Friday, March 29, 2013

Ten Tunnels Loop - Day 7

Having ridden everything at least once in the greater Brevard area, Arik and I were looking to expand on our terrain a bit on our final day in Brevard, NC. It was quite mild here on Thursday, still below average temps, but perhaps warm enough to burn off snow on a section of the Blue Ridge Parkway we haven't ridden yet. This is the piece from Bent Creek to US-276. It climbs from 2000ft to 5000ft in 15 miles.

There are 10 tunnels on this section of the parkway, one being 1,400ft long and curved. It can get very dark in these things, plus the road can ice up inside them. We decided to stop down at Sycamore Cycles and pick up cheap headlights since we didn't bring any. Front and rear lights are required on the parkway anyway so cars can see you in the tunnels. The parkway was still closed when last checking the night before. The real incentive for stopping at Sycamore Cycles with the bikes in the car was so we didn't have to climb the FREAKIN' driveway again. I think Arik logged nearly 3000ft of vertical on this trip, just on the driveway back up to the house!

We had bluebird skies starting out and temp near 40F. For once I didn't need booties and balaclava for a road ride. Radar showed rain looming just to the west though. We'd have just enough time to get back down before it moved in.

Pennsylvania Rd in the French Broad River valley, about 30 miles in.

35 miles went by just like that riding in the French Broad River valley. As a local pointed out in email communication, the short section of Rt 191 would be the most dangerous part of this 70 mile loop, not dark, icy tunnels. I had no idea what he meant.  I soon learned.  Zero shoulder and semis going by. Yeah, glad that was over in just a few minutes.

The Parkway gate was still closed as we turned on to it. There were many cars parked there. It soon became evident my easy 25mi MTB ride on Thursday was paying dividends. Arik did back-to-back 100+ mile rides the past two days and was hurting, FINALLY! I didn't think anything could slow him down, not even riding 15 miles on a flat tire yesterday. I punched up ahead so I could stop and take photos without slowing Arik down and causing him to freeze to death. The temperature plummeted as we climbed.

FS-5000 in distance, a gravel road that looks skinny tire friendly. Like to take that route
up some time.

From about 4000ft looking north. Still a bit of snow on 6000ft peaks on TN/NC border.

We lost the bluebird sky, but the cloud deck stayed well above us, affording at least 10 mile visibility. I reached the longest tunnel on the parkway and turned my light on. It didn't get quite as dark in the middle as I expected, but the light certainly helped me follow the reflective line in the middle. As soon as I exited the uphill side, a guy in some kind of three-wheel recumbent came screaming through, like 40+ mph. He was holding a GoPro camera high in the air as he went by. His wheeled rig was making a whiny sound, like maybe it was electric assisted. I don't think he was even pedaling, and the grade was not steep enough for him to be coasting that fast. I wondered if he'd pass Arik in the tunnel and scare the crap out of him. Yep and yep. Arik didn't think there were cars out but heard something coming. Lights were a good idea.

Arik with a couple locals we chatted with briefly.

A few more tunnels up, we caught up to a couple other guys on MTBs rigged up for touring with skinnyish tires. One of the guys, Scott I think his name was, was one of the early organizers of the now hugely popular Assault on Mt Mitchell event. After chatting a bit, we pushed on ahead.

Around 5000ft just before beginning 3000ft plummet back to car.

The park service was out cleaning the parkway up. In fact, they must have opened the gates on 276 and 151 after we got on the parkway, because cars started coming by. Figures, on the last day of our trip they finally open a section of the parkway. I was hoping for a car-free traverse, but we made it at least half way with no cars.

Up at 5000ft, it was breezy and at least 15F colder than below. We didn't care to stick around long and commenced right into the US-276 slalom bomb back to the car. When I came down this on Sunday, we had 50ft visibility. This was also where Arik pinch flatted on a rock in the road the day before. A few of the hairpin turns had loose rocks scattered about. You didn't want to hit any leaned over at 45 degrees and going stupid fast. I've seen first hand how that can ruin your day. Arik has a claimed 30 pounds on me and I was surprised he let me lead out on the steep, curvy upper section. Once things leveled off a bit, he came around and put the hammer down. I struggled mightily to get back in his draft. Hugging his wheel down this beast of a descent spiked my heart rate. I think it was more adrenaline induced, not ventilatory.

