Ride notes from the fourth and final ride. A continuation of parts one and two, and three.

You knew it was going to be good because "600k" and "Getaway" rhyme. I’d love to say that’s why I picked this particular brevet, but really it was because it was the 600k leaving from Boston this year and so given the whole "let’s try to do the series" thing, it was my best option. Still, the rhyme boded well.

At the time of writing it’s now two days on, Tuesday, and I’m sitting in the air conditioning with the cat and a reasonably good canned stout. I have not ridden a bike in two days after having ridden a bike for two days. I did, however, work on my commuter bike a little bit, because I cannot help myself. My mind is still a little mushy and my body still sore though I would say nearly recovered. We’ll see about tomorrow when I try to ride in to work (slowly, slowly).

So about this ride. Here is the route. Here, for any of the five people who read these rambles who are feeling link averse, is a picture of the profile:

Figure 1. A long route with a big ol' hill in the middle.

We’ll get to that big spike in the middle later. According to my cycling computer, I rode 374.41 miles in 38 hours and 8 minutes (moving time: 27h 1m), climbing a total of 19,268ft, and I apparently burned 19,906 Calories, though I have little idea of what that actually means. The average temperature was 75°F and the minimum 54°F, and the max 120°F but I think that’s bullshit. I do know it got real fucking cold right around 23:00 on Saturday though. The minimum elevation was -81ft, the max 2,758ft. I started at 04:00 on Saturday and finished around 17:00 (well, 17:08 to be precise) on Sunday. I have no idea how long I actually slept for on Saturday, but let’s call it like four hours or so. I slept a lot longer Sunday night.

To be perfectly honest, I am not even entirely sure where or how to begin, but let’s start here: I wasn’t feeling too nervous before the ride. I was feeling a little nervous about the mountain pass (that big spike up there) — not really ascending so much as descending it, even though I’ve never had any trouble descending — but beyond that I was feeling prepared, and excited by the prospect of finishing the series, this project I was not actually sure I’d do.

One neat thing about it — one of many — is that it was also a number of other folks' first 600ks, and the majority of those folks had done the same rides I’d done, and so caps off to my 300- and 400k riding buddy Joshua, to Alex, and to Gabriel (and also those whom I’d not met but whose first times it was) for completing their first brevet series, too. It does and does not feel like a big fucking deal to have done, but it does feel like a big fucking deal to have gotten to meet these fine folks, pass and be passed by them at controls, share chats, commiserations, miles, etc. I think I said this before, but it really is a fine community. Welcoming, fun, jovial, determined — just good people. And some of them freakin' fast, too! And here I was, feeling in pretty good shape. In any case, I remind myself that my goal this year was merely to finish…​

…​which I suppose I did. So that’s something.

At some point — I can’t remember if it was Saturday or Sunday, but it was probably Saturday? — one of the two guys I ended up riding the most with (more later) mentioned having read some study where there’s like a debit and credit system with your family, that there was some ratio that was higher than expected of time in versus time away to keep things smooth, and that sort of lined up a little bit with what I was thinking about on and off during the ride. Specifically how much time I’ve been able to spend on this little hobby this summer, and how nice it’s been to get so much support in doing so. All of which is to say that my in-laws drove me to the ride, since I guess they were going to be up anyway, and it was super, super nice of them.[1] Dark and early they picked me up and dropped me off up in Woburn for the start, and I was happy to pretty much immediately see a number of familiar faces. There was even the velomobile guy there again.[2] And a really neat half-upright half-recumbent tandem pair. Some folks — e.g., Rosie and Gabriel — I knew I wouldn’t see after the start since they go fast, ya know, but I happily ran into Joshua and we rode together for a good while, having a nice easy start.

