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Boston-Montreal-Boston 1992

by Pamela Blalock

 

Pity

I walked into the Convenience/Liquor store in Essex Junction, Vermont at around 5:30 in the morning. A female clerk was stacking boxes and had her back to me when I inquired about a restroom. Before turning around, she told me that I'd have to go across the street to the Amtrak station, but it was currently closed.

She then turned around to see a very disappointed woman wearing a helmet, glasses, tights, rain jacket, gloves and reflective vest. While I thought about having to ride another mile out of town with a full bladder to find a place to take yet another hike in the woods carrying a roll of toilet paper and jar of vasoline, she took pity on me and let me into the private restroom downstairs. While downstairs I noticed a few bikes and realized this clerk must also be a cyclist who sympathized with my plight.

But did she really? Did she know that I had ridden 280 miles from Boston since 4AM the day before over 4 major mountain passes and 200 unnamed killer hills? I didn't explain, but I thanked her and headed back out into the cool morning air and hopped on the back of the tandem so we could continue on our journey to Montreal.

Similar scenes were acted out many times with many other riders over the four days that one hundred riders attempted to ride their bikes from Boston to Montreal and back. We often wondered what passing motorists must think as they saw all these cyclists pedaling along the rural roads at all hours of the day and night. We sometimes asked the same questions ourselves. But we knew that we were there having fun and accomplishing another major goal. For Steve and me, it was being the first mixed tandem to do Boston-Montreal-Boston.

Background

Boston-Montreal-Boston (BMB) is a timed cycling event in which participants ride their bikes just over 1200 kilometers (~750 miles) between Boston and Montreal and back within 90 hours. The clock starts at 4AM August 20 and does not stop until the rider returns to the start. All time off the bike is included in the total time. BMB is not a race, although many riders treat it as one. The winner receives no additional reward other than bragging rights. Riders are self-supported - carrying tools, spare tubes, tires etc. Follow vehicles are not allowed, but a rider may have a support vehicle meet him at the checkpoints. A rider must get to each successive checkpoint before it closes or face disqualification. Closing times are based roughly on a 13km per hour pace. There are also secret controls to keep riders from taking shortcuts or catch those who do. If this sounds a lot like Paris-Brest-Paris, there is a reason. The ride was modeled after the 100 year old ride in France. It is run every year, except for PBP years, and has served as an American super-qualifier for the French version recently. The ride was first held in 1988, when 12 of 19 entrants completed the course in the allotted time. The ride has grown every year since and included many international riders in 1992, with entrants from Canada, Great Britain, Ireland and France.

The qualifiers for PBP normally consist of rides of 200km, 300km, 400km, and 600km. They also serve as very good training rides for the event. This year, participation in official qualifiers was not required for BMB entrants. Being the year after PBP, many clubs took a break from running official qualifiers, making it more difficult for riders to find official events. But, riders were strongly encouraged to do their own qualifiers or other equivalent rides.

The $210 entry fee included food like pasta, sandwiches and cereal at all the checkpoints. Some checkpoints had primitive places for riders to sleep. Checkpoints were located in gymnasiums and recreation centers. Riders could have 5 sag bags sent to specific control points. Savvy riders either sent sleeping bags to the controls, where they planned to sleep or made motel reservations. The route was not marked as it is in France, but accurate detailed cue sheets were provided. The cues were so detailed that a rider occasionally could miss a turn because he was still reading the description of it when he passed it!

I discovered Randonneuring in 1986, and trained for the 1987 PBP. I did not complete the ride due to mechanical failures, weather and failure in my spirit and desire to go on. I returned and completed the first Boston-Montreal-Boston in 1988. I had hoped this accomplishment would quench my desire to return to Paris, but it did not; I spent the next three years getting ready. Prior to going to France for the 1991 event, I was starting to grow weary of long distance rides. I planned to go back to a normal life after the ride. But, I returned from France last fall after successfully completing the ride, with a renewed enthusiasm for long distance riding. I was already planning to return to Paris in 1995. But other challenges would become attractive well before 1995. This is a very addictive activity!

Tandeming with Steve

Steve and I had been on many of the same rides together for a couple of years. We had talked at the airport and on the bus ride to our hotel in Paris, but it wasn't until he told me how awful I looked 1000 kilometers into PBP that he made a lasting impression. One day, I innocently asked Steve if he would like to try riding tandem. He was hooked immediately and before I knew it we had decided to do BMB on the tandem.

We had a few obstacles to overcome. One is living in the northeast, and the other is living 2 states apart. Steve lives in Bangor, Maine while I reside in suburban Boston. Any two people can ride a tandem once, but to do long rides week after week takes patience and work. Really good tandem teams are successful because they spend a lot of time together on the bike. Climbing takes coordination and cooperation and practice. The more time the team spends together, the more in sync they become and the more efficient they will be on climbs. We have watched our climbing ability improve significantly over the past 8 months, despite only riding together on weekends. Of course we rarely do a ride of less than 100 miles!

We did a few tandem rides in the fall, but really started our serious training on January 1, what better day? We rode our first century of the year, our first century on the tandem, and our first century in preparation for BMB on New Year's Day. We were joined by 3 other riders and enjoyed beautiful but atypical New England weather.

During the week, we rode on our trainers or commuted to work. I used my mountain bike with knobby tires to forge through obstacles lay out by the New England winter. I learned a great deal more about cold weather clothing than I ever intended to. I hated riding past the temperature sign at the bank that quite often taunted my efforts with single digits. As Spring tried to force it's way in, I began to need less and less arctic wear, but it was a cold rainy spring, and at times, it was difficult. After the sand was finally swept from the streets, I exchanged the knobby tires for slicks, but added more weight to the panniers to continue getting a good workout. Sometimes I would pack the panniers with canned fruit and vegetables from the cupboard to add extra weight. Occasionally for an ego boost, I would ride an unencumbered road bike.

