Thursday, July 17, 2014

Pedaling in Droves

Towards the end of the day, headed up Long Pond Road

A couple of fortuitous elements brought us to Lake Willoughby for the weekend in late June.  As strange fate would have it, we met Pamela Blaylock and John Bayley about a month earlier at a Luka Bloom concert in Boston. We were seated, waiting for things to begin when a couple sat down in front of us. Somehow I had this inkling that this might be Pamela Blaylock, the Fixie Pixie, who I was familiar with from various blog readings over the years. When we noticed her looking at people on bikes on her phone I got up the nerve to ask if she was indeed Pamela, and she was. We had a nice pre-concert chat with her and Fear Rothar, otherwise known as her husband John.

Climbing up Hinton Hill Road

With this meeting fresh on our minds, we were keen to investigate one of Pamela's DROVES rides. The DROVES weekends are excursions for a bunch of folks from Massachusetts who come up to enjoy the beauty and challenge of Vermont's hills. No opportunity for climbing is spared. Looking at Pamela's blog where routes are listed, we picked a 45 mile loop around the Willoughby-Burke area.  Somewhat surprisingly, we both just felt a little excited and more curious than intimidated by the elevation gains, so without much thought we both shrugged; "Cool, let's just do it". We cashed in on a long-held gift of an overnight stay at the Willoughvale Inn and headed up to the Northeast Kingdom early Saturday for our weekend adventure.


The selected route happened to pass within a mile of the inn, so it was easy for us to jump on the track, and not surprisingly, we immediately began climbing up Hinton Hill Road. This was to be the order of the day; either going up or going down, but rarely anything in between. 

I thought it would be fun to change "Drives" to "Droves"

As we ascended the hillside, we marveled at the beauty of the broad hilltop ahead of us while we also caught glimpses of Lake Willoughby dropping below us. We were impressed right off the bat and excited to see what other vistas we'd be exposed to.

Approaching Burke

By the way, DROVES stands for "Dirt Roads of Vermont, Exceptional Scenery" and I've been aware of this little ride-retreat for since first reading Velouria's account in Lovely Bicycle last spring. That memorable year, Memorial Day weekend delivered snow and rain derailing many holiday excursions across Vermont. We, in contrast, had pleasant, almost cool weather with varying clouds. 

We were game for whatever the ride offered and we were delighted to see remote parts of a region that is largely unfamiliar to us, other than the fact that I'd ridden through this zone a week before on the NEK 300k. The ride felt like a mini-brevet since we were traveling unfamiliar terrain with a cue sheet; the difference being that we had no time constraints.

Nancy and I have a bit of a running joke where, on a ride, in a moment of excitement I exclaim "We should do this!", meaning: adventuring on bikes is lots of fun and we should be doing this more often. The joke being that I usually express this in the midst of us actually doing what I insist we should be doing. It's a sure sign I'm having a good time.
Checking out the mountain bike scene in East Burke

Making our way home

After 20 odd miles we rolled down into Burke and decided we'd have some food and a little sit-down. That day, East Burke was a bit of a circus with a three-day NEMBA mountain bike festival in full swing. Swarms of riders were rolling down into the village to eat, rest, hang out or catch a ride back up one of the hills. We were the oddballs on our non-mountain bikes. I was somewhat surprised to see that riders were actually getting shuttled back up the mountains with trailers carrying their bikes. I guess its sort of the same logic as riding a chair lift, yet I was slightly dismayed to see the bike relegated to such one-way downhill-only fun. I like to say that you shouldn't need a car to ride a bike, and in this case, you don't need a truck to get a bike up a hill. Maybe I'd feel differently if I did that kind of riding, but it seem to me folks are missing some of the fun only going down, but then I guess that's why I find downhill skiing a little boring.

