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Orny's Cycling Journal

Ramble On

Ramble On

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05 PMC Riding

So yesterday I rode. And rode. And rode and rode. And rode and rode and rode and rode and rode and rode. That’s one “rode” per hour I was in the saddle. Yeah. From 6am to 6pm, plus or minus four brief rest stops.

It was my first attempt at the Boston Brevet Series 200k.

First, what’s a brevet? A brevet or randonnée is an organized long-distance bicycle ride. Cyclists—who, in this discipline, are referred to as randonneurs—follow a designated but unmarked route (usually 200km to 1200km), passing through check-point controls, and must complete the course within specified time limits. Randonnée is a French word which loosely translates to ‘ramble’ or ‘long journey’. Brevet means ‘certificate’ and refers to the card carried by randonneurs which gets stamped at controls; it is also used to refer to the event itself. Randonneurs do not compete against other cyclists; randonnées are a test of endurance, self-sufficiency, and cyclo-touring skills.

The ultimate randonnées are Paris-Brest-Paris and Boston-Montréal-Boston, both of which are 1200k (750 miles). You must complete a series of four brevets of increasing distance to qualify for PBP or BMB: the lengths of those qualifying rides are 200k (125 miles), 300k (190 miles), 400k (250 miles), and 600k (375 miles).

I’ve wanted to at least try this ride for several years. The problem is that the 200k is held on the first weekend in May, when it’s just as likely to be 40 degrees and snowing as 60 degrees and sunny. And coming so early, it’s difficult to get enough training miles in before the event. However, this year I started commuting to Woburn in March, which enabled me to get over 600 miles in during the past six weeks. So I was in better shape this year than ever before.

I’ve done a number of double metric (200k) rides, although none of them were official randonnées. I’ve stretched the first day of the Pan-Mass into a double metric, and that wasn’t unmanageable at all, although that takes place at the peak of my training in August. And for this event, I would also have to bike home from the finish, which would add another hour in the saddle. It was going to be by far the longest one-day ride I’ve ever attempted.

The good news was that I had a friend in Lexington who put me up the night before, which meant that I only had a six-mile ride to the 7am start. I registered and got my brevet card, then hung around for a while as the hundred-fifty-odd riders were staged out of the parking lot at Hanscom Field. I departed at about 7:15am. The temperature was near 60 degrees, and the sky was mostly clear, but the weatherman said there’d be increasing clouds and a 20 percent chance of a sprinkle.

The route profile is pretty straightforward. There are two rest stops that divide the course into three segments: the first and last segments are both pretty flat, except for two small spikers. The middle of the course, however, is all mountains. There are five main peaks. The first one takes the rider up to 750 feet just before the first checkpoint, sort of as a shot across the bow, before the four-mountain middle section.

That first segment was a nice ride: I was always with a group of riders, conserving my energy, until shortly before we got to that first climb. I made it into the checkpoint at New Boston, New Hampshire at 10:14am, and noticed that it had really clouded over. I stripped off my jacket, loaded up on food and water, got my brevet card signed, and headed out for the hard part of the course.

This was only the second time I’ve ridden from one state into the next, and both times it was into New Hampshire. The first time, I started out from my house in Boston, but only just crossed the border into Salem and came home, whereas this time I got a good 25 miles into New Hampshire, and probably half of the brevet was north of the border.

Almost as soon as I left the New Boston control, it started sprinkling, and it continued sprinkling intermittently throughout the afternoon, although at least it wasn’t cold. This middle segment was a rapid succession of leg-breaking climbs followed by screaming descents. Over the next three hours I yoyoed from a starting elevation of 440’ up to 835’, down to 235’, up to 890’, back down to 450’, back up to 1030’, 475’, 825’, then back down to 250’ for the second checkpoint, where I arrived at 1:04pm.

The final segment had us return to Bedford the same way we’d come. It was mostly flat except for those two spikers I mentioned before, which were considerably harder with seven hours in our legs already. But I managed to get back to Hanscom, and gladly so. I had expected a time in the 7-8 hour range, but I think I wound up on the road about eight and a half hours. Eventually my time will be posted on the BBS 2006 Results page.

2006 ACP 200k Brevet medal

One thing I made sure to do as soon as I finished was get my medal. One of the reasons I wanted to do the ride was to come away with some commemorative hardware, since the PMC doesn’t do any such thing, and I’d like to have something to show people that I’m a serious and somewhat accomplished cyclist.

After that, I took a well-earned break, sitting around talking with other riders at the finish, the sun having broken through the clouds once again. Eventually I limped back to Boston and collapsed on my bed before taking a long shower and making a big ole curry for supper.

By the halfway point of the ride, certain parts of my body had lodged formal complaints, and I was in a lot of pain by the time I got home. My neck muscles were extremely painful, although that’s something I’ve encountered before. However, my left knee and right ankle were also in a great deal of pain, and they’ll need some recovery time, because today I could barely walk at all. It makes me question whether doing any longer distances would be desirable at all, although there’s some possibility that I might try a 300k that they’re holding in July. We’ll see how I feel about it once we get there. There’s something to be said for medals, although you definitely have to work hard to earn them, and the 300k requires some night riding.

If you’re wondering what the final tally is, yesterday I spent 9 hours, 33 minutes in the saddle over 12 hours of clock time, covering 153.5 miles with over 6000’ of climbing hills with grades as high as 13% at an average speed of 15.7 mph and a max speed of 44.8 mph. I actually finished the brevet with an average of 16 mph, but that declined due to my leisurely ride back to Boston.

And I think I could be quite happy if I never exceed that one-day distance again in my life!

  • Cool!

    My friends moominmolly and dilletante ride brevets. They were at that one though they didn't finish -- then again, seeing as it was their first time on a tandem and moominmolly had a baby six months ago, I'm not holding it against them. Anyway, if you saw some people on a tandem, it might have been them :).
    • I didn't see any tandems, but I think I heard about them. What sounded like a couple riders called in to Tracey, the organizer, to see about being sagged at around 4pm while I was in recovery mode at the finish.

      Now, I think I'll take the bus to work this morning... ;^P
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