Monday, July 29, 2013

Wobble Wobble

After reading John's post on how a wobble board helped improve his technique on skate skis, I decided to pick up the same board he bought. It is a high-end product by Fitter First, very well constructed.  The fulcrum has three height settings, the lowest being the easiest. You can also use it on hard or carpeted surfaces, with padded carpeting being the easiest. I've had it several days now.

So how do I fare? Abysmally. I think the longest I've gone without dabbing is 12 seconds. And that is on the lowest setting on plush carpet. No wonder I squander my kilojoules on skis. I can't balance for shit. Here's a little snippet where I made it about six seconds.

Fitter First Wobble Board from D. Jansen on Vimeo.

Spending five minutes on the thing split between two legs leaves my ankles feeling a little achy. I have much work to do. Ironically, I seem to be more stable on my left ankle, the one I fractured, which is also the one I have most trouble gliding on when skiing. None of this makes sense.

I've tried to use the wobble board on a hard surface. The result is comical. Extreme over-corrections. No damping that carpet provides. John talks about moving medicine ball around or doing squats while balancing. I'm so far away from that. No wonder he's winning Weston Tuesday night sprint races and I flail away on the typical crud conditions there. It's all about balance.

Hopefully I can squeeze several minutes at a time each day on the board. It shouldn't take away at all from running or cycling. It is more about neuronal training than anything else.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

The Best of NEK

New England mountain bikers are blessed to have so many riding destinations close by. I suspect a vast majority of riders can ride trails right from where they live or work. A bit further away from the population centers, we have what is perhaps the crown jewel of riding destinations, the Kingdom Trails in northeast Vermont. NEK, as it is often abbreviated, can ridden as a day-trip by most New Englanders or our Québécois brothers and sisters north of the border. With over 100 miles (160km) of maintained trails, you couldn't expect to ride everything in one day. So you cherry pick the best trails and design a route to link them together.

Five of us from the greater Nashua area headed up on Saturday for a little singletrack hedonism. The hijinks started on the drive up with Curt "going for" the Franconia Notch KOM. He had Soups with him and I had DaveP with me. Keith was already up there visiting with family for the weekend.

I had hoped to ride for five hours, maybe covering 50 miles. I didn't have an explicit route planned. I ride NEK a couple times a year and have the lay of the land roughly imprinted in my head. New trails are always being cut though, and that leaves room for tweaking and optimizing the ideal "Best of NEK" loop.

We headed up Burnham Up (sign at top says Burnham Down). Dave took off like a spooked deer. Curt chased after. I wanted a little intensity working up to Burke summit, but this was crazy right out of the parking lot.

I had inflated my tires to 30-35psi, or so I thought. I ran them firm for the paved climbing coming up shortly.  The wearing Racing Ralphs were slipping on everything. I caught a root no more than a nickles' diameter and went down. Nothing like a good shoulder check into black mud first thing in the morning. Soups and Keith rode by as I cleaned myself off. I thought how I went down was odd, but just jumped back on my bike without checking everything out. Until later...

We hit the new Shire trail, which replaces some gravel road and ski slope climbing with singletrack. Shire is an uphill only trail, the only labeled as such that I know of at NEK.  There were some fantastic views off the open meadow. There were muddy areas though. Things weren't as dry as we thought they would be after several days with no rain. Camptown trail continues the climbing until there is no more trail, just the toll road to the summit. We were all game for a little paved suffering. Dave and I were the only ones that had been to the summit before. I probably lost a liter of fluids in 20 minutes on the toll road.  I got warm. Visibility was excellent from the summit.

Wind farm in distance from Burke summit. Photo by Soups.

HJ on Burke. Photo by Soups.

I dropped air pressure considerably, since the rest of the ride was going to be singletrack. Dave and Curt led the way through all the Moose Alley stuff. Dave was on his new rigid Rocky Mountain bike and just killing it. I was on my sofa bike, my long-travel Santa Cruz Tallboy. I had trouble maintaining contact with those two. Curt was on a hardtail. Those guys know how to ride. Strava says I PR'd some segments in there, so no doubt were were flying.

Keith was riding a 26" hardtail and had no trouble hanging on. He's close to a foot taller than Soups. Something looked skewed seeing big guy on little wheels with little guy on big wheels. I would have been screwed if I was riding a hardtail with this gang.

We hit Farm Junk and Sky Dive for the first time. Sky Dive was a hoot, crazy fun with whoops and bermed turns. Just a taste of more to come on Darling Hill.

We stopped at the cars to top off water and grab more food. My legs were already on fringe of death march territory, and we had another planned 2.5hrs of rambunctious riding to go. I didn't want to be the first to cry uncle.

