Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Quest for Dirt

In one last chance for hitting some rideable singletrack, I went over to Bass River near Grand Haven, MI this morning. There is no snow in open areas at my Mom's in Holland, but there are still pockets of snow here and there. It figures in the last mile or two heading towards Bass River, the snow multiplied several fold. The snow was so deep I debated on driving into the parking area with my Mom's Escape. I was scraping bottom on crusty snow (don't tell her that). To my surprise, I saw another person standing there as I turned in.

Holland shoreline looking north

As I drove all the way in, I saw a MTB on top of a Subaru. Cool, maybe the trails are rideable after all. But get this. This other solo rider's name was Doug. He was my age. He too was on a quest for dirt. And most eerily, lives just a few blocks from my Mom's house in Holland. What kind of coincidence is that? Doug was willing to at least try the trails, although a foot of crusty, sink in to your axles is not my cup of tea. I bailed. Doug mentioned some guys he knows rode the beach yesterday. I went back to my Mom's, about 40 minutes drive and rode from her house 3 miles to the Lake Michigan shoreline.

Lake Michigan near Laketown Beach looking south. Sand covered ice was pushed 20-30ft high, completely blocking view of the lake.

The temp was rising, so the sand was starting to soften up. Many parts were like riding on pavement. Sweet. But the lake level rose dramatically this year after an all time record precip in 2008. This pushed the shoreline up to the dunes in many areas where there was not enough moisture in the sand to freeze it hard. I ended up hiking quite a few sections. After a few miles, I popped back over the dunes at Laketown Beach, climbing at least a couple hundred steps with my heavy winter bike. Great stair workout really. I hit bits of semi-legal ATV trail on the land side of the dunes on the way back home. Sun was trying to make an appearance. With mild temps, it was an enjoyable easy paced ride.

Would like to get out to the Cape and ride either ToT or Otis this week. New Years Day is possibility, but Sunday is more likely bet. We may have a posse heading to Waterville on Saturday, so a singlespeed romp through Otis on Sunday will not be a hammerfest by any means. If Cape stays clear of snow, let me know if any of you are interested.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Crystal Workout

Yesterday's attempt to ride singletrack was a bust. It appears there is still too much snow on any trail worth riding. I went over to Yankee Springs in the afternoon. The warm weather ended rather spectacularly. Winds up to 65mph were recorded at the Holland harbor just a couple miles from my mother's house. That took a lot of power out. I saw one house severely damaged by a big tree that crashed through it. There was still flooding. I really didn't have high expectations of good trail riding given the last several days weather history. The snow was too deep and crusty in about 50% of the terrain. If I wasn't hike-a-biking because of the snow, I was carrying my bike over/through/around blow-downs. I gave up in 1.5 miles. I rode some icy doubletrack instead for an hour, primarily at recovery pace. I took a gamble that I'd be able to use a semi fresh body for skiing the next day.

Today I wanted to ski at Vasa. They held their base there. But late last night they posted that downed trees put a damper on grooming, and if you came out on Monday, to come as late in the day as possible. That wasn't going to work.

I talked with a human at Crystal Mountain late on Sunday. They expected to clear the trails and groom early on Monday. They sounded like a safer bet. They do a nice job too, plus I could really use a spanker hill workout.

The women planned an all day shopping spree, so I was free to kill the day driving up to the northern lower penninsula in search of perfect glide. The roads were hairy heading up. Black ice and no reason to expect any. There were many bad wrecks including roll-overs. But less than three hours after leaving the house, I was on snow. Good snow. Fresh corduroy with no tracks in it yet. The trails were meticulously groomed with the big groomer. Temp was around 30F but expected to rise above freezing.

I went right for the expert terrain, the black diamond rated stuff. Their black trails really are quite challenging, easily on par with say Criterion at Waterville Valley. For the next hour and a half, I skied wall after wall at anaerobic effort. I haven't had a liberal dose of intensity in over a week, so this sure felt good. Skiing two laps connecting every black rated trail they had left me pretty much in shambles. Good thing they have some nice flat stuff too.

The last half of my workout was around the golf course and similarly flat terrain through the forest. This gave me opportunity to work on my V2 at pleasant tempo pace. The only difficulty was the temperature had risen just above freezing. The snow in the trees above the trails was melting and dripping down. This slowed things down considerably and made for very unpredictable glide. Most of it was slow, but every now and then I'd hit a fast spot and about land on my coccyx.

This perfectly executed workout covered 35.4km (22mi), 850m (2780ft) vertical in 2.7hrs. The steepness of this terrain is perfect training for Lake Placid. Looking forward to more skiing in the Whites after we get back.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Buzz Ride

Looking south along Lake Michigan shoreline. Ice walls are 10-15ft high. All photos taken Dec 26.

I woke to thunder and lightning this morning. Pretty bizarre for December 27 in Michigan, but I do remember thunder snow one New Years Eve as a young child. Temps peaked around 60F today, along with torrential rain. The two foot base has been decimated, most fields now devoid of snow. I did not bring rollerskis or street tires from my bike. I only have studded tires. I went out for a 2.5hr ride today, studs on all pavement. Makes a nice buzzing sound, slower than heck, but I got a great tempo workout in. I stayed dry the first 1.5hrs by timing a small hole in the storm system. It poured the last hour. How often can you ride the end of December in pouring rain, no booties, no balaclava, with only single light layer on under windshell and not get the least bit cold? I may have to modify my theory of global cooling.

Looking north along Lake Michigan shoreline. This is Holland channel and Big Red lighthouse.

