Photo by Jason DeVarennes



Monday, October 13, 2014

F2G2 - Fall Foliage Gravel Grinder

I have a whole slew of posts to put together from our September trip in Oregon, but Fear Rothar still has to whittle down the massive number of photos he took on that trip, so in the meantime I'm skipping ahead to a ride we did last weekend. While the Fall Foliage Gravel Grinder also involved numerous photo stops per mile, being just a one day event, the sheer number of photos was smaller, making his task of going through them much less daunting. As such, it allows me to have an almost timely post, for once. But fear not, Oregon posts are forthcoming! After all, we've got to get them out before we go to Ireland and create an even worse backlog! [It would help if I wasn't working 16-hour days - FR] [Whatever - FP]

With the rising popularity of so-called gravel-grinder rides (and bikes), we've been excited to see that the calendar of dirt road events in New England has become almost crowded! It seems there's been at least one every weekend since spring, and we've been taking in many of them. I'm not sure how we first heard about the Fall Foliage Gravel Grinder but there was a lot of chatter and interest on a local email list for unpaved enthusiasts. Checking out the photos on F2G2 website and the route map, we saw that it would take in lots of nice scenery along little dirt roads in Berkshire County. We have ridden some in this area, but not extensively, so the promise of beautiful and quiet new-to-us dirt roads was enough to entice us to plan a trip.

The timing of the event, to take advantage of peak fall color, meant it was also going to be in direct competition with a very popular nearby cyclo-cross race, so I wasn't sure whether we'd see a big turnout on the day. Fortunately for the high school cross country team, benefactors of the funds raised from the event, there are plenty of riders who prefer to spend the whole of a beautiful autumn day on their bikes, rather than racing for an hour and/or watching other people race for an hour. Over 150 riders registered for this first year event.

The ride started and finished at Canterbury Farm, a cross-country skiing center and B&B. John and I took advantage of the B&B the night before, allowing for a relaxing start in the morning. We also checked out the nearby Dream Away Lodge, a very popular restaurant/bar/music venue in the middle of nowhere, yet seemingly known to all the locals and even the not-so-locals. The place was packed and the meal was delicious.

After dinner, we returned to the B&B and stayed up a while chatting with other cycling guests. After a good night of sleep, we arose to the smell of freshly baked muffins. Coffee, melon, pancakes and bacon fueled me for the first leg of the ride.

Riders could start anytime between 9 and 10AM and folks were encouraged to go out in small groups. Faster riders were asked to start later, to avoid arriving at the aid stations early, but those opting for the bonus loop or taking lots of photos were encouraged to head out without too much delay. Given John's desire to capture lots of fall color on his SD card, we headed out soon after the initial wave of riders.

From the get-go, we found ourselves on a lovely narrow hard packed gravel road - the first of many that day - heading up through the dense but colorful tree cover along a gradual climb. A couple of miles in John read aloud the next cue which stated "beginning of first climb." I looked down at my GPS, which already showed almost 600 feet of pre-first climb. Apparently they only labeled as climb inclines that made use of one's very bottom gear! This route had several climbs.

Fortunately, F2G2 was not a race, as the stunning scenery led to many of the aforementioned photo stops. Sometime after the first rest-stop, we came upon Jon and Chris, who had stopped to fix a slow-leak at a particularly photo-worthy location, and spent the rest of the day riding and chatting with them.

Chris has spent the last 7 months hiking the Appalachian trail with his partner, Greta. He was quite fit from the effort, but we wondered how he'd get along with his saddle after so many months apart! He coped, but did mention they might need to have some counseling - him and the saddle - that is. He told some great stories of meeting generous folks who provided trail-magic along the way, like a sag stop for hikers. The Pittsfield High School Cross Country team provided ride-magic for us on this day, with many energetic kids staffing the aid stations and providing encouragement along the way. They even baked some of the treats themselves. Among the many treats on offer, we sampled home baked cookies, banana bread and chocolate dipped strawberries.

Scenes at the first rest stop

The route took in lots of tiny roads, some of which were permanently closed to other traffic - trails, you might say. Recently fallen leaves combined with slanting autumnal sunlight to hide rocks and holes and called for extra attention. Heavy rain the previous day had also filled some puddles to axle depth - guess how we discovered that?

After a stop to chat with some friendly pigs, we continued with Jon and Cris on the bonus loop through Beartown State Forest. This section was super, with a few more trail-like sections than the main route. The three bikes all had plump tires that soaked up the bumps with ease, although one of Chris's tires suffered a spontaneous deflation event and we took a break while he replaced the tube. Brian passed us at this time, and we to-ed and fro-ed with him the rest of the day.

