Early Bird Beats The Wind

It’s high time I get around to continuing this quest, not only because it’s been a long while since I’ve ridden a state ride, but also because, this one happens to be one of the higher elevation rides I expect to do.  Santa Fe, New Mexico sits at just under 7000 ft.  I’m guessing that the only higher elevation of a ride site I’ll do is Colorado.  That however, is just a guess at this point.

Santa Fe is FABULOUS.  The city, that is.  I’ll get to the ride in a minute, but Santa Fe itself makes this ride worth the trip.  Because it’s my first Century of this year, it’s relatively early in the year and the elevation was so high, I made a vacation of this trip and drove the 1875 miles from Virginia.  It was a three day trip of 10-hour driving days, but if you’ve kept up with my adventures you know, the journey is more than half the adventure.

Just another art gallery

Just another art gallery

This gave me ample time to adjust to time zone changes, elevation changes and check Arkansas off the list of states I’ve never set foot in.  That list is now down to 3 states; Alaska, North Dakota and Wisconsin.  Anyway, back to Santa Fe.  I arrived 3 days prior to the ride and taking that time to acclimatize paid off large.  I spent those days wandering the charming, beautiful and interesting old town, relaxing and eating my face off.  I’m not sure if there are more cool art galleries of excellent restaurants, but that decision will be for another trip.

Santa Fe Basilica

When ride day came, the weather was also fabulous, though the forecast was daunting with plenty of sunshine and moderate temps in the 70’s, but brutal 25-30 mph winds. The only way to beat the desert wind is to avoid it and the only way I know to avoid it is to get out early, before it kicks up.  Luckily, this course is a simple loop, or rectangle really.  Starting and ending on the south side of town, you travel south about 40 miles, cut straight east, come north about 40 miles and back west to the end.  Even better, I’m sure it’s planned with the wind in mind as the prevailing blow at this time of year is from the south-south west, meaning, if you can get those first 40 miles in before the winds kick up, you should have nearly all downwind or some crosswind to the finish.  Of course, that was my plan.

There is a mass start for this ride but that was just a bit earlier than I wanted to be up, so I took advantage of the open rolling start option to get on the course right at 8:00 am.  The sun was already inching the temperature out of the 50’s and still early enough that not a breath of wind was stirring.  A few warm-up miles through town and you start the long trek south through the high NM desert.

Into Desert 2Now if you’re planning to go ride at elevation out West, make no mistake, three days is not enough to completely compensate for going from sea level to 7000 ft.  I could definitely feel it as even easy riding had my heart rate somewhat elevated and feeling more out of breath than I normally do for that level of effort.  The upside to all that is a very easy decision to keep the effort level under control and spend more time enjoying the surroundings, which I admit, were pretty bleak for the first 15 miles.  However, as we got down towards the old mining town of Madrid the topography began to change.  A bit hillier, a bit greener, a bit prettier.

Nearing rest stop #1 and Madrid, NM

Nearing rest stop #1 and Madrid, NM

Starting just before Madrid and continuing several miles past is the first, and most challenging climb of the ride.  It never gets terribly steep, but it is fairly long and again, more of a challenge than it appears given the elevation and fact that by the time I got there it had become not quite windy, but at least breezy and in the face.  Cresting out at Stage Coach Pass takes most of that away with stunning vistas both east and west of the valley below.

Stagecoach Gap

The climb to Stagecoach Gap

After the fun descent in to the valley it’s a few more miles to end of the ride southward, but not before you reach Heartbreak Hill.  There is a rest stop immediately prior, just to give you time to work up some good anxiety.  But fear not, while difficult and double digit grade steep, it’s pretty short at about  3/4 of a mile.  Spin, spin, spin and before you know it you’re cresting the summit.  From there it’s about 8 miles to Cedar Grove and the hard turn to the east.  What I did discover though is that by now breeze had become wind, with dozens, if not hundreds of miles of flat valley with nothing to abate it.  This made the short section of due west pedaling quite the shock, headlong into 20 mph in the face.  However, this was more than made up for when I made the eastbound turn and made the 9 mile crossing from Cedar Grove to Stanley at a 23 mph average without even trying.  It’s nice to go downwind.

