Saturday, October 16, 2010

Six Gaps

I had to drive down to Albany to attend a meeting at RPI.  I stayed with my brother that night, but he was getting up at 3 am to go climb mountains in the Adirondacks.  I got up at the same time, leaving well before dawn, which placed me in Brandon at first light.  I decided to do a double-gap ride, going up over Brandon and coming back over either Middlebury or App Gaps, depending on how I felt.  I was riding the Bianchi Giro, a late-80s, Campy Athena equipped Columbus SLX bike.  It's a great one for long rides like this, as it's setup with clinchers and two water bottle cages, and is a comfortable, classic ride.  It also had a 28 tooth large cog in the back, giving me a passable low gear for the mountains when matched with a 42-tooth chainring.
Sun coming up on Brandon Gap
 Brandon Gap was a nice warm-up.  The air was cool, but I was fine with a light vest.  The fall foliage was starting to turn, with yellows and oranges being most prominent.

Cresting Brandon Gap
  The ride down the east side of Brandon Gap is always nice; a long, steady drop that lets you coast or pedal easily for miles and miles.  I felt great when I got to Rochester and was toying with the idea of going over Rochester Gap, but decided half-way up to try for a bigger challenge and look for Rochester Little Hollow Rd, a dirt track that is supposed to go over the mountain to Riford Brook Rd, eventually connecting with Rte 12A.
Middle Hollow Rd., Rochester
Not having planned this ahead of time, I of course missed the turn, so the likely "bike-carry over the mountain" didn't happen this day.  Instead, I enjoyed Middle Hollow Rd, which I've actually wanted to explore for quite some time.
Sugar house beside North Hollow Rd.
Ah, fall.  The dirt was fine under 25mm tires
South Hollow Cemetery is on North Hollow Rd. 
Doesn't look like anyone new has moved in for over 100 years.
I found myself eventually on Town Line Rd, which seems to have an identity crisis with North Hollow Rd.   I recognized Braintree Gap when I passed its western terminus and followed the dirt to Rte 100 at the top of Granville Gulf.  Since I was now beyond Middlebury Gap and it was still early in the day, I decided to try getting Jeanne on the phone to see if she would want to ride the tandem back to Brandon.  Being Vermont, I couldn't get a signal on my cell phone, which also had a low battery, in spite of my having charged it in the car.  I worked my way up to Appalachian Gap and even tried borrowing a cell phone from a group of riders I found resting at the top, but it was of no use.
The obligatory "Top of App Gap" photo
I decided to ride north, at least far enough to get to the magic spot in Huntington where I knew I could get a signal.  I stopped when I turned onto the Huntington Rd to see if I could get any bars on the phone and when I started up again, the guys who I had met at the top of the Gap passed me.  The last one said "Hang onto a wheel, if you can"  I chuckled, and proceeded to pass and drop them.  I had already ridden 60 miles and had a long way yet to go.

Although I did finally get a signal, Jeanne wasn't near the phone, so I left a message.  I was only about 10 miles away, so I decided to go home and at least grab a decent lunch.  As it turned out, Jeanne had other plans, so I headed south with no firm route back to the car.  I grabbed my helmet light, having a sense that it might get dark before I was done riding for the day.  Back at the bottom of App Gap, I decided to head on to Lincoln and see how I felt after climbing back over the ridge to Warren.
The foliage was more colorful than it appears  in this photo.
Smooth, new pavement greeted me as I approached Lincoln Gap.  One does have to listen more closely for cars, as fresh asphalt deadens tire noise, but it was still a nice reward after having bumped along over the loose surface of freshly-graded Downingsville Rd--a real challenge on the descent.  There was a surprising amount of traffic going over the Gap.
Fresh pavement on both sides of Lincoln Gap, but there are still dirt sections.
I felt good when I got to Warren and, being only mid-afternoon, I decided to continue east, crossing Roxbury Gap.  Of course, this would mean I would have at least two more gaps to do beyond that one, but I could always go back over Brandon Gap, which really doesn't deserve "Gap status" when crossed from the east.
Hit and miss sun all day, but it stayed dry.  Looking back at Warren, while heading up Roxbury Gap.
The sign one likes to see when climbing Roxbury Gap.
Though I shot past it before I could stop, I caught Carrie Howe Rd and followed it to Rte 12A.  I was well rewarded, as Carrie Howe Rd narrows down to a steep, winding single lane affair and was a real joy to scoot along, especially when dressed in fall colors.  Back on pavement, I was able to keep up a good clip, in spite of having completed well over 100 miles by this point.  I stopped for a break in Randolph, grabbing a light snack and drink.  I was getting chilly as the sun was setting, so I clipped on my light, zipped up and headed down to Rochester Gap.
Old Christ Church in Bethel
It started getting pretty dark as I climbed Bethel Mtn. Rd (a.k.a. Rochester Gap), but I kept my headlight off.  I prefer to ride without light, as long as I can still make out the road without being blinded by oncoming headlights. Of course, I had a blinker in the back, and reflective material to be better seen by oncoming cars.  One does have to be a little fatalistic when riding a bike, especially at night.  With stories of drivers rear-ending stopped police cars that are running their bright popcorn lights, what assurance does a cyclist have that an AAA battery-powered blinky is going to keep him safe?
When I first tried taking this photo, the flash reflected off the nearly invisible sign marking the top of Rochester Gap, leaving it the only thing visible!

I flipped on my headlight and cruised down to Rochester, following roads I had been climbing much earlier in the day.  It wasn't until I was taking a break in the dark on the Rochester green that I decided that I might have enough left in the tank to go up and tackle Middlebury Gap.  It would add a big climb and at least 25 miles, but this was my opportunity to reach a long-standing goal--to complete the infamous 6-gap ride.  I climbed Middlebury Gap in the dark, with very few cars passing me.  I pretty much had the road to myself.
The sign at the top of Middlebury Gap, marking the Long Trail crossing.
The ride down the west side of Middlebury Gap was an absolute dream.  I recall a single car passing me near Breadloaf.  The rest of the way, I had the brand new pavement to myself.  I used the whole lane to whip around the winding turns through Ripton and turned onto the (unfortunately) newly-graded dirt of Upper Plains Rd.  For the second time this year, I missed the fact that the kids turned the sign at the intersection with Beaver Pond Rd and ended up on Rte 7.  I thought about just following it back to Brandon, but changed my mind and turned back onto Rte 53, going around the east side of Lake Dunsmore.  The moon had come up bright, there was no wind and very few cars, making the miles a total joy.  I was keeping up a surprisingly good pace on the smooth pavement, and was feeling really good.  At one point, I wasn't paying close attention, when something caught the corner of my eye.  It was the white of a skunk that was crossing the road right in front of me.  I yelled at it, which startled it enough that it stopped, leaving me to whiz by, inches away from its shocked little snout.

I considered extending the ride farther, to get in a double-century.  The moon was very inviting and I had lots of battery left in my lights, but it was nearing 10 pm when I got to the car, and I had a long drive ahead, so I decided to call it a day.  Total mileage was 184, with over 13,000' of climbing in just under 12 hours of riding.  I still felt very good, never having cramped up, and I'd finally done all six gaps in one day, with zero planning.  A perfect late-season ride!