2004 Westfield 300K Brevet

Day 1 (May 7)

The weather forecast called for strong winds from the West, and were they ever right! Chip and I left my place in Cambridge around 9.30am, headed for Westfield. It was a beautiful day, with clear skies and mild temperature. But by Route 117 in Lincoln, barely 15 miles into the ride, we were already fighting a headwind.

We alternated pulls until Sterling, where we stopped at the usual grocery store for some tomato juice and peanuts---salt to help us deal with the warm day.

After Sterling the road gets a bit more hilly, with significant climbs into Holden and Paxton. As usual, I would sprint ahead a little on the climbs, while Chip kept a steady, knee-saving pace and caught up with me on the flats and descents. By Brookfield we were pushing into what seemd like a gale, but I didn't mind: the scenery there is some of the prettiest in Massachusetts, and I never get tired of the quiet country roads, the beautiful maples and oaks, and the rolling hills covered with apple trees. We were in Warren before I knew it. We had some food and headed on to Rt 20 in Palmer.

Rt 20 between Ludlow and Springfield had been my least favorite part of our ride to Westfield for the 200K, and it was no different this time. In addition to the traffic and terrible potholes, this time we also faced the headwind, which frequently slowed us down to as little as 20Km/h and blew grit and road debris into our faces. The ride reached its nadir for me when, on the outskirts of Springfield, someone in an SUV made eye contact with me, pulled down the window, and spat at me. Fortunately I was too tired to respond as I might otherwise have done: I just pushed on into the wind, grimly satisfied to be moving while the offending car came to a stop in bumper-to-bumper traffic.

We arrived in Westfield around 6pm and rode straight to Pasquale's "Italian" restaurant, where we put away the usual industrial quantities of pasta and giant slices of bruschetta. The sun was just setting as we headed west on Rt 20 to the Elm Motel, looking forward to some well-deserved rest after 176.6Km and about 1300m of climbing. I felt tired: the heat and constant headwind had made the ride feel much longer than it actually was. But the lights were off by 9pm, so I was confident that I would be well-rested by following day.

Day 2 (May 8)

It is an unusual luxury to have a full night of sleep before a long brevet. But unlike the longer Boston brevets, which typically start at 4am or earlier, the Westfield 300K starts at 5am. That, combined with the fact that we stayed only a 2-minute ride from the start and that we had gone to bed at 9pm, meant that I woke up feeling refreshed and healthy.

A surprisingly large group assembled at the start. I recognized Paula and a few other faces from the Westfield 200K, and Ted Lapinski was there also. The sky was still dark when we set off.

Chip and I led the field for barely half a mile, at which point a paceline of very aggressive riders blew by us. We held on for a while, but the pace--34-36Km/h---was really quite aggressive. I could keep up for now, but worried about the remaining 295Km. As the road climbed out of the Connecticut River valley Chip started to fall behind, and I had to make a choice. I decided that riding at a sane pace and talking with Chip would be more fun than following the speed-demons in breathless silence.

The road followed a beautiful river, and Chip and Paula and I rode together. Chip observed that we were traveling up-river, and that the river was large: hence, a long climb ahead. Indeed. In Chester the climb to Jacob's Ladder began in earnest. I decided to push ahead at my own pace and wait for Chip and Paula at the top. I passed several cyclists as I kept an eye on my altimeter: 300m, 350m, 400m, ... 600m. The air was definitely chillier on the summit, despite the sunshine. I zipped up my wind breaker and waited. Chip and Paula were the first to join me, and together we enjoyed the long, gradual descent towards Lee. The sun shone brightly as we rode the beautiful country roads between Stockbridge and Great Barrington. Chip gave a heroic pull and we arrived at the first checkpoint in Great Barrington in great form.

Paula left almost immediately, while Chip and I took some time to savor the cream cheese and bagels. The next few miles, along a flat and busy stretch of Rt 7, were my least favorite of the whole ride. But it wasn't long before we turned onto Rannapo Road, which skirts the beautiful meadows of Bartholomew's Cobble, a park maintained by the Massachusetts Trustees of Reservations. From there the road wound into Connecticut and followed the Housatonic River all the way to Kent. The Housatonic in this stretch is a grand and impetuous river tens of meters wide, surrounded by impressive stands of oak, birch, and ash. Fly-fishermen stood in its rapids and canoe outfitters seemed to be doing brisk business.

We arrived at the second checkpoint in Kent, CT, to a scene of minor confusion. The person in charge of the checkpoint was late, and another volunteer was just setting things up. But the essentials were there: water, Powerade, bagels, cream cheese, cookies, bananas. Kent was the second point of the day where the brevet route intersected the Appalachian Trail. The first had been on Route 20 on the descent from Jacob's Ladder, which we whizzed by in a blur. But here in Kent we took in the colorful sight of Appalachian through-hikers at our leisure as we munched on our food. Paula joined us again also---she had had to stop, and we had passed her without noticing.

