Sunday, June 4, 2017

Off to the Hills!: The Englewood 300K

When I shared my estimated finish time with my wife, I may have forgotten to factor the hills and my utter lack of training into the equation. While the Englewood 300K didn't exactly kick my a**, it did take longer to finish than any of my previous 300K attempts. The thing is, though, I had a great time riding along some beautiful roads, catching up with a few old friends and even making some new ones along the way. As my pal Susan O. would say, it was a "full value" ride for sure.

I certainly cannot blame my bike for slowing me down. After discovering a few problems on the Cranbury 200K a few weeks earlier, I replaced the full drive train, properly reattached my front fender and installed a fresh set of tires. In short, this beautiful bike purred like a kitten all day long. One of the unfortunate things one discovers, racking up rando miles on a bike, is that distance is rough on a drive train. As you can imagine, I don't enjoy forking over several hundred dollars for new parts, but the smooth sensation of riding on an essentially "new" bike never feels like a mistake. I also found the new Panaracer Gravelking tires that Gil L. recommended to be superior to the POS Grand Bois tires I've been riding for many years. "Supple" may be a nice quality in theory, but changing flats on just about every long ride I undertake has long ago gotten old.

Riding on a well-tuned machine, I spent the first part of the day chatting with my friend Nigel G., which made the time pass quickly during some unexpected rain showers. After the serious hills began in earnest, Nigel and I split up so that he could nurse a sore knee without fearing that he would do further damage riding at someone else's pace. This time alone provided me with a chance to take in my beautiful surroundings as the rain subsided and the hills continued to fill the horizon.

NJ Rando enjoys a well-deserved reputation for outstanding support and this event was no exception. It was wonderful to see Super-Volunteer Steve H., Ride Organizer Laurent C., Katie R. and Lenny Z. at several controls along the way proving that a smile, some encouraging words and a bit of cold water can go a long way on a day like this. After refueling at the Port Jervis control with a (gulp!) bacon, egg and cheese sandwich, I met up with fellow randonneur Vadim G. who turned out to be fine company for the balance of the day. While we had never ridden together, we soon discovered that we shared quite a few friends and common interests and so didn't run out of things to discuss for the rest of this (long) ride together.

It turns out that Vadim also owns a Brompton and was particularly interested in my plans to race in the upcoming Brompton World Championships in NYC on June 18. In fact, I think he's now registered for the race himself. Luckily, Vadim's still in his 40s and so will not provide me with competition in the "Veteran" (AKA Old Fart) category on race day. We spent many of our miles together speculating on how to best approach this unique racing opportunity. Stay tuned for more details.

The final third of the Englewood 300K route connected us with familiar roads through Harriman State Park as we make our way south to the finish. Luckily, despite our casual pace, Vadim and I made it to the scenic park before nightfall and so could enjoy its full glory. After climbing through the park, the general tilt of the route is towards sea level, but there were, of course, a few bumps along the way to keep things interesting.

All in all, this was a fine day in the saddle. With good weather, fine company and lovely scenery, there was very little not to like about this event. I would certainly recommend the Englewood 300K to others, but recommend that you spend some quality time in the saddle in the months leading up to it if you want to finish within a reasonable timeframe. Having taken nearly 18 hours to complete the ride, I made it home much later than I had planned and needed to stop a few times along the way to rest my eyes. All's well that ends, well, though.

Up next: the Brompton World Championships on June 18!

Sunday, April 30, 2017

California Dreamin'

I always do my best to combine work and play. When I was invited to deliver a talk at a conference this past March in San Diego, I jumped at the opportunity and immediately began to think about how I could weave a little riding into my visit. I reached out to several helpful and generous members of the San Diego Randonneur club and found a 200K that appeared to be an ideal balance of hills and flats. I arranged to rent a bike from an outfit that would deliver and pick up from my hotel and bought a ticket on the red-eye back to NY giving me a full day to explore Southern California from the seat of a bike.

