Thursday, April 30, 2009

Clingman's Dome

Today the Great Smoky Mountains were just a little too smoky. After serious waffling on where to start the ride today, we opted to park at Soco Gap on the Blue Ridge Parkway (BRP) between Maggie Valley and Cherokee. Plan was to ride to the last mile marker of the BRP to begin the big climb up Clingman's Dome. We popped out on the parkway only to find three ranger trucks completely blocking the way. At first I thought cool, there will be no cars. But before we parked and kitted up, we asked what was up. Fire. I checked just a couple days ago and this area was clear. It's been dry down here, so many areas are burning. They were not going to let spandex clad freaks on that stretch of the BRP. The fire crews needed free use of the road. Major bummer. I did not have contingency ride plans for this area. That section of the BRP entailed about 5000ft of climbing out and back. I had no idea how to replace this. To further sour our mood, the skies looked threatening over the mountains. There was a 40% chance of rain today.

The rangers said we could still bike to summit of Clingman's Dome, but not via the parkway. We could park down in Cherokee and head up highway 441. We planned to ride much of 441 anyway. Brett and I figured if weather and legs held up, maybe we could do Clingman repeats (4600ft net gain, 5600ft climbing round trip).

Traffic in Cherokee sucked. It is Indian reservation territory with casinos. Go figure this would be in the middle of the Blue Ridge Mountains. But after a few miles, traffic thinned dramatically and our moods improved exponentially. After passing the blocked terminus of the BRP where we were supposed to come out, climbing got down to business.

Brett wanted to get an interval in on this climb, using his PowerTap for pacing. We weigh about the same, but I was carrying a little more gear. He motored at nearly 300W for the next 40 minutes. It felt pretty hard. The great scenery pulled thoughts away from the burning in the legs. From Cherokee, Hwy 441 gains 2700ft monotonically before climbing in an undulating fashion. As we climbed, the temperature dropped dramatically. Newfound Gap at 5000ft revealed that Clingman's Dome would be completely obscured by clouds. We were almost to cloud deck here and had 1600ft more to go.

18% path to Clingman's Dome. Gains hundreds of feet.

Taking left on Clingman's, rigorous climbing ensues for another 1000ft or so, then you get a reprieve in the form of a descent. Reprieves on climbs suck. You know you have to make that lost vertical up. We were holding a pace near 300W up much of Clingmans Dome access road too. I worried I would not only pay for all this threshold work later in this ride, but for the rest of the trip as well.

Brett approaching top of spiral ramp to viewing platform.

We reached the parking lot in 1:54hrs after rolling out of Cherokee, 26 miles of mostly climbing. The summit area was socked with clouds most of the time. Visibility could go from hundreds of feet to 50 feet in seconds. We weren't done yet, however. There's a paved path to the tower at the top. Brett attacked at the bottom of the path. When he relented, I continued. This sucker was about 18% grade and went on forever. Seated, my front wheel was coming up. Soon the spiral ramp to the viewing platform appears. It was nasty windy up here, and the railings were not very high. I had fears the wind would pitch me right over the side. This unique structure must gain another 100ft. I think I read somewhere this tower is 6800ft above sea level.

Another view of Clingman's Dome viewing platform. No view today.

Some trivia on Clingman's Dome. It is Tennessee high point. It is the highest point on the Appalachian Trail. It is the highest point in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. On this day, it was possibly the coldest spot in the state. It might have been 50F up here. It was 70's in Cherokee. I put arm warmers on with rain shell. After infusion of carbs, we bombed back down to Newfound Gap.

When we turned left up Clingman's at Newfound Gap, I suggested to Brett maybe we go down the other side to Gatlinburg, TN. It was only 15 miles. I had no idea of traffic, road condition, or how far it dropped. Brett said sure, let's do it. Weather was holding up so far.

This descent rocked. It is possibly the most sensational descent I've done in the Appalachian Mountains. Rugged cliffs all around, road straight below in places. There were tunnels. Then there was this 360 deal where the road looped around and tunneled under itself. How often do you get to do that, ripping at 40mph? This descent just kept going, 35-40+mph. I don't have my GPS data display set up to show descent, only ascent. I was trying to estimate in my head vertical drop. Let's see, 40mph without pedaling usually means about 8%. For 10 miles? That is a lot of vertical. As we approached Gatlinburg, there was a huge Great Smoky Mountains visitor center. We went in to get fluids. I asked of our altitude. About 1440ft. We parked at 2000ft. This meant we now had a 3600ft obstacle between us and car. My legs were pretty nearly cooked already from more than an hour of threshold effort.

Looking up Hwy 441 on the Gatlinburg side.

This side of Hwy 441 was more trafficy. Maybe most people that visit Clingman's Dome come up from this side. There were only a couple knuckleheads drivers though. The climb went well. With about 1000ft to go, I felt early cramping warnings. This was going to come out really close. Once at Newfound Gap, it was 3000ft plummet back to car.

The drop to and climb from Gatlinburg turned out to be wonderful replacement for the missed BRP section. We got back most of the vertical we lost. It was 13 miles of monotonic climbing, a real spanker. When we got back up to the gap, Clingman's Dome was now out of the clouds. Figures. We were too cooked to head up again.

It was 19 miles back to car, almost all downhill. Sweet stuff, no brakes needed. We finished the ride with 80 miles, 9000ft of climbing, in 4:50hrs. It never rained. We hit a Mexican joint that always has people waiting outside for dinner. It is called Papa's and Beer. The food was excellent with reasonable prices. On tap for tomorrow is Brasstown Bald (or Brasstown Balls as Brett calls it). Forecast looks bleak, so we may do something more local.

Monday, April 27, 2009

North Carolina Ideas

I've been poring over topo maps in planning our spring training fling to North Carolina this weekend. Brett found some really cheap tickets ($137 round trip) to Charlotte to help clinch four full days of riding in a beautiful part of the country. It's a 3-4hr drive to Asheville, our base camp. Forecast looks like seasonable temps in the 70's, actually cooler than what we've been getting here lately. Higher elevations might only be in the 50's. Perfect for me.

Some tidbits of info. The highest peak east of the Mississippi is near Asheville, Mt Mitchell at 6684ft. Clingmans Dome is just about as tall at 6643ft. Paved routes climb both of these. We plan to link in portions of the Blue Ridge Parkway en route. Mt Mitchell offers more than a vertical mile of net gain from nearby town Marion. You can ride a vertical mile on our Mt Washington from Gorham or Jackson, but only on a race or race practice day. The quest for dirt will be satisfied too. The bulk of climbing to summit of Mt Mitchell will be on Curtis Creek Rd, a lovely one-laner dirt deal.

Many cycling fans have heard of Brasstown Bald. This is on the agenda too. Brasstown Bald was put on the cycling radar during the Tour de Georgia races. The Georgia 6-Gaps ride also goes over Jack's Gap at the base of Brasstown Bald. Brasstown is notable not for net gain, but its steepness. Portions are 14-18% grade. Brasstown with Mitchell will bag two more state high points I've biked. Most state's high points are either not accessible or legal to bike to. I'll hit the ones I can.

Yet another planned ride will focus on the Blue Ridge Parkway itself. There's a lengthy section south of Asheville that hovers between 5000 and 6000ft, all ridgeline riding. It hits the highest point of the BRP. Of course, we'll make a gaps ride out of it, going up and over the BRP a couple times to net some monster vertical out of the ride.

I'd love to take a trail bike into Pisgah National Forest, but Brett isn't into that kind of riding. If a larger group had gone, I'd certainly vanish into the woods for a day. The off-road is every bit as epic as the road riding down there.

Local rider Jon Speer has provided valuable info on ride options in the Asheville area. Interestingly, he's an accomplished sprint specialist that loves to ride in the mountains. He may join us for the Mt Mitchell ride.

So here's a summary of four major ride ideas. These may get pared down depending on weather and how well the legs hold up. These rides represent easily over 40,000ft of climbing. Topo gives something like 50% more than this, but it is way wrong. I include my estimate of vertical for each ride, something I think a barometric altimeter would record.

Clingmans Dome out and back via BRP. Thursday. 13,000ft vertical.

