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The 400K, Part 1: Before the Ride

So: the New England Randonneurs 400k. These randonneuring rides form a sequence -- 200k, 300k, 400k, 600k, and then there are the big event rides after the main series, that are generally 1000k or 1200k or even longer.

My goal this year was to see how the series went, and how far I could go. After the 200k and 300k I realized that I wasn't yet fast enough to get any sleep on the local hilly 600k (which is the first of the rides to have a sleep stop), and that trying to ride it straight through sounded like a recipe for both running out of time at about the 450k mark and being too discouraged to try again next year. So I decided to focus on having a really good 400k and to aim for the full series next year.

I was nervous going into this ride, more so than before the 300k. I'd put new fenders and tires on the bike a couple weeks before, and the weekend before the 400k I went out on a shakedown ride. I'd intended to do a solo 200k, and mapped out a gently rolling ride up to Essex, NH, with lots of nice places to stop.

Then I actually set out on the ride. Ugh. My legs felt dead, dead, dead. I stopped again and again to make sure nothing was rubbing -- the new fenders and tires are a very tight fit. Nope, no rubbing. I was on familiar favorite roads to begin with, and I was just slow. The new tires did feel better than the old on grooved pavement, which had eaten a section that is normally one of my favorite stretches. But nothing can make grooved pavement feel good. I stopped and took a picture to take a break from the rumble.

photo of a bike in front of a stone monument depicting an apple


I kept heading north as per the plan. Even if I was feeling lousy, crossing state lines never gets old.

photo of a road sign showing the state line on entering Pelham, NH

But I still felt terrible. Maybe it was the new tires feeling different. Maybe it was the heat. Maybe it was that this section was basically one long false flat with some rollers on top of that, making it seem harder. Maybe it was, when I finally stopped for a break, that I'd left my front headlight on (dynamo driven, so the power comes from me). Nevertheless, I just couldn't get my mojo going. I stopped at a charmingly political little orchard-cum-ice-cream-stand and took a break. (Really, it was very cute and had tasty ice cream, I just was amused by managing to snap a picture of a giant black SUV behind the most political of the signs. Mack's Apples was the place, and they're even nicer a roadside stop than that place in Carlisle all the group rides love, because I was not dive-bombed by bees while eating.)

photo of a sign reading Will The Planet Survive Our Politics with a black SUV passing behind

Food didn't help, so I went a little further and then turned around at the 40-mile mark. Going downhill didn't help, either. Was it the bike? Was it just a bad day? Or was it a serious breakdown of the:

photo of a building with POWER HOUSE engraved on it

I never did figure it out, but it was making me really nervous for the 400k. I got a little lost south of Lowell, trying to avoid some of the annoying busy intersections, and when I found myself on a road claiming to be something West rather than East, I turned the GPS to compass mode and started taking roads at random. This helped with the feeling bad; I wasn't trying to push hard, I was just wandering, and I found my way into the cycling arteries of MetroWest, eventually back in familiar territory.

Photo of the train car at the end of the Minuteman bike trail


Alas. 85 miles round-trip, and I never got into a groove, and my average speed reflected it. I was also still having trouble with the GPS, so rather than try to do a second ride the next day, I took it back to REI for a replacement, and hoped I (and my equipment) would be ready for the next weekend.

Next up: the actual ride!

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