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.
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.
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.
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.