Boston-Montreal-Boston 2004

In 1891, a French newspaper editor called Pierre Griffard organized a 1200Km bicycle race from Paris to Brest, at the northwestern tip of France, and back. Cycling was still a novelty, and Griffard realized that an epic bicycle adventure could be a publicity stunt, a way to increase newspaper circulation for a few days. Despite naysayers who fretted that cyclists' bodies would literally disintegrate over such distances, over a hundred cyclists completed the inaugural Paris-Brest-Paris. PBP has been held periodically ever since, first every ten years, then every five, and since 1975, every four years.

North America had no equivalent until 1988, when Charlie Lamb created Boston-Montreal-Boston. BMB has been held every year since then, except on years when PBP occurs. Like PBP, BMB is a 1200Km event that riders must complete in 90 hours or less. Also like PBP, it is not strictly a race---times are listed alphabetically by rider name, and the first person to finish receives no special prize---but many people strive for fast times or personal bests. In order to participate in PBP, BMB, or other 1200Km events around the world, cyclists must complete a series of four qualifying rides called brevets (from the French word for "diploma"), with lengths of 200Km, 300Km, 400Km, and 600Km, within prescribed time limits.

Boston-Montreal-Boston begins in Newton, a suburb of Boston, heads west to central Massachusetts, north into New Hampshire, and northwest across Vermont and Quebec to Huntingdon, a town 60Km southwest of Montreal, before doubling back to Newton. Unlike PBP, which is characterized by gently rolling hills, BMB has varied terrain: rolling hills in Massachusetts, mountains in Vermont, and plains along Lake Champlain and in Quebec. Total climbing is about 10,000m. The ride is divided into twelve segments delimited by checkpoints: cyclists must reach each checkpoint within a given time in order to continue. Checkpoints also provide food and mechanical assistance, and some have sleeping facilities. The final checkpoint is the finish, which of course has a 90-hour time limit.

The Plan

I planned to ride BMB 2004 with my friend and long-time cycling partner Chip Coldwell. We became hooked on randonneuring in 2003 when we participated together in some of the Boston brevets. Chip went on to ride the 600Km brevet and complete the 2003 Paris-Brest-Paris, while my wife Kara and I, newly married, cycled around Ireland for three weeks on our honeymoon.

This time around, I had planned to make BMB the highlight of my cycling year. To prepare, Chip and I rode the full Boston brevet series and the 200K and 300K Westfield brevets. We made countless joyrides north to New Hampshire and west to Mount Wachusett and the steep hills of central Massachusetts. We cycled for a week in the Swiss and Italian Alps. By the eve of BMB we felt strong. We had three goals for the ride, in order of decreasing importance:

  1. We would travel self-contained, and not use the BMB bag transport service. Neither of us owns a car, and the thought of having a truck carry luggage for us on a bicycle trip seemed a little silly.
  2. We would be "civilized." The plan was to get a good night's sleep in a hotel or checkpoint every night, minimize night riding, and take the time to shoot a photo or two. We wanted BMB to be more of a fast bike tour than a test of the limits of our endurance.
  3. To the extent allowed by goals (1) and (2), we would try to finish in under 80 hours. Eighty is a nice round number, and in past editions of BMB most riders had finished in more than 80 hours. It seemed like a tough but achievable goal.

The Day Before: Wednesday, August 18

On Wednesday afternoon, the day before the start, Chip and I cycled together from Cambridge to the Holiday Inn in Newton, which serves as the start and finish for BMB. It was 4.30pm when we arrived, and many cyclists were in line in the parking lot for the mandatory bike inspection.

As usual, the 120 or so participants would be riding a huge variety of bicycles. There was a Calfee carbon fiber tandem that probably weighed less than Chip's and my singles. There were a couple triathlon-style bikes that I can only describe as carbon airfoils, with massive chainrings and small rear cogs: their owners would probably be suffering, come Vermont. There were all manner of titanium wonderbikes: Merlins, Litespeeds, Sevens, to name a few. There were some gorgeous steel bikes, including a brown-and-white Mercian, a bright red Richard Sachs, and a couple of Rivendells. There were some recumbents. And then there was Bob, a soft-spoken British gentleman who had shown up on a bike he had designed and built himself, something of a cross between a Moulton space frame and a turn-of-the-century Dursley Pedersen. Chip thought it was very funny that I asked Bob where he was from, since only an Englishman, in his view, could be setting out to ride 1200Km on such a homebuilt machine.

