This article is from the Misc Bicycles FAQs, by various authors.
We pressed on through some good "fifty-five" rollers on the way to
Barre. By this, I mean hills where a tandem breaks 50 going down and
struggles not to drop below 5 going up. For some sadistic reason, this
section of road gets covered five times in our brevet series. Locals
know it all too well. This section of road can be quite discouraging
to BMB newcomers, especially the final climb into Barre, which is
probably the steepest climb of the entire course. Many riders use
their lowest gears to reach this town that I have determined must be
the center of the cycling universe, since so many rides in this area
pass through it.
The first normal control was at a B&B in North New Salem. We saw many
other riders there, who were enjoying the abundant food set out by the
BMB staff, taking the opportunity to dry out a bit, change clothes,
etc. Terry Zmrhal, a friend of ours from Seattle, who had volunteered
to work a control after doing the event last year, was working this
checkpoint. We chatted with him briefly, as well as many folks from
our club, the Charles River Wheelman, who were also doing the ride. A
break in the rain convinced me to pack away my rainpants and go with
legwarmers, and light jacket for a while.
We managed to climb and descend Grace Mountain, crossing into the
state of New Hampshire before the drizzle started back up. We passed
our first covered bridge on route 119, just before taking the very
sharp and steep right hand turn that signals the beginning of the
first major climb of the ride, up Mt. Pisgah. We rode with Woody, a
rider we had met on the 600K, along this section. The rain resumed,
but chatting away, we soon reached Route 9, and the descent down to
the Connecticut River, which serves as a border between NH and
Vermont. Just across the river, we pulled into the second checkpoint
in Brattleboro, just as the rain stopped again.
We had sag bags here, so we restocked our liquid nutrition, Ensure
Plus, and I changed into a dry pair of shorts. The absence of rain
probably wouldn't last long, but I had packed lots of extra clothes,
so I took advantage of the chance to change.
The route to the next checkpoint is said to include two major climbs,
but BMB veterans know that there are 4, and that this is the toughest
segment of the route. We left Brattleboro under dry skies, but within
10 miles, the heavens opened and the rains came down hard. As stoker,
on a bike with fenders, I really don't mind riding in the rain. In
fact, I usually enjoy it. I don't have to worry about seeing where I'm
going, and John blocks a lot of the rain from the front. Of course,
John may have a different opinion about the matter. We continued on,
climbing to Westminster West, climbing a long series of rollers on
route 35, climbing past the switchback to Andover Ridge, and finally
climbing Terrible Mountain. We also did some descending, and managed
to comfortably hit 57.5 mph coming off both Andover and Terrible. The
tandem is incredibly stable at speed, and while the wet roads had us a
bit more cautious (we normally would break 60 easily), we were able to
just let the bike go. While the climbs may make this a tandem
unfriendly route, the descents definitely make up for it. For every
climb, we were rewarded fabulously with a thrilling descent.
Noting exactly where the switchback is on Andover can be very
important for the return trip. Since we might return in the dark, we
wanted a good idea of where we could let the bike fly, and where we
needed to exercise more caution. I took note of various landmarks and
mileage here. Switchbacks are pretty rare in New England. There is one
in Massachusetts, that is simply referred to a THE switchback. Most of
the climbs in this area are straight up, straight down, with a few
curves thrown in. This makes for great fast tandem descents, and long
slow tandem ascents.
The rain had eased back into a mist by the time we reached the hostel
in Ludlow which served as the next checkpoint. This reprieve was short
lived, and by the time we were ready to leave, a steady hard rain was
falling again. I changed into tights, lightweight long sleeve top and
a light jacket, and we headed out. The route climbs gently for a few
miles to the base of Killington, where we then began the steady climb
up to Sherburne Pass. We were rewarded for this climb with a fast
curvy descent down into Rochester, and then a flat to gently rolling
trip through a valley before the turn up the infamous Middlebury Gap.
It was along this section that we caught Jean, Kenny and Bruce, who
took full advantage of drafting a tandem into the wind. Somewhere
along this section, the rain stopped and patches of blue sky could be
seen amongst the clouds. We tried not to get our hopes up that the
rain had truly subsided, but it looked promising.
We took a quick break at the Hancock Inn, a hotel, restaurant, and
country store, with delicious pancake breakfasts, assorted pastries,
and all sorts of other delicacies that we had no time to enjoy on this
visit. We did take the time to change clothes in preparation for the
climb ahead. Some say the climb up Middlebury isn't that tough, that
it's the 200+ miles in one's legs that make it seem difficult, but
I've done it with fresh legs and it's hard then too. Mercifully it is
the easiest of the 4 gaps that cross this range. From the inn, it's
about 7 miles to the top, with the first 3 or so deceptively gradual,
the next 2 steeper and the final 2 painful. We had hoped to get over
the climb before dark, so we could enjoy the descent in daylight, but
alas we did not make it and we reached the top as darkness fell, when
we flipped our headlights on. Reaching the summit in the dark was a
blessing in disguise. The descent was spectacular. The clouds
completely broke up, and our way down was illuminated by a full moon
so bright that I kept thinking were we being followed by a car. It was
so bright I could practically read the cue sheet and computer by it.
