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Bon Ton Roulet, 2001

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July 22-28, 2001 
Finger Lakes - New York
292 Miles (but I think my odometer is wrong - so probably 5% more)



"Bon Ton Roulet" is French for, "Good Times Roll" (as in "Let the...") which may be a nod to the number of wineries along the route, or just an attempt at a cute name that does not involve stringing together an absurd number of linguistically awkward letters (such as RAGBRAI, GOBA, GRABAAWR, OATBRAN, and countless others.)

This is the 5th year that the BTR has been run, and it was in some ways clear that all the bugs have not been shaken out yet.  In general, it was a well run tour and the number of things they got right by far exceeded the small glitches we encountered.  In each of the five years this tour has been run, largely a different route through the Finger Lakes has been taken.  After this year, the plan is to evaluate each of the routes, modify them as needed, and recycle (no pun intended) them in subsequent years.

The official website for the Bon Ton Roulet is at http://www.bontonroulet.com . At the time we registered for this tour (Spring 2001) it was noteworthy that there was no confirmation email to let us know that our registration was accepted.  Snail-mail confirmation came months later.  Those leery of online shopping in general may find themselves more comfortable with a snail-mail registration.

Another noteworthy item from the website (and printed tour) is that the  route map specifically lists "Day 1 - 50 miles, Day 2 - 50 miles, Day 3 - 50 miles, Day 4 - 50 miles, Day 5 - 46 or 100 miles, Day 6 - 50 miles, Day 7 - 50 miles."  Now, I was pretty skeptical that they could make every day amount to exactly 50 miles, but they'd also made a point of listing one day as 46 miles, so I thought maybe it was possible.  It turned out that these were really ballpark estimates.  On the one day that was much more than that (nearly 70 miles), we heard many complaints from people who thought they should be more clear up front about the longest days.  A fair request, in my mind.

Our buddy, Glenn Hughes, arrived Friday night having driven in from Kansas with his RANS recumbent in the bed of his truck.  We met Glenn on The Great Peanut Tour last year, and over the winter decided to ride again together on this tour.  Lest you trivialize the drive from Kansas to Pennsylvania, you should know that after the BTR, Glenn is driving back to Kansas - spending 3-4 days, and then driving to Maine for the Moose Tour.

Friday night, a representative from the BTR called to let us know that the bus tour we'd signed up for in Watkins Glen was cancelled due to poor turnout.  There were several side-trips offered in conjunction with the bike tour, but the rider packet we received in the mail didn't really make it clear that they needed to be registered for in advance.  We almost missed that note - as did many others.  I suspect many people assumed they'd sign up when they were there.  The same applied to ride T-shirts and jersey's which had to be bought in advance.  I believe they could have sold many more had they had them available during the ride.

On Saturday morning, we all drove up to Auburn, NY to Cayuga Community College, where our adventure begins.

Saturday, July 21, 2001

We arrived in Auburn midday, registered, and were directed to camp in the Nature Trail behind the school parking lot.  We were asked to put stickers with our name and number on our helmet, and bands on our wrists (color coded to distinguish vegetarians from carnivores), bikes, and luggage to identify us and our stuff.  It was a little like being branded - especially the number on the helmet which we feared would never come off.

We pitched our tents on the hillside, and drove into downtown Auburn for lunch.  The town has the look of so many towns that are past their prime.  It did not feel dangerous or unclean - just eerie and abandoned.  We drove around for awhile trying to find a place for a late lunch / early dinner, but almost everything was either a smoky bar, or closed.  About to abandon hope, we took one last drive down Genessee street (where the famed brewery of the same name is, we think) and found a cafe with tables outside - Parker's.  Parker's had a unique menu of usual fare - salads, sandwiches, burgers, and the like.  It was a crisp and sunny day, and we enjoyed sitting outside and watching the townsfolk and quite a few cyclists come by.  The food was pretty good, too.

Returning to the school, we saw that more cyclists had arrived, and more tents were coloring the fields.  We went for a walk along the extensive nature trail and were surprised to find that it wound around for a considerable distance, branching off into several other trails.  We noted that while most of the cyclists chose to camp near the beginning of the trail, some walked quite a distance to find secluded sites.

Back near the school, we wandered aimlessly - watching people set up, chatting, and checking out their bikes.  It seemed like every tenth bike was a carbon trek, about half of those being the Lance Armstrong specials.  There were a good number of recumbents, a few tandems, and - given the expected mileage and terrain - a surprising number of mountain bikes and low end bikes.  I was personally pleased to note that there were quite a few Serotta's (although none just like mine) - they're made in New York, you know.