As for us, Chip would be riding his Bob Jackson tourer complete with two small panniers, a rack-top trunk, and a handlebar bag, while I had my Rivendell Rambouillet equipped with a Carradice saddlebag and a Rivendell "candy bar" bag.

The afternoon passed quickly as we met friends and acquaintances and enjoyed the pre-ride pasta meal. The start of BMB coincides with the start of the "quad-centuries", four back-to-back centuries in four days that follow the BMB route out to Middlebury and back to Boston. We knew three Boston locals who would be cycling in the quads---Marty Hanczyc, Dena Cohen, and Jack Demerest---and we spent most of our time talking with them and admiring Marty's elegant 1960s Hetchins and Jack's modern reproduction of an 1890s English single-speed bike.

We were in our room at the Holiday Inn before 8pm. I remember waking up in the dark a few hours later and being happily surprised: I realized I had been sleeping, despite all the excitement about the upcoming big day. I promptly fell asleep again.

The First Day: Thursday, August 19 (443Km, approx. 4400m climbing)

We woke up without an alarm at 3am. Chip had been abstaining from coffee for several weeks in an attempt to regain sensitivity to caffeine in time for BMB. Suddenly free to enjoy his favorite drink again, he bee-lined for the coffee machine with the ravenous intensity of a heroin addict, while I headed downstairs to the start.

As I waited at the starting line I noticed a tall, lean rider on a small Seven Cycles titanium frame with an extraordinarily long seatpost. His bib number was 64. I thought I recognized him as the man who rode away from the field on the 400K Boston brevet and ultimately finished in an amazing time of about 14 hours. When I asked, he looked embarrassed and apologized for dropping all of us and not being social during the ride. I was taken aback by his modesty and friendliness. Would he be aiming for a particularly good time at BMB? He smiled and said he'd try. Later, as we rode in the dark west of Boston, I remembered his name from the 400K results list: Saunders Whittlesey.

We followed a pace vehicle with flashing lights through Newton and Wellesley and onto US 20 West. Chip and I found ourselves in the lead group, a fast paceline of thirty or forty riders, and we cruised for many miles at 38Km/h. The air was warm and humid, but not enough to be unpleasant. On the first somewhat significant climb, shortly beyond Sterling, the paceline splintered: we would not see Saunders for a few hundred miles.

The sky was light now, but the previous day's sunshine had given way to heavy overcast. On the first few climbs Chip had some issues with the humidity, but after a stop in Barre for water and Gatorade, he seemed to do much better. The sun made a few appearances through the clouds as we rode over wooded hills and into misty hollows, admiring the occasional views across reed-filled lakes and swamps. North of Petersham we caught a glimpse of a heron, motionless on the shores of a lake.

We arrived at the first checkpoint, Bullard Farm in New Salem, at 8.34am, to cheerful encouragement from Melinda Lyon. Melinda is the women's record holder for BMB and one of the fastest riders in the Boston brevet series, but she had taken the season off and volunteered to help with BMB. I packed a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, grabbed a couple bananas, and refilled my water bottles with Gatorade. We were back on the road by 8.45am.

The next segment, from Bullard Farm to Brattleboro, VT, was only 38 miles long, and it passed quickly. The cue sheet warned of "fishermen parked on road" along Lake Mattawa, and sure enough, there they were, as much a part of the scenery as the trees and water. We climbed the gentle pine-covered slopes of Mount Grace and descended into New Hampshire. On the way down we met another rider on a Rambouillet, Ed from Washington, D.C. His setup was a bit less "retro" than mine, with Campy Ergo shifters and a mixed Shimano drive train. I had never cycled next to another Rambouillet, and it looked beautiful, the orange paint sparkling in the sun. As the descent flattened out we also caught up with Chuck and Crista, friends of Ed's who were riding a titanium tandem. They were a friendly bunch, and together we climbed the long road up Mount Pisgah. Chuck and Crista climbed faster than any tandem I had seen---apparently they ride two centuries a week, all through the year---so we all summited at more or less the same time. With some effort, I managed to catch their wheel for the entire descent into Brattleboro. I glanced at my computer once and noticed that it read 83Km/h.

