A Brevet of 400k

A week ago I rode the NERds VT 400k Brevet. I had planned on being in organizer mode, but when a solid group of folks pre-registered and I figured that day of registrations would be minimal – I decided to ride. The weather was going to be near perfect, and I’d be able to connect with old friends at our halfway stop.

Our ride started in Waterbury, VT and would circle the state clockwise, running east to Montpelier, then south to Roxbury, Woodstock, Springfield, and Putney. From Putney we would jog southwest to Newfane, and then turn north and climb to Grafton and Chester. From Chester west to Ludlow, then turn the wheels north on Rt. 100 to Waterbury. 258 miles, ~16,000′ of climbing. A big day.

I rode with a few of the starters to Montpelier, and then settled in as Lanterne Rouge. Wil, Tom, and I would leapfrog each other throughout the day, and eventually saddleup together for the home stretch through the night. Having not planned on riding anything longer than a 300k this year I made a worst case scenario plan based on the amount of climbing and my general fitness. My endurance base is there, but I’ve only just started working on speed and intensity, focusing on further weight loss and core strength. Wil vowed to stick with me if I committed…

We rolled into Roxbury ahead of schedule, topped off water and grabbed a snack. Our next control was 94 miles away, nearly a century, and we were just getting warmed up. Everything on Rt. 12a seemed to flow through to Randolph, where we stopped for a convenience store breakfast. We met up with Tom again, just as he was heading out on his Rivendell. Randolph to Bethel had choppy pavement and a fair amount of traffic for a Saturday morning. When we hit Bethel the road turned up for ~8 miles. I settled in to spin over the top, wherever it was. Wil stopped at the general store in Barnard and then later to shed layers – allowing me the rare chance of getting over the top first. The drop down into Woodstock was a blast – we spun along at 30-35 mph for what felt like an eternity.

We passed through Woodstock proper and made a stop at the South Woodstock General Store, and followed 106 to Springfield. We made a quick stop outside of Springfield to top off bottles and calories as I wanted to make the final stretch to the next control without venturing off route for supplies. I was starting to notice the heat – all 68 degrees of it. As we left Springfield the road turned up. It bordered on ridiculous as I cursed the organizer for sending us up 12-16-18% grades on our way to Saxton’s River. The climbing on this stretch seemed to go on forever, with Wil actually getting off to walk and talk to me as I grannied up the final pitch. Over the top and the rain let loose. At first we opted to ride it out, only to stop under the next set of trees to suit up into rain jackets. Aside from trying to bomb a descent in a sheet of water – the rain was welcome, and after the initial downpour it settled in as a pleasant drizzle that lasted until just south of Saxton’s River. The final push to the control was over Westminster West – another climb – passing washed out driveways and lots of downed branches and leaves in the road. We rolled into the West Hill Shop ahead of schedule – crossing paths with Tom again. We were just in time for lunch and a party – the shop was celebrating their 40th anniversary and at least a hundred people had just finished a long road or mountain bike ride to celebrate. Real food was consumed and I caught up (quickly) with familiar faces. Wil and I were easy conversation targets – wolfing down food, soaking wet and filthy, with odd luggage, lights, and cue sheets strapped to our bikes.

We rolled out ahead of schedule to tackle the terrain to the Dummerston Covered bridge. 15+ miles, and it hurt. I’ve done this stretch of road so many times when I lived in town – but with 125 miles in your legs the 18% kick at the end and the steep switchbacks hurt. Alot. I clawed my way over the top for the ripping descent, feeling completely spent. And we were just halfway.

The route then took a mild turn up Rt. 30 to Newfane and a grocery store / market. On the wide shoulder of Rt. 30 I pulled my feet out of my shoes and slipped off my socks in hopes of drying them before nightfall. When I pulled into the control there was no sign of Tom, but Wil was soundly asleep in the ditch.

The last few years has had me baffled by what to eat on long rides. Things that used to work have failed me, and GI issues were the cause of my DNF on a recent 400k out of Boston. This time out I couldn’t let stomach issues be a show stopper – so I stuck with foods that I’ve had previous success with – until I got to Newfane. I knew that I needed to get my electrolytes back in balance, and I know that sports drinks available at gas stations and convenience stores often send my stomach south – so after a bathroom break and face washing I popped 3 lactaids (to be sure!) and downed the most satisfying chocolate milk I’ve ever had. I chased that with some salty chips, reloaded the water bottles, and grabbed a ginger ale for good measure. Within 15 minutes I felt like a new person. Ready to roll I found Wil still asleep in the ditch. He started moving, got his card stamped and reloaded, and we were off again. I burned more time than I had wanted at this control – but I felt refreshed as we rolled out – and we were still ahead of schedule. Next up – 31 miles to Ludlow, via Grafton and Chester. With plenty more climbing, as day turned to dusk.

