Sunday, February 26, 2017

Wild Week

What a rollercoaster week it has been for Nordic skiers in the northeast. It looked like we were set for a full season with many areas reporting bases in feet. Then poof, a week of near summer temps took it all away. Not many were complaining about unseasonably warm weather though. When skiing sucks, riding can often be good.

Tuesday looked to be the coldest morning offering the best prospects for groomed skiing. I hadn't been to Windblown Cross Country ski center yet this season. Less than a hour from work, I couldn't resist playing hooky for the morning. Conditions did not disappoint. Hammered for 21 miles/3450ft.

Mt Monadnock

Freshly minted corduroy in fast transformed snow

Temps rising from 25F. Doesn't get any better.

The forecast kept looking more bleak for the ski season as the week progressed. Four days in a row of 60's to maybe 70F+ in February? WTF! Glad I got what potentially was a final skate of the season in.

Thursday I brought my Ridley Noah road bike in to work. I hadn't ridden that bike in almost a year, or any road bike for that matter. Why do I still keep road bikes in my quiver? I had modified the gearing on the Ridley for an upcoming Spain cycling trip. I needed some miles on it. I was still feeling a little beat up from the rigorous ski Tuesday and a not so easy ride Wednesday, but it was too nice Thursday to not hammer out a 30 mile loop on my lunch break. The bike worked fine, and so to the body. 22+ average is not bad for February, especially considering I've gone almost whole weeks without riding. Skiing will do that for you.

40F degrees warmer than Tuesday and completely wiped out

Not good, going into a three-day weekend with significant volume already expended on bikes and skis. My off-Friday looked no good for anything, too warm to ski, trails too sloppy to ride, plus rain moving through the area.

The rain cleared southern NH early, so I opted for a local hike I've done several times now, North and South Pack Monadnock double traverse. Would it be post-hole city in rotten snow? Ice? Bare ground? Water everywhere? Yes. I must have looked goofy heading up the Wapack Trail in gators and microspikes with no snow on the south exposure. But there was copious snow cover for most of the hike. Could have used snowshoes in a few brief sections up high in drifted areas, but conditions constantly alternated between rock, water, ice and deep snow. Just wasn't worth the trouble swapping out traction. I left the microspikes on for the entire hike. Hiking peaks in February in short sleeves while sweating your brains out is a surreal experience! 11 miles/3900 feet in mashed potatoes.

Starting out on Wapack Trail in Miller State Park

Mt Monadnock from South Pack summit. The Wapack Trail follows the range south through Windblown where I skied on Tuesday.

Inverted snowshoe tracks on Cliff Trail. Compacted snow melts slower than uncompacted snow. Looks like only one snowshoer had been through here in a while

Looking up cliffs that Cliff Trail crests

View towards Boston from the cliffs. There was probably 1-2ft of snow in those fields a week earlier.

Felt at least upper 60's up here. Could easily have hiked in shorts, but then the gators would have looked really goofy. The gators proved useful in several places.

View south along the Wapack Range. Mt Wachusett is just visible in far distance.

Cascades on Ted's Trail. This was bone dry last fall when I hiked through here. Now I had to cross this without falling in. Ted's Trail is my favorite on the Packs. Up high, nice views, down low, follows this stream.

Near bottom of Ted's and junction of Carolyn's

Approaching summit of North Pack Monadnock. Tricky here, running water undermining snow and random postholes happening anywhere

Crotched Mountain and the Uncanoonucs near Manchester just beyond from near summit of North Pack.

The Pack's hike was technically a winter hike, but the weather was anything but. With threat of rain gone and local trails still a soggy mess, I was looking to one of my reliable winter riding destinations for a trail ride on Saturday. The last of the snow in Duxbury south of Boston had melted a couple days earlier. There is no frost in the ground in those parts, the soil is sandy, so things should be fine to go.

Conditions did not disappoint. There was not a wet spot to be found anywhere. In fact, my bare shins got dirty from sweat picking up dust... in February! Where was all the outrage over climate change this weekend? I wasn't hearing a peep. How easily we are swayed! Third day in a row in short sleeves in February. 40 miles on dirt.

Can't ride Duxbury without riding the dirt track out to Gurnet Light and Saquish. The wind is always killer though, and today was no exception.

The dirt road at times is no more than a foot above high tide. Today's ride coincided with high tide, so no cruising on the beach.

