Over the past few years, I’ve written several stories about Sherpa.
The Post Road running, cycling and triathlon training center has been involved in some remarkable events.
In 2017, one of their coaches — Matt Pedersen — raced 238.3 miles through the Utah desert, at an elevation of 10,500 feet. It took him just over 4 days.
Three years earlier, Sherpa owner Jean Paul Desrosiers competed in the Marathon des Sables — “the toughest footrace on earth,” according to the Discovery Channel.
He ran — no, raced — 156 miles in 5 days. That’s the equivalent of 6 marathons. He did it across 10-story-high sand dunes, in temperature reaching 130 degrees — while carrying all his food and a sleeping bag on his back.
Last weekend, Sherpa sponsored another event. It was more accessible to normal people — that is, anyone who is not Jean Paul Desrosiers or Matt Pedersen.
Still, it was no walk in the park.
In fact, it was a bike ride: 410 miles, from Westport to Montreal.
In 3 days.
The idea began a couple of years ago, when Desrosiers took part in the Coast Ride: a 400-mile cycling adventure from San Francisco to Santa Barbara.
It was a long distance. It was tough. But it was doable, and gratifying.
There is nothing like it on the East Coast. So Desrosiers drew a circle with a 400-mile radius from Westport. Montreal was at the edge.
It’s a great city. It’s in another country. It’s perfect, Desrosiers thought.
A ride like this, he says, is “a great way to push yourself, without the competitiveness of a race. It’s something to tell friends and colleagues: ‘I rode my bike from Connecticut to Canada.”
He did a beta test last year. Nine local riders began. Seven finished. They loved it.
He tweaked the course a tiny bit. It wound from Route 58 north, through western Connecticut, Massachusetts and Vermont, then across Lake Champlain into New York state, and finally Quebec.
This year, Desrosiers marketed the “Solstice Ride” more broadly. Twenty-one riders signed up. They came from Westport (Desrosiers and John Daut), the rest of Fairfield County, New York, New Jersey and Massachusetts.
Two were originally from China. There was a Brit, now living in Greenwich. Three were women. Their ages ranged from 20 to 60s. Some had done long bike trips before. Some had not.
Most of the riders had never met each other. It was quite a crew.
A ride like this is both a group effort, and an individual one. Each person must push through personal pain and issues. But they must also function together — supporting each other, working as a team, not dragging anyone down.
They left Westport last Friday, in pouring rain. One rider cramped in the first 10 miles, and turned around. But the rain stopped, they made their first-day goal, and celebrated with a bit of yoga.
“It’s not easy for strangers to ride together,” Desrosiers notes. Yet by Day 2 all had found someone they felt comfortable riding with. It was an organic process — and one they needed.
The second day was the toughest. The sun shone, but a constant 20- to 30-mile-an-hour headwind made going tough. Teamwork was crucial; everyone took turns leading the way, into the wind.
Day 2 also included 8 miles of gravel roads, in Vermont.
Day 3 began with a long climb up the Green Mountain’s Appalachian Gap.
But after that it was nearly all downhill: 130 miles to the Canada border, and on into Montreal. It was easy for the entire group to stay together.
Of the 21 who began the Solstice Ride, only 3 did not finish.
One — amazingly — was Desrosiers.
With 40 miles to go, his bike had a flat that could not be fixed. The support van was already far ahead.
Suddenly, a driver stopped. He lived nearby. But when he heard the story, he offered Desrosiers a ride all the way to the end.
The leader had not finished. But he felt just as joyful as his 20 fellow riders.
Desrosiers is already planning Solstice Ride 2020. He’s booked the return bus, from Montreal to Westport.
He’s looking at new tires too.