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.


Glen F said...

Nice ride guys. I don't think there are many who would even consider doing it. Must have been brutal.

Alex said...

I love that trail, but have only done it running. Not sure I'd even think of riding it!