Wednesday, September 04, 2019

2019 Summer Projects

Well, that's it. We are back in MA after a long summer spent primarily in the NEK of VT once again. In many ways it was long, despite a someone historically late start heading back up North due to the prolonged foul spring weather. Still, as always sitting in this seat typing I realize how incredibly quickly the time flew by. The blink of an eye, one moment thinking when will it end and the next recognizing that it and the time that tracked with it has once again escaped.

Fresh grade from the top corner of the drive.
If last summer was built on metamorphic transformations for the camp, and it was, then this year was more about subtle changes and additions as well as the start of a fun project that is new and different. That may not have been the plan going in of course. I'd planned another big project, an addition of the front that would make use of a slightly pared down version of the existing deck. That idea posed many challenges of course and frankly, I was intimidated by it, scared by it. As such I waffled back and forth on just what the scope would be day after day and kept putting off starting it. Starting never happened.

From the mid point down.
Instead, the summer started out with some more landscaping as it often seems to. Landscaping is an easy re-entry as I just have to go out and start cutting. It takes little or no prep or deep forethought. Visceral in ways. This included a bunch of pruning and thinning out of the massively overgrown soft and hardwood we have abounding at our small place. Many, many hours running the chainsaws and hauling slash and brush into large piles. From there I moved onto some driveway work trying to grade it out a little bit better with a small York rake and a bunch of manual labor.

At that point it was time to get started on some real tasks. The first was to plumb in and build an outdoor shower attached off the back side of the main house. I wanted to make it fit in with the structure and look as I'd spent so much time last year trying to get it just right. I wanted an outdoor shower to take some of the burden off from our septic system and to make it easier to deal with the many, many guests we have throughout the course of the summer. I also wanted to make it easy to drain and inexpensive, similar to the one I'd built previously at our old place in Maine.

Shower plumbing.
To start, I plumbed an addition hot water line and frost free outdoor faucet next to the cold water faucet I already had for a garden hose. This was pretty easy as it came directly from the basement behind the wall through the sill. The water source was also already plumbed in Pex tubing, making it easier to deal with. Then I used stainless washing machine hoses to connect from the faucet to a home made copper to Pex to copper male to male nipple adapter to connect to hose to the inexpensive industrial outdoor shower head unit I purchased. This was the same unit I'd purchased in the past. All that I have to do in order to drain the connected unit is shut off the frost free faucets and disconnect the washing machine hoses from them. If I open the valves on the shower head faucet unit then the water gravity drains down onto the ground. Simple, clean and effecting.

The outdoor shower.
For the structure I built the frame from PT 2x4" attached to 4x4" uprights and notched cross arch that I simply sunk in the ground. I thought about putting in cement footings but realistically, that is a bit overkill. Yes, the structure will float but it should be fine. For the sheathing I used pine shiplap with the rough side out and pine trim boards, same as I used on the camp. I then stained it all to match as well and the finish product fits well with the rest of the structure.

In terms of the base I went with 12" square patio pavers contained by a 36x48" PT 4x4" border that I leveled with a slight slope outwards away from the camp. I have crushed rock all along the outside of the foundation down to the frostwall and have have drainage to evacuate any water away from the foundation. I used a bed of tiny pebbles under the pavers to help move the water away as quickly as possible and yet still effectively level and bed the pavers. It has worked very well and has gotten a fair amount of use over the course of the summer. It also quickly drained out when I disconnected it before leaving a few days ago.

Porto enclosure and bunkhouse.
Next up was a simple project that I'd considered. In the past, Cathy and I have had a portable outhouse on site at camp for special occasions or when we have extended guests. This just makes it easier using the bunkhouse or camping on the lawn as folks don't have to come inside. More and once again, it also removes burden from the septic, a common theme of camp life. The down side is that a porto is not the most attractive thing to have in your yard, especially if you have spent lots and lots of time working on the aesthetics of your place, which I have. My idea was to make an enclosure that I could put the porto in that would fit in with the surroundings and hide the big blue plastic beast such that I didn't have to look at it.