Brasstown Bald + half of Georgia's 6-Gaps ride. Friday. 7,600ft vertical.

Mt Mitchell + Little Switzerland Loop. Saturday. 12,000ft vertical.

Waynesville/Brevard + Blue Ridge Parkway. Sunday. 10,400ft vertical.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Fat Tire Classic at Winding Trails

A few weeks ago I struggled with what to do with this weekend. The options were:
a) Do just a road race on Saturday then hit some mountains on Sunday.
b) Start my venture back into mountain bike racing on Sunday.
c) Do both races.
I hate Sunday races, as if I want to do well, I generally take it easy the rest of the weekend. This double sucks if it is an off-Friday weekend (my company has every-other Friday off). I love doing epic rides on off-Fridays, and this can leave me cooked the rest of the weekend. I rarely race twice on a weekend. Only time I do this is Mt Equinox hillclimb on a Saturday, then Bow Road Race the next day. Hillclimbs are short. Legs still have twitch the next day. So I picked option a), the Turtle Pond road race on Saturday.

What I haven't commented about on Hill Junkie is that I've been unloading bikes. The Jansen stable has acquired too many bikes. I've been listing them on Craigslist. Earlier this year I sold my wife's road bike, a Trek 2000 WSD. She has some problems with arthritis in her hands, and the road geometry just doesn't work for her anymore. Then a week ago, I sold my Ellsworth Isis dualie. The Titus I recently built up replaces it. I also don't ride my Dean Torreys Ti cross bike much anymore either. So I listed it on Craigslist.

This is related to bike racing, folks, you'll just have to suffer through the details. A week ago, a guy from Brooklyn finds my Dean Torreys on Craigslist and wants it. Now Brooklyn ain't exactly local. I send a zillion hi-rez photos. He still wants it, but Cow Hampshire is a long haul from the big city. He floated the idea that a deal was far more likely if I could meet him part way. I mentioned there was this little MTB race near Hartford I had thought about earlier. That was half way. Before we ended the conversation, he had me signed up for racing on Sunday. Funny how stuff like that happens.

So faithful readers know by now that I won Saturday's race. It was not an easy win. In fact, Saturday night I was thinking I would bring the cross bike, hope the guy likes it and buys it, then just go for a trail ride in the area. Skip the race. I know guys that do two races most weekends. I can't figure out how they do it. Maybe most aren't 46 years old.

So Sunday rolls along. Forecast is for record breaking temps. Argh! Not only were my legs wrecked from Saturday, the heat would surely be final nails in the coffin if I raced. You've probably read here before I do worse than most in heat. In a controlled study at UNH a few years ago, it took only 20 minutes for my core body temp to reach 103.5F. A degree higher than that you can go into a coma and die. This was at 95F, very low 25% humidity, with two industrial fans blowing on me while cranking out about 350W on a trainer. Needless to say, I was not able to complete the study. The researcher made an observation that surprised me. All of the other test subjects began sweating profusely much earlier than I did even though my core body temp rose much more sharply. I have an unsupported theory why I handle heat poorly. Mooky stipulated a while back that I may draw heavily on Type 2a muscle fiber. This is not as efficient as Type 1 muscle fiber. Not as efficient means waste, and in this case, a byproduct can be heat.

I decided to see what I can do in the heat and go for training value. I packed two bikes and headed to Farmington, CT. Selling my cross bike went smoothly. By race start, the temperature was into the upper 80's. At least the humidity wasn't oppressive. I checked the day-of registrants. I saw John Mosher. Hmm, looks like competition to me. Not having off-road raced in several years, I didn't know who any of the other guys were. Getting close to race start, I see a pair of national champion jerseys. Could it be Bold and Hines? Yep. Crap. That's just more riders pushing me closer to the bottom percentage-wise. I think Jonny Bold overall wins a lot of these things.

Our race start was delayed 15 minutes. That's another 15 minutes to roast in the heat. I think I chugged about 2 liters of water in the 90 minutes prior to race start. I did not pre-ride the course. I figured all that would do is raise my body temp, and that would hurt me more than bumbling around on the first lap. I mostly just soft-pedaled around the parking lot. Mosher and Hines lined up next to me. Hines was in my Turtle Pond race, so at least we were on an equal playing field. What I did not know at the time was that Mosher and Bold also did Turtle Pond, the M35+ race in the afternoon. Guess all us old farts were on an equal playing field.

The whistle goes. Pace goes ballistic. That is what I hate most about MTB races. It was all coming back quickly. They get it all wrong. You should ease into it, do equal or even negative spits, you'll get to the finish quicker, dudes! But I guess everybody is petrified of getting caught behind a rider that slows them down in the singletrack. I think I was one of those riders today. I was near DFL heading up the starting slope. I literally ate a lot of dust. A few minutes in, there was this slightly greasy off-chamber bit that nearly sent me sliding. Riding wheel to wheel, I didn't see what was coming up, not having pre-ridden.

I finished the first lap in 22 minutes and change. My five minute "timer" went off. This timer chimes once and notifies me that if I continue at this pace, bodily functions will shortly begin shutting down. It was so friggin hot. Lap two, things start spreading out. I crossed the line 2 minutes slower than my first lap. Not good. Now the thermal alarm is chiming away. I started getting that nauseated, goosebumps feeling that can precede major cramping episodes. My pace continued to erode. I was still passing tons of guys though. This surprised me. I passed most of the guys from my field in the first lap I think, now I was passing younger guys from fields staged minutes ahead of me. Nobody I passed earlier was passing me back, so despite my slowing pace, I was at least hold ground in my field.

My third lap was slower yet again. Having backed down and poured water over myself at the feedzone, I felt a little less heat stressed. I reached an equilibrium. The pace was still hard. There was zero recovery anywhere on the course. A "roadies dream?" Maybe. Watershed Wahoo from years ago was less technical, a lot faster, but not as smooth. The Winding Trails course was 30-50% singletrack (lots more than years past, riders say). It was mostly buff, a few rooty sections, lots of double track, and just throw power down with reckless abandon everywhere. It was indeed my kind of course. Just wish I had fresh legs and 20 degrees off the thermometer. I just might be competitive on something like this. I thrive in 90 minute TT efforts.

On my fourth and final lap, I find I can start ramping the power back up again. I passed Mosher earlier who looked like he was fixing a flat. I wondered if he would come flying by at some point. I'm still passing lots of younger riders. Then I see a stars and stripes ahead. Really? Must have been Hines. My perception was I was doing poorly because I felt so awful. Things were nicely spread out on this lap, and I knew the course now. I was braking much less. I was becoming reacquainted with carrying speed through turns. My final lap turned out to be quite a bit faster than my third lap.

I crossed the line with 1:35:09 for the 20.4 miles I measured. That was about 10 minutes slower than I anticipated, but that was based on last year's finishing times on a course with less tight, twisty singletrack. This netted me 4th place out of 14 finishers for Cat 1 40-49 age group. Bold and Hines took 1st and 2nd. A guy I didn't know finished just seconds ahead of me in third. Had I known he was in my age group, I think I could have done something about that. It took me a long time to get used to not seeing numbers on back of jerseys. You have to pass them and look back to see what age group they are in. It looks like some masters schooled a lot of young guys here today.

I was excited to see how many riders showed up. There definitely seems to be a resurgence in mountain bike racing. Many high caliber riders were there. Thom P and 'mates were there. Also talked with Bill Thompson (CCC/Keltic) who raced earlier. Think I have to do more of these. Definitely signing up for the VT50 this year. Given conditions, I was quite pleased with how my race went. I didn't even fall off my bike! There certainly were plenty of opportunities to clip trees at 20+ mph. Maybe I'll even do more double race weekends this summer.

No racing next weekend. I will miss Jiminy Peak, which makes me sad. I like that one. But I'll be missing it for the right reasons. Teammate Brett Rutledge and I will be heading down to Asheville, NC for four full days of "spring training." There's lots of peaks down there we haven't bagged yet, such as Mitchell, Clingmans Dome, and Brasstown Bald. Good chance we'll hook up with a local rider I've "met" through my website.

