This past Sunday a large portion of the Bikeway Source/Bell Lap Racing team took part in the inaugural Vermont Overland Maple Adventure Ride. The ride was hosted by New England bicycle racing legend Peter Vollers and the Vermont Overland Adventures offroad club in the area surrounding scenic Woodstock, VT.
This was an early season adventure ride slated to cover 46 miles of very rolling terrain, the vast majority of which would be dirt. The route would also amass some 5000′ of vertical climb over it’s course. Though winter was still in full force in that portion of New England, actually it is still winter in all of New England, just more so there, we were on target for the full ride as of Friday according to a message from the promoter.
It is New England after all and as such, a change in the weather and some unexpected snow Saturday resulted in some areas being a little too far into the realm of treacherous, resulting in a last minute re-route that would retain most of the flavor of the ride but would cut out ten miles and two of the three maple sugar operations that the original ride had planned to visit. I’d not had a chance to really look at the route and I wasn’t planning to hit the stops so in all honestly, all I was a little bummed about was missing the miles. The best part of this type of event is that it is a no pressure way to go and ride some great routes laid out by a cyclist of the same ilk as myself, in an area that I would never otherwise visit.
So early Sunday morning we loaded the van with gear, bikes and bodies and five of us made the easy two hour journey north. We arrived in Woodstock and were able to find convenient on street parking directly across from the Woodstock Sports bike shop that hosted the start and finish. Weather was cool and sunny, a day that would have also been a perfect mid winter ski day. The temperature was just below freezing but the wind was mostly calm and the late March sun was warm and strong.
All told, we had eight members of the team join in for the ride, which included Sue, Paul, PJ, Sam, Kyle, Ben, Cathy and I most of whom chose their Cannondale SuperX disc cyclocross bikes with file tread cyclocross tires, Clement LAS in my case and Stan’s Ravens that I’d won at some race but never used in Cathy’s. We had the biggest contingent by far, which is not to say that the ride was ill attended. In fact, I was amazed at the number of people that braved the weather and conditions to come out for the event. I was pleasantly surprised to find that there were so many hearty cyclists out there, willing to come ride icy dirt roads in the middle of the winter. This is the second event this year that has really impressed me with turnout in the extreme conditions, the other being the Moose Brook Fat Bike Race back in late January. It is so good to see that people are not taking the weather lying down and missing out on some excellent times out of doors.
The start was a chaotic mess of trying to get team photos while listening to ride instructions and then getting lined up. Somehow we managed to do all and in a short instant, we were rolling down the main street of Woodstock for the neutral start following Peter in his Toyota Tacoma pace vehicle all setup for offroad. OK, it wasn’t a race so how can you have a neutral start but I’ve done enough “fun rides” to know that in the end, every ride is a race, especially when you add Strava to the mix. Anyhow, the start stretch lasted about 100 yards and then we made a right turn and started climbing. I remembered Cathy saying the rerouted course now had a 1000′ climb to start, so I assumed that this was it and settled in. Off the bat Kyle started laying down steady tempo which, based on the pictures I saw, broke the ride up into race versus fun within the first quarter mile.
Unlike MA, VT knows how to make make a hill so the advertised 100-‘ of gain in the first steady climb was pretty much spot on. We climbed pavement for the first bit the dipped onto gravel which quickly turned to frozen packed snow (aka ice) over gravel sprinkled with some sand. The traction was good though you certainly had to pay attention so as not to get caught in a rut and movements needed to calculated and gentle. Flow like water was the key to riding in the potentially dangerous conditions, much like riding in sand. We crested the top of the first climb and the group at the front was whittled to seven, four of that being from BSBL racing plus Geoff from Corner Cycles, Tyler from CCB and Kris from Kona. Sam was riding very well as he has been all year and was confidently and firmly attached to the group.
After the crest we started the first descent which proved to be a bit unnerving though in reality, quite safe. Again, traction was considerably better than it appeared to have been. Racing cyclocross and riding a ton of snow and ice this winter proved invaluable as to dealing with these conditions. You don’t hone these kind of skills riding the trainer in the basement over the course of the winter. Personally, I’m hoping we get these exact conditions for at least a couple more races this spring in order to level the playing field for the tough folks, who were outside all winter in the snow and cold. Retribution.
As we made our way down the rolling descent Peter came up next to me in the truck and told me that Cathy’s had a rear hub mechanical and had to be taken back to the start. I was incredibly disappointed as I knew that it was my fault for not having her bike at 100%. The hub had been making noise so I tore it down, cleaned and re-packed the bearings after checking for play in them. The wheel was a Stan’s Alpha 340 with the 3.30 hubs. The wheels and hubs came stock on the bikes and we only use them for gravel riding, though Cathy has used hers this spring on the road as well. The bearings in the hubs are the weak link and need replacing at very regular intervals when you ride in any wet conditions. I’d replaced them once already and though they were still OK. Turns out, I was wrong and the tiny little bearing that suspends the drive side axle from the hub shell totally failed and shredded itself, ending Cathy’s ride. I’m fired. Lesson learned, if you take the time to disassemble, just replace the bearings. On the up side, Cathy got to ride around the course with Steve in his Land Rover and then go shopping back in Woodstock.
