Saturday, December 17, 2011

GTF-Haystack Supertour

On Saturday, I had hoped to ride in the mountains at North Conway. The snow was gone, which is pretty rare this time of year. I got up early only to find radar images suggesting bands of snow were moving through the mountains. That really sucked. After many tough weeks in a row at work, I was looking forward to losing myself in the mountains. There's no XC skiing in the mountains, and I didn't want to risk a drive up to find there was just enough snow to make riding miserable. So I changed plans.

I've known for a while that a trail network on conservation lands has been growing around the MIT Haystack Observatory in Groton, Mass. This is only 30 minutes from my house, and I have never ridden there. I went data mining on Garmin Connect. There are over 100 MTB tracks in the Groton area from just the last year alone. The hard part was deciding which tracks were quality tracks. I filtered out all but long tracks. Guys on big travel bikes are more apt to session techy stuff and not cover a lot of distance. I want flow and distance, where I could get into the zone and stay there for four or five hours. My theory was long tracks were created by like minded people.

I downloaded about six tracks into DeLorme Topo. Then I went to work engineering a route that minimized road content and repeating or doubling back. 80% of what I was planning would be new to me. The only area on my planned route I've ridden before was Groton Town Forest, maybe over 10 years ago. The route would run at least 55 miles, maybe 60 miles. I thought maybe I could do it in five hours. Ha!

The hours I'd save by not driving to N. Conway could be pooled into riding, and I'd still get back early to do some Christmas shopping. I parked at the soccer fields near Haystack. In a few minutes, I was riding singletrack obviously designed by mountain bikers. It followed a knife edge esker. I felt a bit exposed.

A while later I was up on this ridgeline just off Old Dunstable Rd. The trail designers went out of their way to find every jagged bit of rock poking out of the Earth, which was not hard to find. This trail kicked my ass. Picking through dagger fields of granite at 2.5mph was not the kind of riding I was looking for today. I had some wicked close calls which spooked me, which meant I started hesitating and dabbing on everything. Hmmm, only 50 miles to go. Yeah, baby! Oh, and when there weren't natural rock outcroppings, the trail designers tested the limits on out frequently you could cris-cross a stone wall with tall, abrupt transitions. Not knowing what lie on the other side of the crossings meant more dabs and dismounts.

Eventually I got into some flowy stuff in another conservation parcel that was exactly what I had in mind. More techy material was to come though. A bit of pavement brought me through Groton. I entered the private Groton School grounds to access the conservation land behind the school. I remember this from 10+ years ago night riding with the Raytheon gang. I picked up a shadow. As I meandered to the back of the campus, a security guard followed me in an SUV. Fortunately I ditched into the woods and that was that.

Groton Town Forest along the Nashua River

Groton Town Forest was just the way I remembered it, except a few sections still had not been cleared from the October snow storm damage.  It looked like motorized traffic has been largely curtailed in there. The trails certainly don't have that carved up feel anymore. It took a long time to ride the moto loop. Then it was over the trestle to head east along the power lines. The train tracks have been abandoned. I used to ride across this bridge and think nothing of it, along the side just a foot or two from 30ft drop into the deep Nashua river. Glad I didn't even try today. Many railroad ties are rotting and a couple were even missing. Even walking down the middle freaked me out. There were a couple gaps easily big enough to fall through. Exiting the bridge, I passed three NEBC riders going the opposite way. They asked if I was starting or finishing. Neither. I told them I was parked at Haystack and working my way back (meaning 25 miles to go). I got weird looks.

Heading down the power lines, a climb we used to call "The Grim" was next. Along the way a sign for more new conservation trails caught my eye and I went on a diversion. This was in area of Flannagan Pond. Really sweet stuff. I notice that most marked, official conservation land trails have been brushed out. They also didn't go out of their way over the roughest features the terrain had to offer.

Heading up The Grim, it seems the old trail that went over the summit has been abandoned. At least there was so much tree debris in it that I didn't want to bother with it. Bummer. That always put a good burn in the legs.

Next up was another new loop that pops up in Garmin Connect tracks. I quickly realized it was going to be another one of those no-rock-missed kind of trails. A few hundred meters in, I went over the bars. For no reason whatsoever. Choice words were said. I have no idea what happened. I was going slightly downhill off exposed granite, and the next thing I know, the ground is coming at my face really fast. I got arms out to protect the neck, but only one foot got unclipped. Smashed knee, hyper-extended wrist, yeah, I was happy. I cut my losses right there and will have to try that loop on another day. I was four hours into the ride at that point, in severe calorie deficit, and fading fast.

Climbing ledge just after crashing

Next was more esker riding in Knops Pond area. There is quite a maze of singletrack here. Some of it dropped fall-line off eskers and right back up another one, kind of Zippety-Do-Da style. I realized my enthusiasm in designing this route exceeded my ability to execute it, so I started making guesses as to least risk, least energy expenditure way to get back to the car.

Esker bombing in Knops Pond area

Picking up trail again on the east side of Knops Pond, I found I was in over my head again, at least for the spent state I was in with about 5hrs riding time so far. I had already cut out chunks of the ride and my GPS track suggested I had at least 10 miles to go with over 40 tallied so far. I had used all my bonus time saved in driving already. Once I got to pavement, I would have to take roads back.

Duck Pond

I skipped all the stuff east of the Haystack Observatory. The GPS tracks from that area are not massively dense spaghetti, so maybe it is some decently flowing material. I got back to the car with 45.3mi, 3500ft in 5.5hrs moving time on the GPS. My wired computer battery died two miles into the ride. I suspect with the tightness of so much of the ride, I could well have logged over 50 miles. I know my GPS under measures the FOMBA trails by 25-30%. My GPS track also shows I stop 132 times during the ride! I'd say at close to half of those were due to tree debris blocking the trail or stuck in the drivetrain. The other half are indicative of how badly I suck in techy terrain.

It was a great day to be in the woods despite a lot of nuisance tree debris and a bit more techy material than I typically like to ride. This area has huge potential for a flowy, 50 mile loop. I just have to learn what pieces of trail to exclude and include. It seems most of Groton is conservation land and packed with trails. Most of it is singletrack. Perhaps the high point of the ride was the Starbucks Ethiopian Clover machine coffee afterwards.


bikesmith74 said...

Haven't been over there in a while. Nashoba Dirt Organization NDO rides that stuff religiously. There are guys that can string together 70 miles with limited road. Many of them are huckers with shin guards etc... Last time I rode Groton there were so many derailleur eaters scattered on the trails i've decided not to go back. The Groton Conservation Commission also will not allow for any raking of the trails or leaf blowing. Sad in my oppinion. The Grim is also closed to MTB. Guy who owned the land donated it, and the bird watchers have since tried to close it to MTB activity. Russell mill/Great Brook was great today. Russell Mill just keeps getting better!

mkr said...

Nice loop. I've never really explored much of that stuff, save GTF, which I think I rode moto last time I rode there, probably 12 years ago. Rode by the upper Groton cons lands yesterday on the road and was thinking that I should try them sometime. Also noticed the new development where the quarry used to be in Graniteville. I need to get out more ...