Saturday, June 13, 2009

White Mtns West Mini-Epic

A planned big ride did not happen on my off-Friday. Incompatible weather. NorEast riders Keith Button and Rich Brown were planning to ride 4NaaP on Saturday (4 Notches and a Pass). That sounded like a pretty good substitute to Dave Penney and I. The four of us have ridden or raced together on many occasions.

The four of us met at the Lincoln Visitor Center for a 9am roll-out. The weather was perfect. Normally, western White Mountain Hill Junkie rides start with Gonzo Pass and dirt Long Pond Rd climbs. If you replace these two climbs with Kinsman Notch, you get a simpler 4NaaP route. 4NaaP is a classic that many riders do each year, much easier than 6-Gaps. It is fully paved and the steepest grade is maybe 13%. Most climbing is much gentler than that. The route goes Kinsman Notch, Franconia Notch, Crawford Notch, Bear Notch, and Kancamagus Pass. It runs about 94.5 miles. Topo says it has 8200ft of climbing, but I bet a GPS will measure closer to 7500ft.

Having an extra recovery day this week from missing Friday's ride, my legs were nearly race ready. My goal was to make sure there would be nothing dubious about the training value of this ride. I was going to hit select parts of each climb hard.

Keith giving victory salute cresting Kinsman. I think the camera man took honors on this one.

The gradual ramp-up on Kinsman Notch was a nice warmup. I planned to hit the top 800ft or so, the really steep part, at near VOmax intensity. I no more than kicked it in when I saw a mature bull moose standing in the middle of the road in front of me. When he saw me coming, he bolted over the guardrail and down a very steep bank. You wouldn't think such a clumsy looking animal could perform such a feat. That was cool, but now I was starting to see cross-eyed and still had a long ways to go to the top. The other guys quickly became a dot in the distance. I hit the notch with plenty of time to take pictures before the others crested. Kinsman, perhaps with Crawford, are the prettiest notches in New Hampshire. That felt really good. I regret not taking recovery more seriously before last week's ride in the Berkshires. I had hoped Dave would be keeping me honest during this ride. Seems he picked up a bug this week and was well off his top form.

View south through Franconia Notch

We ride the big rollers into Franconia, turn right, and we all know what's in store. The climb up Rt 18 to the base of Cannon Mtn is a spanker. We've all done these climbs many times, just not with this particular four-some. My goal was the same as for Kinsman - as soon as the grade kicked up I was going to kick it in.

I quickly drew a gap from the others. About half way up the gap wasn't growing anymore. That first near VOmax effort for 10 minutes or so on Kinsman zapped my legs pretty good. This climb entailed more vertical, so it took longer. At the top, Keith gleefully pointed out that I went out just a wee bit hard and that they were gaining on me near the top. Still got what I wanted out of it.

We bomb down part of the bike path, pick up Rt 3, and continue gradual descent to Twin Mountain. Our only stop for the ride was the well stocked gas station that might have been a train depot at one time on Rt 302. I had some reservations about going another 50 miles after this on just two water bottles. It was mostly sunny with temp in the 70's. I was sweating profusely on the climbs.

The Presidential Range from Rt 302

The climb to Crawford Notch from the west really isn't a climb. Sure, there's a couple bits you might slow down to 12-15mph, but mostly it is just cruising easily above 20mph. The descent is rather spectacular though. I easily broke 50mph on it. Then it's about 15 miles of gradual downhill to Bartlett where we pick up the next climb, Bear Notch.

My legs didn't feel so good anymore, and I wasn't sure how Bear Notch was going to play out. Bear Notch is nice from Bartlett. It gains about 1200ft at one of the most uniform grades around. I think it is about 6%. Thus drafting can play a roll here among strong riders. We're all masters riders, reasonably well matched. Starting the climb, I thought TT'ing this one was no longer in my interest. Keith and Rich set a good tempo. We traded "pulls" starting out. I found I could pull at 14-15mph, but when I ducked back into the draft, the pace dropped by 1-2mph. Hmmm, maybe they're getting tired too? So I played the role of antagonist. When two riders are closely matched is when they will kill each other during a training ride. When one is much stronger than the other, that is just acknowledged and a truce is formed. If a rider thinks their nemesis is suffering, they will do all they can to stay with them, as their nemesis will tire and they might defeat him or her. Well, I was feeling good enough to carry 14+mph to the summit. I could have just bolted, and that would have been that. But instead, I hung around a while, making sure the gang just barely hung on. Yeah, I'm evil like that. One by one they dropped off. Keith was the last to hold my wheel. I don't know any other guys his size that can climb so well. Once that cord broke, I was free to knock myself out for the remaining half of the climb.

Coming through Crawford Notch just before the plummet

I honed this sadistic skill years ago on lunch rides actually, when lots of folks from BAE Systems used to go out at lunch. It works in many ways. Often, some riders would go out a little earlier than others. I would gain sight of a fellow BAE Systems rabbit heading back. Eventually they'd see me behind and ramp it up. I could have shut it down then, but not when fun was to be had. I'd ramp up just enough to let them think they had a chance of making it back to the office without getting caught. Cycling psychology is such that the closer a match gets, the harder you will try. Riders will run themselves into the ground to avoid getting caught if they think they have a chance to stay away. So let them dangle out there I did. Sometimes they caved, sometimes I had enough fun and finished reeling them in.

After cresting Bear Notch, we had one climb left, Kancamagus Pass. Now I really felt pretty cooked. So did everybody else. We did some more quality paceline work taking long pulls to the base of the climb. Nobody wanted to set tempo on the climb. I was stuck up front. Somebody said they had enough suffering for a day and then sent me on my way. I had little more than sub-threshold pace left in my legs. The steep four miles seemed to take forever. The others were only about two minutes back when I crested. After taking a few photos, it was 14 miles, almost all downhill, back to the cars.

I finished with 4hrs, 42min riding time. It was the fastest Keith and Rich had done the loop I believe. It was the first time I rode 4NaaP proper, so I had no previous time to compare to. It was a very efficient ride with only one short stop. The water held up ok. Solobreak might have liked this one. No whiny kids, no yahoos that are disruptive in a pacelines, and well short of a death march. Just master racer types out for some quality riding in the mountains. I actually made it home from a ride on time for a change.


Mookie said...

Alright, I'm jealous.

Big Bikes said...

Do you prefer the loop in that direction? I've always done it the other way. Crawford must not be quite so nasty coming up from Twin Mt..

Got a few open weekends, I want to do some Hill Junkie rides, give me a shout.


plum said...

We do that loop in the opposite direction. Kanc, Bear, Crawford, then left on 3 through Franconia to Kinsman. 1FG of course! Crawford makes for a real stinker.

Hill Junkie said...

I've ridden all of the 4NaaP climbs in either direction many times. In reverse, the Kanc and Crawford become serious climbs, while Bear, Franconia and Kinsman almost become trivial. It's a toss. That is why the full Hill Junkie version includes Gonzo Pass (Rt 118) and Long Pond Rd in the mix. These two add about 3000ft of climbing to the route.

July 3/4 or 10/11 are candidate weekends for another big ride. White Mtns East or Jay Peak double metric are options. Not what I normally associate with recovery, unless of course your norm is pushing a 34x18 up gnarly climbs. I'll give a heads up when plans firm up.

Mookie said...

I'd be up for a July 11th excursion if that's the day you end up putting something together.