I attempted to ski yesterday, but it appeared to have rained overnight. A quarter to half inch of ice conformal coated everything on the ground. The trees had no ice. I waxed up the skis, drove 30 minutes to the Pigeon Creek trails, only to find them suitable only for hockey skates. A park worker was there and said their grooming equipment would be ineffective on that kind of ice, so they had to wait until temps rose before they could groom. Well, they rose alright, now I'm sure the base is completely gone. The gentleman said he was confident they would have enough base left after the warm spell. I really doubt it. I came back home and road studs on road. Back roads were so icy you could not stand up on them. Pretty dicy with cars on same roads you're riding. Fortunately cars were few and far in between.

15% grade, half inch of black ice, Nokian Extreme studded tires, no problem.

That makes over 4hrs of riding in two days. It looks like any outdoor activity will not involve snow for the rest of our stay in Michigan. The only good thing might be some unexpected trail riding. If it gets cold enough to freeze up the mud, I can hit Yankee Springs or Fort Custer. My son would like that, as there is a nice indoor skateboard area near the Fort Custer trail system in the Kalamazoo/Battle Creek area where I could drop him off for a few hours. If you ski and bike, you will always be able to do something outside in the winter. With Lake Placid just over a month away, I'd prefer a little more opportunity to ski.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Bonus Christmas Ride

I trust the trickle of blog perusers are enjoying their Christmas break. I am. Had another chance to ride or ski this morning before Christmas celebrations with my wife's side. They are pretty laid back. I packed bike and headed out to Hamilton, Michigan with the family. My in-laws still live next door to the house Cathy and I built out in the middle of nowhere. I figured after yesterday's rain and deep overnight freeze, any XC skiing was out of the question. Roads were thick with black ice. Nothing studded tires can't handle. It looked like I'd be riding icy back roads.

Sometimes seemingly bad conditions stack up in your favor. A few miles from the house, I was in the Allegan State Forest on a rutted, totally icy gravel road. Conditions were a little too dicy to hold a steady tempo pace. Then I noticed a snowmobile trail crossing. Could it be set up enough already to support knobby tires? I checked it out.

Amazingly, things were crunchy but completely set up. Tempo pace effort netted 8-10mph most of the time. This was perfect. After riding fire road and ATV trail through the woods for a few miles, I popped out in a corn field. The marked snowmobile route continued across the vast openness. Even though the trail fanned out to 20-30ft wide in places, it was still packed enough to support me. I rode for another 10+ miles in open farm land, at times not able to see any houses in the gentle rolling terrain. I spent the first 34 years of my life living in this county, and now I was seeing places I never saw before. This was just too cool. After a while I had no idea where I was. How often can you mountain bike through expansive corn fields with horizon to horizon views? Wish I had packed the camera.

Alas, all good things must come to an end and I had to start heading back. I bet there are hundreds of miles of marked, rideable snowmobile trails here. I suspect after the heavy rains Friday and Saturday, I'll have another opportunity to explore this network when it freezes again.

I encountered a few small groups of snowmobilers on the trail. I got some interesting looks, and they were all cordial. I bet not many folks ride out here in redneckville during winter. The lighting was very flat with overcast. Often I could not see the ruts created by the snow machines. Nearly took a header a couple times. I saw on the news that so far this month, west Michigan has received less than 8hrs of sunlight. That's the Michigan I remember. The big lake is responsible for this. I had hoped to ride the beach this morning, but webcams showed the shoreline is already piled high with ice.

Friday was supposed to be a sledding day with the kids. Forecast looks bleak with rain starting Friday morning, going up to high of 57 and more than an inch of rain on Saturday. There are already flood warnings in places. Bowling is our backup plan. I'm confident once this weather moves through, I'll be covered one way or another. There may be some snow on the back side of the system up north and I could ski. It will get cold again, and that should make the snow machine trails rock hard and a hoot to ride. And of course, the roads will probably be ok after they drain. Multi-discipline combined with flexibility has considerable value. Riding and skiing complement each other beautifully.

Conservation of Wait

So you may have heard of various conservation laws of science, like conservation of energy or conservation of mass. I discovered a new one driving to Michigan through the third winter storm in five days. It is the conservation of wait.

For New Englanders travelling to West Michigan, the shortest distance and time is through Ontario, Canada. You need passports these days to cross the international border twice. I consider this such a farce, as semi trucks steam through unabated. Yet families waste hours waiting in long queues. What is the purpose here? A truck could carry countless bad things undetected. My take is border patrol makes honest folks wait a long time to discourage all border crossing.

We left early to beat the storm. Amazingly, we made it to Buffalo before the storm. I made the (bad) call to keep going, cut across Ontario since going was good, then spend the night upon crossing back into the states at Port Huron. Surely at midnight, re-entry into the US would entail no wait. We no more than got into Canada and the skies opened with torrential snow. The sequence of QEW/403/401/402 quickly became treacherous. Remote Hwy 402 degenerated into a doubletrack down the centerline with our car scraping bottom the whole way. I believe they pulled the plows. What should've taken 3hrs took over 5hrs. So what do we find at the port of entry at 2am? A long queue! It seems it doesn't matter how few cars are crossing, you WILL wait a long time. Wait is conserved.

Tuesday morning I was able to squeeze in a quick ski at Great Brook before we left for Michigan. It was -5F when I left the house with Fastwax Blue on the skis. The grooming was excellent. The base had set up nice and firm. What more could you ask for? How about some glide. That was the slowest snow I've been on. I'd almost fall over the front of my skis trying to V2. It was pretty much an all V1 junk workout. The snow whistled boisterously under my skis. The poles chirped. I remember as a kid playing on the Lake Michigan beach. Skuffing feet in the sand made whistling noises. This aggressive snow made the same sound. Had glide like sand, whistled like sand, must be sand, right?

