Sunday, June 7, 2009

Meanest Mile in Massachusetts

Checked another 100by1002 ride off the list Saturday. I dubbed this one the Berkshires Boondoggle. A boondoggle it was. Seven riders started in Adams at the base of Mt Greylock. The route consisted of looping over Greylock from north to south, swinging by the cars to refuel, then hit Hoosac, Hawley, Zoar, Kingsley and other climbs. Mapped route should have been just over 100 miles. Topo suggested there was nearly 14,000ft of climbing, but I know how it over estimates. I figured it would be just over 10,000ft and we could knock it off in around 6hrs. I was wrong on both accounts.

We had just a few miles before reaching the beginning of the Greylock climb, where the Mt Greylock TT Hillclimb begins. Then it was game on. Paul, the youngster in the group brought some pretty big gears for this hillfest, a 39t by 25t minimum ratio. He seemed quite confident in this selection, and he didn't have anything lower anyway. We picked up two more riders as we began the climb, Jeff Daigle and a friend. They knew were were doing our ride today and had just come over Greylock from the other side. They were heading back over and calling it a ride. So Paul, Jeff and his friend bolted. The rest of us did our best to hang on. It was 6-gaps all over again, when we had a few guys riding a 4-gap pace with the rest of us wanting to finish all 6-gaps. In this case, Jeff's ride was over after cresting Greylock. Of course he was going to hammer it. I should have known better than try to stay with him. The pace was not conducive to riding six more hours. Paul did stay with them. He had placed well in the Connecticut Stage Race Cat 3's, so I was curious how the rest of this day would play out.

The newly rebuilt road was marvelous. The surface was as smooth as glass. The shoulders and lookouts were all cleaned up too. No more small car sized potholes, frost heaves as big as your front wheel, or just random gravel sections. The climbing and descending are finally perfect.

Summit road, new pavement, Adams 2800ft below

The pace at the front of our group totally blew us apart. We reached the summit one by one over many minute's span. Despite backing down some, that was still way harder than I had planned to go on any climbs during the ride. My legs were only half recovered from interval work on Wednesday and Thursday, now they felt like somebody took a ballpeen hammer to them after the first of many climbs. It was going to be a long day.

The descent to the south was adrenaline packed. The smooth surface tempted you to take the 15mph posted hairpins at 40mph. Paul must still enjoy the invincibility of youth. Nobody else could stay with him on the descent. At the bottom, we hooked a hard left on Quarry Rd. It is gravel. It starts choppy and progressed to little more than a doubletrack. There was whining in the ranks. I loved it. We climbed a few hundred feet before beginning a plummet on loose fist sized rocks. All epic rides need sections like this. The group got fragmented again. Interestingly, the only one that won their field at Battenkill whined the most about the dirt sections in the ride.

Dave's head is almost as shiny as the memorial globe

A quick stop at the cars had us to the base of Hoosac Rd. I really didn't know what to expect, not having ridden any of the remainder of the route. I was already in world of discomfort and was strategizing clever ride bailout stories. I really started to doubt I was going to finish the ride as planned. Seems everybody else brought their race legs to the ride except me. Hoosac Rd was a bitch. The pitch was pretty much unrelenting. The sun was out, and much of it was exposed. I got very warm. I was one of the last riders to make the top. This was a good bailout point if anybody else had doubts, like I did. Keith did decide to bail, thinking about what lie ahead. I was ride leader and really didn't have the option. We pressed onward.

We hit a bit of Rt 116 with nice tail wind, then took combination of roads down to Rt 2, popping out from Black Brook Rd. We cruised down Rt 2 to East Hawley Rd, our next climb and the most selective climb in the Tour of the Hilltowns race. But first, we had to stop at a tiny shack of a liquor store across the river for fluids. This was an unplanned stop, but most of us needed it. By now I was in survival mode, and the ride isn't even half over yet. Dave, Alex and Paul were killing the climbs. Glen, Brian and I were bringing up the back. I seemed to reach a damage control plateau that just might get me through this ride. We crested the top and cut through a short bit of gravel to Rt 116 in Plainfield.

The descent of West Hawley Rd was unremarkable for just riding around. In a large race field, however, there could be carnage. The road is in very poor shape. Much of the edge of the road is broken up or even buried under dirt. Further down it is much steeper, tight turns, with deep cracks and poor patch jobs. Would not want to be riding blind in the pack at 40+ mph down this one.

Once we cross over Rt 2 to finish the ride, there would be no sources for water. So we stopped at the shanty sized booze shack again to get more Vitamin Water and salty substances in bags. I really could have used a tin of sardines. Zoar Rd was our next climb. Not too steep, but late in ride meant slow progress. Each climb proved to spread our group of six out further and further as fatigue set in. I had wanted to cut across on County Rd to Monroe Hill Rd, but it was gravel and there was dissent in the ranks. I need to add bold disclaimers on future Hill Junkie ride announcements that routes feature extended gnarly gravel sections. So we excised the tasty dirt bit by adding more miles and vertical on pavement. What was that? Did somebody say this ride will never end? The best was yet to come.