Heading up the road to Darling Hill, I notice something was wonky on my bike. My front wheel was going straight, but my handlebars were pointing 15 degrees to the right. How did that happen? That little tumble I took? Or did I tumble because the bar slipped?  I stopped before heading into the woods to straighten it. Too my horror, the clamp on fork steer tube was loose! I bombed down the toll road at 40+mph and all of the that high-speed, choppy descending on Moose Alley with a loose stem. That could have been a disaster.

When I built the bike up, I noticed Thomson changed the steer tube clamp bolts to a pair of tiny, minuscule things. They would be so easy to strip out. In my fear of stripping them, I guess maybe I didn't get them tight enough or they loosened. Whenever I work with a stem, I ALWAYS grab the front wheel between knees and give the bar strong pulls in both directions, enough to flex the fork, steer tube, stem and bar. This ensures everything is tight.

We proceeded to hit all the good stuff on Darling Hill. Things were much drier there, dusty even. The highlight of Darling Hill is the Sidewinder trail. A natural half-pipe that has you alternating between yells of fear and squeals of delight. Perhaps Curt and I were a bit overzealous.  We overcooked one of the switchbacks, taking what looked like a legit high side track. The problem was, it didn't return to anything, just the bottom of the gully almost straight down. I thought a face plant from near free fall was certain. Curt and I managed to hit the bottom without going over the bars, but we had to hike back up to the trail. I wonder how many are getting fooled by that?

Late ride secret weapon. Don't know if this the protein, sodium or just oily comfort, but
Sardines have brought me back from the dead before.

Group just before heading down Sidewinder, with Curt, Soups, Keith and Dave.

Keith was the first to capitulate while riding Ridge/Rim.  Guess he's smarter than me, choosing not to ride himself into a stupor. He headed out on VAST back to the car. We didn't have much more planned anyway. Mark was starting to cramp and Dave had that empty-shell look in his eyes. It's not often Dave asks me for the key to the car before a ride is over.

On my sofa bike, I got the most air yet flying down Kitchel. I still don't quite dare clear the table-tops or double up the doubles. I don't trust "gravity" to do the right thing, even though gravity is the most reliable force known to man.

I finished with 41.2mi, 6100ft in 4.7hrs moving time on the Garmin. The wheel sensor wasn't working for the first 10 miles, so I probably lost a mile or two in distance. I did not encounter any deer flies there. The group was one of the tightest I've ridden with. There was virtually no waiting for anybody. No mechanicals or flats either. The high point of the day was devouring a large country turkey sandwich. The thing must weight three pounds. On the drive home, Dave and I theorized what makes those sandwiches so good. I think it is the salty stuffing they spread on.

Post ride. Photo by Soups.

When I went to top off my tires the next day, I noticed the pump gauge said about 10psi. I knew that couldn't be right. I checked with the more accurate hand-held dial gauge. 18psi front, 19psi rear. Pretty low, but the Ralph's seem to work well there. What that did mean is I probably started the ride with over 40psi. Ralph's at that pressure on greasy roots are a disaster.

Looking to do a similar duration/intensity ride in North Conway later this summer. 

Monday, July 22, 2013

Does beetroot juice do anything more than make you piss a rainbow?

Many readers have probably heard about beetroot juice by now. There are claims it can boost athletic performance in certain scenarios. I won't regurgitate the science and pseudo-science behind it. Alan McCubbin has a nice summary here.

I first learned of it when Todd Wells blogged about it a couple weeks ago. This is what he said:

When I had to pee for USADA after the race it was bright red from the beet juice I drink before the race. The doping control officer said everyone’s pee is red now since everyone drinks beet juice. It use to be an advantage to drink it because not everyone knew about it’s benefits, now if you’re not drinking it you’re behind the ball. Glad Biotta makes a juice that doesn’t mess up my stomach.

Mark Cavendish coined the hashtag #pissingrainbows when he tweeted:

Doesn't matter how often it happens, taking a pee the day after drinking beetroot juice will always freak you out!!

I started reading into this a bit. Some of the first studies seemed promising. 6% power increase for 30 minutes?! That's like almost two minutes on Mt Ascutney. I told BrettR about it. He said he hates beets. That didn't stop him from going out and buying some Beet-It brand beetroot juice from a local health food store. Anything for an edge...

Ok, that upped the ante.  I found a Nashua area health food store that carried the Biotta brand beetroot juice. Fortunately, I like beets. I had read the taste of beet juice can be pretty awful, and some brands spruce it up with a little apple and carrot juice. Allen Lim makes his own this way.  Brett said Beet-It was awful, had to hold his breath to drink it. The crazing things we do. Beetroot juice is the new Kool-Aid, and we were drinking it, literally.

I figured it could not possibly hurt. The Biotta juice was organic and had the juice of three beets. No other ingredients. I probably eat three beets when I have them for supper.

