It’s a funny thing, this gravel. First let me digress for a moment.
The cycling bug bore into me like a tick in the year 2000 right here in Vermont. My brother Robbie was visiting from Colorado College to contest the collegiate national championships hosted by UVM conveniently yet coincidentally located just right up the road from where I was going to school. Curious what bike racing was all about, I checked out the feed zone which ripped over Middlebury Gap — whereupon I nearly botched my ever first feed zone duties, thankfully not poorly enough to prevent Robbie from winning the first of a trio of collegiate titles.
Safe to assume I shared some of those genes beneficial to endurance sports, plus aware that I might be the recipient of some hand-me-down bikes, I soon dipped my toe into the sport and fell headlong in. Over the next three and a half years while in school, I must have ridden Middlebury Gap 100 times or more. Add to the mix Appalachain, Lincoln, and Brandon Gaps, I’d also set off west to flatter roads near Shorham only to got blasted by Lake Champlain headwinds. I found bike shop culture at Frog Hollow, I discovered the welcoming charm of coffee shop rides up to the Bristol Bakery, and rode my bike thousands of hours.
But, strangely, only rarely would I pedal gravel roads.
Meanwhile here at the present, the concept of going off road is the most compelling facet of the entire sport of cycling, so I find it puzzling why I didn’t take more dirt detours. Sure, I can think of reasons why I didn’t; New England consists of a cobweb of terrifically windy paved roads so there’s no shortage of options already, traffic in rural Vermont is nil so it’s not as though I had to seek a quieter venue, plus I was typically short on time balancing academia with training so I was generally on a quick mission for intervals, where tarmac is generally a safer bet.
However, given that in order to get from Middlebury campus to the summit of Middlebury Gap I have to pedal past the Robert Frost Farm, Robert Frost Interpretive Trail, and Robert Frost Mountain Cabins — yes, the same Robert Frost who penned the Road Not Taken — it’s funny that nearly twenty years ago I didn’t take a page out of that book to explore some gravel roads.
Setting off after college to pursue bike racing, I spent a decade racing bikes all over the world, then retiring from the ProTour I settled in California for a handful more years. Adventure exists everywhere as long as you’re looking, so despite no shortage of gravel roads on the west coast, the Green Mountains (and the UnTapped world headquarters) have been calling my name for a long time. My wife Laura and I recently, as in just 72 hours ago, moved back to Vermont. We’d spent a few days in the Northeast Kingdom in April for Rasputitsa and then earlier this month with a dozen friends we rode the #tourXnewengland, a 6 day 500 mile ride spanning the northeast, with the final three days seeking as much Vermont gravel as possible. Along the route, we retraced April’s Rasputitsa, this time with muggy temperatures in the mid-90s and no snowbanks to navigate, and loved the simplicity of the dirt. With bikes now built specifically for gravel offering wider tires, more comfortable tubing, materials, and geometry, plus greater gear ranges, seeking the road less traveled is a pleasure.
This chapter of my life on two wheels is one of group rides, coffee shop rides, camaraderie, and still an element of competition, but almost exclusively off road. It’s a pleasure to be back in Vermont and even though nothing has changes with the roads, the options are endless.