So after everything was planned, I packed up a suitable amount of gear and hit the road. If you ever find yourself in San Diego in need of a bike for the day, you could do much worse than to contact Stay Classy Bicycle Rentals. These folks are amazing. For $40, I got a totally reasonable road bike dropped off and picked up from my hotel, which could not have been easier or more convenient to arrange.

In the weeks leading up to the trip, I had explored the SDRando website and listserv and contacted a few generous and helpful souls who were more than happy to accommodate my need for a good 200K route to explore the area. As a newbie, I selected a ride that took in both beach and mountains feeling that this would provide the most comprehensive experience in the shortest amount of time. Little did I know how spectacular and ideal for road bike riding the southern California coast is set up.

On Friday morning, I woke up early to check out of my room in order to clip in and hit the road by 6:30. It was easy to get to the route start about 5 miles from the hotel by traversing the San Diego River Bike Path. It was a bit disconcerting riding through the various homeless encampments, but everyone seemed to be in good spirits and fairly disinterested in my fancy road bike. After picking up my receipt just before 7:00 AM at the first control, I took off into the pre-rush hour traffic in search of the hills beyond. What I soon came to realize is that San Diego is filled with urban sprawl. After an hour or so pedaling through heavy and often high speed traffic, I decided to make a break from the original route to forge a DIY out-and-back along the coast.

Dialing-in Google maps on my phone, I was able to locate a direct route to the sea, which brought me through the interesting UCSD campus where I poked around for a bit and tried to imagine how I could possible get anything done spending four years in such a pleasant environment. Apparently, they designed this cool library (above) in an effort to lure students in off the beach.

Once I hit US-101 north, I realized that I was in just the right place at just the right time. What I had imagined to be a boring flat bike path along the beach turned out to be a majestic rolling road with generous bike lanes and dramatic views. Each of the towns I cycled through was cuter than the last and it appeared that all of the 50-something men in the area were either spending the morning surfing or riding their road bikes along with me. What a way to live! It turns out that I should have selected to take the full coastal out-and-back originally, but while not getting RUSA "credit" for the route, I did manage to pack in 200 kilometers of absolutely stunning riding.

The great thing about an out-and-back route is that it's possible to dial-in the return time with great precision, which was helpful since I had to catch a flight back to New York in the evening. Unfortunately, the Town and Country Hotel has hundreds of rooms, but not a single shower to share with someone who has recently checked out. While I thought about jumping into the pool, it was not quite warm enough and so I cleaned up a bit in a bathroom and decided to sit in my own filth on the red-eye to New York.

All in all, my day riding through Southern California was just what the doctor ordered for my lingering seasonal affective disorder and a perfect illustration of how, with a little careful planning, it's possible to combine work and pleasure with the help of the generous randonneuring community. I'll keep this in mind as I plan my trip to Seattle in September.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Learning to Say No

Some lessons are harder to learn than others. With randonneuring, this is especially true. Giving up on a ride seems to conjure a special feeling of failure. It’s an endurance activity after all. “This too will pass,” we tell ourselves to make it through the especially dark times. With age and experience, though, I've learned that there are two pretty good reasons to quit: safety and family. The trouble is that both require making decisions that are seldom black and white; there is always considerable grey involved.

Since randonneurs throw care to the wind simply to participate in this crazy sport, we are generally a group of people with our priorities a bit out of whack. Suffering is a necessary feature of the activity as is a certain amount of risk and personal sacrifice. Cycling at night, cycling in all sorts of weather, cycling with precious little sleep, the list goes on and on. Seasoned (and wise) riders learn to separate the safety risks worth taking from those that are not. Since endurance cycling also generally involves countless hours away from family, randonneurs also risk alienating those closest to them while pursuing their passion. 

This week I learned this lesson again as I decided to end my sixth attempt at the Festive 500 Challenge. The challenge, sponsored annually since 2010 by the British cycling apparel company Rapha, draws thousands of riders from around the world with a premise that is really quite simple: log a minimum of 500 kilometers between Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve ~ no matter what. Riders who complete the challenge successfully get a patch as well as a feeling of satisfaction and perhaps even some bragging rights.

