I awoke at 6:45am this past Sunday in Killington, Vermont, on the morning of the 145 km Farm to Fork gran fondo.
Groggy and sleep deprived, it took a moment to remember where I was and what had brought me there. After 15 blissful seconds of ignorance, the recognizable feeling of dread sank deeper into my stomach: I had spent so many days trying not to think of the very one I found myself in.
A half-hour later, as we drove the 12 minutes to the event site along the base of the Green Mountains I peered up at the onerous peaks from the passenger window, knowing full well that we’d be climbing at least one of those throughout the day. Unfortunately, the elevation profile had said so.
As we arrived at the first farm, however, the apprehension I was carrying slowly started to fade. I looked around, in awe of our surroundings.
The low sun cut across a lush green mountain (true to its reputation) on the far side of the field. Early morning mist danced gracefully in front of it; early morning dew clung desperately to the grass below it. The zen yet charged energy of 1,000 cyclists assembling and tuning their bicycles filled the air.
True to our reputation, we arrived late and disorganized, in juxtaposition to our surroundings yet somehow in calm and positive spirits.
We were of the very last participants to pick up our race kits. We were definitely the last to sidle up to and embark through the start gate: 998 fellow riders were already well on the road before us.
As my fellow fondo partner came running down to the start corral with a fresh cup of coffee, heckled by the good-natured announcer, I realized that none of the other trivialities mattered. The day was quickly becoming more about the experience and much less about the fondo itself.
The next six hours were spent gasping at Vermont’s stunning scenery, climbing to beautiful vistas, and sampling tasty food while chatting with local farmers. Trained or undertrained, I couldn’t help but think that there were so many benefits to be had simply by registering and committing to the event:
- Insight. Each aid station provided an opportunity to meet the farmers and a chance to taste samples from their crops (including hand-picked raspberries and edible flowers). It became clear that the state was proud of their farmers and the farmers were proud to contribute to their state. The result was awareness of their contributions and a deep appreciation for their efforts.
- Friendship. A nine-hour drive and two days to explore Vermont by foot and bike also meant two days of overdue catch-ups, hours of idea-sharing and a whole lot of unplanned misadventures. The result was thoughtful conversation and items to store in the long-term memory bank.
- Exploration. The fondo gave us a chance to see a part of North America I hadn’t yet seen, ride roads I otherwise wouldn’t have ridden, and visit a sliver of Vermont during a time of year I most likely wouldn’t have otherwise visited. It was ultimately (and exclusively) the fondo that had brought us there. The result was wide eyes and a sense of inspiration.
- Experience. More than anything, the good-natured atmosphere surrounding the ride reinforced why I sign up for these types of events. Despite all the moments of dread and doubt, each passing kilometer highlighted the newfound beauty of the course, the cheerful attitudes of event volunteers and the encouraging camaraderie of fellow riders. The result was gratitude for the day and a reignited enthusiasm toward cycling.
50 km and a mountain climb later, we came to a moment of truth when faced with a green arrow pointing forward for the 145 km route; a yellow pointing right for the 80. Having signed up for the full distance we stopped and chatted to make a decision.
It wasn’t a difficult one: the experience of the ride thus far had been overwhelmingly positive and there was still a whole day of events yet to be had. Spirits were high, there was a barbecue waiting, and a free mountain campsite to be found.
We ended up turning right.
At the 60 km mark, gran riders didn’t follow a rushing mountain river. But we sure did.
The result: a midday swim break and a weekend to go down in the books.