Porto enclosure.
For this I went rustic making a 2x6" PT deck with rough cut 1x6" hemlock. On that I framed 2x4" PT walls on three sides and sheathed them vertically with the same 1x6" rough cut hemlock. The nice thing about hemlock is that it is rot resistant and is cheap. When wet, it is also heavy as sin. Fortunately when it dries out it is much easier to manage. Nothing fancy but it hid the blue beast that sat at our place all summer long. I think that next year we may just buy one and pay to have it pumped occasionally, which doesn't need to happen very often for us as it gets very limited usage.

Then I had the idea that I really needed a screen porch on the bunkhouse. I'm not sure why as we don't even stay in it but I couldn't seem to let the idea go. Nothing huge, just a 4' extension off the front which continued the existing roof line. I'd then frame it up with 4x4" PT and use 2x4" PT connectors. First I had to build the deck on which I went minimal structurally since it was so small. For footings I dug post holed until I hit ledge, which was 12" on one end and almost 3' on the other with the middle footing somewhere in between. I then simply ran 4x4" PT up and lagged the deck into it.

Framing porch deck and rafters.
Completed screen porch.

This project took about a week to complete and when it was done and you could sit inside, away from the bugs, proved very rewarding. I need to circle back around next year and put in railings to keep people from going through the screen, which a guest did just as we were getting ready to head home this past Sunday. Luckily I used screws everywhere and was able to get it fixed in short order, otherwise it would have still be bugging me. I can't leave projects like that incomplete.

Fairly large stump.
Next up on the agenda was some excavation and more extensive driveway and parking area work. This required some heavier equipment, namely my brother's tractor and backhoe. The plan was to widen and level the main parking area up top so that we would have room for three vehicles across the front. Also, I planned to add another spot out beside the end of the camp. The latter involved removal of the existing turf and top soil and replacement with gravel. The former required a new front retaining wall, which I toyed with the idea of building a nice, PT 6x6" low height retaining wall for but instead decided to go cheap and use material on hand. That mean big logs, which at 24' long and about 14" in diameter at the stump proved a challenge. Luckily we were able to skid it out of the woods and up the driveway with the winch on my other brother's truck. The tractor wouldn't pull it uphill.

Driveway parking area and extension.
With that I leveled and built a retaining wall for the left and front of the driveway parking area so that I could level it a bit better. This wall was about 8" higher than the old log retaining wall I had, allowing for a much more level area. The main side log was also longer and I dug it in and trigged it against trees on the other side of the drive so it couldn't move out. Over time it will rot and I will have to replace it but it should work fine for quite a few years, given the size. Cheap and effective. To level it out I ordered yet another 20 ton of gravel. The resulting product came out pretty good with much less slope than before and a much smoother and significantly larger area to park in.

While I had the tractor I also built a road and a flat spot up into the back meadow. The idea was to give me a permanent place to put the large tiny house trailer and platform I'd acquired from my brother last year. Over the course of a couple of days I got that flattened and then seeded and mulched it to try and get some grass growing. I then had to try and get the 8x17' dual axle trailer up there. The smart person would have done this before building the outhouse enclosure and the porch on the bunkhouse. Yes, but that isn't how things worked out. Luckily I had 8" to spare between the two and the width of the trailer. Given the angle, the lawn and the 90 degree turn needed to get the trailer into the spot I had little hope for success. A couple of attempts later and some direction from Cathy and the trailer was resting in it's new home. I honestly never though that would work, but it did.

Trailer in place on leveled, seeded and mulched plot.
Now that the trailer was in place and I'd had to strip off the temporary roof I'd put on last year to store it over the winter in order to move the thing, I had to do something. Was I going to just button it back up for storage or pull the trigger and start construction? I really wanted to start on it even though it was now the beginning of August.

