Laura and Ted King have been across the country and the world riding in gravel events, and this weekend, they are returning the favor by inviting graveleurs to their own backyard and the first-ever Rooted Vermont.
The Kings have billed the event as a “Return to Gravel,” which has a deeper meaning for the couple after they moved back to Vermont from California last June. Back home, the Kings’ posts about riding in Vermont quickly brought requests for them to host their own gravel race started coming in.
“We started receiving messages through social media asking us if we planned on hosting a gravel event or camp in our new home,” Laura said. “I think it was quickly apparent through our posts that Vermont was a special place, as well as a place fitting for a gravel event as a state with more dirt roads than paved.”
Ted agreed, “Laura and I want to show off this amazing community that has been so welcoming to us as regular people to the greater cycling community that we’ve built and that has been an honor to be part of.”
Before long, Rooted Vermont was born. With Ted taking a bigger role at his company UnTapped and undertaking his Groad to Kanza, Laura stepped in as the race director and force behind making the event happen. “We also knew that if we were to make this happen, we were ‘all-in’ and were going to make this the best kind of event we could envision,” Laura said.
The Mullet Protocol
When I spoke with Ted before the Dirty Kanza 200, he recalled the inclusive, community vibe of his first gravel race that made him want to come back again and again. “We want to put a great deal of importance on the fun aspect because at the end of the day, that’s the greatest attribute gravel has going for it,” Ted said about the team’s goal for Rooted Vermont.
“Having spent the last couple of years attending many Fondos and gravel races across the country, we had a united sense of what identity we wanted our event to have,” Laura added. “There was no question that we wanted to maintain the grassroots feel of gravel that we’ve found to be a large part of what makes the growing category so special.”
Central to the atmosphere of fun and inclusiveness is what Team King is calling the “Mullet Protocol.” There will be plenty of strong riders at Rooted Vermont to hammer, but once they go do their thing, then it is time to party. “It will be business up front with people riding hard, but we want the party to be at the back. We want people to be having a good time before, during and after the ride,” Ted said.
A unique aspect of the Mullet Protocol will be the Mullet Protocol podium. Laura explained what that is.
“[The Mullet Protocol] podium will be a text-to-vote all weekend for riders or volunteers who best upheld the spirit of gravel— maybe it was their great attitude or the fact that they sacrificed their ride to stop and aid another rider—whatever it may be, this is the spirit we want to celebrate and uphold and we’re excited to award a Cannondale Topstone to the winner.”
The Rooted Vermont race will be based at Cochran’s Ski Area in Richmond. The event is offering distances of 82 and 48 miles that are both 70+ percent gravel and dirt. The surfaces vary from “silky smooth gravel” to “Vermont pavé.” If the Rasputitsa event held earlier this year is any indication, the latter could get interesting.
Rider safety was a key design factor in the route, as was making sure the two routes intersected to maintain a communal feel. With the Kings only back home for about a year, they did their homework to help create a worthy route.
“We met with locals who know the backroads and were willing to lend their advice and knowledge, we studied maps, we went out for a lot of recon to see if roads went through and experienced hike-a-bikes up creek beds, being surrounded by a pack of dogs, strange reclusive individuals on hidden dirt roads, but also some real gems that provided a great challenge,” Laura said.
Laura continued, “When it came to the course, we had to include barns, of course, but we wanted a course that was enough of a challenge that you want to come back year after year to improve upon your race and where you roll into the finish wanting to laugh with your friends about the tough elements you faced.”
Both routes finish with a steep climb to the top of the ski area. Fortunately, the Kings are both fans of food and will plan accordingly. “We felt the finish line festival was as important as the ride—good food always elevates a ride,” Laura explained.
“In gravel events, no matter your talent level or category, you’re able to celebrate at the finish in a communal atmosphere. We wanted our friends to taste the very best of Vermont—Maple Creemees, the best IPA and locally sourced farm-fresh food made by a cyclist and chef friend, Justin Walker, were a few of the ways we felt we could showcase Vermont and what it is all about.”
Challenges of “The Other Side”
Leaving their bikes and hopping into race director roles has been a new experience for the Kings. As mentioned in the intro, Laura has taken on the role of lead race director, with some help from her friend Kristin Motley, who has taken on some of the detail-oriented aspects of putting on the race.
Laura King described some of the skills she has had to call on as race director—”You have to have great diversity in skillset. Marketing, digital marketing, social media and community connections are all incredibly important, but then on the execution side of the event, organization, logistics, operations and constant communication are all just as important.”
She continued, “I have to thank the community of race organizers in Vermont who all reached out to lend their experience and knowledge and gave me an open line to ask them questions. I took copious notes and soaked up their advice, all the while thinking about how we could put our unique stamp on our event.”
In addition to all the work required to make an event happen, putting on a first-year event has the added stress of worrying about no one actually showing up. Fortunately for Rooted Vermont, 2019’s field has been full for some time now.
“It’s awesome to see we’ve sold out,” Ted said. “We really want to showcase this area to people from across the country. We have registrants from across the country. It’s cool to see the back end of registration because you see where everybody lives. Very diverse geographical registration list.”
And if everything is a success, from the perspective of the Kings, participants from Vermont and places farther afield will fall in love with the state they have quickly come to love after returning home. “We are hoping the take away is the beauty of Vermont and what makes it so special,” Laura said. “We’re proud to be becoming Vermonters!”