Friday, December 31, 2010

Not Quite The Incline

The year closed out on an anti-climatic note for me. Thunderstorms and warm temps moved in overnight, erasing the snow and leaving conditions not good for much of anything. Taking a semi-recovery day on Thursday, I was looking to get a decent ride in on Friday. It would have to be studs on pavement.

I waited for the first wave of heavy rain to pass. It looked like there would be a 2-3hr window of little to no rain to ride in the afternoon. Then the back side of the storm system would sweep through.

Even though there is a lack of hills in southwest Michigan, some scenic riding can be had along the lakeshore. I headed south towards Saugatuck. Saugatuck is a tourist town in the summer months with a harbor for multi-million dollar yachts and dunes to nestle multi-million dollar vacation homes. South of Saugatuck is a nice stretch of Lakeshore Drive, which is perched high above the sandy beach with houses on the opposite side of the road. Unfortunately, the road doesn't run through anymore, as several years of high lake levels severely eroded the dunes and portions of the road fell into the lake.

Heading back, now with a strong tail wind and black clouds building over the lake, I decided to take a short excursion to Oval Beach. At one time or another, this was one of the top rated beaches in the country. I got distracted on my excursion. I passed locally renown Mt Baldhead. A brand new stairway has been built to the top. Mt Baldhead can be seen from many miles around with its cold war relic radome atop. The only access to the summit is via a very steep stairway. The new stairway contains 303 big steps and gains well over 200ft. It's not quite the Manitou Springs Incline, but probably the next closest thing in Michigan.

303 tall steps to Mt Baldhead

I hadn't gotten a respectable interval in all week, so I thought what the heck. I ditched my bike behind a building. I figured I could blast up this thing by two's at full running pace without slowing down. Boy was I wrong. About halfway up I imploded. I continued by taking two steps at a time, but no longer at running pace. I didn't have a way to time myself. I'm guessing I was in the 2-3 minute range at full-on VOmax effort. View from the top was decent. Only one other person was on the stairway when I started, but many were coming up on my descent. I bet It took them 10-15 minutes. When I got back on my bike, my legs were all noodly. Glad I didn't do repeats.

From the Holland channel, looking south. Rain coming in again.

I went on a few more lakeshore excursions on my way back to mom's house since the rain was still holding off. The temperature was in the 50's, and with a strong tailwind to push me, it felt downright balmy. I finished with 40 miles in about 2.6hrs. That probably wore my expensive new stud studded tires down a bit.

Thanks for reading and happy new year!

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Snow Klicks

I've reached a state of total depletion. I've covered 216km on snow in 6 days. Over half of this was skate skiing, the rest mountain biking on packed snow trails. Surprisingly, I manage a faster average pace on skis than I do on the bike, even when a lot of climbing is involved. Zero crashes, falls or even dabs.

Tuesday I hit my second most favorite spot to trail ride in West Michigan at Yankee Springs Recreation Area. MMBA built one of the state's first purpose built trails there in the 1990's. Yankee Springs was where I rode singletrack for the first time. Fond memories always come to mind when I ride there, even if it looks like winter wonderland right now. It hadn't snowed in a while, and many riders over the past week have packed the trail down nicely.  I had planned to ride the 13.5mi loop twice, but the bodily willingness to needed effort ratio dictated otherwise. There's a mid loop bailout point, so I rode 1.5 laps.

Forested sand dunes at Yankee Springs

Wednesday I wanted to ski up north at Crystal Mountain, but they weren't updating their Nordic conditions website info. I called, they said since they didn't get any new snow, nothing changed and there was no need to even groom. Ah, ok. I asked if skate lanes were a bit packed. In places, they said. Ok, thanks. I had no interest in skiing Weston style boiler plate.

I didn't want to drive all the way up to VASA again (3hrs). I tried calling Muskegon Winter Sports Complex (<1hr), but could not get a live person. Thier website looked suspisciously the same each day too, claiming they groom every day 10am and 4pm (they have night XC skiing). There was minimal snow driving north on US-31 past Muskegon, but as I headed west towards the lakeshore, the snow depth grew exponentially in the last mile. The winter sports complex is nestled in the dunes right on the shore.  They had generous base and had just finished grooming. Bonus!

The Nordic trails at Muskegon

Muskegon is very small. They have 2.5km and 5.0km loops that intersect and overlap each other. There is one climb, a 60ft wall at 30% grade up a sand dune. The rest is pretty flat. The new corduroy made skiing with good form a breeze. I V2'd almost the whole time, finally getting a really good upper body workout. Too bad the rest of my body was trashed. I bonked almost immediately. My mother complained that my calorie consumption was depleting the pantry faster than she prepared for. I thought I was eating enough, but needing two Gu's in the first hour said otherwise. Averaging 2-3hrs of hard aerobic activity per day caught up to me. I need a break from my break.

With the warm spell and rain coming, looks like the rest of my activities here will be on pavement. Yuk. Hopefully Bretton Woods keeps their base. I have a season pass for Waterville Valley, but they could close again by the time I get back.

Monday, December 27, 2010


There seems to be a recurring theme to my riding and skiing in Michigan. It is flow. Hans Rey is promoting a concept in the mountain biking world called Flow Country. The trails here have flow designed into them. I suspect it is much easier to build flowy trails here than in the northeast. Midwest terrain is gently rolling and sandy for the most part. There are no roots, rocks, ledges and such to disrupt flow or force trails to take abrupt routes to avoid such.

Today I skied VASA.  The 25km perimeter loop is the flowiest ski trail I've been on. Rarely do I need to scrub speed on the descents. There are some ball-buster climbs though, several peaking over 20% grade and one at 30%. The perimeter loop covers serious ground. It circumnavigates a big enough chunk of Pere Marquette State Forest to fit the city of Traverse City within the loop.

The claimed mid-winter conditions proved true. The trail volunteers didn't groom for Monday morning, so the high traffic area near the trail head was a bit hard. But further out, the 25k loop was about as good as skate skiing gets.

My bump-up in running distance yesterday left my legs a bit tweaked this morning. I wasn't planning on skiing 50km, but a 25km lap went by so effortlessly I just had to do one more. After wolfing down a few calories at the car, I went back out for a "slow down and smell the pine trees" lap.

I was quite concerned about my left ankle, having to pull the plug after 80 minutes skiing at Weston last Tuesday on hard packed conditions. I tried an experiment. I cut up a Dr Scholl's insert to put a crescent shaped layer of padding below the inner ankle bump protrusion of my left ankle. My thinking was the boot was placing too much pressure on the enormous knob left after the fracture callused with screws still in there. Some padding below it might reduce the hot spot. I placed nothing over the ankle bump itself, as it already sticks out twice as far as my right ankle. After three hours of skiing, I was relieved to find my right ankle aching more than my left. Not sure what a permanent solution is here yet. Taping all this stuff up around my ankle each time I ski will be a pain.

I left fully satiated after skiing 50km in 3:16hrs with 3000+ feet of climbing, a comfortable pace. Looks like warm weather and heavy rain is headed this way Thur/Fri, which will end skiing until I get back home. May have to head up to Crystal Mountain on Wednesday. Finishing out the week on rollerskis will suck.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Bike-run brick

My "off" day was anything but. I soft pedalled out to the Lake Michigan shoreline to scope out the conditions. Once in a while, the shore is perfect for cruising. Usually by this time of year, ice is piled up high, making it nearly impossible to even walk along the shore. I was pleasantly surprised to find virtually no ice on the shore. The sand was frozen solid with dusting of snow on top. As a bonus, this was the first time in 13 years (since I've been riding) that the sun was out and the shore was rideable.

Looking north 4mi south of Holland pier.

I thought about doing a pier to pier ride, riding from the Holland lighthouse to Saugatuck lighthouse, but it was supposed to be a recovery day. I went only half way. My studs made negligible noise on the frozen sand. My consciousness dissolved into the brilliant light and roaring waves lapping up on the beach. Sometimes the simple rides like these are worth more than the exotic, far away ones.

On the return, I realized I was gliding so effortlessly on a tailwind. I rode almost 50% slower on the return. From the tracks in the snow, it appears many others have discovered beach riding. I've seen one or two tracks in the past, but this time there must have been twenty tracks. The weather here will remain cold and dry, so I hope to return to the beech later this week for a full pier to pier ride.

