Monday, June 29, 2015

The Okemo Mountain hillclimb race filled a nice gap where I didn't have much going on. No off-Friday I'd have to waste, no other big race events, no epic group rides planned. I could even sleep in for the late morning start. I figured I could throw two bikes in the car, hit the race in the morning, then STAB trails in the afternoon (Sport Trails of the Ascutney Basin). I always wanted to check those trails out.

I had some dialog with Victoria Di Savino, a new hillclimber from Buffalo, regarding gearing for Whiteface and Okemo over the last few weeks. Her power numbers are small, but she is very small. Her W/kg number on Whiteface was on par with mine in best form. I was far from best form now, eschewing interval training these days and weighing about five pounds over my "climbing weight."   I told others I was getting chicked at Okemo on Saturday.

There were only about 90 of us lining up for the start at the Jackson Gore resort. The chicane down to Rt 103 is neutral, then the race goes live. The first two miles have slight downhill bias and can be very fast if young studs are going for a course record. But not today. Everybody sat up and we putzed along at about 22mph. Was fine by me, but these crazy flat or downhill starts to hillclimb races can add considerable variability when comparing your time to years past.

We turned right up Mountain Rd and immediately were slapped with double-digit grade. That spreads things out pretty quickly. I saw Erik Vandendries pull away with the fastest guys. He's 50 now and I can't touch him. I knew from the registration list he'd win my age group and I still had a shot at second, but Tom Fagan, also in the field, is riding strong these days. There'd be no slacking off.

Before long, Victoria came floating by, dancing on the pedals, barely breathing. Dang, how many tough guys were humbled that morning? More than a few, I'm sure. She pulled away and I thought, well, that was that.

Tom was ahead of me for a while and not letting up. I felt like I was going backwards. I didn't feel particularly awful or anything. I just wasn't going very fast.

But then, as in most hillclimb races, those that go out too hard start to come unraveled. I started passing people. I caught up to Tom. Victoria dangled just ahead. I found I could gain a little on Tom on the less steep parts but he'd gain it back when it got steep again. I could never seem to gain on Victoria. This went on for the last half of the climb, the three of us never spread more than 5-10sec apart.

We passed the 0.5mi to go mark and now I was on Victoria's wheel. I would have been content to just stay there over the timing mat. But Tom would have none of that. He came gunning for me about 15 seconds from the finish. I had no choice but to respond. To make it even more interesting, Kevin Bessett joined in the party. I've never sprinted harder at the end of a hillclimb. Victoria had no idea what was going on except three guys just came out of nowhere and crossed the line right in front of her. I saved my second place finish, just barely. That burst at the end put me the closest ever to hurling at a finish. My time was two minutes off my best, but most of that could be attributed to the slow start.

Victoria handily won the women's field, and I suspect some climbing records could fall next year if she sticks with it. The steep monotonic climbs will suit her really well.

A fine day to hang out at the finish

As always, Glenn from Okemo and the Rotary Club team put on a top notch event. Very reasonably priced compared to the other climbs and at a great resort venue. The food after was perfect with healthy selections and all kinds of yummy treats. Would really like to see more people at this event next year. There's nothing to not like about it.

After eating, I split to hit the STAB trails before rained moved in. I was humbled again by the steepness and technical difficulty of these trails. The level of engineering and creative use of natural features was stunning. It just wasn't my preferred kind of riding material. Trashed legs and balding Racing Ralph tires didn't help matters. There is a lot of exposed granite to ride there. With the ground a bit moist and tires that have marginal traction when new on terrain like that, I found sections a bit terrifying.

I must say though, I could like a few trails there. The South Ridge trail was a work of beauty. I'd hit that again. Many smooth granite outcroppings were worked into that loop.

With skies getting dark and no telling how close the rain was (no 4G signal), I pulled the plug early and finished with only 14 miles and another couple thousand feet of climbing. I'd have to explore more of the trails and hit Joe's Jungle just north of there another day.

Trail called Hay Ride I finished on. Switchbacks a mile down this giant field.


