Monthly Archives: May 2014


  photo-2Cycling on the road requires vigilance and almost intuitive awareness. In addition to working hard to maintain speed (and not get dropped by companions) and working even harder to climb (especially if you live in hill country like I do – Vermont), we cyclists also need to guide our skinny tires away from cracks and potholes, anticipate terrain changes in order to refrain from popping a chain, know where oncoming and following traffic is at all times (hard to rely on hearing with the new quiet cars) and ride predictably to give motorists a few guidelines.

We need to carefully plan rides (especially for those of us who get lost easily and really don’t want to backtrack over that climb), prepare well for emergencies (tires and tools, energy bars and waters), and, of course, the inevitable surprise rain shower or drop in temperature.

This past week, for example, one group ride was cancelled due to rain, black skies, and forecasts of everything from hail to tornados. As luck would have it, at ride time the rain stopped and none of the other things occurred.  However, best to be on the safe side. We did not ride. The  next day appeared to be gray but decent – until we got about 3 miles from the start, realized the roads were wet and we were wetter. What is the moral of this story? There is none. Plan as carefully as possible and then be flexible enough to deal with reality, I guess.

There are some things I did learn this week however.  Wet roads do not necessarily mean that narrow bike tires are destined to slide out from under the rider.  Of course, when faced with wet roads it is important to ride conservatively, avoid the slippery painted lines and don’t choose that day to practice cornering aggressively.  Other than that, you should arrive back at the start without incident.

Then there are those sunny days.  If one comes along, drop everything and add a just-for-fun ride.  I am accustomed to riding purposefully and considering each ride as a training ride. I do realize,  however, that some days it is equally important to ride unplugged – leave the heart rate monitor or power meter numbers out of a casual jaunt. Even more, take the time to stop now and then to check out the scenery.  Sometimes I ride along and, out of the corner of my eye, note the redwing blackbird that sits on the sign at the side of the road clearly standing guard over a nearby nest. I might smell the scent of fresh cut grass or notice the proliferation of wildflowers tempted to stop to take a picture of a common field made brilliant by dandelions.

It’s ok to do that, you know.  With most of us carrying smart phones, a nice camera is sitting in a jersey pocket. This week I rode past a sight so familiar to me that I took it for granted, until I noted the way the light was cohabiting with  the shadows (photo above). While I may not know what my average HR was on that ride or what watts I used going uphill nearby, I will remember this view. Now, as my computer wall paper, it reminds me to go ahead, ride unplugged and don’t miss the scenery – at least once in awhile.




Vermont’s hills are alive, maybe not with the sound of music, but with enough trails to entice travelers of all ages and fitness levels. Visitors to the state often arrive with lofty expectations and footwear from flip-flops to alpine hiking boots. Residents all too often become careless and find themselves in trouble on ill-prepared adventures.

Perhaps the bottom line is that Vermont’s hills and mountains offer exceptional hiking experiences for everyone, but preparation is the key to a positive experience.

HIKING IN VERMONT, photo by Jeb Wallace-Brodeur 2014

HIKING IN VERMONT, photo by Jeb Wallace-Brodeur 2014

Day hiking is potentially available to anyone who can walk and carry a light pack. Appropriate gear is advised for comfort and safety. Other hikers, sporting goods stores, a visit or call to the Green Mountain Club ( or your trusty search engine can explain equipment needs.

If you want to take advantage of the trail systems (stick to them so you don’t get lost) and the vistas (choose your hike commensurate with your capability), it is wise to plan ahead.

The process, putting one foot in front of another to travel a path, enhances fitness by strengthening muscles, increasing bone density, challenging balance and improving cardiovascular fitness.

However, to better enjoy your excursions into the woods and upward, it is wise to prepare with some hiking-specific training.

Clearly, leg strength is significant. You should regularly and deliberately perform exercises that benefit the quadriceps in the front of the legs, the hamstrings in the back of the legs, the gluteals (well, you know what your glutes are and they are far too often, shall we say, under-appreciated?), the calf and shin muscles and the muscles of the feet and ankles.

Squats and lunges are excellent providing, of course, they are done with good form taking care that the legs are in alignment and the knees do not extend beyond the toes when squatting or lunging. Sometimes a wall sit is preferred as form is easily monitored. Simply sit against a wall in an imaginary chair position and hold for 30-60 seconds, or longer as you strengthen.

