By Kent Peterson
I got a bit of a prologue ride in before BMB by riding from my mother-in-law's house in Pawtucket, Rhode Island to the hotel in Newton, Massachusetts. The weather on that August 16th was humid. A thunderstorm had rolled through in the morning but it had done little to drain the moisture out of the air and the general climate was like what you'd encounter in a laundromat. Still, it wasn't unpleasant and I covered the 67 kilometers in under three hours. I was quite pleased that I'd been able to navigate the unfamiliar terrain and find the hotel with a minimum of problems. By late afternoon and evening, the weather was just about perfect.
Check-in and bike inspection were handled very well by Jennifer, Pierce and the rest of the crew. I was one of the first people to get inspected and spent much of the time before the pre-ride pasta meal chatting with other riders, renewing acquaintances, connecting faces with names I knew only from e-mail and meeting other riders for the first time. Steve Fox and Si Little were a couple of recumbent riders I knew via e-mail and I finally got to meet Sandiway Fong and heft his custom titanium Feather bike. His bike, loaded for the trip, weighed less than my Camelbak!
I met an Italian father and son. The son was riding a custom titanium copy of a Moulton (minus the suspension) while his father was on a genuine Moulton. Other bikes ran the gamut from ultra-high tech carbon framed and carbon wheeled wonders to Rivendells and Waterfords to hefty bikes like Jack Eason's venerable old Raleigh. My own bike was an example of one of the more classic designs -- a French frame of uncertain pedigree that I bought for $60 off the internet. The bike's plain white repaint had a few scratches and rather than touch it up, I'd covered the bike in a spiral of black electrical tape, giving it a distinctive zebra look. Instead of a headbadge, the bike now sports a small zebra sticker. I'd equipped the bike with an assortment of Suntour, Simplex, and Shimano with a lovely old TA 50/40/30 crankset and a 13-30 six speed freewheel. Since I'd spent almost all my riding time in 2000 riding a 42/16 fixed gear bike, I figured I was ready for the hills. I'd considered taking the fixer on BMB, but I'd already ridden the Rocky Mountain 1200 on the fixed and after reading Jennifer's strongly worded caution "Do not enter BMB with a 12-19 straight block" I figured that riding BMB on the fixed would be like crossing the Sahara in a snowmobile suit -- theoretically possible, but probably not much fun. (Editor's note: Steve Abraham of the UK successfully finished the 1996 BMB on fixed gear.)
I was fairly heavily loaded, trying to anticipate possible changes in weather and making sure I had a good supply of the foodstuffs that I know can keep me going. I also had my usual assortment of tools including three spare tubes and two pumps. All this was crammed in my Ortlieb saddlebag, my Camelbak Blowfish or a waxed cotton mussette I had slung over one shoulder.
Of the approximately 150 entrants in the 2000 BMB, there were five recumbent riders. In addition to Steve Fox's Barcroft and Si Little's Rans Stratus, there was Jim Wilson on a Vision, Dave Bundrick on a Rans V-Rex and George Reynolds on his Wishbone.
In addition to having a cool bike, Steve Fox had the techiest bike computer, a Palm Pilot running BikeBrain(tm) software programmed with the entire route. Sandiway had the runner-up techy system, a Specialized P-Brain that logs not only the usual stuff but also his heart-rate and altitude for the entire ride. I was running a much more low-tech Avocet 15 which I was stubornly keeping set to kilometers even though the route sheets listed only miles. I'd spent a portion of the train ride from Seattle to the East Coast transcribing all the distances to kilometers. However, both Steve and I were a bit thwarted when Jennifer gave us revised route sheets for the first and final legs of BMB. Road construction had forced a route change and this meant my work at transcribing the original paper route sheet into kilometers had been for nought as had Steve's work entering the data into his computer. Both Steve and I decided for the first leg we'd follow the arrows on the road and the other riders.
At rider check-in we each got a bag with the BMB arm and leg warmers, a can of WD-40 and other miscellaneous goodies. This presented a bit of a problem for me, since I had nowhere to store the extra stuff. I hadn't been planning on using a drop bag but now I decided to set up the goodie bag as a drop bag that would travel back and forth to Middlebury with the unneeded stuff. I already had brought arm and leg warmers, but the BMB issued ones were nicer than mine so I stowed my old warmers next to the BMB t-shirt and WD-40. The BMB water bottle was also nicer than my bottle, so my old bottle went in the bag as well.
The pre-ride pasta meal was nice but unfortunately not an all-you-can-eat affair. Few groups can pack away food as well as randonneurs. The pre-ride meal was catered by the hotel and I don't think they were quite ready for biker-sized appetites. The checkpoints on the course, however, would prove to be another story. Staffed by people who know what it's like to ride, the food at the controls was plentiful and tasty.
One of the great things about randonneuring is the camaraderie that develops between riders, many of whom come from all over the world but reconnect on these international events. I got to chat again with Oliver Portway, an Australian rider I'd met the month before on the Rocky Mountain 1200 and I took a picture of Jack Eason, a Brit in his 70's who can ride many a fellow one-third his age into the ground. On the RM1200, it seemed every time that I turned around Jack would be there! Jack had a few more of his British friends along for this ride and there were also some French riders, a group of Italians and what looked like the entire Danish randonneuring club. This being an American ride there where naturally Americans from all over and a fair number of Canadians as well. Oliver was the sole Australian and we also had a Bulgarian, a German, two riders from Ireland and one from the Netherlands. Truly an international field!
