just cross-posted this to Randon as well -- ride was 253 miles with (depending on whose software you believe) between 12,000 -- 14,000 feet of climbing, so expect this to be another long-winded report
First off, it was a gorgeous route accompanied by almost perfect weather. Like the experience of many others, this 400k experience was a mix of socializing and solitude ... though I think I could've arranged the dispersion a little better.
I departed in that pack of 56 riders that left Hanscom at 4am, with my friend Forest riding beside me as he had done so far this year. As a group, we made quick work of the first dozen miles, and stayed pretty tight through the dark hours just before dawn. The pace did feel a bit hot, but I couldn't confirm as my computer had stopped working after the first mile. I didn't feel like pulling off the pace line to troubleshoot it in the dark, and just enjoyed the quasi-liberation of riding in a pack without paying heed to speed or distance.
As we approached the first control, Forest informed me that he'd be abandoning. His left knee had been stiffening up during the 300k two weeks ago, and while he took the time in between to have his bike fitted, it took a few days for his knee to recover from that ride, and he was already beginning to feel pain after the first significant climb near New Boston. So, rather than add to the damage, he bowed out.
As I was checking over my bike in the first control and fixed my computer, I noticed that I was missing my frame pump, and realized that in the rush to prep for the start, I left it behind. So, feeling slightly guilt for being a vulture, I asked Forest if I could borrow his, and while he happily loaned the instrument out, the only way I could get it to fit in my frame was to take off my seat tube bottle cage and fit the pump in upright. I figured that I'd just move the water bottle in the seat tube to my jersey pocket.
That would later turn out to be a mistake.
Nonetheless, the group that I followed rode off ahead of me, and I went a little later, resolving to ride my own ride and enjoy the day. A fellow named Dave Cramer and his group caught up to me at the Dunbarton Country Store, with Emily coming in a little behind us. We wound up riding together for about 20 miles, before our intrepid little pack was broken up by climbing the infinite staircase that was Shaker Road.
It was during the climb up Shaker that I realized that the 3/4 full water bottle in my jersey pocket was bearing down on my vertebrae and making my back sore. I experimented with rotating the bottle through various jersey pockets during the ride to the second control in Meredith, but all I seemed to be doing was distributing the trauma. Ah well, all the more reason to hydrate, I suppose.
As my back got stiffer, I slowed down and wound up losing most of Dave's group. On the way into Laconia, I caught up with Bruce, a rider that I'd spent some time with on the 300k. Bruce had a quirky sense of humor and a poor sense of direction, which made for decent company on the last 14 miles in to Meredith so long as I was the one riding lead. As we ascended the wall of a hill on Pease Road, I grumped to Bruce that this had to be a 20% gradient, and he deadpanned that it wasn't that tough and revised my estimate to a mere 18%.
Finally, getting into Meredith, I wound up lingering for a while to give my back some recovery time. I had made it to Meredith in a little less than 9 hours and felt that I had a very comfortable buffer. Bruce left ahead of me, and I probably departed somewhere around 1:30. While it was the middle of the day, sleep deprivation and trytophan from the turkey sandwich were making my eyes heavy. Again, figuring that I had a lot of time to work with, I rode a few miles into the center of Meredith, pulled over into a public park, found a shady spot beneath a tree and napped.
Church bells ringing 2pm woke me up, and I felt refreshed, got back on and headed out, waving at a pack of recumbents heading the other way to the 2nd control. The segment after that, on the local highway with the headwind was ... regrettable, but over soon enough. I wound up riding with a middle-aged fellow on an orange Rivendell Rambouillet, but then lost him around Hopkinton. However, as soon as I lost one companion, I gained another, as a guy on a Litespeed caught me at the Hopkinton Flood Control Dam. He said, "some hill, huh?" referring to a short climb up to the dam.
I replied, "I think I forgot my climbing legs back in Meredith."
"Oh, you're coming from there, then?"
I then looked back and saw that he had no bags and no water, and probably was not a randonneur. So, I explained that I had arrived here from Boston by way of Meredith and that, yes, we started at 4am this morning, and, no, it wasn't for a charity, and oh, yes, it is kind of related to that Boston-Montreal-Boston event that he's heard about before.
The fellow was nice enough to offer to ride with me as far as Henniker town centre, and I thought that might contravene the rules about 'no outside support' but figured I'd be in compliance so long as I didn't draft him. So, I got his compressed life story and an earful about local road conditions, which filled in the time nicely.