I first completed the Festive 500 in 2011 as I was recovering from a serious crash and logging monthly 200K rides in search of my first R-12 award. The timing seemed perfect. With school on break and a new year on the horizon, what better way to launch the training season ahead? Armed with this goal, I completed the Challenge five times in as many years and even found myself one of ten finalists in a grand prize competition that awarded a Trek Madone to the rider with the best story of the endeavor that first year. Despite not winning the bike, I was hooked and the Festive 500 has become a part of my annual riding plan ever since.

This year I mapped out a path to success that carefully considered the long-range weather forecast as well as a complex schedule of holiday gatherings, but despite my careful planning, I simply could not see sacrificing the 20+ hours with family needed to complete the 310 miles. With my daughter home for just a few weeks as she prepares for a semester in Southern Africa and my son recently accepted into his dream college in Minnesota, I'm starting to realize (with an empty nest on the horizon) how important it is to savor the nest while it's full. A challenge that once served as a chance to reconnect with the self amidst a swirl of work and family demands, now seemed like a terribly selfish activity at a time of increasingly rare family proximity.

There is still plenty of time to jump-start my training for 2017. But the clock is ticking on this all-too-short time we have together as a family. While I’m disappointed that I’ll not be adding a sixth patch to my collection, I’ve already built some memories that I would have missed out on if I had chosen to spend the day pedaling through the cold winds of winter. So while I could certainly have shoehorned the training hours into the week, the risk was too great that I would miss out on something more meaningful and fleeting. I don’t regret my decision one bit.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Into the Darkness: The Nocturne Podcast

There's nothing quite like riding a bicycle at night. Night riding is one of the defining features of randonneuring, something that separates our sport from other forms of cycling. Other than the 200K or 300K (if you're quick), riding in a brevet is going to involve riding in the darkness. For this reason, organizers of all rides over 200K require front and rear lighting as well as various forms of reflective gear. Not only is night riding a necessary component of randonneuring, it is also one of the most enjoyable. I was reminded of this aspect of randonneuring as I listened this week to a fine podcast that capture the spirit of night riding with great subtlety and precision.

Much of what I find to be appealing about riding a bicycle in general is magnified in the darkness. The feeling of connection with the natural world, for instance, is enhanced at night when visual input is muted and sounds become amplified. The call of an owl, the babble of a stream, the swaying of the trees in the wind make me feel a part of rather than an observer to the natural world around me. I've also seen things of great beauty and mystery (like the bridge in the photograph above) that I never would have seen without riding at night. Some of my most pleasant and enduring randonneuring memories have been created in the darkness.

Night riding seems to me to fall into two categories; the type that happens in the early morning hours and the type that happens deep in the middle of the night. Pre-dawn riding at the start of a long ride has a special magic as riders are typically packed into large, quiet groups sharing something special as they plan the long ride ahead either silently or in muted whispers. The smooth buzz of bicycle tires and chains in quiet rotation is accented by the glow of red lights ahead. Similarly, when taking off in the early morning hours from an overnight sleep stop, it's not uncommon to feel a sense of fresh optimism in the air as dawn steadily approaches.

I don't typically sleep for long periods of time during brevets, but even several hours of shut-eye brings new life to my legs and hope to my spirit that enhances my enjoyment of these early morning hours. After awakening from several hours of sleep on the second night of the Lap of the Lake 1000K in 2014, for instance, I rode through the pre-dawn hours with several friends climbing and descending gentle rollers along the banks of the Niagara River with the sounds of the might Falls growing louder and more majestic with each turn of the cranks.

Riding deep in the night after a long day in the saddle can be a time of camaraderie and contemplation, but it can also be a time of great suffering and misery. Riding together with other randonneurs at night brings a sense of added comfort and security just in case anything fails to go according to plan and I've found it to be a great opportunity for quiet reflection either alone or in conversation with a friend riding by your side. It can also be a time of great suffering, however, when you're forced to ride for longer than you had hoped before resting or when hallucinations or other signs of acute sleep deprivation rear their ugly heads. After riding for eight hours into the dark, driving rains on the London-Edinburgh-London 1400K in 2009 for instance, I found myself mentally composing a Craig's List posting for the sale of my bicycle to keep myself from crying.