Pigeon Creek

Despite taking many more hours to get to West Michigan than usual, we had a little time to spare. I thought about riding, but recent 20" of snow left a lot to be desired of the plowed roads. They were dangerously narrow, snowbanks higher than me, 6" of slush with pouring rain at 37F. I could ski too. So which would have the least suckiness factor? I opted for safety. I decided to check out Pigeon Creek Park where the county grooms a large trail network. Having what I felt was my slowest ski ever on Tuesday, I figured it couldn't get any slower than that. I was way wrong. 20" of new powder, snowmobile groomed (soft), with intermittent drizzle/wet snow made for the mother of all slog fests. This was worse than that one time Skogs and I skied at Bretton Woods a couple years ago. I had essentially no wax on my skis, as the dry abrasive snow at Great Brook turned my bases white. This didn't help. I just didn't have time to wax. The whistling sounds my skis made yesterday were traded for the wushing sounds of slushy snow today. The park is dead flat, was groomed nice and wide for skate, yet I barely averaged 10kph. A new PR. I worked hard for it too. The viscous damping was unreal. It seemed I went slower down the slight drops than up. Can't complain though. Anything that gets you outside breathing hard for 80 minutes is all good.

Dead flat Pigeon Creek

So that made for a 42F temp swing in two ski outings. Wax was wrong for both. I must say the price was right for Pigeon Creek - free. It seems many places to ski here are maintained with grants and tax dollars. Cool. I bought a season pass at Great Brook while there for $60. I just hope warm spell doesn't destroy the huge base they have. Thunderstorms are in forecast for MI this weekend, and I think both skiing and riding are going to be destroyed for the rest of my trip. They expect flooding.

Monday, December 22, 2008

We're in for the hual

Two major storms in three days, bitter temps, thousands still without power from ice storm 10 days ago, what is going on? Here's a photo of my deck this morning. Most of this snow fell in a 10 hour period on Sunday. I don't believe in snow blowers. If you are in good shape and have a decent back, there is no reason not to shovel your own driveway. Ours is about 75ft long with a large turn-around area at the house. Needless to say, I'm getting more upper body workout than I had planned. Coupled with over 6 hours of aggressive skiing last week, I feel like I need a break already.

Riding today was vastly improved from yesterday. Windy as heck, blowing snow, windchills in negative territory, but at least the roads were plowed. I focused on big gear, high force, low aerobic intensity today. I want to save the cardio for planks and poles on snow. Back roads were glazed-over hard-packed snow, perfect for studs. I hit 31 mph going down one hill that I'm sure had most drivers squeamish.

In other news, most Mt Washington devotes know by now the 2009 entry fee has been raised to $350. That's over $46 per mile! Couple this with Bikereg fees, overnight stay and gas, this race easily costs over $500. Is there enough demand to support this level of commitment in the current economic climate? We'll find out February 1st.

I barely squeaked in the Tour of the Battenkill. Fortunately a teammate reminded us signup was this Sunday. The 4's filled immediately, 250 riders in two fields. In 24hrs, over 1000 people are registered or on wait lists. This is insane. CX 2008 has barely finished. The Battenkill has perhaps become the most popular road race in the country. In my field, Masters 40+, "everybody" is in. This includes Funk, Bold, Pearce, Aspholm and 20 more that are podium contenders, although I think Aspholm has won every race I've been in with him. The course is longer for 2009. There will be suffering.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Maybe It's Time To Get A Pugsley

Riding was a challenge today. I underestimated how furious the snow would fall this afternoon. The roads were plowed but snow covered in the morning. I foolishly waited until lunchtime to switch the tires over to studded Nokian Extremes. By then the snow was falling at 2+ inches per hour and the plows stopped coming through. I thought no problem, I ride this stuff all the time. I'll just stay in culdesacs to be safe.

There was over 4" of snow in the road when I started riding. In an hour, this went to 6" plus. Where the car tires went was utterly unrideable. Even though it was packed, it was loose and as squirelly as shit. I had to ride in the unperturbed snow which was really hard work, but at least allowed control. Eventually, I could not even ride up modest grades. I was in my lowest gear at 3.5mph and slipping the rear wheel each pedal stroke. I gave up after an hour. I had hoped to ride two hours. It still beat riding a trainer for an hour by a long shot.

If we continue to get winters like these, I may have to invest in a Pugsley. These bikes are very popular in the midwest, Alaska, and I'm sure all across Canada. You can run double the standard tire width at single digit PSI tire pressure. This allows you to float rather than plow through the snow. Sometimes plowing works best, such as light powder that lets you punch through to earth. But with the dense snow that is falling in the present storm, it would be much better to stay more on top of it.

I'll be taking my winter bike to Michigan in a couple days for the holiday break. They've been getting hammered this winter too, minus ice storms. I may be doing mostly skiing. I may be able to skate ski locally for the first time since I took up the discipline a few years ago instead of driving hours north in search of groomed skate snow. I will still make at least one pilgrimage north to the Vasa trail, venue of the popular North American Vasa. The 25km loop is pure bliss to ski.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Sandpaper Snow and Icecream Headache Ski

Are we possibly getting too much of a good thing right now (if you are a skier)? The ski season is certainly off to a good start. Two years in a row now. We must be in a cycle of global cooling.

Dave and I headed back up to Waterville Valley this morning. It was a wee bit chilly in the single digits. There was barely a breeze though, so there wasn't the sting single digit temps normally bring.

The valley got 6-8" of new snow out of yesterday's storm. They finally brought out the big grooming equipment. The surface still hadn't set up well. The snow had very low moisture content. I could have waxed with green, but I hate putting that on my skis. It takes such a hot iron and is so hard to scrape if you let it cool too much. Then I can't help but wonder if subsequent warmer waxes even penetrate the base with cooler iron and all that green plugging things up. I used blue. When it is so cold, nothing really gives you good glide. The best you can do is minimize the suckiness. Many areas were sandpaper slow and a slog fest.

