Saturday, December 31, 2011

A BMD conspiracy?

A few weeks ago, I received updated bone density results. It's been a year since I was first diagnosed with low bone density. At the end of 2010, my doctor gave me a choice of going on bisphosphonates (like Boniva) or increasing my weight bearing activity. I had heard scary things about this class of drugs, and I'm always leery of putting any kind of pill down my throat, so I chose the natural route. I began running.

Running utterly sucked at first. Two miles at 9+ minute pace destroyed my hips. I thought surely I'd do 20 years damage in two weeks taking up this abusive activity going on 50 years of age. But two miles became three, 9 minute pace became 8, and excruciating discomfort subsided.

Towards the middle of this year, I actually began looking forward to some of my runs. I learned it was a very efficient way to get my fix. Just sneakers and shorts were needed. Especially on wet days, there was no messy bike to deal with later. I didn't run a lot, typically around an hour per week. This was enough to net me a sub-6 minute pace 5k at the CIGNA race in August. That will probably be one of my top 2011 athletic highlights.

Surely all this pounding was beefing up my bones. I could feel it. It has been years, decades even, since I felt so solid on my feet. Amazingly, my titanium reinforced ankle had absolutely no qualms about running. I began counting down the days to my first follow-up DEXA bone density scan. I wanted confirmation I was doing something positive for my body. I suspect running diluted or degraded the quality of my bike workouts this summer, partially to blame for mediocre results on the bike. I felt diminished performance on the bike was a fair trade for improved bone health and higher level of overall fitness.

When I received the results, I was a bit dismayed. I did not expect mixed results. I'm still trying to get my head around this. The DEXA scan measures three points, your spine and each hip. Let's start with the spine. My spine bone mineral density (BMD) went down 1.5%.  I was 1.018g/cm3 on Dec 12, 2010, and now 1.003g/cm3 on Nov 11, 2011. This drove my T-score down from -1.8 to -1.9. A T-score below -2.0 is considered high risk of fracture, and below -1.0 in osteopenia range. This is disconcerting, as two cyclists I know have fractured their spines in 2011.

My right hip was essentially unchanged. BMD went up 0.7%, which is within the measurement error of a DEXA scan. My T-score stayed the same at -1.5, which isn't horrible, but I'd like to see this back into the normal range above -1.0.

The only good news that came out of this was my left hip. Left hip BMD was very low last year, most likely a result of being in a cast most of the summer. Bone atrophies just like muscle does. I suspect even if I did nothing special this past year, left hip BMD would have bounced back some. The DEXA scan shows a 5.3% improvement from last year, raising my T-score from -2.1 to -1.8. I'd like to say running did this, but then why didn't my right hip improve?

So all three measured areas are still at moderate risk of fracture and in the osteopenia range of -1.0 to -2.5. A T-score below -2.5 is osteoporosis. My spine is closer to osteoporosis than normal. I thought it odd my doctor didn't think this warranted concern or further action. In fact, he said things looked good and results were normal. I will probably seek a second opinion on this. My mother's BMD wasn't even as low as mine, and she was put on Fosamax. I engage in far more riskier activities than she does.

So where do I go from here? I do question my diet. I suspect my diet has a decidedly acidifying effect on my body. This can make calcium retention challenging. I also enjoy strong coffee, and caffeine can interfere with calcium absorption. I plan to increase my supplemental calcium to 1200mg per day (not a crazy amount) and add 2000 IU of vitamin D in the winter months. I get tons of calcium in real food in my diet, but if I have trouble absorbing it, increased supplemental intake might help. In summer months, I get enough sunlight exposure that I do not need to take a D supplement.

I will continue running. As long as I experience no ill effects from it, running will maintain balance in my body that  just cycling could never bring. There's more to bones that just BMD scores measured by some machine too.

There are groups out there crying foul, generally groups that are skeptical of all modern medicine techniques. You see, a Dual Energy X-ray Absorptiometry (DEXA) machine measures a particular physical trait of our bones. Drug companies have discovered that a certain class of drugs can quite effectively modify this trait, namely BMD. The assumption is that higher BMD is always better. After all, women with osteoporosis have very low BMD, and there is high correlation between low BMD and fracture rates. So is the converse true, that high BMD is correlated with low rate of fractures? The answer now appears to be not always.

You see, when a person goes on a bisphosphonate for many years, they will experience a significant boost in BMD. Studies show a sharp drop in fractures when first going on these drugs. However, these drugs have been on the market a long time now, and a few women that have been on them for more than 5yrs are experiencing freak fractures. Grotesque fractures. Femurs that shatter into pieces for no reason at all, and then the fracture doesn't heal well. For years in some cases.

Apparently, bisphosphonates can stay in the body for decades, so when you stop taking them, their effects can linger for a very, very long time. Bisphosphonates halt bone mineral turn-over, and thus repair of micro-fractures. When micro-fracture repair is halted, over a period of many years, a bone can become filled with fractures lines until one day the bone shatters like glass. Without warning. Yet a BMD scan would show all is well.

So pundits charge it is a scam. A machine is invented that finds a problem, then a drug is sold to fix said problem, when in fact, a high BMD score does not necessarily mean a strong bone. I generally don't subscribe to conspiracy theories and don't believe one exists here. I do believe money is to be made, as half of our population is female, and most females will develop osteoporosis late in life. New guidelines are now prescribing that women go off these drugs for periods of time to let bones self-repair.

I certainly want to avoid bisphosphonates. The big question on my mind these days is this. Are my bones stronger now than they were one year ago even though my BMD score stayed the same? I would think over 400 miles of pounding on pavement has had some impact. I certainly feel more stable on my feet, and I feel at lower risk of injury in other ways due to running. I'll keep running in 2012. I will go another year to see if some real improvement can be obtained. Since my doctor said I was "normal," I don't have another follow-up DEXA scan planned. I will have to discuss this with him, and if he still believes there is nothing to worry about, I'll seek another opinion.