Now the mind-teasing part of this ride comes at the end with 14 of the last 20 miles uphill, and those last six at least partially into the wind.  It’s a mostly gentle climb with only 1 steep section of about 7%, but at this point in the ride it did wear on me.  I was ready to be at the “top.”  I wouldn’t say this last part was particularly scenic, although the long distance views up to Taos with the mountaintops still covered in snow was a vision, especially since you knew you weren’t having to climb them.  So I was quite happy and thoroughly worn out when I came across the finish.

Crossing the finish

Crossing the finish

This is a good ride and a fun one.  It has great participation, is extremely well supported by excellent volunteers with plentiful, well stocked and well spaced rest stops. Not the most scenic but I do enjoy the western desert and the chance to visit Santa Fe for a few days makes it definitely worth riding.

Hoosier Dams

Autumn is coming to Indiana and the first faint signs are starting to show.  Leaves are just beginning their explosion to color; breezes are blowing with a tendency towards crisp and afternoon warmth turns to evening cool and early morning chill.  The prefect time for a Century tour of Wabash County in the Dam 2 Dam Century Ride.

I so appreciate when the town is not only aware, but even participates in the event

I so appreciate when the town is not only aware, but even participates in the event

After most of the summer on my own personal adventure which is coming to a close, I was able to match my itinerary with this ride and complete state #10 in my quest to ride an event in all 50 states.  Convenience of scheduling, however, was not the only reason I chose this particular event.  I was much more influenced by the event’s web page, it’s route description, the fact it is, at the moment, a smaller and grassroots event, and finally, takes place in and around the hometown of a dear friend.

Wabash is the prototypical image of small town mid-America.   Tree-lined streets, blocks of victorian style homes, a church or

Wabash Judicial Center

Wabash Judicial Center

town-hall, I was never able to figure out which, whose bells ring out a most complex yet pleasing symphony each evening.  The surrounding county of endless farms, interrupted only by shady woodlands, the occasional swamp, and

Herrold On Hill B&B where I stayed.  FANTASTIC!

Herrold On Hill B&B where I stayed. FANTASTIC!

crossings over gently flowing rivers evokes a feeling of “hometown” no matter where you may hail from.  And I’m pretty sure the entire southern half of the county is designated state recreation area.  All this made riding the 104 miles nothing less than an extreme pleasure.

Beginning and ending in downtown Wabash, you are on your way no more than 2 miles before finding yourself traveling the wilds of rural county roads.  Over the next several hours you will pass through several small towns, over the Wabash and Eel Rivers, across Salamonie Dam…

Crossing Salamonie Dam

Crossing Salamonie Dam

past farms, and farms, and more farms.  There’s a lot of corn out there boys and girls.  And cows, some sheep, what I think is probably soy, a few Alpacas. Morning Farm Ok, so it’s farmland I think you get it, but I never tired of it.

The event includes a spaghetti dinner the evening before, lunch on the ride, seven rest stops (assuming you do the 104 mile course; but adequate stops no matter what distance you choose) stocked with food and drink, including free supplies of gatorade mix and all the 5-Hour Energy you can drink.  Did you

Stockdale Mill, where lunch was provided, along with near ride-ending chocolate chip cookies.  They were so good I almost didn't get back on my bike.

Stockdale Mill, where lunch was provided, along with near ride-ending chocolate chip cookies. They were so good I almost didn’t get back on my bike.

know that 5-Hour Energy is headquartered in Wabash?  I did not.  And post ride vittles as well.  Amazing support.   Here’s another tidbit of Wabash trivial.  According to a small plaque in the sidewalk, it was the first city in the world to be lit by electric streetlights.  Imagine that.

