Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Incline Insanity

Monday morning Tom took me over to the Manitou Incline. It is the old bed of a cable tram that hits a maximum gradient of 68%. There are some great historical photos here.  It rises 2000ft in about a mile. The railroad ties are still there. At that steep of a grade, the steps become huge. Each step is a one-legged, full body weight press. UltraRob notes 2744 is written on the last tie. Another hiker attempted to count them on Monday. He said 2950, plus or minus 100, and he counted missing ties (empty spots where there should have been one). So you get the idea.

Many athletes train here. Elite runners and cyclists alike. In fact, Chris Carmichael and his athletes have been seen time-trialing up this beast. The record is around 17 minutes. Tom Ramsey's best is just over 32 minutes I believe. The incline starts at around 6500ft and tops out at 8500ft. The air gets pretty thin up there. Tom has lived in Colorado Springs for a couple years now, so he's fully acclimated to 6000ft. I get dizzy just going up the stairs in Tom's house.

Checking out The Incline the morning after climbing Pikes Peak is a rather sadistic thing to do. But when you are in Colorado Springs, it is one of the things an athlete must check off his or her list. Both Tom and I complained about our hip flexors hurting when we got up. It seems when you climb so long with no recovery, you begin to recruit less conditioned muscles as the well conditioned muscles crap out. Trainers will push their athletes into this regime to improve performance. It sucks working in this regime though, because you feel like dog poo. Fortunately, hiking up a steep grade doesn't demand much from hip flexors. It does demand a great deal from quads and calves.

The Incline faces directly into the morning sun. It was warming fast. We parked downtown. It was more than a mile to the base of the climb. A good warmup. Looking up at The Incline is daunting. It looks so steep that if you tripped, you might rag-doll all the way back to the bottom. Hikers have been seriously hurt on this. A portion of it is on private property and is posted as such. The town is working to remedy this, so the public can have legal access.

The scar up Mt Manitou is The Incline

Tom and I got right down to business when we reached the bottom. He let me lead. I guess he didn't want to crush me two days in a row. A different route is taken down, so I did want to take a couple photos with minimal stopping.  My heartrate immediately redlined.  My quads screamed. It seems hard at first, but by the middle it becomes almost impossibly hard. Early on a weekday, there were a couple dozen other people on it. Most had to stop frequently. A few ran past us like we were total Freds. By the mid point, the thought occurred to me that I went out too hard. At least Tom was breathing really hard too, right behind me.

Near the bottom. Note the moon.

We reached the top in about 35 minutes (I forgot GPS, so I only had minute resolution on cell phone). Tom later commented that he didn't think he had a 34 in him that day. Maybe he said that just to make me feel good. I gave it everything Pikes Peak left me with. I'd say hiking this is comparable to riding Mt Ascutney, except your heartrate runs exceedingly higher. For two reasons. One, hiking is weight bearing, the other is thin air. Perhaps locals don't get as racy of a HR as I did.

Near the top with Tom in foreground and Manitou Springs below

If I lived in the Colorado Springs area, I would totally do this on a regular basis. It would be superb conditioning for both cycling and XC skiing.

The hike down consists of a connector trail to the Barr Trail. The Barr Trail goes to the summit of Pikes Peak. I studied riding up this on a mountain bike to bag Pikes Peak before the Assault was organized. I am so glad I never attempted it. While it would be technically rideable, its steepness to altitude ratio is such that it would have been one massive hike-a-bike for me. The trail surface is decomposed granite, great to ride on, but dicy to hike down. My feet went out from under me once, coming down and my hands hard. I did wear my ankle brace for this.

Barr Trail

Altogether, Tom and I hiked 2.6mi round trip in town to trail head plus 3.7 miles of trail in about 2.4 hours moving time. My calves were wrecked. I didn't seem to have too much trouble coming back down.  Perhaps the Monadnock hike a couple weeks ago took some of that edge off.

I thoroughly enjoyed my stay with Tom and his wife Mick in Colorado springs. Had Tom not mentioned the Pikes Peak event to me, I probably would not have learned about it.

My ride on the CDT today was spectacular, although quite brutal. It seems I'm a day behind on posting, so that report will go up Wednesday.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Batteries and high hemotacrit have value

First Annual Assault on Pikes Peak

Sunday set up to be a spectacular day for a 14er hillclimb. Highs near 90F were predicted for the Colorado Springs area with minimal chance for rain. I botched my sleep up though. Tom is an early riser. I begrudgingly set my alarm for 4:55am (he got up at 4), but I somehow managed to set the clock an hour fast. I got up at 3:55am. There was no way I could sleep some more after that.

We did bib pickup the evening before, which included a pasta dinner. Wasn’t bad. Red Noland Cadillac is the prime sponsor for the event. From what I heard, without their generous financial support, this event would not have happened. Bib pickup was at the dealership. Beer and wine were included.

It was still dark out when we got to the race start. The timed “but-not-a-race” event started at 7am. Just over 300 riders were present, set to go off in one wave. I saw every kind of one, two and four wheeled contraption there. There was Aspen Mike on his unicycle, a couple on a tandem, recumbents, a paraplegic in a handcycle, and get this, a posse of battery assisted bicycles. I have a hunch the event director will hear a good deal from the human powered majority about this.

Staring area before 7am. Pikes Peak lit up in distance,
The Incline visible on right (story next post).

I sent a few clothing items up for the descent in my Camelbak. I was riding up with nothing. No spare tube, pump or long layers. Just one gel and one water bottle. It was breezy and about 60F at the start.

I did not warm up whatsoever.  I somehow staged behind one of the battery powered guys. He didn't go out very fast.  I placed myself way too far back and was nervous going through the Manitou Springs village. A lead group bolted and was gone. Tom Ramsey was in that group. I didn’t really care about getting stuck back, as I was going to take pictures on the way up anyway. I just didn’t want an inexperienced pack rider to take me out.

Heading out of town towards US-24, the grade kicked up and thinned things out. I stayed with a small group that went at a pace I was comfortable with into the moderate headwind. We got on US-24 via the off-ramp. The police had shut down one of the two east bound lanes for the hillclimb. Thus we had a lane of a divided highway to ourselves for several miles. This was against traffic. They did it this way so we wouldn’t have to cross the highway twice. It worked.

The grade thus far was relaxed, maybe 5% average. When we got off the highway, we hit some steep bits. This was maybe 6-7 miles into the climb, but not much vertical yet. The Pikes Peak Toll road was closed to cars for the hillclimb.

First photo I took during the climb, about 7 miles in just on toll road.
Summit wasn'tgetting any closer.


