by Elizabeth Wicks
I started riding at the age of 50. When I first heard of BMB I thought that riding 750 miles all at once was horrendous. I'd never do such a thing. Then I got caught up in the challenge of long distance riding and brevet fever and did I mention that I happen to live half a mile from where BMB starts and finishes? I planned to ride BMB last year, but minor surgery forced me to withdraw just before the start. I worked the BMB finish line instead and felt very much a part of it. Every time I draped a medal over a finisher's neck, I kept thinking I couldn't wait until that finisher was me.
I asked Pierce Gafgen to help me train. I attended Lon and Susan's Desert Camp for the second year, where Andy Pruitt helped me solve my seat agony by correcting a leg length discrepancy. I had a very successful brevet series, improving my time over the previous year by three and four hours on the 400K and 600k rides. I felt really strong by the beginning of August, but had no idea how I would do on BMB. My plan was to ride alone, at my own speed. Taking sage advice from Pierce and several veterans, my game plan was to reach Middlebury, VT (230 miles) the first sleep stop, then sleep again at Rouses Point, NY, coming back south and again at Brattleboro "only" 109 miles from the finish.
Finally I was standing at the BMB start line. As we all assembled for the group picture, I realized that this was the last time I would see the front pack. I wasn't nervous as we headed out because the roads are all familiar to me. The route was constantly up and down and then there were the 15 miles of serious rollers along Quabbin Reservoir. Before I knew it, we were pulling in to the first checkpoint at 8:55am. I refilled my water pack, refueled a bit and then headed out by myself. I was feeling good and knew it wasn't too tough until we got to the climb up Mt. Pisgah. I arrived at Brattleboro by 11:44am and ate some fried rice. I found my bag and refilled my Hammer Gel and Sustained Energy supplies.
I headed out with Pamela Blalock and Susan Plonksy. We hit the few miles of bad road surface that every one complains about. But, I figured we were in the country and that's just part of the landscape. The Saxton River gurgles alongside the road, is very pretty and I loved listening to the sound of the water. Upon reaching Chester, Pamela suggested we take a much needed food and rest break.
Then the really big hills started. I am not a fast climber. I am slow and steady and tend to stay in a low gear. I have bad knees so standing and grinding up hill doesn't work for me. Andover Pass seems innocent enough when you first turn towards it, but within a few miles you are riding straight up. The only good thing, about of the huge up is that there is a wonderful down on the other side. But then there is Terrible Mountain, a four mile, relentless climb followed by a swift descent right into the Ludlow checkpoint. We arrived there just after 7:00 p.m. It had started to rain and I was soaked. I rummaged in my bag for a dry jersey and discovered I had packed wool socks. Smart? No just dumb luck. I refilled my water and Sustained Energy, ate soup and pasta and headed out again with Pamela and Susan.
By the time we left Ludlow, it was dark, very foggy and hard to see. When we got to Middlebury Gap it was pitch dark and still raining. About half way up, a huge, mastiff like, mean looking dog leapt out at me from the shadows. His growling face and bared teeth came within inches of my right leg. Thank goodness he was on a chain. For some reason I didn't react. My heart rate didn't even go up. I just kept pedaling, focused on the task at hand.
Near the top the grade becomes 12%. I was struggling. Finally, I stopped and walked to the top. Pamela and a guy who had joined us did too, but then they got back on and rode the last bit to the summit. Luckily there was a white line on the side so on the descent I could tell where I was and could stare at it when a car came at us. At one point, I spotted a sign with truck aimed downhill and the grade listed at 15% and realized, we have to come back up this on the way south. Ugh...
We pulled into Middlebury about 11:15 p.m. having ridden 229 miles. The checkpoint is laid out in three different buildings: one for rider checkin and food, another for sleeping, another for showers. This way the noisy eating riders don't disturb the sleeping riders, and there is privacy for showering. I was a bit disgruntled about having to traipse between buildings to get cleaned up and fed. It was hard to see and the driveway was muddy. But, boy, did that shower feel good. I ate some nice hot lasagna and headed off to sleep. The cots were all taken, so I stretched out on a mat. I had brought a sleeping bag sheet and a small pillow and with my eyeshade and earplugs I was oblivious to light and sound.
