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