Friday, May 30, 2008

Mmmm, Dirt!

Ascutney-Okemo Loop
Since I planned not to race this weekend, timing was perfect for another epic hillfest ride. My company works a 9/80 schedule, which means we work 9hr days Monday through Thursday, 8hrs on working Fridays, then every-other Friday is an off-Friday. Today was an off-Friday, and weather was spectacular. Dave P suggested the ride today. Brett was supposed to join us but Nancy'd out in favor of racing Saturday instead.

Our annual 6-Gaps ride was last Saturday, and I spent much of the week licking my wounds from that hilly sufferfest. I managed to get some quality interval work in on Wednesday though - five 3-6 minute VOmax efforts. The past week's riding left my legs nicely tenderized for today's ride.

Peaks from left to right: Ascutney, Tyson Rd, Shrewsbury Rd, Rt 155, Terrible Mtn, and Okemo.

The route I planned was rather sadistic, if I dare admit. The 94 miler was book cased by two bitches of climbs, Ascutney (3.7mi, 12%) to start, then hours and hours later, Okemo (3.8mi, 11%). Many goodies lie in between, including a major dirt climb.

Warming up for the initial climb, I could tell it was going to be a long day. After a token warmup, I hit Ascutney. Dave got a head start. I eased into the climb, having no time target. I wasn't even going to time myself, but I happened to glance at the time on my cycle computer starting out. Ooops. I really didn't push myself at all the first half. I passed Dave who had streamers of sweat hanging from his chin already. Passing the 2 mile marker, I thought I should at least come in under 30 minutes, so I picked it up a bit. As I neared the top, I realized I was going to come in well under 30 minutes. I finished in 29:19, I believe my third best time and just seconds from my second best time. This after an interval workout about 36hrs earlier and no taper. I've had recent race finishes on Ascutney slower than this where I tapered all week. Too bad I'll be racing up Mt Evans in Colorado this year when the Ascutney race is on. Another PR is within grasp.

The gate was still closed at the bottom after our descent. It was so nice to go up and down with no cars. We grabbed water bottles and split for Tyson Rd. Tyson from the east gains about 1200ft gradually except for a couple steep blips near the top. Again, I eased into this climb, gradually ramping it up to the summit. I was likely above LT for last part of the climb. The descent is spectacular, flowy and curvy.

North on Rt 100 brought us to Shrewsbury Rd. No epic road ride can be complete without dirt. Shrewsbury Rd gains about 1100ft in less than 2 miles of gravel. I've ridden this many times now, and today the gravel was in mint condition, smoother than most of the paved roads in the ride. Pure joy. It is little more than one lane wide with three large switchbacks breaking the climb up and is heavily canopied with trees. I ended up drilling the last part of this one too, even though I knew I was digging a deep, deep hole early in the ride. The descent begins on gravel. In five miles of dirt, only one car went by. Mmmmm, dirt! You bomb through the village of Shrewsbury further down on pavement, then a left on Town Hill Rd finishes the descent on a wicked delicious note. More flowy, curvy stuff like Tyson Rd.

A short jaunt on busy Rt 103 picks up Rt 155. This begins next major climb. This one is never steep, and in fact it doesn't even feel like you are climbing most of the time until you get to the last few hundred feet of vertical. Yet another no brakes needed descent rockets you down to the junction with Rt 100. A left here takes you up the back side of the infamous Terrible Mountain. The sun was high noon now, and this climb is wide open, south facing. It was hot. It persistently gains about 750ft I believe. A big descent ensues from the top of the Terrible Mtn pass, about 1300ft worth, a portion signed at 12% grade.

Dave and I at this point were operating in survival mode. I told him the last time I attempted this loop, I aborted the ride at this point with nothing left for Okemo. He then rhetorically asked why I brought him on such a ride. That was easy. I could count on him following through with the full loop, and I couldn't let him do Okemo without me. In a sick kind of way, Dave was insurance that I would do Okemo this time. I was probably his insurance. Funny how that works.

Dave summiting Okemo

Okemo sucked. I fully expected to be bonking or cramping by this point. I couldn't be so lucky. No cop-outs. I hadn't used my Nancy 34x32 minimum gear on Ascutney. But on Okemo, I couldn't stop mashing that shifter for a 34x34 or 34x36 gear. I was dying. As we neared the top, they were repaving a section. The asphalt was still smoking. It had been rolled, but our 23mm tires still sunk about 1/4" into it. That is the nastiest, stickiest stuff to get on your tires. A thick covering remained until the end of the ride.

View from Okemo summit. Ascutney is distance mountain on right side of view.

A well deserved break was taken at the coffee shop at the bottom. The Key Lime Cheesecake and Red Bull did wonders for the psyche, but not much for the legs. Fortunately, about 15 of the remaining 23 miles in the ride were slightly downhill along the highly scenic Rt 131. Everyone feels like a pro tour superstar on this road. A final 400-500ft climb on the flanks of Mt Ascutney drove the last nail in the coffin. We got back to the car with 99.9 miles on my odometer. Of course, I had to go 0.05 miles past the car to make a legitimate century out of the ride.

The day turned out to be flawless. Nice and cool in the morning, low humidity, and not too windy. I've had this ride Topo'd for a couple years now and have never completed it as mapped. Topo 7.0 gives 13,000ft of climbing in 94 miles, although Topo can overestimate total vertical sometimes. The warmup and some laps up top Ascutney brought this up to 100 miles. I bet there aren't too many other loops locally that offer 13,000ft in 94 miles.

The epic rides series will continue with planned Catskills and Jay Peak area rides later this summer. I have some more racing to do in the mean time.

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