Jon, taking in the view of the Tyringham valley.

Santarella, Tyringham's Gingerbread house

The climb up Schermerhorn Road was considered the feature climb of the day, to the extent we got a Euro sticker when we checked-in, that pre-emptively boasted, "I climbed Schermerhorn." The volunteers talked it up, literally, at every rest stop, so we were curious what lay in store.

The view from the base of Schermerhorn Road

What awaited us was a closed road that climbed up into October Mountain State Forest. The surface was classic Massachusetts pavement with bits of asphalt roughly held together by the gravitational pull of black holes. OK, I'll concede that most of our roads actually do have better pavement than this one, but if we have another winter like this past one, that may not be the case for long. The steepness of the slope, along with the stone filled potholes made this long climb, at the end of the ride, especially cruel. Many riders on cyclocross bikes with typical cyclocross gearing found themselves making use of their cross skills, i.e. dismounting and proceeding on foot. Given that we now had a sticker claiming we had climbed it, we felt obliged to live up to it and, sure enough, we carefully picked our line and spun our way up. At the top, we were greeted once again by enthusiastic helpers at the final rest stop, which won the rest top award for best view.

The view from the rest stop atop Schermerhorn Road

The run-in to the finish was relatively fast and straightforward, but with more beautiful scenery along the way. Our well stoked appetites were soon sated with draft beer courtesy of Wandering Star Craft Brewery, soup, chili and burgers on the deck of the B&B, as the sun set on a terrific day.

The organizers talked about it being their first event, but you really wouldn't know it. It was very well run, with no issues of note. My only suggestion would be to do away with the race number we had to pin to clothing. I understand the desire to keep track of registered riders, but race numbers are for races. The act of pinning a number on my jersey mentally preps me for racing, and this was most definitely not a race. But more importantly, the weather was such that most folks started in jackets or vests, and pinning a number through a jacket is a no-no. As the sun and climbs warmed riders later in the day, those jackets and vests might eventually come off, finally revealing the numbers underneath. We were asked on several occasions for our numbers, but since it was on my back (and under my vest), I really had no idea what it was. To me a better option would be a wristband with the number written on it.

Aside from that, everything was great. The various aid stations along the way were staffed with energetic-beyond-words high school kids and the tables overflowed with snacks. The cue sheet was detailed and accurate. Where possible, there were arrows painted on the road and every turn was marked with a sign (political ad type signs). Arrows on dirt won't last and the sweep picked up all the signs, so you won't find those en route if you ride it later, using the GPS track and/or cues from the website. You also will miss out of the enthusiastic support staff, and the campfire at the top of the Schermerhorn climb and the great beer and wonderful feed at the end. But you will get the same great climbs and descents and awesome scenery, albeit with fewer leaves and less color in coming weeks.

This really was an amazing route and ride. The route was clearly designed by cyclists and flowed very well, even if sometimes the flow was made slower by the steepness of the incline! I would both recommend doing the official event next year as well as checking out part or all of the route in your own time.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Not a Recovery Ride! Hair of the Dog

Fear Rothar teases me about my choice of routes for the day after various Big Event™ rides. He likes to call them Recovery Rides - with a big dose of sarcasm. I prefer to think of them more as Hair of the Dog that Bit Ya. In reality, I am just taking advantage of the great terrain in whatever place we happen to be. Since most of our Big Event™ rides take in lots of climbing and dirt roads, most of our day-after-the-day-before rides tend to do the same. Recovery rides do not happen on weekends!

For the day after the Irreverent Road Ride, I had looked around on RideWithGPS for rides near Montpelier with the word "dirt" in the name and stumbled upon the Central Vermont Cycling Tour. Struggling with the idea that Montpelier is not what I consider Central Vermont, I almost discounted this one. Thank goodness I did not. This route was brutiful, and I now have it starred as one of my favorites. 

We barely saw a car all day. What we did see was lots of short steep climbs and descents, a barn that spanned the road, a truck straight out of the Flintstones, some very tempting lakes, amazing mountain vistas and gorgeous rolling fields of green. The altimeter on my GPS got a serious workout. Maybe we were worn out from our activities the day before, but the climbing on this route got my attention!

It turns out the route is from an organized ride, which despite being in Northern Vermont is indeed called the Central Vermont Cycling Tour. It is held in June every year as a fundraiser for the Cross Vermont Trail Association, a very worthy cause. We will definitely add the actual event to our must-do list for next year.

