Monday, June 05, 2006

Best Buddies Hyannisport Challenge 2006 - Ride Report

Those who remember my report from last year’s Best Buddies ride will remember two words: wet, and cold. Sure, you could use other words to describe the experience – fun, inspiring, exhausting, a noteworthy accomplishment – but these impressions all came wrapped in a cold, wet wrapper, courtesy of the New England spring. So you can imagine that, this year, through all of the training, fundraising, and preparation for the ride, one element was foremost in my mind: the weather. I was committed to doing the ride no matter what, but it sure would be nice if I could do it without risking hypothermia again.

As mid-May drew near, I started watching the weather forecasts with a little bit more urgency, hoping for a sign: some sort of warming trend, a high-pressure front that would camp over the Northeast for a week or so, above-average temperatures in Indianapolis, anything. One week to go. What do we get? The heaviest rains that New England has seen in over 50 years. Flooding in Danvers, road closures on the South Shore, coastal flooding on the Cape. Who says that God doesn’t have a sense of humor? I started shopping online for a set of pontoons that I could attach to my bike.

Three days before the ride, the weather broke. The rains slowed gradually and the region started to dry out. It looked like we might be able to ride the whole route without having to detour around washed out roads. Personally, I consider this evidence of the power of prayer, especially fervent prayer driven by a deep desire to not freeze one’s butt off. God recognizes that little bit of extra motivation.

The day dawned bright and cool. It was going to be a great day for a ride.

***
5:45 AM, Mile (-10): Like last year, we meet at Danny’s house to carpool over to the Kennedy Library for the start of the ride. Bob picks me up on the way there, and we’re the last ones to arrive. For once, “Danny Time” means on time, rather than fifteen minutes late. Dang, I was counting on that cushion. We have fifteen Patriot Pedalers on the team this year, and eleven of us are doing the full ninety mile ride.

We throw our bikes in the back of the rented pickup and tie them down for the ride, take a few pictures, and get into Jim’s car to head out. We don’t get very far; Trent’s car won’t start. After some scrambling, someone finds some jumper cables and we get Trent going again. Let’s hope that’s not an indicator of how his day’s going to go.

6:45 AM, Mile 0: While I’m registering, I’m stopped by a camera crew from NBC. They ask how much money I’ve raised and how many times I’ve done the ride. From off-camera, Bob makes sure that I remember to tell them the name of our team. Later, I realize that I never really brushed my hair this morning. Oh well, that just adds to my athletic appeal, right?

While we’re retrieving our bikes from the bike corral and attaching our numbers, we start talking to one of the ride officials. I suppose he could be just a volunteer, but he sure looks official in that windbreaker. We remark on how nice the weather is this year compared to last year, and he agrees, telling us that half of last year’s registered riders dropped out before the end, many due to hypothermia. I believe him, and it makes me all the more proud that our entire team completed the ride last year. That’s some impressive determination, especially for those who had never done anything like this before.

7:30 AM, Mile 0: The speeches are shorter this year, at least, so we get on the road pretty quickly. We were a tad disorganized in the bike corral, so we start out at the back of the pack. It takes a full two minutes after the starting gun before we start to move. There are at least 400 riders. I’m wearing my bright yellow rain jacket, even though the sky is mostly clear. There’s still a brisk breeze coming off of the harbor, and if the last year of riding has taught me anything, it’s that it’s better to ride warm than cold. I did forgo the tights, though, and I’m already glad I made that decision.

David decides to end the contest for first blood early. Before he crosses the starting line, he gets tangled up with another rider who came up in his blind spot, and they both go down. David ends up with a bloody leg, but the other guy’s wheel is tacoed. After a few choice words, none of which show that he considers David his best buddy, the other rider drags his bike back to the repair tent to see what they can do. It’s probably just as well that we’re all wearing the same jerseys: it will make it harder for that guy to find David again later.

8:10 AM, Mile 8: Eight miles in, and already I have to pee. The good news is I’m well hydrated. The bad news is I’m not going to make it all the way to the first rest stop. Other riders are dropping like flies along the side of the road also, but I’m not ready to go on some old lady’s bushes just to avoid losing ground. My team is already scattered throughout the pack, so I start to accelerate. Maybe I can find a gas station somewhere and then catch up before the first stop.

8:20 AM, Mile 11: Sweet relief comes in the form of a Mobil station with only one other guy waiting in line. I’m off to find my team, and enjoying the chance to ride faster than 12 mph. This is where I get my picture taken:


Looking good so far!