Most of us were opting for the 90 hour start at 4:00 AM but the speedy riders like Sandiway Fong, Oliver Portway and Ken Bonner were taking the 10:00 AM 84 hour start. Since I was getting up early, I slipped away around 8:30 PM to grab some sleep.
A true randonneur can sleep anywhere. I'd brought my 7 ounce Thermolite bivy ($20 from Campmor) and my trusty wind up alarm clock so I set the clock for 3:00 AM, staked out a nice secluded spot behind a hedge and went to sleep. The crickets were chirping metronomically which I guess would keep some folks awake but not me. I went to sleep trying to recall the formula for converting chirp frequency to temperature.
I woke briefly at midnight. The sky was clear. It was cooler now and I didn't need the slower cricket chirps to tell me that. I pulled on my BMB arm and leg warmers and went back to sleep.
As usual, I woke a couple of minutes before my alarm. Using my helmet light I broke camp and selected my clothes for the day. I decided to start out wearing my thin long sleeve wool undershirt underneath my wool Moltini jersey with a lightweight L.L. Bean Zephyr Windshirt as an overlayer. For my bottom layer, I was wearing my favorite Sugoi Techfine shorts and my new BMB leg warmers. I was definitely more overdressed than a lot of the other riders, but I don't have a lot of insulating body fat and I'd rather have my calories go into moving me down the road than into keeping me warm.
There wasn't any coffee at the breakfast table, just bananas and cans of liquid Ensure. A cold banana had zero appeal to me at the moment, but figuring I could use the calories, I downed a can of chocolate Ensure.
At 3:45 AM Pierce took some photos of us at the starting line and at 4:00 AM we rode off into the early morning darkness. One of the BMB crew was driving a van with a flashing yellow light on it and this van guided us out through the dark city streets. Before long the pack spread out and the van left us to do our own navigating. I was somewhere in the middle of things, with the fastest of the 4:00 AMers becoming a shrinking constellation of red taillights vanishing into the distance. I was, in turn, pulling away from the riders behind me. As I've often found on these rides, even though there may be hundreds of other riders, I spend much of my saddle time riding solo.
At about this time I was really questioning the wisdom of chugging that Ensure. My intestine was seriously lobbying me to look around for a bathroom when WHAM! I hit a small pothole. I felt the front tire start to go soft and I pulled over to the side of the road to change the pinch flat.
A few riders rode past, asking if I had what I needed. I assured them I was fine as I began unloading my tire repair stuff from my saddlebag. Pierce rolled up in the support van to provide moral support and the use of the van's floor pump. It seemed to me like almost every remaining BMB rider rolled by while Pierce and I installed one of my spare tubes and got things back in order.
Back on the road, my intestine insisted on a quick stop at an all-night gas station. After this little break, I felt much better and I picked up the pace. I wound up riding with a British fellow who'd slept through his alarm and had thus started BMB twenty minutes late. He and I rode at a similar pace and he had ridden the course before and had a cue sheet that matched his computer, so we were able to move along at what I considered a good pace.
I'd peeled off my windshirt back when I'd had the flat so when my British friend looked over at my Molteni jersey he said wryly, "Please don't tell me you won that shirt from Merckx in a poker game!" I assured him the story of the jersey was much more mundane, that the Performance mail-order shop was blowing them out for $60 and I thought that was a good price for a wool jersey so I'd bought a couple. We wound up trading Merckx stories, talking about his son Axel's terrific stage win in this year's Giro and recounting how in retirement Merckx had been on a club ride with some locals in Colorado. The police escort had asked Eddy how fast they wanted to go and Merckx, thinking in kilometers, said "twenty-five to thirty". Of course, since he was Eddy Merckx, he was able to hold a pace of twenty-five to thirty miles per hour, but the rest of the riders were quickly blown off the back!
Because of road construction we had to follow a detour around Hubbardston Street and there was a secret control. We were now over 40 miles into the ride and a lot of riders were stopped but I stopped only long enough to get my control card stamped before moving on.
I rode a bit now with a fellow from Ohio who is riding a very nice looking Waterford. He commented that they don't have hills like this back where he comes from and he also noted how heavily loaded I was. I did have a lot of stuff, as I'd packed cautiously and I make it a point not to use drop bags on my rides. So in addition to clothing for every occassion, my tools and spares and my bivy sack I had a lot of food. My main food items are mini Payday candy bars. The small ones come in ten packs for $1.50 and I'd bought 6 packs for the trip. So I'd started out with 60 of these little two-bite-sized fuel-cells of caramel and peanuts. Other folks may use Gu as their main fuel but I run on Paydays. I also had a dozen Snickers Kudos bars, twenty chocolate chip granola bars and about a pound of cashews. This load was packed in whereever it would fit -- in my Camelbak, my saddlebag or in my mussette bag. My Camelbak was also loaded with 100 ounces of water. I certainly wasn't travelling light.
The mussette bag was the main problem. It would swing awkwardly when I'd climb out of the saddle on a hill and there were plenty of hills on this ride. And from all the talk and the route profiles I'd seen, I knew things were only going to get hillier. I used my bandana to keep the mussutte from swinging around so much, but I knew I'd have to come up with a better solution at some point.
