It was raining or drizzling most of the drive up to Stowe, Vermont. As we approached Stowe, the clouds parted, the sun came out, and it warmed up. Perfect. It was going to a great day for a ride. None of that oppressive 80-90F heat we had last year when we did this 116 mile loop with 11,000ft of climbing.
I started out in shorts and short sleeves, no arm or knee warmers, taking only a wind shell in jersey pocket with me. Keith and Brett layered up with slightly more. How cold could you really get if it rained with the temp in the 60's?
Brett brought a high-zoot bike - electronic Di2 shifters, power meter and Zipp 303 carbon wheels. I brought my trusty Dean Ti bike, heavy, especially with the Power Tap wheel on back. I figured this was going to be a 5000+ calorie ride and wanted to quantitatively measure how many Chipotle burritos I was entitled to eat later that night.
Heading out on Stage Coach Rd, it felt warm. Lot of punchy climbs on that road, working our way north paralleling Rt 100. I tweaked the standard route I've done three times. Google showed me I could link up a number of back roads to bypass 10 miles of a busy section of Rt 100 that nobody cares to ride. One of these back roads was gravel Cooper Hill Rd.
Well wouldn't you know it, as we're climbing on Centerville Rd towards Cooper Hill Rd, the sky started looking rather ominous to the west. I thought wow, we're just barely dodging a bullet here. But no, the last pockets of blue sky quickly filled in with dark gray. As we turned onto dirt Cooper Hill Rd, it started to sprinkle.
The road was mint gravel, better than the previous 15 miles of paved road. No deep cracks to dodge, no potholes, no bad patch jobs. The rain seemed to pick up as the grade picked up. Muttered F-bombs could be heard.
Part of Cooper Hill Rd is obscured from the sky, so I could not a priori determine the quality of gravel from Google satellite imagery. As we passed the last house, the "road" narrowed to a doubletrack which became very rough and rutted, chocked full of potholes and jutting rocks. It was now all-out pouring rain. The road became a disgusting mess. F-bombs were no longer being just muttered.
Keith and I, being mountain bikers and no strangers to riding in less than pristine conditions, took things in stride. We figured it was just a passing cell, as rain wasn't expected until later in the afternoon. Cooper Hill Rd then started to pitch downward, and at no trivial angle. This was full-on death grip on the brakes, 23mm tires occasionally skidding, with horrible grinding noises emanating from the rims. I started the ride with 50% pads remaining. I sure hoped they held up for this descent. I didn't even want to think about what was going through Brett's mind...
After a painfully slow descent, we regrouped on pseudo pavement at the bottom. The rain was not letting up. There was no more blue sky to be seen anywhere. My bike and body were already trashed. 20 miles into a 116 mile ride. Surely the rain would stop before we got to Hazen's Notch...
The Mines Rd climb was next. Last year there was a massive washout at the bottom on the other side. I called ahead this week to make sure it had been repaired. It was. The descent chilled me. I still hadn't put on my wind shell. When we got to Hazen's Notch Rd, I was already shivering, and the rain picked up again. Now we had a 800+ft climb, and it was going to get even colder higher up.
Keith and I were still making fun of the situation, as in it was so f'd up it was funny. As we climbed, it rained harder and harder. The road, which was probably in excellent shape before it started raining, turned into peanut butter. Some sections required exceedingly high power output as tires sunk in to rims. What was the descent going to be like? We had no idea on how much more conditions would quickly degrade.
Keith at the summit of Hazen's Notch before the really heavy rain started.
At the summit, I had to back my brake barrel adjusters out to maximum. My pads were almost gone, and we had a 1400ft descent in mud with 23mm tires. Keith led, I followed. The skies really opened up now. There were distant flashes of lightning, but I could not hear the thunder. The roar of rain coming down drowned out all other sound. There were orange-brown torrents of water rushing down and across the steep dirt gradient. You couldn't tell if the water was creating deep ruts or not. You couldn't tell where the soft spots were. I couldn't see out of my glasses. It was descent by feel at snail pace, all the while getting colder and colder.
Just when you thought conditions couldn't get any worse, it started hailing out. Maybe it was sleet. The temp had plummeted. The pea size hail was stinging my head through helmet vents. I could not feel my feet or hands anymore, and I could barely control my bike because I was shivering so badly. My brake levers were going all the way down to the bar and barely making a dent in controlling my speed. Keith and I were not making light of the conditions anymore. This was dangerous territory. We passed an area where it hailed hard enough to leave accumulation on the ground. We had to get down to Montgomery Center to shelter fast.
We waited a bit for Brett, freezing our asses off, before continuing. Brett could not check his speed with the Zipps and ended up walking some of the steeper bits. If Brett had to put a penny into a quart jar for every F-bomb, he would have filled two jars by now.
The last part of the descent is paved and steep. I had no brakes left, front or rear. The shoes were into the rim. Keith's front brake was in the same condition. 40 miles in, 40 miles from the cars, now what?
We dropped down into Montgomery Center. I vaguely remember there being a sports shop next to the grocery store. There was, a few bikes set out front. It was First Trax sports shop. I headed straight there, hoping at least to get out of the rain.
All three of us were so cold we couldn't even communicate. "I'm sa-sa-sa-so fa-fa-fa-fucking ca-ca-cold." Brett was pretty much speaking gibberish. Miraculously, they had three sets of Dura Ace brake pads. I took two, Keith took one. My hands were too cold to work the tiny Alan wrench to remove the retaining screws. My bike was disgustingly trashed. I could tell I had a mud wedgy between my butt cheeks too. Mud got into everything.
The other great thing about First Trax is they make some great espresso there, or at least Americano's, as Brett and I ordered it. Anything hot. I normally avoid caffeine during hard rides, as it exacerbates cramping problems. The rain eventually tapered off. After working on bikes for an hour, we were almost done shivering. There was no way we were doing the northern 40 miles of the route with risk of more rain coming. Unfortunately, this trimmed two of the biggest climbs and 4000ft vertical from the ride. Other cyclists were also holed up at First Trax, awaiting a spousal rescue. We didn't have that option.
As we proceeded south, blue skies returned. It seemed the weather was backwards from forecast. Turned out to be a nice afternoon. At least with new brake pads, we got to ride over Smuggler's Notch. With a shortened ride, we hit the climbs harder than had we done the full route. Brett was full of piss and vinegar. I was hurting enough without contesting him on Smugg's.
My Garmin 705 GPS died coming over Hazen's in the rain. It is not well sealed anymore and water got in it. I lost everything to that point. I couldn't even turn the stupid thing off. It just kept beeping and displaying wacky warnings. Hopefully it will resume working after I open it up and let it dry a few days, as it has in the past. Brett logged 79.5mi in 4:44hrs on his GPS. Altitude seemed way low, probably because the barometric port got plugged with water. This is what the altitude should have looked like.
Descent at mile 18 was rutted, muddy jeep road, six mile descent at mile 32 was in
torrential downpour with brown water flowing across the dirt road.
When we got back to Stowe, it was probably just as well we didn't attempt the double Jay Peak passes, as weather radar showed the next wave of rain was moving it. That would have been more than any of us could have handled. At least we made it back to Stowe dry, albeit extremely dirty. We got a decent workout in. Boosted intensity helped make up for the lost two hours of riding time. This one will go in the lessons learned book. Don't ride dirt roads with nice bikes and inadequate clothing when potential for rain is high.