Sunday, October 31, 2010

Mt Kearsarge Test Run

The Cambridge Sports Union ski club is running two rollerski hillclimb races up Mt Kearsarge on Oct 31 and Nov 14. Since I already committed to doing the Wicked Ride of the East on Halloween, I had to settle for getting just one timed shot on the mountain in on the 14th. This didn't stop me from heading there this past Saturday though. The state park website said they'd be open through Sunday the 31st. Cathy was willing to drive up so I wouldn't have to hike back down.

Upon arrival, the gate was locked. Ugh. There was no notice or anything about it opening this weekend. This sucked for two reasons. One is I didn't want to hike 3.4 miles down a paved road. The other was I feared that with no auto traffic, there could be lots of tree debris on the summit road.

My wonderful wife is willingly adaptive in these situations. She would get a head start up the road with some dry clothes and sneakers for me. We'd then hike the trail from the upper parking lot to the summit and walk all the way back down to the car. We'd both get a superb workout.

I brought my Pursuit rollerskis with no speed reducers and really slow wheels on them. Even so, I found I could not get any warmup in, as the road in either direction from the gate was too steep to control speed on, especially coming down into a locked iron gate. I gave up and went right into the climb with no warmup. To compound matters, I did nearly three hours of tough mountain biking the day before and an hour of rollerski drills the day before that. I was feeling pretty beat up and tight.

There is a mile long stretch at the bottom that averages nearly 12% grade. There are many sustained sections over 15%. With no warmup, this truly put me in a hole from the get-go. About 0.2 miles into the climb, I nearly gave up. I was ready to pull the phone out to call Cathy to abandon. The road was covered in slippery oak leaves and I could get no traction. Double poling on 15% grade just doesn't work, especially for a upper body cycling wuss like myself. I slipped so badly once I barely got hands down in time to keep my face from hitting the pavement. I persevered a bit longer though. I was glad I did. The leaf density thinned out about a half mile into the climb, and a mile into it, the road was bare. This was due to altitude, as trees there had dropped their leaves much earlier and there were more fir trees and fewer oaks.

Lower portion of road. Strip in middle was too narrow to skate.
Push-off was in the deep stuff on sides.

Cathy snapped photos of me as I passed. I surely have some technique deficiencies to work on. I went out too hard on the steep lower portion and had to back down a bit as the grade slackened some. There are a few minor downhills to recover on, if you take the bait. On a bicycle hillclimb, I never take the bait. You tend to go too hard again after a brief lull and hit deflection, which always costs seconds on the clock. Today was exploratory, so I didn't care. The final downhill has a steeper drop in it with a turn at the bottom. I actually scrubbed speed on this one because I didn't know how fast I would go. I realized this was completely unnecessary. Good to know come November 14. After reading about Alex's downhill mishap, I take even less chances on downhills.

I nearly ran over a porcupine. I failed to keep my head up on a steep section, then realized a porcupine was in the middle of the road and was in no hurry to get out of my way. He didn't seem very afraid. Cathy came within a few feet of him a few minutes later too. And no, porcupines cannot throw quills. This is a myth. It would suck to fall on one though.

Probably 17% grade here

From the last dip to summit is less than a mile at moderate grade. I ramped the pace back up again, going deeply anaerobic.  From toll gate at the bottom to end of pavement at the parking lot took me exactly 36 minutes. It is about 1500ft net gain.  This was the hardest effort I put in since the Allen Clark bicycle hillclimb at the beginning of the month.

For the CSU timed event Sunday morning, I hear they took a leaf blower to the course. Based on some of the finishing times, I should be able to break 34 minutes when I come back on the 14th. I'll come with fresher legs and I may put the faster tires back in my Pursuits, although then I would lose my apples to apples comparison.

Soaking wet in howling wind, I nearly froze waiting for Cathy to reach the upper lot. I put dry uppers on, laced up AATD's (ankle anti-taco devices) on both ankles, puts sneakers on, then headed the rest of the way to the summit. With the gate locked, we were the only ones out here on Saturday. This was a first for me.

Cathy on summit, taken from fire tower

I wanted to climb at a brisk pace, maybe even encroach on trail running pace. With ankle supports on both ankles, I was quite confident I wouldn't sustain a serious injury. I need more impact time on my feet, and the technical climb would offer lots of agility practice. It took me upwards of 8 minutes to reach the summit at a steady aerobic pace. For the first time in many years, I actually felt confident on my feet on a steep, technical hiking trail. It was bitter cold up top. The water in rock crevasses was frozen solid. Heavy overcast diminished the 100 mile view.

Snow capped Mt Cardigan (I think) in distance

Now it was a four mile hike back to the car. Cathy has no trouble staying with me on the descents. There was a steady stream of walkers coming up on our way down. The porcupine was still milling about too. The descent hurt far more than the TT up. The front of my knees got very ornery on the paved 12-15% grades. Overall, it turned out to be a great morning. Cathy and I both got a workout. At least with the gate locked, I had no auto interference during my climb. We got to enjoy the summit without a soul around. Normally, this summit is crowed on weekends.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

When in Maine, Ride in Maine

Having purchased a pair of high zoot poles from Boulder Nordic Sport online, I thought I'd check out their new store in Portland, Maine. I desperately need new boots, as my Salomon RS Carbon's hurt my feet and my only other pair of boots are several years old and falling apart. I also wanted to have my training RS:11 skis ground. BNS-Portland is a drop-off point for Nordic ski grinding performed at their Boulder facility.

I was a bit underwhelmed by the Portland shop. It was very small and basically just a bay in a old shipping warehouse building. I drove past it three times, stopped and asked for directions, then realized the BNS taped on a door was the right place. Perhaps the store is still being remodelled or built up. They did have the sizes in the Salomon boot lineup I needed to try on though. I ended up in a newer version of the RS Carbon, but 2/3 size bigger than what I have now. It is possible that my current boot is too small and that is why it hurts my talus protrusion so much. The higher end S-lab model boots have too narrow of a heel cup to work with my titanium reinforced ankle. If the larger size RS Carbon's don't work, I'm not sure what my options will be. All my skate and roller skis have pilot bindings, so I'm kind of stuck with Salomon. I'll try the new boots out this week on rollerskis.

