Testing Myself in the Formidable 2016

Overland Base Camp sent out this call: “The Formidable is the toughest road ride in Massachusetts. Join us and find out why The Formidable is Massachusetts’ best trial of your riding mettle.” I answered the call.

The Pavé 160 Mile version promised 160 miles of paved roads and at least 9000 feet of climbing elevation. It would start at dawn at the Ride Studio Cafe in Lexington and end somewhere Northhampton. The route would not be disclosed until less than 12 hours before the ride.

A tranquil setting somewhere in Western Mass.
A tranquil setting somewhere in Western Mass.

At dawn, we began pedaling down Mass. Ave. in Lexington, heading west. The sky was mostly blue, just enough to be called dawn.

I positioned myself near the front of the pack with a few riders to paceline behind. The group looked strong and rode at a brisk pace. I felt good and thought I could hold on to this group.

We blazed along some roads in Lincoln that I had ridden many times. Looking back at my Strava data for the ride, I see that I set personal records on almost all of those segments. I was doing fine and holding on to the group.

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Princeton Center on the spine of Mt. Wachusett

We hit the first climb near I-495 and I had no problem keeping my position in the group. Then we hit the second climb near I-190 and I started slipping further back in the group. The danger light was lit. We hit the third climb near Mt. Wachusett and I slipped to the back of the group. I was just holding on to the back. I was just a few bike lengths from the rider in front of me.

Then we hit the next climb and I was gone. The lead group was off in the distance. I was by myself at mile 40 working my way up the foothills of Mt. Wachusett.

I knew there plenty of riders behind me. I was not the lanterne rouge. At least not yet.

On the descent, I met with another group of riders. They happened to have my wind vest that must have blown out of my jersey pocket. We rode together into the first rest stop at mile 60 and then back out on the road for the next 100 miles.

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Then it happened again. We stayed together on the first climb, I slipped back on the second climb, further back on the third climb, and popped off on the fourth climb.

I was by myself at mile 80 coming downhill and hit a hole in the road. Hard. The bike shuddered. I shuddered. I wondered if the tire hit hard enough to cause a pinch flat.

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The answer came quickly as I heard a hiss come from the rear wheel and the bike got squirmy. I pulled to the side of the road and pulled off the rear wheel for a tube change. In the middle of changing the rear wheel, I hear a pop and long hiss from the front wheel.

A double flat. Bad news. I had two tubes so I could get back on the road. But that was it. If I got another flat, I would have to hope for the service vehicle or another rider to help me out.

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Atop the Winsor Dam at the south end of the Quabbin Reservoir

I was at the halfway point and tired. The break was good for me physically. But now I was worried about a mechanical failure.

The route continued along the tranquil roads around the Quabbin Reservoir. I met up with two riders that were riding the Terra Dirt version of The Formidable, covering 100 miles that went out of its way to find dirt and gravel roads. They had bigger gravel tires so there was no point asking them for a spare tube.

I made it to the second rest stop without incident. I was hurting. That was a tough hundred miles. The rest stop was a beautiful setting at the Red Bridge between Ludlow and Wilbraham. I made it almost without incident. Approaching the bridge, the road was partially blocked with signs saying the bridge was closed. I was blindly following the route directions on my computer. I was afraid to be one of those casualties who blindly followed the GPS navigation into a river or lake. The bridge was opened for pedestrians and bikes.

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Second Rest Stop at the Red Bridge

Thankfully, there was well needed nourishment on the side of the river. Even more important, I was able to get a spare tire tube.

While enjoying a bowlful of chili, I pulled out the emergency paper copy of the map and looked at the route profile.

I traced my location to mile 100. That put me at almost a third of the way done. But I still had 60 more miles to go.

What lay ahead on the road?

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Two huge climbs, back-to-back. Now the ride was going to get hard.

Pedaling along, I kept peering ahead to see if the road started going up hill. Then it came hard at mile 120.

It hurt.

I cracked.

I had to pull over and rest halfway up the climb. After 120 miles, I was not about to quit. My legs were jello. They had no power. Back to pedaling. The same thing happened on the second big climb.

Then I got to enjoy a rapid downhill into the Connecticut River Valley. I needed the relief from climbing.

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The road sign of pain

The ride routed along the wonderful Norwottuck Rail Trail into Northhampton across the Connecticut River. Then onto the New Haven and Northampton Canal Rail Trail. Rail trail means flat. My legs could handle flat.

Up ahead I could see Mount Tom as the rail trail headed generally in that direction. The route profile showed a sharp uphill at the end of the ride. I assumed that meant the ride ended by going up the side of Mount Tom.

It was a cruel end to the ride. My strength was gone. I had nothing left. But there was no way I was going quit after 160 miles and come up 1 mile short of the end.

So I pedaled. I stopped to breath and pedaled some more. Repeat to finish.

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I finished.

I was bent, but not broken. Bent and twisted into a pretzel, but not broken.