It’s not often you stub your toe while training. Of course, it’s also not often that you are forced to detour from your planned route, pedal through a field, remove your shoes and socks, shoulder your bike, then take a lengthy stroll through a river, at which point you stub your toe. From there, you climb up out of the river bank, trudge through the woods, and thirty minutes later back onto the road.
And why would you do such a thing? A bridge closure, of course.
Every day is an adventure, right? I made sure to capitalize on that proclamation yesterday by setting out with the ambitious plan of the massive Vermont Six Gapper. You know it’s official — or officially unofficial — when a ride title is capitalized. It also behooves you to Google it, to which you’re given 18-million results. Yeah, it’s THAT legit.
I went to college in Middlebury, smack in the middle of Vermont’s lush Green Mountains. As the story goes, I was a freshman in college, recently retired from my high school sporting career and very content with collegiate intramurals, when my brother Robbie came to the collegiate national championships hosted by UVM just up the road. Watching Robbie win the first of his three national championships on these roads, I was inspired. Figuring that I shared those speedy genes and a love for competition, I followed in his footsteps (or his draft as it were, hardy har har) and got into bike racing too. This spectacular slice of the world is where I found and fell in love with the sport of cycling.
So the six gaps run from north to south as follows: Appalachian Gap is perhaps the most well known and is the finishing peak on which Robbie won that collegiate title. Lincoln Gap is up next and is a beast, claiming the dubious title of having the steepest paved mile in America. Next is Middlebury Gap which I’ve ridden countless times thanks to my time in college where I’d often postpone studying in order to ride. Brandon Gap is fairly tame although does crest over Mount Horrid, which we can all agree is a bad ass name for a peak. East of there is Rochester Gap which seems to go on forever; then looping back up, Roxbury Gap pitches up to painfully steep grades, and then kicks you in the teeth by turning to gravel.
There were rumors of another big group of intrepid souls riding the six gaps and they were leaving at 6:30 in the morning in order to fit it all in. Yeesh, that’s early! I was happily still sound asleep at 6:30, but I did start pedaling at 8am, which is far earlier than I normally start pedaling. An hour into the ride I was up and over Brandon Gap and had passed by about a half dozen signs ROAD CLOSED, SEEK ALTERNATE ROUTE, TURN AROUND HERE, and other overt warnings. However, just two days earlier, some friends and I pedaled this exact road with the exact same signage, whereupon arriving at the bridge in question the construction workers happily let us pass without issue.
Turns out, though, when the bridge is quite simply gone two days later, you can’t make a little jump, take it with speed, and leap your way across. A dilemma ensues.
I’m very intent on completing the six gaps, so not to be dissuaded by a mere bridge outage I proceeded to bushwhack, remove my shoes, ford a river, bushwhack some more, sneak through a backyard, and a half hour later I was back at it! And all said and done — 7 hours, nearly 3800 meters of climbing over just 208km, a few nips of maple syrup as fuel, and one massive smile later — the ride looks something like this. Which, coincidentally, resembles England.
And why Vermont? Because I’m not racing the Tour right now. Because I needed a refresher. I needed to ease my mind, body, and soul. Because I needed to go back to where I found cycling. Why Vermont? Because I needed this…
Stunning roads with sporadic farms
More general stores
Corn on the cob sitting in wait
And because farms, cows, hills, mountains, sky, barns, and green green grass.
Ayup, that’s why.