I reached the Bullard Farm control at 9:23 AM. This was very good. I'd drawn up a preliminary schedule before the ride and according to my plan, I'd wanted to be at Bullard farm by 9:30 AM. So even with my flat tire, intestinal problems and a secret control, I was basically on track.
All schedules are fiction, conceived with not enough data and inevitably based on some unreasonable assumptions. Still, I find it worthwhile to have a fiction to try to live up to and that an innacurate schedule is better than none.
My fictional schedule mostly ignored terrain and assumed a rolling pace of 22 kph. In real life I know that terrain cannot be ignored, but I was hoping that the climbs and descents would somewhat balance out and that I might be able to make up time on some of the flatter sections. The schedule also forced me to keep my stops brief as I'd learned in past brevets that it is far too easy to lose time at the controls. I'd budgeted a couple of sleep breaks and if all went according to plan, I'd finish in around 70 hours. But, as I've said before, I knew this plan was fiction. I had to ride the rest of BMB to ultimately see how close reality would match my plan.
I left Bullard Farm at 9:43 AM, two minutes ahead of my schedule. The Bullard Farm control was nicely run, with good food and drink. I fueled my waterbottle with SmartFuel, something that appears to be a better form of Gatorade. I shifted more Paydays to the little pouch I have strapped to the right shoulder strap of my Camelbak. This lets me easily munch the Paydays on the fly. I also zeroed out my computer and put the next stage's route into my cue sheet holder.
The stage from Bullard Farm to Brattleboro goes north out of Massachusetts, across the Southwestern corner of New Hampshire and then into Vermont. I roll past some water and some nice camps and vacation homes in the Northern section of Massachusetts and then into the hills of New Hampshire and Vermont. There was some road construction going on and about half a dozen of us wind up waiting for ten minutes or so while the construction crews jockied trucks around.
The weather was great, partly cloudy and not too hot. I made the most of the down-time at the construction site, munching as much food as I could. One of the Italian riders shared some Ritz crackers with the group.
Once past the construction, we rolled on to the control at Brattleboro. This leg was only about half as long as the first section had been and I got into Brattleboro at 12:30 PM. Amazingly, I was still on schedule.
I peeled down to just my shorts and my short-sleeved jersey and put on some sun-block. I was sitting next to David Bundrick's V-Rex recumbent and one of the locals started to ask me about the bike. I explained that it wasn't mine, but that there were other 'bents on the ride as well and I asked the fellow if he himself owned a recumbent. Yes, he replied, a couple in fact -- A Vision and a Reynolds Wishbone. I explained that George Reynolds was riding his Wishbone on this ride and was somewhere out in front of me and that I was from the Seattle area and used to write for Recumbent Cyclist News so I knew a lot of the guys at Vision. And, I added, I too owned a Wishbone.
This fellow I was chatting with was very interested in randonneuring and I filled him in as best I could while still getting all my control business done. He was pretty impressed at how I could talk and eat at the same time! They had Chinese food at this control and I'd decided to add five minutes to my schedule so I could scarf down some chicken fried rice. About this time the local fellow looks at me and says, "Hey you're Kent Peterson, the guy who wrote the review of Wishbone for RCN!" I admitted as much. "I hope you like your bike." "Oh, I do," he assured me, "It needs a better engine though."
I took off for Ludlow at 12:50, five minutes behind schedule but happily full of fried rice.
I've mentioned hills a few times so far but this is where the hills really started kicking in. I'm a good hill climber and I'm used to the mountains we have back home. These hills are different. At home we have long climbs of around six or maybe eight percent. These hills are shorter, steeper and more frequent. I can muscle my way up most mountains, even when I'm riding my 42/16 fixie, but for this ride I was very, very glad I had the bike with gears. My 30 tooth chainring and my 30 tooth back cog might not get much respect from the other cogs and gears on the cluster, but in Vermont they were the gears of choice!
The map may show the route from Brattleboro to Ludlow as being mostly North, but that's not the way it is. It's mostly up and down. Up a hill, down a hill and repeat for 88 kilometers. The roads are good, the countryside is beautiful and the hills are ever-present. The small towns are almost like islands from another time, a time of small family-owned stores lining a real main street and kids who play hopscotch on the sidewalk or softball on the village green.
At 5:25 PM, I pull into Ludlow. My schedule has become distinctly more fictional. I was 40 minutes behind my plan.
The Ludlow stop was wonderful. I had soup and three giant chocolate brownies. While I was there I chatted with Jack Eason and one of his compatriots. Jack's pal hefted my Camelbak "Whoa, Jack check this load!" Jack lifted my Camelbak and his eyes twinkled as he eyed me and said "Now there's a lad!" I was eyeing Jack's bike. On the Rocky Mountain 1200 I'd had occassion to heft Jack's bike and he's not travelling light either. "I gotta get me one of those," I said pointing to the rack on the back of Jack's bike that carries much of his load. Jack's buddy quickly agreed, "Yes, you certainly do. Why are you carrying all that on your back?"
Why indeed? I avoid drop bags because I like the sense of having all I need with me at all times, but that means I carry a lot. I didn't use a rack with my Bike Friday because I want to preserve its ability to quickly fold. And I'd wanted to keep my fixed gear light so I never put a rack on it. But the Zebra, why didn't I have a rack on it? Oh yes, I remember now. I don't have a rack on the Zebra because I am a MORON!