I knew from studying the profile, that the climb doesn’t really start until about mile 14, or above 9000ft elevation. The grade kicks up there with a vengeance and stays that way for most of the remainder of the climb. It was along here that multiple motorized bicycles passed me. You’d here them coming. The riders still had to pedal. I talked a good while after the climb back at the bottom with an E-bike rep about these bikes. More on that later.

I stopped to refill my water at around mile 12. I thought, wow, half way miles-wise, maybe this won’t be so bad. I had no idea what I was in for. As expected, the grade at mile 14 kicked up something fierce. My pace dropped dramatically. I didn’t run the Garmin, but I bet there were many 12+% sections. I was geared at 34x28 minimum. At altitude, this put my cadence painfully low.

A typical switchback. Taken on descent.

Mt Washington has the 5 mile grade. Many readers will know about this. It is that dirt section at mile post 5 where you see forever, and it is all 15% grade. Well, Pikes Peak has the 15 mile grade. It too is dirt, steep as heck, and the summit isn’t getting any closer. That is what was so demoralizing about this climb. You’ve been climbing for well over an hour, and it doesn’t look like you’ve even made a dent in reaching the top.

Over half way and summit in distance is still impossibly far up.

At 12,000ft, you leave timberline for good. And this is where things got really interesting. Not only do you have double digit grades, not only was the air become rarified, but you also had 50mph wind gusts. Oh yeah, this was way harder than anything I’ve seen on Mt Washington. I thought to myself a shit load of people were going to be in trouble here. In fact, multiple people riding around me had to catch themselves by putting a foot down. At times my speed dropped to 3mph and I was going all-out as hard as I could. The wind was whipping up pea sized gravel into my face. It was getting inside my shoes. I learned at the top that the wind ripped Tom’s shades right off his face. I think the last 8 miles took me much longer than the first 16 miles. I spent long stretches with my cadence in the 40’s. I had some serious reservations about descending in this wind.

The temperature was also plummeting as we climbed. My hands grew numb. So did my ears, nose and feet. If I had flatted here, I would have been in a world of trouble. There were bits where the head wind became a tail wind. This was sweet. I remember one stretch were I accelerated up to 35mph about two miles from the summit and felt zero net breeze. This was steady wind speed. Going around switchbacks was so tricky. You’d lean 45 degrees into the wind on one side then have to abruptly transition to leaning the other way. One rider near me gave up and walked.

The sky stayed nice and clear though. There were no ominous clouds building. When we cleared the last water stop, I saw a large group of riders coming up behind me. Even though I stopped multiple times to take photos on the way up, I did not want this group to pass me. I somehow found some more energy. By this point in the Mt Evans climb a couple years ago, I was cramping up horribly and getting an altitude headache. Not today. I felt great. I managed to hold that group off for the last thousand feet or so of climbing. When I reached the 14,110ft summit, I couldn’t feel the shifters whatsoever. The temperature was probably less than 40F and the windchill around freezing. Overnight the windchill was reportedly 15F.

I logged 3:04hrs riding time, and my given time was 3:09:23, good for 27th place out of 312 starters overall. Tom slayed this climb in 2:56:23. He's a phenomenal climber and could challenge the Mt Washington age group record when he turns 60.  He just had a physical and his hemotacrit is many points higher than mine. Time for me to buy that oxygen tent. Or move to Colorado. This was easily the hardest timed hillclimb event I’ve done. 3hrs, no recovery.

They fry fresh donuts at the summit house. That and a hot cup of coffee did wonders for my hands. My core body temp was barely ok. I didn’t start shivering until after I sat down inside. Those were the best donuts I ever had. Maybe it was a timing thing.

Hour of vertical in single frame.

After taking in the summit views, it was time for the nearly 8000ft plummet back to Manitou Springs. I heard some riders say they were taking van transportation back down because of the wind. Screw that. What I saw on the descent shocked me. There were still many, many riders hours from the summit, walking their bikes up. I knew many would underestimate this mountain. I felt sorry for them. What do you say? Looking good! Almost there! Many of these people had little chance of making the summit before being turned around by event staff.

Mike Tierney on Uni. He finished in an impressive 4:40.

Walkers coming up on my descent, far from summit.

The first two bikes to descend from the summit as I finished my climb were battery assisted bicycles. This event is a timed, USAC sanctioned fun ride, but not officially a race. The two fastest motor-assisted riders do have asterisks by their names in the results. Seeing them there rubbed many human powered athletes the wrong way. Why would you allow motor vehicles in a bicycle event? Where does this end? I suspect with my robotics background I could build a battery powered cycle that could reach the summit in an hour. The technology will only improve and the motor assisted bikes will get faster. What is the point here? Clearly the event director needs to deal with this next year.

Buttery smooth pavement and miles and miles of switchbacks.

There were event booth displays in the park at the bottom. A couple vendors were E-bike vendors. I talked with one at length. He was surprised that anybody would care a motorized bike was participating. He said to me, “you mean this could be negatively perceived?” Well, yeah! They were there to promote environmentally friendly transportation options. But they were very na├»ve to think they could do this in a human powered timed event. I don’t think they should even have a separate category during a bicycle race. Pick a different day and a different event. Electric bicycles and the human powered counterparts will soon not mix well at all.

Looking down on Hwy 24 from toll road. Lane closure did
appear to have some impact on traffic. Hopefully minimal.

I have to say the technology has progressed. These are not the stealth E-bikes that made a buzz recently. These bikes pack batteries with 1000W-hrs or more of power. They are quite conspicuous. There were at least six of them there. One guy had a completely homemade job, which looked like two small car batteries with what looked like a car alternator turned into a motor. Probably not very efficient.

Obligatory summit photo of Tom and me.

It was a great day of riding, just over 4hrs total. This hillclimb event made the greatest impression on me of any. Mt Evans better watch out. Mt Evans is just a warm-up climb to this beast. Mt Washington will lose its “toughest hillclimb” label. With the steepness, exposure to wind, thin air, and 60% greater net gain, Pikes Peak could easily claim that title. The event was very well staffed and orchestrated. Only 300+ entrants started this year. Organizers were hoping to sell out at 1500 riders. I think they just didn’t get the word out. Now it will be out. I think Pikes Peak will sell out next year. They plan to offer it again. You can’t ride your bike on this 14er otherwise. Asking around, there were only two prior bicycle events on Pikes Peak. One was 1986 world championships, the other around 1991. They both started much higher up than Manitou Springs, and nobody rode back down. This event was a first of its kind. The scenery above tree line is surreal. You get a strong top of the world sensation on this mountain. I wouldn’t do the Mt Evans hillclimb race again, but I’d definitely do Pikes Peak again.

