2009 Best Buddies Hyannisport Challenge Ride Report

At last, here's the promised ride report. It's a few weeks late, but hopefully entertaining for all that. If you haven't seen the previous reports, you can find a full list of links here. Enjoy!

So, here we are: my fifth Best Buddies Hyannisport Challenge! Looking back over the past five years of ride reports, I notice that the content has changed. The first couple of years were all about the pain: riding a long distance was a visceral challenge (much like living in Arlington) full of trials, cramps, and long, painful climbs. Just to finish was a victory, whether I did it alone or with others. The fact that I finished the first couple of rides alone, trailing behind many of my teammates, may have had something to do with that. Then I figured it out: new bike, new training regimen, new ability to maintain a paceline (did I mention new bike?). Suddenly, the tone of the ride logs shifted: it wasn’t about survival anymore, but rather camaraderie. The pleasure of riding with others for long distances replaced the animalistic joy of survival, so the story of the ride changed accordingly. We still had the physical challenges (bad weather, road grit, the occasional stomach cramp), but the personalities of my fellow riders began to dominate the storyline.

This year continues and extends that trend, with a little old-fashioned pain thrown in for good measure. The miles flew by in a blur (most of them, anyway), the people provided the entertainment (until they dropped me), and I expanded the team to include an audience of thousands (at least in theory) via the magic of cellular technology, Twitter, and Facebook. So, let us begin our journey:

5:30 AM:
We gather at Danny’s house before driving to the Kennedy Library together. Morris will meet us here this year, so we don’t have the usual rented pickup to carry everyone’s bikes. This time, I’m driving, with Bob and Tyler’s bikes joining mine on the rack on back of my car. Bob and Tyler join me in the car as well, with Tyler assuring me that he knows how to get there. Holding the ride two weeks later already has one side benefit: the sun is already up. Previous years had the air of a secret meeting held by an incredibly inept group of conspirators, with 10-15 people muttering to each other in the dark, knocking over bicycles, and generally making a racket. Now it just feels like we’re going on a nice day trip. Except for the rain, of course, which tells me that it really is Best Buddies time.

6:45-7:30 AM, Mile 0:
My first status update to my legions of followers (all 95 of them):

6:53 AM: “At registration for the Best Buddies Challenge. Got my jersey, my bagel, & my coffee. Did I mention it’s RAINING?!?”

Yep, it really is Best Buddies time. The Buddies band is performing on the bandstand, the registration tables are humming, and riders are milling around, eating bagels, sipping coffee, and stretching. The line for the bathroom grows longer by the minute. Tyler, always ready with the pro cycling tips, is trying to explain the finer points of Vaseline usage to Bob:

Tyler: This is why I shave my legs.
Bob: Are you sure that you want to be telling me this?
Tyler: It’s for days like this.
Bob: You shave in case it rains?
Tyler: Yeah, because then you can just put Vaseline on your legs and you don’t have to worry about wearing rain pants. If you did that with hair on your legs it would just be gross.
Bob: And that’s the only use for the Vaseline?
Tyler: Very funny. Actually, I know a few other lube tricks. Want to hear them?
Bob: I have to go register now.

Registration over, we linger in the dry lobby until the second call to the start, then troop out into the light drizzle. It’s warm enough that most people have decided to leave the rain gear behind, but there are a few dubious glances at the sky as we line up. This year, our captain Danny, along with a few other top fundraisers, is invited to the honorary “pole position” at the front of the pack. The rest of us are well back from the starting line, so we can’t hear most of what’s said. I snap a picture of the crowd and send a quick update, anticipating an imminent start:

7:09 AM: And we're off!

Whoops! I forgot that, like Danny Time, Event Time bears little relationship to the rest of the world. In Event Time terms, “We’re about to start” means, “Get on your bikes and stand still while we talk for another15 or 20 minutes. If you could try to get your muscles to stiffen up completely by the time we fire the starting gun, that would be most appreciated.”