On my way back, I stopped at Mt Agamenticus in the very southern part of Maine to ride. I've ridden here only once or twice maybe eight years ago. NEMBA has broadened the riding options here considerably in the years since. I knew Mt Aggie to be a pretty technical place. Being alone, I wouldn't know where all the good stuff was. It is not on the official park map, as that just covers the immediate summit area. So I went data mining on the Internet. I found GPX track files on and GarminConnect. With no descriptions, you have to treat this info as suspect at best.

One promising track was a 10+ mile loop on the south side of Mountain Rd, where I have never ridden previously. There are several lakes in this vast, undeveloped area. Google Earth indicated the topography is steeply corrugated. Looked enticing, maybe some views available, but potentially quite brutal. I saved this track and a few others that canvased the more typical Mt Agamenticus side of Mountain Rd.

Folly Pond still very low

I parked at the base of the summit road, quickly changed, then headed off to the south side. I figured I'd bang out that 10 mile loop as a one hour warm-up for the steeper, climbier stuff on the north side. Yeah, right. The first few miles were all ATV track, wicked steep in spots, water crossings, and almost all loose rutted out rock. Throw in nearly complete leaf drop, I had no idea what was passing under my tires.

There was one section of spaghetti track that almost surely would be MTBer built singletrack, as ATVers just don't ride that way. I went past this trail twice before finding it. It must be quite new or infrequently ridden, as it was barely discernible under the leaves. But it was goooood - clearly built by mountain bikers. All rideable save for a few dabs, but very challenging. I was running about 18psi front and 20psi in my rear tire. I surprised myself by some of the stuff I managed to scale.  I cringed repeatedly from bottoming out the rear tire.  This trail had a lot in common with the one called Evil FOMBA. Due to leaf drop, I did repeatedly go off the trail. I would never have been able to follow it without my GPS.

It was back onto ATV track for a while. It seems most of the ponds are man-made. There is a large network of dams in this place. No water was flowing though. Fall rains still haven't made up for the drought this summer. I had no GPX track for it, just a suggestive rough track I manually entered for a loop around Middle Pond. It took me forever to find the trail. Leaf drop again. But this was sweet. Nice flow, all rideable. It popped out by a large dam. One of the tracks I noted on showed the route crossing this dam. It looked sketchy to me. There was nobody out here and nobody knew exactly where I was. I decided to see if I could ride further downstream and cross without walking atop a skinny concrete wall with big drops to either side.

A tidbit that was nice along east side of Middle Pond

I found a route to the other side. The stream crossing was completely dry. It was decent riding. Now I had to find the singletrack back on the east side of Middle Pond. The topography on this side was essentially a cliff that drops straight down to water. The Bikemag map showed a track for it, so guys must be riding it, right? The next 1-2 miles took me an hour! At one point, I had to let my bike slide down a rock face, then slide on my butt after it. The trail disappeared at times and I went into full bush whack mode. The singletrack goodness I rode earlier was quickly being negated by this suckfest. There were some nice views high above the pond from rock outcroppings. But these only meant rock scrambling up and down to reach them. Eventually I found a faint ATV trail and bailed out on it, in the opposite direction I wanted to go. I was done hugging the pond on a barely there trail. The ATV track eventually popped out on the Yellow Trail, which looked like a sanctioned ATV trail that was well maintained. As I climbed back up to Mountain Rd, it started to sprinkle. I had 2.5hrs of riding in and only covered about 16 miles so far.

Summit of Mt Agamenticus looking north

The drizzle stopped before things got too wet, so I at least had to summit Mt Agamenticus before heading home. I rode up the east side of Ring Trail. This was super chunk much of the way up, but at least I could attempt it without fear of death like along Middle Pond. I dabbed only twice before reaching the summit. Every way down from there had "No Bikes" signs posted. I don't remember those from eight years ago. They went down some of the abandoned ski slopes. I opted to call it a ride and ripped back down the paved summit road to my car.

Mt Agamenticus in upper left, Middle Pond in upper right, Folly
Pond in upper center

After last weekend's Wapack granite skills ride, I was hoping for something a little more tame today. I ended up with a more extreme ride. I never got to hit Second and Third hill on the north side. Exeter Cycles does fall rides here, so maybe I'll have to hook up with them to learn where the good stuff is. I managed 18.5 miles in 2:50 riding time. There were a lot of minutes hiking not accounted for on the Garmin. Still a good ride. It perplexes me how I escaped rides the last two weekends unscathed but suffered a catastrophe at Yudicky Farm in May.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

The Quintessential New England Fall Ride

As for many riders, fall is my favorite time of year to be a cyclist. The air is cool again, the bugs are gone, and the trails are typically dry. Fall is designed for long trail rides. DaveP and I bounced a few long ride ideas around. We considered a dirt road CX ride in the Whites. Ultimately, simple logistics won. We'd ride the Wapack Trail from Temple Mtn in NH to Mt Watatic in MA and take dirt roads back. It is close by.  I have ridden all portions of the Wapack but in previous rides. At the state line, the Wapack Trail continues on as the Midstate Trail in Massachusetts and goes to Rhode Island. I have not ridden the Midstate south of Wachusett Mtn.

Few ride the Wapack. It is quite brutal. Riders unwilling to frequently carry their bikes will hate this trail. You must approach the Wapack with reasonable expectations. It is primarily a hiking trail after all. If you consider the ride a hybrid hike and bike, you will do fine. It pays to know your limits too. There are sections where once you commit, you will either roll out the other end or need a rescue.

