Friday, February 27, 2009

Sugarloaf Pickle

I've just put myself in a pickle. I signed up for the Sugarloaf 50km Marathon. So what's the deal, you may ask? I've skied about three times in the last two weeks. Work demands will make it pretty much impossible to get midweek skis in before the race. Thus I might go five weeks or more with just one ski workout per week into a very difficult race. As I commented on the Lake Placid Loppet, a three hour ski race is way harder than a three hour bike race. Imagine doing Battenkill on training only once per week. That would be far easier than doing a ski marathon on once per week training. The closest comparison I have for a 50k ski race is the Vermont 50 MTB race or the 62 mile Iron Cross race in PA. Sure, I maintain a nice aerobic base all year, but there is so much more to skiing than cardio.

So why did I sign up for it? I can't let this epic snow season slip away without doing another legitimate, punishing race. Locally, conditions have sucked for skiing for some time now. I have a season pass for Great Brook, but their trails have been better suited for studded tire mountain biking the last several weeks than skiing. They are probably closed for that matter. The tiny machine made track with Tuesday night crasheriums at Weston really cramps my style too. I'm not quite an age group contender in these things anyway, so I can treat Sugarloaf as a no pressure, low key event.

I should be ramping up the cycling volume by now. I have ramped up some, but I suspect full-on wheeled training won't start until very late this season, not until after I get back from Hawaii in mid April. I hope we can pull together another late April spring training camp down to Virgina. That would be a nice kick start. I got in about 15-20 hours in four days last year doing this. Either way, I feel pretty good about my fitness on the bike right now, and I should be good to go for some rides of legendary status in a month on the islands.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Beanbender for Breakfast

Work has been maddening lately. Major deadlines are coming up the next two weeks, one of them having me in DC for a couple days. So how does one deal with all this stress? Head to the mountains and ski! Yep, I went up to Waterville early this morning, hoping my absence to go unnoticed. I'll be working more than enough hours this week to make up the few I missed anyway.

The valley has gotten something like 30" of new snow in the last several days. I feared that since it took until today to finish grooming, I might encounter soft conditions. On top of that, it was wicked cold, in the single digits when I got there. This is the end of February folks. We supposed to be skiing on sugar granular in T-shirts by now. No such luck this morning. Conditions were painfully slow. The grooming was perfect, but poles would punch through in many places due to softness underneath a top layer that set up.

I had limited time. I planned to ski no more than two hours, so I could go out quite a bit harder than usual. I opted to head directly to the north end via the golf course and hit Beanbender first. Who needs a warm-up! The snow was noisy. It squealed under my skis like a kid peeling out in a '68 Camaro. I had to endure this racket the whole time I skied. Very demoralizing. I barely survived climbing Beanbender, slowing to less than 3mph on the steepest part. The descent down Snows was only slightly faster. The redeeming quality skiing this stuff this morning was zero wind, cobalt blue skies, and no people. It was still good to be out.

I try to ski a different route each time at WV. After cresting Snows, I descended all the way to the bottom of Snows, turned around, then climbed back up Snows to summit of Cascade Brook Trail. The descent down Cascade was quite sweet actually, with such slow snow there was no need to scrub off speed.

For my third and final hillclimb interval, I went over to Tripoli. Now this bugger must have been groomed just once since the last snow dump, and it was wicked easy to punch skis through the surface. It was mushier than a fresh cow pie. The harder I worked at it, the slower I actually went. I pretty much had to soft pedal this baby all the way up. I wrapped up by taking Swans back. So that was 600, 700 and 800 footers for the major climbs, the last one taking about 26 minutes. Three climbs perfectly sized for intervals. The workout was good for 31.2km, 2650ft in 2:19hrs.

I had thought about hitting Weston Tuesday night instead of this morning's ski, but after hearing the reports I'm glad I didn't go. A few good skiers crashed out of the race, getting banged up in the process. I would have hopelessly flailed away in those conditions and not gotten the workout I sought. I was pretty trashed after this morning's workout. Trashed in a good way.

I haven't talked much about riding lately. Perhaps the only thing more boring than talking about ski workouts is talking about routine lunch training rides. I've been on the road bike going on three weeks now. After averaging just over 4hrs per week riding for the first 8 weeks of the year, I worried that I could lose too much cycling specific fitness. I'm not as worried anymore after some stellar 30+ mile solo efforts. The desire to suffer is still there. Still though, it seems Battenkill is coming up awfully quick. I'll be doing Battenkill right after spending 12 days in Hawaii this year, so I'm not expecting much. I typically need a week to ten days to recover from my vacations.

This weekend is setting up to be another Waterville/Otis double header. Plan is to ski Saturday, ride Sunday, best of both worlds! Anybody up for a three hour romp at Otis?

Saturday, February 21, 2009

WV/ToT Double Header

Haven't posted in a while, so quantity may override quality with this post. I've been able to dodge the viral bullet all winter until this week. I believe 60% of the office is sick this go around, and this is the second or third round this winter. Like usual, I loaded up on Airborne and Zinc lozenges at first hint of any suspicious sensations. Didn't work this time, but I must say this bug didn't slow me down much. I've been able to train right through it. I first suspected something coming on Wednesday night. By Saturday evening, I'm pretty near back to normal.

I had planned to do a 10k ski race today, but I felt that kind of intensity was not in my best interest right now. I opted for more endurance oriented activity. Having to roll with Mother Nature's punches, my off-Friday was a ski day, and today was bike day.

