Photo by Jason DeVarennes



Thursday, June 28, 2012


...continued from The Perfect Storm.

A little more background: The Rapha Gents Race is a team event, where a team of 6 riders must do a prescribed route and cross the finish line together and as a complete team of 6. The best way to do this, of course, is to ride together all day, working together, helping each other out and, of course, having fun.  To make it a proper Rapha ride, it also must have lots of climbing and loads of dirt and gravel, and of course, something extra to make it epic - like a blizzard or a grizzly bear!

To quote from the Rapha blog, describing the recent Gent's race in Australia,  "there's no better way to find out if you're a true team, pulling together through the difficulties and attrition to get each other to the finish, or just six individuals racing the clock." This was certainly our theme for the day. 

Captain Todd and stoker Patria met for the first time Friday night in a motel parking lot. John had met Rebecca a while before at the cafe, but the first time they actually rode together was Friday afternoon! Dena met Rebecca and Todd for first time this weekend.  Dena and I had the advantage of being long-time friends, although it could be a disadvantage, since we'd run out of things to talk about years ago, and had thoroughly exhausted any potential new topics of conversation doing the Green Mountain Double last weekend. Our fellow tandem captains and stokers, on the other hand, had plenty to talk about as they got to know each other throughout the day!

But despite our barely knowing each other at the beginning of the day, by the end of this ride, we were like soldiers who had been to battle together. In the end, we were a solid team: now all good friends that we could depend to overcome some pretty big odds. 

The first time we all came together was at breakfast a few hours before the ride. Fueled by breakfast burritos and other such delights, we headed over to the start to get tandems set up and ready to go.  Since Todd and Patria had just met, they finished getting the bike was set up, and had their first ever ride together! They were instantly riding together like old-pros. Of course, the rest of us had our first rides together hours before, making us old-pros already!

Now this is what lay ahead of us, a Chris Milliman route that would take in every steep dirt climb and descent that he could jam into a 120 mile ride from Hanover, NH. To top it off, Chris has a bad track record with the weather gods, having attempted a similar ride in the spring the last two years, only to be snowed or rained on both times. We had figured we'd be safe from snow today, since we had just experienced a brutal heat wave in Boston. It was mercifully cooler today, but still with a forecast high in the 80s F. Little did we know...

The Rapha boys brought Hennie, the mobile cycle club, complete with a pro espresso machine and barista. I had a most excellent espresso just before the start!

The race is handicapped, based on the team's racing resume and prior experience.  We were placed in the middle of the field this year, based on the original team make-up and our results from last year. With our recombobulated team, we probably should have had an early start, but so be it. We lined up at the start, looking sharp in our white and cream jerseys, half of which were borrowed. Little did the lenders know the abuse the jerseys would see later in the day. Actually, we were all pretty naive about that too!

Rebecca, the PR maestro at Rialto Restaurant in Cambridge, MA, and organizer of the Rialto/Trade cycling team for the upcoming Pan-Mass Challenge, loaned out several jerseys from the PMC team for the day. It was only a little ironic that all our substitute riders had the word TRADE embroidered on the back of their jerseys. But what were these jerseys saying? Were they looking to trade? Had we acquired them in trade? We were certainly thrilled to have them. I mean really. Who in their right mind would agree to do this a day before. It's probably good that we got them at the last minute. Had they had any time to actually think about what they'd just committed to, they might have had themselves committed!

We started out making reasonable time, but it was inevitable that the strong teams who started after us would catch us. We weren't counting on our sibling team, from the Ride Studio Cafe, leading us off course when they caught us, but that's precisely what they did.  Fortunately Dena and I noticed the error before the big descent, but we couldn't get the attention of the others. We waited, as they got to the bottom of the hill and then turned to climb back up!

The Bailey Turkey Farm...
Happy Hill, indeed!

Todd Holland and Patria Lanfranchi on the yellow-taxi tandem

A ride-by shooting

John Bayley checking to see if stoker Rebecca Fetner, is smiling!

John and Rebecca, on Bond, our 007 tandem.

Todd, making sure that the Tall Trees team doesn't pass us!

This is a TEAM!

The calm...

Dena Cohen and Pamela Blalock. Dena never tired of me warning folks to watch out for the girl driver!

Rapha Ambassadors, including the ladies of the Ride Studio Cafe team, Lauren Kling, Cait Dooley and Joy Stark

I included a little foreshadowing in the previous post when I mentioned that I had forgotten about some of the shifting issues John and I had last time we rode the Mocha on D2R2.

