Lobster Qualifier Ride Report

This is a little long…I thought the idea of Ride the Lobster was really great when I first heard about it, but I didn’t think seriously about doing it myself until this September. That was when Mark Premo, a rider with our Montpelier (Vermont) unicyclists club, announced that he was forming a team and going for it. Mark, who is never short on enthusiasm and drive, isn’t one to put words to a goal that he doesn’t intend to keep. I got to thinking that the premier running of the Lobster ( http://www.ridethelobster.com) was indeed the opportunity of a lifetime (some would say I need to get a life) and there’d be nobody better to do it with than my hillclimbing buddy Mark.

Mark contacted Eric Scheer of Rhode Island, to ask of his interest. The three of us had tried (unsuccessfully) to catch the infamous Steveyo during last summer’s Whiteface NY hillclimb race, and had “enjoyed” the experience & each other. Eric was interested in Lobstering, Mark’s friend Dawn DiCecco agreed to be support person, so we had a team. We knew that time would be tight for fitting the two days of qualifying rides in before the late autumn cold hit Vermont. We picked the last weekend in October for qualifying, and hoped for luck with the weather.

Day One

Naturally, a spell of glorious Indian summer came to a grinding halt the weekend of our qualifying rides. Day one dawned with a drizzle and a forecast of a cold front with rain throughout the day. On top of that, Eric called, needing to cancel due to an injury. Mark & I knew that this was our only shot at qualifying before winter, so we left on schedule, anticipating a soggy ride.

We had agreed on a route out & back through “Moose Alley” to Elmore VT, and I mapped it out on the USA Track & Field website (link http://www.usatf.org/routes/view.asp?rID=173327 ). We new this route was hilly, but it was also beautiful and traffic-free. By mile 6 of the ride, the drizzle had turned to a steady rain, and I was beginning to get wet. We stopped for food at the Worcester store at mile 10 and within a few minutes I realized there wouldn’t be much stopping this day – it was just too cold & rainy. We were feeling strong in spite of the conditions, so we pushed off for another 10 miles that was mostly uphill. The climbing kept us nice and warm while we passed through forested country with all of the drainage culverts gushing rainwater into a raging brook far below the guardrail beside us.

By mile 18 or so we had climbed far enough out of the protected valley that we were now exposed to heavy rain and the full force of the winds in this storm, at this point coming from our backs. The forecast had predicted gusts of up to 30 mph, and we began to worry about the return trip. Totally soaked by this time, we turned around at mile 20 rather than descend all of the way to Elmore (22 miles); we didn’t want to go downhill only to climb right back up again into a stiff headwind.

I’m new to 36’er riding, but this day convinced me that I’ll want to install a brake before the Lobster. The downhills from Miles 25 to 30 were the most difficult & slow part of the day for me. I was really getting saddle sore at this point as well, but we both knew we’d get too cold if we stopped, so we just kept working our way downhill.

Going indoors at the Worcester store with 30 miles down was a relief. Sitting inside eating a big sandwich while water dripped into puddles beneath us, I felt my spirits begin to lift. After some time sitting there however, I began to shiver and couldn’t stop. We knew it was time to get moving, so we each put on our one remaining dry clothing layer next to the skin and went back out. The dry fleece, plus the calories we’d taken in, made all of the difference for us. We got back on our wheels feeling energized, warmed up within a few miles, and rolled into Montpelier with only a few butt-resting stops. We did some loops around residential areas of town to make up the rest of our needed distance, and after 6 hours of riding we’d gone our 45 miles.

That evening Mark downloaded his GPS unit. The summary revealed that we had climbed 1731 meters, and descended the same amount. Even without any subjective factors in the formula, our 73.4 km route rated a 318. We were tired but psyched, and looking forward to a dry day with easier riding on Sunday.

Day Two

Sunday dawned with cooler temperatures and a fierce wind from the Northwest. The forecast called for winds of 10 – 15 mph throughout the day. It was clear that the out & back route we had planned would put us against this strong wind for half of our distance, so we made a quick decision to change plans, selecting instead a one way route that would likely give us tailwinds for half of the distance, and be wind-neutral for the rest of the way. Dawn, our intrepid support person, offered us a lift to the start point in Richmond VT, which clinched our decision.