Trail of Tears Singlespeed Ride, Saturday Feb 21

Today was a pristine riding day, brilliantly sunny and seasonable temps. I went down to the Cape again, which escaped the most recent snow storm. My Massachusetts readers are probably wondering what snowstorm. We got only a few inches at our house on the state line, but up-state New Hampshire got 12-18". More on that later. I packed my singlespeed, feeling the need for some muscular flagellation. I'm still getting all the cardio flagellation I need on skis right now. Seeing how crowded Otis was last Sunday, I opted for Trail of Tears (ToT) in West Barnstable this time.

Starting out from Exit 5 on Rt 6, my legs were in a funk. The combination of skiing yesterday and remnants of a virus were behind this. But like last week, it was so nice riding in the woods that I quickly "forgot" what state my legs were in.

I'm still trying to figure out the best Hill Junkie worthy loop at ToT. Each time I go there, I have intentions of following a certain route, and each time I bungle it up. There are about four times as many trails there as what shows on the map. Nothing on the ground is marked. So when you get to a multi-way junction, do you take the first, second or third right? It's trial and error, and in one case today, I just gave up in frustration. Getting frustrated over following a plan is not worth tarnishing an otherwise perfect ride. It is better to just ride the friggin bike. All of the trails there are good.

My ride there takes me to some trails that are "off the map," if you know what I mean. These are in Sandwich. Not sure what the land status is there. I assume it is conservation land of some sort. The throttle set seem to rule that side, but the singletrack there is actually narrower, less refined, and way hillier. Singlespeeders will meet their match on a few of the climbs. I was forced off my bike several times. The descents will fulfill adrenaline needs. The trail bikes have made nice berms where berms have value.

Coming back into the West Barnstable side where the ToT loop lies, I attempted to follow the 16mi mountain bike loop. I eventually gave up and just rode stuff that took me in directions where I hadn't ridden yet. I missed no more than three miles of my planned route after looking at GPS data at home. No biggie at all. Next time I go there I'll be one step closer to getting it right. Plan is to have a 30 mile loop that doesn't revisit itself and takes 3hrs to complete. Today I rode 30 miles, 3230ft vertical in just over 3 hours, including a couple miles of pavement cool-down at the end to bask in my endorphin haze. A fabulous ride, probably excellent training value. I had way too much fun to even notice if any "training" was going on. Are your rides like this? Many of mine are.

WV Skate Ski, Friday Feb 20

Burried skis on Tripoli

Thursday night dumped a lot of snow on most of northern New England. I really had no idea how much fell in the mountains, leaving before Waterville Valley updated their website. I do know it took forever to get there. First, I waited 12 minutes to get a Starbucks. It seems Starbucks has been trimming their staff. Apparently their customers are quite loyal to wait in very long lines. With sufficient caffeine for the haul north, I quickly got bogged down. On the radio I heard there was a school bus accident on 93N in Concord. That was gone when I got there, but not the backed up traffic. The highway was slick. Then another slow down. No flashers yet. On left side of highway was mangled guardrail. Then up the road, the right side was damaged. Could same car have hit both sides? Yep. An SUV managed to destroy two guardrails AND have enough momentum to flip over the second guardrail and land in a crumpled heap in a gully. What, 80mph maybe? It was ICE! What do people think? Must have wanted first powder tracks really bad. He (or she) found them... in the bottom of a gully. I know, I didn't see what happened, but these kinds of things seem to disproportionately happen to SUVs. Perhaps ice triggered governors should be mandated for SUVs since drivers develop a false sense of security driving them in adverse conditions. If coffee and traffic lines weren't enough, I had one more line to wait in before getting to WV. It seems the drive north was taking so long that everybody had to stop at Exit 24 to pee. I waited in another line to use the restroom. Enough rant.

First tracks at summit of Tripoli

Eventually I reach the valley. It certainly was winter wonderland there. Was still snowing too. I was dismayed to see half of the trails weren't groomed. Being sick, I was taking it easy and headed out Swan's Way. This is a main thoroughfare, was groomed nicely, but nothing but mush. Skis and poles would punch through. They claimed 18" of snow fell during the storm. It was probably more like 12", but either way, anything that was groomed that morning had not set up yet and was unpleasant to skate. It was clearly a classic ski day.

When I got to Tripoli Rd, my favorite climb, I saw it was not groomed either. There was at least 4" of new snow on it at the bottom, more at the top. I gave it a whirl anyway. It actually skated better than the groomed stuff, as the skis stayed under the powder and on the firm surface below. There was more moisture in the snow down there too, as glide seemed much better than the groomed corduroy. It was not fast though. My skis would disappear under the snow each glide, then I'd have to pick them up high enough to not catch. The snow was quite powdery, so it was not overly difficult. It took me about 30 minutes to climb, a new PR-1 (my geeky friends will get it).

There was a huge payback for climbing this 800ft ungroomed monster. It was the descent. Nobody had been up here yet, so it was just my tracks. Alpine skiers know how nice fresh powder is. It's not any different for skate skiers. My skis stayed completely submersed in the powder during the descent with my boots kicking up a plume of powder around my shins. Nary a whisper of sound was made. It was the quietest, smoothest descent I ever experienced on XC skis.

I went on to U. Osceola next. It too was ungroomed and must have last been groomed even earlier in the day Thursday, as it was even deeper. I was the only one making tracks here too. With all the classic skiers I saw out there, they were missing the best stuff by staying on the groomed trails.

I hit Cascade Brook trail next. It was groomed and not as mushy as some of the other groomed trails. There was no way I was going up Beanbender, so it was U. Snows then down Beanbender. Even though Beanbender was groomed out very wide, I still don't quite dare tele-ski on my skate skis. Not that I know how to tele-ski anyway. Cutting across the golf course at the bottom, I finished up with a lap around Criterion. It too had a segment that was not yet groomed. I guess the Piston Bully was out on the trails trying to catch up while I skied. I finished with 34.2km, 967m vert (3171ft), in 2:52hrs skiing time. That's probably my slowest average this season, but having not skied all week, it was still good to get out.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Otis Rocks!

