Sunday, May 29, 2011

"Thunderbolts and Lightning, Very, Very Frightening"

Those were the lyrics I could not get out of my head during our 6-gaps ride on Saturday. The song became lodged in my psyche after Alex told me there were two things that weirded him out during bike rides: snakes and lightning. But let's start at the beginning.

Ten (fool?)hardy souls decided to attempt the Vermont 6-gaps ride on Saturday when forecasts ranged from 40-60% chance of potentially severe afternoon storms. The weather pattern was identical to two days prior when tornado warnings were issued for the 6-gaps area. Those storms caused extensive damage and flooding. I had enough firm commitments to go ahead with the ride, even after close to half the riders dropped out for various reasons. Only one admitted 6-gaps required a blue-bird sky kind of day. Joining the ride were six riders from NY (groups of 3, 2 and 1), two riders from CT, one from MA for ten including myself. We were a diverse group; Ironman tri-guys, randonneurs, mountain bikers, hillclimb specialists and slow-twitch mutants.

The traditional route was chosen this time, hitting the gaps in Brandon, Mid, Lincoln, App, Rox and Rochester order. The weather was quite mild in the morning, even muggy. No long layers were needed. I speculated that even heavy rain would pose no threat of hypothermia, so I took no spare layers with me.

We rolled out shortly after 9am. We took it pretty easy up Brandon Gap, unlike in years past. I've learned my lesson on that one. There were some disparities in climbing abilities within the group. This had me a tad concerned already in the first climb. I've led enough of these rides over the years to gauge how riders are going to hold up after just the first climb.

On the scenic cruise along Lake Dunmore, we had our first unplanned stop. A saddle rail clamp failed. Lots of cursing could be heard emanating from the back of the pack. Turns out the head of a titanium screw sheared off. We were able to back out the remaining severed threads. I think it was Christian who suggested using a screw from bar clamp off stem to re-secure the saddle. It worked. Disaster averted. The bar clamp still had three screws to secure it.

Because it was hotter than usual and everybody had only two bottles, unplanned stop number two was in East Middlebury for water. This was a quarter mile off the planned route. Wouldn't you know it, my front tire flatted. First flat for me ever on a 6-gaps ride. I think there was more cussing. I told the others to get their water while I fixed my flat. I happened to have my hillclimb front wheel on with a latex tube. It was hard to tell if the latex failed or something punctured the tube. There was nothing in the tire. Good thing it was front wheel. I thought I brought long valve stem tube, but it was standard 36mm stem. I need long valve stem for rear wheel. I finished before the others were done at the store.

The climb up Middlebury had three of us split well off the front of the others. Alex Combes, James Harmon and I established a typical, rigorous 6-gaps pace. The group agreed to not regroup at the top but to regroup at the store on the other side. It took even longer for the group to get back together this time. The skies were becoming increasingly dark, and it was spitting rain every now and again. Alex has ridden 6-gaps before. It was James' first time and he was keen on completing the mission. I figured Lincoln Gap would be a good point to decide on splitting the group up, as our current progress was on course for an after dark finish.

With the group together on Rt 100, we got a bit of a paceline going. Things went well until the Granville Gulf, the misty, cool gap through the mountains. The waterfalls in there were monstrous due to all the recent rain. Our group didn't fare so well going over Granville Gulf though. The group fragmented despite a moderate pace. Alex, James and I paused briefly at the bottom of Lincoln Gap, didn't see anybody coming, then decided to head on up and wait at the top.

Heading north on Rt 100. Dark clouds build.

Alex had James all freaked out about Lincoln Gap. James even made last minute gearing changes to go lower. For someone that was winning open/pro MTB races on a singlespeed last year, I was freaked out that whatever lowest gear he was bringing would kill me.

It started to sprinkle on the 25% grade section. That combined with a wet spring and tree debris on the road made the surface slimy and very difficult to pedal out of the saddle. Multiple times my rear tire slipped so badly that I almost went over the bars. James and I stayed together, driving our heartrates very nearly to max. And that was at a whopping 4mph! Alex drifted back just a tad, complaining his his gearing didn't go low enough when he got to the top. Whatever. He ends up destroying everybody at the end of these rides anyway.

That put a serious burn in my legs. I knew I would pay for that later on Rochester Gap. Ah, oh, what was that? Thunder? None of us wanted to descend Lincoln Gap in a storm. It wasn't raining at the moment. Reports were the gravel was a bit gnarly to begin with. We figured we could be waiting half an hour for the last rider to make it up. This meant a rainy descent and put ride completion in jeopardy.  Our decision was unanimous: it was time to continue without the rest of the group. I hated to move on with so few riders. The others had maps and each other, and I let everybody know when I organize these rides that splits may happen. It turned out to be a good call for the three of us. I learned later there was another flat in the group en route to Lincoln Gap.

