By Sandy Whittlesey
The 14th Boston-Montreal-Boston took place on August 18-21, 2005. Ninety-one randonneurs came from 20 states, Canada, the UK, and New Zealand. Our northern neighbors were particularly well-represented with 17 entrants. 71 riders braved BMB, 4 took on the 1000K, and 16 rode the "Quad Centuries." The latter group was a mix of BMB 'retirees' and neophyte randonneurs looking to get the flavor of the big event before attempting it. As always, the night before was very festive, with widespread friends reconnecting for another epic ride. As the 60-rider 4 a.m. group departed on the Boston Marathon course, the unforgettable rolling cluster of bright lamps created a holiday atmosphere. The group remained intact for 2-1/2 hours, socializing until the nasty hills of Sterling and Princeton forced the inevitable fragmentation.
BMB has a certain mystique because neither numbers, description, nor pictures convey the event well. BMB has a little bit of everything, and yet you come away feeling that there is nothing else like it. For sure, BMB is a big dose of green hills, clear breezes, sweet rains, bumpy little roads, hot days, and crisp nights—each of which can be wonderful and terrible at the same time. Boston and Burlington are rather frantically busy, but Quebec is achingly lonely. In between, the little villages unexpectedly offer everything from good food and cafes to worthy bike shops. A BMB'er experiences camaraderie in its truest form, appreciates the slightest favors, reveals extremes of personality, and overall spends four days in a rather surreal social context. Just as surely, a BMB'er gets rubbery legs, a raw ass, afternoon sweats, nighttime chills, leaden eyelids, and voracious appetites. One's view of BMB ultimately depends on one's mental state: do you appreciate the rolling backdrop, or are you just feeling the gradient? Are you savoring all those late-summer rural fragrances, or just feeling the force of the wind? Call it a bike ride, a party, a Zen mission, or a vision quest, it's all part of an exceptional event in a corner of the world that is inanely conducive to cycling.
It must be said, too, that while all manners of course description can be accurate, so much of BMB lies in the idiosyncrasies of the particular year. For example, the big gaps always stand in their place, but in a way they are not the major obstacles because they are so predictable. Ultimately, the most trying elements are unknown variables like pavement conditions, wind, rain, and even the exact point of nightfall. In this way, a well-ridden BMB is no less than an improvisational masterpiece. This year, some notoriously busted sections of pavement were resurfaced in July. However, the little lanes approaching the Huntingdon turnaround seemed gnarlier than the finishing miles of Paris-Roubaix. The ever-fickle winds blew out of the west on the first day as the riders worked eastward, and it then switched to the south and howled for the riders' return southward. Rain made its guaranteed appearance early on the third morning, spattering riders for about eight hours. While it was nothing like the 20-hour tornado- laden deluge of last year, many riders once again reported that the downhills became harder than the climbs because they got so cold.
As a side note, the legendary guarantee of rain on BMB is no coincidence: if you study the Vermont map, you will notice that the ski areas seem to be clumped into three bands — southern, central and northern. Skiers know these as the three snow belts of the state; BMB'ers experience them as the rain belts, where moisture from Lake Champlain and the Adirondacks wrings out on the central spine of the state. No matter how dry the New England summers and winters get, these regions of Vermont get frequent precipitation.
Perhaps BMB is not a 1200K so much as it is two different 600K's back- to-back. This may sound like a ridiculous statement considering the out-and- back course. However, the return leg is far harder, as evidenced by the split times. This year the average rider reached the Huntingdon turnaround in 33:15 (almost RAAM-qualifying pace); for the return leg, the average time was 45:30 — 40 percent slower. Or, to put this differently, the return leg required 12 more hours — 2 extra hours for each 100K! The same is true for the first and last leg between Boston and Bullard Farm. Heading out, riders averaged an impressive 4:40 for these hilly 78 miles despite the net elevation gain. However, on the return, riders averaged 6:30 for this same leg. In addition, outbound riders only spent an average of 12 minutes at the Bullard Farm control; however, on the return, riders spent an average of 52 minutes as the urges to sleep, eat, and recover asserted themselves despite the end of the ride being within sight. Needless to say, the Bullard Farm staff had very different workloads on the first and last days.