Thanks for reading, and Happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

New Toy for Christmas

Wifey was good to me this Christmas. She got me a Garmin Edge 500. I did a little research recently on runner's GPS units. Requirements were simple: not a lot of bells and whistles I didn't need, long battery run-time and barometric altimeter. Out of Garmin's line, only one runner model partially met these requirements. It was the Forerunner 910, and it costs $400. The 910 has way more features than I need, and it appears to be a dedicated watch band style only.

I really liked the simplified feature set of the Garmin Edge 500, but it is designed as a bicycle computer for mounting on a bicycle. The 500 sells for about $250.  Then I found this blog post showing that the 500 can be wrist band mounted. I ordered the wrist band accessory on  Mounted this way, the 500 is a tad larger than the 910, but I can also use it on the bike with a power meter someday too.

I'll primarily use the 500 for running and XC skiing. I have been using my Edge 705 with a modified iPod arm band around my bicep for running and skiing. It is much bulkier, and arm mounting causes more interference with motion that wrist mounting. The 500 with wrist band weights a fraction of the 705 with arm band too.

I took the new Edge 500 for a short run this morning through some trails behind my alma mater. Unlike running with my 705, I couldn't even tell the 500 was there. Charging and download work the same as my 705. Receiver sensitivity seems quite good. My 705 will still serve its role in navigation with I travel or try local experimental routes.

4.5mi loop with bit of trail thrown in

Monday, December 26, 2011

Robinettes Orchard & Luton Park

Had myself a fabulous double-header on singletrack Monday. The temp reached 50F, the sun was out, and a nice breeze dried things up nicely. I first hit Robinette's Orchard. Robinette's has opened their land to mountain bikers for at least 15 years now, probably much longer. Races were held here back in the heyday of mountain biking.  I last rode Robinette's 14 years ago.

The orchard sits up on a hill with a large gully that wraps around the back portion of the property. What the Midwest lacks lacks in sheer vertical is made up in steep, punchy climbs dropping in and out of river bottoms. There is very little conservation land in southwest Michigan. I suspect this is because most of the land is "productive," meaning you can farm it or build on it. New England has much more wetlands or ledgy outcroppings that are extremely expensive to develop. It is easier to relegate this "unproductive" land to conservation.  This probably explains why the northeast has so many more places to ride despite much higher population density.

Course at Robinette's Orchard

Riders pay and must sign a waiver to ride Robinette's. Some say the 4.5mi loop isn't worth it. But if you ride it two or more times, the challenging terrain is easily worth the $3. Dropping into the gully is a test of wits in staying off the brakes. The grade climbing back out often exceeded 15% or even 20% in a few places. I had a serious burn going in my legs by the end of the second lap. It was nice having the whole place to myself.

Terrain at Robinette's

About five miles up the road is Luton Park. I first rode Luton this summer when I came home for a funeral. Trails were only recently constructed there for mountain biking. Hitting all the loops tallies up about 9-10 miles.  The trails are signed for one-way travel, making encounters with other riders much less frequent.  The flow is superb, with barely a rock or root to be seen.  The parking lot was full when I got there before noon. I had planned to ride only one loop of Luton, but it was just too much fun and the weather too nice to not go around a second time.

Nearly 30 miles of singletrack riding in 3hrs had me properly anesthetized for family activities the rest of the day. Weather looks like a crappy mix on Tuesday. Probably a good day for a run.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Fort Custer

Endurance junkies that pursue XC skiing and cycling have insurance against whatever winter throws at them. Major snow, hang the bikes up and ski. Snow drought, keep the bikes going. This winter hasn't offered much for the Nordic skiers. Lots of skier/bikers are not that bummed with such great cycling weather we've had the last six weeks.

I think this is the first time in 14 years I haven't brought skate skis with me to Michigan. There is no snow anywhere, other than a light dusting last night that the sun quickly burned off this morning, and the lakes and ponds have no ice on them yet. I also normally bring my winter beater bike with studs, but with October riding conditions, I'd be crazy to not bring a nicer bike. I brought my Dean Ti hardtail.

Fort Custer is the "Kingdom Trails" of southwest Michigan. It boast only 25 miles or so of singletrack, but this is twice what any other contiguous trail system in the area has. A number of new, surprisingly challenging features have been incorporated into the trail network since my last visit. Riding in W. Michigan is like taking a breather. Compared to my 45+ mile ride I did last weekend in Groton, Mass, riding here is wicked easy. Even a beginner should be able to average over 10mph on the trails. Fast and flowy is the name of the game.

Rare: No ice and clear skies

I got out early on Christmas Eve morning for a 25 miler, basically riding everything at Fort Custer. A planned ride was accumulating in the parking lot. I was invited to join. But... I know how these large group rides go, I had finite bucket of time, and really just wanted to be away from people for a couple hours.

A bit like Sidewinder at NEK. Frosty off-chamber logs forced you
to carry the just-right amount of speed down this gully.

The light dusting of snow was not an issue at all. It was cold and the frozen crust on the trail actually enhanced speed, as some parts of this trail network can be a bit sandy and others a bit juicy. I laid first tracks almost everywhere I went. W. Michigan rarely sees bluebird skies in December, so it was a double bonus to have primo riding conditions on a brilliant day.

On my way home, I had to stop and take a picture of this sad sight below. These places were a staple of Fat Doug's diet. One day, not long after moving to New Hampshire, they all abruptly closed. They have sat idle like this for what, 10+ years now? Trees are growing in the parking lot. There was a Hot n' Now near where I worked in Holland. I'd order five $0.49 cheeseburgers, a large fry and a 44oz Mountain Dew. My resting heartrate was 80bpm and I bet I never exerted myself hard enough to raise it above 120. I'd probably be dead by now if I hadn't started riding in 1996.

