Saturday, August 8, 2009

Three Days of Dirt

If you came here expecting to find a Tokeneke Road Race report, sorry. With ideal trail riding weather this weekend, I decided to take a bigger picture approach to riding. I fly out to Durango on the 16th and hope to trail ride upwards of 5hrs daily. Big MTB races follow in September. Off-road riding requires different kinds fitness and skill you can't get on pavement. If you have a passion for dirt riding, read on.

Friday, August 7
Red Tail, Black Cap Connector, Quarry, Sticks-and-Stones trails
32mi, 4.2hrs, 4640ft
High Point: Black Cap Mountain
North Conway, NH
Dave P and I headed up to North Conway early Friday to capitalize on a super fine day for off-road riding. said zero percent chance of precip with highs just above 70F. Dave didn't tell me he was bringing a demo bike, a Yeti 575. This rig has nearly 6" travel front and rear and had downhill oriented tires. Just like my Racer-X, it does not fit on a Bones bike rack. We putzed around for 20 minutes to figure out how both our bikes were going to fit in/on my car with three people inside.

My son came along so he could join his buds nearby on the Saco River in Fryeburg, ME. Wish he would have done a little more homework, as he did not know the name of the campground they were staying at. There are several campgrounds on the Saco in Fryeburg. That ate up another 50 minutes of our riding time. Leave it to a bunch of early 20-something year olds to get into trouble. He thinks it was a riot they threw water balloons at plain clothes police officers and fails to see why I don't think it is funny. Haven't heard the last of this yet.

Dave hitting big rock on Quarry trail. I claimed vacation coming up, so didn't need to take risk (I'm really just a wuss). Photo doesn't show well the dicy transition near bottom.

My favorite trail in New England is the Red Tail Trail above North Conway on the flanks of Black Cap Mountain. It was purpose built for mountain biking and drops (or climbs) 1500ft. The summit of Black Cap is nearly 2000ft above town. Our planned 5hr ride was now looking like 4hrs due to time constraints. We planned to start out by climbing Red Tail, descend the ruckus Black Cap Connector trail, hit the new Quarry loop, then Sticks-and-Stones. After a brief refuel in town, we planned to head back up Black Cap via the Cranmore Ski Area service road and continue on Cramore Trail along the ridge line to pick up the top of Red Tail Trail for a descent. Bombing down Red Tail compares favorably with Engineer Mountain Trail in Durango. Nothing else comes close to it in the northeast. 1500ft of non-stop singletrack switchbacks, nearly 2000ft if you start from Black Cap summit.

White Horse and Cathedral Ledges in distance from summit of Black Cap. Rain in background.

We reached the Black Cap summit in one hour, a respectable time. I was above threshold much of the climbing. A great workout. A few dabs though, still some greasy areas along the way. As expected on a nice day, there were quite a few people on the summit, a bare granite knob with killer views of the Presidentials, Moats and other ranges. Disturbingly, you could see heavy rain about 10 miles away even though we had blue sky above us.

Descending on Connector is always a white knuckle affair for me. It is non-stop, rutted out endo's waiting to happen and steeper than heck. Even on my dualie, I struggle to find lines that don't strike fear of death in me. Dave is accustomed to riding rigid singlespeeds, so I was curious to see if he knew what to do with all that travel the 575 offered. He did. He just pointed the thing down and was gone. Dang. I might have waited for him once or twice climbing, but he was going to be waiting for me at the bottom of this plummet.

Eventually we reached the turn-off for the new trail that loops through the abandoned Redstone Quarry. Sweet stuff. Just the right amount of climbing, techy stuff and fast swoopy parts. There is a lathe in one of the buildings that is bigger than anything I've seen. I'm guessing they milled 50,000 lb columns in it. We saw a column later along the trail. It looked perfect really, about 3ft in diameter and 20ft long. It was beautiful with a polished finish.

