Sunday, November 27, 2011

OD on Trail Riding

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

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

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

Lake Massabesic at the start of the FOMBA Turkey Burner

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brushed out buff singletrack on Goat Hill

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

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

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Last of the season?

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

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

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

Glen cresting Kinsman Notch.

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

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

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

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Tri-state dirt road randonnee

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

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

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

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

Housatonic River where we parked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Snow squalls in distance at base of Sunset Rock.

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

Snow heading up Sunset Rock Rd.

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

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

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Gap - Gap - Gap - paG

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

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

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

Approaching Rochester Gap

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

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

Ledges above Brandon Gap

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

12% grade down to Brandon

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

Lake Dunmore. Still some leaves at lower elevations.

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

Rochester, Brandon, Middlebury, then Rochester "backwards"

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