Training

We planned to do at least one century every month throughout the year. The rides in February and March proved a little more difficult thanks to snow, ice and cold, but we survived.

Our first back to back centuries came Easter weekend, when we traveled to the Berkshires to ride with our friends Rose and Andrew. Unfortunately, the weather was still designed for more skiers than cyclists, but being stubborn, and since we didn't have our skies with us, we rode on the cold snowy roads anyway. We kept telling ourselves that by riding in miserable weather, the rides in the summer would seem almost perfect, no matter how bad they were.

Our qualifiers also proved to be a challenge to our rain gear more than our legs, as each ride started in downpours, but fortunately ended in sunshine. We did the Assault on Mt. Mitchell (the day after doing our version of the Retreat from Mt. Mitchell) We did several multiday, 100+ mile tours in May. The mile markers fell rapidly and our confidence for finishing BMB in August increased.

Tragedy struck on June 6, when we lost two dear friends to drunk drivers during a 24-hour race in New York state. Al Lester and Andrew Spiller were both very experienced ultramarathon cyclists. They had each thrilled in the accomplishment of completing PBP and BMB. They both lost their lives doing something they loved, riding their bikes. Both Al's and Andrew's families encouraged us all to keep riding and keep their loved ones in our hearts.

Our motivation to ride slowly returned with pleasant memories of Al and Andrew on various rides. Al had been instrumental in keeping me motivated last year before PBP by helping me the find the fun in riding again. I miss him dearly and thought of him a great deal while preparing for and participating in the ride. My goal now is to work to keep drinking and driving from destroying any more lives. I'll use any opportunity I can to spread the message.

Our attempts at doing a 600K ride proved that while we are persistent, and stubborn, and strong, that we can be stopped. Our first attempt was in Montreal over the July 4th weekend. The cold and rain tempted us to stop, but we kept going until we blew the bead off of a tire. Several hours and quite a bit of hitchhiking later, we finally found a suitable replacement, but by that time had already missed a checkpoint. (I'll never again to a long ride without a spare tire on board!) We tried again two weeks later, by planning back-to-back doubles, but spent a little too much time watching needed fluids being pumped back into a riding partner after he became severely dehydrated on the first day.

We finally decided that the 10 years of Randonneuring experience between us and all the other training rides we were doing would be sufficient preparation for BMB. Time would tell. We did manage to get several double centuries in, as well plenty of rides over 100 miles on weekends. And we did travel to the mountains regularly to climb over passes that would either be on the route or were comparable.

Two weeks before BMB, we planned to conquer a few notches in New Hampshire, including Hurricane Mountain. Our trip over Hurricane with the tandem proved to be quite an experience, and quite an enjoyable one, since we were in the van at the time, with the windshield wipers going full blast.

We hoped that having rain every weekend would allow for a dry BMB. The cold and wet New England summer started to wear us down, as it seemed that we spent more time cleaning and relubing the bike during the week than we did training. The rain during the rides was hard on our spirits, but also proved to be harder on our equipment. Maybe disk brakes would be cheaper in the long run...

Equipment issues

We have managed to go through two sets of rims and numerous freewheels, chains, chainrings, tires, cables and bearings for everything. But this is the nature of a tandem. There is a great deal more stress than on a single, so things wear out quickly and since we are putting so many miles on the bike so quickly and in such bad weather, it's no wonder that we go through parts regularly.

We seem to battle constantly with our indexed shifting. The length of the cables on a tandem contribute to sloppy shifting, but with a lot of patience, it is possible to have smooth indexing on a big bike. We have also learned that our patience with the bike runs thin at times, and that we can't work on the bike together or even in the same room!

Over the seven years that I have been doing long distance rides, I have tried a lot of different equipment. I will think that I have settled on something, and then for some reason or another, I will try something new. In that vein, after building the perfect bike for PBP, I set it aside and started all over again with a tandem.

I first discovered tandeming in 1986, while I was living in North Carolina. There were several couples in our club that had tandems, and I decided to try one myself. I found a used Gitane for sale in Durham. A friend and I took the bike out for a test ride and what a spectacle that was. Neither of us had ever been on a tandem before and we had a heck of a time getting coordinated. There were times when I was barely hanging on with my feet held up and out to the side as the pedals were flying around below me. We eventually got things together and rode the bike home. The next day we attempted a 200K on this bike. We broke several spokes and had other minor problems, but finished the ride. After another week of riding the bike and having it checked by mechanics, I decided it would cost more to fix the bike than to buy a new one, so I returned it.

I then started looking for a new bike, because despite the problems, I really enjoyed tandeming. The manager of a local shop told me about a Claud Butler. It was brand new, not terribly expensive and had fenders (a PBP requirement) and braze-ons for racks, etc. I bought this bike and began my search for a captain who wanted to do PBP. That's when I met Bob. We did our qualifiers together, learned a lot about repairing a tandem, and made adjustments to get the size better for Bob. But we discovered shortly before PBP 87 that we just weren't compatible on a tandem, so we decided to go back to singles.

I eventually sold the Claud Butler and bought a bike that I could captain. Burley made a mountain tandem in an 18/16 size. A longer seatpost on the back allowed me to ride with taller stokers, but my lack of upper body strength prevented me from being able to stand and control the bike. The ability to stand makes a big difference in preventing a sore stoker butt, which becomes the limiting factor on longer rides.

I loved captaining the bike, but when Steve and I tried riding, with me as stoker, and were immediately able to stand, I changed positions willingly. The bike is a little small for Steve, but with a few adjustments, we were able to make it quite comfortable for him.

