2005 Boston 400K Brevet

If a system has n components, each of which fail independently with probability p within a certain time, then the probability p' that no part of the system has failed within that time is, of course, (1-p)^n. As n increases, p' decreases. That's one reason why large planes are designed to fly even when one or more engines stop working.

What does this have to do with cycling? It has a lot to do with this year's Boston 400K brevet.

250 miles. Ten cyclists. Three broken spokes. Four flat tires. A minor crash. Three cases of acute gastro-intestinal distress. A faulty pedal. It was almost a farce. We enjoyed each other's company, and stopped whenever someone was in trouble. We were like a ten-engined plane that had to land any time one of the ten engines stopped working. So despite a fast pace---we were on the bikes for just over 14 hours---it took us a full 17 hours to finish the ride.

Kris Kjellquist opened the festivities with a flat tire barely two hours into the brevet. The morning was cool and overcast. Rick Gowen powered ahead at the front, while I sat back a little, telling stories of Kara's and my recent Alaskan adventures, and testing my condition after almost four weeks off the bike.

Next came Glen Slater's turn with flats: two explosions just a couple miles apart on the road between Ashby and Petersham. The sidewall of his rear tire was damaged, and my tire boots seemed ineffective. The sun had burnt through the clouds by now, the day was warm and humid, and the mosquitoes were out in force. We slapped ourselves and jumped around like men possessed as we helped Glen with his bike.

Tracey Ingle laughed at us at the Bullard Farm checkpoint. I raced for the bathroom---uncontrollable GI event #1---while Glen wrestled with his third flat. This time we reinforced the tire boot with duct tape, and it held.

Up Mt Grace we pedaled, then left to Northfield. Rick missed the turn. I turned around to make sure he had noticed his mistake, touched wheels with John Bayley, and landed in the sand by the side of the road. No serious injuries, just a scrape on the knee and a bruised ego. We continued on at a pace that I found challenging. Next to me, Ed Kross seemed to be working hard too. "This cycling stuff is hard work," he muttered.

Any doubts I may have had about that statement evaporated on the climb to Ashfield. My stomach continued to be upset, I hadn't eaten much, and my legs felt empty. Ed and I slowly fell behind some of the others, including John and Rick and Jeff Scornavacca, until we could no longer see them around the turns ahead of us. Ultimately, maybe half a mile below Ashfield, I could not hold Ed's pace either. I limped into the checkpoint feeling both hungry and nauseous. With some urgency, I found a restroom: gastric event #2 could not have waited much longer.

We were all enjoying the long descent back to the Connecticut River when Kris broke a rear spoke. Then, a few miles later, another. And then another still. We stopped at a bike shop in Amherst before Kris' wheel disintegrated entirely, and just in time for me to find a restroom at a nearby pizza place. This was the third and final time I needed one---there wasn't much inside me at this point. Unfortunately, Kris' wheel would take over half an hour to fix, so we decided to take off without him.

Two pretty girls walked along the edge of Pelham Road, but the rutted road surface demanded our full attention. "Inconvenient place for potholes," quipped Dan Levesque.

Finally free of whatever had been roiling my gut, I managed to stick with Rick, Glen, Chris Candiello, and Jeff on the long Pelham Road climb. John, Bill O'Mara, and a few others sprinted ahead at a furious pace and disappeared into the distance. We eventually caught up with them at Bullard Farm, where they had arrived just a few minutes ahead of us.

Bullard Farm was unusually busy. Another cycling group was overnighting there, and we ran into none other than John and Dave, two "Thread City Cyclists" from Willimantic, CT, whom some of us had met on the Westfield 300K brevet a few weeks earlier. But there was little time to socialize. We were way behind schedule, and already had little hope of finishing before dark.

We had not gone far when we realized that Rick was not with us. We stopped for a few minutes by the shore of Quabbin Reservoir, and presently Rick appeared in the distance. He was happily surprised that we had waited for him. We had left the checkpoint while he was in the bathroom.

From Petersham to Hubbardston, the brevet route heads east over a long series of short but painfully steep hills. John walked the line between amusement and torture as he gave us his inclinometer readings: "14% ... 17% ..." My legs burned, in a good way. People gasped for air and cursed under their breath. We were getting our money's worth.

At last we reached Rt 62, and then Princeton, and finally the long and fast descent---punctuated by just a couple small climbs---into Sterling. Pamela Blalock was waiting for us in front of the Sterling grocery store. Whereas we had started at 4am, Pamela had opted for the 1am start, and planned to finish the ride with John. We delivered her husband in good condition, bought ourselves some drinks for the final leg, and pushed on down the road.

There was traffic in Clinton, as usual, and fatigue began to set in. Our group split into two. Dan, Bill, and Jeff moved slightly ahead, while I stayed back with Glen, Chris, Rick, and Ed. Rick had some trouble with his pedals, and Chris had some trouble with the hills. Ed, on the other hand, appeared magically re-energized, and he pulled us forward for several miles at a steady 19mph.

We arrived in Stow with nary an incident, except for the time when Rick swerved off the road and up a steep driveway. It took some effort to convince him that in fact that was not the right way, and that, given a fork in the road, a brevet organized by Bruce and Tracey Ingle does not _always_ take the steeper road. (This is not true of brevets organized by Sandy Whittlesey, such as the D2R2 dirt road randonnee, which can be navigated more or less without a cue sheet by simply picking the steepest-looking option at each fork.)

It was dark already as we tackled the final stretch along Rt 117 and then Rt 62 to Concord. We pedaled furiously to achieve a sub-17-hour time. Along Virginia Road, my computer read 20:57; as we rolled into Hanscom Field it read 20:59. But the organizer's clock is what counts, and Tracey's watch said 9:02pm. So 17:02 it was for our little group of five. We sat back and enjoyed some pizza with Bill, Dan, and Jeff, who had preceded us to the finish by seven minutes. Our riding time, not counting all the emergency stops, had been just over fourteen hours.