Sunday, December 21, 2014
In our temperate climate, water takes on three forms, or phases. These are solid, liquid and gas. This time of year, outdoor athletes are exposed to all three forms. The solid form can accumulate on the ground as snow and ice, making running and riding more challenging. The liquid form falls out of the sky, making trails messy and bodies cold. The gaseous form has less direct impact on athletic activities. When it is warm, high humidity makes sweating less effective. When it is cold and dry, our lungs must warm and moisten the air, causing pulmonary stress.
Going back to high school chemistry, or even 8th grade chemistry for some, the diagram below shows how much energy is gained or released when water transitions between each phase. The energy to evaporate water is many times that needed to freeze water. The neat thing about a phase change material is that it holds it current state until the requisite energy has been put in/taken out of it, then it suddenly snaps over to the other phase. This is why snow on trails does not melt easily or why bodies of water do not dry up quickly.
This weekend I had to tolerate the liquid form of water on my ride and took advantage of the solid form skiing. The mountain areas of New England are still holding onto a nice base of snow despite the warm weather and copious rain. Friday I hit Bretton Woods for a 54.5km skate ski. It looked like winter wonderland north of Franconia Notch. Hard to believe just a few exits south the highway median was bare grass.
I'd love to ski full time in the winter months, but I ski with passion and it takes a lot out of me. I don't want to lose too much cycling specific fitness either. So Saturday I headed to Ipswich, MA to hit some trails I've very familiar with as well as some I've never ridden. I think in the last 2-3 weeks, the area has received something like 6-8" of rain. Temps were dropping just below freezing at night, so I was banking on water encountered being in the solid form.
I lucked out for the most part. The ground had a frozen crust, and the coastal area was socked in with clouds, keeping the sun off it. My legs were more limp than overcooked pasta from Friday's ski though. I rode south towards Wenham along dirt rail trail and a path along a water supply canal. The wetlands along the canal were very high, the path just inches above water level. It would have been very messy without that frozen crust to shield my tires from the goo just below. The trails in Willowdale State Forest tend to follow eskers, high and dry. The riding there was mint.
To close the loop, I hit trails lit up in the Strava Global Heatmap that are also part of Willowdale State Forest, but west of Rt 1. Hadn't been in there before. It started out with some sweet, almost grown-in singletrack. There are many pockets of wetlands in this area, and beaver no doubt help make it so. After all, they are called natures environmental engineers. Now that they are more nuisance than endangered, I think of them at swamp rodents. Beaver can lay waste to perfectly good trails in no time. Twice I had to cross massive dams with no obvious way to avoid wet feet or risk of injury. Glad I had my Shimano winter shoes on. The Goretex kept my feet dry from the couple times I slipped and went in.
Sunday it was back to the solid form of water at Waterville Valley (in keeping with the water theme, of course!). Grassy median getting off the highway and cryptic snow report had me thinking conditions were dubious at best. But they weren't bad. One of my favorite climbs, 800ft up Tripoli Rd, was Piston Bully groomed and in superb skating shape. An inch of powder had just fallen, slowing things down considerably. I expected icy granular and didn't bother to wax my skis. I'll take the slow skis with better control than fast ice and little control any day.
After two depleting days in a row, I felt like death starting out. Why do we dig holes like this? I had planned to ski only 25km or so, but after I hit Tripoli I just had to do it again. The Livermore Rd climb was not nearly as nice, snowmobile groomed, and nearly skied off by the heavy traffic. Full-on death slog to the summit and I was done. That was good for 37.5km, a 92km weekend on skis.
Looks like a lot more liquid precipitation is on the way this week, which could kill Nordic skiing in most of New England. I'll be heading to Michigan for a few days, and things look even bleaker there, with no snow and lots of rain all week in the forecast. What to bring... just Goretex shell and running shoes? I normally bring full spectrum of toys. I've enjoyed my best start to the ski season ever, and it sure would be nice to keep that momentum going.