Follow or subscribe to our blog to get notifications of updates to
This year has just been amazingly busy. We seem to have come home from New Zealand with a pent up need to make up for missing brevets for a couple of years. We did do a 440km each year in NZ, but its format was very different from brevets here. So in our first few months back we somehow managed to plan a fleche and then signed up for not one, but two brevet series, one in Boston, the other based about 100 miles away in Westfield.
Part of the reason for doing two series is that John recently acquired a new single brevet bike built by Peter Weigle. We were eager to do the Westfield rides, since two new ones have been added since we last did them. We love Don's route selections for the 200 km and 300 km rides and had heard nothing but praise for the 400 km and 600 km rides. For various reasons, including that we would be riding to and from the ride starts, we decided to do the Westfield series on the tandem, and the Boston series on our singles. This way John could play on his new single and we could use the carrying capacity of the touring tandem to haul extra clothes and such out to Westfield.
We also decided to tackle a fleche very early in the season (for New England at least). This ride has the special appeal of being a team ride, as well as allowing us to select our own route. With a tough winter involving lots of cold and snow, we found ourselves with very little mileage in our legs a month before the fleche. But we quickly ramped up with a trip back and forth to Glastonbury, CT at Easter and another set of back to back loaded century rides to Hillsborough NH, two weeks later. Next it was the fleche, followed by a quick trip to NC to attend the Cirque de Cyclisme, and then brevet season was upon us.
We started off by missing the Westfield 200km, because we were in NC, but the Boston 200km proved epic. John's new bike had taken the trip to NC for the show, and we didn't have it back yet, so we decided to take the tandem and enjoy the fenders in the torrential rain and wind. We started 20 minutes late, due to a miscalculation of how far it is to the start from our new home, but had an enjoyable ride anyway. We were pleasantly surprised to see lots of other folks with fenders! We were also just getting over really bad colds, with a cough that wouldn't go away and wouldn't let us sleep. So we were already practicing sleep deprivation for longer rides!
The next weekend, we took Friday off to ride the tandem out to Westfield for the Berkshire 300km ride. It was still pretty chilly and it threatened to rain, but overall, we had a very nice ride out. We enjoyed the company of Mike Kerrigan for the event, and then rode back to Boston on Sunday, arriving just in time to meet our massage therapist for a well earned massage.
The following weekend was the Boston 300km. The forecast didn't look good at first, but got better. We did this ride on singles. John rode his new Weigle, and I went the opposite approach, taking my new super lightweight Co-motion Ristretto. With less than an hour of darkness, I figured I could get away with minimal lights, and felt I could use any advantage - like a lightweight bike for my first long ride on a single in several years. We had pretty serious headwinds for most of the journey home, and a good downpour in the last hour. My back complained a bit, but I was very happy with my ride. John enjoyed his first real ride on his new bike as well.
The next weekend was Memorial Day and the annual Tour of New England. We planned to ride with our friends, Roy and Susan, on single bikes. We also decided to try and take things easy as this was a rest weekend, so we shortened the first day by not doing southern New England. We'd already ridden through Rhode Island and Connecticut on the Fleche, so we didn't need to do that again! We did still come up with a very challenging route including a couple of dirt sections and then found the steepest way possible to go up Mt Grace. We had a variety of weather over the weekend, with sun and heat, clouds and rain and even a good hail storm! Bikes and bodies survived.
After that came the Westfield 400km, and summer - suddenly summer. We again rode out to the start, fine tuning our route out to Westfield. It's actually a very challenging ride out, and always takes us much longer than we think it should. We got in pretty late, and it was almost 11PM by the time we got back from dinner. Then we had a little mix-up with our wakeup call, and got far less sleep than we would have liked. We rode a large part of the ride with our new friend, Dave Cramer, from Brattleboro. The route was very nice and involved lots of new roads, including a brutal climb up through what is thankfully the only Stephentown in the world. They have a sign proclaiming their uniqueness! But it's the toughness of the climb, rather than any other negative feature of the town that makes me add "Thankfully" to their proclamation. We also found ourselves time-warped into summer, as the temps hit the mid 90's in Saratoga Springs - out of nowhere. We'd barely even seen 70s prior to this. After all this, we were pretty cooked by the heat, so when Bogie offered us a lift back to Boston, we graciously accepted. What wimps we are!