I vowed to reform my moronly ways and I did manage to strap my mussette bag to my saddlebag in anticipation of still more climbing to come. I loaded up a new route sheet, zeroed the computer and took off at 5:55 PM. I was 25 minutes behind schedule.
The road to Middlebury goes through ski country and as I passed by Killington ski area I was thinking about Bill Bryson's book "A Walk In The Woods" in which he recounts how he and his friend Katz hiked the Appalacian trail. Early on Katz, who had started the trip extremely overburdened and out of shape, does some load adjustments to his pack. That evening in camp Bryson asks Katz where some item is. "Flung," Katz replies. "Flung! Tossed. Gone." Bryson asks about some other item. "Flung!"
"What else did you fling?"
"Heavy f**king s**t!"
I had great sympathy for Katz at that moment. I was trying to figure what I could fling. The Paydays were too precious, but the cashews didn't make the cut. Flung! I'd also become more conservative on water, running with more like 50 ounces instead of the 100 ounces the Camelbak could hold. And I was eating my supplies as fast as I could. My theory was the more in my belly, the less on my back.
It was dark when I climbed Middlebury Gap. Middlebury Gap is the monster of BMB, a climb over Breadloaf Mountain several kilometers long and getting as steep as 15 percent in places. Coming at the end of a long day of battling hills, Middlebury Gap is used to stir fear in the hearts of flat-landers.
I come from mountain country. I wasn't fearful, but talk of fifteen percent grades had made me cautious. My low gears comforted me as I climbed alone in the cool darkness. I had no room for fear. Fear was one thing I'd flung long ago. This was only a climb and I climbed it.
At the top it was cold. Just past the crest of the gap, I pulled over to put on my warm clothes. I pulled my rain jacket on over my windshirt for the additional warmth. But when I went to dig out my long fingered SealSkinz gloves, I only found one. This was not a good development. I remained calm and methodically ransacked my Camelback by the light of my helmet light. A good Samaritan driver pulled over to ask if I was alright. I assured her I was fine. It's perfectly normal for me to be sitting by the side of the road on top a mountain in the dark and swearing at the contents of my Camelbak! "There are a lot you cyclists out tonight," the Samaritan comments, "where are you going?" "Eventually to Montréal, but most of us will sleep in Middlebury." I again assured the Samaritan that I'm fine and she left. I used my Leatherman Micra to punch a thumb hole in one of my knee warmers and wore it as a glove for the descent. The road down was bumpy but between my Lumotec light and my helmet light I was able to pick a pretty good course and descend reasonably quickly.
I arrived at the Middlebury control at 11:07 PM. I was now 37 minutes behind schedule, but rather happy. I'm going at what I consider to be a very good pace.
I'd like to pause here for a brief digression about randonneuring and why I enjoy it. I like the challenges, the fact that it's just a rider and course and that each person picks out his or her goals. My ride won't be the same as anyone else's and while the clock is running for all of us, ultimately each rider decides what to take, what to leave, what goals must be met and what goals can be modified.
My pace is good for me, but I know to others it must seem incredibly slow. As if to point this out, I wound up sitting next to Sandiway Fong while I ate my supper in Middlebury. Sandiway was riding for time. He'd left six hours after me and a mere thirteen hours later we were at the same control. I knew that I was here to rest but for Sandiway this was just a quick pitstop and then he'd be off again.
I asked for a 2:30 AM wake-up call and I was settled into my cot by midnight. The BMB folks had thoughtfully provided earplugs and I slept soundly. At 2:30 I got up and had breakfast, explaining to the control worker that the meal I have before sleep is supper and the one after sleep is breakfast, no matter what time things actually are. A bit of sleep and some morning coffee and my body will usually buy into the idea that it's a new day and that I must have had enough rest.
I had breakfast with several other riders, including my friend George Reynolds. At 3:07 AM a small group of us took off into the pre-dawn darkness.
The section from Middlebury to Rouses Point was long, over 144 kilometers, but the terrain was less hilly than the previous day's ride. The sun was up for the ride over Grand Isle in Lake Champlain and we actually had a tailwind part of the way. I rode with George some and while we were rolling he took a picture of me and I snapped one of him. The roads were nice, but at one point I got stopped for some road construction. George had been a bit ahead and squeezed through just before they shut the lane down. So I wound up waiting and didn't catch up with George again until Rouses Point.
I got into Rouses Point, NY at 9:22 AM. I was now only 22 minutes behind schedule and I was feeling good. I had a quick second breakfast and headed off to Montréal at 9:47 AM. This put me at only 17 minutes off schedule. George was slower at the control, so he wound up leaving some time after me.
I quickly crossed the border into Canada and rolled north along the Richelieu River valley. The Canadian terrain was totally flat, but the road surface was bad and for much of the ride there were no shoulders. I was riding solo and was down on the lower portion of my Scott Drop-In bars for much of the ride.
Nobody was passing me, but I was seeing the faster folks coming back from Montréal as I worked my way north.
I'd been telling George earlier how I always try to ride these events without taking Ibuprofin or other pain killing drugs, preferring instead to figure out the source of the pain and fix the cause rather than the symptom. By the time an event rolls around, I've usually worked out all the kinks in the system and I'm riding pain free.