With less than one month of the summer left I decided to get rolling on the tiny house build. My plans were vague at best, mostly simple line drawings to try and figure base materials and window sizing based on availability. I kept changing my mind in terms of what I wanted to do for the roof. Ideally I was thinking multiple pitches as it would look better but would also be more work. Same with dormers. Honestly, I didn't need to make that decision yet as the wall framing would be the first step anyhow and I had all the information I needed for that. I'd go a full 8' from the base of the trailer platform to the top of the sill such that an 8' sheet of material would fit. This would give a 7'7". wall height inside before the finish flooring went down.

For tiny houses on trailers that you have any intent of moving on the roadways, the dimensions you need to adhere to in order to avoid an over sized load are 101" wide and roughly 13' high overall. That height depends of course on the particular roadway but 13' is the accepted low norm. I don't necessarily plan to move it on the road but I want to be able to. Who knows, maybe we will buy another chunk of land and plop this on it or maybe I'll decide to sell it. Of course, getting it down from where it now sits will be a challenge and will require me to build a road out of the meadow. I plan to do that next year anyhow.

Lower framing complete.
Framing, for which I chose to use 2x4" pine studs, went quickly, even though I had to tear some of it back out and re-space the studs due to human error. No question that a professional I am not. Learning as I go, mostly the hard way. Luckily I built it all with screws so it was easy to take apart and put back together. Every aspect of tiny house design requires concessions toward size. I even considered using 2x3" studs to gain the extra 2" interior space and save weight, another major concern, but scrapped the idea. Same with the siding, trying to minimize weight and cost. A friend who is a professional reminded me to build square, not plump even though I did my best to level the trailer beforehand, putting it up on jacks. Sound words that reminded me of my days working in a box shop making industrial crates, pallets and skids. You always checked everything for square with diagonal measurement and comparison side to side. This tells if the rectangle you are building is racked or not. I made sure to check as I tied one side to another.

External finish sheathing installed.
As usual, I used a just in time material purchased plan where I was never more than a few days out on material I had on hand. This meant lots of trip to the supply center but allowed flexibility and didn't force me to plan very far in advance. I struggle with large scale projects and estimations when the planning goes too far out. I need to be able to visualize an individual task and plan accordingly. One day at a time, if you will.

Within a week the lower framing was done and the sheathing, which was 4x8' sheets of a 7/16"  exterior grade, molded v-groove wood look pre-primed hard board with overlapping edges. I've used this material before and it works well, is stable and an inexpensive way to combine sheathing and siding in one. I simply screwed in to the framing studs. The sheets were heavy as sin but I managed to get them up in place using either jigs or with the help of Cathy. By the end of the first week I had a completed box with holes frames for four windows and a door, minus the top.

Cripple and gable ends framed.
Now came the time where I had to decide on the roof plan. I went with the easiest way out and did the same pitch roof throughout, a shallow pitch roof that would maximize space. This meant I'd need to also frame a cripple wall on top of the existing wall sides to build the wall up another 16" overall. This would give me a super shallow 12/48 pitch but because I had tin and because the roof was so small, I wasn't really worried. I had the same pitch on a lean to I built off the side of my shed in Maine only it had an 8' run. Never had a problem with that even in crazy abnormal snow years.

I framed the ends with a small window in the center of each and then framed the short cripples. For sheathing on the cripple and gable ends I chose cheap and light 7/16" OSB. Poor mans plywood it was going for $7.85 a sheet this summer in Littleton NH at Home Depot. I planned to side over it anyhow with cedar shakes and would also put a layer of house rap on it as well. Then I built the two piece center beam from two 2x6" sandwiching a piece of 7/16" OSB that I glued and screwed.

Ridge beam and central main carrier detail.
The main cross carrier beam in the center(ish of the trailer because the wheel well occupied the actual center space) was made from two pieces of 2x10" fir that I also sandwiched OSB between, glued and screwed. That was, heavy, even though it was only 8' long and was all that I could do to get up into place atop the cripple wall. To attach the beam to the wall I used angle iron pieces and lag screws on both sides of both ends. I also dropped carrier studs in below the beam to carry the load back down to the deck through the exterior wall. Then I set the main beams one at a time and got them in place. I left an overlapping tongue of OSB on one beam and left the sandwiched OSB short on the other such that i could splice the two together to help keep the beamed lined up and joined in place while I affixed it more securely.

