Note: to get the most enjoyment out of this report, you need a little history. Stop reading right now and go look at the 2005 and 2006 ride reports. OK, now you can keep reading.
If you ever find yourself in the position where you have to ride 96 miles on a bicycle through the pouring rain, then I have a word of advice for you: don't. What are you, nuts? It's cold and wet out there, the road grit sprays up and gets in your eyes, and that "Singin' in the rain" feeling doesn't kick in until well after the hypothermia has set in.
If, on the other hand, you find yourself with no choice but to ride in the rain for 96 miles because many of your wonderful friends and family members have paid for the privilege of hearing about it later, then I have another word for you:
If you have to do this and you want to leave your closest biking buddies sucking damp wind in your wake -- just like they've done to you for the past two years -- then I have two more words for you:
Two years ago, I rode in my first Best Buddies Hyannisport Challenge (technically, it's the "Volvo Hyannisport Challenge," but they're not sponsoring me, so I'll call it what I want). That year, the temperature hovered in the mid-40s, with steady rain and 30-40 mph winds for most of the ride. The theme that year was survival. Last year, against all common sense but inspired by a good cause and that certain prideful masochism endemic to all serious riders, I came back and did it again. We had clear skies, warm temperatures, and a larger team that coasted in my wake through the early miles before discarding me like a used tissue when the terrain turned hilly. So, depending upon your point of view, the theme for last year's ride was either "prudent use of aerodynamics" or "a cheap way to get an easy ride for 75 miles."
This year's theme was… payback.
Don't get me wrong: I love the guys I ride with. We have a great time together, and there's no one else with whom I would rather share a sunny spring day, smelling the lilacs as we roll over the hills of New England. I would give any of them my last inner tube even if it meant I had to walk home, and I trust that they'd do the same for me (OK, I wouldn't really walk home: I'd call my wife for a pickup. Still, the point's valid. Don't nitpick.). They're my buddies, and we consider our biking time together to be a sacred thing. Still, there's one thing I grew really tired of seeing over the past couple of years, and that's the sight of their butts receding in the distance over a hill. Sure, they were very supportive when I caught up somewhere on the other side. There they'd be, circling a rotary and waving or sitting nonchalantly on the side of the road eating a Power Bar as though they thought, "Hey, he's gonna be a while; let's have a picnic while we wait!" But it was the kind of support that you give the fat guy in the jogging suit at the high school track. "It's nice that he tries. He's very brave to be out here with the real athletes. Let's encourage him before he has a heart attack."
No more. For her birthday this spring, my wonderful wife -- who has my undying admiration and love, and not just because of this (but maybe a little) -- asked for one present for her birthday. She wanted me to buy a new bike for myself, a fast one. After the appropriate amount of hemming and hawing, I complied and bought a Cannondale SIX13, the fastest, stiffest bike you can get on a normal person's salary. It rides like a dream and, even better, it climbs like a monster. When I jump on the pedals, it takes off and I have to hang on to make sure I don't get left behind. See, all this time I thought that I was just a slow rider. It turns out that it wasn't me, it was my bike. Well, maybe it was me a little, too, but the bike definitely had something to do with it.
So this year, I came ready to ride. The Blue Streak and I -- I named the bike after my wife -- were going to show people what real climbing looked like. We were going to glow in the morning sun as we streaked by people on the flats, gleaming like a jewel as the sun sparkled off the waves of Nantucket Sound…
Huh? Oh, right: the weather.
Funny thing about spring in New England: the only thing you can guarantee is that it won't be what you expect. 85 degrees in mid-February? A distinct possibility. Snow in April? Happens all the time. Good weather for an annual event that someone who lives in Florida set for the third Saturday in May? About one year in seven, and we already had ours.
So Saturday, May 19 broke with a soggy thunderclap. Rain overflowed the gutters as I loaded my pristine bike onto the back of my car. Before I pulled out of the driveway, she was already dirtier than she had ever been and I could only pray that things got better. I had been praying, in fact, all week, and had encouraged my team to do the same. I looked on the Internet for prayers for good weather and found one that General Patton had used during the Battle of the Bulge. Granted, we weren't killing Germans, but it still seemed like a good cause. I was sure that God would grant us the weather we wanted.
