I don't exactly recall where I connected with the Vermont 50 - but it looked interesting. It boasted 50 miles of great Vermont trails / roads and about 9000' of climbing starting at the base of Mount Ascutney (closed these days for skiing reportedly due to divided ownership issues). For sure it was plenty popular. Some online searches mentioned how quickly it would sell out, so around February alarms were set up on the work and home computers. The day registration opened it sold out in less than an hour. There were 800 mountain bikers signed up and 400 psychopath runners.
Not too long after registering an email came through announcing "Congratulations, you are in the Vermont 50!!". It felt a little like when you open the owners manual for say.. an expensive camping stove to find the first page congratulating you for laying out 200% more coin than might have been necessary.
That was the first of a few emails:
Ayut, nineteen emails. Early on, one email predicted there might be quite a few emails. This prophecy was
mikedly mightily fulfilled.
After reading the first half-dozen or so, I created a file especially for Vermont 50 emails. The plan was to accumulate all of this information and create a single translated document. Unfortunately upon attempting to organize all the data it became too overwhelming, so I just figured the best plan would be to figure out where I was sleeping and drive up there the day before
On Saturday I drove up, arriving around 5:30 in the afternoon. Here was the line to register. While in line I spotted the Hill Junkie himself - why, there he is already donning a Camelbak!
We kept each other entertained while slowly moving up to the boxes with alphabetized names - only to find there was a line for folks who did it last year. Apparently there was some kind of mix up. I was expecting to pick up plate number 105 - but ended up getting 297. No worries, as long as everything works out in the end.
I bought a pasta meal ticket - headed over to the building doing the catering and settled at a random table full of those crazy runner types. They were rightfully proud to be runner types but at one point started hinting they hoped I wouldn't be one of those cyclists who gets in the way. I pretended to be amused for a little while then another biker showed up. We talked about the race, family and those serious racer types that show up for these things.
We talked for some time. A bit longer than I had planned as wake up time would be 4:00 am. I found out Mr and Mrs Brown had gone on a bike trip (before their 3 kids) all the way down the east coast years ago. Why? "we wanted to get to Disney". That's freaking awesome. Who does that kind of thing? - Awesome people - that's who.
I went to sleep in the car (despite the Brown's offering a nice bed) around 8:30. The car is a way better sleeper than you might first think. 4" memory foam mattress, screen for the sunroof, fan & curtains. Perfectly cozy & quiet. A little hearse for a little man to get a good nights sleep before a little race.
Going to bed that early knowing that you have to get up really early messes with your sleep patterns. I woke a couple of times - then resumed sleep - to be startled awake by the alarm @ 4:00. Time to put a little mustard on that mustard!
I arrived right around 4:30 and headed down to the tent to check-in. The timing couldn't have been better as the majority of the crowd started showing up about 15 minutes later It's a good thing I got there early too. After I thought my stuff was good to go I realized I forgot gloves. Not good for a longish ride. So, back to the car - only to find I locked it but left a door open. Oops. This lack of situational awareness would fully reveal itself later in the day.
After milling about trying to warm up - I could hear the announcer saying lots of important things from within the big tent. All I knew was according to the schedule posted the day prior us VET II experts would be off in the second wave at 6:05.
At about 5 minutes to 6:00 I headed over to the start area on the road and connected with fellow Bikeman Doug Southwick. He mentioned how starts got completely re-arranged compared to last year. I couldn't help but think - "that's a relief, I've never been here - it's nice having no preconceived notions - sorta like joining a corporation after a major management upheaval"..
At 6:00 the youngsters took off in a wave of yelling, camera flashes, clicking pedals & shifters. One thing for sure - it was really dark. Good thing I brought my little 250 lumen light. The countdown for our group began around 30 seconds.. Lots of people joined in for the final count: 7!!,6!!,5!!,4!!..3!!,2!! 1!!! "GOOO!!!!" I was maybe 1/3 of the way back from the front as we rode down the paved road. Folks were moving out - but not really pushing things. About 500' from the start I began passing riders here and there.
We continued on the road - into a RH turn that headed up a longish hill. While maintaining pace several riders start falling back. The lead group is maybe 200' ahead. I'm not really gaining ground, and at this point it's not really worth chasing them down. Little by little, good progress is being made. After this first uphill - we started going downhill. The prior trend of gaining on riders here and there was still in effect. At one point passing a few riders on a slight LH bend I heard someone say "Eaasy..!" - Then (in a kind of oh geez it's you tone) - "Alllby..!". There was Alec. Oh goody. If'n yer racin' a longish race he's a good one to gauge your performance. Or at least he usually is.
At the bottom of the hill - the trail started uphill into some jeep trails. Fairly steep and greasy jeep trails. Up ahead you could see most everyone dismounted - pushing their bikes. At some point along the climb Alec passes by. I'm pushing the pace but not too hard. It's way too early for cranking. Having experienced the worst cramps at the Hampshire 100 -I'm hesitant to overdo it so soon.
At the top of this climb - yet again another downhill. The riders are going good - but not quite fast enough. I start picking off a few here and there - being sure to call out my intentions loud and clear as things can get dicey if you mix it up at these speeds. Along the way up the next climb I catch Alec. Whaa... ? That's not right. I found out later that he was sick. Figures..