There were a few tricycles and custom bikes as well.  One fellow was riding a quadracycle which allowed traditional pedaling with the legs in addition to hand-cranks.  The rider was not disabled - he just felt that his arms were idle when he was climbing hills, and this allowed him to put them to work,  There was another fellow on a tricycle who was clearly disabled.  He walked extremely slowly with an awkward gait and diminished balance.  He spoke slowly and with difficulty.  We never did find out his whole story, but he was out there riding every day.  And he finished every day.  When I got cocky - I remembered him.

There was a guy on a Bike-E that had an astonishing array of stuff hanging from his helmet.  It looked like flannel sheets, oxford shirt sleeves, and who knows what else.  Maybe he was trying to win the Helmet Decorating Contest on the last night.  His assortment of stuff appeared to completly block his peripheral vision, and when we saw him downtown cut across three lanes of fast moving traffic and very nearly cause a huge pileup, we all made mental notes to watch out for him.  A few days later, we heard he was very nearly a hood ornament for a garbage truck. On the first day, he added some foliage to his helmet.   On the last day, he added a laundry detergent bottle, but still didn't win the helmet decorating contest.  We called him, "Blinder Guy."  

As the sun descended, we went back to our tent-city.  We were close enough to several other tents that we could hear their conversations whether we wanted to or not.  A husband and wife couple camped very near us seemed to be particularly restless.  It appeared that the husband was an experienced bike tourist, and the wife may have been out for the first time.  They bickered about everything.  He was constantly  telling his wife how to do things (because obviously he knew and she didn't), and she snapped back every time.  Their tension increased rapidly.  At one point, she was trying to solve a problem and he advised her on what to do.  She didn't.  Frustrated, he asked, "Why don't you do it like I told you?"  She replied, angrily, "Because I don't like being told what to do."  I thought I heard every person in the area silently thinking, "Amen."  I was probably not alone in hoping that they would find ways to turn their energy into bicycle-fuel.  Until we learned his name several days later, we called him, "Crabby Guy."

Sunday, July 22 

45 miles

We all gathered early in the school cafeteria for an adequate breakfast, loaded our luggage onto the trucks, and gathered by the band shell for an 8:00 AM kickoff.  With a brief speech from the tour director, and the mayor of Auburn, we were off.  We were told we were 363 riders, representing 39 states and Canada.

We started off as a crowded mass of bicyclists, but over the next many miles we spread out some.  We were never out of sight of other cyclists and enjoyed the camaraderie.  The first rest stop was at a one room school house and church.  We enjoyed the high energy snacks and fresh fruit before hitting the road again.  The terrain was gently rolling hills, through farm lands and sleepy communities.  Early on a Sunday morning, there was little traffic.

We stopped briefly at Martin's Honey Farm (winery), tasted some semi-sweet mead, and continued on.  The second rest stop was at the Sterling Renaissance Festival, where we got free admission by showing our BTR wrist bands (usually $14).  We'd never been to a Renaissance festival, but we enjoyed the venues such as Tomato Justice (basically, pay money to launch tomatoes at a heckling jester), jousting, elephant rides, theatre venues, strength contests (to which the heckler yelled at Jeff, "hey if I were wearing lycra shorts I'd want to prove my strength.") and other oddities.  We enjoyed that, in addition to all the well endowed women in period costumes.  It was a fun experience, and I'll probably never pay $14 of my own money to do it again.

As the day grew later, we returned to our bikes and hit the road for the last 7 miles.  The gentle hills of the morning had given us a false sense of security.  The last 7 miles were what I generally refer to as "pukers" - largish hills following a meal.  Several people commented later that they wouldn't have eaten so much (or drank so much) at the festival if they knew how hard those last 7 miles would be.  As far as I know, nobody actually vomited, though.  The general rule on hills in this region, by the way, is that they are gentler when traveling north-south, and bigger when traveling east-west.  Thus far, it had proven true.

Amid some confusion, we arrived at Fair Haven State Park on Lake Ontario.  We never did find the actual entrance to the park, and followed the lead of some other cyclists as we walked through an opening in the fence to get in.  We pitched our tent, and walked up to find the shower truck that wasn't yet there.  We were told that it would arrive after 4, and it actually arrived after 5 - and then took several hours to setup.  The showers at the park were rumored to be strictly icy, and we decided to cool (and marginally clean) our bodies in Lake Ontario.  We walked over to the beach, and when I dipped my toe in the frigid water - I wasn't sure I had the fortitude to sustain such a chill.  Glenn walked out pretty far and raised the bar for Jeff and I.  Jeff was first to dunk his head.  Pretty soon, we were all wet.  And cold.  

