I love getting up early in the morning before dawn, slinging bike gear into my car, and heading out to a new destination with outcome uncertain. This is adventure, weekend style, packed into the empty corners of the attic of a busy modern life.

Of course, I choose it to be this way – I could simply fit my bike with all my bike-packing gear, take a credit card and head off for as long as I wanted. It’s a choice, maybe not the right one, who knows. One might say you’re scared to try, some might say it’s just responsibility and real life.

Either way, I’ll take the moment of freedom, and enjoy the drive through the pre-dawn farm land of the St Laurence river valley. Crossing the border at 4:30am is a breeze, and before long it’s breakfast, gas and more coffee than I really need.

Getting to Randolph, Vermont is easy and turning off the I-87 am greeted with a valley of fog into which I descend. Of course I’m super early – not even any sign of the race and the organizers yet. So I take a nap, find the 3 Bean café for a lovely spot of breakfast, then by the time I’m back at the parking lot, some racers have arrived. We chat, size each other up, chat some more, register, get ready and go about our pre-race routines.

It’s a comforting feeling to know everything is ready for the day and that the day will be focused on the pleasure/pain dynamic of going as bloody hard as you can without blowing up.

The weather is mild, the fog clears, my bike is humming, the new tires awesome and the gearing perfect for gravel grinding. Who knew that gear ratios would be so affected by tire size. My mechanic told me the day before but I was skeptical to say the least.

Most of the riders are on cross bikes, which I seem to gravitate to more and more these days. The plus news is that they are relatively inexpensive, build tough and you know you can take them all over town, country and beyond. It’s the best way to cover long distances.My Trek 29er hardtail Superfly 9.8 is surely up to the task – I know I’m not a top racer, but will give it my best shot today for sure. I race in the same place I sit on a plane – front of economy and on rare occasions economy plus and rarer still business.

It’s an informal affair today, which is fun sometimes. At the start, the race director gives us guidance, wishes us luck, advises us to finish alive and we’re off. A quick roll through town, a couple of kms and then the first hill.