Success! of a sort, at least

May 4, 09:29 PM

I was disappointed at having to scratch myself from the starting list for the 200K on April 24. So I decided to ride a solo 200K on May 1, just to prove to myself that I could do it and that I wasn’t using my injury as an excuse for chickening out of the brevet.

Highlights (or “Executive Summary”)

I made it within the allotted time frame had this been a sanctioned brevet. I felt reasonably good by the end, despite some evil hills. And I took a few pictures over the course of the ride.

Now, for the gory (or boring) details….

The Route

As much as possible I wanted to follow the Berkshire Brevets route for the Shelburne Falls 200K. But I wanted to start from home. That meant cycling southwest to Easthampton. I missed a couple of small hills by doing that, though I compensated somewhat by beginning the ride by going up and over the shoulder of Mount Warner. After heading to Northampton via the Norwottuck Rail Trail, my planned route took me down Route 5 to the Manhan Rail Trail, then along Pleasant St., Route 10, and West St. to Oliver St., where I would pick up the official route. I would ride that up to Shelburne Falls and then through Colrain, Mass., Halifax, Vt., and Charlemont, Mass., back to Shelburne Falls. Then it was down to Williamsburg and back to Easthampton. I would split off from the brevet route at Loudville Road, head downtown, and then follow Route 10 back to Northampton.

Getting started, and temporary companions

My goal was to hit the road by 8 a.m. But I lingered over breakfast and the paper and then puttered around a bit. It was 8:25 when I rolled down the driveway. A quick up and over Mount Warner, then south along Route 47. The rail trail took me west and across the river.

At the traffic light to cross to the new trail extension, I ran into a group of 7 or 8 women who asked for directions to Maple Street. They had a small route map for a ride north into Whately. But they had confused the Norwottuck Rail Trail with the Northampton Bike Path. I explained to them how to get to the latter, and then followed along. They were faster than I wanted to go but after one of them dropped a chain, I moved to the front and chatted a bit while she fixed the chain. One of them asked how far I was going to ride. I replied, “125 miles.” “And how much have you done so far?” “Six miles….”

After leading them under the railroad viaduct on North St., they peeled off right and I waited for the light and headed south. A short flat ride and I was soon at the Manhan Rail Trail. Few people were on it, fortunately. I chowed down on the first Clif Bar of the day, then left the trail. Passing the Eastworks building, I decided it was time for a pit stop (two cups of coffee…). I also filled up my bottle and picked up a couple 20-oz bottles of “low calorie” (dilute) sports drink. A few more miles and I was at the official route.

On new ground, briefly, and the first hill

That took me on the first unfamiliar stretch: Oliver St. and then Park Hill Rd., up a short hill and past cattle farms. At Florence Rd. I was back on familiar turf: I headed north to Pine St., then through the center of Florence and north on Maple St. Maple merged with North Farms Rd., and then the fun began: the first serious climb of the day. It wasn’t long but parts were very steep. Near the top I paused to photograph a fence made out of old bicycle wheels.

After that, the next ten miles were a breeze: a slight climb on Mountain St., then a descent, with a slight climb in the middle, to Whately. I ate another Clif Bar. After Whately I was on unfamiliar roads again: North St., mostly flat with one nasty little rise, and then S. Mill River Rd., also mostly flat. That ended at 116 and the climb, at first gentle and then steeper, to just east of Conway. Then a quick descent into the town center.

From Conway, I started north on Shelburne Falls Rd., which I had driven before but not cycled. I passed Poverty Hollow, named by people who had no use for euphemisms. I knew a hill was coming in a few miles, and I was not disappointed. Down into the low gear for a mile…. After that, some rollers, gradually trending downward, took me into Shelburne Falls, where I arrived about 12:10 p.m.

From Shelburne Falls to Shelburne Falls

I paused for an obligatory bike photo next to the Deerfield River, then crossed the river for a quick trip to the grocery store, where I acquired Gatorade and a turkey sandwich.

After lunch on a bench outside the tourist office, followed by another pit stop, I headed north on Route 112. Though I had driven 112 before, and the stretch of Route 2 that I would later hit, for the next 37 miles I was on new cycling ground. The road rose gradually through Colrain; then I crossed the border into Vermont. There was a 19th-century boundary post in front of a lovely garden; I chatted for a moment with the owner and her friend, who were out tending the plants. The gradual rise continued, steepening somewhat in places.

Just after the halfway mark, I turned left onto Route 8A (Stage Rd.) and nearly wept. There was a mean hill there, the meanest, it would turn out, of the whole ride. The first half mile was 12%. And though I had been eating and drinking continuously, I felt low on energy. Shifting down into my granny, I gritted my teeth and headed up. And stopped for a rest. And headed up again. After a couple more pauses, I made it to more level ground. The climbing would continue, but not as steeply, except for one further spot where a small dog tried to give chase. Fortunately, he didn’t want to go up the hill either. Unlike me, he didn’t have to.

