Last week I took part in the 2015 Rasputitsa, a 40 mile gravel road bike race through the dirt, mud, hills, (and let’s not forget snow) of the Northeast Kingdom in Vermont. The race (and I use that term VERY lightly in my case) promised to be an epic day, and it most definitely was! So, without further adieu… my recap. Otherwise known as “How do I get myself into this shit”.
Honestly… I’m not sure what compelled me to sign up for this. I am NOT a bike racer. Not even a little bit. I leave that shit up to my better half…. love the dirt, prefer to have both feet touching the ground whilst enjoying it. But I love riding my bike, love mountain biking, and love riding gravel roads. So the Rasputitsa sounded interesting. Unsanctioned, for a great cause, in the dirt…. How hard could it be, right? It’s onnnnnnnnly 40 miles. (Ok.. before you go all “check out this dumb broad” on me, I knew it would be hard as hell and absolutely kick my ass. I am blond, but it’s a pricy dye job with lots of upkeep.)
So off we went to Vermont. Saturday dawned sunny and cool, but tolerable. And then we got to Burke. It was colder, cloudy, windy, with some spitting snow/freezing rain. Apparently Mother Nature felt that sun would detract from the epic-ness that is the Rasputitsa and adjusted accordingly. Well played, Ma Nature, well played.
|Meeting Alf at check in|
I positioned myself somewhere in the mid-back of the pack for the start. I figured that end of the field would not be going all sorts of balls-out nutso right away, and I was right. The start was uneventful back there, thank goodness.
The race headed out on some paved roads for a few miles (sorry… don’t remember how many) and then hit the dirt roads. From here it was a blur of mud and hills. It took me a good 45 minutes or so to really feel warmed up. I was on my mountain bike, and the combo of out of shape legs and MTB tires really did a number on me on the early pavement. Hitting the dirt was very welcome for sure. There were lots of pot holes, and one particular section of them after a descent early on looked like a water bottle graveyard. Lots of speedy riders up front hit those hard!
There was a LOT of climbing. Add to that some wicked cross winds and pelting icy snow, and the early miles were definitely challenging. I tried to find a comfortable rhythm and settle in, but my legs were just not having it. The combination of cold weather and having legs that just weren’t in this kind of shape was rough. I was feeling pretty worn down by the time I hit the first feed zone (around mile 16-17). The climbs seemed never ending and I hadn’t done a good job of fueling prior to the start so my tank was running low for sure. I ate an Untapped maple shot and took a bottle of Skratch, and just stood there and chatted with the volunteers until I finished the bottle (the top wouldn’t work, so I just unscrewed the thing and drank it there. Let’s face it, I wasn’t winning.. might as well enjoy the company).
I felt MUCH better after this. Plus we got to do some descending which helped to recharge the legs. I was able to get into a little bit of a rhythm and keep on moving. We headed through a section of wildlife management area (or something like that?) that was rolling, deserted, and full of puddly pot holes. I was going to skip the feed station at mile 27ish (bottle was full and I had some gu with me)… until I heard “we have chocolate chip cookies” as I started up the hill. And then I slammed on my brakes and gobbled down a cookie. It was glorious. Even though I lost what little momentum I had heading into that climb.
Cookie down, it was time to climb. This was the biggest climb of the day, and felt like it was about 20 miles long and took about 4 days. Exaggeration of course, since I left the aid station at around 27 miles. But this was a serious slog. I had some major ups and downs before this, but the climb to Cyberia was driving me toward meltdown city. I was cold, tired, and out of shape. I knew I wasn’t really ready for this ride, but I knew I could finish it. The mental challenge of this was something else though. I was SO happy to finally make it to the top of the climb (Victory Hill Road and then another road I think? It was a total (very slow moving) blur).
And then I realized that the top of the climb was Cyberia. Sweet Jesus. Somewhere in the realm of 3 miles of smushy, slippery, soul-sucking snow to ride through. And by ride, I mean walk. Trudge, really. I hit the lowest point of the day heading into that. I couldn’t feel my toes, it was hard to even push the bike in a straight line…. I was super mentally down. But I caught up with (aka they waited for me…. Angels. Snow Angels :)) two guys who I had been riding on and off with, and we walked together. This made ALL the difference in the world. A little comraderie, a little chit chat, and an hour later (seriously… this effin’ section took me almost an hour) was over and we were back on the gravel and headed down. Phew. The snow was really difficult even with the mountain bike, I tried to ride some of the descent but was slipping and sliding all over the place and resorted to hike a bike for most of it.
For those of you who know me… this is how miserable I was in that section – I didn’t even eat the donut at the top. Yeah… it was bad news.
The rest was 8 miles of survival. I had made it this long, hanging on until the end was a piece of cake. I’m not sure I’ve ever been happier to know I was heading toward a finish line.
|The after. I am covered with speckles of mud, exhausted, but still smiling|
Overall, the road conditions were much better than I had feared. It was wet and the soft gravel roads definitely sucked the energy from my legs, but there wasn’t a lot of really thick or deep mud to contend with. With the exception of the snow, the terrain of the course was very easily rideable. The hills? another story. But I never had to get off the bike, so points for me there ;). Thank the lord for my mountain bike, I needed every bit of its gearing on the ups and stability on the descents.
Kudos to race directors Heidi and Anthony for putting on a great event! Everything was extremely well organized. Hugest of thanks to each and every volunteer out there – you made a super challenging day just great. There were multiple volunteers at every intersection and turn, there was no chance of getting lost out there! (which I may or may not do fairly frequently). My only “complaint” would be the distance of the Cyberia section… I love the addition of a burly run section or something unique and challenging in a race like this, but I felt like this was a little too long and ended up detracting some from the experience. I also heard this from some other riders. Though being in better shape for it would have helped my case.
Thank you again to everyone involved!! You put on a top notch event. Congratulations to my awesome husband on his 26th place effort. We all know who the cyclist is in this house.. I’m just along for the ride 🙂 I crossed the finish line swearing I would never do this again. In other words, see you next year 😉
|Awesome shot of the speedster, photo property of Patrick McCaffrey (from Rasputitsa Facebook)|
|Cheers to a job well done. (well, just done… in my case.)|