It all went in well and gave me my center point from which to start dropping in the short, roughly 4'  rafters. Part of the reason they are so short if because of the low pitch angle but also because there is almost no overhang and eaves. Though not idea, a mobile tiny house has to conform to the width standards at it's widest point. You either have nice wide water pitching eaves or you have, living space. More concessions.

Rafters in place.
The rafters went up fairly quickly, tying them into the top at the ridge beam and then at the bottom on the cripple wall sill. On the gable ends, to meet the desired length dictated by sheets of 36" coverage tin plus 2" extra coverage for the final sheet which doesn't overlap meant that my wing rafters on each gable end were simply a pair of 2x4" sistered together with no blocking between them and a piece of 1x5" pine for the fascia. Nice and easy. Then came the roof sheathing for which I used OSB once again for it's lightweight and inexpensive nature. Luckily the roof proved pretty darn true and square and the sheets fit and matched pretty well. If you have ever worked with sheathing a roof you know that it is often challenging, especially old stuff that is rarely square and whose rafters are not always on center so they don't match up for spacing. In all honesty I had to sister one rafter to hit on center though I really should have just popped the rafter out and re-positioned it. Cathy helped and we got the whole thing complete in an afternoon except for the final partial piece because a massive rain shower moved in. I had to scramble off the roof in the pouring rain, which I could hear coming through the trees across the valley toward me.

Roof decking installed.
The roof then got a coat of weather shield underlayment on the entire sheathing surface before I put the tin on it. I did this just in case I had water backup under the ridge cap given the shallow angle of pitch for the roof. Once that was done I put the fascia boards and drip edge around the entire perimeter of the tiny house roof edge. Then I ran the tin, which was used and leftover from when I replaced the roof on the main cabin last summer, long such that the ends nearly butted each other. The ridge cap then sealed it all in.

Finished roof using recycled tin.
By the way, the tin I had was in 10' lengths. I needed 52" pieces of tin which meant that I had a hot date with a pair of tin shears. This made for a fun morning and an excellent right hand workout. That said, I've cut many, many sheets of tin by hand. With a good set of shears it is no big deal. I've used a tin nibbler as well which works great but isn't that much faster plus I didn't want to go borrow it from my brother.

Next up was building the framing structure to encase the wheel wells. This was a mass of small blocks of of 2x4" screwed to longer lengths of 2x4" with two sides and two ends. Not complicated but lots and lots of pieces and then exterior grade sheathing covering the inside sealing it up to the elements and the wildlife. The whole unit then got attached to the platform and the walls. Having the wheel wells is not ideal as it eats into the living space. The alternative would be to have the deck platform above the tops of the wheels and tires, which would mean significantly less overall height. Some things you just deal with. Concessions.

As it currently sits with one end completed.
By this point the summer for us in VT was getting a bit long in the tooth and our time was getting thin. We lost a couple of days with a side venture to Quebec to participate in the Master's Mountain Bike World Championships. Once back we almost immediately had company for almost the entire next, and final week of the summer proper. Before the company arrived though I helped my brother put in a new front door at his house. He let me have his old front door which I immediately installed on the tiny house. A quick cleaning and the thing is more than functional plus the price was right and it kept the door out of the landfill. I consider that a win all the way around. I plan to paint it a wildly vibrant color once I get a chance to get back on site to do some more work later this month. I know, I said it was put away for the winter but I really want to keep moving if I can.

The most was made of the situation and we did get some work completed with the help of additional friends. We got two coats of the finish paint color on most of the lower portion of the tiny house. Then we got the windows in, centered and installed with weatherproofing. From there we were able to get the rest of the trim boards, which covered up the seam between the bottom level and the top level around the gable ends and along the cripple wall. Over the top I installed metal flashing and then ice and water shield strips to seal it all up tight, hopefully. Those trim pieces also received two coats of outdoor stain sealer before we installed them.

