Friday, October 31, 2008

Kelly Stand Loop

Since the MTB epic planned for today fell apart, ride possibilities on my off-Friday were unlimited. Trails? Road? Or a hybrid mix of the two? The Ridley 'cross bike sat in the corner, unridden since the Iron Cross race, dusty with race number still on it. I decided to plan a ride around this bike.

On my hit list were checking out a dirt climb in NW Connecticut on the highest road in the state, or one of two dirt pass loops in SW Vermont that Jim Hayssen told me about this summer. The decision was kind of like going into a bakery and having to choose between a custard filled long john or raspberry filled bismarck. Both yummy. Driving commitments were similar. I opted for Vermont, as I haven't done any riding in that part of the state except for the Equinox hillclimb race.

Leaving home late at 7:30am, it was 25F out. The prospects of a little ice or maybe even a dusting of snow at higher elevations crossed my mind, but nothing knobby 'cross tires couldn't handle I figured. The temp was 31F in Jamaica, but rose dramatically as I climbed to the Stratton Mountain ski area to 43F. To my dismay, there was a lot of snow there. I figured it was already warm, so it would burn off shortly.

The route I planned to follow was similar to one Jim sent me. Start at the Stratton ski area, bomb down through Manchester, then climb dirt Kelly Stand Rd. This is claimed to be the southern most gap in the Green Mountains. It gains 2200ft from the valley, mostly on dirt. My eyes teared up fiercely on the initial descent from Stratton. I almost had to stop due to tear blindness. I dressed lightly, figuring the temp was rapidly rising. Instead, it plummeted as I descended. It seems Stratton was in a hot bubble. I had no booties and only one layer on under my wind shell.

Once down in Manchester, I warmed back up. It was warmer there too, with no snow. The wind had picked up, and I was mashing straight into it. Veering on to North Rd, climbing out of the valley began. This quickly turned to dirt. A bit of pavement passing over Rt 7, then dirt again on Kelly Stand Rd. The gravel was in excellent condition. I thought I should have brought my road bike, as Jim rides these roads with skinny tires.

It didn't take long before I started seeing bits of snow again. The road hugged a rushing stream fueled by snow melt. It essentially climbed a canyon with very steep walls to either side. I quickly realized Kelly Stand Rd was perhaps the most scenic mountain pass road in New England. After a few miles of climbing, the road got slushy. In the shade, the slush was frozen. Conditions continued to deteriorate. It became difficult to find lines that gave traction. The entire road became covered, and the temperature was well below freezing. I was forced to ride in the weeds or the rough on either edge seeking anything but the glare ice auto traffic had packed the snow into. I had to catch myself from hip checking on ice. I thought about walking. Surely I was close to the summit. Nope. This went on for 8 miles! The only car to go by was a forest ranger in a truck. I got a funny look. Had I taken a road bike, I would have been doomed and would have had to turn around. I managed to ride all the way to the summit without resorting to walking or crashing. Ice handling skills quickly came back despite having no studs. It's not too scary when you're only going 6mph.

The descent was actually worse than the climb. The snow was about 6" deep on that side, and it was hard to control speed without totally losing control. Eventually pavement is reached where the road had either been plowed or the snow had melted. Had I taken anybody with me on this ride, there would have been incessant whining. Had I not been riding in incredible scenery, my mood might just possibly have soured. I had hoped to ride to the summit of Stratton upon returning to my car. Stratton rises 1200ft higher than Kelly Stand pass. It was completely out of the question.

To make up for lost intensity on the ice climb, I descended all the way down the other side instead of cutting back to the ski area right away. I thought I went down to Jamaica (Rt 30), but ended up in West Wardsboro on Rt 100 instead. Just as well. There was a nice country store there. An untethered Rottweiler in the back of a parked truck about took my head off. The owner came running out of the store, commenting that his dog doesn't like bikers. Dude, put him inside or tie him up! I had two other dog incidents on the ride. Goes with the rural territory.

Heading back to the ski area, there were numerous rollers. Most of them sucked at this point in the ride. It seemed on Mountain Rd I was either going 6-8mph up or 40mph down, nothing in between. That little blip in the profile at 50 miles, it's not an error. That sucker really does go straight up and straight down. Even if Stratton Mtn had no snow, I doubt with 'cross bike gearing I had enough legs left to climb 2000ft from the base to summit. I tried anyway and quickly got bogged down in mud and snow. Instead, I climbed to West Ridge lined with McMansions. Nice views in a couple spots, but not as nice as the summit I'm sure.

I called it a day with 58.3mi, 4:14hrs saddle time, and about 7000ft of climbing. The Friday evening spook day drive back down Rt 101 was going to be another test of character. Glad there's a Starbucks half way in Keen. I think next summer I will have to put together a 100 by 100^2 ride together in this area (100 miles, 10,000ft of climbing). The terrain is very rugged and remote. Kelly Stand can be combined with another big dirt road pass called Big Branch for an all-day epic with few cars.

Stratton Mtn starting out

Bromley ski area in distance from Rt 30

Equinox Mountain

Lower Kelly Stand Rd

Snow building with gain in altitude

All ice except in rough

Descent, no where to escape

From West Ridge at 2600ft elevation. I think that's Monadnock faintly visible center left.

Sunday, October 26, 2008


Riders slowly straggled in for NEMBA's annual Wicked Ride of the East at Harold Parker State Forest this morning. I think many were waiting for the sun to come out to begin the drying process from the overnight deluge. From the looks of things when we finished, there was an excellent turn out.

I hooked up with teammate Steve G. (whose two year old Yeti still looks brand new), Dave P. (on a singly geared bike of course), Peter D. and several other southern NH NEMBA chapter riders. Harold Parker (HP) wreaks havoc in good conditions despite a fairly tame appearance on the surface. Seems every time I go there with a group of skilled riders, one or two go home hurt. Last year I nearly broke my hip crashing on rocks. This year things were as juicy as they can get with fresh leaf drop. Double trouble.

