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It was a night of accomplishments, if not outright victories. Having notched up my first midnight bike adventure last August, I figured what better way to welcome back pedaling weather than this weekend’s Midnight Marathon Ride, hosted by the Boston Societies of Spontaneity. Against all odds, I saw the damn thing through and made it to the Copley finish line with all ligaments intact and even some semblance of dignity.

What follows is a tale of blessed ignorance, burning quads and bacon from strangers in the ungodly hours of Marathon Monday: nearly 30 miles, after three months’ fast from bicycling of any sort, on a Hubway bike. Cakewalk.

The horde gathered at 10 PM on Sunday. My own bike being less-than-roadworthy, I decide to take up Hubway’s offer to waive fees for all midnight riders. I take my steed from the Kenmore kiosk and ride it to South Station to put it through its paces — I don’t much fancy getting stranded 20 miles outside Boston with a flat. As I nose my way among the mass of cyclists assembled on the commuter rail platform, I struggle to imagine how the train could accomodate so many bikes and owners. Sure enough, as riders pile aboard, harried transit workers announce that another train will be added to accomodate us.

For what easily could have been a logistical nightmare, loading goes quickly and smoothly. As the train departs a few minutes after 11, ride organizer Greg Hum announces the final count: 604. A heckling commuter blasts the spectacle as a glaring “fire hazard” and “illegal.”

OK. I dare anyone to find a similar swarm of Sox fans (or even average T riders) willing to cooperate on the same scale to keep things moving smoothly — good luck. With some tinkering and finesse, all bikes and riders find a spot.

The train reaches the Southborough stop a bit after midnight. The official start line is 3 miles away, and the crowd is itching to get moving. It starts raining just as we slowly begin pedaling close to 1 AM, and I realize I’ve neglected to bring anything remotely waterproof or with a hood — par for the course, preparation-wise. It takes a few sodden miles for so many cyclists to sort out into paced groups, during which rather brief time my legs have already voiced their protest. The magnitude of the challenge I’ve (perhaps foolishly) accepted dawns on me:

I, who have passed the whole of winter and early spring with maybe five trips to the gym, have committed to pedal all the way back into the city astride a three-gear bike designed for running errands around the flatlands of Boston. I’m armed with willpower, some trail mix and a couple of bottles of water. Here we go.

In my brief and erratic bouts of jogging enthusiasm, I have always found motivation by selecting an unwitting competitor, always someone with decent pace but eminently beatable. Girl-Wearing-Fedora-Instead-of-a-Helmet seems a prime choice — ill-equipped, visibly struggling in the wrong gear, similarly out of breath just minutes out of the gate. Perfect. Little did I or she know that we would be locked in constant jockeying through Ashland, Natick and Framingham. I would pass her with relish on a downhill only to lose my lead entirely on the next climb. Meanwhile, we were both being passed by grandmothers with more appropriate hardware.

The poverty of my knowledge of the course or geography beyond Suffolk County becomes apparent as we pass through Wellesley about an hour in. I’ve spied an Upper Crust Pizza, and successfully delude myself into thinking that we’re somehow on the homestretch. My unfounded elation lasts about 15 seconds, when a passing cyclist gives me a chipper “Nearly halfway there!” Fedora Girl and I both blanche and redouble our pedaling.

I’m given an unexpected boost around mile 17 at Newton Fire Station, when a fanatic cheerer hands me a strip of bacon with my high-five. I eat it without the slightest hesitation.

As Fedora Girl and I slowly ascend Heartbreak Hill, some spots creep into my vision and my head starts to buzz a bit. Either there was acid in that bacon, or I’m dehydrated. Chalk up another marathon milestone! Thanking the saintly Hubway engineer who included a front basket for my provisions, I ever-so-carefully remove my water bottle, which is, appropriately, a refilled Poland Spring bottle with screw-on cap rather than anything designed for in-flight use. Somewhat slaked, I’m heartened by the sight of Boston College and glimpses of the city skyline. We’re close. An adorable couple on a tandem bike passes with the encouragement that the “worst is over.”

Video by Ian MacLellan.

As I’m certain is the case for most footracers on this course, I pass the final stretch in an exhilarating downhill blur. I’ve lost Fedora Girl somewhere around Coolidge Corner, and settle on the tandem couple as her replacement toward the finish line. By this point I’m only marginally embarrassed by the effort I exert to maintain pace with a single-speed bicycle built for two. Somehow I muster a final spurt as we turn onto Boylston Street, and I chug with exhilaration through the finish line to applause from several onlookers and the hundreds of cyclists who have finished ahead of me. I am momentarily crushed to see that Fedora Girl is among them, although she appears to be in pain of approximately the same magnitude as my own.

I bask in my feat for a few minutes, by which I mean that I manage to remain standing for fear that I could not get back up if I sit. After polishing off my remaining water and noting with pride that I hadn’t come in dead last, I wheel once again toward home and the immobility of my bed, determined to come back better-prepared next April.


Shawn is a contributing writer and photographer in [perpetual] need of a good nap.

10 Responses to MIDNIGHT MARATHON RIDE 2012

  1. Heather Heather says:

    “Girl-Wearing-Fedora-Instead-of-a-Helmet seems a prime choice — ill-equipped, visibly struggling in the wrong gear, similarly out of breath just minutes out of the gate.”

    I like your style. Also, who the hell does 26.2 miles on a tandem bike? Ick

  2. Jessica Mink Jessica Mink says:

    I’ve done lots almost 3 times as long rides on a tandem. It’s possible and a lot of fun, if you’re riding with the right person, in my case, my 11-year-old daughter.

  3. Pocky Pocky says:

    Jessica, I too will happily do rides three times as long on my sweet Burley, but the point of note here is that it was a single-speed cruiser-style tandem, possibly a Columbia Twin, and I didn’t get the best look, but I think it might have even had only a coaster brake. The adorable, helmetless, rather vocal couple astride it were both simultaneously standing and pedalling furiously to get up hills. Props to them!

  4. Greg Hum says:

    Shawn, you are the man, this is fantastic, I’m really jealous someone handed you bacon, thanks for coming out!

  5. Pocky Pocky says:

    I ate the bacon too! After taking it and stuffing it in my face without a moment’s hesitation, I considered that maybe that wasn’t the wisest decision. But then I remembered what my idol Andrew Zimmern once said: “When a complete stranger who you just met in a bar you’ve never been to offers you a bag of mystery meat, of course you say YES!”

  6. Jessica Mink Jessica Mink says:

    You’re right Shawn. 26.2 miles on a single speed tandem is fun on the downhills, but a *lot* of work going uphill.

  7. Katie Katie says:

    2 of my friends and I were the ones handing out bacon AND I was also on the tandem bike!

  8. Girl-Wearing-Fedora-Instead-of-a-Helmet Girl-Wearing-Fedora-Instead-of-a-Helmet says:

    Haha. A friend stumbled across your article and asked me, “Is this guy’s article talking about you?”
    I suppose it is. Great job by the way, Hubway man[that's who you would be in my article, if I was ever cool enough to make one]!


    It looks like all major characters have been accounted for!