Rapha Inspired Gravel Grinding

Friday, June 19, 2015

I've ridden variants of the 2012 Rapha Gentlemen's Race course that snaked through VT and NH four or five times now.  Just the good part too, the section that makes many big hops through Vermont's mountains. The loop offers all the desirable aspects of cycling in spades, great views, challenging climbs, endless descents, solitude and minimal traffic. A cross bike is highly recommended for this route. There are a couple Class 4 roads that would be treacherous on skinny road tires.

Heading over to VT on I-89, a black bear and I almost collided. The bear came bounding at high speed out of the woods to my right. I didn't think I was going to stop in time and started to maneuver to avoid it. But just as the bear came to the pavement, it saw me, did a four paw stop and 180'd back into the woods. That was only my first of three close animal encounters for the day.

Early in the ride on the first Class 4 road, I was ripping downhill when I heard a crashing sound to my left. A large deer came bounding down the mountain on a collision course with me. Slamming on the brakes again, this time on a bicycle with no protection around my body. The deer obviously saw me and cleared the road in one leap about head high fraction of a second ahead of me. That got my heartrate going.

Then on the second to last descent of the ride, I'm hauling ass when a fat woodchuck hops out of the brush immediately ahead of me. I didn't even get my fingers to the levers when I heard and felt a bonk at the rear wheel. The wheel didn't go over it. The woodchuck either t-boned a spoke or the rim. I turned around to look and saw woodchuck four-paws to the sky out cold. A second later, it sprung back to life and scampered off. Dang, that was close. I was going close to 40mph on dirt. Had it gone into the front wheel... I don't even want to think about that. By the way, my redneck friends I grew up with in Michigan would cook those things. Mighty tasty, actually.

I added a climb I hadn't done before into this ride. It was Spring Rd/Monarch Hill. The 900ft grunt up dirt Spring Rd was quite scenic. Reminded me a bit of Glade Hill Rd in the Catskills, but not quite as steep. The descent on Monarch Hill Rd was by far the best descent of the ride. Perfectly monotonic, smooth packed gravel and nice views down the valley.

There was rarely a moment when I was out of ear shot of rushing water on this ride. It must have rained hard into the early morning hours. Everything was flowing. It left the gravel firm and tacky, hero gravel, if there is such a thing.

This ride finishes over Turnpike Rd. Why is it that so many New England roads with Turnpike in the name are roads that were abandoned before cars came along? Anyway, Turnpike Rd starts out as nicely groomed gravel, almost two lanes wide. Then it drops to one lane, still occasional houses and a power line along the way. As elevation is gained, grass appears in the middle. That would classify Turnpike Rd as doubletrack. But after the last house, the road becomes full-blown jeep track. That rain I just mentioned? Yep, the jeep track was a quagmire. It was too rocky to sink in with 38mm tires, but there were huge puddles that could not be entirely avoided. Plenty of off-camber wet granite too. I'd be surprised if I average over 4mph for this half-mile section. Only one dab though. Once through it, it is six miles of continuous downhill back to the car. The ride went 66mi with 7600ft of climbing in 4.6hrs. Here are a few pictures from my shitty waterproof camera.

Top of first climb, Bragg Hill.

Joe Ranger Rd.

Strawberries at high point of second major climb, Old Kings Hwy.
They were yummy, much more flavorful than the giant mass produced kind.

Allen Hill Rd.

Top of Foundry Rd climb from Strafford Rd.

The treat at the end, Turnpike Rd. Can't tell from photo how wet this was.
At least there was only half a mile of it.


Wilmington-Whiteface "Road" Race with MTBs

Monday, June 8, 2015

Race reports are becoming pretty rare here. Probably because I must race to create race report blog fodder. I decided to commit to the Wilmington-Whiteface 100k race earlier this spring when a few teammates decided to give it a try. The race has been on my list for a couple years.