We ate a nice dinner, and - anticipating long lines later on - assumed that there would be no showers for us that evening.  After dinner, we were pleased to find that the shower truck was setup and had no line.  We rushed back to the tent, gathered our toiletries, and enjoyed nice warm showers.  This was my first experience with a shower truck.  It's a semi tractor trailer, where the trailer has been split into 3 sections.  The first and smallest is a maintenance area where water from a fire hydrant is warmed to a nice temperature quite quickly - we never ran out of hot water.  The last 2 sections are for men and women.  Each of those sections has 6 small but adequate showers, and a shared dressing area.  Having been on other tours where there were long lines for cold showers, I can't praise the shower truck enough.  I never took a cold shower, and never had to wait on a line more than 1 person deep.

The remainder of the evening was spent listening to a really (really) bad band.  The band was so bad, in fact, that one person quit the tour because of it and demanded to be shuttled back to the start.  Well, actually, as far as I could tell, she was just a bomb waiting to go off, anyway - and the band had little to do with it.

Monday, July 23 

68 miles

Shortly after 5 AM, Jeff unzipped the tent to visit the porta-potty.  The sound of his zipper flying up the track made a loud zzzzppp that resonated through tent-city and created a wave of stirring cyclists that woke the whole group.  At least, that's how it sounded to me.

The day started like the prior one ended - with some fairly large rolling hills through quiet orchards, vineyards, and farm lands.  Over the hills, the group got pretty spread out and it was quite common to ride for awhile without seeing other cyclists - but eventually we'd crest a hill or come around a bend and see some of our clan.  We were not alone.  After the first rest stop at a country store, the road got a little flatter.  We followed the route to Sodus Point to a lighthouse, but in hindsight felt that this out and back diversion was not really worth the extra miles and hills that it added.  As the morning wore on, the temperatures and humidity were rising steadily.  It was in the 90s and quite humid.  

The road into Newark was long and un-shaded, with little diversion from the sun.  Jeff dropped back for awhile, and I slowed my pace.  When he caught up, he told me that he'd been sick - vomiting.  We stopped under a shade tree on somebody's lawn, and ate crackers and drank water until he felt strong enough to go on.  We crawled into town - overexposed to the sun, and with Jeff cold, sweaty, and still nauseous.    The large restaurant on the corner (with its own bike rack) had about 100 bicycles propped up against it, and we heard a rumor that the waitresses were flustered by the large crowd.  We went off the route a little to Pontillo's Pizza where we each had sandwiches and veritable swimming pools of ice water.  The television news declared this officially a heat wave. Word was that it would last another day, and be followed by a strong storm that would drop the temperatures back into the 70s.  Jeff ate about half his sandwich, and after we'd lingered a long time, he felt strong enough to ride at least to the next rest stop a few miles down the road to the second rest stop.  We figured he could take the SAG wagon the remaining distance.

We continued on roads of various density.  Some roads were fairly urban, while others rural farm roads with plenty of livestock (still alive), and badgers and possum (not).  The route took us over 2 steel grate bridges, both of which were unmarked in the cues or on the road.  Both had some big holes in them that could easily catch a tire and cause serious problems.  We grumbled that the cues should include that information, and also that the overall mileage was wrong for the day with pretty much everybody registering significantly more miles than the cues indicated.  Some of the roads had nice wide shoulders for us to ride on, and some had no shoulder or numerous potholes.

When we reached the rest stop, the SAG truck wasn't there.  We ate a little fruit, drank more water and Gatorade, and decided we would take it slow for the remaining miles.  Jeff was obviously quite weak, but refused to stop.  I think if the SAG wagon had come along, he would have taken a ride in a second, but the opportunity never presented itself.   Fortunately, the last 15 miles were predominately downhill.  Eventually, we crawled into the American Legion in Geneva - on the shore of Seneca Lake.

We found a partially shaded spot for our tent wedged between Crabby Guy and a couple on a custom Bilenky red, white and blue tandem who later identified themselves as Allen (or Alan) and Dawn.  We'd seen these two riding early in the day, and were impressed with their coordination and smoothness on their tandem.  We learned that this was the last of several tandems they've owned, and the secret of their success:  Dawn never rode a bike before.  She picked up all of Allen's habits.  We later learned that they're both police officers in the Baltimore, Maryland area.  Crabby Guy was apparently taking advantage of the "1 beer -1 dollar, 3 beers - 2 dollars" offer at the information tent, and he was lying in the grass singing.  His wife was nowhere to be found.  We thought we might need to rename him.

Tent city was a large field littered with tents, bicycles, and clothes lines.  Undergarments were boldly hanging in trees, from tent poles, and across bicycles.  In other words, we all made ourselves comfortable.  