But before I go any further, I must say this. Warning: sappy, mushy paragraph ahead. Dena Cohen is the bravest, most amazing person I know. She barely hesitated when I asked her to save our quest by agreeing to captain a borrowed bike that she had never ridden, on a 120 mile dirt road race, with a gazillion feet of climbing.  There aren't a lot of people I'd trust to captain me on a tandem in these conditions. Dena did a phenomenal job. She took on the reponsibility for me as stoker, and showed no signs of the stress that must have caused. She also never complained (out loud at least) that we had saddled her with a less than perfectly tuned tandem. And I'm struggling to find the proper words to express how amazing, special and brave she is and how lucky I am to call her my friend. OK - this concludes the sappy, mushy part of the post. Back to the regular programming...

Our first sign of trouble was in the form of chain-suck. This is when the chain doesn't release from the chainring and gets sucked up into the space between the bottom bracket and chainrings. One must  quickly back-pedal, or risk jamming and potentially destroying the chain. The first time it happened, we hit zero miles per hour and fell over. I realized that John and I have have mastered the technique of back-pedaling and freeing the chain without saying anything aloud. Dena and I planned to try to do this next time it happened. We actually got very good at it by the end of the day, because it happened a lot.

But early on, while we were still perfecting this maneuver, we managed to have the chain drop - and get past the chainwatcher, so that we had to loosen and move the chainwatcher to get the chain back on. The others had somehow gotten ahead, but thought we were ahead of them and were chasing our phantom tandem to Royalton. When I had thrown together a toolkit at the last minute, I had foolishly included a multi-tool, rather than my usual separate allen keys. I had to push the bottle cage out of the way to get to the bolt for the chainwatcher with the very awkward to use multi-tool.  I then loosened the less-than-effective chainwatcher enough to move and free the chain, and left it loose, planning to have John readjust it.  Fortunately we had a long descent into Royalton, and no other shifting issues on that leg. John took over as mechanic and readjusted the chainwatcher while we grabbed drinks in the shop at Royalton. We suddenly remembered all the chainsuck from D2R2. Not much we could do now, other than be very cautious shifting and then order new chainrings when we got home!

Epic Avengers are still laughing and smiling in Royalton. The mandatory Rapha B+W shot.

Two chicks on a tandem is not a common sight!

The Tall Trees lads sitting on some short stumps

John and Jed Kornbluh get reacquainted as they discuss meeting 20 years prior in London! And it was captured on video.

Dena, Pamela and Todd enjoying ice cold sodas!

The hottest climb of the day brought us to the very welcome tent, manned by the lovely ladies of Strava, who were handing out ice cold sodas. While I often freeze in conditions that Dena considers comfy, Dena suffers greatly in heat that mildy annoys me. After sucking down three sodas, her core temp was starting to come down. We chatted with the video folks about how much fun we were having and how great it was being on the tandem together. They asked if we felt we were over the hump. I said we had a ways to go. Little did I know how true this was!

Thunder could be heard in the distance, so we gathered the troops and tried to get moving. I think all our cameras got packed away in safe dry places at this point. There aren't any photos on the next section.

We descended briefly and then started up the biggest climb of the day, just as the rain started to fall. Next, flashes of light were quickly followed by rumbles of thunder. I could feel the temps dropping, but it had been hot, so this was almost a relief.  But then the thunder started coming really soon after the lightning, until, just as we crested, the thunder practically preceded the flash of light. I could barely hear the thunder over my scream, and Dena couldn't hear my scream over her scream as she saw the lightning crackle a few hundred meters up the road. There was nothing to do at this stage, but keep moving and get down off this mountain. We'd been scanning the road for shelter all the way up, but there was none. Dena also commented out the tiny hail stones all over the road! Good thing I was blinded by the rain and hail and really couldn't see a thing!

John and Rebecca were nearby and we started heading down together. We were happy that Todd and Patria were not hanging around waiting for us. We all just bombed down the mountain and were never so relieved to come to a store as when we arrived in West Fairlee.

Celebrating being alive! Really!

A wee bit dirty. 
The euphoria of being alive was quickly replaced with chills from being soaked, as we had descended and the temperature had plummeted back into the 50s F. I dashed into the store to buy trash bags to serve as rain jackets. We poked holes for head and arms and crawled inside enjoying the insulation and warmth. We joked about the box of 20 raincoats for $3! We figure Rapha will soon come out with a Rapha logo version with a white stripe, and a slightly higher price!

