The Bakery Brevet
Words and images by Trevor Browne
With brevet cue card and map in hand, I sleepily wandered around the parking lot of the Red Hen Bakery of a damp Middlesex, Vermont, trying to stay awake. A growing crowd of cyclists were starting to gather under the eaves of the bakery, endeavouring to stay dry before the big 200km ride ahead.
Earlier that morning my partner and I had left Montreal with bikes packed at a ridiculous time of 3 am for the 7 am start. Hopped up on coffee and waffle cookies we drove two and half hours through rain and fog. The weather channel had said intermittent rain for Vermont was predicted, but the growing dark clouds shrouding the Green Mountains was convincing us of something different. Once parked, we joined our fellow randonneurs in slipping on our gore-tex, spandex and merino wool trying to predict if we were going to be too hot or too cold for the ride ahead. Dressing for a long ride is always hard. It's important to dress in layers, but it's a fine line in unsupported ultra long distance brevets. Riding for ten hours in spring weather in the north can be unpredictable. Try not to wear too many layers in case it gets hot, and try and not skimp on gear in case of freezing rain. Little did I know, today would test both of those extremes.
Riders hailed from all around the northeastern states, and we were the only Canadians. But one thing that we all had in common was our love of bikes and eating baked goods. The rain bouncing off the tin roof signaled our start, and we were off to our Bakery Brevet where we could cycle to our heart's content and eat breakfast all day at the scheduled controls.
From Middlesex we traversed south through the edge of the Green Mountains along the Mad River Valley, passing by picturesque farms and rolling through covered bridges. The peaty air was filling our lungs as we followed the cues to our first control. Along the way, we chatted with fellow amicable riders, some new and some definite veterans of the sport. After a few hours, the rain was coming down in spurts like a leaky faucet, the clouds unsure if they should stay or roll on. Finally, the first stop came into view, an old white schoolhouse tucked into a hill called the East Warren Community Market. Fresh baked chocolatines and croissants greeted us at the counter. The owner signed our cards, unsure if he should be concerned that 30 wet and sweaty riders were depleting his store of snacks at an alarming rate.
We wasted no time inhaling the flaky treats and were back on the road before we started shivering from the rest. A long downhill greeted us as we turned onto a long stretch of the Vermont 100 highway that would take us through the Granville Gulf. I gazed all around as the gorgeous spring forest valley began to slowly reveal itself. Fiddleheads were starting to unfurl their small ferny curls. Lily of the valley poking their bright green heads through the brown decaying leaves from the year past. Blossoming Dogwood trees were showing off their white spring dress. Surging rivers flowed by, and waterfalls abounded. My mind slowly began to wander from the forest back to the thought of food. My stomach asked, "How much longer to next stop?" Twelve miles. A few minutes passed. "How much longer now?" it growled again. Ten miles.
A rider passed me by. "How much longer to the next control? I'm starving!" I wasn't the only food obsessed rider out there. Only four more miles to go.
Then it really started to pour. Our concern turned from eating to just warming up and getting temporarily dry. My partner and I didn't waste any time getting to Sandy's Books and Cafe in Rochester. We leaned our bikes under the eaves and quickly ran for cover inside with a click of our cleats. Sandy's warmly welcomed us with wafts of baked goodness. I immediately ordered a steaming cup of dark roast coffee and a freshly baked biscuit topped off with egg, caramelized onions, and lightly wilted spinach. I splurged but I knew I was going to stay awhile to warm up. I sat in the Hobbit-themed library space, relishing my meal and staring at a satisfyingly eclectic book selection with titles like, "Alexander Graham Bell: A Biography", alongside a tropical tome called, "Birds of the Bahamas". The room itself was enough to almost make me want to quit the brevet, order another coffee and stay the afternoon curled up in the corner with a good book. I knew that wasn't to be my destiny for the day, so I slowly walked back outside, rang out my now sponge-like gloves and lifted myself back onto the saddle. Slightly shivering, my partner and I were back on route, oddly enough wishing that a big uphill was up ahead to get our blood flowing and warm us back up. Our prayers were answered. Brandon Gap lay before us. Although it was one of the more forgiving peaks in the area, we still had 2170 feet of climbing to do. We slowly got into our rhythms and made it up, sweating in our already soaked kit. Luckily the weather began to break as we neared the summit, revealing the eastern flank of the Champlain Valley below. A group of us had stopped at the top, catching our breath, replenishing our fluids and taking in the view. We zipped back up and got ready for the assumingly chilly decent on the twelve percent grade for the next four miles. It didn't take long to get some speed up, reaching speeds up to 75km/hr.
In the valley floor below, the weather seemed to take a turn for the better and it actually became quite balmy, requiring us to strip ourselves of jackets and gloves. With renewed vigour we cruised along at a good pace through more quaint little towns filled with whitewashed churches and brick-laden town halls. We waved at the old men dressed in flannel shirts and snapback hats trimming their manicured lawns atop humming mowers. This side of the valley had a different, warmer feel.
The next stop wasn't as gourmet as the last, yet the Salisbury general store was just as welcoming. Hot dogs and hamburgers were in demand here. Squeaking chains that were stripped of lube in the heavy rains were renewed with a quick spray of WD-40 that was bought by a fellow randonneur and shared with the group. Personally, I needed to make up some time and was off, excited for the small section of dirt road ahead. The manicured lawns gave way to small farms hoarding treasures from the past 100 years it seemed. Rusting old tractors and broken down Toyotas seemed to be the lawn ornament of choice around here. Nevertheless, people were just as friendly waving as you rode by. Dirt roads turned back onto the pavement heading back north as the pace picked up with a welcomed tailwind. We were halfway around our looped route and our bodies were feeling good, happy to feel the warmth of a little sunshine that was peaking through the clouds. We passed the time quickly by trading stories about previous brevet successes (and failures) with riders that we had been playing catch up with all day. More dirt roads appeared taking us deeper through rolling farmland. Vehicles (mostly Subarus, Vermont's choice of car) slowly passed us by, giving us plenty of space, usually with a smile and wave.
Sooner than we knew it, our next control had appeared before us, at the Bristol Bakery and Cafe. Bristol was a cute town, with businesses all lined up along Main Street, and storefronts looking like they did a hundred years ago, with a very Americana feel. A bunch of us leaned against the facade, soaking up the sunshine, and resting our eyes. I may have been a bit tired but I think I had an Elvis sighting, but don't tell anyone.
Back on the road the tailwind still seemed to be in our favour as we rolled over the hills, passing farm after farm advertising fresh fruits and vegetables for the upcoming growing season. Monstrous barns cast shadows over the swaying green grasses and plowed fields. The ride was reminding me how good it felt to have a warm breeze on my face again after such a long and miserable winter.
Thirty miles later Richmond appeared, with a quick stop at the control for a signature and liquid replenishment. After a maple water sourced locally from a 7th generation Vermont farm, we were back on the bikes. With only twenty miles to go, we headed out of town, along the Winooski River valley and smack into a headwind. The weather gods were playing with us. We were going half the speed as before and to top it all off more muddy dirt roads came our way, sucking away our energy. I stopped a few times to take pictures and take my mind off the hard road ahead and enjoy the beauty that was all around. With four miles to the finish, we were back on pavement. We simply put our heads down and told our legs to shut up and get the job done. Finally, eleven slow hours later we finished our first 200km Bakery Brevet. David Cain, the event organizer, happily greeted us with a handshake and a well-deserved slice of pizza for the finish.