So why ride here? Simply for the stunning beauty along 20 miles of ridge top riding and the need to challenge one's self once in a while. Views from the trail are not to be found any place closer to Boston or Nashua. Of the six or seven times I've ridden bits of the Wapack or Midstate in the past, encounters with other trail users were infrequent, especially in sections between distant trailheads. There were no other cars in the Temple Mountain parking lot when Dave and I rolled off at 8am. I found this very unusually for a pristine Saturday during peak color season. I'm going to let pictures tell the rest of the story.

Profile of the ride. Eight named peaks were crested. Notice the steepness of each cluster. The fire road climb to the ridge line from the Temple Mtn parking area was 100% rideable, as was most of the descent from Burton Peak. A re-route of the climb to Barrett Mtn was mostly rideable. Only cardio ability on the 30% grade was the limiter.  The descent from Pratt Mtn was nearly all hike-a-bike.

Dave cresting Holt Peak with Pack Monadnock in the background. All of the peaks entail slickrock riding, presumably scraped bare from a previous ice age.

Near Temple Mountain. Lobster mitts and booties. There was ice on the rocks in places and the wind was really moving up here. The windchill might have been 20F. A shock to the face so early in the season.

Mt Monadnock in the distance.

There were many, many short sections like this. No doubt some folks can ride this. Needless to say "it is much steeper than it looks."

I failed to follow my GPS track and we ended up taking the wrong trail down from the Temple Mtn ridge line. This is the Berry Pasture Trail. We didn't do any less singletrack, but some extra road had to be taken to get back on the Wapack. This was very easy on the eyes with Mt Monadnock in the distance.

Hill Junkie on the New Ipswich Mtn section of the Wapack. Lots of buff slickrock up here.

Mt Monadnock on left. Dave somewhere near Barrett Mtn.

Dave heading towards Pratt Mtn, the prominent knob in the distance.

New Ipswich Mtn in the background.

Binney Pond and Mt Watatic in the distance. Still some color left below, but up top, leaf drop was nearly complete.

Binney Pond. Climbing from here to the Mt Watatic summit, I heard very heavy breathing coming up behind me. I was cruising along pretty good, and I thought Dave must really be drilling it to come up that fast on me. Then a voice speaks, inquiring which fork I was going to take. I nearly fell of my bike. It was a runner, maybe 6ft-6in tall. He was moving at twice my speed. Granted, on around 10% grade on rough terrain, runners achieve parity with mountain bikers, and this was much steeper than 10%. But the speed with which this guy passed us was humbling nonetheless. Dave laughed hysterically when he saw my reaction to this guy coming around me. In less than a minute, he was out of sight.

From summit of Mt Watatic. Boston skyline is just visible in center of image. Since there is a parking lot at the base right on Rt 119, this is a very popular hiking mountain. I've ridden up Watatic many times, usually as an out and back before heading south on the Midstate Trail. This time I cleaned far more than I ever have, on both the ascent and descent. I missed only one thing on the initial plummet. The consequences of failure here are extreme. I was wearing a support on my left ankle, but I think it is safe to say the last vestiges of fear from my fracture this spring are gone.

Looking north from summit of Mt Watatic. Nearly the entire Wapack range is in view here.

Mountain Road through Calasis State Park. Only place we rode though a canopy of color.

GPS track of ride. Blue path in center is where we deviated from Wapack. This meant we short-circuited the ride, no longer making it a true loop. No biggie. The views on this west facing descent were worth it. The short blue segment on left is where my Garmin failed to direct me (blame the tool, not the user;) This meant we descended all the way through Calasis SP and had to climb all the way back up on Rt 101.

This was one of my better rides this season, although off-the-charts brutal. No crashes, but many close calls. We logged about 38 miles in 5.2 hours moving time. Total time was close to 7hrs. I suspect we were moving too slow some of the time for my GPS to even count distance. The first 18 miles of this ride took 3.7hrs moving time and entailed nearly 5000ft of climbing. I thought to myself this was just like riding in Pisgah National Forest late last fall. Terrain, vegetation and hike-a-bike content is almost identical. And I did this on a 80mm travel hardtail! Dave was riding 5+ inches travel front and rear.  Not a ride I would want to do regularly, but great for this time of year when there is no focus on training and it is ok to take on a little more risk.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Bad tread streak

Can anybody identify this object? It is about the size of a quarter.

It is a growth of sorts.
It is not a cat brain.
It is not cauliflower.
Nor a cancerous tumor.
It isn't even biological.
Give up?

Riders who run Stan's sealant in their tires have probably seen these before. These are the growths that seal around leaks in tubeless tires. It seems once a leak is plugged and there is a wad of Stan's there, it just keeps growing.

I've had an exceptionally bad season for tires. I've nearly gone a whole season without a road flat before. Now I'm making up for it.  I've suffered four road flats since coming out of my cast in July. Two were the result of hitting things. One was several weeks ago when I hit a submerged pothole in a rain storm. Today I don't know what I hit. Had my head down going into the wind, when suddenly both hands were nearly ripped from the bar and the rear wheel kicked over a foot. I momentarily skidded. Very close. Thought for sure that was good for a double flat. Had no idea what I hit. It must have flown off into the ditch, as there was nothing there when I looked back. I soft pedalled for a bit, bouncing on bike, fully expecting a squishy tire or two. Seemed ok. But a minute later I got that squirmy feeling in the back. While changing the tire along busy Continental Blvd, the wind blew my bike over, the wheel tipped while I was pumping it, driving my knuckles into the cassette, then I could not pull off the pump nuzzle and completely broke off the presta valve nut. I carry only one spare. Amazingly, it held air for the three miles back to work.

Off-road, I've had two failures in the last couple weeks. I noticed on my Dean hardtail a 1" long slice in the rear tire where some Stan's had leaked out. Have no idea what ride this happened on, it was proably that way when I did a 50 mile loop last weekend.  It was this tire the Stan's tumor above came out of. I plan to ride that bike this weekend while waiting on dualie fork parts. The tire was cut so badly I didn't trust it and put a new one on. I have a bunch of WTB Mutanoraptor UST tires on hand I bought for $19.95 each. The Mutanoraptor's go on easily without using a lever and inflate readily with a hand pump.