With a morning left to spare I took the opportunity to finish side one gable end with cedar shakes. If you have ever worked with cedar shakes or shingles you know just how time consuming it is, especially when it is a gable end with angled cuts and a window. It took hours to finish up. I used 16" long mid grade shingle material that I had left over from, something, and gave a 5" reveal. Ideally it should have been 4" but I figure the 5" is going to be fine for this application and will overlap all the gaps without issue. As I'd been hoping, the cedar gave just the look that I was hoping it would, giving a contrast and compliment to both the trim and the bright orange tone of the lower portion of the structure. I was very happy with the end product.

Current state of the project.
I still have so much left to do on the #GravelCampTinyHouseProject but it is happening and it is well on it's way to realization. The first thing that I did when I got back home was to order some windows for it, for the top. Nothing fancy, just 12" square fixed windows that I will put in the top sides. One each side in the back end, which will be where I have a high storage loft area and two each side in the front end, which is where I will have a low hanging loft over the bed, which will be the living area. I want that to be bright and light as I plan to put a low sitting futon up there. At least, that is the plan. Who knows where it will all end up though.

Note; at present the running total cost is just over $1900, which is a bit more than I thought. Given that I have some bigger expenses coming up such as the insulation and interior sheathing, I'll need to monitor the costs closely moving forward.

And that's it. That is what I did on my summer vacation in VT. Making steady progress toward having a usable compound for showing off the best that the area has to offer. Or something.

Monday, April 22, 2019

This Space Intentionally Left Blank

If you have come here looking for an in depth report on NEK gravel conditions as in the past five years, I'm sorry but I don't have that for you. We have spent the spring in MA, where the weather has been spectacular. It has been fairly warm, the trails and pavement are dry, the trees and flowers are blooming and the grass is green.

Throughout life one is often seeing the greener grass elsewhere only to find that it really isn't any greener at all. I've spent years doing this very thing, only to come full circle again.

Based on perspective though, some times the grass really is greener on the other side of that fence.

Wednesday, March 27, 2019


It has been quite a while since I looked at this. It has simply become second nature, something that I do as instinctively as getting dressed in the morning or going to bed in the evening. No, it has not always been easy. Quite to the contrary in fact like last spring when we were on vacation in the Bahamas. I thought that I would be fine just stopping. "I can stop whenever I want to, I just don't want to". "I'll stop, tomorrow". I was wrong. Incredible how powerful the investment was, if only to myself. I've begun to use it as a celebration of the day, each day, as well as a task that I need to fulfill before I can call the day complete.

It's crazy that something as simple as pedaling a bicycle has taken on a whole new meaning, entwined itself within my very existence and daily life. The though of eventually breaking the streak literally brings anxiety. I fear for the eventual day when I'm unable to complete this daily, welcome, task.

I ended up breaking the streak of consecutive days riding outdoors during vacation last year. For two days the best I could muster was to ride a stationary bike in the gym at the resort. That was a tough one as I'd invested so much in those consecutive years of riding outdoors. I'm not certain how long that streak went but I know that it was over 1500 days consecutively. Since returning from vacation I've ridden every day outdoors though usually doing at least ten miles so that the training log day bubble displays the days distance (ten miles is the minimum and I don't like empty bubbles). I'm like that, as you can tell. There are times when I don't make it though, like when doing winter rides in crazy poor conditions that are not safe, or feasible.

So here I am, still pedaling away now 2,645 days from whence I started. It has become a metaphor for my life actually, much like the duck; calm on the surface but paddling furiously below. So much change. So many friends come and gone. Some fortunately come again, a goal I hope to work more on. So many life changes, during that time. Lives focused in different geographic area, everything seeming to be cyclical and coming back around. That's good, it keeps things fresh, new and exciting.