In March we decided to try an Allsop Softride System for the back. Unlike other suspension seatposts, which only take big shocks, the Allsop smoothes out all the little bumps which can add up on a long ride. I immediately fell in love with the springiness of the seat, but noticed a lot of lateral motion from the start. This lateral motion was a result of a not-so-perfect clamping system that eventually failed. Fortunately it was replaced with a far superior clamp, built by Glen Swan of Ithaca, NY.

We also discovered a cracked hub midway through the season, which Burley replaced under warranty. In the meantime, we purchased another set of high quality wheels with Phil Wood hubs and Mavic 261 rims. Unfortunately we got a defective rim, and the eyelets pulled loose, but a new rim was swapped in and we were back on the road quickly. We either bought defective tires, or Specialized Fat Boys do not stand up well in the rain, as we had two tires split apart at the bead. Our Avocet 1.25 inch slicks have performed flawlessly so far.

In our quest for smooth quiet shifting we eventually upgraded to Shimano Deore XT derailleurs and 7-speed barcons with a Regina freewheel. In the process we tried and discarded SunTour, Shimano and Sachs freewheels, the original SunTour 6 speed levers and rear derailleur and SunTour Command Shifters.

We have added aero bars, built locally by John Tobin. John's unique design prevents loss of the climbing position on the tops of the bars, and conveniently gives us a better place to mount our Nightsun lights. I have added ergonomic hand grips to the back handlebars which give my palms little more support. Since I am unable to use aero bars on the back, I needed to relieve pressure from my hands in a different way, and these have proved to be very good.

We are using Nightsun Lights on the front, a non-flashing LED rear as well as the flashing Vista Light. We carry a small fork-mounted Sanyo Light that runs on c-cell batteries for emergencies and as a flashlight. We also have a rear minder reflective triangle, sidelight reflectors on the wheels and a little flag extending from the side of the bike a few inches into traffic. We call this little gadget our "WinnebagoFeeler". We found it in a bike shop in Quebec and it has proved to be very effective in getting cars to give us plenty of room when passing.

The most important pieces of equipment on the bike though are the his and her horns. A tandem already draws a lot of attention, but loving the limelight as we do, we add to it by tooting our own horns as a way of greeting well-wishers. Children really get a kick out of it!

The Irishman

A few weeks before the ride, John Bayley, a participant from Dublin, Ireland, contacted me with questions about the ride and the area. We exchanged several emails and I invited him to stay at our place prior to the event. We met him at the airport a few days before the ride holding up arrows from PBP, so he would recognize us.

John had injured his knee a few weeks before the ride and wasn't sure if he would be able to ride. I encouraged him to come anyway. I suggested that he could help crew if the knee gave out.

Unfortunately, John brought Irish weather with him, making it rain for the next 4 days! We used this time to take John to lots of bike shops, and visit lots of our cycling friends. We were all a little eager to get on our bikes, but they were clean and working well, and we just didn't want to ride in the rain again!

On Wednesday before the ride, the rain finally broke, and summer came to New England just in time for our ride. While I really appreciated having warm sunny weather for the ride, it was a little tough since we had not ridden in any heat all summer. I know John had hoped to use the days prior to the ride to get used to the heat, but he'd just have to do it on the ride along with everyone from New England too!

The Start

We spent Wednesday afternoon finding every cycling related item in the house and packing it in the van. We wanted to be ready for anything. Steve's brother, David, had offered to crew for us, but did not show up until the last minute. This helped fray some nerves, but everything worked out fine in the end. We did start out by apologizing to David and each other for anything we might say along the way, and thanking David repeatedly for crewing for us.

We arrived at the start with a well tuned bike, two well trained bodies, and a van full of parts, clothes, and food for the ride. We saw a few familiar faces scurrying around in the dark. And then we spied the other tandem. Hauke Kite-Powell, the ride's organizer, had told us we were the only one just a week before. We made our way over and casually asked who the riders were. We then met the two male tandemists. I guess I was feeling a little competitive after all. While they had been preparing for the ride for a while, they had just signed up 3 days before the event.

I looked around for other female riders and discovered that again the numbers were small. Eight women appeared on the starting line. Not bad, but I'd like to see those numbers increase.

Most of the riders had chosen the 90 hour start time of 4AM. 15 riders would start 6 hours later at 10AM. Lots of flashes popped as crews and riders snapped pictures in the dark. A photographer from a regional magazine was covering the event, and a young woman from California was taking lots of video to make a documentary. She spoke with us briefly, but our nervous energy and last minute adjustments didn't leave us in a good position to talk. We each poured the first of many, many bottles of Ultra Energy down our throats, put on our jackets, vests, helmets and glasses and aimed the bike toward Montreal.

Hauke encouraged us to be very nice to the checkpoint personnel, to ride safely and have a good time and we were off. We stayed near the middle of the group for a while, following a stream of red flashing vista lights. Looking back, we saw a steady line of headlights. We encountered very few cars on our way out of town.

We rode and chatted with Rick for a while. Rick and I had shared a crew with 3 others last year at PBP. He finished the ride with only two minutes to spare. Despite my warning him that replacement tires would be difficult to find in France, he had chosen to use the 27" wheels. After having a few flats early on, he lost a lot of time that he never made up. He also wanted to keep the crew close, since he was worried about his tires. Unfortunately this became a problem as the five riders spread out over the course. This year, he had exchanged the bike with the 27" wheels for one with more standard 700C wheels. We had not seen him on any qualifiers, but he said he had been doing a lot of training. I noticed he was using Nightsun lights and asked about batteries. He had shelled out the $200+ for the 20 hour battery and would not need recharging or extras. Rick had done a very good job of freeing himself from the need of a support vehicle.