To our dismay, Tripoli was not groomed. That climb is half the reason to hit WV. A couple years ago when there was limited snow, that was all that was groomed. So what's up WV? Website said it would be groomed. Wicked Easy/Moose Run and Upper Osceola were groomed. While warming up on Wicked Easy, I was feeling quite smug in my V2 form. I got a little too close to the edge of the groomed surface when ski and boot disappeared into the base. I promptly face planted. There were some very soft spots.

The descents were a tear fest. How do you keep your eyes from tearing up at 25mph in +8F dry air? Even with a balaclava on, I was getting an icecream headache. No problem keeping the core warm, even though the inside of my wind shell would freeze up and make crackling sounds on the descents.

The groomer came back through Livermore Road just before we hit that. This firmed up the surface nicely, bringing up a little bit of older snow. It had a little better glide. This was groomed all the way over Upper Snows, a 600ft net gain climb. This will do. I did it twice, but on my second time up I went into a soft bonk. That's what one Gu over a three hour ski will do.

We were glad we braved questionable roads to ski. There were very few people there and the roads were decent. I logged 41.7km, 874m vertical in 3:14 hours. Wicked slow pace, but it was all work.

I had hopes of hitting the Cape on Sunday for some dirt trail riding. The Friday storm clobbered the Cape. The Bourne Rotary webcam shows me how much snow I can expect on the Otis trails. The Cape stayed bare all winter last year and I frequently enjoyed the best of both worlds: Ski in the Whites, ride on the Cape in the same weekend. I hope the global cooling trend we are in doesn't spoil this.

Hey, did you mountain bikers out there get one of these? There's still time before the end of the year to claim a tax benefit. Go to NEMBA to learn more. Looks nice on my Racer X.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Bad Conditions, Good Workout

Played a little hookie today and hit Waterville Valley this morning for some skate ski action. This was a rare instance where my Outlook schedule at work was clear. Dave, Brett and I were all eager get away from various forms of craziness. For Dave, it was still no power as of this morning and still staying at his mom's.

The WV website painted a rosie picture of how wonderfully things were going to be groomed, about how much snow they got and they "know what to do with it." Nothing was groomed when we got there. Two trails received a once-over with the snowmobile groomer while we were there. That was it. 8" of new powder. The two or three skier readers know what this entails. Conditions were tougher than last year's Rangeley race in most places.

With no where to go but up, we went right into the steep Osceola climb. This was Dave and Brett's first time on snow this season. Quite a spanker I'm sure. For me, it's my third time after a nearly two week hiatus biking down south last week. When we came back down Osceola, the snowmobile groomer had come back down Tripoli. It was barely wide enough to skate in some places, not wide enough in others. Catching ski tips was a constant threat. I took a rest day yesterday, so I was looking for some intensity. I found it, but I was ugly slow in the mushy conditions. At least the snow seemed fast for blue wax conditions. We did a repeat on this since nothing else was groomed.

Crossing back over the bridge, we had hoped Livermore had gotten a once over by the snowmobile. Nope. We nearly turned around half way up. I set a new PR on this climb - slowest ever. The new snow was not groomed here at all and was very deep up top. The descent was slower than most of my climbing times.

We finished with about 32km, 795m vertical in 2.5hrs skiing time. It was a thoroughly punishing workout, getting a couple of very nice threshold effort intervals in.

I suppose two weeks ago when I had such a fantastic ski here, it was one of those once or twice per season days. I hope I get one more like it this season. The conditions then were pretty much as good as they get. The good news today was Dave got a call his power was back on, nearly a full week without. Looks like major snow event Friday night for southern New England. We're hoping the north country escapes more or less unscathed so we can ski again on Saturday.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Generator and Chainsaw Ride

I did a 27 mile loop through Merrimack and Amherst, NH today on my lunch ride. There are still a lot of people out there with no power. What a mess. I sucked plenty of generator and chainsaw fumes. Some streets still have wires and poles laying in them, five days after the storm. Our power came back on last night. My house went nearly 90 hours without power. My wife is a real trooper for dealing with this while I was away. Several guys commented they would have been in the dog house had they been away when this storm happened.

The cheap generator I bought back in 1998 finally paid for itself. The power companies are telling people in out-lying areas that it could be another week before they have their power restored. More rough weather is expected tonight with potential for freezing rain.

I really lucked out on the weather in Arkansas. It rained heavily during the days before I went down there, and it has been raining since I left, including winter advisories this week. I never got rained, snowed or sleeted on. I have ridden in 16 states so far this year. Arkansas and Oklahoma are new states, bringing to 42 states where I have sampled dirt so far. The other new states added to my list this year are Minnesota, Iowa and Wisconsin. Michigan over the holidays will make 17 states ridden in 2008.

The Digital Rebel and FX-100 side by side.

I finally got a chance to look at the Canon Digital Rebel photos. Even though this is now an older SLR camera, it takes infinitely better pictures than my fairly new compact Panasonic FX-100 with twice the megapixel count. I'm currently eyeing the Panasonic LX3 to replace this small point and shoot disappointment. Panasonic actually listened to people, ignored megapixel count, increased sensor pixel size, and put a real lens in front of the sensor. I'm not a photo buff, but reviews say the LX3 is two stops "faster." I know that will be a big improvement over my FX-100 which took very noisy pictures, even at ISO 100 in daylight. I simply can't lug a heavy, fragile SLR camera on all my rides. The new LX3 is bigger than the FX-100, but still small compared to the Rebel. As a bonus, the LX3 will take even wider pictures than the FX-100 at 24mm equivalent. You give up on zoom. I primarily capture scenes, so I will take all the wide lens Panasonic can give me. I'll leave you with a few pictures captured with my 6MP Digital SLR camera. Thanks for reading.

Rime ice on Talimena Scenic Drive in Oklahoma. This was in the morning on the drive over to Talimena State Park. Shot at about 2000ft above sea level. This was not heavy ice. It was more like dense frost. The FX-100 totally chokes capturing images with bright backgrounds like this.

