Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Tuesday Double Header

Needed a bit of a break Tuesday, so I headed over to Phil's World near Cortez, CO.  This riding destination has been growing in size steadily over the years. I figured it was time to check it out. There is not a lot of elevation change here, maybe a few hundred feet min to max. It also stays below 7000ft, so there was air to breath.

It was a shame to waste a pristine day on a low country ride. There was nary a cloud in sight. My stupid alarm didn't go off (again), and my legs were a tad wrecked from Monday's ride. A late start with wrecked legs on a high country ride would be risky deal with monsoons still in gear. The women planned to hike the Animas City Mountain trail in the morning, then we'd all tube the Animas River in the afternoon.

I would never have found the Phil's World trail head if I hadn't seen the sun reflecting off windshields out in the desert. Quite a few riders were out. I had a partial GPS track to follow and a new printed map from Big Loop Maps that showed recent additions. The cool thing about Phil's World is it can be ridden as one, big continuous loop without repeating anything.

GPS track of Phil's World

I quickly realized I was in for a treat. The trail alternated between techy mesa rim riding and super buff roller coaster. It seemed around every corner there was an opportunity to get air. Huge air, sometimes. I wore a perma-grin riding here. Take what you like best from Tucson's Fantasy Island, Fruita's Bookcliffs and Gunnison's Hartman Rocks, roll them into one giant doobie, that is Phil's World. I think I had the most fun riding here than any place else. I rode the entire trail system, a continuous loop of nearly 30 miles in 3.2 hours.

Near highpoint, Cortez in distance.

Rim riding.


There were several bits of exposure here. A fall over this
edge could be fatal.

There were many miles of roller coaster material like this at
Phil's World. A photo does not convey how steep the drops
and rises are, or the downhill bias to this trail that imparts
considerable speed while shredding here.

I finished riding by 1pm and headed back to Durango to meet the women. The Animas River was up a bit due to recent rain. This was good and bad. It was good, as the flow was just sufficient for tubing without dragging butt too much on rocks. It was bad in that it clouded the water up. The air temperature was in the upper 80's, a hot day.  We picked up rental tubes from Southwest Whitewater Rafting and put in at 32nd street. We thought about going down just to the high school around 25th street and walking back to the car.

Mom and Cathy on the Animas River.

The tubing was pretty good actually. Others were out. The water temp was a bit of a shock at first, but the tubes keep you mostly above the water. I brought my older camera along in double Ziploc bags. It was quite entertaining watching Cathy navigate rapids through some of the boulder fields.  The cold water served as a nice ice bath for battered legs. I had trouble kicking though. My hamstrings wanted to cramp up.

Cathy on the Animas.

We floated all the way down to 15th street, supposedly 3 miles of river. Southwest Whitewater is right there, so we returned the tubes.  Durango runs a free trolley service. We hopped on the trolley to catch a ride back to the car.

Mom doing a fine job dodging boulders.

On a previous trip to Durango, I discovered a serious meat lovers joint called Serious Texas BBQ. My mom is big on meat, so I took her and Cathy there for dinner. Think Gauchos in Manchester quality, but order your meal where you walk in and then sit at open air tables to eat it. We'll have to see how I fare on Wednesday's ride after protein loadin. Time to get high in Durango. Hope to ride a long section of the Colorado Trail at around 11,000ft that I haven't ridden yet.

Monarch Crest to Little Rainbow

Not much bloggy time tonight. Pictures will have to tell the story. In short, today's ride was the longest I went without picking up water along the ride. I carried 100oz Camelbak and 28oz bottle with me, and that was enough for over 6.5hrs total time out on the trail. Cooler temps helped. There was constant threat of rain with intermitent sprinkles all day. No thunder, fortunately. I cleared the entire crest trail without encountering another trail user. Just some campers at Marshall Pass.  Supreme solitude! Rode nearly 48mi, almost all singletrack with almost 5000ft climbing and >9000ft descending in 6hrs moving time. Not a typical Hill Junkie ride.  Not sure what's on deck for Tuesday. Body is pretty cooked.

