Gravel Cycling Adventures: Full Steam Ahead
The Vermont Overland to be held Sunday, August 23
When registration for the Vermont Overland gravel adventure bike race went live on BikeReg on January 1, 2019, the event sold out within 12 minutes.
On January 1, 2020, the event sold out in under 10.
Then, halfway through March, Governor Scott issued the first executive order relating to the global pandemic, throwing the entire gravel bike event season into uncertainty.
The Vermont Overland is one of the preeminent gravel adventure rides of the Vermont gravel bike season. Begun in 2014, the Overland is a 44-mile route with over 5,700 feet of climbing. The route travels over mostly gravel roads, including seven sectors of “Vermont pavé,” or unmaintained public roads. The race is known to be extremely challenging.
The event starts and finishes at the home of Overland founder and race director Peter Vollers. Participants are invited to camp for the weekend in the fields on Vollers’s property, and at the end of the race are met with an afterparty that includes lunch and a local craft brew.
Fun Comes to a Screeching Halt
When the state began shutting down businesses and gatherings, gravel event organizers were faced with the decision to postpone or cancel. In the early days of the stay-at-home orders, many organizers made the hopeful decision to postpone their spring events to later in the summer or in the fall. As the stay-at-home orders have been renewed through early summer, most of these events have been tabled until next year.
Something to Look Forward To
Vollers himself postponed his March event, the Vermont Overland Maple Adventure Ride (VOMAR), to July. But after a great deal of thought, “more thought than I think I've ever given anything, and with full respect for those who don't agree with me,” as he said in a June 10 letter announcing his decision, Vollers has committed to proceeding with all of his events. VOMAR will be held on August 22 and the Overland will be on August 23, creating a weekend of Overland adventuring for gravel enthusiasts to enjoy. “I’m doing this because I feel in my soul that we all need something to look forward to,” he said. Included in this decision is Vollers’s third event, a 4x4 motorized overlanding adventure billed the Vermont Overland Birdwatching Safari that is slated for August 27–30.
The popularity of gravel bike riding has been growing over the last several years, driven in part by advancements in frame, wheel, gearing, and tire technology, allowing for riders to travel over very rugged and steep terrain. In the beginning of gravel adventure races, riders were predominantly male, but event organizers have been trying various incentives to encourage more women to come out and test themselves on these demanding routes.
Towards Gender Parity
Vollers realized that the quick sellout of his events meant that many women were locked out of the Overland. Since the ratio of women to men was something like 1 to 9, the Overland would sell out before many women had a chance to sign up. So he did something unprecedented for 2020. He re-opened registration for the Women’s Category to an unlimited number of riders and with no deadline. This means that even though the event is technically sold out, any woman who wants to take on the Overland can register, right up to the day of the event.
Positivity in our Hearts and Minds
There remains the possibility that the family of Overland events will have to postpone after all, if “required to do so by federal, state, or municipal rules, regulations, laws, or orders,” as Vollers put it in his statement. “Even if the events must be postponed come August, I thoroughly believe that a positive attitude and, more importantly, positive imaging in our hearts and minds, will help us get through this crisis in a better way.”