Patria and Rebecca (and several others) bought wool socks, which they turned into arm warmers. We also overwhelmed the hot chocolate machine and did our best to get to a state of non-shivering. Dena looked on slightly amused. She was finally comfortable with the temperature!

The rain seemed to stop while we were there but someone must have acknowledged that out loud, because soon the thunder came back. We decided we needed to get moving, both to get warm, and to try and stay in front of the storm. Rain started up again in earnest soon after we hit the road.

The most gnarly technical section awaited. Dena and I got caught in a bit of traffic on one of the uphill rocky sections and had to walk briefly, but managed to remount and ride for a while, before it got so muddy that we just sank. The other tandems managed to ride most of it, and impressed all the riders and walkers nearby. Dena and I had plenty of company on foot though.

Dena told me that we would be also walking the descent if it was like the climb, but fortunately it was not as bad. However, the front (disk) brake lever was starting to bottom out as she pulled it to the bars. Between the rain and mud, we were wearing through the brake pads quickly. We stopped to tighten the brake and Dena was much happier - that is until we hit a bump and suddenly the rear brake was locked on. I couldn't see quite what was causing the issue, but the pads on the back looked fine, and weren't hitting the tire. We managed to free things enough to get the bike moving and continued down to the next crossroads, where with John's help we realized the lever had slipped on the bars and was now pulling the cable tight. A quick readjustment to the lever had us moving again.

At the next turn, Gerben, the race director, stopped us and told us to continue straight down the main road. I thought at first it was just some flooding issue on the route ahead, since we would rejoin the route in less than a mile, and it was only cutting off a very short section. I later came to realize that we had hit the time cutoff, along with about half the teams.

Shortly after this we crossed the river back into NH, and as we saw shafts of light coming from the sky, Todd let loose with a tirade about the cruel and unwelcoming Vermont that may see him banned from that state for life!

Just as we approached the next store, our front brake made an awful metal on metal sound that we soon diagnosed as complete lack of brake pads - the sound was coming from the now padless bit of metal rattling around and banging against the disk rotor. We looked at the remainder of the route on the GPS. We had done all the truly hard stuff, and all that remained was a short loop in NH to get the full 120 miles, or a direct route back that would bring us up to 105 miles. It was an easy and unanimous decision - and one that would have been mandated by the race director had we tried to take the full route. We headed straight back.

Caption contest anyone... What are we thinking?

Bond, our new 007 tandem, performed flawlessly!

Patria's view...

So we finished together and under our own steam, and, given the previous 48 hours, we were all pretty psyched with our accomplishment. About half the teams did the full route, riding fast enough to miss the storms in Vermont and mostly got the rain at the lower elevations in NH, while the other half, like us, experienced the epic conditions in Vemont and then missed that bonus loop in NH. 

We lived, and we got some epic dirt ground into our bikes, clothes and bodies!

I'm trying to retrieve my camera from the safety of the bar bag to get some pictures of our white jerseys!

Seriously happy to be back! Epic Avengers

Our heroines - the three gals who stepped up and saved our ride!

The coating of Vermont muck on my seatbag.

It took two showers to get the sand out of my hair!

Poor baby!

Mud inside my shoes


I'm not one to lightly use the word epic. Our team name was conceived to make fun of the tendency to overuse that word in conjunction with Rapha events. The biblical weather certainly added to our adventure, but what made this event amazing was how 6 new friends came together and took on not just a physical challenge, but a mental one that required sacrificing personal goals for the sake of the team.

I won't soon forget.

Last year's ride was almost boring in comparison. Everything fell into place perfectly. Nothing went wrong. We crossed the line first. Kewl!

This year, we have some amazing memories and stories to share. Almost nothing went according to plan. Well not entirely true - we did have appropriately low gears and fat tires and no punctures. And we had good brakes for most of the ride. We finished together, under our own steam. We improvised. We rose to the challenge. We survived to ride another day! We are the Epic Avengers!

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

The Perfect Storm

2012 has been an intense year of cycling for us. We've had some amazing rides. And while I wouldn't say that the Rapha Gent's Race was the focus of our early season, it was a big goal. We had such a blast on the ride last year, when we pulled together a very strong tandem team with experience on both dirt and with long distance, who brought 3 tandems with fat tires, low gears and good brakes to Pennsylvania and surprised more than a few folks, as we crossed the line first and earned some pretty nice swag.

