Ride Recap: The West Hill Grinder 2018
PJ Bovaconti, September 23rd, 2018
The West Hill Gravel Grinder was split into three different routes: the 4 Gap, the 2 Gap, and the West Hill loop. I rode the 4 Gap route, which was 39 miles long with 5500 ft of climbing (Garmin elevation). The first gap started around mile 3 and went up a fast, steep dirt road. Once at the top, we entered the first Pavé/class 4 road, which lasted about 3 miles. This Pavé was relentless, with short fast climbs and many rock sections I had to avoid. The Pavé ended down a steep hill where it crossed two bridges. The first one was very sketchy, and most likely everyone had to drop a foot and walk across it, unlike the second one where you just needed to keep a straight line going over it and you’d be fine. Shortly after mile 12, we began the next Gap, Gap 2, which was another steep class 4 road with loose gravel and washboards. Before getting to the top, you had to navigate around mud pits the size of cars. Shortly after passing the mud, we began to descend to Gap 3. This decent was fast with windy turns and hard packed gravel. It couldn't have gotten any more fun. Up next was the Gap 3 climb up to the Pinnacle hiking trail. At first, knowing it was a hiking trail, I thought it was going to be impossible to bike up, but people from the nearby town had modified the path so bikes could make it up—so it was possible after all! This climb would have been better suited for a mountain bike than a gravel bike because there were rock beds you had to climb up, roots popping out of the leaves on the ground, and many glossy, off-camber accents. The whole climb took about 10-15 minutes. Once we reached the top, we had a fantastic view of the valley looking across the state of Vermont. I said the climb would have been good for a mountain bike—the next downhill would've been life-changing with some suspension. It was 1.4-mile long descent with switchbacks and rock drops all the way down. The max percent was about 19-20% downhill, and about halfway down there was a maple tree that had recently fallen that I had to hop off my saddle and climb over. At the bottom of the switchbacks, there was a small stream that I had to fiddle my way across on the dry rocks above the water to get to the other side. The next 6 miles went along a flat road that I was able to put down some big watts on and pick up speed. Gap 4, Putney Mountain Rd, was then in my sights. It's a 20 minute plus climb with over 1000 ft of vertical and 2.5 miles of steep and windy gravel road. Let me tell you, this road is HELL! It starts off very steep, so you burn all your matches in the first 10 minutes, then you realize you still have another 10-15 minutes left to climb. All you’re thinking about is finding the top. Once you get to the top, you then have 10 miles to go. You think you're done, and it’s going to be easy from here, but that's not how it was. You have a beautiful 6 miles with a couple of quick climbs but nothing to fatigue your body. Just as you think there is no more Pavés or class 4 roads, boom! Bebe Road climb. It's only about a mile long, but after doing 5000 ft of climbing, I felt it in the legs. After finishing the last section, I found myself back where I started and could begin munching on the beautiful and delicious food at the finish! The whole ride was entertaining and very painful at the same time. I will for sure be back next year.
PJ, 18, is an alpine racing student-athlete at Killington Mountain School. In the off-season, he is passionate about road and gravel cycling. PJ lives in Bridgewater, Vermont, with his family, and you'll likely see him training on the local roads. He is the founder of Ride for Shane, a fundraising movement with the goal of raising money and awareness for the non-profit organization Vermont Rare. Last year they raised over $15,000 through various rides and he has high hopes for 2019. You can follow Ride for Shane on Instagram and PJ here.