And so we stand. And stand. And sing the national anthem, and stand. And now it’s time for the traditional Parade of Waving Celebrities. David Spade steps up and Anthony Shriver thanks him for donating $50,000 to Best Buddies. Anthony also thanks him for getting up so early to come out and be with us, but from the look of him, I’m not sure he ever went to bed. Miss Teen USA and her fellow teen, Miss Massachusetts, wave prettily. Finally, Verne Troyer (AKA Mini-Me), trots up to fire the starting gun, and:

7:27 AM: “OK, NOW we're off...”

Finally, the 2009 Best Buddies Hyannisport Challenge has begun. 100 miles to go!

7:30-8:45 AM, Miles 0-17:
The first miles roll by easily, with the pack following our police escort at a leisurely roll. We seem to be moving faster this year, but I fail to catch the foreshadowing and instead enjoy the fact that I don’t have to concentrate to stay upright on my bike. Bob and Tyler and I find each other in the crowd and stick together, keeping a lookout for the rest of the team but not finding anyone. Tyler offers to stay with us this year, saying, “Last year I rode with the guys at the front of the pack, the racers. Those guys were fast! They were flying, going 30 miles an hour or faster on the flats, and everyone has to take a turn in the front. I kept up with them for the first 50 miles or so, but I knew I wouldn’t make it more than 70 miles at that pace.”

“Only 70 miles, huh?” I ask, thinking, that’s about 50 more than I could do at that speed. “We’ll try to take it easy on you, then.”

“Yeah, this should be a fun ride today. We’re just out here to enjoy ourselves, right?”

After about twelve miles, our escort drops off and we are free to set our own speed. The racers quickly pull away, never to be seen again. Bob, Tyler, and I find a comfortable rhythm and the miles fly by. It isn’t long before we reach the first rest stop.

8:45-9:00, 1st Rest Stop:

8:47 AM: “1st rest stop. Miss Mass and Miss Teen USA are here to greet us. I forgot my water bottles, but Tyler hooked me up.”

8:51 AM: “Sign on one rider's back – ‘I'm OK, just slow.’"

The first stop is chaotic, with riders rolling in and out and celebrities and other notables milling around. Maureen McCormack (of Marcia Brady fame) is there, as always, smiling and chatting with riders. Anthony Shriver comes over to say hello to Danny, and we reintroduce ourselves. He rode the first segment, but he’ll be needed at the 50- and 20-mile ride starts, so he’ll continue on by car from here. Verne Troyer is here again, sitting in a lawn chair and shouting encouragement to the riders as they start the second leg, and the Miss Teens are posing for pictures with a lot of men who are old enough to know better.

About 45 minutes into the ride, I realized that I had left my water bottles packed in my bag, so Tyler loaned me one of his. Now, we are both riding with one bike bottle and one PowerAde bottle. I stuck them both in my bottle cages, but Tyler doesn’t trust an odd-shaped bottle to stay put at the speeds he travels, so he stuck it in his back jersey pocket, along with some fruit and several free samples of nutrition bars. As we prepare to leave, he looks like he just robbed a grocery store.

Big Tom and Little Tom are here, too, but not for long. They stick around long enough to greet the first few Patriot Pedalers and then head out. We’re eager to keep going, too, and we establish what will be our pattern for the rest of the day: Tyler, astride his bike, waits for me to round up the rest of the team. After several minutes of shouting, “Danny! We’re leaving!” I give up and get my bike as well, at which point Danny begins to gather his things. Eventually, we grow tired of waiting and leave with whoever’s ready. This time, however, there’s some confusion: Tyler thinks we’ve left without him, so he sprints ahead while the rest of the team is still gathering. We won’t see him again until the next rest area.

9:00-10:05, Miles 17-37:
Bob, Danny, and I, plus Pete, a new member of the team, ride out together and quickly settle into the best paceline we can manage on the gritty roads. The rain has stopped, but the roads remain sloppy, forcing us to stay out of each other’s spray and take corners carefully. Still, we make good time and I can feel my muscles starting to loosen up as I look forward to a pleasant day of riding. Danny, Bob, and I are used to riding together, so we keep the line tight and chat even as we ride quickly through the rolling hills of the South Shore. Pete is still getting used to riding in groups, so he joins us in spurts, sprinting up beside someone and falling back again.