I thought it would be difficult to top a supremely satisfying day at Waterville yesterday. I think I achieved a tie. After reading NEMBA reports that Otis was free of snow, I just had to get down there. This was a pattern I enjoyed most of last winter - ski in the Whites on Saturday, ride trails on the Cape on Sunday. But this winter didn't leave the Cape unscathed. Only after the 60F temps this week, did the last of the snow melt.

When I got to the Otis parking area along Rt 151, I was shocked. Parking space was at a premium. As I unloaded my bike, a hiker that had just come out of the woods rhetorically asked "is this a mountain biking mecca or what?" He was not one of the hostile hiker types. He got it. Then a couple guys pulled up behind me. They quipped there must be race going on today. It was that crazy. I think anybody that has touched tires to dirt from New England was there.

Not having ridden dirt for two months, I couldn't get my shoes on quick enough. I brought my Ti hardtail, which was still covered in Ozarks dust from my short trip to Arkansas. I hadn't touched that bike since uncrating it.

The trails were in superb shape. Maybe frozen in a couple spots, but hard, dry and fast. There were a couple minuscule icy patches. I went solo, as I always have trouble recruiting other New Hampshirites to make the haul down there. The time commitment really isn't any greater than skiing in the Whites. I ran into Rich Brown and posse at the top of Deer Horn Hill.

I did about three loops, starting out with that wonderful piece along Rt 28. Second and third loops took me further in. One of them had me follow the rails, then that trialsy trail. I don't clean too much on that one. It was so good to be back on dirt that I completely forgot how trashed I was from skiing three hours the day before. I finished the ride with 22.2 miles in 2:32hrs riding time. Interestingly, I averaged higher speed while climbing more vertical on skis yesterday.

Back home, my endorphin buzz was quickly snuffed out. I showered, was eating with my wife and son when Cathy says "what's that noise coming from the basement?" I open the door and hear what sounds like a large waterfall. I run down, and an open drain that the water softener drains into was spewing water. The washing machine was in a rinse cycle. The water softener goes into the same drain as the washing machine. I figured maybe soap scum plugged it up. I go back to finish my chili, then unscrewed a clean-out cover just below the plug, or so I thought. The pressure was so great it blew the cap out of my hands, and I took a brown shower. There was bits of corn in it even. There's only one way that could have gotten there...

I then went to the garage, unscrewed a 4" cap to main house line, thinking that will surely be open. Nope, spewed volumes more nasty substance into the garage. This time it was even chunkier. I could see all the way down that pipe to the far side of the house. Now I was worried, as there was only one more cleanout just before exiting the foundation to the septic system. To Lowes I went to get a snake.

I was now weary of taking clean-out covers off. The one at the foundation was much lower and probably had about 50 gallons of water behind it. I partially unscrewed it and filled 5 gallon bucket after bucket at a trickle pace. Eventually the water stopped. I pulled the cap and started feeding the snake in. The septic tank is about 12ft from the house. About 10ft in, the snake stopped hard. I could not get it through. I thought maybe ice. But then it went through. I fed it in about 25ft until I could tell I was hitting concrete, probably the far wall of the septic tank. I came back out to work on the obstructed area. There was definitely something there. After working back and forth through it for a long time, I figured I had it cleared, yet the water refused to go through. Now I was worried big time, thinking maybe my drain field was plugged. To bring heavy equipment out this time of year for new drain field would cost 10's of thousands. To add insult to injury, my son forgot I had all the inspection caps off and flushed a toilet upstairs. I went ballistic. Like the basement wasn't flooded with enough greasy corn laden residue already.

Aaron did have a good idea though. I had a solid oak hand railing that was about 16ft long. That stuff cost about $10/ft, but I was desperate. Aaron suggested using that to ram the obstructed area as last ditch effort. Sure enough, I could not get it through at first. The point on the snake is like a deer arrow head, a pretty small cross section. The railing though was about 2.5" in diameter. Eventually I pounded it through. With a hose, I got water to go through. I could then see down the pipe. There appears to be some kind of intrusion into the pipe about 8-12ft away from the foundation, like a rusty spike or something poking in. I guess over time enough stuff got stuck on that and plugged 'er up. I was relieved the septic system was still fine. Now we had a huge mess to clean up. The basement and garage smell unbelievably bad. So do I, after scrubbing in the shower. Maybe people will stay out of my office tomorrow.

All in all, a small damper on an otherwise out of this world weekend. There's some speculation that a big storm could be brewing for later this week. I just hope it doesn't take Otis back out of the picture.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

WV Perimeter Sweep

I remained a tad skeptical heading up to Waterville Valley today. After warm temps and heavy rain earlier this week, most areas were pretty much turned into hockey ice. Reports from the Valley begged to differ, so Dave Penney and I headed up. Conditions were either going to be a frozen granular nightmare or a speedfest not to be missed.

It was in the teens starting out. The wind was kicking up something fierce too. The brilliant sun and cloudless skies helped make up for it. Our goal for the day was to ski a complete perimeter loop, hitting all of the high points along the way. This was not going to be a hammerski session, but more of an endurance/tempo paced workout. I figured it would take about 3.5hrs.

We started by heading up Jennings Peak from the Nordic Center. The trail surface was quite hard and scratchy but nicely edgeable. And it was fast! Finally we got some transformed snow to zing around on. Prospects were quite good both of us would complete a full perimeter sweep of the trails.

I brought my new cheapy movie camera with me, velcro strapped to the side of my head Borg style. Today I was capturing my first real footage, or should I say megabytes. I followed Dave down the Jennings switchbacks while recording. He’s still nursing a tweaked ankle and played it safe. Barely able to edge skis around the switchbacks got the heartrate going a few beats higher.