Three hours later, I got dressed, packed up everything and had breakfast. Dale Lougee asked if we could head out together, he thought we were compatible in speed. So, off we went. It was 4:30 a.m. Not long after that Dale's rear tire blew. It was one of those huge explosive sounds from a pinched flat that we all dread. We headed up the driveway to a farm where Dale could work in the lights from the buildings. After he finished we headed back to the road. Wham! His front wheel jammed and wouldn't budge. We were at a loss as to what to do. We knew Pierce would be along eventually, but that sounded so helpless. Suddenly, with a push, and a bounce, the wheel came loose. Thick clay-like mud from the driveway had gotten all over his tire and jammed it between the rim and the brake pad. Finally, we were off again.
``They'' said it wasn't too hilly, just rolling into Burlington and then it becomes nice and flat. Once again, everyone's perception is different. I found it very hilly and frustratingly tough going into Burlington. I struggled up the several steep rollers. Finally, we wended our way around Burlington and found the gas station with the Dunkin Donuts. I pulled out my damp, torn Dunkin Donuts gift certificate that Jennifer gave out back in Newton. The clerk was a little skeptical about accepting it at first, but finally she did. That coffee and bagel tasted so good. It was great fuel to get me going. And the going did seem a bit easier after that. The route was nice up along Lake Champlain. It was so pretty through there. I was intrigued with the size of the boats in the various marinas. They were ocean sized. There were several vistas across huge expanses of water that were just beautiful.
We pulled into the checkpoint at Rouses Point at 11:54 a.m. to be greeted by my friend Jenny Craddock who was working the checkpoint. This was the best checkpoint because it had a kitchen, Jenny is a great cook and she treats everyone royally. Jenny had asked me last spring what I might like and I said an ice cream soda. She had brought a blender and made me one. What a treat! That, along with the turkey sandwich and soup, tasted so good. I spent 35 minutes eating at Rouses Point, then headed out with Tris Glanville and Susan. Pamela had dropped out in Middlebury because of intestinal problems.
This section wasn't supposed to be arrowed, but the Montreal BMB staff had done so early that morning, which was a big help. We breezed through the border control and headed on into Canada. This is a lovely section and we tooled along easily. We had heard about the hill, but when I first saw what looked like a telephone line dirt swathe between trees on a hill way ahead of us, I thought, nah, that couldn't be it. Wrong. That was Covey Hill and we did have to climb it. I made it most of the way, but just didn't have enough oomph in my legs to get up and over it, so I got off and walked. Sandiway Fong and others reported that it wasn't that bad. But it was for this rookie. The nice thing about this up was that there wasn't a corresponding down on the other side that you have to climb on the return trip. When you get to the top of Covey Hill, you stay on that plateau right into Huntington. It's a straight shot and my attitude improved. We pulled into the Royal Canadian Legion Hall, at 4:20 p.m. and were welcomed by lovely French-Canadian accents. I was exhausted and muscle weary, but the ladies fixed us their special sandwiches. What a great scene, too, with the locals in the bar drinking and having a lovely time watching these strange people come and go in our funny shoes and gear. After a bit of a rest and food, we gathered ourselves up and headed back. In many ways the adventure was just beginning.
It was nice going back. Covey Hill is straight down, so I just let myself fly down. Whooopee I yelled -- just as I had heard Bruce Ingle yell a few hours earlier when he had flown by me going the other way. Getting back into the USA through the border control was slow but uneventful, and we arrived back at Rouses Point at 8:58 p.m. Another wonderful shower and clean clothes. Jenny cooked chicken, rice, vegetables, and salad. Ooh, it was good. I slept for three hours, but it was hard to get up when Jenny prodded me awake. Dale had already left. Once I got moving, I felt better and had a real breakfast thanks to Jenny. This would be the last real meal I had for which I would pay dearly.
I didn't see Susan or Tris so I hit the road by myself at 3:00 a.m. in a clear, moonlit night. It was great. My favorite kind of night riding. Nice and quiet. Flat roads and fields all around. Easy going with the help of the extra light. I decided to stop trying to push so hard and just focus on the moment and the portion of the ride that I was currently on. So, I sat back and spun along enjoying the ride. I went through the area along the islands and along the shores of the lake happy as a clam. For some reason the hills back into Burlington were easier going south than north.
