Sunday, November 20, 2016

Vermonster

Dreams do come true.

This spring, Amtrak announced, without much warning, that they would be running a trial bikes-on-trains trial pilot program this year. And lucky me, I got to be one of the first riders on the innaugural ride along with dignitaries and press. But I digress...

I have long dreamed of bike journeys facilitated by train, and this weekend I got to live that dream with the help of some hearty adventures. Three friends, Pamela, John and Caleb took the Vermonter from western Massachusetts up to St. Albans last Thursday afternoon and spent the night in a local motel. The next day they biked the 70 odd miles southward to our house. We happily welcomed them in and enjoyed the company of travelling band of cyclists. A fourth rider, Kait, took the train up Friday evening to join in the adventure. My plan was to join the four of them for the following two days with a plan to catch the Vermonter northbound on Sunday afternoon to return home while they continued the rest of the way back to Greenfield and Northampton.



We all knew late October would be a chancy time of year for a multi-day tour, but no one was particularly put off by the early season snow that carpeted the region in the week leading up to the ride. Higher elevations got measurable amounts, and we got an inch or so at our house along with cold and wet. Not exactly the kind of stuff you want to go spend all day riding in, but not enough to daunt the likes of us.


Snow or no snow, rain or no rain, we all geared up and rode out from our house Saturday morning heading into a light drizzle and temps in the low thirties. We all hoped we were dressed well enough for the trip and that mother nature might spare us any serious challenges.

She did not.

Before we had even left the Mad River Valley we encountered bouts of heavy rain, but we forged on. The rain came in waves but we managed to remain passably comfortable as we continued down through the Granville Gulf towards the Rochester Gap. Hills were our friends because they warmed us--descents were unpleasant.


Climbing the Gap we were all mindful of our increasingly saturated state and the long fast decent down the other side we faced. Our worries were manifested as we careened down what must be five or six miles of wet cold windy decending.  My hands were in a serious state of pain and my feet were a close second and the overall semblence of enjoyment was quickly being replaced by a kind of gloomy dread. It was a bitter kind of cold, soaked through to the bone, freezing, and only half way through the ride. Upon reaching the bottom of the mountain road no one spoke and there was no consideration of taking the scenic (and slightly longer) route we had planned into town. We just needed to get indoors without haste. It was a challenging few miles to the little cafe we reached in Bethel, and I'm pretty sure most of us were seriously questioning going any further. I certainly was.


We spent an hour or so eating hot food, drying what clothes we could, wringing socks and gloves out in the sink and doing whatever we could to restore as sense of warmth and comfort. After a while I started to feel that in fact I could go on, as did everyone else. In the meantime, the rain had mercifily stopped, giving more impetus to continue. Two bacon-egg-cheese sandwiches and a cup of black tea can do wonders for one's sense of fortitude.


The ride from Bethel to Woodstock and then to our destination in Hartland was significantly more enjoyable, although we were all still recovering to some extent from the harshness of the earlier cold.
We arrived at our friend Alan's in the darkness and were grateful for warmth, good cheer, food and a comfortable place to sleep.


The next day's journey took us south through lovely wooded hills with lots of dirt roads and tons of climbing, but the weather was kind to us and the day was easier because the main challenge was the effort of riding. No more serious negotiation with the wet and cold, thank god.


My part in the journey ended in Saxons River where I parted with my friends to ride to a few miles into Bellow's Falls to catch the northbound train that afternoon. The other four continued on to Putney for the night and then rode the rest of the way home the next day under sunny skies.


Its hard to overstate the satisfaction of sipping a beer in the cozy comfort of the northbound train after a beautiful journey of some 120 miles and many thousands of feet of climbing on two wheels.



I have a serious suspicion this is only the first time we'll be doing this ride.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Welcome addition!