9:00 AM, Mile 16, Rest Stop #1: I’m one of the last on our team to arrive at the rest stop, but it still takes a while to get everyone together. Morris, Trent, Kevin, and Kristin blew right by this stop, so we may not see them again. This year, the first stop is at a Volvo dealership, a nice opportunity to remind us who the biggest sponsor is, but not really conducive to hundreds of people on bikes milling around. We find ourselves saying things like, “Tell everyone to meet over by the convertibles,” and “Don’t lean your bike on that, it costs $40,000!” Fortunately, we escape without either damaging any new vehicles, but one guy in a suit does offer to throw in the undercoating on my bike for only another $23 a month.

Celebrity watch: slim pickings this year, but at least they’re easier to pick out of the crowd. Carl Lewis is there, looking all shiny after riding the first leg of the ride on a tandem with his buddy. I’ve seen him in person once before, at the Penn Relays, where he stepped on my as I bent down to get some water from a cooler. Again, I am surprised by how tall he is in person. Miss Teen USA is wandering around, too, with a TV camera following her everywhere. I see her once by the refreshments, without her sash, and know immediately that she is “someone,” even in her bike togs. No one else in the parking lot has such a perfect complexion, and her hair is perfect, even after she takes off her helmet. She, too, has ridden the first leg as part of a buddy tandem, but I suspect that, like Carl, the riding portion of her day is now complete. She puts on her sash and a long-suffering look before stepping in front of the cameras to talk about how important this cause is.

The cameras just can’t seem to get enough of me, either. Another camera crew, this one from the professional documentary crew that creates the Best Buddies sports infomercial, stops me to ask how I enjoyed the first leg of the ride. My answer, “It was fun, but I’m looking forward to going a little faster now.” Clearly, they can’t get enough of my Hollywood good looks. I make sure to mention the team name again, and am grateful that I already made the potty stop. I think it was Dan Rather who said that it’s hard to look dignified and important when you’re dancing from foot to foot in front of the cameras. Or maybe it was Pauly Shore. Either way, it’s time to ride. We leave in a pack, the Patriot Train on the move.

9:00-10:15 AM, Miles 16-35 (give or take 3): We have our first important technical issue. At the rest stop, we discovered that none of our odometers matched the purported mileage according to the turn sheets that we were given. The Best Buddies mileage seems low. Now, I don’t want to say that someone’s cheating here, but it should be noted that my odometer/speedometer has always been nearly perfect when I’ve checked it against others. So either we all like to over-report our mileage, or it’s really 95 miles from Kennedy landmark to Kennedy landmark, but no one wanted to let on. I’m not making any accusations; I’m just saying. There’s obviously some marketing appeal to that nice round number – I mean, who wants to collect $47.50 from that aunt who always pledges 50 cents a mile? – but I think I might have trained just a smidge harder if I’d known it was going to be 95 miles. Wait, this is my second year…. OK, never mind.

Anyway, the Patriot Train hauls along through the second leg of the ride. We could never maintain a good paceline in our training rides, since certain small people had a tendency to draft behind larger members of the team and then leave them behind on the uphill sections (but since I promised Danny and Trent that I wouldn’t give them a hard time about their teamwork impairments, I won’t mention any names). Now, though, everyone has settled down and we find a decent pace that everyone can maintain. Bob, Len, Danny, and I lead most of the time. None of the three of us seems to want to drop further back, and everyone in back seems content to stay there.

We blow past many single riders and some pairs, and we pick up a couple of new friends as we go. Danny’s cries of, “Come on! Ride behind #306 and take a rest!” may have had something to do with that. Did I mention that 306 was my number? That’s right: I am the rolling windbreak, the big rig of the biwheeled set, and riders can simply coast along in my shadow, barely pedaling as the vortex of my passing pulls them along. At least, that’s what the marketing says. Soon, there is a pack of six riders jostling to ride two abreast in my vast slipstream. I am tempted to point out that I could snap any one of them like a twig if they displeased me, but decide that wouldn’t be team-friendly. I’ll save that threat for when I need to tie a rope to a couple of their seats and be pulled up a hill later on.

(My pride forces me to pause for a moment here and point out that I am not, in fact, some vast Hindenberg of a man, rolling along on a bike that is nearly invisible beneath my vast girth, so that I look like a bear on a unicycle. I do happen to have at least 40 pounds on the rest of my teammates, but with the exception of Bob, who is a beanpole, I also have 3-6 inches in height. So while the view from behind may be, well, we’ll just say, “obstructed,” it all rebalances when I stand up. It’s not like I have a complex, though, and I wasn’t bothered at all by the fact that I had to order an XXXL jersey just to keep from looking like a sausage and losing the circulation in my arms. Nope, not one bit.)

