Photo by Jason DeVarennes

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...


  1. Fantastic! Well done and thanks for sharing your adventure!

  2. Thanks for sharing your excellent story. I've considered doing this as an unsupported 2-day, and now I really want to ride it!

    1. Jon, Sandy was talking about providing some neutral support for the two day version next year, so I'm hoping this happens. We'd love to have you join us on a ride soon!

  3. Daring, fun adventure played with verve, wit & style and a darling account of same by the inimitable Fixie Pixie! As TDR might say, "Delightful!" Can't ask for more than that. Thank you for sharing. Jim Duncan

  4. You ladies are real-life superheros.
    Thank you for the write up!

  5. Amazing! You gals rock! Now I have a goal for next year! -Lori