Thanks for reading.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Turtle Pond Road Race

Snagged another great finish today. I hit the Turtle Pond Road Race with four IBC teammates in the Masters 45+ field. Lining up, there appeared to be far more than 54 riders than were pre-registered, including some additional contenders. I saw that Paul Wonsavage (Onion River Sports) signed up. I was going to keep a close eye on him. He can be tough as nails and nipped me at the line a couple years ago at Bow for the win.

There were two notable climbs on the course. Oak Hill, gaining over 200ft in a steep section just after the start/finish line, and Hothole Hill, a steep 100ft grunt about 3-4 miles out from the finish. We do five 11+ mile laps for a 56 mile race. Topo 7.0 says over 900ft of climbing per lap, but I know that is too high. It is probably more like 700-800, for 3500-4000ft for the race. Starting out at base of Oak Hill was neutral. Once cresting top, racing went live and attacks ensued. Several other teams were well represented, including CCB, Gearworks, Corner Cycle, and especially OA/Cyclemania with over a dozen guys. Blocking was well executed any time these teams sent somebody up the road. I managed to get into or bridge up to a couple of these breaks, but we were mercilessly reeled back in. Teammate Brett Rutledge came around the blockers many times when IBC wasn't represented in the break away and other teams weren't willing to work. There were so many OA/Cyclemania guys that it was almost impossible to get around the blockers sometimes.

I stayed near the front of the race for four laps. I was quickly becoming cooked and discussed lead-out strategy with teammate Steve Gauthier while finishing the fourth lap. He can sprint. This field wasn't going to let a hillclimb weeny like me get away. I even thought I wouldn't do this race again, as it wasn't selective enough. Things sure looked like they were going to end in a bunch sprint. I generally sit up and get out of the way for these things. But if I could string things out in the home stretch, I thought perhaps that could keep things under control and give Steve a shot for the win.

We hit Oak Hill on our fifth and final lap. Thus far, I thought the Oak Hill ascents were pretty tame. I see Paul Wonsavage is already at the front of our pack of 30-40 guys. I work my way up to him. Paul starts stringing us out and I stay glued to his wheel. The pace was no longer tame. I started to not feel so great, having moments of doubt, like maybe I should just let him go. I hadn't been looking back. I figured the field would just scoop us up as we crested like the earlier climbs. But no. As Paul and I crested, we had sizable gap on the rest of the field. No words were necessary. We both knew what to do. Paul took some monster pulls on the descent. I also put my best effort into it. The rest of the IBC contingent knew what to do too. Brett and Kevin Young came to the front to disrupt chase efforts. Before Paul and I knew it, the field was no where in sight.

Continuing in time-trial mode, we worked very well together. But man, I was hurting. I'm sure I had drool and snot all over my face. Then we get to that Pothole Hill kicker. I gapped Paul but didn't mean too. I was pretty sure we still needed each other at this point, as it was 3-4 miles to the finish and I did not know how far back the chase group was. I let up slightly, but Paul wasn't getting back on as quickly as I would have liked. I decided to go it alone, head down, all-out hammer to the finish. On a long straight-away, I could see the pack. Yikes. Once I got to the small rise to the line, I was finally able to relax. I won with 17 seconds on Paul, who had 4 seconds on field. I was happy he made it too. Teammate Steve took 6th place in the bunch sprint for the remaining podium spot. Some great work by my IBC teammates helped secure the win.

Nothing like finishing a race at 20 minute time-trial pace. That turned out to be way harder than Battenkill last weekend. Shorter race, all paved, but way higher average intensity. That's also now 2-for-2 wins at Turtle Pond. I last raced Turtle Pond in 2007 and won in a very similar way. This year though, the break started at the top of Oak Hill, where I've never seen a winning break start, 10 miles from the finish. It was a spectacular day, just starting to get hot as the afternoon races were lining up. I was tentative on the course changes safety-wise, but the narrow fishing area was well marshaled. There were no crashes. I think the course changes are a keeper. It's been a while since I sauntered over the line for a win. To think of it, Turtle Pond in 2007 was the last time. Hope they get today's finishing photo on Bikereg.

Monday, April 20, 2009

De-Trained for Dirt

How I survived Battenkill with my pathetic dirt handling skills is beyond me. Sounds like there were serious crashes resulting in multiple air-liftings. Nearly added to the casualty list myself. I don't personally know Doug O'neil, as many do, but I'm sure I've raced with him. He reportedly suffered multiple fractures and a punctured lung. It's a risk we all take but try not to dwell on. Race long enough, sooner or later your number comes up. I wish Doug a speedy recovery.

On Sunday, I continued to prove I cannot handle dirt. I went out to Great Brook Farm State Park in search of new singletrack. That's right, NEMBA recently added several miles of new trail on the Russell Mill conservation property adjacent to Great Brook. I just learned of this and had to go check it out. I prep'd the Titus Racer-X but grabbed my singlespeed instead. Battenkill just didn't seem to punish me enough.

Russell Mill in upper right

I started out on my normal full sweep loop. From the northern most point of the loop, I took a bit of pavement to connect Russell Mill into the ride. Not having a map, it was pure exploration time. I tend to ride the perimeter of new areas first, then work my way inside. The new trails there were quite tasty. Some of it was so new it might have been cut just this spring. It was still soft and loamy. There were some surprisingly technical bits. I dabbed a couple times.

One segment had several big rocks or rocky outcroppings to hop over. I got a little careless on one of these. It was nothing much, but when my front wheel came down the other side, there was a strategically placed wedge rock. My front wheel stopped dead and I didn't. Not until I hit the ground anyway. It was a solid cheek and shoulder slam to packed earth. For some reason or another, the ground has gotten a lot harder in the last 10 years. It has had a billion years to settle, so how is that? Something sure has changed. I was moving around like a 100 year old man later that evening.

So now I felt totally incompetent as an off-roadie. Earlier last week I dabbed four times over a rock I normally clean. I gave up trying in frustration. Now I face planted over another bump in the trail. Had I not at least pulled off a decent result at Battenkill, I would be deep into inferiority complex by now.

Later in my ride I hit a trail called Stone Rowe. This is the only trail that sparks moderate fear in me with that little gem of a grannite chute in the middle. It is the most technical trail there, several dab opportunities. I rarely clean the whole trail with my singlespeed. Yet I cleaned it. Was starting to feel better about myself after that. I continued with the Acorn Hill loop across the street (partially under water because of pesky beavers), and then some high cadence spinning around the cranberry bogs. The ride came out nicely to 30 miles in 3 hours. It was a sweet day weather-wise to be in the woods. Very little mud was to be found.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Battenkill 2009

This year's Tour of the Battenkill was a low key event for me, yet I was pleasantly surprised with the result. My fitness isn't quite where it normally is at this time in the season. Thus I was not going to stress over Battenkill, just treat it as a training race. I have an inverse relationship between how well I sleep the night before a race and the importance I attach to the race. "A" race, sleep poorly. I slept like a rock Friday night.

It was chilly out. I still took a third water bottle in jersey pocket since I didn't line up feed support. I struggled between wearing long jersey and knee warmers or just arm warmers. I figured the three times I've done this race now, I'll be warm in no time. I erred on the light side. Dave Penney (Penney Cycles) rode up with me. Kitting up, he lost one of his gloves. He hunted around a few minutes before asking if I saw it. The velcro part was stuck to his ass!

I made many last minute changes to my rig the day before the race. First, I like to spin, so I modified the gearing. I put a 27t cassette on back. Up front, I pulled the 39t 10spd Dura-Ace ring off, put a 38t 9spd ring on. Teeth are slightly thicker on 9spd, but my gut said I should be ok. One tooth in 39 is only about 2.5%, but if you are on hairy edge of blowing legs up, this can make a difference. For tires, I put on brand new 23mm Michelin Pro2 Race lined with Michelin latex tubes. This was huge risk, and it nearly cost me a whole lot more than just the race, as I'll explain shortly. Finally, I did not want to use my carbon wheels on such a pocked up course with good chance for rain, so I used my slightly heavier and slightly less aero Rolf Prima Vigor's. This meant I had to swap out the cork pads too. When I changed the rings, I noticed the crank was wicked tight in bottom bracket. It wouldn't even spin half a turn when flinging it. It was clinched in way too tight. I raced all last season with it this way. Could this be why I had a mediocre road season yet crushed several hillclimb PRs on a different bike? Probably not. I made sure I delicately torqued the retaining cap during re-assembly.