Fish in a fishbowl

A quick stop at the Willoughby store before getting back to our cabin

Leaving East Burke we climbed up Darling Hill Road and checked out the lovely farm/inn at the top and then continued back towards Willoughby. As I already said, climbing was the order of the day. By the time we reached Long Pond Road we were starting to drag a bit, but by then home was within reach and we enjoyed the class-4 like quality of the road and we were pleased when we eventually dropped back down to Lake Willoughby right next to the general store.  We stocked up on a six-pack and headed back to our cabin for a relaxing cool down and then dinner at the inn. It goes without saying that we slept well and deeply after such a pleasant and dynamic ride.  

The next day I posted to Facebook something to effect that the ride was "rarely flat". Pamela wrote back the folowing: "Rarely flat? Let me know where you found more then 10 feet of flat road on that ride!" and then posted the following image accompanied by "Oh I see it here. It was that short strech AT the lake". In retrospect its pretty interesting to see just how much the ride really is either up or down. 

Pamela's elevation map. See that little flat line in the middle? That is the brief non-climb on the ride at the lake

The next day was a little more sedate. We stayed off our bikes and opted for a nice canoe around Willoughby followed by a hike with our friend Kate up Mt. Piscah where the views were spectacular. After a swim we topped the day off with pizza at Parker Pie.

Panorama from Piscah

Paddling on Lake Willoughby

Kate and Nance

Climbing Mt. Piscah with Kate the next day

A perfect weekend and one that will be long remembered.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Lets Go on an Es-Two-Four-Oh!

The gang

A couple of weeks ago we loaded up bikes, bags, kids, trailers, food, friends, tents and headed out for S24o. What is remarkable is how this never gets old; we all know pretty much exactly what's going to happen and yet the spirit of shared fun and adventure takes hold and before you know we are all goofing around and having a great time. Speed is not of the essence, we just move along enjoying the ride. Getting there is as much fun as any other part of the excursion. Maybe part of the magic is that we are all in on this together--nobody is sitting in the back seat--kids and adults are on equal footing and the mission is pretty clear: get there, set up, have food, hang out and enjoy a night camping.

Getting ready to head out

Pausing in Middlesex

Headed for the hills

The nominal excuse for this trip is my birthday, and as a birthday gift I can't imagine anything more deeply satisfying then a night of camping and adventure with family and loved ones.

Making our way

This is our sixth year doing this and each time we all get geared up, loosely coordinate food, and then meet up on Saturday afternoon. We head off with everyone on bikes and trailers full of stuff in tow to some accessible yet nice place, ideally out of the way in the woods or some meadow. The journey is always as fun as getting there, and after we arrive tents get set up, food is hauled out, and warm clothes are put on. The night was chilly and after a great meal we enjoyed a small campfire for a while before climbing into our sleeping bags. Some years we've been far from civilization; this year we scouted a spot on yard of some bike-friendly folks in Middlesex who were away on their own bike vacation. We were able to take advantage of their grill and outdoor composting toilet, which was somewhat more luxurious than other years. The hardest part of making this adventure happen is finding somewhere to go that involves the right distance to bike (keeping the kids in mind), quiet roads, and hopefully a nice place to arrive at and camp for the night. 


Its fun to recall that the first time Liza and Randy's kids did this they were in a burley trailer and now they are on geared bikes. Anda first rode on a trail-a-bike and now she doesn't blink at a ~20 mile ride. Silas wasn't even born our first time around. We've camped when there were patches of snow still hanging around and other times we've put the whole thing off until later in the summer, but we've all been there every year for six years. 

Nobody minded that we had a grill at our disposal...

 ...or a table.

Our attempt at a campfire

For most of us, this is the first night camping of the season. As camping seems to always do, we all feel ready for a good night's sleep barely an hour after the sun sets. Last summer Nance and I purchased the new version of therm-a-rests and they are really a step up from the old style. Not only are they thicker, but you seem to not slide off quite as readily. The only really downside is they take a bunch of blowing to fill them, but I think its a good trade-off. Nancy kept saying things like "this is the most cozy I've ever been" inspired by her plush therm-a-rest. 

