The way up and the way down are not, just not, one and the same.
That's all I can think as I push/pull/cajole the wheels into one more rotation, then another. I stand, putting my full weight on the pedals. Think positive, I coach myself. I'm grateful .. grunt.. for the cool green tunnel of hardwoods shading the road. Grateful ..groan..for the packet of maple syrup from the last aid station, liquid energy. I'm grateful for the six guys who let me draft for the last 10 miles. Grateful for the swimming hole ahead that's going to be deliciously cool.
Then, the trees open up. There is light. The road crests at the gap. Below, a toy landscape of farms with red barns spreads out. Patches of green fields are dotted with miniature black and white cows. A white spire rises through trees in the distance. I pause to take a swig of water, shift into my largest gear and then let go, screaming down the other side, taking the S turns like a ski racer on a GS course.
By far the best way to see Vermont, I'm convinced, is on a century ride or organized group ride. In the past few years, a host of new rides have sprung up with events such as the Vermont Challenge, Farm to Fork Fondo, and the Vermont Gran Fondo, making the national Top 10 lists. Others, like the Tour De Kingdom, are lesser-known gems that will show you roads you never knew existed.
Yes, you pay an entry fee but you get a sag wagon, in case you have a mechanical issue. And then there are the aid stations. Since this is Vermont, instead of GU and Budweiser, there might be PB&J sandwiches on slabs of homemade bread (Vermont Challenge) or woodfired pizza with farm-fresh toppings (Farm to Fork Fondo). After parties? In Vermont, you don't bring the beer to the party, you take the party to the beer. Three rides start and finish at Harpoon Brewery, Long Trail Brewery and Woodchuck Hard Cider this year.
There is an organized ride somewhere in the state nearly every week, here is one of our favorite loops, in August.
If you took the best aspects of a multi-day guided bike tour (sag wagons, lunch stops, dinners sharing stories of the day over a craft brew) and combined it with four days of the semi-competitive (read: bragging rights only) fun of a century ride, you'd get the Vermont Challenge.
Stratton skier John Sohikian dreamed up the Vermont Challenge as way to showcase some of the best riding routes in southern Vemont. The four-day event heads along the valley between Manchester to Dorset, before climbing into the mountains around Stratton and sending riders on a 107-mile fondo toward Okemo.
Of course, you don't have to do all four days of rides. You can sign up for shorter routes each day (starting at 23 miles). You can stop where you want (last year's favorite rest stop was at Wilcox Dairy, which makes a killer salted caramel ice cream). You can join in the group kickoff dinners at the Taconic Hotel in Manchester or eat on your own. You can do just the Valley Days (Day 1-2) or just the Mountain Days (Day 3-4). In 2016, the fifth running of the Challenge the ride raised $9,200 for local charities and $10,000 the year before. vtchallenge.com
Both days out of Dana Thompson Park, Manchester
Saturday, long route out of Stratton Mountain Resort. All other Saturday routes out of Bondville Community Center, River Road & Route 30, Bondville VT.
Sunday, Mountain Stage out of the base of Mount Equinox, Sunderland, VT
2018 DANA THOMPSON PARK
PICTURESQUE SOUTHERN VALLEYS AND HISTORIC VILLAGES VALLEY TOUR / DAY 1
THURSDAY, AUGUST 16, 2018
START TIME: ALL ROUTES 8:00 AM Bucolic is the best description for these routes that head south and west from Manchester Center. You'll to be cycling across famed covered bridges and through rural villages like Pawlet and Rupert both situated in the Taconic Mountains. There is certainly no shortage of mountain and valley views as you ride along these beautiful Vermont roads. Long Route - 70.0 miles
2,753 ft. ascent Map/Route Medium Route - 39.9 miles
1,937 ft. ascent Map/Route Short Route - 28.9 miles
1,541 ft. ascent Map/Route
2018 DANA THOMPSON PARK
PICTURESQUE NORTHERN VALLEYS AND HISTORIC VILLAGES VALLEY TOUR / DAY 2
FRIDAY, AUGUST 17, 2018
START TIME: ALL ROUTES 8:00 AM Our second day of the Vermont Challenge heads north and east and features more beautiful terrain through gentle rises and sloping valley areas, where farms and fields of corn are not an unusual sight. The picturesque town of Middletown Springs is the most northern point on the longest route and defined by the encircling mountains. Before heading back, you'll pass through the Mt. Tabor-Danby area, former milling towns now devoted more to farming. Long Route - 58.5 miles
3,052 ft. ascent Map/Route Medium Route - 40.8 miles
2,114 ft. ascent Map/Route Short Route - 28.1 miles
951 ft. ascent Map/Route
2018 STRATTON MOUNTAIN
ONLY SKI RESORT GRAN/MEDIO FONDO FINISH IN THE EAST MOUNTAIN TOUR / DAY 3
SATURDAY, AUGUST 18, 2018
START TIMES VARY: SEE BELOW Gran Fondo - 110.6 miles
8,608 ft. ascent - Start time 7:00 am
KOM/QOM: 3 Climbs:
Terrible Mtn: 27.7-30.0, 2.3 miles
elevation gain: 732 ft.