We regrouped on the extended descent and rolling section and by the time we hit the next big climb, the climb to the sugar house rest stop, we were seven strong again. This climb proved to be a challenge though and was a little steeper and a bit tougher on the already slightly tenderized legs. We kept steady tempo that just allowed the four of us to stay together, which took it’s toll and gaps formed to the others. Of course we chose to ride right by the sugar house stop, there is no stopping in a race, er, I mean fun ride. Over the top we had some daylight between us but continued to press on with a steady pace that was just low enough for everyone to manage. We took turns rotating through with handicapped effort duration to try and conserve and make sure that we could all stay together.
The terrain kept rolling and was a hand full for certain, but we pressed forward. Soon we came to the next big climb, the steepest we’d had so far which loomed up the road ahead of us as we could clearly see. The top pitch was tough and the legs certainly felt the effort but the views and scenery were excellent. I was glad to be outside on a wonderful day taking in the scenery in places I wouldn’t normally be on roads that I’d never otherwise ride. Fresh and new is how you keep it all fun and exciting year over year. It’s not about the training and doing the work, that is simply the means to the end, the adventure and experience. I’m all about combining the two and letting the training so to speak be the experience of the adventure. I fully understand that this may mean I’m not the racer I potentially could be but I don’t care. Racing is a byproduct of the leftover fitness I accumulate from having fun riding my bicycles.
Once we started descending again we could see that Kris from Kona was closing in on us. He had been chasing hard and consistently. I’d noted earlier that he was a more confident descender than I on the sketchy stuff. I tend to be a little overly composed and calculated which is problematic at times but for the most part, keeps me from sliding down the road on my face or wrapped around a tree. Hard to win races on your back. We kept the pressure just high enough so that Kris could not re-attach, which was sort of cruel but I could see how strong he was and when combined with his descending ability, I knew he would beat us, even though it wasn’t a race.
As the rolling terrain continued and we started up another of the now countless climbs, Sam started to fade and by the time we neared the top he was back dangling behind Kris. At that point we decided to regroup and press forward all together. We must have hit some greater elevation as the roads became completely packed snow covered and hard frozen. We came into a bunch of fast twisty descents.
I laid back and followed by quickly ascertained that this was no place to be on tricky descents, following others. What happened if someone fell, where would I go as the roads didn’t afford the luxury of quick braking or handling maneuvers. So I went to the front at the first opportunity and let it ride. At one point I got to the bottom of a descent that led to a hard left turn and ascent. About half way up the climb I could see that there was a gap so I decided to let it run a little and see what happened. At that point, about 24 miles into the 36 mile ride with probably 3/4 of the climbing out of the way, I was feeling pretty good and just upped my effort a little bit.
After the climb there was some descending and a stretch of flatter terrain where I just went into TT mode. Then some more climbing which eventually gave way to some very icy roads. This was the type of stuff that mainly required seated climbing to maintain traction, something that we’d been spared of most of the day if you picked the right line. Finally over the top the descent was now probably the most challenging, what with the more rutted ice and snow. This eventually gave way to wet and still down-sloped muddy road, the first we’d really seen all day, as the sun beat down on the dirt road. This was where I had the closest call, getting caught in ruts at high speed a couple of times and barely being able to hop my way out of them onto more forgiving terrain.
At about mile 29 the dirt road merged into paved road and the race was on. It was now a flat out TT effort to try and stay away on the long straight and wide open road. I was certain that the group was right behind me getting ready to catch and steamroll me, despite the fact that I was moving along at 28mph (downhill with a tailwind on fast pavement all the way back). The miles ticked off quickly and it was an utter treat to have such great road and conditions to finish up in. To the right was Suicide Six ski area and eventually, I wound my way back to town and back to the shop where Peter and his wife Kim were setting out cupcakes, chips and salsa, fermented tea, Long Trail beers and VT Maple Bourbon.
Soon enough Kyle, Ben and Kris rolled in. We chatted a bit and then Tyler came in as well. Soon after was Geoff and Sam, all smiles despite a face thickly covered in mud. Apparently Sam had crashed and the group had waited to make sure he was OK. He was rattled and decided to ride in at his own pace. It wasn’t too long before PJ and Paul made their way in and Cathy joined us as well. Sue had been rolling strong but crashed pretty hard on the final descent and banged herself up a bit. She came in a bit later but was OK overall. The team stood around and had a beer discussing the countless great adventures, sights and scenes of the day.
An excellent day indeed and a perfect example of a team event. I look forward to many more of these over the course of the upcoming season. Many thanks to VT Overland, Peter and his family for a stellar event. It was well worth the trip and those who missed out, truly missed out. It was also a treat to meet and ride with some new folks whom I’m certain I will run into again.