On the other hand, we needed a lifeline. We were also using Nightsun lights, but with rechargeable batteries. The speeds we reach on descents demand the most powerful light available, and the rate at which we crawl up the other side causes us to shy away from generators, so we chose the Nightsuns. We had somewhat more difficult to find 26" tires. And, well a tandem is just more prone to break! Our support vehicle would be charging batteries, carrying tires, and all sorts or spare parts, clothes, and lots and lots of Ultra Energy.

Most of the group stayed together for the first 30 miles, but some trouble makers on a mixed tandem sprinted up a hill to capture the Berlin town line. Actually I just wanted to go ahead and find a bathroom and have some hope of getting back in the pack. Steve claimed we were in the right gear to get up the hill. Whatever our reasons, we caused the pack to split, and a race began in earnest at the front. We then stopped at a donut shop for bathroom facilities and let the others race on to Barre.

We rode along alone for a while and settled into a comfortable pace. Slowly we started catching riders again. We rode for a while with a young lady from Florida. She seemed surprised by the hills, and I looked down in horror at her 42-24 lowest gear. We made encouraging comments, but wondered to ourselves how long her knees would last in the mountains. This ride is advertised as mountainous, but it is amazing how many people just don't believe it and show up with inadequate gearing and not enough climbing miles in their legs.

Almost one third of the riders dropped out the first day for this reason. There may be a flat route from Boston to Montreal, but we certainly don't go that way. If there is a direct way and a mountain to the left, we will go over the mountain and back over another to get there. This is not a complaint, but a legitimate description of the route. It is a great ride with beautiful views and lots of fun, but if you come, bring your granny gear, because Middlebury Gap doesn't accept American Express!

Our trip through Princeton and into Barre was quite pleasant thanks to our Softride System on the back of the bike. Lots of people had asked about the Softride beam at the start and along the way. I told them that we bought it specifically for the ride to Barre. Those riders who had made the infamous trip to Barre, MA, the center of the New Englanders Randonneurs Universe, the town through which all rides must pass, knew instantly what I meant. Others would discover soon enough. This section of Route 62 has some of the roughest pavement in all of New England, and we pass over it 4 times in the qualifiers every year and again on BMB. Some lunatics voluntarily ride these roads, as we did in the early season. It was after one of these rides where Steve performed a monologue that went something like this, "Bump! Sorry! ... Bump! Sorry! ... Bump! Sorry!", that ride that I decided $200 was a pittance to pay for comfort and a non-bruised butt!

We were surprised to find no secret control in Barre, but we did find David, so we shed our battery, some clothes and made a quick run for the woods, then refilled our UE and water, talked to the videographer briefly and quickly left town when we saw the other tandem heading out.

Unfortunately, then we started having some chain suck problems that caused us to have to stop and put the chain back on every time we caught the other tandem. I wonder now if they had a remote control to our front derailleur to cause this problem! We rolled along Rt 202 toward Lake Matawa, and eventually over Mt. Grace where lots of prayers were said to keep the chain from jamming! I saw an interesting patch of woods that needed exploring so we took a quick break. At the same time David was standing around the corner and up the hill with his video camera rolling waiting for us to ride by. When we finally did ride by, Steve gently suggested that the picture would be better without the lens cap. It's kind of cute on tape!

We crossed our first state line descending Mt Grace and found ourselves on Rt 119 headed toward a beautiful covered bridge. We were riding with Russel from California, when we passed it. He was thrilled in getting to see the quaintness of New England. It's one of only two covered bridges on the route, but there is a lot of beautiful New England scenery along the way. We only touched a corner of New Hampshire and quickly crossed the Connecticut River into Brattleboro, Vermont. A few rolling miles stretched out ahead of us, and just before we reached Putney, we spied the carrot, uh I mean other tandem with a cling-on (that's a drafter to non-tandemists). We talked for a while and jockeyed back and forth until we reached the first control.

David showed that he did know what to do as a crew. When we rolled in, he pointed out the location of flush toilets in a nearby Laundromat, and had everything ready for us. We loaded up with fresh water and UE, and were back on the road after a nice break. We both used Camelbacks for our water and bottles for the Ultra Energy. When I first tried a Camelbak this year, I was apprehensive, but I don't even notice it on my back anymore, and I do find that I am much better about drinking since it is more convenient.

The mileage to the next checkpoint is only 49 miles, but includes several major climbs, including Andover Ridge and Terrible Mountain. We eventually named two of the other climbs, but that was on the way back. We saw Nancy, the woman doing the documentary several times along this section. The first time she was still setting up and had not planned for our 45 mph descents. The climbs in the section would give her plenty of time to set up on later shots. David drove about halfway out and waited with cameras to get some action shots of us, other than getting on and off the bike (which is what he would get at checkpoints)

Throughout the summer, we had ridden on most of the course, except for this section, so neither of us remembered much about the climb over Andover, except that it was tough. Andover has one of those rare hairpin turns. It seems the folks who built roads in the Northeast saw mountains and just paved a road right over them. This makes for some long steep climbs. When we actually see a switchback, it's an occasion. It's also important to remember for the descent in the dark on the way back. We saw the other tandem and cling-on as we made the sharp turn and waved down to them, confirming their fear that they would be taking the same road!

Who would name a mountain Terrible Mountain? Did Charlie Lamb find this mountain on the map and devise the route specifically to go over it because of it's name? Maybe, maybe not, since we did not go over Mt Horrid a few miles later! Actually Mt Terrible really isn't that bad on the way out. It's only two miles of climbing with 10% grade at the top. And after 5 miles of climbing Andover, it seems almost easy.

But the backside is a whole different story. It's straight and smooth and fun to fly down on a tandem. I watched the speedometer as we hit 40, then 50, then 60. And for a brief second I saw 67.3. After that the tears (or terror) in my eyes blurred everything. (We have no max speed on the computer, so I have to watch as we do it.)

