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.


DaveP said...

Who cares about me getting a workout, it was worth it's weight in gold just seeing your sorry-a$$ hitting the ice. Besides, I love to explore new routes this time of year.

Mookie said...

There's some sweet dirt riding west out by Millen Lake. Emily's parents have had a family cabin out there for decades. I usually explore a new loop or two every summer. I wish I went on this one. And Dave, congratulations and great camera work!

CB2 said...

Maybe on a mountain bike?

Hill Junkie said...

Perhaps a mountain bike with studs on this icy day! In normal conditions, a mountain bike would have had value on 2 of the 48 miles. Less than half of the route was road bikeable. So I'd still say a 'cross bike was the right tool.

Anonymous said...

You may have hit some of the Hampshire 100 course by the looks of it. Lots of jeep roads and straight up climbing! This is the time of year for rides like that. Mountain bike next time.

Scott said...

Not as bad as my experience last weekend.

I was riding on forest roads in the mountains west of Fort Collins. The route got progressively more snowy. Eventually I realized I had accidentally wandered off of the route.

Now totally lost, I spent six hours on a vicious hike-a-bike down into and out of a steep and deep canyon, replete with plenty of sharp and unforgiving plants, plus a river crossing that was fortunately iced over enough to cross. By the time I had dragged myself and my bike out of the canyon, the sun had set, my bike was falling apart from the beating, and I couldn't see well enough to fix my now immobile bike. I had to abandon my bike and make my way out of the forest.

Eventually I saw a road far down the slope, but since it was dark and very steep, I couldn't risk side-stepping down. I had to slide down hundreds of feet across rocks, snow, and ice in a seated position. I managed to place my hands down hard on some cacti on the way down a number of times, for extra misery.

After another river crossing with a sufficiently iced-over section, I made it to the road. I had to hike in freezing weather, with only light clothing, down the highway for an hour before one of the cars finally stopped and took me back home.

I now have a very hard time sitting on what is probably the equivalent of a serious burn, I have two thoroughly shredded ankles from the bushwhacking, and I'm still picking cactus spines from my palms and legs. I'm alive, fortunately, but this is the last time I'll ever go on a snow bike ride.

If you find a broken-down bike on one of the ridges near the general vicinity of Pingree Rd and Poudre Canyon Hwy west of Fort Collins, in a location that makes you wonder how in the world a bike made it up there, you'll know whose bike that is and the story behind it.

Hill Junkie said...

Scott - wicked scary situation. Was there ever a point where you thought you were pretty much hosed?

I've finished only one ride unintentionally after dark once in SoCal. I ignored a bridge-out sign and ended up doing some bush wacking to find a place to cross the stream. Following a maze of dark doubletracks out of the forest after dark was a trip. No fear of freezing to death though. Just mountain lions.

Scott said...

Surprisingly I didn't feel thoroughly beat at the end of it all, but I suspected well before dark that I'd have to abandon the bike at some point. I don't like having lost a $350 bike out there, but the terrain was super-rough, and I couldn't see well enough in the dark to fix the damage to the bike.

The worst part at the time was that I thought I might have to spend the night out there in the forest in freezing temperatures. I don't think I'm being overly dramatic when I say that I thought, at the time, I might not live through it.

I survived though (like you survived your after-dark trip), I have a new "adventure story" to tell, and I'll still be bicycling, as soon as my "rear injuries" heal up enough.