The Upper Fletchers and Criterion climbs were next. Everything was meticulously groomed. The granular surface offered twice the glide that I’ve become accustomed to this winter. You’d think that would make the climbs easier. No. You just go faster. We got to the golf course in well under an hour. This took 75 minutes the last time I was here when I worked a lot harder on sandpaper snow. I shot some more video across the golf course. In 1280x720p HD, it looks quite nice. You’d never know a $95 camera captured it.

The further north we got in the valley, the more tempered the granular surface became. The Swazeytown/Beanbender climb was a piece of cake compared to prior times. We bombed down Upper Snows to pick up Cascade Brook Trail, one of my favorites. I captured more video from the top back down to junction with Snow’s. I was amazed how big the H264 coded file sizes were when I got home, so only this 4 minute snipped is included here. Vimeo upload size was 147MB, but they basterdized the embeddable resolution almost as badly as Youtube does. I can play the original full-screen and not see pixels. Note about 18sec in, Dave almost bit it, thus the victory salute.

Cascade Brook Trail from D. Jansen on Vimeo.

Heading down Livermore was delightfully fast, but the fierce headwind placed a speed governor on the steepest bits. We ran into Mike Seeger, the Nordic Center director, at the bottom of Osceola. He intercepted a mountain biker coming over from the other side of Thornton Gap, perhaps with intentions of bombing down the groomed side of Tripoli Road. I’m thinking to myself “how cool!” Mike told the guy he wasn’t interested in him messing up the ski trails.

The north side of the north end got a light dusting of snow that was tilled in with the granular. It had superb surface texture. Skogs would have been so enamored by conditions on Moose Run/Wicked Easy, he would have skied that all day and forgot the rest. We talked with a couple CSU guys from the Westborough area there. My camera seemed to be quite the conversation piece.

Continuing on our perimeter mission, the Upper Osceola out and back was next. Dave was assimilated next by donning the Borg contraption. I went down first but skied out of camera range a little too quickly.

The beastly Tripoli Road out and back climb was next. With such good glide, you really had the luxury to “soft pedal” up this one with legs going a little limp. It was straight into the wind up top. With a nice sugary granular surface and tailwind, 30mph (50kph) should easily be achievable on the descent if you dare. I believe this was the first time I broke 30mph on this descent. A more skilled or more reckless skier could potentially break 40mph in these conditions. Alpine skiers may not think any big deal of this, but keep in mind skate skiers have free heels, have zero shape to their flimsy skis, and have no edges. In other words, you have no brakes. Factor in that people are also coming up these narrow trails, it’s risky business carrying a boatload of speed. I’ve gone over 50mph before on alpine skis, and that is not nearly as scary as going 30mph on a XC ski trail.

To complete our perimeter sweep, we did the little Pipeline Trail blip, an often overlooked trail. Then it was Swan’s Way back to the Nordic center. Temp was in the 20’s finishing up with nary a cloud in the sky. It doesn’t get any more perfect than that. We finished with 44.3km, 1274m (4180ft) of climbing, in 2 hours, 55 minutes skiing time. It was one of my best ski days of the season.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Credit Spending

Last week I offered to offset unearned vertical for the gravity challenged set. I have not received any payments yet. So I plan to spend some of my credit in Hawaii. The premiere MTB ride on Maui is the Skyline/Mamane descent from the summit of Haleakala. One could conceivably climb from sea level to 10,000ft on pavement with their MTB in 36 miles to earn the ride. But that would likely take 4-5hrs, and we're on vacation after all. I have enough credit (upwards of 80,000ft) to cover Steve and I for a shuttle assisted descent.

East Maui

On April 2 or 3, we plan to have our wives drop us off at the Haleakala summit. The summit area is very nearly barren, martian in appearance. Off the back side, away from all the normal tourists, weaves a ribbon of trail between cinder cones. Very little pedaling is required. In fact, the lava rock can be frightening loose at speed along much of the descent. If we start late in the morning, the daily cloud cover should already be developed below us. It is a quite spectacular sensation to descend from brilliant, crisp air through clouds, maybe some rain, later to pop out from under the clouds in humid, tropical air. I think we pass through five climatic zones on the way down.

Skyline Tr, Mamane Tr, Waipoli Rd

Skyline Trail follows the spine of Haleakala. Mamane trail, a newer singletrack built for mountain biking, cuts down at a much steeper grade to Polipoli State Park. From there a gravel road through redwood forest skirts along the mid flanks of Haleakala in the clouds. Eventually, a one-lane paved road averaging 12% grade with over 20 switchbacks drops us another few thousand feet. Several more miles of single lane roads are take at gentle grades back to Kahului at sea level. 10,000ft plummet in about 32 miles on mountain bikes. Guilt free by using accumulated vertical credits. Life doesn't get any better than that.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Battenkill vs. Lake Placid

Having done both the Battenkill road race and the Lake Placid Loppet multiple times now, I thought comparing them might be interesting. They both entail similar amounts of climbing, around 4000ft. Masters winning times between the two events are comparable, around 2.5hrs. Battenkill covers 55 miles of dirt and paved roads while Lake Placid covers 31 miles on snow. So one would think the suffer factor should be nearly equal between these two events, right? Not even close.

In a ski race like Lake Placid, there is no sitting in. There are only fleeting instances where you might derive some draft benefit. It is pretty much a 2.5-3hr individual time-trial. Battenkill on the other hand, has lengthy flat, open sections where one can reduce their workload sitting in the pack by 40%. Sure, it's each man for himself on the climbs, but more than half the race you have the option to reduce your effort to conversation pace. No such deal skiing.