Initially I had assumed that John would like to ride a single on the 2012 edition, but he was so stoked from our ride in 2011, that he wanted to ride tandem again. In fact, he loved it so much that he ordered a new tandem just for this year's event. Well that might be pushing it a bit, but we did get a new tandem, and it really was designed to do Gent's Race type roads. We got it just before Memorial Day and headed up to Vermont for the christening on some amazing dirt roads around East Burke. Those were our RGR shakedown rides, per se, to make sure everything was perfect on the brand new bike.

Regular blog readers are aware that we've also been doing a bit of climbing, as well as some longer events, like brevets and fleche rides and a few dirt roads events, like DROVES and Green Mountain Double.

John and the other lads on the Ride Studio Cafe Enduro Team had scorched the GMD course last weekend, while Dena and I had taken a more casual approach. We were both pretty tired from the 211 miles and 21,000 feet of mostly dirt roads, but we also felt confident in our ability to do a few more dirt roads this weekend.

So John and I came into the week before Gents Race, a little tired, but well trained and well prepared. We had our tandem fully set up and ready to go on Wednesday night, and even managed to get to bed early. What could go wrong now?

The first email came in around 7:30 Thursday morning. Kristen, our Cat-1, had spent the previous evening in the ER having a bit of minor unexpected surgery. Nothing life threatening. She's OK, but no way could she ride a bike. She felt horrible and offered to help find a substitute. John and I started to brainstorm. Who did we know, that wasn't already doing the race, that could tolerate Todd's sense of humor, and would be available on Saturday. I fired off an email to Patria Lanfranchi, curator at Ride Studio Cafe(RSC), and Rob Vandermark, her boss, asking if Patria would like to stoke for Todd, or if they knew anyone who would.

The second email came in at 8:00 AM. This one was from Emily. She'd been having some back issues, had seen a doctor earlier in the week, and was due in for a followup in a few hours. The initial reaction from all of us was not to risk further back injury. Todd was starting to think it was time to scrub the mission, but John and I still had a few more folks we could contact. Don't panic yet.

The next email went out to Rebecca Fetner, PR maestro at Rialto restaurant. Rebecca is a tiny spitfire, who's been riding and training lots for the PMC later this summer, and is also a regular at Ride Studio Cafe. She's similar in size to Emily, so we would probably would be able to swap her in, without much trouble. I knew Emily had ridden a tandem lots with a captain that wasn't David, and she and I had recently had a conversation about being able to ride and share rooms with people who aren't your spouse, so I didn't foresee any issues with partner-swapping.

I headed over to RSC to do the Thursday ladies ride. It was part of my tapering plan, have a nice relaxed ride on Thursday morning, then write the blog post about GMDC in the afternoon, and then pack. I was a little preoccupied, still trying to think of other potential riders, but holding back on getting too worried at this stage. Sometime near the end of the ride, Patria came sprinting to the front of the group to say she'd gotten an email from Rob saying she could go. I believe her bike was hovering 6 inches off the ground! She was so excited. Matt O'Keefe would cover for her at the shop, and she'd just need to get someone to cover for the women's clinic Saturday morning. She did later manage to find a sub for the clinic, but then mother nature intervened and cancelled that event entirely. But I'm getting ahead of myself. I tried to climb on the cloud of pixie dust that Patria was floating on, as I told her all I could about the race. I also figured out that she must have a special ring tone for emails from Rob. She read that email while we were riding!

We got back to RSC and I read my email from John that Rebecca was also game, and was cancelling a weekend trip to Miami - it was only later that I saw the news about Hurricane Debby, making that trip rather unappealing. But I then worried that we now had too many stokers.

An hour or so later Emily reported that the doctor advised against riding. We assured her that we all understood, and agreed it simply wasn't worth the risk. And we did have an understudy - Rebecca.

A short while later, David said he would not feel comfortable riding without Emily.

Pffffffft. That's the sound of the wind coming out of my sails...

Marital harmony - OK, not worth causing any issues there.

But now things get complicated. We came up with names of a few tandem teams, but we already have stokers who have rearranged schedules, so we just need a captain and a tandem. I didn't want to disrupt any more tandem team harmony by asking for half a team.

In anticipation of finding a captain, I emailed Patria and Rob again, and asked if we could borrow the shop's demo Seven tandem, promising to put it into the hands of an experienced rider. Rob and Matt O'Keefe had already loaned out their personal Sevens recently to the Endurance Team for GMDC, and Seven Cycles may be getting worried about just becoming a bicycle library, where folks just come to borrow bikes and beat the crap out of them on dirt roads, but they readily agreed to let us borrow the tandem - anyway. Wow! 