The idea is to drink the stuff about 2.5 hours before your event so it can enter the small intestine and get absorbed. It is low calorie. I decided to try it for the Mt Ascutney hillclimb race this past Saturday. I like to be well hydrated for any race, so why not drink a 500ml bottle of beet juice on the way to the race? Way healthier than Gatorade.

I found the taste going down mildly sweet with a funky, earthy aftertaste. I suspect the aftertaste is what turns most people off. I didn't have any trouble finishing a 500ml (16.9 ounce) bottle in thirty minutes. Expensive hydration, if it does nothing more, as a bottle of Gatorade is less than a buck at Sam's club, while the Biotta beet juice is over $7 a bottle.

So did it work? I dunno. I was 30 seconds slower on Ascutney than the year before, which was 30 seconds slower than the year before that. I'd say I'm falling right on that 1.5% per year trend that Eric Brandhorst determined from years of Mt Washington data. If the beetroot juice did anything, you'd think I would have at least bucked that trend a little bit. It was warm this past Saturday though, and Brett suggested the massive ride we did the previous weekend was still pulling us down. Yeah, he didn't think the juice juiced us up either. If it were really that good, WADA would ban it, ha-ha.

Later studies with more elite caliber athletes produced mixed results. Perhaps it works only with poorly conditioned athletes, not those that train rigorously year-round. Yet elite teams are still drinking beet juice. They probably have data that supports its efficacy. I have another bottle I'll use before Mt Equinox in two weeks. I may pick another bottle up for Mt Washington too. If I had a juicer, I'd just press my own juice for dirt cheap.

Oh yeah, you do piss a rainbow.  I stopped at Starbucks on my way home from Ascutney, finally back on top of my hydration after a hot climb.  I couldn't decide if it was red, burgundy, violet or iridescent pink with shades of orange. I've eaten enough beats to not freak out over it.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

A year older, another percent slower

It's been a while since I doubled up a weekend, racing Saturday and Sunday. A combo I did multiple times was race up Mt Equinox on Saturday, then hit the Bow Road Race on Sunday. Even though Mt Equinox will destroy your legs, I always seemed to do well at Bow, missing the top step of the podium a couple times by milliseconds.

This past weekend I paired up a different combo - Mt Ascutney and the Horror at Harding Hill MTB race. Ascutney is a smaller mountain than Equinox, but that doesn't mean it's easier. Oh no. You just go harder. It is steeper too, nothing steeper in New England than the first 2.5 miles of Mt Ascutney.

Ascutney - The Ascutney hillclimb did not go well for me. A casual observer may say, "Wait a minute Hill Junkie, you won your age group, how can you say it didn't go well?"  There was a huge disconnect between the time I expected to finish in and the time I actually finished in. I even took it pretty easy this week, running zero, getting real rest days, and not heaping on large servings of intensity and endurance in the same rides. I actually felt pretty good warming up for Ascutney. The dewpoint was very high, however. I wasn't sure how that was going to factor in. I did ok a few weeks earlier at Okemo with a high dewpoint.

The 50+ age group goes off in second wave. I didn't know everybody in there, but the usual ringers like Gerry Clapper were not present. Eric Vandendries is not 50 yet and went off in the first wave. I like pacing off Eric. Keeps me from going out too hard. So I went for broke. Mark Luzio and Tom Fagan came with me as we pulled away from everybody else. Mark has beaten me in a few of these crazy climbs in the past, and Tom is currently the overall BUMPS Challenge leader.

I knew I was going a tad hard. I figured any damage I was doing to myself was damaging Mark and Tom at least as badly. I wanted a test of fitness and to see if I had any hope of a new personal best on Mt Washington in a month. I would need to hold the pace I set out on to the summit in order to be in range of PR fitness.

About a mile into the 3.7 mile climb, I began to gap Mark and Tom. I was still feeling pretty good but getting extremely warm. I started with jersey fully unzip. There was a bit of wind that helped, and the temp dropped as we climbed. Still didn't seem like enough though.

I began passing many riders from first wave that started a few minutes earlier. I also started to crack. Not sure if it was core body temp or just not having the endurance at that power level any more. Wish I was appropriately sensored up to know. At the 2.5 mile mark, after the heavy work was done, I began to realize there was no way I was going to PR. I had to do a mile in about four minutes. Even though there is some flat(ish) stuff in that last mile, there was no way I was going to do the last mile in half the time my first mile on-fire took. I pretty much threw in the towel at that point.

The damage was worse than I even imagined. I crossed the line in 30:42.3*, my worst ever if I exclude 2010 when I raced just a few days after coming out of leg cast. I was pretty bummed, as this was probably a representative effort of prospects on Mt Washington. Using my formula of 2.25 x Ascutney time gives about 1:09 on Mt Washington. I'd like to break 1:05. Probability of that happening is 0.00001 right now.