The Lord works in mysterious ways. In this case, he worked through an intermittent soaking drizzle. The sun was in our hearts though, if not yet in the sky, as we met at Danny's house at 5:15 to drive to the John F. Kennedy Library for the start of our odyssey.
Enough prologue: on with the ride.
6:30 AM, Mile 0: Registration is a snap, but everyone seems to be loitering inside until the last possible moment before going out into the rain to start the ride. I'm wearing a thermal undershirt, my Best Buddies jersey, and my rain jacket on top, along with my helmet and a helmet cover. That helmet cover will turn out to be the best $20 I have ever spent, since it keeps my head warm and the rain from running down my neck all day long. On the bottom, I'm wearing tights over my bike shorts and some uncomfortably tight rain pants. I thought I'd worn these pants before, but apparently not. I look like a neon Ricky Martin, and I'm fairly unsure that I'll be able to get on my bike, much less pedal. The rain pants go back in the duffel bag. I'll have to trust that my tights can hold in my body heat even if they get wet.
I have my eyes peeled for celebrities and spot two: Greg German, who played "Fish" on Ally McBeal, and Maureen McCormick, a.k.a. Marcia Brady. I'll take 'em. We're entertained by a "Buddies Band" made up of some of the special needs kids from a local school. They play pretty well and their enthusiasm carries any sour notes. This is why we ride, so let's get to it.
7:30 AM, Mile 0: We line up at the starting line, more than 500 strong. Over 600 people registered, but it looks like some have chosen to write their checks and run. Wimps. I hope none of the riders from the big law firms had their friends pledge a dollar a mile, or else they'll be liable for fraud. I line up near the front, having learned from last year's experience that the "cattle in the chute" feeling only gets worse the farther back you are. I had hoped that some of my team would join me, but they seem to be near the back. Oh, look: Danny's talking to someone. What a surprise. They'll just have to catch up, because I can't get back there now.
Senator John Kerry is riding with us again. He also did the ride two years ago, when Anthony Shriver joked that the 2009 Best Buddies ride would start at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Oops. This year, Kerry gives a quick wave after he's introduced and gets on his bike, flanked by two burly fellows who apparently drew the short straw for guard detail today.
Finally, at ten minutes to eight, we're off. 96 miles to go.
7:50-9:05 AM, Miles 0-16: The first ten miles seem slower than usual this year. They said that we'd maintain an easy 10 mph with our police escort, but my speedometer rarely tops 8. It's not quite slow enough so that you're in danger of falling over, but it's pretty darn close. I stay near the front, assuming that my teammates will be able to find my broad yellow back whenever they're ready. Soon, I come across a couple of them: Morris, a three-year veteran like myself, and David, who's doing it for the first time. David's riding a hybrid, and for some reason I can't get it through my waterlogged brain that he's with us. I keep zipping past him and then trying to figure out who's calling my name. It must be something about the upright profile; I'm too used to locking in on a hunched figure who looks like he's trying to convince himself that this is fun. David's just riding too easy.
Morris and I stick together for the most part, weaving through some of the slower riders as we go. Senator Kerry zips by about five miles into the ride and we follow him for a while. He has a really nice bike, but so do his escorts, so we give them a healthy cushion. Still, it's fun to think that I can now claim to have ridden with Senator Kerry, even if we never spoke.
Maureen McCormick rides next to the crowd for a while, hanging out of the window of a red Volvo and chatting with the riders. She pulls up next to us just as we ride by a group of about a dozen guys pulled off to the side of the road and peeing on a fence, still seated on their bikes.
"Aren't you glad you got here in time to see that?" I call.
"Yes, I'm a lucky girl."