We emailed a friend in NH who lives in the area, had ridden the course, and had some interest in getting a tandem. But he'd already committed to helping his wife with an event she was running Saturday. When he asked her about changing plans, even I could tell from her reply that marital harmony dictated that he not become an Avenger.

Oh have I mentioned our team name. Last year we were the 52 Vincents, named for Richard Thompson's most famous ballad about cafe' racers. When we didn't get an automatic invite back for the race this year, but instead were required to apply, we changed our name to the Epic Avengers. We put together this blog, as part of our application.

So now it seems, somebody's been slipping Kryptonite into the coffee of some of the Avengers. Never one to go down without a fight, I decided to try my friend, Dena! Yes, Dena, that smart chick from the Green Mountain Double Century, who almost never turns me down when I ask her to join in on some over-the-top adventure. Dena has a tandem, although it's more a cruiser, not quite ready for this ride. But she has captained it quite a bit, although nothing quite so long or challenging. But she has lots of long distance and dirt road experience. She's in great shape. And most importantly she is INSANE. I talked to John about swapping around teammates. I'd ride with Dena. Rebecca could stoke for him. Patria would ride with Todd. This would put one veteran on each bike, and was probably the only way Dena would agree to the crazy last minute plan.

So around 4:30 Thursday afternoon - I sent Dena an email asking if she had any weekend plans. And I could not believe it when she replied - Sure, sounds like fun.

At this stage I stopped to take a breath. Inhale, exhale, inhale, exhale.

We sent out word (to old and new team members) at 8pm that we again had 6 riders and 3 tandems. David and Emily had already paid for a room in White River Junction and offered it up to the new substitute riders as incentive. Rebecca arranged for some loaner jerseys from the Rialto/Trade team, so we could all have somewhat matching white/cream jerseys. We also got saddle/pedal preferences and measurements from everyone, so we could set up bikes ahead of time.

So bright and early Friday morning, I headed over to Dena's to pick up her saddle and pedals, and then to RSC to get the tandem. Once home and armed with Dena's measurements, I tried to set up the loaner Seven tandem for her to captain, only to realize it was just too big. We simply could not get her saddle low enough, at least not with the stoker stem attached. I figured she would probably like me to have handlebars. So I set the nice lightweight tandem aside, and pulled out our neglected (much heavier) Mocha. The last time we'd ridden the Mocha was D2R2 almost a year ago. I'll admit now that I'd forgotten about some of the drivetrain issues we'd had on that ride, but did remember deciding our tires were too skinny for conditions after a couple of high speed blowouts, so the first thing I did was mount some new 2" wide tires. We had put on a new chain after D2R2, but that was about it for recent maintenance.

I then mounted Dena's pedals and Brooks saddle and set the saddle height.  At this point John was taking a break from work and came down to help out. We measured the reach to the bars and decided to swap out for a shorter stem. It's handy having lots of spare parts lying around on other bikes. Amazingly we got the bike set up almost precisely to her measurements. I removed the lights, rack and fenders - trying to eliminate unnecessary things that might rattle or break. I then tried to sort out the toolkit, and set up a secure seat bag and handlebar bag. We've had some issues with Ortlieb bags coming off mounts recently and had ordered some new straps, but they weren't in yet.

John had also started taking off pedals and saddle in the stoker position on our Seven in anticipation of Rebecca coming by to take her first ever tandem ride. Once the saddle was positioned for tiny Rebecca, there was definitely no room for our large seat bag on the back, so I spent a little time finding a smaller bag that would work and and found another bag to mount off the lateral tube so they could carry spare tire and several tubes and tools.

Rebecca and John headed out for their spin around the block, which went quite well. Then John went back to work, while Rebecca headed off to get Patria and head north. I continued to sort out tubes and toolkits, and even found some time to pack my clothes. Then Dena arrived and we managed to ride around the block twice and decided we would probably survive the 120 mile race.

This is all poetic justice I suppose. Last year, I made a big deal about being prepared, having experienced folks who had ridden together, and not doing one's first ever tandem ride as RGR. So now we had one stoker who had never ridden a tandem - paired with a very experienced captain; one stoker who had about 100 miles of stoking experience - paired with a very experienced captain; and one rider with lots of dirt riding and long distance experience, who had captained a bit, but never this distance or terrain or conditions - partnered with a stoker who at least had! This after losing half the team less than 48 hours before the race. To even make it to the start line was going to be an accomplishment.

