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171 km

by Pamela Blalock


I've managed to complete quite a few century rides in May, but haven't written anything yet, because I was waiting for some fun, entertaining material. Well, I give up waiting for the good one!

I've been training fairly hard all year trying to prepare for my summer vacation, a little cross country ride called PAC Tours. Now it isn't RAAM or anything like it, since we do get to eat real solid food, and sleep 8+ hours a day, but it does cover an average of 140 miles per day.

As part of my training, I rode my mountain bike/commuter all winter on my regular commute, club rides and centuries. I switched over to my touring bike in April, with an occasional tandem ride slipped in. Then not too long ago, I pulled the trusty old red vitus from the cobwebs, and prepared it for a little commuting, and century riding.

The lovely little red vitus and I have been through an awful lot together. With the type of riding I do, I want a very comfortable and light bike. We did both BMB and PBP, a few 24 hour rides, a hell of a lot of brevets, and club rides. But, I practically abandoned it last year, when I did most of my riding on the tandem. So this fall, I promised my old friend a great adventure, PAC Tour!

I started increasing my training miles on May 1. I added some speed work as well as a few more long rides. I really began to try pushing myself harder and harder. And I feel like it's working and I'm getting into reasonable shape.But I still was a little worried about this particular 300K route.

The ride to New Boston, Massachusetts used to be a 400K, and was by far the most difficult brevet in the series. I did it in 90 and 91. Last year, Steve and I found a much more pleasant ride to do in its place. In fact, I heard that no veterans rode the course in 92. Apparently, the organizers decided the course was a bit harsh for a 400K, so they moved the starting line way out in the country and turned it into a 300K. (They cut out all the flat part, and lots of traffic.) I was a little nervous, but still confident that I could finish with a respectable time.

However, bad omens began to pop up. I couldn't find one of my favorite gloves. I tore the house and car apart looking. Then I broke a shift lever mount, and had to replace it Friday afternoon. Then I read a Chinese fortune that said I would not have a good trip, and five minutes before the start, the batteries in my little flashlight that I use to read the cue sheet burned out.

Then the ride started. We had between 40 and 50 riders, with one tandem. Barb, the tandem's stoker was celebrating her 30th birthday. Maybe I shouldn't have told her that no tandem had ever even attempted this ride before, because they dropped out very early on in the ride. But they stayed with the group long enough to help us navigate in the dark. Stokers are really great for navigation. They can sit up and read the cues as we go along. It started out quite cool, and many riders were underdressed. I was really bummed about my missing gloves, but the glove liners worked very well. I probably could have made some serious money on leg warmers (and low gears), as a few cyclists rode with bare cold legs (and had tiny freewheels).

I was quite surprised that the group stayed together well past daybreak, and didn't really fragment until a few miles before Bigelow Hollow State Park. If we didn't split up before, the hollows definitely would have done it. I stopped at this point to remove my heavy jacket, and then flew down into the next hollow, and trudged back up the other side. After the second plunge, I found myself in a small group with Dale, John, and a very quiet rider. We rolled up and down hills together until we reached the Stafford Springs McDonald's and the first checkpoint. I took the opportunity to use the restroom, dump some lights, and put more food in my pockets.

And we were back on the road, for a few big rollers, a little traffic, and some flattish terrain. Our group swelled to about 8 or 10 riders. I knew what was coming up, so Dale and I pulled off into the McDonald's, 25 miles from the turn-around checkpoint for a quick undressing (to get out of jacket and leg warmers) and a little break. Here we found Rick and Eric. We stayed with them for the next 4 miles, until the climb began. Route 57 is very deceiving. It seems to roll on the way out, but it really is just a big climb, with about 2000 feet of elevation gain in 15 miles. It definitely wears on riders' egos. Eric and Rick took off as the grade became steeper and Dale and I just rode along at a steady pace making our way up the hill. We soon met up with John (one of five people named John on the ride) His 42-24 low gear was not going to cut it on this ride, but there was nothing we could do for him then, other than offer encouragement, and we tried to do that.

Charlie Lamb, one of the ride organizers, took advantage of the time between when riders passed through his checkpoint going out and coming back, and drove to the base of the climb, where he planned to ride out and back. He passed us on one grade like we were pedaling backwards. I hollered out that he really knew how to bruise an ego. He later confessed to passing us in his 52-17. (I was probably in my 24-21.

We soon passed David and Steve taking a break off in the woods, and I had to pick up the pace. (Steve was my tandem partner last year, and David, his brother had crewed for us.) I knew they would catch us, but I wanted them to hurt, and I wanted to be smiling as they went by. Both goals were accomplished, and the four of us rode the rest of the way into New Boston together.

One of the things that makes this ride legendary is the 1.5 mile stretch into New Boston. After climbing and climbing and climbing, there is a big sign overhead that says CAUTION, STEEP DOWNHILL AHEAD, USE LOW GEARS, TEST YOUR BRAKES, RUNAWAY TRUCK RAMP NEAR BOTTOM. They aren't kidding. The hill bottom out into a T, with a store off to the right that serves as a checkpoint. Then riders have to turn around a go back up this thing, from a dead stop!

