A while back I learned Eric Brandhorst was organizing a September 18 gap ride. I was still recovering from my injury and figured Eric invites a pretty broad spectrum of riders, so maybe I'd have somebody to ride with. My recovery progressed much more rapidly than I expected. When other 6-gaps enthusiasts learned I was doing the ride on the 18th, they asked if they could join. Before I knew it, we had a pretty good size group. Many of the riders were not interested in starting before sunrise with Eric's group, so we decided to start closer to our normal starting time and see if we could catch up with them. We learned later that Eric's group rolled out at about 6am. We didn't roll out until 8:45. That was a pretty big gap to make up.
It was expected to be a pristine day for a long ride, although there was frost on the ground driving up. I did not bring suitable layers for that kind of coldness. My fingers were going to freeze. We had eight riders, Aaron, Alex, Paul, Charlie, Greg, Dave, Brett and me. For the first time, we were starting in Warren where the other group started and would be hitting Lincoln Gap first. We barely had one mile on the odometer turning onto Lincoln Gap road. This was going to be interesting.
The group stayed together until the steep part. We really didn't bust up that much even though the pace was much harder than in past 6-gaps rides. I was amazed at how much easier Lincoln Gap is when it is the first climb of the ride. Normally it is the third. I summitted mid pack, with Charlie taking the honors on this one. After Alex's facebook comment, I floated the idea of each putting $6 into a hat, raising $48, then paying out a dollar per KOM point. First place is 3 point, second is 2 points, and third is 1 point for each of the six climbs. Then at the end, whoever had the most KOM points took the remaining $12. But no. I guess the ride is scary hard enough without these shenanigans going on. Deep down though, each of us wants to come away from a ride like this with some bragging rights. KOM points or not, each climb was a KOM contest.
There was no more than a minute spread from fastest to slowest guy up Lincoln Gap. This was looking like the tightest group I've ever ridden with on 6-gaps. That's good and bad. It's good, as you tend to stay together and on 10% of the route you might even be able to work together. But it is mostly bad. You see, when you point a group of guys with matched fitness up a hill, they will kill each other on the way up. Each climb becomes a throw down. For example, Charlie was about half a minute faster than me at the Mt Greylock TT and Aaron half a minute slower last weekend. Greg, Brett, Alex and Dave all finish very closely to each other in hillclimb events. I let Charlie and Aaron beat up on each other up App and Rox gaps. They couldn't resist. I've learned my lesson going out too hard on these rides. If we had a rider that was a lot faster than the rest of us, the tendency is to just let him go. The ride actually gets easier when abilities are grossly mismatched. Our group was optimized for maximal suffrage.
Brett on 18% section of App Gap
Aaron didn't actually come up the same side of Lincoln as us, as he was time constrained in meeting us. We scooped him up while descending the west side of Lincoln Gap. App Gap went well. After Aaron and Charlie bolted with 4km to go (per GMSR markings), I upped the intensiometer a notch. I at least wanted to claim table scraps on this one, being the third to summit. It hurt. As the rest of the gang summitted, we agreed our pace was unsustainable. Super hard on the climbs, but civil on the flats. Think a truce was called? Noooo.
View from Appalachian Gap
We stopped briefly in Waitsfield to refuel and then again at our cars in Warren to ditch unneeded layers. It was warming up nicely. I started to wonder if we'd every see anybody from Eric's large group with the extra stop and civil pace between climbs.
Roxbury Gap had recently been graded, so the gravel was considerably more chunky than Lincoln Gap. Still not bad, but no 40mph descending on dirt. I think Aaron said he claimed this climb between him and Charlie. I was starting to feel it already, and we were only a third of the way into the ride mileage-wise.
Summit of Roxbury Gap. Left to right: Brett Rutledge, Dave Penney,
Greg Larkin, Charlie Casey, Aaron Hall, Paul Zackin, Alex Combes
and the Hill Junkie.
Dropping down onto Rt 12a, we were faced with a nasty head wind. Most times, we can get a paceline going here and maintain 28mph without too much work. Today, 20mph was a struggle at times. In Randolph, we made an unplanned stopped due to minor mechanical. Crappy Mavic hubs. Steve Gauthier and I rented bikes in Maui once with this problem. While coasting on a descent, the freehub howls, binds, makes the chain sag. You're certain the wheel is going to explode and cause you to crash. Mavic uses cheap plastic bushings that wear out quickly. Greg drowned his freehub in WD40, which maybe helped slightly. Perhaps this is why Greg was motoring so strongly into the wind - he couldn't coast anyway.
Dave and I got a bit of an accidental gap on the others riding out of Randolph. We kept it going, seeing how long we could stay away from the other six in this headwind. We got a ways up Rochester Gap before they caught us. Once we got into the earnest part of the climb, Pain Cave Dave and I realized that stunt was probably not the best use of several matches.
Rochester Gap was not as kind to our group. Cracks were appearing. The order of riders ascending became rearranged. I think 17% extended grades had something to do with it. I fared better than I expected. Perhaps not going ballistic on the first couple climbs was starting to pay off for me. We regrouped up top.
