This year for fall training camp, we headed to Killington, Vermont. Miles and I had planned some challenging routes, including climbing up Mt. Ascutney and to the top of the Okemo Ski Resort! Unfortunately, snowy conditions presented a different set of challenges.
On Saturday, instead of riding the planned routes, we split into three groups. One group stayed at the house and used the outdoor porch to get in some quality trainer workouts. A second group headed for lower ground, hoping to escape the worst of the weather, while a third embraced the snow, tackling Vermont Overland, one of the hardest gravel rides in Vermont! Here are Jeremy and Pat’s accounts from their Saturday rides.
“I was really excited for fall training camp. Zipping along winding country roads in rural Vermont past old farmhouses and rolling hills of autumn foliage on a crisp and clear morning? Nothing better. Then the Nor’easter came. Turns out Killington, a ski resort, is not the best place for road cycling when the first winter storm of the season rolls through. Everyone was frantically scanning the forecast in the days leading up to the weekend, but once every weather site stubbornly refused to budge away from 3-5 inches of mixed snow and freezing rain on Saturday, our road captains, Amy and Miles knew an alternate plan was needed. Their solution was to drive before dawn to a lower elevation where the temperature would still be near-freezing, but at least it would be raining and not snowing.
Determined to make the most of the trip, we found ourselves bundled up for a near-arctic adventure at just past 7am in the parking lot of the Price Chopper outlet grocery in West Rutland, Vermont. The weather, at least initially, proved more cooperative than expected. After a no-warmup, no-nonsense climb to start the ride we found ourselves hurriedly removing layers. I had an awesome time pushing an aggressive pace with Miles, Tori, and Jon, even as the wind picked up and the clouds grew darker. I couldn’t help but thinking that those who opted to stay behind for a day on the trainer had definitely made the wrong choice. After a 40 mile loop (complete with requisite bucolic Vermont countryside vistas), three of us decided to push our luck for another short time trial loop. That’s when the weather truly turned nasty and we returned to the car an hour later, thoroughly cold, wet, and definitely done for the day.
Little did we know, the adventure was not over yet. A seemingly innocuous hot chocolate stop at Dunkin’ Donuts on the way back to the house proved to be our undoing. The small delay synchronized our drive back into the high country perfectly with the peak of the day’s snowstorm. We felt confident that Miles, a well-seasoned winter driver, would get us home safe, but the comical inadequacy of our two-wheel drive Nissan Sentra proved the dominant factor. After stalling on a steep incline less than a mile from home, Tori and I had to get out of the car (still in wet gear and cycling shoes) to push the car up and over the hump. We returned to the house smiling and laughing triumphantly, but thoroughly exhausted. It’s good to know I’ve found a group of friends just as crazy as me.”
“It all started with a friendly enough e-mail from Berk a week out from Fall Training Camp: “Vermont is famous for dirt. Yes, you heard right. Not craft beer, not maple syrup, and not skiing or outdoorsy things. Dirt.” Then something about tires, vertical feet, and shoes you can walk in. But for Berk’s two takers, he had us at “dirt”.
As the team arrived in Killington (along with the tail-end of hurricane Wilma), the talk was all about weather. Amy and Miles were huddled around 2 laptops and 5 different weather sites trying to find roads below the snow line. But, for Berk, Daniel, and Pat, we wanted to be in the snow and on the gravel. Who would choose pavement and 35 degree rain over Vermont gravel and snow. Plus we got to sleep in an extra hour, who cares about beating the storm? Bring it on.
Morning arrived, with at least one of us too excited to have slept all that well. It was perfect outside. We crammed down some calories and drove to the start of the Vermont Overland course. The drive was beautiful, classic Vermont. And just a few snow flurries. We turned onto our first gravel road, drove a few miles and debated where to park. We opted not to park in a pasture, deciding even the small chance of getting towed was too high. We found a spot out of the way on the shoulder, threw hand-warmers in our gloves and we were off.
The first two hours were quintessential Vermont gravel riding. Steep climbs. Rolling, swooping descents. Cows grazing and horses running in their pastures. Farm houses overlooking valleys that still held some golden colors. All of this maybe giving us energy to ride maybe harder than we should.
And we were treated to what they call Vermont pave, with sections with names from the Tour of Flanders. The turn up the Vermont Koppenberg was one you’d never notice if you weren’t looking for it. It was barely an abandoned road, and covered in inches of loose leaves. Up we went on sections like this, again and again. And loving it. Some of these ATV roads seemed mostly used to keep the networks of maple taps up and running.
Somewhere around hour three, the weather turned. The friendly flurries changed to excruciating ice pellets. And from then on, the weather alternated between sleet, snow, rain, and ice – often all four at once. Oh, that is why the other group got up so early. Now the roads were covered in an inch of slush. We let air out of our tires for grip, but our pace slowed to a crawl. Our shoes slowly filled with water, we hammered climbs to warm up.
By hour four, we were all cratering. We were dreading the pave sections with their round stones covered in wet leaves and snow. There were crashes. Brand new brake pads worn completely from the wet grit and steep descents. Berk grabbed his levers so hard that his cables pulled out of his canti-brake straddles – front AND rear.
Amazingly, spirits stayed high the entire ride, even as the misery and crashed energy levels piled on. Even when, at mile 40, our GPS told us to go straight but the sign said “Dead End 0.8 miles”. It was a great day of riding that I don’t think any of us will forget. The joy and beauty of those early miles, the suffering of the later miles, and the joy of reaching the end. Something all riders can relate to.
Stats: 42.5 miles, average temperature = 29F, low 27F, and 6,381′ of climbing.”