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Tour of Scenic Rural Vermont Or Was that Soggy Rainy Vermont

by Pamela Blalock

 

For the twenty-first time in twenty one years, cyclists set out on Route 100 in Rawsonville, Vermont on a 100 mile bike ride to Waterbury, Vermont, and with an optional stop at Ben and Jerry's and then retraced their pedal strokes the next day for the trip home. The route includes 3 major climbs each day, over Terrible Mountain, Killington and the Duxbury Hills, along with a few other minor climbs, some beautiful flat stretches, incredible views, Vermont Wildlife™ (cows and sheep) and great country stores and bakeries filled with tantalizing pastries and breads. This trip is organized each year by the Boston Chapter of the American Youth Hostels. Riders spend Friday evening at The Rafters, a barn with bunks, or in their own tents in the field behind the barn. The Rafters is fairly primitive, with several outhouses serving visitors needs, but also has a shower and a kitchen. Saturday night is spent at the Waterbury Ski Hostel in Waterbury. (BTW, it is not an AYH hostel, so you won't find it in your AYH guidebook) Dinner and breakfast are included. Bags are sagged from Rawsonville to Waterbury and back. The fee for the weekend is $50, and also includes a patch. Special patches are given for 5, 10, 15, and 20 year repeat riders.

This was my second year on this ride. Last year, the ride came at the perfect time for me. After spending 4 years preparing to return and complete Paris-Brest-Paris, I found myself really burned out on cycling. It just wasn't fun anymore. I was almost thinking of not even going to France. But Al Lester, one of the ride organizers, convinced me to go on this ride. We had decided to share the drive to Vermont. 5 minutes before we were supposed to leave I broke a shift lever mount on my single bike. Despite the fact that Al had never been on a tandem before, he agreed to take the tandem and try his hand at stoking, on back-to-back centuries. That takes guts!

Al was killed 3 weeks ago while riding his bike, by a drunk driver in a head-on collision. This years ride would be bittersweet without Al. He had put so much into keeping this ride going for the last few years, that it didn't seem right not to go. It turned out to be just what I needed.

It has started to become tradition for Steve and I to make major changes to our tandem before each ride, and this one was no exception. For this ride we converted from 6 speed to 7 speed, and from a high gear of 53-13 to 53-12. With our 26 inch wheels and 53-13, we found ourselves spinning out occasionally. The 12 has now improved our town-line sprints significantly. It was a timely change, since we arrived to find another tandem with riders who wanted to *play*. Jamie had agreed to stoke for Steve R (not to be confused with Steve F, my tandem partner) after having ridden together only once before, on a 130 mile ride. There's nothing like two tandems working together drafting each other, unless its two tandems working against each other sprinting for every town line, bridge and occasional mailbox!

The town of Ludlow is 23 miles and one Terrible Mountain away from Rawsonville. Most riders head out around 7am after a light bite to eat and then stop in Ludlow for blueberry pancakes, after climbing over Terrible Mountain. At breakfast, we joked with everyone about filling up on pancakes, so we could really make them hurt down the road. The next leg of the journey was a 20 mile gradual climb to the base of Killington and then a 5ish mile climb up and over, followed by a screaming breathtaking descent down the other side to the next food stop on the route in Stockbridge.

The two tandems headed out of town followed by a few cling-ons, uh make that singles. Two of the single riders also have a tandem, but it was sitting in Tennessee. They managed to hang on while the two tandems tested each other and sprinted for everything in sight.

Apparently, my love of noisemakers is catching on, as Steve R's bike now sported a bell, that chimed in after each of our quack-quack, honk-honk noises. We greeted and were greeted by lots of cyclists along the way. Many bikes had big yellow flags attached, indicating they were on one of the many organized tours in the area. Vermont has so many bicycle tours going on in the summer, that every merchant is bicycle friendly out of economic necessity and you can't ride very far without seeing a bike shop, and even less without seeing a bike! We honked and spoke to everyone along the way, and were regularly greeted by the now familiar *Look at that bike!*

We reached the checkpoint in Stockbridge, where there is a wonderful deli. They make their own bread, and while I can't quite describe it, I can say it is wonderful. They have a big covered porch and wooden chairs and a table sitting in the open where hungry riders can sit around and enjoy the delicious sandwiches and pastries found inside. Just before reaching the store from the south, there is a small dinosaur sculpture off in a field. For those of you who might be riding these roads someday and prefer more modern facilities than the woods, to the left of this dinosaur is an outhouse.

We enjoyed our lunch and snapped off a few pictures. One of the many, many advantages of riding a tandem is that the stoker can take lots of action shots. One of the advantages of having two tandems is that the stoker can pass the camera to the other stoker and finally get a shot of herself in action. I'm really looking forward to getting these pictures back.

Our group split up a little more when we left Stockbridge, and after a quick stop at a bike shop to replace a lost bolt on my look cleats, we found ourselves alone with the other tandem for a few miles. We kept joking with them about taking a short detour up to Middlebury Gap. Part of the days route was on the familiar Boston-Montreal-Boston route. But BMB makes a left at 125 to go over the gap. Since we'll be doing it in a month, we suggested trying it now to verify we have low enough gears. It is the hardest climb on the route. We signaled and turned left, but they didn't bite, and thank heavens Steve just kept turning until we were back headed north on 100.

