Monday, July 18, 2016

When the Pavement Ends the Fun Begins

This post was almost titled "R&R" Rest & Relaxtion, Rinse & Repeat, Rock n' Roll. You get the idea. Why would R&R be required for someone living the #CBL? I don't go full auto velocb just for fun. My ADD combined with so much life makes it near impossible to just be at peace. Or at rest. My wife and I take one real vacation a year together. Just the two of us. No kids. No pets. No work. That is pretty rare these days. Don't get me wrong I love the kids. Love them. They are really my whole world. But you need to step back and just have moments where you can soak in silence. Leave the list behind and just have no agenda. VT is one of those places that just work for me. I love it up there. Its the combo of the mountains, dirt roads, rivers, hippies. What is not to like?

We have been going to the same place for about 11 years. We have had a few gaps in our annual trip but we have tried to keep it consistent. We have always brought bikes. Our first time up there with the bikes we had the weirdest ride I can really remember. Other than the time we got lost in Santa Cruz on her bday (New Year's Eve) and were rapidly losing daylight. That ride was one of those tests of wills. Are we going to have to camp out over night in the woods? Can we make it to the Highway without falling off a cliff? Can we make it back to the B&B riding full ninja on Hwy 1 without being killed? You know the type of rides that make you feel alive!

My wife and I have a long history on bikes together. She is a natural. I always say if she biked as much as I do she would be way stronger than I am. She is a beast on the bike. And has zero fear. This has ended poorly on a few occasions of course but she keeps riding. And is always up for anything. I love dirt or gravel or what ever you want to call it. The term gravel is obviously more elegant than dirt and people instantly know what you are talking about. But it isn't really an accurate term. Riding gravel sucks. Have you ever ridden on gravel on train tracks? Yeah it sucks. Ever ride over big chunks of gravel on a power line trail? Yeah its terrifying. In VT dirt roads are everywhere. And they are used by everyone. So they are nice and packed down and in great shape. The loop we go on each year includes a bit of dirt and a bit of pavement. Its about a 20 mile loop. We ride at an easy pace. Unless my wife sees another woman on a bike. Then she goes into full hammer mode and we have to chase the woman down. Is this normal? See what I mean. If Pam wasn't a baller businesswoman she would be a competitive cyclist. I know she would. She just has that fire.

This year we got up to VT early on Friday. We wanted to get a hike on Equinox mountain in before it got dark. It was so nice just hiking and being alone. I don't get to hike much. But when I do it is almost as good as mountain biking. Sure its slower. But its nice. I love being able to just get enveloped by the woods and pick my way through a trail system. We both probably didn't have the best footwear for the hike but YOLO. I was wearing hemp boat shoes which did get interesting on a few slippery rocks but hey when in Rome wear hemp right? The next day we got up and had a good breakfast. I had been checking out some local cycling routes and hatched a plan in my head. For the record I did not download a file onto a Garmin. Why would you do that when you have a gps in your brain? Honestly, I can look at some maps and just remember the route I want to take. It doesn't always go 100% according to plan but that is what a nice local mini-mart is good for.

We rolled down River road at warp speed. The descent from Manchester to Arlington via River road is so nice. You just fly down these beautiful flowing roads then pop out into cow country. Oddly VT cows don't smell as bad as other cows. I don't know how this is possible. We came to our first dirt sector and my wife says under her breathe "scary, Chipper." It takes my wife about 45 minutes to warm up on a bike. At first her shoulders are up by her ears, she is very tentative and can barely reach the hoods. All understandable for someone who doesn't bike regularly. But then something magical happens. She just melts into her bike and becomes a beast. We got to Arlington and pulled over in front a sign that said New York 7 miles. I asked if she wanted to ride to NY? She laughed. But then said let's do it. I had seen on a map that there was a nice dirt road that runs parallel to 313 on the other side of the Battenkill River.

A decade ago we had ridden this same dirt road and had such a weird experience. It was like something you would see in some 80s horror movie. Full Hills Have Eyes type of experience. The funniest part of that ride was when we came across a lady in the middle of nowhere selling Barbie heads on a card table. Suffice it say we beat it out of there fast. This time was different. When we pulled off 313 there was a ton of people standing around in bathing suits and with inner tubes in their hands. We rode to the sign that said Pavement Ends. Now you are talking. I got a bit confused as the road looked like it was someone's driveway. Pam asked why we were stopping. I said I wasn't sure where the road went. She said follow me and dove down the dirt road. A budding trail wizard has clearly been born.

