Dirty and Groton

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I’d say i’ve spent a not-so-insignificant portion of my time here on earth planning and researching far away cycling adventures that often times end when I click the little “x” at the top of my screen. Whether it begins with exploring the fjords of Norway via Google street view, or watching youtube videos of a drive through Kerala’s tea plantations, it often ends with me doing extensive searches for flights and mapping out a route in Ride With GPS. Then comes figuring out budgeting, time off, and who I might be able to drag along with me, but when the time comes to step away from the computer, more often than not, I don’t bother with saving. As much as planning and research helps, it’s an absolute requirement to not over-prepare and keep my plan as open as possible whenever I roll off for a multi day trip.

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While my desire for travel to far-off destinations is rarely subdued, there’s so much to explore right here in New England as well. I’ve been working pretty much non-stop since I got back from Kenya in February, so I decided to take a long weekend and do some riding in one of my favorite places, Vermont. I drove up after work last Tuesday, and spent the next day relaxing around town, catching up with old friends, and of course going for a bike ride. I had planned to leave Burlington and start riding the next day, but the weather, and an opportunity to go for a muddy cross ride with a good friend got the better of me. I spent the late morning and afternoon riding dirt roads and single track with my friend Dan, then on Friday morning Phil and I finally headed out of his mom’s driveway and began rolling by Bliss Pond to begin our exploration of eastern Vermont’s dirt roads.

Our route was put together using a map my friend Cammy had put together. It’s a layer over Google maps that shows all the dirt roads in Vermont (well, most of them). We planned on riding 90-95% dirt roads over a little more than a hundred miles. After living in Vermont for more than ten years, I thought I’d seen it all, but I have to say it still impresses me. It seems there’s an almost infinite network of dirt roads that are pretty easily connected, and although I had ridden a few of these before, there were plenty of new ones.

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Day one was a bit cloudy, but started off with great roads and great views. Low clouds covered many of the mountains and green, rolling hills as we pedaled through forest and farm land. Phil, who I have known for over a decade and have travelled with extensively, was riding my cross bike as his road bike had been stolen and never replaced. He’s not a regular cyclist, but having endured many challenges on the road with him before, and even a two-week long cycling tour with our old band, I knew he’d handle the ride just fine. One of the best parts of this kind of riding, away from traffic and the chaos of city life is connecting with who you ride with. Our conversations rolled with the hills, and as the rain started to fall and our tires sunk a little deeper, we pushed on.

This was actually just a test run. Our real plan had been hatched a few weeks prior when I brought up the idea of a tour through the peruvian Andes. At this point we were both committed, but we needed a taste. We talked about the photos we’d seen of dirt roads winding through glacier-capped mountains at 15,000 feet, and how we wouldn’t mind hitching a ride up a steep pass every now and then. We talked about how it would be really important to be able to stop and stay in a village or city that we liked without worrying about falling behind on our schedule. And at the same time, we stopped and looked around us at the foggy country side, happy to just be here.

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As the weather gained momentum and the rain came harder, we tackled class 4 unmaintained roads. Every now and then one bested us, but it doesn’t matter how you get to the top just as long as you get to roll down the other side.

Dirty and tired, we rolled into Groton State Park to camp for the night just as it got dark. Although it was too wet to light a fire, we felt accomplished and were looking forward to an easy 40 or 50 miles through rolling dirt roads in the morning, but of course, there’s always the unexpected.

After packing our things we rolled out of our campsite by mid morning, following the Cross Vermont trail. The Cross VT trail is a rail-trail so it was pretty flat and quite nice. We took it to Turtlehead Pond on the edge of the state forest and decided to cut up some old logging roads to a Jerusalem Road which would take us into Plainfield. I had done the reverse once before with Dan, who I mentioned above. What I didn’t account for was the fact that these logging roads often change, and when we came to a section that had been clear cut, the road turned into a jumble of tracks in every direction. We chose the one that seemed to continue in the direction we were headed, but soon descended into a rocky, grassy path that was unrideable.

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As seems to happen in so many of these situations, we made the decision to refuse to accept our circumstances. Instead of retreating, we figured it couldn’t be that hard to push through the woods a little ways and eventually find Jerusalem road. Two and a half hours later we were covered in blood, dirt and sweat, but had successfully found it. Carrying loaded touring bikes is never as fun as riding them, but the wild blackberries and feeling of triumph as we saddled back up were pretty decent consolation prizes.

As we rolled along the dirt roads on the way back to his mom’s house, Phil and I talked about how with most types of riding, you need to be able to suffer. If you can suffer and push through the hard parts, you will be rewarded. Whether it was an amazing view, a new scar, or a simple story, we both agreed that this time it was worth it.

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