The revised Boston 200k is a route I’ve been working on for the past year. I like Steve’s idea of visiting Wachusett Reservation and Purgatory Chasm for controls but figured there’s be some way of going West of Worcester to in search of more scenic roads. Last fall I rode my first revision of the route. It was great but extremely difficult and required me to climb up a steep embankment when I discovered a part of the Central Mass Rail Trail and cross road don’t actually intersect. So I spent the winter revising the route again, drove it twice, and this weekend pre-rode it on the bike. Below is my report.
Saturday, March 31st was not as warm as predicted. It was in the mid-30s when I left Medford at 6am headed for the new start location in Concord. Nashoba Brooks School (NBS) is only about 5 miles from Hanscom but that adds 30 miles to the route as opposed to the normal 20. But it’s a nice ride, one I’ve done hundreds of times.
From NBS to Wachusetts is 33 miles but accounts for 3000′ of climbing — 40% of the total for the route! For this reason the supported control at the visitors center will be untimed. The hardest climbing (almost 2000′ worth) start after riders pass the Cumberland Farms in Lancaster. Knowing this I stopped for a hot chocolate and Little Debbie Fruit Pie — the breakfast of champion randonneurs. Jean-Jacoques Perrey was on the bike speaker and I was ready to climb.
Perhaps it’s Stockholm Syndrome but I really like this section. [Many BBS routes used to use this section back when I only rode brevets on fixed gears. It’s easier on multispeed bikes.] The roads are steep but gorgeous, even in March before spring has started springing. There’s almost no one else on the road. It seems the Convent of the Cenacle (Bayard Thayer estate) has a for sale sign. I’ve never been inside but the place looks intriguing. Anyone have $16 million for NER’s new HQ?
There was a ton of sand on the roads within the last 3 miles of the leg. I suspect there will be less in three weeks but it’s something riders should be aware of as they head up the mountain. There was no volunteers to greet me at the visitors center for the pre-ride but there is a vending machine and poweraid is surprisingly good after that elevation gain.
The next 20 miles is another fun section. About half of it is descending as the elevation drops from 1400′ to about 800′. Much of this is spent on Route 62 where there is a wide shoulder and a chance to catch up on some time. When I got to the Central Mass Rail Trail I found it to be blocked by snow so I stayed on the paved alternatives. There’s a good chance the final route will strike this unpaved section entirely. [Edit: Revised route of 4-3-2018 eliminates the rail trail.]
Not much was happening in “Downtown” Oakham that Saturday (there are no stores) but I do like the little town center. I resisted the urge to ring the bell next to the fashionable Gazebo. Look to your left shortly out of town for the “Locomotive House” — a masterwork in representative architecture.
The next section is non-stop rollers as the route passes more farms in sparsely populated Central Massachusetts. Spencer is a chance for hot food and I used to opportunity to get a cheese steak. On the TV they were airing a show called “Heartland”. Lets just say I’m glad to be riding and not stuck indoors having to watch programming like that. (I assumed it was a failed pilot but apparently it’s now into 11 seasons.) Spencer also marks the midpoint of the Brevet. The 2nd half will be eaiser.
Not long after leaving town the route veers left at Singletary lake, one of the better named water bodies in the Commonwealth. From there it’s into Auburn, MA — a suburb of Worcester. Traffic will pick up for a bit. When designing the route I thought long and hard about the Route 12 crossing. Theres no good way of getting across this major road. The best method is to cross at a signaled intersection (the first traffic light in nearly 55 miles!) and ride on the shoulder for 0.2 of a mile down the hill and taking the first right. It’s safe but not scenic. Needless to say, riders should stay single file.
There’s a steep kicker of a climb after leaving the highway but it’s very short. There’s another big intersection (Rt. 20) a few miles later but after this crossing it’s back to small rural roads. In this section I rode past a woman on horseback speaking to another woman wearing a apron while a little girl admired the horse. It was an exact, real-life replica of a scene I had just watched on that Heartland show back in the pizza shop! Very surreal.
Getting into Sutton there’s one big, long, straight climb. Don’t be discouraged! It’s downhill from the top to the control at Purgatory Chasm where snacks await. Just past the control is the “West End Creamery” which is a good stop for Ice’d Cream.
The last notable climb is at mile 89 at the backside of the Shining Rock golf course. This is a twisty climb through new McMansions built on the side of a hill. It’s a fun climb that’s only switchbacks — pretty rare for New England. Plus there’s a nice fast descent on the opposite side.
Soon I was in Westbough which is the beginning of the end. The climbs start smoothing out as the course heads through the distant Boston suburbs. The sun was starting to set so I decided to pick up the pace. I normally stop at the Starbucks in Southbrough decided to keep pushing ahead to get back before dark.
Bruen Road on the Hudson/Stow border is a strange one. A short section of the road is closed to cars but passable by non-motorized vehicles. Riders must pass some stone barricade and then about 1000′ later there’s a fence in the road with a gap for bikes. You’ll want to walk the bike through the gap or ride on the dirt around the fence. This area used to part of Fort Devens and a small section remains in Uncle Sam’s hands as a fenced off superfund site. (Don’t leave Bruen Rd.)
From there the route cuts though the Assabet Wildlife Refuge. I love this section as the unpaved bike trail is only 0.4 miles long but for this short section you see nothing man made — just wetlands, beaver dams, and other peaceful scenery. Not sure if the final route will keep this section but it’s worth riding if you’re ever in the area. [Edit: Revised route of 4-3-2018 eliminates the Assabet National Wildlife Refuge. Route uses alternate, paved roads in Sudbury & Concord.]
Around 7:30 I was back in Concord. By this time it was dark but had I lights and reflective gear for the ride home. In a few weeks the riders will have more daylight but everyone should still come prepared with lights and reflective gear should you use the full 13.5 hours to complete the ride.
I enjoy this route a greatly and will be interested to hear what others things. It’s challenging but fair and in designing the course I tried to minimize climbing as much as possible while still using the original controls and staying on the smallest roads. I look forward to riding it with others in a few weeks.