As we enter this darkest time of the year in the northern hemisphere, I stumbled across two episodes of the wonderful Nocturne podcast, in which the joys and mysteries of night riding were eloquently discussed with several veteran randonneurs. Never have I heard the essence of randonneuring captured so accurately. There is something for everyone in Nocturne episodes 23 and 24. If you've never ridden at night, you'll understand more about the attractions as well as the dangers. If you're an experienced randonneur, you'll be reminded of your own nighttime adventures. Either way, it will make you eager for the warm days ahead when riding through the night is a more readily available option.

Learn more about the Nocturne podcast and listen to individual episodes here at this link.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

My Coffeeneuring Adventure: 6th Time's a Charm

As the leaves make their annual transition from green to brown making stops along the way as yellow, red and orange alarm bells signaling the end of summer, we are reminded of the importance of warming beverages to fend off the cool winds of winter and to stretch this season of riding out just a wee bit longer. For the past five years, the Coffeeneuring Challenge has helped me cope with, and even enjoy, this change of seasons.

This year, I created a "Theme Within a Theme" by riding my new(ish) Brompton folding bike on all of my coffeeneuring adventures. While I remain a devoted roadie and randonneur, the Brompton has revolutionized my commuting and urban cycling over the past year. As someone who works from a home office in the Hudson Valley, I am often on the road visiting schools throughout New York State. My travel often brings me to New York City, 90 miles to my south, and the Brompton has enabled me to ride to the commuter train 10 miles away and then directly from Grand Central Station to meetings without having to worry about the bike share or public transportation. I can also throw the Brompton into the back of my car or the carry-on compartment of an Amtrak train or commuter jet to pick up a short ride following meetings or conferences without difficulty. While daily bike commuting is not currently possible, riding to meetings and school visits has enriched my work while helping me fit additional exercise into my routine.

Ride 1 (October 15)
Bank Square Coffeehouse - Beacon, New York
3 miles
Latte and an oatmeal raisin cookie

Like quite a few other places, Beacon, NY has been heralded as the "next Brooklyn" following the creation of the Dia: Beacon museum and an influx of artists in search of more reasonable rents. Nestled into the hills of southern Dutchess County, Beacon lies on the MetroNorth train line right on the banks of the Hudson River. My trip to the Bank Square Coffeehouse involved a typically convoluted plan to drop off a car at a friend's house for my daughter to claim as she returned from college for a short fall break. Following a nice latte and fresh-baked oatmeal raisin cookie eaten while being serenaded by a ukulele-playing millennial, I rode over to the station to catch the train north to Poughkeepsie and ride home.

Ride 2 (October 25)
Aroma Espresso Bar - New York, New York
8 miles
Black coffee, oatmeal and fruit

Ironically, the only chain shop I visited during the Coffeener Challenge was the Aroma Espresso Bar, right in the heart of authentic cafe culture. While one can literally stumble over a hipster coffee bar on just about every street corner in NYC, Aroma was the most convenient place for me to stop on a day I was zipping around Manhattan. I must say, it was a bit of a disappointment.

Ride 3 (November 1)
La Deliziosa Pastry Shop - Poughkeepsie, New York
4 miles
Black coffee and a mini cannoli

The delicacies in this family-owned pastry shop in the heart of Poughkeepsie's Little Italy neighborhood are more than worth the trip from wherever you may be. A short ride or walk from the MetroNorth train station, this spot is a must-see destination the next time you find yourself in the Hudson Valley. Miniature cannoli, eclairs and cookies more than make up for the pedestrian coffee patrons make for themselves using a Keurig maker that sits on the counter.

