"I am the Nightrider!. I'm a rocker, I'm a roller, I am the out-of-controller!" from Mad Max
I am not even going to lie I didn't know how far I could go on this ride. When I first heard about it I jumped all in. I wanted to help out as much as humanly possible. My first plan was to be the "fighter escort" out of Boston to Providence. The original plan was for day one of Tim Johnson's Ride on Washington to go Boston-Providence-Hartford. Riding to Providence and back seemed no biggie. But like a lot of things with my biker friends I got sucked deeper deeper into their nefarious plans the more I got involved. For me its like an addiction. I can't help myself. Luckily cycling is a touch healthier than most other addictions
So I quickly went from "Fighter Escort" to putting on a fundraiser and riding to NYC. Day one was really hard. Mentally and physically. But like I said the level of support on this ride was mind blowing. And not support in the Pan-Mass sense. There were no rest stops, we didn't have cue sheets but what we had was each other. And we had Butch Balzano and David Wilcox in follow cars. It was more an Air Cavalry team than Patton's 6th armored division. We moved fast across the landscape even when we got lost or riders had a spot of bother. Day one will forever be there when I am on some crazy epic ride this summer. But day two was different.
I seriously didn't think I could do Day 2. I roomed with my good friend David Wilcox in Hartford the night before we set out to ride to NYC. If you don't know David while he is an amazing cross racer, mechanic and advocate for cycling what he does best is endurance. He saved me that night. I used a lot of tricks. Short of thawing blood bags in the room I did it. When I woke up in the am I was tired but good to go. That said Day 2 was a big day. It was being dubbed the Queen Stage. That is the longest and toughest. I put that out of my mind as I knew I couldn't make it 140 miles. I had Bethel, Ct home of Cannondale HQ as my goal. That in itself was basically like doing Battenkill after doing 120 miles the day before. But you know what after doing Day one I felt like I could do anything. There was only one moment on Day 2 where I almost cracked. It was a WALL of a climb. On a highway so when you looked up it just went on seemingly forever. The horizon was basically blotted out. And what I learned right there is your mind quits before your body does. Mentally I had been spit out the back and dropped but physically I was still in the peloton turning the pedals over with my wingman Dave Chiu. But I can't overstate this point enough a rider sensed I was about to crack and before I could pull the rip cord a rider put his hand ever so slightly on my butt and pushed me for about 20 seconds. That slight push saved me. I got on top of that gear and was able to stay right where I was for the whole climb. That man was Peter Smith. Love that man. And owe him big time.
After that climb I felt fine. There was some crazy town line sprints and shennanigins along the way to Bethel. Who knew CT was soooo damn hilly? I mean seriously? But back to the start a bit. The ride into and out of Hartford (and into NYC) were both an epiphany. As sketchy as riding in an urban environment can be the response we got from pedestrians and drivers was nothing but positive. Yes I heard a few things from the riders on the streets of the Bronx ( I was in the car riding shotgun) but they survived and it is the Bronx afterall! But back to my point. In the urban centers we were welcomed. I can't even repeat the things that were screamed at us on the suburban and rural roads in Ct. You know what I am taking about though. What was shocking to me is that someone would hate a group of bikers on the other side of the road so much that they would beep at us from the opposite side of the road and yell at us. Who does that? People who feel entitled that is who? I could use other words but clearly the urban centers are where we need to put a lot of our resources. Can you imagine the difference a bike can do for a City kid with very little resources?
Rolling into Cannondale HQ in Bethel was amazing. Felt better than any cx race I have ever done. Felt better than any race I have ever done. I am hooked now. I need to get into endurance riding and this type of riding. Unsanctioned, an adventure and with a purpose. Cannondale welcomed us with open arms. I got changed and switched into Bjarne Riis mode or Mike White or Sean Yates I suppose. This was and will always be Tim Johnson's ride. He is an amazing Patron on the road. That in itself was an education. How he was able to keep us all safe and moving was the most PRO thing I have ever seen. He would go from cracking the whip to cracking jokes in a blink of an eye. But he kept the group moving and safe at all times.
