Monday, June 30, 2008

Boston Brevet Series 400K

The day started the day before. I planned poorly for the 300K several weeks ago; the result was that I overslept the 4AM start by several hours. I missed the 300K completely and was pretty disappointed. For the 400K, I made sure to plan ahead. The day before I checked things off my list, packed my bike and supplies, filled my bottles, and set TWO alarms. I got a few hours of restless sleep and arrived in time. I even ate some breakfast (coffee, left-over pasta with chicken and a banana).

Twenty-three riders, I'm told, showed up in Bedford for the start of the 400k. Tracy Ingle (RBA) quickly checked that we were well-equipped, wished us luck and sent us on our way. The start of the 400k is a terrific riding experience. Nothing hurts yet. It's dark, but the herd of bikes is together and lit up with every variety of bike light. Twinkling red to the front and blinding white lights behind you. People are introducing themselves or buzzing to each other about some ride or other. Everyone moves quickly with eager anticipation... something like 1 mile down, 249 to go. The first 40 or so miles is a common BBS route, but it's fun to ride it in the dark. We have the road to ourselves for a little while until the sun comes up. It's a rolling party.

The first check point was in New Boston, NH at the local historical society. PB&J and banana at 7AM, yum. It's worth noting that I had a porta-john incident. While adjusting my shirt in the john, something fell out of my back pocket, hit the seat and plopped into the abyss. Momentary panic. I checked off a mental list of important or expensive things I would hate to loose: sunglasses, cell phone, wallet, tool kit, car keys - all there. What was it? People asked my about my panicked puzzled look. As long as it isn't your brevet card in there, then you are fine they say. Good point. It's time to get rolling again. If it was wasn't important enough for me to remember then it isn't worth taking time to worry about it. Onwards. About 10 miles down the road I figured out that I dropped the safety goggles that I had put over my regular glasses for wind protection at night. They didn't work well anyway, so good riddance.

The initial herd had split up by this point in the ride, so I set out on my own. I soon paired up with the cycling Scotsman, Tom. Tom's cynical wit busied the next 150 miles or so. We talked about ride nutrition for a bit and ironically stopped at Dunkin Donuts in Laconia for coffee and breakfast sandwiches. This is nutrition cycling style. Later Tom would have beer at mile 170ish and explained the merits of that beverage for randonneuring (see Tom's blog), but I stuck to my usual and had a coffee instead.

We continued along at a quick pace and moved ahead of my intended schedule for this brevet. The middle two sections of the 400K are the hilliest. I don't remember too much of this section (you can in fact ride 100 miles and not really remember it). I do, however, remember looking forward to a mysterious direction on the cue sheet: mile 36.3 of leg 3 (mile 153) Cow One Mile. I was thinking maybe it was a giant dairy cattle statue. It was not, but I was not disappointed. The landmark is a simple cow crossing sign similar to the one below (I didn't get a photo), but with One Mile in stead of XING. Yes, it is quite remarkable. Seeing that sign was very exciting for me, though I unsure if was from figuring out the meaning of the cue or reaching another distant milestone.

Peter White's bike shop was the third checkpoint. I didn't linger all that long, but I did stay long enough to get a tour of Peter's shop, or barn I guess. It's like santa's workshop, only filled with wheel parts, headlights and shelves of miscellaneous bike parts. Peter showed me the snazzy new Edelux headlight which is supposedly bright enough to fry an egg right on the cue sheet. Maybe not, but I really enjoyed hearing about why this light is so special from Peter himself. He is a walking bike encyclopedia. Thank you Peter.

Tom and I rolled out for the final 70 miles home toward Boston filled with ravioli and recharged for the task ahead. I soon started feeling pretty worn and the rain began. I settled into a somewhat pathetic pace, and Tom went on ahead. The next several miles were downright miserable. It rained, turned dark and a got chilly. My right knee was singing with pain. What the $!@ was I doing out here? I eventually pulled over to collect myself. I had forty miles left and felt terrible. However, I was still far ahead of where I thought I would be at this time. So I put on my O2 rain jacket and hopped on. A little while down the road, my wicked bike light started shifting to reserve mode, so I got out my spare. Another rider came down the road and he welcomed me to ride in with him. Bob, the rider, is a chemistry professor from the Hudson Valley and usually rides with the randonneurs in that area. We had much to talk about and the conversation was a nice distraction, so much so that I started feeling pretty good. After a while the roads started looking familiar again. Bob and I road in together just past 11PM, a little over 19 hours. Tom was still there, and we chatted about the rest of the ride. I said goodbye to Bob, wishing him luck in the upcoming Rocky Mt 1200 in British Columbia. I thanked to Tracy. Then I went home and slept.

In sum, the 400k was really really hard. I'm still feelling sore, but I'm glad I finished. I learned quite a bit about riding ultra distance, mostly about the value of pacing and good gear. These are lessons that will be valuable for the upcoming 600K...if I can motivate to do it. The 600K is a 400k followed by another 200K. It would be be great to complete it, but I'm unsure if my body is up to the task or if it will be 200 miles of fun followed by 175 miles of misery. There are some issues that needed resolving too: lighting, soreness, nutrition. Alternately, I could do something relatively sane like joining the Adirondack 540 Preview for a single spectacular 136 mile lap. ....but finishing a 600K would be quite an achievement. We shall see.

Thanks to Mrs. Wheelie, Bob, Tom, Tracy and the gang, Dunkin Donuts breakfast sandwiches and my O2 rain jacket.

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