1998 > Boston-Montreal-Boston > Craig's Report

BMB 1998

D/2.5/770 33,000' (WW) -- 5/B/770 (SRCC)

(as related by Bikeaholic Craig Robertson)

Ancillary Statistics:

100+ servings of Hammer Gel
3 pounds of Cytomax
4-1/2 pounds of Gatorlode
15 Ibuprofen
one glass milk
one bag tortilla chips (flavor long forgotten)
many glasses of water
three slices of pizza
one plate of lasagna
fruit and candy
5 bottles Nantucket Nectar
3 changes of clothes
8 C-batteries, 12-D batteries, and 4 AAA batteries

Jerseys worn: Davis Bike Club race team, Terrible Two, Winter Solstice Double

Sleep: 3:00 hours total.

Average speed: of bike while in motion - 15.4 mph

Boston-Montreal-Boston (BMB) is a 1200km (750 mile) randonee run three out of four years. Audax rules do not allow any other 1200k events to be run on the years (...1991, 1995, 1999...) of Paris-Brest-Paris, so it is not run those years.

The name roughly describes the route, although it actually starts about 15 miles west of Boston in Newton, and for 1998, the turnaround point in Canada was about 20 miles east of Montreal. The advertised mileage was 744, but I, like everyone else I talked to, had the distance at about 760-770.

I had done the qualifying set of brevets for next year's PBP (200k, 300k, 400k, 600k - all but the 400k were done twice) and that qualified me for this year's BMB. After vacillating on the subject for a couple of months I decided in late June to send in my registration for BMB. My wife, Lorna Toyota, decided to take the trip with me. She had enough sense to not ride it, but had never been in New England and would meet me at the check points.

Anyone who had experience with this kind of event or distance was fair game for questions. Jim Frink and Thomas Maslen fielded much of them, but I also got useful input from Susan Angebrandt, Tom and Cindy Long, and Mike Wilson.

As fellow bikeaholic Tom Lawrence later noted, I was doing this ride more in Ultra style, as opposed to Randonneur style. I suppose that's a good way to describe traveling with three extra wheels, a full tool box, 3 full sets of lights, about 40 pounds of bike food and 3 rain jackets. There also were 3 sets of shoes, 2 sets of pedals, extra cogs, chains, tires, and just about anything else I could think up. There was only about a third of a suitcase left for normal clothes for Lorna and myself combined.

A later trip to the Furnace Creek 508 indicated that to do it in true Ultra style would have taken several extra bikes and would have required a C-130 transport to carry everything needed.

Tom picked us up at home and took us to the airport in San Jose on Saturday August 8th. After hauling the various bags to the checkin, we went and bought a couple books and a newspaper to read on the flight. Then upon landing in Boston, we got to reclaim all the bags (still in one piece no less) and haul them to the curb and get on the rental car shuttle. Another bag wrestling session got them into the rental minivan and we headed west to the hotel in Newton.

During the next few days, we mixed playing tourist with getting everything ready and doing some easy riding. One day we went to Cape Cod in the morning, and then I went and rode the first 25 miles of the course out and back, managing to make several wrong turns in the process. Better during practice than the real thing. We drove out on the course to Brattleboro. I ended up getting about 120 miles of riding in during that period. We also visited the local REI, Supercuts, Home Depot, and the grocery store to pick up the things I didn't want to haul all the way from California, or had forgotten.

On Wednesday, my bike and I passed the inspection, and then Lorna and I went out to dinner with John Robbins. John, despite being from Southern California, is a Davis Bike Club member. He had been unsuccessful in his first attempt at BMB in 1997, and was determined to be successful this time. Tom Davies was at the inspection, trying to talk me into starting with him and several others at the 4:00 A.M. start time, but I wanted nothing to do with it. Tom goes out faster than I like to, and can stay at that speed for much too long for my comfort. Besides, I wanted to get a full nights sleep. I didn't know when my next sleep might be.

There were only a few people doing the 10:00 start and about half of them were doing the quad century, which is a four day ride that goes out to Middlebury and back - about 460 miles instead of the 750. At 10:00 we took off and headed out through the suburbs. The first 35 miles are pretty easy, rolling hills and no need for the small chain ring. As the route progressed farther, the hills slowly got bigger and steeper. I got to the first checkpoint in just over 4 hours having averaged about 17.5 mph.

Having done almost all my riding in California, it was an interesting experience to ride in New England. It was August and everything was green. In many areas, even during the middle of the day, the tree canopy provided shade across the road. And as one got out of the Boston metropolitan area, the route went through numerous small New England towns. These would have the old wooden churches painted white,along with many sites that a long time Californian like myself rarely sees in person.

