Alex Buskey: Together we can. Gravel, exploration and conservation.
I first met Alex in 2017 when I attended The Ranger, his land conservation awareness raising brainchild, in its inaugural year. Word through the cycling grapevine was that there was this “new gravel enduro ride in Tunbridge” and that it was going to be epic. I was intrigued and after finishing the event, I knew it would be a hit. By 2018 The Ranger had tripled in size and I have a feeling it’s not going to stop growing anytime soon. Registration for The Ranger opens this coming Friday 2/1/19, so I thought it was timely that Alex and I linked up for a VTDirt interview. Enjoy Alex’s remarks on the importance of conservation, gravel, exploration and Vermont in general.
Where did you grow up and what initially got you into cycling?
I grew up in Lebanon, NH. I initially got into cycling when I was 14 or so on a trip with some close family friends, Jim and Jan Proctor, while out on a motorcycle trip in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. We were moving about 80 miles to a new campsite and Jan suggested that she and I ride our road bikes. I will always remember that trip. I think at about mile 65 I had been prescribed the classic Swedish Fish and coke. I arrived completely drained and covered in sticky sugary goop. For some reason, I have been biking ever since.
When did you notice gravel cycling start to take off in Vermont?
I had been keeping up with stuff on The Radavist and some bikepacking sites for a bit, which had inspired my gravel riding, but I knew gravel cycling was going to take off in Vermont when I arrived at the first year of The Overland. I was blown away with the professionalism and vibe from the event. You could just tell that everyone else there had recognized that this was going to take off in VT.
What was your original goal behind The Ranger?
My background racing motocross and enduros led me to mountain biking as a form of cross training. I became immersed in the culture, which was very different from the road riding I was doing in the Upper Valley on Wednesday nights. I saw the chance in gravel riding to mix in a little bit of that culture. That was the first goal. My second goal was to give back and come up with an experience that would make people feel attached to Tunbridge and the surrounding area the same way that I felt. It’s not just a small pocket of Vermont that I believe has some of the best riding in the world, there is something very special about it’s agricultural history and the people who live there. I wanted people to see it and feel it the way I do while out exploring cow paths and class IV roads. I think we’ve achieved that through the course layout and the uniquely Tunbridge atmosphere after the ride at the fairgrounds.
Let's talk about New Vistas. Am I correct in thinking that AVC won the battle against their development plans? How much of a part did The Ranger play in the success of AVC? Can you tell the story behind that?
Yes, I would say that AVC can finally claim success. They have worked their tails off for the surrounding communities, and New Vistas publicly stating that building a 20,000 person gated development is not going to happen was a big win for them and everyone who lives here, but I would not say that they have won. New Vistas still owns a majority of the land and until it’s sold, they are keeping a watchful eye on things. I would say that The Ranger played a roll in celebrating everything that is so great about this region and the community. It has helped to bring people together and make us all realize what we have here and why it is so important to not only protect it but be thoughtful in planning for our future. After riding in those hills, there is no way you could want what New Vistas was proposing. That alone was a takeaway for participants that has an impact far beyond the money we helped to raise for the cause.
Gravel enduros. I feel like they are the less talked about way of the future for gravel events. What made you want to adopt this race format? Do you think it levels the playing field at all?
I think the way we went about laying out the first year of The Ranger definitely leveled the playing field a bit with a couple of the technical downhill class IV stages. We kept them uphill last year because of safety, but if we could find a way to mix in more technical features back into the enduro, then I think we’d be closer to a true enduro, and more of what I’d love to do. Like I said earlier, I am a mountain biker at heart and I want to mix a bit of that culture into the gravel scene. My vision hasn’t been completely realized. I was initially inspired to translate it into to a gravel event when I saw Grinduro pop up in California and then locally with Zac Freeman and the Braintree 357.
Not many people make their way up to Tunbridge, VT. How do you think the town and the fairgrounds add to the event?
Well, if you’re reading this and you haven’t been, you’ll just have to come find out for yourself. It’s just one of the most magical places in Vermont. The landscape, history, and culture really bring out that urge to get out and explore. It’s a dirt paradise.
Can you give us any glimpse as to what causes The Ranger 2019 will benefit?
Yeah, last year was the first year of our Junior Ranger kids event focused on getting kids to see the adventure possibilities that come with riding a bike. You know, going beyond the competitive stuff and showing them all the other cool things they can do and see while on their bike. So expanding on that and equalizing the ratio of men to women in the sport are two things we are focused on supporting this year through a couple of new partnerships and specific projects locally. I really believe that everyone should have access and feel comfortable at an event like this, so we’ve partnered with some amazing people to get us closer to accomplishing that. This along with our dedication to protecting this special place with the Alliance of Vermont Communities. I wish I could say more, but people can follow us on social media to see specific updates on our partnerships and the causes we’ll be supporting this year.
If you were to encourage anyone to explore an area of Vermont, what would it be? Any secret spots in particular that you’re willing to share?
Yes, I would say that most people reading this probably haven’t explored much of central Vermont just north of Tunbridge. One of my favorite areas is around East Corinth. You really feel like you are out there when you’re in the middle of the Sharon, Washington, Thetford area. Pretty remote spots and some of the snowmobile trails are in good enough condition to ride a gravel bike on. I feel as though I’m in the Canadian wilderness whenever I ride up there.
What is your all-time favorite gravel ride?
Well, I have many favorite rides depending on the region in Vermont, but here’s one of them from my favorite place. If you want to justify having two Worthy Burgers and hazy double IPA, this is your ride. You’ll have to do a bit of exploring in the unmarked areas, but that’s the point.
To access our full Route Database, joing the GRAVEL–TRIBE!
Favorite VT beer, go:
Thanks, Ansel. Put me right on the spot. Well, being completely honest, I would say last year’s version of Together We Can by Brocklebank and Upper Pass at The Ranger was the best beer I had in 2018. It was so smooth and juicy. Dehydration from running around the whole day might have amplified that experience, but that’s what I felt ;)
Gear: what would you recommend as a minimum in the bike/gear department for someone signing up for The Ranger? Is there anything in particular that you think is a must-have?
Start by bringing your desire to explore and your appetite for delicious local food and drink. Then bring a bike that is geared to handle a lot of climbing. We have people ride a variety of bikes. From mountain bikes to road bikes, we’ve seen that they all get the job done, but if you want the ultimate experience, you want a gravel specific bike with some very progressive gear options.
Wisdom. If you had one piece of advice for people hoping to explore Vermont atop their bike more, what would it be?
I’d tell them that it's just about forgetting all of that weight stuff and loading up with anything that prepares you for the worst case scenario. Get a frame bag if it means being able to feel comfortable going further. It helps to put you in the mindset where you are OK making spontaneous decisions to check out a new road that may put you out there a bit further. We all have tight schedules and put a lot of effort into the route planning to make the most of our time outside on our bike, but I feel that if we just loaded up and made it a goal to check out a new road more often, we’d get more out of that time. It’s such a rewarding feeling to find a new road or trail that you haven’t been on before and we should all do it more often. I think aside from that, everyone reading this should hop on their email and send you a message of encouragement to expand the incredible resource you have created with VTdirt.
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