I eventually caught up with the orange Rambouillet in Hillsborough, and we rode in together to the Whites' residence and the final control. It was just about eight by that point, and I devoured a cup of baked beans while listening to Bruce Ingle regale us with war stories of brevets past, and solicit feedback about which segments had been considered tough in this ride. I had all kinds of compliments for the wonderful scenery and gorgeous rivers that he routed us past, but he kind of waved those off. Yeah, those are pretty and all, but which hills were the hardest for you?
Last year, in my rookie season, I took this for sadism. Now, it's bizarrely endearing.
I would've been happy to tarry for another half hour or so, to give my back a further break, but it was getting dark, and I hoped to get out while some services were still open. The cue sheet mentioned that the only 24 hour support was a Dunkin Donuts at mile 57.5, but I hoped to find something open at 9pm or so. In the twilight, mosquitos emerged and feasted on our pulse quickened veins. As I swatted bugs away, the orange Rambouillet rider said to me that he needed a little extra time to sort out his night riding gear and I should head out.
Believing that he would catch up, and eager to get out before it got too cold, I set out on the final 70 mile stretch, chasing the setting sun to Massachusetts. My impression was that this remaining stretch would be mostly downhill, and while it was, the descents were interrupted by one last climb, up the side of Crotched Mt., a small ski resort with a base elevation of 1200 ft. I hit that climb after twilight had transitioned into night, and the orange Rambouillet was nowhere to be seen. So, riding through the forest at the base, the only visible objects were the road before me and the shadows of trees, flickering wildly as my climbing speed fell and my generator light lost brightness. The road was otherwise unlit. Cars continued to speed past at 50 mph, and I was completely alone.
Tired, isolated and sleep deprived, a dark mood crept in on me. Flickering shadows turned into bats, snakes and monsters under the bed. The wind felt cold and clammy. I often looked behind me, hoping to see the faint light of a following bike light, but only saw darkness.
As I pushed on past Crotched Mountain, to the ever approaching boundary between New Hampshire and Massachusetts, I made excuses to stop and tarry. Flip a cue sheet, transfer food from the map bag to the bento, swap water bottles. Each time, I'd stand and wait for another rider to approach, but the night had gotten cold then and I neglected to pack leg warmers because of the warmth of the previous week. As my body grew colder, I also grew sleepier, so I realized that I couldn't wait for very long, and would remount my bike, alone, and ride a little further.
By this point, I realized that the only shop that I could hit was that Dunkin Donuts at 55.7 miles, and I figured that I would get there and linger in the climate controlled warmth until somebody arrived and we could finish together to keep the sleepiness at bay.
Eventually I got to Massachusetts, and rejoiced at being a mere 25 miles away from the end, and 10 miles from services. There was one last, big hill to climb, up Depot Road to Westford Center. Everything was hurting by this point, but I figured that all I had to was conquer the hill and I would be at 55.7, and could sit down with a hot cup of coffee and recover for a bit before pushing on. So I ground my way up, only to see that everything was shut down. I looked at my cue sheet and realized that I had to flip it to the last half of the page. On that second half, I was reminded that the Dunkin Donuts was actually at 57.5.
An immense sense of depair washed over my head at that point, and for a brief period of temporary insanity, I wanted to quit. Even with over 230 miles behind me and only 15 miles ahead, I just wanted the pain and fatigue and everything else to end at that point. But, after a few minutes of unnecessary histrionics that hopefully went unwitnessed, I got it together, got back on the bike and rode up to the Dunkin Donuts.
There, I ordered a pre-fabbed and lukewarm bacon/egg/cheese croissant and thought that it tasted magnificent. It was past midnight by this point. I had lost a lot of time, but due to the magically curative properties of bacon, I started to feel better. Still no signs of other riders, I waited for about ten minutes, then decided to ride on and get this over with.
The coffee that I had lasted about 15 minutes, which was just about enough to get me off the automotive traffic on Rt. 110 and onto a quieter country road in Carlisle, which was fortunate because I was starting to micronap on the bike. As I narrowly avoided veering into the shoulder twice, I started to sing to myself to stay awake. Singing badly tuned Pixies songs gave way to beatboxing Kraftwerk tunes, and since I figured that I had abandoned most of my dignity in Westford, I began to have conversations with potholes.
Still, whatever it took, I stayed awake and made my way to that final triumphant descent into Hanscom, where Tracey emerged from her heated station wagon and said, "wow, finishing the hard way."
"What's the hard way?" I asked as I handed over my brevet card.
She offered the customary spread of chips and water, but it was cold, I was tired, and I just wanted to sleep. So, thanking her and by proxy, thanking Bruce for an enjoyable and challenging ride, I told them that I'd see them in a month's time for the Boston 600, where I hoped for another great start and a finish that would hopefully yield more promise and less pathos.