While riding my Superfly in Mine Falls on Wednesday, I went through the gnarly section by the dam pretty hard. I ran the onion skin Stan's Raven tires pretty soft and felt them bottom out hard a few times. Sure enough, when I popped out in the parking lot by the dam, I heard the tell-tale sign of psssssssssss. I pinched through the rear sidewall. For the first time ever riding tubeless tires, I went into a frantic shake the tire around routine to get Stan's sealant to plug the whole. It worked just in time, but I had to re-inflate the tire. I was skeptical of those tires to begin with and had ridden them only one other time. They are wicked fast on gravel and hardpack, but I doubt they would have gotten me to the finish of the Ironcross race without a catastrophe. Spent big bucks on them, now I don't know what to do with them. The Raven's are "Tubeless Ready," not UST certified tires. This means the side walls are super thin and porous and sealant is require to hold air. In the last six years, I've never flatted or burped a UST tubeless tire. It's a love hate thing. Full UST compliant tires are heavy and often not the fastest rolling tires, but they so friggin reliable.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Fubar Fork

The last few rides on my Titus Racer-X have been clunky affairs. I knew something was going on with the Fox fork internals, but put it off for a while. I speculated that maybe the damper was a bit low on oil. My last ride on the bike at NEK was more than I could bear though. The rebound was bone jarring harsh.  I finally broke down, pulled the fork from the bike and took it apart.

Air piston shaft with negative/top-out spring in left leg, damper
cartridge in right leg.

Upon first inspection, everything looked perfect. The fluids were pristine clear. The fork is barely two years old. It should still be pretty clean inside. It held air impeccably too, adding air maybe once this summer. The damper still seemed to be working correctly. Nothing visibly was wrong with it. There was plenty of shock oil in the damper leg too.

The other leg has much simpler inners. It basically is a plunger for the air spring and a negative spring/top-out spring combo. Being an air fork, air pressure in the left leg suspends the fork. When you hit a bump, the air compresses as the fork collapses. When the wheel clears the bump, the compressed air extends the fork again. The damper in the right leg makes sure it doesn't extend too quickly, and a small top-out coil spring in the left leg prevents the fork from extending all the way out against its mechanical stop with a thud. I won't go into the subtleties of the negative spring.  When I flipped the shaft over, something inside the negative spring slid down the shaft. Oh. That don't look right. The top-out spring, which resides inside the negative spring, was broken in two. That explains the harsh behavior.

Look carefully. The inner top-out spring is broken.

I went to the web to find a replacement spring. Nothing. In fact, I could not find any Fox replacement parts from my normal list of online sources. I dreaded having to go through a shop, or worse yet to have to send my whole fork in for service, losing weeks and wads of cash. It was an experience with a LBS over 10 years ago that convinced me to do 100% of my own bicycle maintenance, whether it be changing a drivetrain, a new bike build, building or fixing wheels, or even repairing suspension components. Ten years ago I brought a bike in with a fork problem, still under warranty. After a couple weeks, it was ready. As I rolled it out of the store, I pushed down on the fork to see how it felt. It went down and locked up solid. I was still without a bike. That was back when I basically had only one decent bike.

The Fox website had a toll free service number. I called them on Monday. Turns out Fox directly services all their suspension components, whether sending items in for repair or ordering replacement parts. Also, I learned that the top-out spring is integral to the shaft assembly, so I would have to order the whole thing. I was pleasantly surprised to learn it was only $42.50 and in stock. The MSRP on the fork was around $700.  I should have it in a couple days. I keep things like various weights of suspension oils on hand, both for tuning purposes and in case I have to make a repair. Should only take about 30 minutes to put the fork back together again when the part arrives. With the Wicked Ride of the East coming up soon, I need my dualie back in service. Harold Parker State Forest seems to beat me to a pulp every time I ride there. I need all the pampering I can get.

I can only speculate why this spring broke. Seems like an unusual failure to me. I do tend to run my forks fairly firm with quick rebound. Couple this with lots of root garden riding, that top-out spring could take a beating. Perhaps I'll run the fork a little more plush from now on. It is only 100mm travel. Most guys on dualies these days have 150mm travel front and back. Set up plush, it is easy to blow through 100mm of travel and makes the bike dive more when rolling off of things. A plush fork also robs more output when mashing out of the saddle, and this bugs me more than anything else.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

The Anti-Hill Junkie Ride

I've known for a long time there are three lengthy sections of rail trail in my area. They are for the most part unpaved. I've ridden the Rockingham Recreational Trail from Manchester out past Epping many times.  It runs about 25 miles, all dirt, perfect for a cross bike endurance workout. This segment is known as the Portsmouth Branch, and is closed to motorized vehicles in the summer.

The Fremont Branch of the Rockingham Recreational Trail runs from Windham to Epping. It is about 18 miles long, much of it open to ATVs, and all loose dirt. I rode a short piece of it a week ago, but never all the way through.

There's also an abandoned rail right of way from Windham to Manchester, part of the Manchester & Lawrence Line. It runs through Derry center, where a portion is paved. North of Derry, a section of this trail is overgrown or blocked by development, so a bit of road is needed. The trail resumes before going under I-93 and terminating at the Manchester airport. To form a complete triangle, a bit more of road is needed between Massabesic Lake and I-93 to pick up the the Portsmouth Branch.

A quick check in Google Maps suggested linking all three of the rail trail segments into a loop would net about 52 miles, almost all on dirt. Saturday seemed like a good day to try it. I was looking to do something long and not too peaky. The singletrack trails would be soupy after the recent downpour, and I was in no mood to combat the heinous wind on the road that the departing nor'easter was leaving behind. Rail trails tend to be built up beds and drain well, and they are sheltered in the woods for the most part.

I started from Windham Depot, just 20 minutes from my house. It was straight on into the fierce wind. I totally botched up the first segment, missing turns and missing picking the dirt rail trail back up again. I ended up on way more Rt 28 than anybody should ride. No shoulder with solid stream of cars and semi's. And the head wind nearly forced me to put a foot down a couple times. So much for a 3hr ride time.