Duxbury singletrack. Miles and miles of this. No rocks, but plenty of roots and steep hills.

Many ponds and cranberry bogs to cruise around

The warm streak came to an end Sunday, violently in some parts of New England with damaged to structures in western Mass and 50 submerged cars in Plymouth NH from river flooding. Did any Nordic ski areas survive the fiery furnace? Most succumbed.

Prospect Mountain in SW Vermont sits high and started with a big base. They survived. Sunday morning I called to check on conditions before committing to a big drive. Skate conditions were perfect, they said. Sounded good to me, not giving it second thought.

Driving there, I could tell I was in for a rude change. It was snowing, wind was howling, roads were drifting. Temp dropped into the low 20's as I approached the mountain. That was almost 50F colder than yesterday's activity.

When I got to Prospect, I asked what had been groomed. Oh, nothing he said. What? The trails were "nature groomed last night, the best kind." I about shit a brick. I pictured bullet proof rutted ice. But I was pleasantly surprised once I got out on the trails. There was 2" of new powder on frozen crust that was not rutted. The new snow bonded to the crust, so it actually skated quite well. You could find areas that were less than ideal. I skied to the summit for the first time ever and encountered several open water bars high up. Some of the old alpine ski slopes were wind swept and icy on the east end too. But by and large, the bulk of the trails were in good shape. I skied 20 miles/3300ft.

Easy Way trail at Prospect. Hard to believe we just had several days of 60's.

Looking down one of the alpine runs from summit of Prospect Mountain. No, I did not go down with my skinny skies, although you seek tracks from one brave soul that did.

"Nature groomed," not bad. Glad I didn't ask what was groomed when I called, else I probably would not have driven over and missed out.

The week began on snow and ended on snow with a "summer break" in the middle. This wild week turned out to be high volume of moderate to high aerobic intensity. Will need to back it down in the coming week. Cycling trip coming up first full week of March, three of us heading to the Canary Islands for an uber-climbing week of road. None of us have ever been there. Guided trip, and we'll be hitting two of the islands, averaging around 8,400ft of climbing per day. They say that which does not kill you makes you stronger. We'll see.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Waterville Valley Full Perimeter

Last winter was a dud for Nordic skiers. This year, conditions are much closer to normal. Waterville finally opened up the last of their trails this week. This allowed the full perimeter of the Nordic ski trail system to be skied.

The perimeter is not for the gravity challenged. It is all climbing punctuated with brief descents, my kind of activity! It got pretty cold overnight, so some of the terrain was a bit abrasive and slow. Other areas that were groomed overnight skied very nicely.

I contemplated if one water bottle would be enough as my friend Arvid and I pushed off. In no time I was sweating profusely climbing Drakes and Fletchers. Arvid and I split ways as I hit the roller coasters of Criterion, which kept the body core temp elevated.

Crossing the golf course, I only had to remove skis three times. I continued up Swazeytown/Beanbender. Beanbender up is never easy and is twice the slog in anything but fast granular. Upon reaching the summit of Snows, I reached for my first drink. No water bottle! Panic set in. I was already in hydration deficit and was only one third of the way around. I had to ski over Cascade before getting back down for any chance of finding water. Will I have to abort? I didn't crash. I surmised it must have fallen out when removing skis crossing golf course.

The Cascade/Livermore descent was fabulous, much faster snow, perfectly groomed. I reached the Livermore parking lot hoping to find lots of people to increase my probability of finding a trail angel. The WV ticket box attendant had no water to share. I looped through the parking lot and found a couple just ready to ski. They had a liter of water for me! I was most grateful and thanks again if you read this.

The Moose Run/Wicked Easy lollipop is kind of ho-hum skiing. Get into a nice groove, get it done. Upper Osceola skied well, screaming fast coming back down.

The full perimeter has a number of one-way trails that pretty much forces you to ski it counter-clockwise. This means Tripoli Rd comes last. It skied much slower than Livermore and put me in death march territory. I never saw another skier on Tripoli. It wasn't all downhill back though. Still had that little nuisance of a climb Pipeline to hit.

The loop runs about 45km with 1375m (4500ft) of climbing. I've done it a number of times now, taking me about 3.2hrs this time. A great day on snow!

Full perimeter profile. 45km, about 1375m (4511ft) of climbing, in 3.2hrs.