The nice thing about HP is it holds up well when wet. It is all rock, gravel and roots, so things really don't get muddy or trails rutted even with standing water in places. But just because the trails hold up well doesn't mean riders hold up well. I never dabbed so many times in my life. Part of it was running higher pressure than usual to avoid the dreaded group ride pinch flat, part of it was trepidation last year's crash left in me.

Steve was cleaning almost everything starting out. I've probably logged more trail hours in one week in Colorado than he has in two years. Nice to see he hasn't lost his touch after a couple years of riding 333m circles at the track.

The first couple hours of riding was all methodically picking your way through Vaseline covered roots and rocks. This is a great equalizer. HP doesn't have much in vertical change. Possessing big cardio base doesn't make up for lack of skill. Guys I'd normally wait for riding other places were waiting for me today.

At the 15 mile mark, most of the group decided to shortcut back. Steve and I pressed on, hitting a mix of double track and more tasty bits of tech stuff. Steve really lit it up on a few faster sections. Having done 4.2 hours in the mountains yesterday, I was holding on for dear life. Steve hasn't exactly racked up a lot of 5-8hr rides this year though. Towards the end of this outburst, we came to a modest climb. Steve must have popped a circuit breaker, because the motor stopped. Fortunately we were only a mile or two from the finish. At nearly 3hrs riding time, I was just getting warmed up.

I logged 22.0mi in 2:57hrs. I was happy to escaped unscathed with no crashes. When I crashed hard there last year, I was on my singlespeed which has very steep head tube angle for handling agility. Today I used my Ellsworth with a more relaxed geometry. Despite a cushier ride with gears, my riding time was almost a half hour slower than 2006 in drier conditions on a singlespeed. The post ride chili, hot dogs and kielbasa were excellent, and the weather transformed into a brilliant, summer-like day. One more organized fun ride is on the books for me this year, the FOMBA Turkey Burner. I've been hitting this one the day after Thanksgiving for many years now. About 300 other riders do the same.

Dave P.

Steve G.

Peter D.

Peter D.

Dave wussing out. Straight down and slimy. I rode it, but only because rider in front of me dropped out of sight and I didn't know what was coming. Once you commit, it's a done deal. An Incline Training woman nailed the white birch hard but kept going.

Unknown rider showing Dave how its done

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Bump Hunting

With the season end near, I decided to hit the White Mountains one last time before snow arrives in earnest. Driving up to Lincoln, I noticed a dusting on Mt Lafayette already. It must be deer season. The hunters were out in force hoping to bag a buck during my mission to bag as many bumps as possible before forecasted rain moved in.

It's amazing how deserted the mountains become after color season ends. Leaf drop is nearly complete. There were no pesky tourists texting on their Crackberries while blasting by at 70mph just inches away. There were more than the usual number of rednecks in pickups though, but they seemed quite courteous today.

It was frigid starting out from Lincoln at 9:30, maybe still in the 30's. I went out with winter layers, including booties and lobstah mitts. It was dreary when I left the house, but there were patches of blue ski and sun beginning the ride. I hit Kinsman Notch quite hard. With a very strong tail wind, it seemed way too easy for a 12% grade and biggish gears. My legs felt fairly fresh despite training fairly hard during the week. Perhaps I'm finally recovered from the Iron Cross race two weeks ago.

When I got to the base of Long Pond Road, I shed the lobstah shells and thermal layer. It was noticeably colder at the pass summits, but it took a descent's worth of cold air to bring the core body temp back down. Long Pond Rd gains 1200ft from either side. It's roughly 4 miles of climbing, mile of rolling, then 4 mile descent, all on gravel. The new gravel on the north side is still very choppy. Well packed, but a monkey butt generator. The south side is smoother, but lack of new gravel bed means many huge rocks still jut out several inches, just waiting to crimp a rim. Our group rides normally ride this south to north, but today I wanted to mix things up.

Beaver Pond at Kinsman Notch

Gonzo Pass (Rt 118) is steep from either side, but I think the west side is steeper over a longer span than the east side. This includes the guardrail chicane section that is at least 12% grade where Bill D. crashed over a year ago. The skies were getting darker as I climbed Gonzo. All of the major peaks were socked in with clouds now, maybe down to 3000-3500ft. The descent back to Woodstock was cold, but I resisted the urge to layer back up. Like coming down Kinsman, no cars passed me on the descent. Only a couple passed me on the climb. It was so nice riding these normally busy roads with only an occasional car coming by.

Going up north side of Long Pond Rd

After a brief refuel in N. Woodstock, I headed south to hit Tripoli Rd. The plan was to ride this as an out and back on the dirt side. It was beginning to sprinkle as I crossed under I-93. I had doubts I would finish this climb, but the sprinkles quickly subsided. The lower portion of gravel was in pretty rough shape. It was heavily pock-marked with pot holes. Still firm, but it meant I would have to use more breaks than I like coming back down. The upper part of the climb was in better shape. I still felt in pretty good shape reaching the Thornton Gap summit. I hung around for a few minutes, thinking back to last year when in the first week of December I was skiing up from the other side. I wonder if we'll get a repeat year?

Russell Crag switchbacks

Next on the docket was Russell Crag. Matt told me about this one a few weeks ago in the context as a mountain bike climb. Russell Crag is prominently visible just before you get off I-93 at the Lincoln exit. It is a steep pointy rock about 1000ft above the highway with a cell tower up top. There is a gated service road to the tower. An open gravel road gains the first portion of vertical. This road was essentially a jeep road despite having residences on it. It was barely road bikeable. Then I carried over the gate and began the switchback section. When I got to the first switchback, I quickly realized why this is a MTB climb. The grade was at least 25%, maybe 30%, and it was loose gravel. It would have sucked just to walk up. I abandoned the rest of the climb. I'll have to save it for another day when I'm up there with the MTB. It should be doable with decent tread and low pressure. I bet the view from the top is nice.

Russell Crag from Rt 175. Switchbacks on other side.

