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BMB - the civilized way

by Pamela Blalock


I finished up BMB with an ear to ear grin, feeling almost perky. I got 8 hours of sleep per night, had no night riding, ate great meals and even had beer with dinner. In fact, I was able to sleep late Thursday morning, have a lovely breakfast in the hotel restaurant and start at 10AM. Dinner that night was fabulous barbecue, followed by a nightcap in the bar at the inn. I had a great long hot shower, and slept in a comfortable bed. Each day, I had great food at various cafes along the route, as well as enjoying the splendid spread put out by the BMB staff. I took advantage of massage in Middlebury, just before having a great dinner at one of the fine downtown restaurants, accompanied by some local brew. The final evening on the road saw me enjoying another fabulous dinner and local brew at a downtown Brattleboro landmark, and then another 8 hours of restful sleep in a comfortable bed.

How could I do all this on BMB? Did I ride along at 30mph? No. It was because the M in my BMB stood for Middlebury. I was one of those Quad Centuries riders who had way more fun than should be allowed. And I'm writing an article to rub it in.

For those who have done BMB or PBP, and like seeing old friends (and making new ones), but maybe just want to take it easy one year, or just get more sleep, or have more fun, or stop to see some of the cool things you can't do on a 1200K, Quad centuries is the way to go. And for those who are contemplating doing a 1200 km some day, it's a nice introduction.

Now, make no mistake, 4 consecutive days of rides of almost 200 km on the BMB course is no cakewalk. But no matter how tired you feel at the end of each leg, you can look around and find a 1200 km rider who looks much worse!

I've done BMB quite a few times myself, and have a couple of PBP medals too. And even though I had the time of my life last year on PBP, I was ready to sleep in on weekends this year, instead of starting brevets at hours that should never be seen with A.M. after them. John claimed similar desires, but when his brother, Dave, and friend, Declan, from Ireland decided to do BMB, he started talking about riding with them. What would I do for those four days? At the last minute, I decided I was reasonably fit, and would be lonely in an empty house, so I signed up for the Quads (BTW, Jennifer strongly discourages last minute riders - so sign up early!).

Despite my aversion to early hours, I planned to start at 4AM, and ride out with John and the lads a while. I'd booked an inn in Putney and planned to do some shopping there and then have dinner at Curtis' outdoor barbecue restaurant. But I met some other quads riders at check-in and thought it would be nice to have some company for the full day, and the other days too. When Jennifer told us that quads riders had to start at 10, my decision was made. I could sleep in. Well sort of. John, Declan, Dave and I were sharing a room. So I still had to get up at 3, when they did and then head back to sleep!

After a couple of more hours of sleep, I rose, had a leisurely breakfast, and then got ready to ride. Did I mention that it was somewhat of a last minute decision to ride? Well, this wasn't the only last minute thing. I'd also done the thing I tell everyone not to do. I had a new bike too. The forecast had been for rain, and my bike with fenders has no gears. While Quads is easier than the 1200 km, I do still have enough functioning brain cells to know I need gears to get through the 20,000 feet of climbing on this event! But my bike with gears and no fenders also isn't the best for carrying gear.

So on the Sunday before the ride, I was at the Lars Anderson show, and I spotted an Independent Fabrications Club Racer at a good price. I must confess that I'd actually decided a few weeks prior that it would be ideal for randonneuring, and had a dream that I had one. (I had even talked a friend into buying one) So there it sat, the bike of my dream. It had a Tubus Fly rack, and fenders and 28mm tires. And it was pretty close to my size. And the price was great. It was actually the prototype, and was being sold by the builder himself! Well, I couldn't'resist. I didn't initially plan to break it in so quickly, but that forecast of rain and the ease of carrying 4 days of gear just pushed me to consider it. I rode it to work on Monday. I changed out the drivetrain for a triple and swapped to a shorter stem, and decided to use it for the ride. It could not have worked out better. Using measurements from my other bike, I got the fit just right, and everything else worked perfectly. I definitely recommend this bike to anyone who wants clearance for reasonable tires and fenders, and braze-ons for fenders and rack. It even comes drilled for low-riders, a perfect place to mount my lights! But enough of my commercial for IF. Onto the ride.