Vermont does dirt right!

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

When Roxbury Gap Is the Bailout...

This is what every week has been like for me this summer...
Monday - unpack, do laundry, recover from weekend. Figure out what Big Event is next.
Tuesday - 100ish km social ride from Ride Studio Cafe
Wednesday and Thursday - Various appointments with doctors and physical therapist
Friday - Pack and load up for weekend. Drive to Big Event
Saturday - Big Event
Sunday - so-called recovery ride, then drive home
Wash, Rinse, Repeat...

I'm not looking for sympathy. Really. It's a pretty sweet life. It's just my excuse for why I am months behind on any ride reports! We are so busy creating content that we just have no time to post it. I'm hoping to open the floodgates with a few posts soon, but will not make any more promises.

One ride report at a time.

We'd heard about the Irreverent Road Ride last year, and it made it's way onto our short list for this year. The words irreverent and road were combined to convey the fact that the word road might be a generous description for some of the route. A large part of the route was on lovely scenic quiet dirt roads, quite rideable on a road bike with reasonable tires. But there were some sections connecting these roads that would be a proper challenge, both physically and technically difficult. This sounded very appealing to us.

With very few exceptions, all of our big events this year have been on dirt and on our tandem. We do have a great time dispelling the myth that, "This can't be done on a tandem." Admittedly, this year we may have scaled back a little in the gnarly-factor and may not be going quite as fast as last year, but we still surprise most folks with what we can do on tandem. And I have high hopes of returning to proper form someday. I know John looks forward to my being less nervous on twisty descents!

So with the Irreverent Road Ride route loaded into our GPS, we packed up the tandem and drove up to Waterbury, VT on Friday night. Then after a not so complete night of sleep in a motel room, one floor below a number of heavyweight gymnasts who seemed determined to practice their floor routine all night long, we headed over to a park-n-ride lot for the early morning start. We arrived to find our hosts for the day, Hubert d'Autremont and Adam St. Germain, setting up a tent and laying out maps with oodles of options. They had discovered some truly impassable sections on the pre-ride/arrowing mission, and the various cue sheets and maps offered a plethora of different choices. Looking at the tandem, it was suggested that we might pass on taking in Braintree Gap. Normally this would be like waving a red flag to a bull and make us even more determined than ever to ride it. But I listened as they told not just us, but everyone else too, of the seriously technical descent with major dropoffs, that would likely involve lots of walking. To seal the deal, the bailout option was Roxbury Gap. Yes, that's right. The whimpy route goes over Roxbury Gap. If you know anything of the gaps in Vermont, this statement alone would be enough to make one think twice. We, along with a few others, decided to take the easy out option of the 4 mile/1200 foot climb up Roxbury Gap on dirt, followed by a nice, completely rideable, albeit steep and sometimes bumpy descent to Warren.

As they talked about the various options, they also mentioned the very first section, which they called the Squirrel Catcher. They said folks should use this section as a preview of the other technical stuff. If this put you off, you might want to pass on Braintree.

We had been chatting with a few friends, including the gals from Firefly, out on yet another adventure. We also saw our friends, Jon Doyle and Geoff Cisler, who had camped out the night before, and surely had an infinitely better night of sleep than we did. We started talking with Bob Bortree, who we know from the hillclimb circuit. Bob is a mountain goat and a local who knows all the roads. He suggested skipping the squirrel catcher right off the bat, and heading up the paved Duxbury climb and bombing down the dirt Stevens Brook Road, which we know well from older editions of DROVES. Since we'd already made the decision to skip the Braintree dropoffs, we decided to follow Bob's advice, for a few feet at least, until he pulled away and disappeared up the climb. Jon and Geoff chose to join us for the day, while it seemed all the others were at least willing to play the squirrel catcher game.

There's nothing like starting a ride with a long steep climb, right off the bat, with no chance to ease into it. We tried to roll along gently, but you have to make some effort on the climb. After doing our best to noodle up the climb, we made the turn onto Stevens Brook, and let the tandem do its thing on the descent. We rejoined the main route part way down and continued on next to the river for a while before starting our next climb up Moretown Common and then up Moretown Mountain Road. Somewhere along the way, we were caught by a couple of fast guys, and expected the see the others go screaming by at any point.

Partway down we took the turn onto the ominous sounding Devil's Washbowl. No sightings of Satan having a bath here, but we did see plenty of lovely scenery along the way.

Soon enough we were at the bailout - head up Roxbury Gap, or aim for the unknown. Maybe next year I won't be such a whimp!