Coming back down from Russell Crag, I could see heavy rain between me and Mt Moosilauke. Feeling pretty cooked, I decided to play it safe, stay dry, and keep a great ride from turning into a misery fest. I opted out of an out-and-back on the Kanc. It started to drizzle while changing, even harder getting on the highway, but then it stopped again. Later at home, radar showed just a tiny patch of light stuff that moved through. The heavy stuff was still a couple hours away. Oh well, it was well worth the trip. I logged 66.7mi in 4:13hrs with 7880ft of climbing. This included over 20 miles of dirt. The bony descents on Tripoli and Russell Crag really sucked my average down, but I got four major threshold zone climbs out of the ride. Its great when you derive premium training value out of rides like this. With constantly changing post card scenery all around, you don't even notice 30 minute threshold burns.

Looking down Cox Farm Rd towards Woodstock near base of Russell Crag

I had hoped to score some wildlife, but all I saw was wilddeath. On the way up, the remnants of a black bear were scattered across the highway. They are so black, I don't know how you'd ever see one at night.

It seems one other rider had same thoughts as I today. A solo rider was getting dropped off at the Lincoln visitor center in the morning. Maybe I should've checked out what his plans were. Ironically, I'm pretty sure I saw the same rider again changing at the Mc-D's parking lot afterwards nearby. I'm guessing he did a Kanc round trip (70mi) since I saw no other riders on my ride.

Next up, NEMBA Wicked Ride of the East on Sunday if I don't have to put pontoons on my bike.

Friday, October 24, 2008


I finally pulled the trigger on a trip that has been rolling around in the back of my mind for a few years now. A part of the country I haven't visited yet is the Ozarks of Arkansas and Ouachita National Forest of Arkansas and Oklahoma. I had planned to go when my wife was away for a few days at the end of September, but work and other commitments got in the way. Looks like last chance this year will be in December, just after regular deer rifle season ends in most parts down that way.

I plan to hit two areas that received IMBA Epic designation, the Womble Trail west of Little Rock in the Ouachita NF and the Syllamo Trail system north of Little Rock in the Ozark NF. The Womble is a 38 mile point to point trail that can be ridden as an out and back or looped with back roads. The Syllamo network consists of many purpose built trails, totalling around 50 miles and growing. Both riding areas offer a variety of technical challenge and incredible scenery. Here's a cheesy touristy video that gives general flavor of the riding down there.

Running the whole length of the Ouachita NF is the Ouachita Trail at 192 miles long. Only a few segments that run through wilderness areas are closed to mountain biking. I plan to hit two sections. One is a loop with Old Military Rd trail just over the border in Oklahoma, the other is in the vicinity of the Womble Trail. Much of the riding on the Ouachita is on ridgeline. Ought to be pretty, although by then leaf drop will be complete.

Also in the area is Magazine Mountain, the highest peak in AR at 2700ft. There is a paved road to the summit with bike lanes, gaining around 2000ft in 11 miles. There is also a partial dirt route up. The summit is a large bluff with dramatic cliffs along the edge. Not sure if I'll be able to squeeze this climb in yet. I think I'd rather spend the kilojoules on singletrack.

Temps should be in the 50-60F during the day, lows around freezing at night. They rarely get snow that sticks around. December is not the driest month - always at the mercy of Mother Nature when planning short trips like these.

I haven't gone on a solo cycling trip in a while. The last one was Colorado a few years ago. I will have four full days to ride in Arkansas and Oklahoma. Some of the more social types out there probably can't imagine flying to a far away place to ride solo. But sometimes that's what it takes to really clear the mind. No talking, no waiting, no cell phones, just total immersion in nature and endorphins.

I go cheap. $239 round trip airfare, compact car rental, and probably Econo Lodge for the first three nights. It's just a place to flop until the next ride begins. The whole trip should cost around $800 including bike shipment. The Mt Washington race alone costs more than half this when all is said and done. That's more than $50 per ridden mile for my metrics weeny friends. The trip should net a $6 per ridden mile figure of merrit, a bargain.

This will add two more states, making five new states I've mountain biked this year. As you can see here, I've already covered 80% of the country. By December, I will have biked in 18 different states in a 12 month period. Nearly all of that is just riding, not travelling for races. Since the goal of riding dirt in all 50 states is quickly becoming a reality, I need to start planning some grander goals. Ideas kicking around in the furthest reaches of my mind are the Himalayas and the Atacama Desert in Chile. You can ride to 16,000 to 18,000ft in these places. In Chile, you can start at sea level! Parts of the Atacama are claimed to have not received precipitation in over 400 years. Many other riding opportunities exist in South America. Some of these places aren't the safest for Americans these days, so an order of magnitude more planning will be required.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Six Gaps - Stuff of Legends

I stumbled upon a well written Six Gaps ride report on the Rapha blog. Some great photography there too. Rapha, the cycling apparel company, is building an epic rides library from around the world. Six Gaps was recently added. D2R2 will be added soon. It is great to have two rides from the northeastern USA make the cut.

The Rapha riders appeared to closely follow the route we follow each year that is shown on my website. They started in Middlebury however, while we start in Rochester. Their cue sheet gives over 141 miles for the ride, while we typically register around 132 miles. So I poked around a bit further. What is most interesting, the Rapha riders apparently used my PDF map during their ride, not the map given on the Rapha blog. The first photo of their ride report shows a map laying on the road. It matches my PDF, not the Rapha PDF. I'm guessing they want original content for their epic rides library and created their own map after the ride. I suppose only a details geek would notice something like this. Flattering, actually.

The Rapha report isn't the only new Six Gaps report to pop up recently. Check out Plum's recent post from his ride earlier this summer. Painful just reading it. You have to ask why we cyclists embark on such endeavors when we suffer so bad. The Rapha report used phrases and words like "right of passage" or "glory" in finishing a ride like this. That's true, I suppose, if you did it one time. But many riders keep going back. Not just Six Gaps, but also D2R2, the mother of all hurt fests around these parts.

I'll leave you with a couple more Iron Cross VI pics I lifted from Element of the Eye photography, the spiral of death and the Wigwam run-up. I've already put Iron Cross VII on my calender for next year.