So I was pretty chagrined when my right shoulder started twinging. It didn't make any sense. This bike was set up identically to my PX-10 and I had thousands of kilometers in this positition. And why only one shoulder? Still, it was bugging me.
I was almost at the point of relenting and breaking out the pain killers when I noticed that my handlebars weren't quite straight. I'd had to turn them to get the bike into its travel box and when I'd reassembled the bike, I hadn't gotten the bars quite straight. I was having to extend my right shoulder a bit whenever the bike was going straight. And the section going into Montréal had my keeping the bike pointed straight for hours at a time. I pulled over, got out my hex wrench and got the bars perfectly centered. Ah. much better!
The Montréal control point turned out to be a camp a bit east of the real city. I pulled in a 1:38 PM which was actually seven minutes ahead of schedule.
I had a sandwich at Montréal and stayed a bit longer than I'd originally planned. I left at 2:10 PM, ten minutes behind schedule, but I figured I could make up time on the road. No one came into the control while I was there, but as soon as I left I started seeing other riders coming north.
The return trip was slightly confusing in the town of St. Jean, but I got things figured out and rolled on down the road, anxious to be on the relatively good American roads again. At one point I banged into the edge of a pothole but the tire seemed to be holding air and I continued on.
At the border I met up with Pierce who recounted the tale of the lost Frenchman. One of the BMB riders wass a French fellow who spoke no English and apparently has a very bad sense of direction. This guy had somehow completely bypassed Middlebury and had made it into Canada. His wife was frantic wondering where he was and to make matters worse, she had all his documents including things like his passport. Jennifer, Pierce and company had finally managed to track the fellow down, but at the time I met up with Pierce they'd determined that this wandering fellow was two border checkpoints away on the Canadian side of the border. Pierce was trying mightily to reunite the wife, the wayward rider and his documents and establish some order. Pierce had just escorted the wife to the border and he was hoping things would work out.
Pierce and I rolled into the Rouses Point control at 6:03 PM. I was now twelve minutes ahead of schedule.
I had some pasta for supper and got ready to head out. The sky was clouding up and just as I pulled out, I noticed my front tire was flat. I must've developed a slow leak when I hammered that last Canadian pothole. I rush to change the tire and in my haste I pinch the tube and flatten it. I try to carry three spare tubes, but this put me down to my last one. I carefully inserted my final tube and pumped it up. Rather than burn more time patching tubes, I bought three spare tubes from Pierce. With the threatening weather, I didn't want to get into a situation where I'd have to be patching flat tires on a dark rainy night. Finally, at 7:13 PM, I was on the road again. My holey tubes were flung and my new tubes were safely packed in my saddle bag. I was 43 minutes behind schedule.
Dusk on Grand Island brought out a new problem: bugs. Swarmy little critters were attracted to the glow of my helmet light and I kept inhaling bugs. It got bad enough that I shut off the helmet light. They were still attracted to my bike's headlight but shutting off the helmet light seemed to help.
What really helped was when it started to rain lightly. I was wearing my warmers and wool and for a while that was enough. Eventually the rain got heavier and I broke out my Burley "Master of Misery" jacket. As usual for me, I was riding solo.
On almost every ride some song pops into my head and refuses to leave. The song that stuck this time was "The Monkey and the Engineer" by the Grateful Dead. The song starts like this:
Once upon a time there was an engineer
Who drove his locomotive both far and near
Accompanied by a monkey who would sit on a stool
Watching everything the engineer would do.
As I rode, I began modifying the song with lyrics more suitable to my situation:
Once upon a time there was a randonneur
Who rode his bicycle both far and near
Accompanied by a monkey who sat on the top tube
Watching everything the randonneur would move.
While my legs were busy churning out the kilometers to Middlebury, my mind was busy trying to fit more randonneuring lyrics into the song.
Fifty kilometers out from the control, just as I'd turned onto Route 7, another flat tire brought an end to my poetic pursuits. I felt the rear tire go soft but fortunately there was a gas station right there. I pulled in and changed the flat. I felt around the tire for what might have caused the flat, but found nothing. I figured it was either another pinch flat or whatever had flattened the tire was not longer in the tire. I reassembled things with one of my new tubes, pumped the tire up to pressure and headed out.
I didn't make it very far before my tire was flat again. This flat I changed in a muddy ditch and by pumping up the tire with the bad tube still in it, I located the evil little glass sliver that was hiding in the tread. I tossed the chunk of glass away with many harsh words, put a small boot of duct tape over the inside of the affected area of the tire and methodically replaced the tube. Once again a Samaritan in a car pulled over to see if I was OK and once again I assured the driver that this was all part of a randonneur's day. Soon I was back on the road, working out more lyrics in the saga of the Monkey and the Randonneur.
I'd lost a good amount of time, but I was still feeling good. I was thinking about Eddy Mercx and how he wouldn't be using a triple on this terrain and besides, these weren't the big hills. I'd be hitting the big hills again the next the morning but now, in the rain, it was time to be Belgian. I pretty much kept things on the 18 tooth cog in back and I'd trade off between the 40 and the 50 ring up front. I used the lessons I'd learned in thousands of kilometers of fixed gear riding and I kept charging the hills, working to hold as much momentum as I could. I knew I was quite a ways off schedule, but at least I could minimize the damage. At one point I almost hit a skunk who'd decided a rainsoaked road was a good place to sit for a spell. I also saw a few small frogs and mice working their way across the road. Despite signs warning of moose crossing, I never saw any of the large beasts.
