White Mountains West
114.0mi, 10,800ft vertical, 6:07hrs
It was a pristine day for riding in the White Mountains of New Hampshire today. Overnight rain cleared out early this morning, leaving patchy fog and damp roads. Dave, Glen and I started from the visitor center in Lincoln, completing a variant of a loop we've done a few times.
Gonzo, Long Pond, Franconia, Crawford, Bear, and Kanc
We headed west through North Woodstock, bearing left on Rt 118. This is known as "Gonzo Pass," although you won't find this name on any map. The National Forest Service does not know where this name originated either, other than us spandex clad folk call it that. It passes on the southern flank of Mt Moosilauke. What better way to start an epic ride than with the biggest climb of the ride, gaining close to 1800ft? Part way up, I ratcheted up the pace to threshold. I would pay for this later. The descent is as enjoyable as the climb, dropping monotonically for miles and miles.
Glen cresting Gonzo Pass just poking into cloud deck
A short jaunt on Rt 25 takes us to the next climb, Long Pond Rd. This mountain pass does not have a name on any maps either. It flanks the western side of Mt Moosilauke with 9 miles of dirt bliss. This climb gains about 1200ft on a surface smoother than many paved roads. We encountered only one vehicle on this narrow one-laner. With Dave hugging my wheel part way up, I decided to drill it the rest of the way. I dug a deeper hole. I have a tendency to overcook these long rides at the beginning and suffer at the end. The endorphin juices were flowing freely now. Long climbs with no cars around put you in your own world. No need to put controlled substances into your body to experience this. We tend not to talk much on our rides, as the climbs entail hard breathing, the fast descents too noisy, with not much flat terrain in between. Instead we soak in the beauty around us. The descent was a tad choppy and made for some serious wrist fatigue by the time we reached the bottom.
Regrouping at Crawford Notch
Rt 116 took us to the village of Franconia. This was our first of two food stops 42 miles into the ride. Our route in the past has climbed a notch past Mt Agassiz with descent into Bethlehem. By adding two miles, I figured out we could add more vertical with a much more respectable climb than Agassiz. This is Rt 18 up to base of Cannon Mountain. It gains around 1000ft at 10% grade. With no compact crank (which Dave had) or MTB cassette (which Glen had), this climb was cruel to my legs. My minimum gear was 38x27. At the top of Franconia Notch, we picked up the bike path and headed north on the last two miles of it. Rt 3 then took us down to village of Twin Mountain. The Casco Bay Century was going on, and we passed many riders going in the opposite direction.
Heading east on Rt 302 over Crawford Notch is really not much of a climb. After the first three major climbs, you barely know you're climbing on this road. The descent is a hoot though. I went well over 50mph, careful to avoid tourists who don't hear you coming. Just a touch of color on the trees in this area. Four climbs were down, two biggies to go. I had no idea how my quivering legs were going to haul my carcass over them.
Top of Long Pond Rd
Our second and final stop was at the Bartlett store 82 miles into the ride. It is right at the base of Bear Notch, the fifth major climb of the ride. Baked potato chips, Red Bull (they didn't have those Starbucks Frappaccino drinks), and an icecream bar were the fare.
Resuming the ride, it appeared Davie was getting tired too, or so he was leading me to believe. We had a bit of town line shenanigans going on throughout the ride. This was compounding the damage by the climbs. It is fair to say that neither of us can sprint. It basically was a case that whoever jumped first got the town line. Dave got the next three in a row. Glen was starting to cramp up on this climb, so we waited a bit at the top before turning onto the Kanc (Rt 112).
We had several miles of flat to slightly climbing terrain before getting to the steep stuff. I knew there was only one more town line left in the ride, and that one was mine. It was at the Kancamagus Pass summit. I didn't care how trashed or close to cramping my legs were. I ramped up the pace, digging to depths only encountered on 6-Gaps or D2R2 rides. Dave was no where in sight when I crested the summit (and the town line). Each of us enjoyed the last 20 miles of the ride essentially riding solo at our own pace up and over the Kanc. We passed many of the same century riders again, but we had done twice as many miles and vertical as they did since the first time we saw them. It is only fitting when beginning a ride like this with the biggest net gain climb, to finish it with the biggest descent. The 14 miles down the Kanc to Lincoln couldn't have come soon enough.
Since the racing season is essentially over for me, there is no fretting over whether rides like these are of dubious training value. They have high fun factor and satiate the need to go long periodically. It is very satisfying finishing a ride like this. How many guys in their 50's (like Glen) can hop on a bike any weekend and hammer out 114 miles with over 10,000ft of climbing in 6+hrs riding time? A couple more epics are in store, possibly a Catskills ride later this month and the Great River Ride next month.
Cresting Franconia Notch in front of Cannon Mtn Ski Area (off right of image)