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The New England Randonneurs apparently call themselves the NERds, heh.

So, let's see here. I managed to get through this morning, so I finally have a bit more breathing room to think and blog.

Last week, I hit a point where I realized that I might actually be able to sneak away from New York for a brief spell and shoehorn in a brevet. As I started looking into the logistics, such as the location of the starting point, I noticed that a small star had appeared on the map. Aha - my friend A lives a mere 4 miles from the start. She'd been excited about the news that I was moving to New York, so I had to figure she might be willing to play hostess for this hair-brained bicycling adventure. Besides, there would be time both before and after the ride for us to catch up, which would be great. And she was indeed thrilled to know I was thinking of making the drive over.

So I filled out the online brevet registration form and reserved a rental car for pickup at the airport. It looked like about a 4-mile bike ride from Siena over to the airport, so I gave that a try on Friday afternoon. It wasn't a horrible ride, but it wasn't especially great, either, given the traffic volumes. So if I want to ride to the airport in the future I need to do more route-sleuthing. Then I navigated my way home in the car, and set sail for Boston shortly thereafter. Traffic on the interstate only got wacky once, in the region right around Worcester. Apparently there are so many people trying to head down to NYC that things are almost constantly congested in that region. Now I know, and it was so much better than California traffic.

Saturday morning, I got up, made coffee, made my final preparations, and then headed from A's house to the start in Wellesley Square. I reached the start fairly early, so there were only a couple of riders there so far, snacking and milling about. Perfect - that gave me time to talk shop with a couple of people before the ride started. I learned that around 20 people were signed up, so there was a chance I might have some company, hurrah-phew. Another rider said that there was about a 50-50 mix of people who navigated by gps versus people who navigated via the cue sheet. That was also comforting to hear; I might be okay even after my gpx file ran out (for some reason I couldn't get the full route to load).

NERd 300k at the start
Typical brevet starting scene

At 6:30, after a few brief words from our organizer, we were off. The majority of the riders stuck together for the first couple of miles, which meant I had more even time to meet new people. Eventually, I found myself drifting towards the back of the big pack, and felt disinclined to notch up my effort to try and hang on. [Part of this was because I eventually wound up riding next to someone who was brand-new to randonneuring who seemed like he might be slightly too sociable; it was taking me enough effort to stick on the group that I wasn't particularly interested in chit-chat]

So then it was mostly just me, and lovely, shaded New England forests, and stone walls, and birds chirping in the quiet morning. The ride organizer had declared this to be a flat brevet, with "only" 8000 feet of climbing over 300 km. But climbing can happen in a lot of different ways, ranging from the long, extended climbs in the western US, to the rolling hills of Texas. From what I'm seeing of the terrain out here, this part of the country seems to be more-or-less continuous rolling hills - things just vary in steepness. In eastern MA, perfectly pleasant, all told.

So pleasant that I almost blasted right past the first control. Thankfully I caught my mistake quickly.

The ride then continued to be pleasant as the course headed down past Providence and hopped onto a segment of the East Bay Bike Path, where we got our first smells and views of the ocean (hurrah!). Soon it was time to cross the dreaded Mt. Hope Bridge, with its large, wheel-swallowing expansion grates that the ride organizer had warned us about. Although we'd been cautioned about the grates, we were not told much in the way of specifics beyond, "Be careful!" So before I knew it, I hurtled across the first expansion joint. I don't know whether it was a mistake or not to look down, but my downward glance was enough to make my subconscious decide that I wasn't going to be riding across the subsequent joints. I could see just a little too much daylight beneath my feet. Somehow or another, I made it the rest of the way across, with brief pauses at the remaining expansion joints to gingerly walk across.

Bridge 1 with scary expansion joints
Distant view of the Mt. Hope Bridge from a later bridge crossing

A few more twist and turns, ups and downs, and I found myself out in the Sachuest Point National Wildlife Refuge, admiring all the wild rose hips out among the sand dunes, approaching the second control. The light breeze in my face felt good as the temperature started to go up. This ride was part of Randonneurs USA's nationwide 20th anniversary celebration, and as a special treat, the second control was staffed by RUSA #1. She fed me sport beans and bananas and handed me a sweet commemorative patch, and was kind enough to pose for a celebratory photo:

Obligatory 20th anniversary photo with RUSA #1
The infamous and gracious RUSA #1, JW. Oh, and some bike dork wearing weird cycling shoes.