No crowds on Super Bowl Sunday. Photo by Arvid Skogsholm.

The Osceolas from Bob's Lookout.  Photo by Arvid Skogsholm.

A real winter in the Whites. Photo by Arvid Skogsholm.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Something entirely different

Last weekend a friend mentioned he's been going to EVO Rock climbing gym in Concord on Wednesday. It is friend's night and I could try it out for free. Hmmm, I've always had a curiosity in climbing. There were two problems though. I'm an upper body weakling, and I'm deathly afraid of heights. Local midweek skiing is a bust right now, so I thought what the heck, let's try it!

First reaction entering the climbing gym was no f'n way am I going up that high! The walls were huge. There were numerous routes and areas, so the 40-50 people that were there were spread out all over. Steve gave me instruction how to tie my knot. He belayed for me. I'll get instruction next time to belay.

One corner of Evolution Rock and Fitness in Concord, NH

I started on a 5.6 route.  It took a long time, my forearms started to get noodly. I cleaned it though. At the top, I could not let go! Every instinct in my body said death surely awaits as soon as I come off that wall. You only look up when climbing, but when you reach the top, you take your first real look down. Holy freak out. Of course, Steve was cracking up. Eventually fatigue dictated I let go and let Steve belay me down. I was trembling just a little.

I tackled an auto-belay 5.4 climb next, which went pretty smoothly too. Still probably took me three minutes, while the others could do it in 20-30 seconds. Trusting the auto-belay again took a monumental leap of faith, as you have to free-fall a bit before the centrifugal clutch kicks in and arrests your fall.

I moved to a 5.7 climb next. This one stumped me right at the top and fatigue forced me to come off. Studying from the bottom, I saw there were a couple holds I missed that could have helped. I successfully climb two other 5.7 routes after that.

Starting one of the 5.7 routes

5.7 route

5.7 route

Approach top of 5.7 route

At the end of the evening, I stepped up to a 5.8 route. This one reaches a ledge where you can rest for a moment, but then to continue, you have to make a dynamic move out onto an overhang about three stories up. That freaked me out the most. Why would you jump out into nothingness? Still had weak faith in that rope. I grabbed the hold and was able to finish that climb.

Steve on the 5.7 route I came off. He later cleaned a tough 5.10a

My arms and shoulders were completely destroyed from just six climbs. I shudder to think how I'll feel when I get up in the morning. Sure was stimulating fun though. I was forced to contort my body in all manner of ways it hasn't move in years. Doing this regularly would have to do a body good. I hope to hike all of Colorado's 14ers someday. A few of those provide significant exposure. I just may have to go back to EVO for some more. At the very least, it could take the nervous edge off planned hikes and let me become more familiar with what I'm capable of.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Dirt is for riding, snow is for gliding

This winter is starting to look a lot like temperamental last winter. Bipolar temperature swings, rain and snow, unpredictable conditions for just about any outdoor activity. The White Mountains have been holding onto a decent snow base though, keeping the Nordic ski season alive for now. It would be nice to have reliable local snow for midweek skis, but I'll settle for weekend-only skis if conditions are good.

Keith, Skogs and myself at Waterville on January 21. Wet sticky snow, but good cover and still hammered out 40km in less than 3hrs.

What about riding? I avoid road as much as possible these days. Just can't stomach the risk anymore. Local trails alternate between too much snow, ice, mud and then back to snow. Seems like there is never a stable situation where any of the bikes I have will be fun. When the Cape got hammered with more than a foot of snow recently, I thought wonderful, now one of the last resort riding places in New England will be off-line for the rest of the season. But then it got crazy warm and the snow was gone in a few days.

When faced with having to get in the car to ride somewhere and given the choice between riding dirt or snow, dirt wins every time. It is so much more fun to ski snow than ride it. Sure, there are those rare days, maybe only a couple times a winter, where you get white asphalt trail conditions. And there are days where only a fat bike makes sense. That is why I built one up. But too often, winter riding is a luge run of ice or slog fest of slush or powder. On average, I typically go twice as far in the same time with skis on snow than with bike on snow. Isn't fast more fun? Plus I like the workout skiing provides. It is weight bearing and uses all the major muscle groups. The rhythmic movement puts you into a deeper flow state too. More intense endorphin buzz.