As I got closer to Middlebury the rain stopped and it got foggy. The route sheet warned in big letters DON'T MISS THIS TURN! about the turn onto Quarry Road and naturally this was where the fog was the thickest. I began riding very slowly a few kilometers before the turn just in case and for a while I'd almost convinced myself I'd missed it but then I finally saw the white church and the BMB arrow and I knew I was all right.
I got into Middlebury at 3:00 AM. I was two hours behind schedule. At Middlebury I made the mistake of looking at myself in the bathroom mirror. I've seen corpses that looked to be in much better shape. I had ridden over 800 kilometers (more than 500 miles) in the past 47 hours with only two and a half hours of sleep. As Adam Duritz observed "beneath the dust and love and sweat that hangs on everybody there's a dead man trying to get out." At 3:00 AM on this particular Saturday the hills had drained nearly every gram of fat from my system, my skin was pressed tight to the bone and my dead man was there washing the road grit from his face. They say you can sleep when you're dead. I shoveled some food into this corpse I called myself, put in a request for a 5:30 AM wakeup call and hit the cot at 3:30 AM. I was asleep in seconds.
I woke just before my wakeup call. The supper and sleep had pushed the dead man back beneath my skin and I was feeling quite a bit better. I had my breakfast and coffee and seeing that my pal Pierce was around, I bought another two tubes from him. "We'll have to start giving you the quantity discount!" he joked as I recounted my latest tale of woe. Rather than fling my holey tubes this time I decided to carry them with me as pennance. Perhaps that would appease the tire gods.
Normally I have great luck with tires, never flatting on major events. And my tires weren't old or of a different brand than my usual and in fact my flats had come from a variety of causes. Still, I was getting damn sick of flats.
I checked with the crew at Middlebury and George Reynolds hadn't come in when I was sleeping. Maybe he'd decided to sleep at Rouses Point once the weather turned wet. George is a fast rider, but I knew that this was his first 1200. I hoped he was OK.
I left Middlebury at 5:57 AM. By keeping my sleep time to a minumum, I'd managed to get within an hour of my original schedule. Arise and ride, Lazarus. I hit Middlebury Gap feeling good.
The fifteen percent grade made me very appreciative of my 30/30 low gear and the morning sun showed me all the nice scenery I'd completely missed when I'd passed this way some 31 hours eariler. I was pleased to see that I still had the breath to say "hi" to the morning walkers and joggers. Middlebury College looked like just the kind of refuge from the world a writer would dream of. Adirondack chairs set out in fields overlooking mountain vistas beckoned however I was not there to seek refuge from the world but to roll on down the road, to live the journey and later sit and write it all down. This day was yet another day for riding. I rode on.
I crested Breadloaf Mountain with the joy of a man who has seen the worst, with an odd song in my heart, Payday candybars in my bloodstream and a schedule that mattered little on a sunny day in August. In Stockbridge, VT I pulled over to peel down to my shorts and jersey. Pulling back on to the road I caught a chunk of wire in my rear tire and all I could do was laugh. I set my bike up on a picnic table and took my time patching the tire. There was no sense in using a spare tube when the sun was shining and I had such a clean, honest puncture to work on.
In Killington, I stopped at the bike store and bought two folding tires. I still didn't think the problem was my tires but I was not about to take chances. At the next flat, I'd put on a brand new tire.
I pulled into Ludlow at 12:15 PM. I was now 2:15 off my schedule but still having a good ride. I'd decided to take what the day brought and now it brought me more brownies. I ate several.
Art LeBlanc was at Ludlow and he expressed sympathy at my many flats. "Luck has a way of balancing out," I philosophized, "This is my ride for flats." I showed him my two new spare tires, "These are my good luck charms. Let's see how they work out."
I left Ludlow at 12:40 PM, 2:25 off schedule.
The ride from Ludlow to Brattleboro was lovely. It was just as hilly going South as it had been coming north, but I had finally broken my streak of flats and I was feeling good. I did have to stop for a bit to fiddle with my mussette bag and renew my pledge to buy a rack, but I was getting into the rhythm of the ride. And I figured at Brattleboro there would be Chinese food.
The last section of road coming into Brattleboro is Route 5 South and I rode this like a time trial, down on the lower section of the bars for much of it and charging the hills. I was still feeling strong and I was hoping they still had some fried rice at the control.
I pulled into the control at the Brattleboro Motel 6 at 5:27 PM. Not only did they have lots of Chinese food at the control, they had coffee and I had plenty of each. I chatted with Art again at this control and we discussed strategy. I was now three hours off my original schedule and it would be dark by the time we hit Bullard Farm. A strong case could be made for taking a sleep break there. I'd originally planned on riding through to the end, but I told Art I'd ride on to Bullard and make the call when I got there if I was going to sleep or not.
At this control I got the news of a couple of DNFs. Steve Fox, who I'd last seen blasting South out of Montréal with a couple of the other recumbent riders had developed problems with his Achilles tendon and had to quit. And Sandiway Fong, for reasons unknown, had abandoned here. He still had plenty of time in the bank and he'd covered more than 1000 kilometers, but he'd decided at Brattleboro that he was done. I figured I could read the full story later on his website.