Wilmington-Whiteface is a Leadville 100 qualifier race. There are several qualifiers around the country. Interest in Leadville exploded after big-name pros started racing it and a movie was made about it. The lottery system for entry wasn't working anymore. Thus a system of qualifying races arose. Wilmington is the only east-coast qualifier.

After months of borderline over-training by riding copious junk miles, I thought maybe a break would be a good idea. Backing off is the hardest thing for me to do. Exercise is an addiction not unlike chemical addictions.

Lining up 7am, it was freaking cold and windy. There was frost on my car leaving for the race. It was supposed to warm up into the 60's. It wasn't clear if I pitched layers later on the course if I'd get them back or not. I didn't want to lose any of my brand new team items. The course starts with five miles of descending. Could I tough it out in short sleeves for 10 minutes before hitting the first climb? Few were taking the chance. I shed my long layers minutes before the shotgun start.

Single wave mass start. Myself on left, John Mosher in blue Wheelworks kit, and
teammate Mike Harris on right.

Sitting about third row back of upwards of five hundred racers, things were a bit sketchy. Speeds stayed 30-40mph for much of the first five miles. Many times I hard the load braaap of knobby tires rubbing. Keep that shit behind me and try to hold my position, I thought to myself.

My GPS recorded a low of 37F during the first minutes of the race. I was just reaching the point of shivering so badly that I was getting wobbly on the bike. The first climb couldn't come soon enough.

Not warming up whatsoever, the Bartlett Rd climb was a kick to the nuts. Just like that, a large contingent of riders split over the top and I was relegated to the chase group. Oh boy, not a good start. Drafting, I learned, turned out to be a pretty big deal in this MTB race.

I barely regained some core body temperature before rocketing down the back side. 10 miles in, I was wondering why I didn't bring an eight pounds lighter cross bike. Nothing but pavement and well groomed gravel.

Then we turn onto Styles Brook Rd. This paved, double-digit grade hurt. Interestingly, I was part of a large pack again. Did we bridge back up to the front of the race? It was quite possible. This would be short lived. I had no interest in matching the pace being set up front. The pack began to distill into many smaller packs.

After a brief respite, we turned onto Jay Mountain Rd, a seasonal forest road. This went up a lot more on rough gravel.  The grade wasn't severe. All that meant is you just had to go faster, not any easier, if you wanted to stay in the race. I had no familiarity with the course. I kind of remembered what the profile looked like. I could view the profile climbed so far on my GPS. I knew the descent was coming soon, after climbing 1600ft.

I quickly learned why very few bring cross bikes to this race. At speed, the descent off Jay Mountain is quite treacherous. I was hitting speeds of 30-40mph on what was little more than a jeep track. Touch the brakes for even an instant, five guys would come around just like that and fill gap in front of you. That was no good, so don't hit the brakes, stupid.  The only flat I passed on this descent was somebody with a cross bike. That could have been 100% of the cross bikes that were ahead of me.

After bottoming out, I found myself with about a dozen guys with big gaps fore and aft to other groups. Teammate Tom Casparis was in my group.  I did not know any of the others.  Jay Mountain did its selection job.

A bit of road work brought us to the first truly off-road section. I wouldn't go so far as to call it singletrack, but it was definitely woods riding on loam. A 500ft grunt strung us out a bit. After contouring through the woods, the gradient pointed back down. Organizers actually had volunteers out there to warn us of impending doom. It wasn't that bad actually, actually tame by New England standards. I was a bit cautious only because I was riding rock hard tires on a hardtail. On my Tallboy with 18psi in the tires, I could have ripped that descent with reckless abandon.

This little four mile lollipop loop through the woods was the turn-around point for the race. Now it was pretty much retrace the track back, including going back up that 1600ft plummet on loose gravel. Our group of a dozen riders was still intact heading into the climb. Pace was a bit leisurely for me. I figured once at the top, it was kind of all downhill to the finish from there. Yeah, right. I picked up the pace and started to roll away from the group.