Two women from Seyfarth Shaw, one of the major sponsors of the ride, are among the hop-ons who join us for most of this segment. Kerry and her friend seem to have some trouble with being pulled by a group of men, because on every hill they zip ahead of us as we slow down, and make like a breakaway. They never get so far ahead that we don’t reel them in on the next downhill, though, so they remain honorary Pedalers until the next rest stop. We all make solid time, and cruise into Stop #2 together.

10:15-10:30 AM, Mile 35(ish), Rest Stop #2: This stop is in the same place as last year, and the familiar location brings on some reminiscing. As he gets off of his bike, Len says, “Remember last year? This is when it really started to rain.” Another rider, walking by, says, “Yeah, I heard that only 100 people finished last year.” This is to become an ongoing theme for our ride: the remembrance of pain.

“This is where my feet went numb last year.”

“This is where I lost the feeling in my hands.”

“Right here is where I cursed Danny’s name and those of his descendants for talking me into this ride.”

“See that spot over there, halfway up that hill? Right there is where I lost the will to live.”

Good times.

This year, the skies are mostly sunny, though, so we start losing some layers and looking for fluids. Unfortunately, it’s a choice of soda or flavored water, so I go with the flavored water. Mmm, raspberry-lime-NutraSweet, my favorite.

Morris and Trent are nowhere to be seen, though: somewhere up ahead still, no doubt. Ori lagged a bit, but by the time we’re ready to leave he gamely agrees to go with us. He’ll take advantage of the train while he can, and drop off if he has to.

10:30 AM-12:15 PM, Miles 35-58 (or so): The Patriot Train rolls on. I lead us out of the stop, but it’s not long before Jim rides up to join me. “Just because you’re big doesn’t mean you have to ride by yourself,” he observes. I’m grateful for the company, but it doesn’t last long. I slow down on the first long climb and Jim pulls ahead. The last I see of him, he’s disappearing over the next hill with Len and a couple of our other teammates team trailing behind.

It’s hilly here. Not nice hilly, where you can carry momentum from one downhill halfway up the next climb. No, this is nasty hilly, where the climbs are long and slow and the descents short and rare. We’re making up altitude here as we move across the base of the cape, but only in fits and starts. Nothing to do but grind it out. As usual, I fall behind after the first couple of long climbs and watch the rest of the train pull away. I keep a steady cadence, though, and concentrate on staying comfortable in the saddle. I discover that the world looks a lot better if I focus my eyes on the road about ten feet in front of me. That way, even on the worst climbs, I still look like I’m going pretty fast. I also can’t see how much further it is to the top of the hill, so when I get there it’s a pleasant surprise. You have to make your own fun on the hills. This technique seems to work, because soon I find myself pulling even with Danny in the middle of yet another long, slow climb.

“Take a picture,” I call, “because this is the only time you’re going to see me going away uphill.” He grunts something like, “Yeah,” and that’s the last I see of him for about half an hour. I’m alone again with my thoughts and my tired legs.

We hit Miles Standish State Park. Last year, I thought that this would be a gorgeous part of the ride, if I only I could have seen it through the drizzling mist. This year, I can see that it is, in fact, a lovely view, when I can see it through the sweat running into my eyes. The sun is up now and there is no shade. I’m actually hot! Praise God, I’m sweating! The sense of joy stays with me, though I’m still ready to lose the long-sleeved undershirt. There’s no way I’m stopping, though: momentum is everything. At one point, I briefly consider trying to pull the shirt off while I ride. Fortunately, I remember that I’m wearing a helmet and decide to wait. I can imagine the accident report:

“We’re not sure what he was doing, ma’am, but this is how we found him: the bike up in the tree and his shirt turned inside-out over his head. Did your husband have a history of mental problems, ma’am?”

The road through the park is a combination of rolling hills and tooth-rattling bumps, state road funds still apparently being tied up in the Big Dig. I check my odometer. Here we are: 59 miles, the Rubicon between my longest training ride and the rest of this trip. I’m in uncharted territory now.

Look, another hill.

Oh good, it’s a big one.

After a while, I notice that the nose of my seat seems to be shifting a bit more skyward with every large bump. At first the sensation is just uncomfortable, but then it moves somewhere between pleasure and pain. Finally, I can’t sit on it any more for fear of what the next big bump will do to my delicate machinery. I ride standing up for a while, hoping that the rest stop will appear around the next corner. After a mile or so, I give up that idea and pull over to the side of the rode to readjust things. Just as I’m tightening the seat bolt back down, Danny pulls up. We ride the last few miles to the rest stop together, and find half of the group waiting for us. The others are not far behind.

