Lindsay’s Excellent Adventure
The Vermont Super 8 – October - 2019
As I trudged up another steep rocky grade in the swampy conditions 15 miles north of Island Pond, I found myself questioning why a supposedly sane 71 year old would choose to do this to himself. Oh wait, I’ve used that same line about a winter adventure race in Quebec when I was a mere 55 and also the Iditarod when I pushed my bike for 210 miles in 34 inches of snow when I was 63. (Every 8 years? I’m already wondering what I will do at 79. )
Fortunately, the answer to the question is always easy. Doing these events makes me feel totally alive in ways that I am sure many who take part can understand. I know many of my acquaintances just shake their heads but my wife Lynne knows me and is always totally supportive.
I learned about the Super 8 in June from my friend Brian who prefers to go by the Nom de Velo of Vlad Perogy. We quickly decided to go and immediately started to ramp up the training and organizing. We had initially thought of pulling trailers but decided not to thankfully, as I am sure I would still be out there.
We arranged to fly into Burlington on the 25th of September and rode over to Montpellier the day before the start. We stocked up, went to the preface meeting and were ready to get on our way.
We all met at the State Capital building for the 8 am start and headed out on our way. Up the first hill I found I was having difficulty getting into my smallest gear, which is a problem for a weak old guy. After several more steep grades the gear was no longer possible at all. This made for some grunting efforts as well as more walking than I expected.
Spoiler alert before I continue. I am attempting to dictate this so please bear with some obvious errors.
On the first day we ran into two riders from New Hampshire, Matt and Brian several times. They were riding faster than us but seem to enjoy having a leisurely break. We ended up running into them in Woodstock and had dinner at the same restaurant although unfortunately not at the same table. We ended up in a motel about 5 miles south of Woodstock and right on the course.
After a good start the next morning we took a quick break at North Springfield where we restocked a few food items. Our next stop was at Pete’s Camp where we ran into Joseph and Taylor from Conneticut. They were quite fast and just leaving when we arrived. They were doing just the South Lobe. It was somewhat encouraging to see other people out there as you sometimes get the sense that you’re all alone.
My gearing continued to be a problem and upon inspection I realized that my derailleur cable housing was splitting up near the ferrule by the lever. At some point in the afternoon I could no longer get my second smallest gear so I was really struggling.
At Newfane we looked for the town forest and followed the GPS track to what was a garbage dump. It turned out that you had to pass through the dump and the forest was just past it. We learned this from Joseph and Taylor the next day. Earlier in the day we had contacted a bike store in Brattleboro and arranged to have him meet us the next morning at 9:30 in his store. We ended up diverting to Highway 30 heading south towards Brattleboro. We camped behind an old downhill ski area on a reasonably flat grassy area.
We arrived at the appointed hour in the bike store in Brattleboro and there was some confusion as the time of 10 o’clock was what he thought we had agreed upon. The repair took a long time as he had trouble getting the cable through the internal routing in the frame.
We were finally on our way at noon and all was going well until I stopped to take a picture of a covered bridge and realized I had left my phone charging in the bike store. We were an hour and a half out of Brattleboro and really didn’t want to ride back. We stopped at a house and were able to phone the bike store. The owner said she would try to find someone to drive the phone to the next town, which was Jacksonville. It turned out she could not find anybody but she was prepared to drive the phone to us after the store closed. This was very nice of her but the end result was that we waited for 2 1/2 hours in Jacksonville. If you’re counting we’re now up to 4 1/2 hours of sitting time.
We finally left Jacksonville at 5 o’clock west 27 miles to Bennington so we naively thought we would be arriving at about 9. Little did we know that a large portion of that ride was on class 4 roads, which are really just rocky rooty trails. Oh….. and we got lost one more time!
The end result was that we arrived in Bennington at 2:30 in the morning. We had arranged a motel. They surprisingly didn’t stay up for us, but we arranged for a key to be left in the mailbox.
Vlad is a strong rider but is much more comfortable on roads than rough trails in the night. It turns out that he was quite traumatized by our evening’s ride and by the time I woke up in the morning he had arranged to fly home after completing the 380 mile loop. That was even a concession on his part as his initial discussion with Daniel had involved riding straight back to Montpelier on roads. We spent the whole day in Bennington while I gave Vlad the chance to rethink that decision.
The next day heading out of Bennington proved to be the easiest of the whole trip as we spent a good part of the day on rail trails and somewhat more moderate riding through the Champlain Valley. We camped at night in an Adirondack shelter at Half Moon Pond state park. We had the joy of a hot shower after a long day in the saddle.
We got a good start the next morning and reached Brandon and had a substantial, hearty breakfast. We then rolled over Brandon Gap, which is a very long climb but all on asphalt and it felt fairly comfortable as it came early in the day for us.
We had a long descent into the town of Rochester and had a short break. While I was fussing with my bike Vlad was in touch with Daniel and determined that we should ride the rest of the way into Montpelier on Highway 100 & 100b. He also arranged for us to stay with Sam and Tess who were the hosts for our drop bags. We arrived about seven and they were extremely nice. We ordered in a pizza and had a very pleasant visit.
