Photo by Jason DeVarennes

Friday, June 27, 2014

Green Mountain Double Metric

The alarm goes off at 3 AM. John silences it. The room is quiet. We drag ourselves out of bed and begin the pre-ride rituals. I do love to ride my bike. I do love the long rides. But I do hate getting up at this hour.

I brush out and re-braid my hair. Then I apply sunscreen to my face and arms and slather on plenty of chamois cream. This is going to be a long day, better add some more. I check the outside temperature. It's 59F. Heavy rain fell all day yesterday and continued overnight. The dirt roads we'll be riding on today will be soft and full of mud puddles. Looking out the window, I see light drizzle under the street light. I put on my shorts, arm warmers and leg warmers.

I take a few bites of bagel and some sips of cold coffee drink.

My RoadID hangs from a chain that I wear like a necklace. My primary contact is John, but it also says, "If on tandem, call Susan". The ritual of putting on this necklace is new for me since last September, when I discovered that not all EMTs know about back pockets on cycling jerseys. I was rather lucky that my phone wasn't broken when I was thrown from the bike, since I couldn't come up with phone numbers or addresses without it! Once I explained that I was actually lying on my phone (and wallet and ID), the EMTs, who already had me strapped to the backboard, were able to retrieve the device and possibly ease some of my discomfort from lying on all that stuff. The deputies were then able to use my phone to contact my cousin. I think someone eventually would have found the card in my wallet with all John's info on it, but it likely would have taken a while longer to contact my local hosts. 

So before I got back on a bike again, I ordered a RoadID. The first few times I went through the process of hanging this thing around my neck, I thought back to that fateful day and paused... Each time I returned from a ride safely and took the necklace off to hang on hook on the bathroom door, I felt a sense of relief.  Now it has become just another part of the pre-ride ritual, after applying sunscreen and chamois cream.

I pull on my 52 Vincents jersey. John and I don't normally dress like twins on the tandem, but we do sometimes fly team colors. When deciding what team kit to wear for this event, of course it had to be the 52 Vincents jerseys. Ride Studio Cafe made these jerseys for us a few years ago, when we joined up with 4 other friends to take part in a Rapha Gentlemen's race, as a team of 3 tandems. The team name was inspired by Richard Thompson's song, "1952 Vincent Black Lightning" which you can listen to here and see my revised lyrics. The 6 of us worked well as a team that day. We were strong. We had fun. We even won! And we survived "The Rapture."

I pull on wool socks and then step into my favorite brown leather shoes, which I'm sure will get completely covered in muck today, but they are tough and clean up well after abuse - like me. Finally I pull on a pair of nicely padded cycling gloves, my hat and helmet. Last up is my hi-vis reflective vest. In its pockets I have my cycling wallet and my camera. I think I'm ready. John has been going through the same process.

We maneuver the tandem out of our motel room and carry it downstairs, to begin the 5 mile ride out to the official starting point at the Eunice Williams bridge on Green River Road.

Riding the Green Mountain Double Century was not even on my radar until a few days ago, when Sandy Whittlesey sent email out to his list of regulars and casually mentioned a short option.

Some background: Green Mountain Double Century is one of the toughest double centuries around. It's 70% dirt roads with 20,000+ feet of climbing. But it's also one of the most beautiful rides we've done, with quiet country (dirt) roads running through dense forests and grassy farmlands in the Green Mountains of southern Vermont.

John has taken part every year since its inception in 2011. The first year saw constant rain for 20+ hours. John rode with his teammates, David and Matt. The next year, enticed by the prospect of amazing scenery and with the luxury of 40 hours allowed to complete the ride, Dena and I opted for a lower key approach, involving an overnight in a B&B, while John, David and Matt hammered out a lightning fast time.

Last year, Dena's impending motherhood meant I'd have to find a different riding partner, so John and I planned to ride tandem. But a mere week before the event, a wrong way cyclist hit me head-on and foiled those plans. So instead of getting ready for the race, I had collarbone surgery. John scrambled to get his single bike rideable, and on Saturday, Dena and I went for a hike in the Blue Hills, while John rode with his teammates again.

