'Praxis'

Vermont Overland: Type 1.5 FUN

How do I shift to ‘not-caring’ so I can  keep it all fun? 

The tricky thing is that anxiety is often misplaced, and Type 2 fun is indeed a thing.

What does ‘not caring’ even mean? Is it literal? Like, zero-fox-given?

Not really. It’s about adjusting expectations in line with different objectives.

Reframing.

Re-engineering.

I’m a square peg. Vermont Overland is a round hole.

Climbing. So much climbing.

Ever. Always, Eternally? Inevitably.

Such is the nature of Vermont Overland territory: Reading, Cavendish, Rutland.

Pitchy. Pointy. Densely tracked with roads and ‘roads.’ Flats? Not so much. Unless you’re talking about tires.

In 2014 the first Vermont Overland was based out of Woodstock, and it was hard. It got harder in 2015. Since then it’s become a race for the climbers, and Iain Radford and I consequently started getting really into trying to improve our climbing for the event. Because, as many of you know, we love this ‘gravel’ stuff. The off-road sectors were a great fit for us, and what we enjoy the most, so we ‘just’ had to improve our climbing. At the same time, the field got deeper and deeper each year. Top-10s were about as good as we could do.

In 2017 I was already focusing on cyclocross season when I raced Overland and had a weird day. Terrible start, then a slow leak….I flipped into party mode and enjoyed myself instead of hammering the whole time. For 2018 it was unclear whether the event would morph into more ‘adventure ride’ than ‘race’. I encouraged Peter Vollers to embrace a ‘challenge’ format for the event and take the racing right out of it (like D2R2), but enough riders voiced their preference for it to remain a race, with timing, so for 2018 it would be so. 

Following an unusual summer of travel – 5 weeks vacation in Europe with my family – I’d not raced since Father’s Day, when my bike only survived 7 minutes of the Preston St. Criterium. Then it was all about adventure rides in France, Greece, and Iceland. I did a training crit at home once back, started to transition into cyclocross headspace as we ran El Camino, then landed Monday morning with thoughts turning to Vermont Overland on the weekend.

Dread?

Ugh…. Feeling like I’d barely been able to get into cyclocross prep the following ran through my mind:

“I have to go to Vermont to race a course that I will probably suck on. Then I have to come back, work on bikes, train for cx, and race in Rochester two weekends later. I’m not amped about this. I might be my last year going to Overland. It just doesn’t really fit well when I’m trying to prepare for cyclocross.”

That was me last week. Focused on being better and better and better at cyclocross. Other stuff was getting in the way.

I knew there was something wrong with my perspective as I found myself thinking these thoughts, and saying these words. Three days in Vermont: a hassle? A pain? A ‘bad fit’?

What.

The.

F@#k?

Reframing

Midweek I flip the script through some on-bike meditation: VO is an opportunity. It’s being held in an awesome region, and virtually everything we could ride will be new to us. How ‘bout this:

It’s not a ‘race weekend.’

It’s a ‘riding weekend with a race.’

Roll in, do an hour of openers on Saturday, rest up, go to bed early, put all the eggs in Sunday’s basket, race my brains out.

F@#k.

No.

I’m done with that.

I’m almost 40. I don’t want to give a shit about being an awesome climber. Life’s too short, I have too much other shit to do. My daughter is 13, already happily spending the majority of her free time with her friends, not us. My son is 7 and he actually wants to do stuff with me. I could spend a lot of time and energy on caring and trying to be a better climber, but would that make my life better? Nope. The opportunity cost would be way to high.

So I’m letting it go, completely. Bye. I don’t care. This is hard for me, because part of me feels like I’m quitting. But I’m not. I’m committing myself to different priorities.

I’ll get as good as I’m going to get from doing the riding I am excited about, and when I’m away from my family on the bike I’ll focus on actually having fun rather than slipping into stressing over outcomes. Perfect tires? F@#k it. I’ll run what I brung, and they’ll be good. For example.

“Guys, let’s not focus too much on Sunday. Let’s ride cool stuff, and whatever happens on Sunday happens. If we have drama, at least we got good riding in all weekend. No stress.”

Aaron and Scott are on board. Aaron and I ride a full course recon on Friday, descending the final sector as darkness envelopes the Vermont hills.