All for now. Hopefully I can catch up on blogging Tuesday night and tell you about the Manitou Springs Incline. I did it Monday morning. Nasty, nasty. As a hurricane is bearing down on the east coast, the forecast here looks perfect. Tuesday I plan to mountain bike a portion of the Continental Divide at 12,000ft. I'll leave you with two Pikes Peak summit photos.  Thanks for reading.

West view from summit

North view from summit

Friday, August 27, 2010

Must do in Manitou Springs?

Discussing plans for Monday, Tom Ramsey suggested I try The Incline. He said it was a "must do" activity when visiting Manitou Springs. Now I had heard of this beast before. It is essentially railroad tie steps all the way up, 2000ft in a mile, or greater than 40% average grade. The grade in the middle looks more like 50-60%.  Oh, it starts above 6000ft too. People run up this thing. Record is something like 17 minutes.

So I was like, I don't know, that sounds like major DOMS attack midweek when I hope to be enjoying singletrack. Tom said you can take a trail back down that stretches that 2000ft out over three miles. That still way steeper than Mt Ascutney. Any chance I still have some conditioning left from hiking Monadnock a couple weeks ago?

So I got to the bottom of Tom's strong persuasion to get me to try it. He wants to see me suffer. My curiosity is certainly piqued. I could label it as Ironcross and ski training.  I'll see how I feel Monday morning. Just maybe I'll give it a go.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Colorado

Early this year, I learned I got into the Leadville 100 mountain bike race. I was ecstatic. But nobody I knew well got in. I later learned only 1 in 6 made it through the lottery process. Then this spring, a friend in Colorado Springs told me a timed ride was planned up Pikes Peak the last Sunday of August. I immediately realized I had a serious problem. There was no way I could pull off two trips to Colorado in the same month. Then I broke my ankle, scratching plans for an early August trip to Colorado. I didn't know until July whether I would be rehabbed enough to attempt this climb at the end of August or not. When it became clear I would be ok attempting it, I booked a weekend trip, staying with Tom Ramsey in Colorado Springs.  My fitness is rebounding more quickly than I expected, so I extended the trip to Labor Day weekend. My mountain bike is already at Tom's house. After Pikes Peak, I plan to hit several new high country loops.

I've studied hard about how to ride up Pikes Peak over the last few years. Bikes are banned on the toll road.  Others have ridden up via Barr Trail.  Manitou Springs to summit gains over 7000ft. Much of the lower portion of Barr Trail is rideable. A lengthy section up top looks completely unrideable. The biggest challenge riding up Barr Trail would be water. It would probably take more hours than my water supply would last.

The auto road up Pikes Peak has a long history. At one time, it nearly became abandoned until the city of Manitou Springs took over ownership and maintenance of the road. Bicycles have never been allowed on the toll road in recent history. Until now. Registration was limited to 1500 riders. I expected at least a thousand to sign up. As of pre-reg closing, only 280 signed up. This could be a one-time opportunity. The course will actually climb a closed lane of US-24 from Manitou Springs before picking up the toll road. There will be four aid stations along the way. It is timed, but "not a race." I do not plan to race it. In fact, I will take pictures on the way up so I can enjoy an uninterrupted 24 mile descent.

Pikes Peak hillclimb route

Tom will be loaning me a CX bike with road tires and climbing gears. I think most riders will find Pikes Peak much more challenging than Mt Evans. For one, there is a 3000ft vertical section at 10% grade above 10,000ft. A good chunk of this is gravel too.  That's like an Alpe d'Huez, except a lot steeper, in rarefied air, after you've been climbing continuously for 1-2hrs. Fun stuff.

The climb doesn't really start until 14 miles in.

I've been going back to Colorado nearly every year since first heading there to ride in 2005. I always go with a mountain bike. Most of the trips have been solo. After Pikes Peak, I plan to stay in Gunnison, which is a cheap place to stay near Crested Butte. Some of the rides I have planned are Monarch Crest via Old Monarch Pass Rd and Agate Creek Trail (an all dirt variant of the Salida side loop). Another ride is a triple-pass loop between Crested Butte and Aspen, hitting Pearl Pass, Taylor Pass and Star Pass with a great singletrack descent back down. Nearly all of this ride hovers in the 10,000ft to 13,000ft range. I'm toying with bagging another 14er on this ride, ditching the bike at Pearl Pass and hiking up Crystal Peak. It would be a very long day. Water would be a problem, but there is plenty up there and I'll be bringing iodine tablets along. I will have to hit Trail 401 in Crested Butte again. Like Monarch Crest, it is one of my favorites. I will take a different way to get to it this time, going through Paradise Basin.

The Pearl/Taylor/Star loop. Mt Crested Butte is in upper left.

My fitness isn't quite back to where I was this spring, but I'm starting to feel more like myself again. On a training ride Tuesday, I hit a hill I loosely benchmark myself on. I say loosely, as I never go to Pead Hill with fresh legs. My PR from 2008 was on a Tuesday after the Battenkill race. This year, I hit Pead Hill after D2R2. Kind of apples to apples I'd say. Anyway, my best was 7:00 minutes even. This week I was 7:20. I've been much slower on it. I've run a PowerTap up Pead before. Hard to say what 7:20 translates to, but I'd guess around 390W. This wouldn't win any hilly masters races at my weight, but getting within striking distance. I was quite happy with the progress.

Hope to repeat week 12 (Arizona with Dave) while in
Colorado next week.

Last week was my highest cycling volume week of the summer. Pretty easy to do when one ride gives 8hrs.  Normally I'm more focused on racing this time of year. I'm not sure what a coach would have me do, but I'm pretty sure after such a long forced break, a lot of volume would be prescribed. After Colorado, I think I will focus more on intensity in preparation for the Ironcross race in October. It will be interesting to see if I can return to competitive form by then.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

"I'm a loser baby, so why don't you kill me?"

2010 Deerfield Dirt Road Randonnee

My day started with Beck lyrics "I'm a loser baby, so why don't you kill me" jolting me to a state of consciousness. Kevin Buckley and I both had to laugh. I set the clock radio in our Red Roof Inn room to a random station and turned the volume up to maximum. It went off precisely with these words. This chorus stuck with me for the rest of the day, and by the end of the ride, I felt like a loser and wanted somebody to put me out of my misery.

A few of us planned to start the ride a little later than 6am so that all the hammerheads would be gone and we could ride at a little more civilized pace. Wouldn't you know it, all the guys that I feared would pummel me decided to roll off at exactly the same time. This included no less than two national cyclocross champions. In the pack were a large contingent from Corner Cycle, including Jonny Bold, Kevin Hines, Sammy Morse, BOB riders Dave Foley and Chris White, Dave "Pain Cave" Penney, Kevin Buckley, John Funk, Jay Gump, John Mosher, a few strong CCB riders including Paul Richard, teammate Mike Harris, and many others. I was surprised Jonny decided to come out. He's just a couple weeks into fractured collarbone recovery among other injuries he sustained at nationals. Crutching up a mountain with a broken ankle entails little pain and risk. Bombing down 15% grades of loose, washboard gravel at 40mph couldn't have felt nice on that shoulder. That is hard core.

