Best Buddies Hyannis

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.

My Semi-Annual Safety Reminder

From today’s BU Today: Student Cyclist Struck by Car, Hospitalized with head injury after Comm Ave accident.

An 18-year-old BU student was rushed to Brigham and Women’s Hospital with a head injury early Wednesday evening after being struck by a car while riding her bike on Comm Ave at Buick Street. Witnesses said the victim was in the bike lane when she was hit; she was thrown onto the hood of the car, and her head smashed the windshield.

You have the use of just one head in this life.  A helmet wouldn’t have prevented the accident but likely would have reduced the severity of the victim’s injuries.

You have the use of only one head in your lifetime.  Be smart.  Wear a helmet.

Don’t Be Stupid II

BU Today’s report that yesterday police were ticketing Comm Ave bicyclists for riding without helmets induced A Foolish Consistency deja vu :  last September’s Don’t Be Stupid, about police ticketing Comm Ave bicyclists for riding without helmets and January’s Sober Reminder, about experienced cyclist and Boston Globe writer Bella English’s crash and serious head injuries.  Personal experience, mine and my friends’ compels me to agree with English’s message:  “sooner or later most cyclists crash. You just hope it’s a soft landing.”  Helmets aren’t foolproof, but it’s foolish to ride without one.

Wear a helmet.

Sober Reminder

Sorry to a gloomy doom sayer, but this story put my paternal–and self-preservation–instincts into overdrive. In September I chastised (Don’t Be Stupid) the many students who bicycle without helmets. Yesterday’s Boston Globe Magazine article by Bella English will chill any cyclist, helmeted and not, save maybe early-twenty-somethings who believe bad shit only happens to others.  Four months ago, riding home on a route she’s ridden “at least 100 times,” a route whose “hills and curves [she knows] by heart,” English apparently hit a pothole while keeping an eye out for cars.  She hit the asphalt hard, hitting her head below the helmet line.  Her injuries include “a fractured skull, bruising and bleeding of the brain, a broken left clavicle, a broken shoulder blade, two broken ribs, a fractured pelvis.”  She’s been rehabbing since the accident and is still on medical leave from her job as a Boston Globe reporter.  She recounts her post-accident life and offers this wisdom:

I’ve been cycling for a decade, and though I’m a careful rider – I write an annual column on cycling safety – I believe that sooner or later most cyclists crash. You just hope it’s a soft landing. Mine wasn’t.

Each of my road biking buddies has crashed, including me.  We’ve had broken pelvises, concussions, broken wrists, broken thumbs, broken noses, and road rash.  We’ve hit potholes, rocks, cracks, ice, sand, curbs, and other bikers.  We’ve smashed faces into guard rails, flipped over handlebars, crashed into trees, hit roadway markers.  And that was just last week.

Sorry.  I had to relieve the grim litany.  You get the picture.  Even if you ride safely, even if you wear a helmet, cycling is dangerous.  As one friend said this morning “of course it’s dangerous to ride a something whose default position is lying on its side.”

Don’t Be Stupid

Thursday morning I passed Boston police giving out traffic tickets to a half-dozen bicyclists at the inbound intersection of Comm Ave and the BU Bridge.  The $20 tickets were for going through the red light on Comm Ave.  Most of the bicyclists I saw, who appeared to be students, were not wearing helmets.

That’s stupidity.

I’ve biked in for a long time, inside the city and out.  I bike regularly with a group of friends, all of whom have logged tens of thousands of miles on bicycles.  Everyone one of us has had an accident.  As a group we’ve had a broken pelvis and other broken bones, bumps, cuts, abrasions from a face smashing into a guardrail, “road rash”–the euphemism for the byproduct of human skin skidding along asphalt, and concussions.   A month ago one of our group was riding on Comm Ave near Route 128 when, keeping on eye on a car that was moving into his lane without seeing him, his front wheel entered a crack in the pavement.  The wheel stopped short, the bike flipped, and he went with it still clipped into his pedals, landing on the back of his head and his left hip.  A car apparently ran over his back wheel; it was bent in half.   As always, he was wearing a helmet.  The impact cracked the helmet in five places.  He got a concussion, but without the helmet his skull would have absorbed the blow. We all agreed he was lucky, because he walked–limped–away.

