by Bruce Ingle
When I left my house in Framingham on May 18 at 2:30AM, it was just starting to rain. I debated whether or not to bring my rain jacket and decided that if I got too hot (yeah, right!) I could always stow it under the bungee on my Camelbak. I went with shorts, Illuminite tights, neoprene socks, my training shoes, a wicking Tshirt under a longsleeve jersey, rain jacket, a neoprene headband, Goretex full fingered gloves, helmet, Camelbak, reflective equipment and a few energy bars.
For a bike, I left the USPS Trek at home and brought my training rig instead...a 70s lowend Peugeot with a SturmeyArcher S5 5speed hub gear and 700C wheels, no fenders. I'd put together a new light with Willie's latest LVR and lithium batteries for the brevet the night before; fortunately, everything worked out okay despite the lastminute tinkering.
I got to the start just fine, hung out under the canopy of Dave Jordan's motorhome to stay dry and left with the lead pack at 4AM. Given my relatively heavy setup, I was just hoping to conserve my energy and try to stay in the draft of the lead pack as much and as long as I could. This proved to be rather difficult, as taking pace from another rider would quickly result in a faceful of water. The best I could manage was to remain offset from the wheel in front of me by about 6"-12" or so.
I found eating on the bike to be difficult as well. After a short time, I lost all feeling and dexterity in my hands, which complicated the routine of reaching into a jersey pocket for an energy bar. Trying to get my first one in Framingham, I dropped another on the road and chose to leave it rather than become separated from the paceline.
The difficulty of eating on the bike had a couple of related consequences. It required filling up on food at checkpoints, which meant that a) I was too bloated to drink on the bike once I'd eaten and b) I couldn't ride as hard because I was trying to digest a huge slug of food all the time. The combination resulted in slower speeds and dehydration. Normally, I would consume 70 ounces of water in the 36 miles between Voluntown and Sweet Evalina's in Woodstock on the way back; on Saturday, I had just two 70ounce fillups in 200 miles.
I don't remember much of the first stop in Sutton; I just ate, dropped my lights and got back on the road to keep from getting too chilled while stopped. I was somewhat fortunate in my knowledge of the route; nobody in the lead group wanted to refer to a cue sheet in the pouring rain, so we pretty much stuck together well into Connecticut, even through a couple of breaks to use the "green door".
Over time, my condition worsened to the point where I very easily could've crashed within the paceline, and I was so miserable I wouldn't have cared if I had. I was often having to cross back and forth behind the wheel in front of me, trying to achieve the balance of not riding in the middle of the road but not riding in the potholes of the shoulder at the same time while following very closely; I very easily could've overlapped wheels. Also, between the slickness of the rims and the reduced strength in my hands, the brakes were nearly useless.
Several times, I tried to respond to questions from others in the paceline and found myself suffering from a speech impediment. My jaw muscles had frozen to the point where I couldn't talk properly. Somewhere around Route 14 in Connecticut, I fell off the back of the pack. I was somewhat relieved when it finally happened, since it drastically decreased my stress level and increased my ability to see. From that point forward, I pretty much rode the rest of the brevet alone.
On Route 49, I decided to eat another energy bar. I couldn't get it open with my gloves on, so I took a glove off, opened the packaging and ate the bar. After I finished, I found myself unable to put my glove back on. I stopped by the side of the road; Walter Page was behind me and soon stopped to help as well. My pinkie finger had so little strength, I couldn't straighten it out enough to get it back in its proper place in the glove; it would just curl up instead. Eventually, after some cursing at myself, I managed to work it back inside and get back on the road.
At Voluntown, Dave arranged for chicken soup from the pizzeria to keep us warm; I had a cup, filled up on food and water and was shivering by the time I left despite the efforts to keep me warm. After Voluntown, the wind picked up, making conditions even less tolerable than they already were. I plugged along anyway as best I could, trying to make the best time my body and remaining energy would allow. A digital thermometer read 45F.
I stopped in at Sweet Evalina's in Woodstock and actually had a meal at the restaurant rather than buying a snack and consuming it outside. Seeking warmth, I had a large cup of soup, a slice of heated rhubarb pie and a cup of hot cocoa. While I was consuming the cocoa, I heard one of the visitors make the comment, "...these guys are gonna need a week to get warmed up again..."
Once back to Sutton, Diana had me sit in her minivan for a while with heat on full blast to thaw me out a bit, while serving hot cocoa and food. While in the van, I reflected on the fact that the leaders two years before had finished in less time than it had taken me to get to Sutton. I sat in the van for a half hour and warmed up quite a bit but froze as soon as I got back on the road anyway. Fortunately, the rain stopped soon after Sutton, which made riding much more tolerable.
On the way to the finish, I stopped in at our house in Framingham. Since I wasn't about to set any personal records anyway, I'd considered doing a full makeover before biking to the finish ie. a full change of clothes and a different bike. I settled for just changing to dry gloves and ducttaping my nowunraveled bar tape back together, jettisoning my extra bananas and having a slice of cold pizza from the fridge. The gloves made a huge difference. I found a broken spoke on my battered rear wheel, but decided to ignore it and get to the finish instead. The bathroom thermometer read 45F, the same as I'd seen in Connecticut.
At the finish, I pigged out for a bit, tried to take a cooldown lap in the parking lot, decided I wasn't about to bike home, and got in Tracey's car to warm up. I watched other riders come in. Those who had driven to the start would hang out for a while; those who had ridden to the start would check in and leave before getting too chilled.
If my statistics are correct, there were 25 starters and 9 DNFs. I finished in 15:04. Between Friday morning before the event and this morning, I gained eleven pounds of water. I'm not sure if it's from the dehydration, hypothermia or both, but I'm guessing it'll take a while to go away.
The weekend before, I'd ridden 170 miles and had had quite a bit of fun doing it, as well as a good workout; I was riding with Walter Page and Mel Stoler, while marking up the 300k cue sheet with distances. I'd stop to jot down an odometer reading, sprint to catch up and then recover in their draft. The next day, I was hardly the worse for wear. On Saturday, I had the same average pace for 190 miles, with no sprinting by comparison, and was barely able to move the next day.
I owe many thanks to Diana McKenna, Dave Jordan, George Reynolds, and my wife, Tracey, for making the event much more hospitable. It would've been nearly impossible to get through this ride without their thoughtfulness.