It was a pristine morning. The forecast suggested that weather-wise, this would be the best D2R2 ever. Temps rising into the 70's and minimal chance for rain. There wasn't even any early morning fog that is characteristic of the area. The only caveat is this. It has been an extremely dry summer. Many of the roads were loose and wash-boarded up pretty badly. Event organizers encouraged roadies to reconsider 25mm tires.  I wasn't chasing speed this time around, so I put some fat 35mm knobby tires on my bike. These were Schwalbe Racing Ralph's at 70psi. I really liked them for Ironcross last year. For gearing, I went with 34x32 minimum ratio.

Our pace was very civilized to start. Our large group stayed largely intact through the first full food stop about 37 miles into the ride.  When we hit Archambo Road, loose sandy gravel at a claimed 27% grade, things got serious. About 30 riders sprinted into this single lane climb at once. Even though this was a very select group of riders, it was obvious not everybody would clean it. Every time I've seen the domino effect on this climb. A rider spins out, causes another to dab, all of a sudden the entire road is plugged up with riders catching themselves and walking. Today was no exception. I have yet to dab on this climb, so I was determined to have a clean shot. But when guys sprinted for the bottom, I thought I was screwed. Sure enough, several guys dabbed right in front of me at once. Somehow I found traction in the poorest line up the middle and kept it going. I made it. That is four for four on this climb, and today was the most challenging conditions. It hurt though. Must have pushed over 400W for a few minutes just to go 4mph.

Archambo thinned the ranks out a bit. I was now riding beyond a pace I surely felt was unsustainable. Multi-hour endurance efforts aren't my forte to begin with, and I'm still coming back from injury.  I knew Hillman Hill was coming right up, and these guys were warmed up now.

The Hillman climb thinned our ranks a bit further. My bungee cord to the group stretched precariously thin. I was a wee bit off the back as the grade finally let up. I got back on. We get a breather on a long descent. Not even to the half-way point yet, I'm really starting to feel it after the back to back hard efforts. There was still another huge climb before the lunch stop.

I think it was near the top of Franklin Hill Road, much of the group stopped to top off water from jugs placed there. There was still a bunch more climbing before the lunch stop, still 12 miles away. I was good on water and figured I'd soft pedal until they caught me. Dave Penney, Kevin Buckley and I did this several times throughout the ride, playing leap frog with the rest of the group. The final descent to the lunch stop was nuts. No brakes, just wide-open gravity throttle. We passed a few other riders that caught up with us at the lunch stop and they were impressed with our speed (or foolishness). I was very happy to be riding real tires this time. I did not feel intimidated on the descents.

My stomach was feeling a bit tweeky already. I debated whether to eat a sub sandwich or not, but I needed something. I caved in. The lunch stop is in a beautiful setting with a host of food selections, but riders are faced with a nasty climb immediately rolling back out onto the course. The route bombs down and then goes up another even bigger climb. Not good on a full stomach. I did ok this time. I even scored a Dr Pepper to wash my sandwich down. That was all I ate. The lunch stop also had Gatorade powder. This is my preferred sport drink. The first stop had HEED, which I've had very bad experiences with. I used it anyway, hoping I wouldn't have to for the whole ride.

Dave and I rolled out a few minutes before Jonny Bold and crew rolled out of the lunch stop. Kevin called me names for not waiting for him to finish a quick porta-potty visit. We did go really easy.  I was hoping to at least let the sandwich settle before getting pummelled some more. We pedalled a pedestrian pace up the next two climbs, yet the calvary never came in sight. We go over a third climb and drop down to Green River Rd. A large posse of riders were gaining on us. Perfect I thought, they can pull my sagging butt along this fast section of the course. It was not our posse though. It was a group of fast 100k riders. We certainly didn't turn down the opportunity for a tow.

Next up was Nelson Rd. This one always kicks my butt. You get into a groove gradually descending along the river, then a wall climb. The 100k group fragmented into little pieces on this climb. We were still taking it pretty easy on this climb. Then the ice cream truck came into view. Oh yeah, this was totally happening. Bart's Homemade Ice Cream. How can you pass that up 85 miles into a beast of a ride? Kevin and I partook. I got Bada Bing. So there we were standing, savoring our treats, when our posse of riders came steam rolling by. I felt like I got caught with my pants down.  Nobody in that group succumbed to the temptation. For me, it was one of the highlights of the ride.

Dave left and Kevin all grins. Kind of bizzare to see icecream
truck parked in middle of nowhere.

I didn't think we'd see those guys again based on how they were moving. But we did. We leap-frogged yet again when somebody flatted. This was just before the dreaded Patten Hill climb. My legs were deteriorating quickly. I thought cramps were eminent. Dave wasn't slowing down in the slightest and Kevin was still going strong. This was going to be a lonely climb, and surely I'd get passed part of the way up like I was standing still by guys in Stars and Stripes jersey's. The last food stop of the ride was at the top, at least giving me a chance to get back on.

Well, Dave quickly vanished out of sight. Kevin was not far behind him. No red necks ran us off the road this year. I was completely smoked, barely able to go fast enough to not fall over. I was feeling like a loser at this point and wanted somebody to shoot me to end the misery.  That tune we awoke to became my mantra for the ride.  I made it 90% of the way up before guys from the rest of the group caught me. A few others were already up top waiting. I was out of water, and my stomach was now at the point of where I could only handle pure water. And watermelon. I had at least 5 or 6 large slabs. It was heavenly.

Again, Kevin, Dave and I rolled out just ahead of the others. After another bony descent, we were all together. Then I think Jonny flatted. I thought about waiting with the group, but Dave and Kevin kept going, and I knew there were several steep rollers coming up. If I waited, I'd probably get popped on those and then I'd have nobody to fall back on. So I scrambled to catch back up to Dave.

That last stretch of gravel, Hawk's Road I believe, wasn't as gnarly as two years ago but still the roughest and trickiest part of the course. Did anybody hit that hidden wheel sized hole in the middle? I almost did while sucking Kevin's wheel.  At over 100 miles into the ride, we were ready to be done with this stuff. Hawk's beats the crap out of you, first climbing, then a long descent on essentially a jeep road. In 2008, many people flatted here. Once through it though, you are home free with some easy pavement back to the starting area. The rest of the gang caught us just as we rolled up the the start area, meaning they made up five minutes on us in just the last few miles.