It is at this point that I decide that I'm going to wait until the first rest stop before I relieve the growing pressure in my own bladder. No sense making a spectacle of myself. I'm pretty sure I'd fall off the bike if I tried that, anyway.
Finally, the escort ends and we're free to open it up a little. The racers have all gathered at the front of the pack by now and they accelerate as soon as the police cars peel off. I'm not far behind, so I latch onto a small breakaway group as they pick up speed. Look at me! I'm riding with the fast kids! I'm pushing a bit to keep up, but it still feels good to stretch my muscles and burn off the energy pent up during the slow riding. Plus, those two cups of coffee and the bottle of Gatorade have all passed through my body now and I really need to get to the rest stop before the lines for the port-a-potties grow too long.
The group I've been riding with whooshes past the first rest stop, so I give them a mental wave goodbye as I pull in. I doubt that I'll see them again, but it was fun to be a part of the race for a few miles and now I know that I can keep up.
9:05-9:25 AM, Mile 16, Rest Stop #1: At the first stop, we establish a pattern that will continue throughout the rest of the ride: I arrive first and wait for the rest of my team. Morris gets in next, only a minute or two behind me, and Danny and Bob pull in soon after. By then, I've already made use of the facilities and am helping myself to some of the fine pastries in the food tent. The rain has slacked off and the celebrities are all waiting for us as we arrive. I see that this year we have not one but three Miss Teen USA contestants: the Misses Vermont, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island. None of them appear to be riding anywhere, though, so I still have to give credit to last year's Miss Teen USA for actually getting on a hybrid and riding at least some portion of the route.
On each food table, a large sign reads, "Food is for Riders," and I am left to wonder: do they have a problem with snack thieves around here? Are there bands of senior citizens roaming the South Shore in search of free cookies? Perhaps the volunteers ate too much last year, greeting the late riders with nothing but crumbs and guilty looks. Or maybe the key word is "Riders," and they want to make sure that any walkers who roam off of the Avon Breast Walk course don't slip into our rest stops and eat our food. I will have to ponder this for the next 80 miles.
Morris is antsy to get going, so he leaves while we wait for more of our team to arrive. For a guy who barely trained for this ride, he's sure in a hurry. We greet a few more people before we saddle up for the second leg.
9:25-10:40 AM, Miles 16-36: Danny, Bob, David and I leave together, calling encouragement to our other teammates as we go. We won't see most of them again until the end of the day. David can't keep our pace on his hybrid, so he waves us on after a mile or two, ready to settle into his own pace. Danny, Bob, and I try to establish some kind of a paceline despite the gritty spray coming off of our wheels. I find that if I position myself just right, I can catch the spray on my shoulder while still getting some kind of draft off the guy in front of me. It's easier to do this behind Bob than Danny, because Danny's can't keep a straight line to save his life. I can't tell if this is because he's trying to dodge the spray off of Bob's wheel, he's lost his sense of equilibrium, or he's seeing tiny leprechauns in the road and trying to hit every one.
"Danny, could you try to avoid the puddles please?" I call, only half joking.
"Sure. Which ones would you like me to dodge: the deep ones or the muddy ones?"
Sigh. It's going to be a long, wet ride.
The rain has picked up again. On the bright side, the sheeting rain masks the feel of the road spray hitting my face. On the down side, my glasses are starting to fog up. I have two choices: if I push the glasses close to my face, they keep the spray out of my eyes but they fog up; if I pull them down and let the air come through, the fogging clears up but the rain hits me in the eyes. I alternate between the two for a while, unwilling to give up the eye protection altogether.
We hit the Marshfield hills and start to spread out. I find that everyone is going too slowly for me on the climbs, so I step up to the front again. We steadily pass group after group, including one led by a number 12. His number marks him as one of the ride's charter members, but I don't know who he is. He has quite a crowd around him and he seems to be setting the pace. Not fast enough, though: we pass them on a downhill and move ahead.