Once on the Rockingham trail, it would be dirt riding away from traffic for the next 38 miles. I caught some partial tail wind heading out towards Epping, possibly averaging around 17mph. This trail bed has been improved significantly over the last few years, probably by the snowmobile clubs who heavily use this corridor in the winter. Pretty much all the low muddy spots have been fixed. Some sections have very chunky crushed granite laid down though. No problem for my hardtail, but potential pinch flat risk for CX tires.

In Epping, a near 180 degree right hand turn is made to take the Fremont Branch back to Windham. It follows Rt 101 for a bit to a culvert that passes under the highway. The next four miles are closed to ATVs and I didn't see a single person.

The ATV portion was as I expected. For 14 miles it was non-stop whoops and chewed up surface. Think beach sand with some pea gravel thrown in for good measure. In places, it was exceedingly hard to maintain 10mph on flat ground. 14 miles meant more than an hour of it. The good thing was very few ATVs were out, and the few I encountered were not knuckleheads. There was no way to soft pedal this stuff. Coasting for even an instant meant you were stopping. Just like going up a steep mountain. Good thing I was in the right frame of mind for it.  I got back to the car in 3:40 hours with 51.5 miles on the odometer. There was not a hill to be found on this ride.

80% dirt 51 mile rail trail loop. Blue segment was piece I missed.

I don't think I've ever achieved this steady of a non-stop workout on local roads. On a flat, soft surface with no downhills or traffic interruptions, it is 100% work all the time. Actually, it felt a lot like going up Pikes Peak. The ride took way more out of me than I realized. Non-technical rides like these entail little risk and are great for letting the mind wander. By the time endorphins kick in, you don't even realize the engine is hammering away. It's as if your mind is loosely tethered to your body, getting a free ride through nature.

I suspect many mountain bikers would rather poke a spoke in their eye than do a ride like this. I find this a bit ironic. Recently, a local blogger lamented that a trail ride was only half singletrack and the rest was ATV trail or doubletrack. He suggested a road ride would have been better. Really? What I don't get is this mindset when on MTB, only singletrack can be ridden. Yet some of these same riders will pound out mind numbing hours on the trainer in winter months or train in traffic on road bikes.

The way I see it, a MTB is a universal bike. It can go where road and CX bikes cannot. And guess what? MTB tires don't disintegrate if they touch pavement!  Sure, you go a little bit slower, but that doesn't diminish the training value or enjoyment factor if you have the right mindset. How much distance do you cover on a trainer?  I've done very little road bike riding over the last several weeks, favoring instead non-traditional rides that blend a bit of paved roads, gravel roads, logging roads, ATV trails and singletrack, on a MTB. I make minimal use of open roads to link up lengthy sections away civilization. In fact, I've discovered some great singletrack recently because I was on a mountain bike and had the flexibility to explore. Just riding along, see a path ditch off to the side, think hmmm, let's check it out. Sweet stuff! Doesn't happen when on skinny tires.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Prospect Hill, Both Ways

Seems I've heard a lot lately about Prospect Hill in Waltham.  I get CSU email updates all the time for dryland ski workouts there, whether rollerskiing up the paved road to the summit or hill bounding routines. There was also a bicycle race up it last weekend. Somehow, this gem of a small hill never made my radar display. Maybe it had something to do with being less than 500ft vert. Maybe it was its close proximity to Boston.

I'm attending a conference all week in Waltham, on radars. Interestingly, the Westin conference center is right on Prospect Hill. I didn't want to get skunked out of a workout two days in a row, so I threw a mountain bike an pair of rollerskis in the car. Instead of spending the last minutes of daylight in stop-and-go traffic on Rt 3, I decided to squeeze in a workout in Waltham before driving home.

The park is pretty small, maybe two miles long at most and a half mile wide. A paved rode runs end to end, gated at one end to prevent through traffic. Parking is at the base of a long abandoned ski area. I decided to ride first, so I could check out the road. I went right into threshold pace to warm up on my first climb. From gate to summit, about 330ft net gain can be realized in 0.82mi. Since I was on a fat tire bike, I went over the top on the Ridge Trail. Kinda chunky with the steps and all. I bombed down the paved road on the other side and turned around to go back up and over. I did this three more times, each time taking a different route back through the woods. My climb times were pretty slow, hovering just under five minutes. 24psi knobby tires and 8 lb Camelbak will do that. Didn't diminish the workout quality though. The last three climbs were solid VOmax efforts, which I haven't done in 10 days waiting for my chest to clear out.

Next up were my other set of wheels. Peak grades approached 15%, so this was going to be interesting now that my legs were partially tenderized. I used my Neiflheim rollerskis, which are pretty slow. My final push between the water tanks on the bike brought me close to the hurl threshold, but on rollerskis, I was at the hurl threshold almost immediately. This is where spring fitness comes from. Skiing is hard, even if it is on wheels on a paved surface. I did two rollerski climbs, in the 8-9min range.

First 0.3 miles is >11% grade.

How did I get back down? I hoofed it. Well, most of it anyway. I did not trust myself or speed reducers on such a steep grade. There were occasional cars coming up too, although none passed me in my direction during my two climbs. I passed a couple heading up during one of my climbs. Then I met them again on my hike back down. The guy was completely confounded, commenting that it would seem much easier to ski down instead of up. There was no way to explain that one.

