This past week's freakishly warm weather left Nordic skiing in tatters across New England. I set my week up to ski on my off-Friday. I had doubts whether it was worthwhile driving up to Waterville. I waited until they opened to get a more direct report before committing to the drive. No additional clarity was obtained. What else was I going to do? With a couple ski events coming up, not skiing was not an option (double negatives make perfect sense to me). I took a gamble.
I had to drive to the north-end trails from the Nordic center, as the connecting trails were closed. I started on Livermore Road, normally one of their better trails in thin cover. It was a disaster, not due to thin cover, but tree debris. It was only partially groomed and hard as rock. I face planted going up it, hitting tree debris. I quickly realized I made a mistake skiing so soon after a warm spell. I was rather pissed I paid full trail pass fee for this. I thought about abandoning and see if I could get a rain-check for another day. It was so bad that other skiers took their skis off to walk back down.
Skis stop dead on sticks, yet unable to control speed coming down.
Before I abandoned, I crossed over to the Tripoli Road side. Now this was much improved. Good even. I went straight up to Thornton Gap. If I had fresh legs, I would have contemplated going for a PR climb. But Tuesday night's ski race, Wednesday's 5x4min VOmax intervals on the bike and Thursday's 10k run left me a bit ragged. The descent was scary fast. A confident skier could easily have gone 40-50mph on skinny sticks. I scrubbed speed off to stay under 30mph. Tripoli was so good I climbed it again.
I also hit the smaller Upper Osceola climb once. That was in fair shape with some tree debris. Mission accomplished. I skied 40km in just over 2.5hrs with about 3000ft of climbng. There have been times in past seasons where only Tripoli Rd was open. It certainly saved the day for me on this trip.
From Bob's Lookout. This is more like it!
On Saturday there were rumblings of a group ride being organized at Russell Mill, and perhaps I could lead the group on my C-towns loop, or as MKR calls it, the Big Loop. I thought it would be just a few NEMBA guys from the Merrimack area, but no, it was a much bigger group with some of the top guns in New England MTB racing amassed. I was the oldest present, with many of the guys probably closer to half my age. Oh boy, I thought, this is going to be interesting after a punishing ski the day before. What did Shawn get me into here?
We head off into Russell Mill at Mach 12 speed. Shawn billed the ride as a LSD ride. Clearly, these guys were going for blood. Or Strava cred. I was getting whipped around at the back of this pack like a fly on the end of a fly fisherman's line.
Also joining us was Soups. He just picked up a mountain bike, being essentially new to the sport after dabbling a little in it fifteen years ago. I was humbled by how well he handled the breakneck pace and technical terrain in Russell Mill. I guess good cyclocross handling skills carry over quite readily to trail riding.
I was one of two riders not on a 29er. Neither of us did well. I took some ridicule still riding little 26" wheels. Yeah, I had some close calls nearly stuffing my front wheel a couple times. Given that new trails are designed around the 29er, guys on small wheels are outgunned when riding with big-wheeled guys. That pretty much clinches it for me. I've been mulling over building a new dualie for a couple months now. I was thinking about going with the new 650b (27.5") wheel format, but real wheel size is only slightly bigger than 26" wheels, which typically run larger than their 26" trade size suggests. 29" wheels realize a substantial increase in diameter over both 27.5" and 26" wheels. I'll go this route even though it means I may have to settle for an inch or two less suspension travel.
After ripping through all of Russell Mill about 1.5 times and a good chunk of Great Brook, PR'ing almost every Strava segment, the group split up. Most of the guys could not commit another three hours to do the big loop. Shawn, Andy, Mark and I were in. We'd be hitting it in reverse from how I normally ride it, which is nice for a change, but it made remembering the route more challenging. Since I had the route in my head, I had control of the pace, meaning a more civil pace was sure to ensue.
The trails were in mint condition, really as good as they can get anytime of year. There was zero snow or ice on the trails, maybe a couple icy water crossings, and the ground was frozen rock hard. Riding at the back of the pack at times, I was riding in a dust plume. How often does that happen at the beginning of February?
Towards the end of the loop, I felt a couple cramping spasms coming on. This ride was going to end just barely soon enough for me. Upon re-entering Great Brook, I was relieved to here nobody wanted to cover trails missed on our initial pass through. I had to ask though. It is the Hill Junkie way. Bury yourself and recover another day. With my sensored Garmin 705, I logged 43.3mi in 3.9hrs with over 3000ft of climbing. I was hoping to ski again Sunday, but I'll probably be in a catatonic state.