By: Matthew Vandivort (@photorhetoric)
Rasputitsa: Russian: распу́тица; IPA: [rɐsˈputʲɪtsə],the semi annual mud seasons when unpaved roads become difficult to traverse
Rasputitsa Gravel Race: a cycling event covering the unpaved back roads in and around Burke, VT
Watching our estimated time of arrival tick closer to midnight as we sat in Friday afternoon rush hour traffic leaving NYC it dawned on me that we had little idea what we were getting ourselves into. I had signed up for the Rasputitsa Gravel Race months earlier with some encouragement from my teammates, however with long days at the office and the kick-off of the 2016 road season I neglected to do any research or preparation in the weeks that followed. From not reading the race guide to relying on a borrowed set of wheels (my Garneau Steeple-X had long ago been converted into road-mode) I was flying more or less blind.
We knew the event was raising money for two great organizations: Little Bellas, a girls mountain biking and mentorship program, and JAM Fund, which supports Elite junior and U23 cyclocross racers. And we knew the course involved lots of dirt. We were also vaguely aware that there was a particularly brutal stretch nicknamed Cyberia that may or may not involve yetis.
But beyond that we were more or less clueless. So as we proceeded north and into the night we debated strategies for the next day. Was Rasputitsa a race? A ride? Given decent weather conditions were road tires feasible? All questions left unanswered as we pulled into our hotel far later than hoped and set about getting a few brief hours of sleep.
to the start line we go
The following morning started with what felt like the usual NYC race day routine: waking far too early, exhausted from lack of sleep and desperately seeking coffee. We fueled up at our hotel alongside some fellow riders before the short drive to Burke, Vermont. Once there we were greeted by a yeti clad in Little Bellas gear alongside a faux missile with "Rasputisa" down it's fuselage - both definitively not part of the normal NYC race day routine.
As we registered we were still uncertain whether Rasputitsa was a ride or a race. That is until we ran into Al Donahue prepping for the day ahead with his JAM Fund team. He made it clear that, yes, it is very much a race. He also recommended that we should be warmed up prior to the start because the festivities kick off early with a climb that begins within the first mile.
Swell: I'm in street clothes and not even close to warming up, never mind being ready to race. After a rushed change into kit Dan, Rog and I made it to the start line for a few pictures with the aforementioned yeti before race instructions. Unfortunately with the time crunch our warm-up went out the window. This was a decision I would quickly come to regret...
this is going to hurt
The roll-out was a friendly affair. But then we took a sharp right and started going uphill. It was a gradual enough ascent that my legs didn't really notice the effort. But in hindsight my body was just beginning to rebel from some combination of the long Red Bull fueled drive, too little sleep and no warm-up. Because just a few minutes later, as the lead pack started to surge ahead, my legs started pedaling squares.
I tried time and time again to grab the wheel of riders passing me - failing on each attempt. There was zero power in my legs. Even one of my water bottles seemed to sense the futility of the effort as it ejected itself from my bike on the next descent. After waiting for me on several occasions Rog soon gave up on me as well - plowing ahead into the distance. Not that I blamed him, I was going nowhere fast.
The next 20 miles played out along similar lines: legs pedaling squares, getting passed constantly by everyone from fat bikers to what appeared to be a 9 year old boy at one point.
Painfully numb legs aside this turned out to be a blessing as I was presented my first experience with what I coined mullet style racing. While things were undoubtedly business up front - miles ahead Ansel Dickey from Astellas Professional Cycling was on his way to victory - in the back I experienced a more jovial atmosphere (the "party in back"). I have been dropped in more road races than I care to count (#critsquad) but rarely have I had as much fun in the process.
vermont is beautiful
Mercifully somewhere around the midway point my legs finally unfroze. And so the chase was on. This left the second half of the race a bit of a blur. But there are a few memories that stand out:
Cyberia was all that it was hyped up to be, or at least the frighteningly muddy descent was. I honestly have no idea how Dickey rode it on an aero road bike.
A rest stop featuring maple syrup in shot glasses made from ice is quite possibly the most brilliant thing I have ever experienced
A rest stop featuring cookies isn't half bad either
Vermont is beautiful. Really, over the top, makes you want to ride all day beautiful
If you don't read the race guide you may be surprised when the race is 40 miles instead of the 45 that you expected
With Roger finishing a few minutes up the road and Dan - slowed by his choice of a MTB in what proved to be perfect conditions (Cyberia descent aside) - a few minutes behind, we regrouped at the finish line for some quick pictures to document a thoroughly muddy and fun day on the bike.
After that we headed back to the race village to bask in the sun while enjoying food, beers and live music. I'll say it again: not your normal NYC race day routine.
sunday funday in the white mountains
The next day, still basking in the afterglow from a stellar event, we decided to put off the long drive back to New York City for a few hours of fun in the White Mountain National Forest outside Lincoln, New Hampshire.
Welcomed with blue skies, empty roads and temperatures in the sixties we hit some of the same roads from last summer's Vermont to Maine bikepacking trip and managed not to get lost during a few impulse diversions along the way.
To top it off we even convinced Dan, with his Canadian blood, to jump in a partially frozen mountain pond before we hit the road back to NYC.
WE WILL RETURN
While it's challenging to capture the Rasputitsa experience in words, all we can say is that we absolutely plan to return for the 2017 edition and would encourage everyone who enjoys a bit of adventure and absurdity (yetis!) on the bike to join us.