Activity: road cycling
Location: Westfield, MA > Chester, MA > other Berkshire towns > Westfield, MA
Distance: 111.2 miles
Duration: 6:15
Weather: overcast and damp, then sunny and dry, 62-72 degrees
Avg HR: 135 (max 168)
Type: aerobic

Cyclists in the treesMy second stab at the “Great River Ride” went off far better than the first time. I didn’t shred a front tire, I climbed East Hill like I was being pulled up by a cable, and I thoroughly enjoyed myself.

The day dawned with a lot of ominous clouds, though at the Sons of Erin Lodge, it was warm enough to forgo donning arm warmers. I got off to a late start (8:00 am, well after most of the 170 km crowd had left), but got rolling just fine. I didn’t feel great (I hadn’t eaten the best pre-ride food leading into the ride – it was great food, just not the right stuff for pre-ride fueling), but I found that “not great” for me is still strong.

I really hit my stride after the second rest stop at mile 48 (where I was really chilly – a persistent cloud cover and recent rain had dropped the temperatures down about 10 degrees from the ride start location). This is the last stop before East River Hill, and the terrain leading into the hill is most gorgeous: a river runs beside the road, and the tree canopy envelops you and makes you feel great: lost in the moment. This road is not in the best of shape, though the Massachusetts DOT is working on it – in fact, a 1 km section of East Road was nothing but muddy dirt, which disturbed many riders but entertained the heck out of me (it’s basically cyclocross, right?).

And then East River Hill reared its head. The hill starts with a right-left-right snake that averages around 12 percent, then straightens out for the last 3/4 mile which is a constant 10-11 percent grade. You can see the top from the bottom, and it’s demoralizing if you’re not prepared for it, but this year I was ready. At that point, I was riding with three cyclists from northeast Connecticut, all of whom were strong riders.

And I dropped them.

Big time.

I didn’t even have to dump into my lowest gear – I was riding strong.

I stopped at the top of the hill to snap pictures of the hill, as well as my riding buddies (I’ll upload ’em soon).

And after that? The baked potato rest stop, which is the best of the bunch. I relished the hot treat (it was still chilly out), and then set off on the rest of the ride.

The funny thing about the Great River Ride is that, while they actually mention the East River Hill climb, they fail to mention that the most difficult hills come after the mile 70 rest stop. Buggers. But my legs came back, and the rest of the ride went off without a hitch. And the sun emerged, bathing the fall leaves in a lovely, clear light.

I met up with my new cycling pals at the finish line BBQ, where they treated me to a Guinness for my hill climbing efforts.

All-in-all, a great day of riding.