Green Mountain Stage Race
On August 28th, a group of us piled our bikes in the back of a borrowed car and barreled out of Brooklyn headed for the Green Mountains of Vermont. Like half of New York, we were happy just getting the hell out of town! But I wasn’t just going to Vermont to look at the hills, I was going to climb them, to race with other women at the Green Mountain Stage Race.
We arrived in the middle of the night. Our hosts had not known how many of us were arriving, but they welcomed us graciously, chatting with us on the porch, even offering us some wine. We were up before the sun came up. I made a pot of oatmeal for all of us before heading back on the road, this time speeding through lower Vermont to pick up our race packets and get to the first stage of our race.
This is my first year racing so every time I register I have a minor crisis in self doubt, questioning my abilities. "Will I be in pain the whole time?" "How am I going to manage to eat AND race at the same time?" "Am I up for this kind of climbing?" "What about all of these other really serious cyclists, what will they think of me? Will they just leave me in the dust at every climb? At every fast, technical descent?” Somehow I manage to ignore these concerns after I registered, only to have them come roaring back at the start line.
The first stage is the time trial. I lined up, an official held my bike, I clipped in on the left, then the right, three, two, one, and I'm off on a challenging course, giving it my all, with the end goal of completing the course in the least amount of time. The time trial set the tone for the rest of the weekend’s racing. The fact that I felt like barfing for the whole five miles of the course demonstrated what was in store. On the course I passed the woman who started just ahead of me, only to have her overtake me, then passing her again. Each of us jockeying for a better time on our TT, marshalls on motorcycles watched us to make sure no one drafted. Then, for the the final, brutal climb, the woman who started behind me overtook the two of us! I dropped into the small ring and pushed as hard as I could. When the TT finally ended, we gathered around the water jugs, just like a midtown office. We drank from paper cups, taking deep breaths, rubbing our temples or just laying in the grass. Then, in single file, we all rode back to the start line.
Vermont’s landscape is as beautiful as it was challenging. The hills we climbed were unrelenting and my competitors were strong racers to contend with. But, as I found out while we were neutral on the third day of racing, they are also open to chatting about their lives, their loves, their hometowns, and their other hobbies. We were all blown away by the beauty of the landscape: green rolling hills, scenic rivers, red barns, and the mist hanging in the valley.
I was also deeply moved by the elegance and the beauty of riding alongside other strong, competitive women. When a group of us couldn't hold the pace of the break, we worked together to bridge the gap. We did this without knowing each others' names, placing complete trust in strangers. Once we accomplished something together, we really cheered each other on and became invested in our collective victories. When the woman in front of you started to lose the wheel of the racer in front of her, people shouted in encouragement, "don't drop back! get back on that wheel!"
But racing isn't all just camaraderie and encouragement on a beautiful backdrop. At GMSR I encountered the other, less fun part of racing. A good finish at the end of a race often involves a series of risks. You jockey for a good position, but theres a chance something might go wrong. If someone gets in front of you, your bike could fail, you won’t see a pothole in the road, your wheel could get stuck in a groove. I had been feeling strong and confident that I was going to keep my position before kicking my bike down to go in for the last sprint. Instead, I heard the terrible crack and crash noise that only comes from bikes hitting pavement. The girl infront of me had fallen, taking out the girl next to her. I couldn’t avoid the crash, I go down over my handlebars, face first into the tarmac. I tuck, roll and skid at the same time, while the other racers whizz past us toward the finish line. We are looked over by paramedics, and the most severely injured racer gets taken away in an ambulance.
I went on to finish the stage race in a ripped jersey, climbing the Appalachian gap in the rain with a giant grin on my face. I nearly cried when I crossed the finish line that day. I went home that night with the group of racers I traveled to Vermont with. We had our requisite veggie tacos, followed by pasta and stories about the farm we were staying on and of course our day of racing. I felt whole and strong and accomplished. I had seen some of the most beautiful hills and roads and rural fields that exist. I rode alongside strong women, once strangers, who I now count as my friends. I can't stop thinking about the whole experience. I hope that you'll come next time and race with me.