She was also the only person to comment on my unusual footwear. In my haste to get on the road to Massachusetts, I'd forgotten to change out of the slip-on loafers that I wore to work. They aren't exactly cycling shoes, although I've been wearing them to bike commute. Her remark made me think back to one of the San Francisco 200k riders who completed one hilly California brevet on her 5-speed cruiser wearing ballet flats. She was an awesome, tough woman who trained by hauling her kids up and down the hills of San Francisco. So I smiled, shrugged, and forged on.

In the back of my mind, I'd been thinking that it would be nice if I could manage to make it back to the finish before midnight, so as to have some celebratory ice cream at the shop at the finish, which closed at midnight. I may or may not be highly food-motivated. However, as I continued along and crossed the Sakonnet River Bridge, the temperature started to climb, the sun beat down, and my pace began to slacken as I felt the effects of the heat, sun, and my complete and utter lack of recent training. But really, it's the heat, humidity, and sun that are my big nemeses and make me wilt.

Bridge 2 with wonderful bike path
Lovely view of the Sakonnet River Bridge before crossing

It got warm enough and my stomach got peeved enough that I had to pause a couple of times while climbing one particular chipseal-coated hill out of Tiverton to catch my breath, eat a bite, and avoid cooking my brain to death. So of course, while I'm grimly trudging along at a snail's pace, all of a sudden and out of nowhere another rider pops up from behind me with a perky "Hi! How's it going?" I don't remember how I responded but I think I lied and said something like, "Oh, just fine, you know," and then I'm pretty sure I threw a couple of undeserved mental daggers at his backside as he disappeared up the road.

But then I bumped into the same rider again when I reached the subsequent control, in a Dunkin Donuts in Acushnet, and had a wonderful chat with him about randonneuring and Paris-Brest-Paris adventures. Out of all the other riders, I think he had the pace that's closest to mine, as he was the only rider I ever saw again on the rest of the ride.

He was ready to roll out of the control a few minutes before I was, so I waved him on, finished the rest of my preparations, and hopped back in the saddle towards Plymouth. It was midafternoon by then, and I was managing to hold onto my 2.5 hour time lead on the control closing times, so I was still feeling at least somewhat optimistic about my chances of reaching the finish before midnight. The route also finally got back into more forested areas, and the cloud cover started to increase, helping me perk up again. It even looked like I'd manage to make my way through the Miles Standish State Forest with daylight to spare. In addition to the bridge warnings, the ride organizer had warned that the forest could make for extremely tricky navigation if we reached it after dark. I can see how that could happen, if one was relying on a cue sheet and not a purple .gpx track.

As I continued along, the clouds, not content to just cover up the blasted sun, continued to darken. I switched on my lights, even though it was still a couple hours before sunset. Pretty soon I started to hear the low rumble of thunder high up in the clouds. Then I started to notice faint flashes from distant lightning, and small raindrops began to pitter-patter. Just as I reached the outskirts of the Myles Standish State Forest, the pitter-patter picked up to the point where it became time to pause and don my homemade shoe covers. So I did.

I pedaled through the beautiful piney forest, trying to keep one eye out for potential emergency shelter while keeping the other eye on the lightning patterns. I'm all right with riding in the rain, but lightning is another story. As I approached the fire station, the rain and lightning and thunder began to crescendo to a scary apocalyptic level, so I decided it was probably time to stop and assess the storm. I headed for a good-looking deck on the back side of the fire station building that looked like it had some nice shelter underneath where I could hunker down. Shortly after I got Froinlavin situated and settled myself down under my emergency space blanket tarp, I discovered that the space underneath decks isn't really the greatest place to be during heavy rainfall because the ton of water falling from the sky still needs to pursue its gravitational destiny, and does so between the boards of the deck. Thoroughly drenched, I decided maybe I should seek shelter at the visitor's center across the street instead - maybe they had an actual porch with an actual roof where it would be possible to sit or stand instead of crouching. Fine. I headed over.