Sunday, October 19, 2008


Approximately 27 riders descended upon Agawam, MA early Sunday morning for the annual Pioneer Valley NEMBA epic ride. Steve Rossi has been organizing this ride from his house for several years now, and this was the biggest group so far. The ride is shuttled, starting at Penwood State Park in Connecticut and finishing back in Agawam. It follows portions the Metacomet Trail in CT and the Metacomet-Monadnock Trail in MA. It is pristine ridgeline riding at its finest almost the whole way.

There was heavy frost on the ground shuttling to the starting area. It was the first really cold riding day. From the lot, we mashed right into a lengthy climb with no warmup on the Metacomet Trail. It is a rather brute force way to kill the shivers.

Once up on the ridge line, fantastic views frequently presented themselves. We were maybe only 500-800ft above the valley, but this was enough to take in bird's eye views of the fall foliage below. There were numerous "no-fall" zones along the ride. A couple of these would result in certain death going over the edge. You don't have to visit Moab to ride along cliff edges. We have some of that right here in New England.

Of course, ridgeline in New England is synonymous with slick rock, ledge, sharp pointy rocks and drops. There was no shortage of flat tires on this ride. In one section, we had four flats being fixed at once. I flatted too, but it appeared to be a puncture instead of the much more common pinch flat. Recurring flats really slowed the ride progress down for a while. There must have been 12-15 flats in a few hour window. It was a no-drop ride, so we all waited to regroup at each junction. But when we were moving, riding near the front meant you were really hauling-A. Just like in a race, a little bobble meant several riders would come by just like that. We also experienced broken chains and sheared off derailleurs. No serous injuries though. The dusty dry conditions helped in that department.

We had two guys on completely rigid bikes in the group, Dave Penney and pro rider Salem Mazzawy. At least they had gears. The ride was pretty much non-stop brutal rocky abuse. I can't fathom trying it with no suspension. I was on my Ellsworth dualie, as most other riders were on duailies. There were no singlespeeders. I was amazed by the talent present. Free riders dropping off insane material, another wheelying all the way down a hill with nary a pedal stroke, and Salem not being able to find anything he couldn't ride over.

After riding about 25 miles of M&M ridgeline, we popped into Robinson State Park to finish the ride on 11 miles of supremely buff singletrack. Steve Rossi's son joined us here. All I can say is the kid can rip. In a few more years, he'll be giving top riders a run for their money.

We finished with 35.7 miles on my odometer and over 4000ft of climbing per the Garmin. Saddle time was 4.8hrs. Total elapsed time was over 7.5hrs.

The post ride feast at the Rossi's was phenomenal: six party size pizza's, cakes, cookies, pies, chips and salsa, veggie burritos and variety of beverages. New England Bicycle sponsored the ride (actually a three-ride series) and had some swag to raffle off during the feeding frenzy. Many thanks to the Rossi family for hosting such a great day of riding.

Pre-ride instruction. How many times did Steve warn us about tire pressure? Not enough.

A no-fall.

Another don't look down here zone.

Lunch rocks looking north.

Lunch rocks looking south.

Cliff above the quarry. A few scary bits riding along the edge getting up to this point.

Dave descending roots with his rigid 9er.

Stream crossing in Robinson.

Post ride feast at the Rossi's.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Worst Bike Week Ever

The past six days have been pretty brutal. Way too much time spent in cars and planes and little time to ride. Hill Junkie gets cranky when going more than a couple days without a good endorphin fix.

Mid race Iron Cross. I referred to this as my "kid train." Actually, only one of these guys was 19, the mountain biker 42, the rest early 30's. I still felt old at 46. Number 274 off the back is only one to beat me and by 6 minutes. Phot credit Judy.

The Iron Cross race entailed about 15hrs of driving Sat/Sun. 8hrs in a Scion xD after totally destroying the legs made certain week-long rigor mortis set in. Monday contained about 8hrs driving/airport/flying time. Tuesday I was held hostage all day in a lab. More hostage time and another 10hrs total travel time made up my day on Wednesday. Throw in answering work emails each morning and evening meant I was getting only about 5hrs sleep per night. I can function ok on 7hrs, but 8hrs is ideal. After getting back very late Wednesday night due to delays at O'Hare, I had a 2.3hr drive early Thursday to Okemo Mountain Resort for a kick-off planning meeting of the BUMPS Challenge (more on this later).

I tried to get out late Tuesday night on the rollerskis in Rochester, MN. The Douglas Rail Trail was greasy leaf covered and utterly unskateable. To make matters worse, the telescoping hiking poles I borrowed for this trip didn't extend nearly long enough for skate technique, precluding a double pole workout. I found a little strip that was clear of leaves and did many repeats, having to stop to turn around at each end. I really couldn't get HR into aerobic realm. No endorphin fix here.

After descending Okemo, I was rewarded with this view.

Thursday afternoon would be my first chance to ride all week. Of course, a large frontal system decided to roost over New England. It poured buckets during the meeting. It tapered to a cold drizzle by the time we concluded and I kitted up. I decided to go right into the Okemo climb with no warmup to avoid freezing. I promptly flatted. Needless to say, the contents of my Camelbak came flying out with a little to much aggression and I had to scrounge for a few items in the wet grass. A few days of airport and conference room food was not good for the waist line. My weight is up about 6 lbs from my mid summer low. Factor in a heavy bike, 10 lb Camelback, well, I suffered going up Okemo. To make matters worse, it was slimy leaf covered. I could not stand without slipping. More weight = slower speed = lower cadence + biggish gears = mash fest. It took me 47 minutes from Gore Inn to reach summit. The decent was uber dicy. I barely had brake pads left when I reached the bottom.

Scenic Rt 131. Imagine if the sun was out.

At least when I reached the bottom, the rain momentarily stopped. I figured I would not have enough daylight left to do full Tyson Rd/Rt 131 loop as planned, so I set out to do just a Tyson Rd out and back. I have never climbed Tyson Rd from Rt 100. It is much steeper on this side. It started to rain again as I climbed. Upon reaching the summit, I was feeling quite trashed after climbing less than 4000ft. I was still reeling from the damage Iron Cross did. I decided I hadn't ridden all week, and I might as well chance the full loop anyway. How's that logic? The descent to Reading is quite nice, has a nice groove to it. Same with Rt 106 to pick up Rt 131. Slight down hill bias, plus tail wind helped here.