We beat the sprinkles back to the car. I logged 71mi, 5200ft in 3.9hrs. This was probably the easiest ride of the trip for me, as I recovered a bit yesterday and there were no anaerobic bursts chasing Arik over rollers. Just maybe I achieved a boost in cycling fitness over the course of a week. That is why we claim to come here, after all.

So here's a tally of seven days' riding. This link should take you to the interactive page at Strava Multiple Ride Mapper. I rode 456mi, 43,200ft in 29.3 hours. Arik rode about 80 miles and 3.5 hours more hours than I did, since I went off-road the day he rode a second hundred miler.

Seven rides superimposed. Click link above to highlight individual rides.

Despite the coldest March in recent history, we managed to pull off a pretty good set of rides. The trend for me has been hitting North Carolina on odd years and Arizona on even years. So next year at this time, look for a desert southwest trip...

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Reprieve from Pavement - Pisgah NF, Day 6

Our sixth day in North Carolina was looking better weather-wise. Highs finally in the 50's despite temp still in the 20's getting up. Crazy low humidity too. Arik and I are both hacking up lung from so many hours of breathing dry air. Feels drier than Tucson, where it has been in the 80's all week.

Arik was planning another 100+ mile day, a variant of yesterday's ride. My legs were not going to have anything to do with that. I needed a rest day, or something that at least slightly resembling one in comparison. Sycamore Cycles is just down the hill from us, and the Pisgah National Forest is right across the street from them with half a million acres of riding terrain.

Dualies were pricey for the day, so I went with a 29er hardtail. I didn't bring my MTB shoes, and my Speedplay road shoes are entirely incompatible with off-road riding. So that left me with flat pedals or flat pedals with toe clips. The shop had some cheap plastic pedals with toe clips for me. I wore my running shoes. The bike was a bit antiquated compared to the luxurious bikes in my quiver, being an 8-speed drivetrain with many no-name parts on it. It weighed a ton. Wasn't complaining though. Trail conditions were claimed to be about as good as they get.

Heading out, I soon realized what a PITA toe clips are. My grippy running shoes would catch on the pedal, making slipping them into the clip almost impossible. Plus the right clip was clinched almost closed. I stopped to see if I could deform it to a little more open stance. It promptly snapped off. Son of a bitch! Now I had one barely functional toe clip and one flat pedal heading into some brutally steep, rugged terrain.

Climbing up FS-477

I began climbing up forest service road 477. It gains 1400ft, much of it around 8% grade. Not a bad climb for feeble legs, the middle ring could still make light work of it. A small descent wrapped around to Club Gap Trail. I've ridden this before and knew there'd be some hike-a-bike near the top. There was frost coming out of the ground, making the climb greasy. With running shoes on, I did not mind the brief hike.

Black Mountain Trail ridgeline

From Club Gap, the Black Mountain Trail is picked up. It follows the 4000ft ridgeline up and down and around. The deal was, the up and downs were pretty steep and gnarly, at least for my marginal riding platform. The fork had an unnerving characteristic in that it would rebound with a metal to metal thud. Sent shock waves into my wrists.

Black Mtn benchcut. Warm and dry.

Laurel up top on Black Mtn trail

When I reached Buckhorn Gap, I decided to pull the plug on riding the whole Black Mtn trail and began descending Clawhammer Rd, a somewhat rutted out doubletrack. I'd then pick up FS-5098/5099 and climb back up to Black Mtn trail for the final descent down from Hickory Knob, a heinously steep section I climbed once several years ago.

Climbing FS-5099

Easy spinning soon brought me to another named gap, Pressley Gap, at the Black Mtn trail junction. The final bit up to Hickory Knob required a some hike-a-bike with my tired legs and free foot, which nearly caused me to clobber my calf multiple times with foot slipping off. Apparently I push forward on the pedals quite hard when clipped in and found it hard to adapt to not having one foot clipped.

Plummet time. From Hickory Knob to US-276, 1400 feet are lost in just a couple miles. Keeping the bike under me with clangy fork and free foot proved challenging. But you can't help but smile coming down that. The lower half is bermed up, carved through a rhododendron and laurel tunnel. Stunning effect. Felt almost tropical, there was so much green with bluebird sky filtering through.

