A Boston 300K Ride Report
I was eagerly looking forward to the challenging new 2012 Boston 300K
route that Jake designed, knowing full well that my odds of finishing
inside the time limit were probably 50/50. A week before the ride, I
brought my oldest road bike out of retirement. It is a 1993 Trek
“sport touring” bike that proudly displays a factory decal “ALUMINUM”
on the top tube. I rode my first century and first 200K on this bike,
but in recent years, it has seen little use. Its wheels and pedals
had been scavenged, and apparently the internals of the RSX STI levers
had seized up. [This bike originally came with down tube shifers. I
had replaced them with the RSX levers in 1997.] So to bring this bike
back into service, I scavenged my touring wheels from one bike and
pedals from another bike. And I installed new bar end shifters. This
is a 7 speed drivetrain 30/42/52 + 12/28. The front fork is cushy
steel, which I thought would be good for absorbing all of the bumps
that were advertised on this route. I also installed a known “good”
saddle, because I knew the old saddle on that bike was no good for
long distance. I also added a second layer of bar tape, which
instantly transformed these bars from my least comfortable to on par
with my most comfortable. $12 and 12 minutes well spent!
As a shakedown ride, Sara and I set out the next day from our doorstep
for a 145 mile ride southward down the coast of Maine, with an inland
return route. A few respectable hills on the course. The bike
performed flawlessly. I had apparently nailed the saddle location, no
adjustment necessary. Bars just needed to be lowered about a little.
The new levers are indexed for 9 speed so I was using friction shift
on the rear for the first time since the 80’s. I actually liked it.
No clicky clunky noise, and no cable settling to worry about.
So after a busy work week, I tossed the bike on the roof and drove to
my hotel in Burlington in time to get some sleep before the start. I
was happy to see a decent turnout for the ride. Jake did the
announcements and we were off. I started about 30 seconds behind the
main bunch, and I last saw that cloud of taillights maybe on Virginia
Rd (mile 1). I have started too hard on a few occasions. I’ve
learned to watch that group pedal away. However, the disappearance
usually takes a LITTLE longer…
Nonetheless, I was feeling good and making good speed (for me) on the
way to the first control (mile 22) and had gained a good amount of
time buffer. I leapfrogged a few other riders on this section. The
rain had started in earnest well before the control, so the cue sheet
was encased in a ziploc. I also (for the first time) had a Garmin on
the bars with maps and turn by turn directions. I did not spend any
time at the control. I did not need to warm up, and I was good on
food and water. The most memorable happening on the way to the first
control was at about mile 16 when Jon D nearly ran over a NKB.
Nocturnal Kamikaze Bunny.
Having not spent much time at the control, it took a while for the
leapfroggers to leap past me again. I was still pleased with my
progress and the fact that I was building time buffer that I knew I
would need later. It seemed that the “real” hills started at about
mile 40. I was getting up them OK, but as I was passing through a
town at about mile 48, my legs started telling me that maybe I was a
little behind on electrolytes, and that I was possibly vulnerable to
an onset of The Cramp. I’ve only really been attacked by The Cramp on
three occasions. And none of them were hot days. I can’t explain it.
Anyway, I decided that I would stop as soon as I was off the main
street. The next turn was a right turn onto Cushing St, and given
that the main street was somewhat of an uphill, I had some hope that
Cushing St would provide an easing of the gradient. As I steered the
bike onto Cushing St, that hope was instantly crushed. Like a penny
on a train track. Perhaps the steepest hill so far? So my ample
supply of stubbornness kicked in, and I decided I would take a brief
break only after beating Cushing St into submission.
As I was standing and cranking my way up Cushing St, I started hearing
an occasional tick from my drivetrain that seemed new but it was only
a minor distraction. I kept pedaling, but I was pondering whether it
was once per crank rev or once per chain cycle. Before I came to a
conclusion, the chain came off the inside chainring. I managed to
unclip and stay upright. Now the correct thing to do at this point
would have been to examine the drivetrain and figure out (1) why the
chain would suddenly come off the inside chainring and (2) what was
the source of that ticking noise. But what actually happened was that
my powers of denial kicked in, and I refused to believe that I had an
imminent chain failure, and instead I quickly put the chain back on
the chainring. I then did a downhill start to get clipped in, did the
U turn, and on the first or second pedal stroke there was a Very Bad
Sound from the back wheel and some resistance to pedaling above and
beyond just gravity.