The following weekend was our first break in two months, with no long rides scheduled. It was hot though. Back to 90's.
Next came the Boston 400km, with forecasts of showers and cooler temps. John and I were back on singles for this ride. I've been very inconsistent this year. I have a great bike set up for brevets, with fenders, lights, rack, etc, but I haven't used it on a single brevet - I have used it for commuting though. On the 300km, I ignored the forecast and took my super light, fenderless Ristretto with minimal battery lights. For the 400km, I ignored the forecast, and decided to take my y-foil. It actually IS set up for brevets, with the exception of fenders. The frame offers some suspension without too much of a weight penalty. It has a Schmidt hub and double lights, as well as an extra large saddle bag and small handlebar bag. It's just a bit lighter and has been neglected a lot recently, so I thought it deserved to go out!
There are two starts, a 1 AM for the slower folks or those who just want the full allotted time and 4AM for the fast folks. I took the early start. We had a nice group going out in the dark. Most folks stayed together until dawn. Then that typical thing happened - the pace slowly crept up and folks get shelled out the back one by one, so we ended up with a bunch of folks riding the same pace, but not together, because each hung with the group until they couldn't anymore. I dropped off fairly early, mainly due to concentration issues. I'd just drift off in my mind, and then realize I was off the back, so I'd hammer back up, only to do it again. Eventually I stopped trying to catch back up, and rode into Bullard Farm on my own. Elizabeth Wicks and I had ridden together for most of the 300km and thought we'd be able to do the same on this ride, but she just had a bit more in her legs than I did, and after it became obvious that our paces weren't well matched on this day, I encouraged her to go on, which she did reluctantly.
At that stage, I had overextended. I'd pushed my comfort level, and hadn't eaten enough and when I tried to eat, it was rejected. No more detail necessary. I'd also made my back unhappy. This was partly due to my issues with flashing taillights. Flashing taillights drive me nuts, especially the super-bright ones. When I'm behind a bike with these types of lights, I find myself blinded. So I ended up riding on the front a lot, and pushed harder than I should have early. I really wish flashing lights were banned on group rides! The other thing I've finally realized is that I may need to put my aero-bars back on my single. All the long single bike rides I've done in the past have been with aero-bars. I'm convinced this is one of the reasons my back is giving me grief these days.
Anyway, I plodded along slowly trying to nibble and trying to get my back less unhappy. I took a long break at the store in Whatley. It was actually hot and sunny for a few minutes, and I sat in the shade of a dumpster. I finally got going and after turning onto Route 5/10 noticed the nice new Neighbors store with picnic tables and shade-providing umbrellas! Amazingly the sun disappeared as quickly as it came out, and it was overcast for me on the climb. Almost everyone I saw coming down had on jackets or long sleeves.
At the turn-around I asked Bruce to pass onto John that I wasn't doing so well, so he'd take pity on me and ride with me! It started to rain while I had my lunch and I put on my jacket for the descent. I was amazed that I was 10 km down the climb before I saw John coming up with a large group. I found out later that they'd stuck together through punctures and broken spokes. But seeing him at this stage, meant he likely wouldn't catch me for a while.
It was a short while later that I discovered that I'd put multiple copies of the same page of the cue sheet in my map case, and did not have any cues for the route home. Fortunately I had a new cute little toy GPS (a foretrex) on my handlebars that I'd just bought the week before and had programmed in the route.
I took a quick break in Amherst to get a couple of Double Shots from Starbucks and some gu-type packets at the local shop. I had accidentally littered on a bumpy road earlier in the day, when one of my flasks of hammer gel went flying, without me realizing. I definitely would have gone back had I noticed at the time.
I felt much better by the time I got back to Bullard Farm, but still wanted company, so Susan Grieb, who was running the control there, got the same message to pass on to John. I headed out, and soon was caught by Glen, who seemed to also want company as he slowed way down to ride with me. He had done the ride last year and warned me about a steep hill, but nothing could have prepared me for the wall that was Williamsville Road. I winched myself up this and we eventually got back on 62 and the climbs up to Princeton almost seemed flat. The descent to Sterling was grand, and we took a break at the store there. Soon after we came out with the results of our foraging, John's big group rolled up and announced that they had done their job of delivering him to me. Apparently the message was delivered successfully!
