I've never ridden a 300k; I was nervous all week, not being able to
imagine riding so far, especially after the 200k! And of course all my
friends and co-workers thought I was nuts. "Insane" is the word that
came up the most. I couldn't argue with them, but I couldn't imagine
not trying, and so found myself in a hotel room in Westfield,
Massachusetts, with the alarm going off at 4AM. As soon as I was up, I
heard noises from the next room--I think half the people at the hotel
were here for the ride. After juice and cold cereal, I put on my bike
togs and drove to the bike shop that is the headquarters for the ride.
There were bikes and people everywhere--where else will you see a
titanium Lightspeed with fenders?
I added some air to the rear tire at the last minute, and missed the
speech by the organizer, Don. And then we were off. The group of
perhaps 48 people stayed together for a while, heading west out of town
on Highway 20. I'd never ridden with a group at night before. One or
two people had minimal or even no lights, but it didn't really matter.
There was no traffic at 5AM, dawn was not far off, and there were a lot
of us! (RBA note: While lights were required, the ride began at dawn and
most riders finished by dusk, eliminating the need to turn on lights.)
I don't ever expect to ride with people during Brevets. I'm a rather
slow rider, and not especially relaxed in a paceline or a pack. And
it's sometimes psychologically easier for an introvert like myself to
ride alone--fewer distractions, no need for conversation. But the most
important thing is pace. It's very hard to avoid going too fast riding
with a group of stronger riders. You rationalize that the drafting will
save more energy than you expend, but then the first little hill
arrives, and they start to disappear up the road, and you try to chase
. . . I had promised myself not to go too hard in the first fifty
miles--I would need that energy later in the day. But I'm starting to
learn the joys of companionship on these rides, when you find someone
going at your speed. I've met some very kind, interesting, and helpful
people during Brevets, and today would be no exception.
After five miles or so, a split in the group developed, and I was
loosely riding with maybe three other people. By this time it was
noticibly light, and the road was starting to trend upward. Soon, I was
alone, and as usual, l I felt like I was the last person on the road.
But suddenly a tandem passed me! This was John Bayley and Pamela
Blalock (collectively known as the Blayleys), who are celebrities in
the world of Randonneuring. Their web site was one of my first sources
of information about this sport, and Pamela's ride reports are quite
wonderful! There were three or four "Klingons" with them already (a
tandem is very fast, and it's like drafting a small truck. So single
bikes hoping for an easy ride can be found following a tandem closely,
clinging to the draft). The group was moving at quite a reasonable,
conversational pace. So I found myself with some friends for the next
After the flat start, the ride climbs what's known as Jacob's Ladder,
climbing from the Connecticut River Valley to the top of the
Berkshires. It's almost never steep, but there is ramp after ramp for
eight miles or so. The group would spread out a bit on the steeper
bits, and regroup on the short descents between ramps. We talked about
the weather (the forecast was for rain after 9AM, which never came),
bikes (of course), the road ahead . . .
At the top I ducked into the woods for a brief break. Climbing back on
the bike, the tandem had passed me. I chased hard up a little rise to
catch it before the main descent. I then tried to follow them down a
steep hill. Even drafting, they just pulled away from me as we reached
35mph. I hit 40mph on that section, but they were far faster. Lesson
learned--you can't stay with a tandem on a big descent. But I had to
try for myself!
I ended up riding most of the descent with a gentleman who did two
1200k rides last year, including one in Australia! We reached the
bottom of the hill at Lee, Mass. and turned south off Route 20. He
pulled ahead of me there, and I was alone for the rest of the segment.
Now we were in the Housatonic river valley, flat with rolling hills.
The course had left the main roads--at one point I zagged instead of
zigged, and ended up riding a bonus mile before realizing my mistake. I
then rode the second bonus mile returning to the correct route.
The first control was in the Dunkin' Donuts in Great Barrington, Mass.
Nearly a dozen bikers were there when I arrived, including the
Blayleys. A cashier signed my card, I bought a terrible croissant and
grape juice, and had a bit of a rest. I left before the Blayleys,
hoping to be passed by them so I could be a Klingon for the next 40
mile section, relatively flat with a strong headwind. I ducked into a
convience store a half-mile down the road to buy some Gatorade, and
then slogged into the wind on heavily-trafficked US 7. I kept looking
back, but never saw the tandem. They had passed me when I was buying my
Gatorade (I'm guessing), and I never saw them again.
The traffic and the wind were discouraging; I think this was the low
point of the ride for me. Eventually the road ran along the Housatonic
River, and was quite pretty. I've never seen so many fly-fisherman! One
glance, and I would see ten men standing still up to their waists in
water! Looks kind of absurd, really! We also passed some nice
waterfalls and state parks, and I wish I could havestop and look
around. But with 125 miles to go, that was not an option! I continued
to struggle with the wind and the rolling hills; I probably hadn't
eaten enough. So I wasn't feeling too great when I finally reached the
next control, in Kent, CT., after ninety miles.