I had hoped to do a simple loop on the other side of 276, but it was posted hiking only, as there is a campground there. That wrapped up the ride for me, with the bike shop just two miles down the road. I finished with 25mi, 3600ft in 3hrs on the Garmin. No wheel sensor, so I suspect I under-measured by at least a few miles in the twisty terrain. A recovery day compared to yesterday's hundred miler, although I still felt pretty tired an hour later, sucking down my two favorite food groups, Starbucks coffee and Sonic malted shake.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Brevard-Cruso Soul Crusher - Day 5

The weather is finally starting to clear up on our fifth day in North Carolina. The horizon was clear in the morning. The temperature was still in the 20's with a windchill in the teens though. Another day with winter layers, but not quite as bulked up as the last three days.

Snowy mountains calling in the morning

I had trouble going up the stairs to make coffee in the morning. I seriously questioned the judgement of getting on a bike again and climbing hills with Arik. He was talking hundred miler, I was talking short bakery ride. I couldn't let the first clear day go to waste. I kitted up and we headed out together. A big loop called the Brevard-Cruso loop was loaded on the GPSs. It ran about 88 miles from our house. For extra credit, Arik played in to find an additional 12+ miles to make it a hundred miler. Not me. This loop passes over the Blue Ridge Parkway twice, a 2500ft climb the first time, closer to 3000ft the second time. 10+ mile steep climbs and descents on both passes.

Arik towed me all the way until the serious climbing began on US-276. Then it was bye-bye until the top. It was pretty frigid at the parkway, around 4500ft elevation. The state had salted and sanded the other side of 276, which was steeper and was going to make the descent interesting. Plus we were going into the wind. Arik carried way more speed that I cared to on uncertain surfaces. I fell on black ice once and didn't care to do it at 40mph with cliffs and guardrails everywhere. At the bottom, something like 10-12 miles later, Arik was pretty much frozen through. He must run on half the calories I do, as evidenced by our abilities to stay warm and post ride food consumption. Probably another slow-twitcher calorie miser.

Part way up US-276

From US-276/BRP junction

After topping off my water in inhaling most of a ham and cheddar sandwich, we agreed Arik should not wait for me at the much higher pass coming up. I couldn't have gone harder than tourist pace if my life depended on it. Besides, I brought the good camera in the fanny pack and it was stellar picture taking conditions. Rarely is the air so clear in the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Beginning Rt 215 climb

Little further up Rt 215

Icy falls on Rt 215

Contrasts of colors and brightness at top of Rt 215

Riding a pedestrian pace, I reached the parkway with little difficulty. I think only one car passed me in 45 minutes of climbing. It was an awesome climb, a section of road I've never been on. While it looked pretty wintry at 5300ft, the parkway looked mostly clear. I thought I'd check out the high point heading north that was socked in with clouds on our second ride this trip. There were only a couple patches of snow and ice that went all the way across the road, which were easy to navigate. I stopped to eat, soak in the sun and take in the see-forever views.

High point on BRP north of Rt 215

Turning around, I though just maybe I could ride all the way to the parkway high point above 6000ft heading south of Rt 215. There were several cars parked there, and people were enjoying the parkway in brilliant sun and crisp air on foot. It is gated to traffic.

BRP south of Rt 215

Caney overlook on BRP

I thought the high point was just a couple miles out. I didn't GPS this and was going off-script. After a couple big climbs and plummets to named gaps, I started to get frustrated, gaining no net vertical and riding many miles. Many sections wrapped around north facing benchcut terrain. These were filled with 2" crusty snow. I packed my rims a couple times. Finally I started climbing in earnest, hoping that this would ultimately hit the high point without plummeting again. But as I reached 5800ft, the road became continuously snow covered at 6-8% grade. There's no way I wanted to come back down that. The stuff was very squirelly on 23mm tires. Bummer. Less than 200ft from the BRP parkway high point. I've hit it before, just thought it would be nice on such a pristine day.

BRP at 5800ft. End of road for me.