Skiing is weight bearing, riding is weight supported. Any weight bearing activity automatically drives up your heart rate. More muscle mass is activated to keep your balance. On the bike, coasting really doesn't require any energy expenditure beyond base metabolic rate. I have coasted down long hills on the bike an saw my HR drop into the 50's. I'm lucky if I can see below 110bpm gliding down a long hill on skis.

XC skiing brings all of your major muscle groups into play at once - legs, core, upper body and arms. This places huge demand on your cardio system. While cycling utilizes your biggest muscle groups, a relatively few muscles are used.

When you add all this up, you can hold a much higher HR over three hours skiing than you can three hours cycling. Does HR matter? Not really. Skiing is a sure fire way to achieve maximum endorphin buzz. You will feel it's sedating effects for days afterwards. No expensive controlled substances needed. A fix you can get in 5-6hrs riding can be had in just 3hrs skiing. I used to call XC skiing cross-training. Not anymore. It's all part of the package deal of doing active things you enjoy. It has been quipped that cross-training is for people who hate bicycles. Heading out to one of the many mountain XC ski centers for a three hour ski is really no different than heading over to your favorite riding trails. No cars, few people, lots of challenging terrain, and the sense of being fully satiated when you're done. Skiing is much simpler, really, even than riding a singlespeed. There are very few moving parts to skis. It's just you and Mother Nature. There's been way too much whining lately about the severity of this winter, trainers suck, salt ate my bicycle type crap. Do something that doesn't suck. Take advantage of an epic winter. I may start whining when spring arrives and I can't ski anymore. I don't hate my bicycle either.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Lake Placid Loppet

Well boys and girls, the Lake Placid Loppet ain't no Weston sprint race. I had serious reservations about going back after being physically and emotionally crushed by this event in 2004. It was my first ski race, and frankly, I had no business being there. I not only finished DFL in my category back then, I was nearly DFL for all categories. I signed up for the 50km race this year, hoping to show an improvement over five years ago. Brett Rutledge came up with his family. He opted for the 25km freestyle (skate technique) race this time. At least we wouldn't be going head to head.

I didn't really have a goal, as I'm not very results oriented. Remember, the process of staying fit and learning new skills is an ends in itself for me. Brett is more results oriented. He really wanted to break 1:30 for the 25k and finish on the podium. Given decent conditions, I had no doubt he'd break 1:30. Brett gave me a goal too. He said I should shoot for 3:10 in the 50k. Like you can really plan that out. I was going to start no harder than my long Waterville Valley training sessions and let the chips fall where they may.

The forecast was funky. Bitter cold overnight with lows near 0F, then rising rapidly in the morning to high 30's with rain in the afternoon. How do you dress and wax for that? Pretty nutty stuff. It was already in single digits when I got to my motel last night. At 8am when I went to grab a coffee, it was +2F. I did not stress over this race and slept well in fact. But now I was starting to freak. 50km on sandpaper snow? When I left for the venue at 9am, the temp had risen to a whopping +7F at the motel in Lake Placid. When I got out of my car at the Van Hoevenberg Sports Complex five minutes away, it felt mild. That's strange. Apparently the air aloft was much warmer. The sports complex sits a lot higher than Lake Placid. Brett said it was +20F already. Maybe my wax would be ok after all. Than I ran into Charlie Casey, a formidable hill climber on the bike, who measured the snow temperature. Just under the surface it was below zero. Hmmm...

The 50k and 25k freestyle skiers went off at 10am and 10:15. I did negligible warmup. I was not going to start hard enough to need a big warmup, unlike Weston. I placed myself in third row with 10-15 people per row (the Olympic stadium is very wide). I thought I was the only Fred in the group with a Camelbak until I spotted a kid in the front row with one too. Just two of us out of upwards of 60 guys lined up. The gun goes off and the frenzy begins. I surmise that anybody attempting the 50k at Lake Placid is pretty good (unlike me in 2004). There was no tripping on poles as we funneled into the first bottleneck. Most of the trails here are very wide.

The course immediately begins climbing. You do a wall, loose 2/3 of it. Repeat often. Eventually you hit the high point of the course and the reverse order occurs. You drop a wall, climb 2/3 of it. There is no hiding in the pack here. The climbs are heinously steep and this splits things up very quickly. Unfortunately, some of the descents are just as steep with very sharp right-angle turns at the bottom. This is the Lake Placid trademark. The course quickly gets rutted and bermed up. First lap isn't too bad. After hundreds of skiers have been through, it is rough second time around for us 50k skiers. We do the 25km course twice.

With frequent snow this year, the course was in mint condition. There was zero ice. Just perfect corduroy to start. The glide was maybe a tad slow to start, but as the temps continued to rise, my skies kept getting faster. There was no sandpaper snow as I feared. In fact, these were the best conditions of any ski marathon I've done. Ideal.

I passed about 9-10 skiers in the first 10k of the race. I never felt held up, and in fact, it maybe was a good thing I started in third row to keep me from going out too hard. Maybe I started a little too slow, but at least passing somebody every kilometer makes you feel good about yourself, even if they are slow. There were spectators around the course. Russian Hill seemed so easy that I had to ask somebody as I crested it if it was Russian Hill. Beanbender at Waterville is way harder than Russian Hill, yet Russian Hill has a huge reputation of being a mean monster.

The course comes through the stadium at the 15km mark the opposite way we started, then goes out the other side for another 10km of rolling hills before completing a 25km lap at the stadium. At 20km, I felt really good. I saw no one in front of me, nobody in back. I was in my own little endorphin time-trial world feeling good about myself. When I came through the stadium again to begin my second lap at 25km into the race, I didn't feel so good. At least none of the 25km skiers staged 15 minutes behind me passed me. This means I must have had a good first 25k. They only have 25k to do, so that means they get to kill themselves and go a lot faster than us 50k racers should go. Our race doesn't really start until the 25k mark.

