Saturday, October 31, 2009

Chasing More Waterfalls

It poured all day in Knoxville. All of the areas on my list of places to hit were getting deluged today, from Daniel Boone National Forest in Kentucky to Pisgah National Forest in North Carolina. Fortunately, this vein of moisture that has plagued the nation's mid section for several days now is only a couple hundred miles wide down here. Friday it was dry in eastern Tennessee, wet in the west. The back edge of this ribbon was supposed to clear the western side of the state later in the day.

I picked up a just released MTB guide book for the tri-cities area (Nashville, Knoxville and Chattanooga) when I picked up the rental bike. It featured a place about 1:40hr west of here called Fall Creek Falls State Park. It had a mix of paved, gravel and singletrack riding options and supposedly drained well. Sounded good to me. At the very least, I could do little hiking to the waterfalls if it didn't stop raining or do a soggy road ride in the park.

It rained most of the way there, but cracks of blue sky started appearing as I arrived at the park around noon. It rained hard for maybe 24hrs there, so everything was soaked good. I decided to hike first. One positive side of getting rained out of planned riding was that the waterfalls would be roiling big time. I was not disappointed. Quite a few people were there despite plummeting temps behind the front and wetness. I tackled a couple spur trails, one requiring a serious rock scramble to get out to the vantage point. The risk wasn't falling 300ft into the gorge, it was scaling down a near vertical 25ft rock face to get out to the vantage point. The granite was wet and slimy. I had slippery sneakers on. Definitely more risky than any thing I do on a mountain bike. I kept thinking that I really should have a helmet on. That vantage point really wasn't worth the risk. Fall Creek Falls, the park's name sake, was spectacular from both the top and bottom. It is claimed to be the biggest free drop falls east of the Rockies at 256ft. Naigara Falls is only 173ft. It creates a huge down draft at the bottom. It was hard to take photos without the lens getting wet.

The "barely there" Upper Loop Trail.

After 4mi, 1.2hrs hiking, the fallen leaves were just starting to dry up. Time to ride. I went out on the Upper Loop Trail, a 13mi singletrack loop that stays up on the plateau for the most part. Amazingly, there was no mud to be found. Many water crossings, a few knee deep with swift current, but no muddiness. In fact, most of the trail was dry. I got wet only when riding through laurel tunnels. Temp was around 50F, and I was comfortable in short sleeves.

Slimy bridge over swollen Cane Creek.

Upper Loop Trail suffers from neglect. It is a beautiful woods trail, a skinny "barely there" ribbon with leaf drop. There were many blow-downs along the route and the tail was a bit overgrown in some areas. If it weren't for the white blazes, I would have had route finding trouble. I met only a solitary hiker in the 1.9 hours I was out on this loop. The first half of the loop (clockwise direction) was gently rolling and completely non-technical. After crossing the uber scary suspension bridge over Cane Creek, the trail became decisively more challenging. The loop reminded me a great deal of the trail I learned to ride on in Michigan at Yankee Springs. Fast and rolling to start, then repeated fall line lung buster climbs and plummets the second half.

Tunnel of laurel and holly on the Upper Loop Trail.

The Upper Loop suspension bridge was wet, a little mossy perhaps, with oak leaves on it. Since the bridge designs used in the park attach the decking directly to the suspension cables, the deck follows a parabolic shape. The deck was so slippery that I more or less slid all the way down it to the center of the bridge. I could barely stay upright. There was haphazardly attached fencing below the hand rails cables, but whether it could keep an out of control 160 pound man from going into the raging river below was suspect. It was even harder to walk up the other side. Both body and bike did not want to stay upright. I get weirded out enough walking over these wobbly contraptions in good conditions. I was glad I didn't have to go over it again.

At the end of the ride. I think this is normally a swimming hole when the water is not so high.

I thought about riding the shorter Chinquapin Loop too, but I didn't want to get back too late. I figured 3+ hours of aerobic activity with 2700ft of climbing for the day was sufficient. Really lucked out. I felt a few drops during the afternoon, but never got wet. As I drove back east, it was still pouring in Knoxville. Sunday may be a Pisgah epic if the rain moves out by morning. Else I may head north to check off a Kentucky trail ride. I'll leave you with some waterfall pics.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Chat Area Trails

I travelled a long ways to demo a Gary Fisher 29er. All the way to Tennessee, in fact. I cut out of work early on Thursday, jumped on a plane, and apparently recent speeding tickets failed to correct my behavior when I made it to Knoxville from Nashville in about 2hrs flat. I really wanted to pick up the rental bike in the evening so I could get an early start. The shop didn't open until 10am, and it was 2hrs to the trailhead. When I planned this extended weekend riding trip, I failed to recognize that the eastern/central time zone line falls in between Nashville and Knoxville. The 30 minutes margin I had was 30 minutes deficit that had to be made up on Interstate 40. Glad all the staties had others pulled over.

The nasty head cold I came down with last weekend has pretty much departed my body. Unfortunately, it went to roost in my wife's body. Nasty things. You'd think that since they can make a vaccine for a brand new swine flu virus in a year, that they could make a vaccine for a virus that has been around for millenia.

The forecast down here was teetering on disaster for riding. In fact, the western part of Tennessee has been getting hammered with rain and flooding. It just keeps coming up from the gulf. Just a couple hundred miles to the east, it's been staying dry. Friday was warm and super moist though, and tonight the system is supposed to drift this way. Saturday looks like a complete washout.

Brush Creek on left, Tanasi on right. Started in lower right.

The plan for Friday was to hit the Tanasi, Brush Creek and Chilhowee trails east of Chattanooga. Tanasi was recently designated an IMBA Epic. Also, the Ocoee River that runs through the area was used in the 1996 Olympics. Lots of white water around here. The terrain is rocky and deeply corrugated.

I parked at the Thunder Rock Campground on the Ocoee. From here, it is nearly 1000ft of climbing to get to the good riding up top. Many of the trails appear to be reclaimed logging roads, with a ribbon of singletrack down the middle. Others are machine built singletrack trails with a wide, all season tread of crushed rock. This is how they build trails in the UK, since it rains continuously there. These trail could be ridden in wet conditions just fine. Not sure I would enjoy it that much, but it would not damage the trails.

Up top was a sweet 1.8 mile loop called the Quartz Loop, maybe from the brilliant outcroppings of quartz. Looks more like white marble to me. The River View loop slowly works its way back down to the Ocoee further east at the Whitewater Center. Fun stuff. Heavy leaf drop gave me pause every time I wanted to let my speed run out. Evils lurked just below the surface, although nothing technically challenging had been encountered yet.

Somewhere nearing the Ocoee, I must have nailed a pile of bear scat. I get to the suspension bridge over the river, stopped, and was nearly overcome with putrid odors. Shit had flung off the front wheel all over me and the bike. Sticky too. Fortunately there were restrooms with water at the Whitewater Center. Riding for about 90 minutes, I had perfect solitude until I got back down to the river.

