Saturday, June 21, 2008

Ride of Dubious Training Value #5

Jay Peak/Smugglers Notch Double Metric
When a ride crosses the threshold of becoming a death march, you have to wonder if there's any training value in it. After all, it can take several days to recover from such rides, and during race season, training efforts should be short and intense. But it is truly liberating to not be bound to a rigid training regimen. One of IMBA's ad slogans is "Long Live Long Rides." I agree whole heartedly, even if the ride is on roads.

Today Dave and I were able to hit northern Vermont for a Jay Peak/Smugglers Notch epic. I did this ride solo last year on a scouting mission and thoroughly enjoyed it. The ride has it all, non-stop views, rip your legs off steeps, a dirt road pass, and make your eyes tear 50+ mph descents. The forecast was a bit sketchy, but we escaped with only a mile or so of wet road at Jay Peak.

Dave has been experimenting with a shift in training technique lately. He's focusing on spinning a smaller gear instead of incessant mashing he's known for. I think this is beginning to pay dividends. Early in the ride, I'd hear a downshift or two at every steep pitch we came to. Normally he'd just stand and mash a monster gear. The next thing I know, I was struggling to stay on his wheel. His pink socks made a whirling blur.

This went on time and again. You wouldn't think this ride is that hard, but it differs from other hill rides like 6-gaps in a significant way. The hills are very peaky. There may even be many downhills on the way to a pass. You don't ever quite get in a groove, and since most of the steep bits are quite short, you punch them hard. After you do this about what seems like 500 times, you start to not feel so good.

Beginning Hazen's Notch climb from Eden on freshly graded gravel

When we started on Hazen's Notch Rd, the only dirt notch in the ride, the surface was in good shape for road tires. But horror of horrors appeared before us. They were actively grading the road. How much worse timing could you have? We hunted in vain to find a firm surface. Most of the width of the road was soft as marshmallows. But strangely, only the lower mile or so was graded. The grader turned around before the steep stuff started. This was good, as I think there's around 8-10 miles of dirt. The long descent into Montgomery was nice. I topped out at 40+mph on the lower gravel portion.

At the center of the figure-eight route in Montgomery, we stopped at the grocery store. We had done only two of the seven major climbs so far, yet our legs were already reeling. Perhaps the hard ride we did on Wednesday (non-dubious training value) hadn't yet cleared out. We were planning to stop here again in 3hrs after hitting three more climbs circumnavigating Jay Peak.

Looking back towards Hazen's Notch from Montgomery side

Heading north out of Montgomery towards the Canadian border, we hit yet another climb that came only in fits, like 100-200ft vertical at a time, but really steep with lots of flat in between. The tendency is to go too deep into the red on these without realizing it. It eventually catches up to you though.

One of the biggest climbs of the ride was up the north pass of Jay Peak, Rt 105. This parallels the international border. Finally we hit a steady, very long climb. This one must have taken 40 minutes. There were probably more cyclists on this road than cars, which doesn't say much because there weren't that many of either. The descent was nice, good pavement, only one or two cars passed us, and 40mph for the longest time.

Jay-North summit looking east towards Troy

After cutting across on Cross Rd, we went right into the next climb, the south pass of Jay Peak. Not too steep to start, but after you pass the popular ski area, you get that nasty half mile wall to the summit that must be over 12% grade. My 38x27 minimum ratio was not nearly low enough on my rapidly fading legs. A dark cloud moved through here as we approached the pass. Just a few drops landed on us, but it soaked a mile or two of road ahead of us. That was the only wetness we encountered. The descent from Jay-south was also nice, the biggest plummet of the ride I believe. Heading straight into the wind did temper the speeds some.

The steep wall on Rt 242 above Jay Peak ski area entrance

We now had five of the seven climbs in the bank. After refueling at the same grocery store in Montgomery, we continued south on Rt 118. Last June, this road was total crap to ride on. Since then, the entire section of Rt 118 from Montgomery to Rt 109 has been reconstructed, even with a 2ft shoulder. Didn't make the 800ft climb straight into the wind any easier though. Like many of the other climbs on this ride, most of the time you hardly perceive you're climbing until you hit the punctuated bits that you end up going too hard on. At the top of this climb, a very large bull moose ran across the road in front of us. He charged into the swamp along the road and then chilled.

Moose off Rt 118 south of Montgomery

I rather enjoyed the protracted descent to Jeffersonville. It starts on Rt 118, then continues many more miles on Rt 109. You couldn't get too comfy on this though, as every now and then the road throws a 100ft blip at you. Dave was getting rather annoyed by these with nothing left in the fuel tank. This followed a valley for about 15 miles. The open farm land afforded great open views all the way.

Once in Jeffersonville, the ominous wall looms to the south. This ride saves the best for last, and that is Smugglers Notch. This is also the biggest net gain climb of the ride at about 1750 vertical feet. With trashed legs, it gets way too steep for the last couple miles. The traffic sucked up to the Smugglers Notch resort, but after that, it wasn't too bad. I like this notch. It is my favorite of all gaps, passes and Notches in New England. It is truly a deep notch with towering 1000-2000ft cliffs almost directly above you.

Single lane dodging small house sized boulders at Smugglers Notch summit

Saving Smugglers for last wasn't to satisfy my sadistic hunger for suffering, but rather it offers a nearly monotonic descent back into Stowe where we started the ride. Even on the lower, flatter part, soft pedaling was enough to hold 25mph back into town.

We finished the 116 mile, 12,800ft vertical ride in 6:38 riding time. This is about 17.5mph avg, a little faster than last year. I guess it's not quite a double metric, but close at 186km. Total elapsed time was 7:24 with only two water stops. I would like to experiment with variants of this loop. Particularly, I'd like to find a route around the busy section of Rt 100 we take into Eden. The traffic was light to almost non-existent on many of the other roads. Definitely a satisfying ride. I got at least a week's worth of endorphins out of it. Other people pay good money for that feeling.

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