Carrying about 50oz of Gatorade with me, I was not taking any water from feed stops every 5k on the course. The only way I passed some guys was because they kept stopping to take feeds. Sure, the added weight slows me down too, and this can be a far bigger penalty on skis than a bike. Rolling resistance is negligible on a bike compared to sliding resistance on skis. But I knew what I was drinking. I took Gu feeds at the 15k, 25k and 35k stops without actually stopping. They had the tops ripped off already.

Going into the hill section on lap two, my legs started to tremble on the really steep bits. I felt my speed dropping by the minute. I kept looking over my shoulder. Nobody. Then I see another rabbit ahead, pass him, then nobody front or back. Several of the descents are so hairy they have spotters there with radios. Injuries are common. Brett fractured his ankle in 2004. In the first lap, twice I narrowly avoid skiers that went down right in front of me at high speed. I went over 30mph on some of the descents. On my second lap, I wasn't nearly as nimble. On one drop, I got a little too far back on my skies, startly flailing violently trying to get them back under me like a cartoon character, only to land on my ass anyway. I was over a lip in a blind spot and thought for sure the skier I just passed would cream me. It was so steep I had trouble getting up. Bummed me out, as the race had gone perfectly until that point. I lost no more than 15sec, so no biggie.

After getting over Russian Hill the second time, I started to bonk. This was one of those bonks that comes on so fast that you hallucinate. Perhaps I did not eat enough Gu's. I felt so awful, that I not only lost my will to race, I lost my will to live. Put a bullet in me now. The 10-15k I still had to go seemed insurmountable.

Race started at about the 2.5km mark (warmup). HR did not work right first 5k or so. GPS's tend to undermeasure distance over tight, winding courses.

As I approached the stadium around the 40km mark, a skier I had passed much earlier flew by me. I really suck at descents. This bothered me. Brett was now spectating at the finish and told me he won his race category. Now I had to get this pesky guy that just passed me. Nobody had passed me until now. He quickly put 100m on me by double poling in the tracks. They looked pretty icy. The temp had risen well above freezing now, so the the skate lane was getting just a tad tacky. I noticed my new nemesis floundered on the ups. I caught up to him. I knew there were some pretty big climbs in the last 10k, so I had to put good distance on him there. I was in no condition to sprint this one out, and I'd lose that battle anyway. I passed him on the next rise, then he dangled just seconds behind me. You know that saying "out of sight, out of mind?" I had to get out of this guy's sight. I killed my self trying. It's amazing how something stupid like this can shock you out of a hallucinogenic bonk state. The only deal was, I did shake him off my tail, but now I was having severe cramping spasms all around my upper thighs with 3km to go. I couldn't do squat on the hills. I was quite certain I endured these minutes of unspeakable pain for naught. Finally I hear the stadium announcer and figured I was safe for whatever silly position we were going for. I finished in 3:06:32 with 30 seconds margin to my nemesis, who happened to be in a different age group. That was good for 4th place in the 45-49 men, 18th place overall men and woman 50k freestyle. I got girled by one woman. Barometric altimeter said there was over 4000ft of climbing in the course. [Results]

This was my best ski marathon to date. I took 42 minutes off my time from 2004! I hit everything right in this race. I have the right skis now, I lucked out with the right wax for such a funky temperature range, I dressed very light and it was just right, I fueled correctly before and during the race (maybe another Gu might've helped). The only bobble was crashing myself in lap two. I don't have exact lap times, as I buried my Garmin in my Camelbak and they didn't have a visible clock at the start/finish for racers to see. Best I can tell from the data, my splits were about 1:30 for the first lap and 1:36 for the second. Looking at the HR/Elevation plot, you can see where I faded fast at 40km. Then I get passed, became motivated to do something about it. HR stayed nice and high for the rest of the race. Brett kicked butt in the 25k race, winning the 45-49 age group by two minutes. Nicely done.

Not sure I'll do another 50k this season. I may do the 10k TT at Dartmouth in two weeks. Mostly kids will be there, but a few of us old farts might crash their party. Still plan to do the Ski to the Clouds race at Mt Washington in March. And of course, I may hit another Weston race or two. It's about time to start riding again.

I'll leave you with a photo from the drive home. I found a new way to Lake Placid that is much quicker. It goes over Rochester and Middlebury Gaps, part of the 6-Gaps of Vermont ride. The mountains are every bit as beautiful in the winter as they are in the summer. You see a lot more without the tree cover. The drive over on Friday was especially nice with at least 100 mile visibility.

Top of Rochester Gap, looking east

Friday, February 6, 2009

Vertical Credits

You've all heard of carbon credits. Anything global warming these days seems to be all the rage. I view these concepts with a healthy dose of suspicion. Global warming is rife with global fleecing in my opinion. But the Hill Junkie blog avoids going into geo-political rants.

Some of you may be familiar with the medieval period of Christianity where indulgences were paid. In short, the clergy accumulated excess of good works. For a fee, you could have your misdeeds wiped clean by buying some of the clergy's excess. There are many similarities in the rising carbon credits system. Essentially you can buy a right to pollute, or at least if you are a polluter, buy credits that somehow magically diminish your carbon footprint. In a sense, you can appease your conscience and improve your image in the global community. Same with sinners in the midieval times.