From the sound, I had a pretty good idea what had just happened.
Again I managed to unclip and not fall over. A quick glance confirmed
my suspicion. The rear derailleur was no longer attached to the
frame. It had been relocated to a location between a reak rack stay
and the back wheel.
My first reaction was crap, I didn’t even make it a third of the way,
and I have to somehow get a ride from here back to the start.
My second reaction was crap, I didn’t even make it a third of the way,
and I have to somehow get a ride from here back to the start.
Starting with my third reaction, my rando “training” managed to break
through. How am I going to get to the next control? Am I walking or
am I riding? The derailleur is probably only bent, but that is moot
because the hanger is snapped off. So at best I have a single speed.
(Or maybe a two speed). I have a chain tool. And ordinarily (if I
weren’t riding a 20 year old bike with a 7 speed drivetrain) I would
have a super link, or at least a special connecting pin. But I have
neither. So I moved the bike into the grass and set to it. It seemed
like the question was going to be — can I achieve reasonable chain
tension without the derailleur? And the answer was going to be either
yes or no, and I wouldn’t know until I tried. So as the rain
intensified (and I shivered for the first and only time all day) and
the mosquitos were having breakfast at my expense, I broke the chain
at an easy-to-get-at link which was 6 or 8 links from the failure, and
removed the derailleur.
I forgot to explain exactly what failed. When I installed this chain
several years ago (yes, in hindsight I should have replaced the chain
when I brought this bike out of retirement) I vaguely remember
botching the job such that an outside link slipped off the special
joining pin. (This was one of the last times I installed a chain
without using a super link.) This was during an event, so I fixed it
in the field by pushing the outside link back onto the pin. The chain
never gave me any more issue. And it survived last week’s 145 mile
test ride without issue. So back to the failure. What happened was
that the outside link slipped off again when I applied my massive
quads to the Cushing St problem. That was the ticking, similar to the
noise that a time bomb might make. And presumably that’s what caused
the chain drop “warning shot” which I Denied. The killshot was when
that outside link caught on the pulley cage of the derailleur and
tried to pull it around my 28 tooth cog. Luckily, it appeared that
the chain had stayed away from my spokes, so no weakened spokes.
Back to the repair. Given that I was shivering, and my blood loss to
the mosquitos was becoming significant, I did not think too hard about
what gearing I would want in my single speed. I figured I had to
either choose a middle gear which would allow some reasonable
efficiency on flat terrain and cause a lot of walking up hills, or
else I had to choose a very low gear so I wouldn’t have to walk up
hills. Given the number of hills on the route, I opted for the low
gear, specifically small chainring (30) to second to largest cog (24).
This also resulted in a darn near straight chainline, which seemed
like a good idea with a weakened chain. It took me a while to figure
out how to reuse a standard chain pin. In hindsight it was pretty
easy. Just don’t push any pins all the way out of both outer links.
When I was nearly finished a kind person from across the street
invited me into his garage to use whatever tools he had. It was also
warm and flat in there (so I could turn the bike upside down instead
of crouching) so I gladly accepted his offer. He was a very cheerful
fellow and he showed me one of the signs he had recently painted. It
said “All Days are Good. Some are Gooder than Others.”
So I was lucky, the spacing between crank and cassette allowed for
enough chain tension, perhaps just slightly too much, but it appeared
to be workable. The repair probably took an hour, but I didn’t worry
about the clock until I pedaled to the top of Cushing St. The chain
had held for a couple hundred yards of a steep hill. Maybe I’ll be
able to pedal to the control. Hey, what time is it? Maybe I haven’t
blown the time limit yet. Sure enough, I should be able to get there
Now for the bad news. Given my 30/24 gear ratio, my top speed on flat
terrain is now 9.3 mph. Well technically maybe 11 mph but that was
not a sustainable cadence for me. So clearly flat terrain was now The
Enemy. My climbing speed was not going to be much different than it
was before, nor was downhill coasting. But flat roads were going to be
much slower than they would be ordinarily.