This weekend I could drive 90 minutes north and ski on good cover or drive 75 minutes south and ride dry singletrack. Best of both worlds, right? I thought about taking the fat bike up to the Whites and hitting a snowmobile loop, but temps suggested mashed potato conditions were likely. Instead, I hit Duxbury trails just south of Boston and conditions were mint! It is this diversity that makes living in New England such a blessing.

Riding out to Saquish and heading back to Gurnet Light at low tide, January 22. No Duxbury ride is complete without a beach cruise.

Looking north along the long sandbar. Solid one hour time-trial effort can be had by riding out to Saquish and back.

Open fresh water, bone dry trails in January. 40 miles in 3.3hrs. More please.

Of course, conditions are always great for hiking. I feel bad I didn't hike this weekend. Next weekend is an off-Friday weekend for me, so I'll have to hike double on one of the days.

For the last couple years, this poster has been on the wall of the changing room at the Waterville Valley Nordic Center. I didn't know who she was (Therese Johaug, accomplished Norwegian skier) or what it said. Was she taunting me, saying it's really only this big???  My Norwegian friend I skied with Saturday translated it for me below:

0.3 seconds

What can you actually do in 0.3 seconds?
You have time to sing “Let” in “Let it Be”
You might have time to say “cake” but not “piece of cake”
You don’t have time to yawn
You barely have time smile broadly
You certainly can’t laugh

But 0.3 seconds is more than enough to go from first to third place

I don't have to feel intimidated changing in front of the poster anymore.  The coming week looks even murkier for local midweek activities. There will be no snow to ski and trails will be a mess for riding. With any luck, maybe the weekend will come through with best of both worlds again.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Too Fit?

Outdoor folks tend to be a healthy lot. Their passion for outdoor activities drives them to eat well, stay lean and stay fit using a variety of methods. A few take it to another whole level with focused training, whether it be for the Boston Marathon, NECX Series, the American Berkie, or a now defunct bicycle hillclimb series. Fitness to excel in any of these disciplines pushes one out onto the very thin end of the distribution.

Regular doctors aren't accustomed to caring for athletic people at the highly-fit end of the scale. Sadly, the distribution of American fitness continues to shift toward obesity, pre-diabetes, heart disease and myriad other ailments that beset a sedentary, lousy diet lifestyle. These are the people doctors treat on a daily basis.

So what happens when a one-percenter, or even a 0.1%-er shows up? Something must be wrong! This has happened to me three different ways now.

I used to go years without getting routine physicals.  But the way health insurance is set up now, not getting "wellness" exams comes with a hefty financial penalty. Don't get me started on how this is an invasion of privacy with employer and big pharma meddling with your personal affairs.

Anyway, several years ago one of these wellness exams showed abnormally high liver function enzymes, like really high. My doc was sure I was lying about alcohol consumption, as he asked me 10 different ways about alcohol use. I've consumed zero alcohol for 32 years now. Then Tylenol. Again, don't use it, Aleve is much better for inflammation. So more blood work was ordered. Looking at meaning of elevated liver function values online, I got scared. Liver cancer, hepatitis and other scary things could cause this. Yet I was in the best shape of my life. The follow-up tests came back normal. I breathed a sigh of relief.

But wouldn't you know it, the next wellness exam, my liver function was high again! What was going on? I poked around more on the web. I stumbled across something interesting. I found elevated liver function enzymes was pretty common among body builders and ultra-endurance athletes. In one study, enzyme levels were checked before and after a marathon. A significant number of  runners came back with elevated levels after the race.I found many forums where endurance athletes discuss the problem of testing high and having to explain to their doctors. I mentioned it to my doctor, he looked into it, then said no exercise for two weeks, then well retest. What?!?! Like that is going to happen. I did back off a bit on my usual regimen of VOmax intervals and such, and the follow-up test came in just barely normal. That pretty much settled that anomaly. I have since tested high several times over the years since, but I know now it is best to not have blood drawn after a grueling weekend of riding or skiing.

