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!