Talimena Scenic Drive in the afternoon taken during ride. Looking back east along road the road that follows the ridge line for 21 miles to next exit. Note rime ice still at higher peaks. I belive this goes much longer than 21 miles, but this is only section I drove/rode.

Hwy 309 climbing Mt Magazine, last switchback cresting cliff that runs length of the mountain.

Mt Magzine summit view, looking east along bluff that follows ridge for a few miles.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Syllamo Epic

Syllamo Trails, Mt
34.1 miles, 3327ft vertical, 4:02hrs riding time

The Syllamo Trails network is the second IMBA designated epic I hit during this trip. There are now over 50 miles of purpose built singletrack here. Five major named and color-coded loops offer something for everyone, from first timer to experts. The way my legs felt getting up this morning, the beginner loops were looking pretty good.

I'm finally in an area with Verizon coverage, so I made a bunch of calls driving up. I rarely use my cell phone, even less while driving. I missed a turn while talking with my mom and was well on my way to Missouri before I realized it. Sounds like the situation in southern NH is bleak. Some areas may go a week without power. My house will probably be without power for at least four days. With neighbor's help, Cathy is making out fine with the generator. That thing is finally paying off. The neighbor helping Cathy did not have one, so he installed a hook-up so we could time-share the thing.

My weather here today looked iffy - overcast with some spotty rain in the area. I started riding just after 10am. Lots of guys in camo where heading into the woods with trucks. I guess some hunting is still going on in this section. I put my yellow wind breaker on to be safe.

White River Bluff Loop (Green)
This 5mi loop goes out to the precipice above the White River (map). Great views. But this was some techy stuff. No way could I clean it with my puny tires. Lots of sharp, ledgy slickrock to ride on. Very similar to ridgeline riding in New England.

Bald Scrappy Loop (Orange)
This 7mi loop begins with a serious, rocky descent. I began to wonder what I got myself into. I really needed a dualie with about 6" of travel to ride this stuff. It went down forever, and all I could think about was what is the "up" going to be like. In the CCW direction I rode it, not too bad. But I immediately started to bonk, not 45 minutes into the ride. I had doubts I ate enough last night, now I was certain I did not eat enough. I chowed a Clif Bar and pressed onward. I had originally planned to ride Scrappy Mountain Loop (Blue), but it is claimed to be the most technical loop there and it was long. I was already getting my ass spanked on the intermediate stuff. Instead, I finished the Orange loop which doubles up with the Blue loop back to Green Mtn Rd that winds through this part of the Ozark National Forest. It was nice stuff, popping out on a slickrock ledge for a good distance. No good views though.

Bad Branch Loop (Red)
I rode Green Mtn Rd further in several miles to ride the Red loop. This is claimed to be the most beginner friendly loop at 12 miles in length. It was sweet, very much like the Womble Trail I rode on my first day in Arkansas. Elevation changes are neither big nor steep. No need for a granny ring on this one. Brakes were rarely needed on the descents at 15-20mph. No need to think about what you were doing. On this loop, I encountered the only other rider I saw on the whole trip, another solo guy like myself. Startled me actually. I did see a couple hunters in the distance up on a ridgeline a few minutes earlier though.

I now had a choice. Do I ride the whole Jack's Branch Loop (Yellow) at 14 miles or start working a more direct route back to the car. I had nearly 3hrs riding time already. Jack's had more tech stuff in it, and I was pretty beat up already. I opted to take a portion of Jack's (Yellow) to Scrappy Mountain (Blue) to Bald Scrappy (Orange) back to the car. The 3mi of yellow was nice, much like the red loop. The blue, however, forced me to become reacquainted with my granny ring. This 4 mile portion is closed during the week right now for logging. I at first thought what logging, but then I hit it. What a mess. I could not tell where the trail went. I was ready to give up and back track several miles and take the gravel road back. It started to sprinkle out. Great. But then I saw some fat tire tracks here and there and followed them. They got me back on course. The sun came out (first time all day). Life was good again.

I next reached the junction with Bald Scrappy (Orange), the last little piece of it I hadn't ridden yet. Would it be like the first 6mi? No. This was more like Vietnam in Mass. I was rapidly imploading, having long since finished my carb supply I took along. I got off my bike a lot. Just when I thought this segment would never end, I dropped back down to my parking lot. There were no cars there when I started, now there was one other.

So is this place worth all the hype given it? Yes, I would say it is. For most riders, you could get two full riding days out of it. I covered about 2/3 of it in 4hrs riding time. The more technical parts I missed would add 3hrs I think. I wouldn't try to do the whole system in one day. As it was, the prior three days did not give me any blisters. Riding 4hrs here today put blisters on my hands. What does that say for the brutality factor? When I come back to Arkansas to ride again some day, I would come back to the Syllamo Trails. I think there are still plans to expand he network further.

I ate obscene amounts of food tonight. I'm quite certain I shed a few pounds over the last four days. First I loaded up on all kinds of things that aren't good for you at Sonic not more than 10 minutes from the trail head. It was yummy though. Then later at the hotel, I hit the local Ryan's for round two. I ate a few things good for ya, like steamed broccolli and lima beans, but chowed on steak, pot roast and four rolls with real butter. That was just for starters. After three trips up for hot stuff, I finished up with two oatmeal cookies, carrot cake, and chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream. I used to eat at these places in Michigan when I weighed 230 lbs. Now I can eat at them just to maintain a 160-ish weight.

It's been a great short trip. I rode 16.5hrs in 4 days, mostly on singletrack, most of it at a fairly aggressive pace on rough terrain. I'm pretty happy with how well the body held up. The two days with most dramatic scenery were also the clearest, brightest days which was nice. I come home to a house with no power on Sunday. I don't know if there will be power at work yet on Monday. I don't need another vacation day. You'll have to suffer through a couple more trip updates with photos after I get back since I lost my primary photo editor. These were resized with MS-Paint.

