Sunday, January 13, 2013

Seeking deep, dark places

Waterville Valley
We came pretty close to the best of both worlds this weekend: skate skiing in the mountains, trail riding on the Cape. Some years the line of demarcation is crisp, such that you can get in good cross country skiing in the greater Boston area, but as soon as you cross over the channel to the Cape, the snow magically disappears.

Things were a bit murkier this weekend. Warm temps made skiing less than ideal in the mountains, and the snow line is rapidly receding from the Cape. I still have a yard full of snow, but three miles away there is no snow.

My double header weekend began with four of us heading up to Waterville Valley early for a 3hr skate. We knew it would be soggy with overnight rain and mild temps. I waxed with some high-fluoro wax. I don't have a structure tool. Brett used a low-fluoro but rilled. Between the two of us, we had the fastest skis in the group. Conditions varied considerably. Sometimes Brett's were faster than mine, other times mine were faster. I found this rather fascinating  Wish I could have stopped a few times to analyze the snow so I could better correlate snow structure, speed and ski prep.

Fog with mild temps in the valley.

We stuck together for the first hour or so. Differences in ski prep (Dave had blue hydrocarbon wax, slow), fitness and skiing economy (technique) made it challenging to stay together as a group. There's not much drafting when climbing 800ft gaps in the mountains.

The second time up Livermore Road, I decided to drill Cascade Brook Trail. I seemed to recall somebody defined a Strava Segment for it. Cascade had not been groomed that morning, so it had an icy crust on it and was much faster than the slushy, groomed snow.

Brett cresting Cascade. Water dripping from ice melting on trees.

Brett and I hit Tripoli Rd next. It was groomed and slow. I hit the latter portion quite hard but knew there was zero chance of coming close to a new best. Last check, I still own the KOM. I would like to raise the bar a notch this year. I'm skiing better than ever, and on a good day I have no doubt I can take a minute off my 17 minute KOM.

I'm noticing something new on skis this season. My balance feels more confident. I'm able to put much more upper body into it, no doubt a result of push-ups and sit-ups I've been doing. I've been forcing myself to get more ankle bend, something that has always been a challenge for me. Whatever it is, I sense my skiing economy has improved quite a bit from last year.

I've also been experimenting with taking much less fluid with me on long skis. I used to always ski with a Camelbak. I overheat easily and lose a lot of fluid during exercise. So I something that should have dawned on my a long time ago is this. It is very easy for me to produce enough heat to stay warm even when it is 15F outside. This winter I've gained the confidence that I can dress down a layer while skiing and not get cold. I sweat much less. This has allowed me to take one large water bottle with me on 2-3hr skis and ditch the 70 ounce Camelbak.

There's something mystical about skate skiing that I don't get from cycling or running. It has to do with the rhythm of it. Even when pushing really hard up a long, steep climb, there's something soothing about the left-right pendulum motion of skating. It puts you in a hypnotic trance. When the ski season ends in spring, I go through withdrawal.  My body wants that trance inducing pendulum motion back. I'm finding as I refine the technique, it is easier to get in the trance. And vice-versa. The trance helps me find economy in the technique.

Brett and I skied just over 3hrs, covering over 46km with 2700ft of climbing. Strava didn't give me credit for Cascade. On inspection, whoever defined this segment included a piece of Upper Snow's from the opposite direction leading into Cascade. I think most people would not do Cascade that way, and besides, why include part of another trail before the climb starts? I made an accurate segment, only to find I missed the KOM by 10 seconds. Oh well, something to try for another time.  Arvid skied a little longer, skiing his longest distance ever of about 50km. It was a great day for all of us on snow, and it may be a while after this big thaw before conditions bounce back.

Trail of Tears

At one point, I thought maybe we had a posse to ride the Cape on Sunday. Between illnesses and pulled butt cheeks, nobody was game. I really wasn't interested in a messy local road ride, and most trails in areas that just lost snow would still be quite messy too. Reports were quite good from the Cape.

I was beat from skiing the day before. Motivation was low for any intensity on the bike, but I needed it. I had been on the bike only three times so far this year.  When I need a flogging on the bike in January, I go to the Trail of Tears.  I have a loop that is designed to make minced meat of my legs and mind. It is hard to believe, but this 30 mile loop entails well over 4000 feet of climbing, on Cape Cod!

Moss and lichen were everywhere on the Trail of Tears

Zoom of lichen hanging from trees

The climbs are the menacing type. Straight up a fall line for 30 seconds or a minute, bomb down five seconds, repeat. Constantly. The moto-loop on the Sandwich side is merciless. I think I pick up about 2000ft of climbing there in less than 10 miles. Many of the climbs are well over 20% grade on loose surface. You grind at 3mph up, then ride brakes down not a whole lot faster in a rut. Not the usual reward for hard work. Like I said, I go here when I need a good flogging. These are forced intervals. Either you put out the Watts, or you're walking.

Sandwich side trail

I brought my Gary Fisher Superfly hardtail. The ride had its share of issues. Both brakes were nuisance rubbing and squeaking. It wasn't slowing me down, but it surely drove me bat shit crazy. I must have spent 15 minutes adjusting calipers on the trail before giving up. Seems the rotors are a little out of true.

The sandy soil was dry, but heavy fog left roots wet. I ran crazy low pressure for better traction. My bike was handling a little weird. Around a corner, it completely went out from under me. I manage to unclip and eject running, staying upright. The front tire was flat and I rolled it. I must have burped it at some point, which has never happened to me. Now the bead was packed with leaves and sand. I was amazed I could still hand pump it back up. This time, super-hard. I was going to hold off putting a tube in for now.

The other issue was due to 100% humidity, my glasses would not stay clear. Not even for a minute. 90% of the time I was riding with 95% obscured vision. It sucked. A couple hours into the ride, some drier air moved in and I could see again.

Not having ridden the 29er in a month, I was reminded again how differently wagon wheels and the long geometry handle. Some of it is good, some bad. Big wheels do not like to be in ruts, They are harder to get out and a rut is more apt to wash a 29" front wheel out than with a 26" wheel. It seems any feature on the ground is more apt to take control of your front wheel away from you. I think this is because the contact patch is so much longer and puts greater force back through the bars to the rider. But 29ers sure do roll better through rock gardens. The most notable thing was how well my 29er climbs steep grades. The longer wheel base makes it ultra stable. I cleaned one hill I never cleaned before on the moto loop and several others I rarely clean.  I plan to build up a new dualie this winter and I'm torn right now between a 5" travel 29er or 6" travel 27.5" (650B) bike.

I was an empty shell of a human being finishing the ride. Over 7500ft of climbing on snow and dirt this weekend put me in the deep, dark place I was seeking. Might take a couple days to get out of it. Interestingly, I finished the 30.5mi loop in 3:50, within a minute of the last time I rode this exact same loop, and I didn't do hard 3hr ski the day before last time either.

1 comment:

jason_ssc1 said...

I take it that deep dark place is a good thing. Usually you speak of euphoria from endorphins.