Joshua — an artist, father, teacher, and I’d say philosopher — had a goal of going slow, of feeling good the whole way through. I thought that was awesome. And. I can’t remember exactly the line he said, but it was something to the effect of how he intended to "take his time," and I said only half-bullshittingly that I’ve never taken my time in my life. Anyway, we rode to the first control more or less together and then got separated after that, though we’d do our share of bunny hopping here and there and I saw him a number of times on the ride, and that was great. (Jumping ahead,) he ended up pulling into the final control at the end right as I was leaving, which was great, so we got a good final fist-bump in. Anyway.

After the first control, I set off with this group of folks a bit older and much more experienced than me who seemed happy enough to let me sit in their wheels and take my little turns at the front and so on and chat and be friendly, and we had a lovely time riding along throughout the rest of the morning, only splintering more substantially after the lunchtime control in the town of Belmont, NH (the joke being I live in Belmont, MA, and they are very different places).

belmont nh
Figure 2. This was actually a pretty nice shop, though I’m glad I got there sooner because after our first little group came in a woman walked in with a number of credit cards to buy cartons of cigarettes for folks at one of the assisted living homes (I think it was), and though it meant a lot of folks had to wait to get their cokes and food and all, we did all agree that this woman was doing the Lord’s Work, even if smoking is bad for you.

My memory for names is shit, but I believe it was Amy, Jim, and then I know it was George and Simon, the latter two of which I’d spend pretty much the rest of the ride with. It’s amazing how much you can learn about a group of people riding with them for a hundred miles or so. I learned about doing architecture (and told my Zaydie’s joke about how "all architects are evil," and the retired architect in question said some of them are indeed crazy, and said it makes sense for my Zaydie to have that joke on-hand if he was an architectural engineer), heard many many stories of past brevets short and long, of passes, of different nearby randonneuring clubs and regions, discussed bikes a bit, and even had a chance to have a long chat about ultimate — turns out George’s son plays (and at a very high level, too!). Miles go very fast when you’re twittering along.

The weather was frankly perfect and I more or less remembered to reapply sunscreen (save on my lips: this is the biggest takeaway from the season — SPF lip balm, that is), and the day passed mostly uneventfully until we got to the Lincoln control, at which point I remember feeling a little nervous about the climb, about my lack of snacks (i.e., I had eaten all of them and we’d stopped at a Subway, which had sandwiches but no snacks — luckily there was a store across the strip mall), but I think Simon (or maybe George?) said that the trick was just to pick an effort and go with it. And so I did.

But first, some brief profiles. I won’t speculate about age because I have no fucking clue, but suffice to say they both had children who were maybe only a decade younger than I am. Do with that what you will.

As riders, though, George is sort of your classic lean former-roadie type, riding a pretty sweet custom steel bike with sensible gearing and pretty nice components. He’s a good climber and rides sensibly on the descents. Simon, on the other hand, is a former single-speeder who ran a 1x and descended like a madman — after the big pass, I believe he said, "I didn’t touch the brakes once for 20 miles!" He climbed like a single-speeder, too, which after spending a lot of time now climbing the hills around my house on the fixed gear, I appreciated greatly. While my friend Alex has more or less convinced me that one does, indeed, "spin it to win it," I do love grinding a big ol' gear…​

Speaking of climbing styles, that is maybe the biggest "bike" thing I learned on the ride: how I like to climb. Turns out I don’t like it so much trying to follow a wheel on a climb. Or maybe it was just a bad match of cadences; I don’t know. I do know that in part it was due to my knees being in somewhat rough shape, whether from poor fit or overuse or what I don’t know,[3] but essentially I figured out by feel a sustainable pace for me and where and how I can push a little. It really is mostly a mental thing. Also when to get out of the saddle and when not to a little better. I have a lot of small hills but relatively few sustained climbs around where I live so this big hill — the Kancamagus Scenic Byway — was quite the new experience for me. Would do again, if I’m being honest. I found that the pace of the group wasn’t for me and so did my own thing and felt really fucking strong and good doing it. I mean, I did not ascend the climb particularly fast, make no mistake: even if I weren’t ~150 miles in at that point, I don’t know that I’m a good climber. I just think I figured something out. And it was pretty freakin' neat:

kanc pass
Figure 3. I probably should have taken a nicer picture, but oh well.
bikes on pass
Figure 4. A trio of finely-appointed steeds (I’m in the middle).