Ride 4 (November 3)
Mohonk Mountain House - New Paltz, New York
15 miles
Black coffee

The Mohonk Mountain House is one of the nation's most remarkable historic resorts. Sitting high above the village of New Paltz on the Shawangunk Ridge, patrons are able to view the Catskill range off in the distance and hike, bike or cross country ski along hundreds of miles of well-preserve carriage trails that date from the nineteenth century when horse-drawn carriages were the principal form of transport that brought guests up to the hotel from the docks along the Hudson River where they disembarked from steam ships heading north from Manhattan. I often ride on these carriage trails with my road bike equipped with cyclocross tired, but this was my first foray into the wilderness on my Brompton. Verdict: not terrible, but hitting a root or a pothole with a 17" front wheel is a bit of a shock.

Ride 5 (November 5)
Slow Train Cafe - Oberlin, Ohio
18 miles
Latte and a salted chocolate chip cookie.

When our daughter called to invite us to see her perform a solo dance composition in a fall student concert, we didn't think twice about reserving a hotel room and clearing the date. Unfortunately, though, my son came down with a nasty virus and my wife had to stay behind while I drove to Ohio with my Brompton in the back of the car anticipating the opportunity to grab a nice ride through town with my daughter should she have a few spare minutes. As luck would have it, she cleared the day (which for her begins about noon) and we were able to take in a fun ride on a rail trail that stretches from the center town out through the farmland that surrounds it. While she had an early call to prepare for an evening performance, I spent some time spinning through this lovely college town, an oasis of blue in an increasingly red state, and enjoyed a fresh latte and a rather delicious salted chocolate chip cookie.

Ride 6 (November 7)
Outdated Cafe - Kingston, New York
5 miles
Double espresso

The Outdated Cafe is an old Coffeeneuring standby in the historic Uptown section of Kingston, New York. Another "next Brooklyn" outpost along the Hudson, Kingston was at one point the capital of New York State. Now a bit down on its lucky, following the departure of IBM in the mid-90s, Kingston contains several historic neighborhoods filled with 18th century stone homes ripe for hipster conversion. The Outdated Cafe serves as a vibrant community meeting place for patrons old and young who sit at long tables drinking great coffee and eating fine food. Some work, some play and others look at the antiques, most of which are for sale, that line the walls and shelves.

Ride 7 (November 19)
The Poughkeepsie Grind - Poughkeepsie, New York
6 miles

My final coffeeneuring journey of 2016 involved one of my favorite multi-modal locations in the Hudson Valley. The Walkway Over the Hudson was opened to the public in 2009 and brings hundreds of thousands of visitors each year from near and far to marvel at the beauty and spectacle of the Hudson River Valley. Once the site of a busy rail line linking trade from New England to the American Mid-West, the bridge fell out of use following a track fire during the early 1970s. After many years, the structure was converted to become the longest pedestrian bridge in the world towering 220 feet over the river below. On Saturday. following the bar mitzvah of a family friend, I parked at the lot on the west side of the river near my home and rode through throngs of tourists to Poughkeepsie where I enjoyed a hot cappuccino at The Poughkeepsie Grind, a new cafe with what I hope will be a long and bright future ahead of it.

And now to order that patch . . .

Monday, October 10, 2016

The Catskill Climbfest 205K: Fall Foliage Edition 2016

At this time of year, as summer turns to fall and the foliage begins to reach it's peak, I'm drawn to the Catskill Mountains to experience this magical transition up close and unencumbered by suburban distractions. This year, I was lucky to be joined by friends Jon L. and Mordecai S. With temperatures in the low 50s at the start, we bundled up with full-fingered glove liners and leg warmers, vests and woolen arm warmers. Dressing for a shoulder-season ride such as this isn't easy with hills to warm us as we climb and cool us as we descend and altitude variation to influence the ambient temperatures throughout the day. No one wants to cart around unnecessary weight on a climb-y ride like this either so extra gear and luggage is to be kept at a minimum.