I try to set an easy pace for my team without sacrificing too much of my own momentum on each climb, but it's not long before I'm pulling away. We're still close enough together when we pass a disabled rider -- a reddish blur by the side of the road through my foggy lenses -- that I can hear Danny call, "Morris!" Morris has a flat. I pull off the road at the bottom of the hill and wait for Danny and Bob, who stopped to check on him. He has already called the support truck, so help is on the way. Not only will they fix his tire, but they'll also drive him ahead a few miles so he doesn't lose too much time on the rest of the team. Talk about full service. Depending upon how I feel, I may consider getting a flat myself around mile 85.
We continue onward, with me leading. Number 12 and his crew passed us again while we were checking on Morris, and I swear that they looked a little smug. I pick up the pace in an effort to catch them again. It's treacherous, heads-down riding, so I don't have much attention to spare for those behind me. I know that they're there, though, because I can hear their tire splashing. At least, I think they're there. After a few more hilly miles, Danny looks back and calls out, "Hey, we lost Bob!"
"Really? I didn't think he looked that tired. All right, let's just slow down and let him catch up. It would hurt more to stop right now than to just coast." We take a couple of easy miles, but Bob still hasn't caught us before we hit the next rest stop, so we pull in there to wait.
A few minutes later, Bob wheels in. He looks a little peeved. "I dropped my chain back there on the hill. You guys didn't even wait for me?"
"We slowed down," I reply. "Look, I didn't even stop for Morris, so consider yourself lucky."
10:40-10:55 AM, Mile 36, Rest Stop #2: I'm still feeling strong, so we eat quickly and are soon ready to go. I grab a banana, a cookie, and, after a moment's hesitation, a ham rollup sandwich. Bad move. I'll taste that ham for the next 15 miles. Morris catches up to us just as we're ready to leave, and after a quick bite he's ready to go again. Now we are four.
10:55 AM - 12:30 PM, Miles 36-61: This is my favorite part of this ride. We cruise through scenic Duxbury with its little brick post office and then southwest into Plymouth before riding through Miles Standish State Forest. On a sunny day, it's beautiful country. Today, I can only assume that the scenery is still there, somewhere beyond the foggy horizon of my sunglasses. Nonetheless, it's a pleasant ride. The rain even begins to slack off, so now we can lift up our heads as we ride.
Morris, who caught up with us again at the rest stop, rides like he's attached to the group with a rubber band: lagging behind as we travel along the flats and then sprinting ahead on the hills, only to lag behind again. It's exhausting just to watch him, and I worry that he's not going to make it the entire way. Bob and Danny are looking OK, but as the hills begin again they start to lose speed. I'm feeling strong, so I decide that it's time to strike out on my own. I stand up and attack the hill, leaving them behind.
The next 20 miles pass in a joyful blur. The sky is still gray, but the rain has stopped falling. I finally ditch the sunglasses to that I can enjoy the scenery as I ride into the forest, and I rejoice that I can spend a day doing this. My legs are strong, the pine trees smell fresh and resiny, and I am passing people one after another. The rolling hills flow past, and at the top of each one I choose my next target. That woman in the blue windbreaker, laboring up the next hill: gone in a flash. The three riders chatting as they spin along: whoosh. There's number 12 again, with his entourage of five riders. I slide in behind them on a flat section and then slingshot by on the next climb. The best part of all of this? I'm passing them on the way up the hills. That has never happened before. Not once. The Blue Streak and I are on a roll.
The euphoria runs out before the trees do, and it starts to get a little harder to climb. I look at my odometer. I have now ridden further than any of my training rides, so it's no wonder that I'm a little tired. I'm not done yet, though: I just need to switch tactics. A little less attacking and a little more spinning, if you please. Rather than seeing how quickly I can reel in the next rider, I let them come to me. I try to find that easy pace where it feels like the weight of my own feet -- a noticeable weight now, with an extra two or three pounds of water filling my tights and shoe covers -- is pushing the pedals down and I'm just keeping them moving. I settle on the saddle as comfortably as wet spandex and the bumpy road will allow and just try to enjoy the ride. Before long I spot the pond that sits in the middle of the forest and I know that I'm only a mile from the rest stop. I pour on a little bit more speed and zip by the well-wishers who have come out to cheer us into the next stop. Suspecting that I'll have some time to rest before my buddies join me, I park my bike and slip into the food tent for some well-deserved hot cider.