I might have headed straight for the visitor's center earlier, except that after that one apocalyptic California 300k, I have grown concerned about running into people who freak out about me being out on my bicycle, riding a long distance by myself in apocalyptic weather, and who might make me stop riding instead of letting me just wait out the weather and then continue on. Thankfully, all the people working at the visitor's center were totally nonchalant and content to let me be and do my own thing according to my own best judgment. After I told him a bit about the ride, one guy who was out having his smoke break and watching the rain on the postage stamp porch simply commented, "Today might have been a better day to rent a kayak." Yeah, maybe, except for the lightning part.

I managed to wring out a few things and get organized while I waited for the storm to pass. The unplanned stop started making me lose hope that I'd manage to finish in time for ice cream, but at the same time I had to figure that regardless of the exact timing, continuing to ride would be the best way to keep warm and get back to Boston, so there was no point in agonizing over anything while I waited.

All told, the main part of the storm wound up passing so quickly that I was back on the road after only a half-hour or so delay. Even better, the warm summer rain created ideal climatic conditions for my body, so I was able to fly along once again through the forested hills and valleys towards Plymouth. By that point, in spite of the shoe covers, my feet were sloshing around in my thoroughly soaked and inappropriate cycling shoes, and whenever I rode through giant puddles I'd send fresh waves into them, but I was happy as a duck. Or maybe, you know, a seal. You can only get so wet, after all, and I wasn't roasting hot or freezing cold.

Here's the last photo I took during the ride, looking back, just after I left Plymouth, and just before things started to get really interesting:
After the storm

For it was on the next leg as the sun went down that my trusty GPS decided it was done showing me the route. No more magical purple line for me to periodically check and follow. From then on, things were frustratingly stop-and-go as I: fished around for a better headlamp for reading the cue sheet (argh dim helmet light), tried reading the cue sheet, flipped from one section to the next, gave up and downloaded the .gpx file to my smart-o-phone to cross-check my location, tried to keep things dry (or at least less damp?), and generally futzed around trying to grope my way along in the dark.

It took a while before it dawned on me that part of why it was so challenging for me to navigate in the dark in the Massachusetts countryside is because there aren't a lot of easy north-south-east-west roads to orient to, unlike in, say, Nebraska or Arizona. Everything meanders like a tipsy cow, so at one point when I cross-checked my bearings on the GPS (just in case) I was shocked to discover that I was heading due south on the wrong highway, not north or west as I had expected. Talk about completely turned around. Also, by now I'm pretty sure that every road in the Massachusetts countryside is named High Street or Church Street or Charles River Ave. Hard to keep the names straight in the dark on unfamiliar roads. That whole mess helped me add on a good 7 or 8 bonus miles, on some fairly annoying stretches of pothole-riddled highway, and made it very clear that there most definitely was not going to be any ice cream at the finish line. Phooey.

But eventually I got myself straightened out, and my mental calculations suggested I could still manage to finish with a more than adequate time cushion relative to the absolute time cut-off at 2:30 am. So there was nothing else to do but keep pedaling, tilting my head at just the right angle to avoid more water on my glasses, halting periodically to read the cue sheet and memorize more turns, curse the GPS, cross-check the smart-o-phone, then pedal some more.

And really, a 300k isn't THAT brutal. While I was tired and it was quite dark on the forested roads and my legs were threatening to cramp up and my hands hurt and my butt was sore and more rainfall was making it hard to see or pedal with any speed, and some unfortunate curse words exited my mouth, hey, it was only midnight, not 4 am, and there were a lot of stretches where the pavement was wonderful. And I bet many of those roads look sublime in the daylight. I'd love to know, for example, just exactly what the rock looks like along High Rock Street.

In the end, I rolled in to the finish control just before 1 am. And what a welcome sight: the organizer and his girlfriend had a lovely spread of snacks and towels of various sorts. Ordinarily I would have sucked it up and ridden uphill back to A's house, but this time I couldn't resist the siren song offer of a ride. Then a shower and quick soak in the tub, then bed.

Maybe next time I'll even be fast enough for ice cream.

This entry was originally posted at https://rebeccmeister.dreamwidth.org/1244522.html. Please comment there using OpenID.

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