Sunday, September 14, 2014

Northeast Kingdom 300k


June 14, 2014

It's 10:30PM the night before the 300k and I am drying my sneakers in the oven. I've been anxiously focused on doing the 300k all week and by late in the afternoon on Friday I had pretty much let myself off the hook--I wasn't going to do it. I even said so to a coworker. My internal dialogue was going something like this:

"I don't need to do this.."
"It's fine to do it, but there's no shame in NOT doing this.."
"But you'll be psyched if you DO do it!"
"Nobody cares if I do ride it, nobody cares if I don't. It's my deal--do what makes you happy."

When I got home after work I found myself setting up my aero bars and giving them a quick test; they were were fine. With the bars in place I knew the only serious obstacle to doing the ride was my anxiety.

By that point the game was over. I was doing it. It wasn't long before I found myself hurriedly getting my stuff together and feeling that jittery amped up feeling that I get the night before every brevet.

The early morning start took us north out of Montpelier in a steady 
rain up through Maple Corner towards Hardwick

It's been 2 years since I've ridden anything longer than a 200k. Going into the 300k I just wanted to show myself that that year wasn't a fluke. Plus, I just get really excited at the prospect of a challenging brevet. I fear them and love them. 

This year's route was a new ride Anthony Menona schemed up that takes riders north out of Montpelier up around the Northeast Kingdom. The new route was appealing too; riding through territory in an unfamiliar part of the state.

There was no time to clean the bike--I just gave it a quick look over to make sure there were no glaring issues. With the decision made, and my bike in reasonable shape, Nancy and I enjoyed a quiet dinner out. It felt nice to just relax and put the ride out of my head for a while.    

At 4:30am my alarm went off and I arrived at the start with only a few minutes to sign in and get going--poor planning on my part. I was glad to see some familiar faces there, including Josh, Emily, Jake and a couple of other folks I'd seen on earlier rides. It would have been nice to get there with a little more time to socialize!

There was a steady rain as everyone flew north out of Montpelier. We were soon on muddy dirt roads heading towards Woodbury. The truth is I hadn't ridden much distance since I rode the 200k pre-ride back in May, so I was slightly anxious about my capacity for endurance, but as the day wore on I was feeling as fine as I could hope.
Emily and Tsun


The rain started to let up somewhere around the time I was climbing Stannard Mountain and it was around this time that a rider named Harvie and I talked about doing the rest of the ride together. I was a little hesitant to make this commitment so early in the day because it can be stressful to either feel the need to keep up with a faster rider or to need to slow down for a slower rider. Hence I was slightly noncommittal, but also glad to know there was someone I could stick with through the long hours of the ride. After the 400k a couple of years ago I decided that it didn't feel good to be alone in the middle of nowhere in the middle of the night after 20 some-odd hours of riding. It's good to be with other people for many reasons, not least that it is safer, but it also helps pass the time and allows for some interesting conversations.

Traveling with Harvie


Riding past Lake Willoughby. The weather had eased and it was even starting to warm up a little



I think this was somewhere before reaching Derby Line; Holland perhaps?

The weather moderated as we reached Derby Line sometime in the afternoon with the sun coming out. It was fun to see this unique town which abuts the Canadian boarder. Little streets had gates across them, but the US and Canadian houses seemed to be part of one neighborhood. I've heard that the library is situated over the borderline itself and is open to residents of both countries as a gesture to international harmony. I'd enjoy checking it out sometime. Derby Line led towards a decent unpaved stretch on the Mempheremegog rail trail into Newport. The level grade without the distraction of cars on the roadway was a welcome change of pace. 

Approaching one of the boarder crossings in Derby Line. It is fascinating to see what is essentially a 
large village separated by an international boundary



Whatever ease was felt on the rail trail soon gave way to a climb out of town headed west on Rt. 105. I hadn't studied the route well enough to realize we were headed towards the longest climb of the day over the ridge adjacent to Jay Peak. The grade was never brutal, but it just seemed to keep going and going. Just as I was about to stop for a rest I could see the top was within reach, so I reached the high point and rejoined the other riders who had got there first. The ride down was a fast, dramatic, and beautiful descent through wilderness and great views. Although I didn't realize it at the time, the route briefly took us over the border momentarily in a heavily forested area. Now I can say I've biked to Canada!

Reaching the top of the day's long climb. Altogether the ride was about 14,000 feet of climbing for the day

Harvie, myself and two or three other riders had pretty much coalesced into a small group and we cruised the miles westward into Richford together. Food and a rest put us back in shape to head for the next control in Morrisville. As we climbed out of town, ominous clouds seemed to be moving back in, but they did not immediately threaten rain. Somehow the latter part of the ride started to feel a bit easier than the earlier part of the day. Perhaps it was having the major climbs out of the way, or cooler weather, its hard to say, but a fellow rider and I both noted that it now felt easier. Who would think that 130 miles into a 190 mile ride things start to feel less effortful?

Leaving Richford, the clouds started to gather after a sunny afternoon

Our little band churned out the miles. At one point we collectively waited while one rider fixed a flat, which was a nice unplanned break; I took the time to casually walk up a hill rather than ride it. The fireflies made a great light show as our hub-powered lights joined in the flickering display. We soon got rolling again and finished the rest of the miles to Morrisville. We had traveled over 150 miles at this stage with quite a lot of climbing, so I was starting to want to be done, and this can make the distances seem long. After a while we arrived in Morrisville; pizza and coffee were what I needed to take the edge off the chill and sustain me for the remaining miles. The rain had started again and the air had cooled so I adjusted my clothes to keep warm and dry. This turned out to be a wise choice since it rained the entire 27 miles back to Montpelier.



Those last miles were something of a dream-like blur. Seeing only the beam of my light on the road and Harvie's taillight off ahead I felt the maniacal nature of what we were all up to: speeding though the rain with nearly 200 miles of riding behind us in the pitch black, and yet it was so thrilling at the same time. Tired, wet, and completely happy. The grade was slightly downhill most of the way and we were now on familiar terrain. The end was is sight.

As it happens we arrived with only half hour or so before the close of the control, but we made the cut off with time to spare. I guess I had taken for granted that we had plenty of time and didn't really concern myself with it. Needless to say food and drink at Anthony's were greeted with great appreciation.