White River Bluff

White River Bluff

I did stop to sniff the berries once in a while. These things were everywhere. Don't know what they are. They almost looked fake because they were so iridescent purple, like 1990's mountain bike parts.

Buff stuff on the Red loop

Standard fare on the Orange loop

Friday, December 12, 2008

Ouachita/Ozarks Double Header

Another pristine day here in the south. Temperatures have moderated a bit, rising into the 50's. There was not a cloud to be seen all day with light winds.

My wife isn't the happiest with me right now. It seems we got a bit of ice back home. At one point, nearly half the people in the state of New Hampshire were without power. Reports are that our power might not be back on until Sunday or Monday. That could be four days. Many years ago I bought a cheap generator. I used it once, but power came back on shortly after firing it up. It has sat dormant for five years at least. I did put Stabile in the tank. My hook-up is bootleg. I never figured somebody else would have to get the generator going. My wife and son could not figure it out. Fortunately, my neighbor across the street came over, recognized my setup (kill mains first, start generator, then turn on secondary breaker). The generator started right up. Now Cathy just has to keep feeding it gas. It will die overnight. At least the pipes won't freeze. Sounds like a cold one on Saturday. Skiing sounds a bit rough this weekend, so maybe I didn't sacrifice much by coming down here. So on to the ride reports.

Ouachita/FS-149/Womble Loop, Story, AR
25.4 miles, 3000ft vertical, 2:42hrs riding time

After yesterday's fiasco of a ride that was to include a section of the Ouachita Trail, I had reservations about hitting a different section, more than 100 trail miles east. My reservations grew driving to the trail head. The road was a two-track suitable for a high-clearance vehicle. I was scraping brush the last mile. I figured if access to the trailhead was this grown over, nobody comes out here to ride this.

Starting out, it was very rocky and immediately began climbing. Then it got steep. Seriously steep. Factor in loose rocks covered by 6" of oak leaves, I got off my bike. Maybe with no leaf cover and fresh legs I could have ridden this set of switchbacks. I believe this trail was called Round Top Trail, and it accessed the Ouachita Trail (OT) that followed the ridgeline. Eventually I reached the top and started following the OT. This was nice, but still quite techy. I never dared let my speed run out due to the perils that lurked just under the leaf cover.

One of the best reasons to ride down here this time of year is the leaf drop. Following the ridgeline, you could see out through the trees and knew you were somewhere up high. You'd lose that in the summer. There were no bugs or oppressive heat to deal with either. One of the worst reasons to ride down here this time of year is the leaf drop. There is so much loose rock mixed up in those leaves that it forces you to ride very defensively. Chose your poison.

The OT runs out on Suck Mountain. Yeah, it is really called that. I think the locals call this the Suck Mountain section of the OT. The only thing that sucked about it was my legs with two days of hard riding in them. It was rocky going up one side, smooth down the other side. The descent followed an old logging road and was chocked full of giant water bars. There must have been at least 30 of them. You could get major air off each one. But I'm a wuss riding a hardtail with girlie tires. I didn't want to risk a pinch flat or an ouwie riding solo.

After descending what seemed like forever, I reached Forest Service road 149. This was well groomed and was like a super highway back to the start. It climbed the first 4 miles though. Then 6 miles of sweet, mellow descent. This brought me back to the OT, but several miles east of my car. Plan was to get on the OT, but then veer off on the Womble trail were it first starts on the OT.

Getting back on the OT was a pain. It seems any access gets you to the top in the most direct, painful route. Another nasty set of switch backs sent my sorry carcass off my bike again. It seems I was either going 3mph or 10mph. When I was going 3mph, I was constantly jambing my thumb to find a lower gear. I was already in a 22x34, a sissy gear by Expert racer standards. When I was going 10mph, I was riding brakes trying not to slide out, pinch flat, or endo on on what lie underneath the leaves.

Once up on the OT, I did not stay on it for long. The Womble Trail starts up here. This was the most direct route back to the car. This means I rode all but a few miles of the Womble. I rode the 30 most western miles and 3 most eastern. That leaves about 4 in the middle I mised. I hope to come back here some day and ride the whole Womble in a day as a loop ride with other trails and fire roads. I figure that would be good for a 70 miler.

I maintained a pretty hard pace on this ride. I had another ride planned in the afternoon and wanted to make sure I had plenty of margin. What amazed me is that I never encountered another person on this ride. It was a prestine day by any standard. Granted, it was a work day. But it looked like the trails had not been hiked or biked in weeks based on how unpacked the leaf cover was and tree debris in the trail that had not been touched. I deeply enjoyed the solitude.

Mount Magazine, Havana, AR
26.6 miles, ~3000ft vertical, 2:00 hours riding time

Hill Junkie can't visit an area that has the state's highest point and not ride it. Doesn't matter if its a paved climb. I don't have a singletrack mind (ok, maybe I do but my MTB doesn't). Fat tires work on pavement too.

Mt Magazine was featured a while back in Bicycling as the climb to do when in Arkansas. It was practically on my way to my next destination on Saturday, just an hour away from this morning's ride. I ate only a Gu during the morning ride, and a Clif bar and half a scone on the way to Havana. I wanted to get there with good daylight margin so I wouldn't be rushed. This was a climb I want to savor. I skipped lunch. I didn't worry that bonking could turn this into a death climb.

I parked in a church parking lot right at the base of Hwy 309 that goes up and over Mt Magazine. The first two miles of the climb barely gained any vertical. The next seven hurt at ~7% grade. The 12 mile climb finishes out with a few miles of rolling climbing. The sky was still cloudless and brilliant. The veiws from the summit were stellar. A sheer cliff lines the whole southern exposure.