This is one of my favorite sections of the ride. We breeze past beaches and cranberry bogs, always trending downhill. The pace is quick, our muscles are fresh, and I am optimistic that this will be the easiest ride yet. I miss having Big Tom to draft behind, but Bob is a reasonable substitute, if a bit skinny to present a reasonable slipstream. Danny, as usual, invites other riders to join in behind me, calling, “Come on, there’s room for at least one more person back here, and you barely have to pedal at all!” I’d like to think that he’s complimenting my strength as a rider, but we all know that it’s the barge-like width of my shoulders that he really appreciates, and the vacuum that they create behind me. Oh well, you take your compliments where you can get them.

Last year, we averaged about 20 mph on this section of road, and cruised through some sections at a steady 25 mph. This year may not be quite that fast, but we still set a sizzling pace. We pass group after group, calling out friendly greetings and the occasional request for space on the way by. I take the lead for much of the time, knowing that I need to serve my time while my legs are fresh. If the past is any guide, I’ll need someone else in front of me later.

Towards the end of the segment, I realize that Pete hasn’t led at all yet. Not wanting him to miss out on the experience, I call him up to the front. He sprints up from the back and… keeps sprinting. I pedal furiously to catch him, calling, “You’re supposed to drop back to our pace when you get to the front!” Pete looks over his shoulder, shrugs apologetically, and slows down so that the others can catch up. Within minutes though, he is back to sprinting. Maybe he just has a fast song on his iPod. We do our best to keep up, but the paceline is gone. It’s every man for himself, at least for the moment.

Our disjointed version of the town line sprint ends a few minutes later as we sight the second rest stop. Pete looks back and grins. “That wasn’t too hard!”

10:05-10:20 AM, 2nd Rest Stop:

10:05 AM: 2nd rest stop. Just caught up to Tyler. No sign of Big or Little Tom. Sun's out now and it's getting steamy.

Beautiful Duxbury, how I love to stop and rest in the shade of your trees. I know that we’re only one third of the way through the ride, but this is where it starts to feel like we’re on the Cape, so it feels much closer to the end. The Toms have ridden on, but Tyler is already here and waiting for us so we make a quick turnaround. After a few minutes of wandering in the shade, eating a little, and rehydrating, we start trying to leave. As usual, this involves a few seconds of strapping up and getting on the bikes and several minutes of yelling, “Danny! Let’s go!” Finally, after we threaten to ride on without him, we gather Danny into the fold and start moving: Bob, Tyler, Danny, Pete, and me.

10:20-11:50 AM, Miles 37-64:
Tyler is clearly feeling his oats now. In a burst of cheerful sadism, he leads us out at a 20+ mph pace. Danny and Pete quickly drop off to find their own speed, but Bob and I hang in there. Even drafting behind someone, I can feel myself pushing to keep up. There is none of the usual sense of resting in the back, then working when it’s my turn to pull: it’s work a little, then work a lot. Yet I press on, determined that if Bob can do it, so can I. Given the set of Bob’s shoulders, I’m willing to bet that he’s thinking the same thing.

At this point, we must pause and consider Bob. At age 53, Bob is one of the older riders on our team. Among the “fast” crew, he’s the oldest, something he never lets us forget. With age comes a variety of maladies, or so we frequently hear, so with his back, neck, knee and assorted joint problems, it’s a miracle that Bob even gets on a bike, much less rides 100 miles. At least that’s what he says, right before he takes off and leads the pack for most of a 45 mile ride. Among the sandbaggers on the team, Bob is the baggiest.

This year, Bob wasn’t sure if he was even going to do the ride at all. He injured his foot over the winter, so badly that he could barely walk on it. He saw a variety of specialists and received recommendations ranging from drastic surgery requiring a six-month recovery period to the medical equivalent of “rub some dirt on it and get back in there, kid.” Still, Bob rode when he could, testing the foot to see how much it could take and extending his already legendary pain threshold to new levels. A couple of weeks before the ride, after several 70-mile training sessions to make sure he could take it, Bob finally decided to join us. He wasn’t sure he would make it, of course, and assured all of us that he would need to stop at the 50-mile point to make sure that he was able to continue. We smiled politely because we had been taught to respect our elders, but we all knew that we would be following Bob to the finish line.