The tandem and I arrived in Brattleboro at 11am, and Chip, Ed, and a couple other riders followed soon afterwards. Chip's front derailleur cable had snapped just before the checkpoint, but Pierce Gafgen, BMB technical director, was there with his support truck. Pierce almost got a hernia as he lifted the heavily laden Bob Jackson onto the bike stand: Chip's was definitely a contender for heaviest bike on BMB.

Stoked up on fried rice, fruit, and cookies, Chip and I departed Brattleboro at 11.30am. Ed had left a few minutes earlier in search of a deli sandwich, while Chuck and Crista planned to stay at the checkpoint a little longer. We expected to run into them shortly, but unfortunately did not meet them again until Boston.

After a short busy stretch on Rt 5 to Putney, we turned left onto smaller roads that would eventually take us to Ludlow, VT. In my opinion, the stretch between Brattleboro and Ludlow, in both directions, is the toughest and most rewarding of BMB. Between Putney and Chester, the road climbs two fairly significant ridges, and each ridge is itself a long succession of little dips and climbs. We cycled across open fields, past farms and wooden barns, and through beautiful maple forests. Moss-covered granite outcroppings jutted out here and there from the forest floor, while tubes for maple syrup collection hung off the tree trunks and criss-crossed the underbrush like giant spider's webs.

We ran into the secret control---just David Jordan sitting at a table under a big tarp by the side of the road---on Rt 121/35 before Grafton. Chip was thirsty, and a little miffed that David would not give up any of the bottled water that was serving as ballast for his tarp. So we stopped for iced tea in Grafton, and then again for Gatorade in Weston, on the far side of Andover Ridge. Andover Ridge---home of the lone switchback on this ride that has 10000m of climbing---is proof that New England road engineers can build mountain roads with moderate grades. Maybe everywhere else they just want to make life more exciting for cyclists. And life indeed became more exciting: after a moderate climb up the easy south side of Terrible Mountain, I dropped down the 2-mile, 10% grade on the other side straight into Ludlow at 80Km/h. I arrived at the checkpoint at the Trojan Horse hostel at 3.33pm, and Chip joined me some minutes later.

Well-fed on pasta salad and baked potatoes, we left around 4.15pm. At first I felt sleepy and sapped of energy, but by Killington I was back to normal, and thoroughly enjoyed the gradual climb to the gondola station and the fast descent through the forest on the other side. The sun broke through the clouds and lit up the broad White River valley north of Killington: fields of corn, small silos, and bright red barns.

But the pavement was still wet from a recent downpour, and it began to sprinkle again as we rolled into Rochester. I stopped for Gatorade and tomato juice at a convenience store, and re-emerged a minute later to find sheets of water falling from the sky. Some miles earlier, Chip and I had caught up with a cyclist from Indianapolis. He was using a carbon airfoil bike with massive gears, and despite lots of experience with 24-hour time trials, he was finding the hills of BMB hard going. Now we all huddled together under the roof overhang of the convenience store, and ultimately decided to continue despite the downpour.

The cloudburst ended in Hancock, where three girls playing on a porch clapped and cheered me on as I passed. I waited for Chip and our new companion at the intersection with Rt 125, and together we headed west towards Middlebury Gap. The sun was shining again, low in the sky and directly into our eyes. The wet road gleamed and steamed ahead of us, and golden mist enveloped the vegetation on either side. Compared to some of the short but steep climbs behind us, the ascent to Middlebury Gap was reasonably easy. Only near the top did it become steep, and even there my main problem was a large truck that passed too close for comfort, not the grade of the pavement. Chip joined me at the summit after a few minutes. The sun was about to set and there was no sign of the time trialist from Indiana, so we started down the other side, the longest continuous grade on the BMB course. We plunged into a thick forest, past a "Danger: moose next 4 miles" sign (!!), through the idyllic campus of Middlebury College, and down to the Lake Champlain valley. We were at the Middlebury checkpoint at 8.33pm.