Because we deviated from planned route I had perfectly committed to memory, we missed a turn to descend Monroe Hill. I don't think Glen minded. Bring up the back of the pack, he encountered a bear sow with three cubs. Don't see that every day. The rest of us missed it. Back on track, I think most of us hit speeds in excess of 50mph down Monroe Hill. That was a breath of fresh air before being asphyxiated on the next climb.

We crossed the Deerfield River at Monroe Bridge. At first, you look across the village and don't see Kingsley Hill Rd. You wonder if there could even be a road up the near cliff face before you. Well, there is a road that slices up a ravine. We turned on to it and laughed. This was now about the 95 mile point in the ride with 10,000ft in the legs already. The pitch was ridiculously steep, even for fresh legs. All of us except for one brought reasonable gears for this ride. How do I define reasonable? How about cleaning the steepest hill without stopping. Perhaps the efforts expended earlier in the ride caught up to Paul. Not far into the steep stuff he had to put a foot down. Us old farts take sick pleasure in incidents like these. We think about Kingsley Hill when starting Greylock. It brings balance to the whole ride. Had I gone any harder on Greylock, I might not have made it even this far. I was the third one to crest Kingsley, behind Alex and Dave. Alex crushed all of us on it. Skinny whippet. Kingsley Hill Rd is easily the second steepest grade in New England, a small notch down from Lincoln Gap in Vermont. It no doubt is the "Meanest Mile" in Massachusetts.

By now the grumbling in the ranks was drowning out the sounds of nature we were riding through. I heard plenty of cussing below me as I climbed Kingsley Hill. But we weren't done yet. Most of the group thought that was it, just downhill on Rt 2 back to the cars now. Nope. We had another 700ft climb, Tilda Hill. Not too steep. This is the only hill I can claim KOM points on. Alex and Dave decided to socialize up this one I guess.

We got back to the cars almost two hours later than planned. We stopped more often, extend the ride to avoid gravel, made wrong turns twice, and a couple of our stops were on the long side. I hope Brian's wife lets him ride again sometime this decade. I logged 110 miles, 6hrs, 44min riding time, 11,300ft of climbing per my Garmin 705. PowerTaps logged 5000-5300kJ energy expended for 165-180 lb guys. The ride delved deeply into realm of dubiousness. I certainly got my butt handed to me by Alex, Dave and Paul. Definitely will have to try this one again sometime, perhaps with a couple minor tweaks to shorten it just a bit. Great scenery and near nil traffic on most of the roads.


Mookie said...

I would say that Lincoln is an absolute 10 on the difficulty scale whereas I would score Kingsley a 9.0. I think that Kingsley being at the 90 something mile mark with 10K of climbing made it that much harder. It was reminiscent of Patten Hill sans the redneck buzzing, of course. This was really a tough ride; I found it nearly as difficult as 6 Gaps. I don't think I ate enough. I probably consumed a quarter of the calories I had during 6 Gaps. That probably had something to do with it being so hard for me.

"Acceptance of variable road quality."

Perhaps that should be added to the waiver for rides in the DTVS.

What's the meanest in New Hampshire? I'm thinking that maybe Carter Rd. in Kent is the meanest in CT.

Jeff Daigle said...

Heh Paul, guess you needed that compact crank and those MTB gears after all! :)

Accuist said...

I would do it all over again, though i think next time i would just kill myslef and not even think twice about stopping going up Kingsley Hill.. I have to say Kingsley Hill is the hardest thing i have ever climbed in my life, which does not say much for me. I would definetly do it all overall again with the same gearing, maybe i would just not do so many hill repeats next time. I ended up with 116 miles and 7 hrs of riding. Great meeting eveyone and definitely count me in for next year if the time works..

Anonymous said...

dibble hill in CT is the "hardest mile in CT"


Jonny Bold said...

Your rides are amazing! I'm envious.

brent said...

not to dispute, since after all you should know, having done both...but, according to my calculations, the Mount Tom access road is has a steeper average gradient. It would certainly appear that Kinglsey Hill Road has a longer sustained 20+% section than Mount Tom. But according to veloroutes elevation data, I get about 13.6-13.9% average depending on how I slice it, and 14.6 for Mount Tom. I'm hoping to make it out to Kingsley Hill later in the summer...

Hill Junkie said...

Brent - forgot about Mt Tom. Some might argue that it is not open to public riding. Since it has been a while when I rode Mt Tom, it is hard to say which one was steeper. There were a couple slightly less steep parts on Kingsley. This takes down the average gradient. But there were some lengthy brutally steep sections that had to be steeper than Mt Tom. I believe Alex saw 24% on one point on his GPS. Mt Tom has a very nearly a constant grade. Getting into a debate about which is "harder" is philosophical. If we stick with a requirement that steepest grades must be public auto roads, then I'd have to pick Kingsley Hill Rd in Massachusetts.