Sunday, November 28, 2010
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.