Lorna had new bottles of Cytomax, Gatorlode (not to be confused with Gatorade) and flasks of Hammer Gel. Susan Angebrandt had told me that she didn't think she had gotten enough protein in when she had done BMB, so Lorna also mixed up a bottle of fruit juice with a bunch of Trader Joe's protein powder supplement and I drank one of those at each of the first 5 check points. Each one had about 70% of a normal 2,000 calorie diet recomended protein.

The next stage was to Brattleboro and included the first good climb of the trip. This part of the ride included a brief passage through the southeast corner of New Hampshire. There was a secret control along here, as it was possible to bypass the climb and shorten the route. I got to Brattleboro (mile 110) at about 4:40 P.M. and was stopped for about 10 minutes to reload everything and drink some water along with my protein concoction. Then it was into the hills to Ludlow.

I was suffering a bit at this point. My uncle lives in Vermont and had told me that Brattleboro was the warmest place in the state. I would struggle a bit each afternoon, but would begin feeling better when it would start to cool down in the evening. Also, the route from Brattleboro to Ludlow is tough. It is about 55 miles, but has about 4,500 feet of climbing, some of it plenty steep.

It was getting dark as I finished the last climb before Ludlow, and I had to do the descent in failing light so I didn't get a chance to see what I could do. I've heard stories about hitting 55 or so coming down Mt. Terrible into Ludlow. There is an extended straight that is very steep, and there is substantial downhill prior to it to get some speed up. I got into the Ludlow checkpoint at 8:30 and took 20 minutes to get all of my lights setup, put on warmer clothes, and handle the food thing. By the time I left it was dark. For me, it is much harder to navigate in the dark. Even with a helmet light so I could see my odometer and my route sheet, it's just so much easier to figure out what to do in daylight. Luckily, there just were not that many places to turn bewteen Ludlow and Middlebury.

The route to Middlebury climbs up to Killington, then has a nice descent before turning toward Middlebury Gap. This was on one of the nicer pieces of pavement on the route; I found out how steep it was on the way back. Even in the dark I got up over 40 mph. I passed several 4:00 starters during this period, and then went up over Middlebury Gap. This climb is one of the feared climbs on the ride, but it didn't seem to be that bad. Maybe because it was dark, or maybe I went a bit slower and stayed in my comfort range. I had to watch this descent as it was twisty. I managed to miss the last turn to the checkpoint at Middlebury, so I got a few extra miles in before I realized this and turned around.

At about 1:00 A.M. I arrived at the checkpoint in Middlebury. I was now 15 hours into this thing and had ridden about 240 miles including the little bonus mileage. I had packed complete sets of clothes in ziploc bags, along with a separate bag with towel, washcloth, soap, and shampoo. Lorna got the one out with a Terrible Two jersey and my bright red shorts. I took a shower, changed clothes, and ate some of the lasagna they had, plus went through the usual bike food routine. I seemed to manage to waste a significant amount of time both directions in Middlebury. It took me about an hour to get back on the road, combine that with my off course meanderings coming into the checkpoint and I had probably wasted an hour. It was then off to Rouses Point. The first part of the route had numerous small steep climbs followed by small steep descents. This continued through to the Burlington area. As I was leaving the Burlington area, it began to get light in the sky to the east. From Burlington, you go out into the middle of Lake Champlain, onto the Champlain Islands. I rode along on my aerobars watching the sunrise over some of the mountains to the east. Even im my reduced intellectual capacity after having ridden about 300 miles, it was quite spectacular.

As one gets out of the hills, the vegetation changes from forest to grasslands. By the time I got off of the islands and back onto the mainland the tree were largely gone. It took me about 5 hours to get through this, the longest leg at a bit over 85 miles.

At Rouses Point, I was in a little corner of New York. I got rid of the cool weather clothes and the lighting and headed off into Canada. The route through Canada was really flat and was different than in previous years. It didn't really go to Montreal, but to a campground outside a small town, St. Jean-sur-Richelieu, east of Montreal. I wasn't feeling real well at this point so I stopped and laid down on a park bench for about 30 minutes.

I was also having some mechanical trouble. The saddle mount for the extra water bottles had started to come loose and one of the four bolts holding it on had fallen off. Eventually the mount slid down far enough that it wedged itself into a stable, albeit slightly less convenient, position. It would be until reaching Bullard Farm the next day before this occured, so in the interim, I got to mess with the mount periodically.

The route wandered along side the Rive Richelieu, crossing at one point from the west to east side. The bridge was the big climb for this leg. Some more riding, and I got to the turnaround point at 11:30 A.M. It had taken 25.5 hours to get the first 600k in.This was the one checkpoint that Lorna was not at. I had also forgotten my camera so I didn't take any pictures of the Canadian part of the route. I ate some fruit and then headed back south. By now the wind was blowing pretty well, so the trip south was a drag. On the aerobars going 16 mph on flat ground working far harder than I wanted to. I got back to Rouses Point at 4:00 P.M. and ate some food, got some lighting equipment (but not enough) and headed off for Middlebury.