The rest of the summer went well, until it didn't. Regular readers know the story...

So this spring, we've been taking things one ride at a time. I quickly built up to 60 mile rides on a single bike, and had finally reached a point where a ride of that length didn't hurt so bad. I was occasionally even stretching things out to 90 miles, taking a full day with a nice long lunch stop and many photo-ops.

I do seem to have gotten over a bit of a hump recently. First, I'm getting stronger (and faster) physically. I'm still much slower than I want to be and hills are still more challenging than I'd like. The severe pain has mostly faded into a background pain. Of course bumps are much more noticeable than they used to be, but fatter tires at lower pressure helps. The other hump is the mental one. While I am still pursuing various means of pain relief, I have accepted that this pain is part of my life now, and just decided to HTFU and get on with it. 

Then Sandy's email about GMDC came in, mentioning a 135 mile (double metric) option. And I thought that maybe, just maybe, if we took the tandem and a camera, that it might be possible to do this nice hilly long dirt road ride in southern Vermont. So I sent a text to John: GMD-Lite - what do you think? And with that a plan was hatched.

I exchanged a bunch of emails with Sandy about the proposed short route. I coyly asked if it would include Kelley's Stand!

In 2011, Kelley's Stand was a primary feature of the race, but a few months after that first event, Tropical Storm Irene destroyed the road. So Sandy created a new route for 2012, and yet another new route for 2013. Each route has been lovely, but there was something special about the original route and Kelley's Stand, with its never ending series of 42 false summits. This year work is finally being done on the road, and it's passable by bike, so GMDC reverted to the original route. Sadly for us, one really has to do the full 200 miles to take in Kelley's Stand, but with this SoftLikeKitten 135 mile version, we'd still get in lots of great climbs, including Putney Mountain Road and, a special for the short ride, twisty winding descent off Stratton along with some spectacular scenery.

So this is how at 3:30 AM, we were pedaling away from our motel in Greenfield to ride out to the official start of GMDM at the Eunice Williams bridge.

Light mist coated my glasses. The forecast called for a clearing as the day wore on, so I wasn't too worried about a repeat of a full day of rain like the first year. Earlier in the week, John had talked about removing the fenders from the tandem, but no sooner did he utter those words than the forecast changed to one that demanded he leave them in place. John is likely the biggest offender in breaking my rule of not talking about rain during a ride. When will he learn? He mocks me for my aversion to the R-word. And each time he does, we get wet!

After a short spin along flat roads, the last flat stuff we'd see for a while, we arrived at the bridge to be greeted by a big bear hug from Sandy. We had hoped our friend, Ted, would join us for a fun day out, but it seems he wasn't able to get the night off work. We'd also heard that Russ and CK would be riding, but they opted for an even shorter version with a later remote start. In the end, Rick was the only other rider planning to take the shortcut, while half a dozen others were aiming for the full monty.

As we were milling about waiting to start, Dave, who was acting as photographer for Matt R., came over to greet us and snap a few photos. I pulled out my point and shoot and asked if he would mind getting a shot with it, but then I couldn't get it to turn on. Seems I'd forgotten to recharge the battery, again! Bummer, that would put a crimp in my picture taking plans. At least John had his small camera. So there was still some hope of photo-op breaks. 

Dave C. captured the drizzly start well

4AM arrived and with very little ceremony, we were on our way. The route started out the very gradual climb along the Green River Road. Knowing that one can't complete the ride in the first 5 minutes, we took our time warming up. Matt R. hammered off the front, never to be seen again.