Looking south along many other like minded rider's tracks

When I got back, I swapped Sidi's for Nike's. I bought a pair of Nike Free's. Most of my running friends freak when I tell them what shoes I will learn to run in. They say those shoes are Achilles tendon damage waiting to happen. I figure since I have no running technique at all, minimalist shoes will force me to not heel strike right from the start.

Red bike, green run

Running is painful. It doesn't hurt me in the places I thought it would, like my joints. It mostly hurts my hamstrings and quads. Today I ran 5.4km, the longest distance I've ever run in my life. Of course, I ran barely faster than speed-walking pace at over 8 minute miles. I didn't seem to suffer too much while I was moving, but 15 minutes after stopping, I could barely walk. My hammies were in a fit of rage. So much for a recovery day. I was hoping to ski 50km at VASA on Monday, but that looks doubtful now.

For once the weather in Michigan is more cooperative for the things I like to do than in New Hampshire. I wonder how hard it is snowing at home right now? As far as a bike-run "brick," no worries. I'm not about to be assimilated into the dark side of tri.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

On the edge

The snow cover in southwest Michigan teeters on the edge of not being enough to XC ski yet too much to bike on. This morning I swung over to Fort Custer, my favorite place to ride in Michigan. I've driven out there before at Christmas only to find it unrideable. Today I lucked out. There was a little less snow than on the lakeshore. Many riders had been out on the red trail already, packing it to perfection. A good set of knobbies were all that was needed. No ice was to be found anywhere.

The Trenches on the Red Trail. Presumably used for trench warfare
training at one time. Super fun to swoop through these, especially
when snow covered.

My big ring got a lot of use before I hit the green trail. Sections of the green trail saw no bike traffic and limited foot traffic. It was non-stop washboard and continuous hard effort. Still wicked fun (can I use the word wicked when in Michigan?). It wraps around Eagle Lake and throws a few rollers at you to keep the heart rate up.  The red and green loops form the core of trail riding at Fort Custer. These are purpose built trails with flow that rivals the best trails at Northeast Kingdom. The only down side is lack of any serious vertical.

Green Trail around Eagle Lake

When I came back to the parking lot after finishing the green trail, my car was the only one left. There was one more loop left to hit, the blue trail. This goes around Whitford Lake and tends to be wider, more open riding.

I finished with nearly 24 miles on the odometer in 2.4hrs riding time. Sunday will be a family/recovery day, then north on Monday for a ski at Vasa.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Let the boondoggle begin

Had a low risk ride planned with Dave on Sunday, not far from his house, so he'd have some quality time with Zach afterwards. We headed over to Keene to ride the dirt rail trail and road loop that we rode a few weeks ago, minus the Wantastiquet Mtn climb. Should be no surprises, no icy crashes, no massive hike-a-bikes, right?

As we drove over the pass at Pack Monadnock, the world became a very white place. No problem, it'll be gone as soon as we drop a thousand feet into Peterborough. Yeah, right. When did southwest New Hampshire get snow? We nearly turned around but decided to at least put eyes to the ground in Keene. There was a little less snow there. It was iffy, but we set out on 'cross bikes anyway. It was a whopping 14F out.

Slipperiness isn't what sucks about an inch of snow. It's not slippery, actually, when it is really cold out. It sucks because it masks ice. Even though 99% of the Ashuelot Rail Trail was hammerable, we never dared quite cut loose. My current batch of bruises and sprains were a constant reminder of what happens.

The rail trail heading out of Keene

As we got further and further out from Keene, foot traffic on the rail trail diminished to nothing. This meant there were no foot prints to expose where ice lurked under the snow. What was worse was frost heaves. Many times the crusty earth gave way and my tires dropped six inches into an icy vice. It was nearly enough to hurl me over the bars. The final assault occurred when frost heaves stopped my bike, forcing a sudden hop off the saddle. On pavement, I barely have any standover clearance on my 'cross bike, which is a size too big. When I dismounted, both feet punched through crystallized earth nearly six inches, leaving me supported only by my crotch on the top tube. I wasn't only ready to give up on the rail trail at that point, but on the whole ride.

Dave and I bailed out to adjacent Rt 10 and schemed on how to salvage the ride. Our average speed to that point was less than 12mph. The planned route was supposed to be 54mi, and Dave needed to be back in less than four hours. I recalled seeing a dirt road that cut through the middle of Pisgah State Park. That would cut significant mileage out of the ride in get Dave back plenty early. Leave it to me to drag others into unscouted routes.

We continued south on busy Rt 10 into Winchester. A sign directed us towards Pisgah. Much of Pisgah sits on pretty high ground. We finally had a paved, clean road that went up, begging for Wattage. At the park entrance, the road turned to gravel, and it had a sufficient dusting of snow to mask the numerous ice flows on north facing downhills. Many ice flows required off-the-bike portages. Ugh.

The gravel road eventually degraded to full-on ATV trail and goes up, of course. This was an exact repeat of our Hillsborough loop where Dave and I both crashed a few weeks ago. We could have mountain biked a hundred different places closer to home with zero snow and minimal ice, but no, we go out of our way to risk life and limb in this shit.

Chesterfield Rd in Pisgah State Park. Studs would have been nice.

Riding the 10 miles or so through Pisgah actually wasn't that bad of an experience. It really was more a matter of unexpected conditions. Imagine that, snow and ice on trails the week before Christmas! The ride took on much more of a mountain biking flavor, except we were on CX bikes with 65psi skinny tires.

Chesterfield Rd eventually pops out on our originally planned route, where we began heading back towards Keene. All the gravel roads were dicy in the area. You just couldn't tell if you'd hit a stretch of ice after letting your speed run out to 40mph. A lot of nervous braking went on.

We finished the last few miles of the ride on the rail trail that comes into Keene from the west. It was well travelled but had more than a few icy sections. Amazingly, neither of us hit the deck on this ride. We finished with 36mi in 3.1hrs riding time. We may have cut a lot of miles out of the planned route, but we kept most of the vertical with 2370ft of climbing, mostly in Pisgah.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Ski until you're wrecked!

Bretton Woods partially recovered from last Sunday's warm deluge. They re-opened 30km of trails. Conditions were vastly different though. The base was very thin, hard, with a little packed power on top. It did not mask any of the natural contours of the earth underneath. This meant a full suspension mountain bike would have been a much more suitable means of conveyance. By staying super cautious, I managed to stay upright for the duration, but Dave and Brett had a few "blemishes" in their workout.

There was a good loop nearly 10km in length that went over Coronary Hill via the Sebosis trail. The vertical pales in comparison to Waterville's 800ft Tripoli Rd climb at only 350ft. Challenging conditions made up for it. There were open waterbars, deeply rutted icy sections, occasional roots, dirt poking through and more.

My goal was to ski N+1 laps, where N was the number of laps to cook me. Then do one more. N was 3 today, so we did a 4th lap. About seven months worth of accumulated injuries all caught up to me on the fourth lap. Titanium ankle went into major funk, my good ankle which I tweaked a month ago went achy on me, and my sprained wrist from back-flipping on ice last weekend refused to transfer force to the pole. I felt like a 48 year old man. Aren't we athletic types supposed to feel younger than our age?

Anyway, we decided to do our last lap in reverse skiing up B&M trail. Brett was bonking with Dave and I trailing. Dave got impatient, asked to pass. Of course I wasn't going to let Dave ski away from us. I had to get by Brett too, against all common sense. I'm sure I looked like I was skiing with a broken leg and arm chasing Dave up Porcupine. Dave threw down the gauntlet on the descent. I put out the white flag. I was wrecked enough without taking a header through the sketchy sections. We skied very nearly 40km in 2.6hrs. A good second time on snow this season.  I forgot to bring my camera, so you're stuck with a boring profile plot.

Besides killer views of Mt Washington, one of the best parts of skiing at Bretton Woods is a warm shower and fresh towels afterwards. It's included with the trail pass. Interestingly, while we were kitting up before the ski, a bunch of high school team girls stormed the men's room to use our toilets. Guess they were on the road a while and the line was too long in the girls bathroom. I hope they at least sent a boy in to scout it out first, as the showers are directly across from the toilets.

Looks like my next chance to ski will be in Michigan at least a week from now. Thanks for reading.

Friday, December 17, 2010

What's all this running stuff about anyhow?

