J.A.M. Fund Grand FUNdo

Monday, July 27, 2015

Saturday was a perfect day to join 300+ other like-minded riders for some dirt road fun. I participated in this fund raising ride once before in 2011. This year's course featured new sections. When my friend Brett expressed interest, I couldn't think of a better way to get my weekend fix in.

There were warnings to bring 25mm or bigger tires, especially for the hero extension to the ride, called the "Hundo," because it rides like a hundred miles. The night before I scrounged for 25mm road tires. You'd think with over 50 tires hanging in my basement I'd have something bigger than 23mm that could go on a road bike. Nope. So now what? My cross bike was sitting right there with 38mm tubeless tires on it. Hmmm, seemed like total overkill. But I wouldn't have to fuss with the bike at all. Just throw it in the car. So what if I had to work a little harder on the paved climbs. I just hoped the new course wasn't all pavement.

A mid morning start was nice. I could sleep in. Not having to pin a number on was nice too. No stress, just hours of fun to look forward to. I hadn't ridden in a large group in ages, so I was a little apprehensive about that. There is a certain skill to riding wheel to wheel, shoulder to shoulder, without getting sketched out or messing somebody else up. Would I get nervous? I'll let the photos portray how the day went.

Starting out with police escort

Lead group at first food stop. No rush to get back on bikes.
They had fluffnutter with blueberry and bacon sandwiches!

Timmy playing on the rocks
One of many skinny dirt roads

Many double-digit grade grinds

The Funk Meister

After second food stop, eleven of us remained in the lead group on the Hundo course.
No apprehension riding with this small group of elite riders.


I was starting to like my tire choice after hitting many sections like this. There were many
flats for the day. I could bomb the descents with my monster truck cross tires with
reckless abandon! By the end of the ride, I had no regrets.

More closed roads, please!

Tim frantically trying to get the Stan's to seal while Anthony was extolling the virtues of
his $25 tires. Eventually a tube had to go in.

Poor fella. Mighty tasty.

The venue at Black Birch Vineyards with Mt Tom in background.

This was the funnest group ride I've done in a long time. The event was extremely well organized with great food and beverage afterwards. I loved the new course segments. Hope they are kept for next year and not deemed "too challenging." 87 miles with 8550ft of climbing for the day.


Bears and Berries

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Been noticing a lot of bear scat where I've been riding lately. I haven't had a close encounter with a bear in a while though. Last weekend when I hit the North Conway trails, I finished my ride by climbing up Black Cap Mtn a second time so I could ride down Red Tail Trail. On Cranmore trail along the ridge, I hit a pile of bear scat. Hmmm, that wasn't there three hours earlier. Kind of gives you pause.

Blueberries along Hemlock Trail in Bear Brook on Sunday would fall off by the handful.

Blueberries are abundant this year. I'm not particularly fond of blueberries but will stop to eat a handful from the trail when presented with them. I noticed bear scat during blueberry season looks very much like blueberry pie filling. Mmmmm! Just another reason to not like blueberry pie.


Mad River Valley

Sunday, July 12, 2015

There are new riding areas lighting up all over New England in Stava's global heat map. One such area I've been keeping an eye on and getting good press is the Mad River Valley of Vermont. The Mad River Riders have been building technical trails in the greater Waitsfield area. Saturday was just the type of weather I wanted for a trip north - minimal risk of rain and too hot in southern New England.

Continuing the theme of last weekend, I kicked the ride off with a climb to Lincoln Peak summit. I climbed adjacent Mt Ellen a year or two ago. I heard Lincoln Peak was a little more doable on a bike. There's a ski area service road that goes all the way up. I've biked up just about every ski area service road in New England. Some you can cruise right up, others turn into hike-a-bike death marches. On which end of the spectrum would this 3000+ foot climb fall?

The first 800 feet were gained on pavement. Was no picnic though. Grade quickly hit 14%. There were many sections of double-digit grades. The late morning sun was already hot and beating right down on me. I put about 70oz of water in my Camelbak, thinking that would be more than enough. I was soaked in sweat before I even got to the meaty part of the climb.

There was a steady stream of cars with DH bikes on them driving up. You know, the kind that would never be pedaled up a hill. The tiny token seats are jammed all the way down and angled back. I wondered if I would be ducking for my life every 30 seconds from these guys dropping down the mountain. As I wrapped around the bottom of the chairlift, sure enough, guys were pushing their bikes up the slightest of incline to get in the lift line.