This would be one of the more unpleasant parts of the ride. I would reach Burlington as it got dark, and as opposed to the morning, there would be far more traffic all the way to Middlebury. The trip south across Lake Champlain was tough. I was averaging 12-13 mph and it is fairly flat. I got to back to the Burlington area before dark, but I hadn't gotten the helmet mount lamp back from Lorna. When I inserted the spare lamp, it burned out in the first few minutes. I use the helmet mount light to read the route sheet, my bike computer, road signs and for more lighting on the road.

I didn't have my main battery pack for my bar mount light either as I had expected to get to Middlebury about 10:00 or so. I stopped and bought some extra batteries (and a bag of chips and a container of orange juice) at a convenience store. The woman working there wasn't quite sure what to think of me when I, in answering her question about what I was doing, explained.

Continuing on south, it was back onto those short steep climbs followed by the matching descents. It seemed like every few minutes a car would come by and blind me with their bright headlights. I eventually realized that this was Friday night (it was Thursday, part II for me as I hadn't done any sleeping yet). As I got close to Middlebury, I had some more lighting problems. My headlight would get dimmer when I went over a bump, then it would slowly return to normal brightness. On more than one occasion on a downhill it went so dim that it provided no usable light. A bit disconcerting at 25mph in the dark on a twisting road.

Lorna was getting a bit more sleep than I was but she still had to keep driving from checkpoint to checkpoint while I was on the rode. By the time she got back to Middlebury she was a bit tired.

I finally got back to Middlebury, but seemed to be unable to find the Sportscenter (the checkpoint) I asked some kids that were out skateboarding (at midnight) and they pointed me in the correct direction. I checked in and had a few slices of pizza (I should have had more) and a glass of milk, then went and took a shower. I changed into my bikeaholic jersey and fresh shorts and socks. The old clothes would go back into the ziplock bag and be resealed. These were labeled "Toxic" and were not reopened until arriving home in California.

It took me far too long to get this all done, but after getting cleaned up I decided that I had earned a bit of sleep. I folded the back seat of Lorna's minivan down and laid down. One foot on the ice chest, one foot on the seat in front of me. I set the alarm for 4:30 (it was already 1:30) and it took about 30 seconds to go to sleep. When my alarm went off, it seemed like about 20 seconds later. I hadn't moved. My feet were still on the ice chest and other seat. Amazingly, I felt refreshed. My legs were a bit stiff, but after 530 miles of riding, they had every right to be. I had planned to get on the road by 5:00, but it was starting to rain. I wasn't that eager to combine riding in the dark with riding in the rain. I probably was eager for any excuse to sit around for a while. As it started to get light, we could see that the sky was clearing, so I left with a tandem and another rider at about 6:00 A.M..

The largest climb of the ride was about to happen, but I had fresh (relatively) legs for it. Middlebury Gap climbs about 2,000 feet in 6 or 7 miles, but it isn't uniform. It starts pretty slow and then all of a sudden hits about 15%. The special 28 cog I put on felt much better at this point than my usual 26. The problem was that the next gear I had was a 23, which made for a big jump. There were a lot of places that I really wanted something like a 25 or 26. After about a half mile of this really steep section if dropped down to about a 7-8% grade. I had stopped before the steep part to take off my jacket, but had caught and passed the tandem on the steep portion. I caught the other rider here and then rode away from him. The hill then was close to flat for a while before resuming the uphill. We went by a campus of Middlebury College as we neared the top, and then the road went back to really steep for about a mile.

I got to the top and stopped and took a picture, and drained most of a flask of hammer gel. The road was still a bit wet on the descent so I had to keep the speed down. After some rolling mileage, I got back to the climb back to Killington and saw why I could go 40+ so effortlessly - it was a pretty steep climb for a while. But after reaching the top it was a pretty easy 15 miles or so to Ludlow.

Lorna was there in Ludlow again. I had taken about 4 hours to do the 65 miles and 3,500 feet of climbing from Middlebury, not too bad. It was a bit slower than going the other way, but Ludlow is 500 feet higher than Middlebury, and I wasn't quite as fresh at this point. I got rid of the extra clothing, but I forgot two things that I quickly figured out. At every stop, I would exchange my just used route sheet for a new one, and I would rest my trip odometer so that I wouldn't have to deal with accumulated errors. I got about 200 yards out of the stop and turned around. I got the correct sheet and a zero mileage.

What I think was the hardest climb of the trip followed. Mt. Terrible climbs somewhat over 1200 feet coming out of Ludlow, about half of that is in one mile. It starts pretty easy, but then you go around a corner and it just goes straight up. It is close to straight and you can see to the point where the road gets less steep. This is at mile 600, where my legs didn't seem to have anything like their usual power, so this climb, like many, was done standing.