It was still too early to stop for the day, and we very much wanted to reach the Fairfield Inn in Williston, 37 miles up the road, where I had made a reservation. We wolfed down lasagna and pizza, packed food for breakfast the next morning, and were back on the road shortly after 9pm. The stretch to Williston had looked almost flat on the elevation profile, but now it was a tiresome series of ups and downs, pesky little hills whose summits, however low, were always hidden in darkness when we were at their base. We rode side-by-side and wiled away the miles with conversation. My patience finally ended on one particularly annoying climb: I stood out of the saddle and powered my way to the top, shouting epithets at the hilly darkness around me. But just as I got to the top I noticed bright lights in the valley below, and traffic on a freeway: we were in Williston! Without waiting for Chip, I raced down the steep mile-long descent, through two sets of lights, and left into the Fairfield Inn's parking lot. It was about 11.30pm, and by midnight we had showered and were lying in deliciously comfortable beds. I fell asleep instantly.

The Second Day: Friday, August 20 (392Km, approx. 1750m climbing)

The alarm rang at 5am, but it took us a while to become coherent and eat some breakfast. We set off a little before 6am, under clear skies lit by a gorgeous sunrise. The legs were stiff at first, and we made our way slowly through a thicket of strip malls. But gradually our bodies clicked into gear, and at about the same time we reached the beautiful shores of Lake Champlain.

The landscape was very different from that of the first day. Gone were the rolling hills and forests and steep wooded mountainsides. The road before us was almost completely flat, and the terrain was only lightly wooded. Expansive views across Lake Champlain opened up sometimes to the left, sometimes to the right, and sometimes on both sides of the road. The Green Mountains, enveloped in blueish haze, delimited our horizon to the east.

We realized that it had been a great idea to sleep. We alternated half-hour pulls and maintained a strong rhythm, ultimately covering the 85Km to the Rouses Point checkpoint in under 3 hours, at an average speed of 30Km/h. We passed many cyclists who rode much more slowly and looked as if they could have benefited from a few hours' rest in a decent bed.

But we also met one VERY fast cyclist. We had just entered North Hero, so we were about 130Km from the half-way turn-around point in Huntingdon, Quebec, when we saw a rider coming towards us. At first I guessed that it was a local out for a spin, but no: it was Saunders Whittlesey, a full 260Km ahead of us after little more than a day's riding. He waved and called out a cheerful hello, apparently no less fresh and happy than he had been at the start, roughly 28 hours earlier. I stared behind us as he disappeared into the distance. That was, of course, the last that we saw of him.

Waffles and cereal never tasted as good as they did at Rouses Point checkpoint. Over breakfast we chatted with Glen Reed, whom we knew from the Boston brevets. His strategy had been to ride on no sleep, but at this point he looked a little haggard and decided to spend more time at the checkpoint. We still felt fine, however, and got back on our bikes around 9.30am, after little more than half an hour's stop.

My fears about problems with my Italian passport or H-1B visa proved unfounded, and we entered Canada without incident. Then began my least favorite part of BMB, endless rollers through monotonous corn fields into a headwind, with bad pavement to boot. We were struggling, yet it felt as if we were standing still. A handful of faster riders, including Ernie Landry and others whose names I did not know, began to pass us going in the opposite direction: they were about 100Km ahead of us at this point. Then, as we crested one small climb, a distant ridge came into view. At the ridge's highest point, a vertical line cut down its side, from top to bottom. It took me a while to realize that this vertical line was a road---Chemin de Covey Hill, to be precise---and that we'd be pedaling up it. But it looked more intimidating from a distance than it actually was, and after we had climbed it we made somewhat faster progress.

We rode the last few miles next to a languid and inviting river, and arrived at the turn-around checkpoint, at the Royal Canadian Legion Hall in Huntingdon, at 12.41pm. The retired veterans and their wives who staffed this checkpoint were kind and friendly people, but they did not understand the nutritional requirements of a long-distance cyclist. One small grilled-cheese sandwich at a time, I slowly satisfied my calorie needs. Then it was time for the obligatory photos in front of the Legion Hall---probably not Montreal's best-known landmark, but better than nothing!---and we were back on the road a little after 1.30pm.