Rt 131 is designated a national scenic byway. The fall foliage was splendid, but dank, drizzly overcast didn't exactly bring out the vibrant color. Riding 131 back to Ludlow is a 12 mile gradual climb. I hadn't felt my feet since summitting Tyson Rd. The rest of me stayed reasonable warm. I didn't eat anything during the ride, but I did have a nice "conference room" meal during the meeting. I was thoroughly depleted finishing this 45mi, 2.8hr ride with upwards of 5000ft of climbing in it. Of course, the moon came out on the drive home. At least I got my endorphin fix.

On more positive notes, the good folks that run Iron Cross are going to mail my race winnings. I believe this is $75. This is excellent payout for a 5th place masters finish.

I was caught off-guard in Chicago when sitting down to make my connection. Somebody asked me if I was Dan. Many people call me Dan. A guy I worked with for four years at Raytheon called me Dan and I gave up correcting him. I just answered to Dan to this guy. Anyway, I said "you mean Doug?" It was Mike Downes from Seattle who was familiar with my website. He was out for the Mt Washington hillclimb this year.

I have a big ride planned for Sunday, a PV-NEMBA epic organized by Steve Rossi. The ride will take 5-7hrs and follows bony ridgeline from somewhere in Connecticut back to Agawam, Mass. Weather looks good and fall foliage should be peaking in that area about now.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Iron Cross VI Race Report

My longest race of the season deserves a lengthy report, so fill the coffee mug and make sure the boss isn't around. The Iron Cross race is touted as America's longest cyclocross race. At 62 miles, 7200 feet of climbing, it is a beast. None of this puny, buffed 40 minute Gloucester stuff. IC goes big: brutal two mile singletrack descents, 500ft gnarly run-ups, fire roads and ATV trails, many downed trees to dismount for, and yes, some pavement. I have a fondness for point to point races like this. Since its inception in 2003 when I last did this race, entries have steadily grown. This year, there were nearly 300 racers at the start. Dave Penney and I headed down to Carlisle, PA Saturday evening, a 7hr drive in my xD.

It was chilly warming up, probably in the low 40's. The temperature was expected to rise dramatically during the day. I had left four water bottles to be placed at various checkpoints on the course, plus I took two with me to start. I barely warmed up for this race, figuring how hard could the start be when you have 4hrs to go?

The race start was spectacular. The day before, an email update implied that there would be four waves. Incorrect. It was only guidance on seeding. They launched all 300 of us into a traditional 'cross course in one wave. Over the PA, they said this would be the biggest mass start CX race in America. They called up about 10 top riders, then everybody else would self seed behind them. I was a few rows back on the one-lane dirt road we started on. It was riders as far back as I could see.

They had the Iron Cross Lite race the day before, a classic course with barriers. It contained "The Spiral of Death." Picture a large field that is taped off as a spiral into the center. Then with a U-turn in the middle, you work your way back out of the multi-turn spiral. 300 racers. You would wind in tighter and tighter until you reached the center. But to either side of you, massive numbers of riders were going the opposite way. It was a most sensational effect. I saw no pile-ups, but speeds were quite slow. Strangely, this start approach worked.

It took me only a few minutes to clear the classic course before heading out into the woods for the "big loop." I was with lead pack that went ballistic on the hiker-biker path. After a few miles of hauling-A, we began the first climb, still going all out. Small splits started to form, especially when coming to closed fire-road gates that created huge bottlenecks. Some guys gained spots by dismounting and sliding under the gate. The first stretch of fireroad was littered with nasty sharp embedded rocks. In a pack, you could not see these coming. The rear tire of a guy next to and just ahead of me exploded. Not like pow-hiss, it was just pow hurt-your-ears loud. The blast sprayed my whole body with rocks. Flats are a common theme of this race.

After cresting this long climb, we cruised on flatter gravel for a while before picking up pavement. On the pavement, the lead group came back together again. We had maybe 20-25 riders at this point with our motorcycle pace vehicle ahead. I saw only one mountain bike in this group, a tall young kid. The rest were cross bikes.

When we reached the first Check Point (CP1), I still had a full water bottle. I was with a select group, and nobody stopped. I did not want to lose my spot on this train. I figured at the pace we were going, I'd have enough water to get to CP2 where I had two bottles of Gatorade spotted. They were serving HEED on the course, something that did not agree with me at the Everest Challenge race last fall. The descent from CP1 was insanely fast. It was hard gravel but contained numerous embedded rocks that would nearly launch you into outer space. I promptly jettisoned my full bottle into the woods. Now I had no water and an hour's worth of riding and hiking before getting to CP2. Not only was the Gatorade my primary source of carbs, I needed the added electrolytes in the mix. It was already getting warm.

The first section of singletrack was typical New England fare: rocks, roots, downed trees and rutted out loose sections. I did not know it was coming and went in about last of my group. Big mistake. They all started walking! It was perfectly rideable climbing at a modest grade. I passed many but got held up a lot. Then the two mile descent came. I must confess, I dismounted for a short piece of this. Two mountain bikers that we left behind earlier came flying by on this section. There were many trees across the trail too, most could be bunny hopped. This killed my wrists. It was a relief to reach pavement again.

The front of the race was busted up by the time we reached the next climb, the dreaded power-line "run-up." Some dirt road and bony ATV trail brought you to an incomprehensible scene, a 500-700ft wall that appeared unscalable. The first installment begins in the woods. It is so steep I found my self grabbing trees a few times. It is all loose rocks and sand. It was so easy to slip off rocks or slide in the dirt. The average grade had to be at least 40-60%. The trail momentarily plateaus, but then the second installment appears before your eyes: Another few hundred feet vertical worth, not quite as steep, but just as difficult to hike. It was ankle deep loose baby head and fruit sized rocks.

