This is hardly a standard ride report since I’m writing about the BMB that I completed 3 1/2 years ago. Why didn’t I write about it sooner? I couldn’t for a long time, and then who knows? But doing the ride report when it’s below zero outside and I’ve had very little opportunity in the last couple of weeks to ride seems like a good idea. If I can’t really ride, I can at least relive rides. And that is part of the point of ride stories, right?
I did the BMB in August 2006, the last time it was officially run as a randonnee. I’ve noticed that it is now listed as a permanent, but how many people could do this ride unsupported? In 2006, I was originally signed up for the 1000km event, not the full 1200. However, I was encouraged to change to the 1200 when we discovered that the time limit for the first 600km was going to be the standard 40hours. Since no extra time was allotted to make it to that turnaround point, I decided to try to do the whole thing. I really think I finished it simply because I didn’t know what I was in for, and I’m really stubborn. Once I start something, it’s very difficult for me not to finish. I’m compelled, against my better judgement and most impediments. I was the official lanterne rouge, but that’s fine. That’s fantastic.
So I started the BMB with the requisite full series in hand, but really little additional training. Now, looking back, that seems foolhardy, and as I contemplate the possibility of PBP next year, I know that I should do something like two full series this year as well as a full series next year and a lot of extra miles. To add to my minimalist preparation in 2006, we had just returned from Australia a week or so before the start of the event. Minimal preparation and jet lag–wow, an excellent preparation for BMB, right? I was also riding my old Trek, not so well fit to me as my IF, and using Cateye battery-operated lights which proved not effective in some of the downpours we rode through. By the end of the ride, I was down to one operational headlight although I’d started with three.
I arrived in Newton on the afternoon before the ride started. Laurent was hanging out chatting with his friends, so I stopped to talk with him. The whole check-in process was also set up right there in the car garage so I pulled my gear out of the car and got everything checked in. We were allowed three (I think) drop bags so I checked all of those in as well. I remember checking in to my room, and I vaguely remember having dinner and beer with Katie and Laurent (who was being the social butterfly and drifting between tables in order to visit with old friends from the UK). I even got some sleep that night although, again, I’m sure it’s because I had no idea of what was in store for me. I didn’t sleep great, but I got some and that was just as well since I only slept two or three hours for the whole ride.
I think I was the first person down to the garage in the morning. I reloaded the stuff I didn’t need into my car, checked out of the room and chatted a bit with others as they started to arrive at the start line. Laurent is cheerful in the morning but Katie is sleepy and sullen. She makes up for it, usually, later in the day when I hit my low spots, so we ride pretty well together. On this day, though, I was pretty energetic although scared, and wanted to keep moving forward as steadily as possible because we had a long way to go–Middlebury was the first night’s rest stop. If I remember correctly, we followed a lead car out of town for the first 10 or 15 miles. The group quickly spread out, the sun came up and we settled in to the ride. Laurent pulled ahead but Katie and I stayed together for most of the first stage. She started to feel pretty queezy and started to ride even slower than I was going, so at a point just a few miles before Bullard Farms, I pulled ahead a bit, thinking that I needed to keep riding at least as quickly as I could, which was not quickly at all, if I were to have any chance of completing this ride in time. I was ready to leave Bullard Farms when Katie arrived, so Laurent agreed to stay with her for a bit while I took off.