The Epic Avengers would simply readjust our goals. Dena is strong and fit, but we are pretty similar in speed and there is just no question that we are not as fast as Todd and John. And we would definitely be much more cautious on the descents. So even with their brand new stokers, John and Todd would have to hold back a bit for us all to ride as a team.  But this is what the Gentlemen's race is all about, right? To quote from the Rapha blog, "there's no better way to find out if you're a true team, pulling together through the difficulties and attrition to get each other to the finish, or just six individuals racing the clock."

Just getting to the start, we had already overcome many difficulties and attrition. Getting around the course and back to the start could well be easy in comparison... or it could get even more epic...

Stay tuned...

Monday, June 25, 2012

Green Mountain Double Century - Signs of Sanity

The Green Mountain Double Century was conceived by Sandy Whittlesey, founder of the wildly popular D2R2, for those folks who just didn't find D2R2 to be enough fun. Yeah, bring it on and make it twice as fun. Then see if 1000 people would still show up! For the first year, 2011, more than fifty people inquired about it, but maybe a dozen showed up at the start line, in the pouring rain. Among them was Fear Rothar, along with his Ride Studio Cafe EnduroTeammates, Matt Roy and David Wilcox. The torrential rains stayed with them all day. There may still be sand and grit in the socks John wore that day. But they had a great time and won the race, finishing in a bit over 19 hours. Russ Loomis took a break overnight and finished sometime the next day, but still well within the allowed 40 hours. They were the only finishers.

Sandy has kept the event very low-key. There is no website. There is just the announcement that you see to the right, linked off the UMCA calendar. He wants people who are interested to actually contact him, so he can let them know exactly what they are getting themselves into! And for anyone who has never received the detailed preview from Sandy, let me just say that he tells you everything - possibly way more than you want to know!

I also had some first-hand info about last year's course from Fear Rothar, and had even ridden on some of the roads and most importantly had read through to the part about the 40 hour time limit! 40 hours you say? Yes, the time limit is 40 hours. Being one who occasionally shows signs of sanity, I reasoned that one could do the event, take a nice relaxed overnight stop and finish well within the allotted time. So I approached my good friend, Dena Cohen, to propose the GMD-Sanity Prevails ride. I must have caught her in yet another sleep-deprived stupor, because she readily agreed.

Let me offer some background. Dena is a smart chick, actually a super smart chick. She went to MIT and got an undergraduate degree in biology. Rumor has it, you've got to have some active brain cells to do that. She then went to Harvard and got a PhD in Genetics. Again, you've got to be smart and hard-working to do that. Then it was back to MIT for post-doc work in aging and neurodegenerative disease. Oh wait, maybe that explains why she hangs out with me. I'm just another lab rat for her! Or maybe she's actually experimenting on herself.

Whatever the case, I keep suggesting increasingly insane things to do on a bike, and she keeps agreeing to do them. First it was doing a 24 hour fleche on fixed gear. Then it was D2R2 on single speed - the 100km version. Another fixed fleche, followed by a few more fleche rides on geared bikes, but with mountain passes thrown in just for fun. Then it was D2R2, the full monty, and numerous other brevets. She just keeps coming back, and riding and smiling, and never showing any sign of cracking. There was one hot D2R2, when she happily agreed to get in a car at the end to drive a mile to get a cold drink. That became my gage of when a ride was too hot. At some point, I added another unit of measure for how brutal a ride was. Dena is a vegetarian, and while I'm honestly not trying to convert her to be a carnivore, I will know the ride is over the top, when she looks at a cow, and says, "Yummy." It hasn't happened yet, and at this stage, I don't think I could survive the event that makes her crack!

These days, she's working at the Harvard Department of Stem Cell and Regenerative Biology, as a Research Specialist, running the lab of the department's founder and co-Chair Doug Melton. She is a seriously smart chick, I say.  So I'm really not sure why she keeps agreeing to do these stupid things with me!

I'm just a smart-ass chick. I have an undergraduate degree in Computer Science and Mathematics, but readers of some previous posts may be aware that my claims to be a mathematician are dubious at best! In my defense, there was some sleep deprivation involved in my mathematical breakdown on the fleche.  When not overly exhausted, I was able to calculate that we could ride along at a sane pace, take reasonable breaks, get a good dinner and full nights sleep, and finish the ride officially well within the time limit. I also consulted my trusty farmer's almanac and determined the weather would co-operate! And if the short term forecast changed, well, we could too!