His group reluctantly left him, and John, Glen and I rolled on. John and I chatted and Glen got ahead a bit. We soon caught up to Aneesh, who rode in the final 20 miles with us. My back was shot. Susan and Jack had just come in from Bullard Farm and very nicely agreed to take me home after I looked so pitiful. This is a long way out of their way and I owe Susan big time now.
Next up was the Westfield 600km! Wimps that we are, we arranged to get a lift out with Mike Kerrigan. Riding out would have meant two days off work, as well as starting yet another brevet with some fatigue! There was also the matter of the temps. Those 90 degree temps we'd seen on the 400km a few weeks before were back and they brought company! We heard forecast for temps of over 100F! So we happily arranged the lift.
John, Mike and I met up with Dave Cramer at the motel and headed out to the School Street Bistro - the real reason John and I go out to Westfield for rides - for a fabulous dinner, before turning in to try and sleep some before the 4AM start. After our last experience with an early wakeup call, we decided to trust our own alarms (with us setting and double checking them), rather than the motel. (Our wakeup call came an hour early for the 400 km)
Anyway, we woke after a few hours of sleep, and headed down to the bike shop for the start. It was not hot yet and in fact on some of the descents I was quite happy to have a jersey with long sleeves.
We started out as a large group with organizers, Don and Phil, escorting us out of town. Sadly they had to head back early to check in any late arrivals. Soon after Don and Phil turned back the group split into at least two groups, with Mike, Dave, John and me in the back group, along with several others. We rode along together for a while, until we decided to take a quick stop to get rid of some of the water we'd been guzzling to prepare for the heat ahead. The four of us stopped while the others pressed on. Each time we'd catch back up, our bladders would call again. We were definitely staying hydrated at this point!
At some point as we passed through one of the many small towns, I noticed a sign for a dentist office, and joked that instead of doing the 600km that I could be having a root canal, as if it might be more enjoyable! Of course the reality is that in spite of the heat, the hills and the distance, the sleep deprivation, etc., being on a bike was preferable to anything else. I was actually enjoying my ride!
We caught back up to several folks on the first big climb of the day, and then screamed down the far side, keeping with us the folks who knew how to draft a tandem. We arrived at the first checkpoint, a convenience store just across the New York border and found a few bikes there, as folks were checking in and stocking up on supplies. This brevet has several manned checkpoints where the needs of weary cyclists are catered to by wonderful volunteers, as well as a few controls at convenience stores where we can get our cards stamped and buy food and drinks and such. It's a nice compromise, requiring fewer folks to spend their day looking after others and not riding themselves.
Anyway, we found water and sandwiches and V-8, and had a good feed before pressing on. As the day wore on, shops throughout the Catskills were emptied of water and v-8 regularly. The temps started heading up, but fortunately the humidity didn't. We stopped about every 25 miles and filed into a store and loaded up on cold water, popsicles, ice and the ever life-saving, full of electrolytes v-8. Forget Gatorade - that's amateur hour. V-8 is one of the best sources of the electrolytes we were sweating out and at a good price. Other salty foods were also making their way off shelves - chips and beef jerky aren't just for the coach-potatoes!
Rhinebeck, NY was a charming town with lots of cafés and we should have stopped there, but we didn't think about it until we'd passed all possible places to get a cold drink. We kept our eyes open, but had to cross the Hudson River before we'd finally find a shop. Just at the base of the bridge, we managed to run over a coat hangar and got it jammed in one of the timing rings! I managed to pull it out on the move and carried it most of the way across the bridge before spotting a rubbish bin.
By the time we found a store, we were all pretty hot. Sad to say, it was a bit sparse on our favorite beverages, but it was air-conditioned, so we guzzled water as we sat inside and cooled down. But we made note that Stewart's Shops didn't have a very good selection and would try to go for other chains of convenience stores in the future. Next it was on to Woodstock - yes the Infamous Woodstock. Although at this stage it looks more like a yuppie holiday spot than a hippie hangout. The checkpoint here was at a bike shop and was staffed by a very nice gal who made sandwiches for everyone and offered us cold sodas and a shady place to sit and relax.
