Saturday, March 25, 2006

Double-Gap Ride--Too Early!

This has been a warm winter--too warm by Vermont standards. Interestingly, the snow level at the stake on Mt. Mansfield has tracked the average depth pretty closely, but there are huge drops, where the snow has almost disappeared. Unfortunately for the ski areas, those drops have typically been just before important weekends. Downhill areas that made snow did ok, though the conditions were rarely great, but the crosscountry areas took a real beating.

The thaws did make for a lot of early-season sloppy road biking. Luckily, I have a couple of bikes with fenders to keep the crud off, and a couple of those steeds have had to resign themselves to becoming the designated road salt rides. I have gotten in more miles by this time of year than any other since I moved to Vermont 25 years ago, including a couple of gap rides.

Vermont has a number of "gaps", really mountain passes that branch out east or west from VT 100, passing over the spine of the Green Mountains. The list is generally recognized as,
from north to south and east to west: Appalachian Gap, Lincoln Gap, Middlebury Gap, Brandon Gap, Moretown Gap, Roxbury Gap, and Rochester Mountain Gap (taken from Vermont Deathride). I would add the perhaps misnamed Plymouth Notch (really easy) and the wonderful Smuggler's Notch to the list. About the only difference is that gaps run east-west, and notches run pretty much north-south, but even that's not consistent, as in the case of Hazen's Notch. At any rate, the gaps and notches are favorite targets for cyclists. All are a challenge and some, like the stupid-steep Lincoln Gap, are epic memorable-for-a-lifetime rides for most cyclists. I ride Smuggler's Notch and Appalachian Gap several times a year, since both are on nice 50-60 mile loops from my house in Bolton.

So perhaps that's why I snapped at the bait when John Painter suggested a double-gap ride over Appalachian and Middlebury gaps, the route of the Green Mountain Stage Race, on March 11th. We met up near John's home in Starksboro and headed down VT 117 to the bottom of VT 17, where the App Gap starts. The temp was in the low '40s and I thought I might have been a little overdressed, though it didn't turn out that way. I was riding the Bianchi Squadra, as it had a 42x26 and index shifting--it was a good choice. John, of course, dropped me right away on the 'baby gap'. I caught him once, when he stopped to take off his jacket, but he didn't let that happen again. It's not that John is 20 years younger than me--he's just an amazing all-around athlete.

I didn't have any trouble getting the rest of the way up App Gap, and John is always kind enough not to take off at the top of climbs. I did my share of the pulling down VT 100 through Granville Gulf to Brandon where we took our only real break. Getting up Middlebury Gap was another thing, however. Middlebury Gap is easier than App Gap, but it grinds you down as it gets steepest at the top--in true Vermont gap fashion. About 2/3rd the way up, the leg cramps started and they stayed with me the rest of the ride, which was a long 30 miles. I'd be going along just fine when "WHAM", I'd get a slamming pain in the leg. Calf, thigh, left leg, right leg, they all took their turns tormenting me. Still, the wind cooperated, dying down toward the end of the day when it became a headwind, the sun poked out a few times, we rode past melting snowfields, ticked off a couple of gaps and got in a rugged 65 miles, earning some serious bragging points for this early in the season. Woo-Hoo!!!
VT-BUDS is online! is a website for Vermont tandem teams to connect for rides and to post ride reports--s sort of tandem rideboard. The site is setup so that people can post ride photos in their announcements and reports. The site is up and running just in time for Vermont's riding season (I saw four other riders on my 30 mile round-trip commute yesterday). I think this is an original idea, so time will tell if it takes off or fizzles. The hope is that it will encourage people to ride tandems by making it easier to connect with others. Tandems are socially oriented by their very nature. And if more tandems are seen out on the road, more people will be interested in giving them a try. Tandems are a positive image for cycling. While some people immediately get annoyed when they have to slow down to pass a single cyclist or, even worse, a pair of cyclists riding side-by-side, everyone likes to see a tandem!