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.

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