The route to Grafton is superb. I’ve always enjoyed the climb – and with 140 miles in my legs it still was some fine cycling. Roaring creek to your right, no traffic, smooth pavement, daylight fading but glowing on the tops of hills, and the peepers starting to peep. Up over the top and you are rewarded with a rolling 6-7 miles into town. A few quick turns and we were climbing our way up and out of town, for what felt like forever. Up and over the top we dropped into Chester in the dark. I really enjoyed watching Wil’s tail light twist and turn as he tucked into curves and was able to pick my line well ahead of time following his lead. We passed through Chester and turned up VT 103 for 12 miles to Ludlow. Wil took off ahead of me and we agreed to meet at the next control. I struggled for this section – it was one of those ‘longest 12 miles of my life’ portions of the ride. My feet were still wet, it was dark, nearing 10pm, I was calorie deficient, and what I remembered as a relatively flat road had several not so subtle climbs between me and a break. I moved pretty slowly, but rolled into Ludlow still ahead of my schedule – and found Wil and Tom stocking up for our final leg – 85 miles to the finish with no resupply save water at the 41 mile mark. My pictures fade away here. Lots of work to do in the darkness.

I took some extra time grabbing calories and extra liquids, and snagged 2 plastic bags from the clerk. Returning to my bike I had a yard sale and reorganized my kit, then tucked my wet feet into the bags and then into my shoes. I donned my rainlegs to ward off the chill, and put my rain jacket on to keep in the heat. The rain legs would come off 5 miles up the road – too warm – but the jacket and the bags would stay on until just about the end. The three of us rolled out onto Rt. 100 for a night of riding what some folks think is one of the more scenic roads in the state.

The miles out of Ludlow ticked by predictably and I focused on how far I’d come, and what was left to do. I had a few goals in mind for the ride and was checking them off in my head – the biggest goal was to make it halfway in good time without burning out. That was surprisingly easier than I thought it was going to be. Following on that I knew that if I could get to Ludlow I knew I could finish. After Ludlow I had just two minor goals – get Killington behind me, and gracefully climb Granville Gulf with 230 miles in my legs.

Killington and River Rd. came and went with a quick stop in Bridgewater to regroup. We pressed north – sometimes riding together and chatting, sometimes drifting apart into our own tunnels of light and darkness. I think we had 6 cars pass us through the night – 2 of them some kids screaming nonsense out the windows. Near Stockbridge revelers at a bonfire cheered me on – which put some pep into my spin. I caught back up to Wil and Tom as we entered Rochester for a break on Green Mountain Bike’s front porch. We reloaded water at their fountain and I cleared out pretty much every calorie I had with me – everything I thought I’d want I didn’t – so my choices were limited, as were our options – all services north of Ludlow close at 10pm (and many do not open until 7) – so we were on our own until the finish. Feeling refreshed we headed for Granville.

We made good time to town and the road tipped up. This was the last speed bump to get over – the remaining route – while not flat, was relatively easy. I lost Tom and Wil to the grade, and somehow managed a strong climb, at 3:30am, with 230 miles in my legs. The terrain through the gulf closes in on both sides of the road as it twists upward, and a creek follows you. Before the top, from the south you pass a series of waterfalls – scenic in daylight – surreal after dark. Surrounded by trees and water and darkness the sound was what I remember most vividly. Unreal, and inspiring – the roaring of the water at times deafening and overpowering what little other senses I had available. Truly inspiring despite some oncoming pain and the fatigue I was fighting.

Over the top I passed Wil napping in the ditch and Tom raiding his handlebar bag. As I rode ahead I pulled out something I’d been saving all night – and enjoyed the most amazing Twix bar I’ve ever had. Simply delicious.

Somewhere on the flat(ish) top of the Gulf I saw what looked like mud on the road, then heard something very large splash into one of the ponds to my left. I circled back just as my companions arrived and we scanned the woods for moose. Our lights turned up nothing – but the thought of dodging a 1200 pound animal had me riding cautiously on the descent into Warren.