Finishing in agony. Photo by Heather Dunkerley.

Not all is bad though. I won the AARP division (yes, I'm a card carrying member). My times relative to my peer group are consistent with other climbs this season. That's good and bad, good in that I had a good race despite the heat, bad in that I don't have the fitness I used to have.

Eric Brandhorst did some nice statistical work on finishing times on Mt Washington vs. age a few years back. The trend is about 1.5% loss per year. Every athlete has to accept that at some point in their career/life, they are no longer going to improve. It is not an easy thing to accept.

Horror at Harding Hill - Ever since my mishap in 2010, I can no longer test the limits of my off-road skills. A governor kicks in and shuts things down. Strange how things like that, even though one 100% physically recovers, leave a scar in your psyche. I did promptly get back on my MTB though, even went on a solo "healing" trip to Colorado later that summer. Mishaps on the bike leave much deeper scars in others though. I know several people who never got back on a mountain bike after breaking something on their body.

I ride well within my limits these days, and I like to have control of risk. Road racing puts way too much risk out of your control. That is why it's been about two years since I've done a road race. Too apprehensive to be competitive anymore. The same could be said for MTB racing. Excluding hillclimbs, I race to be competitive. To be competitive off-road, you must push the boundaries of your skill. This entails considerable risk. It's been over a year since I last did a MTB race.

I last raced Harding Hill in 2009. It was extremely muddy that time, and I had no phobias about breaking my body. I think I crashed three times, once really hard going fast. Even though things started to dry up recently, it rained some Friday and Saturday before the race this year. There was bound to be some juiciness on this course. There always is.

Field sizes were small. There were multiple events going on this weekend, including Nats in PA. That no doubt stole a few regulars. All Experts went off in one wave as in years past. This was not too intimidating due to diminutive field size. We had about a 75 meter sprint to the double track. No mishaps that I saw.

On the start line, Keith Button pointed out that I should keep an eye on John Beaupre. I didn't know John, but I made note to keep track of his NBX jersey.  I proceeded to bury myself on the first lap. I worked up to John and several younger guys who I thought I had no business being in the company of. My effort was clearly unsustainable. Legs didn't feel too awful, considering I did a 30 minute anaerobic effort the day before.

Lap two of four, things thinned out. I passed John and was now leading the 50 year old age group. I had no idea how many others were ahead. A pattern started to emerge. John would drop me through the mud boggy bits late in the lap, then I'd gain him back on the climby bits early in the lap. There was one bog that I failed to clean all four laps. I botched it badly in lap two, and just like that, I lost four places.

Lap three sent some warning shots across the bow. No cramps, but I was getting the quivering muscle signals that always precede full-on cramping. I backed it down just a tad. Carl DeVincent and Stephen Witkus on SS and a couple others caught me. Still no sign of others from the 50+ field. A win would have been sweet, but John could just put too much gap on me through the muddy gauntlet each lap and I'd have to kill myself to catch him, only to be whooped in the bogs again.

That's not to say was I was holding back a lot. I brought my behemoth, my long-travel 29er Tallboy. Thing weighs 28 lbs. That's like bringing a Howitzer to a knife fight. Total overkill for this mostly roadie friendly course, but I could slay a few of the descents with that thing. Nearly soiled my chamois a few times with some of the lines I took. I hadn't had that much adrenaline induced fun on a bike in some time. I was able to let my guard down.

I hadn't started cramping yet on the fourth lap yet, so I decided when I got to the climbing section, I'd hit it pretty hard. If I cramped then, it would be mostly downhill to the finish and I could limp in. I gained a couple spots back in the expert field. I started seeing John again. I almost caught Stephen.  I still botched the last bog when I tried so carefully to clean it. I had to dismounted, and while remounting, my inner thighs sent a nasty message to my brain they were about to go into full cramping retaliatory mode. Glad I would be done in a couple minutes.

I finished in 1:40:48, 45sec back from John in the 50+ field, and 52 seconds back overall expert and single-speed (everybody that did four laps) for the day, best I can tell from printed results.  Seems every time I double up races on the weekend, I always finish second on Sunday. Makes me wonder, would I win or would I finish further back if I didn't race the day before?

Expert 50+ Podium: HJ, John Beaupre and Keith Button. Prizes of maple syrup
produced from the land the race is held on. Photo by Mark Suprenant.