So here we are at the 50-mile mark. Specifically, blowing through the new 50-mile rest stop that was added this year to provide a starting point for the new half-century ride. We wave as we fly through the parking lot, but we have no intention of stopping, because four stops were good enough for us last year, so doggone it, they’ll be good enough for us this year too. I look longingly at all the happy people at the refreshment tables, but keep pedaling. Bob makes no mention of stopping to see how he’s doing, as I knew he wouldn’t. He only hunches his shoulders further and speeds up. Halfway there.

This is, in some ways, the hardest part of the ride. Somewhere in this segment, I always reach the point where I leave my training mileage behind and roam into that special territory between training and the Big Event. Here is where I must take stock, reminding my body that we have only begun to suffer together, and there are many more miles to come. I must dig into those reserves that I have built up over all of those training rides and say, “I did it before and I can do it again.” Then I must say it again, because I don’t always believe myself the first time.

This year, that process is a little bit easier because they have changed the route. Now we get to go around some of the worst roads in Miles Standish State Park, trading the joy of riding uphill over frost heaves and potholes for a series of rolling hills on the perimeter of the park. We are still setting a blistering pace though, so I am grateful for the change. As we finally charge into the park, past the two ponds in the middle, and on to the 3rd rest stop, I am amazed by how early it is and by the fact that I am still with both Bob and Tyler. Bob looks like I feel: tired but still able to keep going. Tyler looks like he’s saving himself for the real race later on.

11:50 AM-12:00 PM, 3rd Rest Stop:

11:50 AM: 3rd stop. Between Tyler's blistering pace and Bob's competitive nature, we left everyone else behind. Caught the Toms, too.

Our hard charge through the middle of the ride has a couple of benefits. First, there’s still plenty of food and free swag waiting for us at the rest stop, and we stock up on both. Second, we caught up with the even faster portion of our team: The Toms and another one of Tyler’s Quad Cycle racing teammates. Tyler’s teammate assures me that, no, he doesn’t hate me or Bob. He just always rides like that. I guess that’s good to know.

The Toms have already rested, so they’re raring to go. I quickly refill my water bottle and grab a bite to eat. Since it’s lunch time, this stop has small sandwiches. I grab one that turns out to be turkey and eggplant and, after a moment’s hesitation, wolf it down. I haven’t always had the best results when mixing heavy foods and long rides, but it smells delicious and a man can only eat so many bagels before they lose their appeal. I’m sure I’ll be fine.

A little more wandering reveals a miniature convenience store/trade show set up on some tables near the food tent. One table holds ChapStick, sunscreen, and various sundries (all free), and another holds – oh joy! – free water bottles! I quickly grab two and return Tyler’s loaner to him. He’s grateful for the opportunity to stop carrying a PowerAde bottle in his jersey pocket, since that leaves more room for him to stuff in free samples from the drugstore table. To be polite, I fill one of the bottles with Cytomax, which is the company that’s giving the bottles away. After one drink, I discreetly dump it out, since it tastes like chilled horse urine.

Ten minutes after we arrived, we’re off again. My legs aren’t thrilled with the quick turnaround, but I’m glad to be riding with my team again.

12:00-1:02 PM, Miles 64-80:

12:48 PM: That turkey sandwich at the last rest stop was a bad idea...

Some people learn their lessons the first time. Others require a repeat. And then there are the stubborn ones, the ones who repeatedly think, “That was a fluke, it won’t happen again. The circumstances are completely different now.” These people are often known as knotheads, stubborn old cusses, or just plain fools. Or in this case: me.

I smelled those sandwiches and I thought, “Remember what happened a couple of years ago when you ate one of those?” I reminded myself of last year, when I fought stomach problems for forty miles. I told myself that even a regular breakfast sits like a cannonball in my stomach when I ride. Then I smelled the sandwiches again and thought, “Oh, it will be fine. What harm can a little sandwich do?” The more fool I.