A couple years later, I had another case of "that's not normal, lets check it out."  I mentioned to my doc that sometimes when I stand up quickly after being seated a while, I feel like I'm going to black out. This was after my HR was measured. I think it was low 40's in the doctor's office, but I mentioned I sometimes see it as low as 34bpm in meetings at work. This was also around the time I had a little trouble with acid reflux. Sometimes heart disease can be described as a burning sensation. So doc put all this together and said we first have to rule out anything going on with your ticker. You need a stress EKG. Really? So I got wired up, started on a protocol for the average American (remember, obese, sedentary?), which the lab tech quickly realized was not going to work for me. She switched to athlete protocol, which started faster and went really fast. That got my HR up, and the EKG showed perfect performance. Many people experience light-headedness upon standing. I think it is more common in athletic people with low HR and low BP. I just won't say anything about it to my doctor again.

Most recently, I had another scare from a routine wellness exam. While the doctor was palpating my abs, he spent more time than usual and was kind of like hmmm... When doc goes hmmm, that can't be good. My aorta was pulsitile, which means he could feel my aorta pulsing with each heartbeat. The doc did qualify that it is probably just because I'm very lean, but an ultrasound was needed to rule out an aneurysm. Oh great, another thing to worry about, study up online, until results are in. Most people die very quickly when an aortic aneurysm bursts. Do I even dare exercise? That evening when I laid on the floor to do some situps, I palpated my own ab. Sure enough, just above the navel, I could find a strong pulse. I could almost feel the woosh, woosh, woosh of blood with each beat. They were able to get me in the next day for an ultrasound, and I had results two days after that. Negative.

So three times now, being "too" fit has triggered additional screening. I think if I was still fat Doug (and still alive), none of these would have happened. Of course, I'd probably have a host of other real ailments by now. Better safe than sorry I suppose. Does make me wonder if there is value in finding another doctor that's more in tune with the needs of a master athlete. My body doesn't repair itself like it used to...

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Forgive me Father, for I have sinned

Change is in the air. Electric vehicle technology is blooming. There are more models of full electric cars available now. The quickest production car in the world is electric. Recent advancements in battery energy density are behind this. Electric drive technology is also trickling over into the bicycle world and could change everything.

I've not been bashful in voicing my concern with E-bikes on non-motorized trails. I've followed the debate both locally and on the national level. It is a contentious subject for sure.

A couple months ago, one of the mountain bike magazines I subscribe to, Bike Magazine, ran a two-page ad for a new Specialized bike. It depicted a rider on singletrack in a remote area. The caption read something like "530W of trail shredding power." I had to do a double-take. Was a motorcycle being advertised in my mountain biking magazine? Sure enough. This irritated me to no end. I fired off an email letter to Bike, letting them know I did not subscribe to Dirt Bike Mag, and shame on Specialized and Bike for recklessly promoting this activity that could get all of us banned from trails that we worked so hard to gain. Two issues later, they published my letter! The Specialized ad did not run in that issue either. Coincidence?

One of the complaints proponents of E-bikes levy against opponents is this: opponents haven't actually ridden an E-bike, so they can't know what they are talking about. Opponents claim E-bikes will damage trails and relations with other trail users. A week ago, out of the blue I got an invite to demo an E-bike, a Specialized Levo, the very bike I rallied against in Bike Mag. Oh boy, was I conflicted. An honest assessment could only be gained by riding an E-bike on trails used by the mountain biking community. I rationalized the decision to give one a try for journalistic purposes, so I could speak with greater authority in my opposition of E-bikes on non-motorized trails.

Specialized brought a fleet of 12 Levo's over to Cycle Loft. The Levo is a Class-1 E-bike. It requires pedal input to produce assisted power. There is no throttle. Three basic modes can be set, turbo, trail or eco. The power assist can be further customized with a bluetooth app, which we did not set up. I left my bike in "turbo" mode for the whole demo. Trail mode is less punchy, saves battery, and economy mode basically provides just enough assist to make up for excess weight and drag of the E-bike. Class-1 also means the assist cuts off above 20mph on the road or going down hills.

After a brief tutorial on the basic modes, we were off. I nearly crashed into a rack of bikes inside the store! The turbo boost is very punchy, designed to get you over short, steep rises quickly. Maximum assist is 530W, which drops to 250W average when on a longer climb.

Casual observers would never know there is a big battery and motor in there.
No name on demo bikes. To avoid association with controversy?

There was a whole lot of giggling among the group of "old guys" heading across the parking lot. I could immediately tell this E-bike Kool-Aid was going to be intoxicating.