I didn't originally plan to ride the Brush Creek loop. With Saturday looking abysmal, I decided to link it into the ride. There's a nice 2.3mi connector trail along the river that picks up Boyd Gap trail. Passed a few deer hunters along the river, quite close to the Whitewater Center actually. Boyd Gap was the toughest thing I encounter yet, hitting 20% grades and rutted out. The GF Paragon 29er climbed admirably well. I did slip once on wet red clay. The Paragon is fitted with Bontrager XDX tires, perhaps my most hated MTB tire. These aren't tubeless either, so I didn't dare go silly low with pressure.

I picked up the Brush Creek Trail at Boyd Gap. This is perhaps the most perfectly contoured trail I've been on, maybe eight miles of trail in all. Supremely buff too. You could go tempo pace and just let your mind wander as you twisted and dipped around. Many of the turns are bermed so you could pedal full speed through them. I was sad when it was over. Back at Boyd Gap, I opted to take US-64 two miles back down to the Whitewater Center. I did not need to ride the wide track again along the river.

Crossing back over the suspension bridge, climbing mode resumes. This time I would take a more northerly route back to the car through the Tanasi trail system. Chestnut Mtn Loop was more reclaimed logging road for the most part. A few bad sections were rerouted and felt like singletrack. Then it was time for the finale, the plummet down Thunder Rock trail. Good things have been written about this 1.5mi descent back to the trailhead. It did not disappoint. Thick leaves made it tricky though. This tail was by far the most technical one there, but still tame by New England standards. That is fine by me when travelling alone. I'll be picking at scabs on both arms for another week or two from the Wicked Ride of the East last weekend.

The wind was going nuts when I finished, and it was drizzling. I figured my riding was done for the day. I logged 32mi in 3.2hrs riding time with about 3300ft of climbing. I still held out hope of doing a short loop at the Chilhowee Trails, also on the Ocoee River, heading back towards Chattanooga.

Lollipop loop at the Chilhowee Trails

I lucked out. The misting stopped, although the skies were still very dark. There were two trucks parked at the trailhead, presumably deer hunters. I debated whether I should put on my orange vest. I don't think it is regular rifle season right now, just muzzle loader and bow. I was hoping to score more views riding in this area, but there are no cliff outcroppings or clearings at the ridge tops. You can see out through the trees not that leaf drop is nearly complete at the higher elevations, but that doesn't make for good photos. I knew there was an oft photographed waterfall in the Chilhowee Trails. Maybe if the rain holds off, that will do. Not sure why people are lured towards waterfalls. Personally, I like to interact with them, as in getting wet. But most waterfalls are too dangerous for that. Getting beamed by a 200ft rock from 100ft up would ruin your day.

From the US-64 trailhead, access to the Chilhowee trails is ruthless. The first half mile averages about 15% grade, then it slackens to 10% for a long time. My legs were pretty trashed by now and rebelled.

I didn't want to risk a full perimeter loop here with rain in the area. I truncated the lollipop loop to hit Benton Falls sooner. The main trail passes right by the top of the falls. Scary, as you could walk out and not realize it is 65ft straight done after slipping on the green slimy ledge. A granite stepped trail drops to the bottom. I ditched the bike. Benton Falls is pretty near a perfect bridal veil falls. This fall was probably safe to walk into if you wanted. The temp was around 70, but the water was pretty cold. I opted out despite the dried bear scat on my legs.

Alright, that made it worth it stopping here to ride. Now I had to ride higher, cross the stream, so I could descend the canyon on the other side on Clear Creek Trail. Parts of this trail felt like singletrack, maybe because it deviated from reclaimed logging roads. I decided to plummet down Rimrock Trail, cross the stream again much further below Benton Falls, then climb the canyon wall I came up on in the first place. It was only a 250ft climb. Turns out Rimrock Trail was a hoot, quite rough, steep, and nicely canopied with rhododendron and laurel. I finished the lollipop loop ride bombing the 15% climb I started on. That added another 12 miles, 1.5hrs and 1900ft to the day's riding. Never saw another soul out here. A wicked fun day of riding. Work was the furthest thing from my mind.

I spotted a Sonic Drive-in not far from the trailhead. I ate a meal that would have impressed Fat Doug for sure. A chicken sandwich with mayo, a Super Sonic double cheeseburger (bigger than a double whopper!), and a large chocolate malt. Had to have been 2500-3000 calories.

Now I can color in Tennessee on my map of states mountain biked. Kentucky is next, but probably not on Saturday. I'll leave you with a bunch of photos. I'm too tired to caption them tonight. Mousing over (or clicking and looking at URL) should clue you in what they are.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Slip Sliding Away

Time for NEMBA's Wicked Ride of the East again. It is an organized "fun ride" that snakes 22 miles through the most technical bits of Harold Parker State Forest (HP). I think for three years in a row now, copious rain fell in the hours preceding the ride. It poured buckets Saturday and into the night before this years ride. HP is tricky enough in best conditions. I never seem to leave there without mishap either.

I arrived early, met up with Dave Penney and a crew of good riders out of Exeter. We were rolling shortly after 9am with everything still soaking wet despite brilliant sunlight. I certainly was in the minority. I think there were more 29" bikes than 26" bikes. Lots of singlespeeds, but I think Dave and I were the only ones sportin' the small wheels. I just read somewhere that five years from now 26" wheeled mountain bikes will be as popular as V-brakes today. Nobody rides V-brakes anymore.

Riding in the mist of 15-20 riders in juicy conditions was a test of patience. At any one time, somebody was dabbing. Eventually I worked my way towards the front with Rich Brown and got a nice rhythm going. Until I tanked. About mid ride I tried to hop up a ledgy rock outcropping precariously perched above water to the right when my front wheel jackknifed. Body slam into the rocks was the result. My left forearm broke my fall. Probably close to a break. When I got home, Cathy noted that I even scraped the hair off my arm. Yeah, that's how sharp the rock was. Two years ago I ended the ride early when I nearly broke my hip. A bruised arm I could deal with. I plodded on.

Later in the ride, things started drying out just a tad, but still lots of standing water around in the lower areas. Rich stretched things out nicely riding his 29er SS, taking just a few of us along with him. I wasn't done having mishaps though. In the "Hero Section" near the end, I was a little beat down from 2.5hrs of riding rocks, and in a moment of sloppiness, I hit a tree on a sketchy descent. Might as well have matching banged up arms, right? Add cuts to my right elbow and skin off the knuckles to match road rash over lump on my left arm.

Last year I rode my Ellsworth dualie and did not crash. I did flat twice though, as I did not run tubeless on that bike. On my singlespeed used today, I ran the tubeless tires ridiculously low, something like 20 pounds in each tire. I felt the rear tire pinch out dozens of times, but never cut nor burped it. Gotta love those Panaracer Fire XC Pro's. Not the fastest rolling tire, but they hook up and hold up well in most conditions.

I was surprised to make it back in 10 minutes less riding time than last year. Felt way slower. The chili was ready, always a nice treat to cap off this ride. Could have used a lower gear. I ran a 32x18 ratio. I calculate my average cadence to be 57rpm. I wouldn't want my cadence dropping this low climbing the steepest mountain, let alone greasy technical singletrack. If it is wet again next year, I'll surely find something bigger to put on the back. Overall, it was a great ride on a day that turned out to be fantastic. It looked like the event was very well attended.

