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Cape Double

by Pamela Blalock


The alarm went off at 2:20 AM again. Why, oh why do we keep doing this? Oh yeah, it's fun. No really, except for getting up in the middle of the night, it really is fun. This past Saturday morning, our ride started in West Roxbury, Massachusetts and took us out onto the Cape and back for a flat to rolling and quite scenic double century.

As usual we had made plenty of last minute changes to the tandem, and hadn't gotten to bed as early as we should have, so we were working on three hours of sleep, but it's a formula that seems to work for us. Not that I recommend it to anyone else though!

The moon was very bright when we left, and the rain that had been forecast was nowhere to be seen. Maybe, just maybe we could ride in dry weather. But that was really too much to hope for as we passed through several downpours driving to the start. I changed my mind a dozen times about what to wear. Should I start in tights or shorts and rain pants. The roads were wet and I was sure that we would get soaked along the way. The thermometer on my deck showed 70F at 2:30AM. This was probably our warmest night all year. But I figured the rain would cool things and people off. Finally I decided to start in tights, and carry shorts, rain pants, rain jacket, and lightweight jacket. This would guarantee that everyone else riding out in shorts and no jackets would have a pleasant ride! The rains never returned, despite the little rain dance we performed 150 miles into the ride, but more on that later.

I finally got to meet Rich Whalen, after conversing via email occasional. Rich recognized the bike from the many descriptions I had posted, and came up to introduce himself. I guess our reputation for last minute changes is really setting in since he asked what we had new on the bike.

Folks who heard of our tire troubles in Quebec, immediately pointed out the new spare tire taped onto the rack. We had brand new red pedals to match the red bike. Actually, I bought them for the tandem-on-order, but since they matched, and since the old pedals were 6 years old and the bearings were shot, I put the new ones on. We also had new chainrings all around. We are obviously putting too many miles on the bike, judging by the box of worn-out parts that have come off of it. The wheels were the pair Burley sent as replacements and had never been used. (We're still waiting for the Mavic rim to replace the one who's eyelet came loose last time.) All these parts performed flawlessly. The question of the day was what would break next!!

We saw Steve Robbins, with yet another unsuspecting stoker on the back of his Ibis tandem. Jim Merrick, who has ridden Paris-Brest-Paris, decided after a 30 mile trial ride on Friday to try stoking a double century on Saturday. I looked around for the Spenco seat pad, but didn't see one! Remember, I have an Softride beam on our tandem! We saw all the other familiar faces, and lots of new ones. There were several people attempting their first double, and while this is a good route, it promised to be a hot day. There were around 30 riders. I say around because there was some confusion at sign in and some riders appeared at the first checkpoint that they had not expected, like Rich.

John Tobin, who organized the ride, and did a fantastic job, called everyone together to get started. The route was arrowed the entire way, and a cue sheet and map were also provided. Riders could have drop bags at three points along the route at miles 60, 130, and 165, where checkpoints were set up. Riders were to check in at these controls, so John could keep track of folks. He would be roving around the course and would bring in any riders still out after 9PM.

We rolled out shortly after 4, riding out of Boston, with next to no traffic, at a blistering pace. Folks around here really don't believe in warming up. We hung around the front for the first hour chatting with other riders. Three of the riders had just completed Pedal for Power across the USA; one on a tandem with his blind uncle. We talked about brakes and downhills, a typical tandem to tandem conversation.

We started talking with Cathy Ellis, about how much fun she was having not training for RAAM this year. (Cathy won the women's division last year.) Steve had just talked with Amy Regan, who will be leaving Tuesday for the RAAM starting line, and who was so relieved that the training was over. I hoped Cathy would talk about how much RAAM had hurt, so Steve would stop making those *I wanna do RAAM* noises, but she just talked about how much fun it was :)

We continued on for a few more miles, until we came upon John Harrigan on the side of the road with a flat and a bad tube. Fortunately, the roving vehicle had also come upon him and provided him with a good tube. We offered John some company, which he happily accepted. While he fixed his flat, we changed clothes, and put some of our rain gear in the sag vehicle. While I feared that this action might cause rain, I decided it was hot enough that rain would be welcome. John also dumped the water in his Camelbak for fresh. He had pulled it from the shelf after a year of neglect, rinsed it out and added water. It didn't taste too good, so he decided to try again. This may have contributed to problems later in the day.

Just as we started to roll out, we were caught by Peter, who was thrilled to have a tandem to pull him into the first control. We had planned to do another double on Sunday and had asked John before the ride if he would like to join us then. At the time, his plans had been to do this ride really fast and he didn't think he would be up to doing another, even with a pokey tandem. After a while, it became obvious that we were slowing John down, we tried to encourage him to continue on. He hesitated for a while, but after we caught Cathy, he decided to resume his chase for the front.

We took a quick break at Friendly's just before the Bourne Bridge, where we refilled water and Ultra Energy, and munched on some homemade banana nut bread. Cathy rolled out to try to get across the bridge, but encouraged us to follow soon, so we could ride together for a while.

Osman apparently didn't consider a double century enough of a challenge, so he added to the challenge by riding a fixed gear for 200 miles. Of course it did only weight 15 lbs, and I almost tossed it when I picked it up because it was so light. Osman is one of the thinnest cyclists I've ever met, and after our last ride with him, we requested he add panniers to his bike, so we could benefit from his draft, but no such luck this time. He did pay the price though as he stayed with us on all the rolling hills throughout the cape, including the downs, where he maintained cadences in excess of 150. He hit 34 mph, a personal best. (For those who don't know, a fixed gear has no freewheel, so you cannot coast - downhills are torture!)

When we were ready to cross the bridge, traffic was heavy enough that we had to use the sidewalk. The sidewalk is on the left side of the bridge, and while there is a big fence between you and the water, there is also a big dropoff between you and the road. This is the scariest part of the ride, but Steve handled the bike with the petrified stoker just fine.

