Trip report: Bermuda Triangle Challenge 2023

This post should have been titled “Bermuda 2021” but hey, what can you do?

Back in ancient times, Erica found a race called the Bermuda Triangle Challenge that looked like fun, so we signed up for it with the intent to run it in 2021. I booked a hotel, got plane tickets, and then… it was postponed twice because of COVID. We finally made it there to run it this year, thus this trip report.

The first challenge: getting there

The BTC is a three-race series: a one-mile race down Front Street on Friday night, a 10K around the island on Saturday morning, and either a half- or full marathon Sunday morning. As the race weekend fell over the Martin Luther King Day holiday weekend, we decided to arrive Thursday and come back Monday.

Sad fact: there is no 100LL aviation gasoline to be had in Bermuda, so I couldn’t fly us there. Carmen carries 136 gallons of usable fuel, which equates to about 5 hours of flying time, less a one-hour reserve. I could get us to Bermuda easily, but I wouldn’t have enough fuel to get back. That meant we were going to have to take a commercial flight, and that turned out to be surprisingly difficult to schedule. We ended up flying HSV-ATL-BDA on Delta on the way out and then BDA-JFK-DCA-HSV on American for the return, both booked with frequent-flyer miles. The routings were weird because of seat availability, but the timing worked out OK.

The race organizers had designated the Hamilton Princess as the official hotel, so originally that’s what I’d booked us into. Tourists are generally not able to book rental cars, and so I wanted to minimize the amount of travel required for packet pickup etc. I had paid a deposit equal to the room charge for 4 nights when originally booking, and the hotel agreed to apply the full amount to the 2023 race weekend, so we were all set.

Day 1: arrival, lighthouse, and fish

After a completely uneventful flight, we arrived at the Bermuda airport to a lovely sunny afternoon. Bermuda is long and narrow, and there are really 3 major roads: the North Shore Road, the South Road, and (wait for it) the Middle Road. The airport is on the northeast corner of the island, and our hotel (and downtown) are right under the “H” in the word “Hamilton” in the map below. I had pre-booked airport transfers with CEO Transport, so our driver met us at baggage claim and off we went. Taxis are plentiful, and the drivers all have to pass a London-style exam on island geography and street names before they get licensed, but they only take cash. There’s no Uber or Lyft, but there’s a local app called Hitch that serves the same purpose.

thanks to Apple Maps for this view of the islands (Bermuda is a bunch of islands, not just one)

After about a 20-minute drive, we arrived at the hotel and found our room ready. They’d unexpectedly upgraded us to a room with a water view– I say “unexpectedly” because they had tried several times to sell me expensive pre-arrival upgrades. When I say “expensive,” I mean “the upgrade was 1.5x to 7x the actual room rate”, so I certainly didn’t expect to get anything for free. We dropped our bags, let our phones charge for a few minutes, and then set out for our first excursion, to the Gibbs Hill lighthouse. (Notice that I didn’t say anything about “lunch” yet…)

The lighthouse is about a $30 taxi ride from the hotel. (Bermuda uses the Bermudan dollar, which is tied 1:1 to the US dollar, and every place we went accepted either or both.) The lighthouse itself is pretty spectacular– it’s made of cast-iron panels bolted together and was only the second of its kind in the world when it was built. There’s a small gift shop that sells tickets for $4, with which you can climb to the top. Note that the lighthouse itself closes at 4pm– lots of things in Bermuda close early, and this was our first introduction to that concept. We climbed to the top using the 180+ narrow spiral steps inside the lighthouse casing, where I shot this panorama:

a panorama from the top of the lighthouse
I like the way the curved railings turned out in this photo.

The views over the island are pretty spectacular too. The camera doesn’t really capture the zillion shades of bright paint used on the houses, but you can see that all the rooftops are white. That’s because Bermuda doesn’t really have much of a water system. Most houses have cisterns that catch rainwater from the roof– the roofs are terraced to improve the catch rate then painted with lime, both as a means of purifying the rainwater but also for temperature control.