On the Lincoln Descent, a third flat for the ride occurred. James was absolutely bombing the lower gravel section when he flatted. He was running a Stan's tubeless setup. A rock either pinch-flatted or cut through the sidewall. The Stan's sealant just wouldn't seal it. It would appear to plug, but upon adding more air, it would blow out and spew more Stan's. It was clear a tube was needed. Turns out a tubeless road tire is really hard to remove from a Stan's rim and get back on. Heavy use of a lever was needed. I was so afraid we'd flat the tube. It probably took us 20 minutes to fix it. We were now left with one tube between three riders.

I'm not sold on the road tubeless concept yet. I was an early adopter of off-road UST tubeless technology. Max inflation level is lower with road tubeless. This might have contributed to the flat, as it makes it easy to pinch the tire. Ironically, tubeless is supposed to eliminate pinch flatting the tube. One positive aspect is you will probably never roll a tubeless tire off the rim when you flat. That always scares me because I bomb down mountains at 50+ mph so often.

We made a quick stop at the Lincoln General Store. I inhaled a massive cinnamon roll that must have had 500 calories of frosting alone on it. Some jerky for protein and sodium, Gatorade for fluids fulfilled my fueling needs.

The sky was turning black to the south and the thunder was deepening. Alex was as jittery as a mouse looking for cover when the lights are turned on. I figured we were going to get wet, but it looked like the worst would pass just to our south as we headed north to App Gap. I couldn't get "Thunderbolts and Lightning, Very Very Frightening" out of my head for the next hour.

It started raining earnestly as we began climbing "baby App," the first rise before the real climbing starts further up. The rain felt good actually. We passed a couple on a tandem on the way up.  The lightning stayed at least 1-2 miles away from us. There was some thunder directly overhead, but very high up. Just as on Lincoln Gap, our pace escalated to nearly all-out on the 18% to the summit. I thought I breathed slowly at VOmax, but I found James breathes even more slowly. He did hit his maximum heartrate cresting the top. I figured I just screwed myself over with that effort, as surely the next two gaps would bury me.

Summit of App Gap with sun starting to poke through.

The rain had stopped by the time we summited. The road was wet, so the dicy descent would be even dicier.  Our pace was now back on track for completion of 6-gaps. Our plan was to stop at Stark Mtn Bike Works in Waitsfield to pick up more tubes, refuel, check radar, then proceed with Roxbury Gap if radar didn't look too risky. What the time lapse showed was an intense cell moved through Lincoln just after we left there. Talk about a close call. The radar suggested if we got over Roxbury fast, was should miss the next storm cell heading our way.

Rt 100 south to Warren just sucked. It was bad 10 years ago when I first did this ride, and it is far worse now. There were places where no clean line anywhere across the road could be found. White line to white line busted pavement, patches and holes. I thought some state roads in NH were bad, but Vermont seems to be worse. Fortunately it is only five miles to Warren.

As we began the Roxbury climb, Alex's true slow twitch colors were beginning to shine. He wasn't slowing down. I was damaged goods after Lincoln and App. James was in similar condition. Many riders say Roxbury Gap is the second hardest of the six. I don't see it. Alex claims it is, although you surely couldn't tell from how quickly he scooted up it. The three of us crested within two minutes of each other. There was more thunder to the south of us, which surprised me. I expected to get poured on heading south to Randolph.

The heavy cell we narrowly missed earlier left the long, dirt Roxbury descent a wet mess. The gravel itself was smooth and firm for the most part, but water running off meant a constant stream of mud in the face. I managed to hit 41mph in muddy gravel on 23mm tires. James went even faster. Our bikes were trashed and in need of new brake pads upon reaching the bottom. A final, quick stop at the Roxbury General Store to top off our water had us on our way. We also got one more peak at the radar. It looked like we might get wet, but nothing severe. Turned out the rest of our ride was dry, except for the mud that leached into my chamois...

Muddy and still smilling.

It is a lot less fun pacelining with only three tired riders down Rt 12a than a pack of 10-12. We took long pulls, but a few miles per hour slower than we typically haul through this 15 mile long valley. The sun was starting to poke through again as we turned onto Camp Brook Rd for Rochester Gap.

When we got to the steep "guardrail sections," I was max'd out holding Alex's wheel. A morbid curiosity made me ask what his HR was. 160-something. Dang. He was hardly working and I was on the edge. I immediately caved and let him go. Soon he had minutes on me. Slow twitch freak. James was just a bit further back. Rochester is always a death march for me. At least I wasn't cramping. We stopped nearly twice as many times than last fall when I last did the ride, so it was easy to stay on top of fueling and hydration. I think the jerky really worked. Other times I've eaten sardines with success.

There were some high-fives when we all got to the top. It was pretty much all downhill back to the car. I was reluctant to let my speed run out, unlike James, as the road was still wet in spots. Just as we popped out in Rochester, Christian was rolling in. He gave us an account of what some of the rest of the group experienced. The other New Yorkers had left already, and Chris from MA also was gone. I believe everybody else completed four gaps.