We ended up with a small group of 4, Cathy, Osman, Steve and myself. We had a great tailwind heading out, but knew that meant a good headwind for the return leg. The trip out included 30 miles on 6A, which wasn't bad early in the morning. The route back was more roundabout and eventually ended up on a service road paralleling 6. The traffic was very light, but we paid for it with hills. We made a brief stop at a Fire Station for bathrooms and water, and then headed back toward the bridge for the return trip.

When we got back to Friendly's, we found John looking pretty rough and having a tough time with the heat. I again offered John our wonderful company (and draft) for the return trip. Neither Steve nor I realized how sick John really was, and he didn't tell us. After a bathroom stop and a break in the shade of the trees, we rolled out toward the final checkpoint at Bridgewater. The cue sheet indicated that the next 15 miles would be hilly, and then quite a bit of flatness would follow leading us through the cranberry bogs. It also indicated the only store was about 15 miles out.

Our little group left with Osman and John in tow. Osman was still looking fresh as could be and I just want to point out that drafting a tandem on a fixed gear is no easy task. Climbing the first hill, we heard noises from John that indicated he wasn't carrying cookies anymore - he had tossed them! He swore he felt better and wanted to keep going. Since he was still hammering along at 20 mph, we kept moving.

We stopped at the store 15 miles out for soft drinks and ice for our Camelbaks. While there, Marion and a guy on a Lemond, who's name I never caught rolled in and decided to join our group. We had been having a little trouble with smooth shifting and decided to try to adjust things to make it better. I managed to make it worse, so we finally gave up and headed out. Just before we left a small group with 5-6 riders passed. But we were on flat stuff now, and a group pulled by a tandem would have no trouble reeling them in. We really picked up the pace into the next checkpoint. Marion was doing her first double and had ridden a great deal of it alone, and looked incredibly fresh and strong. She seemed to appreciate the draft and the company, even if she didn't need it.

The heat was bearing down with great intensity now, and riders kept looking at the clouds, hoping they held rain that would cool things down a bit. Our little rain chant had no affect and we continued on under the beautiful sunshine.

We found popsiscles and watermelon, along with all the other usual fare at the last control and took a longer break. John continued saying that he was feeling better, so we headed out one more time. About an hour later and only 20 miles from the end, we came to a traffic light and John's answer to the question, "How're ya doin?", was "Not too good." Then he collapsed. We all grabbed our water bottles, making sure not to use the one's with Ultra Energy in them and emptied them on John's head. Steve ran off to find a Coke, and then I went in search of ice. Fortunately John picked a spot in front of a BayBanks air-conditioned outpost, so we got him in there and tried to get him in better shape. We called back to the start, to try to get someone to come get John, and learned that the sag was real busy with several riders in need of a ride from the bridge.

We gave them our location and checked with John, who was looking much better. We finally decided to head on in and come back with our car if no one had gone out for him by the time we got back. The next twenty miles seemed to take forever as we hit more and more traffic and traffic lights, but we finally reached the end. A sag vehicle had gone out for John, so we could change clothes and eat, while we waited for the other sags to bring in our drop bags and John.

I signed up for a massage, and pigged out on pasta salad, watermelon, ice cream and chips (healthy stuff, ya know) and talked with other riders as they came in. My turn for a massage came up, and I had just turned over to have the front of my legs done when John was brought in, apparently sicker than ever.

After trying unsuccessfully to get fluids back into him, we finally convinced him to go to the hospital. Unfortunately, he was in such bad shape at this point, we needed an ambulance to get him there. It took two calls to John's HMO to convince them that we could not get him there on our own and to get help over fast. I found this part to be the most frustrating.

First a fire truck with paramedics arrived, and gave John oxygen and tried to get him in better shape for transport. A short while later the ambulance arrived to carry John to the hospital. Riders still coming in were quite surprised by the presence of emergency vehicles, but were relieved to hear that John would be okay.

Unfortunately, John was not the only rider to end his day in an ambulance. Another rider was hit by a car, while making a left turn. She suffered a broken arm, broken ribs, and had her spleen removed. She is recovering quickly though.

All the other riders came in by the 9PM cutoff and everyone seemed to have had fun on the ride, despite the heat. We saw Rich again, who really seemed to enjoy his first double and looked a lot better than I did after my first. The other tandem arrived, with a now fully experienced stoker. Jim's only comment was that he felt beat up, but he was smiling when he said it!

Lindy headed to the hospital right away. Steve and I got directions to the hospital and headed over about 1/2 hour later. It was quite a comedy trying to find the place, since neither of us knew the area and lots of buildings on Rt 1 look like hospitals, but we finally made it and found John with an IV of saline solution dripping into his arm and looking a thousand times better. 4 bags, with a little potassium added, later they sent John home.

Well, we didn't get a lot of sleep that night, so we decided to do a little shorter ride on Sunday. After sleeping late, we rose and tried to correct that blasted shifting problem and then headed up toward New Hampshire for some long hills. After all that flat riding on Saturday, the hills were actually a good chance to get our butts out of the saddle. So we still haven't done an official 600K, but we feel pretty good about our preparation for BMB anyway. It now less than a month away, but we still have time to change lots more equipment!

Lessons Learned

Remove new tubes from the box and see if they hold air. Check the glue in your patch kit periodically to see that it's not just a tube of air.

Rinse water bottles and Camelbak bladders out with bleach between uses.

If you throw up on your bike, stop riding. If you are dehydrated, go directly to the hospital for an IV of saline solution. Do not pass go. Do not collect $200.

And finally, John Harrigan is the Master of the Understatement. If he says he's not feeling well, get him to a hospital!

600km in Quebec