Westfield 300 km Brevet
100 miles of screaming tailwind
by Pamela Blalock
original plan for this year was that John would concentrate on USCF
racing and Mt Washington, while I would do the Boston brevets and BMB
on my single. But we so enjoy Don Podolski's Westfield series, that
we decided to do their 200 and 300 km events on tandem. I'm sure a racing
coach would be appalled that John would break training in this way,
but that's one of the reasons he doesn't employ a coach!
Susan had tried to convince me that I need to do all the rides
on my single and I should let her ride with John on the tandem for this
event. I offered a trade - she could have John for this ride if she
would ride (on singles) with me on the Boston 400 km. She didn't think
it was such a good trade !
The forecast for Saturday was for good weather, but we decided to bring
the mocha (with fenders) since it was all set up with lights, and a
big racktop bag. We knew as with all Westfield rides, it would be quite
chilly at the start, and would likely get warmer, so starting with a
large empty racktop is a good idea.
I did start to worry a bit about the accuracy of that good forecast
as we endured a couple of heavy thundershowers on the drive out. We
also had a few other distractions. We are in the process of selling
our house, and received an offer Friday afternoon. Thanks to the wonders
of cell phones, we were able to not wait by the phone, but get
in the car and drive out to Westfield, and still negotiate price and
closing dates! We settled on the end of August to be the start of our
homelessness while we were in New Horizon Sports pre-registering
for the ride. Don is quite gracious in allowing folks to preregister
right up to the day before the ride! We also waited out another heavy
shower. We then drove the mile down to our motel and walked back into
town to the School Street Bistro for dinner. We had a fabulous dinner,
wine and dessert. Then we waited out another shower before walking back
to the motel. I hoped the weather gods were simply squeezing every last
drop of rain from the clouds before our 4 AM start time!
got a reasonable amount of sleep after watching a bit of the Giro on
OLN. I felt almost refreshed when the alarm went off at 3:15 AM. We
dressed warmly and gathered our gear and headed back over to the bike
shop for the start. We saw quite a crowd, somewhat larger than usual
thanks to nasty weather on the Boston and Syracuse 300 km brevets held
a few weeks prior. We saw many of the usual suspects, as well as a few
new faces. I introduced myself to Janika Eckert. I've been helping Peter
White out at the shop a bit lately and I've shipped off a bit of randonneuring
equipment to her and her husband Rob Johnston over the past few months.
It's always nice to see new folks join our lunatic fringe, and to have
a face to associate with a name and voice over the phone..
Soon Phil was giving the pre-ride talk, telling us about construction
and such and we were off. The first part of the route is a series of
gradually larger rollers, culminating in a long, long climb up to the
top of Jacob's ladder. We rolled out in the middle of the group, and
began to play that little tandem game, where we pull the group along
at a steady pace, but as we start to climb, some fresh legged folks
have to sprint past. We roll by on the down side, and a smaller group
passes on the next little climb. This happens a few times, with the
passing group shrinking each time, until they realize they are simply
wasting energy and let the tandem set a steady pace, pulling the large
group along. As things settle down more, we also start to chat a bit
with folks. Chris Block offered a rave review of his bento box, which
sits atop his top tube, and holds energy bars and such. Chris also mentioned
details about the distance of the long climb to the top of the ladder,
which is marked by a big plastic deer. When we reached the base of the
long climb, we wave good-bye to many of our companions, and continue
on at a pace reasonable for a 300 km ride (rather than a 40 km time
trial). Mike and Chuck stayed with us for the climb, and the rest of
John and I took a quick pit stop just past the deer, and enjoyed the
great descent down the other side toward the giant beaver. There is
an amazing amount of plastic wildlife on this route! We rejoined
Chuck and Mike and rolled along toward our first checkpoint at Great
Barrington. We filled up on peanut butter and bagels and other tasty
treats, before resuming the journey into Connecticut. The next section
seemed amazingly flat if not mostly downhill. The countryside was lovely,
but what attracted John's attention was this café - Bianchi's!
made our way toward Kent, Connecticut. Funny I just had to ask John
to remind me of the name of this town despite the fact that there were
a dozen signs on the way in welcoming us to Kent - the official town
line - miles from the center, then quite a few more as we got closer
Susan had told us about many fine places to stop in Kent, and I remember
the last time we rode through thinking it would be a great place to
hang out for a while. One place in particular was a Belgian Chocolate
shop just beyond one of our turns. We'd planned to stop, but it was
closed, so we pressed on toward Duchess County New York. We'd had quite
a close call with a few deer the last time we did this event, and were
quite relieved not to relive that experience..