This control was a picnic table in a little plaza in front of some
shops. The control volunteer (who I think is the daughter of the
organizer) made me a delicious peanut butter sandwich, and I had a
banana and a coke. A passerby with a small child, curious about this
scene, asked the volunteer what was happening. We were asked the same
question as our brevet cards were signed by the Dunkin' Donuts
employees! At least us slowpokes don't have to explain these things so
I met up with my doppelganger at this control. Jim's bike is made by
the same people as mine (Rivendell) and is EXACTLY the same color. I'd
rode with him a bit in the 200k, so we decided to ride together for a
while. We left Kent, and were soon, thankfully, on little country roads
that led to Duchess County, New York. After Highway 7, the peace and
quiet was greatly appreciated. I was almost dropped in the first mile,
as Jim is basically a stronger rider than I am. I managed to hold on
for a while longer, but eventually he drifted ahead as we cruised
through the bucolic, rolling countryside. The sun was shining, the
farms looked lush, and the houses looked like their owners had
exploited people for generations to get so wealthy! Eventually I caught
up with Jim again, and we talked of the challenges ahead. The steepest
climb of the day, Bash Bish Falls, was coming up. The rumors spoke of a
4.5 mile climb with two sections of 15 percent grades, which would be
painful at any time, let alone after 125 miles. So we took a little
break to get some food into our systems twenty miles before the climb.
It felt good to lie down in the shade of some giant trees, and have a
sandwich and stretch. We reluctantly continued on, being rather tired
by now, and reached the town of Copake Falls, at the base of the
Taconic Mountains we would now cross. I stopped at the local general
store to pick up some Gatorade (my main fuel on any long bike ride).
We'd seen a familiar bike parked outside; inside we met Chuck, who rode
with me for much of the 200k. Chuck was trying to find out what
happened to another friend of his, who had broken his chain earlier in
the ride. I thought I heard that this man had later crashed when his
shortened chain jammed. The phone at the shop wasn't working correctly,
so Chuck couldn't find out what wwas happening.
We turned into Bash Bish Falls state park, and ran into the wall. The
narrow, sandy road was as steep as advertised, and I was grateful for
my tiny gears (I had a 24 x 30, and would have used lower). I'd made a
pit stop at the base, but by the top of the first steep bit I'd
rejoined Jim and Chuck. We were then met by the van driven by Don's
daughter, who was now cruising the course making sure everyone was OK.
Chuck found out the situation with his friend (he was OK), and we
continued up. The next steep bit wasn't as long as the first one, and
soon we were on the top of the Taconics. I headed down first, through a
mildly downward-trending bit. I came to the edge of a huge meadow, with
the valley below--it was a beautiful place, New England at it's best.
And here the road really started to drop. It was the most exciting
downhill of the whole ride, with enough turns and bumps to make it feel
terrifyingly fast, even if I didn't quite hit 40mph. A few miles of
slogging along the roads in the valley bottom brought me to the final
checkpoint, back in Great Barrington, Mass. We didn't have to face
Dunkin' Donuts again; another volunteer had set up the familiar picnic
table under a large tent. He made me a turkey sandwich, and I lay in
the shade, pleased that there was only fifty miles to go (I never
thought I would think that, but brevets certainly change your
perspective on distance). Chuck and Jim arrived a minute later.
We set off on the last leg of our journey at 4:30PM. By this time we
were pretty exhausted. But there's nothing to do but keep going.
Fifteen miles of flat to rolling terrain led north to Lee, and the
start of the other side of Jacob's Ladder. My fatigue and the
situation somehow made me more focused and more intense; I rode as hard
as I could for the rest of the day. I was a bit ahead of Jim and Chuck
before the start of the climb, and then just tried to hammer up the
hill. My bottom was so sore that it felt much better to climb standing
up; I never used the granny on Jacob's Ladder (but my 36 x 30 is lower
than some folks's granny!). The road climbed in waves, with a steep bit
followed by a more mellow slope, or even a brief descent. The sunny day
turned to a cooler evening, and the air felt good. Up one hill after
another, not knowing where the top was, my only thought was to move
forward. Before I knew it I was at the top! What a feeling of
accomplishment! It was 6:36PM; 25 miles to go. I started down, stopping
briefly to put on my arm warmers. I was continually calculating how far
to the finish, how much daylight was left, how fast I would have to go
to make it by 8PM. Turned out that was impossible. I kept counting down
the miles--20 to go, 17.5, 15, 10--it was definitely twilight. The road
had a big shoulder but I was becoming more conscious of the traffic.
Five miles to go; I pulled over, put on my reflective vest, and turned
on all my lights. Four miles; two miles; I was in the town of
Westfield, full of crazy teenagers in cars and pavement that was
probably smooth in 1930. One mile to go, past the motel, now I can see
the business district, it's getting dark, a half mile to go, I think I
can see the bike shop, I suddenly start to cry as I realize I made it!
I dart through a gap in the traffic and pull up to the shop at 8:10PM.
I rush in to get my card signed, and it's over. I'm almost the last one
finished--Sandy Whittlesey, who holds the course record for BMB,
finished more than 5 hours ago. I grab a Pepsi, and stagger over to my
car to put my bike away. The kids hanging out in the parking lot joke
that they had just hit my car; I'm to dazed to react. Back to the shop
and there's Jim and Chuck. We all made it!
After 192.6 miles, the only real question is whether I'll do the 400k
in three weeks. On the ride I was promising myself that this was it.
But now it's the next day, and when I woke up this morning one of the
first things I did was to download the cue sheet for the 400k, to see
where it goes . . .