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400 K of hell, hell, hell! Brevet Report, Part 2 (long!)(14 posts)

400 K of hell, hell, hell! Brevet Report, Part 2 (long!)Dale Brigham
Apr 30, 2003 10:21 AM
Episode II: The Kilometers Strike Back

Gentle Reader:

When last we left our intrepid sextet of randos (Arj, Jen, Dan-O, Matt, J [of Haiku Shop fame], and yours truly), we had made the halfway (200 km) point of the 400 km brevet, which originated in Edwardsville, IL. We continue the tale....

Leaving Pinckneyville, all is well with our little band. After a stint south on a fairly busy road (most of our roads were blessedly scarce of traffic), we reach the southernmost point on our brevet route, and start back west and north to Ed-ville.

Our road westward parallels low, swampy fields, inundated by the past week's steady rains. It looks like we are really in Mississippi River world, and a glance at the map confirms our close proximity to the Big Muddy, just a few miles to the west of us.

As we continue west past Ava, the road climbs up to dryer ground. Verdant fields of winter wheat surround us horizon to horizon, as we encounter a narrow paved lane that resembles a stretch of Paris-Roubaix roads. The path twists and turns around farm fields and wooded streams, and our group playfully "attacks" the route in good spirits.

A roadside "nature break" provides an opportunity to shed windbreakers, vests, and arm and leg warmers, as the temperature has climbed into the 70s. While the rest of our clan stuffs the aforementioned articles into now-bulging jersey pockets, J neatly stows his garments into the apparently bottomless Carradice astern his saddle. He just might be on to something there....

Our route now makes it's way north, and the former tailwind that sped us south now becomes a headwind. We singlefile our way north against the wind, Arj's Cat. I legs now being fully engaged in locomotive duties. J pulls mightily, too, as do I and others, to a lesser extent. Our real work has begun in earnest.

A series of rolling hills helps to break up the battle against the wind, which otherwise precludes conversation. J and I chat about bikes, family, and jobs as we plug along. We find ourselves ahead of the rest of our group, and roll into a crossroads, where we pause for our companions, who had stopped for more nature breaks and clothing adjustments. The kilometers are starting to exact their toll, and the task is getting grimmer.

More hills and headwind now, as the afternoon wears on. For me, this is always the hardest part of longer brevets, the so-called "dark afternoon of my soul." Conversation lessens, largely precluded by the wind and the pedaling effort. Each rider retreats into his and her world, a little cocoon of solitude amid the group. The saddle seems harder now, and the little aches and pains cry out a bit louder.

All except for J, who is becoming a virtual rolling infomercial for Brooks (leather) saddles. While the rest of us are getting out of the saddle more and more to relieve pressure points, J constantly stays seated. He points this out to us, which does not help. I start to hate him for being so smugly comfortable, but then realize I'm just suffering from a bit of low blood sugar. A few swallows of the yellow-green stuff in my bottle (Gatorade, in the original "urine" flavor), and I'm feeling the love again.

As with most brevets, the controles (checkpoints) seem to get farther and farther apart as the ride wears on. This has been a fairly long stint, about 80 km (50 miles), between controls. Finally, we enjoy a real descent and glide into Sparta, our fourth controle, about a quarter 'til 4 p.m. Only about 120 km (75 miles) remain.

In Sparta, as in all of the controle towns, we have free choice as to which convenience store or other place we want to have validate (write in time and initial) our brevet cards. We come upon a Casey's convenience store (ubiquitous in our part of the Midwest), the parking lot of which is inexplicably completely empty. I am sent by our gro
re: 400 K Brevet Report, Part 2, continued (long!)Dale Brigham
Apr 30, 2003 10:25 AM
Episode II: The Kilometers Strike Back, continued

In Sparta, as in all of the controle towns, we have free choice as to which convenience store or other place we want to have validate (write in time and initial) our brevet cards. We come upon a Casey's convenience store (ubiquitous in our part of the Midwest), the parking lot of which is inexplicably completely empty. I am sent by our group to scout the store, as it looks like it might be closed. Seeing lights inside and movement, I wave my friends over to the parking lot.

As soon as we lean our bikes on the storefront, it appears that the entire town's population descends on the store. Cars line up at the gas pumps and Land of Lincolnites queue up at the counter, stocking up on cigs, cheap beer (always bought in 12-packs or larger), and lottery tickets. I think this a corollary to the principle that the sure-fire way to make a car appear on an otherwise deserted road, is to stand by the road engaged in a "nature break." (This inerrant law of nature was confirmed several times during this ride.)

After consuming a couple of granola bars and water (not more Gatorade, which I am getting sick of), I am back in the saddle with my comrades, ready to knock out another 70 km (40 miles) or so to our next controle.