The dirt road was probably one of the nicest I have ever ridden. We rode along the Battenkill under a canopy of trees for the 7 miles. There were tons of people tubing and kayaking on the river. I joked that we should go skinny dipping. I wasn't really joking. We popped back out on 313 and took a left and voila there was the New York State sign. We took a ton of photos. Then did the same with the Welcome to VT sign. As we were heading back up the road on 313 I just couldn't believe what a perfect day we were having. The road ticked up a bit and I could hear the sound of a truck shifting down. I hear Pam getting nervous and shout "We have to get off the road" I sort of laughed but saw a wood bridge on the right and dove into it. Any opportunity to ride a wood bridge works for me. Now for those not savvy with wood bridge riding. You go from the light of day to darkness. Especially if you are wearing dark sunglasses. Typically wood bridges have wooden slats across them. They usually run length wise. Some have bigger gaps than others. This can cause some spectacular crashes.

Pam went in fully blind and rode through like a boss. To say I was impressed was an understatement. Like I said she gets stronger and more confident as the ride goes on. We got back onto that dirt road and headed back to Arlington. What was clear to me is the tubing/kayack people had displaced the sketchy hill people. Everywhere we turned there were happy tubers and kayakers. Tubing the Battenkill with my wife and kids is now on my bucket list for this summer. We had one more exciting moment on the ride. And one more moment that Pam impressed the hell out of me. Like I said these dirt roads were amazing. As smooth as VT cheese....hahaha couldn't resist a bad pun. Worn down. Not loose at all. But I of course found the only potholes on the whole road. It happened when we were riding side by side and chatting. I hit the first one and it deflected me towards Pam. I used all the body english I could to get the bike back under control and to not body check Pam. But it was tight. Like lock your bars together tight and die. She screams in my ear. "HEY"""" But she literally didn't even blink. Totally held her line like a boss.

Afterwards she said " I thought you were going to grab onto me like a drowning victim" "That's what I would have done..." hahaha darling I would literally crash my face off before I would take you down with me intentionally. We laughed and laughed. We started playing a game called New York or Jersey. Its kind of like Matt Roy's game Nanny or MILF but involves tubers in American Flag shorts and poor life choices. Oddly most times it came up PA. But wow this place has been overrun in the short ten years we have been coming here. This is why I love riding on vacation. You see parts of a new place on a bike that you just wouldn't see otherwise. You talk to so many weird locals. And interact with so many weird visitors like yourselves.

We stopped in Arlington to refuel and grab something to eat. I introduced my wife to the joys of mini-mart food. And then we found a "deli" and had sandwiches. I tried to steer her away from the diet coke and the veggie wrap (rap?) with banana peppers. But a girl has to do what a girl has to do. I had a half turkey on wheat and water. Arlington is the weirdest little town. I really love it. A Church that has been converted to some kind of shrine to bad Rooster art, Satanic cats, bikers, gun shows. It has it all. And it has a tank. We found the tank a few years ago. Pam always climbs on the tank for a photo op.

This year's tank photo op was a bit sketchy. It was a very hot day so climbing on the tank was no easy feat. But once on the tank we got a classic Tank Girl photo. I am not sure what the appeal of the tank is but it is always a highlight of our ride. It was getting a bit late and I knew Tank Girl was getting bonky so I opted to avoid the two punchy climbs on our usual route and take us back by the river and up River road. It worked out great as we dove back into the shade of the canopied dirt roads and avoided the searing heat of mid-day. As we climbed out of the dirt a sport rider went flying by us descending Sunderland road. I could care less about chasing down any riders. But as it was another lady I had a funny feeling Pam was going to go into hammer mode and try and chase the rabbit. Low and behold I hear her chain slam onto the big ring and Pam swings by me and goes into full TT mode.

I sort of laugh and just hop on her wheel and think about how long it will take to reel in the rider up the road. The women has a pretty good lead. Maybe 1/4 mile. But the road is very flat. And Pam is a hammer. Low RPM grinder. We catch the women in 5 minutes. I say high as we go by. Nice lady. Pam asks if we have dropped her nemesis. Ah yeah I say. She says "thank god cause I think I puked up a banana pepper.." Hahah OMG. This women needs to race cyclocross. Seriously. The climb out seems easier than past years. Not sure why. Maybe cause we are having so much fun on the bikes. Or maybe the veggie wrap was laced with EPO. What a fantastic weekend. Literally just what we needed. Thank you VT for being so damn weird. Never change.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Train Kept A-Rollin'

Good morning dear readers. Fellow 'muricans I hope you enjoyed the birth of this here fair nation. I hope you have all your digits, and are in one piece both spiritually and figuratively. I personally am a shell of a man. I honestly didn't even know what day it was until my dog walker showed up. I of course was still in my PJs. My dog walker is luckily a very understanding person. So how did I get to this state of not knowing what actual day it was? Well sometimes mes amis we take on a bit too much over the course of a three day weekend. I had high hopes to host a HUP BBQ and ride on Saturday the 2nd. It seemed like a great idea at the time. Michele did her ride with GPS black arts and we had a route to follow. 38 miles of mixed terrain bad assery on CX bikes. 