Not a bad view

The lighthouse itself is still operational, and it also has a surface-search radar (which you can see at the very top). The nearby grounds are pretty small so the whole visit couldn’t have taken more than half an hour or so.

There’s just no way to take a lighthouse picture that doesn’t look phallic.

By this point we were both super hungry, and there’s a small Indian restaurant on the lighthouse grounds… but it didn’t open until later, so we had our driver drop us at a restaurant we’d seen on the way to the lighthouse called “Lost in the Triangle” (or LITT). We shared an order of fried wahoo bites (think “fish nuggets”) and then both had fish tacos, which were excellent. Dinner for two, with 2 beers and 1 mixed drink, was about $110. It turns out Bermuda is pretty expensive– you should expect to pay $10 or so for a beer, $15-20 for a mixed drink, and $25+ for an entree at most local restaurants. Restaurants typically add a 17% gratuity, too.

After dinner, we started walking back to the hotel. Fun fact: Hamilton has lots of streets with no shoulders or sidewalks, and some of them have retaining walls or hedges that come right up to the edge of the road. Walking thus turned into a game of dodge-the-car more than we wanted to, so after darkness fell we stopped off at Crow Road Park and got a taxi back to the hotel. And so to bed.

Day 2: kayaking and the Butterfield Mile

Friday was our first “race day” but we didn’t really have much scheduled in the morning. We went to Devil’s Isle for breakfast and coffee, and it was excellent. They have a great selection of dishes, including huevos rancheros and a bunch of gluten- and/or dairy-free foods. The coffee was quite good. How did the restaurant get its name? Fun question.

Brief history lesson: Bermuda is named after Juan de Bermudez, who accidentally found it by wrecking his ship there. The Spaniards left as quickly as they could because they thought the island was populated with devils– the Bermuda petrel (or “cahow”) makes a loud screeching noise, and that plus the noise of previously-shipwrecked wild hogs scared them enough that neither Spain nor Portugal settled the island. Made of sterner stuff, the British did settle it after a 1609 shipwreck. The shipwreck victims refused to leave (since they were supposed to go to Jamestown and had heard conditions there were bad), so the British Crown claimed the island and turned it into a prison colony.

Anyway. Breakfast was delicious. Our next item was to go pick up our race packets. Somehow our registration had been lost in the shuffle due to the double deferment, but the registration team got us sorted out reasonably quickly. The race swag is terrific: a small folding cooler bag, a really nice heavyweight jacket, and a short-sleeve race tech shirt.

some of the race swag
You can’t tell from the picture, but the jacket is probably 1/2″ thick and quite warm

The rest of the race expo was pretty unremarkable, except for the excellent locally-made rum cake shown below. As you might expect, it didn’t last very long.

We stashed our stuff back in the room and headed to the pool. The hotel has a lovely large infinity pool and a good-sized hot tub, both with great ocean views, plus a smaller adults-only pool off to one side. We spent a couple of very pleasant hours sitting in the sun and reading; it was a little cool for being in the water, but not bad at all. The big issue was the wind– a steady 15-20kt wind coming from the south led to a note from the hotel telling us they’d be putting all patio furniture in the room overnight to keep it from blowing away. (Several of our taxi drivers said “every year the weather is terrible at race weekend!” so this is a known issue).

Note the edge of the infinity pool.

For the afternoon we’d booked a glass-bottom kayak tour at Robinson’s Marina. We told our cab driver that we wanted to get lunch on the way– did he know a good place to get a fish sandwich? Turns out he did. Check this beauty out:

I would cheerfully eat one of these every day for the rest of my life.

Seaside Cafe provided the above behemoth: about half a pound of fried wahoo served on fresh, thick-cut raisin bread. This is a local delicacy that I was eager to try and it was SO GOOD, y’all. I happily ate every bite and it was well worth the $17 price.

Our guide was terrific– he grew up a short distance from the marina and knew the local area very well. We saw one large sea turtle, a few parrotfish, and a good variety of seabirds (mostly herons and gulls). Partway through we stopped at the Morgans Island Nature Reserve for a beach break. Because we mostly stayed in the harbor, even though the wind had picked up a good bit the paddling was completely manageable.

in the water!