    On the Divide at 12,000ft with sprinkles. Carried full winter gear
    in my backpack. Temp was about 50F. Pack probably weighed
    over 15 lbs.
    Looking back north along the divide
    The new Little Rainbow Trail just above Salida.
    Non-stop flow with bermed turns and gravity cavities. This
    with Race Track trail that drops back to town was an awesome
    way to finish a 6hr ride.
    Rainbow Trail west of 285. All benchcut, all buff. It sure was nice
    to ride this with fresher legs after not having to ride all the way
    up US-50. Clean almost all of it.
    More Rainbow west of 285.
    Rainbow east of 285. Super chunk major hike-a-bike.
    Many hundreds of feet of unrideable vertical at 20-30% grade
    like this. At first I couldn't figure out why I didn't see
    any bicycle tracks. Only moto tracks. Now I know why. Don't
    need to do this trail again.
    Top of Rainbow Trail east of 285. A miniscule bit was actually
    nice to ride.
    Silver Creek trail, which is initial descent from the divide. Not
    all of it is this nice. Several talus fields are traversed.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Assaulted by Pikes Peak

I might have missed out on the pummelling Irene doled out, but not on the beating Pikes Peak gave me today. This was the second annul Assault on the Peak timed "fun ride." I did it last year too. I borrowed Tom Ramsey's super light cross bike last year. This year was a bit more logistically complicated travelling with family, so I used my full suspension MTB. I at least put some roadie tires on it, and the suspension locks out. It still weighed 7 lbs more than Tom's bike did. I also used a Camelback since my dualie has only one bottle cage mount. Fearing cramping like last year, I carried a good deal of my own mix with a strong electrolyte solution (Gu brand, which has about 8x more sodium than Endurolytes). This tallied up to carrying 12-15 lbs more weight up the mountain this year. Oh, the area is experiencing near record high temps for this time of year too. This was supposed to be a fun ride, right?

Pikes Peak at sunrise from our hotel.

The abomination I rode.

Cathy and Mom dropped me off in Manitou Springs at 7am. It was already over 70F. They headed off to the Garden of the Gods. I found Tom Ramsey, who was surprised to see me (new email, so he didn't get my message).  There were only 300 or so bicycle riders lining up. I expected many more. First wave went to E-bikes. Think motorcycles with quiet motors. Why they continue to have an electric bike division is beyond me. They should not be associated with a human powered event. I lined up about 200 back to avoid going out too hard on my MTB with roadies.

Staging with our destination ahead.

We had a strong headwind heading up our closed lane of US-24. I comfortably sat in behind others even though we were probably going less than 10mph. I forgot to put a wheel magnet on and had no feedback.  Funny how when you are on a MTB, roadies won't even look at you. And when you catch a guy on $6000 road bike, the pace automatically goes up. Kind of like getting girled I suppose.

All manner of human powered contraptions partake. The parapalegic
was back with his handcycle too.

I stopped for first water refill at the reservoir. No sport drink. Just water there. There was a foot race going on too, with different start and finish lines. They had sport drink at their stops.  WTF.  I believe the same organizer was running these races.

Only 1mi of dirt left on this 24.5mi climb.

I plugged along. About 2.2hrs into it, I started feeling twinges in my calves. This was not good. It was warm out, and despite climbing thousands of feet, the temperature was not dropping. It was supposedly 45 at the summit. I passed the runners finish line, asked where the water stop was, and was told just past the gate. It was not there! I was out. In fact, I would climb nearly to the summit before reaching another stop, and it was just water. There was nothing with electrolytes in it on the course. Many riders take over 4hrs to climb this beast, and it was hot out. How I was not into full-blown cramping at this point was beyond me. Perhaps it was the strong Gu electrolytes I added to my Camelbak to start things off.

Day started nice. Monoons are still in full swing though. We
drove through intense thunder and lightning to Salida later.

I thought I was near summit, round corner, then see this.
The dark clouds rapidly developed into thunder.

Shortly after leaving he last water stop, I round this corner, thinking the summit was near. Horrors! It still looked like I had a Mt Washington to climb. I had no idea what my pace dropped too. I was finishing without cramping. That was my goal.

The "W" section. At least it wasn't as windy up here as last year.

I crossed the timing map with about 3:33 hrs elapsed time (my computer at least gave me time of day). That was about 24 minutes slower than last year. How much of that can be attributed to doing it on a heavy MTB? The good thing is I never seized up. I did have easier gearing with the MTB than with Tom's CX bike last year. Maybe that helped. Who knows.

I managed to beat Cathy and mom up there. They took an 10:40 cog rail train to the summit. We could only talk briefly and get the obligatory summit sign photo. Black clouds were quickly building and sprinkles were felt.

I put on near winter clothes for the descent and high tailed it off the summit. Disk brakes sure are sweet on a summit like that. You can come so much faster into the switchbacks and have complete confidence in stopping power. I no more than started down than a big thunderboom echoed from not far away. I managed to stay dry. At about 10,000ft, the temperature was toasty, maybe 80's. It was 90F back in Manitou Springs.