I would like to propose a another system of credits. It will be called Vertical Credits. You see, there are a lot of cyclists out there, mostly of the off-road sort, that frequent lift assisted establishments. Lots of vertical is taken (misdeeds) without earning it by powering one's self to the top (good works). Well, Hill Junkie has accumulated an excess of earned vertical over the years. Mt Washington and Mt Equinox have put a lot of earned vertical in the bank. Cyclists are not allowed to ride their bikes back down these mountains. The two together accumulate about 13,000ft per year of vertical credits (including Washington practice climb). I figure I have about 80,000ft of credit. So how about all you gravity junkies out there. Does your conscience bother you? For only $1 per 100ft paid to Hill Junkie, you can erase your misdeeds. You will feel much better about yourself again. I will continue to ride up mountains so that you can continue in your sinful ways. Just keep the cash flowing.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Nipple to Nipple Ride

I've mountain biked around and TT'd up the paved summit road in the Uncanoonucs many times. The Uncanoonucs are a pair of mountains that overlook Manchester, NH. If you've flown in or out of our airport, you've probably seen them. Supposedly, the name Uncanoonuc was given by the Indians. It translates to "woman's breasts" [1]. Searching around the web for an authoritative reference, I learned mountains all around the world are named after body parts. The Grand Tetons are another similar example. Looking at the Google Earth image, you can see what the Indians were onto.

The Uncanoonucs. Note Summit Rd on the right peak.

I've been kicking around riding ideas for my upcoming Hawaiian trip. It turns out there is another similar geological formation there that resembles the Uncanoonucs. The native Hawaiians have another story for this. On the big island, there are two major volcanic peaks that define the island. From the sea floor, they are the biggest mountains in the world, over 30,000ft tall. Mauna Kea to the north, peaks about 13,800ft above sea level. It is snow capped several months out of the year and has been dormant for a long time. Mauna Loa to the south, peaks about 13,700ft above sea level. It has been active for centuries, often violently. The native Hawaiians believed the god of snow lived on Mauna Kea, the god of fire on Mauna Loa. The saddle between the two was the battle ground between gods of fire and ice. They dared not travel through there. Strangely, to this day, most big island car rental companies prohibit their cars being driven on Saddle Rd. Reasons vary. Some have to do with poor visibility on the wet side of the island. Others are poor road condition (it was originally built as one-lane US military road). But where tourists are not allowed to go makes for great cycling opportunities.

Mauna Loa (left) and Mauna Kea (right). Fire and Ice. These gals are about 14 times bigger than the Unc's.

I've concluded I will not be bringing my own bike to the islands this time. It is very expensive and I would used it for only a couple of the many rides I plan to do. Mountain bikes or tandems will be used for much of the riding. Since I cannot rent a road bike that goes less than 1:1 gearing for climbing Mauna Kea from sea level, I plan to do a "Nipple to Nipple" ride with more unpaved content instead. I don't think this has ever been done. In fact, I cannot find any reports that anyone has ridden to the summit of Mauna Loa. There is an unmaintained 4WD road to the summit, but I read that even 4WD's get stuck in it because it is loose lava rock all the way down. How bikeable it is will remain a mystery until I get there. I've found riding on Mt Saint Helens in loose pumice can by dicy but richly enjoyable.

The plan is to park at the visitor center part way up Mauna Kea, bomb down to the saddle cleavage, then begin the long climb up Mauna Loa. It is 26 miles saddle to summit, all up, gaining over 7000ft. The first 17 miles are marginally paved, the rest TBD rideable. After completing this climb that could take a few hours, it will be bomb down time (once back on pavement), then climb 3000ft back to my car to refuel. From car, it is another 4000+ feet to summit, including 5 miles of loose cinder gravel at 12-14% grade. The day's total will be nearly 15,000ft in 82 miles, all of it above 6500ft. I've summited Mauna Kea before from sea level. The god of fire, Mauna Loa, will be all new. Apparently the massive crater at the top is quite something to see. Just hope the god of ice doesn't curse me with hypothermia coming over from the warm side.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Coming to a Blog Near You

I sauntered into Circuit City the other day as they are on their death spiral to extinction. I've been looking at movie cameras lately. I had trouble deciding whether to get something cheap or get something that I'd use for a while. Well, Circuit City had the low-end Aiptek high-definition unit for only $95. I bought it on impulse with absolutely zero research into this brand. That is very unlike me. It was the last one they had.

$4 of elastic and velcro plus piece of aluminum I had laying around.

Initial assessment is the thing has poor sensitivity and dynamic range. Indoor shooting was weak. No surprise for $95. It basically uses a pinhole lens. The next day I took it outside in bright daylight. It actually came through with some pretty clear images in 1280x720 mode. Fills memory fast. I bought a 8GB SDHC memory card at Best Buy (using a gift card I still had) for $24.95. This is good for several hours of HD recording. Of course, I could never upload a gigabytes snippet to Vimeo. At least the unit uses H.264 compression to help with file size yet maintains decent balance with picture quality.

I built a couple mounts for the camera. One is an elastic strap with velcro closure for skiing. The 2" wide strap should keep the camera stable for skate technique. Don't look for any Weston race videos. Not nearly enough light for this inexpensive gadget. Bombing down Jennings or Cascade at Waterville Valley, good bet.

Scrap piece of aluminum, hole drilled into it, silicon adhesive for helmet attach. Permanent camera tripod mount dedicated to this old helmet.

The other mount is helmet. I hope to be the first to capture video descending Skyline Trail on the back side of Haleakala, Mauna Kea, and the rugged 4WD descent from summit of Mauna Loa on the Hawaiian islands. I may have to shim the shooting angle a little when I have some time to try it with various riding positions.