The harbor area is pretty shallow– at its deepest it’s maybe 10′– and the visibility was superb. The pictures don’t really do justice to the clarity and color of the water. Interestingly, there’s not a lot of grass on the bottom in the shallows, as you might expect.

On the beach at the nature reserve

The columns above are characteristic of limestone– the water erodes them over time. Our guide, who was in his late 20s by my guess, said they had noticeably eroded since his boyhood nearby, which isn’t really surprising. One thing he said that did surprise me was that rent for a one-bedroom apartment could be as high as $5000/month! A later perusal of apartment rental listings confirmed that. Ouch.

After kayaking, we decided to stop at Horseshoe Bay. We’d seen it several times while driving by; it’s well-known as one of the most popular beaches in Bermuda, and even though it was too cool and much too windy to swim, we still wanted to see it. The beach was mostly empty except for a gang of kite surfers and a few other beach-walkers. In the summer, it’s apparently crowded, and the facilities (including a snack bar) are open. Today, not so much. After a few photos, during which I manfully resisted the temptation to climb on the cliffs that had big signs saying “danger! do not climb these!” we headed back to the hotel to prep for the race.

Those kite surfers were flying
the beautiful Erica in her natural habitat

So, that first race. We had both previously agreed that the point of this challenge for us was “go home uninjured”– neither of us was adequately trained, and racing a 1-mile race sounded like a good way to get hurt. The race is a short loop on Front Street, the main drag in Hamilton. There was a good crowd of several hundred runners, including a large contingent of school-age kids and some elite milers who were there chasing prize money. We had a nice jaunt out and back, nothing too speedy, and collected the first of our four Challenge medals. Then it was time for a quick shower before dinner at the Mad Hatters. The food was superb, as was the company, but the service was a bit slow.

Brief digression: Bermuda is a really interesting hybrid of what Americans think of as “island time” and British-ness. Cars drive on the left, houses and buildings have names (“Waterloo House”) instead of just street numbers, there are frequent references to kings and queens, and so on. The pace of life seems quite a bit slower than in the US, but not as relaxed as the Bahamas or Jamaica. Nearly everything’s closed on Sundays, and many businesses close at 4 or 5pm during the week. Restaurants aren’t open late (e.g. Mad Hatters closed at 9pm), and there’s not much in the way of night life. Bermuda is not where you want to go if you want a Mallorca-style party atmosphere.

Day 3: the 10K and stormy weather

The Saturday forecast called for the weather to steadily worsen. When we went to bed Friday night, I half expected to wake up to a text saying the 10K had been postponed. When we woke up, however, it was only raining intermittently, and there was a steady brisk wind but it wasn’t terrible. We got up, had in-room coffee, and headed downstairs to catch the shuttle. The 10K started from the National Sports Centre, which was nowhere near walking distance from the hotel. After a quick shuttle ride, we arrived at the venue and wandered around, including doing a few warmup laps around their track, then it was off for the 10K.

The race course was quite scenic– we left the stadium, ran on Middle Road for a while, and then got onto North Shore until we approached the sports centre again. We stopped for a couple of photo opportunities, as one does. The wind was steady, and it was warm (maybe 70º) and quite humid. We’d both started the race with long-sleeved tech shirts on, but I shed mine about halfway through.

A scenic selfie stop along the 10K route

The race finishes on the running track at the sports centre, which was neat. We got our second medal and then enjoyed the post-race festival for a bit; the organizers had a hot dog cart, a table with four kinds of draft beer from one of Bermuda’s two local craft breweries, and a bar serving rum drinks made with Gosling’s, plus a few other assorted snacks.

Two medals earned, two to go

We went back to the hotel to clean up, had a snack at the hotel coffee bar, and got ready to meet our tour guide. Meanwhile, though, the weather was steadily worsening. I wish I’d taken a picture of the radar view– but one interesting nuance of Bermuda is that there are some gaps in offshore radar coverage because of where Cuban and Bermudan radar coverage sits. That sometimes makes storms appear out of nowhere (from a radar perspective; they’re visible on satellite).

