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by Pamela Blalock with photos by Steve Frechette



I love tandeming ! From the very first time I clumsily tried to keep my feet on pedals that seemingly moved around by themselves, I have loved tandeming. My first experience on a tandem was a day before a 200 km brevet. Neither I, nor the would-be captain, had ever pedaled a tandem before and really had no clue what fate awaited of us. After a few trips around the block and a 30 mile ride home, we decided to do that 200 km brevet the following day. I was hooked. That was in 1986. Eight years later, my passion for tandeming has continued to grow, as has my love of long distance rides. And I've found a soulmate with whom to share both activities. When John and I decided to do Boston-Montreal-Boston on our tandem earlier this year, we knew exactly what we were getting into. Independently, we each had already completed three successful 1200 km events, including BMB, and numerous other long distance rides.

For those who don't know anything about BMB, here's a little history. Randonneuring started in France at the end of the last century, soon after bicycles became popular. In an attempt to explore the limits of what might be possible, the first Paris-Brest-Paris race was conceived, a race of 1200 km that went from Paris to Brest and back, with a nonstop clock. The first ride was won in a time of 71:22. Many years later, it became a ride for amateurs as well. While some still race the event, most enter simply to complete it. Randonneuring first appeared in the US during the 70's, when a few American riders decided to try PBP. Within a few years brevets began to spring up around the country. These are rides of 200, 300, 400 and 600 kms within a strict time limit, that riders must complete in order to enter PBP. By 1987, this form of riding had become so popular that over 200 American riders headed over to Paris to try PBP. Unfortunately poor weather and lack of preparation added up to a lackluster showing for the American riders with a dropout rate of over 50%.

I was one of those dropouts. I returned home depressed and dejected, but as soon as I heard about Boston-Montreal-Boston, a 1200 km brevet patterned after PBP, to be held for the first time in 1988, I set my goal to complete that ride. I devoted the year to getting ready for this event, and when I, along with 11 other riders, successfully completed the inaugural ride in August of 1988, I was thrilled, and addicted even more to long distance rides. I returned to Paris in 91 to successfully avenge my defeat there, and the next year returned to Boston with my riding partner Steve to become the first mixed tandem to ever complete BMB, overcoming a few physical and mechanical obstacles along the way. But there is no rest for the weary, and BMB beckoned again this year.

John and I had actually met at BMB in 1992, and developed a friendship that blossomed into a romance during a cross USA ride after we decided to do a little tandeming together one afternoon. Now how's that for a romantic tandem story ? It gets better... We received our brand new custom-made Rodriguez Softride equipped tandem on Valentine's Day. Now if that isn't one of the most romantic Valentine's gifts for two cyclists, I can't think of what is. Fortunately John felt the same way. The next weekend we even had a break in the snow in this winter from ... well it can't be hell, since it doesn't snow there ... anyway, we got a break in the snow, and took the Rodriguez out for it's first ride - a century, of course.


Many centuries and double centuries later brought us up to August 17, where we stood in line to have our lights inspected before the start of BMB at 4 the next morning. While waiting in line another couple approached and asked about our tandem. They were also riding a tandem in the event. I don't know if they were trying to psyche us out or what, but the stoker said, "Oh look honey, they are smart. They have a triple." I asked what gearing they were using, and they said a double with a 42-32 low gear. We had 26-38-54 rings, with a 12-32 freewheel, on 26 inch wheels giving a truly low low gear. We recently moved up to the larger freewheel to try and tackle a 4 mile long 17% grade in Vermont that's been destroying cogs for us - yes literally, we have broken several. We didn't plan on using our very lowest gear, but definitely planned to use the granny ring throughout the mountains. We decided they were either wicked strong or very foolish. As it turned out, they were seriously strong. We heard rumors of them toasting riders on the climb over Middlebury Gap and that they were the first to arrive at the checkpoint in Middlebury.

This ride has over 30,000 feet of climbing, including 8 major climbs in each direction. All 8 are tackled in the first 240 mile day. The toughest, Middlebury Gap, a 5 mile climb with grades exceeding 12% at the top, comes at mile 220. Then there are hundreds of smaller climbs that make this ride an exercise for the rider's hands while shifting and braking, almost as much as the riders legs ! This is not what anyone would call an ideal tandem route. It can certainly be done, and 5 tandem teams have now completed it as proof that it's possible. Probably one of the coolest parts of doing the ride on a tandem for me is that so many people think it's impossible, and so many people seem in awe that a tandem team would even try.

So anyway, we got through inspection, dropped off our sag bags (the organizers carry 4 small bags to 4 of the checkpoints along the way), chatted with old friends, and met new ones. We met and chatted with the only male/male tandem team entered, Rich and Byron. While talking, Byron lifted their tandem and put it into their van by himself. Wow, I wish we could do this.

Our bike is built for comfort, and while it's not a tank, it's no lightweight either. Then we added lights, batteries and panniers. In the panniers, we had packed rain pants and jackets, arm and leg warmers, booties, light jackets, extra liquid nutrition, and a little bag full of drugs and toiletries. We had planned to stay in motels along the route and carried the medium size panniers to enable us to carry extra clothing to and from checkpoints. Well, as it always is, panniers get filled, and the bike was heavy. But we did have plenty of clothing to keep us comfortable, and there was no danger of us starving. We also had plenty of tools, tubes, cables and a spare tire along as well. The drug bag grew a bit along the way, but included Desitin ointment, Gold Bond powder, Borofax, Motrin, Pepto Bismal, Tums, toothbrush, toothpaste, comb, Boost tablets, no-Doz and toilet paper.

We normally carry antacids, because liquid diets and 20 hours a day of riding can reek havoc on one's digestive system. But on the Monday night before the ride started, I became so violently ill that I was sure I would not be able to ride Thursday morning. An IV drip for most of Tuesday got me rehydrated and actually feeling much better. John and I did a fair amount of soul searching Tuesday night as we discussed the possibility of not riding. I really wanted him to take his single if I couldn't go, but he said it just wouldn't feel right. We had planned and trained together and we simply wanted to do this ride together as a team.