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Long Distance Cycling::Boston-Montreal-Boston, 1997

Boston-Montreal-Boston is a 750 mile bike ride, to be completed in 90 hours (3-3/4 days). It's held almost every year, and 100 - 150 people attend. In addition to the 90 hour time limit, the course also has 11 checkpoints. Each checkpoint has a closing time, and you have to reach the checkpoints by this closing time or you are disqualified. Checkpoints average about 65 miles apart, have food, showers, a masseuse, and a place to lie down for a nap. The game, for me, was to organize my ride to get to the checkpoints with enough time to sleep. At the end of each day, I wanted to arrive at a checkpoint with 6 hours to spare, so that I could sleep for 4 hours and still have 2 hours of slop, to account for circumstances (bike problems, rain, getting lost...)

The course starts in a suburb of Boston (Newton), travels north west through Massachusetts, clips New Hampshire, heads north through Vermont and the Green Mountains, skirts along Lake Champlain, clips New York, then goes 50 miles into Canada to a suburb of Montreal. Then you turn around and come back exactly the way you came. The first third of the course is very hilly, with about 15,000 ft of climbing. The middle third (past Lake Champlain, into Montreal and back) is dead flat.

My goal was to ride most of the hills the first day (237 miles). The second I would do the flat section (244 miles). The third day I would do 2/3 of the hills again (155) and finish up with a 115 mile ride on Sunday. I assumed that my fastest days would be the first two and I would slow down considerably by day 4.

100 or so of us started at 4 AM on Thurs. Aug 14 (only 10 women started, and 1/2 of them were on tandems). I had hoped to ride with 4 guys from the Davis bike club, but this was iffy since they ride just enough faster than me that i might not be able to keep up. My goals for the first day were to finish by 12:30 AM and to find some people to ride with. Once we got away from the Boston suburbs, the scenery was glorious. The roads were in okay condition, but often the shoulder was very narrow, making it difficult to talk and socialize. I didn't really realize how much the extra weight on my bike (lighting, rain gear, extra warm clothes) would effect my speed. But I needed everything I brought—the first evening the temperature plummeted, and I put on every piece of clothing I had.

I rode with half a dozen people the first day, in particular, Gerry, Russ and Bernie. They all live in the Boston area, and Gerry, at 58, had done the course twice before. This day went very well for me, and I was really glad I'd done the Terrible Two ride in June. The downhills were really fun -- usually I'm a slow, nervous descender, but the downhills in Vermont are straight and not at all technical, so i went at speeds I'd never gone before. I got to quite like the yellow sign with the truck on a triangle at the top of a hill!

I was in and out of the checkpoints in less than 20 minutes, and I arrived at mile 236 way ahead of schedule, before 11 PM. I quickly showered, ate, and went to sleep for 4 hours.

My goal for the second day was to finish by midnight, after starting about 4 AM. I thought this would be my hardest day—I don't like flat riding (really boring), and knew I would have to find a paceline to ride in to make the day tolerable. The first 35 miles were lots of steep short hills and I oscillated between 6 mph and 30 mph, which was really grim after a while. The 50 miles to the next checkpoint in Rouses Pt, NY were flat, around Lake Champlain. I rode this section alone, and when I reached the checkpoint, I was almost weeping with fatigue. Eating 2 bowls of cereal didn't help, lying down for 10 minutes didn't help, and then I saw the massage table. After a 15 minute leg massage, I was a new person. Then Gerry, Bernie and Russ showed up with another guy Patrick. I waited for them to tank up, and we set off for Montreal. Gerry grew up in Quincy, Mass, home of Dunken Donuts; in highschool, he worked for the guy who started Dunken Donuts. There are Dunken Donuts on almost every corner in Massachusetts, and when we passed one outside Montreal, Gerry insisted on stopping. We pacelined into and out of Montreal, cheering as we started back home. A headwind slowed us down, and when we reached Rouses Pt, it was just getting dark and starting to sprinkle.