A few weeks ago, I caught up with an old Raytheon colleague at the Brewery Exchange in Lowell.  In addition to work war stories, we talked about my injury this spring. I mentioned how I missed an Italian cycling trip and the Leadville 100 MTB race, and how I might need to start running. Paul had recently read the book "Born to Run" by Christopher McDougall. I used to read books more frequently. These days, why would I read when I could be riding or skiing? Anyway, Paul mentioned the book is about all these crazy endurance athletes, including the rise of the Leadville Trail 100 foot race. That got my attention. This was before I had my bone density scan.

Paul sent me his copy to read. I've nearly finished it. It covers an interesting cast of characters in the realm of ultra endurance running. McDougall delivers a message. Just like the paleo diet folks claim modern diet is killing us, McDougall claims modern running shoes are the source of many running related injuries. When our feet get all cushy and supported in these modern marvels, our feet get lazy and we run completely wrong, striking on the heel. The stars of McDougall's book are the Tarahumara, an isolated indigenous population hidden deep in Copper Canyon, Mexico. These people can run a hundred miles any day with minimalist shoes. They do not get injuries. How is that? McDougall strives to find out. The answer is the Tarahumara practically run bare foot. This makes your feet strong and instinctively forces you to land correctly on your feet, the way our feet have evolved to function. There's a great 10 minute clip on the Tarahumara here.

Today I began to work on my low bone mineral density. I ran. My last foray into running a few years ago was disastrous. This time I'm going about it methodically. I followed Dan Moriarty, an elite tri-guy from work, to the Merrimack YMCA. Dan offered to critique my running on a treadmill. The short of it is I didn't look too bad. I need to relax my upper body more and keep my back more vertical, but I seemed to be striking both feet the same and with decent form. I ran a total of 2 miles on a 1% incline. When I got back to work minutes later, I couldn't believe how wrecked my legs felt. What hurt the most was the side of my leg at the top of the titanium plate. Hope I don't have a stress riser there that will give me grief. In the Excel training log I keep, my activity drop-down has "run" in it. I finally used it again. Here's what my activity mix for the year looks like now:

Run is not zero anymore. A few years ago pie chart was almost
all road cycling.

So now I have to look into running shoes. Should I be influenced by McDougall's book? Dan kind of scoffs at McDougall's anti-corporate rant. I don't plan on running hundred milers some day. I don't plan on running as training for running. I need to bring balance back to my body. I'll have to see the folks at Runner's Alley in Nashua. A super plush shoe probably isn't in my interest. I want to start out with good form and avoid the immediate injury I encountered the last time I tried to run.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Cycling is bad for your health

I scored a double feature at the doctor's office today. My wrist was so sore this morning I could not brush my teeth, dress myself or turn doorknobs. I'm a righty and I landed hard on my right arm when I back flipped on black ice yesterday. So for about the third time in a month (leg, bone scan, and now wrist), I was on an X-ray table again. I joked with SteveG at work that I need a punch card, so I get every fifth X-ray free. Salem Radiology certainly knows me now.

I have to wait for the radiologists to look at my wrist images, but the tech let me peek, and to our eyes, there were no obvious fractures. A fractured scaphoid would have been a disaster, as those require 12 weeks cast time and usually a screw. My son is mid-way through a scaphoid fracture recovery. No fun at all.

So what was the double feature? The bone density results were in. I kind of already knew what to expect, as the X-ray tech shared what the machine was indicating last week. My bone density is low. The first chart below shows my measured results. Ideally, I should be in the middle of the blue zone for 48 years old. The blue band is the normal range. Note it kinks downward with age, as after a certain age, we all loose bone density.

The next chart draws conclusions from the measurement. My spine and right hip are moderately low density, and this places me at moderate fracture risk. My left hip has low bone mineral density, and this places me at high fracture risk. In fact, my left hip is getting pretty close to the osteoporosis threshold. My condition is medically called osteopenia, which is basically pre-osteoporosis. Some people, mainly those from alternative medicine disciplines call osteopenia a disease that was invented to sell drugs. Others claim it is nothing more than low side of normal. But still, there's no getting around that my BMD is about 20% below average for my age.

My doctor said I was a most interesting individual. I had a pretty big difference between my left and right hips. He pondered why this would be. I had a ready answer. I spent a big chunk of the summer zero weight bearing on my left leg. Thus that hip atrophied while my right hip held its ground.

The doctor said there were two ways to go about dealing with this - drugs or physical activity. I have no interest in taking BMD enhancement drugs. Some very scary things have surfaced with those recently, some horrific side effects. I have to work more weight bearing activity into my weekly routine. He did not recommend running, although from what I read, it is one of the surest ways to stave off bone loss. Not sure what my plan will be yet. It is ironic that I went out for a hike Sunday for the purpose of getting more weight bearing activity, and that very thing sent me to the doctor the next day. Just can't win. The doctor recommends simply walking. Wonder how much I have to do to make a difference? I have a year before a follow up scan to check progress.

So could low BMD in my hips and spine have been linked my ankle fracture in May? Maybe weakly. I bet having little lateral stability in my ankles had more to do with it, since I do so little weight bearing work. In 2008, a study was published by the University of Missouri comparing BMD of cyclists and runners. The cyclists were 7x more likely to have osteopenia than the runners! This included subjects in their 20's. There's a saying out there in the elite ranks that you should rest when not riding, sit if you don't have to stand, and lie down if you don't have to sit. This rules out any kind of impact or weight bearing on the skeleton. I do ski in the fall and winter, but this is very low impact. Studies have shown that high intensity resistance training can also maintain bone density. There's a nice summary of Bone Health in Cyclists here.  I not only need to curb the loss, I really need get my BMD back into the normal range. The risk of my activities is compounded by low BMD. Crashing in a road race entails increased risk. Mishaps happen all the time riding off-road. Even XC skiing sees its share of fractures in races.

There are other factors too, the doctor didn't discuss. There's some evidence out there that high intake of processed carbs and animal protein can result in bone mineral loss. I eat lots of both.  Additionally, high coffee consumption has been shown to interfere with calcium absorption. I've always been a big dairy products eater, so I doubt I was ever deficient in calcium in my life. I do think I could have been vitamin D deficient in winter months though. The doctor advised me to take a D supplement, which I have been since my fracture. Calcium cannot be absorbed unless vitamin D levels are adequate. So do I have the will power to shun Starbucks? I drink three cups per day, essentially grande sized, and very strong. This might be equivalent to six regular cups of fast food chain or Dunkin Donuts coffee per day.

So one can focus on cycling, podium masters road races, even win a hillclimb championship series, but still be in pretty pathetic shape overall. It is cruel that what can be so kind to your joints and help you achieve incredible cardiovascular fitness, can also leave you woefully out of shape in many other ways. I've started addressing some of the core deficiencies, now it's time to take the next step (literally) to address BMD deficiencies.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

My Feud with Ice Continues

Friday's successful ski was followed up by a less than perfect trail ride on Saturday. SteveG and I headed down to the Great Brook area for a 30-40 miler. Yeah, I know, I refuse to learn. Riding with Steve has put me on the X-ray table twice so far this year. Saturday's ride taunted fate, as Steve claimed fresh legs and I claimed wrecked status from skiing the day before.

To get 40 miles in at Great Brook, one needs to link in every bit of conservation land in Chelmsford. I figured we could start out with the more roadie-ish stuff first, let Steve hammer some of the freshness out of his legs, and then maybe I wouldn't break a leg trying to stay with him on Stone Rowe later in the ride.

We didn't get too far. In Lime Quarry Reservation, Steve flatted. I was a bit horrified by the condition of his tire. There were no less than four places the tube was bulging out the sidewalls. No worries. He brought lots of milk jug tire boots just in case. A new tube and some boots got things rolling again. We zipped through Wright Reservation next, then on to the powerlines. He flatted again over some rocks. This time glueless patches were used on the double pinch flat.

Remounting the wheel, the brake rotor missed going in between the pads and buggered up the pad spacing spring. Turns out this is really easy to do when the pads are worn down to metal so the calipers are all the way out. While fussing with the caliper, the tire started hissing! It seems glueless patches don't hold well when it is cold out. I think we killed better part of an hour before we got rolling again.