Hanging with Geoff and Jon

Don't go there!

Adam and Hubert had painstakingly arrowed the route, with these lovely little signs stapled to posts and trees

After climbing and descending Roxbury, we decided to head down into Warren for breakfast. We blew right past the charming store at the base of the gap, that would have saved us a few hundred feet of climbing later. I wasn't paying attention to the cue sheet at this point, and didn't realize the route didn't actually go all the way down into Warren. Still, we had a lovely brekkie at the Warren store and then got bonus climbing. 

In the irreverent nature of the ride, we decided to be a bit creative with the route ourselves and headed out of Warren on a dirt road that we know from DROVES. However, we soon found a bridge under de-construction, which explained why we'd not seen any cars for a while. Fortunately we had no trouble getting past on bikes, taking the wooden footbridge off to one side.

Were the Braintree dropoffs like this one?

We had another fabulous descent, past another "Road Closed" sign. Jon and Geoff stopped for a nature break while we continued on. We said we'd ride back up should the road be truly impassable. Again, there were no issues for the bikes and soon we were in the village of Hancock. 

Next up was the climb over Middlebury Gap, followed by a lovely descent into Ripton and a well earned stop at the store. We've done this climb oodles of times, but somehow misremembered quite how long the descent into Ripton was. Jon drafted us down the mountain, but Geoff took a little recovery break near the top. We regrouped and then saught out refueling at the store a little ways past the turn. Here we spotted a photo of the owner seemingly holding a fisher cat. We had to look carefully to determine that the weasel was, in fact, stuffed!

Beautiful blue skies started to cloud over as we rode along the Natural Turnpike. Adam and Hubert had warned us about some loose gravel on one of the descents, and that warning was not for naught. Everyone made in through and we continued to press on, hoping to beat whatever storm was headed our way.

We reached the store in Jerusalem just as the heavens opened. We took another well-earned refueling break, and hung out on the porch, hoping the storm would pass. We spotted a few sucker holes - blue sky openings that tempt you to head out, but then close down soon after. Rumbles of thunder and flashes of lighting made the porch plenty enticing for the time being. Was this actually Devil's Washbowl? After a while, it became obvious that it was simply not going to clear up anytime soon. The official route had one more 1000 foot climb, but the persistent lightning persuaded us to pass on tempting fate by climbing up into the clouds, and instead we enjoyed an amazing 20 mile descent back to Waterbury. We had no idea such a road existed in Vermont! An irreverent road?

Geoff, a little wet, but still happy.
Jon, looking forward to the ride back to the campsite
We got in before dark and were surprised to find quite a few cars still in the lot, evidence that more adventure was still taking place out of the course. Given the dwindling light, we hoped they all had lights or would arrive soon.  I later saw video evidence that they had an awesome ride and all made it back to the start. Next year, we will have to try more of the gnarly bits!

Friday, August 8, 2014

The Frenemy

I've long claimed that I don't train. I ride my bike to hang out with friends at good cafés, after taking in all the magnificent scenery on the way. I don't use a heart rate monitor. I don't do intervals. I don't race. I just ride my bike.

But the reality is that all that riding can have the side benefit of increased fitness. And sometimes I do seek out hills and make an effort to get up them in short order. But still this is not training, not in any structured way, not in any way that a coach would call training.

And to go along with my anti-training attitude, I have long resisted indoor exercise of any kind. I am no gym rat. For me, bad weather just makes an adventure more memorable. 

But since last autumn, my outdoor-only, non-structured, lackadaisical approach to exercise has been in a bit of conflict with my need to recover and regain some strength.

Initially, since it was all I could do, I walked. In fact I walked and walked and walked some more. I logged a lot of walking time last autumn, and found lots of interesting places to explore on foot. Of course, each time I walked on a new trail, I thought about whether it would be good for riding - because... ya know - I'm a cyclist! I did thoroughly enjoy my walks and found that I saw and took pictures of things I wouldn't necessarily see or stop to photograph on the bike.  We often talk about how we see so much more on a bike than in a car. Well slow it down a little more, and there's even more to see!

But as much as I enjoyed and appreciated my walks, it was always with the idea of getting strong again to get back on the bike.

