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Saturday, PMC Stage 1: Sturbridge to MMA, Bourne

Saturday, August 2, 2003

No, No, No, It's Too Early

Ugh. The alarm went off at 4:50 this morning. I tried desperately to find a snooze button, but it's probably good that there wasn't one: this weekend wasn't about sleeping or comfort, by any stretch. Chris Rawson and I shared a room with two double beds. He went next door to awake Steve and Jim, and I took a shower just to wake myself up. Thirty minutes after the alarm, my bag was back in Steve's car and I was mounting my bike to ride in the pouring rain to the Host for breakfast and the start of the ride.

My bag went into one of the semi-trailers they use for shipping everybody's bags to the Mass Maritime Academy, today's finishing point. The riders were being split up by speed, and the four of us all put our bikes into the fastest section, then headed inside for a breakfast of fruit, trailmix, doughnuts, bagels, and juice.

Then, it was time to go. We headed back out to our bikes -- it was still pouring -- and prepared to go.

Kick Off

With everyone standing there -- over 2,500 riders started in Sturbridge, the rest would start at Wellsley for a shorter ride -- the scale of this event finally hit me. This is huge. From my somewhat "aerial" perspective, it was a sea of helmets for hundreds of yards to my right, front, and back. Truly stunning. The biggest group I've ever started with would be the Tuesday-night half centuries at Mystic Cycle, and we've never had more than fifteen riders. (My other big rides, the SCC and the Quabbin, may have included group starts but I wasn't there for them.)

Finally, we were off. I had a little trouble getting into my cleats (just from the jitters), so Jim got ahead of me. Chris and Steve had started somewhere else in the pack, so I wasn't sure where they were. The applause from the spectators and volunteers was very exciting as we left the Host, and then it was just open road with cyclists stretched out from horizon to horizon.

For the first few miles, the police actually closed the roads to automobiles. That's good, as it takes a little while for the group to self-organize and people to find their pace. Though it was very early in the morning, even one or two cars coming through could have been very dangerous.

The Ride

I started out with a slow pace, maybe 16 mph, and a high cadence. Jim was getting further and further ahead of me, but I could see him from any distance because he had a nearly-unique orange raincoat and a flashing light under his saddle. Once I was warmed up and comfortable riding in such a large group, I picked up my pace and started trying to catch Jim. I'm not sure how long it took, but when I did I just rode next to him silently until he saw me and said a surprised hello. He explained that he was going to take it slowly all day (he rode from the NY line with Steve yesterday, so he was already worn down a bit). Just as he said that, we hit the bottom of a small climb and I was ready to go, so we said goodbye.

My pace stayed above eighteen miles per hour for the first two hours. I skipped the first water stop, as I had only drained one of my two bottles and had plenty of food in my jersey pockets.

Shortly after passing that first water stop, I picked up two riders and formed a small paceline. One of them, believe it or not, was Senator John Kerry himself! (I didn't know it at the time, in fact I didn't realize he was back there until just before he fell off.) The other was a 50-year-old man with very wide shoulders who stood about 6' 4" tall. We were pretty evenly matched, and enjoyed drafting each other right up to the lunch stop at mile 60. I was a little stronger than him in spite of my extra weight, but that's probably just because of his twenty extra years: he was certainly in good shape. Sadly, I've forgotten his name.

Cherry/Kerry Street

One of the roads famous for its cheering specators is Cherry Street (I don't even know what town it is). There was even a camera crew there from NECN. As the three of us rode down it, I heard John Kerry say something like, "I knew I'd get a great welcome on Kerry Street!" That was corny.

Watering holes were spaced out every twenty miles, so I stopped for the first time at the 40 mile point. At this point the volunteers, all wearing red "PMC Volunteer" tee-shirts, outnumbered the riders by a small margin so I knew I was making good time: I was ahead of the majority of the pack. Refilled my bottles with very weak gatorade, ate a PBJ sandwich, and I was off again, joined again by the same guy as before.

I'm a Clydesdale

My most memorable moment from the first day of riding is something he said: "we're doing pretty well for a couple of clydesdales." I'd never thought of myself as a clydesdale, but it fit so well that I'm sure it's something I'll repeat often.

The lunch stop was at the 60 mile point. When we arrived, there were only seventy or eighty bikes there, including Steve's. He seemed honestly and pleasantly surprised to see me, and commented that I had made very good time. He pointed out the coffee, but I just wanted food and water. Steve said he had been there for ten minutes when I arrived, and a few minutes later he was gone.

I hung around for thirty minutes, waiting to see if Jim or Chris would show up. They didn't, and I was eager to move again, so I said goodbye to my new friend, who was waiting for someone to arrive from the Wellsley start.

After warming up again, I hopped onto a pace line that was going a little faster than me, and blazed along to the 80 mile water stop. The only thing I remember about this stop was being swamped by volunteers. I was still far enough ahead of the pack that they hadn't seen many riders come through yet, and were being very helpful. I just stood there, straddling my bike, and let them refill my water bottles. One very pretty (sorry, Corinne) ~25 year old volunteer asked if she could get me something to eat, and then actually sprinted to the food table and back again with another PBJ sandwich. That's service! ;-)

I was only stopped there for a couple minutes, and then from ~80 to ~103 (final watering stop) I rode in a paceline lead by a tandem. They were really moving fast, about twenty miles per hour, but were easy to draft because... well, because they're a tandem and push a lot of air. They didn't want to take turns, so I sat right on their wheel and we gathered a long line behind us who probably found it very easy to ride behind a tandem and a giant.

After both of my cleats disengaged at the same moment (as if by magic, almost causing me to fall), I'd fallen off of the line for a minute and then caught up again. I was riding at the back when the tandem missed a badly marked turn (the only one in the whole weekend). I called out "Right turn! Right turn!" but it was too late for them to make it. They had to slow, stop, turn the bike around, and start riding again. I was leading the line now, and slowed to make sure they were coming (they were) but they never caught up with us again.

Arrival at Mass Maritime Academy

I finally bonked -- at least a little -- between the last water stop at mile 103+, and the home stretch. Even the easiest gear seemed too hard, and for a few miles I thought I was going to have to stop for a little nap on the side of the road. ;-) I finally snapped out of it just a mile from the finish, and rode in among a cheering crowd that boosted my energy level back up to 100%, if only for thirty seconds or so.

Surprise, surprise! I was one of the first 100 riders to arrive, out of a field of 3700+!!

Page last updated: 7/22/2004

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