Part of the reason I like the endurance sport thing is because I get a pretty excellent endorphin high after the rides and big efforts, and suffice to say, I felt fucking amazing after I got to the top. Like, ecstatic. So good.

(As an aside, I know I’ve lost the plot a little bit re: Saturday. I think in part because I spent a lot of it chatting with folks and in part because this BIG CLIMB was the BIG THING, and probably also there’s some brain-chemistry thing where if you only sleep four hours you can only remember so much of the day, or something.)

Anyway, after the big climb there was an even longer descent and basically I was able to cruise my way down to Conway, following Simon, preceding George.

At the Conway control — a Cumby (i.e., a Cumberland Farms gas station) — the guy at the desk was super psyched that it was a "bike people day," which was kinda nice, and I ate the first Klondike bar I’ve had in I genuinely don’t know how long — meaning that I have finally discovered what I would do for a Klondike bar (i.e., ride ~190 miles). I talked to Alia on the phone and also got another Lunchable (which I’d chosen at the stop in Belmont, NH, thinking it a safer bet than the plastic-wrapped sandwiches on offer), as well as…​ I don’t remember, some cookie or other, maybe. Fig Newtons! I got Fig Newtons. Anyway.

This was the last control before the overnight in Portland, and it was going to be dark soon. We picked up a guy named Mario, whom I guess George knew from New Jersey randonneuring stuff, and the four of us set off into the sunset (or rather: away from it, going East).

I’d put on my knee warmers and jacket and vest and started too hot but then it got cold and at first I felt pretty good, but this last 100k to the overnight felt like it took a while. We stopped a fair few times for "nature breaks" and so someone or other could add a layer, and I think everyone’s legs were feeling it pretty good. My knees, for one, had started really bothering me, making climbing particularly painful if it wasn’t a good group tempo for me. Luckily God created Ibuprofen. Anyway, we rode in the dark for a couple of hours over lots of rollers and then made it to the control outside Portland, where we were greeted by the ride leader with hotel rooms and a bunch of homemade food, which was really fucking sweet. I had a plate of mac and cheese and potato wedges (thinking this would be good, easily-digestible food), a shower, and then pretty much fell asleep. (But don’t worry, mom, I did brush my teeth — floss, even!)

The next morning started again a little slow but this was fine, though I suppose now would be a good time to talk about mechanicals. The first one really happened Saturday, with George inexplicably losing a saddle-rail bolt on his seatpost sometime before the lunch control. My money says it happened during the gravel stretch,[4] but who really knows. I lent him a more appropriate tool for the job and he’d tightened it down with the remaining bolt and it seemed secure and fine (lucky for him, I always have a 3, 4, and 5mm L wrench on long rides in addition to a multi tool…​ because my mother was a scout leader), but he did make a point of checking on it in the morning. So then we get going Sunday morning and I’m feeling frankly kind of crap because I didn’t feel like eating before we left so much and only had a little bit of coffee too,[5] and the first 20 miles were kind of rough. My body hurt not too bad but my knees hadn’t really recovered as you’d want them to, and I was having trouble finding the right gear — I needed one somewhere between my 46 and 30T chainrings and whatever God only knows was going on in the back. But the funny thing was by the time I’d processed the Lemon Luna bar Alia had recommended I try (which was a good recommendation — it was delicious and perfect and I am glad I stashed it in my drop bag[6]), I went to shift back up into my big ring to get a little power down ahead of this little roller and then this happened:

Figure 5. The issue.

My chain was very stuck.

Figure 6. Enhance.
Figure 7. Enhance!