Just in Great Brook, the tire went squishy again. That tire was a hopeless cause. Steve hung it up and rode two miles back to the car on a flat tire. Perhaps I obsess over bike maintenance more than some, but riding on a tire with multiple sidewall tears?  I was determined to get three hours of riding in and kept going. I hit Russell Mill next, where 100% of the trails were swept clean of leaves. The ground was frozen hard as pavement. It was marvelous fun, maintaining a solid tempo pace the whole time. There must have been twenty other riders in there. I rode most of the Great Brook trails, finishing with 36 miles in 3.3 hours moving time. No mishaps!

Sunday was a mess. I entertained skiing again, but the rain was already upon us. The roads were salted too, to knock down black ice. So what would suck the least? Cathy was game for a hike. My New England readers know what kind of weather we had Sunday - very high winds and heavy rain. It never let up. It was relatively mild at the house with the temp in the 40's, but it was sure to be colder higher up. Would there be ice? We still don't have crampons.

We drove out to Pack Mondanock. Seeing thick ice on the shoulders of Rt 101 near Wilton pissed me off, as that is how our doomed Cardigan hike started a few weeks ago. But strangely, as we drove up to Miller State Park, the ice disappeared. There was no ice in the parking lot. I was surprised to see one car there. I did not expect to see any.

The wind nearly ripped our Goretex layers away as we put them on. I bet it was raining at one inch per hour. Neither of us had waterproof shoes. We decided to hike up the Marrion Davis Trail to the summit. There was lots of standing water in the trail, but zero mud. The ground was frozen solid but not slippery. I was looking to get some impact by hiking at an aggressive pace. After summiting, I would hike back down and join Cathy for the rest of her climb. We'd then take the paved road back down together.

Cathy nearing the summit

I got in a solid aerobic workout, climbing nearly 1000ft in about 25 minutes. Needless to say, it was raw at the summit and not a place to hang out. After a photo, we started a brisk pace down, I was lightly jogging some of the less steep parts. I wasn't paying attention and hit a patch of ice. It was visible. I still had my trekking poles out and they helped me stay upright.

Rain going sideways at the summit

About halfway down, Cathy and I were jogging along again, when suddenly I experience the sensation of an explosion between the ears. Cathy and I both went down on black ice. I hit the back of my head so hard on the pavement that it bounced my body back up into a seated position. I did not black out. I accelerated on the ice until the crown of the road slid me into the weeds. I bet I went 100ft. It took a while before I could get up. The first thing you think is concussion or bleeding in the brain. A couple of things might have saved me. The impact was more towards the top of my head than base of my skull. I must have crunched my abs, so that my head tipped all the way back before hitting the pavement. Those situps I've been doing are paying off. I also had a pretty dense fleece hat on that no doubt softened the blow. Fortunately, Cathy did not hit her head.

We had no choice after that but to walk in the rough along the road, as in the rain, the black ice was completely undetectable on the asphalt. Impact to the head was not what I had in mind for the descent. Now we were soft-walking it the rest of the way down. Later my right wrist swelled up pretty badly. Sure hope I didn't mess something up in there. I had an ostrich egg sized lump on my head.

Winter needs to decisively settle in. Then it is either skis or studded tires on snow, none of this CX bike or hiking on ice stuff. I'll be lucky if I make it to 2011 intact.

Friday, December 10, 2010

First Snow

Dave, Brett and I kicked off the XC ski season with an awesome session in the mountains today. Parts of northern Vermont and New Hampshire received sizable dumps over the last week. Waterville Valley, where we hold season passes, has not opened any trails. Bretton Woods, which uses Mt Washington as a snow scoop,opened about half of their terrain.  We were in for an abrupt transition from fall to winter. Before leaving the house, gave these conditions for Bretton Woods:

It wasn't the temperature I was so much fretting over. It was sandpaper snow I feared. Normally fresh snow in extreme cold has glide characteristics similar to beech sand. We were pleasantly surprised to find quite good glide.

We climbed to the high point (about 400ft net gain) of the trail system three times. First loop out we went out to Crawford Notch. All of the trails in the woods were snowmobile groomed. Only a portion of the golf course was groomed by the Piston Bully. Snowmobile grooming means a lot of varying off-camber and whoopy skiing. It was also very soft in places. Still better than skiing early last season here with 2ft of new snow. Then skis kept punching through. I hit the Crawford climb quite hard, about seven minutes of solid VOmax effort.

Climbs two and three were laps around Sebosis/Porcupine/B&M. First time up Sebosis, I burned half my matchbook, holding near VOmax effort for 15 minutes. That cut me down a notch. You always feel like a superstar skiing down B&M, an old railroad grade at 1-2%. We looped around the golf course, climbed Wiley's, which had Dave and Brett bitchin' (it was wicked soft), then finished by going up Porcupine and down Sebosis.

Brett coming down Porcupine Lane

Dave and Brett had enough by this point and went in, but I still had some mojo left and went for a lap and a half around the golf course.  I brought my Atomic RS:11's, freshly ground by Boulder Nordic Sports. I got a general purpose grind good for cold temperatures. These were my rock skis before grinding. They weren't exactly in mint condition after grinding, but the bottoms looked pretty nice. I don't have another pair of rock skis. I worried about snow coverage initially. Ironically, I never hit anything in the woods where sticks and weeds where poking through. It was on the golf course that a rock put this pair of skis right back into rock ski status.

I finished with 33.6km distance and 520m climbing in 2:32hrs on the Garmin. This more than doubled any rollerski workout I've done this fall. My left ankle was none to happy about it. It seems rollerskis on pavement go in the direction you plant them and nothing perturbs that trajectory. Skate skis in soft, irregular conditions have all kinds of additional forces acting on them. Take some of the climbs for example. They were groomed too narrow in places to effectively skate, so tips tended to catch. This creates huge torsional load on ankles, something rollerskis don't do. My right ankle seemed did fine. I suspect my left ankle still has some toughening up to do since the fracture this spring.

Regardless of ornery ankles, I got a superb workout in. I haven't pushed myself that hard in many weeks. After a solid workout in the woods with friends, the psyche is prep'd to handle anything the world throws at it.  Hope the mountains keep snow through a brief warmup this weekend. Going back to rollerskis during the week is going to suck.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Newton's Hill

On several Sunday's now, I've met Brett for rollerski drills in the Westborough Business Park by his house. Maps call the hill this park sits on "Newton's Hill". There is a wide road, when coupled with a parking lot driveway, that nearly reaches the high point of the hill. In all, it gains about 160ft at a very consistent 6% grade. This is perfect for climbing intervals.

Newton's Hill

What is so cool about rollerskiing here is we pretty much have the place to ourselves on a Sunday morning. Maybe three cars will go by in an hour's time. No neighbors giving you stink eye and plenty of room for cars to go by.

Steady Grade

Ten repeats pretty much cooks me. I can V2 it in less than four minutes, but typical intervals run 4-4.5 minutes. Great for VOmax work. This past weekend we tried free skating up it. A month ago I don't think I would have survived this. I've been focusing a lot lately on free skating without poles. I learned I really haven't been tapping into my leg strength much. When free skating up a hill, either you get over each ski with a good snap or you don't go anywhere. Since I've started free skate laps on my lunch loop, I've dropped my free skating time about 15-20%.

The weekends continue to be quite conducive for long rides. On Saturday, Dave and I opted to for fat tires on trails rather than risk another debacle like the prior weekend with CX bikes on ice. There are trail riding options in southern New Hampshire where one can ride five hours and barely see pavement. One such route links up Massabesic Lake, FOMBA trails, Tower Hill Pond, and Bear Brook State Park via Trail 15. You do ride a portion of Trail 15 both directions, but large loops can be ridden at either end. Dave and I did a 48 miler in 4.8 hours, hitting limited bits of FOMBA with a nice loop in Bear Brook. You actually cover a lot of territory in this ride and feel like you accomplish something.  We saw a few other riders out there and a lot of guys with guns. Why is it when you ride away from guys with weapons, you feel like they are lining up a bead on your back? I get the same feeling when I am riding in bear or mountain lion country. Anyway, we went over Hall Mountain, rode the length of I-trail, Bobcat, crossed over Podunk and rode the new singletrack up from Hedgehog, then Bear Hill to top and down Ferret trail before heading back out.

Dave descending Ferret Trail on SS

Prospects are looking quite promising to get my fix on snow this weekend. Bretton Woods now has 30k groomed. Once skis touch snow, the Cape becomes fair game for riding...