Some really threatening looking clouds had rolled in and the temperature had dropped, making that fast descent quite cool. We reached the checkpoint at the bottom of the hill and I was ready for some more clothes. I added a jersey and tights and threw my rain jacket back on the bike. Maybe the skies over Vermont always have those heavy thick rain clouds hanging over them. It sure seems like every time we ride up there, they do!

We saw a few familiar faces at the control. We were surprised to see Lindy, and she appeared not to be feeling well, but then she remounted the bike and pointed it toward Killington. It had gotten quite cool and everyone was scrambling for their tights and jackets.

We asked about John, and heard he was still riding. We were hoping his knees would hold out. Just before we left Ludlow, he rolled in with a big smile. He had hit 63 coming down. John rode totally unsupported, didn't even use drop bags. He carried everything with him in his panniers. When I tried to pick his bike up at the end, I couldn't believe how much he carried! I don't think it weighed more than our tandem!

The next 20 miles would be fast, especially on the tandem, as the road rolled or climbed gradually towards the base of Killington. We passed the Gondola and several ski lefts and we climbed Route 100 toward the summit. There is a dirt road around the mountain that parallels the river, but we planned to ride every inch of the course and were not at all tempted by the easier route.

We sent David ahead to buy sandwiches at the Stockbridge General Store. This has become one of our favorite feeding spots in Vermont over the summer. Last time we were up training, we told the owner about BMB and when we would be coming through. The store has an outdoor water faucet and an outhouse, so even if it's closed it's a good place to know about. There are several chairs and tables on the lawn and the porch, where weary riders can take a break. And there is a cute steel dinosaur over near the outhouse. But the best thing is the homemade sandwich bread. We saw signs for a B&B Pit Stop ahead and then realized that he must have misunderstood our accents or something. We made a quick stop to say hi, use the facilities and the rolled out. David picked up four sandwiches for us to eat when we stopped in Middlebury for the night.

Middlebury Gap

We had a few more miles of flat riding before starting the toughest ascent of the day over Middlebury Gap. As we were riding along we were passed by Lindy's husband Jamie, in his car. He asked how we were doing, and we asked about Lindy. Apparently she was getting a sore throat and feeling bad, so she decided to stop at the base of Middlebury. He was driving up to meet her. We made a quick pit stop just before the climb. While there we were caught by a small group from Ottawa. We took it easy at the bottom, trying to save ourselves for the worst yet to come. We had hoped to make the climb in daylight, but we'd taken too many breaks, and we reached the base at 8:00PM, just as it got dark. We planned to finish off our morning battery on the climb, and then put a fresh one on at the top. David drove to the top to take pictures of people in agony on the climb.

Some people say that it isn't that bad when you are fresh, that it's having 220 miles in your legs that makes it so hard, but we've ridden it fresh and it's tough! As we reached the top, we passed two very strong riders - with inadequate gearing - on foot. We stopped to add jackets and gloves and the fresh battery, so we could use high beams all the way down. A rider from Arizona joined us for the descent. We gave our brakes a thorough workout for the next 10 miles. We rolled into Middlebury at mile 237 at 9:38PM, found the gym and checked in, then headed down the road a few more miles to our motel with showers and beds.

When we made the reservations, we were given room number 23 and told that the room would be unlocked, since no one would be in the office late. But when we got there, the clerk gave David room number 19, since they had put someone else in 23 and said they were doing things differently. We found an icy cold room with wide open windows and no heat. We finally got the windows closed, took showers, ate sandwiches and got to sleep by 10:30. But apparently we forgot to lock the door and a rider who came in later had been told room number 19, as we woke to find a strange person clattering around our room. We sort of groggily suggested that he go wake the manager, and get out of our room so we could sleep.

We got another two hours of sleep and were back on the road by 3AM. The night was dark and cool and there were a few confusing turns at the beginning. After one of these we passed Victor checking his cue. I called out that this was the right way to go, but I'm not sure he believed us. The next few miles were gentle, but were followed by some short steep little monster climbs. We saw a few Vista lights blinking ahead of us and slowly gained ground on them. As we were climbing one hill, we recognized the tandem with two other singles, the rider from Arizona and a guy named Bob from the Finger Lakes area of New York.

We jockeyed back and forth on the hills for a while, and we heard the Arizonan call out that he'd see us later. We continued on and caught two more riders on some rollers going into the Burlington area, where we found a secret control. Just before the secret control I noticed a rider sleeping sitting up leaning against the front of a Mobil Station. This was quite a common site in France. In a few years, people throughout Vermont may get used to seeing this every year in August.

Around 7:00 AM we reached Lake Champlain and crossed over to the island. David had planned to find some breakfast for himself and then meet us on the island with more Ultra Energy for us. He picked an incredibly scenic place to stop on top off a knoll in a field of hay with beautiful views of the water and the road as we rode up, but not a tree or bush in sight. We refilled bottles, dumped batteries and headed down the road in search of a bathroom, or at least some woods. While we were stopped Melinda and a rider from Missouri blew past with their sights set for Rouses Point.

David found us a few miles later in front of a store with flush toilets and told us what had happened to the rider from Arizona earlier in the morning. I had thought he was just backing off a little, but apparently he broke a pulley. They had rigged it back up with a wire, and when they saw David, they asked if he had any tools. Fortunately, since we had packed everything we own, he even had spare pulleys. He sold the guy a pulley - only charged him $10, and provided the tools to get him back in working order. I jokingly suggested he could have made some serious money on the pulley. Of course I had also suggested he park halfway up Middlebury and sell pie plate sized freewheels!

