2005 Westfield 300K Brevet

I don't know how I'd improve on this year's 300K Westfield brevet: fine weather, beautiful scenery, good company, and a fast pace combined to make it an excellent ride.

The sky looked ominous at the start. The pavement was wet, and a storm system over New York state was forecast to blow east into western Massachusetts. I feared a repeat of the previous weeks' soggy 200K brevets.

I was also stressed at first because I had forgotten my bike computer. Due to a tight work schedule, I had had to rent a car and drive the 100 miles from Cambridge to Westfield rather than cycling there as I had done in the past. So it was only in Westfield that I realized that my computer was still sitting on my desk at home. Forgetfulness, or karmic justice for combusting? You decide. After some hesitation, I embraced my newfound freedom from technology: not a single piece of electronics on my person or my bike.

We set off in a big group under light rain at 5am. Many familiar faces as usual: John and Pamela, Ted Lapinski, and several others. I rode near the front, talking and joking with Rick Gowen, Jeff Scornavacca, and Sandy Whittlesey. To my surprise, the weather improved as we cycled west on MA-20. The wet and overcast night gave way to a bright, sunny morning. The western horizon was still lined with dark clouds, but they were too far away to worry about.

It was fun to ride with Sandy for the first 20 or so miles, but I had no illusion that it would last. He, Brian Johnson (who was riding a fixed gear!), and one other rider dropped me like so much luggage about half way up the climb of Jacob's Ladder. I continued at my own pace, and eventually finished the climb with Rick and Jeff. As we began the descent, a group of six other riders joined us. We coalesced into a reasonably good paceline and motored down the hill, passing Brian, whose fixed gear was evidently more of a limitation on the descents than on the climbs.

Everyone assumed that everyone else knew the route, so we all headed the wrong way in Stockbridge. But the road didn't look familiar, and it didn't take long to discover our error and correct it. Rick and I pulled to the front of the group and charged towards Great Barrington, where we arrived at 7:40am, just 19 minutes after the official checkpoint opening. The checkpoint was the local Dunkin' Donuts store, bustling with locals at this hour of the morning. So I waited fifteen minutes to have my brevet card stamped by a cashier, and we weren't back on the road until after 8am.

But on the road to Kent, CT, the paceline really came into its own. We alternated 3-4 minute pulls and rocketed down Rt 7 at well over 20mph. I was taking my turn out in front when Rick sailed past me, keen to be the first to welcome us to his home state. I have to start keeping more of an eye out for those state lines.

The pace did not change when we hit the rollers between Canaan and Kent. We rushed south along the Housatonic River, through shady forests, past canoe outfitters and anglers in hip boots. Suddenly Carl, one of the stronger riders among us, dropped off the back like a stone. He had broken rear spoke. He stopped for a minute to examine the wheel, considered abandoning, then simply loosened his rear brakes and continued. There was little need for brakes with this group.

We arrived in Kent at 9:55, trailing Sandy by about half an hour, and were back on the road in minutes. We headed north along the eastern edge of New York state, into my favorite part of the Westfield 300K. Up and down gentle hills we rode, past horse farms, open meadows, and small woods. The Berkshires and Taconics rose in the distance, and the pace eased a little bit. Rick, my human bike computer for the day, reported to me occasionally: 19.4mph, 19.2mph, ...

I talked with some of the other riders. Carl, it turns out, has been a community gardener for many years. He is starting a new farm near Thompson, CT, to provide healthy food to local low-income and homeless people. We need more people like him.

We stopped at the bike shop at the base of the Bash Bish Falls climb. The mechanic there replaced Carl's broken spoke in about the time that it took me to drink a soda. Then we were off again, up the rutted 15-18% climb to the hamlet of Mt Washington. The group fell apart as we each found our pace. The fastest climber was a 25-year-old called Chris: while I struggled and grimaced in a 36x25, he surged forward effortlessly in a 39x23, the lowest gear available on his red Specialized. I was impressed.

The descent on the eastern part of Bash Bish State Park is a blast, straight, well-paved, and fast. I slid back on the bike, buttocks above the rear wheel, stomach on the saddle, chin behind the stem, arms straight forward and hands in the drops, and reached terminal velocity. At the bottom the road runs flat for some time before the first turn or intersection: no brakes required to slow down.

It was 1:23pm when we reached Great Barrington again. It would have been a fast, efficient checkpoint stop, when suddenly---bang!---Rick's rear tire exploded. The rest of us had already started rolling. We stopped a few yards down the road and waited. Rick bent over the pump to inflate the new tire. Ten strokes. Twenty strokes. Thirty strokes. Bang! Flat number two. Another tube on the wheel, then back with the pump. Ten strokes. Twenty strokes. Thirty strokes. Bang! Flat number three. Clearly, there was something wrong with the tire itself. New tube. New tire. Frantic pumping, then finally silence. At last we could continue.

John Jurczynski and Ted had passed us during the tire debacle, and now I pedaled hard to try to catch them. They were probably 15 minutes ahead of us. Our group was still a lot of fun, but the afternoon heat seemed to have dampened our style a little. We became separated on the west side of Jacob's Ladder. I found myself riding alone, with Chris (he of the 39x23), Carl, and Jeff maybe 50 yards ahead of me, and everyone else somewhat further behind. We all waited at the top before the long descent down Jacob's Ladder. I felt strong, and continued to ride at or near the front.

Chester, Huntington, Russell: we zoomed through one little village after another. Suddenly I looked around to find our group very much diminished. It was just me, Chris, Carl, and Jeff. We rode in pairs, two in front, two behind, alternating occasionally. The I-90 overpass high above us meant that the finish was close at hand. It gave me an exhilarating motivational boost. I put my head down and pulled us into Westfield, riding harder than I'd ridden all day. We arrived at the finish at 4:42pm. Ted and John had preceded us by two minutes, Sandy by almost two hours. Rick and the rest of our group followed just a few minutes later. I sat in the parking lot and enjoyed the sun and the breeze.