The new quarry trail loops back to Sticks-and-Stones. I had been out of water for a while, so we popped into town quickly to refuel before coming back to rip a lap through Sticks-and-Stones. This time I even tried a few rock stunts that I never previously tried. No crashes or ejects. The surface of Sticks-and-Stones, as is much of the trails in the area, is decomposed granite. It has a very coarse texture to it, can be a bit loose around corners, but packs up nice and firm and is wicked fast. There is a new pump track near Sticks-and-Stones too. It is very small though. I do not know how to keep it going without pedaling once in a while.

Armoring on Red Tail Trail.

We cut across on the powerlines back to the ski area to climb Black Cap again. By now, all the intensity earlier in the ride was catching up to me. The service road was a bit rutted out and loose. There were sustained sections well over 20% grade. 3mph was deeply anaerobic, and that was about as slow as you could go without falling over or spinning out. As we reached the top of the ski area, a dark cloud moved overhead, wind kicked up, temp dropped 10F and it poured for about 15 seconds. It was enough to make all the vegetation wet, but not the trail. The sun came back out again. That was a close one. The fun factor bombing down Red Tail would be diminished by 50% if it was slimy as snot. Conditions did not disappoint. I'm sure I was ear to ear grin the whole way down. My wrists died though. Driving home later I still had trouble shifting. I think it is combination of constant death grip on the brakes and never ending turns.

It was a great ride, with high training value and high fun factor. We never got to do the White Horse Ledge/Mineral Site/Energizer stuff on the other side of Rt 16. Next time. The best stuff is on the east side anyway. Not having ridden my dualie much lately with its more upright riding posture, the saddle found unconditioned bits of tush. My bum felt like it had been dragged across 1000 meters of berber carpet.

Saturday, August 8
FOMBA, Trail 15, Bear Brook State Park
44mi, 3.8hrs, 3350ft
High Point: Fort Mountain
Manchester to Allenstown, NH
I was looking for something a little less strenuous and more cross-country oriented today. I have never connected FOMBA, Bear Brook State Park and Fort Mountain on the other side of Bear Brook in one ride before and wanted to try it. I have done 50+ mile rides that join FOMBA and Bear Brook before. The snowmobile corridor Trail 15 connects these two areas. It is essentially a rocky ATV trail most of the way. Despite recent dry weather, a few bogs still required portages.

I parked at Massabesic Lake near Manchester. I estimated round trip distance would be about 34 miles. This was way wrong. I reached the edge of Bear Brook SP with 16 miles already on the odometer. Only singletrack trails that were directly on the way to Fort Mtn were hit. From Bear Brook, the summit of Fort Mtn sits about 1000ft higher and 1200ft of climbing along the way in less than five miles. About half of this vertical is gained in the last half mile on a communications tower access road.

Fort Mtn access road. This section is over 20% grade.

I have been riding to the summit of Fort Mtn for upwards of 10 years in all kinds of conditions, dry and loose, wet and muddy, even snow covered without studs. I have never failed to clean it. Until today. Recently some new crushed stone was put down, presumably to control erosion. There was no binder in the stone, just sink to your rims large aggregate granite. On one of the sustained 22% grade sections, the cranks went around about four times with zero forward motion. I can only balance so long pedaling like a madman without moving before having to put a foot down. Of course, it was way to steep and loose to get going again. I was angry and defeated at the same time. Fortunately the crushed stone part ended and I was able to resume riding to the summit.

Bear Pond in Bear Brook State Park.

The view from up top never disappoints. Some days you can see Mt Washington 100 miles away. Today was a tad hazy, maybe only 60 miles visibility. The White Mountains were clearly visible.

The summit was the turn around point for this mostly out and back ride. I planned to hit a couple different bits on the return, mainly the other sides of the two major ponds I rode by. Having taken over two hours to get this far out, I was clearly going to run out of water. It was quite comfortable out, but 70oz does not last me four hours in the woods.

View to the north from summit of Fort Mountain. White Mountains in distance.

After descending Fort Mtn, I continued to bring my average speed up on the way back. Seems my legs got a long second wind, bouncing back from the epic ride the day before.

I didn't hit too much singletrack on this ride. It was very rough and rocky most of the time though and only a couple miles of pavement were included. I really enjoy these long solo cross country excursions. I rarely see other people on Trail 15. Plenty of solitude and fast cruising was the theme of the ride, which I hope to repeat each day in Durango in a week.

