Photo by Jason DeVarennes



Friday, May 30, 2014

Spring 7000 - a weekend with Henry and friends

We first met Henry in 2011, when he was the only person daft enough to join us on a bitterly cold Christmas eve ride to Mt. Wachusett and back, part of that year's Rapha Festive 500 challenge. That was his longest ride ever at that time, by quite a margin, if I recall correctly. However, he took everything in his stride and brought a spirit of festive cheer with him that made for a fun spin.

It was obvious that we had an affinity for exploring by bike and taking pictures of what we saw - not to mention that he and I had worked in the same building in The Netherlands many years before, albeit not at the same time - and we became fast friends (I'm speaking of Henry there). We have shared many miles on the road and trail since then, although that first ride hasn't been the only one with bad weather. However, those are stories for another time...

Henry was kind enough to invite us up to his holiday home near Waterville Valley last autumn, when Pamela was out of commission, but the timing didn't quite work out. However, when he mentioned his plans to host a cycling weekend in mid-May, dubbed "The Spring 7000" in honour of the 7000' odd of climbing each day, and which featured lots of "scenic" riding, we didn't hesitate to sign up. We were joined by Ride Studio Cafe club members, Eddie, Jutta, Neil, Rob, Tom and Mimi in what turned out to be a weekend of great company, delicious food, excellent beer and amazing rides. Before I run out of superlatives, I'm happy to report that the weather was mixed.

I'm sure Henry won't admit to it, but I think he planned a team-building exercise to start the weekend. The symptoms were that the light in our bedroom could not be switched off - it appeared that the battery in the remote control for the fan/light had died just after the light was switched on. We then tried to answer a variation of the age-old question - how many engineers does it take to disconnect a (blinding and unusual) light bulb?

Henry vrs. the light bulb.

Neil manned the circuit breaker, Rob supplied light with his mobile phone, Henry had a head-torch, Pamela supervised, and I did my best to get in the way. While the mission was ultimately successful, Neil and Rob wouldn't claim to be engineers, so the answer to the question is unclear!

Regardless, that allowed us to sleep well - until we were awakened by the sound of thunder and heavy rain. Just what we wanted for a long day in the mountains! While we originally planned to strike out at 07:00 hrs., I shared some of my procrastination secrets. That allowed us to head out into drizzle at 08:30 hrs. instead of heavy rain earlier, but it was still cool.

Kinsman Notch. Damp conditions but high spirits.

Waterfalls were enhanced!

Pamela has started back to riding this spring, but wasn't quite feeling ready for a 200km day with 9000+ feet of climbing, so she enticed her friend Carrie to join her for an abbreviated version of the loop with a remote start in Lincoln. Thanks to a later start, they only had a short stretch of riding in the rain. Not only that but, thanks to the rain, they had the Franconia Notch bike path all to themselves, which they described as sublime, like a tiny European mountain road through a forest. 

Happily, the rain stopped by the time we reached the summit of Franconia Notch. The sun poked out as we climbed gently to Crawford Notch, before speeding down down the far side. It would have been speedier still without the healthy headwind coming up the valley.

Our fearless leader, Henry.

Crawford Cascade

We all met up for lunch in Bartlett, at the base of Bear Notch, Pamela and Carrie arriving first and managing to beat the rush at the very friendly Cabin Fever Restaurant

The question of the day then became, "Do you have sunscreen?" as the cold, wet morning gave way to a sunny, hot afternoon. That and, "What flavours of ice-cream do you have?"

Eddie enjoying the scenery
The top of the Kancamagus Pass, Jutta, Rob, Henry, Tom, Eddie and Mimi, with Fear Rothar at the back

Descending from the Kancamagus Pass, we bumped into Carrie and Pamela in Lincoln, who offered to divest us of our extra layers. Rehydrated and lightened, we struck out on the final leg back to Henry's house which, as you might hope, and as is only fitting, is reached via a 15% climb. Way to go, Henry!

We somehow had the energy left to prepare a sumptuous feast and enjoy some fine beers. That, along with swapping tyres to prepare bikes for what promised to be a day of adventure on Sunday. That ride featured almost 70 miles miles of mostly dirt roads and 7000ish feet (but who's counting?) of climbing.

Instead of swapping tyres, Pamela and I switched to the tandem, which has plush 42mm wide tyres, something Pamela's back really appreciates.

However, we didn't make it very far from Henry's on Sunday morning before our first (unplanned) stop at Dick's Bacardi ranch. This place had hundreds of empty bottles of Bacardi hanging from all the eaves. Dick came out to greet us as we took photos and invited us in for a tour. Some members of the group seemed worried we might never emerge, but there was nothing to fear from our wonderful tour guide.

Next up was the feature climb of the day up and over Sandwich Notch Road. The dirt road was actually closed to cars due to a small washout on the far side, meaning we had the road all to ourselves. 

Lots of photos were taken. Henry's can be found here and the complete set of mine are here.

Pamela's view

We had an amazing lunch at Squam Lake, and a fabulous coffee stop at Plymouth, followed by a few thousand feet of climbing to get home.

Neil and Jutta




Henry showing us how it's done on his new EverOrange

Henry delivered the advertised 7000+ feet of climbing each day. Not only that, but he ushered in spring over the course of the weekend. The weather changed from cold drizzle on Saturday morning, to hot and sunny in the afternoon. That was a prelude to simply perfect conditions on Sunday.

ghost rider!

We were rewarded for all that climbing with great food and even better company. Thanks Henry! We look forward to the Summer 8000 and Autumn 9000!