The terrain had flattened out a little to be more rolling and better suited for tandems, and we started really cookin'. We caught a rider who stayed with us for a while, until he saw an appealing store. We slowly counted down the last few miles to the New York border and the bridge which would represent our last hill for 100 miles. We reached the checkpoint in Rouses Point at 9:08, the 11th bike through. Two 10am starters had come through already and you could almost see where the pavement melted as they rode by.

One rider had made the trip over from France. He planned to ride fast, but he started with the 90 hour group, despite the fact that the checkpoint at the border would not open until 3AM. He apparently took his sleep break just before this control, and according to Hauke, the he was circling in the parking lot when they arrived to open the checkpoint.

Canada

We decided to go to Montreal unsupported to avoid hassles of getting a car full of bike stuff across the border. We carried extra packs of UE to mix in Montreal and jackets, just in case, despite all indications that the day would become quite warm. We moved through customs quickly with the basic questions of where are you from, are you with the ride, and how are you getting there.

Most of Quebec is quite beautiful, but the section we rode was cornfield after cornfield after cornfield with no way out of the wind, and we had strong headwinds or crosswinds the whole way. The roads were a bit rougher than what we'd been riding, and at one point they tried to rectify the situation by paving them that day. We suddenly hit this gluey substance and I felt hot sticky rocks hitting my legs. I screamed to Steve to get on the grass or off of the sticky pavement, but it was too late. Our tires were covered in 1/8 inch of tar and rocks. And it was on solidly. It took another 40 miles to finally wear them clean. We tried to scrape it off with no avail. I vowed that we would walk through this section on the way back!

We saw the Frenchman heading back in, and a little later saw Ted, our friend from Montreal and another rider on their way back to the US.

Pain

The towns going into Montreal have 4-way stops at every intersection, which made for quite a challenging trip into the final control. We caught some beautiful views of the island of Montreal, but this was my least favorite part of the ride. This was also where I hurt myself. One minute I was fine, and then suddenly intense pain behind my left ankle. After a mile, we stopped so I could take some ibuprofen and then continued into the checkpoint. An ultramarathon runner (this guy ran from Montreal to Boston last year) looked at the foot and suggested a tendon problem. He massaged my legs a little while I had ice on my ankle and tried to eat some spaghetti with smoky (nice way to say burned) sauce.

As we rode out, we saw several large packs of 8-10 riders coming in. We kept an eye out for John, who was easy to spot in his Ireland jersey. He was still smiling and appeared to be having a great time. We honked and waved to everyone.

I hoped that the pain would go away, took some more ibuprofen and we continued back toward the border. We stopped to buy some lineament and a cola. In addition to the pain in my foot, I was feeling sleepy, so I also took a caffeine pill. We stopped a few miles later to try changing my cleats. I had arc cleats with me and we decided that the rotation might help. It didn't. Nothing did, including the ibuprofen I took every 8 miles on the way back. My heart really started to break as I thought about the possibility of not finishing the ride due to whatever this was. The pain just stayed. Pressure seemed to help, so we stood more, but after a while nothing helped. The wind shifted on us, giving us more headwinds and crosswinds to fight all the way back.

We saw a group from Cape Cod. This group of seven had trained together and planned to do the event Audax style, which meant they would stay together as a group. At least one rider had dropped and they looked tired. They did have the advantage of a tailwind part of the time, but still had the same crosswinds we were fighting.

We went through customs quickly and made our way back to the checkpoint, where I knew our ride would be over. I got off the bike in tears, not from the pain, but from the thought that after all we had been through this year, that we would not make it because of some lousy tendonitis! Jeff Vogel, one of the ride organizers approached with a camera, but then tried to help. They all knew the heartache I must be feeling. I sat down and drank some juice and started icing my foot with a pack of frozen peas. These work well because they conform to the shape of whatever you are icing. I usually keep some around for my knees. I asked if we could find a doctor who might be able to help with a shot or something. A doctor from a volunteer rescue squad across the street looked at it and said it was my Achilles. After lots of calls to area hospitals, the answers were all the same. Get off the bike, rest it and maybe I'd be able to ride again in September. If I went in, they would make me wait until morning for any kind of treatment.

Stubborn Pamela

I could not and would not accept this. We had planned to continue on to Burlington, VT that evening and I wanted to press on. I had so much caffeine in me, I could not sleep. I tried for a while and gave up. After keeping the foot elevated and iced for a while, it had seemed to stop hurting, so I told Steve I wanted to try for Burlington. The terrain between Rouses Point and Burlington was not bad and I thought we could make it easily. We had already wasted 2 hours in Montreal and 2 hours in Rouses Point and I felt that we would never make it back to Middlebury if we didn't leave then. I did not realize at the time that we had ridden so fast that we had an enormous buffer. We had until 3:30 PM Saturday to ride 66 miles to Middlebury. It was already dark, so we put on a fresh battery and rolled out. David promised to stay close, hopscotching around us in case we had problems.

Before I got back on the bike, my foot started hurting again, but I tried to hide my hobbling and lied to Steve and David about the pain. The first pedal stroke hurt and the next one and the next one. But I wanted to keep trying. We crossed the bridge back into New York and discovered our "fresh" battery was dead. We turned on the backup Sanyo, but Steve didn't feel comfortable with it, so we stopped and waited on the side of the road for David to come with another new battery. After what seemed like an eternity, he arrived and we tried another battery. He decided to start labeling used and charged batteries better. Maybe next time, we will shell out the $200 for the 20 hour battery. We started moving again, and I began praying and pleading that the pain would go away. I'm not sure I've ever wanted to complete a ride as badly as I did this one, and I just didn't know how to handle this situation.

Steve and I talked lots with me constantly apologizing and him trying to reassure me. Finally we decided to stop, mark our point of departure, get in the van and drive to Burlington to sleep and then return in the morning to resume. Unfortunately David was nowhere near and we had to ride another agonizing 5 miles to get to him. We then explained that 5 minutes in the car was NOT the same as 5 minutes on the bike!

