Uphill Prattle

The other day, my friend Adam called from Los Angeles with the news that the Lincoln Gap — a gap for which I have an almost proprietary and unhealthy affection, and as a resident of Lincoln for more than two decades now I tend to call mine — had a cameo in the March issue of Bicycling Magazine. Better still, the gap was featured in an article about local and, in some cases, legendary climbs.
“Pedal if you can!” the summary of the Lincoln Gap begins. “When you think you’re near the top, you round a corner and see the road rocket up into the trees, which is where people typically begin walking.”
I know that spot well. The first time I tried conquering the gap on a bike was in 2002, and even though I had stopped and rested at least twice, I was pedaling so slowly as I approached the summit that I was passed by a half-dozen other cyclists. I was so disheartened that I climbed off my bike and walked.
Since then I have gotten more proficient, and in the late spring and summer I bike up the gap two or three times a week. Twice I have biked up there early enough in the year that there was still snow on the road at the top, where the plows have common sense not to go, and deep patches in the bordering woods.
Now, I don’t mention my ability to bike to the top as mere bravado — though certainly there is some bluster in that statement. But given how often in this space I describe my profound ineptitude in so many ways (Can you say chimney fire?) it doesn’t seem especially vain to admit that, if nothing else, I am capable of biking up a big hill.
According to the magazine, the Lincoln Gap averages an 18 percent grade.
What Bicycling doesn’t focus on, however, is how spectacularly beautiful the gap is. (The magazine also, alas, doesn’t answer that age-old question about why we call them gaps in Vermont, while our neighbors in New Hampshire refer to them as notches.) It’s about eight and one half miles from Vermont 116 to the top of the Lincoln Gap. I don’t know the precise distance to the peak from Vermont 100 on the Warren side, but it’s not quite as far.
And whether you are approaching the summit from the east side of the mountain or the west, the ride (or drive) is stunning. From the east, the road is meandering and pastoral until you start your climb, and the sun makes the small fields and grazing pastures there luminescent in June. From the west, the road parallels the New Haven River, and the landmarks include Bartlett’s Falls, one of the very best swimming holes in Vermont. It starts its serious uphill climb just beyond the old Goodyear farm, about three miles beyond the village of Lincoln.
The western side also has a lookout just under a half mile from the top, and the view of Addison County stretches all the way to Lake Champlain. It offers one of my very favorite views in Vermont: A snapshot of the idyllic world we fear sometimes has been lost. There they are: The farmhouses, the fields and the dirt roads that wind toward the sugarhouses at the edge of the woods. And, of course, the woods themselves.
Some people argue it is harder to manage the paved switchbacks on the east side of the gap, but the combination of dirt and asphalt make the west side no picnic either.
It is also worth noting that because the Lincoln Gap is indeed impassable five or six months of the year, we never grow blind to its pleasures. Annually, in the spring, we rediscover it. The route over the mountain returns, along with crocuses and daffodils and those small mounds of road salt we rake from our yards.
There are myriad reasons why I live where I live: Not just Vermont, but Lincoln. And the opportunity to savor the spectacle of the Lincoln Gap is high among them.
(This column originally appeared in the Burlington Free Press on April 1, 2007.)

Chris Bohjalian

Chris Bohjalian is the author of nineteen books, including his forthcoming novel, The Sleepwalker. His other novels include the New York Times bestsellers Midwives, The Sandcastle Girls, The Guest Room, and The Double Bind.