This is the real part of the brevet now -- far enough from the start to be tired of it, but not close enough to "smell the barn." The wind is still in our faces, the aches and pains are getting downright insistent, and the once-sparse traffic seems heavier and more malevolent. I'm ready for this thing to be over.

Just as with a long bike race, it looks to me like I'm the only one who is feeling weary. Of course, after talking with the crew afterwards, this myth is dispelled. Everybody (except J, who seems to be getting happier and stronger, dammit!) reported that the miles were taking their toll.

Not quaffing down more Gatorade at the previous controle stop turned out to be a mistake. Drinking solely water at the break has left me light-headed for a bit, which I belatedly rectify with frequent pulls on my Gatorade-filled bottles. I have experienced this before; you would think I'd learn my lesson by now. No fluids for me without sugar and salt.

About 25 km (15 miles) short of our next controle, we decide to make our only non-controle extended (not just a "nature break") stop of the brevet in Okawville. This stop turns out to be a blessing, as yet another sandwich is choked down (J related that he simply gets tired of eating in these long rides; I concur), and I make sure my Gatorade intake is back on track. This stop pays really off near the end.

Only a short ride finds us at the pentultimate controle, New Baden. We roll into town right at 7 p.m., find a convenience store, and stock up on calories and fluids. It's getting cooler, and it will be dark in an hour, so clothing (arm and leg warmers, vests and windbreakers) comes out of the packs and pockets, and the lights are checked before we leave for our final controle and destination, Edwardsville, 55 km (35 miles) ahead of us.

The headwind is less stiff now, as the sun tracks closer to the horizon. The cooling air feels good on wind-burned flesh. Our group morale is high, knowing that we are only a few hours away from the finish. We are heading due north now; the road is straight for almost 40 km (25 miles).

As the sun sets, the big red rubber ball that we first greeted 14 hours ago, the lights go on, and we huddle together on the road, three rows of two abreast. Red taillights blaze and flash, and the blue tint of J's LED lights contrasts with the yellowish tint of the halogen bulbs the rest of us are using.

At night, the pace slackens a bit, and the conversations return. The road undulates a bit, as we encounter a few gentle rollers, and then an overpass crossing a busy highway.
re: 400 K Brevet Report, Part 2, finale (long!)Dale Brigham
Apr 30, 2003 10:27 AM
Episode II: The Kilometers Strike Back, finale

At night, the pace slackens a bit, and the conversations return. The road undulates a bit, as we encounter a few gentle rollers, and then an overpass crossing a busy highway. In the dark, upturns in the road can be surprising, as perspective is lost. Suddenly, the pedals are hard to turn, and then you realize you are heading uphill.

Ahead in the dark is an eerie sight, a flame shooting into the sky. A burning bush? A sign from above? Yahoos loading guns around a bonfire, getting ready to shoot anything that moves (like us). Nope, upon nearing it, we see it's just a gas flare burning next to a silent pumpjack. No sign from above; rather, a fire from below.

The other eerie thing is the road surface, which seems to blend in with the surrounding fields, having no apparent line of demarcation between hardtop and dirt. It's almost as if the pavement follows us, rather than us following the pavement.

Finally, up ahead we see trucks and cars on a very busy crossroad, and surmise (correctly) that we are close to I-70. J and I almost race to the top of the overpass, feeling giddy about surmounting an important landmark on the route.

The rest of our group soon join us, regrouping as we go through a small burg, the occupants of which seem to all be inside at an astounding number of little taverns, all sporting Pabst Blue Ribbon signs. We get yelled at and buzzed by one of the pickup truck driving former tavernites, obviously having had his fill of PBR and polite society.

We are now only about 25 km (15 miles) from the finish, and we can smell the proverbial barn. A few miles more north, and then we turn west towards Edwardsville.

We stop by consensus for our last nature break, which Jen proclaims with relief is only 16 km (10 miles) from home. As soon as we remount, a car roars up behind us, honking and yelling, then screams by in the ditch on our left, scattering gravel across the road. We all wish them a speedy, horrific collision and a fiery, painful death.

As we get close to Ed-ville, the road gets hilly again, and twists through rural neighborhoods. We rode this way in the dark earlier that morning, and now we are backtracking our way into town in the dark. We slow to a crawl around ninety-degree turns, the road surface so dark that it disappears in the night.

After negotiating a few turns, hills and vales, we are truly in town. Up the last climb, and J and I are sprinting through Edwardsville. We blast through intersections, barely beating the light. We just want to get done. J provides perfect leadership (I have no idea which direction to head), as we turn onto the main drag, and sprint for the Ed-ville Police Station, our final controle.

I pull up to the building, but J calls out that he has more riding to do. What the #!%*? His computer shows him to be a bit short of an even 250 miles, and he wants to ride it up to that mark. I tell him to do what I do -- baldly lie about ride mileages -- but he will have none of that.