I guess the first (and last–it’s an out and back course) stage is the flattest, but in my mind the whole course is fairly hilly. Definitely hills start to occur on the second stage to Brattleboro, but I don’t remember very much of it except that arriving at the controle, I sat for a bit, ate some fried rice, a fruit cup and met Kevin Main, who I still think of as instrumental in getting me to finish the ride in time. Laurent and Katie showed up after some time, but Katie was feeling even worse now and pulled out of the ride. I left this controle way before Laurent but he passed me some time later. It just goes to show how slowly I was moving. Brattleboro to Ludlow is no cake walk, and by the time Laurent and I pulled into the controle, I was pretty exhausted and slightly nauseated. I knew I had to eat but food seemed very unattractive at this point. I sat with some soup, nibbling gingerly to get some nutrition into my body, all the while marvelling at Laurent’s ability to take full advantage of the dinner offerings laid out by the volunteers. That first night he kept me on track. We ate fairly quickly, donned warmer clothes and set off for Middlebury, which we needed to reach before we could rest. I think there’s a flat part in this section, but of course the whole section is dominated by the Middlebury Gap, whose magnitude has grown in my mind over the years. My memory of doing it, however, is that it’s not too bad on the way to Middlebury: a longish hill that is almost completely ridable, except for the very top which is quite steep. The scariest part on the way to Middlebury is the descent–some sections are quite steep, there were deep dents or rivets in the road (seemingly deep enough to swallow up a bike tire), and it was quite late. We’d been riding for 20 hours at least by this time so it was quite challenging to manage this descent in a safe manner. Still, we got to the controle, ate, showered, and then had about an hour and a half to rest. I couldn’t sleep very well at all because I couldn’t get comfortable and I was too tired–sore and achy. Maybe the idea of having beer and wine at controles is not such a bad one after all. So, maybe I slept for half an hour, but not more. We got up, had something to eat and took off. I was dragging this second morning, and if I remember correctly, there are some rolling hills for some time until you reach the road along Lake Champlain. Laurent was way in front of me most of the time. I rode as efficiently as I could and tried to enjoy the scenes of the beautiful lake as I went, but I was pretty wiped out still from the first day’s ride. Lots of people were at Rouse’s Point when I got there.
I was more able to eat this time, and as I remember, the folks there were doing their best to make the sandwiches and other snacks that people wanted. I appreciated their efforts. Again, I tried to lie down for a rest and asked for a wake up call, but I couldn’t sleep so got myself up and out before I was supposed to be awakened. Since Laurent wasn’t crossing the border, I was truly on my own for the grunt up to Huntingdon in Canada. I remember seeing, while riding in the only real heat of the ride, this large hill up ahead that I was sure was NOT on our course. Well, it turns out it was, and there is nowhere to stop for water or snacks for the whole 5o mile stretch, so the kind mechanic team put bottles of water at the top of the hill for riders to use. Finally reaching Huntingdon, with a little time to spare (I am not a great 600-km rider so I worried about making it to the turn-around on time), this is where I started to play leap frog with Emily O’Brien, a MUCH stronger and faster rider than I, but who also knows how to use all of the available time, just differently. When I arrived, she was relaxing and chatting with ride staff, just taking it easy. I ate, got myself ready for the return ride to Rouse’s Point in the dark, and set off. Emily was still talking. Somewhere along the way back, though, she whizzed by me. Also, on the way back was the first time Anesh passed me. Crossing the border back into the U.S. was way less friendly than crossing into Canada. The border officer wanted to know what I was doing out on the road at midnight, where I was going in Rouse’s Point and on and on. By this time, I could hardly put a sentence together so I’m afraid I was not making a good case for myself. And when I said to him that I was the last of a bunch of cyclists who had just done the same thing, he told me he had just come on duty and had seen no other cyclists. Eventually he let me go, but for heaven’s sake, what was the point of the interrogation?
Anyhow, I remember the cold shower in Rouse’s Point, and my astonishment that there was no hot water. I think it even made me cry. I was tired. I can’t remember if I slept or not, but if I did, it wasn’t for long, because I was back out on the road again long before light, riding very slowly into a warm headwind and light rain. This stage, back to Middlebury, was tough as I kept falling asleep on the bike. I actually had to stop twice for cat naps just to get back to Middlebury safely. Once there, however, I didn’t have time to spare, so I ate, cleaned up and headed out in what was working up to becoming a steady rain. Some weird guy tried insisting on giving me a ride to the top of Middlebury Gap–I’m still not sure what was up with him, but I am very glad that I had the presence of mind to stay away from him, both because I could not accept rides and secondly because I think he was really weird. I got offered rides three more times before making it back to Newton, the next time before reaching Ludlow. It was pouring and nearing dark. A guy in a big pick-up offered to take me wherever I needed to go. I had to explain that I couldn’t accept rides.
