bikingandbaking: photo of my road bike from the front (seven)
The first tough thing about the 400k was the start: it started at 4am. This meant getting up at 2am, which meant trying to get a decent amount of sleep, first. I got maybe 3 or 4 hours, which would have to be good enough. I also almost forgot that I'd gotten up 2 hours before the start, not 2.5, and with an hour gentle ride out there, I needed to leave earlier than 3am to get checked in. Whoops. I scrambled out the door at 2:45 and was on my way without forgetting anything.

There was more grooved pavement on the way out, yuck, but I got to the start without incident and got checked in with plenty of time. Then a brief description of the detours and changes to the route since last year -- three bridges were out, and the leg back in the middle of the night had had a detour added to the organizer's house, where we'd have an additional place to refuel after rural MA/NH had turned the lights out. This added 9 miles to the minimum required, and between that and my terrible last training ride, I bid farewell to my super-sekrit stretch goal of finishing under 24 hours. The goals left were two: one, to finish, and two, hopefully to do so in just under 25 hours, hitting precalculated time goals that required me to stay focused but seemed achievable.

And then it was 4am and we were off, the small pack quickly stretching itself out into a string of taillights in the dark. I didn't try as hard to hang on to anyone as I had on the 200k, and didn't go blazing out quite as fast. I did, however, hit New Boston in the same amount of time, exactly on schedule. I stopped long enough to add water to my bottles and chug a coke (hooray, caffeine) and be back on the road by exactly my goal time to arrive there: 8am. 4 hours, 51 miles. Unlike the 200k, it was still early morning, since we'd started 4 hours earlier. Riders were scattered all over the little town green and the gazebo; I'd caught up to the pack I'd lost before dawn.

A few miles down the road, Emily (who is faster than I am but had stayed at the New Boston stop longer) caught up to me, and we chatted while riding through a very pretty (and flat) section. She's easy to ride with; I have a lot of trouble chatting while riding some times/with some people; my audio processing kind of sucks, and riding takes a lot of attention. But we had a good chat, and then more of the pack caught up with us and passed us. "Let's catch up and draft", she said, and I knew where this would go; we caught up, and I immediately fell back off the back. That was fine; the hills were coming up, and I wanted to tackle them alone.

It had also started to heat up. I started going through gatorade at about a water-bottle full per ten miles, which would continue until dark. The cue sheet called out shops quite frequently, so unlike on the 300k, I wasn't worried about not finding anywhere to fill up. There were either 3 or 4 big hills on this section, I couldn't remember which; only the last was steep enough I knew I'd need to walk. The first was the prettiest:

photo of canterbury shaker village

To turn, turn, will be our delight 'til by turning, turning we come round right.

up alongside Canterbury Shaker Village. I was slow, but steady, climbing up it, and felt pretty good.

Then the heat kicked in, and we left the pretty quiet road for a major thoroughfare and the next two (yes, there were four) climbs. Yuck. This was the stretch that was notoriously hated. I'd caught up to the pack leaving a store again, but immediately got stuck behind a passing motorcycle convoy and then stopped myself, dragging my bike into a Dunkies for 10 minutes of airconditioning and a frozen sugar concoction.

The next two climbs, the less said about them the better. It was hot, I was tired, and I clawed my way up them. It was probably the lowest point I had on the ride; there was a lot left to go, and the heat was really bringing me down. Finally the last climb hit, where we turned off onto a smaller road, and I'd planned to walk it all along, so I could hop off and be right on schedule. Another rider on a fixed-gear pulled up alongside me and did the same, though his legs were longer and thus he pulled away as we both walked. :) Then it was a short downhill into Meredith to the halfway-ish stop. (It wasn't quite halfway, but close enough.) Tons of people were still there, and I was still right on schedule and could sit down for a few minutes for another coke and some conversation.

I still got remarks about being speedy at the stop, though, and left before the small pack. It's my one talent at brevet-riding, I guess? Also, if I stayed too long, I'd never get going again, especially in the mid-day heat. We got off the big roads pretty quickly, and hit my absolute-favorite stretch -- Route 132, winding and gently rolling through the countryside, with no big hills and lots of shade. It couldn't last, but the next road at least had the shade and the pretty winding rural countryside, just now with steep, uphill rollers. We rolled past lots of dams and lakes and rivers, over a covered bridge and through little towns; bucolic New England at its finest. The pack and I played leapfrog as they used their greater speed to earn them rest stops along the way, until they finally splintered themselves apart and passed me one by one. Dark was just falling when I pulled into the dinner stop.

I'd put on the plan that I needed to leave dinner by 10; I'd arrived at 9:20, so everything was great. I took off my shoes and had a real break for the first time. Then, at 9:50, it was time to play leapfrog what I expected to be one last time, and set out on my own.