The route featured 30 miles or so of riding along the Winooski & Mad Rivers and a major climb up & over a ridge extending down from Camel’s Hump Mountain. This climb, called Harwood Hill, is significant enough to be included in the point scheme for the King of the Mountain competition in the annual Green Mountain Bicycle Stage Race. Neither Mark nor I tend to shy away from hills, and the challenge of Harwood Hill, which had just been repaved, attracted us both. Here’s the link to the day’s route, which I mapped after we rode it. http://www.usatf.org/routes/view.asp?rID=174121

Richmond is fairly small town, so before long we were wheeling through pastureland and corn stubble fields, enjoying the tailwind we had hoped for. Our spirits were high and we progressed quickly, averaging 10 – 12 mph on the gentle terrain. When we rolled through Waterbury we had ridden a fast 14 miles, and had stopped only briefly. The climb loomed ahead.

There are several nice things I can say about Harwood Hill. One, the new pavement was flawless; two, it wasn’t raining; and three, it provided us the challenge we were looking for, and then some! The road climbs over 800 feet in 4.5 miles, with three distinct steep pitches. I was working at my limit, but found I could keep my wheel turning the entire way. Having owned a 36er for just three weeks, I’m still surprised at the way the big wheel seems to carry momentum once it’s moving, even on very steep hills. There must be some physics that accounts for this; it can’t be my imagination. While the ascending burned my lungs, it was the downhill that hurt my legs. The drop is steeper than the climb, and once again I found I needed to go my slowest speeds of the day in order to keep the wheel under control. It felt like my knees were taking a lot of force & stress all the way down, but I was fearful of gaining too much speed.

The next segment of the ride, on VT route 100B was a total pleasure. This road, which snakes along the Mad River for 8 miles, has recently been designated as a National Scenic Byway. The shoulder was wide enough for us to ride side by side, talking easily as we enjoyed the yellows & browns of late foliage season in the Mad River Valley. The following 7 miles on US 2 offered little shoulder but gentle terrain heading into town.

Pulling into Montpelier saddle-sore and road-weary after 6 hours, we still had roughly five miles to go and were unsure if we had gained enough elevation. As a precaution, we rode up National Life Drive, a 200 ft climb in under a mile. We felt this would be a test of our readiness for the unrelenting hills of Cape Breton Island, and were pleased to find that we still had it in our legs. As it turns out we didn’t need the elevation, but we didn’t want to come up short. Our second day totaled 77 km. in length, with Mark’s GPS recording 1724 meters of climbing and 1658 meters of descending. The distance rating calculator, factoring in a carryover from the day before, gave us a rating of 388 for the day.

Mark & I had a great time doing these qualifying rides, and I gained respect for all long distance unicyclists now that I know what an exhausting effort it can be. Ride the Lobster is going to be a great adventure, but I have no illusions about the effort it will demand along the way!

Equipment Notes

Mark & I both rode Nimbus 36 SE unicycles; right out of the box with the TA tire. Neither of us used a handlebar or a brake, but I think I may want both before RTL. I ran 40 lbs of air pressure. I used the 152 cm cranks that came standard and don’t think I’ll ever go longer. I plan to experiment with some shorter crank arms for the flatter terrain.

A good write up

A good write up, thanks for sharing.

I feel like I was riding with you in the rain.

This race should try be a challenge.

Great write-up sounds like your hills were steeper and rain was harder than my ride last month. I couldn’t imagine doing a ride like that without a handle, I find it adds so much more control and comfort.

Congrats on getting over double the needed difficulty both days and welcome to the RTL qualified club :slight_smile:

Good writeup, it makes me yearn all the more for a big wheel :slight_smile: As a quick threadjack, Jamie and I moved back to Sherbrooke, but I’m sure someday we’ll be in Barre and can check out the club again :slight_smile: Good luck on Lobster!

Hey Bill -
Congrats to you and Mark! Your rides are an inspiration, and a great write-up, too.

You rock!

One note - the GPS Mark is using (Garmin Forerunner) is very accurate for position and distance, but notoriously inaccurate for elevation change. I know mine will vary 50 to 100 feet up or down when I’m sitting on a park bench. The climbing amounts from your mapping on the USATF site are probably closer to reality. If those elevation estimates are the right ones, you’re still at 137 and 199 for ratings and more than qualified.

Nice write-up! You’re the first from Vermont to qualify (actually you way over-qualifed, way to go)! Please fill out the qualification form here: http://fs19.formsite.com/RideTheLobster/form185548023/index.html as soon as you’ve got some pictures together.

See you in Nova Scotia!


Nice write-up. Max can certainly relate to the riding in the rain experience. Do you have pictures?

hey!, someone else with a Nimbus 36 SE

go for the T7 for sure

See you in June

Thanks for the comments all. We do have some pics, Dawn just posted them today. Go to www.Flickr.com and type “Ride the Lobster” into the search bar.

Nice ride guys - way to push through the rain!

Great ride - superstars w/o handles in the mountains! Whew!!