Photo by Jason DeVarennes

Friday, June 6, 2014

DROVES 2014 - Day 0 and 1

Dirt Roads Of Vermont with Exquisite Scenery - DROVES-eve and Day 1

When we first started doing DROVES a few years ago, we did a point to point ride starting and ending near Ludlow, VT, with two overnights at the same inn in the Waitsfield/Warren area to allow for a middle day of unencumbered riding or even a rest day. Our initial route was inspired by the many dirt road deviations we had taken over the years on another mid-summer weekend ride in Vermont known as TOSRV-East (standing for Tour of Scenic Rural Vermont, or seemingly more often than not, Soggy Rainy Vermont and on at least one occasion Scorching Roasting Vermont). And for those for whom this acronym is familiar, yes, TOSRV-East ride was inspired by the more widely known AYH TOSRV - Tour of the Scioto River Valley. Anyway, some 30 or more years ago, the Boston chapter of AYH starting running TOSRV-East run along the 100 miles on Route 100 between Rawsonville and Waterbury, with hostels at each end of the ride. It stayed the same for many years, but a few years back, some route changes were made as various hostels closed and Route 100 got to be a bit busier, and some of the regulars just wanted to explore a bit more of Scenic Rural Vermont. John and I did the ride many times, but often would go even further off the beaten path and try out another dirt road diversion, sometimes enticing a few folks to join us, until one year when we only criss-crossed the planned route, and literally rode less than 5 miles along the official route!

Around this time, dirt road rides were starting to catch on among our friends, so we decided to host a ride of our own over Memorial Day weekend, taking in many of those dirt roads we had found between Ludlow and Waterbury over the years. This was not to be a formal trip, but rather just few friends having a fun weekend. And we intend to keep it that way, which isn't to say that new friends can't join us, just that it is purely informal, social and fun.

Of course the first thing we had to do was come up with a clever name or acronym. After a bit of brain twisting, we decided on DROVES - for Dirt Roads of Vermont Epic Sojourn. But this year Fear Rothar decided the word epic was overused and didn't truly reflect what makes this ride so special, and so suggested changing "ES" to stand for Exquisite Scenery. And so now it does!

The first year of DROVES we had hoped to follow in the footsteps of the AYH events and stay in the hostel in Ludlow on Friday night, but despite making reservations online, we arrived to find the place closed. Fortunately we were able to find other accommodation nearby. At least the inn at our destination in Waitsfield was still in business when we arrived, so the rest of the weekend went smoothly. In fact, we had a great ride up along the lovely smooth hardpack dirt roads on the west side of Route 100, followed by a 50 mile dirt road recovery ride in the Waitsfield/Warren area, then a return trip along the dirt roads on the ridges to the east of Route 100. This was our standard formula for a couple of years. Then Hurricane Irene came and smashed up many of the dirt roads and covered bridges we traversed in Southern Vermont. Of course, one of the great things about dirt roads is that they are cheaper to repair and maintain than paved roads, but they were also a bit more susceptible to storm damage and so many roads (paved and unpaved) were destroyed in that single day, that priorities would have to be set and some roads would take longer to repair than others.

First order of business for the road repairs was to get to stranded people, and then to get the main roads open again. A major east west road across Southern Vermont took highest priority and was reopened within a few days.

But many of the covered wooden bridges would take much longer to replace. Many were literally smashed into toothpicks and washed down river. A video of the Bartonsville Bridge being washed away went viral. The damage to the bridges near Woodstock was also well publicized. We soon learned that many of our roads were damaged, and that the forest service roads (with no residents) would get addressed last - so might take a year or more.

We also learned that The Brown Bridge, spanning the Upper Cold River, was badly damaged and more significantly, the Upper Cold River Road itself also sustained major damage. In fact, the lovely stretch of road (well the screaming descent, as I recall) leading to this bridge is still closed today. The latest news I see from the town of Shrewsbury is that the road is finally scheduled to be repaired this summer. There was some debate as to whether the damage was actually from Irene, and funding was held up as a result!

We realized we would need to make some adjustments, and we'd have to decide quickly in order to secure accommodation for Memorial Day weekend, a very popular date.

Luck would have us discovering the Burke Bike Barn shortly after Irene came a-calling. So we decided to change the format to stay at one central location with various routes of different lengths rather than point to point. This simplified things for transporting gear and has also proved popular with some riders who wanted to bring non-riding family, or those wanting to do shorter rides.

It's also made it handy when the weather has been uncooperative, as it was last year!

While the forecast for this year didn't include snow, it did mention other forms of precipitation. Of course, those who know me well, know that I have a rule against discussing weather during a ride, and absolutely forbid the use of the 4 letter word that starts with R and ends with N.

Now this does not mean that one can't still check the forecast and come prepared. In fact, that is part of the rule. If you don't bring a jacket, it will be YOUR fault when it rains. Same with fenders. So if you ride with me and don't want to get the blame for bad weather, don't mention rain (or snow or hail or wind), do bring a rain jacket and warmers, and definitely mount some fenders.

For the most part, our group tolerated my silly superstitions, but Neil repeatedly tempted fate, and it is his fault that we got soaked before lunch on Saturday (even though he wasn't there). Thanks to everyone else's good manners, we managed to appease the rain-gods, who instead exerted their fury on our friends riding in other parts of New England this weekend, reserving a special treat for my friend, Cathy Rowell, who dared to post on facebook that at least it wouldn't snow.

