Sunday, August 5, 2012

Six Gaps, Vermont - Just not all at once

The survey marker at the top of Camel's Hump Mountain, VT.

Early this spring someone brought up the subject in cycling conversation about riding the Six Gaps in Vermont. Six Gaps? What is Six Gaps? Well it is quite possible that Six Gaps by bicycle, traverses through some of the prettiest stretch of roads in the Green Mountains and challenges you deep into your inner cycling soul with some of the steepest paved, and dirt roads in all of New England, if not the entire US. A Gap is Vermont terminology for a Mountain Pass, or Notch as some might be more familiar with. We've got lots of Notches in Maine and New Hampshire and they're all extremely beautiful and they mean an awful lot to me having traveled up, down, and all around them, but I've found new love, and that love is the amazing landscape in the state of Vermont. Six Gaps entails 135 miles while climbing over 13,000 feet. It's something I've craved trying for a very long time, but oh, to taste the fruit.

Stef cruised out the first Gap Climb of the day. Proudly displaying the Brandon Gap signage.

A couple of pre-ride side notes - It was summer vacation for Stef and I, so we decided to spend the week in Vermont. We planned to camp out (awesome!) near Waterbury, deciding to stay at Little River State Park for a few days then head over toward Lake Champlain for a couple of days. I must say that Little River SP was excellent. It's about 4 miles down a dirt road outside of Waterbury and it's super quiet, with no residual traffic noise. They have showers, a reservoir to swim, playgrounds for kids and everything was super clean, most importantly, the showers and bathrooms. It's definitely not primitive camping, it's deluxe car camping at a fair price. $25 night for a lean-to.

Drinking Mike's and Tuning Bikes.

Our intentions while on vacation in the Green Mountain State were pretty clear, keep moving, no relaxing, what else is vacation for but to recreate? So off we go, riding into the sunset! Literally, as I chose "the long way" and in the end, we merged back onto the interstate and rapidly arrived at the camp site in time to eat dinner, set up our tent and relax before darkness fell. We did however change our plan of riding Six Gaps the very next day and postponed it a day. First we must survey the landscape!

Somewhere near the summit of Camel's Hump.
Stef had never, until this point, hiked a Vermont "Four Thousand Footer" and there are five mountains in Vermont above 4000 feet. After a pretty okay night's sleep followed by super tasty camping coffee and a light breakfast, we head off to climb Camel's Hump Mountain. Camel's Hump is easily accessed from Waterbury, VT, heading for the Monroe Trail. I had once hiked Camel's Hump from the opposite side of the hill on 9/27/92, almost twenty years ago now! The summit was pretty crowded, but we hung out until the group of preteen kids came up, one proudly displaying a frog he had killed with a homemade spear stick. Come on, camp counselor, get a grip and set an example. Before Stef let him have it, I suggested we get moving. We decide to loop around the summit and take the Alpine trail back to the Monroe trail we'd taken up. What a lovely detour looking South and West toward the Champlain Valley.

Alpine Trail, Alpine Mountain, Alpine Flowers, Alpine Fun!

Peace, Love, and Bikes on top of Middlebury Gap.

So back to Six Gaps! Arriving atop Middlebury Gap, our second of planned six climbs, I was just in a total Zen moment. The mountainous terrain was spectacular, roads quiet, climbs steep and cars completely respectful of us on the road. How could you not just get totally sucked into the moment? Now 50 miles into our ride, and close to 4000 feet of climbing, we turn north on route 100 to the quaint little town of Warren, VT. We stopped at the country store for cold water and something for our bellies. One more stop at the town hall for a bathroom break and a chat about cycling with the town manager, a cyclist himself who's done the PMC 10+ years, all the Gaps and even Mount Washington many times. He sent us on our way and wished us well on Lincoln Gap, our next climb for the day.
Lincoln Gap was brutal. It averages 19% grade for over a mile near the top, but gently levels off just before the summit. Part of this week in VT was a mini training camp for me and my upcoming Washington race, Stef had just done Newton's Revenge the previous Saturday, so she was totally primed for this one. I hit it hard and thought my heart was going to pound itself out of my chest. I arrived at the top, dripping sweat and legs feeling it, all good of course.
Fist pumps and high fives all around, Stef crushes Lincoln Gap with a smile!
One of my favorite pics, Stef, a beautiful field, barn, and Mount Abraham.

Descending into the town of Lincoln on super steep gravel, we actually stopped a couple of times to let our rims cool so as not to have a blow out. They were really warm, so good thing we did. Part of the crux of this ride is all the gravel sections you go through. They can tear your tires up in a big hurry and this would be the tale of our day, as you'll soon read about.

Yet again, and with perfect timing, we arrive at a lovely little country store. We're ready for some vasa and Stef mentions how she could really have some pretzels for a little sodium replenishment. Well, it couldn't have been more perfect as she came out with six pretzel sticks, a dime a piece! Amazing you can still buy something at any store for a ten cents. I think she had some sort of premonition that there would be pretzels there...we each had six in the end and they were delicious! 

Pretzels in my pocket!
We head out from Lincoln aiming for our fourth Gap climb for the day. We're 70 miles in and at neartly 7,000 feet for Alti gain, and I can feel the pain! We turn onto Ap Gap road and begin the climb, well, the climb up to Baby Ap Gap, which I didn't tell Stef about so when we got to the top of Baby Ap, she sort of mentions, hey that wasn't so bad, then I tell her, Oh, yeah, that was Baby Ap Gap, we have more climbing ahead! A couple of casual gripes and moans and we carry on, both feeling it. It was pretty hot out and with us both pushing 3000+ calories burned, we were really working hard. We're about three quarters of the way up Ap Gap when someone has a blow out, I thought it was Stef, but it turns out that my rear tire had torn and the tube popped through the casing then blew out. Cool I thought at first, I haven't changed a flat tire all season, I'll get to use my Co2 device and play bike mechanic. So I proudly change the tube and boot up the tear in my tire, then proceed to inflate, when all of a sudden the tire blows again, it seems I had multiple tears. With both my spare tubes now used up and both of our tire boots in my rear wheel, this leaves little margin for any more flats or tire rips. We'll need to stop at the bike shop in Waitsfield to buy some supplies. So up we go, hitting the steepest section of Ap Gap and then the summit.

That's Sparky (me) heading up the final pitch of Appalachian Gap.

After a white knuckle descent down Ap and by Mad River Glen Ski area (ski it if you can), We arrive in Waitsfield, hitting up Fitwerx bike shop. A decision is made that I need two tires since the front one was also looking ragged, worn and torn. They had us bent over a barrell with the prices they charge on tires. I even mentioned I work in the cycling industry and asked if they offered a discount to industry folks. I got a look like I had two heads on my shoulders, then the shop guy politely gave me a 10% discount off of retail. $160 bucks later, we had new tires on Old Blue and we're back on the road. Nearly nine hours since we left the car and about seven hours "in saddle" both of us were pooched. We had all intentions of continuing for Gaps five and six, but when we arrived at our junction to head east for Roxbury Gap we decided we'd had enough and graciously bowed out of the last two. In the end it was the best decision to call it a day, we would have finished in the dark, if we had made it...

Six Gaps Vermont will always be there and it's already in the plans for the 2013 cycling season. We finished our ride with 115.8 miles, 9,112 feet of climbing, 4,427 calories burned, 7:43:02 ride time and memories to last a lifetime. See you next year 6 G's.

Before we left lovely Vermont, we did ride the final two Gaps, which as I reflect upon, were my two favorite climbs, besides Ap Gap these definitely get the award for best views. Ride file attached below. Cheers and thanks for reading!

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