Winter’s arrival forced us to cancel our culinary Valentine’s Day plans at the Inn at Essex. Instead we enjoyed a home made meal – and stayed toasty warm and out of the blowing and drifting snow. An attempt was made to get out last night – but our road wasn’t plowed until this morning. I threw in the shovel and snapped the picture above about 5pm last night. We received another 6-8″ overnight – and the snow packed in so tight around the car it left Subaru prints!

Mt. Mansfield Century

I spent Sunday getting a start on two of my 2007 cycling goals. I undertook a 102 mile ride to log my first century in my century a month challenge, as well as my first miles in the UMCA Year Rounder. I’m still building my winter base and was planning on waiting until March to undertake my first century – but with a strong 43.5 mile night ride last week, warm temperatures, and a blue sky day in the forecast I set out for the longest January ride I’ve ever accomplished. I chose a route that allowed a bail out option that would have been a nice 60 mile ride – but as I neared the turn off I pressed on and enjoyed the day.

I left the house mid morning with the temperature near 39 degrees. Per the year rounder challenge I would be collecting receipts along the way – so I dropped in to the local donut chain for some early ride calories and a time stamp of my passing. I headed north into Colchester and Milton, then east to Cambridge where I stopped in at the general store to add a Luna bar to my jersey pocket and collect my second receipt. The morning ride through valleys and over rolling climbs had me constantly zipping and unzipping my jacket – my core was slightly cold or slightly warm – but my feet were always cold. Before heading out on the next leg of the route I added some toe warmers to my shoes – I felt the effects instantly and my feet were fine the balance of the day.

Leaving Cambridge I travelled east through Jeffersonville, the town at the turn off to VT Rt. 108 and Smugglers Notch on the north side of Mt. Mansfield. Smuggs was a sad site – most of the runs didn’t appear to have enough snow to ski. Cycling through the notch on 108 is on my to-do list – the scenery over the notch and along the Mountain Rd. to Stowe is inspiring.

Passing through Jeffersonville I travelled to Johnson, Hyde Park, and made a southward turn towards Stowe on VT Rt. 100 in Morrsiville. As I pedaled along the relatively flat valley I daydreamed about my first trip to Vermont. At the time I had just finished teaching my first year of design at the Cleveland Institute of Art, and I was spending part of the summer expanding my woodworking knowledge at the Heartwood School for the Homebuilding Crafts. During a weekend break in a timber frame class I drove nearly the length of Vermont along Rt. 100, terminating in two overnights at the original location of Smugglers Notch State Park. I rode the Gondola up Mt. Mansfield for a rainy hike, dined in Burlington and Waitsfield, and explored the heart of Green Mountains on forest service roads. I fell in love with the state on that trip and I convinced dear friends who were looking for a place to dig in and make a home to visit the following summer. They did, loved it, and moved here. It took me another 5 years before I was able to arrange work and life that allowed me to make the VT leap. They lived just off Rt. 100 south of Morrisville in a tiny over garage apartment. As I passed their old street I remembered hiking to beaver ponds near the current development of Spruce Peak, bagels and coffee in Stowe, and cooking for four on their tiny stove.

I reached a glum Stowe. The picturesque ski / resort town with bed and breakfasts, art galleries, coffee shops, and out of state traffic was a bit less busy than usual with the current weather. I continued south on Rt. 100 to Moscow, VT and collected a few more calories for the ride home and my third receipt of the day. Sitting outside the Moscow general store I snapped a photo of their gas pump which apparently hasn’t been used since premium unleaded was $1.39 a gallon!

I continued south past the Ben & Jerry’s factory and during a quick stop to check my phone in Waterbury I was accosted by a local shouting “Hey Lance Armstrong” from across the road. He asked me if I knew it was winter and wondered why I was out riding. Thanks Lance, for becoming a household name and dragging us quiet types out of anonymity and into the spotlight. Over the traffic he made some reference to playing frisbee at the beach and the weather, and I nodded and packed up, pretending to be in a hurry before he walked across the road and started a conversation. Heading west on US 2 towards Burlington I found the bright blue sky as the sun and temperature started to drop. I caught great views of Camel’s Hump somewhere between Waterbury and Richmond, and enjoyed riding alongside my shadow on the shoulder and in the fields.

I returned to Burlington at dusk, making quick work of the traffic along US 2 in Williston and stopping for my final receipt at a local store just a mile from home. I ordered up a hot chocolate and chatted with the clerk, who was amazed at the distance I just rode. He followed me out and promptly lit a cigarette while I sipped my cocoa and prepared for the final mile. The smoke and I didn’t agree – so I handed him my cup and finished the ride.

I covered 102 miles. Ride time was 7:20. Time off the bike was about an hour for a total time of 8:20. Climbing was approximately 6800′ with several grades at 6-9% and one topping out at 13%. My average speed was slow – but this is historically a time of year when I am not riding, so while I grimaced at my cyclocomputer, I know that this is the time to be building an aerobic base in preparation for the spring and summer.

Inside Ride, or maybe I could work for UPS

Temps drop, roads get icy, and for some good base miles after dark I will often ride inside. Last winter I logged most of my weekly base miles on a CycleOps Fluid 2 Trainer. This season I’ve added a set of Kreitler Poly-Lyte rollers to the mix. I chose the smaller drums of the Poly-Lytes for a base of resistance without adding a fan or flywheel. The small drums add just enough resistance to work on my cadence in a lower gear – but when turning a big gear I can work intervals or strength drills – and while rolling I automatically increase my bike handling skills and work on smoothing my pedal stroke.

The small diameter of the rollers takes a bit of getting used to – I’ve started riding in a doorway in case I need a hand hold – but after a few minutes of spinning the bike is easy enough to keep upright. Steering is certainly faster on the rollers – the contact patch of tire to roller is very small – a quick move of the handlebars will have me drifting from one side to the other – the rollers thus far are making me aware of how sloppy I ride – drifting from side to side, bouncing a bit in the saddle when spinning high RPMs, and sliding left or right when I change hand positions or grab my waterbottle. I’ve heard horror stories of folks running off the rollers and crashing into big screen TVs (not really a problem for me, as I’ve been TV free for the better part of 5 years), furniture, walls, or running over the dog or cat – but I can’t imagine the physics working out – seems as soon as I stop pedaling on the rollers it takes maybe a few revolutions before my wheels stop, and I need to balance or look for the wall. I added some Continental Home Trainer tires to a spare set of wheels to ease the transition from an inside ride to an outside ride. The yellow orange compound was specifically designed to resist the high heat build up from the aluminum drums of rollers and trainers, prevent tread seperation of conventional road tires, and offer consistent grip to the roller through all gear ranges. I shredded 2 Bontrager slicks last winter – I hope the trainer specific tire will last me a season or two.

Better than riding indoors most of the winter might be a job with UPS. Seven Days, our local news and arts weekly here in Burlington, Vt., is reporting that UPS is using mountain bikes and light weight trailers to deliver packages on some of its routes in Rutland, White River Junction, Barre and Burlington. UPS is even working with local Green Mountain Bikes to outfit its current fleet of thirteen bikes. The full story is here.