Fortunately, miles of downhill and level road followed, marred only by potholes and a few sharp corners. I munched on part of a Clif bar when the road permitted. I crossed over the newly renovated Bissell covered bridge, then joined Route 2 to head back east to Shelburne Falls. Though heavily traveled, the road was in good shape with decent, clean shoulders, and it ran right next to the Deerfield River. I passed a few tourist traps and arrived back in Shelburne Falls around 3:50 p.m.

Heading back south

This time I stopped for a proper meal at McCusker’s Market, where I got a BLT and a bottle of GUS soda. Bacon and mayo might not have been ideal for someone who still had 41 miles to ride, but I inhaled the sandwich and soda. After stretching for a bit, refilling my bottles, and calling home quickly, I hit the road again at 4:25.

The climb out of Shelburne Falls wasn’t too bad, other than a nasty stretch shortly before a thrilling descent on the hill I had labored up several hours before. I hit nearly 45 mph, and that was without tucking in to reduce wind resistance—possibly a personal record. A quick trip through Conway, and then I was headed uphill again. This would be the last nasty climb of the ride, and I felt great when I conquered it. Downhill past the Northampton Reservoir, then the rollers of Webber Road, to rejoin Mountain St. in Williamsburg.

I followed that to Haydenville, then took River Rd., Reservoir Rd., and Chesterfield Rd. SSW to Sylvester Rd. I munched a few Clif shot blocks for further sustenance. Then south into Easthampton, until I turned left onto Loudville Rd. and left the brevet route. After making it to downtown Easthampton I picked up Route 10 north.

The last few miles home

I was ready to be home, but even readier for something scrumptious, so I pulled over when I saw that the Tasty Top was still open, rumors of its demise notwithstanding. I got a kiddie-sized creemee (New England argot for soft-serve ice cream). No wonder kids these days are fat: it was bigger than the medium Dairy Queen cones of my youth. I ate everything above the cone in about half a second, it seems, then got back on the bike.

A quick trip through downtown Northampton, followed by the Norwottuck Rail Trail to Route 47, and I was only a few miles from home. The hills on Huntington and Breckenridge felt ten times nastier than usual, but I made it over. I was so ready to be home that I braked going down Breckenridge instead of building up speed and aiming for a new record. I made the sharp turn onto Mount Warner and pulled up in the driveway, standing out of the saddle as I coasted to a halt in the garage. It was 8:05 p.m.

The aftermath

I had a glass of milk as a recovery drink, then took a shower. Man, did that feel good! Then a few slices of frozen pizza from Trader Joe’s. I wasn’t terribly hungry, to be honest. After savoring a bottle of IPA, I went to bed, where I slept fitfully. I’ve learned in the last couple months that I don’t sleep well after long bike rides, so I wasn’t surprised.

The next day I had minor soreness, especially around the outside and rear of my left knee, perhaps due to my preference for extending my left leg for support while coasting. I took a couple ibuprofen tablets over the course of the day. By Monday I was still a little stiff but otherwise feeling fine. Monday evening’s 14-mile ride started out stiffly but I loosened up after a few miles. It’s Tuesday as I write and I feel fine.

Time and distance

I left home at 8:25 a.m. and returned at 8:05 p.m.: 11 hours 40 minutes total. My actual ride time was 9 hours 55 minutes, for an average moving speed of just over 12.5 mph. My overall average, including stops, was 10.7 mph. I had calculated when the controls would open and close had this been a real brevet or permanent, and I arrived at them on time. So although this ride was not an official event, it proved to me that I can do a 200K brevet within the time limits, on a hilly course in the Berkshires and their foothills.

Food and drink

All told, I ate three Clif bars, half a package of Clif shot blocks, a turkey sandwich, a BLT, and that “kiddie” size creemee. I drank half a gallon of Gatorade, a 12-oz bottle of GUS soda, and five 24-oz water bottles. Aside from some minor indigestion, I felt fine, though in hindsight I should have eaten a little more in the first half of the ride. Had I done that, I might not have been so disheartened by that hill on Route 8A in Vermont….

I lost 2.5 pounds over the course of the ride, which means that I was eating and drinking enough not to get dehydrated. I gained them all back the next day as I recovered and rebuilt my muscle glycogen stores.

What next?

In the short run, I decided that my other responsibilities, combined with lack of training (related to those responsibilities), preclude a 300K this Saturday. Otherwise, what next deserves its own post.

Brian W. Ogilvie

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