Sunday, December 4, 2011

Feeling my age

The weather this weekend afforded copious riding opportunities. Just when I thought the mountains were taken off-line, a warm week dissolved all of the snow, even the high peaks. The XC ski season is not looking promising at this point. But when life serves you sunny, snowless days, you put tires to dirt.

Dave, Isaac and I headed up to Campton for a 100km ride on mostly dirt roads with cyclocross bikes on Saturday. The loop entailed about 7000ft of climbing, one I tested solo in October. The route was a keeper. Taking the risk of boondoggle out of the picture, I could safely bring others. Seems every time I try a new route with others, be it an alternative way up a mountain out west or local jeep roads, massive hike-a-biking ensues. Our route today was not all buff gravel roads. A six mile section of Algonquin Rd, a gated forest service road, was left in rough shape by tropical storm Irene. It is more mountain biking material than CX biking material.

Dave's Sock Monkey lunch box. He said it was his
son Zach's, but we all know better.

It wasn't nearly as cold starting out as we expected. Maybe 30F, brilliant skies, and zero wind. In other words, as good as it gets in December. In minutes, we were climbing double-digit grades up Campton Mtn. Paved to start, but then the gravel 20+% grades kick in near the top. There was an icy patch to ride around. We finished the climb on a "secret" double track to nice overlook of the Pemi Valley.

Pemi Valley from Campton Mtn

First 1000ft+ climb was out of the way. A hairball decent quickly brought us to the next 1000+ft climb, Sandwich Notch. This is a forest service road that closes when the snow comes. It was still open to cars. Dave and Isaac set a rigorous pace up this one. A few more icy patches had to be dodged.

Losing about half the gained vertical on the other side brought us to Algonquin Rd. Dave bolted and Isaac chased. I brought the widest, most aggressive tires and was still cringing on all the embedded rocks I was bouncing over. How Dave and Isaac maintained 20% greater speed on 30mm semi-slick tires is beyond me. I had 35mm knobbie Racing Ralphs. I thought surely one of them would flat. But no. After a while, I was by myself. A few downed trees toward the far end slowed them down a bit.

After Algonquin Rd is a series of mostly gravel roads I pieced together. It circumnavigates Prospect Mtn. This loop rolls non-stop, steep, peeky climbs from 100ft to 400ft. Each roller cuts you down a notch. We weren't going none too easy either. I was beginning to fear the last major climb of the ride up to Stinson Lake.

The roller section left me barely intact as we barrelled down a dirt road to I-93. Passing under, we climbed Bog Rd, another dirt road with barely any traffic or houses for a while. Just brilliant sun, moderate temps and no wind.

After dropping down into Rumney, we began climbing Stinson Lake Rd. Isaac set pace the whole way up this 1000ft beast. I was beat down by this point, about 3.5hrs into the ride. Multiple times I started to come off and thought about throwing in the towel. Dave would've given me crap if I did. I suspected he was hurting too. We both clung on until the high point above the lake. Then again it was, guess what? Another rolling section!

Even though the three major climbs total 3000-4000ft of climbing, it is these rolling sections that provide the other 3000-4000ft of climbing in the ride. They really add up. And because they are steep and not that long, the tendency is to go at them with something in between threshold and VOmax effort. My match book was empty.

After Dave humiliated me on the last couple town line signs, I new one more was coming up, on a descent of a big roller. I think Dave knew it was coming up too, as we were half wheeling each other to the top. At the top, I found my big ring, put head down, and drilled it. Downhill dirt road sprints are not my thing, but I claimed that one. There was one more town line after that I had forgotten about. Isaac took that one with no effort. I was damaged goods.

Mt Tecumseh (I think) from Ellsworth Hill Rd descent. Those peaks
should be white by now!

Turned out to be a fantastic ride, a bonus ride in the Whites so late in the season. Loading the bikes up after the ride, a front spoke just spontaneously popped on Dave's bike. The wheel went badly out of true. Moments earlier we were bombing down Ellsworth Hill Rd at 45mph. Guess maybe Algonquin Rd beat on his equipment after all.  Later in the evening, I was pretty much in a catatonic state. 30 miles of rough gravel and intensities I haven't been riding at much lately beat me to a pulp. Rides like these didn't used to hurt as badly. Riding with much younger guys might have something to do with it. I felt my age.

Hey, if the weather holds up, Dave and I plan to MTB in North Conway on Friday. Right now there is no snow in the extended forecast and it looks like a mostly dry week. Conditions could be superb. Let me know if you are interested in joining us.

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