Even in northern VT, the temperature was expected to break 90F with a dew point at 70F on Saturday. These are pretty oppressive conditions for a long, climby ride, conditions that always seem to destroy me. We started at 10am, so we were sure to ride through the hottest part of the day.
The group consisted of Mike, myself, DaveP, IsaacSM and BrettR. We kept it tight heading over Brandon Gap, even after Isaac's nice 400+ Watt burst for the last couple hundred feet vertical. No stopping. We just bombed right down the other side.
Paceline work quickly brought us to the base of Middlebury Gap. The temperature was rapidly rising, and much of this climb is exposed to the sun and is much steeper than Brandon. The group splintered a bit on the last steep section. Only a minute or two was needed to regroup and chug some water before the 50mph plummet.
We topped off water in Hancock and plodded north on Rt 100. There was apprehension in the group. Lincoln Gap was next. John Summerson's book "The Complete Guide to Climbing by Bike" lists the east side of Lincoln Gap as having the steepest paved mile in the United States. The oppressive heat with very little wind was sure to make it even more challenging. The only solace is the steep section is heavily shaded.
Heading north on Rt 100. It is always green here.
Isaac hadn't ever been up Lincoln. As expected, the steeper the grade got, the more distant he became. Isaac weighs about 30 pounds less than the rest of us and climbs like a ram on 'roids. Us heavier folk do have the advantage on descents though.
As the grade went past 20%, I ran out of gears. It wasn't like wishing I had more gears. I literally ran out of gears. My cadence dropped below 50, and my speed was still kind of high, and my power was unsustainably high at such a low RPM. Then it dawned on me. I forgot to put on a compact crank. I panicked for a moment, thinking Dave will never let it go if I had to walk in shame up Lincoln. I still had much lower gearing than standard road gearing with a 38x32 minimum ratio, but I've never pushed anything bigger than a 34x32 up Lincoln. Today was do or die.
I never suffered so badly on a bike before. My cadence at times dropped to 40rpm at 350W output. That would be the same force I'd need to generate at a more normal cadence of 80rpm at 700W. And I had to hold this for 15 minutes! I made it, but just barely. At the top, Isaac confessed when he got out of sight from me, he'd switchback across the road to lessen the severity of the grade. He did not want me to see this. Ha! He should have not said anything, as he looked pretty smooth riding away from me.
Dave was entering the special place we like to be in at the end of a long, hard ride, where the endorphins are freely flowing. This was not good, as the ride was barely half over.
The descent towards Lincoln was markedly improved from the last time in 2010 when I rode it. The paved portion was repaved and buttery smooth. No more risk of taco'ing or over-heating a rim. The gravel section was in descent shape too, allowing us less timid riders let our speed run out.
Brett taking in view of Lincoln Peak
We decided to stop again in Lincoln to top off water. Better safe than sorry in the heat. Much of the remaining descent down to Rt 17 was lined with cars. Apparently there are many nice swimming holes in the stream below. Girls in bikinis were distracting while dodging cars.
App Gap was going to be the death of me. It was now surely over 90F, and much of the climb is in full sun. Dave drifted back on Baby App. The rest of us crested Baby App together. We stayed less than a minute behind another rider the whole way up. On the final, steep 4km of App Gap, Isaac bolted and caught Adam St Germain, the rider dangling just ahead of us. I tried to, but spectacularly imploded with about 2km to go (there are Green Mtn Stage Race markings on the road). My thermal fuse popped and that was it. I couldn't even produce 200W. And my over sized gearing would not let me spin on the 15% grade either.
View from App Gap
Another large cycling group was up top when we got there. We heard from the Lincoln General Store that there were groups attempting all six gaps that day. I couldn't imagine. We waited a while for Dave. His thermal fuse popped much earlier on the climb, something I've never seen happen to him. He looked pretty ragged reaching the top. Dave got to the special placed and rode right on past it. What comes after that special place? Something akin to the depths of hell I imagine.
Dave approaching summit of App Gap
A third and final water stop in Waitsfield would cover the slog back to the cars down Rt 100. We had a 700ft climb along the way through Granville Gulf. It was about 25 miles, but once over the gulf, there was nearly 20 miles of slighty downhill riding. We got a nice steady paceline going, holding 23-25mph most of the time without having to push many Watts. The whole time I couldn't stop thinking about how nice the dip in the White River was going to be.
I finished with 111 miles, 8300 feet in 5.9 hours moving time on the Garmin. The end came none too soon, as my hamstrings started cramping on my last couple pulls. I wonder if Hundo participants had a clean, cold stream to chill in afterwards? The heat and suffering of the day soon faded after we jumped into the White River. That was one hard ride with a solid group.
Next weekend: Mt Ascutney. I expect Peter Hult's course record to be broken by 10-20 seconds. I'll be lucky to come within a minute of my personal best. Could still be hot out.