Before finishing you of course cross dam number two, the Mississinewa Dam creating the Mississinewa Lake.  I hear you struggling to pronounce that.  Don’t worry,  I was at it, out loud, over and over

First electrically lit city

First electrically lit city

Wait, didn't I already cross this dam?!?

Wait, didn’t I already cross this dam?!?

Lake Mississinewa, created by the dam.  Yep, it was still pretty chilly when I got here.

Lake Mississinewa, created by the dam. Yep, it was still pretty chilly when I got here.

again for the next 20 miles trying to figure it out.  Apparently what is not original in this county is dam architecture.  Hey, it’s the Army Corps of Engineers.  They don’t get hired for their creativity.

And what good would a rural ride be without a red barn AND a covered bridge?

The obligatory red barn...

The obligatory red barn…

...and covered bridge

…and covered bridge

Christine Flohr, Director of Tourism, and everyone involved in the planning and execution of Dam To Dam put on a first rate event.  Certainly one worth traveling to, even if i had not been on my way back through that part of the country.

This is an event I can

More beautiful Wabash County

More beautiful Wabash County

easily recommend you go out of your way to ride. Super friendly star and volunteers whose dedication to making your ride the best experience possible is evident in everything they do.  It is a young event with 2015 as the 6th Annual, and really only the second year of marketing and advertising but as such they have outclassed many of the larger events I’ve ridden.  Wabash itself was a pleasure just to visit.  My stay at Herrold On Hill B&B was truly exceptional.  Sandy and Alan are the consummate hosts, the house itself is a spectacular vision of history, built in 1885, and the Breakfast part of B&B was as unique as it was delicious.  On top of all that, it’s a mere 3 blocks from the YMCA, the HQ and starting place for the ride. There are a few great places to stay in town and this is definitely one of them.

Wabash and the Dam To Dam Century Ride.  Two Mid-West treasures!

In Case You’re Missing It

There won’t be anything new here till after I ride the Dam To Dam Century in September.  That doesn’t, however, mean that I am not riding.  Tomorrow marks the beginning of week two of my  wondrous tour around the west, including plenty of riding done and yet to be done.  Come on over to my other site, Bike Life and journey with me on my Tour De Paul.  All the posts start with “Tour De Paul.”  It’s been incredible so far, but you’re not too late to catch up.  Awesome pics too!

A Few New Photos

A few late arrivals from the fine folks at Vermont Gran Fondo.  Still doesn’t do the ride justice.

Ascending Appalachian Gap  At this point things didn’t see too bad.  It’s the very top of Appalachian Gap.  Sure doesn’t look like 16% grade in this pic.

Here I’m really struggling at the top of Lincoln Gap.  I’d just gotten back on my bike after walking about 1/4 mile.  I don’t want to disparage, but notice the rider walking behind me.

Suffering up Lincoln Gap

Suffering up Lincoln Gap

And finally, turning in to the finish back at Middlebury College Snow Bowl.   I’m just as exhausted, but felt much more elated than I look.

Turn into the finish shoot

Turn into the finish shoot


Real Misery In The Green Mountains

I’m sorry Virginia, but the REAL Mountains Of Misery are in Vermont.  At least for the east coast that is.  Mountains Of Misery, that fantastic ride near the Shenandoah front range and Blacksburg is an amazingly beautiful and challenging ride with an excruciatingly difficult finish.  Vermont Gran Fondo is, quite simply, BRUTAL.

Let me admit that I came to the Vermont Gran Fondo a scant 5 days after riding 103 miles in the Ocean State Tour De Cure.  I was to learn that despite feeling great in between, 5 days is not enough time for my legs to fully recover and so I left the starting line with something less than a full tank.  This however is not reason enough to change my appraisal that VTGF was the hardest ride I’ve done.

Woodchuck Sign

Packet Pick-up at Woodchuck Cidery in Middlebury, VT

I  based myself in the town of Middlebury, VT another wonderful little New England   town with spired church, some great restaurants and the ever so famous Woodchuck Cidery where packet pick-up was held.