So now I'm not only licking fun-ride wounds, I have a full-blown head cold. Sucks. Probably picked it up at work, maybe that long van ride down to Long Island mid week. Who knows. Plenty of it going around. I've managed to go 22 months with zero illness. I think staying healthy through the hardest parts of training training and racing seasons says something about my rest and recovery approach. Hope I put this bug behind me in a few days. On Thursday, I fly down to Nashville for an extended weekend of riding. Plan to hit IMBA Epic material in Kentucky, Tennessee and maybe a big loop through Pisgah National Forest in North Carolina. All of it will be new to me. Should be peak color in those parts by next weekend.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

You can't get faster by trying harder

I was tied up with business travel all day Wednesday. Just hate it when one of my primary work-out days gets chewed up like that. Needless to say, I had some pent up frustration to vent Thursday. I brought road bike and rollerskis to work. If it turned out to be nice day like forecasted, I'd go for a long ride. Backup plan was to ride the little 4" wheels.

At 11:30am, it was still only 52F and dreary out. Little wheels it would be. All of last fall I took a step back from flailing away on rollerskis and worked on technique. This meant slowing way down to pay attention to what I was doing. At the time, it seemed like I was going backwards, not accomplishing anything. I've hit the rollerskis only nine times so far this fall, way less than the last couple falls. I'm still focusing on technique, things like committing to each leg, proper bend at the knee, snappy push, making sure I don't push off the toe, using abs for upper body thrust and not arms, etc. But Thursday, I pulled out the stops for a power and speed workout, a good old fashioned hammerski.

At the beginning of last fall, I would flail away in such an attempt with modest increase in speed but huge increase in perceived effort. That has changed significantly. I now find I can maintain much better technique while going faster and with less perceived effort. I did laps around my circuit with a modest climb at about 19kph average for 21km. Great endorphin inducing workout.

The cool thing about rollerski workouts is no part of your body escapes unscathed. All the bits get impacted, but none overly so like on the bike. Cycling mainly taxes your fore and aft motion leg muscles. Skiing gets those, plus lateral leg muscles, your core and upper body. As a cyclist, I have huge upper body deficits, something I plan to work on this fall.

On a bicycle, everybody has about the same friction to the environment. This is rolling friction of the tires and aerodynamic drag. There is little in technique to improve this, other than going to TT equipment/position. So everybody is within a few percent of each other. There is some technique to pedalling efficiently. Power Cranks can illuminate deficiencies in one's spin cycle. But still, most cyclists get it and are within a few percent of each other. Therefore, going faster is mostly just a matter of training. To go faster, you try harder. You'll probably get faster.

Skiing is completely different. Trying harder without addressing technique deficiencies ingrains bad habits. I can attest to this. Trying harder just wastes more of your output kilojoules in the form of hotter wheels and excess sweat running down your face. For someone that has attained high levels of fitness, going slow in order to learn how to do something right is the hardest thing in the world to do. Takes patience. Hoping for some better results in 50km races this winter. I will do it by continuing to go slower on the rollerskis this fall. I do need to ramp up the rollerskiing hours though. It is unlikely 1-2hrs per week will score a sub-3hr 50k marathon.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Dreaming of Twenty Nine Inches

With our planned Sunday Death Ride washed out by a Nor'Easter, Dave and I decided to check out a Specialized Bicycles demo day at Fork Rock in Exeter on Saturday instead. They had nearly every type of bike in most sizes there, dualies, hardtails and road. For a while now, I've toyed with the idea of building up a lighter weight hardtail for racing. I still prefer a hardtail for certain courses, like the VT50. My Dean Ti hardtail, which will be going back for warranty repair, weighs nearly 25 lbs. After watching this trailer, I'm definitely targeting the Leadville 100 next year. A hardtail looks like the way to go.

A couple weeks ago, I inquired about picking up a Specialized S-Works HT 29er frameset through a LBS. Built up, these bikes go for around six grand. A week later, I get an email from Exeter Cycles that they and Papa Wheelies will be hosting a demo day at Fork Rock by Exeter on Saturday. What perfect timing. Forecast was looking highly favorable too.

I was unsure what size frame I needed, as per specs I was half way between a medium and a large. They had both available, 2010 models with the new SRAM XX drivetrain. The medium clearly looked too small, so I signed out a large bike. Dave started out on a 26" dualie.

For those not familiar with Fork Rock, it is the most technical riding spot in southern New Hampshire. As the name implies, it is very rocky. It is town owned land and has robust network of NEMBA maintained trails on both sides of Rt 101 with tunnel under the highway connecting the two sides. In wet conditions, Fort Rock is treacherous. Very little of the singletrack is considered buff. Mostly just rocks and roots. I used to ride Fort Rock frequently. Since becoming mostly a roadie, I haven't been there in about 3-4 years.

I've ridden a 29er once before, in Hawaii, but not on singletrack. It was pumice rock jeep road climb. I could perceive some of the benefits of bigger wheels on that ride. Fort Rock would be the acid test of big wheel riding. We started out with a perimeter loop of the south side with one of the Papa Wheelies guys joining us. My legs were a tad wrecked from the big ride the day before, but there are few places where you can keep the hammer down in Fort Rock anyway. Lots of techy bits to catch your breath on. I liked the bike. The large frame was the right size for me.

We looped back in about 30 minutes. There was a 1hr max on demo's, but few people were showing up, so they let us head out again. Dave swapped his dualie out for a medium just like the carbon 29er hardtail I was on. We crossed over Rt 101 for a big loop, hitting all the good stuff. Surprised I could even find myself around after being away so long. We of course had to hit the trail called The Demoralizer. I was doing quite well and thought for a minute I might clean the whole thing. Silly roadie. I did much better than I expected though, and probably much better than when I used to ride it regularly, even on my Ellsworth dualie. There really is something to big wheels.

We rode the sinister swamp bridge (where Ron Marcaux went off and through the ice in January once) and followed the perimeter on the north side. Lots of faster stuff there to get a feel how the 29er handles at speed on rough stuff. We finished up on the Red Trail with many challenging rock formations. I don't think I ever cleaned this trail back in the day, but I was cleaning tons of sketchy stuff this day. I was having a blast. Can't credit all of it to big wheels, as I've regained most of my off road skills this summer. By the end of the ride, my confidence was increasing by the mile. I found myself riding over things that would give me considerable pause on my 26" hardtail. The big wheels are far less apt to get stuffed and send you over the bars. Plus they tend to ride more over the tops of choppy roots and rocks, so you don't feel as much of it. I was sold.

We rode 1.7hrs. Conditions were surprisingly dry, the air crisp, with brilliant bluebird sky. Dave and I both agreed we need to ride there more often. A three hour loop can be had at Fort Rock with minimal to no repetition. It's all pure fun factor.

Now for the bike's good and bad. First the good.
1. Super light bike. Forgot to take fish scale to measure it.
2. Frame uses BB30 standard. I never did like external BB cups, as I ride splay footed and most carbon cranksets do not work for me. They do not leave adequate heel clearance. BB30 should fix that. It wasn't broken before everybody went to the stupid external BB convention.
3. Big wheels let me ride faster over much of Fort Rock's rough terrain.
4. Big wheels provide noticeable gyroscopic stability at speed.