We are coming to the close of yet another day, starting to think about the evening ride. Today it will be a local group training road ride, the TVR. We organized this ride for years and are now resurrecting it once again. I'm a bit under the weather currently, on the mend from bronchitis developed this past weekend. I'll do what I can do on the ride and just enjoy the company and the day.

Another day that I am fortunate enough to celebrate by riding my bicycle.

Thursday, March 14, 2019


2019 Winterbike Epic Ride
Everyone who knows me knows that my life revolves around cycling. I was bitten young when riding bikes in the rural Northeast Vermont was one of the few escapes and few ways to get around. Like most typical rural country kids, there came a point where my fancy switched from pedal bikes to motorized but I came back to the purity of the sport in earnest soon after college and relocating to Boston. Since then my affliction and passion has only grown.

And with it, spending so many years and so very many miles doing essentially the same thing, pedaling a bicycle, I go through stages, cycles if you will. Changing things up to keep it all fresh. When I started out my adult cycling life it was all about offroad and mountain biking. This went on for some time and then I started racing. Soon I realized that a road bike is a necessity for training and also affords new adventure. I started to explore the area more and more and began to become truly familiar with my surroundings, with the good roads to ride, the cut through roads and streets to make good loops of lesser traveled road. Keep in mind that all of this was before the internet and Google Maps or RideWithGPS. Heck, we didn't even have Yahoo Maps yet or GPS. Lots of hard maps and trial and error. Or you could go to club group rides and learn that way.

Road turned to CX
Soon I was introduced to the concept of cyclocross with a cobbled and converted road bike. This allowed exploration of some of those trails and conservation lands that I would pass while doing road rides that were a little farther than you wanted to go on the MTB and not suited for a road bike with very narrow slicks. Yes, back then narrow slicks could be a 19c (though typically 23c) on a 18mm external width rim making for a crazy small tire that would not work well offroad. I also tried a couple of races but at that point, the hook was not set and I got away.

2003 BAD-ASS
Around that time, in the late 90's we also branched out into MTB tandem. The MTB tandem was novel and we rode it a lot getting into group rides with a core group of like minded folks a few years later. We constantly broke stuff though, as in almost every ride. It was awful. We tried one race, in Freetown, which was insane but we still ended up getting married so it couldn't have been that bad I guess. A few years later we would get into road tandem and had many excellent adventures and incredible rides. We still have some local Strava segments from doing the TVR training road rides we organize on that tandem. And then there was the stint with the time trial tandem. Alas, a few years back we finally gave up the last of our tandems in order to save our sanity. Competition, which had been the fuel for the fire for so many years was stoked out of control and could not be contained.

Cathy sprinting me to get her final lap
Step back again to the end of the 90's and single speed MTB caught my attention. A group was getting into it hard and riding weekly. The notion of cobbling together a bike that you basically could not buy off the shelf at that point was captivating; always had been. And so it began and has not stopped since. Sure the passion has waned some at points but it has been a true constant for two decades now. Recently I've been feeling the draw again, back to the simplicity of it all, and even built up a new all terrain drop bar single speed. Can't wait for conditions to improve here in the Northeast so I can get some time on it as well as the SSMTB, which I did some work on earlier this year as well.

Hucks to flat
And then there was freeride. Right around the turn of the century aggressive, technical, obstacle based mountain biking was becoming popular. Many of us in the area had always done this type of riding, the technical skills based trails popular on the North Shore, Cape Ann and at places like the not official trails in the Fells. Rock face ups, rock drops, rock face descents. The orange, the yellow, the Ridge, Nam. We would go out and spend three hours riding six miles sessioning every drop or get up. Freeriding was a perfect fit and soon the big hit bike arms race was on. Crazy forks bolted to crazy suspension designs on any bike you can imagine. We settles on the Santa Cruz Bullit which I had a couple different iterations of with many different forks. I still have parts from the old Stratos FR4 monster I had on the bike as well as a custom Risse Racing coil-over that bumped the rear to 8" of travel from the stock 6" as well as a box of the countless parts I destroyed hucking off drops to flat.

