The full route is more than 100 miles with an amount of climbing best quantified not in feet, but by the most appropriate adjective: ridiculous.
The pre-ride talk at the Irreverent Road Ride had all the drama of an epic poem. As the early morning mist in central Vermont began to lift, we listened to warnings about barely-navigable "roads" on which we would have to resign ourselves to either walking down or crashing. In a departure from typical ride organizers' advice, we were warned to avoid whole swaths of the official route entirely. We were handed a packet of cue sheets and two giant double-sided maps, color-coded with the route, shortcuts, detours, and a foreboding black line where a bridge was now out.
Our takeaway: this ride is going to be virtually impossible -- in the best possible way. Cindy called it the best pre-ride talk ever.
The IRR is the product of two friends' imaginations - frame builder Hubert d'Autremont and Adam St. Germain - who collectively seem to know the hardest, most scenic dirt roads in Vermont. The full route is more than 100 miles with an amount of climbing best quantified not in feet, but by the most appropriate adjective: ridiculous.
We set off at a comfortable pace, only to encounter the road that Hubert and Adam called the "squirrel catcher" -- the bit of the ride that would calibrate our expectations for the day. Cobb Hill Road was astonishing; its resemblance to a road diminished with each pedal stroke. It felt more like bicycling up a rocky, eroded streambed than riding up a hill. There were portions where we had to dismount, and the road winnowed and winnowed until it was just a trail lined by ferns.
With the squirrel-catcher behind us, we were ready for our next obstacle: the Moretown Gap. (In Vermont, a "gap" seems to be the name of a mountain pass with attitude.) We'd later call this one a baby gap, but it wasn't easy. We paused at the top to catch our breath and our honorary team member for the day, Lauren Tracy, mentioned hearing a rustling in the brush that sounded suspiciously like a dinosaur. She hadn't anticipated hallucinating quite this early in the ride, she said.
We moved on to the Devil's Washbowl, a hybrid of road and trail that was remarkably remote. As the most cautious descender in the group, I took full advantage of our disc brakes, only to emerge to find my teammates waiting at an intersection with a patient beagle. We stopped for the obligatory petting part of the adventure.
We soldiered on to the town of Roxbury, where we found a magical general store filled with all the essentials: snacks, coffee, gallons of maple syrup, and a menagerie of taxidermy, from moose to beaver. We had to do some quick math -- it was looking like the full ride would take 12 hours, and we were on a schedule, needing to get back to Boston too soon to finish the whole thing. We took one of the shortcuts, although every time I looked at the map I saw a new, alluring road that I wanted to go explore: the Natural Turnpike! Texas Falls!
Our way home started with Roxbury Gap – a shortcut that didn't feel like one. The sun suddenly emerged and we climbed it, turn after endless turn, and as we each finished we spun around to cheer for the next person.
The remaining miles were slightly less trail-like (we even saw some pavement!) but beautifully remote and rural. At one point, at the intersection of two roads sat an abandoned shed and a truck spraying manure on a field, we realized we were standing next to a mind-boggling "neighborhood watch" sign. We wondered where, exactly, the neighborhood was -- and more to the point, whether someone would call to report the gang of women cyclists lurking in the middle of nowhere.
Once we made it back, the skies opened up briefly. We cheered our good timing and booked it to the nearest magical swimming hole. My teammates laughed at my propensity for identifying well-named roads of Vermont that I wanted to ride, but Hardscrabble Road awaits us.
We'll be back.