The 10AM start was interesting. All the Quads riders were there, and the hardcore 1200 km riders who wanted a fast time, as well as the folks doing the RAAM qualifier. The field split before we left the parking lot. This isn't to say there weren't strong riders doing Quads. We just weren't in THAT much of a hurry!

I'd met Holly the evening before at checkin. Holly is well known in randonneuring and ultra circles as she travels all around the country doing lots of events, making lots of friends, and logging lots of miles. She's also quite famous for her cookies! Holly was riding with Melanie, Nick and Jim. They invited me to tag along, and I am so grateful, as their company really made this ride great fun for me.

The 10AM start has the advantage of extra sleep and an open restaurant for breakfast, but the disadvantage of traffic, especially along route 20. I was looking forward to getting on quieter roads, where the group could actually ride along and talk some. We took our first break at the Sterling Ice Cream Bar, where Holly went for a hotdog. Holly is a hotdog fanatic. She absolutely thrives on them. She knows every hotdog stand between Newton and Middlebury, and I think paid a visit to each and every one of them! I have a similar relationship with coffee. We have a joke around our house about coffee shop constipation - the inability to pass a coffee shop. This is also one of the great things about doing the Quads. With so much less time pressure, a rider can stop and enjoy local flavors.

After the stop, we had a small group of Nick, Jim, Holly and me. The next few miles were the beginning of the hills. I talked a lot about riding at digestive pace, which is one well below the V.O. Puke threshold. Apparently the rest of the group has a higher threshold than I do, but we were able to regroup at the secret control at the top of the hill in Princeton. By this point, my lunch was mostly digested, and we stayed together the rest of the way. We had a lovely break at Bullard Farm, where we chatted away with David and Sherry. They alerted us to the plans for blueberry pancakes on Sunday, but also said we'd need to be back through early!

Then it was off for the next leg, up and over Mt. Grace, and then up a climb by Pisgah State Forest. Apparently road crews in New Hampshire got word a bike ride was coming through, so they dug the road up just in time for us. Fortunately, it wasn't too long a stretch, nor was it on the really steep part. Jim and I got ahead a bit on this section and road on into Brattleboro together. Holly and Nick stopped for hotdogs! Johnny was running this checkpoint and we all had a great chat. There was abundant food, but I was saving myself for a dinner I'd been planning for weeks. It was late enough I would miss the shops in Putney, but I would not miss my planned dinner.

I was staying a few miles further up the road, so we all arranged to meet for coffee in Chester about 25 miles away the next morning, and I got back on the bike for a few more miles to get my reward for the day. If you are ever passing through Putney, you might notice a little place called Curtis' Barbecue. It has a couple of grills under a shelter. Curtis is usually grilling away, and in the company of his pet Vietnamese potbellied pig. Next to this is an old school bus where they take your order and do the final preparations of chicken, ribs, corn on the cob, baked potatoes and beans. You can get Curtis' special barbecue sauce on everything. There are a bunch of picnic tables scattered about, and some toys for the kids. And it is absolutely worth riding a bike 120 miles to get to it. I had half a chicken, some beans with bbq sauce and corn. It was awesome. Then I rolled down the hill to the Putney Inn, where I had a nightcap before settling into my soft warm bed.

The next morning, I had breakfast at the inn, and then headed off slowly to Chester. Riding alone for this first part meant I could ride at a nice digestive pace. I got into Chester and found a café, set my bike out where the group would spot it, and ordered coffee and some strawberry rhubarb crumble and staked out a table on the porch. Jim, Nick, and Karen rolled up a little while later, and also ordered coffee and pie. Holly stopped for a hotdog, and wanted to press on, saying we'd catch her. Karen and Jim were feeling frisky and ready for the chase and took off. Nick and I enjoyed a more relaxed ride to Ludlow, as if climbing Andover Ridge and Terrible Mountain could ever be considered relaxing! Here we found Terry, who I was more used to seeing running Bullard Farm. I also found some great baked potatoes and brownies, which I devoured.