Alps: 40.2-44.0, 3.8 miles
elevation gain: 852 ft.
Stratton Access Rd: 104.7-108.5, 3.5 miles
elevation gain: 787 ft. Map/Route Medio Fondo - 72.9/65.7 miles
5,933/4,584 ft. ascent- Start time 7:30 am
Start/return atop Stratton or at the base. Map/Route Gran Piccolo Fondo - 46.8 miles
3,606 ft. ascent Map/Route Piccolo Fondo - 27.4 miles
2,010 ft. ascent Map/Route
2018 SKYLINE DRIVE
EPIC 56-MILE STAGE WITH TRUE MOUNTAIN TOP FINISH ON THE FABLED MOUNT EQUINOX MOUNTAIN TOUR / DAY 4
SUNDAY, AUGUST 19, 2018
START TIME: ALL ROUTES 8:00 AM Ride an all-new 56-mile route with 6,700 feet of elevation unlike any other in the North East: a road stage with a Grand Tour like mountain top finish up the fabled Mount Equinox. Mount Equinox, at just under 4,000 feet, is the highest peak in the Taconic Mountain range and is also the second longest paved mountain road east of the Mississippi, only second to Mount Washington's access road. It has an elevation gain of 3,186 feet with an average grade of 12% over 5.3 miles, as it twists its way up the mountain. Skyline Drive is a private road and in 2018 will only be available to Vermont Challenge cyclists. Mount Equinox provides panoramic views of lakes, rivers and valley communities below. Views from the top are exceptional and unobstructed but you have to climb it first to see for yourself. In addition to the final climb up Mount Equinox, riders will also climb Ruppert Mountain and tackle a 6-mile section of hard-packed dirt before crossing Sandgate Notch. This event is NOT TO BE MISSED as it's unique and like no other in the Eastern United States. Long Route - 53.7 miles
3,237 ft.+3,186 ft.=6,423 ft. total ascent Map/Route Medium Route - 41.9 miles*
2,362 ft. ascent Map/Route Short Route - 28.9 miles*
1,475 ft. ascent Map/Route *Medium and Short route riders can add the climb up Mount Equinox's 3,186 ft. ascent.
2018 MOUNT EQUINOX – SUMMIT
TACKLE MOUNT EQUINOX - TIME TRAIL ONLY UPHILL TIME TRIAL / DAY 4
SUNDAY, AUGUST 19, 2018
START TIME: ON ARRIVAL Mount Equinox, at just under 4,000 ft., is the highest peak in the Taconic Mountain range and is also the second longest paved mountain road east of the Mississippi at 5.3 miles, only second to Mount Washington's access road. It has an elevation gain of 3,186 ft. with an average grade of 12% as it twists its way up the mountain. Skyline Drive is a private road open to cyclists only for the Vermont Challenge. Mount Equinox provides panoramic views of lakes, rivers and valley communities below. Views from the top are exceptional and unobstructed but you have to climb it first to see for yourself. Challenge yourself and ride from within as you race the clock up 3,200 feet to the summit. There is a $100 fee for cyclists who ONLY ride the time trial and have not registered for any other VTC stage. Mount Equinox Uphill Time Trial
3,186 ft. ascent Map/Route
Okemo – Windsor County, VT – Black River Good Neighbors
Stratton – Windham County, VT – Jamaica/Wardsboro Community Food Pantry
Killington – Rutland County, VT – BROC Community Food Shelf and Rutland Methodist Church 'Feed the Freezer'
Bondville – Windham County VT – Windhall Stratton Food Shelf
Grace Cottage Hospital – Townsend, VT – Serving the greater West River valley communities
Stratton Mountain Urgent Care/Carlos Otis Clinic – Stratton Mountain, VT – Serving Stratton's communities