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Boston Brevet Series 400 km

by Pamela Blalock


One of the sacrifices randonneurs have to make involves sleep. This usually happens during the ride, but I've had to give up a little more sleep than usual lately. I returned from a fantastic trip to British Columbia, where I did a 600 km on the back of my tandem with Terry Zmrhal, a mere 30 hours before the start of the Boston 400 km at midnight Friday night.

After totaling my Vitus, crashing into a dog three weeks before on the 300 km, I had only been stoking tandem. This was partly because I was still having occasional headaches and dizziness, and was worried about riding alone, partly because my lovely wonderful randonneuring bike was now 3 inches too short and unrideable, and partly because I really like tandeming. But I knew I needed to get back to riding a single.

I had ordered a Merlin frame, but it wasn't in yet, so I decided to use my touring bike. I scrambled to unpack a little, mount my aero-bars, lights, and the ever present air-horn on the Bruce Gordon, do laundry, get sleep, and put in an appearance at work for a few hours.

The Bruce Gordon spends most of its life on my stationary trainer, but had a chance outside in April when I took my first trip to Seattle. Since that trip, I had unpacked it and placed it on the trainer, and basically ignored it in favor of riding outside. The bike has quite a few miles on from a few indoor centuries this winter, but other than all that rain in Washington last spring, it hasn't needed much maintenance. I should have paid a little more attention to it when I was reassembling it though, but more on that later.

I managed to get a few hours of rest before the ride, not really sleep, but enough to feel comfortable. I tried doing morning things like taking a shower and having coffee to trick my body that was still on west coast time into believing it was normal to start a bike ride at midnight. Just in case that didn't work, I took a caffeine pill!

I then drove down to Bedford for the start of the ride. Most people who know me, weren't terribly surprised to see me. I'm not the type of person to let a dog keep me down for long. After a few questions about the old bike, the new bike, the dog, the road rash and the bruises, I proceeded with my normal pre-ride rituals.

The ride started at the Civil Air Terminal at Hanscom Field. Apparently Charlie Lamb was a little hesitant to move the start here, but the presence of bathrooms, showers, hassle free parking and no neighbors complaining about the stereo, he gave in. It also gave me a place to demonstrate the air-horn/dog deterrent that Jamie King had so graciously given me after my accident without disturbing anyone other than the other 22 participants on the ride. It is kind of loud!

We rolled out through the suburbs of Bedford, Lincoln, Sudbury and Wayland. A few rabbits jumped off the front, but a large group in the middle stayed together sharing the light cast on the road by all of our various headlights. I chatted with various riders, some old friends, some I met for the first time. I met Mark and Jodi. Mark, it turns out is a friend of Terry's from Seattle. We had both heard lots about the other from Terry and it was nice to finally meet. I dropped back to talk with Kathy and Gary, although talking to Kathy was painful at times, since she was wearing a helmet mounting headlight, and looked at me when she talked!

The first checkpoint was at the Sterling Ice Cream Store. After a brief stop to refill bottles, we headed back out into the darkness. We had passed Route 495, and now really were in the boondocks. Streetlights were fewer and farther between, and soon no artificial light other than our own headlights helped us along the way. The skies were cloudless and the half moon offered a little illumination, but couldn't help too much on the upcoming roads. There is a fairly long climb from Sterling to Princeton and I lost the faster group on this section. I figured it was a combination of the weight and different geometry of the touring bike with its shorter cranks, my lack of single riding, and my general poor climbing ability. I knew there were more behind and stopped to wait a while at the top of the hill in Princeton, but gave up after 10 minutes, and resigned myself to riding the next section alone. It was a tough one to do solo, since the pavement is filled with ruts and frost heaves, and my lights were not quite as bright as I knew I would need. In fact, the roads were so bumpy that one of the connections was jarred loose and I was down to only 3 watts for a particularly scary section. While stopped to fix the connection, my friend, Rick, rolled by and offered to share the illumination from his Nightsuns. Shortly afterwards, the temperature dropped and I decided to add my leg and arm warmers. Rick was just too strong for me and the hills and bumps through Hubbardston were enough to bring me to a crawl.

