Have you ever wanted to participate in a triathlon but been intimidated by the idea of all those young, fit athletes and all the training necessary to succeed? Never fear, you can be a tri-athlete without angst by scheduling your own personal “race” day. You don’t need a tri suit, you don’t need to train for months, and you don’t even have to keep to the typical run, swim, bike legs of traditional triathlons.
A few years back, my friend Barbara and I did a spontaneous three-sport day by adding a bike ride to our swim/kayak outing. While reminiscing about the fun we had, and how fit, athletic (and tired) we felt afterwards, we devised a plan for our own personal triathlon. Since neither of us runs, our only rule was “no running!”
Part of making up your own triathlon is discovering new areas and new routes that suit your level of fitness. We would hold our “competition” in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont: kayaking in May Pond, swimming in Crystal Lake and biking one of the quiet paved roads near the lake. Barbara was concerned about impact on our friendship of any disputes during the triathlon. She was immediately named race director.
Both Crystal Lake and May Pond are located in the town of Barton, Vermont, “the Center of the Kingdom,” population 2780 in the 2000 census. Barton is 40 miles from my house so Barbara met me and we loaded up her car with kayaks, paddles, life vests, bikes, changes of clothing for the various activities and of course snack food: granola bars, dried pineapple slices and raw carrots. We would buy lunch in Barton.
Whole websites are devoted to the right combination of carbs and protein to eat before, during and after a race. We found the perfect fuel stop and a step back into nostalgia at The Step Back Café. Located inside the Barton Pharmacy, it’s an old fashion soda fountain complete with round stools that spin . . . A sign on the wall says “5 cent Coca Cola,” but a hand printed sign underneath states, “this price will not be available during the summer months.” Food possibilities include eggs for breakfast, sandwiches and fries, and of course ice cream sundaes.We order sandwiches to go—grilled chicken and bacon on a roll for me, tuna on whole wheat for Barbara . Both came with a bag of chips–a recommended triathlon food group. The waitress, nickname Lou, was nice enough to pose for a photo.
Twenty minutes later we were at May Pond. The Nature Conservancy of Vermont owns a relatively undeveloped 744 acre parcel that includes 5000 feet of pond frontage and land that rises dramatically onto the western side of Wheeler Mountain. The pond is a “no motor, no swim” area which makes kayaking here a delight–no noise and no bodies in the water. After hoisting our kayaks off the car, our stomachs told us it was time to fuel up.
An “older” couple (they may have been younger than these two sixty-something triathletes) were unloading small kayaks –the only two other people in sight.
We watch as he adjusted the pegs in her kayak and showed her how to paddle sitting in a kayak on the grass. He is very solicitous, and she shy. We conclude that they are on a first date. Later we see them at the far end of the pond practicing forward and reverse sweeps that make maneuvering the kayak easier.
Our paddle around the pond can best be described as contemplative and heart-rate-lowering: wind at our backs, water lilies in bloom, and frogs croak loudly. Along the shore blue flag irises waved in the wind and bamboo-like plants rustle. We discover that the underside of lily pads are scummy and that the plopping sounds are made by tiny frogs jumping away from our boats.
Rounding a corner the wind changed, forcing us to pay attention to our paddling. We spotted loon nesting signs posted to keep boats away but no loons, twig piles along the banks (muskrat dens?); long views to what appears to be a tree farm. The highlight of the paddle was seeing a great blue heron hunting along the shoreline.
Do we really have to leave?
Kayak leg total time: 1 ¼ hours
Crystal Lake State Park, located 15 minutes from May Pond, offers almost a mile of sandy swimming beach. Approximately three miles long and about one mile in width, this 778-acre glacial lake is beautifully situated among roughhewn mountain sides. The cold waters are 100 feet deep in places. The large, historic, granite bathhouse has rest rooms, changing areas, and a concession stand where you can also rent kayaks and canoes. After changing to our swimming suits we headed down to the lake.
Transition time: ¾ hour
Hi, it’s Barbara here, taking over to tell you about our swim and bike legs.