Once out of the brace and freed to start doing some core strengthening, I started a structured PT program. Indoors. The first day that I was able to get on an indoor bicycle was very exciting for me! The thrill didn't last very long though. What is there to look at in the gym? Sorry, watching TV or watching other people suffer just isn't the same as seeing a sunset, or watching the wind-swept waves through a grassy meadow, or seeing the white tails of deer as they bound off into the woods. I quickly found I wanted to be outside. This was doubly enforced when I decided to do the Festive 500 indoors. After watching way too many videos and sweating and suffering way more than I ever would outside, I knew that indoor cycling would just never become a thing for me!

But since I still wasn't able to actually ride outside, I headed down to the Harvard Stadium. I'd heard about people who would run the stadium. This sounded really hard. I decided to start easy. The proper athletes run up the seats (at twice the height of the steps), and then run down the steps. They move from section to section, climbing each and every one of the 37 sections. I started slow. I walked up the steps, slowly. Then I walked down the steps using the handrail. Until you've lost all your core strength, you may not realize how much you use your core when going down stairs! This was truly enlightening. And while it wasn't quite the changing views one gets on a bike ride, at least I was outside, with sunshine and a breeze.

The first time out, I walked for about 20 minutes. Up the steps in one section down the steps in another. Until I ran out of handrail. I'm not sure why they only have handrail on just a few sections, but it probably saved me some pain the next day! As I was still quite weak and being pretty cautious, I stopped when this crutch of sorts ran out. Good thing. I could barely walk the next day. My calves were screaming!

A couple of days later, I went back, careful to stop after 20 minutes, and to stretch my calves lots.  After a few visits, I built up the strength and confidence to let go of the handrail. My calves had become accustomed to the workout, and now my abs and other core muscles got in on the action. 

I started going twice a week, and slowly added a little more time and distance. I worked my way around the stadium. I went from doing one section up, the next section down, alternating sections up and down - to halfway around, then all the way around, then all the way around and halfway back and finally all the way around and all the way back. The temperatures increased as I increased my strength and time. So I started carrying water bottles with me, to encourage me to swing my arms and to have something to drink along the way. 

Recorded with my phone. GPS signal isn't the most accurate. I really don't weave all over the place. The toughest thing is when strava says 0 feet of climbing, since the phone doesn't have an altimeter, and the maps don't have the elevation data for the steps!

And while it isn't the most exciting thing to do, it can be fun to watch teams who come out to practice on the field, or other walkers, or the folks who actually run the seats, and do pushups in between sections - the hardcore athletes. I even occasionally would meet a fellow stair walker and strike up a conversation. But usually it was just a wave or nod from afar, an acknowledgement that this is tough, and a thumbs up.

One day, I decided it was time to try the seats. Now this was a whole new level of effort and it really used glutes and lower back and hamstrings. Similar to my initial outings, I just did a couple of sections this way, and slowly started to build. 

But there is no coffee shop halfway around. The view really doesn't change much, and I can't say that I consider this fun - like a nice bike ride. But I am seeing my strength return, so I keep going back. It's like my old frenemy - the water tower. It's hard, but rewarding, and it's outside.

But speaking of the water tower, I finally made my return there on a bike a few weeks ago, before heading to a coffee shop.

Frenemy, indeed!

Friday, June 27, 2014

Green Mountain Double Metric

The alarm goes off at 3 AM. John silences it. The room is quiet. We drag ourselves out of bed and begin the pre-ride rituals. I do love to ride my bike. I do love the long rides. But I do hate getting up at this hour.

I brush out and re-braid my hair. Then I apply sunscreen to my face and arms and slather on plenty of chamois cream. This is going to be a long day, better add some more. I check the outside temperature. It's 59F. Heavy rain fell all day yesterday and continued overnight. The dirt roads we'll be riding on today will be soft and full of mud puddles. Looking out the window, I see light drizzle under the street light. I put on my shorts, arm warmers and leg warmers.

I take a few bites of bagel and some sips of cold coffee drink.

My RoadID hangs from a chain that I wear like a necklace. My primary contact is John, but it also says, "If on tandem, call Susan". The ritual of putting on this necklace is new for me since last September, when I discovered that not all EMTs know about back pockets on cycling jerseys. I was rather lucky that my phone wasn't broken when I was thrown from the bike, since I couldn't come up with phone numbers or addresses without it! Once I explained that I was actually lying on my phone (and wallet and ID), the EMTs, who already had me strapped to the backboard, were able to retrieve the device and possibly ease some of my discomfort from lying on all that stuff. The deputies were then able to use my phone to contact my cousin. I think someone eventually would have found the card in my wallet with all John's info on it, but it likely would have taken a while longer to contact my local hosts. 