I did minimal warmup, which turned out to be wise decision. I'd guess over 100 guys in the 40+ lined up. First 10 miles of race was recreational pace. Everybody was talking. I stayed mid pack. My strategy was to do no work, ignore attacks and break aways, yet try to stay with a core group. A top 20 finish would have pleased me going into this race.

Then we hit the first tests of the course. These would be the double humps on Perry Hill and Juniper Swamp roads. Dirt of course. Juniper Swap made me wonder if I should just ride off course and do a solo training ride instead. Numerous riders came around me. The gravel was loose. Despite my modified gearing, I was mashing. Standing up only accelerated rocks into the guy behind me. Fortunately no splits formed over this mini-beast. We all got back together.

Life was good for a while again. There were no more discriminating climbs for the next 13-15 miles. But the next one was a nasty one, one we used to finish the race bombing down in years past. This was Joe Bean Hill, all paved on the climb. It gains over 400ft in just over a mile. Amazingly, I stayed in contact with the lead guys over this one. Our field became quite fragmented, maybe 20 guys in front with another similarly sized group not far back. During the ensuing descent over a few miles, much of the field was back together again.

Somewhere along here, a couple guys got away. I think Tom Butler (CCC/Keltic) was one of them. I wasn't sure how many there were, as I was riding very defensively away from the front during this race. CCC/Keltic, Corner Cycle and Westwood Velo were well represented and all were positioning riders for a win. The pace became very subdued between the climbs. Ridiculously easy, in fact. I'll take it, but we sure still had a big pack together. The race just wasn't busting up like it did in years past. The new course layout and direction had a lot to do with this I thought.

After Joe Bean and some sketchy dirt descent, it was many miles of slightly downhill pavement into Greenwich. It was trying to sprinkle now, so the complicated set of turns had me nervous. Jonny Bold (Corner Cycle) turned up conspicuously missing. Reports were he flatted. I thought for sure his team would bring him back into play, being a top contender.

We get into bunches of more dirt. Some of this stuff was just plain mean. Pre-ride reports from last weekend possibly underpredicted the looseness with more than a week of no rain. A rider from my field had just rag-dolled into the corn field. I didn't see it, but others said it was horrific. I was going well over 40mph on that section littered with giant craters and nasty looseness if you got off the main track. I jettisoned a full, large water bottle on one hole. I didn't freak, as it was so cool out. My bike made a horific cracking sound when I hit that monster. A little later, I'm not sure if it was Mountain Rd or Becker Rd, I nearly had an incident. I was hauling about 40mph and got a little too far right when the road was sweeping left. It was loose as marbles and cambered away from the turn. My front tire started skidding and plowing. This went on for the longest time, and I dared not touch the brakes. I was quite certain I was going into the woods and began looking for an opening in the trees for a "controlled" crash. Somebody must have been watching out for me, as I saved it. I soiled my chamois just a little though. New Michelin Pro2 Race tires are very steeply crowned. I think this made them particularly vulnerable to knifing behavior. I just may go with slightly used 25mm tires next year. That was way too close of a call.

A Cat 4 field passed us somewhere along the back side of the course. This was the most bizarre thing, as I'm riding next to Roger Aspholm (Westwood Velo, National CX Champ). How can this be? It was a surreal situation. Little did I know at the time that he had a teammate up the road. We picked up Tom Butler and whoever he was away with somewhere along here too. Maybe it was Meetinghouse Road. Anyway, the race controlled by these two strong teams with their guys up the road basically meant we weren't really racing by being good little boys in the pack. I was surprised that more tactics did not go on until this point. The race was 80% over, yet I felt I hadn't really started racing yet. I didn't know who all was up the road at the time, so I chalked it up to the new course layout being the culprit, not team strategies.

After Meetinghouse Road, which was in decent shape and much easier ridden in the new direction, there was a gradual paved climb. At this point we had a pace car in front of us and I assumed we were all back together now. Unbelievable. We must have had 25-30 guys. I've never been in a lead bunch this big at the end of a Battenkill race, and we had some real fire power in the field.

We finally get to Stage Road, the final exam of the race. I presumed, incorrectly, we were all together. I couldn't believe I was still in the lead group with only 5-6 miles to go, albeit a very large lead group. I hate sprints. I suck at them. I prefer to just get out of the way when it gets messy. I had hoped Stage Road would whittle our pack down some.

As expected, Roger bolted as soon as his tires tasted dirt. We were overtaking riders from a couple different fields now. Roger's move was decisive and impressive. I overheard riders from another field comment something like "what the f-, who was that!" I too gave the hill a good shot. The gravel was in fair shape here. Amazingly, I drew a gap on the rest of the field. Nothing like Roger, but seconds none the less. I then wondered if I should drill it and solo the rest of the way to the finish or save something to see who comes over with me. If I drilled it and failed, I would finish near the back of the pack. If I saved something and only 5 or 6 riders come over first, we could work together the last four miles, netting me a top-10. My legs felt amazingly fresh for the end of Battenkill. I attributed it to sitting in the whole race, few hijinks going on throughout race with conversation pace between climbs, and not stressing over who's doing what. Or maybe there's magical power in all that lava dust I inhaled in Hawaii for the last two weeks. Anyway, I was somewhat dismayed when about 10 guys overtook me, both by the number of guys and with how much force they overtook me. I guess I didn't really let them catch up after all.

So now there's a mile-plus of downhill and three miles of very fast flat to the finish. We had 10 or so guys plus Roger a minute or so up by now (not knowing he had a teammate ahead of him). I thought we were sprinting for 2nd. Now we were racing, boys and girls. Attack, counter-attack. A lot was at stake. The group had several CCC/Keltic guys in it, including Andy Ruiz. With about 2km to go, one of the CCC/Keltic guys bolted but then faltered just ahead of us. I bridged up, nobody followed. I then put the hammer down, chin to the bar, eyes straight down my fork. The gap grew, but I had a tag along. I hit deflection, motion for the CCC guy to pull through, he does, and promptly slows down. Is he blocking for somebody I don't know about? It was quite a cluster on Stage Road with riders from at least three fields intermingling. I think he was just cooked. I then took another monster pull at speeds near 30mph. The gap grew a little bit. I motioned CCC guy to pull again. I got about 5 seconds of rest behind him then decided to go for it. We still had well over 1km to go with at least 8 guys just 5-6 seconds back. This was shear lunacy, I thought. Gotta try though, right? Most of my wins happened in moves like this. I managed to put a very small gap on CCC guy. Finally that cord snapped and he was gone. I pass the 1km to go banner. But now the pace is furious behind me. Guys are leap-frogging each other. I'll never make it. I'm three stages beyond redlined as I make the final turn to the finish. I see it now, but the gap behind me is closing rapidly. No more looking back. It will be what it will be. As I crossed the line, a pack of guys was no more than 1-2 seconds behind me. I did it. Finally another podium finish at Battenkill. And I wrote this one off! There's a lesson in there somewhere that's probably material for another post.

As I wound down, I saw Roger with teammate Todd Cassan. That's odd, how did Todd get up there. I stopped to congratulate Roger. Turns out Todd won. Silly me. Suddenly the whole race started to make more sense. I'm sure Roger and mates regulated our race to assure Todd's win. No wonder the Cat 4's passed us. Then when the time was right, Roger took number two spot. Nice 1-2 sweep guys.

We avoided heavy rain but it sprinkled just enough to make the bike despicable. Dave, who started half an hour behind me, got caught some downpour action. He appeared to finish quite well in his Cat 4 field (hopefully not the one that passed us). I believe there were three Cat 4 fields on the course.