I've added derailleurs, switched to 700c wheels with studded tires, installed fenders
and a front rack and moved the handlebar set up from my old Fuji

I recently bought a "new" bike, somewhat furtively, while we were down on Cape Cod for the holiday. The bike in question was a somewhat neglected but fully serviceable Fuji S12-s. This bike is not unlike legions of other better-quality early '80's Japanese bicycles; it's magic lies in the fact that the bike is an excellent candidate to convert to a 650b wheel size. Making this conversion allows for a number of benefits: bigger low-pressure tires resulting in a gentler ride, more room for full coverage fenders, and maximizing the benefits of a low-trail "Frenchified" touring bike. 



 
Test fit of 42mm 650b wheel proves to be an excellent arrangement. The rear has a similarly ample fit

Nancy contends I got ripped off, but the $110 I spent to buy a bike I only really wanted for the frame and a few of the parts still feels like it was worth it. It wasn't until I had already made the deal and got it back to the house that I was able to fully test out it's suitability for fitting large diameter 650b tires. It passed with flying colors! In fact, now that I have it and I've had a chance to test out the proof of concept, I feel even better about having spent the money. Later I discovered that my pal Geoff in Boston has the same frame, although his is the slightly lighter "LTD" version. 


This is the bike as it was when I bought it: set up as a single speed

My current vision is to ride it in the short term as a 700c winter commuter with studded tires, which is how I currently have the bike set up.  (My winter commuter up til now has been Nancy's old Serrota mountain bike, which was fun, but not at all a bike that moves, at least the way I had it configured.) With temperatures in the upper 30's today I rode my first shakedown of the Fuji to feel it out and it was wonderful, despite the studded tires. 

Riding on icy ugly January roads


Mind you, this is not the first ancient Fuji I've invested myself in. My brother-in-law Randy long ago tipped me off about a Fuji Touring Series IV at a yard sale. I invested a lot in that bike and it saw me through years of touring, commuting, and my entry into the world of randonneuring. It was a great step forward from whatever bike I was riding before that. Although a great bike, it was limited by the fact that it was a cantilever set up with 27" wheels and that means limited choices on tires.

In retrospect, I spent to much mental energy wanting the Touring Series IV to be something it wasn't and that's why this new frame feels like such a revelation: with minimal effort I have a solid, adaptable frame to fit in where I want to leave the Stag for lighter duties.  I have visions of doing a few frame modifications (routing for lighting wires and mid-fork rack mounts) and then getting the frame cleaned up and powder coated for a new lease on life. I see it as a workhorse, touring rig, and winter commuter, leaving the Stag less encumbered for randonneuring and fair weather riding.  I'm also excited to talk to that Waxwing Bag Co. guy about a set of touring panniers for this rig ;)



I guess I should mention too that I really like it's color arrangement; a sort of deep metallic blue with silver details, including chromed "socks" at the bottom of the front fork. 

Its a keeper.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Early Winter Riding

Persistent Valley fog despite the afternoon sun


It's the 6th of December and the weather has been a mix of proper December weather with frequent and confusing bits of September thrown in. I keep going for rides with the thought that "I gotta take advantage of these last warms temps...".  It keeps happening, but that's okay. Just last week I was kind of resigned to it being winter, right and proper and it was time to switch over to my sedate but winter worthy upright bike with a new set of studded tires. I want to forestal the inevitable, but gladly the inevitable is taking it's time this season. I think also that the Coffeeneuring rides keep me thinking "bike" further into the fall then I would otherwise.



I'm fully aware that this can turn on a dime any day now, but so far so good. And, when it finally does snow and the roads are icy, I'll rediscover the fun of slow adventures in cold weather.

Long afternoon shadows

Nancy climbing up German Flats. There's snow on the slopes behind


New studded tires will be put to use any day

Monday, November 16, 2015

Coffeeneuring Challenge 2015

Here's my Coffeeneuring Challenge 2015 recap. I didn't pick a theme-within-a-theme but I did notice a positive trend; with two exceptions these were all social rides, not solo journeys. I didn't plan it that way, it just happened. You'd think getting out once a weekend for a cup of coffee would be a no-brainer, but it's easy to let it slip or not make it happen. Gladly, I did manage to come through. 103 miles all told.
Like randonneuring events, the challenge creates a game --a framework-- that gets me out on my bike at a time of year when I would probably not ride so much, so I'm grateful for the excuse. Thinking ahead to next year, I think I might make architecture a theme to orient around. Thanks to Mary for making this happen!