So before I got back on a bike again, I ordered a RoadID. The first few times I went through the process of hanging this thing around my neck, I thought back to that fateful day and paused... Each time I returned from a ride safely and took the necklace off to hang on hook on the bathroom door, I felt a sense of relief.  Now it has become just another part of the pre-ride ritual, after applying sunscreen and chamois cream.

I pull on my 52 Vincents jersey. John and I don't normally dress like twins on the tandem, but we do sometimes fly team colors. When deciding what team kit to wear for this event, of course it had to be the 52 Vincents jerseys. Ride Studio Cafe made these jerseys for us a few years ago, when we joined up with 4 other friends to take part in a Rapha Gentlemen's race, as a team of 3 tandems. The team name was inspired by Richard Thompson's song, "1952 Vincent Black Lightning" which you can listen to here and see my revised lyrics. The 6 of us worked well as a team that day. We were strong. We had fun. We even won! And we survived "The Rapture."

I pull on wool socks and then step into my favorite brown leather shoes, which I'm sure will get completely covered in muck today, but they are tough and clean up well after abuse - like me. Finally I pull on a pair of nicely padded cycling gloves, my hat and helmet. Last up is my hi-vis reflective vest. In its pockets I have my cycling wallet and my camera. I think I'm ready. John has been going through the same process.

We maneuver the tandem out of our motel room and carry it downstairs, to begin the 5 mile ride out to the official starting point at the Eunice Williams bridge on Green River Road.

Riding the Green Mountain Double Century was not even on my radar until a few days ago, when Sandy Whittlesey sent email out to his list of regulars and casually mentioned a short option.

Some background: Green Mountain Double Century is one of the toughest double centuries around. It's 70% dirt roads with 20,000+ feet of climbing. But it's also one of the most beautiful rides we've done, with quiet country (dirt) roads running through dense forests and grassy farmlands in the Green Mountains of southern Vermont.

John has taken part every year since its inception in 2011. The first year saw constant rain for 20+ hours. John rode with his teammates, David and Matt. The next year, enticed by the prospect of amazing scenery and with the luxury of 40 hours allowed to complete the ride, Dena and I opted for a lower key approach, involving an overnight in a B&B, while John, David and Matt hammered out a lightning fast time.

Last year, Dena's impending motherhood meant I'd have to find a different riding partner, so John and I planned to ride tandem. But a mere week before the event, a wrong way cyclist hit me head-on and foiled those plans. So instead of getting ready for the race, I had collarbone surgery. John scrambled to get his single bike rideable, and on Saturday, Dena and I went for a hike in the Blue Hills, while John rode with his teammates again.

The rest of the summer went well, until it didn't. Regular readers know the story...

So this spring, we've been taking things one ride at a time. I quickly built up to 60 mile rides on a single bike, and had finally reached a point where a ride of that length didn't hurt so bad. I was occasionally even stretching things out to 90 miles, taking a full day with a nice long lunch stop and many photo-ops.

I do seem to have gotten over a bit of a hump recently. First, I'm getting stronger (and faster) physically. I'm still much slower than I want to be and hills are still more challenging than I'd like. The severe pain has mostly faded into a background pain. Of course bumps are much more noticeable than they used to be, but fatter tires at lower pressure helps. The other hump is the mental one. While I am still pursuing various means of pain relief, I have accepted that this pain is part of my life now, and just decided to HTFU and get on with it. 

Then Sandy's email about GMDC came in, mentioning a 135 mile (double metric) option. And I thought that maybe, just maybe, if we took the tandem and a camera, that it might be possible to do this nice hilly long dirt road ride in southern Vermont. So I sent a text to John: GMD-Lite - what do you think? And with that a plan was hatched.

I exchanged a bunch of emails with Sandy about the proposed short route. I coyly asked if it would include Kelley's Stand!

In 2011, Kelley's Stand was a primary feature of the race, but a few months after that first event, Tropical Storm Irene destroyed the road. So Sandy created a new route for 2012, and yet another new route for 2013. Each route has been lovely, but there was something special about the original route and Kelley's Stand, with its never ending series of 42 false summits. This year work is finally being done on the road, and it's passable by bike, so GMDC reverted to the original route. Sadly for us, one really has to do the full 200 miles to take in Kelley's Stand, but with this SoftLikeKitten 135 mile version, we'd still get in lots of great climbs, including Putney Mountain Road and, a special for the short ride, twisty winding descent off Stratton along with some spectacular scenery.

So this is how at 3:30 AM, we were pedaling away from our motel in Greenfield to ride out to the official start of GMDM at the Eunice Williams bridge.