Our progress was interrupted momentarily by a pinch flat in my rear wheel, but soon we sailed along again with the wind behind us. The vast rolling corn fields weren't nearly as bad with a tailwind. Covey Hill was also a lot easier going the other way, and we had the opportunity to admire views of Montreal in the distance to our left, high-rises punctuating the horizon next to the giant mass of Mont Royal. How strange to have really made it within sight of the city!

We crossed many riders going the other way, ones who were now a few tens to 100Km behind us. Among them was Bob on his homemade Dursley Pedersen-style bicycle, impeccably dressed in slacks and a button-down shirt. No Lycra for this bold man. My mind conjured images of Victorian explorers in far-away tropical lands, their heavily starched shirts immaculate in the oppressive heat.

Once again, my fears about the border crossing proved unwarranted, and we were back at the Rouses Point checkpoint at 4.39pm. We left at 5.15pm, after plenty of pasta and apple pie and a thorough lubrication of our man-machine interfaces---a newly coined euphemism for, well, you know what. We did not plan to stop until Middlebury, 147Km away. My jersey pockets bulged with an outrageous number of mini-bagels.

Chip and I resumed our alternating 30-minute pulls, with swaps on the hour and the half hour. Chip is a fantastically smooth and reliable cyclist, and we made unflagging progress despite gusty headwinds. Beginning at half past the hour, I would get down into the drops and try to keep our speed at 28-29Km/h, counting off the time to myself in 5-minute increments. Then, on the hour, Chip would take over, and I would be free to stretch out on the brake hoods and look around. Several times I pulled my Olympus XA from my jersey pocket and took photos of the beautiful land around us: the late afternoon light on the lake's surface, the trees along the shore, the spectacular thunderclouds building to the east. In this manner, we passed several other cyclists without even suffering much.

We reached Colchester at dusk, and pressed on to Burlington after a stop for liquids at a convenience store. We passed through Burlington and Williston during Friday night rush hour, so it was quite a relief when we were back in the countryside, heading south to Middlebury on Rt 116. We had fewer miles in our legs than on the first day, and the wind was blowing from the north, so all the many ups and downs were much less irritating than they had been, in the opposite direction, on the previous night.

One of the BMB support vehicles drove by, and I gave the crew an enthusiastic thumbs up. I was having a second wind of sorts, and felt amazingly strong. Just for fun, I decided to tackle the climbs in nothing shorter than a 50x21, climbing out of the saddle and then waiting for Chip at the top of each one. Eventually, Chip too started to pedal hard, in an attempt to "get the juices flowing" and stave off sleep. I dispatched the last few climbs along Quarry Road in high gear, and we rolled back into the Middlebury checkpoint together at 11.28pm.

The place had a depressing, energy-sapping vibe. The volunteers were half-asleep, the food was almost gone, and a solitary cyclist sat in a corner reading a newspaper and swatting at clouds of mosquitoes. Originally, we had planned to sleep here on the second night, but the thought of five or six hours on wrestling mats under swarms of mosquitoes was less than appealing. I called a few motels, found no vacancies, and resigned myself to mosquitoey doom. But Chip would have none of it, and he gradually moved upscale until he found a vacant room with a single king-size bed at the nearby Courtyard Marriott. I swallowed the remaining bit of cold lasagna, stuffed my pockets with breakfast food, and we headed out to mosquito-free heaven.

The friendly lady at the hotel desk was unable to understand that we had ridden bicycles all the way from Boston, and repeatedly offered advice on where to park our car. It's good to end the day with some comic relief. We showered quickly, and by 12.15am we were in bed, at opposite ends of our one precious king-size bed. "You don't tell Kara, and I won't tell Cindy." Right. Then the lights were out, and we were both asleep.

The Third Day: Saturday, August 21 (378Km, approx. 3900m climbing)

The alarm rang at 5.15am, and to my dismay I found that the sounds I had been hearing in my dreams had been real: outside, rain fell steadily, and water rushed in the gutter next to our window. Chip turned over and proposed that we wait it out in bed, but one look at the forecast was enough to realize that the weather would not be changing soon.