So what is the big secret to doing a ride like this? Peter Bell (pictured above) taught it to me. Eating. Eating lots. And eating right. You need food. Real food. Yes you need the sugary stuff but you also need the real stuff. Although here I think he is inhaling a KFC chicken sandwich in between Bethel and NYC. Getting in the van was almost one of the most fun parts of the whole ride. David and I were a great team. He drove like a man possessed with Butch locked in right behind us. Dave and Butch were incredible. They followed close enough to keep cars from running the group down from behind but far enough off that cars could get by and slow and then safely pass the cyclists. We did a ton of bottle changes. I have always dreamt of being in a team car at one of the Classics. Well I think this pretty much checks that off the bucket list.
Lyne Bessette was amazing. Such a solid rider (obviously) but also one of the nicest people I have ever met. If TJ was the Patron on the ride she was the Uber Domestique. She did so much work for the group. Pulled. Brought up water bottles. Etc. She even won a ton of town line sprints from the boys! This ride has been called a "pub crawl" and in some ways it was as each night we went to a pub or Brewery! But it was a hardcore ride. Townline sprints were contested with a vengeance. Sometimes almost with too much spirit as we had a few close calls and one actual crash along the way. But the point is Lyne didn't just let the boys be boys she got after it and won a bunch of them. So great being able to finally meet a legend and then have that legend far exceed your already lofty opinion of her. Thank you Lyne! I am a fan forever!
Kevin Wolfson. Our guide throughout most of this. Kevin is a young gun of a bike racer. Skinny as hell and really, really talented. He is also 1/3 of the team behind Firefly Bicycles. This was the maiden voyage of Firefly #001. How many bike companies would build a bike one day and then have it go on a 5-day 500 mile bike race/tour without any stress testing? Well Kevin is clearly now in charge of R&D at Firefly from now on! That bike was insane! So gorgeous but also so dialed in. Obviously the rider is what makes the bike work but would you hop on a bike you have never even tested out and ride for 5 days on it? Much respect for Kevin and Firefely. Both are going to do great things in the future of this much I am sure.
Butch. What can I even say about Butch and SRAM neutral support. I am a campyphile through and through but frankly Butch's support on this ride has changed one thing in my mind. If I ever don't have money to burn on Campy I am going to SRAM. No questions asked. But back to Butch. He is the nicest, most solid guy on the planet. Nothing rattled Butch. He was the backbone of this whole ride. Without him it never would have happened. He washed all the bikes each night, he fixed bikes, he kept all the riders safe on the road and was just such a force in keeping us all going. How unflappable was he? Day one we had a bit of a "miscommunication" ie we gave Dave and Butch the wrong cue sheet. Dooh! So while the ride was heading towards the Blackstone Valley and out of food and water and starting to bonk Butch and Dave and the support cars were in Providence wondering where we were. Well Butch didn't even blink he and Dave hauled ass and met us in about an hour at a gas station. AmazingHahaha. Oh man. I look like a naked mole rat in this picture. Jeremy Powers met us about halfway on Day 2. It wasn't that easy either. The plan was to meet him in Hartford and to roll all together for a bit. But we left earlier than planned when it dawned on us that we had 140 miles to get to NYC and it was very hilly. We all knew we'd never get to NYC before dark and were just hoping we could minimize the damage. So we missed the connection with JPow. Well that didn't stop Jeremy. He hopped in his car and with Butch and The Wilcox's help tracked us down. Now what happens on the road stays on the road but let me just say from Wilcox's view behind the wheel trying to follow JPow on the twisty rural CT roads when this bike racing thing is over JPow may have a future as rally car driver. And anyone who thinks a mini-van doesn't handle well...yeah it does...
The Bronx and NYC need a post of its own. For now I leave you with this. Night fell just as we headed into NYC. It was insane. It was the longest 20 miles of our lives...but everyone got in safe and we had an amazing night in NYC. Thank you to TJ, the entire crew on the RoW Hartford CT, Cannondale, Pedro's. SRAM NRS, Mad Alchemy, Firefly Bicycles, Ride Studio Cafe, Rapha, Light and Motion (oh god thank god for L&M!) and Bikes Belong!