And the not so good.
1. The frame was quite flexy at the bottom bracket for carbon. This might partly be light weight big wheels, which also can be flexy.
2. The bottom bracket is very low, causing nuisance crankarm smashing. This is common trait to all Specialized bikes.
3. Big wheeled bikes aren't quite as agile in tight conditions.
4. Didn't care for the SRAM XX drivetrain. 10spd drivetrains have no business on a MTB. Large cog in cassette was 36t aluminum, a real pie plate! Cogs 11-32t are milled out of solid block of steel and looks very fragile. Hate to think what a replacement one costs.

I will likely procure one of these frames this fall. I'm a Shimano guy. As long as Shimano maintains compatibility between most of their groupos, I'll keep buying their stuff. I tend to mix road and MTB components on all of my bikes. I'm very happy with my two XTR equipped bikes, but not so happy with the replacement cost of XTR chainrings. Does Shimano have a BB30 crank yet? Since ski season will soon be upon us, this will be a winter project for me.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

White Mountains Triple Treat

The White Mountains were looking just a little whiter than normal for this time of year. I wanted to get in an epic off-road ride on my off-Friday, but things are so crazy at work right now, I'm not getting any days off. I had to settle for a closer, shorter ride. I awoke to a dusting of snow in our yard, and it was still snowing. In 12 years I've lived here, I haven't seen snow on the ground this early. It Hasn't even reached peak color yet. This was a southern New England system. The radar looked clear further north. I decided to throw the CX bike in the car and head up to Campton right off I-93, about 80 minutes away.

Sandwich Notch

In the past year, I've done several rides with 'cross or MTB bike on dirt roads in the Campton area. One dirt climb that I've only been on once, maybe 10 years ago, was Livermore Rd up to Livermore Pass. I cross country ski the lower portion of Livermore Rd every winter. The upper portion is open for back country skiing and snow shoeing. I thought a nice loop would be to hit Algonquin Rd, up stream along the Beebe River, over Sandwich Notch, then take Rt 49 up to Waterville Valley. Livermore Pass would be an out and back climb, returning via Rt 49, then trying a new route up and over Campton Mountain.

Livermore Trail

It was 33F starting out with intermittent hazy sun poking through. The four and five thousand footers in the distance were white capped from snow earlier in the week. It looked like snow went down to 3000ft or maybe even 2500ft. I wondered if I would encounter any. Being so cold, I thought it would suck to have to ride in booties and lobstah mitts so early in the season. Not so. It was less windy in the mountains than at my house. I had no trouble staying warm. My legs were dead flat, however. Not sure why. Maybe 62mi 'cross race last weekend and mid week hammer ride and hammer ski sessions had something to do with it. Regardless, I was going to enjoy this day even if tempo effort was the best I could muster.

Livermore Pass

I went a full hour on the Algonquin/Sandwich portion of the ride without seeing another soul. Very peaceful. The 7 miles into stiff headwind on Rt 49 tried to put a damper on my ride but failed. Livermore Rd starts out as wide, nicely groomed gravel road (gated to traffic). Saw a couple hikers at the bottom. It climbs gently for a couple miles. Where Waterville Valley's groomed trail systems cuts off to the right, Livermore Rd continues as a jeep road. It gets considerably more rugged and rutted out, made even more challenging with heavy leaf drop and skinny 60psi tires. Livermore Rd changes to Livermore Trail further up and becomes more narrower and steeper, taxing my ability to keep moving in a 34x32 minimum ratio. Around 2500ft elevation, I started seeing snow on the ground. When I reached the pass, essentially on singletrack, things looked more like winter wonderland. This was around 2900ft elevation. It felt like it was 25F here, and the snow was hard and crunchy. Only a moose managed to beat me to laying down first tracks.

The descent would be a piece of cake on a mountain bike. But 15% grade, huge ruts and rocks buried beneath 6" deep leaves, 2" of crusty snow that packed in brakes, and cantilever brakes that had marginal stopping power in best of conditions made for a treacherous descent. Couldn't afford to eat rock up here, as nobody would come along anytime soon. It was wicked cold. Descending the top few miles took almost as long as climbing. Very scenic though, with leaf drop nearly complete so you could see peaks through the trees. Went another hour-plus without seeing another person.

White capped Mt Lafayette in distance from Campton Mtn

I was so cooked after this climb I decided to bag the third climb over Campton Mtn. Funny thing though. As I'm approaching Chickenboro Rd on Rt 49, my bike just automatically turned left. Next thing I knew, I was in full-blown climb mode again up a 1200ft, 12% climb. This "back" way up Campton Mtn was intermittent gravel/pavement, turning to full gravel near the top. I hit the lookout point again Dave and I hit the weekend before Ironcross. I was surely cooked now and out of water. I planned to take a different way down, following Winter Brook Rd back to my car. It was all paved and nearly monotonic descent. A sweet way to end a fall mini-epic ride. Ride went 48 miles in 3.7 hours with 6000ft of climbing. A large majority of the time was spent climbing on dirt even though miles-wise half of the ride was paved. Won't be many more opportunities for rides like this in 2009. I have a hunch the next time I hit Waterville Valley, I'll be on my RS:11's.

Monday, October 12, 2009

This is 'Cross

Ironcross-VII Report
We snagged some spectacular weather this weekend for racing on a little dirt. I had planned to try a hardtail at Ironcross this year. As I showed in my previous post, my frame is cracked, and I had no choice but to revert back to my Ridley 'cross bike. This left me in a bit of a lurch, however. One reason I wanted the MTB was the lower gearing options it afforded. There are some seriously steep climbs in Ironcross. I didn't discover the crack in my frame until late on Friday night, and I was heading to PA the next morning. Then Dave Penney shows up at my house with his Yeti 'cross bike sporting a MTB cassette on the back. I just couldn't psychologically handle that. After all, he can mash. He beat me at the SM100 on a singlespeed. If he was going for low gears at Ironcross, I had to go lower. Silly kids. So what did I do? I threw a brand new cassette, chain, chain pins, cable and XTR derailleur with tools in a bag and tossed them in the car with my bike. Late night motel room major bike mods aren't risky, are they?

We get to Carlisle without any hindrances from the PA staties this time. They sure were out there though. We hit the race venue first, grabbed bib numbers and feasted on the pasta dinner. Then it was rush mode to motel so Hill Junkie's mobile bike shop can spring into action. I wasn't exactly swapping out for a huge change. I already had a 50/34 compact on the front with a 28t cassette on the back. Traditional CXers may quip WTF, why on earth would you need lower than that? Ironcross ain't your typical CX course. More on that later. My plan was to put a 32t cassette on back, getting down to nearly 1:1 ratio. That's only 4t easier, not a huge jump, but I spent a lot of time in the 28t cog last year. Because the chain was slightly worn, I did not want to risk chain hop, so that had to be swapped. Then the Ultegra derailleur couldn't handle the 32t cog without excessive teeth-to-teeth grinding, the so XTR derailleur had to go on. Before I knew it, I had nearly swapped out my entire drivetrain the night before an "A" race in a motel room. Smart, really smart. To my horror, when I went outside to test ride it, there were no barrel adjusters anywhere on the rear derailleur cable. I had to loosen the cable clamp a million times to get it right. STI levers don't have adjusters, XTR derailleurs don't have them. Never thought about that before the swap. If it needed a tweak during the race, I would hemorrhage places.

