Synopsis: I (Jake Kassen) rode the NER Overnight 200k this past weekend (Aug 20th 2016) and had a great time. It served as something of a belated 10th anniversary brevet for myself. Below is my report of the ride including some reflections on 10 years of Randonneuring.
I had been considering Sarah B’s overnight 200k since last year when it was first offered. In 2015 a group of about a dozen riders finished in record time and all had good things to say. That said, I was apprehensive about riding the event personally. I loath evening starts as I don’t do well without sleep. I would much rather start at 4am and take the risk of little sleep the previous night than start at 10pm and be assured of getting none of it.
With a week to go only a single person had registered although I did get a number of emails asking how many would show up. Randonneuring suffers from a catch 22 of registration: People only want to register if they think a large group will start but in waiting to register they are the very reason more people aren’t signing up! So I signed up myself in part to add another person and hopefully attract more to the ride. In the end we had four pre-reg and two night-of.
Five of the six riders were at Ride Studio Cafe surprisingly early which was nice as it gave everyone a chance to chat before heading off. Incidentally, The folks at Ride Studio are extremely supportive of NER events — I really can’t thank them enough. When RSC first opened I incorrectly assumed they were for snobs with $10,000 bikes and equally pricy Rapha kits. But the truth is they are welcoming off all types of riders, bike agnostic, and highly supportive of long and unusual rides. It’s worth a trip to the shop to say hi.
Sarah gave us her blessings and the ride started. I intended to keep chatting but wanted to ride single file as we left Lexington and within a mile I looked back only to find the headlights where some distance away. Jeffery, a newer but strong Ranndoneur caught up and we stayed together until the first control at mile 35. We had some nice chatting about work and our former lives in New Jersey.
At one point we were riding up a small hill when we saw a car stopped on the opposite lane. The driver had gotten out and was lifting the fur on some not-so-recent road kill. (!) You see the strange things on a bike at night. There was minimal traffic on the easy-to-follow roads to downtown Lowell. Shortly after crossing the Merrimack you’re in New Hampshire and the traffic all but disappears. The roads in MA are nice enough but it’s particularly enjoyable riding in NH at night and Jeff and I were making good time.
The newly renovated Cumberland Farms in Derry, NH is an ideal control. Lots of hot and cold food offerings. I opted for two slices of 99 cent pizza which, while on a bike, are surpassingly tasty and easy to digest. That was topped off with a Red Bull in hopes of keeping me awake. Figuring I would soon feel the effects of the night and slow down I told Jeff he shouldn’t wait. I used the restroom and when I returned I caught a glimpse of his tail light in the distance.
While I enjoy group rides, I’ve come accustomed riding alone. Being a RBA is isolating: I pre-ride and scout rides which is normally a solo affair. This overnight 200k is only the 2nd NER event that I’ve entered as a normal rider this year. (The other being the VT 200k.) When I started randonneuring I would be nervous riding alone but now I’ve come to expect it.
Perhaps for that reason this ride felt particularly special. The weather was perfect: Cool but not cold. Little wind. The moon was almost full which cast a stunning blue cast on the landscape. This was about as perfect of an overnight ride as they come. I felt strong and was riding at the fastest pace I had ridden in years.
It dawned on my that 2016 was the 10th anniversary of Randonneuring for me. This ride was bringing back many of thing things that attracted me to the sport to begin with: The sense of expedition when riding at night, the reliance on one’s self, and the enjoyment of being someplace new. (At night, even road seem new.)
After 4 hours and 15 minutes I was at the 2nd control at mile 60. It’s a gas station off the highway without much nearby. The clerk was friendly and the store deserted. Not much happening in Exeter, NH at 1:30am. I rode by a cop who ignored me — a cyclist with bright lights and full reflective gear is the opposite of menacing.
Shortly after leaving the control I stopped again to remove my sweater and leaned my bike against a telephone pole that had an interesting looking metal apparatus on the side. When I went to take a closer look at this object I noticed something furry staring back at me — a large field mouse who must have assumed he’d have the pole to himself. Having been found, he jumped about 5 feet and scurried off. (Did he knew Emily has a hungry snake at home who’s been dreaming of such a find for about a week?)
The route leaves the major roads and is on scenic, small backroad through much of NH. These are great — gently rolling (sometimes flat) terrain that passes farms and rivers. There where almost no lights apart from the bike and moon which makes for perhaps the perfect night ride. I was having a blast.
I arrived at the 3rd control in Ipwitch, MA (Mile 90) in 6h 30m. Jeff was waiting outside and apparently having some problems with his GPS. (How can you identify a Randonneur? Look for the person futzing with their GPS at 2am outside a gas station.) I kept this stop short and left after scarfing down a sandwich.
Surprisingly, I still had the energy to ride at a reasonable pace for the final 35 mile. Some of this section is the same as the recent Portland 400k so I knew the roads though these suburbs. As the sun started to rise the route leaves the main roads and meanders through the residential streets of Burlington and Woburn. At one point a fox carrying a rabbit ran across the road ahead of me while a large wild turkey stood in the road and watched. Although this is only 15-20 miles from my house I’m rarely in this area.
Shortly thereafter I was back in Lexington. It was a great ride — one of my best 200ks for speed and enjoyment in years. A belated celebration for 11 years of randonneuring.
My plan was to stick around and wait for the remaining three riders (the forth had a mechanical DNF) but at this point lack of sleep was getting the better of me so I decided to ride home. Sorry to miss everyone I didn’t see and I hope you had a good ride!
For those interested in my current lights/GPS configuration:
I use a eTrek 20 which is a relatively inexpensive, general purpose GPS that uses AA Batteries. I have it display the track but it doesn’t beep for turns. I find this to be far more reliable and useful verses the bike specific units. With the backlight on the lowest setting but left constantly on the GPS made it through the night without swapping batteries. I also put the cue sheet in my Dill Pickle handlebar bag.
I recently upgraded to the B&M IQ-X headlight — the brightest headlight I’ve used. The beam pattern is so wide as to illuminate the entire width of the road and about 100ft ahead of the bike with a nice even pattern. It’s too bright for shared bike paths but perfect for street riding. I use two wired B&M Secula Plus tail lights wired in series and mounted on either side of the seatstays. This provides excellent rear red light that isn’t harsh in the eyes of other riders yet is visible for a far distance. Highly recommended.
I have a Sinewave Cycles Revolution USB charging device in my handlebar bag but only use it as a backup power source should I need to charge my phone or my GPS batteries die.
Ten years ago I could only dream of lighting like this.