12:35-1:00 PM, Mile 61, Rest Stop #3: I have moved on from cider to Gatorade by the time Danny pulls in, and I'm done eating when Bob arrives with Morris. David arrived seemingly out of nowhere while I was waiting for everyone else. He's still smiling, and I'm starting to suspect that he's hitchhiking between rest stops. Bob, on the other hand, is gray, but I can't tell whether it's from the road grime or that's his actual skin color. Either way, he doesn't look good.
"I just hit the wall back there," he mutters. "This is really starting to hurt." There are some Clif Shot gel packs on the food table and I urge him to eat one or two, along with a cup of coffee. After a few minutes, the color returns to his face.
Morris has been at the rest stop all of three minutes before he's itching to leave again. I learn the reason for his rush when he asks to borrow Danny's phone: he's meeting his son around mile 65 so that they can ride the last thirty miles together, and his daughter's planning to join both of them for the last ten. His soon-to-be-ex-wife drove them down, and it appears that Morris underestimated how long it would take to do the ride. The family does not seem to be enjoying the wait. Morris makes one phone call, punctuated by the repeated phrase, "I'll get there as soon as I can," and jumps on his bike again.
I'm ready to go, too, and number 12 and his posse arrived a few minutes after Bob. I don't really feel like passing them again, so as soon as I can herd everyone back onto their bikes, we're off.
1:00-2:00, Miles 61-76: Danny, Bob, and I pull out together for the fourth leg of the trip. Not far along the road, we pass David, who left before us. He's looking comfortable, grooving along to the tunes on his headphones. He gives a friendly wave as we pass by. This is the shortest leg of the ride, with a long walk across the Sagamore Bridge at the end. I'm raring to go, so I set a hard pace coming out of the State Forest. Bob, invigorated by the combination of maltodextrose and caffeine, is a new man. He and I take turns pulling as we zoom along beside Route 3, the water on our left. A few miles farther on, we spot Morris in the distance, walking his bike up a hill. He's still going as fast as he can. I hope his family appreciates his effort when he arrives.
There's a long, very steep hill around mile 69 that has all of us panting for breath by the time we reach the top. We lose Danny about halfway up, and as we pass the aptly named White Cliffs Country Club we wave to Morris' family, waiting by the side of the road. "He's coming!" we gasp. Bob and I carry on through the remaining miles until we gratefully dismount for the walk across the bridge. After that, it's a short sprint to the final rest stop.
2:00-2:15, Mile 76, Rest Stop #4: Our last stop of the day is catered by Dunkin' Donuts, so I am greeted by the welcome sight of dozens of donuts laid out on the food table, and the coffee is actually hot. Oh, blessed warmth! I grab another banana for good measure, but I hold off on any cookies. I'm feeling pretty good, so I don't want to weigh my gut down with too much food over the home stretch.
Two Dunkin' Donuts workers are standing next to their big event truck holding free Coolatas, and they're about as popular as a Yankees fan at Fenway. I guess someone in the corporate office misread the weather report.
Danny and David come in five minutes after me and Bob. Everyone's starting to look tired, but we're all in good spirits. David is nervous about "the access road." Apparently, some of the veteran riders have been telling stories about this road, the Heartbreak Hill of the Best Buddies ride, and how it breaks your spirit with only 18 miles to go. I flash back to previous years, and quotes from my other ride reports come back to me:
"We stick together for a couple of miles, but on the first long hill I fade"Nah, it's not that bad," I reassure him. "Just keep pedaling."
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.... As I chug onward, I pass
several other riders who all look the way I feel: dead tired and
"That's it, I'm cooked.... 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
I give Danny a minute to go to the bathroom before I drag him back on the bike. It's time to finish this thing!