I didn’t realize it was so bad at first and so told them to go ahead (George eventually would realize that I was not catching up and came back to check on me, which was very kind, and Simon waited for the two of us at the first morning control, at which we all ate a number of Dunk’s breakfast sandwiches and consumed plenty of coffee), but soon discovered that I’d managed to basically double the chain inside of the front derailleur cage, jam it really good, and thereby bend the crap out of it, too.

I had to take a couple of deep breaths.

BUT, luckily I have some idea of how these things are supposed to work, carry a number of very useful tools, and so I broke the chain, pulled it out, put in a quick link where I’d broken the chain (because who the fuck wants to putz with pushing pins back in on the side of the road?), and resigned myself to running in the small ring for the remaining 100 miles of the ride, which in retrospect was probably good for my knees anyway.

This was my first major mechanical of the whole brevet series. Sure, I’d had a rattling fender on the 400k after some gravel stuff, which I attended to because it was annoying, but I (knock on wood) hadn’t even gotten a flat or anything. It was kind of affirming, though, to a) have gotten the first proper mechanical out of the way and b) to have been able to deal with it by myself, with what I’d brought, in a reasonably efficient manner. The one thing I didn’t do was find the vinyl gloves I’d "borrowed" from the kitchen in my bar bag, but I went looking for them before my deep breaths and wasn’t really thinking so clearly. This is fine: it was not a problem to ride with dirty hands for a while. (And my sincerest thanks to the Dunk’s bathroom sink.) And I knew that the FD wasn’t the best fit for my setup, so really it’s no huge loss since I’d planned on replacing it before next season anyway.

Before all that happened we picked up a rider on the road named Sam who was very nice (and very tall!) and who rode a very beautiful Colnago and recommended I check out Jerry Douglas’s solo albums, which I very much intend to do. I don’t really remember how we got there, but it was some transition from a line in a Miranda Lambert song that Simon quoted and then we got on Country music and then Bluegrass and the rest. In any case, the point is that people came and went as they do with a brevet, but I did ride with George and Simon pretty consistently and it was very nice to have two much more experienced randonneurs around. I mean, they’re also great people and great talkers (which is an important quality in a riding buddy), and also good not-talkers (which is maybe equally as important).

What I remember from Sunday mostly is that we made an extra stop for some ice cream mentioned on the cue sheet and it was so worth it. I didn’t get a picture of the cone I got (because it didn’t last long) but here was the place:

Figure 8. This place was awesome.

And the kid’s size was like two huge honkin' scoops and it was marvelous. They also let us fill our bottles there which was very nice. I bought a Pepsi and put it in the third bottle I had in my bar bag,[7] and that was also a good thing to have done.

The last 50 miles did sort of feel like they took forever but I think that’s maybe inevitable. The legs were tired, the minds tired, and the rollers just kept coming and coming. Also, the sun. As with the 300k and maybe the 400k, too, I perked up around 25-30mi to go, but at that point I was not about to rush off on my own: we had a nice little trio going and that meant a lot to me. And again, the point was to finish, not to race.

I started recognizing things again as we got into Harold Parker and soon enough we were pulling into the Holiday Inn parking lot at the finish, greeted by Sarah and Tsun and another fellow whose name I couldn’t remember for one-million dollars. Mario was there, too, having come in a little less than an hour before us (he’d passed us on the road with another person whose name I don’t remember, but he rode a cool titanium bike and was strong A-F), and it was nice to see him at the finish. It’s kind of nice to know that I’ll see all these folks again probably, too.

George and Simon were both very psyched for me for having finished my first 600k, my first series, and that was really sweet and very nice. Information was exchanged, vague mentions of future brevets were made (I do not think I actually have the time or the balls to try the 1200k in the Finger Lakes in September, but I also…​ am not not considering it. I mean, I don’t actually have the time. But.), and then Alia pulled up and drove me home.

George was kind enough to take a picture of me at the end and send it to me (he also sent some of all of us together, but I didn’t ask their permission to post their faces so I won’t):

Figure 9. It me! Also some dude in the background. I’m not normally a "peak up" kind of guy but at the end of 370+ miles I admit my sense of fashion had diminished rather significantly.