Reaching CP2, I devoured a couple cookies and restocked my water supply. The volunteers informed me I was in 10 place overall. Amazingly, I put some time on the three kids I was working with coming into this climb. They eventually caught back up to me. The pace I sustained up to this point was very high. Consuming only 1 of 3 planned water bottles with electrolytes left me with a huge deficit. I already felt some early warning signs of cramping coming on, and I was only 28 miles into a 62 mile race.

The story gets a bit fuzzy on what transpired between CP2 and CP3. We were back to a group of four working together again. I was the only masters rider. Muscle spasms were becoming more frequent now. A spectator on the course said we were riders 10-13 to come through. Excellent I thought, but I know once the cramp demons come to roost in my legs, a race is pretty much over for me. I had one more bottle spotted on the course at CP3 and none at CP4. The guys I was with knew the course and told me CP3 was just coming up, and the hardest climb of the course was right after it. Terrific.

I could not find my drop bag at CP3. All the bags looked the same and there were a zillion of them spread out on the ground. I lost at least 30-40sec looking for it. My kid train was gone. Just as well. I could not have stayed with the fastest rider in the group anyway. I caught one of the riders and dropped him on this 800ft/8-9% beast of a climb. Dirt of course.

I thought that might have been it for major climbs, but no. I was out of water again at CP4. Apparently the volunteers were refilling dropped bottles and I took a hand-up of HEED. Two riders were fixing flats there. I believed that put me in 9th place overall with only 10 miles or so to go. Some nice descending ensued, some of it wicked scary. I hit speeds of over 40mph on some pretty rough, loose gravel.

The climbing would not end. Nor would the bony singletrack bits. I was cramping so badly I resorted to walking the slower but completely rideable bits. I started hemorrhaging places. First the two young'ns that were fixing flats, but others came by too. This situation really sucked. To do this well so close to the end and then just see it all go poof.

Apparently the last major climb was designed to be another run-up. Talking with Ross Delaplane, 2nd place overall finisher after the race, he said nobody is able to ride that climb. This was a good thing for me, as I could walk without seizing. My muscle spasms were playing like Tchaikovsky's 1812 overture at this point. The cannon blasts were when all major leg muscles would spasm simultaneously. I could pedal up at all, not even up the slightest grade. I was pretty sure I was not going to finish the race. What is amazing, during a 15 minute interval that I walked, no other riders came by. Was I DFL? Was I off the course? It was just spooky how slow my progress was yet there must have been nobody within 10 minutes behind me when I hit this stretch. I reached the top of this crawl-up and there were spectators there. I begged and pleaded for water. Mercifully, they let me gulp from one of their Camelbaks.

It was only 4 miles or so to the finish, mostly downhill, but a couple stiff climbs on pavement to tackle. I could only stand and pedal two strokes on the climbs before having to lock my hamstrings out to keep then for permanently seizing into a knot of hellish pain. Again, despite coasting or barely moving on the rolling climbs, nobody was coming up behind me. I rolled into the finish solo, in 13th place overall out of 253 finishers. It is amazing I even finished, let alone just missing my target finishing place of top 10. One of the riders I hung with to CP3 finished 12 minutes ahead of me I believe, so I was on target for a 4hr finish. My time was 4:12:01.4, good for 5th/93 in the masters division. I could not walk after finishing, and my stomach was in a major funk. I could only drink water. After about 30 minutes, I attempted to eat a chicken burrito, but struggled.

Dave came in 5th/27 in the singlespeed division with an impressive time of 4:38. I couldn't imagine doing this course with one gear. But there were a large contingent of single speeders, double the number of last year. Gunnar Shogren, famed MTB pro from years ago handily won the SS division and beat me too. He even flatted. What I didn't know before we left is that Gunnar, of masters age, was a SS rider. The initial results posted showed me in 6th for masters, but Gunnar was ranked in the SS division. Cash paid five deep, and had I stuck around, I could have collected my $75.

I heard the overall winner was on a 29er mountain bike. I think it's been a while since a mountain bike has won this race. In a sense, most of us were on "29ers," as 'cross bikes use the same 27" rim. We just run skinnier tires with drop bars and have no suspension. It's a toss for me whether I could have finished faster on a MTB. Probably not. I would have gotten dropped earlier in the race on the roadie sections. Andy Applegate came in 3rd overall, again winning the masters 40+ field.

There was way more blood at the finish area than there should have been. You would've thought this was a rugged MTB race. I suppose many of the riders are primarily roadies, and if you send them through some gnarly singletrack or at speed down dirt roads, shit happens.

Dave is already talking about next year, maybe bringing his wife Beth with him. She too enjoys off-road sufferfest events, pedaling solo from Canada to Mexico through the Rockies a few years ago. Iron Cross is kind of like Battenkill. It breaks the mold, is unique and has gained a reputation for being epic. It's not a MTB race, not a road race, not a traditional cross race. It some how magically marries all three into one package. It embraces skills from all three types of competition. It is very well organized and staffed with possibly hundreds of volunteers. Hats off to everyone that makes this race happen. Good chance I'll be back next year.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Lunchbreak in NH

Less than five minutes out the door and I'm riding singletrack in this undisclosable location.

Been riding the Ridley 'cross bike the last few days making sure I weed out any infant mortality failures from slew of last minute changes I made. It actually rides mellow singletrack quite well.

There are over 100 pre-reg'd in the Masters 40+ field at Iron Cross. Per the email we received, the starting waves will be women, 6+ hours anticipated finishing time, 5-6hrs, and sub-5hrs. With Applegate there, I have no chance of winning the masters. There will be other strong riders there too, so a podium finish is a stretch goal. There were two finishers between me and Applegate in 2003 with a smaller field. Either way, I view this as a post season fun race. No point in stressing over it. If race goes well for me, I should finish around 4:10hrs.

Iron Cross VI: Definitely a Hill Junkie class ride.