Vermont Overland! I’m so glad @aaronkyle87 and I made the trip down to Reading, Vermont today to ride a full recon of the event route. Meanwhile, @rotationalmass and @andrealesiaemery headed to our cabin for a shorter ride and chilli chefery; so good, they rule! The Overland course is easily best yet, and has to be the most fun ‘gravel’ or ‘spring classic’ course I’ve ridden. Yes, it pretty much begins with full on climbing, but the rhythm of the route’s alternations between surfaces and topography is really engaging, flowing, and FUN! Are there hella fast descents? Yes. Are there balleur #vermontpave sectors? Yes. Is it going to be hard? Yes. Will it be the most fun Overland yet? Yes. If you’re riding the event on Sunday, stay within yourself on the first climbs and work up your mojo as you go. Look around and enjoy the scenery. Rock out on the pave sectors and do your best monster truck imitation down the final sector, 7. Roll it in from there, taking care not to overcook the first fast right-hander, finish, and get your party on! Hope to see many of you there tomorrow for more recon, reg, and tacos, then on Sunday for the main event! #vermontoverland #vermontpave #gravelrace #exploremore #adventurebybike #wovenprecision #kogel #terrainlab #absoluteblack #ovalrevolution #silca #brodie #romax #yofiit #teknecc #teknecycling #surlaplaque #vegancyclist #veganathlete #plantpowered #plantbased

A post shared by Matt Surch Ⓥ (@cyclosomatic) on

FUN. Type 1.

No stress; bike riding.

70k of good times.

On Saturday, Scott, Aaron and I join Andrea, Scott’s wife, for  a cool hour-long ride from our cottage in Rutland. Some awesome dirt road action we enjoy. The three of us dudes then pile into Scott’s car to drive to Todd Fairhead’s condo where he’s staying with his family. From there, we ride a pleasant 15k over to Peter Vollers’ house, where we kick off another round of recon, the first time for Scott and Todd.

What a venue! Peter’s place is a big step up from the prior location, the Suicide Six ski hill. Vibes a plenty, this feels like more of a bike festival than a race. I never got to attend any of the MTB festivals that thrived in New England in the 1990s; I missed the boat. This feels like the start of a return to that tribal sort of gathering, centred around fun, exploration, and perhaps pushing personal limits at least a bit. Building community.

The official recon ride with some of the pros begins at 2, and it’ll cover a couple sectors; we’re in for more. Ansel Dickey gives me directions to South Woodstock from the course so we can nip up for coffee and snacks, enjoy a bit of the local fare. Score! The Country Store is fantastic!

Day two in @vermontoverland territory was fantastic. We began with an hour on dirt roads after breakfast with @andrealesiaemery before heading to collect Todd for full course recon, the second go-round for @aaronkyle87 and me. Todd and @rotationalmass were also really impressed by the new route and venue, Peter Vollers’ house! Course signs and our new familiarity with the course meant Aaron and I were flowing through the turns rather than blowing by them. That translated into way more flow and rhythm, and the course became even more fun! It’s unique, and we are diggin’ it. The last #vermontpave sector demands respect and is a ripper; ideal for photos ( that’s where I’ll wait to make my move 😏 It’ll be full gas early on tomorrow, but the course is so good there’s no ‘lose.’ Bring on the #dropbarbraap ! #vermont #vermontoverland #gravelgrinder #dirtroadrace #adventureride #teknecycling #teknecc #surlaplaque #brodie #wovenprecision #terrainlab #kogel #ovalrevolution #absoluteblack #silca #yofiit #veganathlete #vegancyclist #plantpower #plantbased

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Recon round two is totally worth it. The course is much more flowing now that it’s marked, and we aren’t relying on our Garmins, which don’t keep up when we have to turn at speed. The Vermont Pave sectors are terrific, more fun than before, especially the last, which is unequivocally #dropbarbraap. Lots of rock, including three drop-offs in sequence transitions into a flat mud pit, then ultra-mud descent, which is composed of the best stuff: humus-y dirt that packs well, low clay content, and rolls pretty fast when wet. Waterbars/perpendicular spines greet us at 3 second intervals at speed, becoming increasingly launchable as traffic increases. We’re told recent logging has created this ‘situation,’ which is straight-up RAD for some (me, obviously) while terrifying for others. I guess that’s gravel/racing for ya. 125k for the day; time well spent.

Race day

A simple plan: stay within myself on the climbs, ride the descents ALERT, safe, fast. Have FUN. Go with the flow.

Execution of my plan goes swimmingly. The first real climb falls 2km from the start, following a short warm-up bump. I sag it a bit, and allow the guns to do their thing, holding steady at the pace that feels right for me. My heart rate only averages 116bpm, which suggests, after the fact, that I was either ultra-chill (avoiding getting jacked on adrenaline perfectly) and doing good power, or I could have pretty easily been going harder. OR, I was a bit tired from 6 hours riding the previous day, so my heart needed more time to get going. Whatever, it felt right.

By the second climb, which I’m stoked to carry great momentum into, the a break is forming; ok, frankly, shrapnel is flying everywhere. This was expected. And also good course design, ATMO.

So I do me. I ride the climbs at my tempo, and I turn this thing into one big cyclocross or MTB course. Carry speed, build momentum, try to preserve it transitioning through the turns, from surface to surface. My descending is going well, helping me get back onto groups; I’m happy with what I’m doing.