Ten miles down the road, just as I started the climb that would go up past Crotched Mountain Ski Resort, I downshifted and the bike upshifted. What? My right bar-end shifter had done something funny, and was now insisting on snapping into my smallest rear gear. Oh, crap. I couldn't ride the rest of the ride in that gear; it was way too hard to turn. There are ways to turn a bike into a singlespeed, or otherwise tweak a derailler, but my mind went blank, and I poked at the shifter for a few minutes, trying to will it back into functioning.

This was when leaving early was my salvation; headlights blazed up behind me. Emily and the rest of the little pack were there, and took a look at it. It looked loose; Emily suggested just trying to tighten it. I offered that I was OK with one gear in the back as long as it was in the middle of the range; she said that'd be easy, but we tried tightening it first. Click. It was indexing, sort of. I looked at it later -- I had, in fact, the three middle gears of the cassette (17/19/21), and that was it. Plus the front (50/34) which was working fine. Plenty, really. Lots more than Emily on her fixed gear, or the other two fixed/singlespeeds on the course. They all cheerfully wished me good luck, and sped off uphill.

I'd been close to calling to abandon when they'd appeared, just because while my legs were OK, I'd been having one of those cyclical low points that happen in any long ride, and I had felt overwhelmed by trying to do my own repairs in the dark, roadside. I'd read lots of stories of randonneuring jerry-rigging, but I hadn't expected to have to put them into action already. But I'd also wanted to keep going -- I just wasn't sure if I could get the bike in a state where it'd be possible.

Now I had it working well enough, and the confident good wishes of the crowd ringing in my ears -- they thought I'd be fine, so I couldn't think less, could I? I set off uphill, too. That climb wasn't too bad; if it were early in a ride it would have been nothing at all, and it wasn't long until I'd crested it.

Then came the part I'd have missed if I'd given up: bombing down the glass-smooth brand-new pavement of the 2nd New Hampshire Turnpike (a lofty, storied name for a quiet, small road slicing a perfectly straight line through the countryside). It was glorious. The world stood still and I blazed a path through it. All good things must come to an end, and eventually the pavement turned back into the usual patchwork and the road tilted uphill again, but I was also now on somewhat familiar ground -- the 200k had done this bit, and while I'd climbed this section without walking then, I'd planned to walk it on the 400k. Without my lowest gears, there was no question; I hoofed it up the first steep rise, and then got back on for the rest of the hill.

Near the top, I saw blinking. Uh oh. The pack had stopped; Sanjay had gotten ill, and wasn't sure he could continue. We were about to crest the climb and go into a long, long downhill-to-flat section, and we talked him into taking it a few miles at a time. It was the first time I'd ridden in a pack at night, and it was a nice change. We were going slowly enough I didn't have to struggle to keep up, but only just slower than I would have gone myself, so I could sit in the pack and really rest while not losing any time. We got Sanjay to a well-lit parking lot, whereupon the ride organizer showed up to give him a ride (perfect timing). And then everyone was off like a shot. I realized almost instantly that if I tried to hang on, I'd cook myself, with only 40 mostly-flat miles to go. I could smell the barn, but I still had to get there, and I was going to have to walk anything above a ~5-6% grade with my current gearing and energy. I still got to the last stop with everyone still there, and left quickly; I'd lost 15 minutes to the derailleur fix, and I had arrived exactly 15 minutes behind my schedule. Which, all told, was pretty darn good, but dawdling wasn't going to help.

The last stretch was a bit of a slog; these were mostly-familiar roads from the 200k (both outbound and inbound) and the 400k outbound, but everything looked different at night, and I kept poking my GPS to make sure I was really still on course. A car full of teenage girls shrieked past -- What are you DOING?, which was a fair question -- alone, on a bike, at 2am or so. The sky began to lighten, and I started pouring on what speed I had left; I spun-spun-spun my highest available gear through Concord, and did my last bit of walking on the cruel little hill on Virginia road, after you spot the finish line through a barbed-wire fence and an airstrip, and then I was done. 25:14 -- modulo the mechanical issues, I'd done exactly what I'd set out to do. It was just about perfect.

I did, however, call [livejournal.com profile] dphilli1 for a ride home, because that mile or so of grooved pavement sounded worse than it probably would have been, and I knew he'd already be awake.

A lot of people say the 400 is the hardest distance, but I found it the most satisfying, and a lot of fun. Yes, there were low points, but they passed quickly, and there were so many wonderful bits.

By the numbers:
25:14 total time, 22:14 moving time (which doesn't always include hill-walking)
11.7 moving average speed (again, including some but not all walking)
breaking down by leg into: 13.6/11.8/10.9/11.2/11.2. I need to improve my average speed, but my endurance is good.

I also had to laugh when I uploaded the ride to Strava; there are still so few women using it that I took a Queen of The Mountain...walking up the last hill before Meredith.

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