Turning around, I had to climb back up from multiple gaps before regaining Rt 215. I think noodling around on the parkway netted me another 1500ft or more, which I did not plan. It also meant I would end up with over 100 miles when I got back, and Arik would certainly be back before I would now. I sent him a quick text and began a nearly 4000ft plummet back to civilization.

Fortunately, the mostly south facing side of Rt 215 was not salted. It was pure adrenaline bombing down this, dodging the big clunks of ice that had broken off from high above. Unfortunately, this seemed to be going straight into the wind. How can that be? A couple hours earlier going the opposite way, it was into the wind. Sucks how that happens all the time.

To shorten the ride, I decided to head straight back to Brevard on US-64, which is a shitty road to cycle on. It has a 3ft shoulder, but very high traffic with trucks, etc. This too was straight into the wind, and at times I slowed to 11 mph. I had 20+ miles of this back to the house. I was way passed being wrecked by this point. And I had that lovely 20% driveway climb to look forward to as well.

I'm surprised any muscles fibers were twitching at all when I reached the house. I was almost too tired to unclip. Glad there were railings all around the door to catch myself on. I finished with 101.3mi with 9400ft vertical in about 6.4hrs. Arik rode a few more miles in quite a bit less time but less climbing. He didn't ride through ice and snow either. Arik thoroughly enjoyed the loop and plans to do it in reverse direction on Thursday. I'm out. Thought about picking up a mountain bike for the afternoon at Sycamore Cycles just down the hill from us, but have to figure out shoes/pedals to do that. Brought only road shoes. Maybe I'll just do that bakery run into Brevard...

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Becky, Pinnacle and Jeter Shit Show

Day four in Brevard, North Carolina. Third day in a row kitting up in full winter attire. The snow covering the not too far away and not too tall mountains meant we weren't riding west or north on Tuesday. Snow cover maps show up to 8" in many areas. There were even school cancellations and delays this morning in the greater Asheville area. That is pretty unusual for this time of year. All of the Blue Ridge Parkway is closed now, so our riding opportunities are pretty limited.

Nearby peaks from our deck

After sleeping in and a late breakfast, Arik and I scouted possible local loop options on the web. I knew of Becky Mountain from Aaron's website  It was short, painfully steep, and so close that there was little chance of spinning the last three days out of our legs. I was in a major funk already, doing all these local steep climbs at higher intensity than I typically hit the much bigger climbs at. This was taking a toll on me. I thought maybe if we did a shorter loop today, that would constitute some kind of lame recovery ride even though we'd be hitting 20% climbs.

A road that looked like a nice connector through a deep valley was Green River Rd. We'd use that, with a mostly downhill bias to it, to reach Hendersonville and the next climb, Pinnacle Mountain. I knew nothing of this one, other than it was paved to the top by looking at satellite view in Google Maps. It had two sustained sections with 20% or greater grades in it, one in first mile, the other in the last mile. In the middle it rolled seriously along a 3000ft ridgeline with million dollar homes flanking the edges.

Finally, to close the loop back to our rental house, we'd hit Jeter Mountain Road. Looked like a paved, painless climb, with riotous descent. Thus a loop was clinched, about 58 miles with more than 100ft of climbing per mile. Hey, it was shorter than the previous day's nearly 80 mile ride, so it couldn't be too hard, right? Right...

Arik pulled my battered body all the way to Becky Mtn, about 8mi. A 450ft drop down our driveway and flat approach meant no warm-up for my legs. Becky was a bitch. I thought about stopping at one point. Wait a minute, I did stop once, to take a picture. Yeah, that was my excuse. Many sections stayed right at 18-20% grade. Recovery was had when the grade dropped to 12% briefly a couple times.

Becky Mtn was all this steep, not just the switchbacks

Dropping down to Green River Rd, the temperature plummeted almost as fast as the vertical. Green River started out as a nice, sparsely populated paved road. Wouldn't you know it, just like the previous day, it turned to gravel. We're not talking finely groomed auto road here, were talking closer to doubletrack Jeep road. It was pretty rough. And it lost a lot of vertical over several miles, tightly following a stream below. It was a riot. I threw caution to the wind, risking a flat or broken rim on the many protruding rocks. Arik was a little more cautious on a suspect borrowed wheel. We both made it through unscathed. That was probably the high point of the ride for me, even though it was near the lowest elevation.