It was exactly the type of night time conditions I love. It was warm
enough for me to wear only shorts and jersey, and absolutely crystal
We took a long break at the checkpoint in Middlebury, enjoying a bit
of dinner and conversation there, before pressing onto our evenings
destination in South Burlington. We headed back out for what was
supposed to be a 30 mile ride to our hotel. The sky was still clear
and that moon was bright and beautiful. The section of road between
Middlebury and Burlington is a very difficult part of the route. The
route is often referred to as flat after Middlebury, but that's the
farthest thing from the truth. (It flattens out AFTER Burlington ! )
This 30 mile section is full of short wicked steep climbs, which can
really be discouraging if one is expecting flat land. At least we knew
better. We caught up to Mike on these hills and stayed together all
the way to our motel. Mike was planning to push onto the Canadian
border before sleeping. Talking certainly helped pass the miles, but
unfortunately the mile marker I was seeking came and went with no
signs of civilization or motels in site. We eventually reached the
Susse Chalet, 5 miles beyond the indicated distance on our motel list,
and checked in for the night.
After a shower, 5 hours of sleep, a healthy serving of muffins,
pastries, juice and coffee from the lobby, we were on the road again.
We left a few supplies at the motel, since we planned to return there
for our next night's sleep. We saw a few riders here and there, but
many more had passed us early in the morning while we enjoyed our
sleep. These riders encountered a great deal of fog on the way to
Burlington in the early morning, where we had enjoyed such beautiful
clear moonlit scenery the night before.
Once through the traffic around Burlington, we again began to enjoy
nice scenery as we crossed over to the island on Lake Champlain. The
terrain here is rolling, and can be quite fun on a tandem. We rolled
along happily until shortly before reaching the checkpoint in Rouses
Point, NY, when John experienced a sharp pain in his left thigh. We
took a break for him to stretch, but the pain persisted. We took it
easy for the final 5 miles into the checkpoint, and John headed
directly to the massage table when we got in, while I took care of
restocking supplies for the next leg of our journey.
The next section involved crossing into Canada, reading the cue sheet
(since the Canadian part of the route was not arrowed), riding through
lots and lots of corn fields, navigating our way through lots of turns
and stop signs in the suburbs of Montreal, and going through US
customs on the way back. I don't mean to offend any Canadians but this
is always my least favorite part of the trip. The scenery is pretty
monotonous with cornfield after cornfield. The flat terrain usually
leaves riders facing headwinds or crosswinds, and then there are all
those darn stop signs going into suburban Montreal. There is literally
one at every intersection for the final 10 miles in and out of the
control. Two years ago, I somehow managed to sprain my ankle while
negotiating this part of the route. Stop signs present a special
challenge to tandems, causing us to lose all momentum at every stop.
Fortunately, after taking a wrong turn and saving them from the same
fate, we found ourselves in the company of a Mark and Charlie on
singles, who were able to roll up ahead and call intersections clear.
Now, I'm not advocating breaking traffic laws and running stop signs,
but these were just too much. It's one thing I'd really like to see
change about the route. Those familiar with this area will understand
exactly why we slowly rolled through this section.
On top of the annoyance caused by the civil engineers, John and I were
both feeling really bad. My digestive problems had returned and his
leg was getting worse and worse. I dared not to let John know how bad
I felt, and he did the same. At any point if either of us had
suggested stopping, that would have been the end of our ride.
Normally, our moods tend to compliment each other, so that if one is
feeling bad, the other is up, but this time, we were both feeling
quite bad and not having a lot of fun. In this regard, Mark and
Charlie saved our ride, as they kept our morale up with their company
and their high spirits. And they didn't seem to mind taking it easy
while we all stayed together.
We finally reached the checkpoint at the halfway point. I tried to
eat, but my stomach was having no part of that plan. I made several
trips down the stairs and through the maze to the bathrooms in hopes
of feeling better, but it simply wasn't to be. I'd practically been
living on Pepto Bismal and while it helped a little, it seemed I was
losing the battle now.
John, in the meantime was nursing his leg along, and then discovered
that the piece of leather he used to call a saddle had now turned into
a hammock and torture device thanks to the rains of the day before.
This was despite using a supposedly waterproof saddle cover. In all
his years of riding through wet conditions in Ireland, he'd never had
a saddle fail in this way. We took a few pictures for posterity, and
he tried to retension it to lessen the hammock effect.
We began our journey back home along with Mark, Charlie and Phil. John
had met and ridden with Mark and Charlie earlier in the year and had
apparently encouraged them both to attempt this ride. They were now
blaming him for any pains they were experiencing. But they didn't seem
in any pain to me. They both had great attitudes and were riding quite
strongly. They were definitely outriding us on terrain where we should
have had an advantage, but with both John and me feeling so bad, we
could barely hang on. They did their best to keep our little group
together, even waiting when I stopped a third time to go get a closer
look at the corn ! They really seemed to have a great Audax-style
spirit, and it really made a very painful part of the journey quite