The service road started out innocuous enough. I started feeling stoked, like this is going to be a piece of cake. But ski area service roads have a way of suckering you in like that. It kept getting steeper and steeper and steeper. Then it popped out under the same lift line of guys I was sneering at earlier just when it got impossibly steep. Great, now I had an audience. What a nut job, I'm sure they thought. I managed to keep the pedals turning. Didn't get any heckles, but I'm sure they were ready with ridicule had I spun out on the loose gravel.

I cleaned the climb to the top of the DH bike lift. I still had a thousand feet to go to the summit though in very little distance! That can't be good. The road became much looser, more like talus than gravel, and hit peak grades of over 30%. I met my match. There were two brief pitches where the road was too loose and weeds to the side too dense. I hiked.  I think with hindsight and maybe a gear lower on my 2x10 drivetrain, I could clean that upper section.

The view from the top was glorious. Several hikers were passing through, as the Long Trail runs across the ridgeline. The temperature was pleasant up top, but I blew through almost all my water on the climb! I had a lot of trail riding planned before passing by the car.

The descent sucked. I couldn't believe I actually rode up that. My brakes overheated and started squealing a death screech. I had to stop a couple times to let them cool. Near the top of the DH lift, I picked up a downhill trail called Snowball. It switchbacked across an intermediate ski run all the way down. Nearly all of the 40 or so switchbacks were bermed for speed. A couple of drops gave me pause, but everything was rollable. That was a sweet payback for the climb.

Next I linked up some trails that were both on and off the map. I had hoped to hit a large number of trails in the network below the ski area, but my water was gone as I went into the woods. This was going to have to be a direct linkage of trails back to the car kind of mission.

The one trail I had to hit was Cyclone. I envisioned a flowy, curvaceous downhill run. It was anything but. Sure, some might say it has flow. Brake hard, pedal 400 Watts, brake hard, pedal 400W, over and over. It went down, but constantly scubbing what little speed you could gain just before the next grunt up over something is not my idea of flow. For those that like the STAB trails, they would probably just love this trail. A little further down, the trail Revolution was picked up to continue the descent into the valley. Now this had flow. You could actually let go of the brakes for more than two seconds at a time and not have to pedal 400 Watts ten times a minute. It looked like parts of this trail may have been machine built.

Pulling back up to the car to replenish my water, I hear my name called out. I thought I saw Louis on I-89 heading up. Erie how we keep crossing paths in random places.

I was so dehydrated I couldn't even spit, yet my shoes were squishy with sweat. Oh the irony! I was parked by a popular swimming hole and thought about just calling it a day and join the hoards of yelling kiddies. But no, my mission wasn't complete yet. There was more riding area to check out north of town.

I had no idea what Bragg Hill Rd was about. It was south facing, the day was now in the hottest part. The road hit grades of up to 16%! It seldom dropped below 12% grade. It turned to gravel part way up but was buttery smooth. I climbed another 1100ft in two miles. A couple turns brought me to the top of a trail called Old Center Fayston. Some climbing ensued to the high point, then it was all turns and grins heading down. This was mighty fine riding, still fairly technical, but nice flow. The trail merged into another called Gumball. This was even better, perfectly formed turns with modest berms. A few places it came scary close to a precipitous drop to a stream below. Just don't look down!

All good things must come to an end. Before I knew it I was back on pavement and heading through Waitsfield back to the car. To cool down and rinse off post-ride, I headed a few miles down Rt 100 to Warren Falls, a popular local swimming hole. Some travel guide sites say if you can only visit one swimming hole in Vermont, this is the one.

It must be popular, as I had trouble find a spot to legally park along the road. Cars all over. Felt a bit awkward hiking down to the gorge. Almost everybody there was less than half my age and they weren't sporting a goofy cycling tan either. Lots of beer was being consumed, smell of weed was on the breeze, and plenty of ledge jumping craziness was going on. Oh to be 20 years old again. I spent just enough time there to rinse off and take a brief plunge. Very cool place, nice clear water with a cascade of deep pools.

I liked riding here and would make the trip again to hit more of the trails. I covered about 33mi with 5800ft of climbing in 4.5hrs.  Here are a few photos from the day.

Lincoln Peak summit

Looking up section I capitulated on. Strava says it hit 30%.

Looking down the 30% section.

From summit looking west.

From summit looking east-northeast. Ski village in center, top of downhill MTB
chairlift just visible center right (green object with dirt road to it).

From summit observation deck looking south down spine of range. Long trail runs
through here and the infamous Lincoln Gap is just below.

Snowball Trail heading down.

Gumball machine in the middle of nowhere on Gumball Trail.

On of many amazingly built turns on Gumball Trail.