Anyway, six seriously hard efforts up that hill made for a nice workout before the sun set. It might be the only workout I get in all week, now that I have some additional tasks to complete concurrently with the conference.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

BB && NEK && !IC

I'm no programmer, but this post's title summarizes my weekend. Iron Cross (IC) did not happen for me. I came down with a cold early in the week and it went to roost in my chest. Those are the ones you really don't want to mess with. I backed down on my efforts for the rest of the week and got extra sleep. But by Thursday evening, the cutoff for IC pre-reg, it was obvious my chest would not be clear enough by Sunday morning. I didn't want to bury myself and end up on antibiotics, as I too frequently do with these types of infections. It just wasn't worth 14 hours on the road, upwards of $200 expenditure, only to suck and get sicker. It is no surprise I got sick. I got very little sleep Saturday and Sunday nights last weekend. Mountain repeats in the rain on Friday, rollerski and MTB on Saturday, hillclimb race on Sunday and Waters' concert Sunday night. I got run down, exposed to 10,000 cooties at the show, and by 2:30am Monday night, I awoke with a wicked swollen throat.

I couldn't let one of the last great weekends of the 2010 riding season go to waste though. NEMBA Fest was going on both days at Bear Brook State Park (BB). I've read more singletrack has been built at BB. Historically, BB is my favorite local place to ride. NEMBA has added many miles of purpose built singletrack since I first started riding there over 10 years ago. The festival offered marked loops. The expert loop no doubt would showcase the new trail material. I figured I'd go there early and head out at my own, easy pace, then check out the wares at the expo after riding.

It was just cold enough to need arm warmers but just warm enough to not need knee warmers. Cars were pouring in as I rolled out just after 9am. I was surprised how dry it was there. There was zero mud. They must have substantially missed the recent rains. Even the perennial muddy spots were dry. This was awesome. In the first two hours of riding, I saw only one other rider and a bow hunter. The expert loop took me into some new areas near the campground, then around Beaver Pond Trail. The new bridges NEMBA put in were nice. The old bridges were medieval booby traps, with planks that would flip as you rode over them and huge spikes sticking up. They were that way for 10 years.

A bit more new singletrack was encountered while climbing Lynx Trail. I presume it is a bypass around a typically muddy area. This trail was little more than flagged. It had no flow (yet). I guess what better way to "build" a new trail than to mark it, then send 300 riders down it over a weekend.

Hall Mountain from the I-trail.

The route continued on the "I" Trail. This is one of my favorites at BB. Recent logging decimated parts of it, but it has been resuscitated. The loop skipped Carr Ridge Trail, but I soon learned why. A new trail has been built on Catamount. It doesn't go to the top but flanks it high up. It too was little more than flagged, often off-camber with no benching.  It was a nice touch to finish the 22 mile loop with it.

Bear Brook NEMBA Fest expert loop.

Many of the big bike companies were set up at the expo with demo bikes. I was tempted to try one or two out, but I didn't want to push myself that much. Exposure Lights was there too. I talked with those guys for a while. LED lights continue to evolve at a crazy pace. Some of their 2011 lights use the new Cree X-PG LEDs, which greatly exceed the efficiency of HID lights. My Nightrider HID puts out about 50 Lumens per Watt, but the newest lights are approaching double that. Combine them with the latest Lithium Ion battery technology, you can have a blinding helmet light, self contained with the battery, for about four ounces. They are not cheap. The LEDs themselves can be purchased for about $8 in small quantities. The ballast chips are even cheaper. Wouldn't take much to build your own, but the reflector and heatsink are very important parts, so you are paying for some engineering when you buy a complete light.

I debated whether it was worthwhile heading up to the Northeast Kingdom (NEK) on Sunday. Their weekend update said it was peak color, but Monday is also a Canadian national holiday. That meant NEK would be swamped. I was feeling better, and as long as I didn't push myself too hard, I thought I could get a decent enough ride in to warrant the 5hr round trip drive.

Driving through Franconia Notch, I noticed leaf drop was nearly complete. How could NEK be at peak, even further north, but not quite as high? I also noticed Mt Lafayette was snow capped! The snow line was down below 5000ft. I hiked that with my family just last week.

There was barely space to park in East Burke. I found a spot, probably only because that group was shuttling up the mountain. Hillclimb extraordinaire Jeff Johnson was just kitting up when I got there. His posse was heading over to the Darling Hill trails on singlespeeds.  NEK was running the lift for the new freeride trails this weekend. I saw lots of bikes that looked like motorcycles sans motors and lots of helmets that looked like motorcycle helmets. I toyed with the idea of taking a run down Knight Slayer, as the gap jumps did have bypasses. But I'd only be getting in other people's way. I opted to do something different from my usual this time. Instead of climbing Mtn Rd/Camptown trail and bombing all the Moose Alley stuff back down, I'd give it a try in reverse. It seems all the trails are biased in favor of the downhill set anyway, so no matter which trails you take down, it should be good. I had no idea what I was in for though.

Burke Mountain was still pretty saturated from recent rain.  Its coal black, loamy soil does not perk water. A holiday weekend with hundreds of Canucks bombing trails? This rutted things out pretty badly, maximizing the depth of innumerable mud holes. Ironically, the steepest parts weren't the hardest parts. Steep stuff sheds water. The flatter parts were the most challenging, as it stayed the greasiest. In greasy conditions, this was clearly a harder way to go up than my usual. Plus, every few minutes or so, a convoy of Canucks would come bombing down. I'm pretty sure I was the only one there that didn't speak French.

I made it to the top of the open singletrack, about 2/3 of the way up Burke Mtn from the village. You can't start going down at this point. You have to finish the deed. I locked out the shocks and pointed my bike skyward. Literally. The trail pops out right at the base of the 25% grade section of the paved road. The easy sections after this are only 12% grade. For those of you who've done the hillclimb here, try this on a full-suspension mountain bike with 24psi knobby tires and a 12 pound Camelbak sometime. You'll cry.

View from part way down Burke Mtn.
Leaf drop is 80-90% complete.

Even though I worked pretty hard to reach the summit, my extremities were freezing. It couldn't have been above 40F up there. I immediately started heading back down. I had no windshell with me and my long layers were saturated. I picked up Camp Town trail part way down. This is how I normally come up. It has nice nice berms and great flow descending. The soil is sandier here, so no mud. This was more like it. Further down, I picked up Lodge Trail. It had some downhiller traffic. Wide open white knuckle stuff. It popped out at the bottom of the lift. There was a line there. So glad I didn't attempt the freeride runs.

