If I did have a transition period, fall would be it. I do not pursue cyclocross, and the regular road and mountain racing season has ended. So I come into fall with a boat load of fitness. It is like cash in the bank or hay in the barn. What do you do when you find yourselves with a little extra cash? You spend it! Fall is a time where I fret less on maintaining fitness and more of enjoying the fitness I accrued over the rest of the year. It is a fitness spend down period.
So how do I spend fitness? While the body might not be given a complete rest, the mind can be rejuvenated by going on long rides with no focus on intensity or training value. Some might call this junk miles. In fall, the air is cooler, the bugs are gone, and the trails are often dry. It is the best time of the year to ride off-road in my opinion. It is my favorite time for any kind of riding, in fact.
I've built a repertoire of long off-road rides over the last few years. These rides range from 40-50+ miles for the mountain bike, and up to 70 miles on the cyclocross bike. They are all pure loops too, for the most part. The great thing is, I don't have to drive very far at all for some of these rides. So one may wonder how you can ride 40-50 miles off-road locally in such a developed area. It is done by stitching together multiple riding destinations, such as state forests, parks and conservation parcels, with bits of road to create a grand tour. Here are a few of my routes I hit periodically:
- Willowdale-Georgetown Rowley-Bradley Palmer, 40-45 miles, MTB
- FOMBA-Bear Brook, 50+ miles, MTB
- Haystack-Groton, 40-50 miles, MTB
- Rockingham Rail Trail Loop, 50 miles, MTB
- Russell Mill-Great Brook-Estabrook, 40-50 miles, MTB
- Keene Rail Trail Loop, 50+ miles, CX or MTB
- Sandwich Notch-Stinson Lake, 62 miles, CX
On Sunday, I added another such ride to my repertoire. NEMBA rider Shawn S stitched many conservation parcels together in the town of Merrimack for a supertour. I work in Merrimack and was already familiar with some of these areas, but many I had never visited or even knew they existed. Along with five of Shawn's teammates and Paul L, we set out to see if a 50 mile ride could be had.
Pre-ride at Shawn's
After full week of riding, running and rollerskiing, I was hoping for something like a steady, social pace. But no. These guys hauled-A, right from the get go, up the Dahl Rd Green Area trail. I immediately realized I was going to be schooled by guys on rigid singlespeeds. Of the eight, I was the only one still riding 26" wheels. Everybody else was on 29ers. I took some ridicule.
From the Dahl Rd trail, a bit of road took us into Horse Hill Nature Preserve (HHNP) for a brief stint before dropping down into Wasserman Park. No rest for the weary, the pace stayed consistently high. I kept thinking how doomed I was if this was their 50 mile pace. We exited out the lower, back side of Wasserman and did a perimeter loop around the employer of two of the guys in the group. Next up was the power lines behind the new Merrimack Premium Outlets mall. The bony ATV trail gave us the only flat of the ride.
So far, the only bit of trail that was new to me was the Dahl Rd Green Area. Shawn's route would next have us cut in on conservation land behind cinemas in Merrimack. This portion of the ride would be new to me. We crossed over the Souhegan River under the Everett Turnpike on a hiker-biker bridge that must have been built when the highway bridge was reconstructed. I did not know this bridge was there, as you cannot see it when driving your car far overhead. The trail loosely follows the bluff above the river, but we took a spur down to see Wildcat Falls.
When my son lived at home, I knew he and friends would go somewhere in Merrimack to swim in the Souhegan River. He said there were cool rocks to jump off from. So I Googled Wildcat Falls, only to see kids die here. Glad I didn't know that at the time. Pretty cool swimming hole, but pretty risky too. Scenic.
A couple miles of road took us into the Grater Rd conservation parcel. I had ridden here once, many years ago, when the place was dominated by off-road motor vehicles. It was not very fun, being mostly super chunky rutted out, muddy trails. Now that the land is owned by the town's conservation commission, illegal use has ceased, and new sustainable purpose built trails exist. In a word, these trails were AWESOME. The trail named Millipede climbed and climbed on a buff brown ribbon tightly woven through trees. Shawn and Paul were ahead of me and established a blistering pace, completely reckless in the middle of a 50 mile ride. But it was fun. Millipede was followed by another fun trail called Salamander, I believe.
One of the less traveled trails in Grater Rd parcel
Another Grater Rd shot
After a brief food break, Paul cut out for prior commitments while the rest of us continued in the Grater Rd parcel. We crossed over into the Pond Parish conservation parcel, which actually touches into the adjacent town of Amherst. This was not part of Shawn's plan, but the riding in there was surprisingly good too.
Some more road took us to the finale of the ride, hitting the bulk of the trails in HHNP, which we only touched on earlier in the ride. I was feeling pretty cooked by now and was looking for a reprieve. But no, Shawn starts talking more hero hills. How Shawn cleaned that first one on a singlespeed is beyond me. I cleaned it too, but in my lowest of lowest gears with the tip of the saddle violating my nether regions. This brought us to the top of the Ledges trails. I thought it was only down from here, so a breather, right? No, again! Guys were sliding out left and right on the leaf covered, off-camber serpentine descent. I'm amazed I stayed upright. Of course, we had to climb back up to the top again on another trail.
Ledges at Horse Hill
Top of Ledges
By this point, cracks were forming in the group. I was one of the cracks. Regroups were becoming more frequent and taking longer. We had logged only 35mi at that point. I was getting a bit panicky, thinking my water and food were about to run out and I was already running on fumes. Another hour and a half? No way. I thought if I had to, I could play the "my wife expects me home by..." card to escape certain peril.
Powerlines finishing up
But alas, we pretty much ran out of trail. No body was complaining either. We rolled back to Shawn's with just about 40 miles on the Garmin. I suspect I would have logged more had a stick not crushed my wheel sensor early in the ride. I was more than satisfied with the ride. It was a perfect day and an awesome group to ride with. I now have more material to work into lunch rides from the office. Shawn is already scheming how to bring the ride up to 50 miles by stitching in a few Nashua trail bits.
Long Live Long Rides!