Photo by Jason DeVarennes

Monday, April 2, 2012

Brown and Grey

As the road rose up to meet me, I became aware of all the grey and brown. As I climbed along slowly, I noticed all the various shades of grey in the rough aggregate surface. I felt I could see all the individual pebbles and pieces of broken asphalt that made up this ribbon of grey. The edge of the road was littered with the crispy brown leaves that had come down last autumn, with the occasional green tuft of grass poking through that bed of leaves.  Along one side of the road, the wooden posts anchoring the rusty cable fence were grey and weathered. The other side was lined with the ubiquitous, in New England at least, rock wall. These walls are thick, solid and sturdy in places, scattered in others. Some of these rock walls are centuries old and reflect great care and skill from the original craftsman. The rocky soil here provides a seemingly endless source of material for these walls. All through the woods, the color was still brown and grey. There were no buds on these trees, and no wildflowers sprouting here yet. In the areas devoid of houses, there were no early spring flowers like crocuses or daffodils, and no wildflowers either. Looking up, the sky was a deep brilliant blue, and clearly visible with no canopy of leaves that in the summer shelters this road from the sun. I love this shade of blue, one that seems unique to winter and early spring. Maybe it's the contrast between barren branches and the sky, or maybe it is a special shade of blue just for winter.

And I love this road. It winds and twists, and rolls up and down, sometimes passing a stream or small pond, often through a wooded area, but also broken up by a house here and there and eventually opening up to rolling green pastures. 

I pedaled along, listening to the hum of tires against the chip seal, lost in my own thoughts. But also keenly aware of how slowly the numbers were changing on my GPS. To think, I used to consider this route hilly! It is classic New England. Lots of little ups and downs, with no major climbs. But today, as I watched my cumulative climbing figure, it was just barely budging, and I was cursing my favorite ride for being flat! Flat - how could this happen?

What was causing me to only see this a flat ride through grey and brown, and not revel in the solitude and sunshine and the roller coaster that is Lost Lake Road?

As I approached civilization, yellow began to invade the grey and brown landscape. Forsythia and daffodils provided an addition to the color palate. There were a few strands of green hanging from the weeping willows. If I looked close, I could even spot a few reddish buds on trees.

It was still quite chilly. I was wearing long sleeves and wooly legwarmers. Rumor had it that summer-like temperatures had visited Boston while we were away the previous week, but it still felt like early spring on this ride. I think the mild winter may have made me less appreciative of a day like this.

As I neared the end, I came to the familiar slog along Virginia Road, and was brought out of my trance. Finally a proper climb! Local randonneurs know this road well. It's the stinger in the tail of almost all our brevets. Riding the final kilometers in from Concord, one can literally see the parking lot at the end across the runway, but there is no gate in the fence and path across the runway. Instead, there is the final brutal climb up to the corner around to the left and back down again. We jokingly call it Mount Virginia. It is the most painful climb on every event. But this day I would at least get a reward of a few more Strava Climbing Challenge feet for my effort.

Except, it was only 60 feet! Yes, I got to the top, and my climbing total had only risen by a mere 60 feet. This mountain at the end of every 200km and 300km and 400km and 600km brevet was only 60 feet! I would be lucky to break 4000 feet by the time I got home. And since this was just a checkout ride for the event I was leading the following day, I'd get the same paltry climbing figure again the next day.

And it was almost ironic that the name of the dreaded climb is the same as the name of the gal who's been inspiring me to go out and climb more, as we to and fro for first place among the females in the competition.

What is going on here? While I like to do the odd brevet, and enter a few hill-climb races just because I am there anyway with Fear Rothar, the real hill-climber, I am far from what one would call a proper hill-climber or a racer. And really, I am not competitive. But somehow, due to the timing of our recent vacation, as well as having plenty of time on my hands mid-week, I had managed to reach the top of the leaderboard for the women in this challenge. But then, Virginia, a real climber, started to catch up, and over the past few days, we've traded the lead. I've actually gone out and ridden the local hill-climb training route to get some more feet per mile! I come home from rides and divert myself to go over Palfrey Hill. I throw in an extra climb on my way to the coffee shop. People have been asking what I've done with Pamela, the coffee loving cycling loiterer, who just uses the bike as a way to get to the next cafe! No fear. She'll be back. Virginia lives among real mountains and is planning a 20,000 foot event near the end of the challenge. She's got 12,000 foot centuries out her back door! So a proper climber will take over and finish first by a large margin. She is going to pass me for good in coming days, as she should!

But I am still aiming to achieve the 105,000 feet in the 45 days of the challenge, and so I'll keep seeking out hills for the time being. Let this be a warning to my local riding buddies that the Tuesday rides might take on a slightly more vertical nature for a few weeks! We'll still go on quiet twisty country lanes and seek out great cafes. And we'll still take all day and get lots of photos, but don't be surprised when I divert the rides up a few dead-end climbs now and then.


  1. Well, I love the lyrical/descriptive prose of your opening and appreciate the savvy riding perspective you afford to taking on such a hill challenge. Reading your post spurs me to get serious about my infinitely more modest hill climbing ambitions. Thank you. Jim Duncan

  2. What a beautiful writer you are! I haven't met you *yet* but we are definitely kindred spirits. And I'm a coffee shop to coffee shop rider too. Oh... Well and seeing my cows. I ride to see the cows. I hope there is another Northern Cal trip in your future soon. (-:
    Your pal,

  3. Virginia,

    I won't be able to keep up, but I will definitely look you up on the next trip.