2:15-3:15, Miles 76-96: Amazingly, I still have energy to spare. My legs are tired, but nothing's cramping… yet. The adrenaline seems to be keeping the regular aches and pains at bay, as well, and as I set a comfortable pace for the three of us I am surprised to discover that I'm actually looking forward to the last twenty miles of this ride. As the climbs begin again, I stand on the pedals and charge ahead, mentally wishing my teammates farewell and a good ride. I try not to push too hard, because common sense and experience remind me that these aren't easy miles. Still, by the time I hit the access road it's all ahead full speed.
The entrance to the service road off of Route 6, 77 miles into the ride, is my personal Alpe d'Huez. This hill has broken me twice, but this year I'm ready for it. I grunt out a thank you to the policeman holding traffic for me and stand up to attack the hill. It pushes back, but now I am the stronger combatant. As I climb, I am intensely grateful for those miles I spent climbing up and down the hills in Weston, for the regular charges up Strawberry Hill in Concord, and especially for Great Brook Farm in Carlisle, with the steep climbs 35 miles into my training loop. All of those miles have prepared me for this one, and this year it belongs to me.
Which isn't to say it doesn't hurt. My legs are on fire, as are my lungs, as I reach the top of the first climb and turn the corner to see… another climb. Right, this was the part that I hated. I settle into the saddle for a few moments and click down to an easier gear, spinning while I wait for the burning in my calves to ease. OK, that's better. Back up on pedals, and over the hill we go.
After that, it's all a steady stream of rolling hills and rapid descents. I attack each climb with all of the energy that I have and then gather my strength on the back side. Soon I am pedaling even on the downhill stretches to build up more momentum for the next climb. The riders are scattered now, as each person settles into whatever pace he can maintain and just tries to get to the finish. The Blue Streak and I reel in every rider we see until there are no more people in front of us.
I am in Hyannisport now, and I can taste the finish line. The signs have pulled me onward: "15 miles to go!" "10 miles to go!" "5 miles to go!" The countdown has begun as I follow the signs to Craigville beach. In the distance I see a white arch. The finish line! I pour on what speed I have left and unzip my jacket, just like the riders on the Tour de France, prepared to show my colors as I zoom across the finish. I imagine my family cheering for me as I come in. Funny that I can't hear them yet…. No matter: only a half a mile to go now. I push harder. The arch draws nearer. Around its edges I can now make out some words, but none of them is "Finish." It reads:
"Welcome to the Kennedy Compound. Only two more miles to go!"
What a dirty trick.
Suddenly, everything hurts. My knees ache, my thighs feel like someone has been punching them for hours, and my shoulders are knotted with strain. The adrenaline that has carried me is gone, spent in a false finish. After a few minutes I zip up my jacket again, uncomfortable with the amount of drag it is producing. Grimly, I settle back to my task and concentrate on finishing, this time for real.
The last two miles are hard, with several climbs into the teeth of the wind, but I manage to regain some of my bounce before the end. I see what looks like a finish line ahead. Just to be sure, I sneak a glance at my odometer before I stand up for a final sprint. OK, this looks like the real thing. I surge in, settling back to raise my hands in the air as I see my family cheering at the finish line. I did it, and this time it felt good.
My official time by the clock is 7:25. My cycling computer registered 6:05:45 for actual time in the saddle and moving. My legs are ready for a rest and my back for a complimentary massage. As I hug my wife and kids and cheer the arrival of the rest of my team, I am proud, once again, to have completed this ride. It was a great day, and it served a fabulous cause. Later, when we go to the party, I watch several of the "buddies," including Danny's son Aaron, dancing by the stage and singing with Rick Springfield, and I think:
What a great way to spend a day.
Loved this report? Wish you'd been there? It's too late to ride, but not too late to support mentally challenged kids across the world. Go to my rider page and make a pledge!
Tuesday, May 29, 2007
Note: to get the most enjoyment out of this report, you need a little history. Stop reading right now and go look at the 2005 and 2006 ride reports. OK, now you can keep reading.