Giving up

We had so much stuff in the van that we had to unload the van to get the tandem in the back and then reload. Then I had to sit on Steve's lap for the hour long ride to the hotel where we had reservations. I fell asleep on the ride. When I got out of the van, I could not even walk anymore. I limped up to the room and looked at my now black and blue swollen ankle and realized that it really was over. And so were all the rides in September too. I crawled into bed and went to sleep.

The next morning the sun pushed it's way in through the spaces in the curtains to wake me at 8AM. I got up and walked, that's walked, not hobbled, to the bathroom. I was thirsty and went down to the lobby for a soda. I found a continental breakfast with coffee, juice, and muffins. I loaded a tray with enough for three people and headed back upstairs. I felt great. We started talking about getting back on the bike. We finally decided to drive back to where we stopped and start again there. We unloaded the van, pulled out the bike and let David reload the van. I honestly did not really believe that the pain would not return, so I figured we would probably only ride a few more miles. I rubbed some Mineral Ice into my ankle and we rolled off, carefully at first, but then we started standing and pushing more.

Not Giving up

A few miles down the road, we stopped and hooked up the front brake. We have a running joke about this being the reason my hair has turned so white.

I started using more and more vasoline to try to stay on the saddle, but was experiencing more and more discomfort. I have a Terry saddle, the kind with the hole that is covered in foam, but I started to realize that I needed the hole with no foam. I knew that Miyata made a saddle like this but had not tried it. When we next saw David, I told him he was about to hear his first really strange request. I described the saddle and asked him to call the shops in Burlington. 20 miles later David met us on the side of the road holding up the saddle. We decided to wait until Middlebury to put it on, since we might be close making the closing time. We rolled into Middlebury at 2:30PM, an hour before closing time and much to everyone's surprise. I put the new saddle on and fell in love when I tried it out. I just can't say enough about how much I loved my new saddle. The Terry has been great, but the Miyata is my new saddle of choice for double centuries and beyond!

I was given a note from Jeff Vogel, wishing me luck if I was still going and saying that no one would be making dumb blonde jokes if I had stopped. I guess that meant I could except dumb blonde jokes at the finish.

I took my shoes off, and while my ankle was swollen tremendously, it did not hurt. I applied more Mineral Ice, took some more Ibuprofen and walked down to the gym to rest a while. There were a few riders still at the gym when we arrived including a much smaller group of riders from Cape Cod than had started. Seven had started and they were now down to three, one woman and two men. We wished them luck and watched them roll out for the first of the 4 big climbs on the way home. We took almost an hour break there, but then hopped on the bike and started moving again.

The climb up Middlebury Gap was ahead. This side has a really awful (15%) pitch at the bottom, then it's gradual, then steeper, then gawdawful for a mile to the top. The total climb is 10 miles. I was still paranoid about my foot and didn't want to stress it too much so we talked about walking the 2 tenths of 15% and then just seeing what happened. I probably would have ridden all the way, had the chain not fallen off, but I took it as a sign. It was also at this point that we encountered another patch of fresh pavement. So I walked up the left shoulder, while Steve rode the bike alone. Of course right then Hauke drove past in the main sag vehicle to see it all. He offered me a ride, but I said I would do every inch of the course. Fortunately I have this great pair of Avia shoes with recessed look cleats so I can comfortably and safely walk up hills and around checkpoints. I got back on the bike after the two tenths of a mile and we rode all the rest of the way to the top.

By the time we reached the finish, the story had grown to saying that Steve rode all of Middlebury and all of Terrible by himself! This absolutely is not true! And in the short distance Steve did ride alone, he came to appreciate my contribution enormously! He decided not to attempt it again (on a steep hill at least)

David waited at the top with the videotape going. We had alerted him that we were near with our horns. The wind was fairly active on top and David's hair was standing straight up as we passed. He had expressed some concern about needing shampoo that morning to avoid having a bad hair day, but I let him know then, that the shampoo had not helped. And we have it all on videotape!

We took a quick break on top to get jackets for the screaming white knuckle 60+ mph descent that followed. We turned onto Rt 100 for a few miles of flat, and a quick stop in Stockbridge, where the sign had been corrected and lots of riders had stopped. The climb over Killington was like a speed bump compared to Middlebury, and we seemed to fly into Ludlow, where we were surprised to see lots of bikes and were greeted by surprised checkpoint personnel, who thought we were out. We tried to get in and out quickly, so our legs would not stiffen up before climbing Mt Terrible. We started from Ludlow at 9:00pm which meant that we would be climbing and descending lots in the dark. The climb back up is in two stages with the steepest part at the bottom, but the final two miles are no cakewalk. We both started in tights, but no jackets, knowing that we would warm up soon enough. We added jackets and gloves on top and enjoyed the ride down. A couple of miles later, we were back to climbing Andover. Looking down, I could see the lights of bikes behind us, and looking up I could see a sky clear and full of stars. The moon would not come out until very late, making for a very dark ride to Brattleboro. We waited until after passing the hairpin on Andover to let the bike fly, and then it was so cool that we slowed a little to stay warm. We passed through some really cute towns that we want to go back and visit some day, and almost missed a turn onto Rt 35.

Chains and Chainrings

Our shifting into the granny would come and go. We had not had problems all year, until this ride. We had the bottom brackets replaced right before the ride, and maybe the back one was a hair off enough to contribute, or the play we had in it before was useful. Sometimes it would work, sometimes it wouldn't go, sometimes it would go too far, and sometimes the chain would "suck" and jam between the bottom bracket and the chain ring.