Now some (maybe all) of you may be reading this and thinking — what a
pansy! He should have gone with the middle chainring and the 14 or 16
in the back. I know that people do these courses with 42/15 single or
fixed drivetrains. I know I am not capable of that. I continue to be
in awe of people who are capable of that. I heard there was a single
speed (by choice) rider out on course, and I am curious what gears
Given the mix of terrain on the way to the 54 mile control, my average
speed actually didn’t seem to be affected that much, though it is an
exercise in patience to coast along on a slight downhill at 10-11 mph.
I arrived at the control with 7 minutes to spare. To my suprise,
most of the leapfroggers were still there, plus the two riders that
passed by while I was repairing my bike on Cushing St. One rider was
wisely abandoning due to signs of hypothermia. Conditions at this
point were 45 degrees (about 10 to 15 below forecast) with heavy rain
and some wind. I left the control at exactly 1 minute past the
closing time. Next control was 28 miles and I had to average a little
better than 9.3 mph to get there before closing.
This was the real test of (1) can I achieve better than brevet pace
(9.3 mph) with 30/24 gearing and (2) is this chain, with a weakened
link and slightly over-tensioned, going to hold? Again, much patience
was required when coasting on the slight downhills. There was a bit
of a steep wall about 3 miles before the control which seemed like a
pretty good test of the weak chain link. Much torque was applied. No
chain failure. I got to the 82 mile control with 13 minutes to spare,
so I had gained 14 minutes! Which I promptly squandered at the
control. I believe I left right at the closing time. The next leg
was 14 miles, and the voluinteers at the control passed along a rumor
that it was easy and predominantly downhill.
And so it was, at least for the first 7 miles. Another rider had left
the control slightly after I did, and he passed me. I didn’t see him
again until Dick’s Bike Shop (mile 117). About 7 miles into this leg
there was a hill. Not a short hill. About 1/3 (?) of the way up it,
I was thinking, hey, I’ve still got a chance of finishing inside the
time limit (midnight). Two seconds later my bike barfed its chain
onto the ground behind me. A perfect line of links sitting flat on
the pavement, all looking at me and laughing.
I immediately knew what had happened. Again I managed to unclip and
stay upright. My first thought was crap, nice job, now you have to
get a ride back to the start from 89 miles out instead of 48. Plus
it’s 7 miles uphill to backtrack to the previous control, which will
be torn down anyway, so no point going backwards.
My second thought was that it was time to take Mark S up on his kind
offer of sagging me to the start from wherever on the course, no
matter how late into the evening/night. I dug my phone out and
verified that it had no service. I have to admit, at this point I was
only considering how to get to somewhere that I could place a phone
call. Had my brain been on straight, I would have coasted down the
hill to a spot where I could safely repair my chain, and then
continued on to the control. But in reality what I did was to assume
there was no way I was going to make it to the control inside the time
limit. So I walked uphill (maybe 15-20 minutes?) alternately cursing
and laughing until I found a flat spot where I could safely work on
the bike. There’s a really nice creek running down the left side of
that road. I highly recommend getting off and walking up that hill so
you can see it. This was an opportunity to change the gearing, but I
decided to keep the 30/24 gearing. The repair probably took 20
minutes or so. Then I had a bite to eat. It wasn’t completely
downhill to the control (mile 96) from there, but it was fairly easy
and I arrived only 20 minutes outside the time limit. Who knows,
maybe I could have made it on time, had I not prematurely mentally
blown the time limit. It was only the second strike, afterall. But
something had happened during this second repair. Some say his heart
grew three sizes that day (it was really just his brain shrinking) but
the Garshaf realized that even though the time limit had just slid
past, nothing had really changed. The NERDs down in NERDville were
still waiting for riders to come in, and there was still plenty of
time to at least get much closer to the finish. If I had to stop and
repair the chain every 40 miles, so be it.
I had left the repair site (mile 89.x) at the next control’s closing
time, and it took me 20 minutes to get to the control. So that was
it, I had officially blown the time limit. This was a farm store, and
the woman there was extremely nice, and she tempted me with her
car+bikerack+offer to drive me wherever I needed to be. Thirty
minutes earlier, I would have accepted. But that would have been
Wrong. I didn’t really need her help. I was OK on warmth
(temperature had soared all the way up to 48 though it was still
raining) and I had plenty of food and water. Legs seemed fine. I was
only missing a rear derailleur hanger. So I called Sara and gave her
the status update. She is one of us, so unlike a normal wife, she
actually understood why I was continuing.