Warren Falls swimming hole.

Looking down the cascade of pools. Happen to catch this just as the young kid
jumped. Note the banked walls and shallow shelf in the pool. You had to make sure
you hit the center deep spot.


A common theme?

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Seems I can't head outside these days without finding a big mountain to climb. When I head to the Northeast Kingdom with a full squish mountain bike, of course I must ride up the paved auto road to the summit of Burke Mountain. That is half the point of driving that far to ride trails.

After two long days on dirt with bikes, I thought it'd be a good idea to get some hiking vertical in my legs with a planned presidential traverse coming up. Those not in the know question me, "you ride and run 600 hours per year, how could you not be in shape for a hike?" Well, there's something called delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). Some folks are more susceptible to it than others. I seem to be very susceptible to it. Another cyclist commented that hiking induced DOMS wasn't a problem until he took up cycling. There may be a connection.

Anyway, DOMS is typically caused by eccentric muscle contraction when you are not conditioned for it. Cycling, and most running on level ground, are almost all concentric muscle contraction. Eccentric is where the muscle is being stretched apart while trying to contract. This happens when hiking or running down steep grades, where the muscle must absorb energy, not produce energy.  I rarely do this, thus a long hike with many thousands of feet of descending would destroy me.

So on a whim I hit Mt Tripyramid from Waterville Valley on Sunday. I knew only where the trail was, nothing about it. I had no idea how steep and terrifying both the climb and descent were. 3000ft of descending at snail pace was still enough to give me debilitating DOMS 36hrs later. Two days later, my colleagues are making fun at how I'm walking. The presidential traverse has 3x the climbing and descending. Glad I'm finding out now how much conditioning I lack with barely any time to do something about it.

On Monday, when my company was off for 4th of July, I thought a nice, mellow, flat MTB ride would sooth my destroyed legs. I drove over to nearby FOMBA trails, with no intention of riding the flowless singletrack there. No, I was thinking more like a loop around Tower Hill Pond on fire roads and maybe out and back on snowmobile corridor Trail 15 to Bear Brook.

On the bike, I didn't feel half bad. Conditioning and all concentric muscle use make all the difference. It was a rather nice, albeit hot day. The trails were dry, deserted and riding well.  Before I knew it, I found myself at the summit Fort Mountain well past the far side of Bear Brook State Park! How did that happen on a "recovery" day?  My name is Doug Jansen, and I'm a cycloholic.

Three days in a row, a stupid steep mountain was climbed. I am a sucker for great views. I don't know of any mountain in this area that provides a better vista than Fort Mountain. On clear days, you can see Mt Washington from there. It was a white knuckle descent down the 20% loose gravel grade back to Bear Brook. So much for a recovery ride.  Hopefully by next weekend my DOMS is gone and I can start all over again.

Three days, three mountains.
At work, these would be spectrum analyzer plots...

Bear Hill Pond in Bear Brook State Park. A couple was swimming here. Hope I didn't
interrupt anything...

Summit of Fort Mountain looking toward White Mountains. Humid hazy day.

Blueberries on summit of Fort Mountain

Looking northwest from Fort Mountain

Blueberries along Hemlock Trail in Bear Brook. There are acres and acres of berries like this.
Surprised not a soul was out picking.


Is It Sacrilegious To...

Sunday, July 5, 2015

On the 4th of July, I had hoped to hit the Mad River trails in Warren, VT.  As a bonus, I had also hoped to bag Lincoln Peak, a ski area peak I haven't ridden to yet (3000+ ft net gain!). The weather radar loop in the morning suggested I should go a little further north and east to minimize any chance encounter with rain. I settled for the Northeast Kingdom trails (NEK).

I try to get up to NEK at least a couple times per year. The town of East Burke and the trails that put it on the map have easily reached mecca status, on par with Moab or Crested Butte. I like NEK because I can do monster climbs, take in great views, and ride trails all day without seeing anything twice.

I think NEK is getting loved to death though. Every weekend, hundreds of riders converge on East Burke from Canada and across the USA. Trails generally stay open rain or shine. The loamy soil doesn't hold up well to such abuse. It has been a pretty wet summer. Sending hundreds of knobby tires over wet, black loam quickly creates pits of quagmire, not unlike many ATV trails in the northeast. To make matters worse, riders will tend to skirt around wet spots for myriad reasons - keeping the bike clean, fear of what lurks within, crashing, etc. This widens the trail, makes the mud holes bigger, and even braids the trail when other obstacles prevent continuous widening.

