2003 Boston 400K Brevet

Encouraged by our endurance for pain in the 200K (155 miles total in sleet and rain) and our strong finish in the 300K (top quarter of the field), Chip and I were excited about the Boston Brevet Series 400K event, which takes riders from Bedford to Ashfield (Western Mass.) and back. We tuned our bikes, studied maps, and talked about it all the time.

In one moment of silliness, I turned to Chip and declared sternly, "There Shall Be No Failure But Death!" Ironically, I got the D-word wrong. For me, there was no failure but diarrhea.

It was shortly after midnight, almost 2 hours before my scheduled wake-up time of 2am: resting my chin in my palms, I tried to focus on the pale green bathroom tile in front of me as my bowels roiled and growled and discharged their Stygian humors in wave upon fetid wave.

I didn't know what to do. Call Chip and tell him I was abandoning without even starting? No. I'd give it a shot. Just in case, I packed some toiler paper and a few extra ziploc bags. It was my best idea of the day. I also replaced Gatorade with Coke in one of my water bottles, hoping that carbonation and acidity would kill stomach bugs.

Chip and I met at 2.45am in Cambridge and rode to the 4am start at Hanscom Field in Bedford at a leisurely pace. There weren't many people at Hanscom: 13 total, including us, and just one woman (Melinda Lyon, female record-holder in the 1200km Boston-Montreal-Boston, and female winner of the most recent 1200km Paris-Brest-Paris). Most people had opted for the 1am start, which gives riders a longer time limit.

The first 20 miles or so were ok, though I advised Chip not to draft me too closely, and I felt sorry for whoever did. Around Pepperell, after about 25 miles, the group started to accelerate, and Chip and I decided to let them go. I felt queasy, and the stomach pain worsened. In Townsend, after about 30 miles, I needed to make emergency stop #1, at a Citgo gas station. I try to never use restrooms without buying something, so I bought a Coke. Probably not enough, I fear, to compensate the establishment for the seismic disturbance I engendered in the restroom.

On we rode, Chip always ahead of me. The scenery was beautiful, especially as we entered Willard Brook State Forest, which I now rank among the most beautiful places to ride in Massachusetts. I tried to hang on to Chip on the thousand-foot climb through the forest to the hilltop town of Ashby, but there was trouble in the engine room. I believe that cycling---especially long distance cycling---is primarily a test of one's digestive system, and mine just wasn't working. Near the top of the hill I suddenly felt Urgent Need #2: with no gas station in sight, I swerved off the road and ran into the bushes clutching my ziploc bags.

I decided to quit. My stomach was feeling worse, and there was no use in being miserable and slowing down Chip in the process. Chip kindly gave me Cindy's number in case I needed a ride back at any point, and we parted ways.

I was sad---I'd cycled well all spring, and had planned to make the 400K the peak of the spring riding season---but there were more pressing matters at hand. I stopped in a cafe to eat a plain toasted bagel and try to warm up, but discovered I couldn't hold any food inside me. And so I slowly cycled home, sometimes bent over double by the stomach pain, sometimes feeling better and admiring the wonderful spring colors and the puffy clouds in a perfect blue sky.

I will spare you the details of Urgent Needs #3, #4, #5, and #6, except to say that I am grateful (for once) to Big Oil for having established such a pervasive network of public restrooms in eastern Massachusetts. Looking at it another way, not even the most ardent Greenpeace activist could have conceived a better political statement: ride your bike ride your bike ride your bike, and poop at every gas station you see.

I rolled into Cambridge around 11am, thinking of Chip and feeling like a failure. But I guess I did alright overall---a little over 100 miles in a little over 7 hours, including multiple poop stops, and with no food other than one PowerBar and half a bagel. It's a testament to the efficiency of the bicycle as a form of transport.

I've since slept for several hours and feel a bit better, but I'm glad I turned back when I did, for I continue to produce output despite almost no input. As I write this (9.30pm), Chip has probably recently finished or is about to finish the ride. I can't wait to read the report of his adventures.