I have been blessed with really terrific weather for all of my state rides and this one was no exception.  It had poured down rain during the night but I awoke to a somewhat sunny sky, about 58 degrees at the start and forecast to reach 80 with plenty of sunshine and only a light breeze.  PERFECT.  It was chilly at the Middlebury College Snow

A Bit Chilly At The Start Of Vermont Gran Fondo

A Bit Chilly At The Start Of Vermont Gran Fondo

Bowl start, especially when the sun ducked behind the clearing clouds, and not much chance to “warm up” with 10 miles of downhill to start the ride.

Only a few minutes after hitting the valley my wind shell came off.  In retrospect I should have just sucked it up and been cold for the first little bit, but cold tends to by my Kryptonite and I avoid it as much as possible.  It was not a big deal to just stuff my shell in my pocket for the next 93 miles.

VTGF is also know as the LAMB ride because it is comprised, on the Gran (103 mile) route, of climbs over Lincoln, Appalachian, Middlebury and Brandon Gaps.  All respectable ascents in their own right, the combination of all four, along with a couple of other lesser but energy sapping climbs, is what makes this ride so difficult with 10,000+ feet of climb.  Lincoln Gap alone, advertised to have the steepest continuous mile in the US at 20%-24% grade, is a killer all on its own, but I’ll get to that later.  I wasn’t sure of which came first (you do not ride them in L. A. M. B. order) but I did know the first was near mile 20.  I settled in to a comfortable pace, enjoying the countryside views and preparing for the task ahead.   Riding Along

I’ve said before I’m not as fearful of downhill speed as most others, or perhaps as much as I should be, so starting in the first wave of riders and barreling down the mountain as fast as I dared on the still wet roads put me near the very front of the pack by the bottom.  I didn’t expect to stay there so it was no surprise when riders began passing me, and passing me, and passing me.  I thought more than once that either these folk are in incredibly good condition or they were riding awfully fast at this point, having 10,000 feet to climb ahead of them.  I was averaging 18-19 mph here and being passed by everyone, and I mean EVERYONE.  I worked quite hard to keep my ego in check, let them all go and stay relaxed at my own pace.

A right turn through the town of Bristol,  stop at the first rest stop to top off my fluids, quick photo op

Thanks to the rain, the streams were roaring, vice babbling.

Thanks to the rain, the streams were roaring, vice babbling.

and the terrain began to rise toward what I thought was Lincoln Gap, the first big climb.  The grade remained pretty gentle, only once reaching anything near double digits.  Maybe this was all going to be over-hyped after all.  And then, I saw the little green sign.

“Strava Start.”   I knew all of the gap climbs were competitive and therefore timed segments.  Not competitive for me, but there is a King/Queen Of the Mountain challenge for each of the climbs and those segment winners are determined by downloading your GPS data to the Strava website.  So, apparently that little 5 mile climb we just went over was…………..nothing of importance.  And it quickly became apparent why.  THIS climb was not so gentle. Oh sure, it started out that way, but got steeper and steeper as we went.  And it got steeper and steeper all the way to the top, maxing out at 16% for much of the last half mile.  This is where, sometime in that climb, I learned that 5 days is not enough recovery time between 100 mile rides.  I was only at mile 30 and my legs were already telling me they were not so happy.  Uh oh.  It’s also where I learned that I’d just climbed Appalachian Gap, not Lincoln.  Well, that was nice to know too.

That road below doesn’t look NEARLY as steep from here as it was coming up!

And now it was HOT!  Even here at the top it was well into the 80’s.  Luckily, after some food and water, I had the downhill to cool off, and it was quite the downhill.  Very shortly after starting down, and it was nearly as steep down the other side, I glanced down at my GPS to see 58 mph.  Whoa!!!  That blows away my previous top speed of 47 mph.  Unfortunately, I came around a bend and nearly melted my rims trying to brake hard enough to stop from rear ending the car in front of me, not going anywhere near 58 mph.  Uh, I think the speed limit here was 40 mph.  It was a frustrating mile and a half riding and releasing my brakes to keep them from overheating and keep me from hitting that car.  So much so that I did something a little crazy, sweeping to the opposite lane of traffic (I could see far down the road that it was clear of oncoming traffic) and sprinted past them on the inside of a hairpin turn (mile 35.3 on my gps track).  Ok, it was foolish, but it was also a bikeload of fun and quite satisfying.  I don’t think they were too happy.