Pushing hard by myself in a personal pain cave, I started to close on another two riders. One was Drew Bennett riding for Corner Cycle, the other Billy Railey from Florida. I didn't know either rider and mentioned I was 50+. Drew said I needed to worry about Jimmy. Great. I just had to open my mouth. I just put a bulls eye on my back as I pulled away from them. Jimmy had ripped, tanned legs and had snap that seemed to have faded from my legs.

I crested the top, dismayed to see Drew and Jimmy just seconds behind me. I was even more distressed by the fact that as soon as I let up, inner thigh muscle spasms struck me. The was about 2.8hrs into the race and I had upwards of 2hrs to go. This was not going to end well.

On the gravel descent, which was not nearly as sketchy as the side we just came up, Drew and Jimmy quickly overtook me. On the bright side, at least I'd have somebody to work with. We hit speeds of 50+ mph on the lower paved portion of the descent, the double-digit grades we climbed earlier.

Then it dawned on me. It wasn't all downhill to the finish. We had to climb the back side of Bartlett Rd, an 800ft gravel grunt. Now I was fighting constant spasms. I'm sure the other two thought I was feigning fatigue to get out of doing any work. Regardless, they pounced every-time I paused to stretch my hammies. Bastards! I barely got back on a couple of times.

On the way back to Whiteface, we took another lollipop off the out-and-back to hit some honest to goodness singletrack. This was the Hardy Trails. I had heard it was quite buff material. We had scooped up another younger rider, so four of us entered the woods together. I hopped on Drew's wheel as he led. The trails were indeed very nice. Drew was a bike handler and rallied the turns! It was great to have somebody to follow. Before I knew it, Billy and the other guy were nowhere to be seen behind me. Now just if I could fend off the cramp demons a bit longer.

Then really bad spasms struck. I would have been off the bike had we still been going up hill. Ironically, Drew had the same issue and did have to stop. I motored on best I could. Carving the non-stop turns on the descent, I got sloppy and clipped a tree hard with my shoulder. A centimeter further over, it would have been a fracture. It nearly threw me off the bike. Dang, did that hurt. It left a huge raspberry on my shoulder and almost tore my jersey open.

My friend Alex, who was crewing for another friend had a water bottle for me entering the Hardy Trail. I said nope, only 6 miles left, so don't need the weight. Big mistake. My small Camelbak was already empty, and I figured there was only 20 minutes left of riding. Also a mistake. I really could have used the carbs, fluids and electrolytes in that bottle.

Heading out of Hardy Trail, a couple miles of road are taken to Whiteface Mountain, the off-road finale to the finish. It was supposedly only three miles. How hard could that be? Impossibly hard if your legs stop functioning with any kind of knee bend. The cramping would not stop, and now multiple muscle groups were getting into the tortuous action. I had no choice but resort to straight leg hike-a-bike all of the climbing. Didn't matter much at first, as a couple guys I was riding with at that point did not gain on me riding the steep, rooty, greasy terrain. I could still breath hard walking my bike up.

The problem was, as soon as I got back on my bike to pedal, instant spasms. F-bombs! Eventually the trail pointed down and I could almost ride my bike. But WTF, the course went right back up a ski slope! I was coming scary close to having another Everest Challenge debacle. I could barely move anything without everything cramping on me. I kept looking down the ski slope, expecting Jimmy to any moment come flying up. At this point in the race, I still had no idea if we were competing for a podium spot, but I was pretty sure I would not be on it if Jimmy passed me. I pushed through the pain.

Eventually the course crests again, and spectators said it was for real this time. I didn't believe it. People always lie about these things. The course did start pointing down, and in no trivial manner. More brownie mix covered roots were encountered. The problem I had now was I couldn't even bend my legs to absorb bumps without cramping. I was hike-a-biking down! This sucked big time. Eventually the trail popped out on a service road I could ride down. That finish line couldn't come soon enough. Would I have another cataclysmic seize-up 200m from the line like I did at Everest Challenge?

Crossing the finishing mat, destroyed.