But my back and neck felt good, and I stayed in good spirits. One nice thing about night riding is that I can't see my computer to see how slow I am going, and as long as there isn't a stream of taillights ahead, I can't see the hills. So the final hill into Barre snuck up on me, in a pleasant way. In Barre, I found Rick again, who was having trouble with a slow leak. He decided to stop every few miles, and pump his tire back up, in order to really check out the problem in better light at the checkpoint, another 17 or so miles down the road. We jogged back and forth, as he out climbed me, and I didn't have to stop until we reached the Bullard Farm checkpoint. This is quite an improvement over Barre. The facility was referred to as a barn, but it was more like a very nice garage, with a kitchen, and bathrooms. I brought the bike inside to remove the lights, and get food from the bag I had sent to this checkpoint. I guess I must have really been riding slow, since Dave and Jamie asked if my bike was OK. Jamie picked up the front wheel and tried to spin it, and it didn't move. The cable going to the front brake appeared to be jammed in the housing. Apparently, when I last flew with the bike, I had kinked the cable, when I took the handlebars off, and just hadn't noticed. I don't get much of a chance to use the front brake on the trainer, and I hadn't used the bike since I'd last unpacked it. Jamie and Dave worked on unkinking the cable while I pulled the lights, got out the next page of cues, and got my food together. I've definitely blown my reputation as a good mechanic now!

There were still a few riders at the checkpoint, when I arrived, but they had all left by the time I was ready, so I pulled out on my own. There were others still behind me, but I had hopes of maybe catching some riders now without my handicap! The next section went along beside Lake Matawa where a fisherman almost cast his pole into my spokes, and then up Mt. Grace. I seemed to be riding faster. I was getting warm, but didn't want to remove my arm and leg warmers until I was off the mountain. The descent was cool, but fabulous. A few minutes later, just as I was looking for a left turn onto an unmarked road next to a small cemetery, I saw a few riders coming toward me. Apparently they had missed the turn. But then, so had I. There was no cemetery, and the road I was about to take was unpaved. We sent out a scout to check some of the nearby roads, and I took this opportunity to remove my warm clothing. None of the nearby roads had the proper landmarks, but a car pulled up to a stop near where we were standing. I looked down my cue sheet, and saw that the next town was Turner Falls, and asked how to get there. The next road up would take us there, so we headed off. It turned out the cemetery was a mile or so back, the mileage on the cue sheet was wrong. Dave apologized repeatedly for the mistake, but everyone eventually found their way back on route, and we were all so appreciative of all the effort he makes to put on the ride, that no one complained too much.

And I was happy because I now had a group to ride with. I recognized Dale and John from the 300 km, and Karen from rides over the past two years, and there was my tandem partner from last year, Steve and his brother, our magnificent crew on BMB, David. We stayed together for a while, until the group split in two, with Steve, David and me together. David was so inspired by BMB last year that he decided to try the rides out this year, and is doing very well.

The final 13 miles to the turnaround point in Ashfield was a gradual 4-5% climb. It was on this climb in 1990 that Steve and I first met. We spread out as the climb wore on, and both David and Steve stopped to remove tights. It was starting to get hot, and I was really starting to regret not getting my head shaved the day before. I began dreaming of a hose to soak my head at the checkpoint. I finally spotted the Neighbor's Store on the left and Gerry greeted us cheerfully as we rolled in. I found the hose I'd been dreaming of, and peeled more clothing off. We filled up bottles, and food, and I drank some Sustical, a liquid nutritional supplement. I had so much trouble on the 600 km the week before that I decided to try liquid during the heat of the day, and solid food when it was cooler. We took a fairly long break at the turnaround, but rolled out soon after Karen, Dale and John rolled in. The next 13 miles were incredible. I wasn't sure if I would be able to keep up with the boys, since they outweigh me by 60 and 100 pounds, but I held my own. I lost all the town line sprints though.