Catching up with Tom at the bottom, I learned he was 10th overall! He's 59 and finished 40 minutes ahead of me. I'm waiting for Tom to come back to NH next year to crush the Mt Washington 60yr old age group record. Living at altitude has given him a barely legal hematocrit. I'm jealous. I had a pretty nasty altitude headache going on, even after I got back to the bottom.  To make my headache worse, I was not listed in the results when they were posted. How can this even happen with chip timing? I went over the timing mat, even heard my number verbally called out.  They did give me much assurance it would be worked out.  When I caught up with Cathy and mom, I learned Cathy did poorly at 14,100ft. My mom said her lips got a little blue and she wasn't making complete sense at times. Scary.

I won't bring a mountain bike to Pikes Peak again. It is hard enough. I certainly will share thoughts on hydration strategy on the climb for cyclists when the survey hits my inbox. For $200 registration fee, I expect better. Regardless of equipment and hydration challenges, Pikes peak is still a must do climb. Nothing else in the continental 48 really compares. I love that riding to the top of the world feeling you get as you round switchback after switchback above tree line.

Myself, Mom and Cathy at the summit.

Next up: Monarch Crest Trail. Hope I have it in me to add a lengthy extension. Hydration is the primary concern. I'll take Iodine with me. Never used it, but it reported makes nasty tasting, but safe to drink water.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Colorado, Baby!

Hopefully while this is going on back home:

I'll be enjoying this on Sunday:

I have several new routes planned for next week. First up is an extended Monarch Crest ride. I've always ridden this as a loop, grinding up US-50 to pick up the divide, and then finishing in Poncha Springs. Since I will have shuttle service this trip (my lovely wife), I will cash in some of my vertical credits and get a lift to 12,000ft to begin my ride. That will leave me with lots of extra energy to stay on the Rainbow Trail across US-285, climbing 2000ft, before dropping down to the newly constructed Little Rainbow Trail. Despite a 4000+ foot net drop, there will still be considerable climbing along the route.

Another new ride I will attempt is a Black Bear/Ophir Pass loop. This ride will start on US-550, climb up to Black Bear Pass above 12,000ft, then drop down into Telluride on the famous jeep road switchbacks. The route continues by climbing up to Deep Creek Trail, bombs down to Galloping Goose Trail, over to Ophir Pass Rd, another jeep trail that climbs crazy high. This will probably be the capstone ride of my trip. I fear that I'll be too wrecked by the time I get to this ride that I'll be unable to finish it.

Both of these rides will be unsupported. Other than Telluride early in the second ride, there are no food stops along the way. I will take iodine with me in case I have to treat stream water.  These rides could easily take over six hours.

There's plenty of new stuff to explore around Durango. I'd like to hit Phil's World, now up to 28 miles of super flowy singletrack without too much elevation change. Maybe spend an afternoon tubing with Cathy and mom down the Animas River through town if the flow is ok.

Should be able to get out of here ok on Saturday before Irene arrives, if our plane doesn't have to come in from some place further down the eastern seaboard.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Did Blogger Change Defaults?

In last day or two, all of a sudden my Google account will not let me comment on several people's blogs where I've commented in the past. Anybody else notice this?

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Hampshire 100

Man,oh man, why do I keep subjecting myself to these multi-hour sufferfests? You'd think in the 11 years since I first did the Vermont 50, I'd have figured out how to not cramp or given up on this format of racing. I dearly loves me a long ride though. Must be what keeps me coming back. At least I have an honest to goodness bike race report to share, something that's become a bit scarce here in recent months.

A few years ago I signed up for the Hampshire 100. I was going to do it the day after Mt Washington. Mt Washington was cancelled, and I still bailed on the Hampshire 100. Felt a bit ill and didn't want to exacerbate it. The Hampshire 100 seems to conflict with one thing or another on the event schedule. I seem to recall D2R2 was on the same weekend once too. Well finally, I followed through.

The venue is less than an hour from my house. I drove over the morning-of for an insanely early start time at 6:45am. Moderate temps were forecasted, but the dewpoint was very high. I was going to start with a 70oz Camelbak, drop that at mile 25 and pick up my two water bottles, then exchange those again for two more of my water bottles at mile 47. The bottles were large and extra large size. I figured that would be more than enough water. I use Gatorade (maltodextrin based products do not work for me) with Endurolytes added. I sweat profusely once warmed up and lose a lot of salt in my sweat.

