Yesterday I completed the
Wet Best Buddies Challenge Century, a 100-mile ride from JFK Library on Columbia Point in Boston Harbor to Craigville Beach in Hyannis Port on Cape Cod. Rain was forecast, and the weather gods removed all suspense when rain started falling heavily at 6:15 am, 45 minutes before the official start time. I was riding with my friend Randy Carpenter and the Seaside Therapeutics team, most of whom bailed from the Century ride (one stated reason: “these conditions SUCK”) and took the bus to the 50-mile start in Carver. Randy, his wife’s young Irish cousin Pauraig, and I stayed with the original plan and rode the entire route from Boston.
I’ve never biked so long and far in worse weather. It rained–steadily, spiked with torrents–for the first 55 miles and intermittently thereafter. We rode into the wind for the entire route save the stretch through Myles Standish State Park in Plymouth. At times the rain blew sideways, and as I came off the course the worst wind and rain of the day roared off the ocean, knocking down event tents, blowing down signs, drenching anyone not under cover, and creating havoc.
I outlasted the ride. I didn’t enjoy it. Riding wet is uncomfortable, but I reached an equilibrium in which I was as wet as I was going to be, I wasn’t cold, and the worst hassle was poor visibility from the rain on my glasses. Riding into the wind, on the other hand, sucks out one’s soul. When you ride a lot you expect to move at a particular pace when you expend a particular amount of energy. A headwind mucks it all up. It’s like running in wet sand. You move, but not as far or fast as your body believes it should move. I respond by plowing ahead, grinding out the miles, keeping a rhythm–increasingly difficult as calf and thigh muscles turn against you–, and taking whatever progress I achieve. All of which is monotonous. Randy rode faster than me and Pauraig rode not as fast and I cycled alone most of the last 50 miles. I latched on to a few pace lines but they were problematic. Riding a pace line with strangers requires blind faith in their road sense. To avoid the rooster tail of spray from the front rider’s wheel you couldn’t ride directly behind, often making the draft negligible. They were also just a bit too fast for my comfort. (For non-bikers, riding in a pace line involves drafting–riding in the vacuum–created by the rider directly in front. Riders in a pace line typically pull the line for a few miles, then drop to the rear of the line while the next rider pulls. Drafting saves enormous energy and allows a group of riders to travel much faster than any could travel alone.)
I was a lone cyclist, dotting the route a half-mile intervals with other lone cyclists, earning none of the benefits of riding in a group. The experience did yield an interesting lesson in relativity. Route signs announced when 20, 15, and 10 miles remained, and marked each of the final 5 miles. I’m good at estimating distances. I can eyeball a half-mile across a stretch of open land with respectable accuracy, and cycling a flat road I know the difference between 0.5, 1.0, and 1.5 miles. But not toward the end of yesterday’s ride. Those last five miles were nautical, or Jupiterian, or some unit of measure other than the statute miles I’ve known my whole life. Mile 96 was longer than mile 95, mile 97 longer than mile 96, mile 99 longest of all. When I mentioned this later Pauraig agreed with Irish lyricism: I know what a fookin mile is. Those were not fookin miles!
All for a good cause. The event raised over $4.5 million for Best Buddies. Those aspects of the event under Best Buddies’ control showed thoughtful planning and professional execution. The State and local police kept us riding unimpeded through almost every intersection between Harbor Point and Craigville Beach. The five rest stops were awash with appreciative and helpful volunteers. The food was abundant and healthy. The post-ride shower ranks among my personal all-time top five. The Plain White T’s–a new band for me–were terrific, with tight musicianship, great harmonies, and catchy original tunes. Tom Brady raised tens of thousands of dollars by throwing autographed footballs into the crowd at $1,000 a pop. (I deliberated raising my hand to receive a ball. While I weighed how cool it would be to catch a football thrown by Tom Brady against how I would explain to Judy that on top of everything else I spent $1,000 to catch a football thrown by Tom Brady, he ran out of footballs.) The logistics of delivering tired riders and bicycles back to the starting line at the end of the day were flawless.
Ride + one day the soreness is gone from my legs, my bike is clean and lubed, and I’m left with satisfaction for honoring my commitment to ride the Century, pride for completing it in foul weather, and gratitude for the friends and family who supported me with their donations and encouragement. Would I do it again? Ask me in eleven months.