Last four riders summitting Rochester Gap
Dropping down into Rochester, I hoped to see remnants of Eric's group there. Supposedly they take a longer lunch stop at the park. But the place was devoid of cyclists. Perhaps I was a wee bit presumptuous in thinking we'd catch them.
There really is no flat time between Rochester Gap and Brandon Gap. Brandon is the easiest of the six and is the one our ride normally starts with. The grade is mellow enough that you can paceline most of the way up it. Even so, our group fragmented. We also started passing other riders. I recognized Raniel, who said he was part of Eric's group. Somehow I found myself ahead of the others from our group with Aaron, who's half my age and close to upgrading to Cat 2. Aaron had Lincoln Gap on his mind, as when we roll in to our cars, he still had to ride over Lincoln Gap to get back to his car. At the pace we hit some of these climbs, I couldn't fathom doing Lincoln last.
We started passing a lot of riders as we neared the summit of Brandon Gap. Eric was one of them. I entertained challenging Aaron at the summit, but he would have none of it despite backing it down a notch. He handidly outsprinted me to the top. Dave was right there too, so we decided to keep going over the top and regroup at the bottom, our final water stop for the ride. When we got to the store at the junction of Rt 53, there must have been 20+ riders there, many in Monsters jerseys. Now we had caught the bulk of the early group.
We spent a little more time at this stop, since many of us knew each other. Turns out Eric was having exactly the same problem as Greg with his Mavic freehub. Greg still had the tiny can of WD40. Not sure if it helped Eric out or not.
Eric's group pushed off a couple minutes before we did. It didn't take long to catch them on the flats along Lake Dunmore. I was still felling pretty good on the flats and took some firm pulls. I wanted to take the back roads way that Andrew Gardner showed us to Rt 125 last year, but I wasn't sure which turn to take. We ended up on Rt 7 for a mile or two anyway, which isn't too bad, as it has a wide shoulder. We finally scored a bit of tail wind here. Somehow in overtaking the other group, we lost Paul from our group. Alex said he knew the roads, and Paul would have more than enough company with 30 other riders just behind us.
Gap riders had sent me reports over the summer on Middlebury Gap road reconstruction. The state is still feverishly working on it, late on a Saturday even. I suppose it is fine to put up with a one-time inconvenience, as the road badly needed repair. It will be superb when complete. We had to wait in a long queue of cars and RVs until they let our direction through, and then only after the last car passed. We could have ridden faster than the traffic was going up hill. Once past the active paving section where 10 asphalt trucks were lined up, we had mint surface to ride on. Most of the group was cracking by this point. Aaron, Dave and I crested the initial steep section and kept the power on through the college campus. By the time we got to the upper steep section, the rest of the group was not in sight. No KOM contesting for me this time.
Aaron was now faced with a dilemma. He was fading fast, not having eaten nearly enough during the ride, and daylight would soon end. If he descended the east side of Middlebury Gap, he was committing to climbing back over the mountain range to get to his car. This meant Lincoln Gap late in the day. He was pushing monster gears. In a bonked state, descending with us was risky. He could bomb back down through the paving section and just take flat Rt 116 to his car. But no. He had too many devils whispering in his ears. I promised him we'd work hard to pull him quickly to base of Lincoln Gap, where the rest of our cars were. Aaron decided to descend with us.
A deep chill was settling into the air on Rt 100. I love that feeling this time of year. The sun was getting low, so the valley floor was shadowed but the mountains on the opposite side were still brilliantly illuminated. Initially, the group worked together on Rt 100. But as we neared the 500ft Granville Gulf climb, it became clear than nearly everyone had cracked. I pondered for about a millisecond if there was anything I could do about the situation. Nope. I thought maybe Pain Cave Dave would humor me and hammer over this blip of a climb. Nope. So I went it alone. Soon nobody was in sight. I was amazed that I still was not cramping. Perhaps all these 15-20 hour weeks I've been putting in to regain lost fitness have paid huge dividends. I buried myself the last five miles of the ride, head down, in TT mode. I got to the turn-off at Main St in Warren and waited. My ride was done. Alex was first to show up. Some of the others were quite far back. Aaron was done too. Lincoln Gap was not going to happen for him. Fortunately, Charlie graciously offered him a ride over since they both live in NY anyway. This ride was part of Aaron's final prep for the Everest Challenge stage race in California next weekend. He probably gained some valuable experience in nutrition during this ride.
Wrapping up the ride on Rt 100
I logged 134.1 miles in 7:36 hours riding time. Not my fastest 6-gaps, but close, and when you factor in the added mileage from course change and the brutal headwind on Rt 12a, it is easy to understand why it was the hardest. I was more wrecked from this gap ride than any of the others I've done. Perhaps the cool weather kept me more hydrated and cramp free so I could maintain a harder pace to the end. This was my best 6-gaps yet - nobody flatted, only one nuisance mechanical issue to deal with, perfect weather, and most importantly, a riding group that shared similar passions and worked really well together on such a tough ride. Long, hard rides like these are intoxicating. The endorphins were flowing freely after the ride. When you think about it, older guys like me shouldn't be allowed to do stuff like this. We could easily OD on endorphins. Or destroy our bodies trying. Sometimes I feel like a minor getting away with alcohol consumption.