Monday, December 19, 2011

What is it about eccentric muscle contraction?

I totally botched last weekend. Had high hopes of riding trails in North Conway, but radar images Saturday morning spooked me into believing they had gotten snow overnight. I abandoned my plans in favor of a local trail ride, only to learn later the ground stayed bare up north.

I still had to get my mountain fix in before heading back to the daily grind on Monday. It was cold Sunday morning, and the sky was that magical blue again. What is this, seven weekends in a row with bluebird skies? Been an amazing late fall for cyclists, but not skiers. Anyway, on a whim I decided to head over to Mt Monadnock. Turned out to be a great choice.

Only a handful of cars were in the headquarters parking lot. I still don't own hiking boots. I put on my street running shoes with braces on both ankle. The ranger said the wind chill was -4F up top. That would test the limits of clothing I brought along.

In the past, I've always hiked up the White Dot trail and come down the same or adjacent White Cross trail. This time I decided to take a longer route up, the Cascade Link trail up to Pumpelly to summit. This route spends more time on the ridge above tree line.

Cascade Link Trail

Hiking solo, I went up at an aggressive pace, something between tempo and threshold. After I passed a couple other solo guys on the lower flanks, I had the rest of the hike to myself. There was minimal ice on the way up. Only a couple bits made me ponder my mortality. My skin hasn't had a chance yet this season to acclimate to frigid air. Up on the ridge, I marvelled at how bitter cold it was, so close to Christmas, and yet zero snow up there.

Upon reaching the summit, there was not another person up there! Every other time I've hiked this mountain, it was a constant stream of people on the way up and dozens or more at the summit. The air was the clearest I've experienced. White capped Mt Washington, nearly 200km away, was clearly visible.

North panoram. View at 100% and pan.

I didn't have the summit to myself for long. I was soon joined by three others, one who just relocated from California and another from the UK. We ducked into the pocket at the summit to stay out of the wind. I wolfed down a sandwich before heading back down.

Wapack range to the east

Going down was the hard part. My knees instantly rebelled. I felt twice my age. I sometimes found it easier to sit on my butt and slide down than hop or step down the hundreds of oversized steps off the summit area. Then the ice flow started. A long section of treacherous ice had me grasping anything I could get my hands on to prevent this mountain from spitting me off its flanks. It appeared nobody had gone down the White Cross trail, as there was no evidence of spikes. Without warning, a large patch of flat ice I was walking across broke and both feet went in. Oh joy. -4F windchill with soaked mesh running sneakers. There was no way I could go remotely aerobic heading down to keep the fire stoked.

Start up White Dot, bear right on Cascade Link, left on
Pumpelly along ridge, then White Cross down. About 5.6mi.

By the time I got to the bottom, all the eccentric muscle activity left my legs in a quivering mess. I've run 500 miles this year, biked almost 500 hours, skied 500 miles, and yet a 2 mile slog down a mountain utterly destroyed my legs. Funny how the descent always takes me far longer than the climb.

By Monday afternoon, I couldn't even walk right. It seems odd that all the normal concentric muscle contraction does nothing to condition your legs for eccentric muscle contraction, where you muscles are lengthening under tension. I need to fix that. I hope to start up trail running again now that I believe my IT band issue is under control.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

GTF-Haystack Supertour

On Saturday, I had hoped to ride in the mountains at North Conway. The snow was gone, which is pretty rare this time of year. I got up early only to find radar images suggesting bands of snow were moving through the mountains. That really sucked. After many tough weeks in a row at work, I was looking forward to losing myself in the mountains. There's no XC skiing in the mountains, and I didn't want to risk a drive up to find there was just enough snow to make riding miserable. So I changed plans.

I've known for a while that a trail network on conservation lands has been growing around the MIT Haystack Observatory in Groton, Mass. This is only 30 minutes from my house, and I have never ridden there. I went data mining on Garmin Connect. There are over 100 MTB tracks in the Groton area from just the last year alone. The hard part was deciding which tracks were quality tracks. I filtered out all but long tracks. Guys on big travel bikes are more apt to session techy stuff and not cover a lot of distance. I want flow and distance, where I could get into the zone and stay there for four or five hours. My theory was long tracks were created by like minded people.

I downloaded about six tracks into DeLorme Topo. Then I went to work engineering a route that minimized road content and repeating or doubling back. 80% of what I was planning would be new to me. The only area on my planned route I've ridden before was Groton Town Forest, maybe over 10 years ago. The route would run at least 55 miles, maybe 60 miles. I thought maybe I could do it in five hours. Ha!

The hours I'd save by not driving to N. Conway could be pooled into riding, and I'd still get back early to do some Christmas shopping. I parked at the soccer fields near Haystack. In a few minutes, I was riding singletrack obviously designed by mountain bikers. It followed a knife edge esker. I felt a bit exposed.

A while later I was up on this ridgeline just off Old Dunstable Rd. The trail designers went out of their way to find every jagged bit of rock poking out of the Earth, which was not hard to find. This trail kicked my ass. Picking through dagger fields of granite at 2.5mph was not the kind of riding I was looking for today. I had some wicked close calls which spooked me, which meant I started hesitating and dabbing on everything. Hmmm, only 50 miles to go. Yeah, baby! Oh, and when there weren't natural rock outcroppings, the trail designers tested the limits on out frequently you could cris-cross a stone wall with tall, abrupt transitions. Not knowing what lie on the other side of the crossings meant more dabs and dismounts.