The first few miles are fine, as I settle in behind Big Tom and enjoy both a slightly slower pace and the chance to draft behind a man who rides like a steam engine, steady and unwavering. At the first big hill, though, when I get out of my saddle and stand on the pedals to climb, I feel the first grumblings, that unexpected weight bouncing in my belly, and the pangs of food that requires more attention than my straining system can provide at the moment. I strain to keep up, but soon I must make a choice: drop back and take it slowly or pull over and puke. For the moment, I choose the former. I hate throwing up.

Bob takes pity on me and hangs back while the others chug away into the distance. Whether or not he’s using me as an excuse to rest himself, I’m grateful for the company. I tell him what I’m dealing with and he makes sympathetic noises as he pulls in front of me to let me draft. We ride like this for a while in silence until we get to another section of brutal hills approaching the Sagamore Bridge. I tell Bob to go ahead as I slow to a crawl, maintaining just enough speed to keep my bike from wobbling. It’s gravity vs. digestion, and I must concentrate to find the balance between the two. Once again, I seriously consider pulling over and forcefully ejecting the turkey sandwich from my system, but decide to hang on until I get to the bridge. If necessary, I can always hurl it into the Cape Canal when I get there. I even have a new tweet prepared for my followers on Twitter: “I have thrown up, and I feel better.”

I reach the bridge without tossing anything other than a few epithets and gratefully dismount for the walk across. Bob is waiting for me, but Tyler and the rest have gone ahead. I can just see Tyler’s green Quad Racing jersey halfway across the span. I take it easy as I walk, allowing my tummy to settle. By the time we reach the other side, I have decided to tough it out. The fish in the canal will have to find other food.

A few miles later, Bob and I coast into the final rest stop, where I gratefully park my bike and wobble over to the tents where the rest of the group awaits.

1:02-1:30 PM, 4th Rest Stop:

1:04 PM: 4th and final rest stop. 20 mi to go! I'm ready to be done. Tyler says I just need a soda.

This will not be a quick rest, not if I want to finish this thing. I take Tyler’s advice and have a soda, followed by two Tylenol from the medical tent and a cup of warm coffee. Besides my stomach, my neck and back are really starting to hurt. I gingerly nibble a little bit of bland food, then take the rest of into the shade beneath some trees and sit down. The rest of the team leaves without me after I assure them that I’ll just be a few minutes behind them. Then I lie down in the grass.

1:19 PM: Lying on the grass felt so good. Maybe I'll stay here for another 5 min or so...

Ten minutes later, I feel restored enough to continue. I check my phone one last time for updates from my wife, who is texting me updates from our son’s baseball game, then send out one more update of my own before I hit the road again.

1:29 PM: Stomach cramps are over. Time to man up, saddle up, and finish this thing!

1:30-2:52 PM, Miles 80-100:
This all feels so familiar: riding alone on the rolling hills of the Cape, wondering where everyone went. One of these days, I’m going to have to come down and start a ride down here, so that I can see what it feels like to ride without pain on Cape Cod. I hear it’s nice.

Fortunately, familiarity has bred, not contempt, but comfort. I know these roads, these hills, that access road. I know what they have in store for me, and I know how long it lasts. I also know how to beat them: ride fast, as fast as you can, and let gravity do the rest. You can beat these hills if you attack first. I cruise over the hills, setting the best pace my legs can sustain, and start passing people again. Not many, of course, not like last year or the year before, but still, I’m passing, not being passed. That’s what counts.

After ten miles, I feel the familiar fatigue wash over me. I’m ready to be done, standing in a hot shower and looking forward to a hamburger and a massage, not necessarily in that order. I’m not done, though, so I force my legs to keep churning, over the last few hills and into Hyannis proper. I nod to the well-kept inhabitants, who wave back and cheer me on. As I ride past the Kennedy complex I see a man and some children playing catch. I don’t know which one he is, but that’s definitely a Kennedy. He has the teeth. Soon, I’m pulling through the final loop before Craigsville Beach, expecting to see the rest of my teammates coming the other way. They’re probably already done by now, but a guy can hope.

