Riding with my Buddies to the Kennedy Compound

Last weekend, I did the Best Buddies Volvo Hyannisport Challenge, a 90-mile ride from Boston to Hyannisport (look here for more details). Here's the ride report that I sent to my supporters.

If you want, you can also read about my last century, The Climb to the Clouds.


To those of you who were planning to call Visa and cancel your donations if I didn’t complete the Best Buddies ride: you can put the phone down. I did it! Sure, I suffered near-hypothermic shock, and maybe I threatened the life of the person who scheduled a ride in New England in May (more than once), but that’s not important now. The important thing is that I – and my whole team of ten riders – completed the Best Buddies ride last Saturday. No one dropped out, no one got hurt, no one complained (much), and we all proved up to the challenge (the Hyannisport Challenge).

To give you a feel for the ride, I now present my mile-by-mile commentary:

5:30 AM, Mile (-10)
We meet at Danny’s house and load our bikes into a rented truck. Eight of us will do the 90-mile ride, while two will do the 20-mile ride that starts later in the morning. Morris is very excited to drive the half-ton pickup truck because, “I don’t have to look for openings before I change lanes. They have to get out of my way.” I check the ropes on the bikes again to make sure that the impact won’t throw them out.

7:30 AM, Mile 0
Registered, dressed in our Best Buddies jerseys, and on our bikes, we wait for the start. It’s chilly and breezy, but no rain is falling yet. Everyone involved in Best Buddies, including founders, sponsors, fundraisers, and participants in the organization, seems to need to speak before we can start. I spot Senator Kerry about ten feet away, dressed in a yellow rain jacket and riding a very nice bike. Anthony Shriver jokes that Kerry promised that the 2009 ride will start at the White House. Finally, we’re off!

7:45-9:15 AM, Miles 1-16
With a police escort leading the way, we make our slow way through Boston, Quincy, Braintree, and other South Shore suburbs on our way to the Cape. Everyone is excited and chatting with the people around them, and our team tries to stick together as best we can. Still, we are quickly separated into clusters of two or three in the crowd as we fight to stay on our bikes and out of each other’s way. The average speed of 10-12 mph makes it tough to keep your balance at times, but at least everyone is together. Some riders start fighting to get in the front, preparing to be set free from the escort. Kerry goes zooming by after about five miles, and I never see him again.

There’s a team from Ireland here, riding four tandem bikes. They have never been to the US before, and ride as though they are in a parade, waving and calling out to everyone on the side of the road. After trying several greetings, they settle on “Aloha!” as the best one to shout to the confused pedestrians.

9:15-9:35 AM, Mile 16.2, Rest Stop #1
Music is playing, people are cheering, and food is piled high at the first stop. We stop and wait for our team to arrive, passing the time by waiting in the long line for the Port-o-Potties. Apparently, everyone took the “Hydrate” advice to heart, or else, like me, they needed a double dose of coffee to get moving this early in the morning. Once we are all gathered, we eat some bagels and bananas and chat before moving on again. The weather is warming up, so I take off my rain jacket, roll it up, and stuff it in my jersey pocket.

A photographer comes over, accompanied by two people: an expensively casual-dressed woman in glasses and a Gilligan hat and an ostentatiously scruffy young man in designer corduroy. Obviously, we are about to be joined by celebrities, even though we have no idea who they are. Danny, ever willing to start the awkward conversation says, “I’m sure you’re celebrities, but I don’t recognize you. Who are you?”

The short scruffy dude standing next to me says, “I’m [the short scruffy guy] from CSI: Miami.” He gets polite handshakes and thanks for coming out.

The woman pulls her hat back from her face and says, “I used to be on a show called The Brady Bunch.”

“Marcia!!!” everyone screams. “Oh my gosh, it’s Marcia!”

“Gee, thanks,” mutters CSI-Boy. We get a group photo, thank them both for coming all the way from California or Miami or whatever warm climate they left to come freeze with us, and we all climb back on our bikes. Now the real fun begins.

9:35-10:20 AM, Miles 16-30
We depart as a group, but quickly string out again. It’s clear that we won’t be seeing much of each other today, but that’s OK: everyone is intent on riding his or her own ride, and just finishing. Danny leads the way, whooping and hot-dogging on his bike. Clearly, he is ready to pick up the pace, as am I. Taran and Eric plan to ride at their own pace, which will be significantly slower than ours. We won’t see them again until the finish. Len and Susan are somewhere in between. Danny, Morris, Liz, and I ride together for a while, but on the first big hill Danny and I drop them. Our legs are fresh, and it feels good to just cruise along at around 20 mph. The rolling hills have more downhill than up, which helps, too, especially for me, since gravity exerts, shall we say, a greater pull on me than on most people. We pass many riders, but are only passed by one, another Clydesdale who has also benefited from the downhill trend. I can’t completely relax on these hills, because I am afraid that we will have to regain this elevation as some point. I am not wrong.

10:20 AM, Mile 30
From behind me, Danny jokes, “Do you keep spitting, or is it starting to rain?”

I spit on him and reply, “Maybe a little of both.”