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Illuminating Merits

Engineers love Figures of Merit (FOM). We can come up we some pretty abstruse ones. Take this example used for Direct Digital Synthesizer (DDS) chips.
FOM = Fs * 2ENOB/W
It takes the sampling frequency in Gigahertz times two raised by the effective number of bits, all divided by the power in Watts. Figures of Merit can be tailored to make one's claims stand out above others. In the above example, one group might not use ENOB (effective number of bits) and instead just use number of bits. They might have a really fast DDS, but its ENOB performance sucks, so they just omit the "effective" part of the FOM. Engineers also love acronyms, in case you couldn't tell.

So what does this have to do with cycling? I've been looking into night riding lights recently. As LED-based lights have surpassed HID in efficiency, all new lights arriving on the market are LED-based. It seems every company claims one of the following: a) the highest lumens, b) the longest run-time, or c) the lightest light. Some lights may sound really good, but suck in another way.  For example, what good is search light brightness that runs 12 hours if it requires a 25 pound lead-acid battery?  This just begs for a figure of merit to rank lighting systems. There is a pretty obvious one here. All light companies publish output in lumens, run-time in hours, and weight in grams. So I propose the following FOM:

FOM = Output (lumens) * run-time (hours) / system weight (grams)

Of course, I have only manufacturer's published numbers to work with here. It is easy to measure weight and run-time. Luminous intensity requires a calibrated detection sphere, which I don't own. Even if I did, I doubt any light company would send me free lights for characterization. Some would absolutely not do this, as they use calculated light output, not laboratory verified. I suspect many light companies publish highly optimistic numbers.

I'm looking for both a head mounted light and a bar mounted light. I would want the head mounted light to be compatible with both helmet and headband mounting. I plan to use it for cycling and night skiing. I categorized lights from a few companies in the table below. Run-time at maximum output is used for all lights.  Note the huge variation in the lumen-hours/gram FOM. It spans a range of 3:1.

Comparison of LED Light Systems

Some notable things pop out here. One is that the higher output lights tend to have higher FOM's. There are a multiple reasons for this. First, light companies tend to roll the latest LED technology into their highest power products first. Efficiency of LEDs continues to improve at a dramatic rate. So lights released to the market just two years ago now lag in FOM. One LED company, Cree, makes particularly efficient emitters in the XP-G family of devices. Several of the lights above now use them. A second reason the bigger lights have higher FOM is economy of scale. A bigger battery has more guts per outer packaging material. Thus the battery's volumetric efficiency is better. Same could apply to the lamp housing. Two double-emitter lamps will always weight more than one quad-emitter lamp.  I don't think the bigger lights have an inherent FOM advantage in terms of LED efficiency. Actually, the opposite is true. The harder these LED devices are pushed, the less efficient they are. It pays to use more LEDs in a lamp, with each LED operating at reduced power. This helps efficiency. Incandescent lamps tend to behave opposite to this.

Exposure Lights have the highest FOMs, with one at 11.25 lumen-hours/gram. I am a little suspect of their luminous output numbers though. They push the LED emitters pretty hard.  If specs are accurate, I believe they derive impressive FOMs by putting battery and lamp in a single, cylindrical housing. There are no bulky cables, no separate housings for lamp and battery. Thus Exposure wins by reducing weight to the absolute minimum.

I really like DiNotte's design philosophy. I spoke with Rob about how they achieve higher lumen-hours for a given battery. Basically, they use twice as many Cree XP-G LEDs as the other guys. Each LED is then operated at well below its maximum output. This means higher efficiency can be obtained, which can translate to using a smaller battery for a given run-time. DiNotte focused more on system weight, and they reduce it, ironically, by using more emitters in the lamp. This has a fringe benefit that the LEDs will run cooler and should last longer. The con here is these LED emitters are not cheap, so a brilliant, low-weight system will cost a few bucks more.

Lupine also makes some impressive lights using Cree XP-G emitters. Lupine makes a big deal about publishing measured luminous output, not theoretical. Kudos to them.  They are, however, crazy expensive. Any quality product out of Germany is expensive in the USA it seems. So this gets into a metric I chose to exclude from my FOM. If price were brought into the equation, the Jet Lites unit could shine brightly at $199. I excluded price because it can vary so widely depending on where you live and from whom you buy it. Some brands command more loyalty, and a premium can be charged for this.

I'm not sure what I will do yet. I like the fact DiNotte is a local New Hampshire company. I wish they would put a medium power head lamp based on XP-G emitters on the market. Their mature 400L light system has a pretty poor FOM. I'd like to see them produce a two emitter headlamp with greatly improved efficiency. Then I'd buy a complete bar and head system from them in a heartbeat. As it stands right now, I would buy 1200L+ (FOM=9.03) from DiNotte, and maybe the Joystick (FOM=9.18) from Exposure.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Hillsborough Fuster Cluck

The photo above pretty much sums up the ride DaveP and I did Sunday. Dave was really antsy to get in a decent ride, being a freshly minted new dad. His son Zach came into the world unexpectedly early this week, but all are doing well.  I had hoped to build on the success of last week's 'cross bike ride. My route research proved less than thorough this time. The ride turned into the mother of all boondoggles.

The Hillsborough Classic mountain bike race was one of my favorites when I first started racing bikes. It was a single 32 mile loop, mostly on jeep roads and ATV trails through Fox State Forest. I thought if we stuck to named roads on maps, we'd have a reasonable probability of staying on our CX bikes in this area. I should have known not all would go well. Cathy and I tried to hike Mt Cardigan on Saturday and did not get far at all. It was crampon conditions right from the parking lot. There was an inch of conformal coat ice on everything. This is much further north than Hillsborough, but the higher elevations around Hillsborough did not escape Friday's freezing rain. To compound matters, an inch of snow fell Saturday night. This meant you could never tell what lurked below.

It was 23F when I left the house and only slightly warmer when we rolled out of Hillsborough at 9am.  We started out on Center Rd, climbing several hundred feet along Fox State Forest on pavement. Pavement soon gave way to gravel. An ominous sign (as in Dead End) welcomed our right hand turn onto County Rd. It was great riding for a while. Eventually it petered out to rough double track. We soon learned why. Beaver activity, probably long ago, put a lengthy section of this "road" under water. The ice wasn't quite trustworthy enough to walk across. A bush-whacking we went. We got far enough off my GPS track that I wondered if we could even get back to it without crossing this great chasm of wetlands in our way. We did get back on track, but not without getting torn up by briers.

County Rd starts out innocuous enough

We were higher up now, and random ice flows were becoming more frequent. This made climbing the 20+% grades without studs quite frustrating. Next up was W Dunfield Rd. This was a "bonus" 500ft climb. We could have gone straight and fared much better, but no, I had to take us on a highly suspect road that showed up as a trail in DeLorme Topo. Google Maps showed it as a through-road, but barely there in satellite view. Since I pummelled my body all week, I told Dave to go ahead and get an interval in if he wanted. He didn't go far before the road dead-ended. Hmm, track says road should be right... here. It was, barely. We started riding on a crunchy frost heaved surface that would collapse under our skinny tires. It got progressively steeper. The snow got deeper. The ice got more solid. Needless to say, we gave up and shouldered the bikes. We gained a couple hundred feet this way. To our horror, the descent was even less rideable. It sucks even more to hike down. It basically looked like a creek bottom. Nothing but rocks and ice. The trail continued to peter out. If it weren't for my GPS track, we'd surely have gotten lost.

Coming up West Dunfield Rd

It was a relief to see a house. The initial north facing gravel descent was insanely steep. The view of the Sunapee range was quite spectacular. Little did we know that there was hockey ice under that dusting of snow. Dave was so kind to point this out as he ditched his bike and went chest surfing down the hill. How I stopped without going down is beyond me. Damage: banged up elbow and bananas ejected from jersey pocket. I think I went 4mph the rest of the way down that hill, which normally could easily be taken at 40+ mph.

A left at the bottom had us on pavement for a bit. This kinda sucked. It was salted, so a sloppy mess. Our bikes were clean until that point. The pavement gave way to gravel again. The road was nice for a bit, veered right, but oh, my track goes straight on another gory looking jeep track. This one really sucked, as it was even steeper and gained 900ft. We hiked most of that vertical on Old Mountain Rd. At the top, our average speed for the ride had dropped below 9mph! This was supposed to be a three hour, 43 mile ride.