Finally, the finish line comes into view. I stand on tired legs and race to the finish, where my bike is whisked away to the parking corral almost before I can dismount. Before I relinquish the bike, I check my cycling computer. I did the ride in 5:57, my fastest time ever by about 15 minutes. Even stomach cramps couldn’t completely erase the speed at which we raced through the first 2/3 of the ride.

2:54 PM: DONE!!! 100 miles in just under 6 hours. I'm ready for a shower, a massage, and a beer. Go Patriot Pedalers!

The finish line

2:52-7:15 PM, The Party:

3:57 PM: Happiness is a six-hand massage. By the time those 3 ladies were done w/me I barely felt like I'd ridden.

There is no better feeling than a massage after riding 100 miles, especially when it’s given by three people at once. I shower, and then receive my first ever “six-hand massage.” One woman works on my back while two others work my legs, all three of them pausing occasionally to pull my limbs in three different directions. It feels heavenly, and after fifteen minutes I feel like I can walk again without limping.

I wander into the food tent and find Tyler and Bob, who update me on their own finishes. Tyler, who dragged all of us along with him for the entire ride, cramped up from dehydration in the last couple of miles after deciding that he was tired of the taste of sports drinks. Bob, the guy who wasn’t sure if he’d even ride this year, finished ahead of all of us. The next time he tells me that his leg hurts, I’m going to kick him in it so I can get a head start.

The rest of the team rolls in a while later, and we all join at our team tables for the post-ride party. As I wander through the tent looking for a good beer and some dinner, I spot a few more celebrities walking around and update my friends:

4:21 PM: Verne Troyer is here, and I think I just saw Ryan from The Office. Oh, and a bunch of Patriots players.

The New England Patriots linemen, Nick Kaczur and Stephen Neal, are both friendly and polite. We chat with them for ten minutes or so and they are full of appreciation for what we all have done. “I like to ride, but I don’t think I could do what you guys just did,” says Neal, right before he is tackled by Danny’s son, Aaron, who is a Buddy himself. Aaron knows all of the Patriots players who come to the Best Buddies events, and is always eager to renew his acquaintance with them.

Tom Brady is here, too. As the honorary chairman of the event, he presents the awards for fastest riders, best fundraisers, and top teams before doing some fundraising of his own. This year, he has 40 footballs up on the stage with him, and for $1000 will sign one and throw it to people in the crowd. As the bidding begins and the balls start flying through the air, I seriously consider whether $1000 is worth it to be able to tell my 9-year-old son that I caught a Tom Brady pass. Fortunately, my son is very practical and I know what he’ll say. “Daddy, that’s a lot of money. You could have bought three Xboxes for that.” So I refrain, because no one wants to get an economics lesson from someone who still asks for help tying his shoes.

For the concert this year we get the Bangles, who still rock surprisingly well for ladies who, in their own words, “now qualify for AARP.” I am a little concerned, though, because we’ve now gone through most of the early 80’s pop bands still in existence. Unless Loverboy or Earth, Wind, and Fire get back together, I don’t know who’s going to perform next year. Still, it’s a fun concert, and I do enjoy a good rendition of “Manic Monday.”

5:41 PM: The Bangles can still rock.

With the music still blasting, I slip out the back of the tent to catch my ride home with Tyler and Bob. Tyler’s wife Robin came down to meet him, and they have graciously offered to bring us home so we don’t have to take the bus. As Robin roars down the highway, I realize that we are finishing our day just as it began: with Tyler in the front and me and Bob holding on for dear life behind him.

The afternoon sky slowly darkens as the SUV quickly eats up the miles that took us so long to travel earlier in the day. I watch the signposts bearing the names of the towns that we passed through, flashing by in reverse in the lowering twilight, and I send out one last note to the friends who have shared this journey with me:

7:15 PM: Heading home for a well-deserved rest. Farewell for now Buddies!

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