The bike route sounds dainty, cute and comforting, like its animal counterpart. Unfortunately for me, it is nothing similar to it. It is a masochist’s dream. Depending on the direction you take through each one of the four gaps, the distance is around 100 miles with about 10,000 vertical feet of climbing. The gaps include Lincoln, Appalachian, Middlebury, and Brandon. One day while training for my first half Ironman, at the top of the Lincoln gap, a hiker asked if I was doing all the 4 gaps in a day. I couldn’t believe anyone would consider doing three more gaps after Lincoln gap. But the seed had been planted. At the end of the triathlon season, the four gaps seemed like the perfect way to wrap up the season.
My friend Tyler and I strategically started at Worthy Burger around 10 AM in the middle of November. The first gap to take on was Lincoln Gap. This decision did not have much debate considering that the Global Cycling Network which has 2.3 million subscribers on YouTube counted Lincoln gap as one of the nine hardest climbs in the world. Just south of Sugarbush Ski resort, the steepest continuous paved mile in the US ranges from 20 to 24% grade at the last of four miles. With a right turn onto Lincoln Gap road we are hit with gradual ups and downs before crossing a bridge where it’s all uphill from there. Green tunnel vision surrounds you as you crank your pedals as hard as you can and switch back up the 1,400+ vertical feet. Depending on your fitness level, there is a strategy to adopt as you work your way up. Mine was to go as slow as possible without tipping over. As I approached the last section, I felt like there was no air left in the world, but the parking lot at the top of the gap was my cheering section and there was no way I was letting them down. I may have been hallucinating, but I swear I had several people pushing me up the mountain like the epic finishes during the Tour de France.
My joyride down made the grueling climb all worth it. The cooling winds mixed with beautiful views of the Adirondacks and surrounding Green Mountains was the recovery I needed for the Middlebury Gap climb. A choppy road up and a winding smooth downhill allowed for a tuck and fly descent at around 50 mph that would increase anyone’s pucker factor. A right turn onto 100 rewards you with a long slog through the valley. We pass through the quiet town of Randolph which has some rowdy mountain bike trails that make me wish I had a suspension to get me through the infamous frost heaves.
As we turn up to Brandon Gap, the slow ascent causes some new aches in my quads and I have to resort to stand up pedaling to help me through. The real life saver throughout this ride was the Bluetooth speaker that I tie-wrapped onto the top-tube of my bike. The blaring tunes from my pain cave playlist on Spotify vary from “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” to “Sandstorm”. At the top of Brandon Gap, it was around 40°F and 3PM. We still had the flats around Lake Dunmore and 116 to navigate along with the biggest climb of the day left. Good thing I brought a bike light along.
The flats were a friendly welcome for our legs as we went into a trance until shortly after running out of water. Luckily a convenience store was the much needed supply of salty snacks and water. The store clerk thought we were crazy given the time of day and our goal to be back in Waitsfield before sunset. The food supply and the locals’ motivational words were what we needed to jump back on our aluminum ponies and kick it into high gear.
An hour after fueling we started seeing road work signs. We were hoping this road work crew would be friendly to bikers since we welcome any opportunity to feel like we are in a cyclocross race and have to get off the bike. So we continued on and saw a blockade of equipment and a potentially friendly traffic attendant. After noticing that the entire road was wiped out from a recent storm we lost some hope. The traffic attendant said we were unable to pass but it seemed to me like we could tip-toe in our tap dancing cycling shoes through the muddy pass. After some sweet talking about how we needed to make it back to Waitsfield and we were running against the clock, the head engineer allowed us skinny guys in tights to pass through the construction zone.
If we could make it past a sink hole in the ground, we could easily make it up the App Gap. As we made yet another right turn onto the start of the gap, the sun was setting faster than our legs could move. The App gap is my favorite climb. Starting out with a rushing river to keep your mind off your legs. Then there are some rolling hills allowing a break to enjoy the open fields and forests filled with scents that would make the best Yankee Candle.
At the intersection of Gore Road I turned up my speaker full blast. Our cadence matched the beat and we sang to forget about our current state. The dance party was here filled with a night sky and a light show. With each switchback our hope for the end diminished with more climbing and no end in sight. As we rounded the last corner before the punchy climb a Hispanic high bpm song came on and we transported to Mexico. “Loco Papi” (Crazy Dad) was here and we weren’t about to let our future offspring down. With inspiring and desperate hoots and hollers we made it to the top with a moonlit sky.
When we thought it was all over we descended into the Mad River Valley with one light and two Loco Papis on bikes. As I tried to maneuver around the endless amount of potholes I yelled “Bump!” to Tyler at the top of my lungs. An echo of “AGH” and clanging bikes was returned but we eventually made it down safely with hot brake calipers and an appetite for Worthy Burger Too.
Even though my story doesn’t sell this route very well, I would highly recommend it. Don’t make the mistake I made by starting this route at 10AM in November when the sun sets at 5PM. The Mad River Valley has world class cycling terrain which you can loop in one gap or all four and still find an excellent meal to celebrate the day. Here is my Strava route for your reference. Happy Cycling!