The three of us set off together towards New York state. Paula fell back, then caught up with us when we stopped for a drink, then fell back again on some steep sections. I enjoyed myself tremendously as the road entered New York, skirting Taconic State Park near aptly named Amenia. We pedaled north over gentle rollers and admired expansive views: fields carpted with yellow wildflowers lay before us, and the wooded humps of the southern Berkshires rose in distance.

We realized after some time that we would be cycling over those wooded humps, and as we drew nearer I felt a bit intimidated. The climb to Mount Washington in Bash Bish Falls State Park is 4.8 miles long and climbs about 1300 feet. That would make for a mellow average grade of just over 5%, except that a good part of the 4.8 miles is almost flat and even includes a brief descent. As a result, the actual climb consists of two long sections at 15-18% grade, with some bad pavement and off-camber turns.

I had climbed longer and steeper grades, but never at the 200Km mark of a day's ride. Yet it wasn't so bad after all. As is often the case with this kind of thing, rumors get exaggerated: a 15% grade becomes a 20% grade, cracks in the pavement become impassable chasms, and so forth. I reached the summit hamlet of Mount Washington in decent shape, and witnessed a slightly surreal spectacle. To my left, a beautiful and deserted cemetery. In front of me, just up the road, the white steeple of Mount Washington church. And above it all, distinct above the gentle rustling of the wind in the pine and birch forest, the sound of a single flute. I dismounted and looked around, took some photos of the church and town hall, and admired the forest. But I never saw the mysterious flutist among the trees.

Chip joined me in short order, and we continued on our way. The descent was more gradual and better-paved than the climb, and amenable to very high speeds. We reached the third checkpoint in Great Barrington in no time. In what seemed like a pattern by now, Paula caught up with us at the checkpoint while Chip and I were still munching on some delicious sandwiches. Also unsurprisingly, she left before us! (Note to self: decrease brevet times by spending less time at checkpoints.)

The overcast sky promised rain as Chip and I headed back to Westfield. I was feeling fairly strong, so I offered to pull. I made it my goal to catch Paula, and set the fastest pace I thought we could sustain. As we reached Lee, 15 miles later, Chip congratulated me on a "heroic" pull, but still no Paula. I climbed the west side of Jacob's Ladder as fast as I could, reaching the summit a few minutes ahead of Chip, and still no Paula. But at this point I had another goal. We had ridden a fairly steady pace, with relaxed checkpoint stops, yet there was still the chance that we could finish in 13 hours or less. I followed Chip down the beautifully graded east side of Jacob's ladder, and then we alternated pulls on the rolling, gradual descent to Westfield. I think we both felt pretty good, and we maintained a steady pace of 30-32Km/h. It did not rain until just a mile or two from the finish. We arrived at the final checkpoint at the New Horizon Sports store at 6.04pm, for an official time of 13h4m. Paula had not yet arrived---as before, we must have passed her without noticing.

In a repeat of our post-200K Westfield festivities, Chip and I went to Subway's, where we put away some foot-long subs and a generous serving of salad. What luxury! And then we were once again in bed around 9pm. I stretched out to the four corners of the bed and enjoyed the delicious feeling of exhaustion, after 306.1Km and 2553m of climbing.

Day 3 (May 9)

I'm not sure how much I want to remember of this day.

Chip and I woke up at 6.30 and cycled straight to the Westfield Bickford's to fill our growling stomachs. It was Mother's Day, so I called my Mom. To minimize her worry, I told her that Chip and I were "just out for a ride": true, if you ignore the scale of the ride.

I followed Chip's steady pace through the derelict outskirts of Springield and up Rt 20 to Palmer. The skies were grey and I did not feel great.

It started to rain as we headed north along Rt 67. It was drizzling lightly when we reached our traditional grocery store in Warren, but by the time we emerged, tomato juice in hand, the skies had opened up and the rain was falling heavily. It did not stop for hours, as we followed Rt 9 from West Brookfield to Spencer, and then Rt 31 to Paxton and Holden. Our rain gear afforded little protection in the long cold downpour. The raindrops stung my face on the fast descent to Kendall Reservoir in Holden. Our gloves and shoes were saturated. My hands were so numb that I had to ask Chip to help me take off my gloves. Even without gloves, I was unable to open a Power Bar.

I hardly noticed when the rain stopped, somewhere before Sterling. But when we left our second traditional stop, a grocery store in Sterling, the sun was actually breaking through the clouds. We alternated pulls the rest of the way, Chip always steady, I slightly more aggressive and erratic on the climbs. We were in Cambridge around 4pm. I was glad to be home after 180Km and 1244m of climbing, most of them under heavy rain.