That's not all that's risky going into this race. I was using a new sport drink for the first time ever, EFS. I mixed up Camelbak to start with, then had two bottles dropped at CP2 to grab mid-race. I have a long history of not getting along with sport drinks but was at my witt's end to solve my cramping problems.

So race report, finally. After pre-race instructions, I actually got a call-up! Now mind you, this isn't a Verge race, but I placed well enough apparently to grant me a front of the masses starting position. All of the men went off in one wave, around 250 of us, into one lap around a tradition 'cross course used the day before. Since this is a four hour race for the fastest racers, it's not as much mayhem as you would think. Still though, the pace went ballistic and stayed there.

I got through the taped-off course in about 30th position. We pop out onto this hiker-biker path, an old rail trail I think. It is extremely important to hang on with the lead pack as long as possible in this race, as it affords big drafting benefits, at least until the first climb. We closed up gaps to leaders. I was safe. Then we hit this beach area I forgot about. Most of the leaders cleaned it. A few didn't, and I got boxed in. Train gone. That sucked. I stayed with the leaders all the way over the first climb last year.

This year was different though. Jeremiah Bishop and several other elites were racing. This drove the pace off the charts. I killed myself on that first climb, a paved one, to bridge back up, but they pulled away instead. The course turns off the pavement, goes around a gate, and continues climbing on a rocky fireroad for a couple more miles. Riders were getting shelled out of the lead pack, so I had increasing numbers of riders to hang with. Eventually we bomb down and pop back out on pavement again.

We caught most of the lead pack, but Bishop and a few others were gone. The pace did not settle down. We begin the next climb, which caused a remix of the riders in the pack I was hanging with. Near the top of this one up on a ridgeline, we passed the first checkpoint. Nobody needed water. Just after this, we cut into the woods for the first singletrack section, a bony singletrack that many would find challenging even on a mountain bike. This was the stuff I wanted my hardtail for. One of the young guys in our group couldn't ride over a rock to save his life. I was hanging with masters rider Andy Ruiz (CCC/Keltic) at this point and wondered how he would do since he's doesn't ride off-road as much as I. He did amazingly well. Near the bottom of this two mile plummet was a section I really wanted to clean on a 'cross bike. It is in the middle of nowhere, yet there must have been 30 spectators and EMTs there. I wussed out again. Big ledgy steps. I took Andy's lead and hoofed it.

Back on pavement, Andy and I worked together. One other rider bridged to us. Gunnar Shogren (Cannondale Factory) was just up the road, waiting for us. He needed a "lift." Gunnar races singlespeed and readily wins the category here. We had about five miles of slightly downhill pavement before getting back on dirt. We hauled-A here, Gunnar spinning at 32mph to stay with us. Mighty impressive. I knew full well he was taking advantage of our pulling and would crush us on the next climb.

I'm leading the main chase group up the second, easier section of the powerline run-up. The first uber nasty section is where the power lines drop over the edge in the distance. Big gap to next rider.

The next climb was the infamous powerline "run-up." A few more riders bridged up to us at this point. The only masters (40+) in our group of 10 or so were me, Andy and Gunnar. We speculated that the only other master ahead of us was Andy Applegate. This was looking to be a good race for me. When were turned off the pavement onto the ATV trail, I led out. I didn't want roadie skills getting in my way. I was feeling good and set a stiff pace. We pop out under the power lines and bear right. The horror of horrors appears before your eyes. A couple of the guys hadn't done the race before and muttered "Oh shit!" I let out a "Yeah, baby!", something only Dave and Brett Rutledge might understand. This course goes right up the fall line, something at least 45 degrees, or 100% grade. One hand shoulders the bike, the other is needed to frequently catch yourself from sliding back down. 30 minutes of this in two installments. Good times. Despite not doing any running, I never seem to lose time here. It is deeply anaerobic, going all out at 2.5mph. I led our main chase group for 30 minutes or so the whole way to the top, where CP2 awaited. Volunteers said we were something like 8-15 to come though. Totally cool, still in contention for a top-10 overall finish.

The next bits of the course get fuzzy. I still had Andy Ruiz and Gunnar Shogren with me. Andy concerned me, as I've seen him solo the Sunapee Road Race in the masters 35+ before from start to finish for a win. We drop, then another long, drawn out climb. It is on this climb I got popped from the faster guys in this select group. Gunnar went with them. A few of us got shelled, including Andy I believe. Andy commented just prior to this how ballistic the pace was for the first two hours. It was way harder than last year, as hard as any sub-2hr MTB race I've done, yet Ironcross takes 4hrs. I thought surely cramps were imminent. I was no more than 30sec back over the top of this 600ft climb, about 35 miles into the race. I wondered what the odds were they'd just sit up on the five mile rocky descent. Zero. They drilled it. I killed myself the whole way down, in a 50x11 gear. I hit speeds of over 40mph, scaring myself silly the whole time. There were so many big rocks sticking up, and it was so rough I couldn't focus on anything. It was a hold on and pray situation. I have big blisters on my hands to prove it. The reason I wanted to catch them so badly was I knew another fast paved section was coming up. If they hit that and worked together, I would loose several minutes working by myself. I first caught one rider that got shelled on this descent, then another, and finally the rest of this diminishing pack. Ruiz was gone now, and Gunnar still with us, also a masters, but registered as a singlespeeder. So that potentially meant I was looking at a podium position if I didn blow it and my last minute bike mods didn't fail me and and my new sport drink didn't tear my insides out. Lot of if's.

We get to the second to last climb of the race, a 1000ft dirt ball buster. We now had 45 miles of dirt climbing in our legs, and I was definitely cooked. Gunnar bolted at this point, not be seen again. I was quite a ways back from Gunnar last year, so either he was having a bad day or I was having a very good day. I suspected the latter. This climb sorted us out into one-zees for the most part. The descent was another hairball gravel deal with washboard bumps just before sharp switchbacks. Way too easy to overcook these corners, and you might encounter a redneck coming up in a pickup at the same time.

Much of the remainder of the race was on double/singletrack, including another hike-a-bike section. The group I hung with for much of the race completely fragmented here. I spent the next 30 minutes of the race without seeing another person. I also suddenly went into cramping mode. Sucked, but it was much later in the race than last year, and I thought there was good chance I could still hold my position if the cramping became serious. I wanted that podium spot. I had no idea how close Ruiz was behind me, and I wasn't sure if it was just Applegate ahead of me. As I reached the ridgeline, a lone spectator there told me I was 12th and 13th was 10 seconds behind me. What? I look back, and at first I thought it was Ruiz. I ramped it up and immediately seized up. That wasn't going to work. I was surely caught by whoever it was. This guy came blasting by me. It was not Ruiz, but I believe a Kenda Pro rider that I passed earlier fixing a flat. He was not a masters, so no worries.

