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The Promised Land

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All that stood between us and the land of cheese and sauce was 90 mi and the Lincoln Gap.

Start – Stop: Merck Forest, Vt – American Flatbread, Vt

Distance: 88.2 mi

Elevation Gain: 6290 ft

Riding Time: 7:00

Time Awake Spent in Pursuit of The Trip, Roughly: 11:00

Weather: Today would be the best weather of our entire tour. Low 70s with only a hint of wind. Vermont, you dazzled us.

Day 03 Objectives & Points of Interest

  1. Pizza.
  2. Pizza.
  3. Pizza.
  4. Pizza.
  5. Pizza.
  6. Pizza.
  7. Pizza.
  8. Pizza.

Today we were headed to the promised land. Our destination was a Vermont artisanal pizza staple and quaint artisanal inn with room names like Love, Respect, Tranquilty and Wonder. And all that stood between us and the land of cheese and sauce was 90-ish miles and the Lincoln Gap, home of the steepest paved mile in America. Benedict knew that the route would not pull any punches: “Guys, well, this is the queen stage, and it’s going to be hard. What we have in front of us is a long day, hee-hee-hee, so we can’t mess around too much, we’ve got to stay on track.” Coming from Benedict, this amounts to a drill sergeant dressing down a squad of wet-behind-the-ears cadets. And we did stay on track, at least we thought we did.

We started relatively early. With seven people—all of whom need to eat, dump, and pack up their rigs—early isn’t daybreak, especially after a raucous evening featuring a wonderful Instagram Symposium led by Mr. Wheeler himself (audio forthcoming). We were riding by 10:00am and we rode with focus, but we ran into some hiccups. While briefly riding in New York State, Mary was flipped off after she waved at some guy in a yellow jeep.

“Hey yellow jeep guy, you’re a real piece of SHIT.

This is Mary we’re talking about here; by far the sweetest member of our troupe. I mean had it been me, or Moi, or Daniel then yeah I get it, we just look like assholes. But Mary? Come on. This was a psychic speed bump, it derailed our confidence and retarded our pace.

Once back in the pleasant and peaceful confines of Vermont we found ourselves deep in a tick hollow, a tick hollow some might refer to as a “rails-to-trails bike way” (it’s a tick hollow all the same). We throttled our bikes as best we could through deep grass and overhanging branches. The path was strung with spider webs that stuck to our faces, and thorn-covered vines whipped our legs. Theoretically it was nice that we weren’t on a paved road, fighting tooth and nail with those dinosaur guzzlers, but this was slow moving. The rails-to-trails was forbidding us from going fast, it was forcing us to take in the scenery, to attempt silly little jumps over numerous tiny bridges, to stop at every road crossing. And the day dragged on.

By the time we hit Brandon for lunch, Benedict’s visage was wearing something that I’d never seen on him before. It was wearing anxiety. It was two-ish in the afternoon and we were only halfway through the ride, yet to get into any of the day’s climbing. “Guys, there is a pizza cutoff at American Flatbread. If we don’t make it we don’t have another food option; you’ve got a half hour to eat lunch and then we have to get going.” Of course it took us the better part of an hour to order and eat our sandwiches, to shop for snacks in Brandon’s artisanal bakery and pantries. It takes time to order a coffee and then drink it. It’s not that we were actively trying to slow the process, Lord knows the last thing we wanted to do was miss out on this Magical Pizza experience.

“These things just take time, the artisanal lifestyle was starting to affect our crew in strange and wonderful ways.”

What’s surprising is that we made it to the pizza place in time. Considering how far we had to go when we stopped for lunch, the pizza place should have been at least another two days away. It’s as if we were carried by the God of Artisanal Pizza.11Please tweet your suggestions for the God Artisanal Pizza’s name to @yonderjournal Not that the climbing wasn’t tough, it was, Lincoln gap is SO steep, especially on a loaded bike. But all of a sudden were were over the top and pulling into American Flatbread.

Benedict was obviously relieved. He had first come here whilst on a mountain bike camp at the tender age of 12, or maybe it was 13. His instructor Geo was/is/will always be a god. Even though Benedict’s MTB report card was less than aces—some of this due to the fact that young Poppi squarley t-boned a waiting Geo—the man still has a place in Poppi’s pantheon. We all ordered our own pies and stuffed them into our bodies like we stuff sleeping bags into their compression sacks. And later, while we watched Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark on VHS in a room called Tranquilty we wondered aloud if it had been Geo pushing us through the last half day, proud of who his young protégé had become.

Leaving Nimrod’s Palace

Dropping out of Merck Forest to begin a long day in the saddle.
As our friend Cole Maness always says, "Don't sleep in the manger when there is room in the inn." They didn't admit to it but we're all pretty sure Patz and Poppi were arm wrestling with Deer Ticks all night long.
Funny, I didn't see any rainbow. #potogold
Sarah Swallow. Ready to Rip!
You want artisanal? You got it! #ARTISANAL
There are works of art that aren't supposed to be "figured out" or "analyzed" or "understood." Just gaze upon them, and while you do, clear your mind and wait for the art to speak to you.
The Ultra Franchise was looking pretty plucky today.
Plucky, fig. 1.
Plucky, fig. 2.
Hakuna matata to you too, brü.
Your favorite post-rock band, "The Shifters".
See, I told you. This is what a tick hollow looks like.
Sarah: "Mary, you're just going to have to cool it. Do you see any place around here that looks like it sells Corn Nuts? Do you see any place around here that looks like it sells anything?"
It is really really pretty here, despite the fact that you're constantly under siege by deer ticks.

Stopping for Water in Pawlet

It’s not a ghost town!
At this point we really needed to stock up on water. But once again, the town seemed deserted.
That is, until a kindly older gentleman from the local volunteer fire department showed up. "Come on in you guys, take as much water as you want." There were no leftover pancakes. #notaghosttown

Entering Granville, NY

In Granville, if you’re Mary, and you wave to someone, expect them to flip you off in return.
Hey, whatcha thinkin' about?
So Benedict stops here. "Hey guys, let's stop here. Dan (Daniel) is going to want to take a photo here, I can just feel it." The nascent lensman definitely has an eye for the right image.

Exiting Granville, NY

And not a moment too soon.
Mary. With ALL of the style. She isn't showing it, but Mary was definitely dealing with some PTSD after that pile of shit driving a yellow jeep gave her the bird in exchange for her kindness.
It was at about this point that an old codger riding a tractor yelled at us, "Hey what the hell are you doing?"
Sarah replied, "Riding bikes." Obvs dude, obvs.
If that rails-to-trails route was good for one thing, it was good for running into this couple. #lifegoals #squad #blessed

Lunch in Brandon, VT

Benedict gets really concerned that we aren’t going to make it to Pizza in time. The Ghost of Geo pushes us on. Daniel doesn’t really take any photos to save time.

Three Peaks Before Pizza

We’ve got three climbs ahead of us, including the Lincoln Gap. Will we make the hallowed Pizza shrine?
Mechanicals are only adding to our sense of dread. The possibility of no pizza is real.
We made it up and over the Lincoln Gap. And against all odds we're back on track to arrive at pizza valhalla alive and on time. Thank you Geo, spirit of bikepacking. We are forever in your debt.
It was just really really nice.
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