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.


Mookie said...

I can't take full credit for the loop- Brian first brought me out there about 4 years ago. I just added the "nice" little Sunset Rock section. Thanks for coming out, Doug. I'll have to see if I can make the loop a little bigger, maybe loop further north or something.

CB2 said...

"Alex was late"
How long have you known Alex? If he was within 15 minutes of the planned departure time he was right on time!