Sandy and I had numerous email exchanges. I told him of our plans, including our plan to be pretty much self-sufficient. As a UMCA event, there is a support requirement. But for me, part of the challenge is to do the event with sturdy reliable equipment, take care of ourselves, and live off the land, as it were. In the event of a real emergency, we'd call 911. A broken spoke or chain is not an emergency. A broken hip is an emergency. And since the support cars could only meet riders at select places along the route, a rider with a busted wheel between controls would not get much benefit from a support car. And there was at least one non-driveable section on the route, where no car could even come back to help out. I would suggest requiring a fairly well-stocked on the bike toolkit, including a spare tire, several spare tubes, boots, patch kits, allen wrenches and screwdrivers, chain tool and link, spare cables, brake pads, etc.

And rather than a support car, I think a far better requirement would be that riders should be in teams of two or more. There were many places with no cell phone reception, but there were houses nearby. If one rider got hurt, the partner could help stabilize and then go call for help.

As it happened, the RSC lads would be defending their title this year and would have Mo Bruno Roy and Natasha Boltukhova driving support and taking lots of photos. The rules stated that a car could meet the riders at as many or as few checkpoints as they'd like, at their own discretion and that support could be shared. So we booked a B&B in Danby and we asked Mo to drop some supplies there. USPS would provide the remainder of support by bringing our clothes home! If we ended up in the hospital, Mo or another friend from Greenfield could come pick us up the next day. So support requirement fulfilled.

Now riding in this fashion did add some complexity to our challenge. Vermont is normally crawling with tourists at this time of year, and finding accommodation can be tough, especially at the last minute. So we'd need to figure out a good stopping point ahead of time and make reservations. Sandy suggested Danby at around mile 120. So we found the Silas Griffith Inn, and booked a room. We also arranged for dinner Saturday night. Having a pre-planned overnight stop would mean we could send some supplies ahead. With enough planning, we could use USPS both ways, but since we had the option to use Mo for outbound, we did.  We picked up a large Priority Mail box, into which we packed a change of cycling clothes, something to sleep in, toothbrush, toothpaste and comb, USB chargers and cables, some bars for day two and some extra tubes. We tried to get a prepaid postage label, but USPS wouldn't do this. Fortunately the folks at the B&B were very gracious and took the box to the Post Office on Monday and just billed us for the postage.

By pre-selecting our overnight stop, we were under some pressure to get there, but if we got there early, we were potentially wasting some daylight, and nice riding conditions. However we felt reasonable that this would break the ride up nicely. 120 + 5 miles to the start the first day. 90 + 5 miles back to the motel on day 2.

The next part was carrying our stuff for the day. The RSC lads were carrying very little, since they had the support car. They even had spare wheels to change to skinnier tires after some of the gnarly bits were done. Dena and I were carrying a good deal more. All the tools I mentioned above, bars and electrolytes, phones, cameras and all the clothes we'd be taking off as the day warmed up. I used a large seat bag and small bag bag. Dena opted for a racktop bag. Dena had a brand new set of sturdy wheels complete with generator on the front and 33.3mm Jack Brown tires. I had a recently rebuilt set of sturdy wheels, with Gran Bois Cypres (nominal 30mm) tires and a battery light. We'd only be in the dark for an hour, so I felt comfy with my Lezyne battery light.

So at 4AM on June 16, Dena and I lined up at the start of the 2012 Green Mountain Double Century, along with 10 other brave and hardy men  - i.e. no other women. This meant that all we had to do to win, was to finish - but let's not get ahead of ourselves. This is one tough ride, and finishing can not simply be assumed, no matter how well prepared and trained and determined we were!

 The route starts out gentle enough, but when the hard stuff comes, it doesn't stop. And it seems to be Sandy's signature to put the most brutal stuff at the 90% distance mark! But I'm way ahead of myself now. As we headed out, we were very pleasantly surprised to find ourselves in the middle of the field and with company. Dena and I have ridden thousands of miles together and ran out of stuff to talk about years ago. We even have recycled all our jokes and just refer to them by number now! So we were thrilled when we hooked up with Gary and Chris. Our paces were similar and we had all new things to talk about!

We stayed together most of the first day with a brief break when they met their support and we continued on the get breakfast. It was sad to say goodbye in Danby. We tried not to brag too much about our showers and comfy beds as they faced the full night of riding. We hope to ride with them again in the future.

These early morning starts are rough. Hard to get the eyes to open fully. Apparently the camera feels the same way!

My eyes are still having trouble focusing!

One of the rewards for early morning starts: seeing the fog burn off the ponds, as the sun rises.
Another glorious day in Vermont.

It's tough suffering through all this great scenery.

Chris told us his cycling nickname is box truck. He provided a great draft!