A little over halfway out, we saw the first rider headed back. A few minutes later, we saw Charlie hell-bent on catching this rider. Maybe it's appropriate that his name is Moriarity. A little later we saw another 5-6 riders, including Kenny Goode, the 16 year old wonder-kid, just before the start of the hill, and waved friendly greetings.

We were greeted at the checkpoint by former RAAM champion Cathy Ellis. Cathy did some major damage to her knee while hiking last winter, and is still recovering from surgery. She was quite chipper, and encouraging about our ride. I bought some juice, ate a banana, and a few Cliff Bars, and after too long of a break, started back up the hill. The bottom part is like climbing a wall, and yes, I admit it, I couldn't keep the front wheel on the ground, so despite having a triple, I walked for a feet feet. No one passed me, nor did they put any time on me, until I stopped to get back on the bike! After that part the climb wasn't so bad.

The rollers were so steep going down, that I was able to coast up the other side of most, and only had to pedal hard on a couple. Linda, Dale and I were riding together, with Steve, David, Rick, John and one other rider all within site of each other.

As we began the really long final descent back to 202, I started thinking about real food, and decided I would be stopping at McDonald's for a grilled chicken sandwich. I was feeling great about the time I was making, the speed, the weather, and how good everything felt.

Then a one eyed German Shepherd decided it was the time to get up and dart across the street. It was so sudden that I'm not sure if I had time to even apply brakes. I hit him square on. Linda was behind me at the time, and said I lurched as if I were going over the bars, but my pedals stopped me (Thank goodness, otherwise I probably would have landed on my head!), and I went down on my right side, collecting some beautiful road rash, before falling backwards to obtain a massive bruise across the back, a cracked up helmet and a bump on my noggin.

It was amazing how quickly people were on the scene. An EMT kept me from moving. Someone took my shoes off, as I began talking about numbness in my toes. Linda is a physical therapist, and did her best to calm my fears. A little massage to the feet, and they didn't tingle anymore. Since I landed on my back, and was complaining of lower back pain, I was not allowed to move. A passing driver with a ham radio called an ambulance, and it seemed like they were there right away. Someone took off my (wonderful, worked great, saved my life, sacrificed its own) helmet. Linda and Dale searched in my bike bag for my wallet, but we finally realized it was in my back pocket and a little hard to get to. I was also wearing a Camelback at the time, and while it isn't designed as a safety device, it save my back a lot of potential damage as I landed on it. (My bruise starts just below where the bag stopped.) I heard people talking about the dog, and the owners, and someone said they had leash laws in the town. Another neighbor said he had complained several times about this dog running loose, and I really began to get upset at the irresponsible dog owner. It wasn't until Monday that I discovered that the dog is blind in his right eye, making his owner even more loathsome for letting him run loose in the road.

The EMTs put a neck brace on me and put me on a back board, and carried me away. Jennifer, who was driving one of the support vehicles gathered up my bike and shoes to take back to the start.

Dog lovers would not like my response to the question, "How's the dog?" But honestly what answer do people expect from me, when I'm lying on a back board, with a neck brace, waiting to find out if I've broken my back.

After a few hours of x-rays, the good news arrived that my back was not broken. They cleaned out my road rash, and sent me home. Dave Jordan, one of the ride organizers, picked me up and took me back to the start, where lots of riders were quite relieved to see that I was up and moving around.

But I really wanted to see my old friend, my dear red vitus. Unfortunately, it didn't fare as well as I did. The top tube and down tube were both crimped, and the fork blades were bent back. I'm really going to miss her, but I did express just a tiny bit of excitement about getting a new bike. I checked the computer for my distance. I had 171 km.

I went to my own doctor's office Sunday, to get the road rash cleaned up a little more. My right arm had a lot of swelling, so they decided to do more x-rays and check out the arm. It was fine, just tissue damage. I then headed over to the start (or rather end) of the club ride, to see friends and let them know I was okay. I then went to my local shop and put a deposit down on a new frame.

Sunday, I felt pretty good, but Sunday night, things started to go downhill, as I started experiencing a lot more pain in my back and chest. By Monday morning, I couldn't move, so a neighbor carried me back to my doctor. More x-rays showed no broken ribs, but he believed the pain was caused by muscle spasms. I hate shots. I already had to get a Tetanus shot and gave a vial of blood. But now he wanted to give me two more shots, one a muscle relaxer, the other for the nausea caused by the muscle relaxer. Have you ever seen projectile crying. Just watch me get a shot in the bum, when I'm already in so much pain that I can't move! To add to the insult, they were ready to x-ray my kidneys, and had to inject me with a dye! I begged to drink it, but they turned me down, and put yet another needle in my arm.

Well, it is another day later, I feel much better. I still can't raise my arm over the head, and the bruises and road rash will take some time to heal, but I am alive, not paralyzed, no broken bones, and hopefully able to ride again soon. The malice toward the dog (not the owner) has subsided. The dog is fine. I hope the owner has learned to be more responsible, and not let a blind dog run around it the road! His insurance will cover my new bike, and the medical bills.

I sure hope June goes better!