Photo by Jason DeVarennes

Thursday, July 11, 2013

HighPoint Ride - presented by Ride Studio Cafe

A bit over a year ago, Rob Vandermark starting talking about doing a hilly ride. And by hilly, he meant he wanted to find the biggest climb in Massachusetts, and ride there from Ride Studio Cafe. Exploring on Strava, he found that Mt Greylock was the only Hors cat├ęgorie climb in the state, so he decided that would make a good destination. I pointed out that it would be more than 300 miles round trip, so we started planning a two day ride. Even with two days, it would still be quite the challenge, so he made the concession of allowing remote starts for folks who might be a bit less ambitious than to want to do 160 miles and 16,000 feet of climbing out to Greylock and 160 miles and 12,000 feet back!

In the autumn, John, Rob, Patria and I had a planning session over dinner, where we pulled out maps and starting looking at routes. I had done a bit of plotting ahead of time and had a rough route in mind already, which would take in some lovely off the beaten path quiet roads. When I mentioned taking in all the big climbs, Rob corrected me saying he just wanted the ONE. We compromised on a taking a backroads route that would have to involve some climbing, but would not go out of the way to do bonus climbing. As much as I wanted to go up Kingsley Hill, everyone else said NO.

We talked about using the lodge on top of Greylock for the overnight, and penciled in a few possible dates that wouldn't conflict with other big events. When we called to book the lodge, we were lucky that it was available on one of those dates - the last weekend in June.

Feeling we had loads of time to prepare, we set off with our assigned tasks. I was to provide a route, and Patria would do everything else! I got the tentative route mapped out, but had a few sections that I wanted to check out myself. I had added a few new-to-me roads. I consulted with some friends who lived in the area, and got a thumbs up. Then I headed out to ride them myself. The new sections turned out to be some of the best roads on the route.

Then someone pressed the fast-forward button and the event was almost on top of us. Patria had been very busy recruiting support staff and arranging for folks to make food. Cristiano, Mark, Roger and Steven would be driving three support vehicles and manning various rest stops along the way. Ariela prepared food for days in advance, wth help from Drew and Julie. Drew and Ariela manned the shop and phones duringthe event. The rest of us would have the easy time of riding.

Rob did about 10 miles of training... OK, maybe I'm exaggerating.  Maybe it was 10 miles per week!

I had been planning to do one of the remote starts from the beginning. I knew I could do the full distance, but just figured anyone riding at my pace would likely opt for a shorter ride. I really had thought the only ones crazy enough to tackle the whole ride would just be the RSC Endurance team. But at some point a few minutes before I broke my collarbone on that fateful day in early June, I had started to think that maybe I'd just go for the Full Monty.

Well, maybe I have a right to be superstitious, because look what happened!

So as I started riding again, I really wanted to do some part of Highpoints. I'd put a lot of work into it, and I needed to do it. On my first ride, I thought, maybe the 50 mile (each way). Then after a longer ride, I thought I'd go for the 70. Then John and I had a good tandem ride, and we decided to do the 110 option on the tandem. Maybe if another week had gone by I would have gone for the 160 mile full ride!

We joined folks at the studio at 5AM for a pre-ride breakfast, before getting into our car to drive out to Westminster for the first remote start.

Steven Lim brought his espresso machine and full coffee setup. We found him at our first stop in Ashburnham. It was so hot, that we opted for cold brew!

Lunch was at Erving State Forest. A dip in the lake was very tempting!

The road over South Mountain got everyone's attention after lunch. Fortunately the construction sign was old. The road got freshly repaved during one of my scouting missions. It was still outrageously steep, but smooth as glass.

And the descent offered some of our first nice mountain views.

No one complained about the smooth dirt road by the Connecticut river that took us down to this lovely pedestrian bridge with the French King Bridge in the background.

As we approached Greenfield, the mercury was starting to boil. More cold brew was on order at Steven's next coffee stop.

And then the climbing began in earnest.

But there were plenty of great descents to go with the climbs.

The climb up to Whitcomb Summit was a doozy. I'd alerted everyone that it was harder than the climb up Greylock, mainly so folks wouldn't be discouraged by it. For my part, I may have downplayed the final climb too much. It was hard too!

The hairpin on Route 2 is well known in this area. We don't have many  - most roads just go straight up or straight down. So when you say THE HAIRPIN around here, everyone knows what you are talking about.

After a break at the top of Whitcomb, we zoomed down into North Adams and then found our way onto the road up Greylock. We started out with @thewilcox, but a blown derailleur left him limping the remainder of the climb. But he did it under his own steam! We got to the top, and found the tower closed for repairs, but took consolation in beer that was being sold in the lodge. A shower, massage and dinner followed. 

The 160 mile folks had started a bit later than scheduled and were running late. Rob made a valiant effort and despite no training, made it over 100 miles before waving the white flag. Never-say-die Patria and Katie hammered on and finished after 10PM to a warm welcome.

Steve was up in the wee hours tuning the espresso grind. And what a great job he did!

When planning to route, I'd eliminated most of the dirt, but left in a few sections that I thought were really nice. Prior to the weekend, a rider who'd pre-ridden some of the route reported that the dirt early on day 2 had some washed out sections, so we mapped out a longer route around. My sources all said it was rideable, so John, David and I took the shortcut with the dirt, while everyone else rode the long way around. There was one steep section and the washout while potentially challenging for a car was easy to avoid on a bike. This section was sublime!

We regrouped at the bottom, where Rob showed off the awesome t-shirts we'd get at the end. With that motivation, we pressed on, up the long climb to Plainfeild.

It was a brutally hot and sticky return journey.  The roads on the way back were more wide open and sun-drenched that the tiny lanes would took the day before. We all suffered as the day wore on. But we were rewarded with lots of descending, including 25 miles of coasting after Plainfield! Of course, then we had to climb back out of the CT river valley in the hottest part of the day.

Among many other treats, I found this delicious "Kevin Bacon" rice cake at one of the sag stops. And I stopped counting the number of cold brews that I had along the way! Powered by coffee and rice cakes!

In the end, we were quite happy with our remote start/finish, and even picked up a couple of extra passengers, eager for a lift back to Lexington, where we were greeted with more food and drink and those promised t-shirts!

Rob and Patria rode all the way to Westminster. Clearly the ride wasn't as hard as I thought. With practically no miles in his legs, Rob tackled over two hundred miles of some of the toughest hills I could find in MA. And he looked fresh as a daisy at the end!

It was a great weekend. I'm working on some mods to the return route for a future ride, keeping the descending of course, but on a few quieter roads. Hopefully this will become an annual event!


  1. Looks like that was a fantastic event. You are very fortunate to have RSC to host/sponsor these events. Rob is First Class all the way.

  2. The entire weekend was a blast. Thanks for planning the route. It was beautiful and quiet as promised!

  3. Jeffrey Jenkins CT cyclistJuly 15, 2013 at 9:08 AM

    You guys have all of the fun. Always enjoy your posts. I've had my picture taken on the little bridge below the French King bridge as well. Love riding in Western Mass when I can.