“Peter, is this the 109 mile way?”
“No, that’s back there. Sorry, Matt….”
This isn’t the first time I’ve been chasing at the beginning of a long ride in the United States. My first D2R2 experience comes to mind, the time I forgot my bottles and food at out hotel, and missed the start by 13 minutes. That’s a big gap to close, in case you’re wondering, especially on super hilly terrain. Today I’m north of Deerfield, just outside Pittsfield, Vermont. Yesterday I rode the Jam Fund’s Grand FUNdo, and I’m definitely feeling it in my legs. I tend to go well the day after 4-ish hour hard rides, so I’m thinking I’ll feel decent after an hour or so. Having camped close to the Fondo’s venue, a beautiful, bucolic farm in the Green Mountains, it was a short 7 mile drive from Gifford Woods State Park (which is wonderful, BTW). So short, in fact, I was like that kid who lives across the street from school who’s always late. Rushed to prepare after signing in, I didn’t have time for sunscreen or to pack my ear-marked Hot Shot anti-cramp potion, which I was pretty sure I’d need. I mean, we’re about to ride something like 177km (is that right? I don’t really know….) and climb a couple ‘gaps,’ which is a term for a big ol’ ascent up a mountain – Brandon and App(alacian).
Today is about riding bikes through beautiful terrain and visiting farms. I don’t really care how fast I ride, but I definitely want to ride with a group of interesting folks at a nice pace. So I’m not super stoked about turning around to make the turn I missed in the confusion of the pack splitting in two 700 metres ago. There’s no need to panic, but I definitely want to ride fast enough to catch back onto the front group by the time they leave the first rest stop. Wherever that is.
I’m climbing a shallow grade, beginning to reel in and pass riders who are looking progressively more spry as I advance. I’ve been rolling steadily upward for ten minutes when I realize this climb is going to keep going for a while. It’s already pretty warm out, not scorching, however. I offer a simple, “Hey” as I pass others in ones, twos and threes, each riding their own rhythm, as one must.
“Does this thing ever end?” The gent on my right is with me; this sucker is in·ter·mi·na·ble.
Cresting, it’s been more than 20 minutes I’ve climbed, now ready for a solid chase down the backside. The wind is blowing hard enough to make the descent frustrating. In full aero tuck, my neck and right shoulder hurt from the combination of yesterday’s ride and a couple nights in the tent, and my arms are getting sore. I’m dropping as low as 55kph on the slower parts, which is agonizing as I imagine myself closing the gap to two guys up the road, one of whom I think is Dave from November Bicycles, whom I had a good chat with before the split. I connect just as we turn onto the gravel lane up to the first farm stop of the day. YES!
As it happens, my time trial up Brandon Gap was fast enough to land me the 3rd overall time on Strava, a surprise to say the least. I’ve never ridden a climb at that grade and length before, but I have suspected I’d do ok on climbs like that, since they’re ridden fast enough for watts-per-kilo to matter less than overall power and aerodynamics. App Gap would be different.
After connecting with Ansel Dickey and a couple other gents he knows – Will Dugan and Anders Newbury – we were set to roll out with Lynne Bessette and a few others. But first, Lynne needed some oil for her bottom bracket! The hosting farmer kindly brought out a canister of olive oil, which I used after Lynne for my chain, as I’d not had opportunity to lube it after Saturday. I can attest that it works, but man, does it make for a super grimy chain! Nasty!
After a puncture, which Ansel and Will waited for me to repair (the support truck rolled up literally immediately), I hit App Gap feeling pretty good, but definitely not inclined to go hard. The climb is actually broken up into two parts. ‘Baby Gap‘ is about 6.5km long at an average of 4%, so not really a big deal. After a short reprieve, the App Gap kicks in, but is only 1.6km long, at an average of 5%. It’s the steepest part, just under 14% that makes it feel hard when already riding at tempo, but I fared well with my low gearing (34 x 36), which allowed me to maintain a decent cadence all day rather than put the hurt on. Ansel and Anders stood and put the power down up the last pitch while I was content to sit and (sorta) spin. Low gearing is your friend, nobody ever said, “Man, today sucked, my lowest gear was too low!”