The sun really began to bear down as we neared Amherst, and I began to think about the climb to Pelham. I was considering taking a quick break, but didn't want to lose my riding companions. But then David began to complain about his knee, so we stopped to get ice, and have cokes. I've learned a little secret about how to get unfriendly clerks to let me use the restrooms. Apparently I can make all the color go out of my face, and a little comment about heat sickness gets me right in! I soaked my head in the sink for a while. I was drinking plenty, but the combination of heat and lack of sleep was taking its toll. In the meantime David was icing his knee and talking about the sag. We started back up again, but David couldn't seem to make his legs move. I knew the upcoming climb would either force him out or make all the pain disappear, and I knew I wouldn't be able to stay with either of them, so I headed on toward Pelham Road. I stopped at the top to buy a gallon of water to refill my camelbak, and you probably guessed it, soak my head. I am definitely getting my hair cut this week. The route from there to the checkpoint was mostly downhill, with a little section of dirt, but also very shaded and scenic. I was feeling fantastic when I pulled back into Bullard Farms. I asked if Steve and David had called in, and Jamie said no, and then within a few minutes they pulled in. David looked and sounded much better.

When I pulled my lights off in the morning, I thought I left them in a pile that I thought would be there when I returned, but apparently I left them in another pile. It was obvious to me that I would not be in before dark, so I was a little panicked. Fortunately Jamie had a Cateye Halogen handy that he lent me. We rested for a few minutes, refilled water, food, etc., and headed out. I was feeling good, but David really seemed to have his second wind, and had an advantage on me climbing. What he loses in weight, he makes up for in power! I told them not to wait, since the next thirty miles involved lots of ups and downs. I lost sight of them on a downhill a few miles from Barre. I was still having trouble with the heat when I got to town, and took a few minutes to grab a coke, a caffeine pill, and check out the bathroom at the local pizza joint, the only friendly bathroom in town.

The next 14 miles has the worst roads in the state, although in daylight they didn't seem quite as bad. I made my way through this stretch rather quickly. There is a store on the right just before the top of the hill in Princeton where I had planned to stop and refill the powder in my shorts. I was sweating so much that I was really starting to have trouble with saddle sores. I was really surprised to see Steve and David there. The look on David's face told me they weren't waiting for me! I asked him if he remembered what I looked like last year when he was crewing for us on BMB, when the heat finally broke me. He had that same look. After a soft drink and some ice, we headed out again. A rider on high octane went flying past just before we left, so the chase was on. Boston is visible on a clear day from the top of the hill, and this was one of those clear days. This should also indicate that the terrain for the next few miles was mostly down. I LOVE this part. We went flying past the Sterling Ice Cream Bar, where I would have stopped if it didn't mean more nighttime riding. We eventually caught the solo rider, and jockeyed back and forth for the rest of the way in. I'm not sure if he ever caught on to the town line sprints we were doing though!

I won the sprint to I-495, and the next one to Hudson, and Stow, and Sudbury. Actually I got all the ones after 495. I think Steve felt sorry for me, or maybe the caffeine was working. But we were close enough and I felt so good that I practically sprinted for the final 1.5 hours. We stopped in Sudbury to turn on our taillights, and not too much later, Charlie came driving by, with my other headlights. I knew we would only be in the dark for 1/2 hour, so I just grabbed my Sanyo, and thanked him for coming all the way out. We talked up a storm for the last few miles, and when we finally saw the signs for Hanscom Field we started hooting and hollering and I let off a blast on the air horn. We made it in right at 9pm, 21 hours after we started, with 252 miles

I was so excited. I hugged and congratulated Steve and David. This is my longest ride on a single bike in almost a year, and I felt great!! I don't plan to use the touring bike for any more brevets, since the new frame is finally in, and should be ready for OLDINE in two weeks. My transcontinental ride is getting closer every day. The accident, travel and work have put a crimp in my training, but the way I felt on this ride, once the brakes were off really boosted my confidence in my ability to make it across the country happily! It's less than 5 weeks away now!

BTW, The nine hours of sleep that followed were also quite pleasant!


BC 600 km