What is it?
Bicycle Beer Time (BBT) was the name that a group of friends, mostly students at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, came up with for what became a weekly ride from Ann Arbor to a neighboring town with a good brewery and pub on Monday nights. They’d ride the 10 miles to the pub, eat, drink and play games, then ride back to Ann Arbor. Eventually, one of them realized that there were a number of breweries around the state and the Extra-Large version of BBT (BBTXL), a multi-day bicycle tour as an excuse to do a lot of beer drinking, was born.
This is the third year of BBTXL (pronounced “Bubba Tixle”) with the first two editions taking place in Michigan. Ben Shultz took on the task of organizing the ride this year and he elected to take it back to his home state of New York. Growing up in Rochester and going to undergrad at Cornell, Ben was familiar with the beauty of Western NY, and with recent changes to NY laws he was also aware of the growing craft-brewing movement that was starting up. A little bit of research showed that a riding tour of breweries was possible in the Finger Lakes region of NY, and that’s just what we did. With the help of Google Maps and Google Earth a route was put together that promised nice scenery, safe passage, and enough stops for beer to keep everyone happily pedaling along.
As fortune would have it, I met many of the core BBT group when I rode RAGBRAI in 2012 and so I was lucky to secure an invitation to join this year. There’s a big group of friends, and friends-of-friends, who are interested in doing this ride and part of the challenge of organizing it is making the tough call on who’s in and who’s not. Fitness plays a part, but attitude and aptitude are important considerations too. This isn’t a professionally run tour, just a group of friends having a good time riding bikes along a route we made up on the internet, so some thought is given to a participants self-awareness and self-sufficiency.
As Eric, one of our two dedicated SAG guys put it one afternoon, you can measure a person’s readiness on a scale of -1 to +1. At -1, you’ve got a person who is either inexperienced or just clueless and is going to need help from the group to get through. At a zero, you’ve got someone who’s basically ready to go but really only able to take care of themselves. At +1, you’ve got someone who can not only take care of themselves but can also recognize when someone else needs help and take care of that too. According to Eric, a retired Navy Lt. Cmdr and Scout troop leader, BBTXL works because just about everyone on it is a +1. And work it did, because over eight days and 490 miles of riding we had no serious accidents, injuries, or hurt feelings. As far as I know everyone had just as much fun as I did, which is pretty dang impressive.
We worked most of the logistics out weeks in advance, summarized nicely on the BicycleBeerTime website. We had to change the route for the final two days at the last minute when we learned, ironically, that a beer festival near Cooperstown was taking all the available hotel rooms and campsites. Ben called an audible, picked a new route that took us back up north to finish on Lake Ontario, and found a few more interesting sites to enjoy along the way. I would drive up to Nashville from Austin with another Austin-based rider to pick up Pat Clements, the guy who got me to ride RAGBRAI in the first place. From there we’d drive up to the start town, work some logistical magic getting the car into a safe location for the week, then hit the road on our two-wheelers. Things fell apart a little bit a few days before we were to leave when 1) Frank, the rider who was going to leave from Austin with me injured himself running and had to delay his departure a few days so he could heal, and 2) I realized that I’d been looking at the start date all wrong and that I’d been planning to leave a day too early.
Number 1, Frank’s injury, was going to have be dealt with by Frank. He planned to take a few extra days of rest and then, if he thought he could pedal, he’d drive up on his own and meet us on route. Number 2, my inability to figure out how calendars work, was solved when Pat agreed to go up a day early and meet up with Bill Merrill and Laurie Chipps at the launching-off point, Camp Prendergast (which we were taking to call Camp, Pederast because we’re funny). Bill and Laurie had decided to up the XL ante for this year’s ride by riding their bikes, self-supported, from Michigan to the start city by way of a route around Lake Erie through Canada. This added a week and nearly 500 miles to the trip, and by going up a day early we’d be able to meet them at camp and help them enjoy a rest day before everyone else showed up. Since Pat and I really enjoy hanging out with Bill and Laurie this was seen as a win all the way around.
Finally, on Thursday, July 31st, I headed out of Austin and started the adventure of BBTXL:BWNY.
