DROVES Diaries I: Que Sera Sera
That thought runs through my mind as I look at the others, scattered around the rustic living room, drinking wine and beer by the dim cabin light. Outside it is pitch black, and alarmingly noisy - the sound of heavy rain hitting the metal roof. The forecast says it will be the same over the next three days: The storm is circling in place, "tornado-like." No one talks about this out loud.
We are in Vermont for Memorial Day weekend. The group includes the Ride Studio Cafe endurance team (Matt Roy, David Wilcox and John Bayley), cyclocross racer Mo Bruno Roy, Dominique and Christine - two French Canadian women who specialise in hill climb races, randonneuring superstars Jake Kassen and Emily O'Brien, 1200K legend Ted Lapinski, and of course Pamela Blalock. A couple of others cancelled due to weather.
As the weekend approached, it became obvious that the forecast was dire. Not just a regular sort of dire, but exceptionally, obscenely, laughably dire: temperatures in the 40s and heavy rain for the entire weekend. Following the weather with morbid curiosity, I packed my winter gear.
I wait for John and Pamela on the curb outside my house. Bags in one hand, front fender in the other, bike propped up against the fence. It is a humid 70° in Somerville, the kind that makes it feel like 90°. Sweat trickles down my forehead. Finally the black Honda Fit approaches. Like a 4-year old, I jump up and down with anticipation as it rolls down the street, almost in slow motion, a tandem perched upon its roof majestically, along with a cluster of other bikes in various states of assembly. The neighbours line up to watch. Whatever is happening here, it looks important. By the time my bike is hoisted onto the roof rack, we are all drenched in sweat.
An hour into the drive, we stop for fuel and feel a drastic temperature drop. Half hour later, the skies opened up. We continue north, under increasingly heavy rain and a blanket of black clouds. Pamela drives. John entertains us with stories of cycling in Ireland and his early custom bikes. Studiously we ignore the topic of weather. In the distance I begin to see hints of mountains, shrouded in thick fog. The view looks like lumpy pea soup.
We turn onto the private dirt road not long after 7pm, but it might as well be midnight. I can vaguely see the outlines of a cabin, a tractor, and a pile of logs in a field. Everything else fades to black. Running from the car to the front porch, my teeth chatter. It is freezing. There is non-stop thunder.
As I crack open the door, I am overwhelmed by the burst of orange - the interior is all wooden planks and beams, aglow from the light of many small lamps. An electric heater is blasting. There are couches and quilts and a heavy large table and a cozy kitchenette. A winding staircase leads upstairs.
A tall man rises from the couch, who I learn is Ted. He reminds me of someone, but not, as the other ladies start to tell him, of "that actor from The English Patient." Ted is quiet, but with a heavy, deliberate presence to him, like one of those salt of the earth male Twin Peaks characters. Within moments he and John Bayley remove all the bikes from the car roof and bring them indoors in one fell swoop. Then they shake hands and open some beers.
David Wilcox is keeping busy in the background. Minutes later he produces a tray of steamed potatoes and asparagus from the oven. The room is warm, garlicky. More wine is opened. No one talks about bikes, or the weather.
The evening is warm and familiar and endless. With a cup of tea, I sit across the couch from the Canadian hill climbers. Dominique is a brunette with a serene facial expression. Christine is blond and animated. They are about the same height. There is a ying-yang symmetry to them that is mesmerising. "Why do you climb Mt. Washington?" I ask, innocent that I am. Taking turns, they recount the history of them doing the race, which includes the story of how they met Pamela. But they don't say what compels them to do it.
At around 10pm, they set up the stand in the kitchen. I make endless cups of tea and look on with fascination. An eccentric bottom bracket. Road levers for hydraulic disc brakes. 700X40mm tires. Everyone gathers to watch and ask questions, drunk on the exoticism of the strange machine.
The rain beats against the metal roof like a chorus of tribal drums. I resist imagining the condition of the dirt roads. But then no one seems intent on forcing me to ride. Not only that, but by the group's demeanor it isn't clear whether they plan to ride themselves. Perhaps there is an unspoken agreement to write the weekend off and spend it indoors - drinking, catching up with friends and building bikes? It does not feel right to ask.
Finally I see Pamela at the far end of the room, producing her laptop and GPS unit. I walk over, and, feeling as if I'm vocalising the unspeakable, ask whether she plans to ride tomorrow. She says "Let's play it by ear and see how it goes?" - a stunning pronouncement coming from her. She shows me the updated forecast, which now threatens temperatures in the 30s, floods, and - my eyes can hardly believe it - chances of snow.