Friday, October 31, 2008
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
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.