After a nice dinner, we relaxed in the grass and enjoyed Symphonic Steel - a high school steel band.  They were very good, and played an assortment of tunes including Pachelbel's Canon in D (a favorite of mine), Wipeout, Funiculi-Funicula, In The Mood, New York, New York, and others.  Jeff ate lightly at dinner, and was feeling somewhat better.  We were all tired, but content.

Tuesday, July 24 

45 miles

The first thing we noticed when the cue sheets for the day were distributed, was that the first rest stop was at mile 2.2.  We all pretty much felt that this was outrageous.  They'd promised us 2 rest stops per day, but to make one only 2 miles out was nearly akin to not having it at all.  It was only through whisper down the alley that we learned that it was really at mile 18 (and when we rode it, it was actually at mile 15).

Jeff ate a very light breakfast and claimed he was still feeling sick but well enough to ride.  We started slow on some pretty big hills.  I was riding behind Jeff when I heard a loud pop coming from his bike.  I looked down at his rear wheel expecting it to go flat, but it didn't.  It was a little out of true, but I figured it was a pre-existing condition and soon forgot about it.  Jeff was really suffering on the hills, and we stopped in the shade at the top of one of them to rest.  There was a miniature horse farm with probably 50 miniature horses of all colors and sizes (but all small).  Also a few goats.  A chestnut with a big blaze came over, and seemed quite pleased when I identified and rubbed his itchy spot - on the withers.

When Jeff got back on his bike, he realized that the pop we'd heard before was the breaking of a spoke.  His wheel was barely turning at all.  So - on top of feeling lousy, he'd been fighting against his bike (as if he'd had the brakes on) for the last many miles.  No wonder he was having such a tough time.  The mechanic van (that is not equipped to carry bikes or riders) came by and told us we were just a mile or so from the rest stop and told Jeff to walk.  I rode on ahead and asked that somebody go back to pick him up, and then rode back to him.  The SAG wagon reached him at about the same time I did - just a few hundred feet away.  We walked in together.  The mechanic on duty at the rest stop was able to fix his wheel (with the wrong nipple) for $8, but Jeff and I agreed that he should take the SAG the rest of the distance.  We felt that the day of rest would do him more good than riding in the already sweltering heat.  

While we were at the rest stop, I noted the arrival of the porta-potties.  About half the riders had gone through already (probably relieving themselves in the bushes) so it was a little late for that.

I rode on without Jeff.  It was hot, but the sky was very gray and I was certain that rain was imminent.  I had it in my mind not to dawdle too much - lest I get caught in the storm.  So,  I'd ride with various people for awhile, and when a hill came up, I'd climb faster than them (living in Pennsylvania has some perks in terms of learning to climb well and often). Soon, I'd be alone again.  Then, I'd see another group in the distance and think I'd bridge the gap and ride with them - only to find that when I reached them, I was traveling faster than them - so I'd say "hi" and ride right by.  Alone again.  I rode slowly through the adorable town of Canandiagua, but didn't stop.  Nor did I stop at Arbor Hill Winery, which was slightly off the route (uphill).  

There was a fantastic downhill with great views of the lake on the way to the second rest stop.  At the rest stop I walked out to the lake, and saw a few people wading into it.   I looked to the dark sky and rode on after only a short rest and a chat with fellow I called "Austin Powers" - because he had an English accent and a ... uhm ... groovy style of dress on and off the bike.  There was a ghasper of a hill leaving the rest stop, and I was glad I hadn't eaten more or stopped long enough to stiffen up.

I arrived at Naples High School slightly before noon, to find Jeff making himself useful helping to unload the luggage truck.  

We were camping for the night on the school soccer field.  We were early enough to have our pick of campsites, as long as we didn't want a spot in the shade - those few prized spots were already taken.  We camped within the goal line of the soccer field, partially for the amusement factor (to me), and partially to hang our laundry on the net of the goal.  Anything goes.

We walked into town for lunch, and were considering a walk to a nearby winery but Jeff wasn't feeling up to it.  I indulged myself with a 30 minute massage instead.

Dinner was tasty, but I'd been informed that I'd gotten the last piece of vegetarian lasagna  - which meant that all vegetarians after me were probably pretty irate (and hungry).  Apparently, the student's dishing it out were unknowingly indiscriminately distributing the meat and the veggie lasagna.  The cafeteria was unbearably hot, and we took our trays outside and ate in the grass next to BJ and Kent Prizer.  They thought we looked familiar (and vice versa). After a little talking, we realized that they have season tickets at the Lehigh Valley Velodrome just a few rows behind us.  We chatted with them for a long while.

After dinner, we walked down to listen to a pretty good bluegrass band.  The sky was clearing but it was still very hot.  We decided to take a chance and sleep without our rain fly.  

In the morning, we were soaked with dew.