Our hosts are avid cyclotourists and this was the hook in the humanure outshouse

Breakfast before heading out

After a nice nights sleep, the morning was crisp and sunny and we had a lazy breakfast before we rolled out for our return home. The ride to our camping spot had been a super gentle climb for a few miles, so the kids were all quite happy at how easy the ride back down to Middlesex was on our way back. With a quick stop at Red Hen we all continued on but then decided that we'd split up since Jeremy, Anda, Nancy and I were all headed back to Waitsfield and wanted to get on with our day. Randy, Liza, Maia and Solveig took their time and headed back to their house. 

Heading home

I am so grateful that as a group this is something we all love doing, that we live in such a beautiful place for this kind of adventure, and that we somehow fell into this wonderful tradition. Up til now it's been a once-a-year thing, but we are starting to scheme a mid-summer version for sometime in July with whoever wants to come along. 

Sunday, May 4, 2014

VT 200k Pre-Ride

The majesty of Camels Hump obscured by clouds

Two small pieces of stainless metal wire nearly did me in.

I was about 10 miles into a 200k (125m) ride and had just left the busy streets of Williston behind me as I headed into the farmland of Richmond. I was starting to settle-in and enjoy the day before me, even singing out loud a little. Without warning, something felt funny at my rear wheel. I glanced down and everything seemed to look okay, but a few more pedal strokes and it was clear something was not right.
Two metal bits embedded in my tire

A flat. My first since I started riding this new bike last summer. Its hard to get a pinch flat with the super cushy Hetre 42mm tires on my bike, so I suspected a puncture of some sort, and my suspicions were correct. I quickly found two bits of wire neatly embedded in my tire like a couple of tiny spears well-thrust to put a kink in my journey.

I should point out that the ride I was doing was pre-riding the course of next weekend's 200k Vermont Brevet, for which I am responsible this year. In order to get credit for doing the ride (since I can't do it the day of) I chose yesterday as the best opportunity and went for it, starting off at 7:00am with a jelly doughnut purchase at Dunkin' Donunts to verify the start of my ride in Burlington.

I've ridden 200k's a number of times now and my finish time has always been just over the 11 hour mark, so I thought it would be fun to try to move swiftly enough to shave 10-15 minutes off my previous best time in order to come in in under 11 hours. This flat was putting a dent in those plans soon out of the gate

I'd never actually fixed a flat on this bike before and was a little anxious about it because the rim-tire combo is pretty snug and I was afraid I might struggle getting the tire on and off. It turned out that wasn't so much the issue as some ill-advised maneuvers on my part. Once I'd removed the offending metal, I decided to switch out tubes and not bother patching the double puncture. Easy enough. I switched out tubes, remounted the tire, and then put my pump on the valve and pumped it up, being grateful for the ease of the full size frame pump. Once it reached full pressure, I pulled the pump off the valve and WHOOSSH, all the air came rushing out. I'd broken off the little threaded closing stop. Dang! I quickly realized I had not flipped down the pump-head closure lever, allowing the valve end to swing around inside the pump enough to break the stop off. Lesson learned, and back to square one. Now with one useless tube I had no choice but to patch the first. Luckily there was a stream nearby that made it easy to find the holes as the bubbles flowed out and I was able to patch the tube quickly.

A view up to the Appalachian Gap. Luckily we only have to look at it on this ride!

While dealing with the flat, I was keenly aware of my hoped-for sub-11 hour ride prospects quickly vaporizing. Ah well, no problem, at least that takes a little pressure off. I suspect I spent 30-40 minutes dealing with the tire situation. If you're deliberate, a flat can be fixed in under 10 minutes, but that wasn't me today.

