Photo by Jason DeVarennes

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Two Chicks on a Tandem do the Great River Ride

This week my Tuesday ride had 4 riders of the female persuasion and one lone male. When Bob joined us en route, I commented to him that he was lucky to ride with 4 chicks. He agreed that we were delightful company, but commented that while we were allowed to call ourselves chicks, he probably was not!

Ah well, I've never been one to worry much about political correctness. I love telling the story of one of our fleche rides. We had three gals riding fixed gear bikes, and our team name was "Fixie Chicks".  But that's not the story. My two teammates were 10 or 20 years younger than me. We were close to the end of our 250 mile/24 hour ride, when we came to an intersection. I must have been slightly ahead and crossed safely, but the other two stopped and got a kick out of watching the guys passing by on Harleys, who apparently twisted their heads around quite noticeably checking me out! So now I call myself a post-feminist, because my reaction to that was to think that this was pretty cool!

Of course none of this has anything to do with the Great River Ride, except that this year I got to have a great time being politically incorrect warning people about the girl-driver on the front of the tandem I was stoking, and we got to surprise a few folks when they realized there were two chicks on that tandem!

Regular readers may recall that Dena bravely captained for me, stepping in at the last minute, when our Epic Avengers Team was decimated by injury mere days before the Rapha Gentlemen's race. We had a great time, but I feared she might stop taking my calls after that event. On the contrary, we are still best of friends, and she still agrees to do crazy things with me. Not only that, she has taken to suggesting them. In fact, we were out riding together one Sunday in September and I was telling her that I had finally gotten around to replacing the chain rings on the tandem. These were the parts that had seemingly contributed to various episodes of chain-suck (complete with sudden stop, fall over sideways incidences) during the gent's race. While helping me reinstall the cranks, John realized that the bottom brackets were a bit past their use-by date, so we decided to replace them as well. Anyway I mentioned all this to Dena, and she asked if the bike would be rideable for the Great River Ride, and would I be interested in doing that event together on the tandem...

For those who don't know the Great River Ride is a century in Western Massachusetts. Don't be fooled into thinking it's some flat ride following river valleys. The ride starts in Westfield and climbs up into the Berkshires seeking out the source for the three different branches of the Westfield River, accumulating over 8000 feet of climbing in the process. And equivalent descending. But all on paved roads. It has been run for 25 years. I've been doing it pretty regularly for most of the last 20 years. It is a well organized, well supported, beautiful ride, complete with a hot baked potato rest stop at mile 75, and a great feed afterwards.

Given that our first tandem ride together was a 120 mile ride over dirt roads with even more climbing, this one should be quite doable. But what caught me by surprise was that Dena wasn't agreeing to some suggestion from me. It was her idea. I guess we have killed off a few of her brain cells over time! Once I recovered from the shock, I readily agreed.

John and I were heading off to France for two weeks, but we'd be back a full week before the event, so I'd have plenty of time to get the bike ready. We had barely touched this bike since the Gent's Race. So it would provide good motivation to really get it back rideable. Our Seven tandem is too large for Dena to captain, but the Co-Motion (our travel tandem) works out great. Sadly for it, we've been using our singles for travel for the last two years, and it has been neglected a lot recently. It would be good to give it some well deserved attention.

Once bottom brackets and cranks were reinstalled, I swapped out the 2 inch tires we'd used for the dirt roads, for more road friendly 1.5s. Checking the weather forecast for the weekend, I decided fenders and a rear rack might come in handy for keeping us dry and carrying some extra clothes.

Dena and I headed out to Westfield Saturday afternoon with plans to spend a couple of nights for the Columbus Day weekend. Shortly before turning in for the night, she alerted friends and family that she would be tweeting about the ride. I asked if she would be tweeting shifting and standing commands too! She assured me she would not be texting while driving, and would only tweet when we were stopped. Stoker now happy!

The weather forecast early in the week was dire, but had been improving as the weekend approached. Superstitious as I am, I still like to be prepared. I was certain we would get wet at some point. Saturday night the rain was forecast to start around 2, but by Sunday morning I was seeing a reprieve until 6pm. Still the rules are that you can't utter the four letter word that begins with R. You can't talk about good luck. You just cannot talk about weather before or during an event. 2 weeks after is OK!

But as I said, being prepared, is not the same as talking about it. And in fact, it's when one goes out unprepared that fate is more likely to be tempted - as it was at the Gent's race.

Also, it is always cold, so it is a really good idea to have a fair amount of warm clothing. I had winter tights and winter softshell, along with overshoes, neck warmer, helmet cover, wool hat and heavy gloves. I also had a rain jacket in the racktop. Dena was atired surprising similarly. I say surprising because I have been on rides with her, where I was wearing all the above and she had bare knees!

The ride starts out with a pretty tough climb up to Montgomery - which I long ago renamed Mount Gummery. We were left in the dust, but we knew we had a long day ahead, and you really can't finish the ride in an hour!