Someone in the group needed a bike shop, so we all stopped at Mountain Cycology in town. I ended up buying a wool jersey, which I had mailed home. This helped make up for missing shops in Putney! We eventually got started again. I'd mentioned a little bypass to the group, which involved some lovely views, and a bit of dirt. Jim was interested, but the others wanted to stick to pavement, some Jim and I took the detour through Sherburne. The views were indeed spectacular, and we got the bonus of a bit of wildlife, as we saw an otter scurry across the road.

We stopped in Stockbridge for sandwiches. The folks who run the general store there put out a welcoming sign for BMB riders every year. They also make great bread and their sandwiches are one of the highlights of the trip for me. While we were stopped, Holly, Jim and Karen rode by, but we all got back together in Rochester a few miles later. At this point we were all getting tired, and the dreaded and featured climb over Middlebury Gap was all that lay between us and hot showers, hot food and warm beds. The climb was tough, but we all made it to the top, and let out cheers as we did so. We regrouped and put on all our warm clothes and headed down into town. It was here we saw the first sleep deprived 1200 km rider heading back. We looked much fresher and happier!

We made our way into the checkpoint, where I had a shower (thanks to a loaner towel from Chris) and massage. Nancy was doing a great job running this control. The food here looked and smelled great, but I wanted to save room to go out. We looked through the restaurant listings and decided to go to a place called Woody's. We picked the restaurant, partly on name. Mutual friend and fellow randonneur, Woody, does 1200 km rides every other year, and this is an off year, but it just seemed appropriate to pick this restaurant. It was a grand choice too. We had a great view of the river, wonderful local brew and good food. Melanie joined our dinner outing, and we all had a fabulous time talking about how much sleep we were all getting, and wondering if we'd ever consider a 1200 km again, when you could have this much fun! We eventually turned in for the evening and planned to meet up at the control at 7AM.

I awoke early and decided to head back over to the control. It turned out I just missed John, Dave and dec. They had come in around 10 PM, got some sleep, and headed out shortly before I came in. Maybe John and I have such a deep connection that his alarm woke me (from 2 miles away in my B&B).

I chatted with Chris and Pierce, and tried my best to understand one of the French riders hanging out at the control. I will always wonder if I understood his story properly though.

After a light breakfast at the control, Nick, Jim and I decided we'd aim for a pancake breakfast at the Hancock Inn on the other side of the gap. Climbing the gap first thing in the morning wasn't too bad, and knowing that pancakes were on the other side was good motivation. Holly and Karen passed on the second breakfast - probably since there were no hotdogs. They expected us to catch them, but Jim suffered a couple of punctures, and we didn't see them until the next control in Ludlow. Coming into Ludlow, we sent Jim off to the bike shop to get a new tire, while Nick and I went for food at the control. Here we had a great pasta salad, and those now famous brownies. Jim came in just we were finished and were itching to go, so he sent us on our way, figuring he'd catch us on one of the many climbs in the next leg. (Jim was the strongest climber of the bunch).

Terrible and Andover were a challenge, but I seemed to be getting into my climbing rhythm, and got over them. I must say I was thrilled with how well my new bike was working, but also quite happy I had put on the triple crank. I got into Chester and decided to ride down to the hot dog stand to see if Holly and Karen were still there. If so, I'd be social. If not, I'd find a café. I found a very bummed Holly at the convenience store. The hot dog stand was closed. Nick came in a few minutes after I did, and we decided to be social for the rest of the day. We waited quite a while for Jim, but did not see him. We finally decided to press on, hoping all was OK or at least fixable.