Measured barometric altimeter data from Garmin Edge 705.
Hillman Hill is at 45mi, Patten Hill 95mi.
Total climbing: 12,910 feet.

I finished with 111 miles and nearly 13,000ft of climbing in 8hrs riding time flat on the Garmin Edge 705. Total time was 8:49.  I was pretty happy with that, thinking that was way faster than I planned to go and other groups probably weren't much faster. Until I talked with Alex Combes. He started at 6am and logged a 7:40 riding time. He's one of those genetic slow twitch mutants like Dave. I think he and Dave did a 7:15 riding time last year. Either way, I held up better than expected. This ride shouldn't be about comparing finishing times anyway.  The cool day and riding at a relaxed pace much of the time certainly helped me out.  I didn't cramp. I didn't even get cranky towards the end. This is four D2R2's now without flatting.  It was my most enjoyable D2R2.  Couldn't have picked a finer group to enjoy a day in the saddle with.  This ride should set me up well for big rides in Colorado a week from now.

Part of the gang after finishing. Left to right myself, Dave Foley,
Jonny Bold, Sam Morse and Kevin Hines.
(forgot who took it, Dave posted it here)

One of the cool things about D2R2 is that it would be hard to do this ride unsupported. You'd have to beg for water from someone's garden hose. There's just not much else out there.  The food stops are fabulous, including fruit, cookies, PB&J, trail mix baggies and several kinds of sandwiches to choose from at the lunch stop. Despite explosive growth in popularity, the event appeared to go smoothly. Registration max'd out at 650 several weeks before the event. Next year it might be a race just to get in.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Priceless

Had one of my most entertaining close calls on the road today. I went out for short recovery spin from work in Merrimack, NH. One of the roads was detoured due to construction. A cop directed me up into a residential side street near my rollerski loop. I hadn't been on this street before. It flanks Cell Tower Hill and has a very steep ~10-12% rise in it. The road is only about a lane and a half wide, and you are completely blind to oncoming cars over the abrupt bump.

A woman in an SUV, probably a neighborhood resident, comes up right on my wheel. I'm riding recovery pace. She gets impatient, guns it around me completely over to the other side of the road. Wouldn't you know it, another SUV comes over the bump. I saw it first and preemptively got out of the way. I barely cleared the bumper and mirror of the woman passing me. I even whacked my helmet on a tree branch getting out of the way. The oncoming car, the woman passing me and myself all barely missed each other by small number of inches.

Now get this, the woman slows down, screams something unintelligible at me, then speeds off. I was pissed and thought it would be great if I caught up with her. Wouldn't you know it, at the bottom of the hill where the detour ended, there was another Merrimack police officer. She pulls up to him and goes off on this tirade how I almost caused an accident, that "that man was riding right the middle of the road." When she was done, I let her have it. I told her I was not riding in the middle of the road and that she had no right to pass me in a reckless way when there was an oncoming car. I told her New Hampshire has a three foot law and asked if she was familiar with it. She gives a blank look at the officer, maybe expecting him to chastise me, and he says this: "That's right ma'am, there is a three foot law." The woman huffs and nearly squeals the tires taking off without saying another word. The officer and I both had to chuckle over that one. I did not stick around to belabor the issue. Saw no point in it. Got a good chuckle out of it and called it good. Be careful out there kids.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

A subjective comparison

A few weeks ago I wasn't going to do D2R2, fearing I didn't have enough miles in my legs to make it worth while. After some solid rides, I figured I might as well at least do the 100k loop since I already paid for it before breaking my ankle. Fitness is still coming back. I'm not far off anymore, maybe less than 5% in a one hour effort. Five minute effort, probably still have a lot more ground to make up. But this doesn't matter much for D2R2. It is all about metering out your kilojoules steadily. So I'm committed to doing the whole thing now, rolling out at 6am with hundreds of others.

After a two hour solo hammer ride at lunch on Tuesday (Uncanoonuc/Chestnut loop), I backed down on intensity for the rest of the week. I have this rule I follow when seeking an honest recovery ride. If I have to open my mouth to breath, I'm going way too hard. I have a very narrow nasal passage, so nose breathing puts a strict governor on intensity, well within conversation pace. It works better than a power meter or HRM. You can only go as hard as oxygen supply permits.

Wednesday I did my typical semi-flat 14.4 mile recovery loop on my Dean road bike. It has 23mm racing tires on with aero wheels. The loop took me just over 46 minutes. I had reservations about bringing beefy knobby tires to D2R2 this year, as I fear they roll so much slower than the 28mm road tires I've used the last two times at D2R2. The course is expected to be very loose and bumpy this year though, and organizers pleaded with roadies to reconsider 25mm road tires. I have 35mm Schwalbe Racing Ralph clinchers on my CX bike right now. I successfully raced these last fall at Ironcross. They seemed fast on that course, but that is such a subjective thing. Thursday I rode my D2R2 bike on my recovery loop at the same "breath through my nose" pace. I was stunned to finish the loop within seconds of the same time on my road bike. I expected at least 2mph slower. The Schwalbe's were inflated to about 70psi. Of course, there could be wind variations or I could have breathed a little harder on Schwalbe's. It wasn't exactly a blind study.

If I'm giving up little at low to moderate speeds on pavement with these balloon tires, I will probably gain a lot of net speed vs road slicks over the D2R2 course this year. My primary concern is is total energy expenditure, not how fast I can complete D2R2. Done that a few times now. I do want to finish without extraordinary suffer factor. I suspect this year folks riding skinny road tires will suffer more than usual.

I will be going new school style, not in the spirit of randonneuring. A GPS will be my guide. It appears this year's route is identical to last year, so I scavenged a promising looking 2009 track from Garmin Connect, down sampled it on GPSies, then loaded it up on my Edge 705. Not sure what to make of the five mile "bonus" loop at the end. Who plans on doing it? It will bring the ride total up to about 185km.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Ankle Therapy

After breakfast on Sunday, Cathy and I checked out of our luxurious accommodations. The food was fantastic at the Old Tavern Inn. They bring fresh baked scones when seating you for breakfast. They are infinitely better than the ones at Starbucks. Real fresh squeezed orange juice, real butter, and real maple syrup are just a few of the other nice touches we enjoyed there.  A hike seemed a good way to cap off a three day weekend. We loaded up the car and headed to Jaffrey, NH.

Cathy and I have driven by Mt Monadnock many times when the mountain taunted us to hike it. I've only hiked it once, about 10 years ago when my mother was over. Cathy has hiked it several times with other people since then. I had strong reservations about tackling such a technical climb. This climb lies right in that perfect middle ground, where it is not all hands and feet scrambling nor all smooth path. It is non-stop ankle biter terrain. This aggressive climb would quickly tell me if my ankle was fully healed or not. I was going to wear my lace-up support. I probably needed to worry about rolling my good ankle more than anything else.