Apparently there were issues with results. After waiting an hour, we had verbal agreement for first three finishers and we did the podium thing. Podium finishers were given a fine quart of Vermont upstate New York chocolate milk in a custom edition glass bottle. Very nice touch and great race recovery drink.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Battenkill Prep (or lack thereof)

Haven't said much about the bike racing season many have already started. The fact of the matter is I really haven't been doing the kind of training required to get in race shape. I focused on ski races until the end of March. Then two weeks in Hawaii came along. Now you may say, wait a minute, didn't Hill Junkie do a boat load of climbing on the islands? I did. Keep in mind though, that nearly all of my vacation riding was endurance pace stuff. In fact, much of the climbing was above 5000ft. Air gets thin there. Above 10,000ft, I'm lucky if I can hold 200W for more than a few minutes. What kind of training value can you derive from that? Nothing dubious about it. That was pure recreational riding. Enjoyed every minute of it too.

I commented at the end of ski season that I felt I'm in the best all around shape ever. I could ski 50km and not be trashed. I could probably ride 100 miles in the mountains today and then go for a 3-4 hour trail ride tomorrow. But that doesn't mean I'm in race shape. That takes special preparation, something that has been woefully lacking in my "training" schedule the last couple months.

What do I consider this special preparation? Short, high intensity efforts. These are efforts of 3-10 minutes in duration at VOmax, or an intensity on the cusp of hurling. I usually get a couple of these sessions in per week starting as early as February. I've gotten only a couple of these sessions in so far this year. I think a superb base is there, I just need to wake it up.

I went out to Chestnut Hill a couple days ago for my first benchmark test. Some folks have steady stream of power meter data coming in to tell them quantitatively how they're doing. Nothing wrong with that. I haven't gotten around to putting my Power Tap on a bike yet this spring. Other folks use a local climb. Blue Hill is one fine example used by some of my more urban cycing brethren. For me, Chestnut hill is 30 minutes away from work by bike.

I rode out with triathlete Dan, a normal rapid ramp up of pace deal with one good 60 second interval about 10 minutes from Chestnut to wake up the legs. I felt good actually. The Chestnut climb isn't a pure seconds to average Watts kind of climb like Blue Hill is. Chestnut has a long, slightly climbing section in the middle that is exposed to wind. We had a mild head wind on test day.

I felt good going into the steep 9-10% stuff at the bottom but faded some on the first 400ft of vertical. I had nothing for the near mile of flatter stuff. I had hoped to break 9 minutes. I reached the summit in 9:24, 70 seconds off my best. Ouch. 70 seconds on 8:14 is about 14% hit in power if taking straight ratio. Since this climb involves some speed (>20mph) over a portion of it, the power hit probably isn't quite that bad, but at least 10% I'd say. That means I'm off about 40W for at a 8-9 minute pace. That 40W is everything in a hilly road race. I need it back. The last couple years I've managed much better Chestnut times this time of year.

So what does this mean for my first bike race of the season? With the field stacked as it is, I need to be realistic with my expectations. Battenkill was an "A" race for me the previous three years. In other words, my goal was to podium. Riding conservatively will be the name of the game Saturday. Others in my field may have 10 races under their belt already this season. I haven't even done a group training ride with more than two others. Not sure what to make of the longer course with less climbing. Biggest risk is cramping up before the last climb.

In other news, I apparently forgot how to ride a 26" mountain bike. I took my still almost new Titus Racer X into Mine Falls Wednesday at lunch. Mostly beginner stuff in there except for one rocky outcropping near the dam. I dabbed. It bugged me so I tried again. Dabbed again. After dabbing four times in a row, I gave up in frustration. I can usually clean that section with my singlespeed and almost always with my geared hardtail. So what gives? Did I learn some bad habits with the 29er I rode an a volcano in Hawaii? The season is starting to freak me out. Lack of racing legs, no pack training rides yet, and I can't even ride over a couple rocks on beginner trails. Lots to work on.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Hawaii Wrap-up

Red-eye flights always suck. I have yet to sleep on a plane. I not only failed to sleep coming back from the islands, I stayed bright eyed awake the whole way until the sun came up again when we landed in Chicago. I think that was about 8hrs in the air. I refuse to take sleeping aids, although suffering through about 30 sleepless hours might make me reconsider.

On our last day, Saturday, I did a short ride up to village of Holualoa. There are some very nice roads to ride on the Kona side of the island with as much climbing as you can handle. I zig-zagged my way up, sometimes on back roads only about 1.5 lanes wide with no traffic. It is notably cooler at 1500ft. There are many small coffee farms up there. The sun was out, the first time since landing on the big island. Figures, being our last day and all. I barely developed tan lines after 12 days on the islands. I was wearing long layers half the time and much of the rest it wasn't sunny enough to pick up a tan.

Cathy, mom and I also visited a coffee plantation Saturday, one of the oldest on the island, Greenwell Coffee Farms. Having become a bit of a coffee snob over the last few years, I couldn't visit Kona and not visit a coffee farm. Mom and Cathy are into coffee too, but not like me. Greenwell gives short free tours showing how their coffee is processed. Many steps, you'd be surprised. They also have samples. Not much different than wine tasting I suppose, although I've never done that. They had a variety of roast levels (normally I like dark), a couple flavored options (I detest), peaberry (a coffee cherry with only one bean in it), and something they call Private Reserve. The Private Reserve was clearly my favorite and no accident it was the most expensive. It was not darkly roasted. I paid nearly $20 with tax to take a HALF POUND home with me. Yeah, that is the most I have ever spent on coffee. The most interesting thing of the tour? Ripe coffee cherries are actually sweet! It is ironic we spit out the pit of other cherries, yet we discard the cherry when making coffee. Coffee trees are a member of the gardenia family.

I didn't get in all the riding as planned for this trip. In fact, I hit only one of four planned summits, Haleakala. Even then, the weather had me thinking twice about riding all the way to the Haleakala Summit. The descent was dangerously cold, and the rangers at the entrance station warned us about hypothermia. On the bike, I rode 377 miles on and off road. That entailed 36,700ft of climbing. Not much, actually, for a two week Hill Junkie vacation. Saddle time tallied to 28 hours. There were also about 5hrs of hiking and 3hrs of snorkeling involved to round out physical activity.

On of the surprises riding a 29er for the first time was how big of a difference a few inches in wheel diameter makes when riding gnarly stuff. It took me a while to get used to it, in fact. I learned to carry speed into stuff I would have mightily braked for on a 26" bike and then ended up walking because I scrubbed the speed needed to carry through. The extra heft is noticeable climbing though, especially all the paved climbing I did with the 29er. I crawled up 16% grades. Going down 16% grades at 45mph, another effect kicked in that was very noticeable. Those big wheels make for some strong gyroscopes. The bike does not want to lean over easily or turn quickly when going fast. Maybe this isn't as big of a deal on tight singletrack when going slower, but I scared myself a couple times around fast switchbacks.

I was dismayed when I stepped on the scale yesterday. I suppose you can't feast on bacon, fried potatoes, eggs, french toast, omelets and much more every morning without greatly increasing volume to maintain weight. This morning I dropped nearly 4 lbs from yesterday afternoon, all water loss of course, but still higher than I want to be this time of year. Interestingly, my body fat was 7.4%, which is very low for a morning measurement. Perhaps I added only lean muscle mass?

My less than 2yr old Dom-6's with what they looked like when new below

I've been very disappointed in my Sidi Dominator 6 shoes. In less than two years, they are pretty much trashed. The hike-a-biking on Mauna Loa destroyed the soles. I have Dominator 4's that are about 8 years old with only the velcro getting weak. The 6's are failing all the way around - the tread is long gone (replaceable but expensive), the uppers are shredded and nearly worn through in spots, the carbon sole is chewed up beyond recognition, and the main tensioning ratchets have never worked right. These suckers cost over $400. Sidi normally has impeccable durability but has slipped with this model. I won't do carbon or replaceable treads again in MTB shoes. They are designed to fail soon.

Finally, a clip from our Haleakala descent. I haven't found an H.264 HD editor I like yet, so I used trial version of something that ain't bad. I may buy it. In the mean time, you'll get an annoying banner popping up throughout. I reduced the bit rate quite a bit from full High-Def, else the file size becomes unmanageable. You might have to click the link below the video window to access the the HD version uploaded to Vimeo. I believe they down-sample the version for embedding.

