IRR 2015


by Carolyn Johnson


Photo by Jenny Wojewoda


In the pantheon of perfect Vermont summer rides, the IRR ranks high: back roads, dirt roads, singletrack "roads," and climbs, climbs, climbs. It's a great route and a small enough ride that it retains a lovely intimacy and never feels too busy, like you've become part of a bicycle parade. For me, this was even more exciting -- it would be my first trip back to New England since relocating to the hot and humid (and flat) mid-Atlantic.



Photo by Carolyn Johnson

We headed up to our lodging for the night -- a rustic old farmhouse where Maryanne, a supporter of women's cycling, was our gracious and generous host. She had laid out all the essential preparations for a grueling bike ride: tidy beds and a fridge full of the finest Vermont microbrews, including the legendary Heady Topper. We had a nightcap and would have had more if it weren't for the 4:30 am wakeup.



Photo by Tyler Evans


With mist lingering over the green hills, we made the pre-dawn drive to the small ski area where the ride began. We chose to do the "77 mile" "Shortcake" loop, which sounded so nice and pleasant. Feasting on bagels and doughnuts and espresso provided by Rapha, we came up with a strategy: get back well before nightfall, have a great time.



Photo by Jenny Wojewoda

We set off on a beautiful, flat paved road that went on for nearly 15 miles. It lulled us into a false sense of speed and a genuine sense of camaraderie. Vermont in summer emanates a particular hue of green and I was just enjoying being on quiet roads nestled between green hills.



Photo by Jenny Wojewoda

The climbing began soon enough. A dirt road became a hiking trail with mud that was thick and slippery in parts, soaked by rain the night before. These are the roads we all remembered from last year, like Devil's Washbowl -- as fun to ride as it sounds. But I could already tell it was going to be a slow day of climbing for me, and when we stopped to reconvene at a mysterious piece of graffiti in rural Vermont -- "Dead End Farm" -- I was already mentally preparing for the first gap. Someone in our group swilled whiskey from a flask. I remarked that it was 10:30 a.m. We were off to an excellent start.



Photo by Jenny Wojewoda

Roxbury Gap starts out deceptively polite, paved, and gentle. But soon it got steeper, and with the sun beating down from above and the gravel underfoot, it eventually feels relentless. Everyone got into their own little meditative pain dungeon and I fell behind on the climb. Some millions of heartbeats later, we met at the top, thankful for the support van waiting with cold water to refill our bottles.



Photo by Carolyn Johnson

Cindy and I set off on the long descent, thinking we'd reconvene with others at a food stop at the bottom. But we ended up getting detached from the people ahead and started off toward App Gap. It wasn't long before I fell behind and realized I didn't know how long the up was going to last. At last I saw a road marking: 3 km, GSMR - and remembered that the Green Mountain Stage Race went up this gap. I took heart -- the top was knowable! It was close-ish! At 1 km, the road opened up ahead and I could see it was getting insultingly steeper. My legs wobbly, I got off my bike, drank some water, and mentally motivated myself to continue. I began doing a Q&A with myself in my head:

Q: Is this the worst sensation you've ever had?

A: Yes, please make it end.

At the top, I found Cindy, who looked cheerful and not very tired. We stopped for a quick photo and then made our way down a long, paved descent.



Photo by Carolyn Johnson

The roads got nicer and more deserted. We saw llamas and hills that actually rolled. We found a gas station with water, ice cream bars, and other lifesaving treats. The locals looked visibly concerned when I told them where we had already ridden that day: "More than one gap?"



Photo by Carolyn Johnson

Thunder rumbled, but we stopped to gawk at the Huntington Gorge, a plummeting precipice where signs warned us not to swim. With ice cream in my belly, my legs picked up and we made our way to the finish. It was a perfect Vermont summer day, but we humbly submit that the route we took -- with its 85 miles and nearly 9,000 feet of climbing -- should not be called "Shortcake."


AR square 72