The weather as we started our tour was… not great

Erica had found a local tour guide and taxi driver named Carol who is apparently locally famous for her knowledge and personality. She was terrific. We spent about four hours with her driving all over the island, all the way up to St Georges at the north end. As a retired policewoman, she had a lot of offbeat local knowledge and was overall just a pleasant and wonderful companion. The weather kept us from seeing some of the landmarks in detail; for example, we couldn’t drive up to Fort Hamilton because the roads were closed. We did get to visit Crystal Cave, which was originally discovered by two teenage boys who were chasing a lost cricket ball.

A view inside Crystal Cave

During the last hour of the tour the weather improved briefly, just long enough to get us back to the hotel, but as it was forecast to worsen again, we decided to try the hotel’s room service. It was pretty decent, although their fish sandwich wasn’t nearly as good as the one from Seaside.

Day 4: the half-marathon

By the time we got up Sunday morning, most of the weather had passed– it was still cloudy and breezy (and warm!) but not stormy. The start line for the race was actually at the end of the hotel’s driveway, so we didn’t have much of a commute. The RD asked runners to gather about 1/3mi down the road, where the finish festival would be located, so we wandered down there for a pre-race picture and some gentle warmups.

Excited to take my work running shirt for its first outing

The last half-marathon we ran together was Tear Drop in 2021, and because our training volume was low, we’d agreed to just treat this as a long extended photo opportunity and not a race per se. After the starting horn, we got out on the course and enjoyed seeing some of the same areas we’d already seen, plus some new territory, including a photobomb by St Mark’s Church.

The race was well-supported, with several hydration stops, on-course entertainment from (at least) 3 bands, and two stops serving Gosling’s rum drinks. There were a surprising number of spectators, too, even in the residential areas, and nearly every single one of them would shout, wave, or otherwise signal their support. That’s such a nice change from the races I’m used to, where on most of the course there’s no one but the runners; we really enjoyed that aspect of all 3 races.

It’s hard to overstate how refreshing my Dark and Stormy was at this point

The weather steadily improved; it got warmer and sunnier the longer we were on the course. (This improvement was deceptive; more on that in a bit.) At the finish festival, we feasted on hot docs, Haagen-Dazs, and local pastries, then headed back to the hotel for some hot tub time.

mission accomplished!

Not surprisingly, the hot tub was jammed with other runners, so we socialized for a little while, then tried to sunbathe. This was frustrated by the unwanted arrival of more rain, so we decided to wait it out in the room and then do a self-guided walking tour of Hamilton. We walked through the cathedral, saw the outside of the parliament and supreme court buildings, got rained on a bunch, and made the short climb up to Fort Hamilton just before they closed. The view was well worth the excursion, especially the beautiful garden area at ground level between the inner and outer walls. (Sadly I didn’t take any pictures of this!)

looking back to the northwest from Ft Hamilton

We did dinner twice, sort of– we’d made reservations at Hog Penny for dinner, but were both famished, so we stopped off and had some excellent nachos and a beer flight to tide us over at the Pickled Onion. As it turns out, two dinners is just slightly more than the recommended amount of food, even after a half-marathon, but I certainly don’t have any complaints. Hog Penny, which opened in 1957 and is Bermuda’s oldest restaurant, had a trivia contest going while we were there, which added a festive note to our excellent pub food-style dinner. I had an excellent shepherd’s pie, Erica had fish and chips, and we split a sticky toffee pudding for dessert. Good stuff.

Day 5: the trip home

Travel home was uneventful. The best part was probably the spectacularly large rainbow we saw on the drive back to the airport. Our American flight BDA-JFK was delayed about an hour, but that delay didn’t keep us from getting home on time.

We didn’t get as much beach time as I would have liked because the weather was uncooperative, and there were several local landmarks and activities that we didn’t have time for because we built our visit around the race schedule. It’s a lovely island, with a relaxed and friendly population, and I’d like to go back.

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