Light mist coated my glasses. The forecast called for a clearing as the day wore on, so I wasn't too worried about a repeat of a full day of rain like the first year. Earlier in the week, John had talked about removing the fenders from the tandem, but no sooner did he utter those words than the forecast changed to one that demanded he leave them in place. John is likely the biggest offender in breaking my rule of not talking about rain during a ride. When will he learn? He mocks me for my aversion to the R-word. And each time he does, we get wet!

After a short spin along flat roads, the last flat stuff we'd see for a while, we arrived at the bridge to be greeted by a big bear hug from Sandy. We had hoped our friend, Ted, would join us for a fun day out, but it seems he wasn't able to get the night off work. We'd also heard that Russ and CK would be riding, but they opted for an even shorter version with a later remote start. In the end, Rick was the only other rider planning to take the shortcut, while half a dozen others were aiming for the full monty.

As we were milling about waiting to start, Dave, who was acting as photographer for Matt R., came over to greet us and snap a few photos. I pulled out my point and shoot and asked if he would mind getting a shot with it, but then I couldn't get it to turn on. Seems I'd forgotten to recharge the battery, again! Bummer, that would put a crimp in my picture taking plans. At least John had his small camera. So there was still some hope of photo-op breaks. 

Dave C. captured the drizzly start well

4AM arrived and with very little ceremony, we were on our way. The route started out the very gradual climb along the Green River Road. Knowing that one can't complete the ride in the first 5 minutes, we took our time warming up. Matt R. hammered off the front, never to be seen again.

John seemed unusually subdued. It turned out that he hadn't slept well at all the night before, thanks to the noisy air conditioner in our hot room. We rolled along in silence for a while. Well, in the silence of a forest at 4AM, with the sound of the river gushing downstream and birds starting to chirp as dawn arrives. This chorus accompanied the noise from our 42mm Hetre tires struggling against a soft wet sandy surface. A knobbly tread would have come in handy in the early going, and admittedly we had some fishtailing at times, so there was even the occasional squeal from the back of the tandem. We both were confident that conditions would get better as the roads dried out. But in the meantime, John showed great restraint on descents and we had to put in some extra effort on the climbs to maintain traction.

At least it wasn't actively raining. Wow! Did I really say that? Well not out loud at least. But apparently I thought it, and mist again began to cloud my glasses. The early morning fog hung low and gave a spooky feel to the landscape. After one descent, we came to a left hand turn, where Sandy was waiting to keep folks on course. Between the excellent cue mounted in the bar bag and our GPS units, we had no trouble navigating through the quiet country lanes and forest roads. A short while later, we skirted around Brattleboro and again found Sandy waiting to warn of slick conditions on the steel deck bridge. Jon and Matt C. were just making their way across the bridge when we arrived. We stopped briefly to chat with Sandy, but then we decided to try and reel in Jon and Matt to chat with them for a while. These two guys would be heading off in a few days to do the Cascades 1200km ride, and this was their final tune-up. While it may seem a bit insane to wear oneself out the weekend before a 1200km, we figured that these climbs might make the west coast climbs seem tame. Indeed, they successfully completed the ride in the Cascades, so perhaps it wasn't such a bad idea. Our quartet rolled along chatting and barely noticed as the road pitched up to climb over Putney Mountain. [John: What?!?] The descent, on the other hand, definitely caught my attention. It's rough at the best of times, but given our earlier fishtailing, John decided to show amazing caution and restraint. Soon enough we were at the bottom and rolling along some more gentle terrain towards Grafton.

But then we spied a 3-dimensional turtle crossing the road. 3-D as distinguished from the flat 2-D versions I've seen too many of lately. John turned back and decided to make an effort to keep this one from becoming 2-D as well. Using the frame pump, he attempted to escort the little snapper on his way across the road safely. Snappers are able to snap at things halfway around their shells and do damage to helping hands with their strong beaks, so simply lifting one to carry it across the road is ill-advised. A friend recently suggested to me that one can use spare clothes to cover the head and then lift them, but I had no spare clothes and wasn't willing to take any off at this point!

Once this diversion was complete, we hit some truly tandem friendly terrain and made good time rolling down to Grafton, where we ordered breakfast sandwiches and filled our tummies with muffins. I also took this opportunity to do a lot of stretching and relaxing. I have a few stretches I can do on the bike, but the most effective ones are done off the bike, so I tried to take advantage of the off-bike time.

After downing our breakfast, we rolled along and chatted away with Jon and Matt a bit longer. Our route split off from theirs about 5 miles up the road from Grafton, so we wished them luck and tailwinds and all that.