Coffeeneuring Ride #7
Destination: City Feed and Supply
Location: Jamaica Plain, MA
Bike friendliness: nothing worth noting
Miles: 35



My favorite ride of the coffeeneuring season! I met up with a few fellow New England Randonneurs for a recommended no-fenders ride (advice I ignored) that took in a meandering course around the shoreline in Dorchester, the hills and ponds of the Blue Hills, and various pathways and abandoned roadways in the area.


Coffee was the fuel that started the day, drank somewhat hastily with our collective desire to get moving. The day was pretty chilly, but so much fun to be adventuring through the woods and paths.

Coffeeneuring #6
November 8
Miles: ~5 miles all told
Bike Friendliness: spot on
Destination: Mountain View Farm, VT


A short sweet ride on a chilly morning with friends to the ever affordable cafe-without-walls, namely the upper fields at a neighbors farm a few miles down the road.
With a short walk up the hill we had a nice hang out with coffee at the top of the meadow, looking over the great views across the valley. The wind was brisk and chilly, but the sun was warm.





Coffeeneuring #5
November 1
Destination: The Warren Store, Warren, VT
Bike friendliness: Good enuf, nothing special
Miles: ~16



Nance asked what my coffeeneuring ride plan was. Truth was I didn't have much of one, envisioning a solo ride to check #5 off the list. She responded why don't we ride down to the Warren Store, get lunch and ride back. Yes! A ride with my sweetness is way more fun then heading off on my own.

Coffeeneuring #4
October 31
Location: Field, Waitsfield, VT
Bike Friendliness: Quite acceptable 
Coffee: Home brew..all good.
Distance: 11 miles, under chilly haze




Today's ride was semi-uninspired. The available retail options are more or less mediocre and so I opted for a Coffee Without Walls locale that was quite nice at the top of the Rolston Road in Waitsfield, VT with a view that looks west across the Mad River Valley. If you love narrow, small, steep dirt roads, Rolston Road is a fun one.

Coffeeneuring # 3

October 25
Distance ~16m
Destination: Maglianaro Cafe, Burlington, VT with a ride out to the end of the Colchester Causeway
Bike Friendliness: excellent




If there were a Coffeeneurs's perfect destination, I'd nominate Maglianaro as a top contender. The cafe has been both bike themed (notice the handlebar"M" logo) and bike-centric from the start. (In their old location they even had showers available). There are no bike racks out front because bicycle parking is INSIDE, right through the front door! The coffee is some of the best in the region, and the space is open and light with deep window sills. A previous art display was a variety of antique bikes on loan from the nearby Old Spokes Home.




Our coffee stop was the launching off point for an adventure out to the end of the causeway on the Lake Champlain Island Line Trial. With 30-40 knot winds we enjoyed riding through the craziness.

Coffeeneuring‬ ride #2 with my brother-in-law Brian. 
October 11
Destination: East Warren Community Market
Roughly 13 miles round trip.






This morning's ride took us from home to the East Warren Community Market in East Warren. The route travels along the spectacular Waitsfield Common and East Warren roads, providing broad views across the Mad River Valley which is at the height of fall foliage. Coffee was fine, the company great and the tailwind home just right.

