Monday, May 28, 2012
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.