I'd have to say I had more fun with the MTB race than the hillclimb. The hillclimb reminded me I'm getting old.  The MTB fun came with much more risk though. Hillclimbs are so predictable. Based on who shows up, I can accurately predict finishing order within a place or two. It's simply Watts/kilogram. This gets established on climbs early in the season, then following climbs are pretty much repeat demonstrations of each rider's W/kg fitness mark. Of course, we all try to improve this figure-of-fitness as the season progress. Many hillclimbers are new to the discipline and improve quite rapidly. An MTB race is a different beast. While still somewhat predictable, there are many more variables to consider. Fitness is only a small piece of the puzzle. MTB races are more a skill discriminator. Different riders have different skill sets, so you also have to consider the course and course conditions. Don't forgot flats, mechanicals and crashes.  Much to think about, much more uncertainty in how it plays out.

Being a very low volume week with three rest/active recovery days and no running, my ornery knee is vastly improved. Zero pain on the bike this weekend. Still slight pain going up stairs, but I caught myself going up by two's today, something I hadn't realized I stopped doing because my knees were not well. Seems to be classic runner's knee overuse, but it wasn't the running causing it. It was too much volume and intensity on the bike combined with running on my "rest" days. Now I need to sort out how to proceed. I don't want to abandon running, and I don't want to give up bike days.

*My stopwatch time. Timing service used my estimated finish, as my timing chip did not register over mats. This happened with one other person.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013


Last week, I got on the subject of body temperature with a colleague. He mentioned he had one of the newer style thermometers that you swipe across your forehead, like hospitals use now. I hadn't seen one, so he brought it in for me to check out the next day.

Pretty nifty. Fast and non-invasive. It uses an infrared sensor to measure the blood temperature in your temporal artery, which comes straight from your heart and goes across part of your forehead. The new thermometers are claimed to be very accurate at measuring core body temperature. They only cost $30-35, so I picked one up at Walmart on my way home. While we could use an updated body thermometer in the house, my real intention was to measure my core body temp in this hot weather while working out on the bike. The unit slips nicely in a jersey pocket and doesn't weight much.

That evening, Cathy and I played with it a bit. Cathy was consistently under 98F, while I was consistently over 99F. This was in an air conditioned house and after supper.  I always get warm after eating. A 2F difference in our body temps is indicative of differences in metabolisms. I find in the morning I'm more normal, low 98's.

So yesterday I took the Exergen with me on my intervals ride at lunch time. It was oppressively hot. I expected full thermal slowdown, maybe 103F or even 104F body temperature. I did get this high once in a controlled heat stress study I participated in at UNH. Only took me 20 minutes into the time-trial to get that warm in a low-humidity, two giant fans blowing on me, 95F room.

After my second, fairly long interval Wednesday, I stopped at the summit of Jeremy Hill to check my body temp. It was 97F. Huh? Check again and again. No more than a couple tenths of a degree variation. WTF. I was totally overheating. I did two more intervals and took another quick scan. Same thing. How can I be 2+ degrees hotter at rest in AC than doing 400W intervals in 94F heat? Something wasn't passing the goofy test here.

So that evening I started to dig a little into this. I found exactly what I was looking for in this piece of work.  Turns out temporal scanners don't work well at all when exercising outside. They measure ambient temperature and make certain assumptions about how much heat is being gained or lost through the skin. These assumptions break down when exercising outside. The study clearly showed temporal scanners under-measured core body temperature by a lot compared to an rectal thermometer. I'm not about to go there.

So I didn't buy it for nothing. It is very accurate when not exercising indoors, more accurate than oral, ear or forehead strips. So it will be good to have on hand.

Doing most of my riding midday this summer, I'm quite certain I'm the most acclimated to riding in heat than I have ever been. There's no way to avoid it. I rode again today at noon. The hardest part wasn't pushing the pace a bit half way into the ride. No, the hardest part was walking out of the office into a blast furnace. It seems this summer my body has learned to turn on its "AC" system quickly when going out into the heat. Once it turns on, it doesn't feel so oppressive.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Boondoggling in Northern Vermont

I managed to lure six unsuspecting riders into another classic Hill Junkie boondoggle. I must be pretty good at it, as it takes no effort to put boondoggles together. Perhaps Alex remembers that "back way" up Mt Hopkins in Tucson, which was barely hike-a-bikeable. Then there was that Hillsborough loop with CX bikes I brought Dave on late one fall. We both crashed hard finding ice under snow. Saturday's ride in Vermont didn't quite reach epic boondoggle status like those rides, but at one point three riders were ready to turn around...

I had ridden the Jay Peak/Smugglers Notch figure-eight loop three times previously, first time scouting it out solo in 2007, with DaveP the following year, then with GlenF in 2010. All three times went well. The loop entails about 11,000 feet of climbing in 116 miles. There are four major climbs and 3-4 moderate climbs. Hazen's Notch is a gravel climb and descent. The rest was supposed to be paved.

We got a late start and it was already warm out. This concerned me deeply, as I was taking only two water bottles. I've done this ride a couple times with only two stops, roughly at miles 40 and 80. I didn't see that happening with temps going well into the 80's on two bottles.