(Not really, Mom, but I did think about it)

10:21-10:45 AM, Miles 30-34
The joke quickly loses its humor as the sky begins insistently spitting upon us. Within a couple of miles, I consider pulling my rain jacket back on. Since we are close to the next rest stop, I decide to hold out, but it is raining for real by the time we reach it. I start praying that this is only a passing shower.

10:45-11:00 AM, Mile 34.3, Rest Stop #2
“Ants on logs, cool!” I shove several of the peanut butter, raisin, and celery treats into my mouth as I begin grazing at the food table. I have hardly touched my water bottles while riding, but I down a Gatorade while standing under the tent. It is raining steadily now, and I try to stay under the food tent for as long as possible. The coffee is almost hot, but not hot enough to really warm me. One of the buddy tandem teams (a regular rider and his handicapped “buddy” on a tandem bike) comes in just behind us, and they are so wet that they don’t even bother to get under the tent. I’m not there yet, but I will be soon.

No more celebrities here. I guess their contracts limited them to the first stop. It’s just as well: those nice jackets didn’t look waterproof.

Morris catches up to us at the stop, as do Len, Susan, and Liz. Once I can feel my feet again, it’s time to go. Susan and Len tell us not to bother waiting for them, but Liz joins us as we head back out. We’re still feeling good, but really wishing that the rain would stop.

11:00 AM-12:30 PM, Miles 34.3-57
Morris, Danny, Liz, and I leave the rest stop together and make an attempt at a paceline. It doesn’t help much, because each bike sends up a rooster tail of spray from the soaked pavement, so we are forced to choose between the wind and a face full of gritty water. Danny is still too excited to set a pace that everyone can keep, so we lose Liz after a few miles. Morris, who has just discovered that his bike has gears, attempts to shift them while climbing a hill, locks up his chain, and has to stop. We don’t stop, of course: Liz will pick up the pieces when she comes through in a few minutes. Danny and I continue onward.

Funny thing about gravity: it’s a fickle mistress. It’s all helpful and friendly when you’re going downhill, urging you on to greater speeds as you whip through turns and screech into intersections. But try going against it, climbing further from the core of the earth where it lurks, and it turns on you in a second. And the bigger they are, the slower they climb. Danny pulls away from me as we climb a series of hills, his light bike and size Medium rain jacket flashing mockingly in the dull light as he disappears over the crest. I am in no-man’s land between the sprinting Danny and the cruising Morris/Liz combo, so I ride on alone.

Hills. Lots and lots of hills. That’s what I remember from this leg. We ride through Plymouth, and I can see why the Pilgrims were able to land here: the Indians could never have seen them coming. I can smell the ocean, but it’s nowhere to be found. I make my rolling way through Standish State Park, thinking about how nice this ride would be if I weren’t wet and freezing. A cheerful man named Lloyd catches me, and we talk for a while as we ride. His presence is a double-edged sword, because while the conversation distracts me from how tired my legs are becoming, I have to push to keep up with him on every climb. I have a feeling that I’m going to need that energy later. My bare legs are numb from the knee down, from both the cold and the pressure of pedaling. This makes it difficult to push hard on each new climb: how do you tell a block of ice to push? Finally, we come to the end of the park and to the next rest stop. The rain falls unceasingly now, and the wind is a steady 10-20 mph.

12:30 PM, Mile 57.6, Rest Stop #3
I am cold now, and stopping only makes matters worse. Under my jacket, my two shirts are soaked with rain and sweat, and the moment that I stop the wind starts to leech warmth from my body. The coffee at this stop is lukewarm at best, and I have trouble deciding whether to drink it or pour it on my shoes in the hopes of waking up my toes. I opt to drink the coffee and run hot water over my hands after going to the bathroom. I am pleased to note that dehydration, at least, will not be an issue today. Lucky me.

Danny is waiting at the stop, as usual, and Morris and Liz coast in about ten minutes behind me. They had a grand time on the hills, chatting while they rode the roller coaster landscape. I’m glad they had fun, though I wonder if we’re riding the same course. I seem to be suffering more from the cold than the others, since I can’t stop shivering and my teeth are chattering, so maybe that’s part of it.

We see several riders give up at this stop. The medical van is busy, and people are packing their bikes up to hitch a ride into Hyannisport. I envy them for a moment, thinking about how nice a heated van would feel right now, but I have no thoughts of giving up. It’s time to get moving again, though, while I can still move.

(We found out later that several people were treated for hypothermia toward the end of the ride, so maybe I wasn’t suffering the most from the cold.)

12:45-1:40 PM, Miles 57.6-68
The next eleven miles pass in an immeasurable blur, and not just because I’m pre-hypothermic. Somewhere along the last leg, my cycling computer gave in to the rain and stopped working. I now have no idea how far I have come, and thus no clue how far I have to go. I decide that it’s better this way and focus on just getting over the next hill or around the next corner. The orange arrows on the pavement that mark each turn are my friends, because I have once again lost my teammates. This time it was Morris who dropped me, because Danny and Liz stopped to get some warmer gloves. Apparently Liz’s hands were cold. I should have such problems!

