A Bloomin' Retrospective
By Jeff Munk
In 1977, Sound Cyclists Bicycle Club came into existence and a year later created its premier spring cycling event: the Bloomin' Metric. But did you ever wonder how it all got started and grew into what it has become? The Bloomin' was the brainchild of Carl Anderson, the founder and first president of SCBC. The inaugural event took place in May of 1978 and had approximately 20 riders.
Riders would be guided around the route by following arrows that were painted in the road. Carl Anderson, who insisted these arrows be painted by riding bikes along the route, was joined by Paul Cooper, Georgiana Prince and Nancy Rosett – past and current members of the club who took two days to complete this task. And fear not if you needed SAG support. That came in the form of a little beige VW Beetle driven by our Nancy Rosett. In the 1970s and 1980s riders received embroidered patches as a souvenir of the event.
The ride started from the commuter parking lot near I-95 off Exit 18 on the Sherwood Island Connector, just a short distance from where it currently starts. Given the time of year this cycling event was held – along a Metric Century route that passed through Greenfield Hill in Fairfield during the blooming of the dogwoods, it's quite apparent how this event got its name. Once the event started growing in ridership, it was moved to Jesup Green in Westport before the library was built.
In just four years, the ridership in 1982 jumped to 230 riders and in 1985, a registration fee of $4.00 was added to the event. That year 160 riders participated, which also included forty riders who took the Port Jefferson ferry over from Long Island and rode to the event from Bridgeport. This became an ongoing tradition for those riders. A year later in 1986 the registration fee jumped by $1.00 but that got you a water bottle if you were one of the first 250 riders to register but everyone still received a patch.
As the event grew, the venue had moved from Jesup Green to Luciano Park, which was adjacent to the Westport Railroad Station. This provided the necessary parking needed and was convenient for those taking the Metro-North train to Westport.
Arrows were still being painted in the road to guide the riders around the routes. Ingo Zalik, a house painter, donated his time and leftover paint for this task. In those days, one paint color would suffice for all routes. However, in order to stretch the paint to cover all the routes, Ingo did a bit of creative mixing, which explained why the color varied as you traveled along the routes. Since an oil-based paint was used, volunteers would have to go out and cover over the arrows with black paint after the event.
In 1988, due to the marketing efforts of Nelson Beers and Ed Perten, 717 riders attended the Bloomin' Metric doubling the ridership from the previous year and in 1989, Bill Dryden and Dick Gross took over the co-chairmanship of the Bloomin' and held its first ever raffle. In 1990 the Bloomin' Metric was co-chaired by J.R.Rendon and Fred Ianotti and you had a better chance of winning the raffle since ridership dropped a bit to 665 riders due to rain.
In 1991, Doug Engel took over as chairman of the event. The registration fee was $10.00. That year 1,160 cyclists showed up to ride. The patches were retired and replaced by the first t-shirt designed by Nanette Ferreri. I then started with subsequent Bloomin' Metric shirt designs. To accommodate cyclists still coming over from Long Island by ferry to Connecticut, club member Chris Deak would meet them at the ferry to hand out their t-shirts.
In 1992, under the continuing direction of Doug Engel, 1,600 cyclists rode the event. This was the first year cyclists were able to pre-register. While registration remained at $10.00, same day registration was $12.00. Doug also introduced the concept of making a donation to a worthy cause. Some of the Bloomin' Metric proceeds that year went to Cancer Care.
One of the most well known features of the Bloomin' Metric was its home-baked chocolate chip cookies. A day before the event, Randy Brophy and his then wife teamed up to bake hundreds and hundreds of these cookies for the event. Randy has since moved to Sydney, Australia and the cookies were missed.
Due to a snafu in 1993 in booking Luciano Park in time, the Bloomin' Metric found itself outside the Westport area for the first time. The event was switched over to Jennings Beach in Fairfield. Unfortunately, water bottles that were order for the event did not arrive in time, so once they did arrive SCBC was giving out pink water bottle over the remaining months and into the following year to its members. Despite the change in location, the Bloomin' hit an all-time high of 1,250 pre-registered riders with another 700 registering the day of the event.
In 1994, Kathleen Kellett took over the reins. The tradition of donating some of the proceeds switched from Cancer Care to Connecticut Safe Kids in 1995. In 1996, Gail Schwartz revived the tradition of the home-baked cookies by recruiting SCBC members to bake them. For seven years, Kathleen Kellett grew the event with various co-chairs: Susan Moody, Julie Maenpaa, Tom Ebersold and Steve Soloman or just went it alone. By the end of her tenure the Bloomin' Metric had ballooned to over 2,300 riders.
Because of the many other events taking place in the same areas that the Bloomin' Metric traveled, towns were restricting arrow painting on the roads. This is when the event turned to signs. I created the original batch of signs by running them out on an oversized 18 x 24 inch printer and then spray gluing the sheets onto foam core. The foam core was then mounted on wooden stakes. In later years the signs would be produced differently by Don Stillman, which made the process of placing them along the routes much easier.
From 2001-2003 Dennis Lyall became the new chairman of the Bloomin' and in that time we had outgrown Luciano Park. The event was moved to Shady Beach in Norwalk. The growth in ridership eventually led to the Town of Westport setting restrictions on how many riders could pass through the town. That number was set to 2,600 cyclists.