Step-ups are great for engaging the glutes and, while you’re at it, don’t forget to practice stepping down, again with good form and alignment. After all, “what goes up must go down” refers to trails as well.

Use of Bosu trainers, wobble boards, dyna discs and other balance equipment not only helps your body to practice handling unstable surfaces, but tests ankle strength and proprioception. For most populations, correctly performed plyometrics, or jumping exercises, increase bone density and prepare the body to hop down from rocks, jump over fallen trees or maneuver brooks.

As always, core strength is significant and necessary. There are many ways to improve upon the functionality of your core, remembering that it is the core (not just abs, but everything from shoulders to, and including, hips) that sustains movements and stability of everything you do. An oft-recommended core exercise to train and test is holding a plank or performing a variety of movements in the plank position. (Think of your body as a plank or board supported on hands or forearms, recognizable as the beginning of a push up.) Planks are best performed with abdominal muscles and hamstrings engaged and held for 30-60 seconds.

Carrying a pack puts extra stress on shoulders and back as well as taxing energy, breathing and overall cardio fitness. Because hikes usually involve several hours of steady movement, endurance is a prerequisite, along with fueling and hydrating adequately throughout the duration of the outing.

For the average hiker, conditioning prior to hiking season is a reasonable commitment of 30-60 minutes 3 times a week for 4-8 weeks. Conditioning for lower body, core( including shoulders and back) and flexibility, topped off with gradually lengthening and intensifying continuous aerobic work such as walking, should be enough. More strenuous hiking and climbing requires more specific training. Once the season begins, hiking regularly will further condition what you have begun. Stretching and caring for strained and tired muscles remains a necessity.

By intentionally addressing the components of enjoyable and effective hiking in advance, a good experience is more likely to follow.

0525_rhspt_freeman hiking 2

Photo:  Jeb Wallace-Brodeur, 2014.

This article appears in full May 25, 2014 “Active Vermont” Rutland Herald & Times Argus.

POST FROM FRANCE, Riding with Andrew McCullough

Being a road cyclist in Vermont isn’t easy.  I say this with reluctance though because it seems counterintuitive. The fact is, there are no other places where I would rather ride my bike.  From quiet country roads to more daunting mountain passes, Vermont offers a wide range of road riding for every interest level.  Throw in fantastic summer and fall months, and top it off with our friendly and active communities, I would expect a perfect recipe for road riding culture. Despite these facts, it’s still difficult.

I grew up in Montpelier, and started riding my bike at a really early age; mostly mountain biking.  Most of my friends didn’t ride though.  Nobody wants to ride their bike alone all the time, so inevitably I began to ride less and less as I grew older.  However, around 7th grade, my dad got me my first road bike.  It was a white steel Specialized Allez found in the basement of the shop.  It was gorgeous!  He had been riding road bikes for a long time, and this gave me the opportunity to ride with him.  After getting over the initial shock of being stuck on two 23mm wide tires, I began to fall into step quickly.  Because of his work schedule our rides were still limited to mostly weekends, and if I wanted to ride more I had to go on my own.  This meant navigating the open roads by myself, and I quickly fell victim to the one route routine; route 2 west.  It was what I knew, and what didn’t get me killed.  So I stuck with that, too nervous to expand my riding to other roads.  That became a bit stale after a while.  Meanwhile, my friends were still doing other activities.  So, inevitably, my riding remained inconsistent.  Cycling had its moments though.  A few years in a row I traveled up to Montreal with a small group from Onion River Sports, and participated in the Tour de l’Ile, a 50km grand fondo that brought out more than 20,000 cyclists.  One summer during high school I spent two weeks touring around Nova Scotia by bike with a group of friends, tenting each night wherever we ended up at sunset.  On more simple days my Dad and I would just ride out to Richmond and have a break at the bakery before returning back to Montpelier. It was these experiences that kept me hooked, always wanting more.

At the start of high school I turned my attention to running, and remained focused on track through college.  It was only on rare occasions when I was looking for longer training hours and needed a day off from running that I would bring my road bike out.  It wasn’t until I returned to Montpelier after college that my attention shifted back to cycling.  I don’t know what started it exactly, but something clicked, and I was loving it.  Although on the smaller side, there was a great group who I could rely on to train with at least a few days each week.  We fed off of each other’s motivation, and found ourselves riding more and more each day.  In no time at all, I was riding roads and loops that I had never once considered trying when I was younger.  I was exploring parts of Vermont that I had never been to before.  Within a month or two of starting, I was racing twice a week.  Within a year, I was racing every weekend in races all over the country and Canada.  Months raced past in a blur of excitement and captivation.