Once you hit pavement after this climb, it is largely down hill to the finish, except for a couple irritating rollers a mile out, all paved. I never looked over my shoulder so many times before. Nobody was coming though. They left part of the traditional cross course in the race at the finish, so I had to suffer a sand pit and one barrier just before the finish. I did not have the energy to remount and walked over the line in 4:09, three minutes faster than last year, in 13th position overall out of nearly 300 starters. I was quite pleased. A few minutes later, the first few results were posted. I snagged third place masters, scoring cash, prizes and an iron cross medal. This was a clearly a stronger finish than last year in a stronger field.

It was nice to sit right at the line to watch riders come in. There were minutes between riders for a while, then the masses started coming in. Andy Ruiz and Dave Penney both took much longer than I expected. Turns out they both flatted twice. I was going to run 50-55psi but up'd this to 60psi front, 65psi rear in 35mm Schwalbe Racing Ralph tires. I think Andy ran higher and he is smaller. Lot of flats out there. Time for somebody to make tubeless 'cross tires, me thinks. Dave plans to run bigger tires next year, maybe 38mm. In hind sight, maybe not being able to use my hardtail was blessing in disguise. Conditions were perfect after recent rain, and I really benefited by being more aero on the road sections. The bike mods? Guess I keep my job as Hill Junkie's chief mechanic until the next race. EFS sport drink? I still cramped, and after race GI distress suggests this one's not for me either. Needs more experimentation.

Ironcross VII was certainly one of the high points of my season. Interestingly, I started the season with Battenkill, a 60ish mile road race with lots of dirt. I placed third in a stacked masters 40+ field. Ironcross may well be my last race of the season, and I placed third again in the masters 40+ field with some of the same guys that were at Battenkill. I have an affinity to these fast, 60 mile dirt road climbing races.

If you study the origins of cyclocross, Ironcross bears much more resemblance than today's metro park races. 'Cross has taken on a life of it's own, finding a spectator friendly niche with party atmosphere. Nothing wrong with that. I enjoy the aspect of adventure with a single loop through the mountains. Throw in 30 minute leg searing climbs, adrenaline inducing plummets, unknown course obstacles, pack dynamics throughout and even solitude late in the race, you have the makings of something epic.

Friday, October 9, 2009

This totally sucks

After flip-flopping a million times on whether to ride MTB or 'cross at Ironcross, the decision was decisively made while wiping my beloved Dean Ti hardtail down for the race. I discovered the frame is cracked. Thought Ti wasn't supposed to do this. As you can see, the crack starts down the top tube, crosses the seat tube and continues down the wish-bone seatstay. Both sides are cracked. I've seen aluminum frames fail this way. I have noticed annoying creaking the last couple rides and couldn't figure out where it was coming from.

This doesn't suck so much for the race, as I couldn't make up my mind anyway. Now I will race the Ridley 'cross bike. What does totally suck is I was planning to ship this bike out in a couple weeks for a short 4-day excursion down south. There's bits of the southern Appalachians I haven't hit yet in Tennessee and Kentucky. My winter beater hartail is not nearly trip worthy. I will probably have to strip the Ti frame to send it back, so maybe I'll transfer some of those parts over to my $69 Jamis winter beater frame to keep me going this fall.

Monday I'll have to contact Dean. I've purchased five of their Ti frames over the years and still have three of them. They are keepers, my hardtail, singlespeed and road bike. Dean Ti frames carry a lifetime warranty. The Dean Colonel frame that failed is nearly 9 years old. It was the first frame I bought from them. Not sure if the same guys are still running things over there or if anybody will remember me. Warranties often have a lot of wiggle room. It is up to the manufacturer to stand by their product. We'll see how Dean does.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Prospects at Ironcross-VII

Been rethinking approach to Ironcross this year. I did this race the inaugural year on an MTB. The course was pretty brutal that year, and many CX purists were quite bitter after suffering multiple pinch flats. The course was touted as favoring a 'cross rider on a 'cross bike. I was soooo glad I went with my hardtail. Chris Eatough won it on a hardtail.

I came back last year for Ironcross-VI. The field was much larger, the course longer, but refined to remove some of the bony ATV track stuff. I brought my cross bike this time. I ran uber high pressure in the tires, something like 50-60psi. Got beat up pretty good, but I didn't flat. A couple of the descents were quite treacherous on my tall 'cross bike with super inflated tires. It was light weight though, not a lot of baggage to lug up the 20 minute run-ups.

I'm think of switching back to MTB this year, perhaps going full mountain biker with Camelbak and all. I lost half my water in bottles last year. In a pack of riders, you can't see the boulders in time to avoid them. A MTB has several advantages. Risk of flat is much lower, even with lower pressure. Front suspension has value on several portions of the course. It is geared lower, which would let me ride more of the final climb. It comes with several penalties too. My hardtail is five pounds heavier than my 'cross bike. That will destroy my shoulder after 20 minutes of hiking. Heavier and less aero means I will probably loose contact with the front of the race earlier. Fat tires may have higher rolling resistance on the paved portions of the course.

So why go MTB route? A lot of it boils down to creature comfort. If I'm comfortable longer, maybe I'll finish stronger and make back any time given up earlier in the race. Fat tires may roll faster on portions of the course. It's really hard to say which bike is faster in the end. This will be an interesting experiment. I'm not a 'cross racer purist anyway. Ironcross is a non-sanctioned race, just like the VT50 is non-sanctioned. Some of the best events out there are not strangled by sanctioning bodies.

I will have my work cut out for me at IC-VII. There will be a boat load of fast people there, despite it being a Verge weekend in Providence. Half the CCC/Keltic team will be there, guys like Ruiz, Butler and Sumner. Jeremiah Bishop is in. He not only won the SM100, but shattered the course record. Andy Applegate, coach of Brett Rutledge, signed up. I think Andy's won the master's field several years running now. There are only four divisions, men under 40, men over 40, women and singlespeeders. We all go off in one massive wave into traditional 'cross course with barriers for one lap, then it's into the woods for a four hour, 62 mile loop.

There are many barriers along the course, most are natural, like downed trees, some are man-made, like gates across fire roads. Two run-ups entail 20-30 minutes worth of hoofing it during the race. The race is really a hybrid between road and MTB racing. There are fast parts where pack dynamics come into place, and there are bony singletrack descents where full-on MTB skills are needed. The climbs eventually bust everything up, with minutes in between top finishers. I thoroughly enjoy single loop epics like this. None of this zillion laps with people throwing beer on you stuff. Ironcross may be my last race this season. Won't rule out a traditional local 'cross race, but it's time to do some long fall rides. This is my favorite time of year to ride. The days are cool, the trails are packed in and dry. Before long, the studded tires will have to come out.

Monday, October 5, 2009

BUMPS Finale

The 2009 BUMPS championship series finale was held in Waitsfield, VT on Sunday. The Allen Clark Memorial Hillclimb event has been running many years now. Although I am no stranger to Appalachian Gap, this was my first time entering this event. Some readers may have climbed App Gap as the prologue to the Green Mountain Stage Race. The only difference is the Allen Clark race is an individual start event, while GMSR is mass start.

