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BBS 300 km Brevet

by Pamela Blalock


I always have a great time riding with Paul and Cheryl, with one tiny little exception. They bring rain, and lots of it. Last year, Tour of New England, the BBS 300 and 400 km brevets, TOSRV-East, BMB quad centuries, and the Great River Ride were all blessed with Paul and Cheryl's presence and their ability to bring rain and even snow and hail. The Great River Ride started out beautiful and sunny, but partway through the Paul and Cheryl curse created a lovely hail storm for us. Here is my brother in law David is riding along the hail covered road.

Despite their incredible ability to bring rain, and their tenacity to keep coming back for more, they have sacrificed their fenders for fatter tires. I have complained that they should get a new tandem with clearance for both fat tires and fenders to truly take care of the wheel-suckers who want a comfortable draft, but I'm not having much luck. They like those cushy tires - and I don't blame them.

On the other hand, I am having success in training them as good cycling loiterers. A cycling loiterer is one who doesn't obsess about how quickly a ride can be finished, but rather prefers to enjoy the cafes along the way. Last year I hooked up with them for day 3 of quad centuries. I wanted a tandem to draft down route 100, and company at the many bakeries and cafes on the route. Fortunately, they are easy to persuade to stop for fuel. We had pancakes in Hancock, cookies and snacks in Plymouth, lunch in Ludlow, pie in Chester, and barbecue in Putney. In fact Paul had so much pie in Chester, that he earned the nickname, Pie Boy!

This picture from BMB quads shows one of those rare days when it did not rain. The day before had more than made up for it though. Given the wonderful draft and great company, I've just learned to put up with the rain and the spray that seems to accompany them.

The weather for this year's BBS 300 km brevet was predicted to be typical Paul and Cheryl conditions, although a bit cooler than one might hope for in mid-May. We were to have a low of 40F, with temps heading into the 50's. It was to rain most of the morning.

I wore shorts, wool t-shirt, wool jersey, wool arm and leg warmers, wool socks, goretex overshoes, windstopper vest, windstopper gloves, headband, Carradice helmet cover, and rain cape. The rain cape, when combined with fenders normally works quite well to keep one dry, since it covers the upper body including hands and a large part of one's legs. I also carried a rain jacket in case the winds got too bad for the cape, and knee warmers for when it warmed up! My bike sports fenders all the time, and a Carradice saddlebag for carrying all that stuff once it warms up.

For me, the hardest thing about the brevets is setting my alarm clock for some gawdawful time in the A.M. Dragging myself out of bed, when I hear the rain and see the thermometer is truly an ordeal. Once out the door, the ride almost seems like the easy part! I hadn't had the best night's sleep. We are selling our house, and my mind raced with thoughts of work we should have done. Poor John was planning to race at Sunapee on Saturday, and had his sleep interrupted by my early rising. I made as little noise as possible and headed out quickly.

I debated about carrying the digital camera, and finally opted to leave it in the dry car. Sorry - no pictures from this ride. Of course I should have just taken a shot of Paul and Cheryl's rear wheel at the end, since that's what I saw most of the day!

I got to the start, where I was one of the few insane folks to register on the spot. Yes, I had not invested any fees in preregistering for this ride, and still got up to 40F and rain, and went to pay. I asked Dave if Paul and Cheryl were there, since I planned to latch onto their wheel for the day. He confirmed I'd have company. I rode down to the terminal to take advantage of the indoor facilities, and got back in time to hear Tracy Ingle promise good weather for the 400 and 600 km in exchange for today. I thanked her for jinxing the 400 and 600 km. Don't folks know not to talk about weather before a ride. It just angers the weather gods!

Anyway, I was pleasantly surprised to see a good turnout. It seemed like quite a crowd for a non PBP year. I heard later that 38 or so folks started. The rain was coming down steadily and it was about 42F. We headed out. The pace seemed almost tame. A group of hammers headed off the front, but a large group of folks took it easy, knowing that you can't do the whole ride in the first hour. I planted myself next to Paul and Cheryl. Between our four headlights, we lit up the road. We rolled along through Lincoln and on toward Framingham, where we enjoyed a couple tenths of mile of gravel. Soon after Jim caught up to us. He had arrived a few minutes late, but caught up to us quickly. Jim was also using a cape and had fenders - possibly the only other fendered bike on the ride!