Wednesday, July 25

49 miles

After breakfast, Jeff vomited twice, and it was clear that he wasn't riding.  He made arrangements to have the SAG take him, and I went out without him.

The terrain was difficult with  several long rolling hills.  2 miles up.  2 miles down.  3 miles up, 3 miles down.  All day long.  The climbs were challenging, and the descents were a rollicking good time - often with nice views.  I was told later that we climbed 5700 feet (and descended almost as much.)  The first rest stop was a few miles earlier than it was listed in the cues, but since nearly all of the first 10 miles were uphill, I was glad for it.  I'd be lying if I said I wasn't wishing for some lower gearing.

I rode past the Heron Hill Winery with the intention of stopping at Bully Hill Winery just a little further down the road.  I'd been told that Bully Hill featured some neat artwork in its museum, and it appealed to me more.  I knew the winery was just off the route, but I saw no signs for it, and was unwilling to explore randomly.  I was later told that it was up an nearly impossible steep hill - so maybe I was lucky to have missed it.

I walked through the cute town of Hammondsport, bought Jeff some Pepto-Bismol (which he didn't take) and continued on in the hills.  For awhile in the middle of the ride, the route followed a ridge along side Keuke Lake, and offered wonderful views of the lush green mountains descending in to the lake.  It was a clear day, and the views were stunning.

In anticipation of  rest stop 2, I drank nearly all of my water, and then was disheartened to not find it.  I believe I was too early for it - and it wasn't setup yet.  Instead, I stopped on the steps of a church, ate a Power Bar, and eavesdropped on a family across the street as they discussed (with their 10 or so children) Jerry Springer and Bubba-The-Cat.

I was riding alone at mile 38.6 when and looking for a 'bear left" cue at 38.7.  I never saw it.  I kept on straight up a huge hill, all the while wondering if I'd have to ride back down it because  I was lost. There were no confirmation marks in the road, and no other riders around to ask.  Many after me had the same concerns.  Nearly 5 miles later,  the turn that was supposed to be .1 miles away appeared.  I was relieved, but also mistrusting the cues.

I learned later that a guy (who looked surprisingly like Jeff's younger brother, so we referred to him a "The Eric Guy") rode to the top of that hill - and decided it was so steep and long that he wanted to see how fast he could descend it - so he rode back down from where he came.  When his Colnago reached 57 MPH, it started to shimmy.  He applied the brakes, and it really got rough.  Certain that this was how it would end for him, he put his knees to his top tube, shifted his weight, and somehow managed to regain control.  Then - he turned around and climbed up the hill again.

The last few miles into Watkins Glen were a fabulous downhill, with great views.  I rolled into Watkins Glen and Clute Memorial Park at around 11:15 and saw less than 5 other cyclists there before me.  Jeff wasn't there yet, and neither was the luggage truck.  I filled my water bottle, chose a primo camp site (in the shade) and lay there - sprawled - until they arrived.  

Jeff looked somewhat better, and again helped to unload the luggage truck.  After showering, we reserved a site for Glenn, gathered laundry and walked a mile or so downtown.  We found a laundromat, put our stinky clothes in the wash, and walked to the Franklin Street Grill.  I thoroughly enjoyed my roasted red pepper sandwich, and the fried pickle which came with it.  I'd never had a fried pickle, and probably never will again - but I can tell you that at that moment, it was pretty darned good.  After lunch, we moved our clothes to the dryer and walked through town some more.  The reading on the bank thermometer in town ranged from 97 to 100 degrees.

We overheard Crabby Guy bragging how he left his wife in Hammondsport and told her to take the SAG or not - he didn't care.

Dinner in the community center featured a fabulous array of vegetarian Mexican stuff (apparently the barbeque chicken was also good) tablecloths, flowers on the tables, a raffle, and friendly Rotary Club staff smiling at us.  It was nice.

After dinner, we walked downtown for ice cream (Jeff and Glenn rival each other as addicts of this sweet drug), then returned to camp to thoroughly enjoy the music of the Boogie-Woogie girls (of Company B) playing swing and World War II music.  The couple we called, "Hippy Couple" started dancing, and others followed.  As we returned to our tent, it was drizzling.

Thursday, July 26

0 miles

Today was what we referred to as the "rest day" or "layover day."  This was the only day that the day's ride would end where it started.  We had the option of riding 46 miles, 100 miles (century), or just staying put.  We chose the latter.

It rained through the night, and the temperatures dropped quite a bit.  I believe our tent - Mountain Hardware Horizon 3 - is waterproof, but there are buckles on the side to adjust the tension of the rainfly, and I'd inadvertently left them loose.  The result of this was that a puddle of rain was allowed to form on the top of the tent, saturate the material, and slowly drip through almost as condensation.  Several times in the night, I'd realized I was wet and dreamt that I got up and cinched down the fly.  Unfortunately, I didn't actually wake up to do it until nearly 4:00 AM, and so we got pretty wet.  