Bombing down Green River Rd on skinnies

One of the rare instances where I got ahead of Arik

It wasn't long before we reached the Pinnacle Mountain climb. It started with a kick to 'nads. Grades hovered near 20% again up to the orchard. Once up on the ridgeline, some nice views opened up, but it was wicked cold up there with a few flurries on the breeze. Pinnacle Mtn Rd rolled something crazy, accumulating a lot climbing before we even reached the real climb, the push to the summit.

The summit push was f'n ridiculous. I saw grades on my Garmin over 20% several times, and I don't think it ever dropped below 15%. I think Arik heard some of my expletives riding further up from me. Linked track stands was how ugly things got. A real shit show.

Think it was cold on the Pinnacle Mtn ridgeline? Forecast calls for 70F as soon as we leave. Figures.

Coming back down section that registered 23% on my Garmin

Looking down Pinnacle just below summit

Coming down, we took gated Bear Rock Rd down. This wasn't even a full lane wide and just sick how steeply it descended. I hadn't felt that much adrenaline in a while. Part way down was a gravity cavity with banked turn right after it. I don't think you get that many G's on a roller coaster.

Pinnacle Mtn from valley

A brief traverse brought us to the final climb right at the end of the ride, Jeter Mountain. This would be a modest climb with a very steep 1000ft descent back to the valley. We limped our way up and got ready for another white knuckle descent. The bummer was, they had recently sanded and salted the road, so there was no way to safely carry speed around the continuous turns. Still fun though.

For the fourth day in a row, we finished the ride up our 450ft driveway. That's 1800ft of climbing in four days just on our driveway, and at a stupid steep pitch. I hate that f'n driveway. We can ride right to the door of the house and you have to catch the railing to keep from falling over and to catch your breath before clipping out. The final pitch is at least 20%. We finished with about 58mi, 6300ft of climbing, in 3.8hrs. That put me in the deepest training hole I think I've ever been in. Can't even think about Wednesday's ride...

Monday, March 25, 2013

Wind, Flurries, Cold - Brevard Day 3

Arik and I awoke to partially sunny conditions on Monday. It was dry outside. That was better than we were expecting. But is was cold. 26F, 30mph winds and intermittent flurries. No problem for north-easterners, eh? I'll take cold and dry over wet any day.

The elevations we hit on Sunday were now snow covered, so a lower elevation loop had to be planned. We hadn't hit Caesar's Head yet. Arik pointed out a couple other roads with some climbing we could hit on the way back, like Rich Mountain road. I knew nothing about this, but the descent back to Brevard looked sweet.

Purchase Knob, just west of Asheville at 5000ft, from webcam. We rode higher than this the day before.

We headed out just like our first two days, skirting around the fringes of Brevard on nice valley roads. The wind was supposed to be out of N-NW, but it was squarely out of the SW, straight into our faces. The first hour we fought a soul crushing headwind with tired legs. The only real climb was approaching the South Carolina border. A 2000ft drop brought us below 1000ft at the furthest point out in our ride.

A glimpse of blue sky near lowest point of ride in SC.

Along Rt 288 in SC, Arik hollers out something about his bike. I thought maybe a flat. But no. He popped a rear driveside spoke. The wheel went so wonky it was slamming seat and chain stays hard. Never seen a 32 spoke wheel go so wonky with one broken spoke. It took a good while working with spoke wrench just to get the wheel to clear the frame. Some spokes had zero tension, others needed 2x. Scary. And forget about rear brake. How would this play out with the descents coming up? At least Arik was riding. Last time down here, DaveP popped a spoke furthest point out and there was nothing we could do to fix it.

Caesar's Head looming 2000ft above in distance

Caesar's Head killed me. It gains no more than Mt Ascutney, which I can do in sub-30 minutes. But third day going fairly hard with very little riding in the legs over the winter put me in shambles. Arik rolled away, wonky wheel and all.

At least there was a decent view up top. Flurries were whizzing by at 30-40mph. It was so windy I had to hold on to keep my balance. Arik started making calls to get a another wheel overnighted to him while I fussed with camera and inhaled more calories. Not many shops have Campy wheels on hand to loan out.