We still had quite a crowd with us as we started climbing out toward Hopkinton. Things broke up a bit near I-495. A few folks pulled into a gas station to take advantage of indoor facilities. The power of suggestion led Paul and Cheryl to call for a woods break a few miles later. We took a quick stop at the top of a climb, and watched most of the group press on. I began to notice I was having a little difficulty keeping up on the descents, and accused them of training hard this year! It was only later I finally realized the cape was acting as a bit of a parachute on the descents.

We joined back up with Bernie and another fellow, who I am ashamed to say I never got his name. We pulled into the checkpoint at Rick Andrew's house in Sutton and found quite a crowd milling about the barn making sandwiches and trying not get get too chilled. I asked Tracy where Rick was. A few years ago, I didn't register for the event, but rode out to this checkpoint and took Rick to breakfast before riding home. It seemed like a good idea today! But Rick was off at work, so I had no easy out!

I scarfed down a peanut butter sandwich and handed a Cliff Bar to Paul. I asked if I could use stoker Cheryl's ability to open and hand off food. Tandems have a great advantage that stokers can do this! Cheryl was great as she kept reminding me to eat and drink and took care of opening bars for me throughout the ride!

We left the checkpoint with a small group, and I immediately lost the tandem on a long descent. I realized the cape was going to be a problem. After about 20 miles, I was tired of losing the draft and traded the cape for my jacket. I was totally soaked already, so I didn't think I'd get any wetter. I was much happier though. I was now able to stay with the tandem and enjoy the draft on the descents. We had a screaming tailwind which did worry me a bit. Outbound tailwinds mean headwinds on the return.

We were thrilled to see our first sign for Voluntown, even though it indicated 12 more miles. Once there, Paul and Cheryl and I did a short sprint for the town line, which they won by a hair. Our spirits were pretty good coming into the checkpoint. It was when we stopped that I got chilled. I was actually reasonably comfortable until that point. But then I started looking through my saddlebag to find my wallet. It was nowhere to be found. I hoped I had simply left it in the van, and it wasn't on the side of the road from a stop where I opened the saddlebag. Paul offered to loan me money. I was a bit embarrassed since I'd planned to pay for them in thanks for pulling all day!

We headed into the restaurant and got hot soup, sandwiches and coffee. We joined about 10 other cyclists making puddles on the floor and seats and talking about how insane we all were. I was shivering pretty bad, and when George came in offering fleece jackets I gladly took one. I didn't realize the temps had dropped into the 30's at this point. It took quite a while to warm back up, and in the meantime I just watched outside as it continued to pour rain. I joked that we could rent a one way u-haul truck and fill it with bikes! But I knew the hard part was past. I got up at 3 AM afterall. And the hills on the next section would definitely warm us back up, and I was sure the rain would stop by the time we reached Pomfret.

I asked George if I could hang onto the fleece until the end. I'm not sure why he had so many warm things in his car, or if he had any clothes left by the end of the ride. I heard he saved plenty of people's rides with loaned out clothing! So thankyou, thankyou, thankyou to George!

After quite a long stop, we finally dragged ourselves out and back on the road. Bernie and Jim joined us. Apparently our heading out inspired a few others to do the same. We rolled along slowly warming back up as we pushed into the headwind. Actually I kept Paul and Cheryl strategically placed in front of me and just to the side to block wind and avoid spray. We then turned on Route 169 - the Connecticut Wine trail. I immediately began to whine, but Cheryl suggested a Chianti instead! We would be on 169 for almost 30 miles. It is a lovely road, but has a series of long climbs culminating in a brutal steep climb up to Pomfret, a climb that may leave one feeling like a Pomme Frites! We stopped for a short break to adjust clothing and explore the woods about 20 miles into this leg. The rain had actually stopped, but the road was still soaked and it was still quite chilly. We were joined by quite a few other riders here. I rode along for a while with a few guys as we chatted about lights and such. At some point I realized I had lost Paul and Cheryl, and dropped back to reconnect. We got the to final climb into Pomfret. At the top Paul commented that if that wasn't the f***ing worst climb on the ride, he did not want to know.

We were planning to take another break at the Vanilla Bean Cafe in Pomfret at mile 31. This is a fabulous cafe perfect for cyclists. A Penny Farthing bicycle hangs from the rafters in the entryway. They have soup, sandwiches, pastries and desserts. I'd mentioned it to a few of the riders who joined us for a while on this section. I thought we might see a few other bikes when we arrived, but it was just Paul, Cheryl, myself and Doug. We had soup, coffee and berry tart, and finally dragged ourselves away. It was another long break, but fuel and getting warm were critical to finishing.