At 6:10 PM, I took off for Bullard Farm. I was 3:20 behind schedule.
It was a slow ride to Bullard Farm. I still felt good, but the onset of darkness, the cumulative effect of several nights with minimal sleep and a heightened sense of caution about missing turns combined to knock my speed down. In the dark I wound up riding with a couple of other riders for the last section. They were Italian with minds and computers calibrated in kilometers and a turny course marked out in miles. I had good lights, an accurate computer and a route sheet marked in kilometers. Even though I could sense these guys were faster than me, they stuck behind me, figuring the American must know where to go. I didn't have the heart to tell them my home was 3,000 miles away. I kept one eye on the route sheet and one on the road looking for the BMB arrows. Caution paid off and we never went off course. We pulled into Bullard Farm at 9:45 PM. I was nearly four hours off schedule.
My schedule had been drawn up by a younger man, a man who'd never seen the BMB course. This younger version of me had always wondered why so many riders chose to stop and sleep at Bullard Farm. After all, he'd reasoned, that's only 120 kilometers from the end. Might as well ride on in.
The younger me wasn't there that night. The older, wiser me was and he recalled that the young me didn't even have the sense to put a rack on his bike. The young me valued schedules, the older me valued things like food and sleep and sunshine and companions for the journey. My new friend Art was there and he was talking sense, "they have real beds here," he said, "and blueberry pancakes in the morning."
That clinched it. "I'm staying." I declared. When the folks running the control mentioned quietly that they had a bit of ice cream in the freezer, I gladly had a dish of it. As soon as the ice cream was out, other riders descended on it and in 45 seconds, it was gone.
Art, one of the Italians named Luigi and I all agreed to leave together in the early morning. I went to bed in a real bed at 10:30 PM and slept soundly until my 2:30 AM wakeup call.
In the morning, I felt great. I had a batch of banana pancakes hot off the grill since they were ready and it would be a couple of minutes wait for the blueberry ones. I had a big cup of coffee and in anticipation of the morning's ride, I flipped my computer over to miles. I was back to using the revised route sheet and even though I was still thinking in kilometers, I had to follow the cues in miles. And this final section had lots of turns.
Art, Luigi and I hit the road at 3:15 AM. Luigi was terrified of missing a turn in the dark and he stuck close behind Art and me. We could tell Luigi was a fast rider, but missed turns had already cost him time, so he was riding more cautiously now. Luigi was riding a Trek Y-foil and I kidded him about that, "hey Luigi," I said, "all the Americans want Italian bikes and here you are riding an American bike. What's up with that?" "It's a good bike," Luigi protested, "it travels well." Art, who was also riding a carbon Trek, had no complaints about Luigi's bike choice.
Art was from New Hampshire and this was his first BMB, in fact his first 1200 kilometer ride. When he found out I'd ridden PBP last year and the Rocky Mountain 1200 the month before, he asked me how the rides compared. "The Rocky Mountain is more spectacular, with bigger climbs, but they're easier," I replied, "Lots more wildlife." I pointed to Luigi, who was riding about two meters away from me. "I got as close to an elk as I am to Luigi right now. I stopped and took a picture. I also got that close to bear, but I didn't take a picture of him. It didn't seem prudent!"
"And how about PBP?"
"PBP is amazing. Hilly terrain, but not as bad as this. Nothing is as hilly as this. Big crowds at the controls, but there are wonderful villages, markets and cafes along the way. And you'll be riding along at 2:00 AM past some French field and there will be some old French farmer sitting in a chair by the side of the road yelling 'Bon Courage!' It's like no other ride in the world."
The batteries in Luigi's light were giving out, so Art and I stopped to wait for him while he changed them. Art and I were both running Lumotec lights off of Schmidt dynamo hubs so batteries were never a concern for us. It was almost dawn anyway and soon we wouldn't need lights at all.
With the coming of daylight, Luigi got friskier and soon he was out of sight ahead of us. Art and I continued to be cautious and several times one of us would yell out a turn that the other had missed. At the turn around the Hubbardston Street detour, Art and I speculated as to whether or not Luigi had made the turn. "If he went straight he's off course. But he's fast enough that we'll never catch him. We'll find out at the end." And so we turned and spent the rest of the ride wondering about Luigi. At one point we passed a restaurant and I pointed and said, "Look, Luigi did fine. He's already finished the ride and now he's opened this cafe!" The sign on the restaurant proclaimed it to be "Luigi's Italian Cafe."
At one point I said to Art, "I've got to flip my route sheet," and I pulled over to flip it around. Art said something that I didn't quite catch and rode on. I flipped the route sheet around, unwrapped a Payday bar and headed down the road.
I didn't see Art. Damn, he must've zipped on ahead. I kicked up the pace. Still no sign of him. That SOB ditched me! I kept riding, hoping for the road to straighten out so I could catch a glimpse of him. Finally I saw a rider up ahead.
I was pedalling along, slowly gaining ground when a voice beside me said "you are a hard man to catch!" It was Art! "I stopped to pee just past where you stopped to adjust your route sheet. You never saw me when you went past." The phantom rider I'd been chasing wasn't Art, just some Sunday cyclist out for a ride. I felt pretty stupid.
Art and I stuck together the rest of ride in, double checking our computers against the route sheet and keeping a close eye on the road.