We hit an unnamed mountain on Route 35 and snapped our chain! We then named the climb Mount Chainbreaker. Being experienced tandem riders we carry extra links and a chain tool. But having 600 miles in our brains made the task more mentally challenging. I've taken chains on and off enough I can do it blindfolded. Or so I thought. It was pretty dark and I fumbled a bit. Fortunately a large group of riders with two support cars came along. The last car stopped and offered us a little light, while we got the chain back together. Support crews aren't supposed to follow riders, but I was glad to have this one around.

David usually drove 10-15 miles between stops, just to make sure we were OK. We had talked about having David follow us at night if we got at all spooked, but we felt very comfortable on all the roads we traveled in the dark, so we did not use him to follow. Due to various mechanical and physical problems, we had not ridden at night since June 6, and I had no idea how I would react or feel. We had three taillights, one flashing, a triangle, a flag, sidelights on the wheels and all over the bike, and crossing guard reflective vests. The Nightsuns on highbeam are as bright as my car, and on low are still pretty darn visible - we do descend with them! We were the most visible thing on the road. I know that visibility, or lack thereof played no parts in the deaths of our friends, but we just try to take every precaution.

A few miles later on another granny-required climb, we lost the chain again, I hopped off and put it back on, three times before we realized something else was wrong. Shining our flashlight on the stainless steel (supposedly non-bendable) chain ring showed something that looked more like a Pringles Potato Chip than a granny gear. This climb we named Mount Chainringbreaker. We ended up walking a little, since the granny was completely unusable. But fortunately, when packing everything we own into the van, I packed extra chainrings. When we reached David in Putney, we pulled the crank and replaced the chainring and chain. Great teamwork worked here. Steve had the crank, I did the chain and David videotaped the whole ordeal. We were only a few miles from the next control, but we couldn't remember the terrain. We knew if we didn't fix it there, we would hit mountains. And it was either then or the next morning. We reached Brattleboro at 2:24AM, checked in, showered, ate the sandwiches from Stockbridge, and went to bed. We planned to leave the next morning at 8AM. If we weren't going to shatter records, then we would get lots of sleep.

The race was already over, with the first rider finishing in 52 hours.

Final Day

Sunday morning arrived and my ankle was still swollen, but still not hurting. I rode the entire way expecting at any moment that it would start again. My mood was not as cheerful as usual because of this, but I still had fun. Especially Sunday when we finally started seeing riders again. We began the climb up Route 9 with one off in the distance. We caught and talked with him for a while. We saw others on the climb up Rt 63, and passed a few more screaming down the other side. We turned onto Rt 119 and saw John again for the first time since Montreal. We talked for a while and John snapped a couple of pictures. He said the knee was all better and seemed to have healed itself on the climbs. We told him of our fate, but that we were stubborn. He had been riding with two other riders most of the way, so he returned to ride with them after a short while.

We really do try to be social, but in the mountains, it is very difficult for a tandem to stay with singles and vice-versa. So we just rode at our own pace, and when we could ride with others and talk we did and when we were descending, we waved as we passed.

We passed the covered bridge, where David took lots of pictures of us and other riders going by. He then proceeded up to the top of Mt Grace. We stopped to peel clothes as it was starting to get hot. I had never gone over Mt Grace in this direction and could not remember anything about it. David drove to the top and then back down a little to take some pictures. As I passed I asked how far to the top. He said a couple of turns, and we decided he was getting us back for rides in May where we said there were no more hills, despite having tons more. It was another mile. Then it leveled and climbed again, and then it did it again!

Then we passed by Lake Matawa, and the water looked ever so-inviting, but we kept going forward. Rt 202 was coming up, and it is 10 miles of big rolling hills, that I hate. Just after turning on Rt 202, Steve noticed a rubbing noise coming from the front wheel, so we stopped to discover a bulge in the front tire. The glue on the casing looked like it was melting and giving way, so we decided to change the tire, rather than risk a blowout on one of those downhills.

We reached Barre, and I was starting to get a little hot and maybe just a teeny-tiny bit cranky. I tried changing to my larger shoes, since both feet were starting to swell due to the heat. We replaced our spare tire, drank extra water, and prepared for the final assault on Newton. We enjoyed the ride down the wall out of Barre, and happily bounced over the bumps on the way to Princeton, thanks to the Softride.

The route rolls from Barre to Princeton with several big climbs. There is a town line sign on one of the hills, halfway up, and Steve decided to sprint for it. Only noone was around, so we blew out our quads for nothing!!!! I seriously began questioning his sanity after that! Most people questioned our sanity at 4AM Thursday, but I didn't doubt Steve's until that sprint!

We could see the Boston skyline from the top of the hill in Princeton, as we passed John, who was dumping bottles of water over his head. It had gotten a bit warmer than in Ireland. But John wasn't the only one to suffer in the heat. We had a great break for the next 7 miles since it was mostly downhill. I decided at the bottom of the hill that I wanted my old shoes back. The cleat alignment didn't seem right on the larger ones. I also found that I was out of powder and really needed some. We sent David in search of a bottle, and he showed up with some, just as I was finding things unbearable.

Soon after, I really started to overheat, and so did the car. We decided that we were abusing the car, and sent David on to the final control.

I would not believe that we were really going to make it until we reached the parking lot. But when we did at 5:28PM on Sunday, we let out hoots and hollers and honks and definitely let people know that we were in. I got off the bike, and out of my shoes as quickly as possible. I sat for a minute and then realized I'd forgotten to hug my captain and thank him for the ride, so I did. Then Michael came and led me off to a massage. David brought over some ice cream and I was in heaven. I finally got to talk with lots of the other riders, and munched on a few hamburgers and hot dogs. John came in shortly after we did, and riders continued to roll in throughout the afternoon. We finally loaded the bike back in the van and headed home for pizza and a bottle of champagne bought for the occasion.

 

 

 

read about John's ride

 

 


Cape Double