Friday, August 17, 2007

L.A.M.B. Ride--I made it!

The L.A.M.B. ride traverses four of Vermont's "gaps," which are mountain passes that cross the spine of the Green Mountains, from east to west. The Green Mountains are part of the Appalachian Mountain chain and were scoured by glaciers thousands of years ago, leaving river valleys running north and south, paralleling the mountain ridges. The gaps are located at locations where the spine of the mountains drops low enough to get a road over it, if barely. The L.A.M.B. ride tackles four of these gaps; Lincoln, Appalachian, Middlebury and Brandon.

As organized annually by the Killington-Pico Cycling Club, the L.A.M.B. ride starts in Rochester, which is convenient to people traveling up from the south, and rides north up Rte 100 through Granville Gulf to tackle the worse climb, Lincoln Gap, first. Lincoln Gap starts out paved, turns to smooth dirt for a few miles, then is paved again for the last three miles or so of steep stuff. This stretch is said to include the steepest mile of paved road in the continental US, and I believe it. While there several places where the climb eases up a little, climbing Lincoln is a real grunt-fest. Like a mountain biker, you need to pay close attention to body location, so you can keep the front wheel on the ground while maintaining traction. I had converted my classic steel Marinoni to a triple chainring, using a TA tripleizer chainring and added a 30-tooth inner ring. Combined with a 13-30 freewheel in the back, I had a 1:1 ratio, which is as close to walking as I ever get. That's virtually the same gearing I use on my mountain bike for steep off-road work and I was very glad that I had these granny gears on this ride.

I made it all the way up Lincoln Gap without stopping, which is a feat all by itself. Most other riders were using significantly taller gearing, but many of them had to stop and recover at least once on the climb. Once we regrouped, we picked our way down the other side. Lincoln Gap does not reward you with a nice, long descent at the top. It's quite treacherous getting down the dirt section and I had problems with a strap-on second waterbottle cage that kept moving around on the tube. Later in the ride, I got a piece of tape from helpful clerk and placed this around the tube under the strap and this solved the annoying problem.

We stopped at the general store in Lincoln to regroup and discovered that the store keeps a presta floor pump in the window for cyclists who need to top off. How cool is that? We stayed at the store long enough for everyone to get back together and then headed down to Rte 116, where we skipped north to tackle Appalachian Gap. App Gap starts with a smaller climb, dubbed the Baby Gap, then actually drops a few hundred feet before the steep final climb. Whereas Lincoln Gap approaches 25% grade, App Gap is a bit tamer with the final steepest section being around 19%. GMBC riders do App Gap regularly in training for the Green Mountain Stage Race, which has two stages that include it. I'm on track thus far in climbing App Gap at least once each month this year.

We zoomed down the east side of App Gap (and I do mean zoomed) and picked up just the lightest sprinkles, not enough to really get wet. The weather turned out great and we never got soaked, in spite of the projected 70% chance of rain. We stayed a long time at the stop outside Waitsfield. It turned out that one of the riders had flatted so badly that he had to hitch a ride down the gap with a motorist. Luckily, there was a bike shop right there where he could purchase a replacement tire. One year, a L.A.M.B. rider trashed a wheel and this shop loaned him a very nice road bike to finish the ride at no charge. Now that's service!

We then headed south, back through Granville Gulf, to pick up Middlebury Gap. A little over half the riders chose to end the ride here after the break and continue the few miles south to Rochester. This actually has a cute name; the LAMB-chop. Seven of us decided to tackle the last two climbs. Middlebury Gap is one of those climbs where you hear comments like "This isn't so bad" about half-way up from people who haven't ridden it before. It never gets terribly steep, it just grinds on and on. Those comments always stop well before the summit. There is a nice, long descent on the other side through Ripton before we turned off onto a smooth dirt road that turned back to pavement after a few miles, taking us around the east side of Lake Dunsmore. Another stop at very nice little general store with great prices for a change and then we headed up Brandon Gap. Brandon is, perhaps, the easiest of the four gaps, but anything is a grind after that much climbing. I just stayed in that granny gear and ended up crossing the summit alongside another rider, making us the last two riders in the group. Brandon Gap is much steeper on the west side than the east, and the gradual descent took us all the way into Rochester, which was about 10 miles.

I was very glad to have completed this ride, especially since I had tried it three years ago and had to bail with the rest of the LAMB-choppers. I do wonder, though, about the folks who do the six-gap ride much earlier in the season, adding in Roxbury and Rochester gaps. You can read about their exploits at And then there's the gap rides down in Georgia, but I dan't know how these compare. Both the L.A.M.B. and the Georgia six-gap rides boast around 10,000' of climbing in about 100 miles, so I presume the Vermont six-gap climb is even more challenging. Maybe next year...

I posted ride photos at Enjoy!