I creaked my way downstairs on wooden floors that have been treaded upon for over 200 years. Molly, the host brings breakfast of warm banana bread and an English breakfast of potatoes and poached eggs. A spot of coffee and orange juice rounded out the morning meal and I feel a bit spoiled, frankly. Certainly beats the camp breakfast options of the earlier weeks.
The big meal should be the ticket to begin the assault on the final miles through the mountains. I am less than 500 miles from the finish and ready to start the grind over a few steep peaks.
The ride starts with what I can expect each day, lots of ups and downs with a variety of grades. The early part of the route is through farms of apples, dairy and maple stands. The surrounding mountains are just getting the first brush strokes of autumn with initial shades of yellow, tawny, and a hints of rust or red just beginning to emerge like a breaking sunrise. Rivers and creeks are my roadside companions today and I prefer them when we are flowing the same direction. The water seems unusually low and that seems to be confirmed by a few of the local people. It is always low this time of year, but they have not had rain for some time.
I go upstream for the early part of the ride today and face the first of the big climbs. As a matter of fact, it is the second highest summit I will cross in the final days. My maps from Adventure Cycling show the elevation profile of this final week. Broadloaf, the big climb of the day looks intimidating, so I start the the trek with some concern. Shortly after passing through the college town of Middlebury, the climb starts just before I cross the Middlebury River where I see a sign the says Ripton 4 miles and Broadloaf 7 miles. Knowing the peak is a couple miles past the town of Broadloaf, I hit the bailout gear and start up the hill in earnest. In short order, my legs and lungs are on fire. A pair of walkers speak greetings and encouragement and I only have enough air to mutter a grunt of acknowledgement. The thought that I might not be able to do this for seven miles sets in. I am struggling and about the time that I know I will not be able to do this for the next 7 miles there is a slight relief in the grade. My legs are still on fire hauling the heavy bike and gear up the mountain, but my breathing is easier with the relief in pitch. In a bit less than two miles the road eases to a reasonable climb and I am encouraged that I can find the cadence to grind it out. At the 4 mile mark of the climb there is a roadside general store in Ripton. This jewel of a store offers a nice break. While paying for a drink and protein bar, the shopkeeper tells me that I just cleared the steepest grade on the entire route. -- the entire route across the country. I am skeptical, but elated as I want that to be true. Annoyingly, I ask clarifying questions to be sure and even a local shopper jumps into the conversation to offer his confirmation.
I finish my snack and return to the saddle in great spirits and hope that my new found Intel proves accurate. Indeed the ride turns easier and a much more manageable ascent. I feel good as I pedal on, which frankly could have as much to do with the Bit O Honey chew I also had at the break. I love those little guys. There is one more hard turn of the wheel during the final scale of Broadloaf that have the legs screaming again, but it was not quite as bad as before. Close, but not quite. As I discover on a road sign, some of the grade was 12%.
The ascent quickly becomes history as the descent starts. The roads are incredibly rough and I burn some breaks diving down the mountain. There was a time that I would throw caution to the wind and see how fast I could manage. Not today, I am conservative on the downhill. I have ridden too far to do dumb now.
My lunch stop is Rochester at a place Robert Frost often came on hot days to the soda fountain that was in the general store. Today, it is a cafe with a couple of tables on the sidewalk where lunch is enjoyed and finished off with a Maple shake. Yep. Maple shake. Delicious.
Cycling on, there is a warning roadside sign that cautions the road warriors to "Stay Alert" "Moose Crossing". I have been alert for a thousand miles. We are getting close.
Weeks ago many of the towns and villages that were passed through were established in the late 1800's. In this part of the country, the towns were chartered in the late 1700's. Tonight I am in Royalton, chartered in 1769.
Moose Search: 0.
Song in my head: The Proclaimers; I'm gonna be (500 Miles)