Actually, I don’t know if you could really call our swim a triathlon leg because we didn’t stay in the water more than 20 minutes. Crystal Lake looked inviting, clear and calm. A group of ten year-olds had been playing around on a float and we had been enjoying their giggling and horseplay for a half hour or so during our transition time. With boldness and intention we waded into the sandy-bottomed lake up to our waists before we stopped, then looked at each other a little surprised. We found the water very, uh, ‘refreshing’, as experienced swimmers like to call cold. Pat was about to chicken out but I reminded her that we had agreed to a swim leg, and so we decided at a minimum to dunk our bodies. Once wet, I challenged Pat in a race to the furthermost buoy bordering the park’s swim area and after we got the crawl arms swinging we felt great! “MMMMM,” I think I heard Pat say as she touched the orange float first. She would continue saying MMMMM many more times throughout the day.
Swim leg: 1/2 hour
We toweled off and sat on the thick grass overlooking the lake, warming up under the strong sun. We tromped back into the bathhouse to pull bicycle shorts up over damp hips, a time consuming effort that gave us a glimpse into why triathletes swim and bike in the same clothes!
At the car we unhitched our bikes from the rack and prepped them with water bottles and a map (just in case), donned helmets, gloves and sunglasses. We agreed to a 20 mile ride (tops), allowing ourselves the option of a shorter loop should the effort prove too much.
Transition time to bike: 1/2 hour
We swung into the saddles. Immediately, a steep hill on the park exit road woke us up to the job of pedaling. After crossing over railroad tracks and through a stop light in Barton we began breezing leisurely east along Route 5, known locally as Lake Street, for obvious reasons. Following the shore of this beautiful lake, we took in the view of the cliffs on the opposite shore, a couple of fishing boats bobbing about, kayakers in red boats, and the roofs of tidy summer cottages just below us on the near side. The air was filled with the smell of garden flowers.Traffic was light and we biked two abreast on the wide shoulder, chatting amiably. I thought this might be one of the flattest roads in all of Vermont, right here in the middle of the wild Northeast Kingdom. Could that possibly be?
As we left the lake a few gentle hills unfolded. The wind was at our backs and the miles ticked by. We were in the forest now with remnants of the lake transformed into swampy areas. We came across a set of six houses that looked strangely identical, like some sort of company housing, all occupied but plunked in the middle of nowhere. A bit further on we spied a four-story abandoned brick factory-type building behind a chain link fence, nearly hidden by the overtaking forest. We stopped to look. I felt a mystery unfolding and an urge to play Nancy Drew! “Let’s go investigate,” I blurted out, and Pat followed me through the locked gate that had been forced open just enough to let a body through.
Inside the main building we looked for clues that would tell us what industry had risen and died here next to a set of double railroad tracks. . . but we came up completely empty. Nothing had been left behind except a huge hook and tackle on a steel cross beam in the ceiling.
The floor was littered and the walls covered in graffiti. Aargh! We couldn’t figure out the building’s purpose and later web investigation also proved fruitless. The mystery remained unsolved and I felt that I had let Nancy down. The snooping, however, had provided a nice diversion although we were sure real triathlon officials would not have approved.
In another mile we reached our turnaround point and began retracing our route. The strong breeze had been with us all day but now we biked against it. The gentle hills had grown into monsters and it no longer seemed like we had discovered one of the flattest roads in all of Vermont! We became serious bikers, taking turns leading the peloton of one. With this diligence, the first we’d shown in any leg of our personal triathlon, we quickly covered the miles back to the park. Total bike mileage: 20.2. Legs tired. Riders happy.
Bike leg: 2 1/2 hours (counting our stop!)
We stowed our bikes on the car looked at the lake . It was calling to me for a final swim. Pat was hesitant, I’m a Pisces (sign of the fish) and was not. We hit the bathhouse again and emerged in our swimsuits. This time the water truly refreshed us.
Back in our civilian shorts, we were ready to motor home. But wait! Those twenty miles of stoking on the steel steeds had made us hungry. Pat announced that she had saved something special for last – homemade oatmeal and coconut scones. Woohoo! We sat on the grass by the lake for one last look while savoring our treats. We had paddled, swum, biked, swum again and eaten like true triathletes. As race director I declared us the winners!
Transition time: 1 hour
Total time: 6 ½ hours in the sun.