Not sure what "program" Dave is on this year, but he lit up the first climb on Stagecoach Rd. He took Brett in tow. No way was I going after them. This was slow-twitch territory. I'd be doing well just to finish this day. No need to hit the first climb past threshold intensity.  At the time I wondered if Brett would pay for that later.

Heading out on Stagecoach Rd. Classic Vermont green.

We made our way over to Mines Rd, which goes by the massive closed asbestos mine. The sign at the bottom said road closed. Hmmm, that could mean a lot of things. Could be just paving, and on Saturday they would not be working. Maybe a bridge was damaged by Irene. There were no major rivers, so we could at least hop across. I didn't have an alternative work-around, so we pressed on. We climbed up and over. I started to think maybe it was close just because of the mine. But near the bottom on the north end, there was another sign and a small dirt barricade. Ok, so maybe the road really is closed.

Continuing to bomb down, we had to stop very abruptly. There was a giant chasm where the road used to be. WTF, how are we going to get across THAT?! At first it looked insurmountable. At the very least, scrambling would be involved. Probably get wet and/or dirty too. We could turn around, but to continue the planned route, we'd have to add 10's of miles, maybe 40 to back track find another route. If we back tracked and cut something out, we'd miss out on good stuff.

We laughed at first, it was so ridiculous. Then the cussing at me started.

Brett and Paul, after finally capitulating and beginning the trek across

Brett and Paul crossing upstream from where I did

Mike and Brett scrambling back up to road

Jon didn't hesitate to begin the trek across. He chose to brute force it, crossing deep down where the road used to go. I questioned whether the bank back up was stable enough to climb up. I too removed my shoes and socks. I never go barefoot, so walking on rocks carrying 20+ pound bike sucked. I followed Jon's route. Isaac and Dave went further upstream to cross. The four of us made it without too much difficulty. So now we're staring across the chasm at Brett, Mike and Paul, who were staring back at us like "you seriously want me to cross over?" Well, yeah, unless you want to wait five hours in town for me to finish the ride.  It took some cajoling, but they came across. There was a lot of cursing my name, and the ride barely began.

I couldn't believe the town didn't have barriers at the chasm. There was nothing. If some idiot, and there are plenty, went around or over the barrier a quarter mile back, you'd never see the missing road at night. The barrier further back seemed inadequate. ATVs could ride right over the small dirt mound.

I assumed the wash-out was from Hurricane Irene, so I searched for road closures in VT. I was surprised to learn it happened just this spring. I was also surprised to learn that two cars did end up in the bottom. Miraculously, nobody died. Check out the news story, it is quite a tale.

Back on track, we hit the first major climb of the ride, dirt Hazen's Notch. The gravel was a little choppy starting out but improved as we went up. The descent was pretty good. A few cars coming up kept us on our toes. I bombed sections of it. Jon was right with me until he flatted. Oops, maybe I should have cooled my jets a bit.

Heading up Hazen's Notch

We stopped in Montgomery to top off water. We noticed another bad omen right there, a sign that said road work next 7 miles. This was to be the biggest descent from highest point of the ride. The pavement was gone and replaced with super chunky gravel. Now what, it couldn't all be like that, could it?  I went in to the store and asked employees until I found somebody that knew. Yes, all seven miles had the pavement stripped. More cursing of my name ensued. I didn't want to descend on that either. There would have been multiple flats for sure. So the only logical thing to do was to reverse the direction of the upper portion of the figure-8 and climb the chunky gravel.

Jon is ramping his mileage up after a hiatus off the bike, so he was cutting off the upper part of the loop and started heading back.  The rest of us no more than started heading up chunky Rt 242 than we encountered a water truck coming towards us. He was liberally dousing the gravel, presumably for dust control, ditch to ditch with water. This is a state highway, so it does get a little traffic. So now we not only had a steep, chunky 7 mile climb, we had a muddy, steep, chunky 7 mile climb. This ride was teetering on epic boondoggle status.

The water truck operator graciously shut off the water to let us pass

This is what was left behind, wet and bumpy. Bike was disgustingly messy after this.

Dave set a hard pace up this one again. It was now very hot out, and most of this climb was in full sun. I sweat profusely. There was no way two bottles was going to hold me up for 2.5hrs in this heat with 4000ft of climbing. Fortunately there was another place for quick water stop on the other side. I wasn't the only one topping bottles off.

We encountered large groups of riders here. I think most were from Quebec. In no time, we were climbing the third major climb of the day on Rt 106, which comes within about 1km of Canada. It stayed a constant 6-7% in full sun again. I probably went a little harder than I should have, as I felt myself going into thermal overload. Dave was gone, probably pushing 20% higher Watts than I was.

