For the first two legs of the ride (five total), I was braced for the big hills that were going to take me out of the game. There were a lot of small-to-medium rollers in the first leg, call it forty miles or so, and I was getting winded from too-long undertraining and comfort eating. The website says 3000 feet of climbing per 100K.
I started 25 minutes late, having ridden the wrong way out of the hotel (cf. “Jews wandering in deserts,” previously), and then I lost more during the first leg because the street names on the cue sheet don’t match the street signs. When you’re not from around here and you think you’re on South Longyard, but then you hit the T intersection of Hillside and Granville, you need to answer a question: Did I take a wrong turn?
And then: Should I backtrack so that if I did take a wrong turn, I’ll be back on the course as quickly as possible, or should I press forward and hope I’m in the right place but the cue sheet’s wrong? Should I trust the cue sheet mileage over the cue sheet street names, or vice-versa? Or am I simply off-course?
Though a brevet isn’t a race, it’s still a time-dependent endurance event. If I’m late to a controle (they call them “checkpoints” in Massachusetts), I’m done. Cheap hotel and rental car were just wastes of already-scarce funds.
So who made the mistake? Me or them?
And if them, which mistake was it? Wrong street name or wrong mileage?
So out comes the iPhone, and I stand there at the intersection waiting for it to get signal, waiting for it to get my location—and on a 3GS running iOS 4.x in a lousy reception area, this is counted in minutes, not seconds—so even before I’ve had a chance to build my time cushion up to zero, the negative number is sinking lower.
And half the time, the answer after dinking around with the iPhone is: Still can’t tell. So think about consequences instead of likelihoods: Since backtracking will double my lost time if I’m wrong about it (each backtracked mile means two lost miles if it turns out I was in the right place to start with: one to backtrack, one more to retrack), I pushed off and rode forward. And in this case, I was right. The next turn happened where it was supposed to on the cue sheet.
I think somebody used Google maps to design the first and last legs of this ride.
If you imagine that the starting line is an actual stripe across the road, and you imagine it moving forward through the course at 9.3 miles per hour, that’s the line you have to beat to each controle. You can stop all you want, eat, take pictures, sleep, fix a flat, weld a frame, have an affair—but the stripe keeps moving.
I hadn’t eaten anything solid all day, hadn’t stretched, had done nothing but ride, panic, push, post a couple of quick photos for the people I hoped were looking, and then keep stopping and taking out the iPhone every time the world didn’t line up with the cue sheet while whatever time I’d built up leaked back out—and that moving stripe kept rolling inexorably away. When the possibilities are me screwing up or the world being wrong, I usually assume I’ve screwed up. Didn’t used to, but I’m 44 now.
The first controle was at a Citgo station, mile 54.7 in Hebron, CT, and I knew I was riding just minutes ahead of the moving stripe. One flat, a wrong turn, or a long, steep climb, and my entire attempt was toast.
There was no Citgo at mile 54.7.
There was some no-name gas station at what looked, possibly, like the beginning of a string of gas stations. So again: What to do? Is the Citgo up farther? Did I pass it already and not notice because I wasn’t to the specified mileage yet? Is this it, only it’s not a Citgo anymore? I rode another half-mile up Rte. 66 until it looked like there weren’t going to be any more gas stations, and then back to the no-name.
“Did this used to be a Citgo?”
“You’re an hour behind everybody else,” the counter lady said.
I didn’t see a single other randonneur on this brevet. There was a banana peel on the road at one point, and at 8:15 PM, nine minutes ahead of a DNF at the only controle with accurate cue sheet info, there was a trash can full of empty Gatorade bottles. Other than that, it was just me and the moving stripe.
What I did see, though, starting pretty soon after my first picture appeared on Twitter, was encouragement all day from friends, family, and neighbors. I’ve generally been a solitary person without a lot of need for cheerleading, but this year…well, let me say thank you without any irony. Thank you.
||LEFT, Hopyard Rd., Devil’s Hopyard State Park
All the brevets I’ve been on use pretty much this format on their cue sheets. Distance since the last cue (here called “Turn”), distance since the last controle (here called “Chkpt”), and distance since the beginning of the ride.
Leg 2 is much too prosaic a designator for one of the most gorgeous rides I’ve ever been privileged to experience.
