Occasionally I get asked really difficult to answer questions such as, "How hard is the route this year?" or "How much hike-a-bike is there? Compared to last year?" or "Do you think I can ride X,Y,Z bike?". The answers all begin with "Well... " and then end in some vaguely explained version of "it depends".
Here's the thing, I really can't answer these questions for you. Mostly because there are SO MANY variables and unless I have ridden with you often, I don't feel comfortable saying that you can or can't ride something. As far as I'm concerned, everything on the IRR route is in fact rideable. Is it rideable after 90 miles and 8 hours? Hard saying, not knowing. There's also the fact that the route changes year-to-year...
Anyway, I thought I'd clue you in to what to expect so you can plan accordingly for your own level of enjoyment.
This is locked in and decided. You'll be starting (and finishing) at the Cochran's Ski Area. Some of you will even be camping there, so if you miss the start, it's on you. If we can find a way to somehow include the new dual slalom trails into the route by golly we will!
From there, you get a pretty fantastic stretch of road for 10 or 12 miles that I include in a bunch of my regular rides. It's a great way to stretch the legs out, warm-up, or create a separation from the main bunch if you feel like chasing Ansel around for a while. It starts off paved, and then changes to dirt right around mile 6.5. Or so. Along this road you go from Richmond, through Jonesville, through Bolton and into Duxbury. You're only in Duxbury for a quick minute while you make your way across route 100.
Across route 100 you hit the first challenge of the day which is a kind of long, definitely steep paved/dirt climb. Cobb Hill Rd. From here you enter the Squirrel Catcher, which serves as a great early test to make sure 1) You know WTF you're getting yourself into 2) Your bike and gear choices are up to the task 3) You're close enough to your car to turn-back and no one will be the wiser. All told, the Squirrel catcher isn't bad at all, it's short, with the current Strava KOM at 6:42. What it lacks in length it makes up for in variety of terrain; there are baby heads, loose gravel, mud, a stream crossing some years, tall grass and over-hanging branches, some bizarre cabins and ancient stone walls. Oh, and it's steep in sections, of course.
Out of the woods and down some double-ish track to a ripping fast descent. You hit RT 100B for a bit (stop and swim if you need a break after the first 1:15 of the ride) and make your way to Moretown and Moretown Common Rd. which, while quite the challenging climb, it substantially easier than going straight up Moretown Gap. For anyone wondering why we don't just head south to Moretown Mountain Rd, the simple answer is safety. The left hand turn onto Moretown Mtn Rd. is in a really strange blind spot and the intersection is just really terrible to navigate. So we go around and gobble up some extra dirt miles. New class 4 section as we approach Moretown Mtn. Rd from the north and a tiny waterfall.
Then up and up and up and down, to possibly my favorite road on the entire route. Though, it's terrible in the spring, so avoid it at all costs. Devil's Washbowl never disappoints.
From the entrance of Devil's Washbowl it's an enchanting 9 or so miles of single lane, secluded dirt roads that meander past piles of dumped trash, forgotten cabins, operating farms, seasonal camps and bunch of other strange things in the Vermont woods. You'll know you're just about out of the woods (so to speak) when you reach the Stony Brook covered bridge.
Don't be a knuckle head and blast out onto route 12. It's high speed and fairly narrow, so be aware. You're only there for about 3/4 of a mile. A quick dip down Lovers Lane and you get to the first general store along the route. AKA, a Mobil station. Their beer fridge is WELL stocked, so you may want to take a look. They've been known to have Lunch and Another One at certain times.
Word of Warning: While you're in the Mobil station contemplating a Coke or a Snickers or if 10:00am is too early for a beer, consider this- You are now just shy of 40 miles into IRR, it's been 2.5-3.5 hours and things are about to get REAL WEIRD and it's going to happen REAL FAST. What you do next is entirely up to you.
All but lost-
Onward I say... A quick zig and zag and if you haven't yet, this next section should get you to mutter a decent WTF or two. This a real world, living definition of DGAF riding. Though, truth be told, there are some components that may force you to walk. ::shrug:: Few people saw this section during IRR 5.0, so it's been reversed and turned into an uphill for IRR 6.0, just to be sure you really absorb it's forgotten beauty. Then you hit some super rad climbs that approach 15% and kick to the finish at 12%. Easy stuff. Then you turn into what looks like a driveway/cow pasture. Mostly because it is those two things.
What happens next-
You've made it to mile 49, and if this is anything like IRR 5.0 there will be a cooler stuffed full of 40s any second now. (You know, 40oz, malt liquor, Old English...). And from here, it's like a sweet siren song of the mountains calling you. The road follows the gentle curve of a stream, there are waterfalls, it's secluded and quiet. Splendid really. It's not steep, the double track is wide and pleasantly smooth and you'll happen upon a huge clearing with a brand new bridge heading what appears to be straight up the opposing hillside. And you'll think "That's steep AF! But at least I can see the top, let's get to it." Well, sorry friend, that's not where you're headed. If you're looking at the bridge, thinking about how nice it would be, turn 90 degrees to your right and look for that scratch of a road carved into the forest. That's your destiny.