Crewing for an Ultracyclist
Ultracycling, to me, is the hardest form of the sport. The riders who race in ultracycling events have to battle themselves, both physically and mentally. Not to mention mechanicals, weather and the terrain. Last week I had the privilege to meet someone who is gunning for 100 UMCA records, already with 82 to his name.
Gerry, from Tennessee, made a trip to my neck of the woods to tackle three records in a day: Boston to Hartford, Hartford to Boston and the combined Boston to Hartford to Boston. It was a trip that left me exhausted before we even set off with the need to sort the van according to my club-mates impressive standards. With the van loaded with spare food, parts, clothes, helmets and shoes, we had everything we needed in the correct spot to support Gerry in his efforts. Sometimes there were spares for the spares. There was plenty of duct tape for mishaps and water for the impending heat.
We left the Massachusetts State House a little after 6am, with a proposed 107 mile trek to Hartford in front of us. While that’s nothing driving in a car, it’s a completely different animal when you’re driving 15 mph behind a cyclist. I only drove for a part of the time. The rest spent by organizing snacks, making sandwiches and handing off water to our rider through the window. A mini-van with rear windows that roll down is a miracle, no need to open the door.
Reaching Hartford was a small victory, as the rain bypassed us for most of the trip, and we were halfway done. The traffic had been low and there were relatively few angry drivers. This changed on the way back, when we hit rush hour.
Between some upset drivers there were good eggs. A few people drove behind us with their flashers on, too, acting as another follow vehicle. Lots of folks honked in support (they were, I promise) and we even had some kids taking video out the sunroof.
When the sun sets, the rules for the record attempts change. Instead of needing to keep the cyclist in sight, and being able to go in front sometimes, you then have to stay directly behind the cyclist at all times, for safety. This made things a little more dicey, as both fatigue and dead radio made him unsure of our directions. When in doubt, shouting through the window works well.
Pulling up to the state house in Boston we were greeted by officers who were a bit confused. However, they let us get on with the business of pulling Gerry off his bike, marking the time and letting everyone take a breath. We ended the journey just a tad after midnight, making it an 18 hour ride and around 214 miles.
I’m explaining this as someone who’s only ridden 138 miles in one go, with plenty of rest afterwards. Gerry did a cross-Connecticut ride two days before, and across Maine (250 miles) a few days afterwards. Did I mention he’s 68?
While I was exhausted from just crewing, I can’t imagine how it is to actually ride this. Granted he didn’t have to worry about anything but riding his pace, but I’m not sure I’d want to look at a bike for a month afterwards.