At the start, we were joined by Dave Cramer, who was on our Fleche team this year. He stayed with us all day and was great company. As we were huffing and puffing up the first climb spinning away our little granny gear, Chris and Gary, came by. Chris and Gary had kept us company for the first half of Green Mountain Double this year. We had a nice easy descent down toward Huntington, and then had a grand time chatting with Chris and catching up with all our summer adventures., while Gary and Dave rode up the hill ahead of us.

Dena and I ride together a lot, and sometimes when we've done lots of rides within a short time span, we run out of things to talk about. Last spring, we did the Fleche, followed by Green Mountain Double, followed by the Gent's Race pretty close together. It seemed like we had nothing left to talk about at the Gent's race! But by the time GRR rolled around, Dena and her husband had been to Russia, and I'd just come back from France, so we had some fresh topics of conversation. 

At the Gent's race, one of the issues that caused us to fall over sideways was that I don't normally unclip at stop signs and such with John, but Dena couldn't hold the bike up with me still clipped in. It took me a while to instinctively unclip as we came to a stop. But I was much better this time, and called out "Landing gear deployed" as we rolled into the first rest stop, with both feet unclipped and prepared to catch us on either side!

We were drawing a little attention, being two chicks on a tandem, but surprisingly not as much as I might have thought. Maybe it was shock!

We refueled with PB&J and bananas, and such, and then hit the road again for more climbing. I may have inadvertently suggested we would have a bit more descending than we really did. It seemed like a 3 minute descent followed by a 2 hour climb to get to the next rest stop. Dave was great company the whole way. And Ted Lapinski, who'd had a late start, caught up to us at the second stop. Ted had just run a marathon the weekend before and was taking it a bit easy.

I knew we had lots of descending after this one, but Dena is still a bit cautious going downhill on the tandem, so we knew Ted would catch us again when we left before he did. We made a comment about how he'd blow past like we were standing still.

We started down, but had another little up, so Dena stopped believing I had ever even done this ride before. But we did finally get the extended downhill, and were having a great time rolling along. We passed a few folks on this section, but they all seemed to take great delight in telling us that our fun would end soon.

I warned Dena that we would practically come to a screeching halt at East Hill, where we'd have to winch our way up for a couple of miles, but then be rewarded with baked potatoes. We decided to take a quick break a mile or so before the wall to meet with nature, de-cloak some and get some food in. At this point Ted went blowing past and we were indeed standing still.

I started thinking of the baked potatoes and mentioned they had fixin's too, like sour cream and Baco's. Well I could have Baco's, since I was certain this ride had come nowhere near close enough to push vegetarian Dena off the wagon. I've joked over the years that I will know the ride was too much when Dena looks at a cow, and says yummy! But then she told me that Baco's are actually kosher and contain no meat whatsoever, so she could indeed have Baco's! Thoughts of this got us up the wall.

Ted got some nice photos of us rolling in. I am ashamed to say I accidentally left my camera at home, so all these photos came from Ted.

Dena, the vegetarian, pointed out that Baco's contains no meat product whatsoever, and happily sprinkled them onto her baked potato.

I was quite toasty when we arrived, and hungry too.

We left the baked potato stop and began the last slog up to Becket. At least we had plenty of fuel to get up there. But once we finally got to Becket, we had 25 miles of glorious downhill.

The final rest stop in Huntington was a welcome sight and we just plopped down and ate as much as we could.

It's my blog. I can delete the unflattering photos, but...
 Then it was just a few miles to the finish where another feast awaited.

The Great River Ride is one of my favorite annual events. A couple of years ago, Dena had the nerve to schedule her wedding for the day of the ride. I gave her endless grief about choosing that date. But John and I went out the day before to do the ride, and then came back to attend the wedding. The sacrifices you make for friends! Well this year, Dena's husband was to be out of town, so she decided she wanted to see what all the fuss was about. I think she now understands my dilemma!

The Great River ride and many other wonderful long distance rides (including a full brevet series) are run by the fine folks at New Horizons Bikes in Westfield Massachusetts.


  1. Sounds like a great ride! If i want to stay informed of rides like this that are semi-local to Boston, or at least Mass., what's a good resource. I was hoping things like this would be posted on the NERd list. Hopefully I'll know well enough to come join the next event, and I'll swing by and say hi!

  2. Thats one of the best century routes I have ever ridden. The mostly downhill finish is a blast. Welcome Home!

  3. The Great River Ride, along with many other long distance events are put on by The fine folks at New Horizons Bikes in Westfield, MA. I've added links to the article above. Don and Mary, with help from the local club, do a fabulous job supporting this event. They also run a full brevet series and then some. Look for info at http://newhorizonsbikes.com/

  4. I haven't tried the River ride but I have been out to western Massachusetts on the weekend they run the ride many times (it's usually Ashfield Fall Festival weekend). I ride a 50 miler on some of the same roads as the River ride and chatted with some of the riders many times and they uniformly enjoy the ride. It's quite the weekend for a ride. I have done it on very cold days and a couple of cold and rainy days but never a warm day. My ride starts in Ashfield so I avoid a decent amount of climbing that the River riders enjoy. It's great that you enjoy it on a tandem. I don't think it would be odd to see a woman captaining a tandem. My first experience (of two) on a tandem was with a woman as captain riding the roads around Mount Moosilauke. It worked for me.