Monday, November 26, 2007

Gappity Gap / Nov. 25, 2007

About a month ago, friend Edward Robinson, a Texas rider and RUSA’s newly appointed Permanents Coordinator, suggested a ride. He was coming to the D.C. area over Thanksgiving. Would I be interested in joining him and another rider, Tom, for a friendly 200K permanent in northwest Virginia? I’d never met Edward in person. This seemed like the prime opportunity to do so.

I fired up Google maps: 240 miles each way, straight up Highway 15 through Virginia’s rural outback. A long drive, but I’ve done longer for a bike ride. Why does it seem harder to drive 240 miles than to ride ‘em on a bike? One of life’s great mysteries.

After getting ground clearance from ma femme, I signed on.

As the ride date neared, we picked up another rider, Nick. The route was also announced: Gappity Gap.

I looked it up on RUSA’s Web site. 204 kilometers, 11,000 feet of climbing.

Yikes! That’s Parkway Painful. A friendly ride? Were these guys trying to kill me? I couldn’t be sure, but just in case I decided to pack the Kevlar wind vest.

This kind of ride was not to be taken lightly. Even so, I sat on the sofa for a full week, calorie loading and “resting-up,” doing no more exercise than it takes to channel surf between movies.

The pre-ride forecast looked dry but cold. The morning before the big drive, I oiled the chain, installed lights and packed the cold weather gear -– gloves, hat, more gloves, newspaper bags, neck warmer, tights, leg warmers, arm warmers, two wool LS shirts, wool socks, wool jersey, wind vest, rain jacket. My duffel bag bulged, threatening the integrity of its zipper.

The drive up was exceedingly pleasant. I followed Hwy 15, aka the James Madison Highway, named for a native son. The DOT folks must have been desperate for things to stick on the mileage sign. They began announcing my destination, Culpeper, a full 120 miles out. I spent the night there at the brand spanking new Microtel. It’s so new the front desk hasn’t yet figured out how to use the Internet.

After a good night’s sleep, I grabbed a free bagel from the breakfast bar and went in search of my crew in nearby Sperryville. They weren’t hard to find. Not many other cars cruising the town that time of the morning. And only one Toyo hybrid with 3 bikes on the roof.

Quick introductions, cards stamped at the only open business in town, park at the start, put a wheel on my bike and off we went

The temperature for our 7 a.m. start was 36. It was predicted to bump up to around 50, with cloudy skies.

Things heated up in the first mile. Right out of the gate we were climbing, about five miles uphill to Gap #1, Thornton. Our route would take us across 10 gaps -– five outbound, and the backside of each on the return. Tom said some were easier as we headed home. Some would be harder, especially the two gaps after our control stops.

The mountains look different than those that I ride in North Carolina. These appear to be more discrete ridge lines, with bowl shaped valleys in between. We had spectacular views atop a few of the gaps. Then we’d roll back down into another bowl and head toward the next climb.

I tried to take pictures with my loaner camera (see the previous post). Check out these shots.

See how one corner is in focus? Not sure what the deal is. Maybe the cold got to it.

Speaking of problems, here’s one drawback with this kind of hilly route. Before we were to the top of the first hill, we’d already drifted apart. This pattern would repeat itself throughout the day. Still it made for good chitchat time as we climbed in pairs. On the leg to the first control, Nick filled me in on his bout with pneumonia during PBP and his rain-soaked adventures on last year’s BMB. Eventually Edward bridged up and we compared notes on the randonneuring scenes in Texas and North Carolina.

Here’s another problem with this kind of hilly ride. When it’s as cold as it was on Sunday, you build up a big sweat on the climbs, only to hop into the deep freeze coming down the other side. It’s hard to find a happy medium. The clothes are never right.

Two hours into the ride, we passed a bank thermometer. Still 36 degrees. We’d be lucky to hit 40. Eventually the temps hit 45. But the cold was taking a lot out of me. I needed every spare calorie for climbing, but I found myself shoveling lots of caloric coal into the furnace just to stay warm.

And yet another problem with this kind of hilly ride. When we rolled into Bo’s service station, our first control at around 33 miles, we were right at the time limit, owing to the three climbs we’d just done. There would be no time for poking around. With the clock ticking away, our backs were up against the wall.

Edward and I stuck together until the next control. We crawled up two climbs, including Wolf’s Gap, where we entered West Virginia, and Mill Gap. We dropped off the back to the Lost River General Store, our turnaround control.

I checked the time. It was nearly 2 p.m. It had taken 6.5 hours out of the 13 allotted to reach the halfway point. That was not encouraging information. I knew it would be slower going on the return leg.

Edward and I quickly refueled with a bowl of white bean chili and headed out as Nick rolled up. We saw Tom on the way down as we climbed back up to Mill Gap.

Somewhere between Mill Gap and Wolf Creek I lost Edward. I felt a little guilty about losing all of my hosts, but I rode on, fearing that any delay would put a finish in jeopardy.

Back at Bo’s Xpress, I ate slowly, hoping to regroup with Edward. But not wanting to get too cold, I eventually pushed on without him.

I’d forgotten to pack a light for reading my cue sheet. I remedied that by buying one of those huge honking flashlights that takes two D batteries. A little bulky, but it did the trick.

Darkness began to settle in as I climbed Edinburg Gap. I was completely in the dark up the next climb, Edith Gap.

Behind me, things apparently fell apart for the other riders once they reached Bo’s Express. As I descended, my cell phone rang. It was my wife. Edward had left a voicemail to say he was out. As was Tom and Nick. This hungry beast of a course was devouring riders.

I did the lonely ride up 211, a five-mile climb up to the Skyline Drive. I stopped twice, pulled out the big honking flashlight to check my progress. This hill was taking forever.

Once I saw the overpass at the top, I knew I was home-free, with a five-mile coast down to our cars. I was cold, but now it felt exhilarating.

I rolled in at 7:52. As I changed out of my riding clothes, a car pulled up with a bike on top. It was Matt Settle, the D.C. RBA and the owner/designer of the Gappity Gap permanent. What a nice guy -- he'd come to check on us. He had Tom and Nick in the car. Edward was being retrieved by his wife and would arrive separately.

I told Matt this was the hardest 200K I’d ever done. He smiled broadly, a proud poppa with the toughest kid on the playground.

Matt headed down to a pizza place in Sperryville and ordered two pies. When Edward pulled up, we caravanned to the restaurant and persuaded the owner to stay open for a few minutes longer so we could eat in warmth. We crowded around a small table and swapped war stories from the day’s ride.

A quick round of goodbyes and I hit the road, back down Highway 15, rolling into my driveway at 2 a.m.


sharetheroad said...

Scouting for the Shenandoah 1200, huh? Great write-up Mike, and congrats on your successful ride. Edinburg- Wolf's Gap- those are some butt-kickin' climbs. Way to represent! Branson

Gino Zahnd said...

I don't know how you drive home that late after a long/hard ride!