The elite wave went off first with Tinker Juarez, Justin Spinelli and other truly fast guys. All the experts went next. The pace was pretty fast to start on combination of paved and gravel roads, and rail trail. I totally sat in. A lot of slinky was going on at the back. When we turned onto the rail trail, a gap opened behind me and just like that half the expert field was shelled. I had no aspirations of killing myself in this race with a trip to Colorado just days away. I knew full well what was going to happen anyway. My plan was to sit in for the first 10 miles, enjoy the tow, then let everybody go on the first climb.

I did exactly that. Maybe 15 expert riders went on ahead as I drifted back. It was a gnarly ATV trail affair. Seems almost everybody I could see was dabbing or even dismounting. My brand new Schwalbe Racing Ralphs were hooking up extremely well. No dabs for me. I was running very low pressure for such a fast race though, no more than 28psi front, 30psi rear.  I was maybe 20 seconds off the back of the last rider to the top of this initial rise. 20 seconds in 2 minutes is a lot of lactic acid I didn't have to produce. Just maybe if I ride a recreational pace, I wouldn't cataclysmically cramp up this time.

The climbing resumed, and soon I was in no man's land. I would spend 99% of the remaining five hours of this race riding by myself. I was ok with that. Gave me good sight lines. I was scared to death of clipping a rock on the rail trail riding in a single file pace line at 25mph. But it also meant that another long section of rail trail coming up would have to be all me, no sucking wheels.

The five mile rail trail individual time trial ended with a turn on Hedgehog Mtn Rd. This one made my neck hurt looking up at it. For those who've done D2R2, this was Archambo Rd. My Garmin max'd out at 31% grade, but I doubt it got quite that steep. I cleaned it. Based on the tracks, many of those ahead of me did not clean it. I had to dig way deeper on that than I wanted today.

The dreaded powerline climb came just after this. A rider with a 200-series number plate blasted by me. I assumed sport, but he clearly was faster than a sport rider. He looked faster than any rider in my field. I watched him attack the powerline climb with ease, passing many experts pushing their bikes at 2mph. Spectators said he was the only one to clean the climb, but I learned later that wasn't true. I nearly caught fragments of my expert wave at the top of this climb. I got creamed on the descent though. I wasn't taking any risks on the gnarly bits.

My Camelbak was empty when I got to food stop #3, the first one we could have our own bottles transported to. I left the Camelbak behind and grabbed my two bottles and was on my way in well under a minute. I figured two bottles would easily get me to the next stop at mile 47.  My average speed was impressive at this point, and I actually thought I'd be close to five hours for the race. I had no idea...

More climbing ensued. It was getting muggier. I was draining my water at a furious rate. In the middle of nowhere was a self-service water stop. I passed a rider from my field there. I was thinking to myself, wow, usually at this point in these long races I start cramping up and I'm getting passed. A little while later I caught and passed a 545 Velo rider. Just under 3hrs in, I was feeling GREAT!

It wasn't even two minutes later that a spasm out of nowhere struck. Uh, oh. Inner thigh. The worst kind. Right on schedule at three hours in. Ok, so now what? My water was nearly gone already and I wasn't even half-way to my next bottle pickup. I had to throttle it way, way back.

Despite operating now in "hope I can finish mode," I still managed to catch more riders. I passed a Corner Cycle rider who appeared to be in a worse predicament than I. More time passed and I caught a Hammer Nutrition rider. How can this be? Did these guys totally blow themselves up staying with the leaders too long? The Hammer guy asked me for water. Ah, same problem as myself. I had been on empty for a while too.

Miraculously, another self-serve water station appeared out of nowhere. I knew my bottles were just a few miles further down the course, but I needed water now. I wasted no more than 20 seconds filling one bottle. The Hammer guy pulled up just as I pushed off. Got to stay ahead of my victims, right? Never mind the cost I would pay shortly.

The next food stop was #4, not the one with my bottles. The course was becoming decidedly more technical and steep. I decided to not stop so soon again, as I had one swallow left in my bottle. Another bad decision. My legs were becoming increasingly spastic. I wasn't being forced off the bike yet, but close.

I made stop #5 with my bottles, which had Endurolytes in them. I figured if I chugged on that, it would straighten me out. The deal is, I emptied both bottles in about 30 minutes. Where was all this water going? I wasn't the least bit bloated, and I did not have to pee.

With about 12 miles to go, I thought my race was over. Everything in my legs started seizing up. I had reverted to pushing my bike up the climbs. It got so bad that on one grassy rise, I looked at my GPS to see I was pushing my bike up a 2% grade. TWO PERCENT! I wanted to throw my bike into the woods and never look at it again. The cramping was becoming so frequent I had trouble mounting and dismounting my bike. I couldn't walk with bending my knees. Was I having fun yet?