The summit was socked in with clouds when we first saw the mountain, but the cloud deck lifted just enough to clear the summit by noon. I had no trouble climbing the White Dot trail. Climbing big step-ups at an aggressive pace is just like riding a bicycle up a steep grade. My body is well conditioned for it. My ankle felt stable. It is all concentric muscle contraction. Cathy found going up aerobically challenging, but with hundreds of people going up the mountain, nobody passed us on the climb. I paused a couple times for Cathy, logging less than an hour of moving time. We overheard other people three hours into their climb and still only 3/4 of the way up.

Cathy scrambling up steep section.

It was wicked windy up top and cold at first, until the sweat dried up. Then it was pleasant. Despite low cloud deck, visibility was probably greater than 50 miles. I reached the summit a few minutes before Cathy did. I was watching for her, wondering where she went. Then I hear a woman squeal behind me, see someone topple over, slide on their back into a crevasse and was unable to get out. It was Cathy! She came up from a slightly different direction and when she saw me, she took a misstep. Other than a scrape on her arm, she was all right. Freaked everybody out up there though. After chowing on fruit and Vermont cheese and crackers, we started heading back down. We would take a slightly different route down, the White Cross trail.

Summit view, looking north.

The descent is what weirded me out. I never roll ankles on climbs. I barely used my hands climbing the mountain but used them continuously while descending. Then some little four year old kid comes flying by me, parallel feet hoping from big boulder to big boulder. Was I ever able to do that? What I wouldn't give to be that nimble again. My ankle was doing fine. My knees where a whole different matter.

Cathy coming up section that would later give me
the willies going back down.

It is the eccentric muscle contraction that kills me on descents. This is where your muscle elongates while under tension. Normally while riding a bike, muscles contract while under tension. The eccentric contraction is a whole different beast and it responsible for most DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) people get. I can get terrible shin splints from hiking down steep grades. And tender knees. I really need to do more of this. I think it would make me less prone to injury, although hiking like this is very risky initially, until I toughen up. More weight bearing activity like this would help my skiing too.

Don't need to show the profile for this one. Many sections
were over 60% grade.

Cathy had no trouble staying with me on the descent, and I went as fast as I dared. She no doubt could smoke me down this mountain if she tried. She runs throughout the year, so she did not feel any of the weaknesses I did. The good news is this 2.3 hour hike did not bother my injured ankle any more than my right ankle. I'd have to say that is about as close to 100% full recovery as you can get. I do need to do one of two things though. I either need to buy a second ankle support so I reduce risk of rolling either ankle, or I need to do more impacty weight bearing activities to strengthen my lower legs. One is easy way out, the other is right thing to do. I have poor track record on committing to things that do not directly make pedals go around.

After the hike, we went to Kimball Farms in Jaffrey. I've heard many people rave about their lobster rolls there. I've never been to this Kimball Farms, but I've been to the one in Westford Mass several times for icecream. Then I saw the lobster rolls were $16.95. They can't be that good. Too rich for my Dutch blood. I opted for a fish sandwich platter and large bowl of pistachio icecream afterwards. That was twice the size of the Ben and Jerry's I had the day before, easily over 1200 calories worth. I told myself I earned it.

It was so nice in the evening when we got home, I just had to jump on a mountain bike for an hour. I was dismayed to see the hill behind my house is finally getting developed. Maybe the economy is turning around. Last I heard, large "estate" homes were going to be built up there. When I moved to Pelham 13 years ago, I had a 40 mile ATV trail network right from my neighborhood. There were many 400+ foot peaks to climb. Now the network has been fragmented by development, and police have cracked down on illegal ATV use. When ATVs lose, I lose too.  They keep the trails rideable.  It was a great weekend, logging over 10 hours of aerobic activity and around 14,000 feet of climbing.

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.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Mt Tabor Rd

Mrs. Hill Junkie and I are spending the weekend at Old Tavern Inn in Grafton, Vermont. A pretty swank place to stay, breakfast and dinner included, thanks to the owner's support of last years BUMPS challenge.

Grafton is a very mountainous area. A few main paved roads link up the villages around here, but most back roads are dirt and go up. Cathy is not exactly the hillclimb fiend I am. In fact, it might be better to call her the Anti-Hill Junkie instead of Mrs. Hill Junkie. She's heard enough BS from me over the years about how easy the climb is going to be, or it's just like some other really easy climb. We'll, I finally found a climb we both can enjoy, but not necessarily together.

Mt Tabor Rd, also known as Forest Service Road #10 in the Green Mountains, connects Londonderry with Danby. It rises some 1500ft from the Danby side and a little less from Londonderry. We parked in Londonderry today. The plan was I would ride with Cathy until we got to FS10, then take off, go over the top and all the way down the other side, then back up and over again and try to beat Cathy back to the car. Cathy would turn around at the top and not descend any of the other side.

A few miles of pavement got us started. Then it was dirt the rest of the way. I like these narrow lane-and-a-half seasonal roads. The gravel was in decent shape. I was riding my Ridley 'cross bike with 35mm knobbies, Cathy was on her commuter bike with wide city slicks. It is 5.5 miles up east side of FS10. I big-ringed most of it. Great tempo workout. Didn't see a single car on the way up.  The other side down to Danby rolls a bit before it really takes off downward. The lower couple miles are paved and near 10% grade. I hadn't climbed that side before and failed to realize how long it would take me to get back to top. I had no chance of scooping Cathy up on the return.

Looking down the Big Branch Valley on Danby side

Came close though. Cathy had reached the car just a few minutes before I did. The double hump took me nearly 2.5hrs to cover the 37 miles and 4000+ feet of climbing. Cathy thought that was a reasonable climb. No traffic and quite gradual. Earlier I had contemplated taking Cathy all the way over the other side. She would have hated me the rest of the weekend. The lower couple miles are a spanker, as shown below.


After dinner, we took a walking stroll through town and over to the Grafton Ponds trails. Looks like primo XC ski network, and some fairly technical MTB trails cris-crossing the network too. Have to check those out some other time when properly equipped. Next up will be a 70+ mile ride south of here, hitting the dirt Kelly Stand pass and FS71, another long, dirt, seasonal road I've yet to ride.  Call it D2R2/Pikes Peak/Ironcross practice.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

I graduated...

...from physical therapy! I had my final orthopedic follow-up visit on Monday. The doctor was quite pleased with recent PT progress. When I asked how much more I will need, he chuckled and said I was past needing PT. I was quite psyched about that on multiple fronts, as $60 of co-pays per week add up after a couple months, and three PT sessions per week cut into riding time. I still have some dorsiflexion to get back. For a while, I was stuck at 12-15 degrees. Then in the last couple weeks I shot up to mid-20's. 20 degrees is considered minimum useful to do normal things. I'm not sure what most athletes have, but I bet it is well over 30 degrees. I will need to continue my stretching routines and icing when swelling occurs.