Despite falling into cycling so quickly that first year, there were some basic road blocks to racing and training that made things far from consistent.  Having set some lofty goals for results, I was process driven and focused.  That meant that my daily training didn’t necessarily jive with the few other people who I had been accustomed to riding with.  When I wanted to go hard, they wanted to go easy; and when I needed to rest and go easy, they needed to go hard.  With limited groups to ride with, this meant back to more time riding alone during the week.  When Thursday or Friday rolled around and it was time to get to the race, I would rarely have a drive that was less than 4 hours.  The few of us from town who were racing would carpool to races as much as possible, but a majority of the trips would be solo.  When I began to target larger races, I was usually driving 7-8 hours if not flying.  Once again, it was clear that being a road cyclist in Vermont is not easy.

I am extremely fortunate to be riding for a Division II amateur team in Brittany, France for 2014.  I arrived at the beginning of February, and our season started February 15th.  Every part of this experience has been incredible.  Every part of life here seems to include cycling.  Every town or village has at least one finish line painted on the road somewhere near its center.  Every hill has a mountain sprint line painted across the road at the top.  There are races 3-4 days out of every week, at the least, and all are within a reasonable drive.  Every one of these races is in the heart of French cycling, and the level of competition is always outstanding.  Outside of racing, when you ride your bike down the road, everyone says hello to you.  There is the occasional erratic driver, but for the most part people here respect and support cyclists. All of this amounts to one basic difference that seems to separate life as a cyclist in Vermont and life as a cyclist in Europe; support and organization.  Here in France, clubs support riders beginning as early as 6 years old.  The riders of past generations remain heavily involved in the sport after they retire, and this means new generations have experienced professionals to turn to for guidance.  Local governments sponsor regional teams and youth development.  The infrastructure of roadways protects and encourages bike use.

1798809_10202804632818502_1052231828_n Team in Basque country 2014.

Riding my bike in Vermont is one of the most pleasurable things that I know.  But throughout my experience with riding in the Green Mountains, there are certain obstacles that have the potential to stop somebody in their tracks.  These are serious, but most are easily overcome if you get the right guidance and support.  This might mean providing route recommendations and group riding rules to new riders who are nervous about interactions with cars and other road hazards.  Or, it could extend to include advice for training and racing.  It’s exciting to see the riding community in Montpelier and Vermont growing, and how much potential it has.  The organization and growth of local clubs like Road Spokes, youth development such as Killington Mountain School or 1k2GO, and fantastic race promotion by locals like Gary Kessler and Jean Lacroix with Green Mountain Stage Race, Killington Stage Race, and Barre Grand Prix all mean that Vermont will finally begin to see the benefits of this organization and support.  When that support becomes readily accessible, people will be doing more on the bike than they expected or planned in no time at all.  If you are new to road riding and there is something that you think is holding you back, I can guarantee that 100 other people who have probably had the same anxiety at some point.  Now, more than ever, it’s easier to turn to one of the many people who are part of cycling in central Vermont to help get you rolling in the right direction!


Andrew and I met through Onion River Sports.  Over coffee, I learned a bit about Andrew’s background and future goals.  Not surprisingly, as a member of our local cycling community, Andrew hopes at some point to be able to give back to others traveling similar roads.  Fortunately for us, RoadSpokes, Andrew has joined us – albeit from a distance – and is sharing his experience, insights, training and camaraderie.

Yes, Andrew will be here to ride with us in person when there is a break in his training and racing schedule in France and he is home for a visit.

More importantly, however, Andrew is with us now – ready and willing to answer questions and offer support to members of RoadSpokes and visitors to this website.  He knows our terrain, traffic and challenges.  Been there; done that.  He knows road cycling inside out and backwards. He is eager to connect with us individually and/or collectively.

What would you like to know? Do you want to learn more about racing in Europe or in our area? Do you want to learn how to plan to ride your first or best century? Do you want to strategize a time trial or wonder which shoes to buy? Do you want to know if cyclists cross-train with conditioning and if so what? Would you be curious about his weekly training schedule or would you like Andrew to suggest one for you and your specific goals? Ask.

Read his post to learn more about Andrew.  Look for updates of his travels and answers to FAQs or your specific question(s). Leave a question for Andrew by COMMENT on this post or email me ( and I’ll connect you. Read on.