Boston - Rt 128
Rt 225 and Rt 119
Over The Line
Leviathan and the road to Windsor
The turn off Rt 119 onto Rt 62 at about the 90 mile mark is a sharp one, and there’s almost no notice. It is very unassuming. Missing it would be fatal, and once again I gave thanks for the advice to ride the route as I confidently made the turn: as usual there was no one there to confirm. But you make the turn, and immediately hit Leviathan. And wherever there’s a long hill there are folks struggling up it, so it was not long before I saw other riders. It is 5 miles, probably a good 25 minute slog with almost no relief, but I was still feeling good and even at 8-10 miles an hour I inched passed a couple of fellow puffers before a Team Psycho guy created a draft as he blew by all of us. Knowing that psychologically cresting the ridge meant it was downhill all the way home was a great boost, but even knowing that, and the experience of having done it before still didn’t stop it taking forever to appear. Plus just like last time, it suddenly seemed to be getting hot.
Sailing down the other side, one can finally take stock. Good news: both the big hills are done, and so is the century. Bad news: it is not downhill all the way, and there’s still 50 miles to go. Also, last time I was here I was starting to get into real trouble. The temperature must’ve been approaching 90°F (30°C) by then, and I was completely out of liquid. Another two “towns” came and went before I finally found a country store in Westmoreland. I bought a large bottle of water, half a gallon of Gatorade, a bottle of V-8 and a bowl of chicken gumbo. Refilled my bottles with the Gatorade, drank all the rest with the gumbo. Setting out from there with only about 35 miles to go, I had again almost completely consumed the half-gallon I took on board before crossing the finish line. It was pretty scary: I felt I was going to throw up if I drank any more, but I was still thirsty. Not a good place to be. It was a valuable lesson: from then on, while I set off with Gatorade in the bottles, as I replenished them I diluted more and more with water. Once you start to dehydrate, the sugar is a hindrance not a help.
But that was then, and this is now. Today there are pit stops: Luxury! As usual, Claudia was there to meet me a couple of miles before the official stop at 98 miles. I tried to eat a sandwich as she refilled my bottles, but there was not much room. I went for the salty stuff, a cup of chili, a handful of peanuts, and a couple of squares of chili chocolate. A serious number of riders passed by as we stood there, most of them nodded or waved, but they made me antsy. I was in a very, very comfortable position, I agreed whole-heartedly with Claudia’s reminder that I was not in a race, but I still felt a powerful urge not to dawdle. Five minutes later I peeled into the real rest stop to cross the tracking device and to pee. A small crowd of supporters was cheering the riders on, which for some reason made me more than a little emotional. I’m not used to being in a cheerable position I guess. I remember distinctly as I got off and passed my bike to Claudia to hold while I used the facilities, I noticed that my arms were glistening with sweat, which confirmed my suspicions that the temperature had risen to a point where evaporation was going to become a serious threat if it was not attended to on a more-or-less constant basis from now on. I took a long pull on my bottle right then, and Claudia refilled while I was in the plastic box.
To my surprise, there was a throng of riders hanging around refueling, and since I’ve already done that, I rolled right by perhaps a couple of dozen of them as I returned to the road. If Rt 119 is classic New England boonies, Rt62 reminded me very much of rural old England, with its stone walls, pastures, the smell of cattle, and the enthusiastic songs of what would have been skylarks, but here in the new world were probably goldfinches. Eventually Rt 62 T'ed out on Rt 12 and things became a little less rural. For a while we followed railway tracks, with a line of what looked like abandoned freight cars that must have been a mile long. The rails crossed the road a couple of bumpy times.
Every mile was another mile down and one less to go, and they just kept rolling by. It seemed effortless, I couldn’t believe that the energy just kept coming and coming. My average speed over each 50 mile section was pretty much a constant. Just north of Charlestown at mile 126 was pit stop #3. It was set far enough back from the road that you actually had to make a right turn and head down a side road for 50 yards or so. This crucial fact was forgotten by a bunch of riders just leaving as I pulled in. Frantic volunteers shouted and whistled at them to stop and turn around after they turned right out of the pit stop instead of left back to the main road, then right. Claudia was very excited, "They have pickle juice!" "Really?" "Oh yeah, and they'll be thrilled—nobody is touching it!" "Bring it on!" So I had pickle juice (de-licious), pickles, peanuts, orange segments, and water. Way more than I'd consumed at all the other stops put together. The first cup of ice water went over my head and shoulders, a sure sign of the rising temperature. The next two went in my water bottles. I didn't need calories anymore, but as predicted my consumption had skyrocketed, and I was already half way through my bottles. As Claudi observed, there was something of a party atmosphere here. It was also the place where the "scheduled" sag wagon was based—even if you gave up 5 miles from the start, one would be ferried here, to wait for this scheduled bus to take you to the finish. So that was a somber reminder that this was a tough point in the ride, like the hump marathon runners seem to have to push through about five miles from home. But at this early stage all the folks who were here were clearly in no mood to give up and that included me. So after hanging out chit-chatting for too long, it was back on the road for one last push for the finish, a mere 20 miles away.
About 15 miles out, approaching the final turn off Rt 12, north of Charlestown my least favorite hill from practice was again a low point. No redeeming features as we say. Although at most half a mile, the wind is suddenly noticeable (and of course right in your face), it is totally open, it’s so hot you can feel the heat waves wafting off the pavement, it’s steep, it’s narrow, there’s no verge, and the traffic is at its densest and fastest. I very, very, nearly didn't make it first time out, and it took a serious toll this time. Sucking wind as I went over the top, finally the ride is mine to lose, and it’s downhill all the way.
The turn is another not-to-be-missed left immediately after this, and a volunteer leaps into the road to wave me across the busy turn against traffic. “Only three hills to go!” he shouts cheerfully. It's still not downhill all the way.
Eight miles to go. Last stop for Claudia. She’s added this last stop as a sort of belts and braces sort of thing, closing the door on Murphy and his omnipotent mischief-making. We’ve agreed that that’s all it is, and I steamed by with just a quick thumbs up. Soon after that came the last volunteer, and the third rail crossing. The rails were at a fairly oblique angle, and the volunteer stepped right out into the road, and waving his arms like airplane ground crew showed me how he wanted me to pull right out into the middle of the road before heading back for the edge while now crossing the lines at the required right-angle. I winched thinking of the number of riders who must have come unstuck here, so close to home, that these measures were thought necessary.
Three miles to go and I turned to cross the covered bridge, cross the state line into Vermont, and since this is Windsor, it should be to cross the finish line. It feels like it, and it ought to be, but there’s only one slight flaw: the brewery is three miles out of town, and the third of the three hills is a major part of it. Another busy, busy, open, hot, boring piece of road, and an ugly way to end. The one redeeming feature is that as you turn into the brewery and the quarter mile to the line, you have enough momentum to finally allow yourself to freewheel, and enjoy the view.
Fifty yards to go, and the view suddenly included Claudia shouting and running up the road (right on that last bend where the crowd and bus are in this great shot of Patrick crossing the line). The parking lot was several hundred yards away and she’d underestimated how long the process would take. I stopped, waited, collected a hug, and then we crossed the line together. How can you beat that for poetry?