I cut across Mtn Rd to finish my descent on Burnham Down trail. This was new last year and despite being rated double-black diamond for some reason, it makes for a great climbing trail. I think there is only one root step I can't clean climbing it. Today though, the upper portion was an absolute quagmire. The stuff would roll around your tire and pack inside the rim, only to slap you in the face anytime speed picked up. This trail pops out just east of the village on Rt 114. I had been out 2.5hrs already and covered embarrassingly little terrain, but I did net 3300ft climbing.

All my NEK rides have the "Lobster Claw" in them. This time I
rode the claw clockwise.

Having taken a beating so far, I opted for something a little less challenging to finish my ride. A loop out to the summit of Radar Mountain sounded good. It is a little pavement and a lot of gravel and one-lane forest service roads.  I would need some more fuel first and went back to the car. Jeff happened to come back to refuel at the same time. Their bikes were spotless. Mine was a disgusting mess. I thought maybe I should head over to the Darling Hill side instead, but then remembered there would be hundreds of riders in those trails. While riding solo, I prefer solitude.

I forgot how big the initial climb on dirt Victory Rd was. About 1200ft. Then you give half of it back before picking up Radar Rd. The gate to Radar Rd was open. Oh-oh. This was not good. It is hunting season. I didn't have my colors. Radar Rd would no doubt be an Autobahn for Rednecks. It climbs very gradually along a stream that was moving swiftly. Lots of pretty waterfalls along the way. Only a handful of trucks passed me on the way to the next junction. I had completely forgotten how long this loop was. I told Jeff 15-20mi.  It was 15mi just to the base of the steep part.  I was feeling pretty cooked, nearing 4hrs moving time, dark clouds were moving in, I didn't have any hunter's orange, and you never know what "elements" you might run into out here. I decided to bag the final push to the summit and turned left instead. The Google Earth image highlights in yellow the last 1200ft of climbing to the summit that I didn't do. While I contemplated this, a couple guys in a van came down from the summit, marvelling that all the gates were open. They asked me if the way I was heading down was open. I had no idea, but doubted it, as that gate is not your typical forest service gate.

Yellow on left is out and back to Radar Mtn summit. Red is
ridden loop.

They went that way anyway. I followed, but first I had to get over the next mountain pass, another 500ft of climbing. Once cresting, the intermittent single lane of pavement becomes more dependable and I let my speed run out. I'm hauling around this huge sweeping curve at about 30-40mph when all of a sudden, a van is coming at me at 40mph with about one second to impact. Somebody must have been watching out for me on that one. After I assessed whether my chamois was still clean, I figured the gate was locked, as I suspected. We both should've known the other was coming.

I reach the gate. There's a big truck parked in front of it on my side with the doors open. Nobody around. Hmm, kind of creepy. I know there are guys with weapons around here somewhere, but where? As I carried my bike around the gate, a pack of dogs came at me. Oh, there the hunters are, standing in the yard of the last house on the open road side of the gate. A particularly aggressive German Shepherd was getting uncomfortably close with his hair up. I don't automatically fear dogs like some people do. This one didn't particularly scare me. Do you think that any of the eight or so guys standing there in camo called him off? Nope. I'm sure they thought it was entertaining. What was I to do, throw a rock at the dog? Headlines: "Mountain biker missing in northern Vermont."  Just ignore the dog, don't make eye contact with dog or hunters. Eventually one of the guys did call his dog back, but not until it started to give chase when I hopped on my bike. I could feel bark breath on my calf. Would that weird you out?

From here on it was pretty much all downhill back to East Burke. I felt somewhat defeated that I didn't summit Radar Mtn, but I did the right thing. I would have been wicked late getting back home if I had, and who knows what else could happen up there. I finished with 45 miles, 5500ft of climbing, in 4.3hrs moving time. I didn't even cough up chunks of tapioca after this ride, so I must be getting over my illness.

Monday, October 4, 2010


I did a little hillclimb event on Sunday, the Allen Clark TT.  I first did this one last year as part of the BUMPS challenge. I didn't plan on defending my BUMPS title this year, as I had other events planned that precluded participation in a few of the hillclimb events. Turned out it really didn't matter anyway after my injury. During my recovery, I held out hope I could participate in the Ironcross race on October 10. I planned to use hillclimb events along the way as training and a safe, fun way to compete. For the most part, I'm pretty much back to 100% on the bike.

My son was home from the Navy in between assignments all last week. Mom loves to cook the best for him. We ate out a bunch too. Saturday night Aaron wanted to go to Texas Road House. Yeah, anything you get there is about 1/3 sodium by weight. Yummy though.  This is not my typical pre-race protocol. My weight was already up, and I think I picked up another three pounds of fluid gain overnight. When I got up early for Allen Clark, the scale tipped 168 lbs. I don't think I ever weighed that much the morning of a hillclimb. This was pure baggage weight. My first thought was oh man, I'm getting girled today. I knew Marti Shea and Kristen Gohr were going to be there, the top two women in the BUMPS series.

With my son home, my training schedule was pretty chaotic last week. I basically trained right through the weekend, planning to taper this week for Ironcross. Brett and I headed up together. It was in the 30's in Waitsfield. You don't normally associate long finger gloves, thermal layers and wind shells with time trials. But that's what was needed warming up.

I was staged 30 seconds ahead of Brett. Back in July, Brett was about a minute ahead of me near the summit of Mt Ascutney before his front wheel went FUBAR on him. He's been in really good form this summer. I started running all kinds of fuzzy math in my head, like I should be faster than Brett on Ascutney now, so maybe I'll put an additional 30 seconds on him, but then I'm a bit of a fatty right now and I felt like a recovery day was more in order than a hillclimb TT, so I could even be giving back the 30 second head start and get passed. John Bayley was staged behind Brett. John should be more than a minute faster than me on this climb, so I definitely expected to see him at some point.