John seemed unusually subdued. It turned out that he hadn't slept well at all the night before, thanks to the noisy air conditioner in our hot room. We rolled along in silence for a while. Well, in the silence of a forest at 4AM, with the sound of the river gushing downstream and birds starting to chirp as dawn arrives. This chorus accompanied the noise from our 42mm Hetre tires struggling against a soft wet sandy surface. A knobbly tread would have come in handy in the early going, and admittedly we had some fishtailing at times, so there was even the occasional squeal from the back of the tandem. We both were confident that conditions would get better as the roads dried out. But in the meantime, John showed great restraint on descents and we had to put in some extra effort on the climbs to maintain traction.

At least it wasn't actively raining. Wow! Did I really say that? Well not out loud at least. But apparently I thought it, and mist again began to cloud my glasses. The early morning fog hung low and gave a spooky feel to the landscape. After one descent, we came to a left hand turn, where Sandy was waiting to keep folks on course. Between the excellent cue mounted in the bar bag and our GPS units, we had no trouble navigating through the quiet country lanes and forest roads. A short while later, we skirted around Brattleboro and again found Sandy waiting to warn of slick conditions on the steel deck bridge. Jon and Matt C. were just making their way across the bridge when we arrived. We stopped briefly to chat with Sandy, but then we decided to try and reel in Jon and Matt to chat with them for a while. These two guys would be heading off in a few days to do the Cascades 1200km ride, and this was their final tune-up. While it may seem a bit insane to wear oneself out the weekend before a 1200km, we figured that these climbs might make the west coast climbs seem tame. Indeed, they successfully completed the ride in the Cascades, so perhaps it wasn't such a bad idea. Our quartet rolled along chatting and barely noticed as the road pitched up to climb over Putney Mountain. [John: What?!?] The descent, on the other hand, definitely caught my attention. It's rough at the best of times, but given our earlier fishtailing, John decided to show amazing caution and restraint. Soon enough we were at the bottom and rolling along some more gentle terrain towards Grafton.

But then we spied a 3-dimensional turtle crossing the road. 3-D as distinguished from the flat 2-D versions I've seen too many of lately. John turned back and decided to make an effort to keep this one from becoming 2-D as well. Using the frame pump, he attempted to escort the little snapper on his way across the road safely. Snappers are able to snap at things halfway around their shells and do damage to helping hands with their strong beaks, so simply lifting one to carry it across the road is ill-advised. A friend recently suggested to me that one can use spare clothes to cover the head and then lift them, but I had no spare clothes and wasn't willing to take any off at this point!

Once this diversion was complete, we hit some truly tandem friendly terrain and made good time rolling down to Grafton, where we ordered breakfast sandwiches and filled our tummies with muffins. I also took this opportunity to do a lot of stretching and relaxing. I have a few stretches I can do on the bike, but the most effective ones are done off the bike, so I tried to take advantage of the off-bike time.

After downing our breakfast, we rolled along and chatted away with Jon and Matt a bit longer. Our route split off from theirs about 5 miles up the road from Grafton, so we wished them luck and tailwinds and all that.

Once the routes diverged, we found ourselves on the creatively named Popple Dungeon Road. John and I have explored this area a bit in the past, and I soon recognized that we'd be passing by a nudist camp. Mosquitoes must love this road!

We then had a long paved descent down to Londonderry, followed by a slog up toward Stratton Mountain. We arrived at the Windhall store in Bondville around 11AM and decided to have an early lunch. Fortunately, we didn't overdo it, as the climb afterwards up to Stratton was brutal. We were next rewarded with an amazing descent along Pikes Falls Road. This was a notable new-to-me road as it was a gem. The scars from Irene were still quite evident in the river bed next to the road, but the condition of this road suggested it had been completely rebuilt since the storm.

As instructed on the cue sheet, I had texted Sandy at Bondville - the text said something like "from Dungeons to Bondage." He replied to text him again when we reached Route 9 in Marlborough. When we reached the next store mentioned on the cue sheet in Jamaica, it hadn't been that long since our lunch stop. John asked if we needed to send another text, and I relayed Sandy's response. What I didn't think about was that this was also the last store on the cue sheet and maybe we should stop to top off with water. I also didn't factor in how Sandy puts the hardest climb on the route at the end.

