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.