I got really excited when Colin (self proclaimed resultsboy) invited me to join his scheduled assault on the infamous VT 6 gaps ride this past weekend. I got even more excited when I realized I could attend. Like Battenkill, D2R2, and a double century, the 6 gap ride has been on my to-do list for a long time. Also, with Sunapee and the Rapha Gentlemen's Race on the near horizon I figured some serious hill work would be great for my diet.
Since I was without transport, I made desperate pleas to the other attendees and was able to convince Cary to shuttle me back and forth. Having already raced Sterling on Saturday afternoon Cary's day was looking pretty full, but he was right where he said he'd be at 8pm to pick me up. We set off for our swanky hotel in White River Junction at 8:15 and almost immediately we were hit with a torrential rain. Ugh. It continued to pound us on and off for the next 45 minutes. As we crossed into NH the rain let up and we put the car on auto pilot, arriving to White River Junction around 10:45 I think.
Our companions for the 6 gap assault were already comfortably tucked into bed but they were nice enough to leave some floor space between the multiple bikes stacked around the room. No sooner did I fall asleep than I heard Colin's annoying (because I have the same one) Blackberry phone alarm alerting us that it was 6:30am. I was impressed with the expeditious packing of personal effects as we vacated the room by 7am and made our way to the greasy spoon Colin had scouted out for us.
We slowly awoke from the weekend slumber as people poured cup after cup of coffee and debated on the quality of our waitress's mullet (is it a mullet when it is that long in the back?). The service was good (and quite cheap), and the food was ok. With loaded stomaches it was time to get back in the cars and continue to Rochester, VT to meet our last ride member at the launching point.
Despite an intended start of 9am, no one was eager to get rolling because we had cold, overcast skies and insufficient clothing. The scramble to find every spare piece of cycling clothing saw people mixing and matching (Landry's kit with Embrocation shoe covers, HUP kit covered with Castelli wool jersey, and Embrocation kit with Cambridge Bike shoe covers). It was closer to 9:30 when we finally left the parking lot. There would be six of us tackling the Gaps:
Joe Cruz (ahem, Dr Cruz)
Resultsboy was providing neutral support/sag duties as his knee continues to slow him down. The first Gap we tackled was Brandon Gap. Despite his claim that he would take the first two very easy, Cary was sitting on the front most of the way, turning out a nice tempo while chatting with Joe. Half way up Brandon the mist started, then the light rain, and by the time we hit the summit, it was a good 10 degrees colder than our starting point (which was already cold). We regrouped at the top, searched around in the sag wagon for any remaining items of clothing that had not already been donned and then set out on the descent. Brandon Gap offers a great, twisty descent but when it is wet it is not much fun and so I found myself riding the brakes much more than I would have liked.
As we came into the valley, the skies cleared a bit and the road was dryer. As we worked our way towards Middlebury Gap, we took a moment to refill (or fill for the first time if you're Cary) our liquids and make sure we ate. We also discovered that one of the roads we needed to take was closed to vehicle traffic (thanks Colin for the advance notice) but it was actually quite easy to get through on bikes so no detour was necessary for us. Middlebury Gap was a bit more of a climb than Brandon, especially at the beginning. Luckily the rain was holding off so the long climb was a bit less uncomfortable. It's a long, steady climb, but not the worst of the 6 by any means. Colin was waiting for us at the top of Middlebury Gap and as we crested we felt the mist return. We waited a bit hoping to regroup at the top but in the interest of staying warm, we decided to descend and regroup at the bottom. After a long wait, we heard from Linnea that Kate had broken the cable stop off her frame, resulting in a single rear cog (12 tooth!) which is not sufficient for cresting Middlebury Gap. Colin and Joe had reconfigured the cables, routing the rear derailleur cable on the other side of the downtube and removing the front derailleur cable so Kate had a 1x10. Much better than a 2x1!
From Middlebury to the start of Lincoln Gap (the monster of the route) we had about 15 miles of "recovery" terrain. We had regrouped at the base of Middlebury in order to paceline it a bit before Lincoln and to pull Kate since she was limited to her 39 in front. Unfortunately the weather continued to torture us and we were all wet and chilled to the core when we arrived at Lincoln Gap. Linnea was so chilled that she opted out of the climb and joined Colin in the cheerleading vehicle. The rest of us set out to endure the torture. Sure enough, the climb started in earnest after the dirt turned back to pavement. Cary and I caught up to Sarah and Kate on the steep climb but soon enough we were all "delivering the mail" as we weaved from side to side in hopes of reducing the pain of the 20+% pitch. Almost half way up the most brutal section I cracked. The chamber was empty, no more gears beyond my 39*25, and my arms were screaming from muscling the bike up that pitch. I had to stop, let the arms and legs recover and then try to finish. While stopped, Cary pulled past me, not showing any ill effects from his effort in the break at Sterling nor from his large amount of work on the front of this ride. I remounted, wiped away the tears, and summitted what is easily the toughest climb I've ever attempted on a road bike. Waiting at the top, taking pictures to document the pain were Linnea and Colin.
The descent of Lincoln Gap, despite the misty weather was worth every moment of suffering on the climb. The mostly dirt road sprayed mud all over me in an enjoyable and fitting-of-this-day way. Unfortunately, as my confidence grew and my speed increased, the descent flattened out and the fun ended as quickly as it had begun. I'll be back to do Lincoln Gap for sure.
At the base of Lincoln we thawed out in the general store while retelling the adventure we'd just had. Extra large hot chocolate helped warm up my core but my soaked feet were helpless. With three more gaps to go, it was not looking good. Our time and spirits were running out.
The spin from Lincoln to Ap Gap includes Baby Gap which is not a big challenge after what we'd covered but it is still enough to sting the legs. As we climbed Ap Gap, it was nice to see the Km markers that are left over from the Green Mountain Stage Race. It gave me something to pace myself by which was necessary after my explosion on Lincoln Gap. Seeing 3 Km to go I was in a rythm so I climbed and climbed until I rounded the corner inside of 1 Km and saw the steep finishing pitch. My spirits were crushed momentarily but luckily I could see Colin and Linnea at the top so I knew it was only a short bit of suffering until I was there. When I finally did summit, the wind was strong and I'm pretty sure it was a mixture of sleet and rain. As I waited for the others to crest Ap Gap I noticed that the hills just above us showed signs of recent snow. It was definitely in the 30s and wet.
The ladies (Sara and Kate) joined Colin and Linnea in the neutral support vehicle as they were too frozen to safely navigate the wet descent. I think Joe would have taken a ride as well had there been room. Joe and his aero wheels would have to endure the windy descent with Cary and I. In Waitsfield it was decided that Colin and Linnea would go retrieve Joe's car while the rest of us ordered pizza and tried to thaw out. There would be no 6 gaps, only 4. As each person recounted the day's adventure, spirits lifted, core temperatures rose, and my previously missing spare socks turned up. The folks at the pizza place were nice enough to let us loiter while we waited for Colin and Linnea to complete the nearly 60 minute shuttle run.
It was nearly 6pm by the time we left Waitsfield and we still had 3.5 hours of traveling ahead of us. Cary was a champ, doing all the driving and enduring some annoying traffic just south of 95 on 93. Plus he dropped me off at my doorstep, which at 10pm is much appreciated!
In the end, it was a wise decision to reduce ourselves to 4 gaps. Besides it leaves me with a reason to do it again this summer.
- start earlier (like 7:30 or 8)
- pack a 26 on back or a compact up front
- bring everything you could possibly think of to wear because the weather will be different than Boston
- hire Colin to be your neutral support
So for now, the 6 Gap ride remains only partially crossed off of my to-do list.