Eventually I got into some flowy stuff in another conservation parcel that was exactly what I had in mind. More techy material was to come though. A bit of pavement brought me through Groton. I entered the private Groton School grounds to access the conservation land behind the school. I remember this from 10+ years ago night riding with the Raytheon gang. I picked up a shadow. As I meandered to the back of the campus, a security guard followed me in an SUV. Fortunately I ditched into the woods and that was that.

Groton Town Forest along the Nashua River

Groton Town Forest was just the way I remembered it, except a few sections still had not been cleared from the October snow storm damage.  It looked like motorized traffic has been largely curtailed in there. The trails certainly don't have that carved up feel anymore. It took a long time to ride the moto loop. Then it was over the trestle to head east along the power lines. The train tracks have been abandoned. I used to ride across this bridge and think nothing of it, along the side just a foot or two from 30ft drop into the deep Nashua river. Glad I didn't even try today. Many railroad ties are rotting and a couple were even missing. Even walking down the middle freaked me out. There were a couple gaps easily big enough to fall through. Exiting the bridge, I passed three NEBC riders going the opposite way. They asked if I was starting or finishing. Neither. I told them I was parked at Haystack and working my way back (meaning 25 miles to go). I got weird looks.

Heading down the power lines, a climb we used to call "The Grim" was next. Along the way a sign for more new conservation trails caught my eye and I went on a diversion. This was in area of Flannagan Pond. Really sweet stuff. I notice that most marked, official conservation land trails have been brushed out. They also didn't go out of their way over the roughest features the terrain had to offer.

Heading up The Grim, it seems the old trail that went over the summit has been abandoned. At least there was so much tree debris in it that I didn't want to bother with it. Bummer. That always put a good burn in the legs.

Next up was another new loop that pops up in Garmin Connect tracks. I quickly realized it was going to be another one of those no-rock-missed kind of trails. A few hundred meters in, I went over the bars. For no reason whatsoever. Choice words were said. I have no idea what happened. I was going slightly downhill off exposed granite, and the next thing I know, the ground is coming at my face really fast. I got arms out to protect the neck, but only one foot got unclipped. Smashed knee, hyper-extended wrist, yeah, I was happy. I cut my losses right there and will have to try that loop on another day. I was four hours into the ride at that point, in severe calorie deficit, and fading fast.

Climbing ledge just after crashing

Next was more esker riding in Knops Pond area. There is quite a maze of singletrack here. Some of it dropped fall-line off eskers and right back up another one, kind of Zippety-Do-Da style. I realized my enthusiasm in designing this route exceeded my ability to execute it, so I started making guesses as to least risk, least energy expenditure way to get back to the car.

Esker bombing in Knops Pond area

Picking up trail again on the east side of Knops Pond, I found I was in over my head again, at least for the spent state I was in with about 5hrs riding time so far. I had already cut out chunks of the ride and my GPS track suggested I had at least 10 miles to go with over 40 tallied so far. I had used all my bonus time saved in driving already. Once I got to pavement, I would have to take roads back.

Duck Pond

I skipped all the stuff east of the Haystack Observatory. The GPS tracks from that area are not massively dense spaghetti, so maybe it is some decently flowing material. I got back to the car with 45.3mi, 3500ft in 5.5hrs moving time on the GPS. My wired computer battery died two miles into the ride. I suspect with the tightness of so much of the ride, I could well have logged over 50 miles. I know my GPS under measures the FOMBA trails by 25-30%. My GPS track also shows I stop 132 times during the ride! I'd say at close to half of those were due to tree debris blocking the trail or stuck in the drivetrain. The other half are indicative of how badly I suck in techy terrain.

It was a great day to be in the woods despite a lot of nuisance tree debris and a bit more techy material than I typically like to ride. This area has huge potential for a flowy, 50 mile loop. I just have to learn what pieces of trail to exclude and include. It seems most of Groton is conservation land and packed with trails. Most of it is singletrack. Perhaps the high point of the ride was the Starbucks Ethiopian Clover machine coffee afterwards.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Ridge riding

Leg searing climbs? Check. Tunnels of mountain laurel? Check.Gnarly ridge riding with views? Check. No, I didn't head down to North Carolina to ride in the Pisgah National Forest this weekend. We have that kind of riding right here in New England.

I rode a section of trail I haven't been on for at least 10 years, back when it was featured as a hidden gem in Bike magazine. Today, bicycles are less welcome on sections of this trail, so I won't give search bots anything to bring unwelcome attention here.

I set out for a three hour ride on this frigid Sunday afternoon, only to find it took me over three hours just to reach the turn-around point. I barely made it back to my car before the sun set. In those first three hours, I encountered other people only once. Much of the trail is barely-there singletrack, where route following can be challenging and brush is always rubbing against you. No manicured Kingdom Trails material here. Finished with 30 miles, nearly 4000ft of climbing, in 4 hours on the Garmin. I'll leave you with a few photos.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Feeling my age

The weather this weekend afforded copious riding opportunities. Just when I thought the mountains were taken off-line, a warm week dissolved all of the snow, even the high peaks. The XC ski season is not looking promising at this point. But when life serves you sunny, snowless days, you put tires to dirt.

Dave, Isaac and I headed up to Campton for a 100km ride on mostly dirt roads with cyclocross bikes on Saturday. The loop entailed about 7000ft of climbing, one I tested solo in October. The route was a keeper. Taking the risk of boondoggle out of the picture, I could safely bring others. Seems every time I try a new route with others, be it an alternative way up a mountain out west or local jeep roads, massive hike-a-biking ensues. Our route today was not all buff gravel roads. A six mile section of Algonquin Rd, a gated forest service road, was left in rough shape by tropical storm Irene. It is more mountain biking material than CX biking material.

Dave's Sock Monkey lunch box. He said it was his
son Zach's, but we all know better.

