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.