At breakfast, a few hearty souls were dressed to ride despite the rain.  I was just glad that it was a rest day.  We learned later that somewhere between 5 and 12 riders rode the century, with a few more riding the shorter route.  Kent was so anxious at the thought of not riding that he went for a run.  Glenn, Jeff and I walked into town (past the Laundromat that was now brimming with cyclists - yeah, we felt smug) to the Gorge at Watkins Glen State Park.   The thermometer in town read 64 degrees.  36 fewer than the afternoon before.

The beautiful canyon and waterfalls were flanked by hundreds of steep steps to get to the summit, making the Gorge Trail no walk in the park.  The rain quit shortly after we left, and by the time we finished hiking the skies were clearing in earnest.   We saw plenty of other cyclists hiking the Gorge and in town, and even without the wrist bands, they were mostly immediately identifiable.  Generally, we were wearing garish fluorescent jackets, socks with sandals, fanny packs, lycra, rain pants, convertible cargo pants, bandana's or hats on our heads, wraparound sun glasses (often with rearview mirrors mounted on them), odd tan lines, and 3 day beards (for the men).  We were also - proudly - recognizable by our leg muscles.

In the afternoon, we went for a 2 hour cruise on the the vessel Columbia with Captain Bill's Seneca Lake Cruise.  This was a "wine and cheese" charter put on by the BTR that we had to pay for separately (and although it was a Wine and Cheese cruise, only the cheese was included in the price).  We sat with a bunch of people we hadn't really talked to before including a women we called, "Julienne Potato" because she'd been suckered into performing at the Renaissance Festival a few days earlier and that was her character name.  We never did get her real name.  Crabby Guy joined us, and he was a real hoot.  Very funny and nice, despite the nickname we gave him (and kept).

Dinner was not as good as the previous night, but not offensive either.  Afterwards, we enjoyed the music of a very good rock-country band, Tailor Made.


Friday, July 27

50 miles

It was very cold overnight, and in contrast to the previous nights where I didn't even sleep in my sleeping bag - I wore thermals and wool socks.  In the morning, I found it hard to part with my warm socks to ride.

Jeff was finally feeling better, and anxious to ride.  We started with a long climb (which was visible from the campground, and taunted us for the prior 2 days).  I was worried Jeff would be hurting, but to my delight, he took the lead and hammered up the hill.  I was right behind him, grinning ear to ear.  He was back.  The morning continued with several long ups and downs.  Early on, we made a turn that was marked on the road but not the cues.  I was really mistrusting the cues now, again.  We passed the mile for the rest stop, but saw no sign of it or the park where it was supposed to be.  There was a turn on the cues that none of us saw, either.  Of course, there were no confirmation marks on the road, either.  All along the roadway were stopped cyclists trying to figure out where we were.  After conferring with other cyclists and a map, we continued on.  4 miles after the expected cue, we saw the entrance  to the park - but the road marks were clear that we should continue on.  What did that mean?  We continued on down a tremendous downhill with really fun S curves, but couldn't help worrying when we saw a few cyclists coming back up. At the bottom - nearly 10 miles late - was the rest stop.  A rumor circulated at the rest stop that we had to go back up that hill, and I was outright pissed.  I pulled out my map, and decided it couldn't be true - and I was right - we didn't have to ride back up.  

We rode into Ithica and walked through the commons and Cornell University.  Coming out of town, there was a hill by the Gorge that was marked in the cues as "Steep - Ride it if you can."  The cues generally didn't offer that sort of advice, so we knew it was a serious climb.  We were riding with Kent and BJ when we came  around a corner and saw the mammoth hill.  It was straight up and had switchbacks.  I was in my lowest gear and out of the saddle, wheezing for air.  So was Jeff.  We all made it without walking, and felt pretty good about it.  Many people walked that hill.  At the top of the hill, we crossed two bridges that offered fabulous views of the gorge.  We could really appreciate the altitude we'd gained.  

I remember reading some time ago that Cornell University had the highest rate of successful suicides among students at American universities.  It was not that more attempted, but that the nearby gorge made those who tried more successful.  I had forgotten that until I saw the high cliffs of the gorge - and then I was haunted by it.  The cliffs were certainly high enough and rugged enough.  But it was life - not death - that they reminded me of.