Old Mountain Rd where it leveled off for a moment

Coming over the top was not much of a relief. There was a lot of ice under that snow. My rims had frozen up again. Cantilever brakes suck when performing at their best. Let them freeze up, you have nothing. I was using my feet to control my speed. A little further down the descent levelled out a little. I reached a flat spot where I thought, wow, this is really smooth here. About the same instant I realized I was riding on ice, I was bouncing off said ice. I must have used my left kneecap to test the hardness of the ice. The ice was solid alright. My knee hurt so badly I could have hurled. Of course, Dave was behind me and found my sprawl across the ice quite entertaining. I had enough wits to throw him my camera while I was still writhing in pain.

We shortly picked up a gravel road that saw a little traffic. This was finally rideable without fear of death. It was mostly south facing, and the frost was coming up. It was a juicy mess. The rollers meant it was also a lot of work in puddy material.

We crossed over Rt 31 and rode along Highland Lake next. There was yet another uncertain connection here. Google Maps doesn't show East Shore Dr going through, where Topo did. Turns out the segment in question is on conservation land, and it appears the locals that live on the lake maintain a nice path through the woods here to access scenic Pickerel Creek Pond. This was close to riding singletrack. It was uber steep at the top, but doable. Crossing another gate on the other side, we were back in business on gravel road.

Pickerel Creek Pond. Bring out the hockey skates!

Old Antrim Rd is a cut-through to Rt 9. All maps show it as an auto road. It wasn't. About a mile in (all up, of course), it was under water. Neither of us were in the mood for another massive bush-whack. We cut our losses, turned around and took pavement all the way back to Hillsborough. Busy Rt 9 was not the most pleasant way to finish the ride. I was riding on fumes for much of the ride, so Dave towed my sorry self back.

We finished the ride with 48.5 miles in 4:14 hours riding (and hiking) time on the odometer. The baro altimeter says we did 4760ft of climbing.  The loop Dave and I did from Keene last weekend was a keeper. Today's loop will be relegated to the half-baked rides folder. I don't think there is any way to tinker with it to salvage it. There just aren't other through-routes in this area that aren't paved. Hopefully Dave got something of a workout. I got more than I bargained for.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Frozen Turkey Burner

I haven't missed the FOMBA Turkey Burner for at least as long as I've been keeping a cycling log, since 2002.  Today I've come the closest ever to bailing, seeing nothing but pink and dark green on the radar maps when I got up. The night before, Steve G and I decided to wait until 8am on whether to pull the plug on the T-burner this year. The forecast was not good. 8am rolls by, nothing from Steve. Finally I send out a feeler email. No way was I going to bail first. I think he was waiting for me to bail, and I was waiting for him to bail. Funny how that works. Of course, neither of us bailed. I sensed another dose of character building was going to be administered while driving up the Everett Turnpike. It was 32F, raining, and the pine trees were caked with ice.

There were actually more than 2-3 cars at Massabesic Lake. Last year it was 10F warmer, pouring rain and fewer cars than today. We did score a small break in the rain while registering and kitting up. It always sucks more to actually start out when it is raining. I went back through my log to see how prior years compared. Here's what I found:

2002  3" snow, hooked up with Phil Keyes
2003  40F, drizzle changing to downpour
2004  30F & Windy. Scott N broke Elbow on ice under leaves.
2005  17F & 4" of snow
2006  50F, greasy trails
2007  33F, greasy trails
2008  32F & sleet
2009  44F & pouring rain
2010  33F & freezing rain

So out of the last nine years, there were only three decent years where it wasn't raining or no snow on the ground. This year it had rained all night, so there was plenty of standing water. There was no point in even avoiding it on the double track sections. We scooped up Joe Reagan at the start, so we had a nice three man posse heading into the woods.

Seems riding with Steve this year has gone no where good for me. Ankle fracture in May, then on the x-ray table again a couple weeks ago. I've very nearly recovered from the most recent injury. That meant I was due for another mishap. What better way to maximize the probability than riding on slimy roots and rocks for three hours? I put a governor on speed but wasn't afraid to burn matches every now and then on short climbs. The Fireline trail seemed to take an eternity. Nearly cleaned it though. I was riding quite well as long as I focused on technique and not speed.

After a speedy romp through Woodpecker, Long Trail was next. It used to be the longest trail until fireline was extended to over three miles. Long trail offers the most opportunities for bad things to happen. I managed to not hit the deck and escaped with just two dabs. Another group was kind of loosely hanging with us the last 30 minutes or so. Some were frigid. Joe seemed just a little too eager to show them the direct way back to the cars. We still had eight more singletrack loops to hit. Now it was just Steve and I.

Lots of close calls over the next several trails. We passed another group of two, then there were no more tracks in the mud. We were on the vanguard. Or whacked. Everybody else might have wizened up and bailed. Steve could no longer feel his brakes or shifters. I wore lobstah mitts and was still doing ok. We both had baggies and neoprene booties on our feet. My feet stayed dry for the whole ride. I could squeeze water out of my mitts though. Everything else was saturated too.

Steve set a pretty hard pace starting out, so I was not going to let him bail early (like last year). He was going to finish the whole ride this time. He bonked pretty spectacularly on Fisher Cat. A Power Bar brought him back to life for the last couple loops.

We finished 28.1 miles in 3:05 riding time. There might have been only 2 or 4 biker cars left in the parking lot when we got back. It figured the sun was poking through just as we finished the ride. Well worth heading out. The Turkey Burner streak holds for another year.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Lamenting Dyna-Sys

There is huge churn in the world of bicycle standards these days. For most of my years as a cyclist (about 14), things like head tubes, bottom brackets and handlebars were standardized. Head tubes on frames were set up for 1-1/8" head sets. Bottom bracket shells were 1.37" with 24TPI. Bottom brackets themselves were square taper.  Handlebar diameters were about 25mm. Now we have all types of integrated headsets and even different diameters top on bottom. When bottom brackets went external, some genius figured out that wasn't such a good idea after all, so now we have multiple integrated bottom bracket standards. There are now two popular handlebar diameters, one creatively named oversized.

I've been pretty much a life-long Shimano devotee. My first bike when I became reacquainted with cycling back in 1996 came with Grip Shift controls. I moved to New England a year later, and every bike since, about 16 bikes in all, has been Shimano equipped.

One thing I really came to like about Shimano was they held the actuation ratio constant among almost everything they sold. Actuation ratio is the ratio between how much the rear derailleur moves vs. how much cable the shifter moves. Until now, Shimano was claimed to have a 2:1 actuation ratio. This means the derailleur moves 2mm for every 1mm the cable moves. I measured this on a bike, and I get something closer to a 1.6:1 ratio. Shimano doesn't publish this anywhere.

A universal actuation ratio is important for me as a hillclimber. This allows me to mix and match road and mountain bike components. As long as the number of shifter clicks matches the number of cogs in back, it will work. I could shift mountain bike XTR derailleurs with road Dura Ace levers or even the other way around if I wanted to be goofy. 8spd, 9spd, 10spd, it didn't matter. Clicks = cogs, it will work. Three of my bikes with road shifters have mountain bike derailleurs on them right now, my hillclimb bike, cross bike and my all-around road training bike. I never need worry if my gearing is suitable for a hundred miler with 20% grades in it.

When Shimano first adopted 10spd road gruppos, it messed things up a little, as if I wanted to "upgrade" my hillclimb bike to 10spd, I didn't have a suitable MTB 10spd cassette to put on back. Sure, folks like IRD made a Shimano compatible 10spd cassette with some pretty big cogs in it, but it weighed a ton of bricks, being stamped steel. It was wait and see if Shimano came out with 10spd drivetrain for off-road use.

Personally, I think 10spd is stupid for road and even stupider for off-road. When MTB drivetrains went from 8spd to 9spd, problems with chainsuck quadrupled and things wore out twice as fast. I really didn't want to see Shimano come out with a 10spd drivetrain, as that probably meant 9spd would go away and my bikes would be left with orphaned drivetrain components. I can only imagine how much more 10spd will cost, how much shorter it will last, and how much less tolerant of mud it will be.

Well, Shimano not only introduced 10spd MTB drivetrains this year, they changed the friggin actuation ratio too! They call the new gruppo Dyna-Sys.  This means I will not be able to mate a new 10spd Shimano derailleur to my 10spd road shifter. Shimano reduced the actuation ratio, which means the shifter must move more cable per cog. This also means you cannot backfit any older 9spd stuff with 10spd shifters or derailleurs. You gotta replace the whole deal - shifters, derailleurs and cassette.