Caesar's Head ledge with snow flying by

Westerly view from Caesar's Head

The initial descent from Caesar's Head was a frigid affair. A fast-twitcher like me did ok, where I waste way more calories as heat than most people, but Arik froze. Next up was Rich Mtn. The road was paved but had lots of loose stones on it, like it wasn't traveled much. We soon learned why. Upon reaching the ridge line, the road turned to a one-lane loose gravel deal. Not good for a wonky wheel that was ready to explode at any instant. To make matters worse, there were a few big rollers up top. I liked the road, but less than ideal given our circumstances.

Rich Mountain Rd

Crazy grades on Rich Mtn. Reminded me of a D2R2 climb.

Rich Mtn turned to pavement, and the riotous descent began. Non-stop turns and double-digit grades. Arik could only use his front brake, and I still had trouble catching him. What is sick is somebody created a downhill Strava KOM for this road. Whacked!

Open views on Rich Mtn.

From there it was a flat cruise back to the house, and the only bit of tail wind we had on the whole ride. Now the deal was we still had to finish with that evil 450 foot climb in half a mile. I think Tuesday's ride will involve driving somewhere, just so I don't have to climb that stupid driveway again.

We finished with about 78 miles, 4.7hrs moving time, and 7200-7800ft of climbing, depending on whose GPS you believe. Our distances keep inching up, roughly 10mi and 1000ft more each day. I'm broken though. Tuesday is going to have to be an easy day, else I'll never survive the Hot Doggett century we hope to do later in the week when the weather straightens out. One more day of mixed precip, then the rest of the week looks pretty good.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Climb to the Clouds

The forecast for Sunday suggested we wouldn't be riding today, or at least I wouldn't be. Several hour rides in 40F rain isn't my idea of a good time, even if I traveled 1500 miles to ride here. Arik was less apprehensive.

We awoke to torrential downpours, as in a roaring sound in the house. That pretty much clinched it for me. Glad we got a hard bonus ride in on Saturday. We hadn't planned on riding Saturday.

Moping around the house, the radar seemed to indicate that the massive storm moving across the country just might lift enough to the north to give us a break in precip. I quickly put a route together for the day on and loaded our GPSs. We were going to take a gamble on a portion of the Blue Ridge Parkway, a section I hadn't ridden yet. Most of the BRP is closed right now.

Heading southwest skirting around Brevard, it was still lightly drizzling out and the roads were wet. We kitted up in full winter riding gear, as in booties with plastic bags under them AmFib tights, heavy thermal layers, balaclava, lobstah mitts, Goretex shell, etc.  The drizzle stopped, and after an hour, the roads even started to dry.

Heading up Hwy 215, Arik set a pace I knew better to follow. It is a long climb, and Sassafras Mtn the evening before left my legs a tad damaged. After half an hour of climbing, we reached the cloud deck. This was probably the thickest fog I've ridden. Visibility was no more than 50ft. Fortunately, only two cars passed us in the last half hour. Descending in this would be interesting.

Arik climbing Hwy 215. 

The grade tested 10% a few times. Somewhere along that stretch, I caught Arik and kept going. With the fog, we could have been 50ft apart and never know it. I forgot how much of the total climbing to the ride's high point was on Hwy 215. Almost all of it. We were more than a mile high reaching the parkway at Beech Gap.

Junction of 215 and BRP, Beech Gap I believe.

Rolling along at 5500-5700ft was surreal. I'm sure the views are incredible from the numerous pull-offs, but we couldn't even see the tree tops, let alone the horizon. There was a fleeting instant where the sun started to poke through and you could faintly see some nearby peaks. I waited for a clearer moment to take a photo, and the instant was gone. Back into deep abyss.

Devil's Tunnel

Wall of white haze exiting tunnel.

The 1200ft descent on the parkway was treacherous. We soon realized why they close it this time of year. No snow up there, but the numerous benchcut sections were littered with large chunks of rock and ice falling from high up. If you went over 15mph, you'd never see it in time to stop. Sections were minefields of hundred pound slabs of rock and ice. Would have been nice to bomb this section.

Blue Ridge Parkway

As we dropped, the temperature dropped. Don't understand this. It wasn't colder further down on the climb. Maybe colder air was moving in. Soaking wet and doing no work picking our way down, we got cold. The air temp was 32F by the time we got down to Hwy 276.