As we clipped in at the start shortly after sunrise, the roads were slick from an overnight rain, but the forecast was for dry, grey skies throughout the day. Fortunately, the freshly fallen leaves that covered many of the side roads we traversed in these early hours were fairly dry and not slippery as leaves can become later in the fall when they've been lying around and decaying on roads for some time. The climbing on the Catskill Climbfest route begins early on with a gentle climb from Rosendale up to the Ashokan Reservoir near Woodstock through quiet back roads, which gets the heart pumping and the body warmed up without anything too terribly taxing. Upon reaching the reservoir, the road levels out and the trees open up to reveal a dramatic view that includes both this beautiful source of the NYC water supply and the majestic Catskill Mountains beyond.

Knowing that within the next hour we would be climbing that ridge off in the distance made us savor the level riding while we could. The climb from Palenville to Tannersville is dramatic and gratifying. Unlike the Slide Mountain climb further up the road, the climb along 23A is steady and never too acute. The traffic can be a bit much with leaf peepers and hikers driving and walking to trailheads that line the road such as the entrance to the famed Kaaterskill Falls. Tractor trailers occasionally carry deliveries up to Hunter Mountain at the top of the hill as well, but luckily none of this caused any drama this time around.

After the climb to Tannersville, riders are rewarded with a long and sloping descent to the village of Phoenicia along the Stony Clove Creek, which caused such dramatic damage (some still visible and ominous) following Hurricane Irene several years ago. Upon reaching Phoenicia, we were disappointed to discover that the Mama's Boy restaurant has closed up shop leaving fewer options in town for a quick bite to eat. We decided to hold off on our main meal of the day until reaching the control at mile 90, but grabbed muffins and snacks to fill our pockets and water to fill our bottles for the climb ahead as we knew this would be the last outpost for provisions until we reached Grahamsville 35 miles up the road.

The Grahamsville Deli, not exactly a foodie haven, was out of chicken salad when we arrived, which was the only real disappointment of the ride for me. As a vegetarian, Mordecai was even less thrilled with our food stop than Jon and me, but we were able to amass the necessary calories and liquids to make it to the finish 35 miles down the road. The next stretch of the route includes the wooded and remote Peekamoose Road deep in the Catskills, surrounded by high peaks. The cascading waterfalls along this stretch road were mere trickles but still evident to the discerning eye.

After a dramatic descent along Peekamoose, the final stretch of road trends downhill to the finish from the reservoir with only a few rollers along the way. We were aided this time around with a stiff tailwind that made us feel strong and victorious at the end of a long and enjoyable adventure. We finished the ride in 10 hours and 41 minutes, which seemed like a pretty respectable time for a late-season 200K with 10,000 feet of climbing. It was especially gratifying to align this annual ritual with weather, foliage and friends.

Up next: November R-12 - Back on the train.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

The NYC 200K: Coming Home Again

The NYC 200K was the very first brevet I ever rode back in 2007. At that time, it was scheduled in early April, but since then it has become a fixture on the NJ Randonneurs' fall calendar. I've ridden this route six times over the years and this past weekend was one of my favorites. With a year filled with slower than average times and weaker than average performance on the bike, I was eager to redeem myself with a strong showing to end the formal brevet season on a high note. While work and family commitments have made it exceedingly difficult for me to ride as often as I would have liked this summer, the beautiful weather and my overall enthusiasm for this ride combined to thrust me forward along the route at a good pace.

The ride starts and ends in NYC just a few blocks north of the George Washington Bridge, which riders cross in both directions at the beginning and end of the day. On the New Jersey side of the bridge, the route heads north through some fancy suburban towns along the western banks of the Hudson River towards Bear Mountain where riders begin to climb in earnest as they make their way west through the hills of Harriman State Park.

After leaving the first control in Stony Point, around mile 50, riders soon enter the shaded, hilly and recently-paved roads that are used to criss-cross Harriman State Park in both directions for much of the afternoon before heading back down toward our final destination. Cyclists aren't the only ones taking advantage of the fine fall weather on a day like this and it was not uncommon to hear the sound of motorcycles or sports cars approaching from the distance. Despite their somewhat macho enthusiasm, everyone seemed to be on their best behavior, eager to share rather than to compete for available space on these gorgeous roads. Due to a newly-enacted traffic rule, the organizers were unable to include the famed Perkins Hill climb in the route, which chopped off a five-mile out-and-back up a rather tall hill.

