Saturday, June 13, 2015

Boston 400K - New Roads in New England.

            A night in Transit 
At 6:00 am on Friday morning I walked on the Gulf Coast beach of Naples, Florida, carrying my sandals in one hand. Tropical warm water swirled around my ankles as sea birds strolled on stick like legs along the raked sand. That afternoon, I flew to Philadelphia, got in my minivan and drove over five hours to a small airfield on the outskirts of Boston.

At 3:00 am on Saturday morning, I arrived in the parking lot of Hanscom airport in Bedford, Massachusetts.

The Boston 400K was scheduled to start at 6:00 am. The ridewithgps description reported 17,000 feet of climbing. The New England Randonneurs page reported that the ride went through three states: Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut. The latter two would be new States in my randonneuring collection - bringing the total to 18. But first I had to do the ride.

A little sleep might help. My minivan was in full micro RV mode. With the rear seats removed and the third row folded, the back of the van transformed into a tiny cabin with a full size cot and a pillow, a cooler, a change of clothes and my bike. I took of my shoes, stepped into back of the van and climbed into bed.

I planned to sleep until 5:30, but instead woke at 4:45, stared at the ceiling for a bit, then panicked a little when I didn't see any signs of a ride assembling out the window. What if I am in the wrong place? What if they are meeting in a different part of the airport? I got dressed and starting double checking the ride info on my phone when I saw someone in a bright yellow bike jacket step out of a car. Then another cyclist arrived. This must be the place. I drove closer to the others and got out. An hour and half sleep would just have to do. Time to ride 250+ miles.

Outside, much to my surprise I saw my friend PatCH from Vermont by way of New York. He had decided to come out for the climbfest ahead. Later Jim R. and Christine T., two  riding buddies from Maine, whom I met on the North Country 600K, also arrived. Introductions were made and small talk had in the remaining minutes before the start.

And then we were off. The first few miles provided an easy transition with moderate grades and even a slight down hill. The conversation continued as the conditions allowed.

I was riding with my heart rate monitor again; still working on dialing in the endurance pace and staying in the zone. The climbing on the course starts early and all too soon the lack of sleep and the early exertion set my monitor off. Patrick gamely hangs with me but my climbing is so embarrassingly slow, I insist that he ride on ahead. We can meet at the controls. Soon he is off in the distance and I can trudge my up and down the rollers without inconveniencing anyone.

The first controle is in Holden, MA. The ride organizer set up at a picnic table outside the deli. A group of Randonneurs are sitting and eating as I ride up to get my card signed. I put my feet down without dismounting,  take a munchkin doughnut from the box on the picnic table pop in in my mouth and take off back into the course.

The route climbs MA-31 to Paxton, the highest elevation point on the ride. On the way, most of the riders that I passed at the control re-pass me on the climb as I maintain the moderated effort in the intended training zone. I remind myself, while this is a qualifying ride for PBP, it is only one step toward the bigger goal of riding PBP.

At the peak of the climb I tuck in for the long fast descent.

What happens next needs a visual aid.

The first elevation profile shown here is the route as intended. See the big peak around mile 40? That is the highpoint of the ride near where the group and I crossed paths.
The ride as planned
The elevation profile below is the route as I rode it. See that big V around mile 40? That is what happens when I climbed to the highest point of the ride and went bombing down this steep descent for over three miles only to realize I should have turned right at that big intersection near the top of the peak where I was instead focused on the lady in the sedan edging out into the road while I was bombing down the big descent.

The V came about as I then had to climb back to the highest elevation on the ride to get back on course.
The ride as ridden
That deep V is a visual representation of an hour of my life I will never get back.

Accepting the here and now is an important lesson this sport has taught me. Now, here I was, an hour or so behind the field but needing to focus on moving forward from this place to the next. So I continue on, leaving behind the burden of my error and living in the new space I had created for this event. I can ride a solo 400K if need be. Twenty-something hours to go.

Fortunately, I am riding on new roads in new territory. A sense of exploration and discovery infuse every mile. The land of southern Maine has a different feel than my familiar routes. The climbs are longer but a little less steep. They also continue incessantly.

Trees bordering the rural road provide shade but limit the view. In the gaps between the stands are farms, occasional lakes and large suburban homes. We pass Nichols College but the campus seems deserted save for one metal buffalo with an eye for Rivendell bikes.

Signs mark the transitions between towns and the places that are "thickly settled." The route designer has done such a good job annotating the Rides with GPS route I am following, that my phone is announcing the towns as I pass through them. It has the effect of riding with a companion who knows the course.  It's a groovy addition for a new rider. I will have to do the same for my permanent.