I rolled across the mat in 4:35:57, much faster than I thought I'd finish. After eating copious watermelon, Coke and water, the cramping finally started to subside. It took a while to for my result to show. I was shocked to see it was good for 2/62 finishers in the M50+ category, 24th overall out of 350+ 100k finishers. Dave Wiens, now 50, won my age category. Podium shot with Dave Wiens - I'll have to stick around for that!

There is a lot to like about this race. I found it to be very well organized and run. The course was well marked and marshaled. Live music and descent food. What about the course itself? Well, I have a fondness for loops, especially single big loops. Examples are the Vermont 50 or Ironcross courses. A mostly out-and-back on roads is not as inspiring. I do believe the course provides robust selectivity for the Leadville 100 in August. Nearly 8000ft of climbing in 67 miles on a mountain bike will punish the burliest of riders. If this course could be turned into a loop with a little less pavement, I'd definitely come back. I wouldn't rule out doing Whiteface again, but I think it was a check box race for me.

One of the prettier metals I've won.

I declined entry into Leadville at the awards. Not ready to commit to it right now. I almost made Gold status, which I think means first corral at Leadville.  I could always qualify another time if I wanted to give Leadville a go. I was set to do Leadville in 2010 when I broke my ankle. Since then my interest has faded. I'd rather visit the high country in Colorado at a non-race pace, as I do most years.


O2 for Free

Friday, June 5, 2015

Since the beginning of the year, I've maintained a fairly persistent volume of aerobic activity. First it was skiing, then riding as the snow gave way to bare Earth. I wouldn't go so far as to call this training. I have never been one to hold to a regimented training plan. I did try to achieve requisite amounts of specific stress levels each week when I raced more regularly. But as the motivation to race waned, so too did the desire to "train."

My riding these days has very little structure to it. Gone are the mandatory midweek interval sessions. Instead, hard steady-state rides are more likely. Mentally less taxing, yet punishing enough to suppress the mental demons that arise without a taxing workout. Weekends have become long 4-6hr mountain bike rides.  Dubious training value at best, but these junky miles are where all the fun is!

So I have a big race this weekend, the Wilmington-Whiteface 100k. Never done it. Profile and duration look a lot like many rides I've done this spring. I'm not really interested in qualifying for the Leadville 100, but this race isn't very technical (aka roadie friendly) and I need to try it at least once. I haven't been over to the Lake Placid area in a while.

Staying injury free has allowed me to ride at a fairly high stress level continuously for months. To be sure, I'm talking physical stress here. One thing I've noticed is that my head stays on a much calmer, smoother operating plane this way. I've never taken any kind of mental stability drugs. I can't help but think daily, rigorous exercise produces a similar outcome with less side effects.

Leading up to a race, I thought maybe it would be good to take a breather for once. Others implored that I should rest for a change too. Taking it easy all week, the changes I notice are profound. For one, I find myself more easily distracted. Mind gets going in too many directions. I also find small annoyances are more apt to set me off.  I have a poster up in my office that says "WARNING: I haven't had my bike ride yet today. Don't make me kill you!" There is a lot of truth to that. Regular, strenuous exercise seems to quash all of that.

The other thing I notice with rest is physical. It is no surprise that perceived effort goes down when one is well rested for exercise. But I have quantitative evidence that there is even more than just perceptions at play here.

I've learned that my active recovery pace is one that I can maintain with breathing through my nose. If I have to open my mouth to breath, I'm going too hard. On the power meter, this is around 170W. An interesting thing happens though, when I become rested. I can go harder, higher Watts, same perceived effort, while still breathing through my nose. It is like I am getting oxygen for free from some other source. It would be really cool to measure cycling economy when tired vs rested. My suspicion is that economy improves when rested, so less calories and oxygen are consumed for the same power level. Since cyclists are typically only 20-25% efficient to begin with, there is a lot of room for variation or improvement.  Using perceived effort alone as one tapers for an event is risky, as restfulness goes up, perceived effort goes down, potentially duping one into ruining a taper.

