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.