It wasn't nearly as cold starting out as we expected. Maybe 30F, brilliant skies, and zero wind. In other words, as good as it gets in December. In minutes, we were climbing double-digit grades up Campton Mtn. Paved to start, but then the gravel 20+% grades kick in near the top. There was an icy patch to ride around. We finished the climb on a "secret" double track to nice overlook of the Pemi Valley.

Pemi Valley from Campton Mtn

First 1000ft+ climb was out of the way. A hairball decent quickly brought us to the next 1000+ft climb, Sandwich Notch. This is a forest service road that closes when the snow comes. It was still open to cars. Dave and Isaac set a rigorous pace up this one. A few more icy patches had to be dodged.

Losing about half the gained vertical on the other side brought us to Algonquin Rd. Dave bolted and Isaac chased. I brought the widest, most aggressive tires and was still cringing on all the embedded rocks I was bouncing over. How Dave and Isaac maintained 20% greater speed on 30mm semi-slick tires is beyond me. I had 35mm knobbie Racing Ralphs. I thought surely one of them would flat. But no. After a while, I was by myself. A few downed trees toward the far end slowed them down a bit.

After Algonquin Rd is a series of mostly gravel roads I pieced together. It circumnavigates Prospect Mtn. This loop rolls non-stop, steep, peeky climbs from 100ft to 400ft. Each roller cuts you down a notch. We weren't going none too easy either. I was beginning to fear the last major climb of the ride up to Stinson Lake.

The roller section left me barely intact as we barrelled down a dirt road to I-93. Passing under, we climbed Bog Rd, another dirt road with barely any traffic or houses for a while. Just brilliant sun, moderate temps and no wind.

After dropping down into Rumney, we began climbing Stinson Lake Rd. Isaac set pace the whole way up this 1000ft beast. I was beat down by this point, about 3.5hrs into the ride. Multiple times I started to come off and thought about throwing in the towel. Dave would've given me crap if I did. I suspected he was hurting too. We both clung on until the high point above the lake. Then again it was, guess what? Another rolling section!

Even though the three major climbs total 3000-4000ft of climbing, it is these rolling sections that provide the other 3000-4000ft of climbing in the ride. They really add up. And because they are steep and not that long, the tendency is to go at them with something in between threshold and VOmax effort. My match book was empty.

After Dave humiliated me on the last couple town line signs, I new one more was coming up, on a descent of a big roller. I think Dave knew it was coming up too, as we were half wheeling each other to the top. At the top, I found my big ring, put head down, and drilled it. Downhill dirt road sprints are not my thing, but I claimed that one. There was one more town line after that I had forgotten about. Isaac took that one with no effort. I was damaged goods.

Mt Tecumseh (I think) from Ellsworth Hill Rd descent. Those peaks
should be white by now!

Turned out to be a fantastic ride, a bonus ride in the Whites so late in the season. Loading the bikes up after the ride, a front spoke just spontaneously popped on Dave's bike. The wheel went badly out of true. Moments earlier we were bombing down Ellsworth Hill Rd at 45mph. Guess maybe Algonquin Rd beat on his equipment after all.  Later in the evening, I was pretty much in a catatonic state. 30 miles of rough gravel and intensities I haven't been riding at much lately beat me to a pulp. Rides like these didn't used to hurt as badly. Riding with much younger guys might have something to do with it. I felt my age.

Hey, if the weather holds up, Dave and I plan to MTB in North Conway on Friday. Right now there is no snow in the extended forecast and it looks like a mostly dry week. Conditions could be superb. Let me know if you are interested in joining us.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

OD on Trail Riding

When was the last time we had a Thanksgiving weekend like this one? Four straight days of mild temps and sun. I hit trails all four days, including Willowdale, FOMBA, Seavey Hill and the Blackstone River Valley.

Early Thanksgiving Day morning, I hit Willowdale State Forest for a little pre-burn fun. The doubletrack was pretty wet, but most of the singletrack drained out nicely from heavy rain over two previous days. Many riders were out. The first few bridges I hit were deadly. Frosty or black ice. I walked a few.

The annual Turkey Burner fun ride on Friday was a hoot. Hooked up with three others for three hours of root sliding craziness. The FOMBA crew nicely cleared the trails from the October snowstorm damage, but rain midweek compounded the challenge FOMBA's roots already impose. I cleaned the longest trail, 3+ mile Fireline, but didn't fare nearly so well on others. After completing the singletrack, I split off solo for a fast lap around Tower Hill pond.

Lake Massabesic at the start of the FOMBA Turkey Burner

Saturday I headed up to Bath, Maine with my wife. What is in Bath, you may ask? Bath Cycle & Ski, also known as Bikeman on the web. Bath is one of a few local retailers of snow bikes, or affectionately called fat bikes. I do enough winter riding to warrant getting a fat bike. I plan to dabble in winter triathlons too, where you run, bike and ski on snow. 2" wide studded tires might work well for typical Weston boiler plate conditions, but not Gunstock packed powder. I love riding snowmobile trails too. It takes just-right conditions to enjoy riding the sled trails with studs, usually a freeze after a thaw to set up the base. But with a fat bike, almost any sled trail conditions are fair game. The 4" wide tires provide considerable float on loose snow.

My visit to Bath was exploratory. I have never touched a fat bike. I wanted to see first hand the components, feel the heft of the bike (35+ pounds!), and get my numerous questions answered. This is way easier to do looking at a bike than talking over the phone.

I was targeting a Carver Ti frame built up with a Salsa Mukluk build kit. Bath had only one Carver frame left, a 20" frame. It's top tube length suggested it was a tad big for me. Zach at Bath put a fork in the frame with a couple fat wheels to let me assess the standover height. It seemed marginal. The Carver frame came with a $700 premium over the Salsa bike with identical low-end build kit. I'd want to get this frame size thing right, as a Ti frame is not what I would want to upgrade down the road. I had an action to check stand over clearance on my other hardtails later at home. If the 20" Carver frame was similar, I'd go with it. Bath would hold it for me until the end of the day.