Like the route, our group has evolved over time. We were re-joined by long time regulars, Ted, Cristine and Dominique, and welcomed newcomers, Geoff, Carolyn, Steve, Rob, Neil, Henry and Constantin. Some of the group stayed for the full weekend, while others came later or left earlier. What this really meant was that we had fresh new legs everyday to beat up on our tired old ones.

Ted, Rob and Geoff all arrived at about the same time as John and me on Friday evening. After unpacking our cars, we decided to hop on our bikes and ride the mile down to the village to get some pizza for dinner. Just as we headed down the hill, it started to pour! Naturally no one was prepared! After some awesome pizza, we headed back to the barn where we built a great fire, despite using some rather wet wood.

Burke Mountain has its head in the clouds!

A few friends gather around the fire pit the night before all the riding begins!

After sharing a few beers, Cristine and Dominique pulled in and we had a great reunion with our Canadian friends. Shortly after 11, Carolyn and Steve arrived to complete the expected Friday night guests.

Plans were made for a 9AM departure on the long route to Craftsbury. Bernie, one of my Tuesday riding buddies, has a house nearby in Barnet. He and his family were up for the weekend, but his wife and daughter were immersed in wedding planning and Bernie was quite happy to escape that activity and join us for a ride. This meant we had a group of 10 for the ride out to Craftsbury.

Cristine leading the charge up the first climb of the day.

Mt Burke pokes its head out of the clouds behind us

Steve, taking his new cross bike out for some fun dirt roads

Dominique is showing appreciation for the great rice cakes made by Rob

The Bayley-Hazen road features prominently on the ride, but somehow only Hazen is mentioned here!

Constant Bliss and Moses Sleeper - how about those names for the scouts who were ambushed here.

Lots of photo stops were timed well with the addition or removal of jackets

The store in Craftsbury, along with hot coffee and delicious sandwiches - a welcome sight

Looking at the forecast on weatherspark, I saw a high probability of heavy rain at midday, followed by better conditions after lunch. I had high hopes of being comfortable and dry inside the store in Craftsbury enjoying lunch while the rain hammered down, and then thanking the weather-gods for their mercy as we departed under sunny skies.

The ride went almost to plan.

Being our wedding anniversary, John and I took the tandem. But also being my birthday, John said I didn't have to pedal! Since I wasn't pedaling, we were a bit behind schedule and got rain before lunch. Actually that's not true. I did pedal, but with all the "Exquisite Scenery", we had so many photo stops that the rain beat us to Craftsbury, by about 1/2 hour.

We made our way into the store, dripping a bit, and placed orders for sandwiches and filled cups with coffee. At some point the gal taking our order asked if any of us had ridden Rasputitsa. I said we had, and she told us she had helped give out the maple syrup shots at the top of Cyberia. I said it was greatly appreciated.

After lunch we were all warm and dry and well fuelled. We emerged from the store to sunshine and a big climb up to Craftsbury Common and then tried to get past the alpaca farm, before a screaming descent down to Barton, where we stopped at the supermarket to refill our empty water bottles.

Then came the climb up Duck Pond, although some Cockney Rhyming Slang may have come into play on this never ending climb up to the Sheffield Wind Turbines.

We regrouped at the top and then plunged down to the tunnels under the interstate. Next up was the optional and completely gratuitous Vertical Mile Road, which got a resounding no vote - partly due to the name, but most likely due to the big dark cloud that had suddenly appeared. We still had the climb up to Sutton, which Bernie pointed out was also gratuitous, as he knew a much flatter way back to East Burke. In my defense, my way was shorter, although it was compensated by equivalent vertical! But it was also much more scenic - which is what this weekend is all about after all.

Roads were wet for a while, but spirits were high and scenery was, well, exquisite

Shower caps to cover helmets!

Alpacas proved too cute to ride by without stopping

We were rewarded for persevering the rain shower

Our final stop for sustenance before the long hard climb up Duck Pond Road

Tunnel Vision

Did someone comment about the weather? We got a brief intense shower just as we turned onto the last major climb

Sunshine returned and all was forgiven

Bernie kept talking about flatter ways home!

Geoff made use of all his gears

Carolyn and Steve were happy to be back at the barn - under sunny skies

We got one last quick shower, and then arrived back at the barn under bluebird skies, although with enough chill in the air that we chose to don sweaters and jackets and eat inside.

Neil and Henry arrived shortly after we returned, so we now had a full barn. I tried to get them to head out to climb Burke Mountain, so they wouldn't have completely fresh legs the next day, but I wasn't convincing enough.

Then, chips and guacamole and popcorn and beer appeared. This was followed by a beet salad, risotto, corn, brussel sprouts, asparagus, and finally finished off with cookies.

Pyromaniacs did a great job lighting the wet firewood, and we gathered around the fire pit enjoying samples of all the beer. Everyone brought something different, so we had a great evening of beer tasting.

Henry brought his Dutch shuffleboard, and 5 of us retired to the game room for a quick match.

Sleep was well earned for that night.


  1. Routes! Please post routes!

    1. Links to the routes were posted here a short while back ...

  2. Wow, for a non-epic ride that was pretty awesome. (I don't care to look at the routes as the only way I could have ridden that would have been on a bike trailer behind your tandem!) Thanks for sharing. I love to ride vicariously. Looking forward to the posts for the rest of the weekend. Good to see Fixie Pixie in fighting shape.