Nearly double last year's number of riders registered Sunday. The forecast was a bit iffy, but a grand day materialized for uphill suffering. The valley was filled with low hanging overcast, but reports said the App Gap summit was basking in brilliant sunshine. No chance of overheating on this one. Long layers and wind shell were needed warming up.

Warming up, I wondered why in the heck I was racing. My legs were in a major funk from six hours of hard riding and rollerskiing over the prior two days, training for a big event next weekend. I was not concerned with my result, as I did not need any more points to defend my overall BUMPS lead. But I didn't want to suffer unusually bad either. I thought about "not racing it," just riding easy up to the summit. Yeah, right. I've never met a hill that didn't beg to be hammered.

App Gap summit

I went off at 10:24. The first 3+ miles of the climb are very gradual. I held around 20-22mph most of the time. My perceived effort was off the charts. In the drops as aero as I could get, my hamstrings and glutes were killing me. After about 9 minutes of this, I hit the steep part where the grade maintains 9-10% to the summit. My legs were now nicely tenderized. The unusual pains gave way to the normal cusp of hurling hillclimb discomfort. This is the "good" kind of suffering, the kind I live for. I passed many riders on the way up. Based on prior year results from riders I knew, I expected to finish around 28-29 minutes, not having tapered whatsoever for this event. I was shocked to finish in 27:01, good for 4th overall out of over a hundred riders. Kristen Gohr not only won the woman's field but set a new women's record with a 28:06 finish. There is a $100 prime for any man or woman that breaks the record.

Once again, I experienced the disconnect between how bad I feel and what the body can actually produce. Hard to say if I would have been any faster had I rested for this event. Probably not. John Bayley won overall with a time of 26:00. He's done sub-hour on Mt Washington in the past, so to finish within a minute of him on this duration climb is quite good. Perhaps tapering is over rated. Not being fresh certainly means higher level of mind over body is needed. You just have to tell your sore bits to shut up.

It took a bit to get BUMPS awards going, as all the age group points had to be recalculated after the race. It was worth the wait. Sponsors put up some great swag for age group winners and especially the overall KOM and QOM winners. Unfortunately, QOM Marti Shea was not able to make it due to a death in the family, I heard. I secured the KOM title with about 10 points lead (out of ~600) over Jeff Johnson (Battenkill-United). I was awarded with a bundle of resort and B&B stays. Check this out:

The Old Tavern, Grafton, VT - Two nights with breakfast and dinner
Inn at the RoundBarn Farm, Waitsfield, VT - Two nights with breakfast
Jackson Gore Inn at Okemo, Ludlow, VT - Two night stay in bedroom suite
Royalty Inn, Gorham, NH - One night stay
Willkommen Hof, Wilmington, NY - Two night stay with breakfast

Some premium stays in there to be sure. The bundle may be worth upwards of $2000. My wife Cathy was psyched. Maybe she'll begin to forgive me for chasing after all these hills. Looks like we'll enjoy some weekends skiing in VT, NY and upstate NH. Since only a couple leader's jerseys were given out through the whole series (I was the only male to wear one) age group winners were each given a jersey. They also gave me a fresh jersey. This is certainly the biggest award I ever scored from bike racing. I appreciate the sponsor's commitment to these events a great deal.

It is ironic that when the season began, I never considered chasing the overall BUMPS lead. I thought scoring a jersey after the first couple races would be really cool, but that was it. I figured there were too many faster guys that would scoop up points on Mt Washington, and I hadn't planned on doing both Mt Washington events. What happened was this. I did very well at Whiteface, the first in the series. No win though, but nice PR and bunch of BUMPS points. The three guys that beat me did not show up at Okemo. I place well enough there, another PR, that put me in the points lead. I thought cool, when I show up at Ascutney, I'll get to zip a leaders jersey on. That's a cool thing to have hanging in the closet with the rest of your jerseys. Only one small problem. The Newton's Revenge race up Mt Washington was the next race in the series. There were already guys signed up that would take the points lead from me before I ever got to Mt Ascutney. I wanted one of those jerseys. If I didn't do Newton's, it was unlikely I'd ever regain the lead to get one. So I capitulated and signed up for Newton's. I got the jersey at bib pickup and thought that might be the last time I wore it. I treated Newton's like a "C" race. Drove up the morning of and raced on two hour's sleep. No PR, but I did surprisingly well, well enough that I maintained the points lead. I would get to zip on the jersey one more time, at the Ascutney race. Well, to make a long story less long, Ascutney went well, then Equinox, then Mt Washington went south. It was hot that day. But I still kept the lead, and by now my lead was insurmountable. The guys that were faster than me were not doing enough races to take the jersey away from me in the remaining two races. Only the best five of eight count. I missed the Burke hillclimb when I did the 100 mile MTB race in Virginia. That means with Allen Clark, I finished 7 of 8 races in the series. What a trip it's been. 13 years ago I could not ride up a 250ft hill without walking. 70 pounds lighter and years of hitting the hills have made not only a profound difference in my physical health, but my mental well being also.

The hillclimb race directors did a fantastic job pulling this first ever series together. Countless hours were donated by many individuals to make this series happen. The normal logistic challenges were further complicated by a weak economy. Sponsors, especially ones that put up hard cash, are extremely hard to come by right now. Racer feedback I have received has been overwhelmingly positive. A bigger and better BUMPS series can be expected next year. There may be some minor tweaking of the points system. For example, some riders, myself included, feel the two Mt Washington events carry too much weight. There are several tweaks on the table for consideration. There's a very good chance we'll see Mt Greylock as part of the series in 2010. Maybe a Bolton Valley hillclimb. The dirt Mt Mansfield event is being kicked around too. Hard to say, but I'd expect to see at least 1 or 2 races added to the series next year. I think given the success of the series this year, we'll see greater interest in sponsorship next year. The goal is to grow the prestige of the series and increase participation at hillclimb events. It is quite exciting to ponder where things can go from here.

So how does one top off a series finale? By hitting some more climbs, of course! Brett Rutledge and I embarked on a short 37 mile loop after BUMPS awards. We started in Waitsfield, rode over dirt Moretown Gap, through Northfield, then back over to Waitsfield via Roxbury Gap. This was my first time climbing Moretown Gap. From Moretown (Rt 100B), it is a persistent bugger. The gravel was meticulously groomed. Kind of busy, but I suspect most of the traffic was color peepers. I've ridden dirt Roxbury Gap many times, but never from the Roxbury side. It is a much more difficult climb from that side. Given warming up, racing, and then a loop with two major climbs we hit hard, our legs were all noodly. A good day of riding indeed. I'll finish with a few pics from our Moretown/Roxbury loop. Thanks for reading.

Roxbury Gap summit

Near Roxbury Gap summit looking east. Cars were stopping to take pics of this, so I figured I needed to also.

Moretown Gap summit looking east

Friday, October 2, 2009

New CX Bike Christening

With a bleak forecast for much of the weekend, Dave P and I decided to take advantage of premium autumn conditions on Friday. Dave just acquired a new Yeti 'cross bike and was looking to break it in proper. I hadn't been on my CX bike since riding Kelly Stand gap last year. Over the last year or so, I've managed to put together a medley of 'cross bikeable roads and doubletracks in the southern White Mountains. With chill in the air and recent rain, I anticipated perfect tacky surfaces and comfortable conditions.