One thing I immediately noticed while on the road is how hard of a wall that assist cut-off is.  I weighed my bike with pedals on it. 51.4 pounds. Add 3" wide knobbies, it was a tank on pavement.  Trying to ride faster than 20mph was met with a highly progressive tax on effort. It just made you capitulate and not bother trying to go faster than 20mph. You could feel some engine braking too, when coasting, not unlike taking your foot off the gas in a manual car without pushing the clutch in.

Rock play

This sandy chute was too great a challenge for all that attempted

I have been fond of Specialized's FSR suspension design for as long as I can remember. I was curious to see how the Levo FSR performed off-road. Quite well, in fact. While that heavy battery in the down-tube precluded nimble handling like my carbon Tallboy, the suspension kept the bike stuck to the ground quite well over rough or rooty terrain. There was a powerline climb that alternated between steep ledge, slick dirt and chunder. I doubt I would have been able to clean that on my Tallboy. I was able to scoot right up that with some pretty serious human contribution to the total Watts needed. The smooth continuous torque delivered by the electric motor no doubt played a part.

Top of powerline climb

As an avid hiker, I adhere to the Leave No Trace dogma that most hikers rigidly adhere to.  I try to do the same with my off-road riding.  I was super careful to notice if I was leaving any trace due to boosted Watts. A few times, I felt the rear wheel slip on waxy oak leaves on a steep grade. But when doesn't this happen? More importantly in places with loose dirt, I'm pretty sure the E-bike, even in it's "turbo" mode, had less impact than my human powered Tallboy would. This is due to the smooth assist power delivered by the motor. On my Tallboy, I'd be in a low gear, trying to spin smoothly, but invariably the jerky pedal torque would produce some slippage.

Erie lighting of the Boston Skyline

We toured a variety of terrain for two hours, a thorough evaluation, for journalist purposes, of course (wink). We did have one bike stop producing assist power even though the battery was not dead. A couple batteries petered out right near the end, not that surprising for how long we were out riding and BSing. Fun was had by all, and I think we were in unanimous agreement that the Levo, in its factory Class-1 condition, does not damage trails any more than a non-assist MTB would. We were always courteous to the many other trail users we encountered too, no differently than when we ride our own bikes. I doubt any of the walkers even noticed we were on E-bikes.  So how can any of this possibly be bad?

Here are my concerns. There are four classes of E-bikes. They are all super quiet. While the Levo Class-1 pedal assist max's out at 530W, there are E-bikes that produce 33,000W of power on the market. Of course, they look more like a trail bike, do not have pedals, and are throttle controlled. This would be a Class-4 E-bike. So when people talk about allowing E-bikes on non-motorized trails, what, exactly, are they talking about?

The conservative stance would be to ban E-bikes everywhere motorized vehicles are not permitted. These are motorized vehicles. There can be no denying this. But this may be overly restrictive. Say land managers warm up to allowing E-bike use on trails, Class 1-3 only. Could there be any issue with this?

Electric bicycles are not going away. E-bikes make huge sense for commuters and others that don't want to work too hard when being outside. An "upgrades" market will no doubt materialize. Tesla car company recently announced a new battery that doubles capacity. A huge amount of money is going into battery research right now. Higher density batteries mean more available power for the same size and weight. Folks will tinker with their bikes. The batteries. The motors. The software. What leaves the factory at 530W max could easily be upgraded to 2500W down the road without a speed governor. A 2500W E-bike could cause significant trail damage, go 40mph, and stir up considerable user conflict. How does a land manager police this? The bike would still have identical factory appearance. Again, the easy thing to do is just not let E-bikes on the trails at all.

I am a long-time NEMBA supporter. I contribute financially and sweatequity. I help build and maintain non-motorized multi-user trails. I'd hate to see this work put in jeopardy with the introduction of E-bikes, muddying the waters, so to speak. Here's the conundrum I'm faced with. Many within NEMBA have taken a taken a hardline stance against E-bikes on non-motorized trails, yet at the same time NEMBA is lobbying for MTB access in wilderness areas. I support NEMBA on both of these fronts, yet this seems a bit disingenuous. I am deeply conflicted by this.

Hikers are certain human powered mountain bikers will destroy both their trails and their wilderness experience. Human powered mountain bikers are certain E-bikers will destroy their trails and ruin their relationship with the user community.  I find it fascinating how conflicts like these can just pop up and blindside you, pitting friends against friends.