A 10 mile descent to Richford let me recover some. There was quite a temperature difference each time we dropped into a valley. Richford Rd was the next climb, heading back towards Montgomery. Since were were doing the norther part of the figure-8 loop backwards this time, I knew this modest climb was going to be trouble for me. Earlier, I already felt some cramping twinges. Richford Rd climbs very steeply for the first mile or so. The view north into Quebec is quite good. This was behind me, so to capture a quick shot from on the bike, I had to twist around. While capturing this awkward photo while pedaling, both inner thighs immediately and simultaneously seized up. I nearly fell over. I got off the bike so quick, did a weird pose to keep them from seizing all the way, while a guy was coming up in a pick-up. Yeah, I can only imagine what was going through his mind.

Mont Pinacle in Quebec. This is where my legs seized up.

The other five disappeared on me. I thought my ride was over, as I still had 50 miles and three climbs to go. It was still getting warmer. Once I hit this state, there usually is no recovery. The only reset is a big meal and good night's sleep. After stretching for a couple minutes, I remounted and pedaled awkwardly. At least the others waited for me near the high point of Richford Rd. At the bottom in Montgomery, we'd be stopping at the same grocery store again. I already knew what I had to get...

Sardines and the most salty chips you can buy.  I've learned that I have less propensity to cramp if I consume protein during a long, hard ride. My go-to has been beef and cheddar sandwich. Being so warm, I didn't want to risk it going bad, so I brought an almond butter sandwich instead. Not nearly as much protein. The sardines are almost pure protein and have good dose of sodium too. A bag of Doritos went with that, in additional to massive liquid intake. I don't think I drank nearly enough in the first two hours of the ride, and I had extra electrolytes only in my first two water bottles I mixed at home. It would be a miracle if I made it back to the car under my own power.

Of course, as soon as we left the store, we climbed again. Montgomery sits down in a hole. All four ways we come into or go out of town is steep. I sucked wheels as best I could. Dave seemed to have cooled his jets a bit, which helped. There was a headwind too, which ironically, helped. That slowed down whoever was pulling and I just stayed sheltered. This let my electrolyte battery, or whatever gets out of whack, recharge.

Of course, we weren't done with road contruction yet. A new bridge is being build over the Lamoille River, maybe Irene damage, don't know. But this gravel was the worst, super loose and fist sized aggregate. Yep, more Hill Junkie cursing. Fortunately there was only half mile or so of it.

I was starting to feel semi-normal again when we got into Jeffersonville. I wanted to stop one more time to top water off. I wasn't alone, again. That was four stops, which I suppose isn't too awful for a 6+ hour ride. It was hot, after all.

A huge wall separated us from the cars, Smugglers Notch. Who planned this stupid route anyway? Once over, it was all downhill back to Stowe. Interestingly, we kind of settled into groups of two the same way we carpooled up. Dave and Isaac took off and were gone, out of sight. I was barely able to stay on Brett's wheel. Paul and Mike settled back just a bit from me. I managed to stave off the cramping demons. Brett cracked spectacularly just before the top. I Should have sneaked a photo of how he looked. Dead man riding.

Passing through Smugglers Notch. 10 miles to go, but suffering over.

We all survived Smugglers. I was so relieved to not seize up. I think the sardines and Doritos (had second bag at Jeffersonville stop) saved me. Brett set pace up Smugglers, I was able to pull us back into town on flatter, lower portion. I forgot to reset sensor calibration number in the Garmin, so Strava gives wrong distance. I finished with 116mi, 10,500ft, in 6.6hrs. Hadn't felt that wrecked in a long time, after a ride. Turned out to be a great ride. Dubious training value for sure. A couple said they didn't need to do it again. Wonder if there's is a fifth time in my future?

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Drivers to Exercise Due Care When Approaching Bicycle

New Hampshire Revised Statutes 265:143-a: Drivers to Exercise Due Care When Approaching Bicycle. – Every driver of a vehicle, when approaching a bicyclist, shall insure the safety and protection of the bicyclist and shall exercise due care by leaving a reasonable and prudent distance between the vehicle and the bicycle. The distance shall be presumed to be reasonable and prudent if it is at least 3 feet when the vehicle is traveling at 30 miles per hour or less, with one additional foot of clearance required for every 10 miles per hour above 30 miles per hour. [1]

Last week I took July 3 off since I didn't have much going on at work. Isaac and I decided to meet Dave, who had to work, for a ride around lunch time. Dave planned out a sadistic route full of little punchy surprises I hadn't seen before, like Ball Hill which was a short little ball buster.