Haleakala Skyline Trail Plummet from D. Jansen on Vimeo

Steve and I started from the 10,000 foot summit of Haleakala on Maui. The ride begins on Skyline Trail, wrapping behind the observatories on the summit. The next five miles or so follow a fissure line where numerous craters and vents lie. The scenery could be from Mars. To our left starting out, the south coast of east Maui is visible 10,000ft below. A little later in the clip, west Maui is visible through the haze below patchy clouds to the right. We had only high overcast this day, allowing views all the way down. Mamane Trail is first singletrack segment. A short segment of one-lane paved Waipoli Rd is taken to next singletrack, a three mile loop called Waiakoa Trail. In all, we dropped 10,000ft in about 35 miles. It was perhaps the best ride of the trip - it was cold up top but we didn't freeze, we didn't get rained or snowed on, the extreme wind for the duration of our stay was not much of a factor off-road, and it was one of the best visibility days up there.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Vertical Mile for Breakfast

The weather held true to forecast. We woke up to the gloomiest skies of our trip this morning with light rain. Since I didn’t get the planned riding in Thursday, I hoped to get a decent ride in early Friday morning. The bike shop told me about a route to the summit of Hualalai, 8200ft above our hotel. I think it is the fourth highest peak on the islands. On the maps, the summit looked land-locked by private land. The shop told me no worries, just access the 4WD from a certain dead end road.

Scenic but rainy, cloudy Kaloko Rd

Afer another early breakfast, I was rolling from the hotel by 7:30am. At least the rain was warm at sea level. I followed the coast along Ali’i (Ah-lee-ee) drive for five miles into Kailua, a nice warm-up. My legs were positively trashed from Thursday’s 6.2hr sufferfest. The prospects of actually riding off-road today were slim given the weather.

Palani Road heads east out of Kailua. It quickly gains 1500ft. Rush hour traffic sucked. There is minimal shoulder in places, construction in others. Not an ideal bike route, but it was the most direct way up.

Summit of Hualalai from Mauna Loa on Thursday

At about 1500ft, Kaloko Drive is taken to continue the climb. This road averages 9% grade for 7 miles, gaining 3500ft. It is a dead end residential street, essentially an l’Alpe d’Huez or Whiteface Mtn climb, except steeper. There are six switchbacks on this road. These are not your typical hairpin deals. They are big swoopy turns that persist at fall-line gradient for a couple tenths of a mile, gaining about 200ft each time. Topo tells me some of these approach 20% grades. With tired legs, I failed to hold 4mph on a few of the switchbacks. A 30 lb bike, soaking wet clothes, and 10 lb Camelbak doesn’t help the climbing rate much either. I found that I gained altitude at roughly one foot per revolution of the crank. I was wheelying a bit too. If you lived at the end of this road, roughly 5000ft above sea level and worked in Kailua, your commute home would be a buggah.

What happens to empty water bottles when descending from 12,000ft to sea level

I entered the lower cloud deck around 2000ft. Visibility dropped to less than 200ft. I didn’t have any blinkies with me and it was still too warm to wear my hi-viz wind breaker. A lot of contractor trucks were coming up, presumably for new home construction. Fortunately I could hear them coming over my heavy breathing.

Around 4000ft, I broke above the lower cloud deck. There was still heavy overcast above, and it was still raining out. Near the end of Kaloko Dr, a left is taken on Huehue St. It gains 640ft at 16% grade. This pretty much finished my legs off as I crested 5000ft altitude. I believe this is the highest paved altitude that can be reached in the area. Access to the off-road system looked questionable to me. I’ll need to check back with the guys at the shop about it. Even if public access was certain here, I probably would have opted to not continue the climb to 8200ft anyway. It was pouring out now, and the temperature was probably in the low 50’s up here. I put on the long jersey, wind shell and knee warmers in preparation for the descent.

The initial descent on Huehue St was quite a rush. I could easily have gone over 50mph with big MTB, knobby tires and floppy wind breaker. Poor visibility and big rain drops smashing my eyeballs through the back of my head limited my speed to 45mph or so. When I got to the stop sign at the bottom, the rain was sizzling on the brake rotors. Less than 5 seconds of hard braking did this.

Continuing the descent on Kaloko Dr, I got back into the dense cloud cover. At least I could go faster than cars, but visibility sucked. I was going over 40mph most of the time, braking heavily only around the 15-20% grade switchbacks. I was just starting to get cold as I dropped back into muggy tropical air. The remainder of the descent down Palani Rd was not nearly as hairy as the climb traffic-wise. I took the lane and easily stayed with the traffic at 38-42mph for the next four miles.

GPS track of vertical mile climb from hotel. Mauna Kea and partial track up Mauna Loa in background.

I finished this all paved ride in 3:07 riding time with 35.5 miles and 5220 feet of climbing. As best I could tell, 5000ft feet of climbing was monotonic, that is, no downs on the way up. Thus you can coast 100% of the way back down too. This is another unfinished business climb. I would really like to make it to the summit of this one, especially on a clear day. I caught a nice photo of it protruding through the lower cloud deck from Mauna Loa yesterday. The crater at the top of Hualalai is supposed to be quite impressive. I had an offer to ride it Thursday with one of the guys from the shop. In hindsight, I should have taken the offer.

The rain tapered off in the afternoon. The bay right next to our hotel is supposed to have the best snorkeling on the big island. We decided to give it a go, renting way over priced gear from a curbside vendor. At least I got Rx lenses. We still had heavy overcast, so we weren’t sure what to expect. The tide was starting to come back in. The bay is very shallow to begin with, making it hard to not bang your knees on corral. First impression, the water was kind of yucky. A little further out, it wasn’t that bad, but not as clear as around Maui. The fish were phenomenal though. Huge schools of every kind imaginable, every color represented. This was way better than any of the four areas I’ve snorkeled around Maui. To top this off, the bay has many sea turtles, and they are not timid. They are protected, and swimmers are not allowed to touch or interfere with them in any way. They are so big that it is spooky to swim up close to them. I finally figured out how to get half way decent photos with my polyurethane camera bag. The clear window must be stretched tight across protruding lens, else the camera won’t focus or image is heavily distorted from diffraction. I can last about 60 minutes in the 70F water before severe shivering sets in. This was kicking along aerobically. Mom and Cathy only lasted about 40 minutes. Moving along, you can see pretty much all you want in an hour. The snorkeling definitely made up for a dreary day.

We begin the trek home on Saturday, a red-eye flight. I hope to get a short morning ride in. We plan to visit a Kona coffee plantation before heading back to the airport. The weather has been rather poopy for riding and hiking here, but still better than some of the stuff New England and Michigan have been getting while we’ve been away. Monday morning reality is going to suck.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Mauna Loa Spanker

My capstone ride during our Hawaiian vacation was planned for Thursday on the big island. I was going to attempt a “fire and ice” double hump, climbing both Mauna Loa (fire) and Mauna Kea (ice) from the 6500ft saddle between the two volcanoes.

Firt 4mi of climb have been repaved

The weather continues to be in a funk. It is very dreary here in Kona. If this were Michigan or New Hampshire, the heavy skies with muggy air would be sure bet thunderstorms are on the way. I don’t think the islands get those though. The summit forecast is what really mattered. Ice warnings and heavy precip are predicted over the next few days. Highs above 13,000ft are expected to stay below freezing. That means the 4-8mm of liquid precip will be snow, or about 2.5-5” of snow per 24hr period. I was bumming big time. I did pack full winter riding gear (standard Hill Junkie procedure for tropic vacations).

Next 13mi of climb were marginally paved

Steve and Gina are staying further up the coast on the big island. Steve picked up a road bike. Mom and Cathy wanted to do a later breakfast, then hit local attractions. So I went down to eat at 6:30am and was on the way to the saddle by 7am. It took only about 1.5hrs to get there despite getting stuck behind a school bus forever. I parked at the Mauna Kea State Recreation Area just shy of the saddle high point off Saddle Road. Saddle Road is a real masterpiece. Most car rental companies still prohibit their cars being driven on it. It used to be one-lane military road which had 2ft extensions added to either side to make is a “two-lane” road. The extensions have deteriorated, and most bridges are one lane. The rises and dips easily give you 0.5G and 2G thrills minus the amusement park fees. The state is slowly making a real highway out of it from the Hilo side. They are over half done now.