That alone would not have been a problem, but then Chip discovered that he had no rain jacket; he had left it in the closet at the Fairfield Inn! He paced around in circles, blaming himself and making dark comments about abandoning the ride. But we were in luck: the Middlebury checkpoint had emergency ponchos! Within 15 minutes I had cycled to the checkpoint and back and procured a poncho. We also called the Fairfield Inn, and they promised to send Chip's jacket forward along the course, but it never caught up with us. And so it came to be that Chip cycled 200Km dressed in a bright yellow plastic trash bag with sleeves. Not only was his bike among the heaviest; his outfit was also by far the least aerodynamic. But I was no longer worried---Chip has plenty of spare horsepower for this and other contingencies---and his giant flapping yellow bird outfit made me laugh on many a descent.

We left the hotel shortly before 7am. In the cool rain, Middlebury Gap was an easy climb. We passed a couple of riders, and for a while I found myself riding alone. But soon I caught up with a distinguished-looking gray-haired lady on a bright red Specialized. Her name was Dolores, she was a librarian from New York City, and she was riding the quad-centuries. She may have been old enough to be my mom, but she had better climbing legs than a lot of young guys. I enjoyed her company all the way to the summit. She seemed very excited to be riding past the Middlebury College campus, which apparently is a famous writers' colony. (I don't know whether the Robert Frost Trail that branches off from the road is so named because the famous poet actually stayed there.) She also gave me the day's great news: checkpoint staff in Middlebury had told her that Saunders Whittlesey was already in Boston, having finished the course in an astounding 48 hours, 9 minutes, almost two hours faster than the previous course record of 50:01. Apparently he had been aiming for 44 hours, but confusion in Quebec (a road sign had changed since the cue sheet had been developed) caused him to lose one or two hours during the first night. Completely awed, I just shook my head in disbelief.

Dolores headed down the other side of the Gap, while I waited at the top for Chip. He arrived with the two riders we had passed earlier---Eric, an anesthesiologist from Colorado, and Scott from Ohio---and together we flew down into Rochester. The remaining miles into Ludlow were a cold and wet affair. As my friend Bernie would say, things were turning Shackleton.

Yet I felt surprisingly fresh and strong. I would accelerate on the climbs, sometimes ride alone for a few miles, and then slow down or stop and wait for the others. On the summit of Killington I ran into Janika Eckert and Rob Johnston, a friendly couple from Maine whom Chip and I had met on the 600K brevet. They were riding the quads, and were all-smiles as usual despite the rain. We talked for a few minutes in front of the coffee shop at the top of the hill, and when Chip joined us, Janika generously brought him a cup of hot coffee. It was great to spend a few minutes with them.

We finally arrived in Ludlow at 11.33am. My hands were numb from the cold rain, and I was disappointed that the only hot soup had chicken in it. Chip suggested that the conditions justified an exception to my vegetarianism, but I made do with a baked potato and some microwaved pasta salad. Believe me, microwaved pasta salad dressing tastes very strange. I remained cold despite drying off with a towel, and felt relieved when we finally left, about an hour later.

The climb up the north side of Terrible Mountain begins directly outside the Ludlow checkpoint. It is gradual at first, and then progressively steeper, over 2 miles long with several 10% stretches. I attacked it with all I had, eager to regain body heat, and as I warmed up I felt better than I had on the whole ride so far. 50x19 ... 50x21 ... 50x24 ... I climbed out of the saddle most of the way, resorting to my 36x24 only in the final section. Chip reached the top 9 minutes later, followed shortly by Eric and Scott.

We rode together all the way to Brattleboro, stringing out a little on the climbs and regrouping on the flats and downhills. The maple-covered hills around Chester and Westminster seemed to go on forever, but it was fun to be in a group of four, listen to the conversation, and let my mind wander. We rolled down Rt 5 and into the Brattleboro checkpoint at 4.45pm. Saunders Whittlesey was everyone's favorite topic of conversation as I busied myself with two cups of noodle soup and several portions of fried rice.

