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.


Paul Lohnes said...

Doug, awesome ride...thanks for organizing. Dirt sections were actually really cool..and the last one got us to that section of rt.2, so well worth it.Great meeting all the guys.

DaveP said...

I guess I feel better about my climbing ability....this morning I verified Brett's comment about my cassette looking more like a 25 - it is. That would explain the vicious menstrual-like cramps the last 20 miles or so.
Impressive riding group! It's not often a group of that size is able to stick together so well. Hope there are more rides like this. I love dirt too.

Mike Harris said...

Thanks for putting that together Doug. Regarding the car ride with the three bikes and three cyclists, I imagine we looked like one of those clown cars where they've jammed 10 pounds of shit in an 8 pound bag.