Anyway, trying not to take this race too seriously. I think Dave Wiens will be there again, and he's 50+ now! So much for a win (just kidding). Looking forward to breaking my week long fast of intensity on Sunday.


Muggy White Mountains Adventure

Sunday, May 31, 2015

As a final "training" ride for the Wilmington-Whiteface 100k next weekend, I wanted to do something comparable on Saturday. Not a bury myself, perpetuating the hole I constantly keep myself in kind of ride, but something fun with just the right amount of training stress. The southern fringe of the White Mountains offer some sustained non-technical climbs with minimal to no traffic. One of my favorite segments in all of the White Mountains to integrate into a loop is Sandwich Notch/Algonquin Road. Sandwich Notch is a seasonal forest service road that gains 1000ft on rough gravel, and Algonquin Rd is an even rougher gated logging road that follows the Beebe River.

Keith Button is training for some ultra endurance events coming up soon too, a few 100 mile MTB races. Keith thought a climby, semi-off road loop in the Whites sounded like a good idea for a humid day.

Starting out, Keith asked about how long of a warmup we'll get before the first climb. Um, that just was the warmup! My sadistic route heads right up Campton Mtn. I had reasonably fresh legs and wanted to hit the first two climbs slightly anaerobic, then back off a little for the rest of the ride.

Campton Mtn has some exceedingly steep pitches near the top, nearing 20% grade. The way I saw it, the "easy" 10% first half was the warmup for the upper section. That felt pretty good.The climb is mostly paved, the descent mostly gravel on almost as steep gradients. That was a quick 1200ft of climbing.

With barely a breather in between, Sandwich Notch is attacked next. The paved start quickly gives way to rough jeep road gravel further up. Again, there are several upper-teens pitches on this 1000ft climb. I waited for Keith a bit at the top, and when he appeared, sounds were coming from his drive train that should never come from a drive train. His chain was failing. Well, at least it didn't interrupt a good climb.

Fortunately, I brought my Camelbak on this hot day, where I carry everything but the kitchen sink. I had spare Shimano 9spd pins and chain breaker. A link on his Shimano chain looked like maybe it was mis-stamped. A pin didn't hold. Pushing the pin out was challenging because the link was a little bent and the pin wasn't lining up to push out. My sweet all-stainless Lezyne chain tool broke. SOB! Now what? Best option at the time seemed to be to push the bent over plate back on the existing pin in the chain and pray it holds. You generally can't get away with this anymore since Shimano changed their design many years ago. You must use a new pin. It seemed to work, but Keith is a big guy and can put out mad Watts.

Two-thirds of the back-stop broke away. Images of new versions of this tool show
Lezyne greatly beefed up this area. Not a cheap tool. Hoping Lezyne will send me
this replacement piece.

After rolling along many miles of back gravel roads, we came to a cut-through I wanted to explore. The Strava Heat Map was lightly lit up, so I knew people were riding it. Was it only in winter on groomed snowmobile trails? On MTBs because terrain is so rough? Only one way to find out.

It starts as Town Farm Rd, a barely used logging road. As the grade steepened, so did the roughness. It was fully rideable on cross bikes though. As we reached the high point, the "road" was barely there, more like a singletrack down what may have been a logging route a century ago. Cool riding, but the few stream crossing were too much to risk riding through on cross bikes. Some very slow going through this two mile section, but worth checking out. I probably wouldn't ride this on a cross bike again, but would love to find a way to work into one of my MTB loops in the area.

Crossing under I-93 brought us to the next climb, Bog Road. It is gravel most of the way up and all the way down, quite choppy because a very large aggregate gravel is laid down on much of it. Perfect for cross bikes.

Heading up Stinson Rd to the lake, Keith's chain let go again. We got this far by just pushing the plate back on the pin, so we thought why not try that again. We had just this one climb left.  But no. It failed almost right away again. There went my Strava  score! Actually, I don't give a shit about that anymore. This time, we had to figure out how to use my broken tool to remove links and put a new pin in. Wasn't easy. I also carry a small pliers. A pliers with the tool were enough to hold the chain together while pushing a pin in. Surprised the remaining nub left on the tool didn't crack off.