At 9:03 Sunday morning we pulled up to the final control at the Holiday Inn in Newton. Art and I shook hands and we got our medals and our souvenir pins. This was the hardest ride I'd done to date and while 77 hours and 3 minutes wasn't my original plan I considered it a very good time for a very hard ride.
We asked about Luigi, had he come in? It turned out there were several riders named Luigi on this ride. Which one was our Luigi? "007," I replied, recalling his number. I'd kidded him about that as well, accusing him of being a secret agent posing as a randonneur. Nope, Luigi hadn't come in. He must have missed a turn.
I'd been wondering about my missing glove and went back to my Wednesday night biviouac spot. There, in the clear light of day was my glove. I'd left all my harsh words for the glove at the top of Middlebury Gap and now I just rejoiced silently as I stuffed the glove carefully into my Camelbak.
I dozed under a tree, waking whenever a cheer would go up and a rider would come in. At 10:45 AM Luigi rolled into the contol. I roused myself and went over to congratulate him, "You should've stuck with us old guys, we would've guided you in!" "Yes," he sheepishly admitted, but I could see he was just glad to be done.
I spent the next few hours dozing, congratulating finishers and snapping pictures. Ken Bonner and Oliver Portway, who'd started hours behind me and finished hours ahead were both there, looking tan and rested. Ken had been the first finisher on the Rocky Mountain 1200 and he and Oliver had both knocked off this course in 54 hours 26 minutes.
I was waiting for the drop bags to return and commented that I still had another 67 kilometers to ride to get back to Pawtuckett. Si Little, who'd turned in a fine time of 66:25 on his Rans Stratus and was changed and well-rested immediately offered me a ride. "Nah, it's out of your way," I protested but Si replied that 67 kilometers was nothing in a car. I told him I'd think over his kind offer.
I thought things over. The young me had planned to ride back and the old me still had enough kick in my legs to get me home. But the old me had nothing to prove and had pledged to not be a moron. And turning down Si's kind offer would be nothing short of moronic. I accepted.
The Italian fellow on the Moulton came over to take a picture of me in my Molteni jersey. I'm not sure if he liked the jersey because of the Merckx connection or maybe he was just a fan of Molteni sausages but in his limited English he congratulated me on a good ride. I found out from another rider that his son, who was the fellow on the titanium Moulton clone, had started out the ride very strong but had developed a case of Shermer-neck enroute. Still, the son had found a chiropractor and was finishing out the ride with a full neck brace.
At 3:00 PM the truck with the drop bags arrived and several of us formed a human chain to speed through the unloading. Seeing the variety of drop bags was almost as interesting as checking out other rider's bikes.
The post-ride banquet was tasty, with occassional interuptions of applause as more riders would come in. At the time Si and I left, there were still some folks out on the course, including Jack Eason, but the projections had him making it back under the 90 hour limit. The story was that on one of the nights Jack had been pulled over by the police for riding down the left side of a country road. Those British habits are hard to break! True to form, Jack finished the ride in 89 hours 45 minutes. And I later found my friend George had finished in 84:26.
Jennifer, Pierce and the rest of the BMB crew put on a world class ride. As I told Pierce just as Si and I were getting ready to go, BMB is so much fun that I'll recommend it to all my friends. And it's so hard, I'll recommend it to all my enemies as well.
|Stage||Dist. (KM)||Pace (KPH)||Time on bike||Non-Control time off bike||Control Time||Sleep Time||Note|
|Newton to Bullard Farm||121.40||24.0||5:02:24||20:06||20:00||---||Flat tire & secret control|
|Bullard Farm to Brattleboro||60.64||23.1||2:36:56||10:04||20:00||---||Delayed by road construction.|
|Brattleboro to Ludlow||88.72||19.3||4:35:15||---||30:00||---|
|Ludlow to Middleboro||106.53||21.6||4:55:04||16:56||4:00:00||2:30:00|
|Middlebury to Rouses Point||144.50||24.3||5:56:41||18.19||25:00||---||Rode with George Reynolds for much of this. Delayed by road construction.|
|Rouses Point to Montréal||92.34||24.6||3:44:59||6:01||32:00||---|
|Montréal to Rouses Point||92.71||24.3||3:48:30||4:30||40:00||---||Fixed a flat at the control. Bought 3 tubes from Pierce.|
|Rouses Point to Middlebury||144.67||21.0||6:51:41||55:19||2:57:00||2:00:00||2 flats, bugs, rain, skunk. Bought 2 more spare tubes from Pierce.|
|Middleboro to Ludlow||106.14||20.1||5:16:50||1:01:10||25:00||---||1 flat. Bought 2 spare tires at Killington.|
|Ludlow to Brattleboro||88.76||19.6||4:31:20||15:40||43:00||---|
|Brattleboro to Bullard Farm||60.86||18.2||3:20:07||14:53||5:30:00||4:00:00||Ice cream & pancakes!|
|Bullard Farm to Newton||119.82||21.7||5:35:18||12:42||---||---||Rode with Art LeBlanc for the entire stage and with Luigi for part of it.|
Total dist = 1227.09 km
Total time = 77:03 = 77.05 hours
Total bike time = 56:15:05
Total non-control time = 2:55:40
Total control time = 16:22:00
Total sleep time = 8:30:00
Rando pace = 1227.09 / 77.05 = 15.93 kph
Bike pace = 1227.09 / 56.2514 = 21.8 kph