It seems I haven't seemed to master my framing technique when taking
pictures, and must work harder to try and get faces! This is Chuck passing
by one of the many lovely homes in Duchess County.
The scenery was spectacular. My pictures do not do it justice. One
of the great advantages of tandeming is the stoker has some amount of
freedom to sit up and take pictures. I keep the camera in John's back
pocket to have it handy, but often miss great shots because I may not
realize they are coming up, or they pass by too fast!
It was also along this section that I noticed we had a
pretty good tailwind. John and I are somewhat superstitious about weather
during bike rides and try to refrain from mentioning anything about
the weather for fear it will anger the weather gods. So I just asked
if we had a "T". Assisted by this "T", we flew up
toward the big climb of the day, Bash Bish Falls.
was finally starting to warm up, and we peeled off some clothing. Mike
was having some stomach trouble, something he suffered from the entire
ride, and tried to maintain a pace that his stomach could tolerate.
Fortunately most of the climb was shaded, but the heat and steepness
of the climb took its toll on all of us.
As one point we were passed by a convertible with top down with a bike
in the back. Then we recognized the passenger as Chris Block. They slowed
as they passed as Chris said something about a cracked frame. John's
initial response was sorry for the bad luck, but given the gradient,
maybe Chris wasn't too bummed to be missing this brutal climb!
When we reached the top, Chuck and John were both out of water, and
we hoped to find an outside tap at the church, but had no luck.
This climb was tough, and I began to wonder if I was hallucinating
or if I had navigated us way off course when I saw the sign for Mt Washington!
We began the screaming descent down the other side and again felt that
wonderful "T" as it blew us back into Great Barrington. We
were all out of water by the time we reached the control, and were quite
happy to see soft drinks, water and sandwich fixins! We also found Chris
and his busted frame. He had lucked out to hitch a ride all the way
back to Great Barrington. What a shame the frame had cracked.
There were a couple of guys who seemed to arrive at controls just before
we left each time. So when they arrived this time, I joked that it was
time to go. They asked how we fared on Bash Bish, and seemed surprised
we didn't have trouble climbing with the tandem.
It was definitely getting warm now, and in 10 miles we had each gone
through a water bottle. With the climb up Bash Bish fresh in my mind,
and lack of water at the top, and knowing that we had another climb
up Jacob's ladder, I suggested a quick stop for sodas, which met with
no resistance, and in fact Mike and Chuck fought for who who pay for
ours! We lingered a while in the shade, but finally pressed on. We stopped
again a short while later when I spied a port-a-loo, and then finally
began the climb. Just about this time, the two riders we'd seen at the
control caught up.
As long as we didn't make sudden surges in speed, Mike's stomach stayed
under control, but as we began to play with our new riding friends to
show we could climb on the tandem, we pushed Mike's stomach over the
edge. He backed off to keep under his VOPuke threshold, and we decided
to regroup at the big plastic deer at the top. We found a lovely spot
of shade, but Westfield beaconed, and the "T" was pushing
hard. We thoroughly enjoyed the descent and the rollers that followed,
and got a taste for what could have been as the wind swirled and turned
on us in one of the hollows. Fortunately, it was temporary, and we continued
to fly along to the finish.
Something about 25 miles of downhill and a screaming tailwind can make
a long hard ride seem easy. I looked at our total climbing and was quite
surprised that we had almost 9,000 feet of climbing for the day. It
seemed so flat. Don had a copy of the course profile, which pretty well
confirmed my suspicions, three significant climbs (Jacob's ladder, Bash
Bish and Jacob's ladder), but lots of flat and gently rolling terrain.
I had remembered this as a beautiful ride, and my memory did not fail
me. Don has done another great job putting together a spectacular route.
I highly recommend it!
John and I made a second trip to the School Street Bistro, where I
devoured a plate full of King Crab Legs. I occasionally counted fingers
to make sure I wasn't eating more than I should. I'm a little bummed
I'll miss Don's 400 km, but I have committed to crewing for a friend