Friday, November 13, 2009

Lake Solitude

With remnants of tropical storm Ida moving in this weekend, I wanted to take advantage of the driest trail conditions of the year. Friday was a non-working Friday for me. I wanted to hit something different, maybe something I never rode before. There aren't any popular riding areas within 90 minutes of my house I haven't hit. That leaves only things off the beaten path. So how do you go about finding something stimulating to ride that you've never ridden before, something that gets away from cars and people? You begin by zooming out in Google Maps imagery view and start scanning areas of higher elevation. You can tell where these are. They have different color shades, plus you can go to terrain view to be sure. I've ridden much of the Midstate and Wapack Trails along the Wapack Range, including notable peaks along the way. A little further north, Mt Sunapee caught my attention. I learned to alpine ski there with my son many years ago. What I never realized is that there is a service road to the summit. Bingo. I have biked to most New England ski area summits over the years, but somehow this one escaped my attention. As a bonus, there were many singletrack trail options from the summit.

Mt Sunapee service road, 30% grade section near summit.

I planned to ride up the service road, maybe check out a spur trail to Lake Solitude, then see if it was feasible to ride the Monadnock-Sunapee Greenway trail along mountain tops to Pillsbury State Park. I've ridden a major portion of the Greenway from Pillsbury maybe 10 years ago. Barely remember it. I do know that as the trail progressed northward, it became more hike-a-bike. Perhaps from the north, it wasn't as bad heading south.

It was a typical chilly November morning with a little sun poking through haze. I parked in the middle ski base area parking lot where some racers park for the Lake Sunapee Road Race. I loaded a GPS track I traced out on bikeroutetoaster into my Garmin. The deal was, I literally went right into 12% grade with zero warmup. This with legs trashed by a hammerski session the day before. The first 500ft was gained on semi paved road. Many sections were washed out or busted up.

Lake Sunapee from near summit of Mt Sunapee.
Snow guns are all set for snow making.

About half way up the paved section, a fairly large animal runs out of the woods in front of me, stops a moment and stares at me. I thought whoa, what the heck is that!? It was the size of a coyote minus the bushy tail. It in fact was a bobcat. Although they are making a comeback in New Hampshire, sightings are still extremely rare. This was the first time I've seen a wild cat. They are much bigger than I expected. The one I saw stood two feet tall.

Bobcat from NHPTV website.

At the bottom of the Snowbowl Quad, the road becomes a narrow gravel affair and gets much, much steeper. There were many sustained sections over 20% grade. Fortunately the gravel was in pretty good shape. As I neared the summit, the grade kicked up at an angle that hurt my neck to look at. At first I thought it wasn't doable. This was granny gear, chest to bar, tip of saddle inserted you-know-where climbing mode. The gravel up here was frozen solid. There was no snow. I did make it, with the Garmin showing max grade over 30%. In just over a mile, the dirt road gained 1000ft. The summit of Mt Sunapee is at 2700ft, gaining over 1500ft from the parking lot. The view of Lake Sunapee was quite spectacular.

Solitude Trail. This was the easiest part.

After a few pics, I dropped down the road just a bit to where I saw the Solitude Trail head into the woods. At first I thought sweet, contouring singletrack! The trail quickly degenerated into rock scrambling for a bit. With that out of the way, the trail was intermittently rideable, maybe requiring a dozen dismounts in the next kilometer or so. It was much more rideable in the downward direction heading back. As the overlook to Lake Solitude neared, increasing patches of slickrock were ridden until the trail became all bare granite.

The view from the ledge of Lake Solitude was splendid. Who would've thunk there was a lake perched up on a ledge near the summit of Mt Sunapee? The dirt road/singletrack climb up here was well worth the drive. Bobcat sighting, and the climb was just long and hard enough to get the endorphins flowing. Throw great scenery into the mix, the buzz I had going was better than any of the stuff I did when I was a kid.

Near end of Solitude Trail on slickrock.

The route to Pillsbury State Park via the Greenway seemed like it would be more hike-a-bike than ride-a-bike. I decided to end this ride on a positive note and bomb back down the service road. I didn't realize just how steep it was. It scared me silly going down. I could not hit the water bars with any kind of speed. It was almost cold enough to freeze snot too. Cutting this ride two hours short meant I had two hours to ride some place else. I figured I hadn't been to FOMBA in a while, so I'll stop there just off the highway at Massabesic Lake.

