Monday, July 2, 2012

Vermont, The Green Mountain State

Last week I took a vacation from work.  Kate and I packed my bike, the dog, and the kids in the car and and we went up to her parent's house in Vermont.  We had our niece and nephew stay with us the night before we left, and they and their father (Kate's brother) were also up for the first few days with us (his wife wasn't lucky enough to get vacation for the week).

Her parents live in Lunenburg, which is on the New Hampshire border an hour south of Canada.  It's a very picturesque and rural area.  There isn't too much close by, so we didn't really have any plans except for Kate helping out in their garden and me going for an occasional bicycle ride.

Until last year when we moved to Connecticut, we lived in (very flat) Illinois. Illinois is a great place to learn how to drive a stick-shift cars because you never have to worry about having to start on a hill.  It also makes riding a bike very easy.  In Connecticut, it is hard to find a place to ride where there isn't a large change in elevation.  I'm originally from Illinois and am not used to hills (either walking or biking).  I've been working hard to get used to the hills and been slowly making progress. At least I thought so, until I rode a bicycle in Vermont.  And, to be fair, I really shouldn't be surprised that Vermont isn't flat since its name literally translates from French to English as Green Mountain.

When I plan rides, I prefer to get my climbing out of the way early so I can start of working hard and have an easier time of it at the end of the ride.  Unfortunately for me, my in-laws live close to the top of a big hill.  For my first ride in Vermont, the first two miles I dropped over 480 feet in elevation and averaged just under 25 mph (with a maximum speed of 35 mph) and, boy, was it fun!  And the whole way down, I realized I'd be paying for that decent sooner or later.

The scenery of the ride and the weather were gorgeous.

A gorgeous view of the Connecticut River (which flows very close to our house in Connecticut).

The road.

After the big decent, there was a climb at the 6th mile of about 180 feet over 0.4 miles.  It is not the steepest hill I've ever climbed (average grade over 8.5%), but it was quite long (or so I thought).  I stopped about half way up the hill for a couple minutes to catch my breath and kept going.  Except for this hill, the rest of the route was quite flat.  Until the accent back up to the house, that is.

The climb back up was along the same route as the decent.  I averaged 5.8 mph for the last two miles.  I stopped once to catch my breath (this time for a few minutes).  The average grade wasn't that large (under 4%) and my new granny gear was very useful herebut the length of the climb was unlike anything I had tried before.  I made it, but it really was hard.

On Monday, I worked on fixing up my in-laws extra bike so my brother-in-law, Alek could go for a ride with me. I had my tools but not my stand, so it wasn't as easy as I would have liked, but I got the bike moving. Alek runs and plays soccer, but hasn't regularly ridden a bike in years.  There was a break in the rain, so off we went.  It turns out I didn't do as good a job tuning the gears as I would have hoped.  At the bottom of the first hill (about a half-mile down), we realized that we should tune it up more. So we turned around and went back up. This was just under 140 feet in half a mile,  This is an average grade of just over 5% and is definitely noticeable (although much less in this case where we hadn't gotten tired doing a long ride first).

When we got to the top, Alek realized that he didn't really want to do that again, so we didn't bother tuning that bike any more.  As I mentioned earlier, they live near the top of the hill.  But not at the top.  So I figured, I'd ride up to the top.  The hill right in front of their house has a 9% incline and the road was still quite wet.  I tried several times but could not get started (front wheel slipping).  I have dual-sided pedals (meaning I can clip in one one side but don't on the other), so I unclipped my left foot and tried one last time.  Unfortunately, I accidentally clipped in my right foot and since I didn't have any momentum, over I went.  The worst thing was being embarrassed that fell down.  I scraped up my left arm a bit, but not too badly.  And I scratched up the plastic on my mirror, but the rest of the bike was fine.  Clearly starting on wet steep hills is something I need practice with.

On Tuesday, I rode almost the same route I had done on Sunday, except that I did the bottom loop clockwise instead of counter-clockwise.  The weather was a lot gloomier this time, but it was dry so there were no traction problems.

The same road as above two days later.

The Connecticut River several miles closer to my in-laws house.

The road.

The advantage of doing this is that I didn't have an intermediate large climb to make (instead had a gradual climb and a quick intermediate decent where I hit 39 mph).  My overall time was a couple minutes slower over the 16.5 mile course (1 hour 19 minutes compared to 1 hour 17 minutes).  

On Thursday I rode a completely new route.  This one didn't start with just a straight drop but had a couple ups mixed in with the downs.  Again once I finished the decent, the rest of the route was really quite flat (flatter than what we have here in Connecticut).  This ride was a total of just over 26 miles.  The first 24 miles were a breeze.  The climb of the last two almost did me in.

On Friday, I did yet another completely new route, this one with proper rolling hills.  So unlike all of the other rides, this one was challenging right off of the bat.  It wasn't until 8.5 miles that I had finished the hills and ended up at the bottom altitude.

After my first ride, Kate and her mother suggested that they meet me at the "Covered Bridge" so that they could take my picture while riding the bike.  So instead of climbing back up the hill, I called up Kate just after mile 12 to have her meet me at the bridge.  And after the photo-shoot, I just packed the bike in the van and we went back to the house so I could get ready to take my father-in-law out for his birthday dinner (Happy Birthday!).  

A view of me riding just after leaving the Covered Bridge.

A close-up.

All in all, it was a great week.  Got to spend more time with my family and got a lot of riding in.  I'm still not very good at riding up hills, but since practice makes perfect, I'll keep trying.


  1. Lovely lookin area! Wish we had that much greenery here...and water!

  2. Wonderful Scenery, Great roads for riding. You are one blessed man!

  3. Cool! And if you go back to Illinois, just imagine how fast you would ride with all that hill training. Well done!