Visibility was still very poor on Hwy 276, but we had really nice pavement and knew this road would be clear, as it was not closed. Arik took some pretty nice lines around the many sweeping switchbacks. It took a leap of faith to carry that kind of speed with limited visibility. Soon we popped out below the cloud deck and could really let it ripped.

Arik is bigger than me and can put out big power. This is most evident on descents. He pulled away and there was nothing I could do about it. A few minutes of hammering downhill suddenly put me into a world of cramping misery. There's always a first time for something, and cramping up on a descent was a first for me. It got so bad I had to stop, let my hamstrings and inner thighs relax a bit and take in more calories. Arik was now long gone. I could do nothing more than soft pedal the remaining 10 miles or so.

Looking Glass falls where I stopped to stretch.

The drizzle started moving back in as I approached the house. I was dreading the climb back up to the house, something like 450 feet in half a mile. Just whacked. Our minivan can barely make it up this hill. I thought surely I'd be walking up. But no, apparently I soft pedaled long enough to recover some. Of course, Arik had to better his time from last night by one second.

I finished with 69mi in 4.2hrs with 6000ft of climbing. The fog really killed our average, not being able to recoup all that climbing by letting speed run out. Was great to stay mostly dry on a day that initially looked like a complete washout, and I got to ride another piece of the parkway I hadn't ridden yet. Might be only time this trip to ride up there with snow in forecast next three days.

Brett is not going to be able to make it. The bug he picked up just before the trip is messing with him in a bad way. It is one thing to cough up green, but a whole other thing when you start coughing up red. Get well soon, buddy.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Sassafras Loop

We're down in Brevard, NC. The forecast is about as abysmal as it can get for this time of year. 100% of rain Sunday, chances of snow Monday through Wednesday. With a few hours of daylight left Saturday, Arik and I decided to get as much of a ride in before the perma-gloom settles in. We had a bit of sun poking through at the time.

I've heard about a climb called Sassafras Mountain just south of Brevard in South Carolina. It has some pretty brutal grades in it. If we rode it from our rented vacation home, we could just fit the 60mi ride in the remaining daylight.

Arik has been riding about 4x as much as I have the last two months. This had me a bit worried, even if he professes to not being a climber. He can put out mad Watts on the flat. Lose the draft, bye-bye for me. Starting a week of long rides with a hurried ride with climbing usually doesn't bode well for me.

It was nearly 60F heading out. Shorts, but not short sleeves. Our house sits atop a spanker of a hill, nearly 500ft climb in less than a mile. Pitches hit 20%. We'd have to climb that when we got back. Sassafras has 20% grades in it too. It gains upwards of 1800ft.

Heading south, the sun quickly disappeared and the wind kicked up. The temp dropped at least 10F. We wasted no time getting to bottom of Sassafras. The climb did not disappoint. Arik has straight up road gearing, I brought Mt Washington climbing gears. Yeah, I'm evil like that. The scales tipped a tad in my favor heading up. At the summit spur junction, looking right up another wall section, I commented only a mile to go. Arik said "A MILE!!?"  I didn't think it was that hard, but I was clearly digging a hole I didn't want to be in on the first day.

Switchbacks at ~20% grade

The summit was completely socked in with clouds. Arik's GPS read 41F. Yeah, soaking wet, our bare knees and fingers were going to feel great on that descent. It was pretty cold.

Sassafras Mtn Summit

We made it back to our house north of Brevard just as the sun was setting with about 3.3hrs riding time. The driveway up sucked, as expected. Coming home to a double-digit 400-500ft climb each day will get old, if it doesn't kill me first.

The view from our rental does not suck

We're down one man right now. Brett picked up the flu a day before the trip and was knock flat out on his ass. We're hoping he can join us on Monday. I need him to help throttle Arik back, else I'm doomed.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Weston Bonus

I knew there was a reason I didn't break down the wax bench. My ski club, Cambridge Sports Union, decided to capitalize on the welcome-to-spring dump we just got by grooming up the Weston course. The Weston Ski Track officially closed on March 15 for the season. They had to be out of the golf shop by then, presumably so golf operation can be set up. Good luck with that with the current blanket of snow.