DH at SR
Then we tried downhill at Sunday River in ME and loved it but quickly realized the Bullit was a horrible gravity bike with single pivot rear inducing brake jack lockout and crazy steep head angle even with a 6" travel Jr T fork. So we bought full on downhill rigs. I went all out with a dream bike, an Intense M1 with bottomless Avalanche Racing rear shock and Boxxer World Cup fork. The bike was incredible. We spent the summer riding DH every weekend at Sunday River as we had bought a house in Bethel ME that spring. I also was doing a lot of moto trail riding, which had crept back into my life and between the DH and moto, I got really fat, again. I'd always been fat but racing MTB and doing road had allowed me to shed some weight and gain some level of fitness. So then there was this weekly road ride that a friend told me about which started right in Bethel at the Sunday River Brewery. It was mostly a core group of cyclists from the paper mill in Rumford. I started going and that got me hooked back into road in a much bigger way.

Cathy at the CBTT
All of this paved the way for our entry back into racing, and I mean really racing bicycles at the amateur level in the middle part of the 2000's. From racing some time trails and road in 2005 to time trails weekly, road and cyclocross in 2006 and 2007 to weekly time trails, full road season, full MTB season and full CX season in 2009. By 2009 we were doing over 60 races a year in addition to more than 15 mid week time trails. This lasted for a couple of years before the volume simply wasn't sustainable any longer and we started to pare things down some. The first to go was road, and then MTB. Ironically, we were still increasing the number of CX races we did. I think I had nearly 40 CX races one year back when I was racing SSCX and Elite at smaller races and masters at the bigger events. I still love CX and race as much as I can, though the days of doubling up seem to have passed me by with age.

My final Battenkill race.
As we were moving away from road racing we started to get into gravel. It wasn't new by any means as I'd ridden dirt roads for years and had even dragged friends on NEK gravel, ironically the same gravel we ride frequently today, more than a decade and a half back when we did a tandem weekend based out of my folks place. We had been into the original Northeast gravel event, Battenkill, for a number of years but as the event bloated unchecked from popularity the entry fee soared along with the race to the race for registration which opened up an unheard of at that point five months before the event, we lost interest. Many of us who had come back to gravel were also looking for something with more than the 10% gravel that the race offered. It was at the point exactly, well later that year anyhow, that we saw the first primarily gravel event in New England, a no cost, no frills ride in Northern VT. Before the event actually happened it was redubbed a race and cost minimal money but to the initial registrants getting in before the change, it was free. The event was awesome, so awesome that while the Battenkill registration time was approaching a few of us started a discussion that a real spring classic in the NEK of VT during mud season would be an awesome idea. And then five months later, it happened, and it was awesome. No pressure registration, low cost and oh, by the way an incredible party afterwards. And we loved gravel and wanted more of it.

And then the floodgates opened and the arms race began. Before any of us knew what was happening registration for an event was up 364 days before the actual event, with complex price increase models to incent entry and $25 events became hundred dollar events which became $200 events and events sold out within minutes of opening. People started using these events as bucket list items, willing to pay whatever for the experience, the finish line photo, the T-shirt. I get it, not everyone is competitive but many want to be part of the event. That's why the Gran Fondo is so popular in Europe. It's hard to begrudge the promoters because hey, it's a market driven world and there are plenty of folks willing to pay. If I don't register someone else will, literally. And that's exactly how I feel about it and how it feels from the outside looking in. It has simply outgrown me, sights set on a broad new market segment. And it's OK.

Adventure and friends
So, interest has been waning in gravel racing and expensive gravel group events. There are a number of reasons why though. The soul has changed, it has become exactly that which we were first rebelling against. Spending more time in VT riding gravel and buffed out singletrack trails mostly alone or with my wife only has left me, weak. It isn't that she can't ride it is simply that we are at different levels and hilly gravel and MTB tend to reveal that. The result, I can't race a bike to save my life any longer and my fitness is awful. I need to get back to my roots, to doing the TVR and other weekly gut wrenching 50 mile left for dead road rides and weekly hammer SSMTB rides on fast but techy trails strewn with roots and rocks and all the stuff you will see on a MTB course. In the fall, which we spend in MA, we have a core weekly practice that we've developed over the past decade with some incredibly strong and talented participants so for CX we are in good shape.