I can't really blame Shimano for doing this. To make 10spd work in an off-road environment, they had to make this change. 10spd gear changes with the old actuation ratio would mean little more than a millimeter of cable pull to effect a shift. That is pretty fussy. No idea what they new ratio is. All Shimano says about it is the derailleur uses new "Long Arm" technology, which simply means they put bigger lever arms at the cable/housing attachment points on the derailleur.

SRAM went to a 1:1 actuation ratio in their 10spd off-road stuff, calling it "Exact Actuation." At least they tell us what the ratio is. I've occasionally ridden SRAM drivetrains over the years on rental and borrowed bikes. I've never been very impressed with the shift feel. This is especially true for their road indexing. I haven't tried the newest off-road 10spd shifters yet.

I'm betting Shimano will jump on the 11spd road bandwagon soon. When will this madness end?  If Shimano does, I suspect they will roll the new actuation ratio into 11spd. This would bring a little harmony back into the drivetrain realm.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

The Other Pisgah

It was another fine weekend for exploring New England on cyclocross bike. DaveP and I headed over to nearby Keene, NH for a 56 mile loop around Pisgah State Park. Mountain biking opportunities are still limited within New Hampshire's largest state park, but that could be changing soon. Neither of us have done much riding in the very southwest corner of the state. It is quite mountainous and sparsely populated. The first couple hours of our planned route would be anything but mountainous, however.

Earlier in the week, Dave pointed out a rail trail near his house and wondered how we might loop in some dirt roads for a CX ride. I poked around on the web a bit further and found there is a vast network of abandoned rail lines around the state. Particularly interesting was a near loop in the Keene area. I've done the triangle in Manchester already, but it kind of sucked due to one leg being open to ATV traffic. The trails in the Keene area are closed to motorized wheeled vehicles. The three rail trails on the loop are dirt, but I had no intel on surface quality. Illegal ATV used can muck things up. Lack of maintenance can foster muddy areas or overgrowth. This ride would surely be an adventure.

Saturday turned out to be a much better day to be in the woods than on the open road. It was feeling more like winter and it was wicked windy. We parked at the Shaw's right off Rt 101 in Keene, where the Ashuelot Rail Trail can be picked up from behind the building (some references say it is pronounced Ash-we-lot). 21 miles of flat to slightly downhill did not mean it was easy. The surface varied from fast hard park, sandy, rocky to grassy. There was only one brief muddy spot. It was steady tempo work with no recovery for nearly two hours. It was perfect for cross bikes on a cold autumn day.

The Ashuelot Rail Trail along rushing river by same name

The Ashuelot trail merges into the Fort Hill Rail Trail at the Connecticut River. We took a 180 degree turn to head north right along the east bank of the river. Very scenic. This 9 mile section terminates at a major bridge over the river with rails still in place. Reports say it is unsafe to even walk across. We planned to stay on the NH side of the river and take a short bit of Rt 119 to Wantastiquet Mtn. A dotted line on a map caught my attention here. It was described as a wide hiking path. Were bikes allowed on it? Was it even rideable? It gained 1100ft in less than two miles. That is pretty steep, especially for biggish geared CX bikes. Dave was running 38mm city slick tires. I had knobby 35mm tires.

It was a CX ride after all. This is Wantastiquet Mtn.

There were no signs at the bottom, just an iron gate. The path looked like a maintained fire road. We were game. It started harmless enough. After two switchbacks (there are 10), we hit our first hike-a-bike section. Another switchback, the hike-a-bike became more intense. A older hiker presumably with his grandchild commented that I must be incredibly fit or lack common sense. Couldn't it be both?  We reached a point where more than half the vertical was gained, so we decided to finish the deed no matter what. In hind sight, probably not a good call. The last half was more hike than bike. The view up top from a rocky knob was quite good though on this hazy overcast day.

Brattleboro, VT from summit of Wantastiquet Mtn

I have been babying an injured leg, and a ride of this duration was questionable in the first place. I conned myself into thinking it was ok, as I would only be riding, not going too hard, and riding doesn't entail much calf muscle effort. Well, this climb completely blew my shaky thinking out the window. The descent scared me. I had no ankle supports on. It was all loose rocks, water and oak leaves with nylon soled booties. I had ZERO traction on anything I stepped on. The descent was a rolled ankle ambush waiting to happen. It seems eccentric muscle contraction really aggravated my calf injury. I was using my bike as a crutch. After reaching the bottom, I fretted over how many days that was going to set me back. I opted out of doing the Velocross CX race on Saturday to give my leg more time to recover. Can't say this was any better than racing for my leg.

Gulf Rd

Continuing north along the river, we followed a few miles of gated fire road before picking up Gulf Rd. Gulf Rd was a real gym. It is essentially a one lane gravel road through a gorge with a rushing stream along side it. It reminded me a lot of Kelly Stand Rd in southern Vermont. We gained about 600ft on this road, climbing into the Pisgah mountains just north of the state park. Dave had no mercy on me, setting a pace to surely punish me for whining about my leg. The next ten miles repeated a pattern of climb a couple hundred feet, descend a hundred feet, on mix of gravel and paved roads. We rarely saw cars. I was pretty spent when we finally reached the high point before beginning the descent towards keen.

Wantastiquet Mtn climb (3x vertical exageration)

Shortly after crossing Rt 9, we hopped on the Cheshire Rail Trail for the last few miles, still downhill, back into Keene. The ride took 4.4 hours and entailed about 3500ft of climbing, nearly all of which was in the last 24 miles. Certainly something I would do again on a cross bike, minus the Wantastiquet climb. It's a great loop to get away from people and see parts of the state you wouldn't normally see.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Mt Kearsarge Rollerski Hillclimb

My doctor would have made me another doctor's problem if he knew what I did just a few days after seeing him with a potential leg fracture. Rollerskiing up a mountain is one of the most abusive things you can do to your body. At least I experimented on rollerskis Saturday to see how my leg would respond. I was pleasantly surprised to find that skate boots laterally immobilize the ankle joint and reduce the level of discomfort I experienced while raking leaves all morning. That was good enough for me to give the timed climb a try.

I had benchmarked myself on Kearsarge a couple weeks earlier, a non-serious ski up to see how hard it really was. It took me about 36 minutes. I figured I could readily take a couple minutes off that in a more serious attempt.

It was a fabulous weekend - dry, mild, calm winds. For the second of two CSU organized races, classic rollerskis would be used by most of the gang. I use only skate technique these days. There were a number of us planning to use skate technique, so Brett Rutledge and I would not be the only ones.

About 30 minutes before race start, Albert and John came down the road and said "we have a problem." The park toll road is closed for the season, and it seems wind has taken some trees down, some really big trees in fact. Cars were not going past the 1.4 mile mark of the 3.4 mile climb. If skiers were to go to the summit, there would potentially be multiple ski dismounts and who knows how much debris to trip on for the last two miles. And we'd have to walk back down in ski boots. This simply was not a viable option. Race organizer John recommended to move the start below the park entrance to the last downhill on Mountain Rd. This would put 0.9mi and a few hundred feet of climbing back into the course. The race turned out to be about 2.3 miles with 960ft of climbing. Was I disappointed? Yes, mainly because I would not learn what I could do relative to my benchmark two weeks earlier. But this would still make for a pretty grueling 20 minute effort.

Garmin Edge 705 data.
Modified course profile. Toll gate was around mile 0.9.

I used my Pursuit rollerskis with some pretty worn down tires. The pavement on the public road was exceedingly rough and I had great difficulty skating on it. The roughness was so bad that sometimes a ski would stall out on the steep parts. The toll road inside the park was recently repaved, so it was sweet skating.

This was my first rollerski race.  Uphill rollerski races are about as exciting as uphill bicycle races. Not very. You quickly go into a personal world of hurt and stay there until the top. The usual things happen. A few people go out way too hard and implode just as hard three minutes later. The really fast guys are out of sight in a few minutes, not to be seen again. The rest of us just settle into our groove and slowly spread apart from one another. When I reached the finish, I hadn't seen anyone in front of me for some time. There were two not far behind. I thought to myself that felt just like an Ascutney climb or a Weston sprint race. It hurt pretty dang bad. Just the endorphin fix I needed.