I have been supporting the Sustainable Trails Coalition in their endeavor to end the illegal blanket ban of bicycling in wilderness areas. The goal is not carte blanche access to all trails, but rather to give local land managers discretion if they want to allow MTBs on select trails. All the MTB community really wants is to get back some of the thousands of miles of MTB trails we lost in the last 20 years to wilderness designation, trails we helped build and maintained. It is a reasonable meeting in the middle.

I think NEMBA and the E-bike industry should take a more proactive role in meeting in the middle on this issue. Engage local and state land managers for limited, quantitative access to trails. Take Bear Brook State Park in New Hampshire for example, a very popular MTB destination where I have put in trail work hours. Perhaps a compromise can be reached that states "only Class-1 bikes will be permitted on designated E-bike trails." You would need to bring the equestrian delegation to this discussion table too, and educate them on what a Class-1 E-bike is. It would require a lot of work and good faith discussion from all parties. If E-bikers abuse access with souped up bikes, the land manager can pull their access plug (he-he).  But for now, no motor vehicles means no E-bikes.

I am grateful to Cycle Loft and Specialized for this opportunity to experience this new technology first hand. So will an E-bike be added to the Hill Junkie quiver anytime soon? No. I remain a human powered purist. When I get too old to ride my favorite Bear Brook 50 mile loop, I just won't ride 50 miles anymore. I find it satisfying to earn my turns and miles. While I have, on a few rare occasions, shuttled rides where I finished at a lower elevation than I started, I have never visited a lift served terrain park. I would just feel guilty doing that. So what punishment did I receive for my transgressions this morning? I came home to a leaking boiler. Forgive me Father, for I have sinned.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Are we going to skip shoulder season this year?

After an abysmal 2015/2016 Nordic ski season, early season snow dumps are getting my hopes up for a better upcoming season. The snow is too early, in fact, interfering with normal fall activities.

Saturday I surveyed the NOAA snow cover maps. Much of the green mountains in VT was depicted as having snow cover. A portion of the white mountains in NH too. I haven't been doing much climbing on my bike lately, and I felt the need for some long, sustained grinds. I've been to Mt Sunapee a couple times. The 1500ft gain gravel service road to the summit offers superb punishment. NOAA maps showed zero snow cover in NH south of the Whites.

Pulling into the Sunapee ski area with heavy overcast, I thought wow, they started making snow already?!  Then I realized the whole mountain was white. SOB! So much for NOAA accuracy. Maybe it was just a dusting. Heading up on my first repeat, a hiker was coming down. He chuckles and says "you're never gonna make it up on that!" There was 8" of heavy, wet snow at the summit. He was right. I could only make it up to 1900ft, well shy of the 2700ft summit.

20% grade no-go at 1900ft

If my plan was to do two 1500ft climbs, then I'll just have to make do with four 800ft climbs. It wasn't like the dreary day offered up views from the summit anyway.

After four repeats, I swung over to the MTB terrain park in the learners ski area. An ATV track takes you steeply to the top of three flow trails down. As I approached the top, the skies opened up with 30-something degree bone chilling rain. Well, only one run down was going to happen today. As I popped out at the bottom, I noticed the cloud deck lifted enough to reveal the summit, and the rain stopped. Hmmm, maybe I'll drive up to campground gate and hike the top 1000ft of service road to the summit in worn out running shoes. Bad idea!

Lake Sunapee

I got up ok, but coming down was a bitch. Sliding most of the time. There were ski tracks down one of the alpine ski runs. Had I known, I would have thrown my crappy old alpine gear in the car and skied down the top 800ft or so of the mountain. The skies opened up again as I was coming down. Couldn't get the heat cranking fast enough when I got back to the car. Did manage to snap a few photos through the clouds.

Coulda had first tracks!
Mt Kearsarge just poking out

The Facebook 4000 Footers page was filling my feed with winter wonderland pictures on Saturday. I just had to get up there Sunday and take in more of the early winter conditions we're getting at higher elevations. I didn't even have a hike planned when I hit the road in the morning. Figure out when I get to the notch, I reasoned.

No surprise the cloud deck was low. What did surprise me is no visible snow to the cloud deck, at around 3000ft. Wow, many miles south, the snow line was down to about 1500ft. I assumed Franconia Notch would be winter wonderland. Oh well, that just meant the hiking would start out easier.