I go off and struggle to find my legs. I kept only knee and arm warmers on. My fingers were so cold I had trouble shifting. The first 2.5mi of the climb rises at 1-3% grade. I generally cruise 20-25mph on this part. It took a while to pass a couple people. When I got to the steep 4km, I still didn't see Brett or John behind me. Good. I think. I felt awful and really had no sense of my progress.

On the steeps, I started catching a lot of people. This makes me feel good even if some of the people are a lot slower than I am. I get to the 500m to go sign, see the tower, and think to myself I can now stand and sprint this out as it levelled off. I forgot there was a second rise just before the finish. Somehow I managed to stretch that final push out for another 20 seconds or so. I could have hurled. I was pleasantly surprised to take 20 seconds off last year's time with a 26:40.95 finish. Last year I didn't exactly come here with fresh legs either, having done a 5+ hour mountain fest with Dave two days prior. So maybe that made it kind of apples to apples. PR on Greylock a few weeks ago, now again on App Gap. I'll take it.

So did I get girled? I narrowly escaped with Marti just 7 seconds behind me.  Marti schools most of the guys, so no honor lost there anyway. Looks like Charlie McCarthy established a new course record of 24:27.07. Some of the day-of registrants claimed a tailwind on the lower part of the course. They were staged last. I could have sworn I had a head wind. The day warmed up some. Brett and I did just a bit more riding afterwards, as we both had to get back on time.

I saw Roger Waters Sunday evening, a third show added at the TD Garden after the first two sold out. I'm sure Sunday's show sold out too. I can't add anything to what many others have said about this show. I ended up going solo, a last minute decision. I got a good seat, which was obscenely expensive and worth every cent. I've always wanted to see Roger Waters perform The Wall. The message this album delivers is still potent today, some 30 years later, and the massive visual presentation gave me goosebumps. No earthy substances needed. At 67, Roger still looks and sounds great.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Pouring Pack 'Peats

The weather thwarted what might have been my last chance to ride the Kingdom Trails on Friday. No trails are suitable for riding after inches of rain has fallen. Local roads aren't safe either, as visibility is so poor during a deluge. So what's a poor soul with an aversion to indoor trainers to do?

When you can't get get quantity, go for quality. Intensity always trumps quantity when time is at a premium or you just don't want to turn into a raisin by being out there for five hours. So off-road was off limits. Trafficy roads were taboo. What else was left?

I thought there was a reasonable chance Miller State Park would be gated. This park has the popular training climb to the summit of Pack Monadnock, rising 820ft in 1.3mi. I suppose I could suffer through an hour of repeats in the downpour. To be safe, I would take my Dean Colonel mountain bike, which has disk brakes. I haven't ridden this hardtail in over a year now, mostly because it took Dean almost that long to repair the frame. Since a 26 pound bike with fat knobbies wasn't enough of a work penalty, I filled my Camelbak with water and such, and I wore a wool jersey that was sure to hold another five pounds of rain. I took note of Tom Ramsey doing repeats on Mt Ascutney one time with two water bottles in the frame and one in each of his three jersey pockets. This has similar effect to riding a single speed up steep grades. It becomes a strength workout.

En route to Pack, I drove through rain that made me think I should pull over and wait it out. Oh man, riding in this stuff is what makes nice weeks in Colorado just that much nicer. Fortunately, it wasn't too cold.

Pulling into the Miller SP parking lot, I found the summit road gated and not another car around. Excellent. It is not often you get an entire state park to yourself. Pack Monadnock averages 12% grade. I planned to go right into it with zero warmup. It wasn't that warm where I could tool around for a while.

I'll spare you the details of hillclimb intervals. They suck until the endorphins kick in. Then the world is a pleasant place again. I did three climbs at near race pace. My third was 20 seconds slower, so I used my fourth and final repeat as a cool down climb. Bagged about 3300ft of climbing in 10 miles. That, my friends, is an efficient, quality workout. In little over an hour, you can leave Pack Monadnock feeling pretty wrecked.

Needless to say, there was no view up top. The summit poked into the clouds. Second time in a week I hiked or biked into the clouds. The summit was very inhospitable. It was colder and blow you over windy. The rain wasn't going sideways. It was going upwards.

I've played a little more with the newest version of Google Earth. It has many cool features. You can draw an arbitrary path on the map, right click it, then show elevation plot. The plot as all the metrics you'd care about, like distance, average grade, max grade, min and max elevation, etc. What is even more cool is this. You can highly any section of the profile and obtain stats for just that section. I did this in the plot below for top part of Pack Monadnock. A tenth mile section averages 24% grade. Note that it is highlighted in both the elevation profile and the path. You can save these in your places or export as a .kml. It would be nice if Google also provided a .gpx export option. One of the best parts of GE is its free.

Another cool site that Davis Kitchel, co-developer, brought to my attention is Strava. I think climber types the world over will like this one. There are free and fee account options. Basically, you upload your rides/workouts from GPS to Strava. The app will find and categorize climbs in your ride. It will compare your time on the climbs with others, showing KOM and QOM for each climb. If your friends join Strava and upload their rides on climbs, you'll see where you fit in. Everything is linked, so it is easy to navigate from climb to athlete to climbs that athlete has done, etc.  You can even compare instant by instant pacing between riders on a climb. Check out the 6-gaps ride.  Clicking on the App Gap climb will bring up a list of the fastest climbers. Click on Barton (435W for 13min!) to bring stats up on him. You could click away for hours on Strava, looking up climbs or riders you know. I could see a virtual BUMPS challenge down the road with sites like this. The app looks very clean and professionally implemented.

The world certainly is going the way of web apps. Makes sense for so many apps, really. Mapping apps need to draw from huge amount of information. You have digital elevation, all types of imagery, hosts of overlays for streets and points of interest, you name it. Apps you buy and install on your PC couldn't possibly stay up to date for long. Does it really make sense for every user to own a personal copy of giga-gig's worth of data? No. A master copy mirrored on small number of servers is so much more efficient. Web apps also enable new possibilities for athletes too, as Strava is doing.