The left onto Hopyard Road brings you into Devil’s Hopyard State Park and an endless, gentle glide over shallow rollers through green and gold. Beauty so often comes from nowhere—though in this case, it was by someone’s design. I just didn’t know it was coming. If I can afford to, I’ll do this ride again next year just for these few minutes of perfection.
The best apple I ever ate was in 2003, standing next to the St. Lawrence River in the dark, astride a bike I don’t have anymore. I’d taken it from the bowl on the counter of the hotel lobby, and I was on my way to the train station in Montréal, heading back to New York after a writing retreat.
The best watermelon I ever ate was on a 600K a couple of months ago, in sweltering heat, sitting on the ground outside an orchard in New Jersey.
On this ride, a mouthful of orange juice provoked such sheer, sweet, intense, shuddering pleasure, complete with involuntary vocalization, that it’s my main memory of the entire event. This was the same orange juice I thought was okay, nothing special, when I swigged some outside the convenience store an hour and a half earlier.
Leg 2 ends at:
||CHECKPOINT on Left at Park
Except there is no park at mile 90.7.
The Citgo had been in the right place, just wasn’t a Citgo anymore. But here I am at the right place for a park, and there’s nothing but houses.
So either the cue sheet mileage was off, or my odometer was off (things can drift over 90.7 miles, though it’s less likely if you’ve measured your wheel diameter for the bike computer instead of using its presets), or I’d taken a wrong turn and I was on the wrong road. I was enjoying about 40 minutes of cushion at this point, and I really didn’t want to watch it trickle out of the sieve while I hunted for a controle; but when you go up a ways this way, and then back a ways that way, and then up a ways this way again, and take out the iPhone and have it look for “park,” which doesn’t help, and then dig out the brevet card and find that it says “Fort Saybrook Memorial Park,” and plug that into the iPhone and still get nothing, and then ask people in cars and walking their dogs, finally get a clear answer from a guy riding his bike, and haul ass up that way, that’s what happens.
The volunteers at these things are always terrific, and this guy was no exception. They’re randonneurs too, putting in time to make the ride happen for others, and they’re stuck there until the Lanterne Rouge (the last rider within the time limit) rolls in. I always feel bad when I arrive at a controle in the middle of the night and the volunteer is asleep with a paperback, partly because they could have gone home an hour earlier if not for me, and partly because life hasn’t allowed me to volunteer my own time like this—something I want to remedy as soon as possible.
Anyway, this time it was afternoon, and this guy (sorry, I can’t remember your name, dude!) was cheery and had the drink cooler and sandwich stuff all laid out on the tailgate for plunder, and understood that I was setting my own pace at the stop and would leave when I needed to. So the chitchat was brief (just long enough for butt and legs to feel good again when I remounted), simple (what saddlebag is that, my kids just got their training wheels off, yes I’ll take a banana), and enlightening (their serious 300K was a few weeks ago, the St. Petersburg).
That’s why no monster hills yet. They’re not coming.
If this had been their serious 300K, I’d have DNF’d already.
So: God smiles, or preparation has met opportunity, or—my view—I just flat-out lucked out on this last attempt to complete my first SR series. It would be too much to characterize this ride as the Massachusetts randonneurs’ last pleasant little spin of summer—I mean, it’s still 186 miles and not flat—but it also wasn’t the grueling endurance trial I expected would plink me off the fence without even aiming.
A dozen piccolos playing a mass of fast, random semitone trills probably sound a lot like a drivetrain or fender problem. The reason I know that is it’s the best way I can describe how the bugs along the roads sounded.
For almost twenty hours.
The Getty Mart the cue sheet called for at mile 113.9 didn’t exist, but by now I’d caught on, and went into the BP station and asked if it used to be a Getty. I was still riding at the edge of the DNF, and still feeling the undertraining and the extra belt notch, but this single goal I can still muster myself for could be within grasp. After that yes or no comes, we can see what might be possible next.
The arrivée closed at 1:00 AM. I got there at 12:38. Once my card is homologated in Paris (I don’t know why they don’t just call it “approved”) and it stops saying pending on this page (enter RUSA number 5538), that will complete my Super Randonneur Series, and I’ll be permitted to buy a little medal:
So I got lucky. But that’s still a finish.
Still, I did get lucky.
But goddamn, I’ll take it.