Day -2 – Driving from Austin to Nashville
I woke up early and hit the road before dawn to try to make it through Dallas before it got all gummed up with traffic. There’s really not much to tell about this leg of the trip other than the following:
- Texas is really big and takes a long time to escape from Austin
- Driving all alone, after years of traveling with the kids, is a little unnerving and kind of boring
- Singing Tom Waits songs at high volume will give you a sore throat pretty quickly
- Nashville and Memphis are too far apart
It was an uneventful trip and I arrived in Nashville just as Pat was getting off work. He finished packing and then we got a pizza and some beers and caught up. It was an early night and another early morning when I woke to the sound of Pat’s wife trying to sneak a cup of coffee. We woke Pat up early just to make sure that this trip got off to the same start as our RAGBRAI adventure (“Who the hell is turning the lights on at 5:30 on my vacation!”).
Day -1 – Driving from Nashville to NY (meeting Bill and Laurie)
Pat and I got the car loaded and hit the road as early as we could. The route we let Google pick for us had us travel through Kentucky to Cincinnati, and then across Ohio through the little stovepipe of Pennsylvania near Erie before hitting western New York. We had good luck with traffic, passing some long back-ups on the other side of the interstate, and shared the driving load as best we could while passing the time with hits from the ‘80’s. We got to see where Corvettes are born in Bowling Green, and we drove past Kings Island amusement park (which I never got to visit when I lived in Ohio), but other than that there wasn’t much to see. We did learn that Shake Shack doesn’t have meatless chili, which matters to Pat the vegetarian. We made good time and got to the campsite in the late afternoon. I had reserved two sites and we were shown to a small patch of ground near the campsite’s bathhouse and two dilapidated rental cabins. The residents of those cabins were drunk the whole time we were there and were a source of some amusing stories we would re-tell throughout the week.
As the sun started to go down we got a little bit worried about Bill and Laurie. Pat and I went to the entrance to wait for them, checking out the sunset, and about the time we were ready to walk back to camp we saw the riders come through the entrance. They’d had a challenging day coming down from Buffalo with much of the route taking them through an overgrown rail-to-trail and away from roads and civilization. They had come through Chautauqua and had seen places for dinner, so after we got their camp setup we headed out for a big Italian dinner, then back to camp for a few beers before turning in for the night. Our neighbors in the cabins stayed up for a few hours more, during which we heard the following exchange:
12-year-old boy: Mom? Momma?
Mom’s Very Drunk and Loud Boyfriend: Mom’s in the shitter!
12-year-old boy: What?
Mom’s Very Drunk and Loud Boyfriend: Mom’s in the shitter! Probably gonna be a while.
Day 0 – Waiting for the storms
Today was going to be a rest day for Laurie and Bill, and a day for everyone else to gather from points east and west. We got up and went to breakfast at Stedman Corners Coffe, which if you ever find yourself in the area I would highly recommend, a nice café built in what was probably an old general store. We went back to camp and hung out, watching Laurie try to not explode as the “relaxing” campground was besieged by lawn mowers, hammering, drills, and chop saws, as the residents took to improving their setups. In addition to be located near the campsite’s bathhouse, we were also right near the small park they had for kids – which included a train with a pretty loud bell. We listened for a while as a group of kids played under the supervision of a grandmother, only to discover that the grandmother was actually a gravelly-voiced 13-year-old boy whose voice was being ravaged by puberty.
Laurie really hated the bell.
We went into Chautauqua for lunch, right along the lake, and were amused to watch as the Amish passed by with their rowboats in horse-drawn buggies and all the passengers sitting in the boat. Laurie disappeared into the historical center and reappeared with plenty of new facts about the area. “They said I was their first visitor today!” We watched a storm approach the lake and beat feet to try to get back to the campsite before the rain came down. Pretty soon the rains came and stayed with us until well into the evening. At the peak of the storm cars and trailers began arriving with the rest of our group. The bulk of them had traveled together from Ann Arbor and had been in torrential rain the entire way. We did our best to find ways to setup tents under tarps and eventually got everyone setup on high enough ground that they’d be able to sleep without getting flooded.
Eventually the rain let up and we managed to get a fire going. A fire. In August! I was amazed at how nice the weather was, rain aside. It really made for nice camping and a welcome change from the suffocating heat we’d had during RAGBRAI. We had some beers by the fire and made a plan to get up early and ride out the next morning. Our drunk neighbors kept us amused by arguing about how hard it would be to kick the asses of various breeds of dog (“Doberman’s got weak ankles!”) or which brands of breakfast cereal were real or imagined (“Boo-Berry!?!”).
Tomorrow we start riding…