Eric and Scott decided to rest a little longer, so Chip and I set out by ourselves at 5.45pm. It had stopped raining by now, and the wind was blowing the clouds east. From the summit of Mount Pisgah we saw clear skies to the west and forested hills bathed in afternoon light. Unfortunately, though, my body no longer worked well. My gut was rebelling, and I could taste stomach acid, fried rice, and V8 with every burp. Mount Grace, usually a big-chainring affair, passed slowly. I began to wonder whether the morning's Beastie Boys-inspired mantra---"No.. sleep.. till.. Boston!"---was a good idea.

But when we arrived at Bullard Farm, at 8.42pm, things improved rapidly. Melinda greeted us with pats on the back and lots of encouragement, and kept up conversation as we shoveled down soup, egg-salad sandwiches, and many bowls of corn flakes and sugar. She gave me a sandwich bag full of Tums antacids: "Take it from a pro. You can't have too many of these." By the end of the evening, I would learn that she was completely right. In the meantime, Ed Kross had lubricated our chains and pumped up our tires. Now, it is not every day that the women's BMB record holder and two-time PBP winner is your cheerleader, while a former men's BMB record holder and three-time RAAM finisher pumps up your bike's tires. So we had little choice but to get back on the road, and indeed I felt reasonably strong again.

We started the final leg around 9.30pm, together with Dan from Minneapolis, who wanted to ride with locals for the last few miles into Boston. We pedaled slowly on the rolling terrain to Petersham and Barre. Every few minutes I would reach into my jersey pocket and grab a tablet from Melinda's bag-o-Tums. We stopped for water at a convenience store in Barre, and picked up a fourth rider, Marc from Michigan, for the final push to Boston. The only real obstacle was the terribly rutted pavement in Hubbardston, all the more treacherous in the dark, where we never exceeded 20Km/h. But after Princeton there is a long downhill into Sterling, and then the hills essentially end. We enjoyed familiar roads and minimal traffic.

We were almost home, at the intersection of Rt 27 and Rt 20, when my headlight burned out. Chip helped me replace the bulb, I spun my front wheel (the light is powered by a hub dynamo), and ... still no light! Frustrated, I decided to ride on by the feeble glow of my headlamp: at this point, I just wanted to finish in under 72 hours. Imagine my surprise when, a few miles later, I reached down and discovered that the light switch was in the 'off' position. We had accidentally switched it off when we replaced the bulb, and I had not checked to ensure that it was on. So much for the illusion of alertness!

We arrived at the Holiday Inn at 3.43am, to much clapping and ringing of cowbells. The ride had taken us 71 hours and 43 minutes. We talked for a while with Bruce and Tracey Ingle, the Boston brevet organizers, and then Cindy, Chip's fiancee, drove us home. Pre-dawn lit up the sky by the time Chip and Cindy dropped me off at home.


I slept until lunchtime, and in the afternoon Chip, Cindy, and I took the T to Newton for the post-ride picnic. It was a beautiful sunny day, and riders from both BMB and the quad centuries trickled in all afternoon. We saw Marty and Dena, and Janika and Rob, and Eric, and Ed and Crista and Chuck, and many other cyclists whom we had met on the road. It was good to see everyone back safe.

Chip and Cindy left around 6pm, but I stayed on into the evening to soak up the atmosphere. Bob and his homemade frame crossed the finish line around 8pm, 88 hours after the start. His button-down shirt, of course, was still impeccable.

As I write this, four days have passed since the end of the ride. I have some lingering loss of sensitivity in my right pinky, and my toes are still a little numb, also. My feet took a major beating on New England's rough pavement: the swelling did not subside for two days. I might not ride this weekend to give the toes a chance to recover, but otherwise I can't wait to get back on the bike. (I have, of course, been commuting to work by bicycle, but it's a short commute, so it doesn't really count.)

With the exception of my numb feet, everything about my BMB experience---the beautiful terrain, the ever-changing weather, the friendliness of the checkpoint volunteers and other cyclists---was fantastic. I will ride it again some day. But maybe not next year: I hear rumors about London-Edinburgh-London, LEL 2005.