The course should be the same as last year. Motion Based uploads show 61-64 miles and 7000-8000ft of climbing for the course. I downloaded a 61 mile GPX track into Topo 7.0. It gave about 7200ft of climbing. The upper half of the big climb in the middle is a run up, or more like a crawl up. The parts that worry me are the rocky bits. I could run 80psi and virtually eliminate pinch flat risk, but that doesn't do much for control or comfort. There are some very fast narrow gravel road descents.

I'll be on business travel most of next week. Not sure if the schedule will allow posting a report. If free time opens up, I'd rather do something active than be a monkey at the keyboard. There is a 12.5mi long paved rail trail less than a mile from the hotel in Rochester, MN. I may bring the rollerskis along with lights. I haven't done 40km in a while.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Ridley Test Ride

I took the Ridley 'cross rig out for a 90 minute jam session at lunch today. I figured I'd hit some of the stuff I do with a mountain bike. One was the cell tower climb near Fidelity off Exit 10 in Merrimack. It was looser than normal. I didn't stand a chance with 35mm, 50psi tires. I had to dismount twice. Would have been iffy even on the MTB though, so I wasn't too concerned.

I was very pleased with the rolling resistance of the Schwalbe Racing Ralph tires and medium weight tubes I just installed. I'm quite certain this combo rolls faster than the 28mm, 90psi road tires I used for the D2R2 ride this year. I had no trouble cruising 22-24mph with these knobbies. Since most of the Iron Cross course is packed gravel or paved, the tires are a keeper.

I next hit Greens Pond Rd, a nice 2-3 minute dirt road climbing interval. Recently graded, it made for a good in-the-saddle grind.

I worked my way over to Mine Falls park in Nashua. I planned to ride my normal MTB loop minus a couple tid bits that were too high of pinch flat risk. I went in behind the Home Depot off Exit 6. No more than 15ft off the pavement, I hit a root that pinched my front tire hard. It did not flat. I quickly learned that I have been taking 2.1" tires and suspension for granted. The next 30 minutes proceeded to pound my body. I could not stay seated for fear of pinch flatting the rear tire. I know the Iron Cross course has changed a lot since I last did it. I just hope there is a lot less bony ATV trail than last time. Else an MTB would still be a faster bet vs. getting flats with a 'cross bike. I was still quite pleased with how well the Schwalbe's hooked up in all the variable conditions I encountered.

Even though I fussed with the front derailleur, I could not get it quiet in half of the gears. It has to do with the funky FSA derailleur. It is very narrow and seems to be offset for a different seat tube angle or something. I scrounged around and found an older Ultegra Triple front derailleur that was top mount, bottom pull. A short spin in the 'hood this evening says it will work much better.

By the end of my 90 minute lunch jam, I could tell the narrow, hard saddle had to go too. No way I was going to suffer four hours on that butt wedge of pain. I took the Terry Fly off my Dean 'cross bike. It is now half-way stripped to being a frame at this point. I may just list it on Ebay as a frame. Another semi-recovery ride at lunch tomorrow should prove out these 11th hour changes.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Iron Cross Prep

Officially signed up for the Iron Cross race in Pennsylvania this morning. Weather should be quite mild with slight chance for rain. I last did this race in 2003, I think the first year it ran. It was a lot of fun. It is gaining in popularity each year. I expect about 100 riders to be present in the Masters 40+ field.

The Iron Cross course follows gravel roads, ATV trails, a little bit of pavement, and a huge "run" up. The term "run" is used loosely here, as you don't run up 500ft of vertical that is so steep in spots you end up grabbing trees to catch yourself. Think of this event as a mountain bike race for roadies. There's not a whole lot of technical content. The course is designed to favor a cross rider on a cross bike over a pure mountain biker.

I alluded to a new 'cross bike a while back. I actually bought a used Ridley Crosswind from a teammate. Due to Iron Cross being more like a road race on dirt, I made some modifications this week. First off, the large volume, uber knobby tires I put on for the Velo-Cross race came off. I bought some Schwalbe Racing Ralph tires, 35mm wide with lower, more closely spaced knobbies. These should roll faster on the paved and hardpacked dirt sections, which constitute much of the course. Because there are several descents where speeds well in excess of 40mph can be reached, I replaced the 46t big ring with a 50t ring. The bigger ring necessitated a new, longer chain. A 28t cassette mates to a 34t small ring for the steep stuff. Oh yeah, there's over 6000ft of climbing in this race. Perhaps a little like the VT50, except there they don't make you carry your bike up a mountain through the woods. I also removed the top mounts my teammate used. I find the main levers work a little better without them. I was looking for ways to lighten the bike some too.

This frame is oddly proportioned. I believe it is a 58cm frame, but the top tube measures pretty close to my preferred 56cm length. What is odd is how tall the bike is. The bottom bracket is at least an inch higher than most 'cross or road frames. This puts the saddle an inch higher, not necessarily a good thing for traditional 'cross racing. For Iron Cross, this should make no difference. We do start and finish the race with one lap around the classic cross course there, so I'll have to hop barriers a couple times. This is insignificant compared to the 4+hrs it will take to finish this race. To finish out the cockpit tuning, I replaced the 120mm stem with a 110mm. The fit feels about right now. I plan to hit some dirt roads and a fling through Mine Falls in Nashua to see how everything performs. This will probably be the only test ride I'll get to make before the race.

Dave Penney's curriosity was piqued when he saw there was a singlespeed category for this race. I wonder if he'll be insane enough to bring a fixie? Going to be a busy week. Saturday/Sunday in Pennsylvania, Monday-Wednesday in Minnesota for work (again), Thursday in Vermont for a BUMPS Challenge planning meeting.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Bear Brook Boogie

Another fine day for outdoor activity. A hardy bunch of mountain bikers (redundant, as all mountain bikers are hardy) converged on Bear Brook State Park early Sunday morning for The Boogie. I rarely miss this organized NEMBA fun ride. I hooked up with the core riders of the Central NH chapter of NEMBA. We headed out early to verify the hero loop markers were in place. It was about 35F starting out in morning fog. Fall colors still haven't reached peak here.