I was moving along pretty swiftly through the third control, which is located at a bagel shop in the village of Monroe. Arriving at the control as a solo rider, I missed the fact that there was a tent set up by a few volunteers around the corner and so waited for 10 minutes on-line for a bagel and a signature on my brevet card. After leaving the control, time slipped further through my fingers as I missed the first turn and continued on about 3 miles more than was necessary and came upon a crash involving one of our fellow brevet riders. Apparently, one of our own had careened into a car that had recently been T-boned by a pickup truck right on the main street through town. Luckily everything seemed OK, but I somehow managed to blow through about 20 extra minutes hanging around not being particularly helpful. After consulting my iPhone, I retraced the route and was on my way.

The NYC 200K is not an exact out-and-back route, but the second half does follow many of the same roads riders traverse in the early part of the day. My pace over the back nine was not quite as brisk as it was in the morning, but I was pleased to be able to keep the pedals spinning at a fairly good clip, which got me back to the start in under 10 hours. While not my fastest time on this course, it was nice to end the season feeling strong and quick rather than weak and sluggish. With any luck, this is a good omen for 2017 when I hope to again have time to train myself into better shape than I did in 2016.

Up Next: The Coffeeneuring Season Begins on October 7!

Sunday, July 31, 2016

And the Hills Went on Forever: The Boston 600K

July 23 is unusually late in the season to be clipping in for a 600K brevet, but for a number of reasons, this was the first and only event of this distance on the RUSA calendar located in the Northeast that would fit into my schedule this year. I was also eager to ride this route since I've heard great things about Boston 600K events and have enjoyed riding with New England Randonnuers in the past. This plan also fit my goal to ride a complete SR series this year on routes I have never previously ridden. Finally, this event provided me with the opportunity to catch up with friends on Friday night a few miles from the start and to ride with my friend Jan D. with whom I had recently completed a team arrow event.

Apparently, this particular 600K route was first created in 2015 to provide those preparing to ride in Paris-Brest-Paris with a route containing similar conditions. As on P-B-P, the climbing is never particularly severe, but it is at times relentless, as it is through the hills and farmland of Brittany. There were even several times during the weekend when images of northern France came flooding back to me such as they did when I snapped the picture above.

After the sun came up, Jan and I rode through the first control stopping only to get our cards signed. We had fallen in with a quick group riding at a brisk pace and it felt right to be making good time before the heat of the day was upon us. We stopped at the second control just 11 miles down the road from the first where I enjoyed a ham and cheese sandwich and an iced coffee before filling my bottles with ice water courtesy of the kind-hearted souls at the busy truck stop.

Not long after our control stop, the day became hot, hot, hot just as we left behind the shaded roads we had been riding most of the morning in favor of the more open farmland of the CT River Valley. The one merciful aspect of a strong headwind is a cooling breeze, so we shouldered on without complaining too much. At one point in our journey, we came upon a swimming hole in a secluded river where Jake had set-up a secret control. I was happy to refuel with Gatorade and cold pickles while Jan took the opportunity for a quick dip.

We hit Brattleboro just in time for an early dinner at the Brattleboro Food Coop that served as the northernmost control on the route. The food selection was outstanding. I wolfed down some pizza, chicken salad and a piƱa colada smoothie that was simply out of this world. Jan needed to take a bit of a break to regulate his body temperature and I was more than happy to take a few extra minutes to rest here as well after a long day in the saddle. Luckily, our friend Nigel and a cyclist from ME named Chris, with whom we rode earlier in the day before his crank broke, showed up with appetites and we all agreed to depart together.

The road south to western Massachusetts provided not only a gentle average descent of at least 3-5%, but was also fueled by a mighty tailwind generated by the storm at our backs. Every now and then I looked over my shoulder to see the skies darkening just a little bit more with intermittent bolts of lightening crashing to earth behind us. It seemed as if we might outrun this storm, but as the skies darkened, we began to look for porches and barns within which to sit out the worst of it should it come to hit us with full force. Luckily, we seemed to catch only the edge of the storm and the rains were light enough that I did not even feel the need to pull over to the side of the road to put on my rain jacket.