12:15-12:30 PM, Mile (Marker) 58, Rest Stop #3: Kristin and Kevin are here, so now we’ve made up the time that they saved by skipping the first rest stop. Morris is here, too, sitting on a chair and looking decidedly unwell. Considering that his training regimen consisted of, in his words, “A quarter-mile round-trip ride to the elementary school every day,” and one 30-mile ride with us two weeks before the ride, I’m impressed that he made it this far. He’s dizzy and weak, though, so he decides to hitch a ride to the last rest stop, where he’ll meet his son and ride the last 20 miles together. Still no sign of Trent. Knowing his penchant for speed, I’m not surprised, though I also wouldn’t be surprised to find him cramped up on the side of the road after forgetting to stop for water. Not a big fan of the brakes, that Trent.

More flavored water, some bananas, a bagel, and a brief potty stop, and we’re ready to move on. Ori pulls in just as we’re getting ready to go, but he waves us on. He’s not looking much better than Morris, but he’s young. He’ll recover. We’ll see him again.

12:30-1:30 PM, Miles 58-72 (so they say): This time, Kevin takes the lead, proving to be a very good pace leader. He checks regularly to see if everyone’s still with us, and adjusts his pace accordingly. This gives me, in the #2 position, the opportunity to say, “I think we’re losing some people” whenever I feel myself in need of a breather. Hey, it’s not like he can actually see around me, anyway. We set a fast pace and eat up the miles.

Kerry and her friend are long gone, but we pick up another rider through here. Jay has been flitting along just over the horizon for most of the ride, still wearing his fluorescent yellow shell even though everyone else is down to short sleeves. He puts up a hard fight, accelerating when he hears the rumbling whir of our wheels bearing down upon him, showing that strongly male tendency to resent being passed. This is just a guess, but I’ll bet he drives a sports car. Like Jan Ullrich in the mountains, though, he is no match for a coordinated team, and we eventually reel him in. As we pass, Danny issues the by-now-customary “Come ride behind the Big Guy and never pedal again” offer, and Jay falls into line. Now we have a fourth leader.

I pull to the front on a long downhill and decide to keep the lead for a while. I don’t know that I have much choice, to be honest: if I allow myself to drop back in the pack, I’m liable to be dropped altogether. Better to set the pace at this point. I lead on and find myself tearing up the asphalt for five miles or more. There’s nothing like the feeling of seven riders breathing down your neck to keep you going, even when you’re tired. And I only have to pull the “Oops, we’re losing a couple of people” trick twice, on the hills. Once, I’m pretty sure that we actually would have lost some folks if I hadn’t slowed down. Eventually, though, I drop off to the side and wave the next man on, accepting the cheers and applause of my teammates as my do. Of course they have the breath to cheer; they haven’t touched their pedals for the last twenty minutes.

The long, steep climb to the Sagamore bridge doesn’t seem as bad as it did last year, especially after Len points out the spot where he saw a woman pass out from hypothermia. The sun feels good on my back, and I’m thankful that nothing is cramping up. We walk across the bridge, shouting good-natured conversation above the traffic and trying not to be knocked sideways by the sharp gusts of wind, then get back in the saddle for the easy coast to the last rest stop. The Train rides on!

1:30-1:55 PM, Mile 72 (I guess), Rest Stop #4: I’m getting tired now, but I still feel pretty good. I smile as I remember huddling in the entryway of the CVS last year, trying to get warm. Dehydration is the bigger worry this year, thank God. My stomach’s not feeling great, actually, so I lay off the heavier foods. Maybe just a banana or two, and some more of that lovely flavored water. I think I got grapefruit-citrus this time!

Danny checks in with Ori while we eat, and learns that he’s just crossing the bridge. We decide to wait for him, so we spend an extra ten minutes or so at the rest stop. The healthy riders are eager to reach the end now, so those who linger with us are – well, let’s just say that if I were a hungry wolf, these are the caribou I’d be eyeing as my next meal.

Ori rolls in, looking like he’d rather be watching the Sox right about now, and we start getting ready to go. We might be a little eager after all that extra waiting: we huddle outside the port-a-potty, asking him several times if he’s done yet or if he wants us to go on without him. He graciously tells us that he’s hurrying as fast as he can, if we would just wait a few more minutes, and by the way, does anyone have an antiseptic wipe? Finally, we get him back on his bike and drag him out on the road. The sign at the edge of the parking lot reads, “20 miles to go!”