Crossing into Connecticut gives me reason to let out a Woo-HOO for the new state. The farms increase along with the views of distant ridges and a great photo op.

By the time I reach the second control, the Vanilla Bean Cafe, there are no signs of other bike riders though motorcyclist are well represented. I do a quick control and move on toward Brooklyn and then Pomfret CT.

Now I am in full brevet mode, committed to the task at hand and liberated from the constraints of normal life.
I move at a cyclist's pace, faster than running, slower than driving, almost silently slipping through the world. The fiction of minutes and hours dissolves into the reality of daytime marked by the gradually changing length of shadows. There is no this minute or the next only the ever changing now. The slow burn of energy which propels me also energizes me as I ride on.

The third control in Gillette State Park comes after a climb. The ride organizer and a volunteer are there with a picnic feast waiting on the table.

I am the last to arrive. I sit. I chat. I eat. I discover potato salad. I haven't eaten potato salad in over 20 years but I decide to give some a try. And then I eat a second serving. Turns out that potato salad is a Rando superfood. It goes down easily and provides lots of go. Then it is time to continue. More climbing awaits as I leave the park and encounter the rollers of Mt. Archer.

As the day turns to night I am in a more populated area. I stop for a re-fuel. Thumping music spills out of a bar and drivers spill out of their cars. It is definitely Saturday night. A short time later I am thankful to be back on low trafficked roads, away from the din of the revelers.

New London brings a return to suburbia and a crossing of the Thames river. 

Looking at the time, I realize that completing this ride will take more than 24 hours. An all nighter lies ahead. At some point, in Rhode Island, when fatigue threatens to overwhelm me, I stop at a closed strip mall, sit against a wall, have some caffeine and promptly go to sleep. A few minutes later, I wake from the "caffeine nap" with a clearer head and remarkably energized. 

Hours later, the sun rises and still I ride making the transition into Sunday. I've been doing the math in my head, calculating the time I will need to ride 250 miles, even with the bonus miles I added at the beginning, and it should all be fine.

At the second to last control, the convenience store clerk greets me with a very cheerful "You must be the last rider! The first one's came through like 9:00 last night!" It was now close to 6:00 am. "Yes" I admit. "I am the last one." But I still have time to finish.

Then I take a closer look at the last cue sheet. The course is 259 miles long! Almost 9 miles longer but no extra time. With my early bonus miles that means I will have to complete 270 miles on a hilly course in the time allotted for 250. OH SHIT. I should have reviewed the cue sheet before starting the ride. All of a sudden, time is now an issue. I need to get moving.

The  Upper Charles River bike path is fine gravel still wet from overnight rain. The gravel coats my shoes legs and drivetrain in sand. Leaving the path, the rolling hills resume.

In the hills, I hear a sickening crunch from my bottom bracket and derailleurs. My front derailleur is grinding against my chain ring and my bottom bracket sounds like it is breaking apart. I stop and adjust the derailleur, conscious of every second it takes, but the fast repair does not give me use of my big chain ring. Worse, shifting the rear derailleur results in a noise that sounds like imminent, complete failure. 

Though rapid trial and error, basically shifting through gears, I find that with the chain in the middle ring on front and second to highest gear in the back, the bike is rideable.

So I leave it there and ride it like a single speed. I stand for the climbs and tuck for descents and ride on.

The course goes through the residential neighborhoods. The women jogging in Wellesley make me think of the Boston Marathon. I press on, increasingly aware that I need this ride to qualify for PBP and wondering if I can pull it off. 

On returning to Hanscom, I see the ride organizer and, much my surprise, PaTCH is there after having waited a a couple to few hours for me to finish. 

Thankfully, I finished in time and completed my third of four qualifying rides for PBP. Maybe it was foolish to have started a long and difficult ride on such little sleep. But the second day of a grand randonnee will require the ability to ride when I am not at 100%. When that day comes, and it will, I will have this experience to draw upon.  Now, I am one ride closer to Paris-Brest-Paris.


  1. Oh no, the deep V! Glad you were able to mentally move on from it, but I can only imagine how you felt when you realized you were doing bonus miles. Congratulations on being one step closer to PBP!

    1. Thanks MG. The deep V will have me checking cues even more closely in the future. :) Now to focus on PBP!

  2. Giant congratulations, for the extra uphill miles, the single speed, the miles and miles of solo riding, the lack of sleep ... the whole piece of it! And also for the excellent ride report.

    1. Suze,

      Thank you! Glad to see you are still interested in this ongoing story. I am looking forward to seeing some the France you have described so well.