Why is the second half so hard? Traditional statistics do not provide the full answer. While the total climbing has been variously reported between 30,000 and 38,500 feet, the exact number is irrelevant because the pitch of the hills is the key statistic. BMB has hundreds of hills with 10- 15 percent grades. Sooner or later, they catch up with the rider; gallant dashes uphill become impossible. It is also the case that all the named mountains are steeper on the return except for Quebec's vertical Chemin de Covey Hill. Countless little walls appear that the rider never remembered. The prevailing south winds in the Champlain region only complicate the picture. While the annual requirement of a full brevet series has improved the DNF rate dramatically, it remains that a 600K brevet barely prepares BMB'ers for what the second half is like. Certainly, enormous credit is due all riders for staying with it, although one might suspect that the position of being stuck 300 miles from home with goofy shoes and an inconvenient piece of luggage has kept many a randonneur from seeking alternative transport home. A very revealing stat: of the 14 DNFs, only 3 occurred after the Rouses Point control at mile 325. Surely this is not due to the second half being easier — rather, all BMB finishers deserve serious kudos for hanging in there despite increasing fatigue AND course difficulty.
Sun, Rain, FogThe first day of BMB 2005 was a sunny, 80-degree joy ride. Most cyclists reached the Middlebury control (mile 230) between 7 and 11 p.m., with many taking both meal and sleep breaks. Riders who continued into that first night were treated to great beauty and great challenges. The moon was full, and Lake Champlain sparkled more than the stars in the crystal-clear sky. The Adirondacks and Green Mountains silhouetted the distant skyline, creating an incredible sense of place among the topography. However, this stretch is awesomely lonely, and riders noticed the wind switching and felt a growing chill as the fog settled in. In fact, it was a few degrees colder than predicted, and the fog in the lower areas was enough to dampen clothing. The first numbed rider back from Quebec told disbelieving comrades at Rouses Point to put even more layers of clothing on.
Quebec produced its usual menagerie, including countless farm dogs and cats, wild dogs, and even near-collisions with deer and a bear. However, the most thrilling sighting went to Ohio RBA Bob Waddell, who came across a cow moose in New Hampshire and was able to snap a picture of it!
Many BMB'ers once again related that the four main passes in Vermont, while long and steep, generally did not present the toughest segments of the ride. Many fingers pointed at the 90-mile stretch from Rouses Point back to Middlebury as the hardest. This year, with winds gusting to 35-40 mph, many groups reported that they only managed 11-12 mph despite full effort. After the Isles, the impossibly random 50-mile sequence of steep rollers baffled riders' best efforts at pacing. The Middlebury control staff had their hands full preparing exhausted riders to start the final third of the ride with the highest climb on the course — as heavy rain set in!
Staff, Staff, StaffBe it said over and over again that the three most wonderful parts of BMB are the staff, the staff, and the staff. It is hard to call the event "unsupported" 'when energetic, understanding, warm, outgoing people meet you every few hours and take care of you at this level. And it seems like half of them are people you have heard of: your control card accumulates more familiar signatures than the Declaration of Independence. A BMB'er can receive a time stamp from a West-Coast RBA, lunch from a RAAM champion, a hug and "be safe!" order from a PBP champ, and family treatment from someone they've never met.
Boston co-RBA Tracey Ingle rang a cowbell at the finish to announce each rider's return home. With each ring, as riders gathered for the picnic, the cheers and applause grew louder. The nature of the moment created a neat sound — not raucous stadium bravos, but rather a very sincere, energetic appreciation, the sort that Carnegie Hall would offer Glenn Gould upon performing the Goldberg Variations. It was an acknowledgement from those who understood the difficulties: "Congratulations, (brother or sister), you have just conquered the Big Monster Beast. Great job."
A particular hero of this year's event was Bill Schwarz of Kinderhook, NY, who completed his eleventh BMB. Adding to this milestone is the fact that Bill suffers from peripheral neuropathy, a degeneration of the nerves in his legs. The unsteadiness of his gait at the post-BMB picnic had little to do with the effort of his sub-80-hour ride: his lower legs have atrophied and have little feeling any more. Bill has entered several UMCA events on a hand-cycle and recorded an unofficial world 24-hour record of 254 miles on it. His plan is to be the first to cover BMB on a hand- cycle, although he doubts that it is possible to cover such a hilly course within the time limit.
Most-improved awards go out to John McClellan of Concord, MA, and Kevin Kaiser of Evans, GA. McClellan was 11.5 hours faster than last year, finishing in an impressive 57:58 on his usual lugged Hetchins with dimpled chrome fenders. Kaiser recorded a 59:21, 20 hours better than his effort last year (yes, we double-checked)! Honorable mentions go to John Fessenden of Horseheads, NY, 10 hours faster than last year, and Scott Dura of Cumming, GA, who avenged his 2004 DNF. Other familiar faces included Ken Bonner, once again recording a time smaller than his age, and John D'Elia and Ben Robinson, who had recovered from their rookie RAAM outings and were enjoying the 1000K together.
BMB 2006 will be the last under the directorship of Jennifer Wise and Pierce Gafgen. They are planning a "special edition" for their final outing. While the future of BMB is foggy, Wise says that "it ain't over, 'til it's over," and thus another grand outing is in store for us next year.