telling me that I can quit in the morning. A control volunteer comes out, gets me some ice for my left knee. (note, my right knee has been fine since this morning!) They encourage me to eat, shower, sleep, and reassess. They talk me into it. I get supplied with pasta and a soda. I struggle up the stairs to shower and sleep. Its 1:30 am. EVERYTHING hurts. At 3am I awake from the weirdest dreams I’ve ever had. Fitful nap. I barely get down the stairs. Spokenword is there suiting up. Come on – we’ve got 17 hours to finish – you can do this. Take it slow – if you get over the mountains you’ll be home free.
221 miles completed
I abandoned that morning. My body was not going to cooperate. My knee was still in pain. My quads and glutes were a mess. Walking was trouble. I went back to sleep and someone woke me at 4 am – the organizer was sagging 2 other riders and she was loading bikes into the rental van. I stumbled down the stairs to try and help. I felt weird having someone load my bike why I sat there dumbfounded. I tried to eat some French toast. I couldn’t drink anything. I saw a few others head out into the night. Good luck.
I rode back to the start with 2 other very experienced riders that abandoned. I felt like absolute crap. Mentally I was happy and thrilled that I’d gotten this far this season. Physically I felt destroyed. We stopped in Brattleboro to drop some supplies and I saw some familiar faces from the night before – I wished them well from the van – and have to admit I was sad I was not on the road – but feeling I made the right decision. No sense in destroying a knee – especially because knee pain was new territory for me.
I drove home to Putney to my personal masseuse. (girl friends are wonderful things) J worked my legs for a good hour – thoroughly impressed at how tight and gnarled my quads were. I squirmed in pain, she reminding me to breath. My knee was feeling better. She started querying me about liquids – when, what, and how often I’d been drinking – as well as when the last time I had a nature break. She inspected my arms which usually have prominent veins displayed - and became very concerned. My veins were flat, even when I flexed. She wanted to take me to the hospital for and IV for dehydration. No, I didn’t want to go. I started downing water. If I didn’t start urinating in an hour or so she was taking me in – no arguments. We got some dinner and I started to feel better. Delirious a bit – but I started feeling human again. Not sure how that all happened. Not really sure how I drove from the start back home. I thought I drank enough. I was trying so hard to get everything right for this ride…
Hundreds of small things can add up over this distance. I have no definite point of reference as to where things started to go wrong – but I knew when I had the first knee pains I was probably done. Today the legs and knees appear to be fine - I’ll probably take a slow spin this evening and see how everything feels. I’m not expecting any long term issues – but curious as to how / why / what happened.
I’m planning on the 300k in a few weeks, assuming my body cooperates, and already daydreaming again about long long rides. This stuff is addicting.
Huge kudos to Spokenword who finished - he rode a very strong 600k, and has promised a full ride report.