Mauna Kea from flanks of Mauna Loa

It was sprinkling on the way to the saddle. I fully expected a 6-8hr rain and snow slog ride. But as I approached the saddle, I could see patches of blue sky over the Hilo (east) side with sun partially poking through. My attitude improved. I kitted up with shorts and long sleeve jersey. I packed Pearl Izumi AmFib tights, a thermal top, rain shell, balaclava, PI booties, lobstah mitts, baggies for under the booties in the Camelback. I also carried 120oz of water and several food items. All this stuff weighed at least 20 lbs.

End of pavement at 11,000ft, looking down

I rented a Cannondale F29 hardtail from Bike Works Kona. This was my first ride on a 29er. I brought my own tires along, semi-slick 26”. Didn’t need them anyway, as the 29er had racy treads. The bike probably weighed 30 lbs. This meant I was hauling over 50 lbs of bike and gear up the climbs.

After two recovery days, my legs felt good starting out at 6500ft. My first climb was to summit 13,600ft Mauna Loa. It was 6 mostly flat miles on Saddle Rd to the Mauna Loa Access Road. The first 17mi of the climb are paved, the last 9mi unpaved 4WD route. I’ve heard various reports about the rideability of the dirt section. Most suggested it was unrideable, including the guys at Bike Works. They explained the loose lava rock is super light weight and you just sink into it, climbing or descending. They hadn’t tried it with a 29er.

Many lava tubes were visible along the way. They cave in easily. Dangerous to go in or over them. They can be 10-20 tall.

I made good progress on the paved portion of the climb, still feeling good reaching the weather observatory at 11,200ft in about 2.5hrs. I only had 2400ft to go. How hard could that be? I was still in shorts, although the air temp was probably in the low 40’s here. Climbing kept the core plenty warm.

I then veered off on the 4WD road that goes to the giant caldera at the summit of Mauna Loa. I could see patches of snow about 1000ft down from the summit. The summit wasn’t totally socked in with clouds like Mauna Kea was on the other side of Saddle Rd. I quickly realized climbing the remaining 2400ft was going to be no picnic. The air was thin, and the tires just plowed through the loose lava in most places. It didn’t take long before I was into some fairly long hike-a-bikes. The lava was so loose I’d sink to my ankles, skinning them up in the process. I almost went backwards on some of the double-digit grades.

A very common theme on this climb. Maybe 18% grade, and these lava rocks squirm every which way out from under you.

A couple miles in, there was a long traverse, maybe over a mile long. It went up-down, up-down, up-down, never gaining any vertical but chewing up scads of time. It was maddening, as most of the ups demanded dismounts. This was partly due to the looseness, partly due to not enough air to keep the legs spinning. I was around 12,000ft now. I became convinced that this ride would be a single hump ride, as my pace dropped to about 3mph.

Had I not been on a 29er, I would have abandoned this climb right way and went to the Mauna Kea side, which I climbed four years ago from sea level with a road bike. There really is something to the big hoops, especially descending sketchy material. Much of the surface was feet deep orange to grapefruit size lava rocks. The rocks do not bind to each other at all. They are very light, probably quarter the density of granite, and most likely would float in water. If the rear wheel spun at all climbing, it would immediately sink six inches, stopping you dead. Descending, grabbing front brake almost always caused the front wheel to slide out. Just nasty stuff. Riding a 26” bike on this would be a non-starter I think. Perhaps these conditions have something to do why there are no reports of someone riding to the summit...

Closer inspection of lava

As I painfully gained altitude, the ratio of ride to hike diminished greatly. Above 12,000ft, I think I was able to ride only 50-60%. I shuttered to think what I was in for when going back down. I thought it could be even worse. Crashing on this stuff was not an option. Much of it was as sharp as glass. I think crashing into a cholla cactus would be more pleasant.

Getting close to 13,000ft, the rim of the North Pit, the skies opened up with snow. I stopped to put the long layers on. As I did, the snow really started to come down, limiting visibility to a couple hundred meters. I had my GPS, but there was nothing else up here. Just hundreds of square miles of barren lava flows. Getting lost was not an option. At least with some visibility, I could keep my bearings straight. But now that was gone. There are multiple 4WD tracks up here. Taking the wrong one down would be disastrous. Some dead end on the wrong side of the volcano. So I made the responsible decision and bagged the rest of the climb. I could almost smell the summit, I was so close.

Beginning of the snow squall above 12,500ft. Snow on the ground here.

After descending a little ways, the snow stopped again. It was too late to head back up again. I lost too much vertical. I was pleasantly surprised to find that almost everything was rideable going back down. Only steep ups on the way down sent me off my bike. There were a couple uber sketchy drops I dismounted for also. But at least 98% of it rode well. I think I would have been hiking a lot of the descent with any of my 26” mountain bikes. Really has me thinking now. No wonder Dave P kicked my butt in Colorado a couple years ago on the descent into Telluride. He was on his Niner.

It was probably a good thing I turned around anyway. I was very rapidly getting a severe altitude headache. Getting altitude sickness in such a remote area can be fatal. I started to get sick climbing Mauna Kea four years ago too. I had to get back down to about 9000ft before the symptoms started abating. Summiting 14,000ft Mt Evans in Colorado twice didn’t give me any trouble though.

It was good to hit pavement again. I held speeds of 30+ mph most of the time. The paved (or marginally paved) road is only one lane wide. It has many blind spots, so I had to be wary of cars. I saw a total of three during my climb and descent, or over 5hrs worth of riding. Below 10,000ft, some pretty heavy rain moved in. I had all my layers on except for the booties. I was never cold. Further down in the saddle the rain cleared up again.

The dirt portion of the climb took 3x longer than I expected and sucked the life out of me. There’s no way I could do a Mauna Kea/Mauna Loa double in one day. I think the Mauna Loa out and back alone would take about 8 hours. I headed back to the car instead of crossing over Saddle Road to the Mauna Kea Access Road. Mauna Kea was completely socked in with clouds anyway. There would be nothing to see or photograph. I opted to save a little for a ride Friday morning instead.

I got back to the car with 6:13 riding (and hike-a-biking) time. I climbed about 6945ft in 58.4 miles round trip. The distance and vertical don’t come close to explaining how hard this ride was. This ride was way harder than the 82mi, 10,700ft ride up Haleakala a few days ago. Similar riding time for the two rides, but the brutality of lava took a toll. Overall, a great full body workout, and I got to see 90% of a new climb. I feel Mauna Loa is unfinished business, but I will think really hard before attempting this one again. Although it can snow any time of year up top, I don’t think I would try it this early in the season again. Only two more days for us on the islands. I would like to get one more long ride in Friday. Weather looks abysmal.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Haleakala Plummet

On Sunday, Steve and I cashed in some of my vertical credits. The five of us left in two cars, leaving one in Kahului at the Muai Marketplace. We then all piled into my Subaru Impreza with pair of Giant full suspension mountain bikes on back for the drive up to the Haleakala summit. There was a very high overcast this morning, a thin layer at maybe 30,000ft. But Haleakala was visible base to summit, the first time since arriving on Maui. This was really cool, as the women were planning to do a little hiking in the crater area, and neither Steve nor Gina has seen the summit yet. When Steve and I rode to the summit a few days ago, visibility was about 100ft.

The Haleakala Crater

The summit views didn’t disappoint. Visibility was over 100 miles, as you could see the 14,000ft Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa peaks on the big island. Low clouds were just starting to build on the windward side of the crater thousands of feet below us. It was cold up here though. We brought our warmest gear, and I don’t think any of us were able to stay warm. Before we left the hotel, the summit temperature was 39F with a 29F windchill. Not exactly what most people think of Maui. A local told us they get about two feet of snow on Haleakala per year.

Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa about 100mi away on the big island

Leaving the women, Steve and I embarked on the Haleakala plummet. This about the only legal place to ride dirt on Maui. There were three singletrack trails we were linking up on the way down. The first is Skyline Trail, which follows an old 4WD route along the cinder cone strewn spine of Haleakala. Mamane Trail (pronounced mah-mah-nay) singletrack was taken for the next thousand feet or so of descent. Then before plummeting the rest of the way back to Kahului on pavement, we did a three mile loop trail called Waiakoa (why-ah-ko-ah). Waiakoa had contained the only climbing of the entire 35 mile ride, and it was dig real deep granny ring stuff.