Next came Lincoln Gap.  Oh my &%)#@%^& GOD!!!!  That little green “Strava” Sign came quickly and then it got really stinkin’ steep really stinkin’ fast.  Thankfully this entire climb is under heavy tree cover keeping the temps down, but that wasn’t enough to keep me from having to, without shame, walk for a bit.  It no kidding easily hits 24% grade.  I ended up walking in two sections for a total of probably 1/2 mile.   The first was only a hundred yards or two.  I got back on and rode a few hundred yards and then walked again, this time for longer.  It was INCREDIBLY STEEP.  At one point I was lucky enough to see Lea Davison, one of our US Olympians from the 2012 London games climb on past me, breathing hard, but looking unbelievably strong. I think I developed an instantaneous crush.  Not much surprise she took QOM for that climb.  A quarter mile or so from the top I was finally able to get back on the bike and ride to the top, praying to any sort of deity or alien life form that the remaining two climbs were nowhere near this hard.

Green Vermont

I was assured not, by previous riders, and after a long rest and refuel I mounted back up for the descent.  Just a short way down and around a sharp curve there was a rider down receiving medical attention.  It was probably 15% downgrade here and I can only imagine what trouble he’d gotten into.  He clearly did not take heed of the sign at the top of sharp curves, wet surfaces and impending gravel.  He was in good hands so I did not stop.  Only another 1/4 mile down the road it turned to gravel, which completely ruins any chance of a high speed descent and FUN.  Boooooo!  In fact a majority portion of the next 10 miles was unpaved surface, although well graded and compacted and very rideable.  Not at high speed, but rideable all the same.

One stop and a a trip around Lake Dunmore brought us to the town of Forest Dale and the start of the climb up Brandon Gap.  This ended up being very similar to the climb up Appalachian Gap in distance, grade and difficulty.  It took a near constant mantra of, “I’ve got this” and “You are stronger than this mountain” to get me through the ascent and by the time I got to the top I was gassed.  But I made it.  I dumped half a bottle of water on my head, ate some, drank a lot and got out of the sun for a bit before…….yes…..screaming down the other side as fast as I could go, cooling off and loving the speed.  Finally a big descent where I didn’t touch my brakes once.  It’s like a Bikegasm for me. 🙂

By now I know I have but to suffer through 15 miles and one more tough climb to the finish and by all accounts, the easiest of the four.  The wind was out of the north by this point so the ride back up towards Middlebury Gap, while cooling, was noticeably more difficult.  Then the final turn to the west and after a few miles of flat and gentle grade up, the last two miles of climb began.  True to word-of-mouth, while not an easy climb, it was certainly the easiest of the four, which considering it was miles 101-103 meant my legs felt it just as much as the other three.  And yes, it was consistently into double digit grades the last mile.  Vermont has a knack for keeping the worst for last when it comes to road climbs.

I cannot overstate my feeling of relief and then accomplishment as I passed the the little green “Strava End” sign and the road changed from up to down for the last few tenths to the finish at the Snow Bowl.  Not only was I done with this ride but I’d completed four different 100+ mile rides in a five week span.  That’s no Tour De France but an accomplishment of which I’m proud.  In great need of a rest break, but still proud.

Me At Otter Creek Falls

I celebrated that night with a filet and lobster dinner back in Middlebury.  Vermont Gran Fondo is more than worthy of a bucket list ride.  I certainly intend to explore more of the Green Mountain state.  While there, high on my list is another attempt at Lincoln Gap, with legs well rested, just to see if I can.