After that, things flattened out some.  It was warm enough that I shed my long sleeved shirt.  At the second rest stop, they played Polkas for us as we ate fresh fruit and shelled peanuts (pretty much all the rest stops had the same stuff, but the fresh melons, oranges, and bananas were really nice every time.)  We were told that the last big hill for the trip was behind us.  The wind picked up (or our direction to it was now "into"), and we tucked behind a tandem for shelter.  Mostly, we relaxed as we rode along the ridge for awhile, and then enjoyed a subtle downhill into the congested streets of Cortland.

In town, we camped in the courtyard of the town square  between the courthouse, police station, and other government buildings.  We were wide open in the middle of town, and quite a spectacle.  We arrived before the luggage trucks were unloaded, and again Jeff helped.  When he got to our bag, I setup the tent and reserved a spot for Glenn.   Then, we showered and walked downtown.  Downtown Cortland has lots of  historic brick buildings, and cute shops. And bars - lots of bars - probably owing to the nearby university - SUNY Cortland.  We ate exotic pizza (ex:  spinach and feta) in town, and walked back to the courthouse as Glenn was arriving.

Dinner was an institutional affair at a government building.  It was fairly unappetizing to me, but I'd eaten pizza not long before and didn't really care.  Afterwards, we walked downtown to Bald Lucy's where the BTR party was (the information board boasted "Free Beer," so we expected a big crowd.)  We were early for the crowd, and instead walked to the outskirts of town to find some ice cream.  When we returned, the bar was hopping, giving new meaning to the phrase, "biker bar."  We hung out there for awhile, before returning to our tents.

Evidence that people drank too much:  (1) some drunk wandered through tent city at 3:00 AM - singing.  Either it was a wino or a cyclist.  (2) When I awoke in the middle of the night to use the porta-potty, there was a line.

Saturday, July 28

35 miles

It was a cool but clear morning, and slightly warmer than the day before.   

The mood was jovial and relaxed - nobody was really pushing hard as we cruised through gentle rolling hills and beautiful countryside.  We passed some road kill where somebody - no doubt a cyclist - had placed a fork, knife, and a glass of water. With the hills behind us, it was time to be silly.

The rest stop - which was several miles past the cue - at the Skaneatales (scan-e-at-a-less) overlook, offered tremendous views of the lake of the same name.  Then, we rode on to the town of Skaneatales itself.  The easy terrain and short distance kept us less spread out than previous days.  The cyclists arrived practically all at once (or at least within an hour or so).  Bicycles could be seen propped up against every solid object and on the grass. 

When Glenn arrived, we walked through town and through a boat show that featured many small boats from the 20s through the 60s, and some reproductions.  There was a 17 foot Chris-Craft from 1959 that looked like my memory of my dad's boat in my youth - Strutin High.

Finally, we rode the remaining (and slightly hillier) miles back to Auburn.

In the parking lot, Glenn let me ride his recumbent.  In the time I took, I didn't really get the hang of it.  It's a whole new world in terms of balance and steering, and being watched as I rode made me nervous.  Still, it's a curiosity to me, that I'll probably explore further another time.  It was pretty neat.  Of course, not "getting it' probably saved me at least $1000 - the price of buying my own.

We said goodbye to Glenn (who we hope to see again, sometime), and BJ and Kent (who we'll see nearly every week in velodrome season), and to the countless people who we identified amongst ourselves by the nicknames we gave them.

Then, we drove home.

Sagging the Bon Ton: Off the Bike and into the Fold

Jeff's Secret Journey behind the scene of the Tour

As was mentioned in Tuesday's entry, due to circumstances beyond my control I was forced to take a SAG into Naples, and in doing so caught a rare glimpse into the inner workings of what makes the Bon Ton tick!

I waited at the rest stop for the next SAG van, and within moments one arrived. An efficient bunch these Bon Ton faithful. Each with their task, constantly communicating, able to switch gears at a moment's notice, much like we cyclists as we struggle and adjust to make another ascent. It was soon decided that my bike would be loaded on the rear rack of the van, and we would depart in  15 - 20 minutes. All was well, and I was content knowing I had a ride. I sat back and watched the workings of the rest stop: large water coolers being refilled, fruit being sliced, juice mix being measured out, bikes being repaired and quickly put back on the road. It all hummed, and as each cyclist departed the rest stop, they were relieved and refueled, not knowing what efforts made it all possible.

Back to my ride. After a few moments Luggage Truck #2 arrived at the stop to check on everything. Soon after  his arrival it was determined that I would move my bike to his "bike trailer" and ride in his Ryder truck. The captain of this vessel would become a friend of mine over the next few days, and at the moment seemed like a savior! The driver was Bob and his co-captain his dog Dugan. Bob is a fireman who like many of the other staff members gives up a week of his vacation every year to help with this tour. Dugan is a lovable 9 year old Golden Retriever. As we began our journey Dugan settled in under my legs and began licking the salty sweat that now covered my legs. We were off!