From Warren to the finish everything is a blur. Wil and Tom were having trouble staying awake – so I shared some caffeinated gel with them. I also tried to engage Wil in chit chat – which derailed into me sing songing nursery rhymes and finally querying him math problems. He apparently had enough and he sprinted off the front in an effort to wake up. I’d see him again up the road cat napping on a bench as I rode by. The last 20 miles were tough. They didn’t make it into ‘death march’ category – but fatigue, lack of sleep over 30+ hours, some saddle pain, my stomach complaining about anything I’d eat, and being calorie deficient all compiled to make for a long slog. I spent a fair amount of time standing on this stretch, and at one point I got off and walked for about a half mile. I knew I had plenty of time to finish the ride – so I just geared way down and crawled along at 6-8 mph. Those last 10 miles were mental agony looking at my computer. Moving so slow… and so close to being done.

Wil and Tom rode on ahead, and I proudly carried the Lanterne Rouge to the finish for a 25.5 hour time.

258 miles
~16k of climbing
Rain, sun, twisty descending, steep climbing.

What worked – chocolate milk, real food, Twix bar, Sport Beans, Nunn tablets

What needs work – saddle interface after 200 miles started to hurt, and while my endurance base is strong – I need to push for speed and intensity – climbing well is the only way to ride fast in this terrain

7 Responses to “A Brevet of 400k”

  1. jim says:

    Great report, Mike and thanks for posting it up. I’m glad you decided to do this ‘off the couch’ so to speak. We humans are capable of amazing things, often through stubborn-ness.

  2. Steve says:

    Awesome! Thanks for the rundown, Mike. Hope you’ve gotten some well deserved rest in the week following. Or perhaps you’re on marathon detail today. And that light — I don’t think they come any brighter, do they? Despite or because of the weather, great job.

  3. mb says:

    Steve –

    Thanks! Funny, that I felt refreshed and rested on Tuesday and spent some time in the woods on the local single track. Then a road trip for work to Boston and I’ve been a zombie ever since. Haven’t been on the bike much at all, and I’m feeling it. Need to schedule things a bit differently next time around. Sitting captive in the car is probably not the best recovery strategy.

    The bright light I’m using is a SON dyno hub powered eDeluxe. Behind me is Tom running dual dyno powered halogen E6 lights – a setup I used until I upgraded to the LED eDeluxe. I’m not sure what Anthony is using to my left – I know he as 2 battery lights clipped to the bars. He’s a fast guy though, and was gracious to hang and catch up with me on the way to the first control. I don’t think he worries about running out of battery power on these short events.

    I’ve been really happy with the eDeluxe. Puts more than enough light where you want it, even when descending at 30+mph, and unlike Wil (who snapped the pic and was borrowing a 1000 lumen MTB style light) – I didn’t have to worry about managing my battery use through the night. If I was moving, even at 4-6 mph up a climb, I had useable light. Even when walking I had ample light to move by. And many of the new LED dyno lights have a standlight that stays on when you stop at a light…

  4. mb says:

    Thanks Jim. I knew I had the saddle time to pull it off, and was just concerned that the climbing would slow me down to the point of putting me out of the time limits. No problem on either front – and this 400k is really a 414k, with no change in the finishing time limit.

    The route had more climbing than most of the other ‘local’ 400k rides, and was 10 miles longer. I’m pretty happy with my effort. Shave an hour for the extra 10 miles, and shave another hour for spending too much time off the bike, and I would have finished sub 24h which was my goal.

    Can’t wait to get some climbing legs and lungs back under me. Is a slow process – but I’ve found it hard to get my core into shape and focus on continued weight loss while upping the intensity. So step by step.

    Off the couch? Not exactly, but pretty close. The mental game was pretty huge for me. There were only 2 times I felt like hanging it up – climbing the absurd East-West road to Dummerston (we averaged like 3mph for most of that) – and during the last 20 miles along Rt. 100b and Rt. 2.

    The mental breakdown on East-West ended when I got to rip the downhill to the covered bridge and enjoy that chocolate milk. The end game on Rt. 100b and Rt. 2 was solved just by finishing. So close, and yet it felt so far.

  5. Apertome says:

    Simply amazing … I’m glad you wrote a detailed report of this ride. I really got a sense of what you went through. Way to go!

  6. vest fairy says:

    Hey, that vest was hanging in a tree in S. Burl. for a long time…glad to see it in action!

  7. mb says:

    Comes in handy on those chilly mornings!