We got a little frisky at this point and did a few top of climb sprints, but regrouped and chatted and socialized quite a bit. At some point Holly suggested a pee break. We stopped near a wooded area, but she decided to ride down the hill to a side road. A few minutes later Karen decided the woods were good enough and headed into them. Nick decided to roll down toward the side road, and Holly emerged about the time he arrived, and they continued on. Karen rejoined me and we figured we'd get back together soon enough. But despite putting the hammer down, we weren't gaining. At one point on a long climb I caught sight of them, but we just couldn't bridge. After a while we started joking about Holly attacking on the pee break, and how we would make her pay later. As we headed down into Putney we saw them at the stop sign. When we arrived, Holly was livid, yelling that she's been chasing US for miles, and how dare we attack on the pee break! Nick tried to tell her we were behind, but the communication broke down, and she thought we were ahead. We did have a great laugh about it for the rest of the weekend, and had great fun telling anyone who would listen how Holly attacked us during a pee break. It was hysterical watching her offer up her defense! I will say that she can hammer right along on an empty bladder!

We got into Brattleboro and gorged ourselves on fried rice. Despite our plans to go out to dinner, we were pretty hungry, so we had some appetizer. Jim eventually rolled in, and told us his tale of woe and expense. He headed out of Ludlow and immediately broke a spoke. He was riding trick wheels, and the local shop didn't have an appropriate replacement spoke, so he ended up buying a wheel! This turned out to be his second new wheel for the ride. Due to shipping problems, he'd already borrowed a rear wheel from Pierce. Now he had a new front. We later joked that he'd be on a new frame by the finish!

We'd arranged with Gerry to take a break from officiating and go into town and have dinner at the Latchis Grill, and get some local brew. The Latchis has their own brewery, so it is truly local and fresh. This meal was fabulous, as was the company. Gerry passed on the beer, and instead opted for lots of strong coffee, since he had a long night ahead checking on riders.

Another full nights sleep in a comfortable bed was followed with a light breakfast at the control, in anticipation of blueberry pancakes at Bullard Farm. The group seemed to being having such a good time that they didn't want it to end. We had quite the leisurely ride into Bullard Farm, but fortunately the griddle was still fired up when we arrived. The pancakes were awesome. At this point we were seeing lots of 1200km riders, and having to apologize for being so chipper and fresh. I was also feeling eager to get back. I wanted to see John, and we also had massages scheduled for Sunday night. So after breakfast, I left my companions for three days and joined up with some other folks hurrying to get back. I tried to keep up with Kathy and Dennis, but Kathy was just too strong for me. Fortunately there were lots of other more fatigued people around! I rode back and forth with George for a brief while. George was on a bent and absolutely flew most of the time, but occasionally I'd pull back up to him. Eventually I met up with Tom and our paces were quite similar. On any other day, Tom would blow my socks off, but his extra miles and less sleep proved a good equalizer. We rode the last 50 miles together and had a great time talking and motivating each other. Tom talked about how any 1200 km rider would love to latch onto a fresh quads rider for the last leg. But I kept asking when we'd find that fresh quads rider! Tom had been having some foot problems and in fact when I came upon him he was alternating pedaling with one leg. I joked that it would only count as a 600 km that way! He pedaled with both legs the rest of the way in!

Just as we were coming into Wellesley, we caught up with John, a veteran of many BMBs. I was actually starting to worry about getting lost. We'd been descending a long time, but John knew the way in. So the three of us finished up together, and I applauded the two real riders I had just finished with. After all, I was just a quads rider here for fun. They had ridden the hard event.

John, Dave and Dec were there to great me. They'd finished in the wee hours of the morning and apparently had a great sleep adventure on a pull out sofa bed in the parking lot lobby. I arrived just in time for food, so while scarfing down lunch, I heard all sorts of stories about everyone else's ride, and thoroughly enjoyed the atmosphere as we cheered for all the new arrivals. And I was fresh and bubbly and bouncing off the walls. What a difference sleep makes!

I just want to say thankyou to Jennifer and Pierce and all the folks running checkpoints and doing roving support and mechanical support and massage, and everything else. It was so great coming into checkpoints greeted by friendly and encouraging folks. I know these guys had much less sleep than anyone and worked really really hard to make this event great. And it truly was.