I found this next 21 mile leg to Dick’s Bike Shop to be harder than
any of the previous legs. I’m not sure if it really was, or if I was
just fading. Looking at my leftover food after the ride, it looks
like my calorie intake was not what it should have been. (A chronic
problem of mine, which I’ve been doing better with, but when riding so
close to the time limit, it’s hard to keep the food flowing.) I
joined up with another rider at mile 100 and we rode together the next
17 miles to the control. I had left the previous control 47 minutes
after the closing time, and I arrived at Dick’s Bike Shop about 71
minutes past closing. This was the first leg that I lost time without
having a mechanical to blame. Perhaps this was partly because the
time limit had been blown, so the urgency was gone. On this leg, I
decided that if the Petersham control volunteer (Walt, mile 124)
offered to sag me to the start, I would accept. Otherwise, I would
press on to the finish, relying on Mark S to bail me out if necessary.
My decision to abandon was partly because I wanted to be done, and
partly to not keep the ride organizers and volunteers out any farther
past midnight than they already were going to be. (Though I suspect
that they would have supported my decision to tough it out, had my
stubbornness been unsurmountable.) I think if stubbornness had won
out, I would have finished sometime around 2am (two hours outside the
Unfortunately (dammit!) Walt prevented me from reaching the Petersham
control (mile 124) by parking his warm dry car at about mile 121.
This was the site of abandonment. (I will curse it appropriately next
time I pass it.) I broke down into tears. Walt and the other
abandoner had to physically lift me into the car. Just kidding! I
was glad to see Walt, and I happily stripped the bike and climbed into
the car. We then drove the rest of the course (stopping for coffee
and some pretty good chili at the Petersham store), arriving back at
Hanscom at about 9:00 or so, just one or two riders still out on
course. I was showered and sleeping in my warm hotel bed before the
time limit expired. I hope Walt, Jake, and Emily were home too.
Some additional observations / random tidbits…
The people at all three stores were really nice. (Tweedo’s, Diemand,
Petersham) I wish I could have spent more time at all of them.
As I was pedaling along at top speed of 10 mph or so, a squirrel
passed me. I thought that was uncalled for.
I need to check the Garmin to see if the auto pause feature can be set
to trigger at something less than 2 mph.
I thought the course was awesome, though granted, I saw the final
third of it from a car.
I think I was passed by a total of 3 cars all day. Some nice scenery,
though some of it was obscured by fog and the other 90% was obscured
by water droplets on my glasses.
I liked the sand trap on one of the dirt sections. After the surface
had transitioned to be a little more hard packed, I looked down at my
cue sheet for a second (my bad) and when I looked up I was headed
straight for the sand box which spanned the entire right hand side of
the road. The bike stopped and I fell sideways. I felt like a
cartoon character, but I thought I rolled well, and somehow I got both
feet unclipped either before or during the fall. Fortunately the left
side of the road (which I fell onto) was much harder packed, so I
didn’t sink in too far. I laughed pretty hard. Clearly an earlier
much more intelligent rider had dismounted and walked trough the sand
trap. You could see the footprints. It’s too bad there weren’t any
riders after us — I left an interesting impression in the sand trap
for them to interpret.
I think this will be one of my favorite / most memorable rides. I
should frame the control card.
I’m very grateful for Walt’s kindness in sagging me to the finish, and
that’s two bottles of bourbon I owe him now. (Dammit!)
After the second chain incident, I was afraid to stand on the pedals.
This probably didn’t help my climbing speed.
So my single speed was maybe a two speed. Perhaps I could have
removed the rear wheel and moved the chain from 30/24 to 42/12. But
this would have been a less straight chainline, and it would have only
been useful on very gentle terrain. I never tried it. The time
penalty for switching gears seemed too high.
To my friends in North Carolina, I’m sorry to have let you down. Such
a disgrace. I DNF’d while wearing a NC rando reflective vest.