Sunday, May 18, 2008

Bashbish 300km Brevet

Yesterday, May 17th, I completed the second in a series of brevets in the Berkshires in western Massachusetts. It was 300km(190mi) long and there was a 20 hour time limit. The ride was described as "hilly" on the website and it started at a lovely 3am Saturday morning. Each rider is given a cue sheet and a card before the start. There are a few checkpoints along the way that note your time on a card which you turn in upon completion of the brevet.

The forecast for Saturday morning called for light rain at the start with temps hovering a bit over 40F and then sunny early on and throughout the day with temps in the high 60s.

3am. cold. very dark. moderate, steady rain. Flooded streets. 3am. cold. wet.

I had to dig really deep to work up the motivation to start this brevet. My friend, Zack, was feeling exactly how I felt. We definitely did not want to leave the warm confines of the car or bike shop only to be stuck in the pouring, cold rain in the dark for roughly three hours. I was tempted to wait a few hours since I knew I would finish way before the 20 hour time limit was up. But, everyone else started so I went too. Zack and I started about 35 minutes late, and we were the last two persons to roll out of the parking lot by the bike shop. Roughly 20 people participated in this brevet. Most I recognized from the 200km a few weeks prior. 7 or 8 no shows which I can only assume was because of the awful weather at the start.

So off we go, lights leading the way, in to the flooded streets of Westfield, MA. I was quickly soaked in all places not covered by waterproof material, which means everywhere besides my torso and hands. The feet remained dry for a few minutes thanks to some waterproof winter booties, but the massive amounts of water being sprayed on to my legs quickly rendered them useless. The booties actually worked rather well, only not exactly how they were designed. I discovered they also kept water in so the water inside eventually warmed to body temperature and my feet were reasonably happy although very wet. On my hands I had regular cycling gloves covered by surgical or nitrile gloves which are very waterproof but let you feel everything. In other words, my hands were really cold and would remain so for about three hours.

After about an hour and a half the rain decided to go away for good, and left me in the dark but otherwise decent weather. The first climb began, 8 miles long, and I was thankful for it so I could attempt to warm up. The road seemed isolated and there was absolutely no traffic. It sounded like it was pretty on either side. Perhaps some creek or river. It was too dark to tell. I decided to start riding hard, sort of a mock race, and would do so for the remainder of the approximately 170 miles.

Eventually the sun came up.

About an hour after the sun kissed the roads, I made it to the first checkpoint and met two participants just leaving as I rolled in. The stomach was rumbling so I decided to chat with Don (the brevet organizer - and a great guy!) and munch on a peanut butter and jelly bagel sandwich that was provided at the stop. I told him I had not passed anyone, and he thought that was odd since Zack and I had left last and there were four others that had not checked in yet. HMM. Well, it turns out they got a bit lost but eventually found their way. Off I go.

Thirty minutes later I passed the first of the two guys I saw leaving the checkpoint earlier. The roads were really isolated with rolling, small hills surrounded by farms. Simply beautiful. Ideal for road riding! Perhaps 15 minutes later I passed the second guy. I waved and said hi and kept on pedaling. Next came route 7 which headed straight south to Kent, CT. I was quite familiar with this road as my parents live in the vicinity, and knew I could hammer it hard the entire way to Kent. It was still early, probably around 7am, so there was very little traffic on this usually busy weekend road. Stunning scenery in every direction. Heavily forested, and for the majority of the ride to Kent the road follows the Housantonic river. Road riding at it's finest! I caught up to and passed everyone else on the brevet besides the guy in front - I never did see him - before reaching Kent. At Kent, I had a quick snack and took off on the road. I knew the next portion of the route quite well, and the roads were some of my favorite. The route took me back north in to New York through very rural farm country. A llama farm! Those critters really make me laugh. They are so silly looking grinding away at the grass all day with their shaggy coats hanging in disarray.

For the remainder of the ride I did not see anyone else participating. I zoned out and pedalled my way to the finish.

The roads were beautiful for about 150 of the 180 miles. Ten of the miles were on relatively busy roads and the last twenty were on a pretty road, it was just very poorly maintained forcing me to hit numerous spine-rattling bumps after 170 miles of hard riding. Not such a nice thing!

The great news is, I felt solid throughout the entire ride. I maintained a very steady heart rate near my anaerobic threshold, and not once did I feel any hint of a cramp or tired legs. I concede the science stuff seems to truly work.

The even greater news is the Brooks Team Professional saddle is a KEEPER! Not once did I feel any discomfort on the sitbones nor anywhere else. A happy butt sure makes a major difference on a ride like this. When the body is working happily together, pain free, it functions far more efficiently and goes longer and harder much easier.

Things to note: I think the Dinotte 200l headlight is not sufficient for high speed riding in total darkness by itself. A y-cable allows two of the lights to be used in unison, but I will give it one more ride in the dark to confirm the insufficiency. It was raining most the time I had to use it so perhaps it was affected by the drops. Also, the crappy shimano cable design for the brifters blocked some of the light. Next time I shall put it on the helmet.

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