Parking lot after the ride.

I logged 131.8 miles in 7:54 riding time, one of my slowest times in many years. Not disappointed. Still got one heck of a workout and got to show one new rider around the whole circuit. Most of the other riders experienced some or all of the gaps they rode for the first time too. I've had pretty good luck with weather on Memorial Day weekend, so we were due for a less than perfect day. Perhaps next year we'll have better luck.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Like Father, Like Son

My son is home on leave from the Navy. He now has two zippers on his body to show off. They are results of separate skateboarding mishaps, less than six months apart. Last fall Aaron broke his left scaphoid (peanut shaped bone in wrist). Scaphoids don't heal well and often need a special screw to pull the halves back together. Aaron got the screw.

I don't think he was even finished with physical therapy when he got hurt again, this time fracturing his right humerus. The doctors gave it a chance to mend without a plate, but it wasn't working. Even three weeks later, Aaron could feel the jagged ends grating when rolling over in bed. It was not a good sleep situation. So the doctor decided a plate with screws was necessary. Because three weeks had gone by, surgery was a bit messy and an overnight hospital stay was needed.

Humerus and scaphoid zippers, May 2011

So Aaron and I are pretty close to even now. He has a plate and several screws in his humerus, I have a plate with six screws in my left fibula. Aaron has a pin in his right scaphoid, I have two pins in my left tibia. Only difference is I did mine all at once one limb.

Fibula and tibia zippers, May 2010

So do you think Aaron will stop skateboarding? I suspect that is about as likely as me staying off my mountain bike. Like father, like son.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Typical Sunapee

I decided to race down an age category at Sunapee this year. The field was smaller and a couple of my regular riding partners were racing the Master 35's. Smaller field does not mean easier though. A couple former pros and several other strong men would see to that.

I raced Sunapee many times and have left empty handed most of those times. The last time I raced Sunapee a couple years ago was an anomaly when I won the 45's. What does me in are the numerous short, punchy climbs. I get sucked in to staying near the front, lest I get caught behind a split. By the end if it is still together, I've got nothing left for the finishing shot to the line.

The shenanigans started early on the first lap. A couple riders would launch, pace would go ballistic, then we'd all sit up. Repeat often. I surmised if a break didn't have a Strava or CCB guy in it, it was destined to be gunned down.

When we got to the first major climb on Rt 11, Mike Barton (Strava) set a blistering pace. My legs were awakened.  I thought surely this would bust up the field. We crest with 6-8 good guys, then sat up. It all came back together. This process repeated several times along the back side of the course on Rt 103A. It was 110% or nothing.

Along Rt 103 heading back to the rotary, I drifted back into the field. Wouldn't you know it, three guys rolled off the front and nobody did anything. I think Paul Richard (CCB) might have been one of them. A Strava rider was another. The magical mix. When I worked my way back up to the front a couple miles later, they were still only 15 seconds or so up the road. I thought about bridging up to them, but it would take serious match expenditure and I didn't think their teammates would permit it. So I comforted myself with thoughts it wouldn't stick anyway.

We begin the roller section on Rt 11 again. Pace was hard, but now my legs were warmed up, so not shockingly hard. The pack let up a little. Ciaran Mangan (CCB) and I got off the front. We continued to drill it, dangling precariously close off the front. Then the gap grew. I thought maybe we had a chance to bridge up to the other three at least a minute ahead of us. Then we hit that last pesky roller before turning right onto Rt 103A. The field overtook us with such force I thought surely we'd be catapulted right off the back. Fortunately there was no shortage of riders strung out, so I barely stayed on. That pretty much depleted my matchbook.

We got to The Wall on Rt 103A.  I found myself up front putzing along. There were still three riders up the road we'd occasionally get a glimpse of. I thought it was odd that somebody wasn't attacking this bitch. Then Barton and one other rider upped the pace. Nobody could match their W/kg. Bye-bye. From the top of this climb, all the serious grunt work is done before the finish.

Impressively, Barton and the other guy not only stayed away, but soon caught the break more than a minute ahead. We'd be sprint'n for sixth place now. Peter Vollers (KMS) and Frankie McCormack (Clif Bar) were with us. We'd surely be winding up around the rotary on this one. To make matters worse, it started to rain just before the rotary.

It never ceases to amaze me how road tires grip pavement. I would never carry speed around a turn like that in training. I only did it during the race because everybody else was and they weren't sliding out. Going up the finishing chute, the leadouts and normal imploders quickly fell by the wayside. Then... nothing else happened! It was one of the most anti-climatic finishes to a road race I've been in. We pretty much just all single-filed it up to the line. Since nobody was passing me, I didn't kill it and let a gap grow to guy in front of me. Results show 9sec gap, but it was more like 2-3 to guy in front of me. The 9sec was to first guy of four ahead of me I surmise. I came in 10th place, a typical Sunapee finish for me.

