by Chris McIntosh
There are some days where you follow the weather forecast up to the minute, wondering if it’s worth getting out and riding. Even as a mud-loving cyclocrosser, there are times when I have this internal debate. However, it’s a non-issue when I’ve packed up all of my gear and set up camp in a quaint farmhouse in upstate Vermont with six friends a day before the Raid Lamoille (pronounced “lah-moyle”).
We made the trip to Stowe, Vermont for some scenic punishment on a bike via a 100 kilometer route on some of Vermont’s finest dirt and gravel roads as part of the Raid Lamoille gravel ride. Arlon of Loco Sports knows how to throw a party on bikes—he’s been helping organize running races since 2006, and cycling events since 2011.
Along with Raid Rockingham, another gravel ride out of the Independent Fabrications HQ in NH, Arlon has organized Raid Lamoille annually for the past four years while gravel rides and races (it’s not a race) have been popping up everywhere across the country. Because of the distinct not-a-race detail, Arlon’s rides typically don’t attract as much attention as big gravel races, allowing for a small-town, welcoming vibe that attracted my attention.
It rained hard the night before our ride. I was woken up at 5am the next morning by the pounding of raindrops on the skylight above my bed. I wandered downstairs to find my friend Eric fully kitted up, at least two hours shy of our departure, but a few others who needed some major convincing that the downpours would let up precisely at the ride start. We ate breakfast while talking about our unpreparedness and post-ride plans.
At 7:30 we arrived at the Rusty Nail for the start, just as the rain tapered to allow us to test our gears, pin our numbers, and decide on layers. Layers in July? It’s not what I expected when signing for a summer ride in Vermont.
I was equipped with brand new tubeless Vittoria Adventure Trail 40mm tires, and a new handlebar bag to protect my DSLR camera (which worked in a pinch, although maybe next time I’ll invest in a compact camera for this kind of endeavor). I knew traction wasn’t at its peak on the dusty dirt country roads I became familiar with on last year’s Raid, so I ran lower pressure than probably anyone not on a fatbike.
Though it was a fun thought to be wearing arm warmers and light jackets in the summer, the first long ascent left us with no choice but to stop and strip off layers. The rain had long gone, and the temperature was pleasantly cool, which made for slightly easier climbing than last year. The roads were tacky and our legs began to warm up with the abuse. We went up, down, further up, slightly down—the usual Vermont terrain.
As mile 15 approached, a couple of our friends agreed to take the turnoff point for the 50k route that conveniently cuts the 100k route in half in Morristown, VT. Fortunately, each turn was clearly marked. Navigation was a concern of mine due to the poor weather, since you can never be sure what your Garmin will do. (Mine had the course loaded but refused the turn by turn directions). As someone who is forever blessed with a poor sense of direction, I thankfully had no doubt of missing a turn, even when the road ahead was void of riders.
The Craftsbury General Store was a beautiful sight after a soul-crushing little journey through open farmlands. The landscape is serene and picturesque, making the sweat and suffering worthwhile. Amidst a collection of Bernie Sanders themed Vermont goods, maple and birch syrups, and pastries, volunteers had 100% local peanut butter and maple sandwiches, chips and seltzers for us. The friendly folks at Vermont Overland were parked outside, on sag duty.
By this point, the rain had made its way back to us. It picked up momentum as we set off towards the next climb. The cue sheet warned us to cut the rest short, but it was still a brutal awakening after sitting down and eating. As it often does in the mountains, the temperature dropped, and we are cold, muddy, and focused only on making it through the next thirty miles—the longest cyclocross race of my life.
The halfway point marks where the elevation map goes from several long, gradual climbs to a seemingly endless barrage of sharp spikes. We passed several Class IV road entrances in these hills, the preferred mode of transportation of Pete Vollers of Vermont Overland, but sadly the route steered clear of anything rougher than some washboard dirt roads. That’s not to say this ride isn’t hard enough as it is. With rain coming down like exploding needles, there was an odd kind of focus in play. Rubber side down, and don’t miss a turn, I kept thinking.
One of the more memorable moments from the ride last year (besides getting handed maple syrup from Ted King) was the descent to Lake Elmore. After a brutally long dirty grind, you bomb down a roller coaster at 45mph and are greeted by an epic view overlooking the water. Only this year, at such speed, the raindrops felt like hail. There was little opportunity to take in the view, and all I could focus on was hoping that my squealing rotors would bring me into the upcoming turn safely.
We were near the last of the riders left, and the support van caught up to us, offering us a way out of the storm. One rider who was with us took up the offer, but I was too stubborn to give in. That’s the funny thing about participating in such an event. Because it’s “just a ride” and not a race, I probably pushed myself harder simply because “just finishing” was always the goal.
Once we turned onto Route 100, my friends began sprinting. With the knowledge that we were on the same road as the finish, they were pacelining it home. A combination of my handlebar bag, my low tire pressure, and the 60 abusive miles behind me, those last 5 miles dragged on. Riders who branched off for the 50k were dry, warm, and happy by the time we arrived at the Rusty Nail.
Finishing was the main goal, and the party was out on the course, not at the finish. As expected, with drenched riders and no podiums to wait around for, there wasn’t much going on at the finish at that point. Yet it didn’t matter. I was already starting to make plans to return next year.
More info: raidlamoille.com
2016 Raid Lamoille Gravel Ride Full Photo Gallery by Chris McIntosh: