Thursday, May 31, 2012

Google Ghost Planes

A few of you, if you poke around in Google Maps or Google Earth enough, may have stumbled across ghost planes, or sometimes called rainbow planes. These are captured by satellite imagery, where the satellite is scanning the earth just as a plane passes underneath. There are many speculations on what causes the neat effect, all quite technical, but none appear to be from authoritative sources who've actually designed the satellite cameras.

There happens to be one of these ghost planes on a mountain I visit frequently, Pack Monadnock. I've known about it for some time, but never really looked into it until just now. Here's is a close-up of the plane. It may be a DC9, hard to tell. Satellites in low earth orbit whiz by at thousands of miles per hour, while jets cruise hundreds of miles per hour. The camera likely builds the image one color at a time and compensates for it's speed relative to the surface of the Earth, but not a plane traveling fast relative to the Earth. Thus the colors become mis-aligned.

Here's a view in Google Earth of where the plane falls above Pack Monadnock. Look near the summit.  This link will bring you to it in Google Maps.

Sunday I plan to race up Pack Monadnock on foot. It is a 10 mile race and net gains about 2000ft with a little more total climbing. I've yet to run 10 miles, so this ought to be interesting. At least the weather is expected to be cool, if not wet.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The Green Mountain Trails at Pittsfield

Last year, JB raced on a trail network in Pittsfield, VT. Jonny spoke highly of the trails, which are on private land and open to the public. I made a note to get over there soon to sample this marvel. Trail opportunities in Vermont are expanding, however most of the Green Mountain National Forest is still off limits to mountain biking. Singletrack that crests an open mountain summit? I was all over that!

Then along came Huricane Irene. It pretty much shut much of Vermont down, including routes 107 and 100 I would take to reach Pittsfield. I never made it there last year, but hadn't forgetten about this destination. Learn more about the Green Mountain Trails here.

After a solid day in the White Mountains on Saturday, I sought a little off-road solitude would be nice on Sunday. I keep mental (and even written) lists of places I need to hit sometime. Pittsfield percolated to the top of the list Sunday morning while weighing opportunities.

En route, I was astounded by the level of destruction to area roads. Reconstruction still continues. Farm fields are being reclaimed, roads and bridges being rebuilt. Not as apparent, I'm sure, are the personal losses people living along these rivers must have experienced. Signs along Rt 107 warned of bicycle race on Monday. This would have to be the Killington Stage Race. They were racing on THAT? Rt 107 was total crap patchwork of asphalt.

The trail head was easy enough to find. I quickly finished kitting up and spun off towards the mountain. The bridge over the Tweed River was not what I expected. Had the water been deep, it would have totally weirded me out walking across it. Video from last summer's race showed a nice bridge existed here before Irene.

Bridge over the Tweed

I was impressed with the workmanship of the trail network. Construction was world class, machine benchcut. Soil there is a shaly clay mix, which packs up superbly for berms. And berms there were. Probably over 100 in the network. I lack the cojones to rail berms several feet high, but fun nonetheless. I passed a group of eight riders on my way up to the summit.

Typical benching

The summit view did not disappoint. There was a nice shack up there where it looks like people occasionally spend the night. I had the summit to myself. Perfect solitude. It took nearly an hour to get up there in the round about way I went. There were three primary ways down, and I new I would just have to sample each one.

View from Summit

First time down I hit Luvin' It. I gathered it is the way most people go up, as it has the most switchbacks, easiest grade, and few berms. I climbed back up on the Warman trail. It is noted on the map as recommended downhill route. I could see why. Many giant berms, most 3-5ft tall, with several kickers along the way. I would definitely have to come down that before I left for the day. I had the summit to myself when I got up there again.

Second time down I took Fusters. It too was recommended for downhill travel. The upper portion was uber steep, near fall-line stuff. Then the wide-open trees going by in a blur section followed. This went for 3-4 miles. Couldn't help but grin the whole time. It doesn't go all the way back down to the Tweed River, but most of the way. I climbed back up on Luvin It. This time a couple other guys were hanging out at the summit on this fine day.

A stream crossing on Fusters. Photo from last year before
Irene showed this to be much less treacherous.

Last time down I took the Warman trail. Or so I thought. There was a trail from the top not on map I had with me. Sign at top said experts only. Yeah, whatever, all the trails here were buff. I later learned what I took was a trail called Labyrinth. It bore some resemblance to Sidewinder at NEK, but with nasty attitude. I failed to carry enough momentum around one of the switchbacks and tumbled a good ways into briars. How I missed all the pointy, jagged rocks is beyond me. Mrs Hill Junkie never likes hearing about these mishaps. I'm still picking thorns out of my hands and arms. Labyrinth pops out on Warman. Then I was good to go. What a blast bombing all the way back down to the river. I read that one of the routes down has 51 switchbacks in it. Crazy, eh?

Berms on Warman

Already feeling pretty beat up from the ride the day before, I called it good when I got to the river. That was a hard earned 21 miles with a ton of climbing. I had planned to do a little additional riding in the Green Mountains while there (legal stuff), but thought maybe a run up Mt Kearsarge on my way back would be better with my Mt Washington race coming up in just three weeks. I left very satisfied, well worth the long drive there.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Dirty Whites Butterfly Loop

What another fantastic weekend for riding, eh? A small posse of riders assembled early Saturday morning for a ride in the southwestern White Mountains. The planned route included three major dirt road climbs, Long Pond Rd over an unnamed pass, Tripoli Rd over Thornton Gap, and a hodgepodge of paved and dirt roads flanking Campton Mountain, dubbed the Campton Death Wall.

These climbs were new to most of the riders. It is always fun to introduce riders to new terrain. I expected a little more traffic than usual on these remote, seasonal roads, being a holiday weekend. But a little more than none can still be very little traffic.

In addition to these three dirt road climbs, we would also be hitting Gonzo Pass and Kinsman Notch. There would be no Strava whoring for me on this ride. Temps were expected to rise into the 80's, and I had no need for cramping. Doesn't mean we lollygagged along either. Brett "just-going-tempo" Rutledge set a pace that risked running me into the ground by the end of the ride. Brett's "tempo" pace felt an awful lot like my threshold pace. Hmmm, what's up with that? Co-conspirator Paul Lohnes didn't help matters either. Paul, a former pro hockey player, is bigger than Brett and I, and the way he can climb, I shudder to think of the mad Watts he can put out. Also gracing the group with his cheery demeanor was Solobreak. Solo is in good form too, and was driving the pace at many instances. Rounding out the group where three of Paul's riding bud's, Michael, Bob and Jeff.

Starting from the dam in Campton, we made quick work of getting to the base of Gonzo Pass. Brett kicked the climb off with a pace that was sure to give me grief later in the ride. It was like last weekend in the Berkshires all over again.  I burn on fast twitch. I could have gone much harder up Gonzo if I wanted to, but then I would have been done. The slow twitch specialists go hard enough to make me burn through my precious glycogen, but not so hard that they implode after four hours. It's not fair on these long rides. Brett says the same thing about me on five or thirty minute efforts. Funny how the guys I ride with wish they had more of what I have, and I wish I had more of what they have.

Anyway, Brett's initial pace was apparently unsustainable and I reeled him back in. It was Brett, Paul, Dave and I reaching the plateau part way up. The paced dropped precipitously, so I came up to put in a long, hard pull. I relinquished the lead before it got steep again. When it did, I decided to punch it a bit. I never learn. I cannot leave a respectable climb alone. I slowly drifted away from the others, though never by much. I crested a little faster than back in January when the road was icy. Still a few minutes off Ted King's KOM.

The Gonzo descent gets scarier every year with worsening frost heaves. Dunkerley's chicane always commands my deepest respect too. No more bombing 50+ mph into the first turn. 35mph will do just fine.

Social two-abreast riding on nearly deserted Rt 25 brought us to climb #2, the dirt Long Pond Rd, sometimes called North and South Rd. Only Brett and I have ridden it before. It was new to the other five. The gate was open, which meant the road was clear of winter blow-downs and autos packed the surface. The one-lane road was in mint condition. You know you're on a good road if there's a little grass growing in the middle  Another spirited pace quickly ensured, and I found myself towards the back again. Ugh. I loves me a good hill interval, but two back to back efforts early in a long ride on a hot day does not bode well for me. It took a while to catch Paul and Brett. When I did, it seemed my breathing stepped up another notch just to stay with them. Brett eventually drifted off the back and it was just Paul and I leading the charge on the upper half of the 1200ft dirt road climb.

Group on Rt 25 en route to Long Pond Rd

Waiting for the others at the top, it was big smiles on each face. Long Pond Rd is such a fantastic cycling route, a well kept secret. We did encounter a few cars on this holiday weekend, but most of the time it was the sounds of nature, be it the rushing stream along the road or birds in the forest.

Solobreak cresting Long Pond Rd

The descent was in the best shape ever. Virtually no rim biter rocks and all packed gravel. I let my speed run out to over 30mph at times. More smiles as riders collected at the bottom.

Kinsman Notch from the west is a wee bump by the big climb standards, maybe a 700ft gain from where we popped out on Rt 112. I was hoping there'd be a truce on this one, but no.  Solobreak, Brett and Paul kicked the pace up in proportion to the grade.  The group shattered again, and this time I was one of the fragments. The first to crest did not stop. It was each on their own on the descent. With a slight tail wind, I had no trouble matching my all-time max speed, which incidentally was set on Kinsman the day Bill Dunkerley crashed, of 56mph. If I had something bigger than a compact crank and took a few pedal strokes over the top, who knows, maybe I could have hit 60mph? Scary thought on thin 23mm racing tires and latex tubes. I know, why do I need that? I used my hillclimb bike for this ride, and I'm too lazy to swap out the wheels or tubes for more rugged training rides.

After a brief refueling stop in North Woodstock, we hit Tripoli Rd. Bob and Jeff cut off at this point and continued down Rt 175 to Campton. Same deal. Brett, Paul and Dave set an initial stiff pace. My legs were getting noodly, and early warning signs of cramping were popping up. I clawed my way back up to Brett and Paul as Dave drifted back. The grade slackened, and I shamelessly sucked wheels.  However minuscule the drafting benefit was, it was just enough for me to hang on. The grade kicked up again. It was now just Paul and I. I started to wonder if he ever fatigued. I was certainly going into a deficit on this one. I feared if there was any talk of abandoning the last "Death Wall" climb, I would violate Hill Junkie principles by caving in and agreeing.

We waited a bit for Michael to summit, but he was ear to ear grin, thoroughly enjoying that climb. Dave's ride was now essentially over, as he was staying in the Waterville Valley village at the bottom. The descent was a mine field of broken pavement. It is smooth as silk skiing it in the winter, but you have no idea how busted up the pavement is underneath the snow.

Paul on Tripoli Rd. Lots of hikers on Mt. Osceola today.

There was talk of abandoning the last climb. Every good ride must encroach on death march territory, right? Suffer we did. The gravel parts were uber sketchy. One switchback, at about 20% grade, was loose fist sized rocks over washboard bumps. I almost didn't clean it. More impressively, Brett cleaned it and he hasn't mountain biked in at least 15 years. Traction and control were really hard to come by.  Three of us went all the way up, with Michael truncating the climb a bit. I've climbed this side twice before, once on cross bike and once on MTB. I don't think I will try it again with skinnies. We did suffer a flat part way up. Seems Paul picked up a tiny piece of steel belt radial tire wire somewhere along the ride. Unavoidable.

Paul and Brett.
Lots of tentativeness on the Campton Death Wall descent.

We got back to the cars with about 2 minutes to spare from our targeted finishing time. It was a perfect day for a long ride, although a tad warm. Another great riding group too. I've been on a number of big rides over the last couple months, and all of them were mood lifters.  With many competitive events lined up, it may be a while before I can squeeze in another ride like this.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Berkshires Boondoggling

It was a fine day to attack some climbs in the Berkshires on Saturday. Nine of us converged on Charlemont for a short(ish), high climbing density loop. On the menu: Monroe Hill, Kingsley Hill, Tilda Hill, Mt Greylock, and Hoosac Rd. Kingsley Hill Rd is know as the "meanest mile in Massachusetts," with the first half mile averaging over 20% grade. Mt Greylock is the highest point in the state. Any ride that links these two must be good stuff, right?

The pace heading up Zoar Rd towards the summit of Monroe Hill caused me some consternation. I've never started a loop here that hard. I was worried about myself foremost, but also how shattered the group would become by Hoosac Rd much later. I hadn't ridden with several of the guys before, and it appeared there was no "dead wood" in the group. I'd be lying if I said I wasn't just a little bit scared. Would the cramping demons come to roost in my quads later in the ride?

Summit of Monroe Hill

Everybody reached the summit of Monroe Hill within a minute's window. An insane descent quickly brought us down to the Deerfield River, which meant the feature attraction was up next. Most of the riders in the group hadn't climbed Kingsley Hill Rd before. Rumors and myths had everybody nervous. I ran fairly low gears with a 36t Q-ring up front mated with 32t MTB cassette in back. I wasn't worried. For the most part, everybody did pretty good. There's no way to climb Kingsley without doing some damage. You feel that climb for the rest of the ride. Regrouping at the top, we learned that Jeremy was having wheel trouble. One of his Boyd carbon wheels was starting to delaminate, possibly from overheating on the Monroe Hill descent.

Jeremy decided to press on with us. Tilda Hill was next, which starts off with some rollers, but soon you wonder why you are going so slow. You look down at the GPS and it says 12% grade. Oh, that's why. Fifteen miles in, I already logged 3200ft of climbing.  A quick drop brought us to Rt 2, one of the best descents of the ride.

I wasn't the only one concerned about the pace. Paul asked me to rank the pace relative to typical Hill Junkie rides. I assured him it was pretty high, and I hadn't started this loop at such high intensity right out of the gate. He was relieved.

The plummet to North Adams is sweet, even if it is on a busy state highway. Bicycles go just as fast if not faster than motor vehicles, so it is safest to take the lane. About 6 miles of 40mph costing dumped us out in downtown. We waited a while for Jerry and Jeremy. A few of the riders had evening commitments, so an executive decision (not by me) was made to press on. Jerry and Jeremy carpooled in together, so we figured if Jeremy's bike became unrideable, Jerry could rescue him.

At the base of Mt Greylock, Paul ask where the TT route started. I had no intention of time-trialing up this beast. That's what race day is for. Brett and Paul set a very stiff pace to start. I dangled off the back on the initial 17% grade section. I wanted some of what Brett was on. If he held that pace all the way up, he will either be waiting a long time for me or I'll implode trying to match the pace.

Before long, our group fragmented. First Dave and Mike dropped off. Then it was just Paul and I leading the way. Along the flat(ish) part most of the way up, Paul dropped off. I was just holding the pace I started at the bottom.

A few cars passed us near the bottom, then a half hour went by with zero cars on the road. This was opening day for Mt Greylock. Very surprising.

I summited in 49 minutes, much slower than my race PR, but not bad for 6000ft of climbing in 32 miles. Most of the others were not far back at all.

From summit of Mt Greylock, looking down on Adams
nearly 3000ft below.

We decided to forgo a food stop in North Adams, expecting to do that at the summit lodge. It was still closed when we got there, but we were able to top off our water bottles from a faucet on the back. Glad I took a couple extra food items with me.

Summit monument. In this photo Tom, Mike, Paul, Isaac,
Brett and Dave.

The view was quite spectacular, bluebird skies and 100+ mile visibility. There weren't many people up there. To our surprise, Jerry arrived. He reported that Jeremy's wheels, both of them, pretty much disintegrated approaching the Rt 2 hairpin on the descent to North Adams. He didn't crash, but his ride was over. Jerry left Jeremy his car keys, anticipating that he'd hitch a ride back to the car.

Heading back down Greylock. I used my wife's camera and didn't
realize memory card was full. Last photo of ride.

So now we're back up to eight riders descending the south side of Mt Greylock. Our plan was to take the Quarry Rd cutoff, which is a rough, seasonal dirt road. The climbing is quite steep, and there was, gasp, mud. There was bitching about the ride becoming a true to Hill Junkie form boondoggle. The descent has some pretty choppy sections on it, and with eight pairs of skinny road tires bombing down, I half expected to be missing a rider at the bottom due to a flat. But we all made it.

A quick jaunt through town on the mostly deserted rail trail brought us to the last major climb of the ride much too quickly. Isaac did much of the work on this slight downhill grade, pulling us along at 25+ mph. I felt bonk coming on, drinking only water and not eating enough at the summit of Greylock. Hoosac was going to be a bloodbath.

Brett started killing it again from the get go. I thought to myself, yeah, I know how this is going to turn out. But he made it stick. Him and Jerry killed the climb. The group completely fragmented on Hoosac Rd.

Because Black Brook Rd was still closed from Irene damage, we had to take an alternate route back down to Rt 2 and the cars. It reportedly was mostly dirt, and some of it questionable for skinny racing tires. The first section wasn't too bad, other than being a mine field of potholes. Brett commented how much better it was than some of the roads in the Battenkill race this year. Um, don't say that when more gravel is to come.

Pavement resumed, we started bombing down, thinking wow, that wasn't bad at all. All of a sudden, the road peters out into essentially a jeep trail and we nearly piled into one another stopping. A big sign warns of unmaintained road conditions. This surely can't be right, as another riding group went this way just two weeks earlier. But GPS tracks don't lie (most of the time). More bitching was heard. S. County Rd was a single lane affair, really not much more than a doubletrack. A lot of sharp, crushed granite had just been through down with no binder. There were no clean lines.

After bottoming out, the skinny road pitched up violently. WTF's could be heard. Would loved to have taken a photo, but memory card was full on camera.  Our ride was almost done, yet we had to climb some uber bony crud. Other than exploding wheels, we hadn't had a mechanical or flat on the ride. I thought there was no way eight riders were escaping this without a flat. But I was surprised again. We reached pavement with all tires intact.

We popped out surprisingly high on Rt 2. It appears tropical storm Irene destroyed huge sections of Rt 2, and most of the reconstruction was now complete. We had miles of brand new pavement to bomb 40mph down. We took turns at the front to keep the pace up. With about a mile to go, Brett's rear wheel sounds off with a violent snap, and then a clang, clang, clang... A spoke popped. It was still rideable, so he didn't even stop and just finished getting back to the car. Couldn't have timed that mechanical any better.

The ride went 70 miles, and depending on whose GPS we looked at, we logged 8500-9000ft of climbing. I had just under 4.5hrs moving time. Our goal was to get back to the cars before 2pm, and we just made it. Turned out to be ideal weather. The ride was thoroughly enjoyed by almost all of us. Jerry still had a problem. He gave his keys to Jeremy, and Jeremy never made it to the car. Jeremy's rescuer had no way to pick him up.  Mike was able to help out. How they got three bikes and three bodies in an Insight I'd love to hear.

From Garmin Training Center, which doesn't smooth profile data.

I noticed several anomalies in Strava. In my ride, I'm listed second overall on the Hoosac climb, but when I go to it, I'm not even there. Then on Greylock, I'm shown finishing behind Mike, who was at least a couple minutes back from me. That one I figured out. Turns out I must have crossed the start threshold before we stopped at the start line. My clock started ticking even though I wasn't moving, accumulating minutes on my climb. Silly Strava.

I got superb training value out of the ride and had a blast. That was one of the tightest riding groups I've ridden with on such a hilly course. No hearding cats on this ride. Back at the cars, Dave had "that look" in his eyes. Yeah, he got the punishment he sought too.  There was some discussion to plan a similar ride in Vermont next Saturday. Can't wait.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Finding Balance

It's about time for a running update.  Back about 18 months ago when I learned my bone density was low, I decided to run rather than risk drugs that are proving to have nasty side effects. I had no intentions of running more than twice a week, and no more than three miles each time. That seemed like it would make a reasonable impact, as I was getting zero weight bearing impact activity in my routine. It was painful starting out, and running three miles was something I had to work up to.

Running has taken a much more prominent role in my exercise regimen recently. Five miles is now considered a short run, and typical runs are eight miles. Running twice a week wasn't working. I ran on my recovery days, the days my body most needed rest, and running deprived me of rest. Running was an afterthought, something I squeezed in around skiing or cycling. It wasn't working. I rarely had good training days, as I was tired most of the time.

I found that adaptation to an activity doesn't really happen unless you can commit at least three days a week to the activity. With hillclimb running events on the horizon, I began running three times a week several weeks ago, and I fully integrated these runs into my exercise regimen. I noticed several changes.

First, my easy runs started feeling much easier. An eight minute pace didn't tax my body much harder than a recovery ride. Frequent runs made each run a little less shocking to the body.

Second, by integrating running into my routine, I got my rest days back. It did mean I sacrificed at least one hard training day on the bike, but that day was replaced with a quality run.  Instead of running on Monday when I needed rest, diminishing the training value of work on Tuesday and Wednesday, I was much fresher on those days and got in quality workouts. I also reclaimed Fridays as recovery days for weekend training load.

The third thing I noticed was my performance on the bike hasn't seemed to slip. I've put in the least hours on the bike up to this point in the season than I have in 10 years. Yet I'm pushing power numbers near an all-time high. To be sure, my hours on the bike are quality hours. Only two workouts per week on the bike involve intensity work. Running fills the void of the third intensity workout I used to get in on the bike.

Finally, running seems to abhor fat and devours it. I'm finding it much easier to stay lean since running volume has gone up. Last weekend, my weight was lowest for a hillclimb event than it ever has, at 158 lbs. Even a moderate pace run can burn over 1000 calories in an hour. Running impact seems to tone up much of the body. Could this toning boost metabolism? Does running suppress appetite? Perhaps the cycling that running displaced is at a higher intensity level and burns more calories.  I'm not sure what the link is.

My recent weeks have gone like this. Recover from big volume weekend on Monday - a complete rest day or active recovery spin on the bike. Tuesday, run eight miles at lively 7-7.5min pace. Wednesday, 90 minute intensity ride, usually with VOmax work. Thursday, run five to eight miles at more relaxed 8min pace. Friday, active recovery. Race or do huge ride on Saturday followed by running hill repeats on Sunday.  What did not work for me was run on Monday, leaving me tired for intensity work on the bike Tuesday and Wednesday, then trying to run again really tired on Thursday. The workouts gravitated towards the junky middle.

My body seems to be soaking up the running quite well right now. Granted, my total volume at around three hours per week is puny on real runner's terms, but some of the intensity involved integrated with weekly cycling intensity is something I wouldn't have thought was sustainable last year. Hopefully I can keep it going at least through the three mountain climb events I have planned over the next couple months.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Wachusett Hillclimb

It seems the shorter they are, the harder they hurt. On Saturday, the opening volley of the 2012 BUMPS challenge was held at Wachusett Mountain. It has been a few years since any kind of cycling event was held at Wachusett. The summit road reconstruction is now complete, and the result is fabulous. Wachusett is a new addition to BUMPS and is the shortest climb in the series. It doesn't make it any easier. You just go harder and faster.

New pavement! This is the descent.

I understood BUMPS age group categories went by age on December 31, just as USAC does. Individual events still have discretion to use race day age if they wish. I did not know this. I turn 50 in August and registered in the 50-59 age group. At registration, they had me in the 40-49 age group. I didn't really care what age group I was in, as it is me against the mountain anyway. But I did want to go head to head with Gerry Clapper, who was registered in the 50+ age group. Gerry is a phenomenal climber, and I was feeling a bit cocky, thinking maybe I could stay with him. Or at least turn myself inside out trying. Alas, it was not to be. I went off with the younger group with several other worthy contenders.

The mass-start course is different than the time-trial route used years ago in the Wednesday night series. We started further down Mile Hill Rd. The downhill with 40mph hairpin turn most of the way up is also gone, shortening the course. So I expected times to be a minute or two faster.

I lined up second row behind Greg Larkin, Ulandt Kim, Jeff Johnson, Marti Shea and others. I think they've all beaten me at one time or another in these things. The first kilometer or so is flat to gradually rising. Drafting was significant. I wasn't sure if anybody was going to nail it from the go. We get the 3, 2, 1, go.  Ulandt drills it and started pulling away immediately. Jeff led the chase until things got steep. I was maybe 5-6 back. Slowly, one by one, riders started fading back until nobody was between me and Ulandt. I stood and started mashing a big gear and big Watts. I caught Ulandt and rode right past him. Four minutes in, I was passing riders from the first wave that started five minutes earlier.

I was in my element. Wachusett is really a sprint climb. I figured it would take around 16 minutes. I could throw my fast twitch and VOmax at this thing and maybe do ok. I hammered long stretches out of the saddle. This is uncharacteristic of me, and I think the running has something to do with it. It feels more aerobically efficient when the grade is steepest. Greg, Marti and Jeff were never far back though. At one point about half way up, I had a moment of doubt. I had been at the hurl threshold almost from the start and I thought implosion was imminent. Didn't happen. I hit the finish at 16:15. I could barely talk after I recovered. The dry air, high pollen and hardest breathing since a Weston sprint race did a number to my throat.

Approaching the summit

Finishers accumulating at the summit

I finished fourth overall.  Mark Schwab from Colorado won. He used this hillclimb as an opener for the Pro/1/2 Sterling road race, which he had to scramble to get there in time! Tim Ahearn was second, and Gerry Clapper finished third. All sub-hour finishers on Mt Washington. I didn't want to burden my bike with a PowerTap wheel, so I don't have a quantitative benchmark to compare to. Qualitatively, I usually finish about about 7% back from Clapper. Assuming Gerry is in good form right now, I did quite well finishing only 3% back from him. Could going off in his wave have forced me to muster another 3% in performance? Probably not. I thought my effort and pacing were pretty solid. If I can do 3% back from Gerry on Mt Ascutney in July, I will easily beat my PR. I've been racing Ascutney since the inaugural event in 2000.

Base area from part way down. Mt Monadnock peak on left.
Wapack Range towards right, were I did running repeats
on Pack Monadnock the next morning (ouch!).

The event drew about 200 participants, which is excellent for a first-time event and considering the Sterling road race was going on practically next door the same day. Joe Tonon/Destination Cyling pulled off a flawless execution of the day's activities, which included a kid's race, post race BBQ and awards. It will definitely go on my calender again next year.

After lunch, JoeyB from Connecticut and I went for a tour of the surrounding hill country.My first Vermont Six-Gaps ride was with Joey many years ago.  We headed up on the western flank of Wachusett on W. Princeton Rd, which to my surprise, was gravel. No problem for skinnies though. We bombed down through Princeton center, then over to Justice Hill Cutoff. Rigor mortis had already set into my legs. How could a 16 minute effort do so much damage? Freaky. Just as we approached the intersection of North Row and Heywood, the Pro/1/2 field of the Sterling race went by.

We dropped down into Leominster and then started working our way back via Elm St (500ft climb) and the classic Hobbs/Pine climb to the state park entrance. Joey was game for the summit again on such a pristine day. This time the gate was closed, as the park hasn't officially opened yet. It was nice to bomb that 1000+ feet of vertical a second time.  We finished with 38 miles, 5000+ feet of climbing in 3:15 riding time.  A very satisfying day.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

New Ride

A few years ago I picked up a Ridley Crosswind CX bike from a teammate for a good price. The bike didn't fit me well, but for dirt road touring it would work just fine. Even though my Crosswind is a 56.5cm frame, it stands very tall. I have zero standover clearance. The BB is high, and it has a tall head tube. This all makes for a bike that is not suited well at all for me in racing. It was pretty heavy too.

With more and more "monster cross" events like Ironcross and dirt road ronde's or brevets popping up, it was time to upgrade my cross bike. No sense in spending all that time on a bike that is sized for someone with much longer legs than me.

My team picked up Trek sponsorship this year. The local Trek rep offered a really sweet deal to Alpine Clinic riders on Trek bikes and Bontrager apparel. When you think cross bikes, Trek may not be one of the first brands that come to mind. They do offer a fine bike, however, the Cronus Ultimate.  I hesitated at first, as I'm not fond of SRAM shifters. The deal was just too good to pass up. I ordered a bike through our sponsoring shop, Rhino Bike Works.

Ultegra tubeless wheels. No need to upgrade these. I now have
two sets. Tubeless tires will go on soon.

The bike was in Trek stock and took just a few days to arrive at Rhino. The SRAM S900 crank that came on the bike had to go. It was 130mm BCD with 46/38 rings and had short 172.5mm arms. For the events I do, I need more range in gearing (top and bottom) and must stay with my standard crankarm length. I happened to have an new Ultegra compact crank laying around. Would this work? The new frame uses one of the zillion new bottom bracket anti-standards out there, something called BB90. My Shimano crank uses standard threaded in BB bearings. Turns out the outside interface of external BB bearings is 90mm, and Trek duplicated this with integrated pressed in bearings. No more external cups. You just need the right bearings for the crank you want to use. Matt just happened to have a set of Shimano bearings on hand and would fix me up when I came to pick the bike up.

Internal cable routing

Massive bottom bracket structure. Down tube is 90mm wide
at base! Bearings and crankarms are flush with frame.

I went to pick the bike up at Rhino in Plymouth after our ride in the Whites on Saturday.  The bike in hand is amazingly lightweight. It weighs less than my Dean Ti road bike in fact. Is that nuts, or what? Matt swapped out the crankset for me, depsite the shop being crazy busy. Thanks Matt! I couldn't wait to take it for a spin on Sunday.

The canti brakes. Protrude, but highly effective.

Post and cable routing. I use Terry Fly saddles on nearly all
of my bikes, but this Bontrager saddle may be a keeper. No
issues after 2hr ride.

I mapped out a 25 mile loop of rooty singletrack, rail trails, pavement and rough carriage roads for a test ride, a bit of everything. I'll jump right to what I liked and disliked about the bike.

  • The 90mm wide BB shell makes for the stiffest BB of any bike I've ridden. It is amazing how efficient this bike feels under power. My next road bike will use a BB90 bottom bracket standard.
  • The Avid Shorty Ultimate brakes. They have at least 2x the stopping power of the canti's on my Ridley. They stick out though, and I wouldn't want to get snagged by one.
  • The bike weighs 17 lbs and change with XT pedals and 34mm knobby tires. That's four pounds lighter than my Ridley.
  • Very snappy, racy handling.
  • Internal cable routing. Clean appearance and easier to clean after a messy ride.
  • The bulge at the base of the SRAM hoods causes almost immediate ulnar nerve trouble in my hands. I will need to experiment with bar rotation or sliding the levers around on the bar.
  • My toes can rub the front wheel. Probably due to racy geometry, but I also was wearing my new MTB shoes where I think I got the cleats a little too far back. Not a problem riding, but big problem if you miss clip-in and wobble. I could rub tire on Ridley with old shoes too, but it is easier to do on the Trek.
  • SRAM index shifting is not crisp like Shimano's, especially when shifting to easier gears.
  • White hood covers. In one ride they are already dirty.
Overall, I was extremely happy with the bike. I rode the bike exactly how Matt set it up before meeting me. The fit was nearly spot on. How did he do that?  A few tweaks with the levers and saddle position should bring the bike very close to perfect. Looking forward to many D2R2's, monster cross races, and perhaps a few traditional cross races on this bike.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

4NaaP 2012

Post topics are accumulating faster than I can find time to create them. Work hours have gone up a bit, and home projects need attention. I at least have to put a few pics up from last Saturday's ride in the White Mountains.

The Waterville TT was cancelled due to low registration numbers. My team puts it on. This opened the day up for a team ride. After a bunch of discussion on routes, we agreed on a 4NaaP ride - Four Notches and a Pass. Dave and Isaac joined four other Team Alpine Clinic riders and myself in Lincoln, NH.

It was wet leaving home, then sun before reaching Lincoln, then dark and drizzly again in Lincoln. Heading up Kinsman Notch was miserable. Strong wind in the face and drizzle that became increasingly dense as we approach the summit. Four of us crested together with the other three nowhere in sight. Ugh. We waited. Shivered. Then bombed down to Rt 16 where it would at least not be as windy. My knees never got so cold. I did not wear knee warmers, expecting the temp to promptly reach the 60's. I bet it was in the 40's and drizzling at Kinsman Notch.

Windy, drizzling and cold on at Kinsman Notch.
Isaac and Dave

Eventually Carl, Dana and Lou showed up. Guess an emergency bio stop was needed. Rt 116 throws a few rolling punches at you. It was just what I needed to get warmed back up. My feet were frozen too.

The next climb, Rt 18 up to Franconia Notch, gets a bit more serious. Now that everybody was warmed up, I expected the gloves to come off on this climb and everybody show how tough they were. Isaac's GPS was picking up my PowerTap again (as he wasn't running a PT), and he was heckling me on my wimpy power numbers. Lou starting pulling away from the group and I hopped on his wheel. Rt 18 is a long climb to hold 400W. Seems every time I looked down, I was doing over 400W. I hadn't met Lou before, so I wondering if he was going to let up at some point. Nope. I barely stayed with him to the summit, cresting ahead of the others. I fretted over how I would pay for that later in the ride.

After regrouping, we began bombing down Rt 3 to Twin Mountain. The roads were still wet and drizzle was in the air. We tried to get a paceline going, but pacelines on wet, sandy roads suck. We no more than got going when Pierre flatted. It took an eternity to fix this flat. Dave and Isaac bolted, never to be seen again. Right back to shivering.

How many Alpine Clinic riders does it take to fix a flat?
Pierre, Dana, Carl and the Hill Junkie. Photo by Lou Bergou.

We got rolling again on Rt 3, now down to five guys. Not two miles into it, Dana flatted. Nasty pinch flat on a stone. I was never going to get warmed up. Fortunately, we figured out how not to break tubes, waste CO2 cartridges or break pumps fixing this flat and got rolling much more quickly.

When we got down to Twin Mountain, the sun started coming out and dried things up. Maybe I'd get warm after all. We stopped at the Irving station to replenish fluids.

Approaching Crawford Notch Plummet.

We had a nice tail wind on Rt 302 over Crawford Notch. Made up some time. I held 54+ mph for a good while on the steep part of Crawford. It didn't feel the least bit fast. Had I punched it over the lip, I could easily have hit an all-time speed record.

By the time we reached Bear Notch Rd, my legs didn't feel so good. Remember that 400W effort on Rt 18? That was coming back to haunt me. Carl and Dana told Lou, Pierre and myself not to wait for them at the summit. This 1200ft climb has a perfectly engineered 6% grade. Just put it in a middle gear and grind for 20 minutes. It was deja vu all over again. Lou set a pretty stiff pace that eventually shelled Pierre with me barely hanging on. Lou commented that he used to run 70-80 miles per week. That base certainly carried over well to cycling.

Pierre thought that was pretty much it for the climbing and that we'd pop out on the Lincoln side of Kancamagus Pass. Um, no. Biggest climb to go. He thought we were joking. He was crushed when he realized we were serious. My philosophy is that all great rides must end in death march territory. Putting the biggest climb in at the end caps a ride off nicely. I don't understand why others don't see things the same way.

We pacelined to the final steep sections. Pierre dropped off. I was surprised I wasn't cramping yet and picked it up another 20-30W and crested solo. I was spent.  Lou and I bombed back to town with Lou doing most of the work. It was one of my faster 4NaaP rides with an average very nearly 20mph.

It was great to finally meet more of the team. The day finished out nicely too, in short sleeves for the second half of the ride. Got in some good training value, particularly on the Franconia and Bear Notch climbs. I drove up solo so I could pick up my new bike at Rhino Bike Works after the ride. I've gotten a test ride in already, the subject of my next post.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

"At least you didn't have a gun"

Tuesday I went out at lunch for a short recovery spin. It was raw out, cold and drizzly, possibly the first time I've ridden in rain this year. I'm always a little more cautious riding when it is wet. Not so much reduced traction or braking power. Cyclist are already invisible to some drivers. When wipers are going and cars are kicking up a little mist, cyclist become invisible to a larger population of drivers.

I was heading south on Daniel Webster Hwy approaching a side street, Henry Clay Dr. There was a car at the stop sign, waiting to turn right. A quick glance over my shoulder to make sure nobody was going to right-hook me said back was clear. Make eye contact with driver waiting to pull out. I had wind to my back and there is slight downhill grade there. I was cruising 25mph. All was good.

Suddenly, without any warning, a car comes flying from the opposite direction on DWH towards me. No blinker that I recall, no waiting in left turn lane, just full speed sudden left turn. Speed limit is 40mph. Most cars travel closer to 50mph on that stretch. The turn is not a hard 90 degrees, but more sweeping from the direction the car was coming. Thus you don't have to slow down much.

In an instant, I realized impact was imminent. I had nowhere to go with a car sitting there. I pretty much thought that was it, that that was my final ride. In a last desperate act, I thrust my bike forward, as in a photo sprint at the line. The front corner of the bumper flew by under my left hip. Miraculously, bike and body cleared the car. Closing velocity between us had to have been at least 50mph, maybe over 60mph. Had I been about 0.2 seconds later, I would have been dead.

After I cleared the car, I was now on collision course with tall granite curb, telephone pole, and razor sharp reflector posts. A split second after dodging the car, I was now panicking trying to not get sliced in two on other obstacles. I barely saved it and stopped. I was trembling uncontrollably.

It didn't take long before the trembling turned into rage. Somebody nearly killed me and kept going. I turned around and began sprinting up Henry Clay Dr. It goes to the YMCA, so I suspected I would catch up to the driver. The car was cresting the top of the modest rise when I gave chase, motioning to pull over. Surprisingly, the car did. I think it was a full-size Buick.

I let up from my explosive sprint as I see the driver's window going down. Uh, oh. Punks? Somebody that's going to scream expletives at me for being on the road? Are they armed? This all crossed my mind as I approached the car.

It was a woman, about my age. She was trembling and began apologizing profusely. She was nearly in tears and shaken up as badly as I was. I said "you could have killed me!" She replied "I know, I know, I just didn't see you." I gave her credit for stopping and accepted her apology. She said "At least you didn't have a gun." She rightfully understood how upset that could make somebody.

I sensed no lecture was necessary. Cyclists must accept the fact they are lowest on the visibility food chain when it comes to the battle on the roads. Sometimes drivers just don't see you. I was wearing my red Nor'East jacket, which has decent visibility. I suspect there was traffic coming up behind me and the woman was fixated on them, perhaps thinking "I better turn now, or I'll have to wait." It would be easy to miss a cyclist coming up the right shoulder.  In the future, I will wear a hi-viz yellow shell on dreary days.

It took a good while for the adrenaline to settle down, like the rest of my ride. It didn't sink in right away how close that incident was. Rolling an ankle in the woods is one thing. Head-on with a fast car is a risk level I can barely comprehend. Be careful out there, folks.