Adventure Report: The 131 Mile Vermont 6 Gaps Road Ride by Joe Azze
Miles - 131
6 Major Climbs with 12,000* feet of elevation gain
Max grades range from 18% to 24%
Ride time - 7 hours 55 minutes
Max Heart Rate - 191
Average Heart Rate - 144
Average mph - 16.5
Top Speed - 56 mph
Easiest gearing option - 39 / 27
Toughest part - Lincoln Gap Climb!
Easiest part - Getting on the bike
I was planning on racing in the Wilderness 101 Mile Mountain Bike Race this past weekend but instead another ride caught my attention. Having raced in the Green Mountain Stage Race (GMSR) the last couple of years I knew that the roads in Vermont offered some great climbing opportunities & beautiful scenery but had no idea about the 6 Gaps Ride, until my friend Brian shared some of the info about it with me.
I knew the Appalachian Gap Road pretty well and was familiar with its final pitch of around a 20% grade to the summit. I had raced up Middlebury Gap in past GMSR as well and really enjoyed this stretch of road but I kept hearing about Lincoln Gap and about some of the others with their dirt sections and steep grades. I was deeply interested, as I needed to see and feel what the suffering was all about.
Going into the Vermont 6 Gaps ride, I was just starting to get my legs back under me. I have been training pretty hard but at the same time I have been chasing Elizabeth around as well. She has raced several ultramarathons this year, including the Badwater 135 Mile Foot Race (race report) across Death Valley, where I ran about 50 + miles pacing her and countless others required from my crewing duties. Now it was time for me to focus a bit more on my riding.
Everything we do lately involves camping and for good reasons; you stay relaxed and you're not distracted by anything, its just a peaceful way to spend the time. We headed to Gifford Woods State Park and camped just off of Rt 100, which was 17 miles south of Rt. 73 and the Rt. 100 junction. This is where the 6 Gaps loop starts and ends. There is a little parking lot off of Rt. 100 which we did not use because we did not know about it until the end of the ride. After a couple of beers the night before and some good eats from our campground kitchen, we went to sleep at about 11pm and awoke around 9 am.
The tranquil sounds of nature and the stream that was just outside our tent kept me too relaxed to rush out of the tent, especially when we wake up each morning at 4:45 am. I was planning on getting on the bike by 10:30 am, which is pretty late to start for such a ride but I knew we had a nice day ahead of us and the daylight would stay with us close to 8 pm. I recommend starting around 6:30 am. I found that towards the end of the ride I was pushing the pace a bit in the valley to make sure that my ride would not end early because of darkness and not my legs. However, I had plenty of time and the valley always seems a bit darker later in the day because of the sun setting.
The ride begins!! In just a few miles I was heading up Brandon Gap which is a perfect start to the day. It’s fairly easy and has no real steep sections so it allows you a nice warm-up going into Middlebury Gap that starts at around mile 27. After heading down Rt. 53, which is more of a back road that passes Lake Dunmore, I continued on to Rt. 7 which then brought me to Rt. 125, the home of Middlebury Gap. I was excited to ride this climb again because it has not been a part of the GMSR since it has become a bit dangerous for a group of riders to pass over do to the cracked up sections of the road caused by the weather. This is still a beautiful stretch of road though. The climb does have its steep grades and it lets off in the middle a bit before the steep grades come again. I felt great going up and over it and I finally felt like my legs were starting to loosen up.
Heading down Middlebury Gap, all I could think of was Lincoln Gap, which was to come next. This is the climb that everyone talks about. Many battles have been fought along this climb and many riders have lost, resorting to walking their bikes or just stopping to gather themselves in hopes of re-mounting and finishing what they started. But, before I could take on the challenge, I had to climb a 500 foot section of road called the Granville Gulf, which I did not pay much attention to because I was so focused on the Gaps. I found my pace to be pretty fast going up this section of road until I finally realized that this climb was going to last for a bit and I backed off a little so that to conserve myself going into Lincoln Gap. I almost road into a guardrail as I was making my way because I noticed to the left an abundant amount of water pouring from the mountain side, it was simply beautiful. This was the Moss Glens Falls and I really felt like stopping to get a better view but that would have to wait, I was on my way to Lincoln.
One of the nice things about having Elizabeth follow me in our truck is that I would have something to look forward to every 20km and just seeing her every so often kept me in a nice rhythm. As I approached her once again, the intensity started to rise as I knew that she was right by the Lincoln Gap Road turnoff, mile 56.6! As I turned left, I knew that I had some time to sit in and fully recover before the climbing began. I kept waiting for the grades to go up but when they did slightly, they would just go right back down. Then finally the dirt road section was under my tires and I knew that shortly the real climbing would begin.
As the road turned back to pavement the 20% grades began. I tried to stay seated and actually thought that I could finish this climb entirely in the saddle but within just a few short km, I was out of the saddle mashing the pedals with everything I had. Holy shit this is steep! I approached the steepest sections of the climb which did not let up until you reached the summit. I have never felt my body sweat like I did when I was climbing this section. It felt like my pores were fully opened and just draining the fluids from my body, it was a true and intense feeling. On this particular day, the climb was pretty hot and humid, more so since you are completely canopied by the trees all the way to the top on this narrow road.