A bike shop that sells snow bikes would naturally carry winter cycling shoes too. They had Lake's, Shimano's and Louis Garneau's on hand. They even had my size in all of them! I was totally impressed. I had my eye on the Loui Garneau's.  They looked slick. The fit was good. The uppers were very supple. Almost too supple. If I stretched the upper cuff, I could see light through it. Definitely not waterproof. Then I tried the Shimano's. They went on like a well broken in glove. The fit was perfect. They felt a little bulkier but had much more insulating material than the Garneau's. The Shimano's use Gortex, so at least the lower portion would be waterproof. Then I tried the Lake's.  They felt like an XC ski boot. Tall, very rigid, but probably the most waterproof and warmest. I didn't like how bulky they felt. All the shoes were SPD compatible. I went with the Shimano's. With free shipping, I could avoid the Maine sales tax. I should have them on Monday or Tuesday.

You can't visit coastal Maine without stopping for local seafood. Cathy and I stopped at Maxwell's in downtown Bath for lunch. Cathy ordered Haddock and I got a shrimp and scallop platter. It was wicked gooooood.

Back at home, I was dismayed to see the standover of my hardtails to be much lower than the Carver frame. Bath Cycle could not give me an expected date when smaller Ti frames would come in. Davis Carver, the guru behind Carver bikes, is on vacation for a couple weeks. I didn't want to risk getting shut out of a fat bike this season, so I went with the Salsa Mukluk 3. They had only one medium left in stock, which should be an ideal size for me. They will build and ship it on Monday. I'm selling our tandem to make room for the new bike if anybody is interested. We've ridden it less than 100 miles this year.

Saturday evening I had just enough daylight left to get in a quick trail ride from my house. I made it a bike-run-core workout brick. 67 minute ride in the woods, 4 mile run, 60 push-ups (two blocks of 30) and 100 sit-ups left me pretty ragged that night.  Next week my ankle should be good for full normal activity. Hope we get some more snow.

On a whim, Sunday I headed south to Blackstone Heritage State Park near Milford Mass to ride. I scavenged several MTB tracks from Garmin Connect to put a ride together.  I knew very little about the area, other than some recent comments raving about the singletrack on Goat Hill. That, and a bill before the US senate that could make the park a national park soon. That could end most mountain biking there.

I was pissed to find my tracks wouldn't display on my GPS when I got there. I had no map, just a vague recollection of where some of the trails were. I sensed a lot of aimless wandering was in store.

Brushed out buff singletrack on Goat Hill

The loop on Goat hill wasn't hard to find. In short, this trail is as good as it gets. I'd say in my New England top five good. The trail stewards had blown the whole thing clear of leaves, and it was dry. This was completely the opposite of riding FOMBA a few days earlier. The total loop went about five miles as it meandered up and over Goat Hill and back, around, through and over giant glacial erratics. Finding the other trails was much more difficult. I completely missed out on the miles and miles of trails on West Hill. Next time. I still managed to cover 30+ miles in 3.3hrs, although with a bit more pavement in there than I would have liked.  Going back to work on Monday will keep me from overdosing on singletrack.

Lookout Rock overlooking the Blackstone River Valley. Superb
riding exists on ridgelines on either side of the valley.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Last of the season?

Another great mountains ride this weekend. That makes what, three or four weekends in a row now?  Life is good.  Greg, Dave, Glen and I met up in Campton early Saturday for a four-gap ride in the Whites. It was frigid, in the 20's to start. Planned route was to hit Gonzo Pass (Rt 118), Long Pond road, Kinsman Notch and Thornton Gap (Tripoli Rd). That is two dirt climbs and two paved climbs. Greg had never ridden Long Pond, Glen had never ridden Tripoli Rd. Both were in for dirt road treats.  My work schedule has been oppressive lately, it is getting late, so I'm going to let the photos show how great the ride was.

Glen finishing up Gonzo Pass with the Franconia Ridge and
white capped Mt Washington in the background.

Dave, Greg and HJ at Gonzo summit with snow dusting.

Glen cresting Kinsman Notch.

Dave and Greg heading up Long Pond Rd. Only one car passed.
Numerous rim biters on the way up had me nervous about the
all-dirt descent. I felt probability was high at least one of us would
flat. Yep, Dave, at the bottom. And somehow he managed to find
 poop, which I nicely cleaned off his rear tire with my glove before
I knew it was there.

Dave cresting Tripoli Rd. Surface was frozen hard, mix of sand and snow.
One ice patch just below here had to be carefully dodged.

From Topo. I logged 78.6mi in 4.7hrs riding time. Vert was
probably just under 7000ft. Might be last time this season
to hit these.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Tri-state dirt road randonnee

There's an area of New England I've wanted to explore for several years now. I finally had a chance to ride the northwest corner of Connecticut for some remote, hilly touring. I met up with Alex Combes and Jason Grobbel in West Cornwall on Friday. We were on cyclocross bikes, or nearly so. Jason rigged up is 29er with CX tires and a 1x10 drivetrain.

The planned route contained two significant dirt road climbs. One was Mt Riga, the other Sunset Rock. Mt Riga is possibly the biggest net gain climb in Connecticut, rising over 1200ft. It also passes near the highest point in the state. I've had this climb listed on for many years with a disclaimer about suitability for road bikes. I've had mixed feedback from folks that have tried it. Stating a dirt road is suitable for road bikes is subjective matter. There are riders who would never venture off the tarmac with skinnies.

