Hillclimb and dirt road enthusiast Jim Hayssen first told me about Kelly Stand Road a couple years ago. Last October I went on exploratory ride only to find the upper half of this wonderful climb socked in with snow. I knew I'd come back to ride it again soon. I thought maybe it would be worked in to one of my dubious training value rides. Instead, I enticed my lovely wife into giving it a go on the tandem.
Cathy doesn't exactly share my enthusiasm for the hills. In fact, she may tell you she hates hills. We are polar opposites in that regard. We are opposites in another regard too. She'll cycle commute to work most days this time of year. I have never ridden my bike to work. My primary excuse is I have to cross the Merrimack River through Nashua. There are two places, and both suck. I'd probably get tagged once a year if I commuted daily. The other excuse I use is I don't don't know how to derive training value from these 45 minute trafficy sessions. Plus I'd lose my lunch time reset mechanism when I normally go out and ride. Anyway, I digress.
Last year at the Equinox hillclimb race I won a night's stay with breakfast at the Reluctant Panther Inn. Originally I booked our stay there for Friday night. But if I wanted to claim a BUMPS leaders jersey, I needed to show up at Mt Washington the following morning. Cathy was willing to go along with my silliness to claim a jersey and stay Saturday night at the Reluctant Panther instead. Additionally, she would even drive up Mt Washington to take me and one other rider down after the race. She hasn't done it in a couple years now, and the weather was looking good. So the plan was to drive up to the race very early Saturday morning, race, then drive directly to Manchester VT to check in and have dinner. Cathy didn't want to let this stay slip away. The year before I won a similar stay at another place but never got around to using it.
My legs were a mess by the time we got to Manchester. We had the tandem inside the Matrix with the hatch closed. It fits with both wheels removed, both seats pushed way forward, and the rear derailleur in between our shoulders. Not very comfortable for three hours after racing. While Cathy freshened up, I got in a quick 40 minute spin on some nice quintessential Vermont roads to loosen the legs. I no more than put the bike back in the car when the skies opened up with rain and thunder. It stormed on and off all night, knocking power out in areas as well as Internet service (I left my connection to the cyber universe at home anyway).
Apparently I slept right through the rough stuff that came through in early morning hours. When I got up after 7am, weather was looking mighty nice for a ride in the mountains. I had my work cut out for me on the planned route: 5500 feet of climbing in 48 miles. Cathy's W/kg doesn't exactly compare with a Top Notch finisher on Mt Washington. I had to compensate.
Breakfast was phenomenal. Fresh baked blueberry muffins with coffee to start. Cathy ordered Belgian waffles, I got real buttermilk blueberry pancakes. Sausage balanced the meal with some juicy (fatty) protein. It was certainly enough for a 3+ hour mountains ride.
We kitted up and headed out. We had a nice 8 miles or so to warm up on before Kelly Stand Rd. North Road links us to it. This was mostly gravel last year, now mostly paved. It is very steep to start, maybe 10% in places. We found gears on the tandem that went below 1:1 ratio. The pavement ends after cresting the top, then it is a plummet on gravel. The rainy summer has kept the gravel in fine shape. We hit over 40mph on dirt.
We turn left onto Kelly Stand Rd to begin the 8mi, 2000ft climb on gravel. Again, the gravel rode just like pavement in most places. The recent rain really had Roaring Branch roaring. We followed this stream nearly all the way up. Two guys coming down on bikes passed us. A little while later, they came up from behind and passed us again. I was envious how effortlessly they climbed without the "tandem tax." Tandems seem to climb a lot slower than the average of the capabilities of the riders. Don't know why. I put continuous, near threshold effort into this long, persistent climb. Cathy did too. Progress was humbling after the previous day's solo blast up Mt Washington.
We finally crest the high point and begin the descent, still on gravel. Wouldn't you know it, the same two guys are coming up again. Two round trips up and over could net upwards of 8000ft of climbing, mostly on dirt. I wonder how many times they were crossing over? Cathy didn't want me getting any ideas...
Once on pavement, we easily broke 50mph. Tandems are good for this. And flats. Uphills suck. We bear left on paved Mountain Rd to sweep by the Stratton Mountain ski area. There are some serious rollers in here. That little blip you see in the profile after the main climb - that is real. We hit 53mph coming down the back side of it. After cruising through the ski base area, we finish bombing down to Rt 30 via Taylor Hill Rd, dirt and very steep. What a riot. I think Cathy said a prayer every time we descended dirt. She said she could feel the back end sliding around. Yeah, so?
The ride was still not over. We had to climb the double humps on Rt 30 before the plummet on Rt 11 back into Manchester. It was humbling to all-out kill myself on a 6% grade to net only 6mph. Cathy was pretty much cooked. However the descent was five miles of wind-rip-the-sweat-right-off-of-you speed. We again broke 50mph. We finished with 3hrs, 14min riding time, a little bit longer than I'd thought it would take. That was more climbing in 48 miles than I've ever taken Cathy on, and we're still even talking after that! Driving back, Cathy turned down hiking opportunities on both Monadnock and Pack Monadnock. That is very uncharacteristic of Cathy. Must have been a really good ride.
Next up is looking like a double race weekend. Ascutney Hillclimb on Saturday, Horror at Harding Hill MTB race on Sunday. Haven't raced Horror since 2001. Wonder who will show up? Only handful registered so far. A bunch of fast folks are signed up for Ascutney. Should have 200+ by race day. Many fast road racers will be there. I'll have lots of competition.