More spectacular Vermont scenery.

Class 4 Road - fun, fun, fun....

Sandy had warned us about the bullsh*t section. Hurricane Irene had washed away one of the main east west routes, so he had to come up with a whole new route. This little section was necessary to avoid adding lots of pavement or distance.
Chris rode the whole thing. Fear Rothar reported the RSC lads rode most. I showed appropriate respect to my inner chicken and lack of offroading skill and walked most of it!
We spotted 4 moose!

Santa Moose

It wouldn't be Vermont without a covered bridge.

Breakfast was amazing. Hunger makes good sauce. Coffee is always welcome.

What a difference in the weather from last year.

Dena is having a grand time

Wine by the glass, eh! We were hot and thirsty here.

Welcome to NY. Sandy had mentioned not burning any matches before Chunks Brook Road. We couldn't remember if he said to start burning them on Chunks Brook or after. I had all my matches packed away safely in the seat bag. But then there was spontaneous combustion as matches started lighting themselves. This is where the ride got serious! About the same time, it got hot...

Dena and Gary, having a great chat on the descent.

Somewhere along here, there was a sign that I thought said "One Lane Road Ahead". It must have really said "fresh gravel next mile" and I just misread it.

Actual wildlife. I was too slow to capture the fox, or the many bluebirds and orioles we saw along the way, but I caught this baby deer!

Sanity - The Silas Griffith Inn. We arrived at 5PM, still had almost 4 hours of daylight. We headed down to the shop for Popsicles and chips, before having dinner and an early night.

Dena empties her pockets
Airing out the warmers before Day 2
Raring to go at 6AM! Thank heavens I had no clue that 18 miles of freshly de-graded Mt Tabor climb and descent awaited. Dropping to 40 pounds of pressure on the descent saved the day for me! The awesome Topeak Master Blaster pump got me back to 75 pounds of pressure in the tires in Weston!
Tolerating more great views

We could not resist the adorable Alpacas near Grafton, VT

We had arranged with the Silas Griffith Inn to have a self serve breakfast since we wanted to leave at 6AM. Then we got to Weston before anything was open, so we continued to eat out of our pockets. Finally, we found an open shop and awesome breakfast sandwiches and cheese in Grafton. It was still lovely and cool and I kept my leg warmers on all the way to Newfane. We took a quick stop at a market there, but had been warned not to eat too much, since Newfane is where the real riding begins. First we climbed up Steep Way Road, and let me just say this about the folks who named Vermont roads: They are not into understatement and they name them accurately. After Steep Way, we climbed and climbed and climbed up to the sun on Sunset Lake Road. Prior to this I had no idea that Vermont had any 9,000 foot peaks!

That's one big beaver lodge out there, but given that it's on top of a previously undisclosed 9,000 foot peak in Vermont, it should be big!

We found this poor injured turtle who seemed to be climbing faster than we were. We moved him to the side of the road that he seemed to be crawling towards, after deciding he should be our new team mascot!

Sandy had asked us to text him from Newfane, so he could ride out to meet us at the top of Cow Path 40. Surprisingly, neither of us had a phone signal in Newfane, but as we climbed higher we each saw life in our phones. We texted both Fear Rothar and Sandy. I was quite surprised to get a message back from Fear Rothar that he was riding out to meet us. The RSC lads had finished in 16 hours (8pm the night before) and surely his legs were trashed. Anyway, we climbed and climbed and descended a little and then climbed and climbed and descended a little and finally we reached Cow Path 40. Then we climbed to the top. I suggested we send Sandy a text to say we'd wait there, so he would have to climb all the way up. What kind of sadist puts the hardest climbs right at the end!

We were most of the way down the steep stuff when we met John and Sandy riding out to greet us. We had a great chat an then resumed the ride to the end. It was a lovely gentle downhill for the rest of the ride, and it was so nice to ride it with John and Sandy. Dena and I had told the same joke about 40 times by that point. Actually in the last hour we'd had lots to talk about as we had come up with all sorts of names to call Sandy, but the reward of peanut butter M&Ms at the end made all our negative thoughts about him go away!

We arrived a minute after 3pm for a 35 hour time. We were so thrilled to get our bags of peanut butter M&Ms that we played podium girls to Sandy!

Well we did it and did it in style. We are the first gals to start and complete the ride, making us the female winners and record holders. Woohoo!

Surprisingly before the ride was even over Dena started talking about next year. And she wasn't even sleep deprived. Hmm, I wonder if I can get her to do anything else silly or stupid this year? Stay tuned...