Bob introduced himself and began telling me about himself, the tour, and the area. It was informative.. As we drove our box truck down the road we were towing a home-made 8 ft x 16 ft bike trailer rigged by the bike mechanic with multiple bike racks arranged to carry many stranded bikes when called into action. We wound our way along the route passing cyclists, and always watching for a "thumbs down" sign for help. As we traced the route and followed the cues we struggled with discrepancies in markings and distances, just as the cyclists did. Without a sign of another stranded cyclist we eventually found our way to camp, Naples High School.

Luggage Truck #1 was already unloaded and a few cyclists had already arrived and were choosing their campsites. We pulled up to the information trailer and began our "unload". We first detached the bike trailer, then began supplying the information trailer with tables, chairs, beverages, message boards, and an array of ice chests filled with everything from Coke to Coors Light. Soon the incidentals were out of the way, and it was time to unload our primary payload: luggage. Bob pulled the truck in alongside the other luggage already unloaded in neat rows across the soccer field. We began at one end and meticulously unloaded into two rows of two bags each until the truck was empty. I said goodbye to my temporary riding mates and set out for a campsite and shower, awaiting the arrival of Wendy.

Wednesday was worse for me, and after eating and immediately losing breakfast, Wendy and I determined another day of SAG was best. I rejoined my new friends and helped with the loading of the trucks, in reverse of yesterday's unload. Today's journey would be a little different, as many had chosen the SAG and our bike trailer was full. Rides were arranged for all SAGed cyclists and Bob, Dugan, and I headed out with one other passenger.

We headed a caravan of tour vehicles, and wound along the cued route with care, continuing our vigil of waiting for a thumb. Today's route was big on hills, and not only did the cyclists struggle, but so did our truck, creeping up one hill at less than 7 miles per hour. I read cues for Bob and we watched for road markings, cyclists, and obstacles as we meandered from rest stop to rest stop, through each tiny town. We were to pick up a stranded cyclist in Hammondsport, and managed to find her upon our arrival, but as we circled the block for a space, the SAG vehicle behind had already loaded her and her gear, and were on the road. Another successful SAG by the Bon Ton staff. Even when faced with a distressed rider, there was a double check. What teamwork.

Finally we arrived in Watkins Glen, and finished today's truck tasks, though Bob's tasks were far from done that day. After unloading his truck he immediately jumped into a Suburban Truck complete with bike racks to help SAG more riders off the route. Then he was to stop back at the "designated" wineries and pick up anything Bon Ton cyclists had purchased during today's visits. Imagine that, cyclists ride 50 miles, shop at wineries along the way, and have their wine delivered to them that evening, or carried on to the end of the tour.

Bob's tasks are not uncommon for the Bon Ton Staff. Whether it's coordinating Port-o-Pot deliveries, shower truck arrivals, rest stop personnel, tonight's entertainment, remarking routes, or ANYTHING 400 cyclists might demand on such a trip, this staff is up for the challenge, and will do their best to make your Tour a pleasant one. I am only grateful that I was given a chance to see it for myself and temporarily be welcomed into their fold. I was feeling so much a part of them that I even unloaded the trucks after my day of riding on Friday, and was always greeted by each of them with a smile and a big thanks.

For my glimpse into the workings of the Bon Ton, I commend each man and woman on their silent and often unseen efforts, and am even more appreciative of what they do to make it ever so easy for we cyclists to enjoy such a wonderful tour. Well done. Let those Good Times Roll....

Unsolicited Suggestions 

There are a few tips I'd like to offer to the organizers of the Bon Ton Roulet.  Overall, this was a well run tour, but the difference between good and great is in the details.  Here's what I think you need:

  1. Better cues.  Drive the route and verify the cues.  It's very disconcerting to be on a strange road and have no idea if it's the correct road or not.   Turns and rest stops should be where they are marked on the cues.  Confirmation marks in the road are needed every few miles on long stretches without turns.  

  2. Hazards (steel bridges, stops signs at the bottom of hills, rough roads) should be marked on the cues and in the road where possible.

  3. Medical personnel should be on hand.

  4. More porta-potties at rests stops (the lines got quite long)

  5. Have nightly meetings to discuss the next days rides.  Much information seemed to be disseminated in a "whisper down the alley" fashion.  A nightly roundup would be very helpful.)

  6. Sell T-shirts and registration for the side trips during the ride.  I know that you don't want to be left with extras, or not enough people signed up - but most people don't know what they want until they're there, and I'll bet you can do a fine job of estimating.

  7. If you're going to support people who do not camp, fine-tune the details.  I heard from several people that luggage transportation to the hotels was far from seamless.

  8. Improve the online registration process to include a confirmation email and/or snail-mail.


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