I figured this ride could take over 4hrs with a stop. Starting at noon put us at risk of running out of daylight. Alex was late. We started later than noon. No fear. I brought my new DiNotte light for the bar and carried a blinky in a jersey pocket. I was looking for an excuse to use my new lights.

We headed north on dirt River Rd into a nasty head wind. The forecast showed minimal chance for precipitation. It should have been sunny and mild. Instead, it was cloudy and cold. In fact, we felt random bits of sleet.  I noted before leaving the house that there were long fingers of lake effect snow peeling off Lake Ontario. I hoped we wouldn't encounter any of that.

Housatonic River where we parked.

It didn't take long before we where in Salisbury, the beginning of the Mt Riga climb.  The grade became quite persistent once the pavement ended. The one-lane road was composed of fairly course gravel. Road bikeable? Perhaps. You have to get back down at some point too. We were going up and over, descending Bash Bish Falls.

Alex and Jason heading up Mt Riga Rd. Rushing stream far below on right.

Alex and Jason disappeared on me. I was working reasonably hard and started estimating time to cramping at this pace. The ride had just begun, and an even steeper dirt climb was coming up after this one. Four hours with 30 minute threshold blocks embedded in the ride would surely do me in.

Above the lake, the grade slackens considerably. This was now high up in the Taconic range. The road surface turned to a very sharp, chunky aggregate. No way would I take a regular road bike up here. Doable? Yes. But enjoyable and worth the high risk of pinch flat? No.

Alex and Jason waited for me at the high point. Just beyond this, the road was barricaded off to through traffic, probably for the winter months. The initial descent was quite sketchy. I feared pinch flatting my 35mm Racing Ralph's inflated to 65psi. The descent finishes past Bash Bish Falls (maybe next time I'll hike down to see it) as it drops into NY.

We stopped briefly at a store at the bottom. A short traverse brought us to the base of the next climb, Sunset Rock. Looking over the valley, the horizon disappeared in sheets of opaque material. Um, looked like lake effect snow squalls to me. They were heading right for us.

Snow squalls in distance at base of Sunset Rock.

We stayed together climbing Sunset Rock into MA. I dug a little deeper on this one, knowing it would be shorter. About half way up, the snow hit. None of us were dressed for this kind of onslaught. Alex didn't even wear booties. It snowed just enough to make the gravel juicy on the descent. So much for cleaning my bike up for this ride.

Snow heading up Sunset Rock Rd.

After Sunset Rock, a long chain of mostly dirt roads took us back south into CT. A few of the roads were bona fide doubletracks. Some were gated to auto traffic. Punchy anaerobic climbs were followed by white knuckle adrenaline inducing descents.  Being on the east side of the Taconic Crest meant the sun would set even earlier, but it looked like I would not get to use my lights. I thought about feigning a flat just to delay us.

We finished with about 57mi, 5000ft in 3.7hrs on the Garmins. Alex put a superb loop together, one I'll have to do again. It reminded me of the Ironcross course.  It was great meeting Alex's teammate Jason too, who placed well at the Iceman Cometh race in Michigan the weekend before.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Gap - Gap - Gap - paG

Gorgeous day for riding today. Dave and I headed over to Vermont to hit some gaps. The White Mountains still have some snow, making a CX ride on forest service roads risky. Ditto for southwest New Hampshire. The Green Mountains have zero snow cover. Clear skies and dry roads sounded like a good deal to me. I need to minimize risk for another four weeks while the holes left behind from extracted ankle hardware fill in.

We parked in Bethel. It got down into the 20's overnight and was only 30F by 10am. Fifteen minute descents at 40-50mph were sure to numb the extremities. Dave failed to bring adequate protection along and concocted a solution with materials on hand.

Full-on winter clothing was needed despite one of the most brilliant skies I've experienced in Vermont. A brief two mile warmup brought us to the base of Rochester Gap. It didn't take long to realize the landscape had been transformed by hurricane Irene. Creek beds took new courses. Rocky banks now exist where none existed before. Many sections of Camp Rd washed out and are now rough gravel. I didn't think to check the state road status to see if everything was open.

Approaching Rochester Gap

We bombed down into Rochester and picked up Rt 73, which goes over Brandon Gap. A big amber signed warned the road was closed. Oh, that would really suck if we couldn't get through. Workers generally don't like it when spandex clad freaks try to weasel their way through construction sites. We motored on anyway.

A lot of cars were coming through, suggesting that maybe we could get through. Again, numerous areas of the road had been washed away and filled with crushed rock and gravel. We were able to summit no problem. On this Saturday, no reconstruction work was going on.

Ledges above Brandon Gap

I was a little tentative on the descents. You just couldn't tell when a random gravel bit was coming up with big lips at the edge of asphalt. Some of these edges could easily destroy a tire, or worse. Didn't need that at 45mph.

12% grade down to Brandon

We hit the climbs with solid aerobic effort but rode casually in between the climbs. We hooked around Lake Dunmore and dropped down into East Middlebury where we topped off water. The Adirondack chairs on the deck in the sun were so pleasant to sit in that I feared our ride was over. The only problem was, my car was two mountain passes away.

Lake Dunmore. Still some leaves at lower elevations.

Middlebury Gap was the biggest climb of this ride, gaining about 1800ft. The upper portion is a spanker. We dropped down into Hancock, then swung south to Rochester. We would be climbing Rochester Gap again, but from the west, the side we've never climbed before. There was still frost on the ground on shady sides of things, suggesting the temp never rose above freezing in places. Windbreakers came off at the bottom of each climb, but they went right back on at the top, along with pulling up balaclavas. We had no trouble staying warm.

Rochester, Brandon, Middlebury, then Rochester "backwards"

We finished the lollipop loop in 4.5hrs with 72.4mi on the odometer. Topo overestimates the vertical on this route quite a bit. I'd say actual climbing is in the 6500-7000ft range. The cold (dense) air, bulky layers and sketchy roads slowed us down a bit, but neither of us cared. It was too beautiful of a day to hammer it away into oblivion.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Foot-plus in October?

