Tuesday, September 2, 2008

The Hit List

We're not talking pop music Top 20 here. This Hit List is different. It consists of things you'd like to do sometime, maybe from when you read about a particular destination, traveled through an area and noticed something cool that required further exploration, saw it on TV, etc. A hit list is not a bucket list, a list of things you have to do before you die. Rather, it is a mental checklist of mostly lesser important things. Do you have a cycling Hit List?

Looking down Pegwood Dr from near summit of Campton Mtn

This past weekend I scratched six items off my Hit List. All of them involved a mountain bike. On Sunday, I hit the first two. These were the Mt Mansfield hillclimb and riding at Millstone. I've biked to the high point in many states now. Most state high points are either not legal or unaccessible by bike. I've known for years that Mt Mansfield (aka Stowe) had a perfectly bikeable road to the summit but it was verboten. When a northeastcycling.com enthusiast (Peter) dropped me an email about the race, I got all giggly and excited. I immediately signed up. I was not only going to ride the highest mountain in Vermont, I got to race it as a bonus. Check.

After race awards, I hit the Millstone trails. It's a bit of a stretch to say this was on my Hit List, as this place is so new and I didn't really understand how developed their trail system had become until receiving the NEMBA newsletter in the mail just days before the Mansfield hillclimb. I jump at any chance to ride the Green Mountain State, as so few riding destinations exist. Millstone was an obvious post race choice. Check.

Sunday, I scratched four more rides off my Hit List. These were Campton Mountain, Sandwich Notch, Gyroscope Trail in Plymouth and Franklin Falls Dam trails.

I started my ride from the Campton school where the Waterville Valley TT registration was. Campton Mtn rises directly behind the school. Another northeastcycling.com devote (Matt) told me about this climb a couple years ago. It rises nearly 1000ft with sustained grades approaching 12%. I chose to go up via Pond/Hodgemans/McLaren/Pegwood. A private ski area drops from the summit, but it looked like I would have to tread through people's yards to get to it for the view. McLaren was gravel and nasty steep. I took Pegwood instead of McLaren back down to Hodgemans, which is fully paved. This 20 minute threshold effort nicely tenderized my legs for what came next. Check.

Looking up Sandwich Notch before it got rough

Riding a couple miles up Rt 49 towards Waterville Valley, I picked up Sandwich Notch Rd next. This starts as a friggin wall from Rt 49. It moderates a bit, then turns to gravel. I was on my MTB with 2" knobbie tires and thought a road bike would be perfect on this. I had planned to ride this with my road bike after the WV time trial this summer, but Hill Junkie reader Chris cautioned me against this. Now I know why. The road kicks up in pitch again, but with a twist. It appears the "road" has not been maintained for years. Some cars probably would not make it through here. Deep wash outs, slabs of ledge jutting out, even sections of river bottom-ish kinds of surface were the norm for the next couple miles. Just when I thought I crested the summit, more vertical presented itself.

Finally the highpoint was reached. The descent toward Squam Lake was no better. Even with my fat tires, front suspension and disk brakes, I experienced fear of death much of the way down. The steepest parts, strangely, were paved at one time. Maybe 50 years ago. Now they are cratered remnants of asphalt. The washed out gravel actually rode better. I had planned to bear right on Algonquin Rd, but somehow I missed it. It was another dirt road, gradual downhill, almost all the way back to Campton. Instead, I continued through big rolling climbs and descents thinking I should have seen Algonquin by now. Then the grade points down with a vengeance and keeps going. I hit pavement, then Rt 113. Hmmm... I kind of knew this went back towards Campton, but not how far it would be. After 10 miles of heinous up-down rollers and 40mph headwind (4.5mph up one climb), I asked a resident at Squam Lake how far to Campton. He said oh, at least 20 miles. If I wasn't so bonked already, I would have gone ballistic. I had been riding three hours hard and did not take enough food and water for four hours. It turns out he was wrong, it was only 12 miles. But this was another 12 miles on fat knobbie tires into a vicious wind. I logged 48 miles in 3.5 hrs when I got back to the car. I covered Sandwich Notch, but not exactly to plan. Check.

Gyroscope where it pokes out along edge of the Pemi

After nearly buying the complete junk food contents of the Irving station in Campton, I headed three exits down I-93 to Plymouth. Skiing and cyclocross extraordinaire Ryan told me about a sweet piece of singletrack right off Exit 25 when we did the WV-TT. Why not check it out now? Online reviews sounded tasty. The conservation lot is very small. I think it is called Marrell Park. There was about 3 miles of trail in there. The Gyroscope Loop is aptly named, as it twists around something fierce. No rocks, no roots, no hills. Just twisty river bottom trail sandwiched in between the Pemi and Rt 93. I rode all I could find in 23 minutes, except for the jump track. Great place to bring first timer or if you are at Plymouth State and need a break from homework. Not really worth a dedicated stop off the highway in my opinion. Check.

Another three exits down I-93 is Franklin. I read a couple years ago in NEMBA Singletracks that the Army Corps of Engineers had granted NEMBA permission to build trails in the flood control plain. This area too has gotten more publicity lately, so I figured it was due time to check it out. Like Gyroscope, it is nestled against the Pemigawaset river. There are 5-6 miles of new, purpose built singletrack here plus several miles of doubletrack. Not much elevation change, but fast, super flowy stuff. This would be ideal place to singlespeed. My legs were completely cooked by this point, so I was pretty much relegated to soft pedaling. The flood control dam is quite a structure. I'd like to see it some time during peak snow melt. After about 1.1 hours of riding here, I called it a day with 60.1 miles, 5:00 hours saddle time on my mountain bike. Check.

Singletrack in Franklin Falls

All avid cyclists should have a hit list. It's always good to see and experience new sights, smells, sounds and terrain. It keeps cycling fresh. I always prefer the mountain bike for this. It goes anywhere, including paved roads. Nearly 1/3 of my cycling hours this year have been on dirt. Ironically, I've not given anything up on the fitness scale as evidenced by PRs on some of the toughest climbs. It seems many riders are burned out this point in the season. Not me. I'm just getting warmed up for my most enjoyable part of the riding season.

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