I was surprised to find my favorite NEK trails pretty messy on the 4th. These are all part of the Burke Mtn trail system. They tend to be the last to dry out in spring and after rain. I thought it hadn't rained in at least a few days there. To make matters worse, Dead Moose Alley was logged this winter. The logging operation obliterated some of the drainage structures. Long stretches of the trail were saturated, severely braided and generally unrideable with logging slash mixed in.

So I started thinking deep thoughts. Am I just so absorbed into the thought that NEK is The Place to ride in New England that I'm blind to anything that says otherwise? I drive 5+ hours round trip, pay $15 trail fee, to ride crowded, braided trails that trash my bike. Why? Is it sacrilegious to think of NEK in this light?  NEK seems to be a religion to some. I could ride better maintained, less abused trails much closer to home.

Don't get me wrong. I thoroughly enjoyed my ride on the 4th.  I won't stop going there. There are several other comparable destinations to ride in New England today, thanks to the efforts of NEMBA and other local trail building groups. North Conway, NH provides an experience closest to what I seek out west. The growing STAB trail network in Brownsville, VT is gaining notoriety. Close to home I have Bear Brook State Park, 10,000 acres chocked full of NEMBA built singletrack. With so many premium choices, NEK starts to drop down the list of best places to ride in New England.

Looking west(ish) from fire tower on Burke summit

Looking south from the fire tower

Willoughby Gap from part way down the summit road

Braiding through wet section on Dead Moose Alley trail

Burke Mountain from Heaven's Bench

Red clover and other flowers on Darling Hill

Lowell fireworks from UMass Lowell parking garage upper deck



Monday, June 29, 2015

The Okemo Mountain hillclimb race filled a nice gap where I didn't have much going on. No off-Friday I'd have to waste, no other big race events, no epic group rides planned. I could even sleep in for the late morning start. I figured I could throw two bikes in the car, hit the race in the morning, then STAB trails in the afternoon (Sport Trails of the Ascutney Basin). I always wanted to check those trails out.

I had some dialog with Victoria Di Savino, a new hillclimber from Buffalo, regarding gearing for Whiteface and Okemo over the last few weeks. Her power numbers are small, but she is very small. Her W/kg number on Whiteface was on par with mine in best form. I was far from best form now, eschewing interval training these days and weighing about five pounds over my "climbing weight."   I told others I was getting chicked at Okemo on Saturday.

There were only about 90 of us lining up for the start at the Jackson Gore resort. The chicane down to Rt 103 is neutral, then the race goes live. The first two miles have slight downhill bias and can be very fast if young studs are going for a course record. But not today. Everybody sat up and we putzed along at about 22mph. Was fine by me, but these crazy flat or downhill starts to hillclimb races can add considerable variability when comparing your time to years past.

We turned right up Mountain Rd and immediately were slapped with double-digit grade. That spreads things out pretty quickly. I saw Erik Vandendries pull away with the fastest guys. He's 50 now and I can't touch him. I knew from the registration list he'd win my age group and I still had a shot at second, but Tom Fagan, also in the field, is riding strong these days. There'd be no slacking off.

Before long, Victoria came floating by, dancing on the pedals, barely breathing. Dang, how many tough guys were humbled that morning? More than a few, I'm sure. She pulled away and I thought, well, that was that.

Tom was ahead of me for a while and not letting up. I felt like I was going backwards. I didn't feel particularly awful or anything. I just wasn't going very fast.

But then, as in most hillclimb races, those that go out too hard start to come unraveled. I started passing people. I caught up to Tom. Victoria dangled just ahead. I found I could gain a little on Tom on the less steep parts but he'd gain it back when it got steep again. I could never seem to gain on Victoria. This went on for the last half of the climb, the three of us never spread more than 5-10sec apart.

We passed the 0.5mi to go mark and now I was on Victoria's wheel. I would have been content to just stay there over the timing mat. But Tom would have none of that. He came gunning for me about 15 seconds from the finish. I had no choice but to respond. To make it even more interesting, Kevin Bessett joined in the party. I've never sprinted harder at the end of a hillclimb. Victoria had no idea what was going on except three guys just came out of nowhere and crossed the line right in front of her. I saved my second place finish, just barely. That burst at the end put me the closest ever to hurling at a finish. My time was two minutes off my best, but most of that could be attributed to the slow start.

Victoria handily won the women's field, and I suspect some climbing records could fall next year if she sticks with it. The steep monotonic climbs will suit her really well.