New snow with a lot of moisture in it plus a mild day usually makes for a total slog. Skate skis just stick to the stuff like glue. Lots of water suction. I slapped a quick coat of Toko HF Yellow on and rilled with the Toko Yellow structure wheel. No crack powder. Didn't have time.

Conditions on the course were the exact opposite from what I expected. They were hard, crunchy and rutted out, just like one Tuesday night when I bailed out of racing. The course was crazy fast. Do I race and risk jeopardizing my trip coming up? It was too good an opportunity to pass up. First day of spring, we'd be racing when it was light out for a change, and we'd be doing the longest distance this season, upwards of 12km!

I skied a few laps before lining up, trying to shake out the six bike repeats on Naticook I did the day before. The initial descent on the course was quite treacherous. The grooming was uneven and rutted (but the price was right - free!). I didn't want to get caught up in a melee. I lined up further back than I knew I would finish just to have a little room at the back. About 40 people showed up for this impromptu race. All the fast folks were there, including Alex back from orienteering worlds in Kazakhstan.

On the first lap, I immediately got gapped behind a couple girls. Joe, Jamie, Terry, Robert and others pulled away. I fought like hell to catch back on after coming around the girls. Spent a whole lap in no man's land. Not a good way to start a 12k race.

On lap two, I caught Jamie just as he was coming off this pack. I recovered a bit, then passed him. I wanted to catch Joe, since we had an epic battle between the two of us the last time I raced at Weston. Just as I caught Joe, he too came off the pack. I was so gassed at this point, working by myself most of the time, that there was no way I was bridging up to the group with Terry McNatt and others in it.

I  shamelessly let Joe do all the work in the fourth lap. I petered out and Jamie with two others caught us. Nothing I could do about it. I gave it one futile effort just before getting caught. Finishing with Joe and Jamie in these sketchy conditions would be a pretty good race for me anyway. I had several spectacular near crashes and saves. Even Joe had some oh-shits. Not everybody stayed up.

Coming into the last few turns to the finish, I made a couple tactical passes. I don't remember who I passed first, Jamie or Joe, but on the second to last hill. Then on the last hill before the finish, I edged the other out taking the inside line, which I normally avoid like the plague in these things. How I held them both off on the screaming descent and slight rise to the finish is beyond me. I finished in 31:28 (see lap two), probably my fastest moving average for a Weston race this season. Wicked fun, great endorphin booster. I really needed that with all the work stress and home repair projects I have going lately. I thought Windblown last Friday was a season wrap for me, but this will likely be it unless somebody up north stays open into April.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Busy weekend

In between proposal writing at work and a major home project, I managed to get in a little activity this weekend. Friday, which was supposed to be an off-Friday, I escaped to Windblown for a quick ski after raving morning reports. Conditions weren't bad when I got there, but apparently word spread fast and the limited terrain that was groomed pretty much had all the descents scraped off. I was a little terrified a couple times.

Great view of Mt Monadnock from Windblown

Saturday midday I hooked up with a gang from the greater Chelmsford-Bedford area for my first significant road ride of the season. With the two fastest tandem couples in the northeast, I felt like I was being tag-teamed by the dueling tandems. We hit a bunch of hilly terrain between Carlisle and Wachusett area that I hadn't ridden before. The constant punchy climbs took a toll on my already tired body. I was beat after the ride.

Sunday I had high hopes for a long-ish MTB ride. I had many other things to do so I had to keep it close. The Manchester area had very little snow, so I thought the loop around Massabesic Lake would be good. What you see from the car is not what you get in the woods. It was post hole hell. The snow pack was all deep frozen foot prints and frozen hard as rock. My aluminum hardtail with a 12yr old SID fork with barely any compliance left in it beat me further to a pulp. I called it quits after 90 minutes.

Looks like snow but was rock solid. No fun on hardtail with 35psi in tires.

At least the roof turned out pretty good. Contractor finished it in two days. One of the storms this winter ripped numerous shingles off our roof in several areas. Those were pretty crappy shingles. Our house was new in June 1997. Luckily we got it done just before the next major snowstorm. When is first day of spring again?

Before, one area of damage: