So, now that we've established the mood, let me tell you about Day 2 of our Vermonster ride.
When we left off, our six protagonists had turned in for the night, dreaming of good fortune, believing the worst of the weather was behind them.
Yes, there was snow on the ground, but Day 2 was to be an improvement on Day 1 and Day 1 really hadn't turned out that badly.
(Music from Law and Order - dun, dah, dun)
As route disorganiser, I knew we had the small matter of the 2100 foot high Rochester Gap ahead of us. While it might seem reasonable to fear the climb, I knew that by far the biggest challenge would be not freezing on the descent. When you look forward to climbs and dread descents, this pretty much defines the word cold.
I had mapped out a bailout option that could keep us lower, but it was much longer and not nearly as scenic. If we took that route, we would need to make the choice fairly early in the day. Of course, as it turned out, this was before the weather got really epic.
As I'm sure is obvious, we did not choose the low road.
Nancy, sadly due to an ongoing injury, made the wise choice to drive down to Hartland and spend the day with her friend Alan, who would play host to our group that evening.
Kait also made a wise decision to skip the first snowy trail. I joined her and told the lads we'd meet them at the East Warren store. Conditions were still mild at this point but, after seeing the photos, I wasn't displeased to have taken the mainer road. It looked like fun, but also looked a bit slippery.
The store had a lovely warm gathering place upstairs, where we chowed down on a second breakfast while David, John and Caleb took lots of photos on the alternate route.
After a while, the guys joined us and also took on more calories. Alas, we could only stall for so long and, of course, we headed out to our bikes just as the heavens opened. I checked the radar which made quite clear that stalling would not help. It wasn't due to clear until mid-afternoon. We still had almost 60 miles to cover and a mountain to get over.
I told the others that this section is the prettiest of the whole route, with wide open vistas and baby goats frolicking in a field. While this has been the case in the past, we did not experience this today.
The rain came down harder. We pressed on. Clothing was added.
I will say that I was pretty happy with my clothing choices. Not happy to be in this situation, but I felt I was at least well prepared. I had a nice wool base layer, covered with rain pants and jacket, and most strategically of all, tall overshoes which overlapped my rain pants, keeping my feet warm and dry. I also had a couple of pairs of gloves, keeping the warmest ones in reserve just for the long descent.
When we reached the final turn up to the gap, I removed my jacket, so as not to overheat on the climb. A light drizzle fell as we climbed.
Caleb was having trouble accessing his granny gear, but somehow managed to push the pedals around as he wrestled his 50%-heavier-than-everyone-else's-bike up this beast. Kait was pretty chilled, but managed to generate a bit of heat on the way up. David and John climbed with ease.
Upon reaching the sign that marked the top, I stopped and stripped down to add a base layer - just as the heavens opened again. However, I managed to get my jacket and heavy gloves on before I turned into an icicle. I suggested that if folks had any spare warm bike gear to give it to Kait for the descent. She was suffering the most but she was a trooper.
I started down slowly, trying to keep the speed low to retain some warmth, but this is a long descent and soon all that residual heat was dissipated. It is a truly fun screamer of a descent in warm weather, but today was another story. Fun was not the F-word that was used!
When we finally rolled into Bethel, we were positively thrilled to find a lovely warm cafe, where we ordered whatever hot things they had on the menu.
We did our best to warm up and dry out gloves and such while enjoying delicious hot sandwiches. I informed the group of the good news - a big hard climb right out of lunch!
We were rewarded with even more good fortune as our climb was on soft sticky mud, making us work even harder and therefore producing even more heat.
We regrouped in Barnard before pressing on to Woodstock, after another chilly descent. Our long breaks had us pushing daylight again, but we were all prepared with lights, and we enjoyed a magical climb under moonlight into Hartland. Here we enjoyed a warm welcome from Nancy and Alan, who plied us with appetizers and a hearty dinner.
This was a day for badasses. The route is hard in good weather, but the freezing and wet weather would leave a mark. It was literally freezing when we hit the gap, and the rain came down harder then than at any other point throughout the day. We banded together and offered each other encouragement and spare clothes and got through it. This was one tough day on the bike, and I'm so proud of everyone for pressing on and getting through it.