Bicycling is dangerous.  A split-second’s inattention to conditions, misjudging a piece of road debris, a distracted or hostile driver, and we can go down.  There is little between rider and road. Bike shorts and jerseys shred upon impact.  We get one skull, one brain.  That’s it.  Don’t play roulette with them.  Don’t be an idiot.

Wear a helmet,

Close Call

I am aware of my mortality and fragility every time I get on the bike.  Road rash–a benign euphamism for what happens when skin meets pavement–and a cracked bone in my thumb are the worst of it for me.  I have been lucky.  Our recent bike trip was accident-free, with one near-miss in particular.  We were approaching Burlington, VT on Route 7, a busy multi-lane state road, preparing to take a left turn and a quieter route.  Six of us were on bikes, seeking a clearing in the traffic to move from the far right into the left-hand-turn lane.  I was second from the front.  I singled for the left turn, then looked back to see if I had room to move over.  I saw behind me four bikers in the middle lane, moving further to the left, with traffic slowed to allow them to proceed.  Perfect, I thought, and angled left.  Just as I started to move Fred, in front of me, yelled “WATCH OUT!”  I straightened the bike and looked to my left.  There was a car, traveling perhaps at 20 mph, in the spot where I would have been had Fred not shouted the warning.  Driving was a woman in her early 20s, her left hand on the wheel and right hand manipulating buttons on a cell phone, at which she stared intently.  She had woven through the four bikers behind me and was oblivious to my presence a few feet from her passenger window–and nearly on her front bumper.  I suggested a solo activity she might enjoy amid the chorus of yells and exclamations.  She responded to the situation with a flip of her middle finger–I can’t recall whether it was the driving or cell phone hand–and drove on.

Bike Trip!

I’m leaving in about 20 minutes for this year’s bike trip.  Over the past three summers we rode from Pueblo, CO to Florence, Oregon in three stages.  This trip is more modest, a circumnavigation of Lake Champlain in Vermont and New York.  We drive to Burlington this evening, bike Friday, Saturday, Sunday, and half of Monday, and return Monday evening.  Nine guys, nine bikes, two vans, and multiple coolers, cameras, crates, iPods, iPhones, and laptops.  Emails, pictures, and stories to follow.  Wish us fair weather.

The Last 10%

Six months have passed since my hip surgery.  My recovery was quick and uncomplicated and I rarely think about the metal components in my right hip, except when I set off metal detectors.  (Last week I passed cleanly through the Columbus, GA Metro Airport metal detector.  It must be broken.)  My surgeon has asked me to speak with patients considering the same surgery.  I’m a poster child.  I am doing everything I did before the surgery, without pain.  I am all the way back.

Almost.  Now and then something reminds me that I’m not quite as strong as I was last December 18.  Peter Vanderwarker kicked my ass biking up Heartbreak Hill this morning, and then kicked my ass again biking up Beacon Street by Boston College.  Peter’s a strong biker, but a year ago I would not have been forced to watch his backside like I did today.  My lungs burned and my legs had no pop, the bitter fruit of my recent lack of plyometric exercise.  This morning’s set of split squat jumps was ugly, but a start.  I won’t recover the last 10% writing blog posts and I need to have it back.  At my age, if your workouts don’t push you forward you are falling behind.  There’s no more maintaining the status quo.

Bike Trip 2008

The Route (click “view larger map” to view entire route in new window):

View Larger Map
The particulars:

  • 457 miles
  • 36,000 feet of ascent
  • Maybe even more feet of descent (haven’t figured it out yet because it does not sound so impressive)
  • Eleven distinguished men guys riders wymps
    • 5 doctors
    • 3 lawyers
    • 4 college faculty
    • 1 photographer
    • 1 accountant
    • 1 economist
    • 2 Mikes, 2 Davids, and 2 Randalls (one first name, one last name)*
  • Two 12-passenger vans with rear seats removed for storage
  • 5 pounds of ground coffee
  • Economy-sized peanut butter & jelly
  • Enough Gatorade/exercise drinks to fill a swimming pool
  • Enough sunblock to paint the White House
  • 11 cell phones

*Totals more than eleven due to multiple identities