Tuesday, September 2, 2008


Friday night after sufficient primping, priming and preparing I painstakingly packed my black knapsack for a weekend in western Massachusetts. For the next two days the ever urbane Camp Cupboard was to be a rather redoubtable Randonée Chalet.

On Saturday morning at the wholly indecent hour of 5:00AM, I found myself amidst a gaggle of hairy-legged, sandal-footed, wool-clad cyclists. Over the free coffee-and-muffin breakfast, I eyed longingly their wide gear ratios, fat tires and camel-backs. My carbon/aluminum road bike with 25mm tires and double gearing started to look space-aged but highly inappropriate, like an astronaut showing up for a deep-sea dive. Six AM and sunlight came upon us, leaving the ridiculous option of starting the ride. Too groggy for any sort of ebullient entree, clusters of riders left rather anticlimactically over the span of a half hour. Fortunately for me, I had successfully conned a friend of mine to ride along. Unfortunately we found ourselves several miles in the wrong direction; our excitement from the upcoming physical activity seemed to blunt our cognitive abilities and hence the tiny neon green flags which signaled turns went largely undetected.

And turns there were. Our cue sheets were four pages long; nary a strip of path longer than a mile would be traversed without a change in direction. Cyclists are pack creatures trained to follow the group ahead and ask few questions. This tactic dissolves when the terrain is so demanding as to continually separate seemingly evenly matched riders. My riding partner wore a bright red jersey which made keeping his person in sight easier, as I often lagged clumsily behind. (Or walked).

The roads were not what I would describe as "dirt", but more like "rocky", "dry and uneven loose gravel", or even "steep, torturous and unyielding; much like I'd imagine Lucifer's pitchfork in your soul for all of eternity to be". At the first of three checkpoints, my computer read 47 miles, an extra 10 more than everyone else. It should impress you however that even with the ten extra miles we caught up with many riders. It it also to be noted that by this time in the ride my white kit remained brilliantly clean and endowed upon me a pure, heavenly glow which was noticeably intimidating to everyone else. But even with a cheerful partner and no embarrassing stains to appear, we became concerned about the time limit and planned to nip out a 10 mile section as we saw a tiny connecting road on the map. Considering I've always been a trailblazer and very very bad at following directions, this was a natural option which left not a tinge of guilt.

The second section, or mid-section as I will call it from here on out to give it a sexy anatomical sounding name, consisted of perhaps the most brutal of all: zero flats, only multiple asinine climbs with wretchedly unridable descents in miserable succession. Areas so loose and jagged that going 17mph felt more like falling devoid of control or finesse. It is one thing to be disappointed by ascents, going uphill is substantially harder than riding on flats. But to have to hold back while going downhill is like giving birth to a broken robot, it's not natural and totally disappointing. I had no regrets that we took a scalpel to the mid-section.

The last section we gained a second wind, mostly because the roads were more road-like and less pitch-fork-prong like. We caught some beautiful riverside descents, and met some adorable and admittedly well-dressed farm animals. I had a short yet meaningful discourse with the white alpaca about the benefits of white gear; he bid me adieu and wished us on our way. At this point I should add that some serious deliriousness may have set in; I may or may not have tied my white bandanna (of course I had a white bandanna) around my head and tried my best Axl Rose voice while singing Guns n' Roses songs for a few miles. Eighty miles out and we were ready for the last bit. Until our combined deliriousnesses lost sight of a misprint on the map and we turned down a gloriously fast two mile road descent; I was afraid to go faster than 35-40mph yet could have easily. While at the bottom the right road to turn off on was nowhere to be seen- we surmised that to get back it would mean climbing what we had rode down with such gaiety. Before I could fully fathom adding more climbs onto this ride my friend, now reassuringly exasperated proclaimed, "That's it-ride's over!". And after a small whimper of dashed alacrity came a wave of sincere relief. It was nearly 4PM, we were cranky and peckish, and our ride thus far was pretty damn phenomenal.

We rolled in, back to the start which was also the finish, around 4:15. We met up with our much more physically adept group; who I should add finished the 112 miles before we finished our measly 85. We traded war stores, showed each other our battle wounds and wiped down our mighty yet muddy steeds. My legs throbbed, the misplaced rage I had collected throughout the day subsided, and all I could think about was how much stronger I will be when I come back next year...

Happy riding.

{Special thanks to A. Suko&K, Dan L. and the Rapha non-team, and all of you from Cambridge Bicycles}