I looked at my HR a few times and I was hovering around 187 from bottom to top. About 2/3rds up I noticed Elizabeth had found a place to park along the steep grades and had the video camera in hand. It seemed like a long time to get to her and beyond. I never felt that I had to stop, just that I wish I was a few pounds lighter and had another gear choice. Just when you think that the end is near, its not and around the next bend is another bend. Finally I saw a bit more daylight ahead and knew that the top parking lot was nearing. I was completely spent at the top and had never pushed as hard as I did during this climb. To hold on to such a high intensity effort for as long as I did opened the doors for me to push even harder if and when I had to. It was a tremendous feeling and now I was only half way done with the 6 Gaps Ride!
The descent of Lincoln Gap was fast, a bit technical and it had some rough patches but not to much of a problem. I was flying down the climb as I was looking forward to being on the Appalachian Gap once again, which was up next! Also I tend to be more aggressive on difficult terrain because of my mountain biking background. At mile 70 is when the road starts to turn upward as you begin your approach to Baby Gap. My legs felt great as I began the climb and I paced myself pretty well to the top. After a quick descent I was now on the steeper grades of the Appalachian Gap. As you make your way up to the top of App Gap you can see where the road turns up and the steeper grades begin. There is a parking lot at the top and it is a gathering place for many to check out the views, watch riders suffer or make their way out onto the Long Trail which traverses some of the gaps, so you can see where you need to get too. Its either an exciting feeling or a feeling of crap.
I had the solid feeling and hit the steep grades pretty hard. The climb to the summit of the Appalachian Gap does not seem as steep as Lincoln Gap, which it’s not but it still offers a great challenge. The road is pretty open and which can give the impression as being a bit easier because you can see where you need to go which is not the case on the narrow, tree lined road of Lincoln Gap. I made my way to the top without much difficulty and just blazed on to the descent reaching speeds of 55 mph in sections; its nice when you're familiar with a particular stretch of road.
Onto Roxbury Gap, mile 94! After about 5 miles or so on Rt. 100, which takes you past Sugarbush Ski area; a place where many stay during the GMSR, you make your way to the town of Warren. Once in Warren you bare left onto Brook Road which is the road that the 2008 GMSR time trial took place. It was nice to be back on this road, since the last time I was flying up the climb like the TT was a mountain top finish and suffering the rest of the way to the TT finish which was several km away. However this is a nice quiet section of road; which most of the ride is and just before the climb to the summit, I took a little break of about 7 minutes to prepare myself mentally for the final stretch. I was sure not to get ahead of myself thinking that the hard climbing was over because I knew that the two remaining climbs would have something to offer. I remounted the bike and pressed on with an even bigger smile on my face because I was feeling pretty damn good for riding 94 miles over 4 major climbs not including the Granville climb.
As I began my climb on to Roxbury Gap, the road turned to dirt and a nice dirt section it was. I was impressed with how smooth the road was, especially towards the summit. This is around a 2.5 mile climb of a consistent grade and it was one of my favorites to climb. Once I reached the summit, I ignored the temptation to stop and look back to see where i’ve been. I just pushed on and started my descent. The road down was a bit rough and it was the most challenging descent out of them all, mainly because of the washboard bumps. After the descent I made my way onto Rt 12A which is around a 20 mile stretch of road before you can begin the climb up the final gap! Its a fast section but riding it solo and not being able to draft off of anyone, I had to dig a bit deeper to make good time on this section and the wind was blowing pretty strong that day.
The final Gap, Rochester Gap, mile 120! At this point I was in a state of mind that made me feel that I could continue to ride indefinitely but first I had to get up and over the final gap. The road starts out tame for the first 4 miles of the climb but then picks up quite a bit; at least it felt that way. I reached a point where you may think the climb ends but its a false summit and soon enough it kicks up again for about a mile until you reach the true summit of Rochester Gap. As I made my way up, I was glad that the climb was as long and difficult as it was. I didn’t want it to end either, I had such an amazing feeling all day on the bike and I didn’t want to lose it.
As I made my way over the gap, you fall into a small descent that then kicks up steeply for about 100 yards. I had enough speed so I just kept it in the big ring and sprinted my way up, letting out a strong yell of accomplishment. It was all rollers from here and with a couple of turns, I was back at the parking lot contemplating if I should continue on riding back to the campground that was 17 miles away. I chose to stop and just take in what I just did.
It was pretty amusing rolling through the final town of Rochester, it felt like a ghost town. It was so quiet. A bit strange for someone who races often and is always greeted by cheers and yells as I cross the finish line. It was actually very pleasing to have just ridden the Epic Vermont 6 Gaps ride and to share it with just Elizabeth, it was a powerful feeling and one that I will cherish.
As much as I like climbing, some would say that I am more of a flat lander and should focus more on my strengths but after this day I felt like a climber and I will be in search of ever more grades to ascend and I will enjoy every second of every pedal stroke. I am looking forward to heading back and probably will be heading soon. This is truly a great ride and its a must for every cyclist. Set the goal, explore your limits, train smart and enjoy the ride!
Here is more information about the Vermont 6 Gaps Road Ride. This is the information that I used to make it happen. The cue sheet is right on and the explanations of the climbs gives you what you need to know. Thanks for reading!