March 18, 2012

Berkshire Brevet, St. Patrick's Day

It was 30 degrees and foggy when I left home, at 6:45, still a bit of ice on the swamp, as yesterday's photo shows. Oddly, the forecast promised 75 by the afternoon. I wasn't sure how to dress, but I hate to be cold, so layered up. That was good, because the sun didn't break out until afternoon, though it wasn't foggy, just low clouds. Lots of riders said the same thing, and the people I talked with at the checkpoint midway were all chilly in the wind, or when standing still. That's ok, a brevet is a good thing to keep moving on, better that I didn't stay still. My first brevet ever was today, a 100K, well 69 miles, and I'll count it a success, though it did have its disappointment, even if it was  a predictable one.

We started at 8:00 in Westfield, MA, which was easy for me since I live only a 45 minutes drive west. The parking lot was full when I arrived, but I had adequate time to sign in, get my card (new to me and it made me feel nicely official) and use the store's toilet. That was good, not only for the obvious reason, but because it gave me a chance to chat with a few of the other people in line. This was one of many rides sponsored by the bike store New Horizons Sports  (there is a list of rides on their site) and was a RUSA ride, but not a club ride, though some of the riders did seem to know each other. Of the few people I met, I lived the nearest.  Others came from the Boston area, New York and Connecticut. That surprised me a little. Oh yes, I should tell you that none of the 7 people who told me, with varying degrees of commitment, that they were going to ride made it there.

There were perhaps 60 riders. I didn't count, but estimate perhaps 35 or 40 cars in the lot. I guess out of the group there were certainly less than 10 women. The pack moved together through town. After the left turn at Union Street we went quickly uphill. Not far, not particularly steeply, but nonetheless up, and actually, the group went uphill quickly. I was dropped fast as could be. I felt something like a boulder rolling downhill. Predictable, but disappointing so early in the ride. I did notice a rider, or a few, behind me, but somehow it's the getting dropped part that I paid attention to. For several miles it made me wonder just why the heck I was there, with my limited skills, but then happily it turned into just one more solo ride, something I know how to enjoy.

So, with plenty of time to think about hills, I kept a pretty good (for me) speed up, saw 16 mph and 18 mph on the flats but I'm guessing the pack was holding 20. I never caught them. As I came into Holyoke, the scene on side of the road looked like it was set up for the TDF. Then I remembered St. Patrick's  Day. It was a hoot, with many vendors, costumes, and chairs set up.

Somewhere entering Northampton, two riders caught me. They had started late, and we rode together for maybe 5 miles.

My only real error of the day was one wrong turn, which cost me about 5 minutes. Tried to remember the directions ... right at the light, after the bridge ... without checking the mileage. It was the second light that I was meant to turn at. But the two riders from New Haven were still at the control soon after that, and we were able to ride together for several miles ... until a hill, where ... well, you know what happened.

The ride followed the Connecticut River north, crossing from the west to the east side and back again.

Eating was something of an issue. I crash and burn if I don't eat, whether or not I'm on a bike, when we will call it bonk, it sounds more poetic. So I had along food, including a pbj and banana sandwich. That was good to eat at the control, but too complicated to eat while riding. Next time I'll eat even more like a child, and cut the sandwich into quarters before starting. Chocolate covered almonds, salted cashews and chocolate covered coffee beans were also in my bag. Protein, carbs and drugs, in one handful. Also a Cliff bar, but I couldn't get it open. Also orange sections. Told you I need to eat.

Mostly the road surfaces were decent, but one stretch was pretty rough, where I caught up with another rider. Tim lives northwest of Boston, and I rode with him for the last 15 miles or so. I thank him. It was fun to have someone to trade stories with and learn from his experience. He rides the entire series of brevets, including 300 and 600Ks,  and some fiercely difficult rides from Boston up into VT. Also, it was fun to learn that he knows Pamela Blalock, I think they ride in the same randonneur group. Pamela is an experienced randonneur whom I interviewed a month or so ago, click here for the interview. Pamela said it's definitely better to have company on these long rides and now I think she's right. I appreciated Tim's company.

Tim and I finished the ride together, an hour and change ahead of the ride's closing. And we were not last. This was the longest continuous ride I've done (no museums, cathedrals or long lunch breaks) at a good average speed for me. 68.9 miles in 5 hours 25 minutes. I'll count it as a success. But I'm not ready (I don't think) for next weekend's 200K. Think I'll keep on track for the 135K on May 7. That one has 4 times as much climbing. I'd really like a faster pace on hills. The only solution is probably hill repeats, so that's where you'll find me in the near future.


  1. Congratulations on your first Randonnee! 30 degrees and foggy sound like good conditions for storing produce but a bit cool for a first outing, nice job getting out there nonetheless. You also made good time on the ride.In fact, you probably had enough time for a long lunch break or short cathedral visit if you wanted, similar things have been done before - after all, its not a race. Look forward to reading more in the future.

    1. Hi Iron Rider,
      Thanks ... I appreciate your feedback! By the time I was at the start it was warmer, probably 40. It's an altitude phenomena, I live 1400 feet higher.