Well like lots of great ideas and good intentions sometimes they get dashed on the rocks of family obligation. Not complaining but fairly last minute my sister-in-law asked if she, her daughter and a good friend from the Ukraine and his daughter could come spend the weekend at our house and do the full July 4th celebration. My town does not play when it comes to the 4th. The fireworks are next level. 40, 000 + people descend upon Memorial Field at the High School for an epic fireworks display. The next day our Parade is off the charts. So I had to pull the plug on the BBQ and ride. HUP approaches these rides sort of like how a Faceless Man approaches an assassination. Once the die has been cast there is no going back. We ended up with two rides. The early train: Me, DJ Robert and Andrew rolled out at 7 am. The late train: Michele, Ed, Chris, Meg, Jacob and Todd rolled out at 9:30. Now as anyone who knows me I tend to "pick my own adventure" in life and while riding. I don't use a Garmin. Ever. In this case I of course knew all these trails like the back of my hand. I decided to ride the route in reverse and to of course put my own spin on it. The intention or hope was that at some point the two HUP squadras would meet along the trail.

It was so good to ride with Robert. I have known Robert probably the longest of anyone on HUP. He is one of the original of the next generation of HUP NECX who helped build what we have right now. Guy is crazy fast. But lives life to the fullest. He is renowned for bringing a boom box on the Ronde and all our other party rides. He's a great rider and a great friend. Life, kids etc has conspired the last few years to make it difficult to ride together as often as we would like. Today was a gift to be able to ride with a friend with zero stress of racing etc. Along with Robert was new HUP Andrew. Super great guy. Strong as a bull on the bike. And has great taste in beer! My type of teammate!

Our ride was super chill. That is the advantage of rolling out at 7 am. I have to say I really liked this early roll out the door. So little traffic. No one was on the trails and it was nice and cool. We got back at home by 10 am long before the mid-day sun starting cracking us. One other thing Robert and I have in common are bikes. We both have Sky blue Zank CX bikes! As you can see from the photo below he is much taller than me! Well most everyone is much taller than me but I digress. It was pretty cool taking a side by side photo of the two bikes.

I warned Robert and Andrew that I was wicked slow and they were so great about not crushing me on the road sectors. We did a good amount of exploring. I took them out to see the Needham rail trail and the "controversial" burnt out train trestle that goes into Dover. It had rained non-stop the night before but the route we chose was oddly dry. A few wet roots and rocks but no standing water. Even Strawberry Hill which is basically a stream bed was dry. We had two crashes and zero mechanicals which is amazing for the trails we were riding. I would say over half the trails we rode were of the MTB variety. Nothing too gnarly but certainly at the edge of what is reasonable on a CX bike. I oddly love going into the drops on my Zank and just dropping into some nasty little drop full of rocks and roots. The bike just tracks so well. It really pushes the boundaries of what you can and can't ride.

We had gotten about 3/4 of the way through the route. I kept asking Robert what time it was. I had thought we would have found the Late Train by now. I was starting to get bummed out that we wouldn't see them. As we rode through the last woods sector and really the last chance to see our HUPmates I heard the tell tale sounds of disc brake squeal. I hollered in joy. I saw Chris coming up a trail down below us and yelled out to him. Michele popped out of the woods next. It was an awesome mid-ride reunion. Chris had a pretty good gash on his shin and Michele was talking about a beaver damn they had to cross and mentioned seeing fish swim by as she was hike a biking through the wash out. God I love this team.

We all exchanged high fives. Gave a trail recon report. I warned them that the gun club at Adams Farm was very "active" What a fantastic day and a nice CX wake up call. Its July 5th. DONOTHITTHESNOOZEBUTTONONYOURCXALARMCLOCK!!!

Get those bikes ready. Decide whether you are going tubular or tubeless. Order those tires. Glue them up or get that tubeless set up dialed. Do not be that person who rolls a tubie or burps a tubeless tire at the first race.


Oh all the good photos above were taken by Michele ; )