Bottom line, I still love riding gravel. Big adventure rides in remote places where route design and then navigation are part of the challenge. Scenery and sense of accomplishment. That is the heart of gravel, IMHO. The Kingdom Graveleur will be the main focus, providing the most adventure per dollar of any event out there (it's free). Getting back into shape is another primary focus. In looking back at ride stats and results I can see the trends, exactly what happened and when. My overall decline started when I stopped riding road, especially the long nasty, gritty, cold days spent with a small group of friends riding in the winter. I got a couple of those this winter in the NEK with the one person I know up there other than my wife who is always willing to ride. I've also done a ton of good solid road rides in MA over the winter with friends. I have a plan and am working on it. As soon as the conditions improve I'll start the local weekly group MTB rides back up as well and see if I can get back some of that which I lost. It was pretty humiliating going from excelling at technical courses to getting decimated by them.

2019 D&T 100
Oh, I almost forgot. The other cycling discipline of note is winter fat biking. We dragged our feet for ages on that one so as not to conflict with winter endurance road rides and Nordic skiing. Then, six years back we jumped in full tilt. At first we had inexpensive, heavy bikes that we rode a ton. That year we spent the winter in Bethel, ME and rode sled trails. We loved it, the same way we love gravel. Exploration and adventure with a very similar feel to gravel riding. The next year a new, lightweight bike and even more miles of sled trail. On average we would do over a thousand miles and 100 hours on these bikes in the winter. Then we started wintering in NEK VT where sled trails are off limits but Kingdom Trails was groomed and open. That was good but not the same and with the limited trails groomed in the winter, meant that we rode the same stuff pretty much every day. This worked for a few years but this winter, got old. Luckily our friends at Coos Cycling Club in Gorham, NH stepped up their grooming and had fantastic conditions most of the year but that wasn't a regular option given the distance. So we spent more time this winter in MA than in the past five years or so. I did get in on a fledgling event for New England, the D&T 100 day one of two, a long distance point to point fat bike ride on sled trails. This was always my favorite fat bike format and one I'd done in the past many times, one I greatly miss; exploration and adventure with the potential for freezing to death.

So there you have it. Things come in, things go out. Old is new. That is what keeps it fresh, keeps the cycle moving forward. I've never been one to strive to be part of the in crowd or doing what is hip or trendy. I ride bikes from the heart, doing what feels right, that which feel right. It's a personal journey, one which I've had many counterparts in along the way but one partner.

NOTE: I filled in the images for this post after writing the post copy. The last three images, which are from the past couple of years, represent three of the fondest cycling memories that I have to date. In order, an exploration adventure ride with Cathy and Sheldon in August 2017 in the literal middle of nowhere on a route we were not sure would connect, through a swamp on the back side of a remote mountain. The next, from the June 2018 Kingdom Graveleur 2.0 ride where there were so many happy people that I just didn't want the day to end. The last was from the February 2019 D&T 100 day one fat bike ride. I also have an image of a fat bike adventure ride Cathy and I did in 2015 over Dixville Peak from Errol and around the Balsams to Coleman and back which is another favorite. The 2013 Minuteman SSCX race finish where Cathy sprints by me to get her final lap. We both had very good days and I still smile hard thinking of this moment which Cathy's dad captured in the photo. Also one from the final BAD-ASS group tandem event we did back in 2003 I think which was a great day. The first shot is from the 2019 Winterbike Epic ride, the best Winterbike I've ever been to and one of the best groups I've ridden with in ages. Great folks who worked crazy hard and all had smiles at the end. 

So many wonderful memories so very dear to me.