I figured that since I couldn't compare my time from two weeks ago, at least I could do a relative comparison against Brett. But he was many minutes back. I knew something was up. Of all things, he flatted during a rollerski hillclimb race! I never liked my 125mm V2 Aero's. His 150mm V2 Aero's are much more reliable, but not this day. He finished, although at extraordinary energy expenditure. I had no reference at all. I finished in 22:40, which was second out of eight skaters and 5th out of 22 total skiers. Talking with a couple skiers that skated two weeks ago and classic skied this week, the consensus was classic is faster. I'd like to believe that. I got smoked by a 14 year old junior on classic rollerskis.

My form 0.1mi from the finish was horrible. I arrive in the video below at around 57 seconds. I'm probably babying my sore right leg. I'm dropping my left shoulder. My pole plants are way too wide. I was just dying at this point. A spectator yelled "tenth of a mile to go," but I thought he said half of a mile. I almost blurted an expletive but asked again how much and heard only a tenth of a mile.

Video by Tom Smith

Despite an abbreviated race, it was still worth heading up there. Probably not the wisest thing to do nursing an injured leg. No way I could have gotten that kind of workout raking more leaves. Before rigor mortis set in my leg, I hopped on the mountain bike from home and hit some ATV trails I hadn't ridden in years. Managed to get in 21 miles in two hours before the light waned. A good day.

Loop from my house just dipping over the state line in lower left
corner. Still possible to put a 30 mile loop together here with
minimal pavement contact, although new developments are making
this harder.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Without a Leg to Stand On

As Steve Gauthier and I were rolling out of the parking lot Wednesday, Jim Kingston drives by and rhetorically hollers to me "didn't you learn anything this spring riding with that guy?" Steve and I were headed into Mine Falls on our lunch break. I had my newly repaired Titus daulie back on line finally. I had no idea how ominous Jim's comment would be.

Like usual for the past few weeks, I was riding a tad tired. I did a hard 65 minute rollerski workout the day before and hadn't really recovered from the weekend. I typically have an aerobic superiority over Steve, as he's a track specialist. But this advantage has diminished recently. He's been doing a lot of sculling on the Merrimack river. I've also learned over the years that guys who've raced motorcycles, whether track or off-road, tend to have superior handling skills in the woods. Steve used to race at Loudon years ago. I think it is a combination of genetically missing the fear gene and genuine acquired skill. So when you couple skill, lack of fear and improved cardio ability, you get somebody like national champion Kevin Hines, or Steve Gauthier to beat me up on local rides.

We get into the woods to find it deeply blanketed in oak leaves. I was still sporting girlish tires, 1.95" Mutanoraptors. I really like them a lot, but hook up in deep oak leaves, they do not. Steve was railing the turns at anaerobic effort. I was making all kinds of mistakes trying to stay with him. This is exactly how I was riding back in May when I shattered my left ankle.

A tricky section near the Mine Falls Dam got a bit more tricky this summer due to a blow-down. Steve had crashed there a few weeks ago, narrowly escaping serious injury. I had ridden through that section a couple times with no issues. On Wednesday though, somehow I ended up in front of Steve in this section and didn't want to slow him down. I went a little faster than I would have riding alone and botched the maneuver. Of course, was going to dab to the right, which meant I was going for a big tumble into rocks.

I got my right foot out but had no chance to ditch the bike. There was nothing but air to put my foot into. It was a big drop to rocks and tree debris. It seemed I had eons of time to ponder how badly this was going to suck. My leg promptly crumpled and I rolled into rocks. It was one of those situations where one assesses bodily parts before moving anything. My knee hurt. My right ankle, my GOOD ankle, hurt a lot. Amazingly, things like my back, shoulders and pelvis missed the pointy rocks. I surmised my ankle wasn't broken, but I couldn't stand for a while. My whole lower leg was searing in pain. A fractured fibula crossed my mind. This is the little bone that doesn't bear much weight.

I was able to get riding again in a diminished capacity. It hurt a lot to put any pressure on the front or side of my foot. Doing so sent stabbing pains down the outside of my lower leg. We finished the ride. I took a small handful of Ibuprofen when I got back to the office. I couldn't find any localized pain, other than both my knee and ankle were moderately swollen. My plan was to see how I felt in the morning and decide then if I needed to go in for xrays. Jim Kingston was right. I hadn't learned a thing.

Being the stubborn idiot I am, I packed a bike Thursday morning. I figured if I could ride trails back from my mishap on Wednesday, I couldn't be seriously hurt. But as the morning dragged on, I realized something was far from right. I could not put any weight on my right leg going up and down stairs. I called to see the doctor. I was in a state of panic, as if I broke my fib, that would kill the whole ski season. I got xrays that afternoon. Before leaving radiology, I had to know if there was an obvious fracture or not, so I asked the xray tech if I might have a look before leaving. She was totally cool with that. My fib looked fine to my completely untrained eye. Ankle looked good too. My incident in May had bones at almost right angles. None of that this time. I felt some relief already. Of course, a radiologist still had to review the images to make a diagnosis.

Friday was a scheduled off-day. I had planned to do a big ride in the mountains, especially since it would be so pleasant out. I had no idea if I could even make the pedals go around. I wasn't going to let the day go to waste though. After getting impatient waiting for the doctor's office to call back with results, I packed a bike and headed for Lincoln, NH. A White Mountains west half loop sounded nice. This meant riding up the Franconia Notch bike path (which I normally avoid in season), bombing down Rt 18 to Franconia, climbing up and over the dirt Long Pond Rd mountain pass, then finishing over Gonzo Pass. I have pretty low gears on my Dean road bike, so I figured I could always soft pedal if my leg was too ornery.

Franconia, Long Pond and Gonzo passes

Starting out was touch and go. I could only put a fraction of the force on my right pedal. For six months now, I got used to my left leg being my bad leg. But now my bad leg was my good leg. It seemed I didn't have a leg to stand on. Fortunately, the bike path was free of leaves and ice. That would have been more than I could handle. The frost heaves were something else though. Each one would send piercing pain through the side of my calf. It seemed like one of my ankle stability muscles was f'd up. The primary calf muscles seemed fine.

Top of Franconia Notch from bike path

By the time I made it to the top of Franconia, my leg had loosened up considerably. 600mg of Ibuprofen might have helped too. Riding south to the next climb felt semi-normal. Long pond was a bit of a disappointment. It looked like frost was coming out of the gravel. Many areas were wet and had the firmness of crunchy style peanut butter. It was all rideable, but demanded 50% more kilojoule expenditure than normal. Fortunately the south side was mostly dry. It probably took me better part of an hour to ride up and over this 9 mile dirt mountain pass. Only one car passed me the whole time.

Ok, blogger picture loader is broken right now. Any other app
opens this pic rotated 90deg. Long Pond Rd, note tire imprint.

Next up was the biggest climb of the ride, 1700ft up and over Gonzo Pass. Even though it had reach low 50's in sunny areas, there was still frost on the ground on north facing slopes. I started the ride late. The sun was getting low, and the temp was plummeting. I bonked horribly climbing Gonzo. No apparent reason for it. I rode recreational pace for most of the ride. I did eat next to nothing during the ride though and ate almost no carbs the night before. Cresting the summit was heavenly. The view of the Presidential's was quite spectacular with the sun setting behind me. Bombing 40mph back to Woodstock touched on all the senses. It smelled like fall. There were pockets of ice cold air. The gravity induced wind pushed back on me. It was one of my better descents all year.

"Is it Memorex or is it Live?" Remember that commercial?
So of these two photos, which is correct? There was nary
a hint of wind in the Whites on Friday. This is Baker Reservoir.

I wrapped up with 58.6mi, nearly 6000ft of climbing, in 3:40 riding time. This was about half and hour slower than I planned. Bum leg, tricky bike path, mushy dirt climb and bonking all were a factor. On the drive back, my wife informed me the xrays were negative. Good to know after I climbed three mountain passes.

Franconia Ridge with Mt Washington in distance from
Gonzo Pass after 3pm

My injury now seems to be consistent with a pulled muscle. Anytime that muscle fires to maintain stability, my knee buckles from automatic pain reflex. Things were a little better Saturday. At first I wrote off the Kearsarge rollerski race on Sunday, but after trying rollerskis Saturday, I might be alright. It seems the laterally rigid skate boots actually help me out and I had little pain skating. We'll see how race pace goes. I might be using a lot more upper body than normal.