Monday, May 12, 2014


It has become a yearly tradition now to meet up with friends and spend Memorial Day weekend climbing and descending some of the finest dirt roads in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont.

Folks are welcome to join us, with the following disclaimer: This is not an organized event. You are on your own adventure. You have found links to our planned routes on Ridewithgps and we all just happen to be riding on the same routes at the same time!

Further disclaimer: Vermont dirt roads are often steep. While not like gnarly technical trails, the surface can sometimes be loose, especially if the road grading monster has been on them recently. More usual though is they are sublime hard-pack. We'll be on road bikes with fat tires and low gears.

For 2014, we will again be staying at the Bike Barn in East Burke. As of this writing, all beds have been claimed. There are a few other places to stay in East Burke, as well as camping options.

We typically head out for rides between 8 and 9AM, and ride socially, taking photos and regrouping after big climbs. We tend to stay out all day, but there is lots of flexibility. 

We will have potluck dinners at the barn on Saturday and Sunday nights. There are two kitchens and a grill for cooking. Even if you don't ride with us, if you are in the area, feel free to stop by with food and drink and join in the after-ride socializing.

We have ridden all the routes at some time in the past, but have not been in the roads this spring. Hopefully the snow is gone!  There is a great map, Cycling the Northeast Kingdom, that is available from the touring center in East Burke. This is handy to have in case of a washout or other detours.

Below is the list of rides we are planning to do, but plans may change due to weather or mood. If you are hoping to meet us on the road, send an email and we'll let you know if plans change.

Saturday - North Bayley

Saturday Short option

Sunday - South Bayley

Sunday - Short option

Monday - Willoughby

Other routes

Walden Stanton - another short option for the Gnarnia Crowd. It has about 1/2 mile of big gravel on a climb, and a stream crossing that was a bit more than ankle deep last week

Burke Mountain  - If you haven't had enough climbing

Monday, May 5, 2014

What I meant by don't drop me

A followup to last week's post. But first a bit of background... A few years ago, a group of friends started an email list (referred to in the text below as FAIB) for folks who have time off midweek to ride. While my Tuesday rides are based out of a local coffee/bike shop and are open to all, most of the regulars are members of that email list. What follows is from the note I sent to that list after last week's disappointing ride (with a couple of edits for clarity to those not on the list).


For the past couple of weeks, I have posted a link in reference to my Tuesday rides. The page contains the GPS links to the routes, but also includes a little of my philosophy about the rides.

Before I restarted the Tuesday rides a couple of weeks ago, I added this paragraph at the top of the page 

Tuesday rides resume. The fixie pixie is riding again. I'm slower and keeping the distances down for now. Shocker: I am driving to and from rides. Lunch stops are even more important than ever, as a chance for me to stretch and rest and I usually need another short break partway back from lunch. If you are willing to tolerate a mellower pace and help me in my recovery, please join me. Warning: If you drop the ride leader, you will be publicly shamed and not invited back.

Last Tuesday I got dropped multiple times, and I would be dishonest if I didn't say that it hurt my feelings, so I really want to be clear about what these rides mean to me.

When I first started riding with this group a few years ago, it was a small group of friends, who had free time on weekdays and liked to get out for a social ride. The idea was that if you wanted to go out for a ride, you'd come up with a route and pick a date and time you were planning to ride, and then invite others to join you. It was much smaller and less formal than a typical club ride. We'd often have 2-6 riders. So it was really just friends inviting friends for a ride, not an event, not a race, but a casual friendly day out. I was honored to be invited by a friend to join this group. I've had some wonderful days out and forged some great friendships. After a while I dipped my toe in and occasionally led a ride myself. At some point, I decided to make a commitment to do a weekly ride on Tuesdays and open up this kind of fun casual ride to folks I knew through Ride Studio Cafe. Thus began the RSC Tuesday rides. FAIB has consistently made for the majority of participants, but we've had a few folks join the ranks of FAIB thanks to finding the group through RSC.

Since starting these rides, I have really looked forward to Tuesdays. I've tried to find new and unique lunch spots and to occasionally add a new route to keep things interesting.

I've also tried to keep the rides fun and social, adjusting the pace to accommodate whoever shows up, trying my best to make sure we don't ever leave anyone or make anyone feel unwelcome. It isn't always easy herding cats, but for the most part folks have followed my lead if I've tried to slow things down to keep the group together. I may have gently discouraged a rider who is significantly slower than the group average, but I admit that I've also encouraged others who may have initially been at the slower end of the group to keep coming back, and have seen them become stronger and faster, as a result. I'm rather proud that one of those riders recently finished a 300km ride!

But here's the thing. To me, it's not so much about the bike. It's a day out with friends, who happen to be on bikes. It's a lunch outing that we get to on our bikes. It's a destination with a nice view, or an interesting landmark.
And sometimes, there's a big climb in the middle, and sometimes, we let it hang out on one or two climbs and regroup at the top. But 80-90% of the time, we ride along as a group, chatting and having fun.

I'm going to continue to do my rides on Tuesdays from RSC and I'd love company, but please come because you want to support and encourage me and ride WITH me as I return from breaking my back. Please come because you want to spend a day out with friends who happen to be on bikes. I think we all have interesting things to talk about and share while we ride, and it shouldn't be such an effort to adjust pace to hang with a friend.

So when I say don't drop me, I don't mean regroup at the top of every hill. I mean let's ride together. We can still go for friendly KOM's once or twice on a ride on the likes of a climb like Haystack or Brimstone, but let's try to keep it together the rest of the time.

Thanks for reading this far.

This Tuesday I'm riding to Ryer's for lunch. Please join me for a fun day out.