Glad I snuck a ride in Saturday afternoon before the snow came. Not really supposed to be engaging in that kind of activity yet, but the way I see it, there is less force on my ankle and less flexion than walking, and I am allowed to walk around. I went over to the Nashua River Rail Trail, which was deserted. Nice quiet 25 mile ride at tempo pace.

Saturday night sucked for us. We live on a hill in wooded area. None of the oak trees have dropped their leaves yet. Wet snow clung to them like black flies to a sweaty body in May.  We have some big ones right above the house. By 6:30pm, our power went out. Later in the evening, the sky kept lighting up in brialliant blue flashes as power lines shorted and transformers blew up.

We normally sleep with a noise machine on in the room. With no power (I didn't want to lug generator out in the dark in a snow storm), it was dead quiet in the house. Every few minutes, we heard a tree come crashing down in the forest. Some hit the ground so hard it made the house shake. I thought surely we'd have an oak tree come through our roof. Not a good sleep night.

We got the generator going in the morning and got our food cold again. My neighbor's husband from across the street is in Germany on business right now. They have no generator and just stocked up $800 food in two deep freezers. Rumor is, some areas could go five days before lights come back on. They helped my wife Cathy out a few years ago during the ice storm when I was down south cycling. I took some heat for that one. Now it was my turn to return the favor by kluging a power cord to a 220V outlet in their garage. Got their freezers and water well going for a few hours. Might be time-sharing my cheap 5kW generator for a while.

Of course, we had little gas. I drove through four towns before I found any power. A little piece of downtown Nashua has power. Merrimack, most of Nashua, Hudson, Pelham, all out. I drove down to Starbucks in Chelmsford this afternoon to find Internet access. No power. Tyngsboro is all out too. Many, many wires are down or shorted out by fallen branches tangling up the wires. I saw zero utility crews in six towns. The Pheasant Lane Mall has power.  I think this is worse than the ice storm a few years ago. Crazy.

We completely lost 4 of 6 trees in our front yard. I've been tending these trees for up to 14 years. Now we have to start over. Makes me cry.

Here's a few pics from this morning around my house.

From front step of my house.

From road

12+" of snow over night.

Down street.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Lights Revisited

My primary night riding light is an old NiteRider HID I bought about 12 years ago. The battery has long since died. A replacement NiMH battery costs almost as much as some new LED based light systems. Plus that battery weighed a ton.

Enter 2011.  LED technology has finally crossed the 100 lumens per Watt threshold. My HID was around 50 lumens per Watt and required heavy ballasting circuitry. Nobody uses NiMH batteries anymore either. They are lithium ion these days. NiMH batteries pack about 100 Watt-hours per kilogram density, while Li-ion pack more than twice that. So with the lights available today, I can get twice the lumens for twice the run time for less weight than my old system. That is a four-fold improvement just over 10 years.

I ordered a new XML-3 and updated 400L+ from DiNotte Lights this week. I was holding them my hands the day after I placed the order. Standard shipping, no charge. Benefit of buying local. Visually, the quality looks impressive. Reviews on the forums are quite positive on any DiNotte light. I spoke with Rob @ DiNotte when placing my order and he was happy to answer all my geeky technical questions.

The XML-3 and 400L+

I bought the XML-3 to go on the bar. It puts out 1200 lumens in high setting. My old HID did 500 lumens, and I thought that was way brighter than anybody needed. The new light weighs a fraction of my old light. The 400L+ will see dual use. Riding, it will go on my helmet. Rob threw in a headband mount so I could also use this light for XC skiing at night. I'd only need to run it on low in snow, so it would run several ski sessions on one charge. You don't want to look into these lights. You will see spots for a VERY long time afterwards.

I updated my metrics table from a prior post. A few other companies have updated their lights. Almost everybody uses Cree XPG or XML diodes. The XML's are newest with highest efficiencies. Performance metrics between lights vary widely. Many companies boast theoretical lumens, as in what some data sheet says is possible under some specific condition. Others will measure their lumens.

Lights to avoid are designs that push an extraordinary number of lumens per emitter. I believe anything over 500 lumens per XPG LED is asking for trouble, in terms of shortened diode life, overheating, and degraded efficiency.

You can see DiNotte compares favorably with the best. I highlighted in green the options I have to work with. I have one 2-cell and one 4-cell battery. You can see just by putting a bigger battery (2-cell to 4-cell on the 400L) on a light, you can improve the performance and cost metrics.

I would have liked the XML-1 instead of the 400L+. The problem is, the XML-1 wasn't designed for headband mount. It is tiny and very efficient. I could probably have cobbled something together, but Rob's headband for the 400L+ is one of the better headband light systems out there. I had to wear my bicycle helmet to use my HID light skiing. Goofy.

Exposure Lights boast some of the highest performance metrics in the industry. With batteries integrated right into light, they save on cable weight. Cost metrics are ok, but not best.

Generally, more LEDs used to generate the lumens raises the performance metric, but lowers cost metric. Lupine pushes this to the limit. They have the brightest, most efficient lights, but for almost $1000. The new DiNotte lights derive their high performance metric from the XML LEDs.

Could be a while before I get to use my lights. Need to let my leg get strong again. I'm walking pretty normally today on no pain meds, a vast improvement from yesterday.  My HR hasn't gone above 60bpm in three days. I was contemplating jumping on the trainer for a bit. But noooo. Apparently Dr Heaps recognized I would be Jones'n for fix before my first check-up next week. While I was in recovery Tuesday, he had a word with my wife. Cathy was instructed to block any attempt of mine to do something stupid. Bummer.