Our route consisted of hitting high point of Campton Mtn, then looping over Sandwich Notch and taking doubletrack Algonquin Rd back to Campton. This in itself is a 20+ mile loop with two major climbs, mostly on dirt. A bigger loop is hit next. A bit of pavement takes us to Hubbard Brook Experimental Forest, where a superb out and back climb awaits, all dirt of course. Crossing back over I-93, Tripoli Rd is climbed over Thornton Gap, through Waterville Valley, and back Campton along Rt 49. Loop entails 8500ft of climbing in 77 miles.

Sections highlighted with yellow are dirt. Climbs from left to right are: Campton, Sandwich, Hubbard and Tripoli.

Having gotten back late the night before from business travel, I was uncharacteristically unprepared for this ride. I forgot my map and didn't have time to load the GPS. We muddled around looking for the high point of Campton Mtn. I think we eventually found it. Fantastic view, although how public the access is to this point is "questionable." In other words, don't say I said you can go there if somebody busts your chops over it. The ledgy descent was a hoot on CX bikes. I wouldn't even flinch on this stuff with a hardtail, but the sketchy factor was high with my center of gravity shifting precariously close to ahead of front axle. The descent continued on network of 10-15% grade gravel roads. I could not find the most direct way down to base of next climb, so we went back to Campton and took Rt 49 to Sandwich Notch Rd.

View from Campton Mtn, highest point reachable by bike.

A lot of work has been done on Sandwich Notch since I rode it last year. It used to be so rutted out that it was pretty much 4WD vehicles only. Many loads of gravel have been brought in to repair the washed out sections. Now an ordinary car with good ground clearance could make it. The road is still not road bikeable though. This means it is perfect for a 'cross bike. Parts of the climb dip well into double digit grades. I wasn't going to go any harder than tempo on this ride, but with gears that didn't go very low, I struggled mightily keeping a reasonable cadence going. I was well into my threshold regime. Only one car passed us on Sandwich Notch Rd. We descended half what we gained before picking up Algonquin Rd along the Beebe River. Highly scenic, gated, no cars. This road is pretty much fireroad material, a doubletrack with many rock garden sections and random pointy rocks to pinchflat on. Freshly fallen leaves obscured many of the perils. It continued with slight downhill bias for many miles. On a mountain bike, you can hammer away with reckless abandon on this section. On a 'cross bike, you'll either get bucked off, flat, break a rim, or even crash. I was a little to cavalier on one fast section, caught a loose rock that kicked my front wheel over about a foot, and nailed a really big rock that sliced my tube good. The Schwalbe Racing Ralph sidewalls seemed to escape unscathed. I was lucky I didn't go down. I thought I was running the tires hard enough with 40+ psi, but I added another 10psi each after this incident.

Sandwich Notch. Dave's new Yeti.

We came by the car, shed excess layers (it was about 50F now), and continued north to hit Hubbard Brook. To my dismay, they had just graded it. Soft and spongy everywhere, and some sections were even wet and mushy. This climbed about 1500ft in 7 miles. It was all hard work. Up top, we explored one of the side roads. It dead-ended about half mile later at some sort of creek water flow and rain measurement station. The descent went quite well despite fresh grading. In an hour's time, we never encountered a car out there. A road bike with skinny tires would never have worked with current conditions.

Looking up the Hubbard Brook Experimental Forest access road. Recently graded and very soft.

Crossing back under I-93, we began the biggest climb of the ride, Tripoli Rd. The first few hundred feet are gained on pavement, then it's four miles of gravel to the summit. This climb is usually road bikeable, and this day was no exception. Very nice shape, which was a really good thing. Part of my lack in preparing for this ride meant I didn't bring enough calories along either. I perceived bonk was imminent, something I haven't done all summer. Dave took a bio break at the bottom of the climb while I tempo'd to the summit alone. Just a couple cars went by. Lots of color up here, maybe about 30% peak already. Skies were clouding up.

Descending the east side of Tripoli Rd on bikes is in stark contrast to skate skis. The pavement is chocked full of frost heaves. Big ones. Hit these at 40mph, and you nearly lose the grip on the bar. Gets your adrenaline up just like tucking on skis, although I don't go anywhere near 40mph on skis down this narrow one lane road.

Thornton Gap at the top of Tripoli Rd.

It was all downhill back to Campton along Rt 49, which has a nice wide paved shoulder. This is the road we do the Waterville Time-Trail on earlier in the summer. I had been out of water since starting the Tripoli Rd climb and out of food for over two hours. I was to that point where gnawing on bark seemed enticing. With about 5mi to go, I bonked suddenly and hard. This was a liver glycogen bonk. My brain had no glycogen to run on. I got dizzy and all wobbly on my bike. I couldn't even focus my eyes correctly, and I had trouble drafting Dave down hill. It really sucked. This was totally predictable and preventable. We tried to stop earlier at a country store in Woodstock, but they had closed shop and the next closest one was another 4mi out of our way for 10mi total round trip boondoggle for carbs. Guess I deserved it. Our ride went 5.2 hours moving time and probably over 6hrs total time. I rushed Dave to change quickly crammed the bikes in the back, then bolted for that great food stop at the four corners in Campton. They closed shop too! I was totally friggin' BS now. Fortunately, that pizza/sub joint by the mobile station was still in business, so a sandwich and some chocolate milk would have to do. It takes about 30 minutes after eating 1200 calories before you stop thinking about food.

Despite bonking right at the end, this was a superb day on bikes. You'd like never hit these areas on a road bike, and a mountain bike is overkill. A CX bike is the perfect tool for routes like these. I'd like to do a few more of these rides before snow flies. A Kelly Stand/Mt Tabor super loop in southern Vermont comes to mind. Drop me a note if interested.

So I have a hillclimb race on Sunday. Doing a 5.2hr hillfest ride on Friday is perhaps the worst thing I could do in prep'ing for a race. Then throw in a rollerski session on Saturday just to make sure recovery is delayed. The Allen Clark Hill Climb up Appalachian Gap is the last in the BUMPS series. I have the overall KOM wrapped up. I need to go, as series awards will be given out, and it is good PR for the overall KOM and QOM leaders to be there. Marti Shea has the QOM cinched. Many age group leaders will be there, including Jeff Johnson, who could come within a few points of my 599.90 overall points. I'll probably take a royal thrashing with my dead legs, but any day on the bike is a good day. If weather is not too abysmal, Brett Rutledge and I hope to drum up more riders for a 2-3 hour loop after awards. I'd like to hit Moretown Gap, one I've not yet ridden. I have my sights set on the Ironcross race in PA next weekend, my last planned competitive event of the season. This weekend was my last chance to get in some endurance riding. I didn't want to sacrifice a three-day weekend for a 25 minute hillclimb race on Sunday. The Ironcross race takes about 4hrs to finish and has upwards of 7000ft of climbing. Should be another prime opportunity to cramp up again. Yee-haw!