More than two thirds into the nearly 185km day Ansel, Will, Anders and I connect back up with Lynne, Mary Zider (Colavita – Bianchi) and a couple others to ride together for the final 60km or so of the route. I’d met Lynne on Saturday, chatted a little, but today was the day for a bit more socializing, until we decide to amp it up to close out the final 50km of gradually descending, albeit windy, span of Highway 100 into the finish. On the heels of tasting some local honey varieties at the final stop of the day (for us, there was another later), Lynne is very impressive as she pulled our single paceline into the wind. Her first pull was pretty long and very strong, and each subsequent pull is just as strong, just incrementally shorter. PRO.
I’m happy to find Danielle and the kids happily occupied at the farm upon my return, so much so they want to hang out more, show me the river, the ‘caffeine station’ Muddy the mountain man is building up the hill, the yurt….all the things they’ve spent the day exploring. It’s good to see confirmation that this venue is a great place to bring the whole family, if they’re open to free-range fun. Ro made a friend to hang out with over the day, Sen spent a lot of time in the water, climbed trees, and learned how to skip stones. The venue, Riverside Farm, is certainly a unique place, with converted barns for accommodations, cabins, and the aforementioned yurt in the woods. If you’re looking for a beautiful venue for an event, I recommend taking a look at their site.
After eating a solid meal comprised of a veggie burger, coleslaw, quinoa salad and cornbread, a soak in the river on the property is a wonderful way to close out the day as the kids play and Danielle tells me about their adventures. Later in the week, once back home, I’d load my GPS files to Ride with GPS and find I wound up second overall across the accumulated timed sections of the route; cool. The Ride with GPS site seems to be a good way to run such a competition without having to deal with the cost logistics of timing chips.
Wrapping things up, this was my first big ride in the Green Mountains, and my first taste of their long climbs. It’s easy to get caught up focusing on the climbing in the area, but at the same time, it’s important to remember that the other side of the coin is the descents. The descent down the App Gap is serious business, as are a number of other descents on the second half of Sunday’s route. While it might be tempting to run the smallest, lightest tires for climbing, I think it’s important to look at the whole picture and consider what you’ll need to descend safely. I was riding 32mm Compass extralight tires on my deep Woven wheels for both days on the weekend, and while the 32s didn’t do me any favours on the ups, they were very helpful on the descents I had to brake heavily on. That’s the key difference riders will experience when coming from a locale like Ottawa to ride in the Green Mountains: you have to brake a lot on the descents. My wheels happen to handle the heat generated by braking well – and I’m hardly a brake dragger – but I’d still have preferred disc brakes on the descents for their superior modulation, particularly when conditions are really hot. Different strokes for different folks, for sure, but I’m just pointing out that different terrain exacts different demands on riders and equipment. Lynne Bessette, a highly skilled former professional cyclocross racer, had to use every square millimetre of her 40mm Schwalbe G-One tires to avoid a car when she overcooked a decreasing-radius turn. She was convinced the extra tire on the road allowed her to take the evasive maneuvers required.
Many thanks to all the landowners, volunteers and sponsors who made the day’s riding possible. The Fondo was certainly a great way to explore the region! I rode the Grand Fondo option, but the event also offers shorter rides at 62 miles (100-ish Km), 34 miles (50-ish Km), and 10 miles (16 Km).
If you are interested in taking in one or more of the Farm to Fork Fondo events across New England, check out their website and get some saddle time in so you can enjoy the day!
I’d like to thank all my sponsors for helping me afford to get to events like this and enjoy them immensly: Giro, Woven Precision Handbuilts, Mad Alchemy, Vega, Compass tires, Silca, Re:Form. Their fantastic feeds on Instagram will keep you stoked on riding: @girocycling,@wovenprecision,@madalchemy, @vega_team, @compasscycle, and @silca_velo.