Monday, April 27, 2015

Finally . . . Brevet Season Begins with the Shelburne Falls 200K.

My initial attempt to complete a 200K brevet this year was thwarted by a postponement due to snow. Since I was unable to ride on the scheduled make-up date, I converted my registration to the second 200K on the Berkshire Brevets calendar and rode the thoroughly enjoyable Shelburne Falls 200K route yesterday on what was by all accounts a marvelous spring day.

Like the other Berkshire Brevets out of Westfield, MA, the route of the Shelburne Falls 200K is exceptionally well designed. This was my first time on this particular course, but the section between Westfield and Shelburne Falls was familiar from my experiences over the years on the Catskill 600K. The roads themselves are scenic and take riders through lovely back roads in northwestern Massachusetts and southern Vermont. While not particular hilly, there are a few sections of climbing, especially after the turnaround, that create the wonderful illusion that the entire second half of the ride is downhill.

The temperature at the 7:00 am start was just above freezing, which required a complete layer of warm clothing including full-fingered gloves, leg warmers and a wool cap. As the forecast called for a much warmer afternoon, I threw care to the wind and brought my Arkel trunk bag filled with alternative gear and a place to store layers as I peeled them off later in the day. I was very pleased, as temperatures rose into the 60s, to be able to strip down to bare legs and arms, swap out my gloves and exchange my wool hat for a wool cap. Not sweating my way to the finish helped me not only enjoy the ride tremendously, but also to maintain a more brisk pace.

I started the event in a small pack of riders including a few friends who it was nice to catch up with before my pace began to feel rather individualized. Consciously rejecting the pull of the lead group, I fell in with a couple from New York moving along at a brisk pace. We rode for an hour or so together, swapped a few tales and were joined by two other riders along the way. At one point, I realized that the group’s pace was likely to have an adverse effect on my stamina and so decided to drop off the back to settle into a more comfortable and manageable rhythm. Riding alone requires a different level of attention to detail than riding with a group following a pre-programmed GPS. As my bike was not GPS-enabled yesterday, my attention shifted to the cue sheet, which was clear, accurate and easy to follow. While it’s easy to skip navigating after falling in with a group, I actually enjoy the process of navigating by a cue sheet, which can be meditative and reinforces the self-sufficient spirit of randonneuring in my mind.

One of the lovely features of this event is that Don, the Westfield RBA, has arranged details with the controls so that the staff of the cafe and lunch spot were eager and able to process our cards and produce first a snack and then lunch in record time. Heck, the clerk at the cafe even offered to fill my water bottles! The result was a nutritious refueling that was very easy to execute in under 10 minutes, which is all the time I needed to spend in either spot. I was familiar with McCusker’s Market, which serves as the penultimate control on the Catskill 600K, but Mocha Maya’s was new to me.

One of the grimmer aspects of the day was the grueling headwind for the first 63 miles of the event. As we headed north, the wind was fairly relentless especially over a ten-mile section into southern Vermont. This was coupled with a gradual incline over the same distance to make this section less than ideal. After the turnaround and a little climbing, though, the hills and winds were behind us and it seemed to be downhill with tailwinds all the way to Westfield. The second half of the ride, after stripping off unnecessary layers, was some of the best riding I’ve done in a long time. The roads were gorgeous and the feeling of riding in summer clothing was a welcome sensation indeed. The tailwinds helped me recapture some of the time I may have lost in the morning and I finished in 9:09, which was just nine minutes off my goal for the day.

I was glad to be riding the bike I’ll be bringing to Paris with me this August. While the dynamo hub, rear rack and trunk bag were not necessary on the 200K, my plan to ride all of my events with this bike loaded as it will be on PBP makes sense to me as I dial in just what I’ll need for the big event. The extra weight is more than made up for by the added comfort and peace of mind. My climbing speed is not what I would like it to be, but it’s still early in the season and my time riding with others yesterday reminded me of how helpful maintaining a brisk pace will be to my training in the weeks ahead. Frequent hill repeats will also become standard operating procedure. With a successful finish on the Shelburne Falls 200K, I now have my first qualifying brevet behind me on the long journey to Paris.

Up next: the Bash Bish 300K on May 9.