Last Chance 2017 Rider Stories

Bill Russell
Vineyard Haven, MA

Last Chance 1200K 2017: I had high hopes for this event, having tried in 2012 and having a terrible ride, pulling a DNF after running out of time at Anton on the retour. That ride was my last brevet on an upright bicycle; I came away with significant damage to my undercarriage; clearly I needed to find a new way to continue participating in this sport.

This led me to recumbents and then velomobiles; I have been quite pleased with this evolution. Although it's taken me years to really get moving along well in a velomobile, this year has been a high water mark for both total hours and mileage, as well as brevet participation.

Bill in Atwood. Beth Long photo

I was quite pleased that John Lee Ellis chose to hold this event again after a hiatus since 2013; I wanted to write a new ending.

As I noted before, my training has gone very well. Comfortably completing two Super Randonneur Series had my fitness and confidence sky high.

As usual I have publicly stated goals as well as private audacious ones; in this case a run at the course record of 49:58, set in 2008 by John Schlitter and Larry Ide. This was a crazy, moon shot idea as my grand brevet PR is 79:55. Still, if I executed correctly I knew I could set up a shot at it.

I had a motorcycle hauler bring the velomobile out to the host hotel, packed to the brim with all the necessary stuff that a grand brevet entails; this allows me to travel light, toting only a small backpack.

I both drove and rode the beginning and end miles of the course the day before. Wednesday morning at 4:00am we were given the green light and I rolled off the front, confident in my navigation during those hectic early miles. Excitement and adrenaline were jumping!

Despite holding way back, my speeds were quite high, 3:11 through 100k then 6:12 through 200K. But the best was yet to come and I knew it; after the outbound Anton control the course flattens out, with a .5 to 1% downward grade. I comfortably jetted through 300K in less than 9 hours and 400K in less than 12 hours, bringing me to the Atwood "sleep" control before it even opened. I felt good so I loaded up my overnight bag and pressed on.

The Phillipsburg control is at 600K; I arrived at 19:19, ahead of my PR for the distance yet still fresh enough; I was wary and respectful of the overall distance and had held back quite a bit.

So I chose to continue on to Norton at mile 407. This was a bad choice; my speeds and morale both plummeted. It took over three hours to go 31 miles; oof. Although my motel room was nice enough I was in a dither, faffing around, time bleeding away. My original plan was to sleep then hit the road by 4:30, thinking this would afford me a real shot at the course record. In the end I fell asleep at 3am, choosing to not set an alarm and just let myself wake up naturally.

I woke up at 8, chowed down a leisurely breakfast and sauntered down the road. The next town up was Oberlin; another meal awaited.

But first I was treated to a wonderful parade of outbound riders; company on the road, however brief, is always a special treat. I would weave across the road, waving and shouting a joyful good morning.

When I finally arrived back at the Atwood control I chose to take a nap, once again unfettered by an alarm clock. I slept 2.5 hours and woke up feeling great. What next? I had thought to ride to Idalia and stay at the motel there, but it turned out that both it and the attached restaurant were shuttered. Google showed a motel in Anton, despite no reference to such a thing in the extensive ride notes. I called and sure enough the pleasant proprietress had a room for me: 50.00 cash. 200K away, leaving 250K for the third and final day.

Once the sun set I had a glorious time, turning off the interior lights and setting my headlight on low, allowing the near-full moon to illuminate the vast vistas all around me. I felt great, really able to give it the stick uphill, keeping my momentum up as long as possible. The late-night truckers, hauling their remarkably odiferous loads of livestock, were uniformly respectful, moving over completely to the other lane.

Still, progress was slow; that glorious grade was now working against me. It took me 9+ hours to cover that 200K.

Running the math, I developed a new goal: break 60 hours. I figured that I had to be the Byers control by 9am; this would allow me 7 hours to cover the final stretch of 103 miles, not an unreasonable amount of time considering the terrain and accumulating distance. After 3 hours of "sleep" I rolled out of Anton at 5am to make the whole thing happen.

I made good time and arrived at Byers to find...nothing. Motel office locked, no event volunteer, zippo. Desperate, I weaseled my way into a room, abused the facilities, filled my four water bottles with disgusting tap water, signed my brevet card and hit the road with 6 extra minutes in hand.

Six miles past the Byers control there is a 15 mile grade; I had worked my up on the first morning, now it was working to my advantage. But I never expected this: I rifled down in 32 minutes, creating all sorts of time buffer: I covered 23 miles in the hour since leaving Byers.

That horrible tap water had me sipping when I should have been gulping; dehydration can be a strong contributing factor in hotfoot, something I have struggled with for years. This year I have kept it barely at bay, but now the furnace was back. A steady application of Tums helps a little; but now every time I stopped, either at a control or to pee, I would take my sandals off and massage my fiery dogs, giving space to the inflamed nerves.

A few more fast sections made it clear I would break 60 hours; at the penultimate control I ditched the rest of that vile water, loaded up with 1.5 fresh bottles and my very first Coke of the ride; the beloved Red Ambulance. 37 miles. Piece of cake, right?

Well no. Soaring temps and a steadily rising course profile, mixed with ferocious traffic and a freshly chip-sealed road, slowed my progress dramatically. I really struggled, gripped by a global miasma of discomfort. And for the first time on this ride, I got the water wrong; I ran out with 30 minutes to go.

I often have a sense of unreality towards the end of really long rides: this is it? After all that, it's over? I guess the fanfare needs to come from within; this time, I just wanted it to be over, to stop pedaling, to drink a lot of water.

I finished up, swooping down that glorious last stretch, playing fearlessly in traffic, turned the corner to the finish: 58:47. I had done it! I really am thrilled to have experienced this course in such a different way, to be able to revel in the vast expanse that is so markedly different from where I live and ride. I am grateful for all the support I received along the way, both in person and online.

Now to eat and sleep, a lot.

[Written the day after finishing. -Ed.]]