I decided to hike up to Mt Lafayette, the highest peak this side of the White Mountains at 5260ft, via the Skookumchuck Trail, one I've never hiked. An out and back would net only 9.4mi, which was fine, as I'm nursing a foot injury. Not sure what is going on, acts like extensor tendinitis, maybe caused by the La Sportiva Ultra Raptor trail runners I've been hiking in lately. The lacing comes down very hard over top of foot close to joint. I've noticed pain after some hikes, but now it seems cumulative. I tried double tying them today, lower loops tied snug in a knot, upper part where sensitivity is loosely. Hope it is not a stress fracture. Pain has some characteristics of that too. I see doc for full physical next month. If it persists, I'll ask for an xray.

Starting out on Skookumchuck at 1900ft. Very deceptive of what's to come!
At 3900ft, started getting knee deep drifts not very well packed.

I headed up Skookmchuck in my Ultra Raptors. It was pretty mild in the notch, but I also threw my winter hiking boots in the backpack. I started seeing snow around 3000ft. There was a lot of snow melt going on, Keeping feet dry was a challenge. Around 4000ft, I started getting knee deep post-holed snowdrifts. There had been only 4-6 people up this trail since it snowed, not a popular trail. It was still above freezing and the snow was slushy.

Looking out onto the open tundra at tree line

As I approached treeline, the weather changed dramatically. Where did that wind come from?! There was no way I was going above treeline in water logged trail runners. Dry socks and boots went on. Gortex shell, lobster mits, heavy hat all went on. Out on the rocks I headed. The wind nearly knocked me on my ass. Everything was conformally coated with ice! Back down to the shelter of scrub brush. The microspikes went on too.

Another thing I noticed is all but two sets of tracks continued. That meant the other 2-4 people had turned around at this point, probably yesterday. I hadn't seen a soul since leaving my car.

The open ridge was a tad scary. The wind was constantly knocking me off balance. Visibility was about 50ft. The minuscule cairns on this side of the Mt Lafayette were very hard to spot. With drifted snow filling any hint of a trail in spots, navigation was tricky. Just go up, right? You can always tell when you are going up because you breath harder than when you are going down. Every direction looked the same otherwise. Easy to see how many people have died on this ridge over the years. And no, I didn't have a GPS track to guide me either, since I left home not knowing where I was going to hike yet. My GPS does provides compass info though.

My whole body quickly became encrusted in rime ice. I had to remove my glasses because they would instantly ice over after wiping them. There was so much moisture in that air, almost drizzly, yet it would freeze on contact. I had ice hanging from my eye brows in no time. The absolute temperature wasn't that cold, probably in the mid-20's, but it was the combination of super-saturated air and wind that made it feel so raw.

I hadn't approach Lafayette from this side before. Not being able to see more than 50ft ahead meant I would be frustrated going over about five false summits. Every time I crested, thinking surely this is the top now, I started going down again. Finally I see the sign I recognize and knew there would be no more false summits. Two other guys crested at that same time. We were the only three up there, taking shelter in a nook on the east side of the summit.

Mt Lafayette summit, wind inflating my pants and GTX shell

I didn't particularly relish the thought of going back down the rutted post-holy way I came up, and loops are always more fun anyway, right? The two guys I met at the summit said a lot of traffic had been up Greenleaf Trail. I've hiked that several times, so I decided to take it back down, which also meant I'd have 3mi of paved bike path to walk back to my car.

Looking up Greenleaf Trail just after passing two hikers heading up.
It all looks the same up here, no landmarks to follow, just an occasional cairn if you're lucky.

Looking into Franconia Notch from Eagle Pass right at cloud deck at 3000ft

Tree literally growing right out of slab of rock

I left the microspikes on all the way to below 3000ft. That was a pretty slick, sloppy descent and the spikes helped control the sliding.  The trail runners also went back on at Eagle Pass.

Overall a great hike. The mild temps over the previous 24hrs brought down all the snow in the trees, so it wasn't quite the winter wonderland experience I expected. 9700ft of climbing for the weekend, much of it on snow. I strive for 10,000ft per weekend. Sometimes that is tough to do on my working Friday weekends, but much easier to attain on my off-Friday weekends. It's not even November yet and it is starting to look a lot like winter.