So in the last few miles, Barton bridged to the break and won the race, after his teammate slaved away in a break for half the race. Richard took third. If I'd known cash paid eight deep, maybe I would have tried a little harder in the finish. The race took a lot out of me. It hurt more than in 2009 with I was in break for 3/4 of the race. In a break, pace becomes more steady TT like. This race was VOmax or conversation pace, almost nothing in between.

I tried Sport Legs for the first time. I didn't cramp during the race, but there was lots of recovery throughout. Too soon to say if I bought a $26 bottle of snake oil.

I've become keenly aware of risk lately, ever since I learned how easily injury can occur. I rode near the center line much of the race. There were times we're bombing downhill at 40mph when dump trucks came the opposite way at 50mph, not more the 2-3ft away. Any little mishap in the pack could hurl you over the line. I'm less afraid of dying than being maimed for life. Being risk adverse takes away from some of the thrill of racing. I fear I'm slowly losing my nerve to participate in road races even though I've never crashed or even flatted in one. The Sunapee race is always well run though. Most intersections are marshaled by police. The course is one of the safer ones I do each year. I'll probably keep coming back. I do miss the other two central NH races, Turtle Pond and Bow. The hills in those races were more selective.

Next up may be a MTB race before heading to Italy. I'm tempted to stay off my bike for the next three weeks so I don't break something on my body again just before the trip.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Dirt 50

Woke up with tired legs, drizzle and 48F this morning. I was hoping it would stay dry so I could head out for a legitimate trail ride. The road didn't seem attractive either. What else could I do to pamper my post-race legs (Sunapee report forthcoming)? I didn't feel like traveling very far.  A dirt rail trail loop maybe?

Last fall I linked three branches of the Rockingham rail trail together to form a big loop. I might have said I wouldn't do it again, as a 12 mile section of it is ATV churned up sand. You have to be in a special state of mind to slog through something like that, a similar state of mind as trudging through snow on a mountain bike. I figured with all the recent rain, the sand wouldn't be too loose. So I decided to do this 50+ mile loop again, this time in reverse to get the sandy business done first. Trail head parking is close by in an adjacent town.

Legend: GREEN=dirt rail trail, RED=paved road,
MAGENTA=paved rail trail

I used my trusty Dean hardtail. There were quite a few ATVs out on the Freemont Branch between Windham and Epping. 14 miles of this 18 mile section is open to ATVs. The surface was very soft, but not too squirrely. It required focus to maintain 12-13mph without going too hard or too easy. Once past the ATV section, ATV churn turned into horse churn. Not sure what I liked least - soft but smooth sand or firm but pock-marked gravel.

In Epping, the Portsmouth Branch is taken to Manchester. I have ridden this rail trail many times, often on a cross bike. It is closed to ATVs and many of the trouble areas have been dramatically improved over the last couple years. There was good return on calorie investment on this section.

Upon hitting Manchester, several miles of paved road are used to connect with the Manchester to Lawrence Branch rail trail. A portion of this rail trail is paved through Derry. The last section coming into Windham is dirt.

I completed the 51mi loop in 3.75 hours, much faster than last fall when I rode this loop. It was a nice Zone 2 workout for a chilly, misty day. Most of the rail trail drains well, but bike still got pretty messy. About 42 miles of this 51 mile loop is unpaved. I would not recommend <2" wide tires for it.  I might do this loop again sometime, but only during another wet spells.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Training Tired

Work has been beating me down lately. Way more stress and frustration that somebody should have to put up with. Extra hours have eaten into blog time too. It's a wonder I even manage to get out and train these days, yet I managed to drive myself into ragged tatters.

In a four day period this week, I ran on three of the days. Sunday was a brief run, but by far my most intense, up Pack Monadnock.  I have yet to push the pace on a flat lunch run. I fear it will destroy something in my body. I have a lifetime total running of still less than 25 hours. That is nothing, really. Running uphill though, is very different than running on flat ground. There is no impact. It is more like running up stairs or climbing a steep grade on the bike. I seem to have no ill effects when I go all-out effort up a 12% grade, no different than on a bike, on which I have many thousands of hours of conditioning.

When I went to Pack on Sunday, I was pretty wrecked from nearly 6 hour of rigorous mountain biking the two days prior. I still needed to get a run in.  I plan to participate in a hillclimb running race or two this summer. Practice is needed. I warmed up for just a few minutes by running laps in the parking lot, dreading how badly attacking the climb was going to hurt. It was cold and raining out too. The last time I ran Pack, I didn't warm up at all and my legs weren't as trashed. It took me 13:03 minutes. This time I attacked from the bottom much harder. I'd love to know what my blood lactate levels hit. Could have hurled before I even got to the first switchback. I pretty much imploded on the 20% section at the top. But I was pleased to crest in 12:06, nearly a minute faster. I think on fresher legs, low 11's are possible on this climb, less than two minutes slower than on a bike. I walked back down and called it a day.