      And it's good to think about my time being respectable, and forget about that hill! The ride was great to do, an excellent experience, and oh should I admit it, the 200K next weekend is tempting. To paraphrase you (in a response to Steve's comment on your site) it is easy to pay attention to the people ahead of you ... all too easy, in my opinion. And to wildly paraphrase Paul (who wrote the suffering and zen post that preceded this one) it is way better to stay focused with one's own experience of the moment.

  2. Nicely done! I've read reports of fog this weekend from Boston to South Carolina - that's a heckuva fog bank. My limited experience tells me you have rightly seized on the notion of eating while riding. I opt for the energy bars or "shot blocks" that taste like gummi bears. They're easy to carry and eat while riding. I recommend opening some of your packages before you head out, thus making retrieval of the bar a little easier. Obviously, this creates a dillema as too much of an opening will just create a mess for you.

    Thanks for the entertaining read and it was interesting to see what you were up to while I was tackling my first brevet!

    1. Hi Steve,
      Thanks! I thought of you and your first randonnée being a 200K, while I was doing my first 100K ... and was glad to read later it went so well.

      I'll definitely try opening packages ahead of time, and also the little servings, did you say in your post that Cliff Bars makes them? Funny the little things that get challenging. Even funnier, not the right word, how much I didn't want to stop in an event that wasn't a race. Poor control of my competitive switch, I think!

      Happy pedalling!

  3. "disappointing so early in the ride. I did notice a rider . . . behind me . . ."

    Happy to have been of service!

    1. Hi anonymous, hi hi, hi ... thanks for the comment and for reading! Please say hello! I hope you know there was no absolutely no pride in my words. You might recognize exactly how that OMG am I going downhill phenomena feels, and watching the riders take off ahead of you, especially in a first RUSA event .... see my response to Iron Rider, above.

      Do you do these rides often? More this season? Hope to hear from you again...

  4. Well done Suze. I certainly couldn't tackle a ride like that at the moment, even with pbj and banana sandwiches. Not cycling fit at all yet. And seriously, can you get chocolate covered coffee beans? I think our youngest could do with one of those at the bottom of every hill. He's well able to zoom ahead of his dad and me but he prefers to moan his way up!

    1. Thanks Steph!
      I wouldn't have been able either except it has been so warm here that I've been riding all winter, either outside or indoors on the stationary setup. I love cross country skiing, but it doesn't leave me i cycling shape!

      Indeed, chocolate covered coffee beans. Two of my favorite things together in a handy small package. With all the beautiful, regionally based candies I've seen in France, I've never noticed them, though I bet you could find them. Don't know how effective with kids though, I think that moan up fly down is a universal dna determined trait of children the worldover. Unalterable.

  5. Hi Susan,

    Fantastic! Congrats on a fine finish. I had to laugh when you said that for several miles (after getting dropped and ending up nearly alone) it made you wonder just why the heck you was there. Because it happens to me whenever I join a group ride. A few years ago, after deciding that I was tired of riding alone all the time, I decided to join the local bike club on their regular Saturday ride. In summer the group size is 70-100 riders. Riders segment into groups based on speed. I joined the second slowest group, which was supposed to pace at something like 13-15 mph average. Then the groups lined up, fastest group to slowest group, and we started rolling out, with the fastest group leaving first but all of the groups bunched together. Well, you know how cyclists are, if someone in front of you is going faster you tend to speed up. So the fast group pulls out first, followed closely by the rest of the group, and I swear within 2-3 miles I was totally alone, save for a few stragglers well in front or behind me. The next week the same thing happened. So there I was riding all alone in my 'group ride', thinking, why am I here! I quit the group rides and decided I needed to improve before trying it again. It took me 3 more summers to get the nerve up. This summer I thought I was ready for the group pace. So there I go, back in the group ride, and this time I'm keeping up on the flats with everybody, no problem. The next few rides were mostly flat and I did just fine. Then came a hilly route, and as much as I ride hills (which is all the time!), when the group got to the first hill, there I was again, all alone. Some things never change. But it is fun to try.
    Keep riding.
    Ellen from Portland

  6. Hi Ellen,

    Thanks ... though I'm not so sure it was a fine finish, it was after all my finish! Glad you laughed, I do too now. I think I'm realizing that what I like, and what I'm good at, is solo rides. I hope that's true whether they start solo, or start with a lot of other riders around me. I haven't had your experience with group rides, this was only my second, but I am sure I'd be dropped even faster than you! Too bad we don't live closer, maybe we could ride we'll have to do that metaphorically or is it virtually? I think we both ride lots of hills, they are just the landscape around us.

    I'll pursue these longer group rides, at least from time to time. It doesn't work for me to spend all my time thinking "When can I go on a long solo tour again, especially in France," that's just silly. I mean, I do have a life here that I care about, and a family, a job, friends .... so cycling goals here are good, and long rides seeem to fit. Even if I am lost on the hills. Very similiar it sounds, to yours of wanting to ride with a club.

    Thanks for your thoughtful long comment, I appreciate it.

    Happy pedalling!


Please leave a comment, it's great to hear from you and makes the site more fun and informative for other readers!