Finally, I reached Ludlow, soaked and exhausted. The food here had seen better days, which I guess makes sense since I was the true lanterne rouge to reach this point. Anesh was sleeping but wanted to ride with someone through the night I learned. Emily was sitting and talking, relaxing. I was slightly envious. I took a shower, hot (thank you!), tried to eat, and then lay down for a few minutes while Anesh was being awakened and getting ready to go. We became partners for the ride through the third night. When one leaves the controle in Ludlow, one heads straight up Terrible Mountain, at least that is my memory of how the route goes. Before I left Ludlow, I put big trash bag on over the top of my rain gear, which was already quite wet, to try to provide a little more protection from rain and maybe also a little warmth. Riding up Terrible Mountain in the rain, trash bag flapping wildly, the night got quite exciting. The rain and thunderstorms remained pretty constant through the night, but when the rain took a took a break, the mist was so heavy that our light beams bounced back at us. We were both very tired, but Anesh was terribly sleepy. I remember him saying once, in the middle of a thunder storm, “It’s dangerous out here.” “Yes, ” I agreed, but immediately reminded him that we really did not have a choice but to keep going. We were on a ridge in the middle of nowhere, and there was no place to hide from this storm. This is a hilly section and our progress was slowed by the fact that we really couldn’t fly down the downhill sections because we couldn’t see the road, or curves. So, it was sunrise when we reached Brattleboro, with something like 30 minutes to spare before the closing time of the controle. Oy.
Kevin Main, the volunteer in charge of the Brattleboro controle, made oatmeal, bagels and cream cheese, and extra strong hot tea for me, made me sit down and eat it, and told me I had no time for a nap. Essentially I had no time for anything but eating and leaving. I remember seeing Laurent, but I think that he did not know what to say at that point. I think he and his friend Pat had arrived much earlier in the night, before the worst of the storm hit. I think he took off before I did, but I don’t really remember much of this section of the ride. Somehow I got to Bullard Farms before the cutoff time for the controle. After scrounging a few snacks (this crew was really ready to leave as they had had a very long shift), I took a short nap and got back on the bike for the last leg of the ride. I called Jayne to tell her I was still on the road, and did my best to move as quickly as possible. I was so sore by this point that there were times when I got off the bike to walk up hills that weren’t very big but I needed some time off the bike. And I took advantage of every downhill to pick up a few seconds’ time. When I got within about 20 miles of Newton, I got confused by the directions and stopped to ask for help. The women I asked were amazed that I was riding from there to Newton, but when I told them that was really nothing as I was on my way back from Montreal, they were truly astonished and tried to offer me a ride to Newton. Of course, I told them that I couldn’t accept their offer. Then the skies opened up in one last thunderstorm for me, and my lights were not very bright at this point, so with just a few miles to go (not remembering this part of the course from the 4 days earlier) I had to stop frequently to check my cue sheet. The rain was coming down so hard at one point that I was slogging through several inches of water on the road. Finally, though, and while I was stopped to read the directions, the mechanical crew for the ride pulled up next to me and seeing that I was having trouble understanding directions at this point, they led me the last mile or two back to the Holiday Inn. I was so glad to see them. I don’t know if I would have made it that short distance without them as I was pretty done in by then. I had quite the welcome party–and surprise, surprise, Jayne had hopped a bus, train and taxi to get to Newton to be there when I finished. Katie was still there, and Laurent, and Bill Olsen, and Jennifer Wise and others. It was quite a welcome, and quite a finish.