It occurred to me that the Turkey Burner is just two weeks away, so I didn't want to ride anything I'll hit then. So what else is there, you ask? Lots. For starters, there's the old Watershed Wahoo course, which was positively the most roadie friendly course that every existed. All doubletrack, albeit some of it bony. And climbs, over 500ft per 6mi lap. Man I miss that race. Then there is a 1-2 mile singletrack climb across Tower Hill Rd that nobody knows about. I could work that in as an extension to a Wahoo lap. Finally, there's that "off the radar" trail near the FOMBA cluster. I see increasing forum discussion on this trail, but as of yet, nobody has disclosed the location. You would never find it just riding around. I see different names for it, like Hanger Banger, Evil FOMBA, or Hot and Cold. With the longest dry spell this year, I suspected the trail would be in mint condition.

Lake Solitude. Indeed it was. I had whole mountain to myself.

I parked at Massabesic Lake and set out on my plan. The only thing I would hit that the Turkey Burner hits would be the rail trail the Burner ends on. On the way to the Wahoo course, there's also another great piece of trail connecting the bottom of Tower Hill Rd with the rail trail. Probably legit, but nameless. After a Wahoo lap, I hit Evil FOMBA. Man, was it in nice riding shape, the nicest ever. Much of the area had been logged a few years ago, so most of the trail tread was devoid of oak leaves. That meant I could carry normal speed through all the tight twistiness. So why would somebody call it Evil FOMBA? Well, it is close to FOMBA, and it is like FOMBA on steroids. All the things FOMBA can't build are found here. There are no less than three huge teeter totters, over a dozen log rolls, some 4ft high, one A-frame over 5ft high, numerous hewn log bridges over water crossings, rock stunts galore including big drops. Everything is solidly built. The newest teeter near the middle is scary. I bet you are about 5ft up before it begins to teeter. I have yet to ride the A-frame. Wicked steep, too steep to walk over without slipping. I have ridden the other teeters on prior rides. The trail runs just over four miles and never has a dull moment.

The tallest teeter on Evil FOMBA.

I was going to post my GPS track for this ride, showing 24 miles of great riding that is not part of the Turkey Burner ride. But Evil FOMBA should still be kept under wraps me thinks. Hey, if you're doing the Turkey Burner and are interested in hitting the four mile wonder, let me know.

I finished the day with 32 miles, 3450 feet climbing, in about 3.5 hours moving time. I proved to myself I can still find hidden riding treasures close to home. I'll probably bike up Sunapee again some day, maybe see if I can work it into a bigger off-road ride out that way.


Brent said...

is the gravel section do-able on a road bike?

Hill Junkie said...

Brent - I really doubt it. The descent would be wicked dangerous on skinny tires. I was already spinning 2.2" tires at <30psi on the steepest parts climbing, so I tend to think you be walking parts with a road bike. Ironically, the lower paved part had some of the worst sections even though it was less steep. Sections were gone, leaving rutted, loose stones. A 'cross bike with much lower than 1:1 gear ratio might work.

Brent said...

excellent. I'm glad I have just such a bike on order!

Big Bikes said...

I've actually done that climb. Years ago and with nothing like the fitness I have nearly killed me -- all that spinning on the tip of my saddle in my granniest granny gear. Then I rode down the ski hill: went to tighten my seat-binder; snapped it; and had to ride home the ten or so miles to my aunt's house standing.

Good times...crazy days.


mtnspirit said...

Bike the service road all you want, but please don't ride the hiking trail to Lake Solitude with bikes. They're not designed for bikes, and are fragile. Steer clear of Lake Solitude. Please visit it by foot, but leave your bike on the gravel road at the summit and walk in.

rick is! said...

if you were cool you would have busted out the camera and got some video of yourself taunting the kitty. like this:

Hill Junkie said...

I nearly crashed into two 400 pound black bears once trail riding at Monte Saint Anne. Came screaming down into a gully, blind corner, and they were waiting for me at the bottom. I nose wheelied stopping so hard, nearly endo'ing at their feet. They did not move right away. I had no where to go. Eventually they lumbered away. A week later, a female runner not far from there was killed by a black bear.