I sped on towards the first control in Huntington, glad to be moving after feeling a little defeated so early in the ride. The woman at the store counter kindly signed my card for  me. To my shock and amazement I had only made the control by 2 minutes! Holy smokes! This meant I'd need to really stay on it to reach the next control with any kind of buffer before it closes. As it happens, the most significant climb of the entire route lay between where I was in Huntington and the next control in Bristol, so I chugged down my chocolate milk, ate some cheese, and pressed on. Saturday was Green-Up Day and I saw countless people with green bags collecting trash from the roadsides. I felt a little bad simply riding my bike and waving while others were giving up their morning for such a good purpose.
The crest of Rt 17 before descending to Bristol. The highest point of the ride

The Green Mountains are spectacular as you travel south towards the turn onto Rt. 17, with views of Camels Hump and the Appalachian Gap mixed with undulating farmland along the roadside.  I reached Bristol and found I'd increased my control-closing buffer by about 20 minutes. That was a relief, but I didn't want to do this whole ride only to miss the finish time, so I pointedly made my stop brief and headed on.
Lake Dunmore in the days of old

This year's route has been modified from the one used in previous years and I was excited to ride the new sections since they offered some nice back roads and pretty views of Lake Dunmore. Throughout the morning it threatened rain which never quite materialized, and by the time I reached the control in Brandon it was sunny and starting to feel warm for the first time all day.

Over the course of the day it became apparent that I really can't take in solid food when doing a ride like this. Whatever I eat has to be mushy or liquid, so the sandwiches I'd made the night before with their crusty Red Hen bread were just too much effort to consume. It's soft foods for me from now on. I've always kind of known this, but somehow it just became more apparent on this ride. That said, I drip-fed myself from a bag of nuts throughout the day out of my bag.
Easy miles along the Otter Creek

Reaching Brandon was a relief since it meant that all my miles from now on were headed towards home, rather than away. The warm sun and a dearly hoped-for southerly breeze at my back promised the possibility of a swift return to Burlington. The first few miles out of Brandon are down right pastoral, as Rt. 73 follows the meandering and tranquil Otter Creek. The scenery, combined with flat roads and the tailwind gave me an emotional boost and a few minutes of fast miles.

Experience told me not to relax too much because this lovely road abruptly hits the steepest climb of the whole route like a brick wall. It's not endless, but it is steep. I didn't really mind because I knew to expect it, unlike the first time I rode this course in 2012 and felt some level of betrayal after the lulling effect of those gentle miles along the river.

The route north travels through mile after mile of open rolling farmland. Rarely is it flat, but rarely are the hills overly hard. I churned away and negotiated a few rainstorms as the dark walls of grey slid in from the west. There was a steady rain as I left Middlebury, but the slice of hot pizza, a gatorade, and some more chocolate milks had me feeling fresh and good to continue.
In Cornwall, I happily gave this small amiga a ride for a mile or so. 
We have friends who keep bees in the area, so I'd like to imagine this was one of theirs

While the physical discomforts of a long ride are sometimes a challenge, the hardest part for me is the mental loops of spending so many hours in the company of my own mind. Every turn on the cue sheet becomes a point of mental fixation, and then a minor celebration once reached. Long stretches with nothing but more miles to look forward to can be painful, waiting and wishing for the odometer to somehow roll forward. Eventually it does. 
Focused on getting home

At 6:38 I rolled into Dunkin' Donuts, bought myself a drink, and carefully clutched the receipt, which was my final control check-in. Over the course of the day I'd pushed the control times out far enough to have a comfortable window to successfully finish the ride.

My visions of bettering my previous times were left with a couple of metal bits on the roadside somewhere outside of Richmond.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014


Soon after heading out on Poor Farm Road, one of the brief dirt sections

Saturday Nancy and I rode our first brevet event together, and it was a real pleasure. It was that kind of fun that is in spite of the conditions, not because of them.

