Saturday, August 14, 2010

Dirt Road Enduro

Got a good fix in today. I hit my favorite dirt road climb in New England and explored many more miles of forest service road in the southern Green Mountains of Vermont. The plan was to park in West Wardsboro, just 30 minutes from our inn, climb up to Kelly Stand, do a big loop, then come back down to West Wardsboro. The plan quickly fell apart.

Sitting on the porch of the Old Tavern Inn sipping coffee at 7am, Cathy and I could see our breath in the air. Perfect riding weather I thought. We each had a comparatively big day of riding. Cathy planned to do a 32 mile loop right from the inn, which included a nasty steep 1200ft paved climb and a long, gradual, dirt descent back to Grafton. We thought about bringing the tandem, but Cathy is not too keen about the tandem in mountain country.

I parked at the general store in West Wardsboro. It is at the base of Kelly Stand Rd (called Arlington Rd on that side). I no more than start riding than I start seeing signs about bridge out, road closed. Hmmm, it is Saturday, I know the stream, so if the bridge was actually out, I'll just walk across at the road crossing. As I near the bridge area, I see a full crew is working with big equipment right where the bridge was supposed to be. There was no way I was crossing there. So now what? The banks down to the stream were steep and all boulders. How do you scale that in cleats without rolling an ankle over, especially a weak ankle? The other side looked pretty dense too. I found a spot to get down to the stream, got wet feet, then proceeded to bush-whack for 10 minutes working my way back to the road past the bridge work. Little did I know the road crosses the stream twice, so I had to cross it twice and scale boulders twice. That cost me a nice chunk of time and ice cold feet in the nippy morning air.

It didn't take long to warm up though. Arlington Rd is east facing, and the day would warm considerably in brilliant sun. The rest of my body was soon soaked from climbing the steady grade.

Just shy of the high point of Kelly Stand Rd is another seasonal forest service road that runs south for about 14 miles to Rt 9. It climbs a little initially, but then slowly drops altitude for the next 12 miles. This would be my first time riding it, having heard reports that it is another great dirt road to hit in the area. I was a bit perplexed to see one of those big "Recovery Act" signs you see on the highway in the middle of nowhere in the Green Mountains. Apparently improving seasonal fireroads is worth increasing our debt to the rest of the world.

FS71 is north to south portion in center.

I gathered the work done on FS71 was a new bed of gravel. The initial descent was rather hairball. Very hard packed, but a lot of big, loose stones on top. I was constantly ricocheting rocks off trees in the woods. Glad I had some grippy CX tires, although a little less than 80psi would have been nice. Further down, the gravel mix changed to a much finer aggregate and was a blast to ride. Speeds of 20-25mph could be held most of the time with minimal effort. I think for the first 9 miles, I didn't encounter a single person. Once the new gravel gets well packed, this road could be nice on a road bike. Not sure if that is a good or bad thing.

A view from FS71.

All good things eventually come to an end. After a total stretch of about 17 miles of dirt, I picked up Rt 9 and headed towards Bennington. This was busy, and it climbed at 10-12% grades for a while. At least this portion was repaved with wide shoulders. You know it is steep when there's a run-away truck ramp every half mile.  After many rollers, the final plummet from Prospect Mountain begins. I've always wanted to ride Rt 9, despite it being a busy road. This was my first, and this several mile descent at 40-45mph was just what my legs needed.

After topping fluids off, I headed north on East Rd. This climbs out of the Bennington bowl, paved at first, turning to gravel before reaching the top. Then it is gravel all the way down to Arlington. No traffic, and smooth as butter. I was close to the lowest point of the ride, and the 2000ft dirt Kelly Stand climb was next. Having over three hours of fairly hard tempo riding in my legs by this point, I was wondering how I was going to get over it. The good thing is it is never steep. The rushing stream and deep canyon walls take your mind off the suffering. Lot of campers along this road, and a little camper traffic too.

Coming down the other side, I was going to try the detour around the bridge that I noted on my climb. I figured the detour was part way up from the car, so it probably still all went down, but just maybe added a couple miles. Boy was I wrong. I scored a nice bonus climb, in fact. The detour started up on pavement for just a bit, but then turned onto dirt Penny Ave. Apparently I was going to hit my toughest climb last. I had no idea where or how high this was going. The easy parts were 12% grade, and hard parts held 18%. Glad I hadn't reach bonk stage yet, else there would have been cussing. Eventually it pops out on Rt 100. I knew there was a pass on Rt 100 just north of Mt Snow Ski Area, and I had to be close to it. So instead of turning left to bomb back down to my car, I went up. I immediately had a rabbit on road bike to chase. When I caught him and asked how far to top, he said almost there. Sweet. So now I bagged an unnamed pass that I've always wanted to check out. Bombing down on the north side of this reminded me of bombing down Terrible Mountain into Ludlow. A thousand foot plummet was a nice way to end this ride, especially being a thousand feet I hadn't planned on.

The little kicker at the end hurt more than the
monster Kelly Stand climb.

I logged 76 miles in 4.9 hours with about 7000 feet of climbing for the ride. About half the ride was on dirt roads. I needed major replenishments. A pint of Ben & Jerry's Cherry Garcia fit the bill nicely. Only 960 calories and two days worth of saturated fats.

Not sure what we'll do on Sunday. Neither of us will have legs for more riding. Since we drive right past Mt Monadnock, we might go for a hike. Hope I don't roll an ankle. My physical therapist told me I needed to do more impacty weight bearing stuff. She didn't like the mobility of either of my ankles. Cycling and desk job don't build optimal lower leg strength.


Mookie said...

Finally figured out your route. I'll have to hit FS71 next Spring. What did you run for tires?

Hill Junkie said...

I would have uploaded my route to GPSies or Garmin Connect, but I forgot my GPS cable. I used Schwalbe Racing Ralph CX tires, 35mm with some pretty generous knobbies on them. I'd say it was overkill for most of the dirt I hit. 32mm file treads would have been perfect.

Now all I have to do is figure out how to cut out that long stretch of Rt 9 to make it a perfect loop.

CB2 said...

Are you doing D2R2? Sounds like you're up to it.

Hill Junkie said...

Charlie - yes, I plan to roll out at 6am. I've never had good endurance for these kinds of things, and my endurance is still way off from last year. I'm going to let guys like Alex and DaveP do their thing this year. I'd surely blow up before half way if I tried to ride that pace. Looking forward to it. The way I see it, D2R2 will be good training for the following weekend when I head to Colorado for a week.