This camera is not as compact as the Pure Flip Cam, but it is very light, has a much larger, rotatable in any direction viewing screen, and uses LiIon rechargeable battery. It also has standard camera tripod screw hole on the bottom so I can easily bolt it to whatever mount I want with 1/4-20 screw. Haven't installed the software that came with it yet, but I'm sure it's cheesy. I have no intentions of sinking much time into this. Blogging a few times per week already is a big enough time sink.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Mt Washington Fill Times

Looks like the Tour of the Battenkill road race has now become more popular than Mt Washington in terms of how quickly fields fill. A couple years ago, Mt Washington filled 600 spots in about 18 minutes. This brought the server to its knees and many people got hung up and shut out. Perhaps there were some server upgrades. Last year went smoothly. I believe the race still filled in less than 30 minutes.

Enter current economic mess and Mt Washington price increase. Could that put a damper on enthusiasm for this event? Apparently so. Nearly 40hrs after general registration opened, the race still has not filled with three spots left. Perhaps $46/mile is a bit much for some folks to handle when they are worried about their jobs, or in some cases I know, are looking for a job. Mt Washington competitors aren't exactly the type to go around with pledge forms to raise their entry fee through donations either. Mt Washington just doesn't fit the mold of MS charity rides.

I hadn't planned on doing the August race. There are other things on the bike racing calender that look enticing, and I thought it was time for something a little different on this weekend in August. One event that starts very early the morning after the Mt Washington race is the Hampshire 100k mountain bike race. I even signed up for it one year, the year that Mt Washington was cancelled, and I still ended up not doing the MTB race anyway since I was in such a sour mood.

I expected Mt Washington to fill by the end of yesterday, but when I got into work today, there were still 50 spots available. Made me think. Tormented me actually. I learned a couple other friends on the fence about doing it this year jumped in. A nemesis on Mt Equinox, Mark Luzio, signed up too, first time ever I think for Mt Washington. So I relented and did the deed today. I signed up. I hope Mary lets Mark into the Top Notch field so we can kill each other on the way up. If Ned Overend doesn't show up, Mark could take the top podium spot in his age group.

Speaking of mountain bike racing, I got my USA Cycling license today. I have two upgrades on it. Last year I upgraded to Cat 3 road but hadn't considered cyclocross since it is not one of my primary disciplines. But later I learned some masters fields are Cat 1/2/3 only. While my CX technical skills are pretty weak, I feel I can still be competitive in a masters field. I handily won a Cat 4 CX race I did last fall. So I petitioned for upgrade to Cat 3, which I think can be granted on the basis I'm Cat 3 road alone.

While I was petitioning for upgrades, I worked the off-road side of things too. USAC went to a new category system in 2009, Pro/1/2/3 instead of Pro/Semi-pro/expert/sport/novice. When I last raced NORBA back in 2000, I was still a sport rider. That meant I would transfer over to Cat 2 in new system. But I raced many years as Expert in EFTA series after that. So I requested upgrade to Cat 1 for Endurance/XC, as the license says. My plans are to do a mix of EFTA and Root 66 races, VT50, Tahoe 100, and maybe a couple others. This will obviously put a dent in number of regular road races I do this summer. Time will tell which way I gravitate more heavily towards.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Hudson Powerlines

When I first moved to New England nearly 12 years ago, one of the discriminators in buying the property we did in Pelham was proximity to trails. I used to ride the "Hudson Powerlines" 2-3 times per week around 1999. There were at least 40 miles of ATV trails and several 250-400ft climbs. The trail network has become somewhat fragmented now due to development. Several years ago police started cracking down on illegal ATV use too. The ATV guys created and maintained most of the trails, so even though much of their riding was illegal, folks on bikes benefited from it. NH state law differentiates between motorized and passive use of unposted private property. The first requires written permission, the second does not. Much of the Hudson Powerline trail network lies on private land in the towns of Hudson and Pelham. A few bits follow Class 6 town roads, other bits are now on conservation land after the towns sought to preserve the last undeveloped parcels.

Hudson Powerlines along left pass into Pelham in distance.

I ride these trails only a few times per year now. When I rode them regularly, I did not own a road bike. A local snowmobile club has permission to maintain winter use of a few corridors through this area. I drive under the Hudson Powerlines to and from work each day, so I can gauge snow machine traffic and prospects for rideability. There was limited traffic Saturday, but it got cold Saturday night, so I figured I'd give the trails a try. Many of the back roads still have ice on them anyway, so either I was riding studs on roads or studs on trails. Studs on road is no fun.

The trails were barely rideable. The surface was frozen, but not well compacted. It had a deep crunch factor. This made riding on the flats steady, hard work and climbing impossible on all but the easiest grades. I went from skiing 3mph at times yesterday to riding 3-5mph much of the time today. I went out nearly 2hrs, rode 13 miles, and I was cooked. Some day when I actually get to ride a road bike again, it will be so fast I'll get scared.

Merrill Hill, Bush Hill and Seavey Hill. X-axis is time. A lot of sub-5mph.

The snowmobile club now has most of the ice damage cleared up on their right of ways. There are many other trails not part of the snowmobile club's network and thus not maintained. I depended on one of those trails coming back down Seavey Hill to my house. Fallen trees blocked the way and the snowmobile tracks turned around. I wasn't going back up and over and way around, so I figured I'd just hike the last 0.3 miles to my neighborhood. Big mistake. I haven't post holed in a long time, and this post hole hike sucked. There was about an inch of crusty icy stuff on top that could not support body weight, but it certainly was tough enough to scrape shins and knee caps up. Not the nicest ride finale.

This comming week will be a taper week. There's a chance I may hit Weston Tuesday night if weather doesn't misbehave like some speculate it will. I have my first major endurance event of 2009 at Lake Placid on Saturday. The 50km skate race largely follows the 1980 Olympic course. I'm a little bit scared. This race punished my badly a few years ago. Bike hours will start going up after Lake Placid. Have to train for my up coming Hawaiian vacation, you know.