Somewhere along here Tris caught up and after being a bit confused, we found the Middlebury checkpoint buildings and were checked in at 11:04 a.m. I ate pasta, and chips and then we continued on south to Ludlow. Of course, right after heading out of the Middlebury checkpoint, you are faced with the Gap again. I have got to learn how to power up hills better. I hit that 15% spot and couldn't catch my breath. I clipped out and walked. After that, the road leveled out in several places and it was quite nice riding next to a meandering river. After a few false summits I could see the top and eventually I made it up. The downhill was much easier in the light of day. I went flying passed the house with the vicious dog. He was sleeping peacefully in his front yard and didn't even acknowledge my presence.
It got cold and rainy as we neared Killington. My ears, hands and toes were getting pretty chilly on the downs and I struggled to get up the last little steep stretch to the top. Tris had pulled out a pair of rubber gloves to warm his fingers, but I had forgotten to bring my glove liners. At 5:00 p.m., I very nervous about how I was going to handle the descent. I knew my fingers would be too cold to work my brakes. I also knew there was a bike/ski shop at the bottom but I needed to get down the hill first to get there. Luckily, Bill's Country Store is at the top.
I went in dripping water all over the floor and asked if they had any gloves. I would have taken anything from gardening to work gloves. The owner thought he might have some insulated glove liners left from last winter. He rummaged in a drawer in the back of the store and pulled out a pair. They were the expensive ones he said. What was money at a moment like this? They were $8. I would have spent three times that if he'd asked. I also bought a cotton bandana to cover my head and my ears knowing it would get soaked, but might keep the wind out. Which it did.
I was sorry the conditions were so bad, because I like going down Killington. But I braked all the way down. As I pulled into the bike store I saw a several bikes parked out front. Sure enough, there were other BMBers ahead of me stocking up on warm clothes. I bought a pair of tights, a headband and waterproof socks. The socks were too small and took forever to get on, but my toes never got cold after that. It turns out skiers know a thing or two about cold weather dressing. It was the best $60 I have spent in a long time. I came out of the store and boogied the next 15 miles to Ludlow and pulled in at 6:49 p.m.
What a scene at the checkpoint. It was wall-to-wall wet people with soggy stuff strewn everywhere. People were shuffling around getting themselves organized while eating soup, baked potatoes and noodles. I gulped down a potato and some noodles. I changed into dry clothes, including my new tights. Tris and several others were heading out. I felt energized and the rain was letting up, so I decided to go with them. I kept telling them not to dress too warmly because we had a steep 4-mile climb the minute we turned left out of the checkpoint, but they didn't remember it from the trip north. I knew it would take a long time to climb tonight. It did. Even the guys complained. And it started raining again.
We got to the top sort of together, but I literally inched my way down the other side and never saw them again until I got to the bottom. One of them started coming back up to look for me. They had waited so long that they thought something had happened to me. Only a few miles down the road, there is the left turn that is so easy to miss, and the immediate climb back over Andover Pass. I swear it is steeper on this side. When I got to the top, I had to ask if someone would slow down and go down with me because I was afraid I wouldn't be able to see. Luckily one of the guys said he wanted to go slowly too because he had gotten so cold on the last descent that he could barely hold on. We then decided to stick together for safety. It was a good thing. The road down was just a black abyss with no lines, yellow or white.