I got on my rollerskis Saturday. I finally was ready to answer the question of how my ankle would respond to being squeezed in a skate ski boot. I went on a short, flat dead-end road by work. At first, my left ankle was all wonky. My ankle still has a lot of stability strength to get back. But after a couple 1-mile laps, it started to come back to me. My biggest concern were the two pins at the bottom of my tibia. They protrude a little under the knob on the inside of my ankle. This did not seem to bother me at all. I was using my old, completely worn out Salomon boots. I had my best race in these boots last winter. My much newer boots hurt my ankles in precisely the area these pins are located, so I know they will not work. Not even on my good ankle. So what did end up bothering me was a surprise. It was the screws in the plate on the outside of my ankle. These are higher up, in the upper cuff area of the boot. The cuff must necessarily be quite tight. When I removed the boot, you could count screw heads from the bumps in my skin. Time will tell if this is just something I need to get used to, or if it will be a persistent problem. The doctor said the hardware can come out, but only 6-12 months after surgery. The way I see it, I will probably be skiing with the hardware this winter. If I never adapt to it, I'll have surgery in the spring to remove it.

Taken last week. My right quad and calf are bigger and
more defined, my left ankle and foot still look plump.
I wonder if my left foot skin tone will return to my normal
pasty look?

Work has been a bit nuts lately. Coupled with physical therapy and trying to get respectable riding volume in doesn't leave much time for internet. Besides the NEK ride Dave and I did Friday, I got in more great riding over the weekend. Saturday, before going in to work, I met up with Andy, another cyclist from PT that blew out his knee long boarding. We did a 1.6hr semi-recovery ride through Hollis. Sunday I wanted to finish the long trail ride Dave and I hoped to get in Friday. I stayed closer to home, parking at Massabesic Lake near Manchester, NH.

There is an endless supply of singletrack, fireroads and ATV trails in that area. Literally. I think I read somewhere that Trail 15, a winter snowmobile corridor, goes all the way to Canada. You have the FOMBA singletrack, a growing collection of other clandestine singletrack in the area, and a few dirt rail trails to connect things up. I take advantage of all of it.

I find it odd some guys on mountain bikes turn their noses up at anything on dirt that is not technical singletrack, yet pound out mindless miles on pavement with their road bikes. I'd much rather ride tempo on a dirt rail trail with no cars or people than on a busy road. My Massabesic loop is different each time I go there. I usually start by riding around the lake on fireroads and singletrack. This is good for 10 miles. Then I'll hit some portion of FOMBA singletrack. All of it can add something like 15 miles. There's 4 mile Evil FOMBA nearby and several more shorter goodies all in the area. Then Trail 15 is taken north for a lap around Tower Hill Pond, good for another 6 miles. But I often don't stop with a complete lap. I keep heading north on Trail 15, sometimes to Bear Brook State Park, with has 10,000 acres filled with NEMBA built singletrack. FOMBA to Bear Brook is 10-12 miles apart, so round trip alone adds 20-24 miles to your ride. What I like about Trail 15 is you can haul ass on it. It is a bit bony in spots and has plenty of rolling hills. You can put it in your "threshold gear" and leave it there. And leave all the deer flies behind. Way more fun than the road.

Grannite dome in undisclosed location.

The 3.5 mile Fireline Trail in FOMBA is becoming quite the beast. The soil in that area is gravelly. The trail traverses many steep up and downs. With the dry weather this summer, things are becoming quite rutted out. I used to be able to clean this trail with ease, but not anymore. I dabbed more times than I can remember. I wore my lace-up ankle brace again and was glad I did. I jambed my left leg down pretty hard one time.

There's also a huge quarry area west of Trail 15 I've played in a few times. Lots of ATV trails and gravel doubletracks. It is not posted from the back side, but when I popped out on a road one time at a gate the sign made me felt I'd be arrested on the spot. Nothing technical, but huge area to ride in for constant change of scenery. No cars, no people.  I rode hard Sunday for four hours straight, never getting tired, ending the ride only to keep a time commitment. Covered over 46 miles, hitting a lot of stuff I never been on before.

46 miles with a bit of everything.

A few more nine hour weekends like this will whip me back into shape quickly. Right now my focus is on Colorado at the end of the month. I hope to be able to ride 4-6-hrs per day like I did with Dave this spring in Arizona. A stretch maybe, but I'm feeling more confident that if I pace myself reasonably, it will be quite doable.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Best of NEK

Dave and I both having Fridays off, we planned a trek north to hit the Northeast Kingdom trails of Vermont on Friday. Conditions were less than ideal. The area got drenched with 5" of rain during the week, my favorite trails on Burke Mountain were closed, and there was a moderate chance of rain on Friday. We had a work around plan. We would do the mostly dirt climb to the summit of East Mountain first, which would take 2-3 hours, then hit the Darling Hill trail system, which was open.

It was much warmer than we expected when we got there. The sun was coming out. Things were looking positive. Then we scored a major bonus. The trails director said he was opening the Burke Mountain trail system. We were probably the first to be told. Reports coming back said the trails were drying out nicely. And NEK just put a video up on their website stating the Burke trails would be closed all weekend. So scratch a dirt road mountain climb. We were hitting singletrack.

There are many opportunities to ride beyond your abilities at NEK. The trails have that magical flow that beg for speed. Throw in moist roots and rocks, you could easily fold yourself around a tree. I still haven't gained enough confidence to ride at the level of risk I used to before breaking my ankle. This is why I picked up a lace-up ankle support. I got a fairly stout one. If I had to dismount over the bars, I wanted to be sure it was nearly impossible to roll my recovering ankle. I think I need the ankle support more as a psychological support than physical ankle support. It worked.

Pain Cave Dave put the hurts on me good climbing up the new Burnham Down trail. I think it is intended as a downhill run for those that shuttle up to the summit, you know, the gravity challenged set. It is a two way trail, however. It climbs marvelously. It provides a nice singletrack route to the top side of Moose Alley trails, where I typically hammered pavement in the past. There was an occasional mud puddle here and there, but the trails were firm and dry for the most part. I've ridden here before when there wasn't a recent closure and conditions were much sloppier.

Once half way up Burke Mountain, we began the miles and miles of Moose Alley trails back down. This is my favorite stuff to ride at NEK. Great flow, minimal work, and insane speed in good conditions. Every now and then, dark clouds would move through, we'd feel a couple drops, then the sun would come out again. As long as this pattern held, we'd be all set. Our goal was to ride about 5 hours/50 miles.

