After taking it pretty easy this week, I was going stir crazy by my off-Friday. I was riding, strep throat or not. Besides, I had been on antibiotics for almost a day, so I should have been good to go, right?
After linking up dirt rail trails and gravel roads in the Keene area a few times on CX bikes, another potential loop dawned on me that would require a mountain bike. From aerial imagery, I could see power lines just north of the MA/NH state line cutting across two rail trails, forming a very large triangle with Keene at the northern vertex. An ATV trail was clearly visible for the 15 miles or so of power line. The terrain was quite mountainous. I had no intel on rideability or accessibility of this ATV trail. Exploratory rides like these can be hit or miss. The race wasn't the only miss this weekend...
Even after sleeping in, the temp was still in the 40's driving over to Keene. Love it. My goal was to go out for long, steady burn kind of ride, minimizing any intensity that might aggravate my throat. I was hoping to ride 50+ miles on dirt. Miles on rail trails come easily. The power line, I wasn't so sure.
I went south on the Ashuelot Rail Trail from town. The first three miles had a new, finely crushed gavel surface on it. Totally road bikeable. Beyond that, it was occasional mud bogs and rocks, but still fast. There was minimal erosion from Irene and all blow-downs had been cleared out. There still was one massive wash-out from last year. Would suck to miss it on an ATV or snowmobile. It is about 15ft deep with vertical walls.
In Winchester, I took a mile or so of paved road to doubletrack back into huge sand mining area. My planned track got fuzzy here, as I could not discern any trails through trees in aerial imagery. I just assumed something would connect this area to the nearby power line trail. I hunted in vain, climbing or pushing up huge, loose, sandy banks, following ATV tracks only to find they swooped back down. My 15mph avg plummeted.
Eventually I found a promising route. The trail appeared to be an official snowmobile route. There were erosion control measures in place. It climbed 500-600ft at double digit grade on very challenging surface, but all rideable. It was actually pretty good riding.
When I reached the power lines, life began to suck. Since power lines run without regard to grades or fall lines, there were no erosion control measures. In fact, the "trail" under the lines went directly up and down crazy steep fall lines. In many areas, all the soil was gone and it was 100% loose baby head rocks. With water running down them for good measure, just to make sure it was almost impossible to even walk up the slope without falling.
Pretty much all of the power lines riding looked like this.
All eroded, all wet, all steep = all suck, but actually good
Ironcross race training. Looks just like the Ironcross run-up.
I quickly found an exit back into the forest. The riding was good again. It appears there is a vast ATV/Snowmobile trail network in this area. I have no idea what the land status is. None of it was posted.
I popped back out on the power lines for a bit. It was more nastiness, barely rideable at best, but typically not. At a dirt cross-road, I noticed where I had just popped out had scary looking no trespassing signs, and continuing across the road on the power lines would lead me to believe I'd be shot if I went in there. That was more than enough excuse for me to abandon the idea of closing this triangle on dirt. I generally respect all posted private property anyway.
My mountain bikes are surface agnostic. Many mountain bikers consider it a nuisance or even misery to have their tires touch pavement. This even comes from riders who put in many road bike miles. Invariably, these epic loops I like to do involve pavement at some point. I'd rather ride a big 50 mile loop with a bit of pavement than play in a small area all day just to avoid pavement.
I picked up the Cheshire Rail Trail from Rt 119 and began heading back toward Keene. This trail had not yet been cleared of Irene deadfall. Many dismounts were required. That was too bad, as this is 1% downhill grade for 10 miles. You feel like a superstar riding dirt at 20mph with modest effort.
I reached Keene with less than 50 miles and 4hrs on the Garmin. I read about Drummer Hill just north of downtown as the place for mountain bikers in Keene. Many miles of technical trail have been built in the last few years. There is a lot of vertical difference to work with there too. I wasn't sure were to access the trails, so i just rode north to Rt 9. Turns out Rt 9 is like a highway with no local access to the roads it went under or over. I rode up this big climb out of town only to waste it by riding down to exit from Rt 9.
Climbing a jeep road in Drummer Hill, I caught up with a local rider out on a "lunch ride." He was probably older than I, not as strong of a climber, but he could smoke me in technical terrain. He showed me the way to the high point. Then it was all super cool singletrack back to the edge of town. I could not stay with him on the descent, at one point dismounting for a sketchy 3ft rock drop. I definitely will have to ride in there again sometime. It is a large area with many purpose built trails.
So this loop was a miss. Not an epic fail, but something not worth trying again. I'd rather do the western rail trail loop that DaveP and I did before on CX bikes. I rode 56.8mi with 4025ft of climbing in 4:51hrs. Turned out to be a great endurance effort. It never got warm enough to pull off the knee and arm warmers, yet it was brilliantly sunny. I love early fall days like these.