I’m even happier as I connect with the chase group of 10 or so, pulling two others with me across one of the few flattish sections of the course’s first half. Tinker Juarez is here; dope! I’ve been a fan of Tinker’s since I was what, 12? That’s 27 years. The man looks virtually the same as when he was crushing it on the World Cup MTB scene, and I’m happy to introduce myself and have a little chat. It’s his first time riding Vermont’s dirt roads, and he thinks they’re rad too.

As we pass Peter Vollers, pulled to the side of the road, he informs us: “4 minutes.”

Me: “Irrelevant.”

Some other dude at the front of our group of 10: “I guess we should go.”

Me (inside my head): “Why?”

Away they go, guns blazing. Yesterday I thought this would be a good climb for me, starting out not too steep, then shallowing, into the big ring. I hadn’t anticipated an attack on the first steep part. In hindsight, that’s where the punchy climbers should go. And since the terrain rolls for a while after, providing an advantage to those in a group, I probably should go VO2 to stay with them.

But I choose not to. I dangle behind another rider from the group for a while before it seems certain I’ll ride solo until the end. Passing Brendan Rhim on a climb is a surprise, I can only guess how he managed to blow up so spectacularly (click here if you want to see how). With perhaps 10k to go I’m caught, passed and dropped, but hold steady in my effort to ensure I keep the good vibes up and my wits for the final sectors.

By ‘good vibes’ don’t let me mislead you.

My legs hurt like hell.

My shoulders and neck hurt like hell.

My lower back hurts like hell.

My chest feels compressed, probably from the caffeine gel I took with 20k to go, after swearing years ago never to do that again. Oops.

I’m far from comfortable and not regretting any of the effort I spared earlier. At all. If I could describe how I feel in two words it’d be like this:

Run over.

Like, by a truck. A truck with tires big and soft enough to kinda crush me without actually truly injuring me.

I think I need to call this something special: ‘Type 1.5 Fun.’ Turns out I didn’t invent this; I’m not surprised.

I’d better loosen up the ol’ bod, ‘cause shit’s about to get gnar!

Yesss! @vermontoverland was so good today! I followed my plan, rode within myself on the climbs while the goats did their damage, and rode the descents clean and fast. ‘Clean’…. figuratively. 16th overall feels pretty good. @andrealesiaemery snapped this rad shot at the end of the last and BEST #vermontpave sector, which was 100% #dropbarbraap ! I was looking forward to it the whole time I was grinding away. Thanks to Peter Vollers and all the fine folks who volunteer and make the event great, and the locals who were really patient with us out there! If you’ve never ridden in the Woodstock/Plymouth/Rutland area of Vermont, get yourself there and explore! #vermontoverland #gravelgrinder #gravelbike #brodie #terrainlab #kogel #ovalrevolution #absoluteblack #surlaplaque #silca #teknecc #teknecycling #veganathlete #vegancyclist #plantpower #plantbased #wovenprecision #yofiit #handske #highfivecrew

A post shared by Matt Surch Ⓥ (@cyclosomatic) on

The last sectors are absolutely RAD. I’ll learn later from Andrea that not everyone was amped on the last one (expletives flew), which transitions from rock and rock and rock drops to mud and mud and mud jumps. It’s #dropbarbraap at its finest. I air out at every opportunity because it’s fun. And I’m happily not battling for position.

“Probably top 20 somewhere.”

Correct, 16th. Totally happy with my ride, the feeling of having taken body blows over the last two and a half hours leaves no room for coulda-wouldas. If I feel this mangled I did enough. Get some food, hang out, enjoy the scene.

Todd Fairhead would come through soon for 44th, quite a spectacular ride for a guy wrapping up family vacation. Scott and Siavash come through later on, well-used, safe, happy. Aaron rolls in after having lost a derailleur pulley and riding his bike as a make-shift (ha!) singlespeed. He ran a gear that allowed him to climb everything, but was unable to pedal much of anything else. He still found his mojo and had fun. And he got three days of great riding in; there was no ‘lose.’

I don’t think Peter would have thought to ask me whether I’d be back in 2019. It was quite evident all weekend how much fun I was having with the guys, and the answer is obvious: yes. Further, I’m even more inclined than before to bring more of our club-members down for the event to experience a great weekend of riding, with a focus on tapping a whole bunch of good terrain over 2-3 days rather than focusing exclusively on showing up to race; in-and-out. It’s a 5.5 hour drive for us from Ottawa, let’s make the time to enjoy ourselves and not worry about delivering a peak performance on the Sunday. We always ride better when we’re not stressed, but having fun, anyway. Let’s make flow the objective, not results on a page!

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I’d like to thank all the fantastic people and brands that support my cycling aspirations and efforts: Woven Precision HandbuiltsCompass tiresAbsolute BlackKogelBrodieHandskeSilcaMad Alchemy, YoFiitVegaRe:Form.

I encourage you to check out their fantastic Instagrammin’:

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Next up, Rochester CX, and the pursuit of flow.

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