The storm subsided just as we were riding through the fields of Deerfield near the start of D2R2 and a magnificent double rainbow appeared before us on the horizon. The storm brought cooler air just as the sun was setting so it became clear that our evening ahead would be far more comfortable than the afternoon hours had been.

We stopped for a second dinner around 10:00 pm in a small town that was reputed to contain the last services for the next 45 miles to the sleep stop in Williamstown. It was good that our stomachs and water bottles were full as we climbed the long and steady hills through the Berkshires to the town of North Adams. None of the hills struck me as too severe, but many were long and reminded me very much of my nighttime approach to Mortagne on P-B-P last summer. I do so love riding with friends on quiet roads at night after a rain, when the air is crisp and clean. As we passed the midnight hour, several of us grew sleepy and searched for a safe and dry place to lay down our heads for a few minutes to jump-start our attentiveness and enjoyment. After a bit of searching, we found a perfect spot for a 15-minute catnap at the top of a hill by a small village hall with sloping handicap access ramps. From here it was not far to the sleep stop located in a lovely house with warm food and dry floor on which to sleep. 

I had sent a sleeping bag ahead with my drop bag so was very happy to catch a few hours of shut-eye before heading off into the foggy morning light. I laid my head down at 2:05 am and must have been asleep by 2:07. I awoke with my alarm at 5:15 am and quickly packed up my gear and put on a fresh jersey for the ride ahead. Jan and Nigel had awakened earlier and Chris was still sleeping along with several other riders, so I clipped in and rode off by myself confident that I would run into others before too long.

As luck would have it, I did not really see much of anyone for the rest of the day and my ride became a solo effort with passing contact with a few other riders at spots I stopped along with way to refuel. At one point near South Deerfield, I waved at a passing rider wearing a telltale Rapha jersey only to be accosted several minutes later with cheers of “Hey George, how are you?” It turns out that John B. who recently moved to the area from Boston, recognized me and came over to share the road for a few minutes. Social media is a funny thing. It's not uncommon these days to run into friends you rarely see and have them ask you questions about your most recent activities they've been following online in real time. In this way, I knew that John had recently returned from a trip to Ireland and he knew of my summertime love affair with my new Brompton folding bike. After a few minutes, we went our separate ways and I was reminded of what great friends we make on these rides and how nice it is to feel the warmth of the cycling community in places far and wide.

As the heat of the day reached its peak, I stopped in Petersham Country Store where I enjoyed a delicious curried chicken salad wrap and a homemade iced cold brew coffee. Sitting on the porch to keep an eye on my bike, I noticed a police officer ambling over. Convinced I’d done something wrong, I managed my most courteous “hello” and it turned out he was a fellow cyclist simply eager to discuss the ride and cycling in general with a sympathetic audience. Soon it was time for me to hit the road again in order to make my final push to the finish.

As I hit the rollers into the final control, time seemed to stand still, or speed up, I’m not sure which. Despite the passage of time, I seemed to be making no progress at all as the horizon disappeared in front of me. At first, I had hoped to complete the ride by 4:00 pm, which (at 36 hours) would represent a middling effort at the 600K distance, an acceptable time for an event filled with socializing and sleep. As the day wore on, however, my 4:00 pm goal seemed less and less realistic and it increasingly looked as if 6:00 pm might come and go as well.

As I neared the finish, I saw Nigel loading his bike into his parked car. He urged me on and told me that he’d return to the finish in a few minutes. So I completed the day as it had begun: solo and a little sleepy. At 38:50, this would be my absolute slowest time on a 600K brevet, including the time I actually broke my arm midway through. And yet, it did not feel like a failure in any respect. On the contrary, I was reminded anew of how much I love randonneuring with its emphasis on camaraderie, teamwork and endurance. Completing an event within the required time limit is non-negotiable for me, but while I may have internal goals for particular events, these are all relatively easy to sacrifice in the interest of good times and adventure.