Summit of Burke part way down Moose Alley trails.

After finishing up Burke Mtn trails, we took White School/Nose Dive back to the village center to top off water. Then it was off to the massive Darling Hill trail system.

There are several must-hit trails in the Darling Hill system. These are Coronary Bypass, Tap-and-Die, Sidewinder and others. We were picking these off at a furious pace. Having about three hours in the legs, I was beginning to lose contact with Pain Cave Dave on the climbs and some of the hairy bits. I'm keenly aware now that mishaps happen when you are tired and bike handling becomes sloppy. Some of these trails, like Pasture Point, throw nothing but non-stop roots at you. Your tires don't even touch dirt in spots. This takes a toll and takes focus.

After finishing Old Webb's, the skies grew wicked dark and opened up on us. The temperature plummeted. This killed Dave's buzz, riding a new Yeti and all, but I secretly thought "score!", saved by the rain. We were about as far from the car as you can get on the trails. We worked our way back on the mostly doubletrack VAST trail. Of course, you can't ride past Kitchel without bombing it. The 20 minute deluge was actually petering out by the time we got there, so we headed down. Neither of us doubled any of the doubles or cleared any of the table tops. I never would. Dave might have, had the surface not been juicified.


Back in the village, there is now a prominent sign stating no bike washing in river. I guess that really makes environmental sense, although there was nary a microgram of lube left on our drivetrains. We could take buckets of water up with brushes provided by East Burke Sports to clean our bikes in the grass. Laying down in the river to degunk the bodies was nice though.

We no more than packed up the bikes and the sun came back out. Bummer. At least I would make my physical therapy appointment now. We logged about 32 miles in 3.6hrs riding time. It was mostly black diamond singletrack. Even though the rain cut our ride short, we hit all the stuff we went there for. It was well worth it. More importantly, I've nearly lost my mental handicap riding greasy, technical terrain.  This was the first time I rode at NEK without summitting one of the big mountains there. Slacking off in my old age.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Dubious Success

This weekend saw another big step-up in the road to recovery. The 4NaaP ride the previous weekend didn't kill me, so I figured I should try harder. The Jay Peak double pass/Smugglers Notch loop was looking attractive. I think of all the dubious training value rides I do, this ranks about third in dubiousness, behind D2R2 and 6-gaps. It's not so much the distance (116 miles) or the vertical (over 10,000ft), but how the vertical is presented. There are numerous 100-200ft rollers along the route, many at double-digit grades. Human nature is to power over these things, but this has an accumulative effect.

Looking south. Jay Peak is prominent mountain in foreground.
Canadian border runs along bottom of image.

No doubt all readers from this corner of the country experienced the best riding weather so far this season. It was perfect this weekend. Glen Fraser and I drove up to Stowe, Vermont early to capitalize on the nippy morning air. It was just warm enough up there to not need arm warmers.

Glen was chomping at the bit on some of the early rollers on the route. I held back. I learned my lesson the prior weekend. I still have many weeks of work cut out before I can start riding aggressively again. I had no qualms about letting Glen do much of the work on flatter parts.

The first notable climb is Hazen's Notch. It is gravel up and over. It was recently graded on the climb side, but the tire patches in the center of the road were decent to ride on. The descent was uber hairball though. It is steep and the rock hard gravel was very bumpy. Throw in some random erosion ruts around blind corners and rednecks in pickups coming up, it was white knuckles for sure. We both escaped without flats or getting tied down in the bed of a pickup as a trophy kill.

Glen heading into Hazen's Notch.

Hazen's dumps out in Montgomery, which has a well stocked local grocery store. This would be our first of two stops, about one third of the way into the ride. Next up, we hit some more steeply rolling terrain with great views along Rickford Road. This terminates in a fast descent with incredible views over the border into Canada.

The serious work of the ride begins next, with back to back several mile long climbs. The first climb parallels the Canadian border, skirting the northern flank of Jay Peak. I'm not aware of any name given the pass the road sneaks through. Rt 105 is in rough shape going up, the reason I prefer to ride the loop in this direction. The descent is pure bliss, four miles of monotonic descent on buttery smooth pavement.


We cut across on Cross Road to immediately climb the southern pass of Jay Peak, Rt 242, the main access road to the ski area. This climbs much more aggressively. There's a half mile approaching the peak that hovers in the 10-14% range. From here, it is all down hill back to Montgomery again. You can easily go over 50mph on this one, although the pavement is a bit frost heaved.

Near summit of Jay Peak north pass, Rt 105.

Back in Montgomery, we refueled at the same grocery store. A couple years ago on a 6-gaps ride, Andy Gardner turned me on to Sardines as a way of getting some needed protein in such long efforts. They go down surprisingly well. Must be the sodium.  The deal was, I spilled the oil on my gloves. I smelled like a dead fish. I burped up dead fish for a while too. Only 41 miles to go.

Looking back down Rt 242 Jay Peak south pass.

Up to this point, I was riding quite conservatively. Cramping up like I did the previous weekend after 90 miles would be catastrophic on this ride. The biggest climb started over 100 miles into the ride. I was feeling pretty good though, so I planned to empty the tank on Smugglers Notch.

There is a lot of rolling climbing en route to Smuggs. It is hard to find a rhythm on it. The last time I did this ride, DaveP got somewhat annoyed by the constant up/down up/down. The road has been fully reconstructed, there was negligible traffic, and the scenery was continuously good on the eyes. What's not to like about it?

Finally we reach Jeffersonville, the northern base of Smugglers Notch. One last bite of fuel, then it was hammer time. I went out pretty hard. Maybe two thirds of the way up, I didn't feel so good and thought I made a mistake. I made the summit without bonking or cramping though. The tank was very nearly empty. I saved my hardest effort for the very end of the ride. Solobreak would have been proud.

Coming into Smugglers Notch from the north.

It is pretty much all downhill from top of Smuggs back to Stowe. The top part is the most unique mountain pass road in all of New England. Single lane, weaving around and under giant boulders. Those signs at the bottom stating the road is not suitable for semi's - they're serious.

Top of Smugglers Notch.

I finished with 6:55hrs on the bike computer. Like an idiot, I forgot to restart the Garmin right away after one of the stops, losing about 7 minutes and a couple hundred feet of vertical. Topo gives 12,900ft of vert for the ride, the Garmin gives around 10,200ft based on barometric altimeter. Truth is probably in between 10,200 and 11,000ft. I was three minutes faster than riding solo in 2007 but 17 minutes slower than riding with Dave in 2008. I was thoroughly satisfied with the ride. I'm now thinking I may be able to tackle the full D2R2 ride in three weeks.