I use rocks to pound nails, pliers to remove screws and single-speed mountain bikes to do group rides on dirt roads. Wrong tool for the job but a lot of fun none the less. I’ve never participated in the Gravel Grinder before, so this would be a little bit of an adventure. A few of my friends have done it before and talked me into going. It doesn’t take much convincing to get me out on the bike.
I knew that I would need to get going early in the morning since it’s a little over an hour to drive to Waterbury. Of course, this didn’t stop me from taking on something stupid last minute, like changing tires on my bike before I left. This pushed me down to the wire for time. I made up some time on the drive over. Then, foolishly, I stopped in Montpelier to get something to snack on before the ride. I was hungry. There, I got behind some woman at the register who couldn’t make up her mind about what she wanted. It was one of those situations where you stand there wondering if the situation will resolve soon or if it would be better just to bag it and leave. I stuck it out and lost several more minutes. No matter how much time I have, I will manage to be just a few minutes late through my own bad judgement or just Murphy’s law.
I managed to get to Pilgrim Park in time to sign the forms to keep the lawyers happy and pick up my T-shirt. I just about missed the pre-ride meeting too (as usual). There were 170 riders registered, and a good number managed to show up in spite of the cold weather. We wheeled through the back streets in Waterbury’s downtown. Within the first few miles, we started climbing. Then we climbed some more. After a while, I was beginning to wonder when it would end. This really stretched the group out to where there wasn’t a single big group of riders anywhere.
Joe Brzoza, David Tremblay, Bob Parker and myself started mostly together. Wil Blanchard was unable to join us this time, but at least he was there for moral support. On the hills, I would take off a bit to keep up my momentum since I didn’t have the option of shifting down. We would tend to regroup at the tops of the climbs. I would then get behind on the flats and catch back up when we started climbing again. This repeated itself many times throughout the morning. Dave and I stuck together for most of the ride. Later on Bob wandered off on his own.
At mile 13, they had a small feed stop set up. They didn’t have any M&Ms but there were Twizzlers, which are even better. Plenty to munch on before heading back out. Dave, Joe and I hung out there a little while talking and grazing. Another station later in the ride would have been nice but not necessary.
Even though the name has “gravel” in it, we spent a lot of time on pavement; more than I expected. The road conditions were pretty good this year, but I can see where the tar roads would be greatly appreciated on years when mud season is in full swing.
Later in the ride, we had a couple of short legs on route 100 in Stowe. By this time, I wasn’t exactly sure where we were; but I did have a general sense of direction. There were a couple of spots where we followed portions of road that we had ridden earlier in the opposite direction. It took me a minute to catch on to this. It was like deja vu, only real.
The weather cooperated for the most part. It had rained quite hard the previous night but let up sometime earlier in the morning. The cold temperatures were a bit harsh; but once we were pedaling, it wasn’t very bad. I managed to stay dry right up to the end. In the last couple of miles, the course diverted through a golf course and then onto some Waterbury Town path. This was the only section where a mountain bike was really a better choice than a cyclocross bike. I got muddy.
Dave and I rode the rest of the way in together. We were not the first in and not the last. It was a fun ride; and I wasn’t trying to make a race out of it, even though that goes against my natural tendencies. Sometimes it’s just fun to plod along, talk and enjoy the ride.
Once we stopped, I quickly changed into some dry clothes and put on my sweat shirt and winter hat. It was COLD once you stopped working.
Back at the park, they had some good Mexican food. There were tacos with chicken and/or beans and plenty of cilantro to be added. Really good stuff. The cookies were excellent, too. I don’t know if food just tastes 100 times better after a long ride or if the food itself was just that good. Either way it was great. They had a keg of Long Trail Ale too. We hung around and visited for a while. I’m not sure what high the temperature was, but it didn’t feel like it got over 40 degrees. On my drive home, I noticed that some of the higher hills were frosted with snow. If it were warmer, I think that we would have lasted a while longer talking and eating.