I followed this minor victory up with a 4.2 mile run on Monday and a long hill interval ride on Tuesday. No chance for recovery. I used to believe that intervals only provided benefit when executed on fresh legs. I haven't had fresh legs in two months. There's a risk of over-training or burn-out here. I seem to be immune from burn-out. I don't know where my over-training limit is. My volume lately has been only 10-12 hours per week, but much of that at fairly high intensity. Two years ago, I trained similarly in the winter months into spring and had a spectacular season. It sucks having heavy, sore legs all the time though. Of course, I followed Tuesday's interval session up with a brisk 5 mile run on Wednesday. No rest for the weary.

I'm finding that running has changed the way I climb on a bike. Riding long stretches out of the saddle pushing a big gear feels natural now. Historically, I was always a seated spinner. I have no idea if this produces more power. It's been a while since I trained with a power meter. I was hoping to buy the new Garmin sensor in Speedplay pedals, but who knows when (if) that will become available. I plan to do a few bike hillclimbs this summer and am curious to see if maybe I can still achieve another PR on Ascutney.

I finally took a rest day on Thursday. I hope to race Sunapee on Saturday if the weather behaves. Decided to race the 35's with teammate Dave. Looks like a bunch of guys are not racing their typical categories at Sunapee.  With any luck, my legs won't feel like anchors. My new team kit arrived today. Fits great, although the Voler chamois is much bulkier than I prefer.

Looks like 6-gaps on Saturday the 28th is a go. There are about 12 riders interested so far. We'll start in Rochester at 9am and hit the gaps in the traditional order. Let me know if you are interested.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Brasstown Bald Buster - The Real Six Gaps

On our recent trip to the south land, I finally had the opportunity to sample the other 6-gap ride that has become hugely popular. It is known as the Six Gap Century and starts in Dahlonega, GA. It is a timed event and draws upwards of 3000 participants between the three distance options.

Brett, Dave and I didn't follow the 6-gap route proper. We started on the northern end of the loop, skipped the out-and-back section into Dahlonega, but added the brutal climb to the summit of Brasstown Bald. The total climbing would be about the same, but mileage would be less. The Georgia 6-gap is fully paved. The terrain is steeply sculpted by millions of years of erosion. Thus most of the gap roads switchback with a vengeance.

We parked near Brasstown Bald. My sadistic plan was to do the biggest, steepest climb last. The planned route was 86 miles with over 10,000ft of climbing. It was all mountain roads on the way there from Brevard, NC. Brett and Dave both had issues with my driving, as in nausea. We didn't get to Brasstown until late morning.  The forecast was perfect, highs in the 70's and no chance of rain.

Unicoi Gap was our first. Dropping down from Brasstown, as in the 6-gap Century course, there's not much of a climb to the summit. It was Brett's first day riding, having been on business during the week in Atlanta. Dave and I had ridden 4.5hrs the day before in Pisgah on mountain bikes. My legs felt like poo. All I could think about was how bad Brasstown Bald was going to suck at the end of the ride. I let Brett hammer the freshness out of his legs on this one.

Over the back side of Unicoi Gap is a huge descent. It is non-stop switchbacks, some steeply banked for some insane speed around such tight corners. There were quite a few cars here, so had to always be careful. We bombed down through an area where a tornado must have gone through. No trees were standing and all the power poles were new. There were no buildings in this area.

Next up was Hogpen Gap. I didn't memorize the profile of this ride. My GPS track was just that, a popcorn trail to follow. There was minimal traffic on Hogpen. The climb lingered on forever with false summits. Every time I thought that was it, the grade kicked up to 10+% again. When we gained the real summit, it was obvious. There was a nice view. The climb gained at least 2000ft net. The back side of this one was more open. I reached speeds of over 50mph. Pretty freaky on a road you've never been on.

Dave beginning descent on Hogpen Gap

Next up was Neel's Gap. We were taking the southern portion of the course in reverse to the organize ride direction. I guess I didn't know this at the time. Doesn't really matter, as the climbs and descents are fairly symmetrical. After gaining the Neel's summit, another long descent brought us to the only planned stopped on the ride, Turner's Corner General Store.

I bought quantities of food and drink in direct proportion to how much trouble I perceived I was in. I was half cracked already, and we hadn't even done half the climbing. I wolfed down a bag of chips, hoping the sodium would stave off cramping that was sure to come. Dave's stomach was ornery, so he was sucking down ginger ale. We soldiered on.

Just after cresting a roller, I heard a strange noise from Dave or his bike. When Brett and I finally came to a stop, we turned around to see Dave hanging over his handle bars. Was he puking? We hollered out, but he was too far away for has to hear. He was still hanging over his bar. Not good, as our car was 40 miles away at this point. So Brett and I turn around and rode back up to him. Turns out Dave busted a front wheel spoke in one of those fancy Mavic wheels that use relatively few aluminum spokes. His wheel was f'd. A special tool is needed to adjust those spokes. The wheel went so badly out of true that it would rub hard against the fork. Dave's ride was over. We were lucky there was even a country store out here. There would certainly not be a bike shop.  We had nobody to call. The plan was Dave would walk back to the store and wait several hours for us to ride back to the car and then retrieve him. If he found a ride, he'd meet us back at the car.

Now it was just Brett and I pressing on. From the direction we were riding, Woody Gap would be a 1700ft monotonic climb. Didn't know this at the time. It was quite warm now, and this was south facing. I sweat profusely. Brett set a hard tempo pace up this one. It felt a lot like Bear Notch from Rt 302 in NH, except a lot longer. Over the top, there was minimal descent before going into several miles of rollers.

Opening from Woody Gap

A small climb took us to Wolfpen Gap. From here there would be only one more climb. At least that's what I was telling myself. The century route normally comes up Wolfpen. The descent was quite exhilarating. Big sweeping switchbacks and very little traffic. Once we bottomed out and had to start pedaling again, the cramp demons paid a visit. We still had 15 miles to go, most of it uphill. I had no idea how I was going to make it to the car. It was looking like Brett was going to have to rescue two people. I stopped to eat about everything I had on me and drank most of my water. I felt dehydrated.

Brett set a faster pace heading up Jack's Gap than what I wanted to hold. I was still intent on summitting Brasstown and had to play things out very carefully. Surprisingly, if I held a steady tempo pace, spasms would stay at bay. It was only when I let up I had trouble.

The century route does not go up Brasstown Bald. It simply goes over Jack's Gap and does not take the left to the summit. It was tempting to just go down to the car on the other side. But I really wanted that summit. I wasn't sure how far it was. After couple minutes, a sign said four miles. I almost caved right there. It was so steep and my legs were becoming increasingly spastic. Then we hit the 20% grade section. It just kept going. Brett started bitching, looped back down to me and threatened to give up. I offered the keys. He turned around and continued up. It got so steep, that in my tired state of 10hrs riding in two days, my bike was pretty much stopping between each pedal stroke. Brett said f' it and went down without saying another word. I dared not put a foot down, as I'd never get started again. The 20% lasted another few minutes and then relaxed just a little.

The summit parking area came into view. I believe I was at 4400ft. The summit is at 4800ft. As I crossed the parking area, an unkind sign said no bikes allowed. WTF! I went into the gift shop there and asked when bikes were banned from riding to the summit. The woman said bikes were never allowed to the summit, that you have to take park service shuttles the last 400ft of vertical to the summit. Why didn't somebody tell me this? There was no view from the parking area. So nobody got to summit Brasstown Bald. I have learned though that maybe after hours it is "ok" to ride to the summit. Brasstown was quite possibly the steepest thing I've descended. I've never ridden down Kingsley Hill Rd in MA or the steep side of Lincoln Gap in VT. My rims were scorching hot when I got back down to Jack's Gap. I finished the ride with 85 miles, 10,100 feet of climbing and 5:30 hours moving time.

Dave was not at the car when I got there. Brett and I packed and headed south to retrieve Dave. As we pulled into the store, he was standing out by the road. That was odd, like was he just standing there for three hours? Turns out his bike was fixed.

When he limped back to the store, he met Wendy, a randonneur. She knew a bike shop in Dahlonega that might be able to help Dave out. Seth, the country store owner had the bike shop on speed dial. Turns out most of Seth's business comes from cyclists and he takes care of his customers. Jon, the owner of Dahlonega Wheelworks could help Dave out on this Saturday afternoon. Wendy gave Dave a ride into town, probably 15-20 miles away. Jon hooked Dave up with a bargain deal new wheel and would repair his expensive Mavic wheel and ship it back to him. Dave was able to ride back to Turner's Corner General Store before Brett and I met him. He hadn't been waiting long at all, in fact. Southern hospitality saved the day. Saved the next day too, as we had a Mt Mitchell ride planned early Sunday morning, and without a wheel, Dave would have been SOL until at least noon when shops opened.

Georgia and Vermont Gaps Compared. The organized Georgia ride
climbs only to about 3000ft at Brasstown, but adds in rolling
climbs to and from Dahlonega that we did not do in our ride above.

So how do the Georgia and Vermont 6-gap rides compare? Pretty close actually. I think Vermont might have about 1000ft more climbing. Hogpen Gap is much bigger than any Vermont gap. Geogia does not have Lincoln Gap. Nobody has Lincoln Gap. Summerson's book claims Lincoln Gap is the steepest paved mile in the USA. Two of the Vermont gaps have lengthy gravel sections too. The Georgia route is fully paved. Brett likse the Georgia route better. There is less "dead" time between gaps. In Vermont, you have 15 & 20 mile flat sections, driving up the distance, but not the vertical. In Georgia, you are either going up or down. The descents tend to be more entertaining (aka risky, adrenaline inducing) too. In my research of the organized ride, serious injuries are not unhearned of. The Vermont ride definitely has less traffic. I value that more than stimulating climbs and descents. I'd like to do the Georgia ride again some time, maybe hitting Brasstown after they locked the upper gate for the evening...

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Caesar's Head Loop

We squeaked in a fifth rain-free day on Tuesday. The three of us did an early morning ride right from the cabin before packing the bikes and heading for the airport. The route was a variant of the Assault on the Carolina's ride. We dropped nearly 2000ft into SC, looped around on quiet rolling roads, then began the 2200ft climb back into NC.

It was very windy and mild at 7:30am. Short sleeves were just fine for me. The humidity was extremely high, and even moderately high peaks were socked in from the low cloud deck. There is supposed to be a nice view from the Caesar's Head rock outcropping, but not this morning.

We were all feeling pretty listless. There's not much of a climb over the ridge into SC. The Brevard area sits pretty high. I feared the return though. My right knee was getting a bit finicky with all this climbing and no recovery. Had to get back up on the Brevard shelf to get back though.

Part way up the climb, I found my legs and slowly inched the pace up. Brett and Dave would have no part in it and let me go. I can never let a good climb go to waste. Foolish perhaps, as I need to run when I get back and recover so I can do intervals again.

Brett and Dave cresting into the clouds.

As expected, the visibility was <100ft up top. Didn't bother to walk over to the ledge. It would just be peering down into the abyss. We regrouped and had a gentle cruise back to our cabin. We finished with about 53mi, 4600ft in 2:53hrs on the Garmin (excluding the long, nasty 20% gravel driveway hike-a-bike). We had to drive back over Caesar's Head to the airport. It was clear now, barely.

Caesar's Head later on drive to Greenville.

Monday, May 2, 2011

We ride up hills, we ride back down

Many have probably seen this "I lift things up, I put them down" Planet Fitness video. I suspect most non-cyclists, and even a few cyclists, view hillclimb enthusiasts in a similar light as this body builder. Seems like I've had a one track mind for a long time now. Sunday's ride was a monster climb. We went up, then came back down. We did come down a different way, so not a pure out and back. Monday's ride was a pure out and back. We rode from Rosman, NC to the high point of the Blue Ridge Parkway and back the same way. Hitting this stretch of the BRP has been on my list for a while now. We thought about riding all the way out to Balsam Gap, but this would have doubled the climbing and mileage. We just didn't have that in our legs today.

The air has gotten considerably more humid. There were even a few sprinkles around in the morning. But mid day was partly sunny and mild 70's. Our route would take us up Rt 215 to the BRP, then another 7mi or so on the Parkway to the highest point just above 6000ft elevation. Turns out both 215 and this section of the Parkway have been recently reconstructed. The pavement was flawless. The descent was going to be sweet. The ride runs about 54mi total with 5000-6000ft of climbing, starting at around 2200ft elevation.

I felt pretty awful heading out on Rt 215. I figured Dave and Brett would slaughter me on this one. Good thing there is very little climbing in the first 10 miles. Most of the climbing happens in a short distance approaching the Parkway.

Bottom of Rt 215.

Once we got to the steep part, I realized my legs had a little spunk. I turned it up a notch, first dispatching Brett, then Dave. I felt decent, so I went with it. Don't know where the kick came from. Perhaps it was the mostly protein meal(s) I had the evening before. I protein loaded.

40 minutes and 2400ft later, I popped out on the Parkway. I figured based on my total weight, I averaged about 285W, well into the threshold training regime. Not bad for the fourth day of hard riding.

Brett and Dave approaching the BRP on Rt 215.

After regrouping, we worked over to the high point. This section between 5400-6000ft elevation was like riding on top of the world. It stays near the crest of the Pisgah Ridge. Incredible views alternated between both sides of the road. There were some multi-hundred foot rollers along here, mostly up. I was still hitting these pretty hard.

Perfect pavement, no cars, and glossy calendar scenery.

Eventually the high point came. This was easily my favorite climb of the trip so far. A car passed us maybe every 5-15 minutes on both Rt 215 and the BRP. We went from trees fully leafed out in the valley to just budding at 6000ft. The temp was a tad chilly up top, but we could have hung out there all day.

I resisted the urge to put a wind shell on for the descent. I go faster, and I hate all the noise. I run hotter than the slow twitch guys anyway. The perfect pavement allowed pretty much brakeless descending on the Parkway, carrying 40mph around the swooping turns. The same was not true for Rt 215. Its turns were much sharper and steeper.

Riding at the top of the world, east coast style.

We finished with 53.4mi, 5560ft and 3.2hrs on the Garmin. A short ride, but a liberal dose of intensity thrown it. Not sure how that will sit with me for the Caesar's Head loop planned for Tuesday.

Interestingly, DeLorme Topo gives 10,400ft of climbing for today's ride. That almost a 2:1 discrepancy. How can this be? Comparing the Topo and Garmin plots below, you'll notice Topo has lots of fuzzy noise on a monotonic climb. I've commented on this before. Roads are approximated by many straight line segments which cut across contour lines. This creates many small ups and downs along a pure up, thus driving the climbing way up. The Garmin measures air pressure, thus a smoothly increasing elevation. I get a kick of of folks that use DeLorme or other mapping software numbers to tout how much climbing a ride has. I occasionally fall into this trap too.  GPS satellite elevation data can be almost as bad. Barometric altimeters can actually under-measure in some cases, but may be best bet for now. The truth may never be known.
DeLorme Topo 7.0 gives 10,400ft.

Garmin Edge 705 gives about 5560ft of climbing.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Mt Mitchell Assault

A short ride today, enabling a chance to get a post up at the local Ingles grocery store. We have no Internet access at our cabin outside Brevard, NC. Won't make that mistake again. The Starbucks Cafe in the store has WiFi.

We've had three perfect riding days so far. Yesterday's 6-gap ride in Georgia was not without issues though. Have to share that story another time. Sunday we hit Mt Mitchell, the highest peak east of the Mississippi. Brett and I climbed Mitchell a couple years ago. This would be Dave's first.

We parked near Marion, a low point along the loop I had planned. It was more than a vertical mile net gain to the summit. In 2009, it rained, forcing Brett and I to take an all-paved route to the top. Today I had a special treat in mind. We'd take Curtiss Creek Rd up to the Blue Ridge Parkway (BRP), parkway to summit road, then BRP back down past Curtiss Creek to Rt 80. Curtiss Creek Rd is a one-lane gravel road, gaining nearly 3000ft to the BRP. There was 8mi of 8%, with 3mi of 11% embedded in the middle. Only Dave had a triple crank.

Starting off on US-70, Brett and Dave were killing it, at least from my perspective. I immediately recognized I was in trouble. I had climbed 50% more than either of them did over the last two days. Brett did nothing on Friday, and Dave's ride was cut short with at least 5000ft of climbing to go on Saturday. I let them go knock each other out.

We had checked out the gravel with the car before committing to the route. It was nicely packed at the bottom. Riding however, it didn't take long before I realized this was going to be a very, long climb. The steep parts were wicked loose. I had biggish gears for 12% grade in loose gravel, trashed legs, and it was impossible to stand and pedal. My Garmin showed long sections of 12-14% grade, momentarily breaking 18% a few times. The gravel was of the sharp, crushed granite kind. I thought surely of the three of us, at least one would surely flat.

One of many switchbacks on Curtiss Creek Rd.

It wasn't too warm out, but it was hazy and much more humid than the prior two days. I was soaking wet upon reaching the BRP where Brett and Dave waited. For the last hour, there were zero cars, and the only thing I heard was my heavy breathing and stones ricocheting off trees after being pinched by my tires.  3000ft down, another 3000ft of climbing before reaching the summit. I asked everybody to inspect their tires for cuts. You don't want to have a blowout later while leaning at 45 degrees around a curve at 40mph.  We were all good, or so we thought.

About 15 minutes later, Dave's rear tire pretty much exploded. He had a sidewall cut and the latex tube burst through it. Dave was now two-for-two on wheel and tire mishaps during a ride. No problem through. A dollar bill (to boot the cut) and a new tube later, we were rolling again. We were extra paranoid now and double checked our tires. This blow-out could have been disasterous if it happened on the descent.

At least Dave picked a pretty place to flat.

My holding back earlier in the ride paid off. On the four mile summit road, Brett imploded. I got a second wind and held a solid tempo pace to the top. The temp at the summit was in the 50's. A cloud deck was building and sinking. We didn't want to stick around too long. Many cyclist were on Mt Mitchell today. Some were practicing for the Assault on Mt Mitchell time century ride.

The summit road from Mt Mitchell summit.

Coming back down Mt Mitchell is one of the finest descents anywhere. First you plummet 1600ft or so on the summit road. Then another 2000ft on the BRP. After a 500ft climb, the bombing resumes on the BRP to Rt 80. Rt 80 is an insane switchback fest. Brett led. For once, I was actually was a little scared descending behind Brett. He's usually super cautious.

The summit getting socked in just after we left.

All good things come to an end. Soon we were back to US-70.  We finished with 58.3mi, 3.8hrs and 7080ft on the Garmin. That makes over 22,000ft of climbing for me in three days, some of it at pretty high intensity. Needless to say, I'm pretty cooked. Brett is saying easy endurance pace for Monday. I'll believe it when I experience it. Those slow twitch guys have an uncanny way of recovering from big volume. Monday will likely be a BRP loop or an out-and-back to BRP high point at 6100ft starting from Brevard. Hoping the weather holds for a couple more days.