Part way down Skyline Trail looking back towards summit

I’ve ridden Skyline four years ago when last visiting the islands. I recalled loose marbly spots, but much of it was this way today. Steve didn’t hesitate to bomb down it. I have aversion to cinder rash. Many places our wide 2.3” tires would plow inches deep in fist sized pumice. Uber squirrelly stuff. We both managed to stay upright through this section. The Mars rovers could very well have captured the Martian imagery up here - horizon to horizon red cinder rock. That is what makes this ride so cool. With clouds not yet filling in below us, Haleakala just disappeared into the Pacific. I’ve read that no other place in the world can you be at 10,000ft so close to the ocean.

West Maui and the Molokini crescent island

I was running my Aiptek HD video recorder for this ride. I recorded over 1GB of video, about 30 minutes worth. Unfortunately, the one time I paused it, Steve decided to pitch himself over the edge into a gully. More on that in a minute.

A few years ago, a fire had swept though portions of Polipoli State Park where the Mamane trail runs through. It is starting to re-grow and is no longer like riding in deep talcum powder. Mamane is quite steep and technical in spots, similar to New England riding minus the brown mix coating. We paused on Mamane to remove long layers. We had dropped about 3000ft so far and were out of the wind.

A lava tube opening most of the way down Mamane Trail

Next we traversed on Polipoli Access Rd a few miles with very little elevation change. I could really tell we were still at altitude, having to pedal for the first time in about 10 miles. This road eventual becomes paved for a ruckus descent back to civilaztion. But first, I wanted to try a short loop I didn’t get to try the last time I was here.

The Waiakoa Loop ridden counter-clockwise first gains a few hundred feet, then plummets about 1000ft on very steep, switchbacked singletrack. On the upper part of the loop, the trail dips into several washes or gullies. I dabbed on many of these or wussed out altogether on a couple. On one such crossing, I thought prospects were slim that I’d clean it, and the consequences of falling to the outside were severe. I walked it and waited for Steve to come through on the other side. When I heard him coming, I asked if I should turn the camera on. He thought something really good was coming. I was surprised he tried it. He didn’t make it, and he fell to the outside, disappearing out of my field of view.

Waipoli Rd as it switchbacks down a vast pasture at 12% grade

Hopping down to him, I could see he was alright. There was about a 4” diameter tree laying across the wash. He managed to snag it with arms and one leg and was hanging upside down like a monkey in a tree. His other leg was somehow through his bike frame and completely locked down with a tree branch. In other words, he was stuck hanging there with bare rock about four feet below him that sloped away at a very vicious angle. We mountain bikers are a sick lot. I was laughing so hard I think I peed a little. I asked if I could take a picture first before helping him get untangled. He said he wasn’t going anywhere. Anyway, no pictures and really no damage to bike or body. Good thing the tree was there. Could have been much uglier. Steve completely reinforced why I’m a wuss.

GPS track of full descent

After bombing down many switchbacks, it was time to earn that vertical back, as Waiakoa is a loop. I think the climb back out was just as steep. There was only one switchback that forced me off my bike, the last one actually. I got a solid 20 minutes of 50rpm threshold intensity effort in. I don’t think Steve shared my sentiments that the climb back out was a bonus for the ride that otherwise would have been a pure descent.

Back on Waipoli Road, which Polipoli Access Rd becomes, it was all pavement back to the car we left in Kahului. This road has over 20 switchbacks, averages 12% grade, and is only one lane wide. Disk brakes are pretty much mandatory. I think we lose another 3000ft on this road alone. Despite riding 35 lb big travel MTBs, we could really lean those bikes over around the hairpins.

Dirt portion of ride

There was only one more significant road to take back, Pulehu Road. This starts out residential but eventually runs through sugarcane fields on the lower flanks of Haleakala. Views were great all the way down. Seemed to take forever before Kahului took up much of our field of view. I did not go all the way down last time I rode Skyline. Instead, I met my wife and mom in Kula at around 3500ft. Pulehu Rd was a nice way to end the ride with some moderate effort to hold 20+ mph as we rolled into town.

We only had the trail bikes for the day, so this will be our only trail ride on Maui. The summit didn’t cloud over until later in the day, so we really lucked out with the views. The views are what this ride is all about. Video will have to come later when I figure out how to edit it. We finished with 35.5 miles in 2:24hrs riding time. My Garmin logged 1185ft of climbing, but 10,783ft of descending. Not exactly a Hill Junkie ride, but with 80,000ft of vertical credit in the bank, I can shuttle a ride once in a while guilt free.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Classic West Maui Loop

Steve and I headed out early Saturday for the classic West Maui road ride loop. The wind was already quite ferocious. We rode the loop clockwise, hoping the head wind wouldn't yet be too strong along the north shore heading out and getting full benefit of tail wind along the south shore later in the ride. Things didn't quite work out that way.

As we passed the last of the resorts on the west side of the island, we picked up another rider. Turned out to be John Baudhuin, founder and CEO of Mad Dogg Athletics. Spinning, Spinner bikes and Spinerval DVDs are just some of the products his company owns. He comes to Maui for a week every year and commented he hasn't seen wind like this along the north shore. Very pleasant guy to talk with. The three of us loosely hung together for the next 20 miles of wickedly curvaceous, hilly terrain. Much of the road is single lane wide Jeeps can barely fit on. Great for cyclists, especially early in the morning when the tourists are still eating breakfast and putting sunscreen on.

Steve heading up one of the walls

I was hoping to average 4hrs per day riding on the islands. Doesn't look like I'll hit that, so following my modus operandi so far this season, I opted for a little intensity during the ride. There are numerous 200ft walls along the north shore. The biggest climb gains nearly 1000ft in fits and spurts. After drilling about 5 or 6 of these, my legs were rather tenderized and I couldn't ride away from Steve anymore unless he let me. I needed some margin on the climbs. He is a skilled (or fearless?) descender. There are dozens of blind, single lane cliff ledge corners on this road. There is no way to get around a car should one come just as you rounded the turn at the same time. Steve had no trouble putting seconds on me down each descent packed with these sketchy turns.

Steve cresting another wall

The wind in spots was almost enough to force dabs, especially coming around these rock face corners into the wind. It was difficult to hold a line on the descents with wind hitting you in random directions. Soon enough, we'd get some tail wind.

After passing through the town of Wailuku, we picked up a slight descent with perfect tail wind. It was easy to hold speeds over 40mph, the road now with paved shoulders. In fact, there were minutes at a time where I was going 40-45mph and felt no net wind. That means the steady wind speed was at least 40mph, gusting much higher. Bombing down this gradual descent, we passed a cop on the shoulder with laser gun. I was doing 47mph. The speed limit was 45. He smiled and waved at us.

Kahakuloa Head

We stopped briefly to pick up some fluids to finish out the ride. The temp was hovering around 80F. A triathlete couple competing in Ironman Kona also stopped there. They were doing 20 minute intervals back and forth on that road with power taps on their TT bikes. The woman said they were holding 5mph in the opposite direction. I don't think she was joking.

Wrapping around the south side of West Maui, Steve and I expected to continue with at least partial tail wind. Nope. It was partial head wind. Just brutal. We still had 15+ miles to go, not a nice way to end a ride. We stopped at West Maui Cycles to see if rental MTBs are size were available yet. They were, and we pre-paid for pick-up later in the day. Plan is to do the Haleakala plummet on Sunday.

Other than high clouds, the summit of Haleakala stayed clear today

We finished the ride with 58.7 miles, about 4100ft of climbing per the Edge 705, in 3:20hrs riding time. I think it took my wife and I over 4hrs to do this loop on the tandem 4yrs ago. Topo 7.0 gives over 7500ft of climbing for this loop, which is simply wrong. When routes hug cliff edges, Topo grossly over estimates. The 705 barometric altimeter undermeasures on small rolling hills, but on this ride, it probably didn't miss much. Steve rode the loop counter-clockwise before the rest of us arrived on Maui. I just might have to see if I can work that in before hopping over to the big island in a few days.