We enjoyed some lovely descents on almost dry roads for a while as we headed into Massachusetts. The climb up to Nicols College is the second worst on the route. Paul and Cheryl had remembered this one from last year. We twiddled up together in our low gears and then rolled into Webster. We then began the final assault on Sutton. Sutton is a hilltop village. And if you haven't figured it out by the time you climb all the way up, there is a bloody sign to tell you! There's also a sign indicating Purgatory is 4 miles away. I knew this was hell!

We got into the control and saw quite a few other cyclists. After our long break in Pomfret I was surprised, but apparently others had taken breaks further up the road. Di greeted us with hot chocolate and said Rick was inside making soup. I headed in to say hi to Rick and try the soup. It was fabulous. I also inhaled a peanut butter sandwich.

The temperature was about 38F, and apparently there had been hail and snow mixed with rain earlier. Rick told of accumulating snow in Nashua, and I began to suspect that John's race at Sunapee might have not gone according to plan.

Fueled by soup, hot cocoa, sandwiches and the knowledge that it was a net downhill to the finish, Doug, Bernie, Jim, Paul, Cheryl and I headed out. It was 5:30, and I had confidence we'd finish just before dark. The three mile descent from Rick's was great, albeit chilly. We slowly began to warm up on Route 30, and I asked for a quick clothing adjustment break. We'd lost Jim on the descent, but he flew past while I was fumbling in my saddlebag.

It actually seemed to be warming up, but I think that was just relative. Shortly after passing through Westboro, I heard a psst, psst, psst sound indicating someone had a puncture. It was Paul and Cheryl. We all stopped while Paul pulled the rear tire and put on his folding spare. Unfortunately he pinched the tube. At least it was warmer, so he wasn't working with frozen fingers. I still took the wheel away and demonstrated my proven technique for not pinching tubes. I mentioned my past experience with lots of punctures on PBP in 87, and how I'd gotten pretty good at puncture repair. Soon we were back on the road, but this delay was going to have us coming in after dark. No problem. We all had lights and several hours of buffer in which to finish.

The remainder of the ride went quite well. We stayed together on the many turns through residential Framingham. This section is actually arrowed, making it quite easy for navigation. And it is gorgeous. We then reached the final nasty, granny gear climb 3 miles from the finish in Lincoln. Why there is a mountain in Lincoln, I'll just never know.

The five of us rolled into the final control feeling immense accomplishment for completing such a tough ride.

It was here that I found out I'd lost my wallet near the terminal. A very nice pilot found it and phoned the house to let us know. I was able to retrieve it from the staff at the terminal. Poor John got a second wakeup call at 4 AM, but we are incredibly grateful to this fellow for making the call.

John and his teammate had driven up to his race, which was canceled due to snow. When he got home, he found the ground covered in snow, so he he filled his saddlebag with warm dry clothes and headed out on the route to meet me. Unfortunately he took the outbound route to Sutton, and we just missed each other. He got back to the finish about 45 minutes after we did!

What an epic ride. This rivals the 1998 400 km where we got 7 inches of rain, but it was at least warm then. 25 miles from the finish of that ride, John and I were riding along with John Ashby and Liz, when we rode through a pothole under a foot of water. We dinged both our rims and flatted both tires. John Ashby destroyed both his wheels and bent his frame, and flew over the handlebars.

But it's these rides we remember and feel proud of and these are the ones that make us appreciate the less epic ones. You don't talk about that easy century 10 years from now, but this one will never be forgotten!

The crew was great. Thanks go out to Dave, Tracy, George, Di and Rick. They did a phenomenal job keeping our spirits up and helping us get warm again. And of course thanks also to our riding companions. This is what brevet riding is about for me - riding with others - and keeping each other going. For me, company is just so important to keep up spirits and make a tough ride fun. When Paul and Cheryl punctured, we all stopped. As we slowed from fatigue at the end, we all slowed and finished together. It wasn't about time, it was about finishing, and doing so together.

Shared pain is lessened, shared joy is increased.
Thus we refute entropy.
--Spider Robinson

I do hope future brevets will be less epic, but then what would I have to write about?