There is a lot built up on top. Fancy condos and huge resort. You'd think this was Vail, Colorado, but I'm not aware of skiing anywhere in Arkansas. It was at least 10 degrees colder up here. Perhaps folks come here in the summer to beat the heat.

The high point is reached by foot path only, gaining another 100-200ft from pavement. Don't ask me how my bike got up there. The place was deserted. There were bits of snow on the north side of the peak. After the obligatory summit self portrait, it was time to bomb back down. I resisted the urge to put the wind shell on. Something about chilly air stimulating the senses when in an endorphin enduced haze. The first few miles of the descent sucked, as there were some ups along the way. I was ready for all down. The steepest seven miles were nice, needing no pedaling. I got back to the car by 3:30pm, plenty of daylight left. It was still 52F out. I never bonked.

So I bagged another high point. I have no goal to ride high points in each state like the hiker club does. Most high points are either completely inaccessible by bike or illegal. Off top of my head, I've hit NH, MA, VT (almost), AL, AR, HI.

The WiFi here sucks. Blogger told me it kept saving as I typed, but it wasn't. I lost my connection and had to type 3/4 of this post twice. To top that off, MS Picture Manager stopped working so I can't reduce image sizes. You get only Mt Magazine pics today. Next up tomorrow is the Syllamo Trails. This is a purpose built 50+ mile network of singletrack about two hours north of Conway (where I'm staying tonight). With almost 13 hours of hard riding in three days, I'll probably do only 3-4 hours tomorrow and chill in the evening. Oh, from the hotel I can see a Sonic, Starbucks, and a Ryans (all you can eat American). I could live off these three.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Ouachita Madness

Old Military/Boardstand/Oauchita Loop, Talihina, OK
21.1 miles, 3090ft vertical, 2:42 hours riding time (5+ total)

Once in a while a ride doesn't quite go as planned. Today we had one of those rides. This loop looked promising enough with good reports on the web, but alas, you can't believe everything you find on the web. Trail descriptions are relative to the rider, and GPS track files might really be just somebody doodling in DeLorme or the like with old topo data.

The drive over from Hot Springs was a real treat. I took the Talimena Scenic Parkway, a 21 mile portion of ridgeline at about 2000ft. Everything up here was caked in rime ice. With pristine blue skies, it was a dazzling display of sparkles and color. I began to worry about the ride, not about what I didn't know, but how cold it was up here. The wind chill must have been below 0F. I did not have clothes for this, and our loop was to come over the ridge.

Chris (who drove up from Dallas this morning) and I started off at mile marker zero of the Ouachita Trail, which is 192 miles long. It is a hiking trail that is open to mountain biking in most places. We immediately hit hike-a-bike sections. Many downed trees, wash-outs, etc. It appears no maintenance has been done here in a while.

We were to come many miles down the Ouachita later in the ride. But first, we forked off on the Old Military Trail around, an 1800's wagon trail. Following the GPS track, it immediately became unrideable and completely overgrown. We bush wacked for at least a mile, killing over an hour, before we reached the Talimena Parkway. I suspect the guy that put the track file up just traced it out from old topo maps. There hasn't been a hikeable or bikeable path through here in decades. The old wagon path was still faintly followable however.

Rime ice on everything, even the road

From here we crossed over to the other side of the Talimena, gaining several hundred feet since the cars. It was bony as heck, but mostly rideable. The smallish girly tires I had on my hardtail had me fearing a pinch-flat. Pretty much the whole way was loose, sharp rocks, mostly buried under oak leaves. Made for some pretty dicy riding. A dualie with manly tires would have been nice.

The hike-a-biking and slow progress had us reconsidering our original ride plan. When we got to the junction of Boardstand Trail, it looked the same. This was a 7 mile climb on the same kind of hardscrable. There were two options. Loop pavement back to cars with minimal climbing or take forest service road to high point of the Talimina. Chris doesn't ride the wacko hours per week I do, so he opted to take Hwy 271 back to the Talimina State Park were we started. I still wanted to get that big climb in, even it was going to be a Jeep road instead of singletrack.

Killer grades on the parkway. My Nissan Versa struggle to hold 40mph up these hills.

We parted ways. I hit the climbing pretty hard once it got down to business. The grade held 12% average for 3 miles, portions much steeper. From where I split off with Chris to high point gained 1600ft net. The last 700ft were on the paved Talimena and were killer steep. The sign at the parkway entrance said 13% grade next 21 miles. I bet parts were >15%.

It was now much milder up here at 2300ft than it was in the morning. Rime ice was still breaking off the communication towers above me. The view was fantastic. From Panorama Vista, you get about 270 degree view to south, west and north. Visibility must have been 100 miles. It was now nearly all down hill from here back to cars.

I got back to the cars just after Chris did. Turns out he had a pretty good climb too on Rt 271. Ride fell well short of expectations, but I still enjoyed it none the less. Temp in 20's starting out really wasn't an issue. Got way more of a full body workout than I anticipated, carrying my MTB while rock scrambling insanely steep terrain. Talking with a hiker after the ride, I was really glad neither of us attempted the Ouachita Trail up on the ridgeline. The hiker never made it as far on his out-and-back as he wanted either. Lots of debris in the trail with blow downs. It would have compounded the frustration. Instead, we hit a hole-in-the-wall joint in Talihina after the ride. Dirt cheap prices. Half-pound burger for $3 and change. Fried okra was good too. Home grown we were told. First time I ever had it. Our total bill was less than $12 and we did not leave hungry.

It was good to see Chris again. He would like to visit the Ozarks with his family next fall. I would come back again too, with Cathy next time. There's lots more to do than ride.

Next up is more Ouachita Trail riding (if I dare after today). This is in area not far from Hot Springs, and the bike shop confirmed it is good. I should be ok. I hope to have enough daylight left to bike up to high point of Arkansas, Magazine Mountain from Havana, AR. It is about a 12 mile, 2350ft climb.