Up and downhill we go. As we continue on, skill sets and placings start sorting themselves out. I seem to have the edge blasting down the hills - occasionally gapping the 2 or 3 riders amongst us by several minutes each time - only to have them slowly crawl back and just catch up at every peak. It's annoying as hell and I'm certain just as, if not more annoying for them. Every time they'd get to the top just ahead of me, they'd yield fairly quickly when things pointed down so I could bomb ahead without killing anyone. This rotation goes on for many, many miles.
The views and landscape have some of that morning misty magic going on. Along the way traveling on dirt roads we pass some amazing homes atop hills overlooking valleys in each direction. While not exactly leaving the group behind by much - I am increasing the gap on these more moderate grades. At one point we exit the dirt road and climb up a lush, foggy mowed field with switchbacks. As things get steeper - the guys I left behind start closing the gap. At the top there is a feed station - everyone stops and I get outta there as quick as possible after downing a couple of cups of HEED.
Must GO!! They is coming!!
The yo-yo-ing goes on, and on, and on.. Until maybe mile 40 or so. Finally, Tyler Merrit gets ahead on a climb past a nice house in the woods with people cheering him on from the deck and it sticks. Jon Rowe is behind but not far *at all*. My back is really starting to get tense and it shows while riding terrain I can often drop riders in. Not good. Luckily enough I am still gapping Jon on the downhills - and even luckier towards the end, the course offers some great rooty singletrack to widen the gap further. We get to an aid station maybe around mile 45 and I down 3 Endurolytes and about 4 HEED's. No Jon - at the moment. Phew..
I'm doing ok - but nowhere near as fluid as normal due to extreme back tension. Things start getting nerve-wracking. I keep looking back to see where Jon is. Good. Nowhere in site. Crap - he's gaining on an uphill. Good - I can't hear anything but me. Crap. I just wiped out in the grassy field. Good - I'm a solid 4 or 5 minutes ahead at the bottom of the grassy switchback field. No sign o' Jon. This one's gonna be good!! Only 3 or so more miles to go!! Just ride through the back pain and you'll do just fine.
Approaching the main road road there was an officer stopping traffic. I swooped around the RH turn then up ahead - lots of spectators were shouting all sorts of encouraging things. Weapons remaining: Flat terrain, technical terrain and downhills. As long as there isn't too much climbing we're looking at a really good finish. I put my head down and went into pure roadie time-trial mode.
I probably should have turned around the moment things didn't "feel right" but in a repeat of the Landmine Classic disaster, I clung onto hope. Hope that the turn-off would be just ahead. It's times like these where possibly a GPS ticking off the miles might help. After all, there was about 2 miles left to the race. If you go say... past 2 miles there is a good chance you went past something important.
Like a turn.
After several minutes of riding the road it was obvious. Something is very wrong here. What kind of mountain bike race would have you riding roughly 4 miles of pavement? Certainly not the VT 50. It's way too popular for that. I came up to a property with a man doing some housework. He was in and out of a work trailer donning a headset radio. One thing for sure - the headset radio combination did a hell of a job blocking out a confused, mud caked, Lycra clad mountain biker screaming at the top of his lungs. I was tempted to poke him but thought better of that (dude was working with sharp hand-tools). A breakthrough was finally had on "EXCUSE ME!!!" number four. "Do you know where the mountain bike race goes!!?" Response: "Sorry, no idea, you looking for Mt Ascutney?" Me: "Yes!" - Him: "It's that way..." Pointing towards where I came from. I turn around and can't help myself - every expletive ever learned comes spilling out the entire way back. This pretty much sucks more than anything I've experienced racing bikes. Up ahead there is a police car - lights flashing. Huh, didn't see that before.
I turn in and up the reclaimed course, pass the aid station and plug away. There they are: Little signs saying "Not much further now" - and my favorite from the moment "You should be proud!" Ugh.
Along the way up a reality check. I pass a rider stopped & clenching his calves. Knowing how awful that feels I offer some encouragement: "get back on and ride easy - you'll wring em out"
After the climb - some extraordinarily amazing single track in the form of a beautiful bench cut along a gorge. Although it sucks having completely blown "what could have been" - the terrain is too fun not to have fun. It finally spills out onto the grassy ski slope. Just in case I wasn't humiliated enough, I overcook a turn and get a shovel full of dirt rammed up into my shorts.
Down through the finish and around to the timing board. At the finish a few guys I either raced or know: Doug, Terry, Jon & TJ. Several guys that I passed on the downhills comment on the riding and wonder what happened. I explain as well as possible - it's impossible not to put out a negative vibe.
Results Geez'm Ted King is fast. There were a few SS riders who killed it as well (
Best thing to do was get away from everyone - no point in being Debbie Downer. The day sure ended beautifully enough:
So here's the lesson boyz and gurlz: NEVER EVER THINK TO YOURSELF "I GOT THIS ONE." That's what I was thinking the moment I reached the main road where the officer was. I can't really pin down how I missed such an obvious turn other than to cite old age, going TT mode - and there not being anyone outside the police car at the crossing..
The good news: Perpetuem, Endurolytes (12) and plenty of water (used a Camelbak this time - annoying but effective) worked wonders this time. I had minimal cramping around mile 40 - nothing like the HH100. Also - it's possible that speed & endurance have continued to improve through the entire season.
I'm on the fence about doing this one again. It's expensive and there is no payout if you hit the podium. At the same time, the terrain is among the nicest I have ridden and I kinda want to go back and address some unfinished business.
We'll see how things go at the Treasure Valley Rally - umm... (rolling eyes) if I don't get lost.