We headed down, with one or two people in front and two others, including Chip Bole from Chicago, right behind me. The guys were so patient with me. Chip was a godsend helping me down. I might not have made it if I had been alone. I might have been frustrated enough to quit. When we got to the bottom and the turn toward Chester, we had been on the road for about two hours and had only gone about 10 or 12 miles. This was going to be a long night and we were chilled through. It was around 10 p.m. so we didn't know if we would find anything open. I realized that the turn out of Chester was near the gas station and Gould's Market where Pamela, Susan and I had stopped on the way up. I led everyone to it. Inside we found hot coffee, sandwiches, and a microwave oven for warming other choice delicacies. We took over the store getting warm and refreshed. I was worried that someone might get hypothermic but no one did. I don't know what time it was, but we were on our way and it had stopped raining. We climbed up to Saxton's River. It seemed to take forever going into Putney. But finally we reached the Putney General store that put us 5 miles from the Brattleboro checkpoint. We rolled in at 2:08 a.m. Sunday morning. I had been riding since 3:00 a.m. Sat. morning -- so I had just completed my first 23-hour ride. (Can a 24-hour one be far behind?) I was actually feeling quite good. I would have thought I would have felt more tired from the strain, but we had been riding so slowly. I got a container of fried rice and tried to eat other things, but I just couldn't get them down. After an interminable wait, I got the key to my motel room. Sleeping on a mattress with clean sheets felt great..
I was up at 7:00 a.m. with plans to be on the road by 7:30. I had some cereal and a banana, but it wasn't enough. In hindsight, I should have gone to the Dunkin Donuts just beyond the rotary and gotten more food. We left at 7:45 with ``only'' 109 miles to go. As we hit the rollers out of Brattleboro, I realized I had very little power left in my legs. My spirits and attitude were good, but my quads were dead. I am sure it was from all the miles we had covered, but I hadn't eaten enough. The early morning fog sat in the valley, but it was a nice section. At least in the daylight I thought I could make better time on the downhills. We pulled into Bullard Farm 11:15 a.m. I was hungry and looking forward to breakfast. I had a wonderful conversation with Mike DeLong, who has the same Trek as I do. I ate an omelet, but the cook was slow and I had to leave before getting my pancakes. All of a sudden it was almost 11:45 and we thought we should hustle in case anything went wrong. It seemed to me that we were riding at an agonizingly slow 10 mph and, knowing the route ahead of us, I knew I probably wouldn't be able to improve upon that very much. I was right. Immediately after leaving Bullard Farm there is the 15-mile stretch of long rollers. The scenery is as pretty going east as it was going west, but deadly with tired legs. Nothing was as steep as we had encountered over the last three days, but it felt like it. We should have stopped in Barre for more food but wandered on. Finally, we came upon a sub/pizza shop. I gulped down as big a sandwich as I could and lots of chips. Pierce and Gerry Goode stopped by to check on us. Only 40 miles to go, they said. Piece of cake. Not at ten miles an hour, though, that meant another 4 hours. As we headed out, I kept waiting for the food to kick in and give me more oomph. But, my body was spent.
I was getting very edgy and frustrated. I wanted to turn on to Route 20 in Wayland. For two years, I had been dreaming about flying down Route 20 and making the right turn onto School Street, which is part of my morning route, and flying on to the finish line. When we finally got to the turn onto Route. 20 the cue sheet said we had ten miles to go. There was no way I was going to take an hour to go on a route that I can do in my sleep! So I cranked it up as hard as I could, and yelled follow me as we turned onto School Street and then onto Glen Road and finally Concord Road.
I went screaming, literally and figuratively, up the little slope and there in front of me was my boyfriend Paul, with a huge sign with my name on it and a camera. I burst into tears, but kept going determined to get to the finish before 6:30pm. Tris and I pulled left into the hotel parking lot and almost collided. That would not have been a good way to finish this ride! Behind the hotel, where the finish was, there was another congratulatory sign implanted along the driveway. And there was a huge crowd to cheer us in (which isn't such a bad thing). Just after I was ``medaled'' and about to be photographed, Paul thrust a dozen roses in my hand. More tears.
Thank you to Pierce most of all for helping me get ready. And Susan, Pamela, Dale and Tris for their company and pulling me along at various points, and, of course, Chip and the guys who helped me down Andover Pass. I am sorry that I slowed you down, but your gallantry will be rewarded. I wasn't fast, but I finished, and I am so proud of myself for doing so. It was the hardest ride I have ever done and I am ready to do it again! Paris here I come.
A note about the author: Elizabeth Wicks finished BMB in 86 hours 30 minutes to become the 51st woman ever to complete this profoundly difficult 1200k ride. She also holds the distinction of being the oldest female BMB finisher at age 58.