The descent back to Campton on paved Ellsworth Rd was brutal. This used to be a 50+mph rip, but now the road is so busted up that even on cross bikes with 38mm tires, you don't dare let your speed run out.

It was seriously hot at lower elevations as we finished. I was thinking a dip in the Mad River would be a perfect way to cap off a fine ride. We finished the 100k loop in 4.6hrs with 6800ft of climbing.

Keith topping out on Sandwich Notch with barely holding together chain.

Algonquin Rd along the Beebe River

Town Farm "Road"

Keith descending back side of Town Farm "Road"

Stream crossing on Town Farm

Instant post ride cool-down in the Mad River



Friday, May 29, 2015

Northeastcycling.com is down right now. It is nothing of my doing. I contacted Lycos about it, they opened and closed a ticket to address the problem, said it will be back up in 72hrs. We'll see. Not sure what is going on over there. I pay monthly subscription to maintain the domain name and keep that material up. You wouldn't expect your site to unexpectedly disappear, then take three days to go back up. Don't business rely on Lycos for web hosting services?


Frigid L.A.M.B

Monday, May 25, 2015

It's been a while since I've ridden the famed Vermont gaps in the Green Mountains. Been a while since I posted too:(  Hopefully things will start chilling out at work. It seems all I do these days is work, punctuated with rides. Without my therapeutic lunch rides, I'm quite certain I would lose my sanity.

A few weeks back, Dan Massucco and Brett were scheming a gap ride, maybe trying out the recently introduced Vermont Gran Fondo course. That sounded pretty good to me, two weeks out from my Whiteface 100k MTB race. This organized ride hits Lincoln, App, Middlebury and Brandon gaps, thus the moniker LAMB ride. What also caught my attention is this course hit some roads I've not been on, including a lengthy section of gravel Ripton Road that goes over a mini-gap. Keith Button and Isaac Old also joined us for a day off suffering.

I've done many 4- and 6-gap rides on Memorial Day weekend. We've had heat indexes of 100F, torrential thunderstorms and run out of daylight. But I don't ever recall temps in the 20's overnight. It was a frigid start at 9am, maybe just barely hitting 40F. It didn't warm up a whole lot the rest of the day either. Suited me fine, a lot less fluids to consume, which puts my electrolytes out of balance.

Dan has a house on Middlebury Gap in Hancock. Fortunately, it was business right away going up and over the gap. Isaac established a no bullshit pace. The rest of us were talking at first, as Isaac started getting smaller and smaller up the road. Eventually the talking stopped, replaced by heavy breathing. I started running the scenarios. 1. Isaac was going to get bored riding with a bunch of old, slow guys (Isaac is younger than my son). 2. We were in for an ass whooping staying with Isaac. 3. First climb exuberance might catch up with Isaac on the last climb. I was leaning towards #3, but hadn't ridden with or raced against Isaac in a while, so I didn't know.

It was colder up top, and I think the full ear band that also covered my forehead prevented me from getting an ice cream headache bombing down the other side. My eyes sure did tear up though. Once down at the bottom, it was a long haul on Rt 116 to App Gap. I didn't much care for this road, a tad busy, and in rough shape in spots. The route up through Bristol was quite nice though. I had no idea a little town like that was buried in the mountains. Reminded me a little of Telluride or Ouray in Colorado.

Next up was Appalachian Gap. I had to stop at the bottom to shed my outer layer to gain access to food in my pockets. The other four bolted. Inhaling a granola bar while starting the steep lower section of App Gap was just that. Inhaling crumbs.

I started to doubt I would see the others before the top. It took a long time to catch Brett and Isaac. Strava later told me that was the fastest I've ever climbed App Gap from that side. Yeah, it felt like it.