A fine day to hang out at the finish

As always, Glenn from Okemo and the Rotary Club team put on a top notch event. Very reasonably priced compared to the other climbs and at a great resort venue. The food after was perfect with healthy selections and all kinds of yummy treats. Would really like to see more people at this event next year. There's nothing to not like about it.

After eating, I split to hit the STAB trails before rained moved in. I was humbled again by the steepness and technical difficulty of these trails. The level of engineering and creative use of natural features was stunning. It just wasn't my preferred kind of riding material. Trashed legs and balding Racing Ralph tires didn't help matters. There is a lot of exposed granite to ride there. With the ground a bit moist and tires that have marginal traction when new on terrain like that, I found sections a bit terrifying.

I must say though, I could like a few trails there. The South Ridge trail was a work of beauty. I'd hit that again. Many smooth granite outcroppings were worked into that loop.

With skies getting dark and no telling how close the rain was (no 4G signal), I pulled the plug early and finished with only 14 miles and another couple thousand feet of climbing. I'd have to explore more of the trails and hit Joe's Jungle just north of there another day.

Trail called Hay Ride I finished on. Switchbacks a mile down this giant field.


Rapha Inspired Gravel Grinding

Friday, June 19, 2015

I've ridden variants of the 2012 Rapha Gentlemen's Race course that snaked through VT and NH four or five times now.  Just the good part too, the section that makes many big hops through Vermont's mountains. The loop offers all the desirable aspects of cycling in spades, great views, challenging climbs, endless descents, solitude and minimal traffic. A cross bike is highly recommended for this route. There are a couple Class 4 roads that would be treacherous on skinny road tires.

Heading over to VT on I-89, a black bear and I almost collided. The bear came bounding at high speed out of the woods to my right. I didn't think I was going to stop in time and started to maneuver to avoid it. But just as the bear came to the pavement, it saw me, did a four paw stop and 180'd back into the woods. That was only my first of three close animal encounters for the day.

Early in the ride on the first Class 4 road, I was ripping downhill when I heard a crashing sound to my left. A large deer came bounding down the mountain on a collision course with me. Slamming on the brakes again, this time on a bicycle with no protection around my body. The deer obviously saw me and cleared the road in one leap about head high fraction of a second ahead of me. That got my heartrate going.

Then on the second to last descent of the ride, I'm hauling ass when a fat woodchuck hops out of the brush immediately ahead of me. I didn't even get my fingers to the levers when I heard and felt a bonk at the rear wheel. The wheel didn't go over it. The woodchuck either t-boned a spoke or the rim. I turned around to look and saw woodchuck four-paws to the sky out cold. A second later, it sprung back to life and scampered off. Dang, that was close. I was going close to 40mph on dirt. Had it gone into the front wheel... I don't even want to think about that. By the way, my redneck friends I grew up with in Michigan would cook those things. Mighty tasty, actually.

I added a climb I hadn't done before into this ride. It was Spring Rd/Monarch Hill. The 900ft grunt up dirt Spring Rd was quite scenic. Reminded me a bit of Glade Hill Rd in the Catskills, but not quite as steep. The descent on Monarch Hill Rd was by far the best descent of the ride. Perfectly monotonic, smooth packed gravel and nice views down the valley.

There was rarely a moment when I was out of ear shot of rushing water on this ride. It must have rained hard into the early morning hours. Everything was flowing. It left the gravel firm and tacky, hero gravel, if there is such a thing.

This ride finishes over Turnpike Rd. Why is it that so many New England roads with Turnpike in the name are roads that were abandoned before cars came along? Anyway, Turnpike Rd starts out as nicely groomed gravel, almost two lanes wide. Then it drops to one lane, still occasional houses and a power line along the way. As elevation is gained, grass appears in the middle. That would classify Turnpike Rd as doubletrack. But after the last house, the road becomes full-blown jeep track. That rain I just mentioned? Yep, the jeep track was a quagmire. It was too rocky to sink in with 38mm tires, but there were huge puddles that could not be entirely avoided. Plenty of off-camber wet granite too. I'd be surprised if I average over 4mph for this half-mile section. Only one dab though. Once through it, it is six miles of continuous downhill back to the car. The ride went 66mi with 7600ft of climbing in 4.6hrs. Here are a few pictures from my shitty waterproof camera.

Top of first climb, Bragg Hill.

Joe Ranger Rd.

Strawberries at high point of second major climb, Old Kings Hwy.
They were yummy, much more flavorful than the giant mass produced kind.

Allen Hill Rd.

Top of Foundry Rd climb from Strafford Rd.

The treat at the end, Turnpike Rd. Can't tell from photo how wet this was.
At least there was only half a mile of it.


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