Another fellow named Dave, from Connecticut, had broken a spoke and had it replaced at the shop while he had a sandwich. Unfortunately the repair didn't last very long and within 10 miles he'd broken a few more. We came upon him at the base of the next big climb calling for rescue. Our group of four had just taken a break at another a/c'd store and filled up with cold water, frozen treats, ice and V-8. Dave C (from VT), who was riding with us, had studied the course profile too carefully and was nervous about the upcoming climb. Ignorance is bliss, I say. He kept telling us that he'd likely drop off on the climb and not to wait. So when CT-Dave asked us about a cell phone, we sent VT-Dave ahead, while Mike pulled out his phone. It wasn't much help as he had no signal. If his Verizon phone had no signal out here, we knew our T-Mobile phone wouldn't work, so we pointed him to likely places with pay phones, wished him luck and started up the climb ourselves.
Fortunately it was mostly shaded, as the heat was bearing down on us quite intensely. We passed VT-Dave who was looking good and riding steady and figured we'd regroup at the next control. Mike, John and I stopped at a state park near the top, to use their toilets and get water. I soaked my head a couple of times. Of course maybe studying the course profile carefully would have been helpful. We went down and then up and down and up and eventually rolled into Windham for another staffed control at a bike shop. There was also a nice coffee-shop where we ordered frozen drinks. After a while a few other riders rolled in looking a bit cooked. A mirror would have shown me that I didn't look much better to them, but I cleverly avoided mirrors!
Dave rolled in and looked pretty good to me. I pointed out there was lots of time left and to just take it easy cool down and roll on - hopefully in the company of one of the many other riders at this control. After a long break ourselves, John, Mike and I pressed on. We had another little climb and a couple of long fast descents. We dropped Mike on the really long downhill, but a quick pit stop got us back together. It was about this time than John's IT band started acting up. It's been years since he's had real pain in the ITB. Back on BMB in 94, we almost didn't finish thanks to a sore ITB, but a couple of well timed massages and some rest got us through. New orthotics after the ride seemed to fix the problem. John always has to stretch daily, but has just not had major pain for over 10 years. Then on the Boston 400km, he felt a few twinges, and took it easy riding in and out of work that week, hoping all would be well. It had been until now but suddenly it was causing major grief. We took a short break where we got cold drinks and he stretched it out a bit and then pressed on. John isn't very vocal about pain, so I am never totally sure how bad something hurts, but this seemed pretty bad. We had another long steady climb after this. It was a series of stair steps, as opposed to a steady up, and it seemed to never end. But just as we finally reached the top, Don passed us in his car with a few bikes on top, including the two Daves, as well as a couple of other folks we'd last seen in Windham. I felt especially bad for Dave Cramer. This is his first year of doing brevets, and he picked a seriously hard series and has had all sorts of weather thrown at him. These are tough and dangerous conditions, and taking the DNF at that time, I think, was a wise choice.
Right after Don passed, we began a screaming descent where we hit 96kph! We regrouped at the bottom, and turned on taillights, added our reflective stuff and made note that the humidity had arrived, as we were all glistening. Early in the day, sweat just evaporated, but the moisture in the air meant that was no longer the case. We also had quite the light show on the descent as fireworks were going off in Schenectady, and then fireflies were everywhere along the road side. We rolled up and down a while and then had another good descent.
We reached Schenectady just before 10PM and sought out yet another store to refuel and get liquids. I also took the chance to change the battery in my helmet mounted light so I could read the cue sheet again. I was a bit worried about riding through the middle of this not-small city, but it was fine. The next leg to Saratoga Springs was along the least attractive road on the route and the thought of the next stop seemed to make it drag on slowly, but we finally arrived at the Serotta factory where the "overnight" control was. There was a hot meal and cots were set up for sleeping. There were showers too. But the most notable thing was the house was all closed to keep the blood-thirsty mosquitoes out, as there were no screens and it felt like it was 120F inside! We ate our lasagna and chicken on the porch while we swatted at mosquitoes. We finally gave up and went inside again. I knew I likely wouldn't sleep in ideal conditions, and surely wouldn't in these, but John's leg needed rest. So despite the cooler conditions of riding at night, we decided to take a break for a few hours. John limped off to the outdoor showers. I laid down for a while before trying a shower myself. The water was icy cold, and I spent more time dodging mosquitoes, but I rinsed off some salt and sunscreen.
We were surprised to spot the very recognizable bike of Sandy Whittlesey on the porch. Sandy, the consummate gentleman, and one of the nicest and most modest people you'll ever meet, destroyed the BMB record last year and has left everyone is his dust on all rides this year, but had apparently ridden himself into a snotty heap on this day, hammering along in the heat, until his body forced him to take a break.