Ocean State Tour De Cure

When first I conceived of this whole 50 Rides thing, one of my basic tenets was to avoid the larger, well known sponsored rides.  Not a hard and fast rule, but a plan from which to deviate, and not because I have anything against them, but because I figure that they have plenty of support.  However, when it came to Rhode Island, there is only ONE ride of sufficient length which remains entirely within the state borders, which is one of my hard and fast rules, so, the Ocean State Tour De Cure it was.  Makes the decision pretty easy.

The ride Start/Finish was on the campus of the University of Rhode Island in South Kingston.  Tucked out of the way and removed from the far more touristy areas of RI, it made for a perfect venue.  Easy to get to and plenty of parking.  I stayed at The Stagecoach House Inn, a cozy little inn about 15 minutes west, in the tiny town of Wyoming.  After arriving in the early afternoon and checking in, I headed over to the campus to check out the layout and logistics for the next morning.  There was no packet pick-up the day before; a planning factor I tend to dislike as that disrupts my pre-ride routine.  Then I took the rest of the afternoon and early evening to explore Newport, a fantastic and beautifully historic city.  If ever in this part of the country most definitely spend a day or two.  I had no idea that RI, and particularly Newport is one of the most affluent communities in the country.  Just drive around the southern portion of the city.  The mansions are spectacular.

But anyway, on to the ride.  I must say, summer weather in New England is so much more pleasant than the un-godly heat and humidity of northern Virginia.  Particularly for riding.  In fact, it was cold (for me) at the 0700 ride start, at 48 degrees.  Brrrrr.  It did warm up nicely throughout the day, topping out in the mid 70’s and with plenty of sunshine and very little wind, it was a perfect day for riding.I was somewhat surprised at the small crowd gather for the start.  I don’t think there were 200 of us there.  I expected under the TDC banner, there would be many hundreds more.

A Charming Home In Westerly

Overall, this was a nice ride.  While there was nothing awe inspiring, the roads, for the most part were nice.  Several miles are along major and heavily trafficked roads, though there were ample shoulders or bike lanes throughout these sections.  Three areas stood far above the rest in terms of scenery.  The first, the town of Westerly is a charming New England town.

A Charming Home In Westerly

Shortly after passing though you reach the coast and the town of Watch Hill,  riding along the shore through Misquamicut Beach.

Watch Hill, Rhode Island

Watch Hill, Rhode Island

This is the second of the really memorable sections of this ride, especially with the sun shining, the wind NOT blowing and the vivid blues of the sky and sea.


Marina near Watch Hill

Heading north again off the water will take you back up through the “hilly” parts.  Now look, it’s Rhode Island, so “hilly” is certainly a relative term, but you will be surprised, by the end of this route, how hard you’ve worked your legs up and over 4300 ft of climb.  With pleasant, but not especially attention grabbing scenery I was not paying close enough attention to the road and ended up missing the course markers painted on the road as I descended into the town of Wakefield.  When the road came to a “T” with no marks on the road I was a bit perturbed.  How far was I going to need to backtrack to find my way?  Turns out, about 2.5 miles.  Well I was definitely going to get 100 miles in on this ride, despite the “course” being a bit less than triple digits.

Finding my way again, I’d merely missed a turn which took us off the main road, but still through town, you head back down south to the water, the third of the notable parts of this tour and the southernmost point at Point Judith Light.

Pt Judith Light

I took a few minutes here for a little rest and to enjoy the scenery.  And of course, a photo op.  Three quarters of the ride done I had one more rest stop, just ahead to eat my last snacks and take on water for the final push.

From Point Judith you head north through Narragansett before eventually turning off the water and back to the forests and farmland.  While in itself this is not an overly taxing course, I tended to make it a challenge by riding a bit harder than I typically do.  Not overspent by the end I was certainly glad to cross the finish.  No matter what the course is like, riding 100+ miles is never easy.   After just over 6 hours on the bike I, and certainly my posterior, we happy to be done.