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.