Instead of bombing all the way down to Waitsfield like we normally do on gap rides, we were going to cut across on German Flats Rd. This caused some consternation in the group, as we had already climb a butt load of vertical, more to go on German Flats, with uncertainty of where to get more water before Lincoln Gap. Dan assured us we could resupply in Warren at the store, a place I've never stopped at.

The store was well stocked with a boggling array of tasty treats. The cookies were to die for. Also picked up a homemade nut and granola bar for later in the ride. Also very good. Throwing 500+ calories down the gullet was probably not the wisest before Lincoln Gap. This climb has the claimed steepest paved mile in the United States. I hadn't done it in a while and wondered how I'd fare with my biggish 36x32 gearing on a heavy bike.

You start out thinking this ain't so bad. I can do this. I still got it. Then you hit the part Brett once muttered "Oh God" on. Doubts rise. I think I can do this. Shit, I might not make it. My bike is stopping between pedal strokes. How am I going to keep balance?! I was shadowing Brett on this section. He bobbled and came into my line. It is hard to get out of the way when your are going no more than 4mph! Contact averted, but I heard F-bombs as I continued my struggle. Keith brought the biggest gears of the five of us, a 36x28 ratio. I would not be able to keep going in that gear. Keith didn't walk but did take a breather on the steepest part. Lincoln Gap shows no mercy!

With that out of the way, the rest of the ride should be a breeze, right? Ripping the gravel descent, I nailed something pretty hard. Made me cringe. Tires were still hard. No broken spokes. Didn't think to check my water bottles though. I jettisoned my full, large bottle and was left with only a few ounces in my other bottle. Son of a bitch! It was probably 15 minutes of climbing back up to where I lost my bottle. That wasn't happening. Everybody else saw it in the road but didn't know it was mine.

Ripton Rd was deceptively hard. Upwards of 900ft of climbing on gravel to cut back across to bottom of Middlebury Gap where we descended earlier in the ride. The loop topologically is a figure-8. From the high point, there was a very long, gradual run-out to Middlebury Gap road. Despite being quite dry, the gravel was in pretty good shape. Just dusty.

In Ripton, we made our second and final stop for the 104 mile ride. I picked up a cage-able bottle of Vitamin Water. Only one climb left, the big, steep side of Brandon Gap. How hard could that be? Keith cramped up bad on Ripton Rd and decided to head back over Middlebury gap to Dan's house. This would be a lot less miles and maybe 1000ft less climbing than the full route.

I was running on fumes heading up Brandon. Brett and Dan were dueling on this one. I contemplated giving up and "just enjoy" this last climb. But no. That is not the Hill Junkie way. Dan continued to put the screws to both Brett and I. Isaac had drifted off the back early on. As we got to the final steep push to the summit, Dan must have been thinking "see you later suckers" as he pulled away. Stick a fork in me. I was done. After regrouping, we bombed down.

Fortunately, there was no more hard work on the way back to Dan's. Brandon drops monotonically to Rochester. There was nasty headwind to deal with for five miles on Rt 100 though. Dan did almost all the work.

Reaching Dan's driveway, I was 100ft short of 10,000ft of climbing. I just had to keep going up his dirt road to claim that last 100ft. Officially, the Gran Fondo route has 10.6kft. Brett measured almost exactly this with his Garmin 510. My 510 measures a lot less than most others.

That turned out to be a great ride on a fun course with a tight group of riders. I would do that loop again. If you'd like to ride these gaps, consider the supported Gran Fondo in a couple weeks. Here are a few photos from our ride.

View west from App Gap summit. Adirondaks just visible in distance. Must be 100 mile visibility.

Regrouping on App Gap. Brett, Dan and Isaac.
Looks warm, but I was chilled by the time we got to German Flats Rd.

Keith approaching summit of App Gap on 18% grade section.

General Store in Warren. All kinds of goodies here. This will be a stop on future gap rides.

Selfie on Lincoln Gap

Keith still smiling cresting Lincoln Gap.

Brett and rest of gang bottoming out on west side of Lincoln Gap.

Last climb of the day, Brett and Dan on Brandon Gap.


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