The skies had been threatening all day, with the sounds of thunder off in the distance. We occasionally felt sprinkles, but we were well prepared with jackets and leg warmers and such. The sprinkles turned to a more steady rain, but just as we passed a rider who had stopped to put on his jacket, the rain stopped. We thanked him for making the rain stop and asked him to keep the jacket on. Apparently he didn't, since we got soaked several times after that.

Despite being just in front of the rain, and knowing we would get wet if we stopped, we decided to head into Warren for an afternoon snack at the Warren Country store. This place is well known by riders for it's sesame noodles, pasta salads, fresh baked breads and deserts. A few miles before reaching Warren, Steve reached into his pocket for a power bar, but was rewarded with a quick slap on the hand, and admonished to save his appetite for some real food. He was thankful for that as we stood in the deli gathering together various pastries, breads, and of course, sesame noodles. We headed out to the covered deck to eat out goodies and were joined by Osman and Judy, the tandemless tandem couple. The rains came and soaked everything thoroughly. We were happy to be under cover. We wandered around the store a little more while waiting for the shower to pass. It is one of those country stores that has everything, clothes, toys, jewelry, drums, Chinese artifacts, and provides a very interesting place to wait out a T-storm.

After the rain passed, the temperature had dropped enough to cause us to want to use our jackets. A few miles later as we hit the Duxbury Hills, the jackets would come off, but unfortunately, every time I took my jacket off, it started to rain again! We'd see clear skies and then a downpour followed by clear skies and a downpour. Twenty miles after our last food stop, we found ourselves in front of Ben and Jerry's Ice Cream factory in Waterbury. We went into the gift shop and bought a pint of Heath Bar Crunch *factory seconds*. What are seconds in ice-cream? Well typically it means there's either too many chocolate chunks for instance or two few in chocolate chunk ice-cream. As we dug to the bottom of the carton, we found out that too few can mean none at all. But that's OK, I prefer vanilla anyway! And it was delicious.

The hostel was another mile away, so we headed on to get showers and get ready for a dinner of meatless and regular lasagna, chicken and vegetables, with watermelon for desert. After a brief gathering of participants to make announcements, including the one that the patches had not arrived, riders were free to waddle up to bed and get ready for the next days ride home.

Sunday began quite cool with the thermometer struggling to register 50F. We donned our tights and downed our coffee and pancakes before heading out for the first climb through Duxbury. Despite leaving at 7am, we were one of the last bikes to roll out. The sky was clear with no clouds visible. The sun warmed us quickly and we were out of our jackets before the first major climb. We again headed into Warren to peel more clothes off and get more pastries. After enjoying cherry tarts, we saw Osman and Judy who were looking for a tandem to draft! To their credit, they tried to offer us a draft throughout the day, but it just didn't work too well. We suggested panniers for them next time!

As we passed the turnoff for Middlebury Gap, we again discussed the possibility of taking the detour up, but Steve wimped out and continued straight. I breathed a great sigh of relief for the second time :)

We did try to wear Osman down by egging him into sprints that we did not join, but he stayed full of energy throughout the day. We planned our next stop for the same country store in Stockbridge. There we saw quite a few of the early risers who had started before us. We took a long break there and enjoyed the homemade sandwich rolls and banana bread. Steve and I decided to go the distance from there. I didn't want to stop just before climbing Terrible and allow my legs to stiffen up, so we each mixed up a bottle of Ultra-Energy to drink before reaching the climb. The sun was also warming things up quite well, and I worried about being able to eat too much more. Osman and Judy were great company and stayed with us until the base of Terrible where they were lured off course by an Ice Cream shop.

The climb up the southbound side of Terrible is 5 miles long and comes in two stages with the steepest part at the bottom. We passed several riders on foot, but were traveling slow enough that it was quite sometime before they were out of sight. One of the sag vehicles was on top and several riders were taking a break as we passed by. As usual I created a cheering section for us, by clapping and calling out, "Let's hear it for the tandem that just climbed Terrible" Spontaneous applause erupted!

From there it was 16 miles of rollers back to The Rafters and a shower. We arrived to find most of the early risers still waiting for the sag wagon and their luggage. It arrived right after we did - perfect timing on our part. Riders who weren't in a great hurry to get home headed into Brattleboro for the traditional after ride dinner at the Steak-Out and then the trip home.

At times the ride was hard on me mentally, because it was on this ride last year that I really got to know Al. It's hard not to get to know someone when you are on the same bike for 200 miles. And I really missed being able to ride with him. But I also had very good memories of places we had stopped along the way and all the fun we had on the ride. Al had worked very hard in recent years to keep this ride going and part of it's continued success is due to him. In a way, the ride, for me, became a tribute to his spirit for enjoying life and his love of riding. The ride will go on again next year on the last weekend in June. A volunteer has come forward to organize everything. It's a ride I highly recommend for the fun, the challenge, the scenery, and if you haven't figured it out the food! Contact the Boston Chapter of AYH for more info, or watch this space for announcements of the ride next year!

 


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