Sunday, February 27, 2011

ToT, Finally!

In recent year's past, trips down to the Cape were special because I could escape the snow and ride primo trail on bare earth. This winter has been exceptional though. Another six inch dump last night meant the local roads just got narrow again. I've been on my road bike once in about two months. I'd rather poke needles in my eyes than ride an indoor trainer. Regular snow dumps render the snowmobile trails anywhere from unrideable to wishing you didn't ride them. So this year I've been feeding on leftover crumbs on the Cape.

Recent rain pretty much killed off the snow on the Trail of Tears. Looking at Cape webcams Sunday morning, there appeared to be only an inch or so of new snow in Yarmouth. It was either a snow slog on the Cape or the hour I rode on Wednesday would be it for the week. It wasn't a choice really. In two weeks I'll hopefully be riding 4-5hrs per day, more than I have been each week these past two months. I need to get a few spin hours in my legs, regardless of how trashed I was from a punishing ski workout on Saturday.

When I got to the Exit 5 parking lot at ToT, it was full. Numerous MTB tracks headed into the woods, a good sign indeed. There was about 1" of new wet snow on the ground. It was snowing lightly. I brought my winter beater with studs.

I quickly learned that a greasy inch of snow was no problem to ride in at all. It was studs over rocks. I had no idea there were so many rocks at ToT. Never noticed them before. I suspect most of the terrain there is glacial eskers, the rock piles glaciers left behind in the last ice age. Carbide studs gain absolutely no traction on granite stones. Climbing a 20% grade on polished ice? No problem. 5% grade with embedded baby heads? Forget about it.

I also found something more terrifying than riding on snow over ice. It is riding down a steep hill chocked full of wet baby heads with studs. My front tire ricocheted off rocks faster than a pinball in a cluster of bumpers. How I managed to not eat dirt a few times is beyond me.

After seeing my average speed drop below 7mph, I cut out the 10 mile Sandwich extension, figuring I'll get my three hours in on the ToT system alone. I started my loop counter-clockwise and was setting first bike tracks everywhere I went until I passed the Bike Barn gang going the opposite way. There must have been eight riders in that group. All smiles.

Towards the end of my loop, the non-stop skidding on rocks started putting my nerves on edge. Glad I cut out the extension. I also found my index shifting to be no better than a random gear selector. Seems the salty road hill repeats I've done over the last few weeks have corroded the rear derailleur cable. If I wanted to drop down to a smaller cog, I had to click at least twice, usually three times to get one cog shift. Then if I left it there, I was good for one or two ghost shifts later on, always at the worst time. So I had to make sure if I clicked twice and it moved one, to backshift once to hold it there. If I clicked three times and it gave me one shift, I had to backshift twice to hold that cog. What a pain. You develop an intuitive feel for this rather quickly, but sometimes I could just ditch gears altogether and ride a singlespeed.

I finished the ride with 20 miles in 2.9hrs, certainly my slowest ToT ride ever. I've never ridden it in snow before. I should've brought my dualie without studs to make sure it still works before boxing it up for Tucson.  Still worth heading down, as there just wasn't any local viable alternative. It took considerable focus to keep my eyes open on the drive home. Saturday's ski was partly to blame.

Four of us headed to Waterville on Saturday to ski on a freshened surface. We were concerned conditions would be soft, but found the south end nicely set up. Dave, Brett and I planned to ski the perimeter while Steve, who's been on snow only a few times this winter, opted for something a little less ambitious. Somehow Dave lost or misplaced his shades and headed back to the Nordic center from Drakes. Brett and I continued.

I was on my new WS skis and Brett was on his racing RCS skis. I absolutely could not stay with Brett on the descents, not even tucked in his draft. I was rather B.S. about my new skis, having been through eight wax cycles now and four ski sessions. My attitude toward my skis softened some a little later...

It was cold in the valley, and the new snow was quite aggressive. Heading up Beanbender was killer. Brett led, but about 80% of the way up he capitulated and let me pass. Hmm, if I buried myself, at least I could stay with Brett. Approaching Cascade, we met the groomer coming up Upper Snows. The new corduroy he left was loose. It sucked. I told Brett he better not have bastardized Cascade. He didn't. There was about an inch of powder on top of what must have been groomed overnight and set up nicely. Actually, Cascade was the nicest skiing trail there, probably because it had been more hours since it was last groomed. Brett and I were only two minutes off my record perimeter pace at the top of Cascade.  The snow was a bit sandpapery, so that meant we were going pretty hard.  Again, Brett dusted me on the descent.

Dave caught back up with us on Lower Osceola. We did a loop around Moose Run, then a jaunt up Upper Osceola. My wheels came off at that point. Every last strand of fast twitch muscle fiber was used up. Only the two strands of slow twitch I possess were still twitching. Brett had reservations about hitting Tripoli, but we hit all of the perimeter so far, so convinced him we needed to finish the deed. The groomer had made a recent run up this too, and on the steeper parts, we found the surface to shear a bit on push-off. I thought the trails were perfect before the groomer came through, just some drifting here and there. Grooming destroyed the firm surface that had formed overnight. When I later mentioned this to director Mike Seeger, he hinted that maybe if I skied with a flatter ski, it wouldn't be a problem. We had passed him on the north end during our ski, so he knew what the conditions were. His comment was a bit tongue in cheek, but a bit true too.

Coming down Tripoli, Brett blasted away from both Dave and I. Brett and Dave had virtually identical Fischer RCS skis. Dave and I waxed with Blue. Brett mixed in some Start Green. Could it be that my skis were slow today only because of wax choice? It could easily have been a Start Green kind of day. My skis were no slower than Dave's, which ironically, used to be my skis before I sold them to him. I never liked how the RCS's handled. I like how my World Cups handle, but the speed is still suspect. I'm very hesitant to use my WC's at Rangeley next weekend.

Brett and I logged 44km in 3:09hrs with 4200ft of climbing on the Garmin. I think this was my third full perimiter ski this month at WV. There's a little bit of everything in that loop. 6+ hours and 7000-8000ft of climbing, all on snow, for the weekend. I'm in that happy delirious place.


Alex said...

A lot more than ski brand and wax goes into speed - the biggest factor being how you ride a ski on a downhill. Flat is faster, relaxed is faster. Also consider ski flex - a stiffer ski will perform better in hard conditions, a softer ski in slushier conditions. Grind comes next - what is the structure in the base? If it is really cold, a ski with less structure will run faster (cold snow usually has sharp crystals). Warmer, wetter snow will be good on a base with a lot of structure, to channel moisture. Only after flex and structure does wax play a role. On a cold day, it is better to wax too cold than too warm, if you can't hit it exactly.

There is also the possibility that your skis have sealed bases - that would be due to poor waxing technique. If you're unsure of your waxing technique, I know Rob Bradlee does a clinic at the beginning of every season. But basically, never run your iron back and forth - one direction only.

Having slow skis really sucks, I hope you figure these ones out, soon.

CB2 said...

You and Mookie riding mtbs in AZ?

Hill Junkie said...

Alex - yes, flex is one of my fears. The skis are stamped 180-220 lbs. I weigh 165. They were flex tested at 65 though, which is a much softer flex than the printed factory weight range suggested. On Saturday, Dave and Brett skied virtually identical skis, weigh the same, etc. Only difference was wax. I tend to think that was part of the picture Saturday.

Charlie - yep, Combes and I for six full days. They just got foot of snow in the mountains. Hope it is gone weekend after next.