The route to Brattleboro then continued with a series of smaller climbs and descents. At the crest of many of these climbs, you would find yourself pointed into a brisk headwind, so that the descents were not quite as fast as one would expect. About ten miles short of Brattleboro I passed a couple of other BMB riders. I would close on them on each climb, and then try to stay even on the downhill stretches.

I reached Brattleboro about 2:15 and once again it was a bit warm and I didn't feel all that wonderful. I sat down and drank a couple of glasses of water and ate some candy. It took me about 10 mintues to get out of the checkpoint. From Brattleboro, the route goes across the Connecticut River and back into New Hampshire. The road climbs in steps for a few miles before turning south and climbing some more. By this stretch I was beginning to feel a bit worn down. I had probably climbed about 10,000 feet since leaving Middlebury about 140 miles ago. The headwinds were becoming more of an issue, but I knew this was the shortest leg at around 35 miles.

I finally spotted the Chinese restaurant at the corner of route 2A. It's hard to describe how absurd this location seemed. This restaurant was out in the middle of rural Massuchusetts, with not much in the way of anything close by. Any restaurant would have seemed out of place, but this was really odd. I knew from the trip out, that I was only a couple of miles from the last checkpoint, and then I would turn west and quit fighting the headwinds.

Lorna was once again at the checkpoint. It was 5:00 as I got in and was 5:11 when I left. The driveway was gravel, so I rode through the grass as it was easier to deal with. I knew it was about 75 miles to the finish and that the last 40 would be pretty easy, but I was getting pretty sore and tired. My rear was getting a bit chafed and at this point my right achilles tendon decided that it was getting tired of the whole thing. The route had a series of short climb and descents, with a general upward trend for the next 30 miles. Under normal conditions I would just power over these, but I didn't have much in the way of power to work with anymore. I went back through the same towns I had seen on the way out the first morning, and eventually there was a decent sized downhill and the climbs seemed to get much easier.

One of the interesting things on the route sheet was the mention of the ice cream parlor in Sterling. As I got closer the idea of a shake started to sound pretty good, besides, I needed to go to the bathroom and put on my reflective vest as it was getting dark. I got there and went to the bathroom, but decided I didn't really need the shake.

One of the best pieces of advice I had gotten was from Jim Frink, which was to ride the first part of the route out and back. It was getting dark, and as one approached Boston the amount of traffic grew rapidly. But at about this point, I got back on familiar roads. I didn't look at my route sheet for the last 30 miles. About 25 miles from the finish I caught up with Bill Schwarz from Albany, New York. Bill was about the only person I had ridden any distance with during the whole ride. We did most of the first 300k together. Even though he had done BMB a number of times before, Bill had never quite memorized the route, so he followed me to the finish. I had wanted to get in under 60 hours, but I didn't quite make it finishing in 60:45.

It was sure nice to get to the finish and get off my bike. It was even better when I found that they had beer (Sam Adams was a sponsor) and since they had run out of pizza, Dave Jordan ordered some more. After eating a number of slices of pizza, and doing some beer rehydrating, I waddled back up to the room in the hotel. I managed to get most of the sunscreen, sweat, and road grime off of me and get in bed. Sunday morning, I got up and took a bath. It was soothing to the saddle sore parts. Lorna and I went out to breakfast, then I started packing things up. The food that had been eaten on route didn't have to come home so things ended up about 30 pounds lighter. I also managed to forget to pack the floor pump, and my arm and leg warmers; this helped make it even lighter.

I waited around at the finish with the other who had gotten in, watching and applauding the other riders as they finished. They kept a supply of beer around throughout the day, along with various items to snack on. A bit after noon, John Robbins came in with several other riders. About 4:00 they served us a dinner, and then Lorna and I went out for a second dinner.

The next morning we got up real early for the trip back. We had an 8:00 A.M. flight out and had to check the bike stuff. Sitting on the plane was pretty uncomfortable, but so was standing up. When we got back to San Francisco, we met Bikeaholic Team Captain Lisa outside the baggage check area. Lisa had my RAV4 and we managed to load all the luggage in. Lisa drove back to her place while I sat wedged in the back with just enough room to close the door.

I did sleep pretty well every night for the next week, but I only rode my bike to work once the first week I was back. That day I also went to the usual Thursday night Cuesta ride, but at the start turned around and went home.

BMB is a long hilly ride. It's very scenic. But after doing it, I can only imagine what RAAM must be like. I was hurting by the end, and even weeks later was not fully recovered. Even so, I'll figure how to do this to myself next year at PBP. I must really be desperate for the pins they hand out.

Team Bikeaholics Member Craig Robertson

Bikeaholics.orgContact the Webmeisters: Sarah Don