Ron and the NEMBA crew just after 8am

On, I list Bear Brook as one of my favorite and most frequently visited places to ride. This was my first visit this year, sad to say. To my surprise, I was treated to a couple tasty sections of "new" singletrack. Due to neglect over the last several decades, some trails have been reclaimed by the forest. NEMBA worked with the park service to take back from the forest one of these trails in an area that hasn't been visited for a long time. I don't know if this trail has been named yet. It is on the east side of the park and climbs high above Bear Brook on a ridge. The trail was reminted with wheeled use in mind, so it has buttery flow to it.

The knee I tweaked hiking yesterday was a bit temperamental. Any out of saddle hammering (lifting on pedal) or awkward body English on the bike (twisting motion) sent shooting pains up my leg. Definitely have a minor tear of some sort in there. As long as I stayed seated and went straight, I could mash quite hard with no pain.

This year the Boogie route went around Spruce Pond. I hadn't ridden back there in years. I couldn't clean it then, and I can't clean it now. Some tough stuff. We proceeded to climb to the next section of singletrack on doubletrack when a mishap occurred. There is a small stream crossing on Broken Boulder Trail. I usually clean it, but this time it was much chunkier than usual. No crash or even wet feet for me, but another rider in our group didn't fare so well. Word is Kelly stuffed front wheel and got a little too intimate with a rock. Broken teeth, cut lip and a leg injury. We had to call a truck in to pick him up. Hope he'll be alright. I rode uber defensively after that, as did some of the other riders. Risk of injury is higher riding off road than on road, but risk of death is much higher on road due to cars and much higher cycling speeds.

From here it was almost all singletrack for the remainder of the ride. The route took us on Hedgehog Ledge Trail. That trail strikes fear in me. Another rider told me how he broke his hand on one of its granite staircases a while back. Great. First Kelly bites it, then I hear this before attempting the section that gives me the greatest willies. I decided I would walk the scary stuff. When I saw the first rider bomb on down, I rode the staircases anyway. Funny how when you are being observed, that happens.

Dave Penney was on a singlespeed. Not just an ordinary singlespeed, mind you, as that is so cliche these days. He was on a FIXED GEAR singlespeed. I don't know anybody else that is riding a fixie in the woods on technical terrain. This is just off the charts nuts. He also races the VT50 and Hampshire 100k with the fixie. Dave was seriously contemplating riding the staircases with his fixie. I thought great, this time we'll all have to wait for the paramedics to arrive. I think he came to his senses, as there were no sirens and he made it in one piece to the end of the ride.

Dave coming down finishing stairs on fixie

Where Hedgehog Ledge Trail ends, we normally have to climb a doubletrack back up before picking up more singletrack. Here I was treated to a second, lengthy section of new singletrack that gracefully climbed the flanks of Bear Hill. It was here where another large group, the Exeter Cycles gang, caught up to us.

The ride finished up on Carr Ridge Trail, an old favorite that has been a staple of mountain biking at Bear Brook for as long as I've lived in New England. If finishes down another staircase, this one built out of large logs. I remember racing here years ago, the first year this staircase was built to fix a serious erosion problem. I didn't dare ride it as a sport class rider. There was a sizable crowd of spectators there to watch the carnage. I got booed for running down it. I would have gotten cheered attempting to ride it and having a yard sale. People are sick, aren't they? Today I was well off the front of our gang and I rode these steps. Then I pulled out the camera to see if I could capture some carnage. I'm as sick as the next guy.

Nearly everybody rode it flawlessly. I heckled one rider cyclocross style for not riding it (sorry Beth). Nobody biffed. Amazingly, Dave did not hesitate with his fixie. How he does it is beyond me. I level the pedals and drag ass on rear wheel. He can't. He has to pedal all the way down, and he has no way to sync his pedals to the logs. They either hit or they don't.

When we got back to the parking lot, it was nearly full. Not sure how many came out for the Boogie today, but I bet a couple hundred. The pulled pork BBQ afterwards was supremely tasty. Sunny, about 60F now, what more could you ask for?

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Chocorua Hike by Pictures

The weather was much more conducive for hiking today than it was for cycling yesterday. Three couples plus super dog Lucy converged at the base of Mount Chocorua for a multi-hour hike to the summit. This hike was going to be interesting for Dave and I after thoroughly tenderizing our legs for 6.5hrs on the bike the day before. Plan was to hike up Brook Trail and down Liberty Trail. Brook trail is a fairly strenuous climb, and in the final push to the summit, requires a fair amount of scrambling. This 3500ft summit is steeper than most at this altitude. It stands out alone, is completely bare, so a panoramic 360 degree view is offered for miles around.

About three-quarters of the way up I slipped and tweaked a knee. Never fails. Anytime I do stuff off the bike, something bad happens. The granite was wet in many places. I was simply standing on a wet, off-camber spot when a foot slipped out. It was the same sort of injury with the same knee when I slipped down a snow drift while mountain biking in Colorado this July. Nothing ibuprofen for a few days can't fix.

The temp was in the low 40's at the summit and the wind was howling. Taking pictures was tricky while bracing against the wind. We encountered no other hikers in the two hours it took to reach the summit, but there were over 100 people up there. They come up more popular trails from Rt 16.

Descents usually give me the most grief on hikes like these. I tend to be an ankle roller. Most of the path is non-stop baby head rocks. There's rarely a place to plant a foot level. Dave and Beth brought an extra set of poles along, and I think this helped. At least I didn't roll an ankle on this technical hike. We finished the 7.5mi round trip hike in just under 4 hours (excluding lunch break at the summit). Next up is the Bear Brook Boogie on Sunday. Any muscle fibers that escaped 10.5hrs of aerobic activity over the last two days will not escape the Boogie unscathed.

Lucy, Dave and Beth on Brook Trail

Gina and Steve below summit

Cathy and Doug (with alien antennas) at summit

Looking north from summit

Looking south from summit

Beth scrambling almost overhead

Steve and Dave on a ledge on Liberty Trail

Cathy and Gina catching sun on a very steep slope on Liberty Trail looking up at summit area