Patrick had a broken spoke (his 3rd or 4th) a mile outside Rouses Pt, so we waited a bit longer than we intended at the checkpoint getting that fixed. But off we went in our rain gear for the 50 mile ride to our hotel. This was the section along Lake Champlain. The headwind got stronger, the rain got harder. Thankfully the night was warm. Patrick had a flat after about 10 miles, and it turns out he doesn't know how to change a tube, so this took a while to fix. I got my only real injury here—I inflated his tube with a CO2 cartridge, and the cartridge stuck to my pinky giving me a second degree burn. We went over a bridge over the lake where the cross wind was so bad that I thought I was riding at a 45 degree angle. When Patrick got yet another flat, and Russ and Bernie were standing around shivering & grumpy, I said that we should abandon Pat, find a phone and call the ride support to come get him. We finally arrived at the hotel at 2:50 AM. I took a shower and hopped into bed and was asleep by 3:10. Turns out Pat got into the hotel about 4:30 AM.

After 4 hours of sleep and a hot breakfast of french toast, we started off again, into the headwind, at 7:45. My schedule had me starting this day at 5 AM and finishing at 8:30 PM, but that wasn't to be. This third day I rode 155 miles, arriving about midnight at the checkpoint. I felt much much better than Friday, and was climbing as strongly as Thursday. The headwind lasted about 85 miles, and there were flat sections where we could only go 6 or 8 mph. Then we rode the last 40 or so miles in the dark and light rain. Dark and rain are infinitely better than headwind! There was lots and lots of lightning, which we don't have in California. The thunder was minimal, so we figured we could keep going because the storm was far away. Finally the rain stopped and the almost full moon lit the way for us. Patrick continued to have mechanical problems, so we didn't ride with him most of the day. When we arrived at the checkpoint where we would sleep, my back and arms were really sore, but a quick massage fixed that. Bernie and Russ and I wanted 4 hours of sleep again, although Gerry was dubious it was a good idea. We convinced him to get up at 5:30 and have a hot breakfast at 6.

Day Four. I met my 4 friends from the Davis club leaving the checkpoint at 6 AM. Larry asked if i wanted to ride with them, saying he thought they'd be in by about 2 PM (after doing 115 miles). I laughed and said i didn't expect to arrive until 5 PM, as try as i might, my average speed wasn't going to top much over 10 mph. So they set off and Gerry & I got pancakes to fuel us down the road. We arrived at the last checkpoint 78 miles from the finish about 10:15 AM. Waiting for us was a friend of Gerry's who would ride with us to the finish. Gerry's backside was bothering him and he was having a lot of trouble sitting, so the friend told us jokes and cheered him up, making the ride much more enjoyable. I was on empty by this point, and every 90 minutes or so had to stop to eat an entire meal—sandwich, chips, 2 sodas, banana. One place I sucked down a root beer float in about 2 minutes. We finally got a tailwind for this last 78 miles, and the terrain is generally down with very gentle rollers. The last 25 miles I averaged about 16 mph—Bernie and Russ and I were passed by 2 people from the midwest flatlands who were on terrain they loved, so we latched on to them for a while.

I lost Bernie and Russ with about 15 miles to go, but I had ridden this part of the course when I arrived in Massachusetts, so it was familiar. I was riding as hard as I could, literally smelling the hotel and finish line. As I entered the parking lot, Elinor from the bike club as standing on the side with her camera, cheering. I rounded a corner and people were cheering and clapping, and all my friends from Davis were hugging me and helping me off my bike. Whew! I finished in 85 hours, 35 minutes.

Of the 102 riders that started, 72 finished. The oldest was a 71 year old pipe smoking brit, with a heavy bike, miserable lights, and sneakers. A 25-year old set the course record, at 50 hrs 1 min. Rich, from the Davis club, finished 4th at 55 hr 40 min. The last rider was one of the Davis riders, Bob Weiss; he finished at 89 hr 48 min. He commented that he miscalculated by 12 minutes—he wanted to come in exactly at 90 hrs. My 4 friends from the Davis club who thought they'd finish at 2 PM finished 30 minutes before me at 5 PM. Patrick continued to have mechanical problems and got very little sleep, but managed to finish in 87 hours. Bernie, Russ and Gerry all finished about the same time I did; I can still hear their broad New England accents, yelling out "Caaaaar back" as we rode along.

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