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Westfield 300 km Brevet
100 miles of screaming tailwind

by Pamela Blalock

 

Our 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!

We 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 the day.

 

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!

 

We 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 and 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.

It 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 on RAAM.