“Let your legs do the talking.”
That was what we had agreed upon in Vermont. And when our legs couldn’t talk, we’d say a few words to let everyone else know that you were doing some coaxing but the bottom line was no fucks given. Let’s ride bikes. All day. Till its done.
The best part about this agreement was that we never had to verbally agree to it; we all just knew it was the best way to go about such a thing. So when we arrived in Vermont last week we were completely free to enjoy other things. Like learning all the words to Taylor Swift’s 1989 on the ride from Boston to Pawlet. Like selecting the choicest wine at the gas station to drink when we finally arrived at the farm-house we’d rented for the long weekend. Like talking about lifes’ trials and tribulations, like finding the best swimming hole in the evening, drinking coffee on the porch slowly in the morning, picking vegetables in the garden for dinner (after we’d wrenched bikes, after we’d poured bourbon) the night before we attempted to ride back to back Prestige races. Something that no one had ever done before, because it was never an option before. Something that only a team of women could do.
The Rapha Prestige races are a somewhat “underground” (and yet not at all secret) series of unsanctioned, unsupported, practically unmapped races with gentleman’s rules. The first team to finish the course wins, and the team must cross the finish line together. Every man and woman for themselves, the last team in wins the lantern rouge. Because the courses are only announced a few days before the gun going off, there’s really no vetting them or training on them. Effectively, it’s an adventure race on road bikes. What could be more fun? The courses typically contain a relatively ridiculous amount of elevation gain, and they always have a quantity of terrain that the average bike rider will find to be trying. Even soul crushing. We were anticipating that — since we all ride dirt quite often — there wasn’t much that could surprise us at the Rapha Northeast Prestige. Instead, the surprises we were anticipating were how our legs would feel racing two such days back to back; first against the mixed and mens teams, and the second against the women’s teams. We kept telling ourselves that we didn’t really care how well we did over all — that the win was having the chance to be out there, spinning with each other. But we all knew deep down that we did care. That we wanted all the glory of coming out as close to the top as possible. Because we were strong. And if anyone could do it, it would be us.
So we started an easy peasy/happy-g0-lucky weekend of bike riding/racing with wine and friends and food and all the good things. The only (albiet short) conversation we had that was actually about BIKES and how to ride them as we smashed our souls and our legs into the county dirt roads that awaited us, was what I like to call the “Yellow Shoes Strategy” I learned from my good friend Jac; if a rider started to feel that the pace was too quick, the climb to big or long, or the day getting away from them, they call Yellow Shoes. If all is well, and we’re good to roll, it’s Green Shoes. A catastrophic failure of body or bike (say, for example falling off laughing when your wheel gets caught in the gravel and you tip over into a ditch laughing) is Red Shoes. There needn’t be an explanation of why you’re Red Shoes. You don’t have to explain through sniveling tears or hunger pangs why you’re Yellow Shoes. You let your legs do the talking. The rest would just happen.
It was a pretty excellent strategy. We rolled out into the chilly morning, fog collecting in the hillsides and across the fields where bales of hay and horses still seemed to be sleeping. We laughed most of the way, ripping down the gravel descents under the leafy canopy of the forest, steady rolling up the hills and along ribbon roads past barns, farms and general stores that were certainly something out of a movie set, spinning through thoughts on life as we went. We covered 116 miles that first day, and finished completely unscathed and quite happy with ourselves. We even had the stamina to drink bourbon with the boys over dinner until they were too tired to stay up any longer. Then we woke up the next day and did it – and more even — all over again. This time with more intention, pushing harder up the hills, tucking harder on the descents, allowing our brains and arms to be jostled to exhaustion on the dirt, singing louder when we started to feel the pain. Paying more attention to how close the other teams were. We all had our little Yellow Shoe moments but for the most part we were green green shoes under green green trees in the Green Mountain State.
We came out on top, in our book at the very least. I wanted to share a few pictures here because I’ve been looking at them all week as other crazy things have unfolded, as they do (among them, a special project for Strava is in the works and I took some new photographs with this talented guy early in the week, then spent the balance deep in preparation/partying as part and parcel for this special event that happened over the weekend, among other bits and pieces.)
I’ve had a bit to sort through from the inside out and I don’t know exactly how I would do it, or what I would do without the bike as a vehicle to do so. Maybe some of you can relate to that. Maybe you can also relate to the idea that all I wanted after riding that weekend was a huge beer and a huge bowl of this maple ice cream.
While the weekend was filled with joy, jubilation and pure awesomeness, there were also some good sweat and tears shed over these dirt roads and I won’t forget them soon for that good reason. To the ladies who braved this big old challenge with me, good lord I would never do this without you. I’m terribly grateful to have you, and all of your crass jokes, sage wisdom and no fucks. Where are we going next?
And to Vermont, thanks for everything. – xo L