1:55-2:00 PM, Miles 72-90 (or whatever): We’re in the home stretch, and it feels like it. Kevin leads us out of the parking lot again, and I’m close behind. The Patriot Train has become the Pain Train. The first big hill pushes me back into the middle of the pack, but I hang on, standing on the pedals to see if I can make my weight work for me. I remember this hill from last year: it was the last time I saw my team. I am determined not to let it beat me again, and it doesn’t. On the downhill, I pull into the lead, unwilling to sacrifice any momentum in the name of drafting. I lead for the next few miles, willing my legs to keep me in the front.

We swing onto Route 6, and the real climbing begins. That’s it, I’m cooked. I downshift into the granny gears and just try to keep spinning. 11 mph… 9.5 mph… 9 mph…. My team passes me, the woman we passed on the last climb passes me, an old woman with a walker passes me ringing her little bell on the way by. All I ask is that I maintain enough speed to keep from falling over. I stop looking ahead and go back to focusing on the ground ten feet in front of me. Look, I’m zipping along! I can hear Granny’s bell fading in the distance ahead of me. Gravity is a harsh mistress.

For the next five miles or so, I just try to maintain my own pace. I stop looking at the people up ahead, because it just saddens me when they pull away. I concentrate on my legs, finding that cadence where they can keep moving and where the pedals don’t even feel like they’re there. The latter sensation is aided by the numbness in both feet. I settle in, knowing that better terrain lies ahead.

Eventually, I reach the rolling hills that I remember from last year. This is where my third (or was it fourth?) wind kicked in and I found that I could fly down one hill and up the next without losing my pace. This is my territory, I remind myself, and I pick up the tempo, keeping the chain in the big gears on each climb and standing in the pedals to keep the bike moving. Soon, I see Kevin, Kristin, and Jay at the top of the next hill, and they’re drawing closer! On the next downhill I close half of the gap, and then I pass them on the next climb. I don’t have the breath to say anything, and I’m sure as heck not losing my momentum to be polite. I give what I hope is a friendly wave and keep powering on. Jay swings out and follows. He’s welcome to join me, but I hope he realizes that we’re going at my pace, whatever it might be. I can’t do anything else.

Together, Jay and I ride on, taking turns pulling, but not really helping each other as much as we could. We’re too ragged to keep a steady pace, too tired to make the small adjustments necessary to stay in each other’s draft. We’re closely matched in size, though, so I don’t leave him behind on the downhills and he doesn’t completely drop me on the uphills. We are two men riding alone, together, but it helps a little.

I’m starting to feel a little bit of resentment over those extra unmentioned miles, now. I only collected pledges for 90 miles, after all. The rest of these are free. With seven miles to go (or so they say, the big fat liars), we catch sight of some familiar figures: Len, Bob, and Danny, still maintaining something like a paceline. After a couple more hills, we catch them and reform our line. It still has a tendency to break down on every little hill, but we’re drafting again. Team spirit abounds. When I ask Danny if he minds if I throw up on his back wheel, he graciously says no. I don’t do it, but it’s nice to know that I could have if I needed to.

We steam into Hyannis, moving by willpower and sinew alone. The pace slows as the coastal winds hit us full in the face. Even my broad back can’t shield someone from those gusts, and frankly, I don’t feel like taking the brunt of it anyway. Bob seems content to lead us the rest of the way home, so I settle in on his wheel. He’s looking pretty fresh, actually, at least from back here.

The final few turns bring us in sight of the Kennedy compound, and we sprint for the finish. Danny slingshots around me and hits the line first, with the rest of us hot on his heels. Our families are waiting for us there, and my kids come running to greet me. We made it, in just over eight hours, 6:34 in the saddle according to my cycling computer. It also says that we rode just over 95 miles, so that’s the mileage I’m claiming. Anyone who wants to challenge me can go ride the route and tell me what their odometer says.

I’m still exhausted and sore, but I can feel most of my extremities. It was a beautiful day for a ride, and we got a good one in. My teammates and I also raised over $40,000 for Best Buddies, so we have a lot to be proud of.

Oh, and Trent? He finished, too, and still got in ahead of us even after cramping up and having to stop for fluids. He never used the brakes, though: not once.

***
Enjoyed this ride report? Support me in my masochism! http://www.kintera.org/faf/r.asp?t=4&i=104309&u=104309-109444274

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