Slow and steady, with lots of breaks inside cool air-conditioned stores, with lots of icy cold drinks and v-8. This recipe was working well for us in these conditions. Many of the folks who pushed really hard paid the price. We suffered but kept things well below the VO-puke threshold and just managed not to ride ourselves into snotty heaps!
After a while John and Mike got up, had some breakfast and we headed out shortly after 3AM, with Peter in tow. Peter had been waiting around hoping for some company in the dark, and was happy to tag along. We rolled through downtown Saratoga Springs where I was alarmed to see all the bars open and lots and lots of folks roaming the streets. Ah, New York State, where bars stay open until 4AM. It was a relief to get out into the country. It seems the flat terrain and cooler temps inspired John and we flew for the next hour, but all good things must end and the hills returned. Dawn also came with the hills, and Peter pressed on. So it was back to the three of us.
Eventually we rolled into Bennington, VT, and a long stop for breakfast at a Dunkin Donuts. The lack of sleep showed and we all began to hallucinate as we all thought we saw a big pink spotted moose on the sidewalk. Then we began seeing lots of them, and they weren't just pink - there were many different textures and colors. Eventually things got back to normal and we stopped seeing things once we started up the climb. We knew it was important to keep checking on each other, and figured if we all had the same hallucinations again that we might need to stop drinking so much! (Turns out Bennington had some sort of festival with decorated moose scattered throughout town that would eventually be auctioned off for charity.)
We began the final and biggest feature climb of the ride out of Bennington, up Route 9, then onto 100 and past the wind farm. Doing this a few hours earlier would have been good, but at least it wasn't a few hours later in the real heat of the day! It was another stair-stepper, but this one was steep and never ending. Well, not really, we finally reached the top and began the screamer of a descent. We couldn't let go too much though, because there was a turn we shouldn't miss which took us down a tiny little road by a river. Of course a road by a river on a hot weekend turned out to be quite the attraction for lots of folks driving up with kayaks on their roofs. At least we were going down - most of the time - although it was such a gradual down, that it was still hard work.
We finally reached Route 2, and another stop to guzzle ice cold water before we headed into Shelburne Falls, and the penultimate control. We enjoyed a lovely sandwich at the stop there that also served as a control on the 200km a few months ago, when, according to Mike, it was icy cold and rainy. Today was indeed a different day!
The next leg turned into a slog. We rolled down through Ashfield and then down to Route 5/10 where we should have stopped again for cold drinks, but we were so close that we just weren't thinking properly. The next climb drained me AND my camelback. When we finally spotted a coke machine in front of a gas station, I was cooked. The back of the tandem is a great place to be when it's cold, since there is this body keeping me warm by blocking the wind, but in the heat, it is brutal, having this body blocking any breeze. I was stripped down to minimal clothing, and my helmet was protecting the seat bag, rather than cooking my brain. I'd soaked my head repeatedly, and was drinking cold drinks constantly, but finally my core temperature had risen to the point where I really was not quite there anymore - Danger, Danger, Will Robinson - Snotty Heap Alert!
Mike noticed that I wasn't doing to well and got me inside to cool off a bit. After a short break, we decided to get on with it, and in the infamous words of Sir Edmund Hillary, "knock the bastard off". But 10 miles later, we spotted a lovely air-conditioned store, and nothing could stop me from well stopping. We headed in and grabbed bottles of cold water and v-8 and sprawled out on the cool tile floor before trying once again to "knock the bastard off". The last few miles dragged on and on, but we finally arrived in Westfield and I immediately headed into the shop for a/c. Several other riders came in shortly after us, and by the time that we'd had showers and changed to go home, everyone had finished.
Over 1/3 dropped out, and Don drove many, many extra miles all night rescuing overheated snotty heaps. Amazingly he was still as chipper at the end of the event as at the beginning!
Despite having signed up for Boston 600km, two weeks later, John and I both decided we were done with long rides for a while. We aren't doing a 1200km this year, and between our knees and backs and just needing some sleep, we have had enough. We will be taking it easy for a while just doing 100 miles a day or less! Our next ride is a vacation in the Finger Lakes of New York. Hopefully it will be cooler than the Catskills were!