The first ride of the brevet season here in Vermont was a 119k Populaire out of Burlington. The forecast all week was improving, promising temperatures in the 50's and a small chance of rain early in the day.
Steve giving us the low down for the ride, just before we left the Old Spokes Home

In fact, it never got out of the 40's and was in the upper 30's for portions of the day and the rain only stopped when it briefly changed to hail for a bit. Well, it actually did clear up for the last 15 miles or so, but it never did warm up.

Greg. This was the last ride on his Surly. At the end of the ride he rolled the bike into the Old Spokes Home for a planned exchange for a new bike

I get unaccountably excited leading up to a brevet. It's just a bike ride in one sense, but on the other it is a really fun and tangible challenge, and that challenge requires a lot of really small details be all sorted out in order to insure a reasonable expectation of success.

Nancy on her new Tom Matchak bike. She seems quite happy with it. 

We had the pleasure of spending the day riding with our friend Greg. Often the opportunities for socializing at the beginning and end of the rides are marginal. Everyone is tense and busy in the minutes before heading out, and rarely do folks happen to end close enough at the finish to cross paths. Doing the whole ride with Greg was a nice chance to chat and experience a ride together. We also rode for a while with our friend Joe, who was doing his first brevet, and he had ridden to the beginning of the ride from South Hero and was on track to ride home at the end. And here we were all feeling bad for ourselves for doing such a long ride!

 Rolling up towards Jericho

Our first stop

  Our second stop in Underhill. Serious foot warming was needed 

Knowing I was doing this with Nancy, I consciously chose not to sweat the performance aspect of the event. Adding the pressure of the control times and such might make an otherwise fun day an exercise in stress, so we just rode it comfortably and let what happened happen when it did. It felt good to not sweat it, and its probably just as well because the cold was a serious factor that required some extended warming stops and a bit of General Store foot-warming creativity. By the time we reached Underhill, Nancy's feet were totally wet and heading toward potential frostbite, if they weren't there already. Luckily, the store in town sold both thick hunter's socks and chemical foot warmer packets. Those, combined with plastic bags over the fresh socks were just what we needed to continue the ride. Besides chilly fingers and bouts of cold after our stops we were generally okay for the rest of the ride, but never actually really warm. It was a lesson in preparing for a slightly greater range of conditions. Greg and I agreed: plan for rain and 10 degrees colder than the forecast is predicting.

The route took us towards Richmond and then up through Jericho onwards Underhill and then out to Cambridge. It was lovely country, especially as we approached Cambridge on Pleasant Valley Road. Almost the whole ride was new territory for me, so it was great just to take in the views.
Sweet sign seen at Brown & Jenkins coffee shop in Cambridge

The return doubled back on much of the route out, but diverted to Richmond village its self and then looped over East Hill Road back towards our destination at the Old Spokes Home in Burlington.

My view

We've only just started to be on our bikes, so the 75 mile ride felt kinda tiring at the end, but we eventually rolled into town and enjoyed the satisfaction of having come through a somewhat tough day. I suspect if we'd known what the weather held in store we might have skipped the ride altogether, but I'm glad we kept to our plan and did the ride. I loved sharing the experience with Nance and it was fun to spend time with Greg.

The skies lighted up at the end portion of the ride

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

New Years Ramble

Today I took a walk around what we affectionately call "the loop" in the mid-day light of New Years Day. This walk is only steps from our door and carries us through an impressive cascade of forested terrain along the Pine Brook. One moment you are at the brook's edge, the next you are 80 feet above it on a high bank looking down. Nancy discovered this route a few years ago while walking my parents old dogs Harley and Motion. It's been a go-to ever since, in all seasons.

Today's walk was not particularly notable other then the fact that it just felt good to be out there moving around and taking in the scenery. In order to stretch the walk out I took a few side paths that take one to other access points to the central walk. It's clear that many people use these paths on a regular basis, which makes me happy. It's so beautiful and its great that people are getting out there to enjoy it. Most of the land is not posted, so it's open for any one to use.

It feels good to move my body.