Now I'd looked at the profile and knew we'd have a long downhill finish, but I hadn't looked closely enough to see that we'd hit the highpoint on the course just before it, and we would have to work really hard for that long descent.

The first hint of trouble was where the cue sheet said turn right on Holland Road with this comment from Sandy - "totally sucks - sorry!" Well, thanks for the warning Sandy! And, to answer the eternal question, no, Holland is not flat! It was seriously steep and we climbed and climbed and climbed some more. Our water was starting to run low and it was finally getting warm.

But we did occasionally catch sight of a nice view. Then we finally reached the top of the world - well ok, just the crest of the ridge that is known as Hogback - and the views were truly amazing as we rolled along this ridge for a while. John finally remembered he had a camera and we stopped for a few photos as we enjoyed the highlight, as well as highpoint of the route.

Soon after we reached route 9, and I sent our final text to Sandy. His reply came back that he'd see us soon.

And soon was not an understatement. We were now on a tandemnügen descent back to the finish, and we hammered. Shortly after passing through the covered bridge that features as the lunch stop on D2R2, we dropped out of warp speed, just as we saw Sandy heading up the road toward us. We rolled along together chatting away sharing our stories of the day.

We reached the official finish exactly 12 hours after starting and Sandy presented us with bags of peanut butter M&Ms - our hard-earned finishers' awards. We then all rolled into Greenfield together. Sandy headed back out to go greet Rick next, while John and I got our first coffees of the day at Greenfield Coffee!

What an absolutely glorious day out on a bike.

For sale: Cassette and chain, used once only

I mentioned a few months back that I was granting myself the courage to fail this year. But I also said while my goals wouldn't be epic, that they would still be worthy. SoftLikeKitten Green Mountain Double Metric met that criteria.

This year's revision to the lyrics...

Said Pamela to John, that's a fine tandem bike
A girl could feel special on any such like
Said John to Pamela, well my helmet's off to you
It's a Seven Titanium, two-oh-one-two
And I've seen you at the corners and cafes it seems
Pink wool and black lycra, my favorite color scheme
And he pulled her on behind
And down to Greenfield they did ride

Said John to Pamela, here's a granny ring for the big climbs
But I'll tell you in earnest I'm a dangerous man
I've descended like a demon since I was seventeen
I ridden many a mile on my two wheeled machine
Now I'm 41 years, I might make 42
And I don't mind dying, but for the love of you
And if fate should break my stride
Then I'll give you a disk brake to slow the ride

Come out, come out, email came from Sandy
For I've made a special short route for GMD
The climb up Holland Road left nothing inside
Oh, push harder, Pamela to help John's dying thighs
When they got to the top, there wasn't much left
They weren't was running out of road, but they were running out of breath
 But he smiled to see her cry
And said we've got 25 miles of downhill to ride

Says John, in my opinion, there's nothing in this world
Beats a gnarly descent and a nearly fearless girl
Now Santanas and Treks and Burleys won't do
They can't catch the Seven wearing Vincent 52
He reached for her hand and he slipped her the cue sheets
He said I've got no further use for these
I see Sandy on a bicycle in lycra and chrome
Swooping down the hills to ride with us home
And they rode the last miles and sighed
Almost sad that this was the end of the ride


  1. Totally, completely awesome. Congratulations on a fine ride! SoftLikeKitten my azz...you are ToughLikeTiger, lady!

  2. Awesome lyrics!
    It was a treat to ride with you. That turtle relocation business was a highlight of my ride.
    Sandy's route through the Green Mountains, with all the cautionary/apologetic cue notes, was fine preparation for the Cascade 1200. If there's a ride more difficult than the GMDC, I probably don't want to know about it.

    1. Jon, It was a real pleasure to ride with you and Matt. I wish we'd had more time riding together. Hopefully we'll get out for some fun dirt roads again soon. ANVILS over Labor Day?