Along the TimelineThere were many key changes to the event over time as it grew. Where once there were stationary road marshals, riding marshals were added to the event to assist cyclists and to keep a watchful eye on things out on the road. Breakfast was introduced for the early arrivals. Registration was streamlined to cut down on the long lines for check in or same day registration. Sponsorship grew helping in the recruiting of bike shops to help with SAG support and mechanics at the food stops. When lunch was brought in for the volunteers, some riders asked if they could have some, which eventually led to the idea of providing lunch to the returning riders. The multi-foot sandwiches gave way to food trucks.
One of the biggest venue changes was the move to Sherwood Island State Park in 2013. This provided the event with a better parking situation and a covered pavilion for processing the riders on their arrival. A Bloomin' Metric cycling jersey was introduced to the event with designs by Yvonne Beecher.
From the early days of just a handful of volunteers that help pull together the Bloomin' Metric, it now takes hundreds of volunteers and sponsor support to have a successful and safe cycling event of this magnitude. The following members of SCBC took over the stewardship of the Bloomin' Metric over the remaining years:
2004: Jim McConnon
2005-2012: Don Stillman
2013 & 2014: Bill Meredith
2015-2017: Geoff Preu
2018: Alex Moncure
2019: Tom Syrstad
2004: Jim McConnon
2005-2012: Don Stillman
2013 & 2014: Bill Meredith
2015-2017: Geoff Preu
2018: Alex Moncure
2019: Tom Syrstad
You Can Get There from Here
Did you ever take notice of the references on many (not all) of the Bloomin' Metric t-shirts over the years? Did you ever wonder what some of these references were describing? Well, it's pretty easy to explain.
Let's start with the closest area to the event start – Greens Farms. All the routes pass through this area not long after leaving the park. It was part of the land holdings of John Green, one of the first five settlers known collectively as the Bankside Farmers and in 1732 the area was officially renamed Greens Farms. About 1½ miles into the ride the Bloomin' Metric enters this area and travels along the water on Beachside Ave until the road turns onto Pequot Ave at the bridge on the Fairfield Town Line. This is a very picturesque area of Long Island Sound.
Dogwood Blooms on Greenfield Hill
This is one of the most important references since this is how the Bloomin' Metric got its name. From the beginnings of the event, efforts were made to schedule the event close to the Dogwood Festival in Fairfield – usually the third Sunday in May. It was the combination of the event's route being a metric century and passing through the dogwood blooms that the event got its name.
Arguably one of the most scenic sections of the 100-kilometer route is Poverty Hollow. The Bloomin' Metric has traveled this section in both directions. Replete with lily ponds and waterfalls, it's suggested you slow down a bit to enjoy the beauty. This location was also the inspiration for me in naming this intersection Indecision Corner.
Back in the 1990s the Bloomin' Metric's 75- and 100-kilometer routes entered the Poverty Hollow area by climbing up the road alongside the beautiful waterfalls. This is where the routes split, with the 75-kilometer route turning left up Meeker Hill and the 100-kilometer route continuing straight. I was driving SAG that year and once I reached the top I saw an incredible amount of cyclists literally lounging around the ponds. I got out to find out what was going on.
A lot of the cyclists, mostly the 75-kilometer riders told me that besides resting they were trying to decide whether the ascend "that" hill – pointing up to Meeker Hill or just do the extra 25 kilometers on what seems to be pretty flat terrain ahead of them. So I decided to name it Indecision Corner. The corner changes when the route changes and traditionally 75- and 100-kilometer riders still grab both cue sheets (if not using any GPS) and decide which way to go once they get to this split in the route – depending on how strong they feel at the time. This year's Indecision Corner is located at Five Points.
This is an area in Redding and is found on the 75- and 100-kilometer routes. After leaving the food stop at Joel Barlow High School and cycling 2 miles, you reach Five Points. More accurately it should be described as five spokes, formed by the roads that all intersect at this point. Black Rock Turnpike forms two of the spokes running north and south, with Hopewell Woods Rd to the right and Newtown Turnpike to the left. Sunset Hill Rd completes the fifth point. We usually have police stationed at this location so you'll have to slow down to "decide" which way you're going to turn. Remember, this is after all the new location of Indecision Corner.
This is perhaps the strangest anomaly along the Bloomin' Metric route, yet can be easily explained. The 40-, 75- and 100-kilometer routes all pass this area. Back in the 1930s when the Merritt Parkway was being constructed, Exit 43 was in the plan, located where Sturges and Cross Highways both converge and pass under a stone arch bridge. The residents of Fairfield and Westport screamed bloody murder and petitioned against it and won, so the exits and entrances were never constructed leaving us with a 5.25-mile stretch of highway affectionately called "no man's land".
But that's only half the story. Exit 43 was to also suppose to be the entrance to the Sherwood Island Parkway, a stretch of roadway to be built leading down to the Post Road and aligning with the current Sherwood Island Connector. Believe it or not, this project is still on the books but will never see the light of day.
Hopefully, after reading this rich history of the Bloomin' Metric, you'll have a deep appreciation of its early beginnings – from the pioneers who created it to the hundreds of volunteers who make sure you have a safe a pleasant experience.
I've had great pleasure volunteering for the Bloomin' Metric® over the years. One of the most enjoyable things I have done was designing the event's T-shirt. I first started back in 1993 with the event's first sweatshirt. In subsequent years it reverted back to T-shirts. Save for 1998 and a 5-year hiatus in the early 2000s and again for a couple of years later on, I've continued to offer new artwork for the Bloomin'. Click the button below to see the array of jerseys I have designed for this cycling event. If you click on any of the shirts in the array, you'll see a more detailed image.
Bloomin' Metric T-shirts by Jeff Munk Over the Years