And I also have a picture of the signed brevet card,[8] but I’ll leave that out because there are lots of phone numbers and addresses and so on on it and by the time I’d redacted all of it, it wouldn’t be much of a picture. Alia and I picked up dinner on the way home, ate it, and I’m sure we did something else but I basically took a epsom salt bath, a shower, and fell asleep. I slept for like 10 hours and it was marvelous.

Well, the cat is crying for attention and the beer’s almost empty and it’s now well past my bed time, but that was the ride, more or less (mostly less, but again: the whole memory thing). I think there are probably more lessons that I learned on the ride that haven’t quite hit me yet and that’s okay, but minimally, aside from things like logistical lessons, how-to-ride-a-bike lessons, and how to eat and hydrate on a ride lessons, I think I learned, or maybe relearned, how to patiently achieve a goal, working a little bit by little bit, taking my time (in a broad sense: not in the Joshua sense, though I do wish I could learn to take my time in a more immediate way), and building up to something and seeing it through.[9] Sure, I’d played a lot of ultimate in college and after, but that was a team thing and it was different, since you rely as much on the fitness and determination of others as yourself. And the last time I’d really done a big physical thing was probably when I fenced as a kid, but I was a kid: again, different.

It’s amazing, too, how perspective changes. I was emailing with Adam (whom’d I’d done the 200k with, and whom I rode with for the first quarter or so of the 400k) and he mentioned a ride of about 100 miles and it was all of a sudden so casual, whereas last summer he and I did a century (I think the first century for both of us) and it had been a big goddamn thing. Over the weekend I was counting the first century of the day like it was just a big meal I had eaten. A three-four hour ride feels — not short — but nothing crazy.

I mean, I suppose I should reiterate again that I didn’t do these rides in any particularly impressive manner. I finished solidly mid-pack in all of them. The beauty of randonneuring, of course, is that nobody gives a fuck how fast you finish except that you do finish.[10] But I’m pretty proud of having done the whole thing, think it’s pretty neat, and am frankly pretty fucking psyched to go out and ride the next brevet, whenever that may be.[11]

In the meantime, I’m going to give ol' Stragglepus a true, proper deep clean (strip it down to the frame, regrease all the threads, probably take it to the bike kitchen and true the wheels), put on a new (old) 1x drivetrain for some late-Summer and fall singletrack, and dream about more days in the saddle, or some other cheesy shit like that.

(In reality, I’m planning on (re)turning my attention to my fictions, but hey: I like the "riding off into the sunset" thing better, so we’ll just cut it there.)

1. Alia told me today that her dad "never wants to see a bike again" in protest of the distance (I guess; I need to get more on this story sometime).
2. I would absolutely pee my pants descending in that thing — chapeau!.
3. I do think I’m going to suck it up and pay for a bike fit before next brevet season, in any case.
4. Editing this the next morning, I realize that I’d completely left that bit out. Anyway it was really fun and I felt like I was flying — thanks, 35mm tires!
5. Also, not much sleep.
6. The "drop bag" is a bag you can leave with the ride organizers at the beginning and they’ll bring it to the overnight control. This isn’t always offered I guess but it was here, and it was great for stashing snacks, pajamas, and also my toothbrush. Also some extra tools and parts, you know, just in case.
7. Note to self: I need to find a better third-bottle solution next year.
8. At the end you sign it, verifying that all the times and so on are correct and that you did, indeed, complete the ride.
9. It’s almost like there is a great parallel with writing a novel in there somewhere…​
10. That said, I saw a funny internet thing the other day to the effect of brevets being "for people who were racing but pretending not to race" and grand fondos being for people who "were pretending to race but not racing," and I’ve never done a grand fondo so I won’t speak to that, but I do think the brevet thing has maybe a little truth in there.
11. I’m not actually counting D2R2, although that is the next planned ride.