Old Military Trail. I think. GPS track went here. We hiked for an hour. Bike got so tangled in thorns at one point I thought about abandoning it in place.

The only buff spot on Old Military. All 50ft of it.

Forest service road 6010 to Deadmans Gap

Looking back east along ridgeline the Talimena follows.

From summit on the Talimina.

Drive back home on the Talimena at dusk

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Womble Epic

The Womble Trail, Mt Ida, Arkansas
52.7 miles, 4321ft vertical, 5:03 hours

Enjoyed my best dirt ride today since Colorado in July. Really lucked out too. Flying into Little Rock last night, all I saw was water everywhere, flooded fields, murky fast running streams, etc. Some areas got 3" of rain on Tuesday. I figured I was doomed to a cold, messy ride today. To top this off, the local weatherman was saying a good chunk of Arkansas was under a winter weather advisory, but it should clear up by noon.

Kitting up, I realized I forgot to pack my booties. It was just above freezing. What can you do? I thought about picking up a couple grocery plastic baggies to wrap around my feet inside the shoes but decided to just suck it up.

The Womble Trail is just under an hour outside of Hot Springs, where I'm staying. I parked at the Fishermans Village on Hwy 27. The plan was to ride out to North Fork Lake on singletrack and back on forest service roads. This would be 25 miles of Womble singletrack, a couple more miles doubling back on the Womble, then 16 miles of rolling gravel forest road the rest of the way back.

I started off around 10am. The skies were dark and heavy, like it could snow any moment. From Hwy 27 heading SW, the Womble begins some pretty serious climbing. I've read reports that this trail is a single-speeders dream, but I wouldn't want to climb these hills on a 1x1. There was a killer view early on, where there was a hundreds of feet sheer drop to the Ouachita River below. The first five miles had a lot of steep climbing in it with ruckus descents. Then the trail mellowed out for several miles.

Detail of last several miles on ridgeline

The amazing thing was, there was no mud anywhere. The soil here is essentially coarse gravel. It drains marvelously and rides fast. It was hard to believe inches of rain fell here 24hrs ago.

The mid section of the trail was a riot. Gentle climbs, and scare yourself silly with speed going back down. This kind of riding I like. You get in this groove, tempo pace, no need to think about scary features, just meld into the flow of the skinny ribbon carving through nature. I would love to race something like this. A portion of the Womble is included in a race called the Ouachita Challenge (an 80 mile race!).

Then I got to a sign that said Mauldin Mountain. Hmmm, was I on it already or just starting out at the bottom? It was the latter. Lots more climbing ensued, including a steep switchback I botched. This part of the ride racked up a lot of vert. The trail basically cris-crossed over the ridgeline many, many times. You come up one side, ride the ridge a little ways, then down the other. Repeat often. With full leaf drop, there were some nice views of the valleys here and there. I would imagine in the summer you wouldn't see much at all.

3" of rain, 50+ miles, and barely a mud spot. Fender was not needed

A few miles out from the west terminus of the Womble, it was time to cash in all that hard earned vertical. Nearly all of the Womble has a very narrow tread that is benchcut into extremely steep terrain. They call this exposure. This wasn't fear of death stuff, but you'd certainly go for a toboggan thrill ride with all those oak leaves coating the sides of the mountains. You did have to pay attention to what you were doing once in a while.

I was sad when I reached the end of the Womble. I was now 25 miles from my car by trail, a little less by road. Having a catastrophic mishap, like taco a wheel, was not an option. No cell phone coverage, and nobody I could call if there was. Fortunately the dirt roads were a fast, safe way to get back to the car. I never saw another person in three hours of singletrack time. Regular rifle season is over here, so no hunters to worry about either.

Favorite post ride beverages

I was still going strong with 43 miles and 4+ hours on the legs when I got back to the car. The day was still young. After wolfing down an egg mcmuffin sandwich that sat in my car all morning, I decided to ride a portion of the Womble north of the Ouachita (pronounced Wha-shi-ta). Sarah at the Chainwheel bike shop where I preshipped my bike said this section is not to be missed. At first I was dissapointed. It stayed low and hit more water crossings than I liked (remember, no booties, needed to keep feet dry). But then it went up with a vengeance. The exposure-o-meter ticked up a couple notches here. There were some seriously steep grinds, no more than 12" wide, with near certainty that the Ouachita river far below would be what ultimately stops your fall. With tired legs, I wussed out and walked a couple short sections. There would be no place to put a foot down if you petered out and leaned to the exposed side. The views of the river here were very nice. A few miles of pavement looped me back to the car.

It never got warmer than mid 30's down here today. I hear it was at least 20F warmer in Cow Hampshire. I have a knack for traveling thousands of miles to places people don't usually associate snow with ,but I manage to find snow or ride in wintry conditions. At least the dank skies never dropped anything today. The bike even stayed quite clean. So how do you top off a flawlessly executed trail ride? With a Sonic malted milkshake and a Starbucks, of course. Life shouldn't be this good.

I try to get away once per year for some solo riding. It's great for a mental reset. I've hit many states riding solo. Often in the past, it was extending a business trip by a few days. I haven't biked anywhere near central Arkansas before. Closest is probably Austin Texas, and that is about 500 miles away.

On tap for Thursday is riding the Ouachita Trail in Talihina, Oklahoma. My "Texas Connection" friend from Dallas will be joining me. Could be a chilly start, but 0% chance for precip, and the sun should make an appearance. I might have to bring the digital SLR camera for this one.

North side of Ouachita River

Natural surface of crushed stone. Drains, does not make mud. In the UK, they have to manufacture trails this way with heavy equipment.

North side of the Ouachita

Forest service road 37 taken most of the way back

Shortly after starting out from Hwy 27 on the Womble