MBM for wimps (Montréal-Burlington-Montréal)

by dhdaines

Almost exactly 10 years ago, I rode BMB.  I always joke that ride should have been named Weston-Huntingdon-Weston, since it’s absolutely silly that it doesn’t actually go anywhere near Montréal.  I remember when I rode it that someone said it doesn’t come here “because the roads are bad and nobody could find a good route”. Horsefeathers! They could have just asked somebody…  Oh well, I suppose Huntingdon needs all the attention it can get.

Last week, some fellow Vélo-Randonneurs rode their own version of it, “MBM: L’anti-défi”, actually going Montréal (well, St-Lambert, but that’s a lot closer than Huntingdon!) to Boston and back.  I didn’t have time for that so I decided to do my own version.  I would go back and take the charming little bike ferry again, ride into Burlington to eat a delicious sandwich at the Onion River Co-op, and come back to Montréal, for a total of 302 km.

The ride is almost entirely flat – as usual, down the 217 and associated roads (rang St-Marc, rang St-Philippe Sud), across the bike path to Lacolle, the 202, the 225, US 2, West Shore Road, US 2, causeway, done!  This time I got off the path in Lacolle instead of following it to the end, which was a good idea, because the pavement on the 202 is better, and there are a couple of stores along it.  Unfortunately the dépanneur only had yesterday’s cheese curds in the fridge, which were pretty awful – though once they had warmed up in my handlebar bag 6 hours later they were almost good as new.

I started out at 5 AM in a light rain – on seeing how wet my shoes were getting after just a block, I stopped to put on shoe covers and a jacket. By the time I got to La Prairie it was dry and I was getting hot, so I took them all off, only to put them back on again in St-Philippe. Finally in Lacolle it looked like the rain was gone for good (it was).  Riding by the lakeshore was incredibly windy, though for the most part it was a crosswind or even slightly behind me – I figured I would come back on US 2 instead to be better sheltered.

The Alburgh-Noyan border crossing was sleepy as usual, with the habitually surly US Customs agent waving me through after briefly getting huffy about my exact destination in Vermont (I thought he wouldn’t believe me if I said Burlington, so I first said “riding on the islands”).  I had decided I wouldn’t stop until I got to the ferry, but forgot that I didn’t have any US cash, so I stopped by the A&B Island Market to buy a drink (no V8 for some reason so I got “coffee milk” which was really tasty!) and get cash back with my debit card and avoid the $5 ATM fee.  The off-bike time was now starting to really pile up with all the clothing changes, and the border… and then I heard a “pssht pssht pssht”… flat tire!  In the front, no less – probably time to change the tire. I forgot to time myself at it, but once again I was able to pull off my trick of patching the tube without removing the tire.  I couldn’t figure out what caused the hole, but luckily it held (along with the 4 other patches on that tube) for the rest of the ride.

Carved marble block on the causeway

Carved marble block on the causeway

At the ferry, I waited about 15 minutes for it to come over, then it was a quick ride into Burlington, dodging roller-bladers, people mysteriously stopped in the middle of the path, dogs, people wearing helmets backwards and unable to ride in a straight line, and so on.  I got a tempeh Reuben with hot peppers and a litre of “Pomegranite Sangria” seltzer water at the co-op and chowed down on their terrasse.  At noon pile, I headed back out of town, dreading the thought of a potential 150 km of headwind but otherwise feeling fine.

La belle vie, quoi.

La belle vie, quoi.

While the path out of Burlington was okay, once I got on the causeway I got blasted relentlessly with an apparent northwest wind off the lake.  The woman taking money for the ferry scared me a bit more by saying that she measured it with a compass and it was actually a North wind!  Nonetheless, I found myself cruising at a decent 27-28 km/h on the way out of South Hero, thinking that maybe the trees were doing their job to shelter me.  If the wind had been from the North it was definitely from the West, as I got totally blasted every time I turned left.

At this point I think I’m starting to get sick of riding across the Champlain Islands, at least on US 2. It’s a well-paved road with a small but serviceable shoulder, but it feels like everything is a long way apart.  At the junction with VT 78, I bought a can of Moxie with my last American dollar and filled up my water bottles with some kind of revolting, fizzy, sulphur-smelling liquid that came out of the tap.  I resolved not to drink this and fill up as soon as I could.  The bathrooms at the Alburgh-Noyan border crossing (on the Québec side) shut down my ambitions with a big “EAU NON POTABLE” sign, though I’m guessing their water is actually better than the stuff in US gas station bathrooms, it’s just that public health regulations don’t really exist in the USA.  In any case I realized that Lacolle has a “bike station” on its bike trail, and sure enough it had a nice, shiny water fountain sticking out of it – another nice aspect of the Québec bike infrastructure is that they realize that cyclists actually have to drink water (and, um, expel it) now and then, and the maps tell you where you can get it.

Learn to drink Moxie.

Learn to drink Moxie.

I started to get slower and slower, and I noticed that I was no longer able to push my heart rate above 135 or so. It’s interesting to see how your body works – evidently I had exhausted my glycogen stores and so I was running on pure fat.  It’s nice to know that my fat-burning skills have improved such that I can still cruise at a decent speed in this condition.  I made a stop at the Petro-Canada truck stop in St-Cyprien to sit in the comfy chairs and drink a V8, remembering when I sat there in April on a rainy 3C day tying plastic bags on my feet to try to keep them warm for the last 40 km back to Montréal! By the time I got to Brossard, I was positively limping and ready to be home – I only convinced myself not to take the Métro in by telling myself that it wouldn’t be faster, I would still have to climb a bunch of stairs, and anyway it costs $3 to cross the river (#@$!#$). Luckily, I managed to get across the Jacques-Cartier bridge and up rue Champlain without vomiting, and I plodded home, almost getting in an accident with at least three more bikes in the screwed-up Rachel construction zone.  Total of 302 km, done in a bit over 14 hours, which in the end isn’t bad at all, though I am unsure how I managed to spend 2h off the bike.  Time to replace that front tire, I guess…

Ride soundtrack:

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