Sunday, August 9
Midstate Trail
12.2mi, 1.8hrs, 1910ft
High Point: Mt Watatic
Ashburnham, MA
In a word: Brutal. I haven't been on the Midstate Trail in many years. I had some reservation about driving out here not knowing if last winter's ice storm damage had been cleared out yet. I parked at the base of Mt Watatic, a very popular hiking mountain. Cars were lined up in both directions along the Rt 119. At least 100 hikers were on the mountain.

I went right into the climb with no warmup on legs trashed from two days of off-road riding. It instantly hits 20% grade on 100% baby head rocks, essentially a creek bottom climb. This was way more eroded than the last time I've been here. Managed to ride about 90% of the doubletrack portion of the climb. A right at the saddle picks up singletrack on the north side to the Watatic summit. A false peak is quickly hit, a brief, gnarly descent I've never cleaned, then a bunch more climbing. Again, the hiking trail was way more eroded than I remember it. Maybe rode 75% of it. All the rain this year and the deluge a couple years ago have really taken a toll on these trails. The climb is mostly rock, solid ledge in some places, loose rock on ledge in others. Makes for dicy descending.

Near Watatic summit. Way steeper than it looks. Cleaned it down, not up.

Made the summit in a little over 20 minutes. It is 600ft net gain but about 800ft of climbing. After catching my breath, I turned the Racer-X downward. I made a tweak to the rear shock to see if I couldn't coerce a little more small bump response out of it. I think I was successful. I rode about 95% of the way down, still with several dismounts though. This climb and descent was by far the most technical stuff I've ridden all year.

Midstate Trail. Handlebar deep ferns for half a mile. Camera failed to focus for some reason.

Passing back through the parking area, I crossed over Rt 119 to continue south on the Midstate Trail. It climbs steadily for the first mile at double digit grade, frequently peaking out above 20% per my Garmin. It was all rideable, but required full aerobic commitment, something I hadn't really planned on doing much of today with Mt Washington coming up in six days. I crested Fisher Hill, bombed down plenty of white knuckle terrain to Winnekeag Lake. Midstate keeps going across Rt 101, but I vaguely remember another spanker of a climb. I figured I only went a few measly miles so far in an hour of riding time, so I kept going. More hike-a-bike sections ensued. I reached high point of Mt Hunger and decided I didn't need to risk more hours of ledgy riding with an important race coming up and week in Durango after that. I turned around and scared myself silly coming back down, pretty much riding everything. I saw grades on the Garmin in excess of 30% (negative 30%, that is). A few hikers I encountered thought I was nuts. I decided to take Rt 101/119 back to car to keep the ride under two hours.

From summit of Mt Watatic looking south.

That wraps up an all-dirt weekend. Nearly 10 hours and 10,000ft of technical trail riding in three days. No crashes. Hope it pays dividends next month at SM100 and VT50. A marathon post, no doubt. Hope you made it this far. Thanks for reading.


Luke S said...

I rode the Quarry trail in May and loved it. Didn't get to ride Black Cap or Red Tail though, unfortunately.

Alex said...

We were running the Wapack trail (from Watatic up to Windblown XC area) in July, and I definitely remember looking at some of the ridge we were on and being quite glad I was not on a bike... you have legs of steel!

Anonymous said...

How did Dave like the Yeti 575. My brother in law just purchased one a month or so ago. He loved it. Texas Chris

Dave said...

The only thing that could hurt you in Sept is the heat. I did a 101 mile road ride yesterday in Manassas with zero shade and 96 deg and high humidity. I was well done by the end. Maybe,to better simulate the thermal issues the
S & M 100 will offer, I suggest you could wear a sweater when you ride up North on those chilly 70 degree days? Soulds like you had some good dirt rides and it's true that only road work ill prepares for the 100. If my wife would allow i'd try to get a job up that way. Too far from family though.

rick is! said...

I've been hearing about the red tail trail for a few years now. I need to get out there sometime. sounds killer.

dyana said...

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