The next morning I ventured north on my own. The route was one that would not have appealed to Vlad as there were several substantial class 4 road sections. There was some rain but not too bad, but clearly the trails had been drenched over the previous number of days as it was still quite wet.
As I was going through St. Johnsbury, I ran into Daniel, who was up there for work. This was a treat; as you often go all day without really talking to anybody. Within the hour, I ran into another person, that being Nathan Sanel. He had completed the north loop, quite quickly I might add. He was back hard at work and saw me riding and pulled over. We had a nice visit.
In Lyndonville I went to a Chinese buffet restaurant and I’m sure they were surprised how much a person my size could eat. I knew I would be camping out the next night so I was able to grab a motel and clean up some scrapes that I had created with some falls I had had along the way.
After restocking and having a breakfast at McDonald’s I was on my way the next morning. In front of me was the longest stretch with no chance to replenish your supplies. I quite enjoyed the Kingdom Trails but realized that it was just as well that Vlad had gone, as the roots would not have worked for him. I arrived at Island Pond at about 5:30, restocked and ate a big greasy burger and fries. You can’t be too fussed about your diet when what is available is basically convenience store gourmet.
I left at about 6:30, just as it was starting to darken and resolved to ride about three hours which I hoped would get me about 20 miles. I did the three hours but it turns out I managed to only 14 1/2 miles, as I hit lots of cat 4 roads as well as a section of very boggy trail. The result was very wet feet, which would prove to be a challenge as the temps dropped.
I found a place to pitch my tent and had a somewhat cool night. My sleeping bag is rated for -4 Celsius. I knew the temperature was below freezing as my water bottle froze somewhat. (I think the -4 rating means that you won’t die at that temperature, but it certainly doesn’t mean that you’re comfortable!)
Putting wet shoes on when it’s below freezing is definitely a challenge. I think the best piece of equipment I brought on the whole trip where the Gore socks that saved my feet from freezing.
After a chilly session packing up, I headed north for about 18 miles and reached Derby Line which is on the Canadian border. I had a quick break in the deli/convenience store and headed on my way. There was a nice bike trail heading through Newport along the shore of the lake. My friend Gary sent me a notice that there is a beach on the lake called Lindsay beach. I was unable to find it but saw some I wouldn’t mind claiming.
It is a fairly long stretch from Newport to the Eden General store with a number of cat 4 roads. It was just getting dark when I arrived there and I had two burritos which I was able to heat in their microwave. I had booked a motel in Morrisville and decided to take a slightly longer route down the highway to avoid the risk of another stretch of trail in darkness. I have a shoulder that has dislocated 43 times and I’ve had 4 surgeries but it still leaves me nervous so I took the safe way. The next morning I had 42 miles left to ride. I sent a note to some of my friends saying it could be anywhere between 4 1/2 and eight hours depending on the amount of category 4 roads. The second number proved much closer to being accurate.
At about 20 miles from Montpelier I hit a section of category 4 trail where my GPS arrow seem to deviate from the purple line. After experiencing difficulties with that coming into Bennington I was concerned and went back and ended up bushwhacking around. I became convinced that there was no other trail.
Eventually my mark and the trail came back together but it was concerning for a while.
I stopped at the Adamant co-op. Unfortunately it was closed. While I was taking a short break I saw on my phone that David Tremblay had put a notice that I was getting close to finishing. As I got close to Montpelier I was pleasantly surprised when I was on the single track to run into David and Shelley. They had come out to be a cheering party for me. I stopped and we took some pictures and carried on. The trails were just a delightful way to end the ride as they dump you out on the streets of Montpellier.
David and Shelley followed me to the state capital and I was able to have them take some pictures to prove I had actually arrived. Again, I want to thank them for going to the trouble.
The numbers are nothing to write home about. I managed to turn a 642 mile ride into 684 through going off course and taking the opportunities to go into places to get restocked. This took me 83 hours of riding time and please don’t calculate how slow I was going.
I stayed at the fancy old hotel in downtown Montpellier for the night, had a substantial and leisurely breakfast and then hopped on my bike to head back to Burlington. It rained all day. I felt quite thankful that it wasn’t while I was on some already wet trail. The ability to have a reasonably short ride to the race start and back was valuable, as I didn’t want to rent a car to have it sit for 10 days with the meter running.
1 . NEVER THINK ABOUT A TRAILER on this course.
2. Some info on the Category 4 roads as to when they come and how long they are would be helpful.
3. I would personally prefer a July or August start both in terms of longer days and also warmer nights. I realize there might be more tourists but the route is clearly well away from the roads they are mostly on.
4. Thanks to Vlad for sharing the first half of the race with me. I realize it put him well outside your comfort range but he did great.
5. Lastly, thanks to Daniel, David, Sam and all the others who helped to put this together.
Winnipeg, Manitoba Canada,