White Mountains "East" Loop
114.6mi, 10,000ft vert, 6:15hrs
The Four Seasonal Gaps Route
Glen Fraser, Dave Penney and myself hit the the White Mountains today, a perfect day for riding in the north country. The route is one I've done two prior times and includes a bit of everything, from heinously steep grinds to a wild card gravel notch.
Glen finishing the 2mi of 15% on Hurricane Mtn Rd
The route basically goes like this. Start in Conway, head up to North Conway on on bike-laned West Side Rd. Hammer over 15% grade Hurricane Mountain Rd into Maine. Follow Rt 113 without getting shot over Evans Notch to Rt 2, but instead of taking it towards Gorham, go right for a bit, cross the Androscoggin River, then west on North Rd. Much less traffic with occasional bears in the road. Rt 2 is then taken up some demoralizing grades at this point in the ride, but the best (most punishing) is yet to come. This is Jefferson Notch Rd. It is essentially a one-lane gravel road up and over, something like 9 miles worth. The other side drops out right at the top of Crawford Notch, which does not count as a climb in this ride. Jefferson is so much higher that Crawford is just a continuation of the descent. In Bartlett, the last climb of the ride is taken, Bear Notch. The Kanc (Kancamagus Hwy, aka Rt 112) is taken part way back to Conway, but crossing over the Albany Covered Bride and taking Passaconaway Rd the rest of the way back is much quieter. More on the route, including profile, here.
Must be the Maine side of the state line
What is interesting about this ride is that all four major climbs are seasonal roads. They are gated in the winter months. These tend to make for low traffic cycling roads in the summer months and can be very steep. We climb Hurricane Mtn Rd from the west, which is "only" 15% grade for two miles. The east side is 17%. It occurred to me today while descending Hurricane Mtn that this is the easiest road to die on. There's perpetual temptation to let 'er rip. But huge dips and curves can hide big New Jersey SUVs, whose drivers have no idea folks ride bikes in the mountains. The road is barely a lane wide. Plus you get the errant pieces of heavy equipment hiding in a dip struggling to climb the grade like the back-hole on today's ride. It is very easy to get big air on this descent, a scary proposition on 600 gram wheels, no suspension, no disk brakes, at 40mph. We all survived to play Russian Roulette on this road again next year.
Evans Notch is a gentler, kinder climb. It's over just about when you are ready to dig deeper. En route on Rt 113, you weave across the NH/ME state line a couple times. Gotta watch out for the farm dogs, like the little pip-squeak that almost went through the spokes of a rider coming from the other way. I thought New Hampshire was the "Live Free or Die" state, but the folks in Maine have no need for police protection. Check out the second photo.
You never know what you're going to get when you throw a dirt climb into a road ride. Jefferson Notch was next. This is a biggie. I think it gains something like 2500ft from Gorham. About 1700ft of this is on gravel. The north side, the side we climb, looked like it was graded recently. This made it bumpy, but at least it was mostly packed down again. It made for some good climbing. Unfortunately, my earlier hammer sessions caught up to me on this climb. I started to bonk. Glen, the energizer bunny on this ride, just rode away from Dave and I. I don't bonk very often, but when I do, it is always ugly. It was one of those hallucinatory bonks. I thought I was seeing bears. At least I was ahead of Dave. You only have to be faster than the slowest guy in bear country. The summit wasn't freezing like it was last year. The air was definitely cooler here at 3000ft and felt refreshing. The descent was unpleasant however. The gravel was loose as marbles in spots. Rocky too. This pretty much meant butt off saddle with death grip on both brakes all the way down. Not a nice way to treat an aching body. To sit on saddle bombing this crud would result in certain pinch flat. I was quite surprised none of us flatted. Chalk it up to skill riding gravel gaps all summer.
Jefferson Notch pops out at the AMC center at Crawford Notch. This means the descent continues, initially on the 12% grade heading to Bartlett. But a feisty head wind was brewing up, somewhat of an anomaly while riding east through Crawford Notch. Instead of speeds well over 50mph, we were lucky to even hit 40. This descent has about 10 miles of "run-out" to it, that is you cruise gradually downhill forever.
After refueling a second and final time in Bartlett, Bear Notch is next. This was pure survival mode for all of us, although Glen continued to set the highest pace here. This one gains about 1200ft in 5 miles or so at a perfectly consistent grade. The sign at the bottom said "No Gas Next 29 Miles." After eating junk carbs for the last five hours, we broke the no-gas ordinance many times.
A few regular readers may wonder what happened to Dubious Training Ride #6. Well, that was the Kingdom Trails ride last weekend. Any ride that degenerates into survival mode can be disruptive to weekly training plans. You simply aren't going to get value out of doing intervals over the next 2-3 days. Long rides are great for endurance. Plus we tend to hit the climbs at or above threshold and take it easier in between the climbs. This is great training for hillclimbs, time-trials, or another other endurance activities you might pursue. Crits or track racing, forget about it. Hilly road races, maybe.