Monday, December 24, 2007

Appalachian Gap: It's 12 for 12!

The last climb. I shot this on the way back down--no dabs!

In spite of a nagging cold, I got out Saturday afternoon for the December climb up App Gap, meeting my goal of climbing the Gap at least once a month for a year. Last year, I hit every month except December. This year, I did the climb as many as three times in a month, but not a month went by when I didn't make the climb at least once.

Conditions were ok, with temperatures in the mid-30s. The climb could have been done on a road bike without studded tires, but one would have to have ridden back down the last hundred yards or so from the summit in the climbing lane, carefully picking a clear line. It would have been a challenge if you had to compete with cars coming up. It was very nice having studded tires, as I could pull over to let cars pass without worrying about the snow and ice I needed to ride over.

The view from the top

One of the neatest things was the number of people who gave me the thumbs-up on the climb. I suspect most people coming over the mountain were coming back from a great day skiing at Sugarbush or Mad River Glen, and skiers understand this kind of challenge better than the average person, but one guy actually rolled down his window and leaned out to shout encouragement as we passed on one of the upper switchbacks.

I rode my 1983 Fat Chance mountain bike, outfitted with Nokian studded tires. These are the style designed primarily for plowed dirt and paved roads, with a little over 100 studs in two rows. I have found this to be a good compromise between traction and rolling resistance and, while there are times when I've wished I had more studs, I've never lost traction with these. I'm not at all keen on doing long rides with mountain bars in an off-road riding position, so I'd like to experiment with studded road tires on a road bike for winter riding. There are some interesting designs available.

Approaching App Gap

My advice for anyone getting stated with studded tires is to be sure you get good tires with carbide studs. The cheaper tires with steel studs just are not worth it, especially with as many strikes against you as you already have with winter cycling. You can always turn around and sell your tires if you decide winter riding is not for you. If you are in northern Vermont, you can get these tires at a good price at the Old Spokes Home in Burlington. Otherwise, you can get them by mail from Peter White, who probably sells more of these tires than anyone else in the country.

Will I try to repeat this goal of a Gap a month? At this point, I'm not sure. I know a guy who lives a little closer to the Gap who does it at least once a week during riding season to prepare for the Green Mountain Stage Race, and Chris Bohjalian rides Lincoln Gap two or three times a week when it isn't covered with snow. I'm far from earning any unique bragging rights for continuing to ride the Gap every month. I was thinking when I started the December ride that I would rather be getting in more miles on a road bike, since this would have been possible if I had stuck to the lowlands, though it was fun to be at the top of the Gap, and the ride back, downhill and with a tailwind, made the slogging climb worthwhile. Perhaps I'll broaden my scope a little, or tackle a real challenge, like doing a century ride every month. That would be a tough thing to accomplish in northern Vermont! I will say, though, that it's fun to have a goal, no matter how arbitrary, and it's rewarding to meet it.