Once the routes diverged, we found ourselves on the creatively named Popple Dungeon Road. John and I have explored this area a bit in the past, and I soon recognized that we'd be passing by a nudist camp. Mosquitoes must love this road!

We then had a long paved descent down to Londonderry, followed by a slog up toward Stratton Mountain. We arrived at the Windhall store in Bondville around 11AM and decided to have an early lunch. Fortunately, we didn't overdo it, as the climb afterwards up to Stratton was brutal. We were next rewarded with an amazing descent along Pikes Falls Road. This was a notable new-to-me road as it was a gem. The scars from Irene were still quite evident in the river bed next to the road, but the condition of this road suggested it had been completely rebuilt since the storm.

As instructed on the cue sheet, I had texted Sandy at Bondville - the text said something like "from Dungeons to Bondage." He replied to text him again when we reached Route 9 in Marlborough. When we reached the next store mentioned on the cue sheet in Jamaica, it hadn't been that long since our lunch stop. John asked if we needed to send another text, and I relayed Sandy's response. What I didn't think about was that this was also the last store on the cue sheet and maybe we should stop to top off with water. I also didn't factor in how Sandy puts the hardest climb on the route at the end.

Now I'd looked at the profile and knew we'd have a long downhill finish, but I hadn't looked closely enough to see that we'd hit the highpoint on the course just before it, and we would have to work really hard for that long descent.

The first hint of trouble was where the cue sheet said turn right on Holland Road with this comment from Sandy - "totally sucks - sorry!" Well, thanks for the warning Sandy! And, to answer the eternal question, no, Holland is not flat! It was seriously steep and we climbed and climbed and climbed some more. Our water was starting to run low and it was finally getting warm.

But we did occasionally catch sight of a nice view. Then we finally reached the top of the world - well ok, just the crest of the ridge that is known as Hogback - and the views were truly amazing as we rolled along this ridge for a while. John finally remembered he had a camera and we stopped for a few photos as we enjoyed the highlight, as well as highpoint of the route.

Soon after we reached route 9, and I sent our final text to Sandy. His reply came back that he'd see us soon.

And soon was not an understatement. We were now on a tandemnügen descent back to the finish, and we hammered. Shortly after passing through the covered bridge that features as the lunch stop on D2R2, we dropped out of warp speed, just as we saw Sandy heading up the road toward us. We rolled along together chatting away sharing our stories of the day.

We reached the official finish exactly 12 hours after starting and Sandy presented us with bags of peanut butter M&Ms - our hard-earned finishers' awards. We then all rolled into Greenfield together. Sandy headed back out to go greet Rick next, while John and I got our first coffees of the day at Greenfield Coffee!

What an absolutely glorious day out on a bike.

For sale: Cassette and chain, used once only

I mentioned a few months back that I was granting myself the courage to fail this year. But I also said while my goals wouldn't be epic, that they would still be worthy. SoftLikeKitten Green Mountain Double Metric met that criteria.

This year's revision to the lyrics...

Said Pamela to John, that's a fine tandem bike
A girl could feel special on any such like
Said John to Pamela, well my helmet's off to you
It's a Seven Titanium, two-oh-one-two
And I've seen you at the corners and cafes it seems
Pink wool and black lycra, my favorite color scheme
And he pulled her on behind
And down to Greenfield they did ride

Said John to Pamela, here's a granny ring for the big climbs
But I'll tell you in earnest I'm a dangerous man
I've descended like a demon since I was seventeen
I ridden many a mile on my two wheeled machine
Now I'm 41 years, I might make 42
And I don't mind dying, but for the love of you
And if fate should break my stride
Then I'll give you a disk brake to slow the ride

Come out, come out, email came from Sandy
For I've made a special short route for GMD
The climb up Holland Road left nothing inside
Oh, push harder, Pamela to help John's dying thighs
When they got to the top, there wasn't much left
They weren't was running out of road, but they were running out of breath
 But he smiled to see her cry
And said we've got 25 miles of downhill to ride

Says John, in my opinion, there's nothing in this world
Beats a gnarly descent and a nearly fearless girl
Now Santanas and Treks and Burleys won't do
They can't catch the Seven wearing Vincent 52
He reached for her hand and he slipped her the cue sheets
He said I've got no further use for these
I see Sandy on a bicycle in lycra and chrome
Swooping down the hills to ride with us home
And they rode the last miles and sighed
Almost sad that this was the end of the ride