Thursday, June 20, 2013

The Other NEK

Currently in between projects at work, I decided to take Wednesday off. I've not had a proper trail ride in weeks, given all the rain we've been getting. Earlier this week has been no exception. Locally, surface water was topped off again on Tuesday. The north country seems to have dodged the last couple deluges. Would it be North Conway, with a couple passes over Black Cap Mountain, or the Northeast Kingdom (NEK) of Vermont?

I went to bed thinking North Conway but changed my mind when I got up. I didn't get any takers, and the descents off Black Cap entail risk. And besides, I like to ride stuff at NEK that make others ask WHY? I could get my climbing fix in at NEK and do a more traditional ride there next time when I head up with a posse.

NEK is gearing up for a big weekend, NEMBA Fest. Thousand of mountain bikers will descend on East Burke, VT this weekend. You'd never know it looking around Wednesday morning though. Ghost town. Don't think I've ever done a mid-week fling up to NEK. Off-Fridays, sure, but that's already the weekend for some. There was one other car in the mountain biker parking lot.

On the agenda where Burke and East mountain peaks. East Mountain (aka Radar Mtn) has a lot of history. It was a cold war Air Force radar installation, which was abandoned shortly after coming on line in the 60's. During it's brief operation, an unidentified object was tracked for 18 minutes. This was about the same time and place a New Hampshire couple was supposedly abducted by aliens in Franconia Notch for a brief period. I'm a skeptic when it comes to this kind of stuff.  The land was purchased by an individual after it shut down. Then in 2006, a power company lost approval to put a wind farm up top. Today, I believe the land is owned by a timber company and is part of the 132,000 acre Champion Lands. Much of this land is privately owned for timbering, but with perpetual public access agreement. The biggest use is snowmobiling.

It was a tad chilly heading out of East Burke. Perfect for me. Every time I hit NEK, there are new trails to try. On Burke Mtn, there is a new climbing-only trail! About time, with all the attention given to lift-served downhill. The new trail is called Shire. After riding Burnham Up, which is nearly 50% plank bridge now, I picked up Shire.  The folks at the office weren't 100% sure if it was all done yet. That's how new it was. Sure enough, I think I was laying third set of tire tracks on it. It was little more than a mow and ride or rake and ride trail. It was super soft and climbed steeply at times. I didn't want to bury myself 20 minutes into a long day of riding. I rode only the first section and then headed to my traditional uphill route.

I quickly realized why Shire was constructed. My traditional route now appeared to be a very large, fenced off dog park. I couldn't get through. So I could either climb hundreds more vertical feet on spongy forest floor or bomb back down to the road and climb it to the Campground Trail. I opted to save the legs even though it meant more net climbing.  I did catch the lower part of Roly Grail, a lift-served run. Those gravity junkies might be on to something...

Popping out on the Burke Toll Rd, I was in for the main course of the day, a quad searing jaunt to the summit. Camptown pops out right at the base of the 25% grade section. I had already climbed 1500ft at pretty high intensity. I brought my behemoth Tallboy, which weighs about 28 lbs, and I had a completely packed Camelbak that probably weighed another 15 lbs. This was going to hurt.

Burke never disappoints. You think after that 25% section, you can take it easy. Well, maybe you can, if you call 12% easy. There are many sections that break 15% after the initial wall. View from up top was nice on a low humidity day. It was cold up there. Being soaked from the climb, I froze on the fast descent. Zero cars on the mountain this day.

View from Burke Mtn summit looking north, elevation 3270ft

After dropping tire pressure, I hit all the Moose Alley trails. The Tallboy really gobbles that stuff up. Riding solo, I rode conservatively, but I found I could take lines I wouldn't think about taking on my 26" daulie. Other than the usual muddy spots on the Parrs Yard traverse, the trails were tacky, pretty near hero dirt.

After popping out on Rt 114, I thought hard about heading out to Radar Mtn. My legs were already a little noodly. But I came out for a proper NEK ride, and most others would not want to throw in 3000+ feet of climbing on roads abandoned 50 years ago when there is so much singletrack on Darling Hill. So I had to get this in on a solo trip.

Starting up Victory Rd, my bike still felt squishy even though I locked out the suspension. Oh, pressure was something like 15psi. I stopped to top off the tires again. Victory Rd turns to gravel and then gains about 1000ft before giving half of it back again. A left on Radar Rd in Gallup Mills climbs very gradually for four miles along a stream. Even though this sometimes gated forest road is narrow and not open to regular traffic, it is well maintained and perfectly suited for CX bikes. Radar Rd tee's up with... Radar Rd. Yeah, Google seems to call all the roads out here 'Radar Rd'. A right heads to the summit, a dead-end out and back. The road here is not nearly as nice. Often steep and intermittent asphalt that decayed decades ago. You could possible climb this on a cross bike, but descending it with any kind of speed would be treacherous. There are many zig-zagging ruts in the gravel and busted up asphalt.

After a brief lull in the climbing, a much newer looking asphalt is encountered. This is where the real climbing begins. The grade stays above 10% and breaks 15% many times. With 6000ft climbing in the legs, I was crawling up this one. I passed another guy on a hardtail, also heading up. All the gates were open, and there appeared to be fresh truck tracks. About 1000ft is gained in the last two miles on pavement good enough for road bikes. Kind of odd, being so far out and no pavement connecting it to the rest of the world.

Remnants of radar installation on summit of East (Radar) Mtn, elevation 3439ft

There was a car up top. Kids. I would never take a car there. SUV maybe. There used to be a view from the base of the radar pedestals, but now you have to climb one of the pedestals to get the 360 degree panoramic view. Looked way too risky to me. After eating the last of my food, it was plummet time. Bombing smooth pavement less than a lane wide miles from civilization is a unique experience. You wouldn't want to wreck up there. The hemlock along the road is so dense nobody would ever find you. Just like on Victory Rd, you have a big bump to go over to get back to the East Burke valley. My legs revolted. After that, it was all down the rest of the way on sketchy asphalt and tree debris.

Hemlock tunnel. Looking down sub-lane wide Radar Rd near summit.

I finished with 51.6mi, 7500ft in 4:44hrs on the Garmin. Felt like I'd done a VT50 race. Very satisfied with the ride. For once I hit NEK with reasonably fresh legs. The village grill has a Thanksgiving sandwich on the menu. It essentially is a whole Thanksgiving meal on a loaf of bread - carved turkey breast, stuffing, cranberry sauce, cheese and more. Everything a wrecked body needs - lean protein, anti-oxidants in the cranberries, carbs, even sodium in the salty stuffing, which really hit the spot.  Each half was bigger and heavier than a Chipotle burrito. Nearly ate all of it in one interval. It was 100% gone before I got home. Life is good.


Bill said...

Love thank thanksgiving on a loaf of bread, my go to kingdom dinner, followed by a pint of Ben and Jerry's and one of those 1L cans of miller high life, that they don't sell in CT... Oh yeah nice ride too!

DaveP said...

30 minute interval seems too long for high intensity. Doesn't add up... Most of your food intervals I've observed have been more tabata-like. You know, food bits flying everywhere, weird sounds coming out of your mouth (from heavy breathing?) and profuse sweating. I just don't buy it.