I get to another food stop at about five miles to go. I filled another bottle. I told the volunteers my predicament. They said "five miles of beautiful singletrack to go. You should be able to ride most of it no problem." Yeah, right. It was very nice, buff singletrack, but I could not ride up any of the hills. And they were not big hills. I think I let out more than a few expletives that my mother would not approve of.

What amazed me during this whole ordeal is that nobody passed me. In 90 minutes of walking my bike up every climb at 2.5mph, none of the experts behind me nor none of the sport riders passed me. Seemed just bizarre to me. With about a mile to go, the Hammer guy did catch back up to me. Seems water reinvigorated him. Oh, can't let Hammer dude pass me. Pedal pedal, ow, ow. Try standing. Ow. I'm not getting off again. How many friggin more hills are there before the finish? Hammer dude got scary close to me. Then there was some greasy rocks and bridge crossings I bobbled on. The dismount nearly sent my whole body into a seizure.

Eventually we popped out on something that looked like a road. Could I hold this guy off? That meant Watts, and my Watt-o-meter probably didn't go above 75W at this point. I tried to go. Major spasms hit and I had no choice to stand on pedals with both knees locked out. How come he's not catching me? I crossed the road and entered the loop for the "victory lap." I think the Hammer rider gave up chasing me. He shouldn't have. I was very, very easy prey.

I crossed the line in 5:51. And I thought 5hrs was doable at one point. My time was good for 4th in the age group and 7th overall expert (I think). I was five minutes from the podium, beat by Mike Wonderly, a guy that just bumped me from the podium at Winding Trails once.  Ryan Laroque won the expert division overall, an impressive showing for his first (and maybe last) race this season. I was 30 MINUTES behind him!  Elite rider Justin Spinelli finished more than an hour ahead of me.  There were a lot of mechanicals and serious injuries out there though. Zane Wenzell, in my age group, sheared off his derailleur. He would have handily beat me on this course. Then news came that Roger Aspholm from the elite field suffered serious injures on the ski slope descent. Hope he fully recovers quickly.

Milling about after the race, three different people suggested I may not be using nearly enough Endurolytes. I figured I consumed about 8 doses in my pre-mixed Gatorade. One rider said he takes four capsules at a time. Given that I consumed about the equivalent of 10 medium sized water bottles on the course and some of those had no added electrolytes, I probably became a bit hyponatremic. I will experiment with upping the electrolyte content, if I ever do a race over three hours again. Rumor is Tinker consumed only four bottles during the race.

I speculate that sustained efforts over several hours drains my "ion battery." I rarely have cramping problems on long training rides. Training rides have short, built-in stops where ion batteries at your nerve-muscle interface can recharge and not reach full depletion. Earlier in my career, I worked quite a bit with batteries. Batteries don't like sudden, deep discharges either. It greatly shortens their life. Either breaks in the discharge cycle or opportunistic charging can greatly extend a battery's life. I suspect something like that is going on in the nerve to muscle connections in my body. Maintaining an ion balance is needed for proper muscle control. Adding more electrolytes to fluid intake doesn't automatically fix this, but can help.

I'm surprised the Hampshire 100 doesn't draw bigger fields. In its fifth year, the event is extremely well organized. The course was well arrowed and marshalled. The food stops were well stocked. The course has some similarities to the VT50 course. The climbs are not as long, but many are uber steep and just keep coming and coming. I'd go so far as to say the course is roadie friendly.  After rain, the course could suck, but late August tends to be a pretty dry time of year around here.

Next up: Pikes Peak! Heading to Colorado next weekend. I will have only my daulie with me, so Pikes will be a slog and a half on it. I've done Mt Evans a couple times on a mountain bike. Still enjoyable. You just have to accept that fact it is going to take 25% longer.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Risky Business

In my last post, I lamented about the fork failing on my daulie again. I needed to ship that bike out to Colorado in advance of my trip. So Sunday I tore the fork down, and sure enough, the top-out spring was broken. This is the second time in about a year I've experienced this odd failure.

I called Fox to order another air shaft assembly (you can't order just the small spring). Next day delivery was needed, but because I was so tied up at work, I didn't call in time to make Monday shipment, so I wouldn't get the part until Wednesday night. I needed to ship my bike the next day. A major fork overhaul with zero riding time on it before a big week of riding is risky business.

The rep at Fox was quite willing to answer my questions, like why this keeps failing. He asked what I weigh and what pressure I run. I do tend to run my air forks firm. Apparently these top-out springs don't like firm and Fox is serious about setting a minimum amount of sag. They don't have warranties on replacement parts, but he offered a 50% discount since I just bought one of these about a year ago. That was cool.

While I was at it, I replaced the top seals and wipers. Fox seals are notorious for leaking. I bought Enduro Fork Seals, which are claimed to be a much more robust two-part sealing system.

I wasn't in the best of moods (more on that in a moment) putting the fork back together. I use a food baster syringe to measure out exact amounts of hydraulic fluid. It was binding something fierce, probably because prior exposure to oil cause the rubber plunger to expand. While extracting oil from a bowl with considerable force, the rubber plunger on the end of the syringe piston pulled free. Of course, my hand flew into the bowl of oil, flipping it at high speed, spraying a pint of oil all over my bike and shop floor. How Cathy upstairs didn't hear the tirade that followed is beyond me.

Eventually I got the lower and upper chambers filled. Aired the fork up. No immediate fluid leaks. Seemed to hold air. Time to box up for FedEx. I sure hope I don't have a puddle in my box with a flat fork when I get to Colorado Springs in a week.

My fork just before boxing up bike. Maybe third air shaft
assembly will be a charm. Top-out spring is smaller spring
inside the bigger spring.

So what possibly might have had me in a foul mood to begin with? My weight is down 8 lbs the hard way. Think in terms of unplanned colon cleansing. Seems I picked up a nasty bug a couple days ago. In two days, I've lost eight pounds from a recent high. This really sucks, as I have the second hardest MTB race I have ever attempted this weekend. I cannot race if I'm severely dehydrated. I've been ok so far today, so there is hope for Sunday.

I cannot think of anything I ate that would have triggered this. The last time I had a bout of back door trots like this was in 2003. It was the same week in fact, and I missed the Mt Washington Hillclimb race because of it. What struck me as odd when I reviewed my training log from back then, was that I rode in rain at lunchtime before I fell ill that same evening. I've long known that all kinds of nastiness flies up into your face from wet roads. On Tuesday of this week, I rode in the rain, and by that evening, I was not feeling well. Coincidence, or is there a causal connection? There is a lot of dead animal juice on the road when it rains. Some of that goes in your mouth and up your nose. I use a flamingo fender on the back on an as-needed basis, but maybe it's time to do something for the front wheel too.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Climbing Agenda

This weekend came down to a choice between road racing three hours in the rain on Sunday or savoring several hours on trails on Saturday. The trails won. My track record of following through with planned bike races is pretty abysmal this summer. I've only raced twice on road, once off-road, and once up hill. I've done almost as many foot races. I really dislike racing in the rain, be it on or off road. Hard on the equipment and risky for the body.

I hit the Northeast Kingdom trails just a few weeks ago. DaveP hadn't been up yet this summer, and it didn't take any persuasion to convince me to go again. Seems others had similar ideas for the day. None other than Mike and Cathy rolled in just after we did. Dave and I had a slightly different agenda for the day, however. We planned to knock off a little climb called Burke Mountain to get the legs loosened up, then head over to Radar Mountain via the back way. When Mike mentioned he's been up Radar Mtn before, it nearly brought a tear to my eye until he clarified it was when he went up there to party in younger years.

We started up Burke on Burnham, then Camptown, before finishing the last 1200ft gain on pavement. It is amazing how much more difficult this climb is on a full squish mountain bike with fat 24psi tires than a road bike with skinny 120psi tires. Dave and I both thoroughly pummeled ourselves on this beast.

Radar Mtn in upper left.

We no more than got on singletrack than my fork started clunking. Loudly. I immediately realized I blew the top-out spring. Again. It was still rideable, but even the tiniest bumps caused the fork to rebound with a sharp metal-to-metal clunk. This would send shock waves through my wrists. Very unnerving riding down root gardens like this. What pissed me off the most is this is the bike I need to race at the NH100 next weekend and take to Colorado right after that. I just replaced the air plunger assembly in the fork for the same failure. I will see if Fox will send me one no-cost (fat chance). I will need it next-day shipped.

Next up (or down I should say) was all of the Moose trail network. Some greasy bits in there kept me on my toes with balding Mutanoraptor tires. We popped out on Rt 114, beared right, and immediately began climbing on Victory Rd. It turns to dirt shortly and gains about 1000ft as it passes through a notch in the mountains.

A small descent brings us to the back way up Radar Mtn, a usually gate forest service road. The gate was open today. 4-5 miles of gentle climbing along a stream brought us to Radar Mtn Rd. This is where the serious climbing begins. It is loose gravel and decomposed asphalt to start, then surprisingly good pavement as it gets really steep further up. Grades regularly went above 15%. Felt just like climbing Burke all over again. I definitely wasn't going anaerobic anymore, but close to threshold pace. Had no choice to go at least this hard, unless I wanted to walk.

There's about 2600ft net descent from the summit back to town. With nearly 6000ft of climbing already in the legs, some coasting time was badly needed. It is not all downhill though. We took the more direct route back, staying on Radar Mtn Rd all the way down to Rt 114. This entailed a 500ft climb along the way to go over the same ridgeline that Victory Rd goes over.

By the time we got back to town, I had been out of water a good 45 minutes. Bonking too. Those Starbucks frappuccino drinks are resuscitators. That and a large chunk of beef jerky, which must be 50% salt by weight.

With fuel and fluids topped off, we headed over to Darling Hill. We were running over on time, but there are some must-hit trails over there. First up was the freshly minted Troll Stroll trail. Doesn't quite pack the adrenaline factor of Sidewinder, but it was classic downhill run material that makes NEK so popular. We traversed over to Sidewinder next, Dave and I both taking all the high lines. You can't hesitate there or hit the brakes on the way down each time, else you'll surely peter out at the top and go for quite a tumble. You cannot ride Sidewinder without letting out a yelp.

We hit random trails on the way to the last trail of the day, Kitchell. Kitchell is set up with huge berms, table tops and doubles. I don't quite dare clear a table top or double, but I did manage to get modest air on many of the features. It is an awesome way to finish up a long day in the saddle.

The wired odometer captured 59.2 miles in 5.6 hours, while the Garmin barometric altimeter captured about 7800ft of climbing. It was my biggest day ever in all three metrics at NEK.  Needless to say, rides like these bring you to that special place that only a major release of endorphins can.  A Thanskgiving sandwich from the cafe started the recharge process. Carved turkey, Vermont sharp cheddar, stuffing and cranberry sauce on a massive sub roll. I think it weighed twice as much as a Chipotle burrito. I made it disappear in ten minutes. Dave had to wait for them to make a second one for him. Seems some dude took his sandwich before his name was called.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

That did some damage

#108, finishing sprint. Photo: Aline Cashin

Ran my first "real" 5k road race this evening, the CIGNA/Elliot 5k Corporate Road Race. Over 5000 people come out for this. Fortunately, we had perfect weather. Heat would not be an issue for me. My stretch goal for this event was to run faster than six minute miles. Crazy perhaps, as I've done zero speed work running, run no more than an hour a week, and have accumulated 35hrs lifetime total running.

The only other 5k race I've done was a Mine Falls Monday night trail run, part of the Gate City Striders training series. It gave me a benchmark of sorts, 19:03 minutes, but I did it after a hard weekend of riding. I came to CIGNA with much fresher legs. In fact, I hadn't run since Sunday and was feeling too fresh, a bit lethargic.

I warmed up with a couple of accomplished runners from work. We ran the last half mile of the course and back, including the finishing climb. My joints felt achy and not ready for the blow about to be dealt them.

I lined up by the competitive runners signs, the first wave to go off. There are recreational runner and walker waves too.  I thought I was near the front, but no, the signs were a good 50ft back from the timing mats. Soon I realized there were hundreds of people in front of me. The mats would catch when I crossed the start line, but it would not part the slower masses in front of me. Colleagues lining up near me said it would do me good, as I'm still new to this running stuff and my cycling fitness would probably have me going out way too hard without traffic to slow me down anyway.

The gun goes off. Nobody moves around me for first few seconds. Then slowly we began plodding. This was worse than a MTB race where slower riders plug up the singletrack. Heels were getting stepped on. Eventually, people start concentrating to the left, as there will be a left hand turn a mile up Elm Street. I went right and started burning matches. One thing I've learned in short hillclimb or sprint ski races is how to perfectly burn through a matchbook in 20 minutes. Once I broke free, I must have passed over 100 people in just a couple minutes.

The amber sign told me my first mile was 6:01. Ok, slower than my target, but how many seconds did it take me to reach the mat? 10 maybe? So I called it 5:51 in my mind.

I continued passing people at a rate of 10-20 per minute in the second mile. Very few were passing me. I felt good. Breathing was not the limiter. Fear of tripping and sweat searing my eyes were more on my mind than the burn in my legs or lungs.

The next amber sign told me my second mile was 5:50. Cool. There was a lot of downhill in that mile though. So could I hold that pace for another mile? Cracks were forming around the edges of my feeble body.

For a brief while, I passed very few people in mile three. Then suddenly, people started imploding, poofs going up all over the place. I passed under the bridge that meant half a mile to go. I knew a small hill was coming. I like hills, even when I'm 1000rpm past redline.

We round the corner and I kick it up another notch. I passed several more runners early on the hill. It looked like I would exceed my stretch goal when I saw the finishing clock. I finished with a gun time of 18:28. I was pretty psyched. My chip time was 18:21, good for 5:55 average pace.

Photo: Aline Cashin

I had brought my GPS to record HR for this, but I couldn't get the silly thing to work. I'm sure I hit HR's not seen in a long time. Felt just like a Weston sprint ski race. Fruit, icecream and sodas hit the spot in the park afterwards. It didn't take long milling about before I realized not all was well with my legs. My quads, of all things, were almost completely knotted up. I could barely climb the stairs when I got home.

So what could I do with a 5k if I actually trained for running, instead of just running on my "rest" days to keep my bone density up? I suspect two serious hours per week could get me into the 17's. A year from turning 50, that would be competitive.  I'd need some way to gauge cycling impact before I took this next step. Something to think about for next year. I'll probably cool it with running for a while. I plan to schedule a follow-up DEXA bone density scan soon. I sure hope the last eight months of running have not been for naught.

Saturday, August 6, 2011


Back in Michigan for a few days. My wife's step-father passed away this week. He was 98 years old and only a few weeks ago moved into a nursing home. He had a good run on life.

I had an open window to ride Saturday morning. My wife and mother graciously picked up a rental mountain bike for me the night before I flew in. One of the first places I rode off-road before moving to New Hampshire was the Cannonsburg Ski Area near Grand Rapids. This is a bunny-hill by New England standards. I used to think it was 250ft vertical, but my GPS confirms it isn't even quite 200ft. The grade is not steep at all, yet I could not ride to the top without walking for much of my first summer as a cyclist.

MMBA has built a lot of new trails in this area. I figured I could link together the ski area, the nearby state game area, and trails at a new riding area, Luton Park, into one super ride. In 1996, a ride at just one of these places would have been enough.

The weather was marginally cooperative. The humidity was nearly 100% in the morning. The air actually reeked of ammonia. I think it comes from many sources, including decaying organic matter on farmland, farm animal waste, and possibly nitrogen applied to corn crops. Cells of rain moving through made riding uncertain. Cannonsburg is less than a hour's drive from my mother's house, but clay content in the soil can quickly render trails unrideable, or at least to the point of where you ought not ride them.

There's a six mile one-way loop at the ski area. I'm pretty sure this trail did not exist when I last rode there in 1996. This land is higher and is mostly sandy. The intermittent sprinkles were not a problem, but it made the top moistened layer of sand stick to the tires and flung it into my face. The terrain looked like mix of sand dunes and glacial eskers. Lots of mini-ridges and deep gullies to fly around on. You had to look hard to find a rock or root. Flow was the name of the game. Much of it rides FAST.

To bring back memories, I finished by riding up the fall line of the ski slope. I can still remember when I first cleaned this 190ft hill at 15% grade. Today a climb like this wouldn't even register on the profile radar. The climb appears at mile 6 at the Garmin link below.

A couple miles of road took me to the state game area just south of the ski area. I can't ride either of these areas when I come home at Christmas. The ski area is closed to mountain bikes and game area is open only to hunters then. The 7.5mi loop in the game area was one of my favorites when I lived here. Crazy speed on a skinny ribbon of singletrack could be carried at most times.

After the game area, I headed north to Luton Park. This riding destination did not exist when I lived in Michigan. There's nine miles of purpose built singletrack there. The ride over was tougher than I thought, as the road rolled fiercely for four miles. My rapidly deteriorating legs rebelled.

The ride to Luton was worth it. The trails there define flow. The trail designers masterfully wove a ribbon through plentiful natural features. Gravity cavities and naturally bermed turns where everywhere.  With a little more clay content in the soil here, speed was not without peril. Some earlier rain left a thin film of frictionless grease in places. You couldn't tell it was there until realizing the big tree you did not want to hit was in your trajectory path. I managed to avoid any major mishaps.

Red loop at Luton. Nothing but flow.

I thought I heard a rumble of thunder in the distance. The sky was getting dark. It was even getting hard to see in the woods and I didn't have shades on. I was barely able to finish the six color coded loops before the deluge arrived.

Black loop at Luton.

The ride back was not bad at all. The heavy rain cleaned bike and body off nicely. I finished with about 38mi, 2900ft and 3.4hrs on the Garmin.  80 miles of trail riding with 9000ft of climbing in two days put me in that special place. I could probably deal with just about anything right now.