Coffeeneuring Ride #1

Sunday October 4th
Destination: Big Picture Theatre & Cafe
Miles: 7
Bike Friendliness: Indifferent



My first outing was an enjoyable late afternoon ride to town for a cozy cup of coffee at the Big Picture. Although a cool day, the late afternoon made sitting outside not only do-able, but quite pleasant. From my seat I could see the ridge of the Green Mountains off in the distance. The mountains evoke a sense of wildness for me. There will be cold and frost, even snow up there before long, but for now the warmth remains and it was nice to have a causal easy ride to check off this first ride of the Coffeeneuring season. Jess, who works at the cafe was kind enough to brew a new pot o'decaf at the late hour of the afternoon, and it was quite good. Truth be told, I may have opted for a more fermented option given the time, but being a dutiful Coffeeneur, I stayed within the available options for the event.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

The (New) Vermont Fall Classic 200k/100k


Update: Derek made this great little video from the ride. He and his friends arrived late for the start but met up with other riders in Randolph. See it here.
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Frost and fog greeted us excited riders as we tackled the "hidden" hill not more than a half mile out of the start in Montpelier. On one hand, it helped to warm us up after standing around in the cold morning air, on the other, it was an abrupt end to any casual banter as we dug in. The hill sorted us out according to our eagerness for a stiff climb. And it just kept going....

Anthony addressing the riders at the start

Bikes wondering where the riders are

Marianne on her new Matchak bike, built by her partner Tom

Near the top I heard the lovely clonking of what I imagined to be Swiss bells on a couple of cows ambling about in the morning mist. The city of Montpelier rapidly gives way to countryside and quiet dirt roads. At this point it was icy fingers and a sweaty brow for me. At the top of the hill I grouped up with some others and we continued on. Sweeping past Berlin Pond would have been a treat if we could have seen it--its a beautiful spot for sure--but the fog was so thick that I suspect most folks didn't even notice it.

Climbing up Hill Street (how's that for a name?) out of Montpelier

More and more, it's the social aspect of riding brevets that keeps me on the hook, coupled with great scenery and a satisfyingly challenging ride. Saturday's event checked off all three in abundance. I used to worry more about controls and finishing than I do these days, which allows me to relax a bit and take the ride in whatever way feels right.

Headed towards Brookfield; I enjoyed talking with Eric (on the right), who completed PBP in August. I was curious about his nifty Soma, including 
the fork, which just looked a little too refined for a Soma, as it turned out to be. 

I almost didn't bring gloves and as it was my fingers were pretty cold

I stayed with this little group until reaching Floating Bridge info control in Brookfield and marveled at the beauty of the mist rising off the pond mixed with serenity of the warm morning sun. I decided to hold back and wait for whomever showed up next before pressing on; it turned out to be more of a wait than I anticipated, but that was okay. It was fun to join up with a new crowd for a little food and chat on the bridge and then a nice ride down to Randolph.

Morning sun on the Floating Bridge in the village of Brookfield


Coffee and caffeinated gummy bears are just the thing sometimes

The next control was the Randolph Depot. After a cup of coffee and a muffin, I made a short little side trip to my friend and fellow randonneur Harvie's place to say hello. When I noticed Emily scurrying off I got myself together and followed her up Rt. 12, catching up to her a few miles out of town. We rode the rest of the 100k route back to Montpelier including passing through the infamous (albeit brief) Devil's Washbowl, where even on the sunniest of days the light barely penetrates. Coming down off the top of Moretown Mountain is always a rush, and the decent on Howes Road is simply iconic.

Emily cruising through the Devil's Washbowl

Coming down Howes Road towards Moretown Common

The final control was at the ever-amazing Red Hen Bakery and Cafe. A home for cyclists, bread, and coffee lovers alike, it was a good place to kick back for a bit, leaving only 5 or 6 flat miles to finish off the day back in Montpelier at Onion River Sports. I knew I wasn't drinking enough when the only thing that I wanted was more chocolate milk after I'd had a chocolate milk.

A social jumble of bikes and people at the Red Hen Bakery

Marianne and Nancy nearing the end of a great ride 
(photo: courtesy of Tom Matchak)

Being the final ride of the Vermont portion of the New England Randonneurs season, there was a relaxed and fun get-together at Anthony's house later in the afternoon. A number of folks who were going to do the 200k switched gears and finished at 100k, allowing for an easy transition to the party. It was satisfying to chill out and chat with some good friends. I'm really glad to be a part of this little world of cycling and I'm looking forward to next year's rides already!