It takes a mile or two to warm up again, during which time I discover that a few good whoops and yells help to channel the shivering into something more productive. To keep my mind occupied, I start writing this ride report in my head. Unfortunately, I am too tired to remember much of it, so I just keep repeating the same phrases over and over in my mind. They’re funny the first thirty times. After that, not so much.

1:42-2:00 PM, Miles 68-70.4, the Bourne Bridge and Points South
Danny and Liz catch me just as I dismount to walk over the Bourne Bridge, a high, arching marvel of engineering that looks really windy at the moment. Looks do not deceive, but we make it across without anyone being hurled into traffic by the gale-like winds. One rider stops, ostensibly to enjoy the view, but I suspect that he’s just waiting for a clear space to test whether he can spit to Nantucket from here. With this wind, I give him even odds.

I don’t see them go by, but my family drives by me on the bridge on their way to the finish line. They see me, so I have a message waiting on my cell phone at the next stop, which is mercifully nearby.

2:00 PM, Mile 70.4, Rest Stop #4
Our final rest stop is outside a big CVS drug store in Sandwich. There are sandwiches to eat, and against my better judgment I choose a turkey, ham, and cheese and wolf it down. There is another tent near the food tent for additional shelter, since this is where the 20-mile “Friendship Ride” started a couple of hours ago. The wind is blowing so hard, though, that it keeps lifting the sides of the tent, so we don’t get much warmer standing there. I go inside the CVS to use the bathroom again (hooray for hydration!), then decide that I’d rather stay in the entryway and warm up than go outside and shiver again. Our team gathers again, and this time all six of us – Len, Susan, Danny, Liz, Morris, and myself – leave together. As soon as we step back outside, the wind sucks the CVS warmth away and I start to shiver again. Whooping helps again, though it makes me no friends among the people who just came here to buy some shaving cream.

2:20-3:15 PM, Miles 70.4-80
Once again we try the paceline, and once again I can’t hold on. We stick together for a couple of miles, but on the first long hill I fade and watch the rest of the team slowly pull away. The cold has sapped too much of my energy for me to keep the pace, so I settle back to whatever I can manage, which isn’t much, speed-wise. It’s steady, though, and I find that I can keep going even as the hills roll on. I have lost my team, but I am not the slowest rider on the road. As I chug onward, I pass several other riders who all look the way I feel: dead tired and bone-cold. One rider takes exception to being passed and passes me on the next hill. My blood is too thick for the testosterone to get to my brain, so I don’t even try to hold him off. There is grim satisfaction in passing him a mile later, though, and I don’t see him again.

My wife calls a couple of times to see where I am. Though I really can’t talk, what with all of the huffing and puffing, I am encouraged to know that my cheering section is waiting for me in the rain. I find that I have a little bit of energy left in my legs, though I don’t even think about sprinting. Steady as she goes.

I pass a yellow sign that reads, “10 miles to go!”

3:15- 3:49 PM, Miles 80-90
The hills have started rolling downward again, and gravity is my friend again. I find that my burst of energy is still there, so I start to push a little harder and shift up to the big gears. I can pick up enough speed on the downhills to get most of the way up the next upslope, and standing up gets me over each crest. Now I am moving, and it feels good to let my bike run. More riders pass behind me, and I am ready for the homestretch.

A nasty surprise awaits me as I pass the “5 miles to go!” sign. As I approach the water, there are fewer obstacles to the wind, which has only picked up in the past couple of hours. Sideways gusts almost knock me off of my bike, and when I turn into the wind it feels as though I have just jammed on my brakes. The wind is a tangible force, trying to stop me or at least throw me to the ground. I get as low as I can, grit my teeth, and ride onward, one pedal stroke at a time. As I approach the last couple of miles, I shelter behind two other riders until we are no longer head into the wind. It’s hardly proper etiquette, but I really don’t care at this point. As we turn sideways to the gale again, I push past them with a cheery, “See you at the finish line!” Their tired grunts are ripped away by the wind.

I can see the final turn, and I put everything I have into the last strokes. Then I hit the brakes as the police officer manning the final intersection warns me that it’s too crowded ahead to go fast. So much for my triumphant finish, with fists upraised as I zoom under the finish line. I settle for not crashing into anything as I wave to my soggy personal cheering section, made up of my family and the other team members who pulled in seconds before I did.

The timer above me says, “8:04.” It’s time to join the other guys shivering in towels over by the big semi trailer and hit the showers. I did it. I survived the 2005 Volvo Hyannisport Challenge. And quite a challenge it was.

4:00-8:00 PM, Postscript
By 5:30, our entire team is in. We all finished, even when more experienced riders dropped out. I am extremely impressed with every one of my teammates, most of whom had never ridden more than 20 miles at once before signing up for this ride. Despite the conditions, everyone maintains a cheerful attitude, and no one complains beyond a serious desire to be much warmer.

Later, at the clambake, after we have all had our lobsters, chicken and chowder, Danny asks me, “So are you ready to do it again next year?”

“Give me a couple of days to thaw out, and then ask me again,” I reply.

I’ve thawed out now, and I am ready to do it again. Maybe we can talk about moving it to July, though?


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