I enter the glass doors of the police station, bathed in a startling fluorescent light. I see the plastic tub underneath a chair in the lobby, as duly described by the brevet administrator, sit in the chair next to it, and pull out a clipboard already inscribed with the names of the five "fast guys," who were ahead of us from the first controle onward.

Their arrival time, 19:07 (military parlence for 7:07 p.m.), showed that they rode the 400 km in 14 hours and 7 minutes. Tres formidable! My watch showed 9:47 p.m. when I dismounted my bike, and I write my name and 21:47 next to it. Our elapsed time is 16 hours and 47 minutes. Not my fastest 400 km, but my most pleasant one.

The other riders in our group quickly arrive, including J, having done the full measure of 250 miles. We finish filling out
re: 400 K Brevet Report, Part 2, really the finale! (short)Dale Brigham
Apr 30, 2003 10:32 AM
Episode II: The Kilometers Strike Back, really the finale!
(Thought my previous post would finish off this beast. I was wrong. Sorry!)

The other riders in our group quickly arrive, including J, having done the full measure of 250 miles. We finish filling out the roster on the clipboard, make sure our brevet cards are completed, add them to the others, and put everything back in the tub for the next group of arriving randos.

A shortcut though a parking lot leads us back to our cars, waiting under the yellowish glow of the streetlamps. We all rush to change clothing (it's getting chilly), and hurridly pack bags, bikes, and bodies into our van.

Before we separate, I exchange thanks, congratulations, and business cards with J, in hopes that we can ride together again someday. Then, it's goodbye waves and a long trip back to Columbia for our little band of randos.

That's the 400K brevet, in the bag. Only the 600K to go, and then we are bound for Paris-Brest-Paris.

Thanks for reading!

Dale
Thanks for the story! -nmfiltersweep
Apr 30, 2003 11:47 AM
indeed, a ride worthy of 3200 words. :) well done! nmJS Haiku Shop
Apr 30, 2003 11:03 AM
Thanks for the reports...good read(nm)SpecialTater
Apr 30, 2003 11:36 AM
Great story - thanks for sharing...Shad
Apr 30, 2003 1:02 PM
almost felt like I was there, but without the suffering!
you're a great story teller, Dalebianchi boy
Apr 30, 2003 6:04 PM
It's even more enjoyable reading about it from the comfort of my home. Having a good group to ride with makes all the difference in the world on long rides.

Has anybody ever actually looked in J's Carradice bag to see what all he has stored in there? No telling what you might find.
You are very kind...Dale Brigham
Apr 30, 2003 8:51 PM
...to an old geezer who likes to peck at the keyboard (instead of working). This is the worst sort of "vanity press" for an ego-driven cyclist, as I am. My efforts are completely self-indulgent. Others on this board do much more difficult and impressive rides and events compared to mine. I just take the time to write about the ones I am involved with. Thank you (and all of the rest of you who have written) for your very kind comments, Bianchi Boy.

In answer to your question, J has a massive supply of fig newtons in the Carradice. I don't mean a ride's worth; I mean enough to feed a grown man for a month or so. If I did not know him better, I'd think that J was a cycling survivalist. Entire villages in Afghanistan could live off of the contents of his Carradice for a week. We can only ponder, "Why?"

Dale
re: mystery contentsJS Haiku Shop
May 1, 2003 5:15 AM
There were only 16 newtons left after that ride.

Other handy things i carry:

* deflated soccer ball
* two rolls of masking tape
* pair of sock garters
* skirt hanger
* spare gas cap
* "best of laurel and hardy" on VHS
* talking bottle opener ("I love you man, but you're not gettin' my bud light!")

Now, you are enlightened. Go forth and "touch others". :)

-J
Please bring it tonightSpecialTater
May 1, 2003 6:18 AM
so I can take a nap in it on the last 5 miles of our "slow" ride.
Please bring it tonightJS Haiku Shop
May 1, 2003 6:28 AM
"F" took me out for a good whuppin' last night, and the 3/3 is saturday, so don't expect to see me anywhere 'cept in the draft. i'm saving my legs for burkhalter gap, which i'm considering suffering through on a double this year (truly truly low IQ).
Great Ride Report/Stories, ThanksToothpick
May 1, 2003 6:32 AM
...All except for J, who is becoming a virtual rolling infomercial for Brooks (leather) saddles.......

Brooks Swift, myself

...but then realize I'm just suffering from a bit of low blood sugar. A few swallows of the yellow-green stuff in my bottle (Gatorade, in the original "urine" flavor), and I'm feeling the love again......

this one hit home - so true

I'm still trying to work up to 100 miles. The distance you rode is impressive-as well as the time