We hit all the bigger climbs, like the back side of Abbott Hill, Pead Hill and Purgatory Hill. Lots of intensity distributed throughout. A great ride that left me in shambles. From Amherst, we took a somewhat direct way back that had us descend Peaslee Rd, which merges into Naticook Rd. Peaslee/Naticook drops nearly 200ft in about a mile or so. The road is narrow, zero shoulder, curvy, and it is easy to match or exceed the 30mph speed limit coasting on a bicycle on this descent. It is unsafe to hug the edge of the road, and due to blind turns, it is unsafe for a car to pass on this brief section of road. It is double-yellow lined. Here is one of the blind turns from Google Maps.

Near where Peaslee merges into Naticook, I became aware of an SUV following very closely. The three of us were riding single-file, occupying the right half of the traffice lane, but traveling at least the speed limit (GPS track proves it). This driver apparently was in much too big of a hurry to wait another few seconds until we leveled out at the bottom and could safely move closer to the edge of the road. He passed us around a blind corner.

That in itself was risky, but would not have been all that bad if he left us a little room. No. He not only came freakishly close, he was sure to "show" us where we belonged - in the trees. He got along side us, matched our speed, then proceeded to pinch Dave and I off to the edge of the road until we ran out of pavement. Look at the photo above. How close are the trees to the edge of the road here? Remember, we were going 30+ mph. You can easily be killed hitting a mature oak at this speed.

We slammed on our brakes and spit out behind the guy. I put my hand up, like WTF?! But he wasn't done yet. Oh no. He then LOCKED UP his brakes, leaving skid marks. All three of us nearly piled through the rear window of his SUV. We went into crazy skids trying to avoid him.

He was then stopped in the road and probably saying something at that point. We went around him. Big mistake. The driver then PEELS OUT, aiming right for us. Just before impacting me, he locks up his brakes again. This time, the door flies open and he comes running at us with clenched fists screaming profanities. Dave and I stopped. I was the closest. His eyes and veins in his neck were bulging out.  I thought surely he was going to take my head off while I was still on my bike. He was a big guy.

The driver proceeded to scream no more than 12" from my face in a very threatening manner, calling us names, every-other word an expletive. I couldn't get a word in edgewise but asked why he tried to kill us. Obviously, I was pretty pissed too. Who wouldn't be, after someone almost took you out of the gene pool deliberately?  Some of the things the driver said, with expletives removed, were:  we were blocking the whole road, we had no right to be in the traffic lane, we had to stay on edge of road, we were obstructing traffic.

I countered with: we are traffic, we were going over the speed limit, bicycles have a right in all 50 states to use traffic lanes as they deem safest, he is required by law to pass with at least 3ft of room and if can't immediately do that, wait until it is safe to do so.

This enraged the driver even more. He must have thought I was lying or making it up. He then went on to say: we were "only" going 25mph, that cycling in Merrimack is a huge problem and there have been neighborhood meetings to discuss how to solve it, that the road we were on was a major road [it's a residential street!], go find a back road somewhere, and when Dave said he tried to run us off, the driver said "if I tried I would have put you in the trees", indicating intent of coming very close to putting us into the trees.

I didn't see where this was going to end. I thought a brawl was imminent, as the driver was not cooling down at all. This was going on for about two minutes at this point, he was 75ft from his SUV stopped literally in the middle of the road, and there was a growing line of cars blocked behind him. Who was obstructing traffic here?

We would have cost him all of what, 5 seconds maybe, because he had to go only 30-35mph on this piece of road instead of 45mph?  He very nearly killed us for this. He executed calculated maneuvers that almost put us into the trees at 30+ mph. Here's another little gem I dug up. Apparently, very near where this altercation occurred, the Merrimack police often set up a speed trap to enforce the 30mph speed limit.

During the altercation, a woman coming up the hill stopped and asked if everything was alright. I said no, call 911, this man is threatening us. The driver screamed "Yes, call the police, these guys are obstructing traffic!" Keep in mind the growing queue of vehicles behind his stopped SUV. Apparently this older woman sensed the hostility and wanted nothing to do with it and sped off.

Here's where this sad tale gets interesting. Dave and I reached the conclusion that this guy is just full of hate and rage and there was no sense in reasoning with him. Just like some people are racists or homophobes, this guy hated cyclists because they can cost him a few seconds getting back to work and they wear funny clothes. After ranting for another minute or so, he stormed back to his car screaming this parting gift: "You guys think you're Lance Armstrong in your FUCKING FAIRY PANTS!" Yeah, that got to the bottom of it.

We did not have to call the police. A neighbor in their backyard, who could not see us through the trees, heard everything - the squealing tires, the swearing, the heated exchange. Here's the kicker. They recognized the guy's voice. I don't want to give away who this person was or even who the driver was, but the neighbor knew this guy was trouble and had a "reputation." Let's just say this is not the first time he's gone off on somebody. The neighbor dialed 911.

After the driver left, we started to roll but were met by this family, checking to see if we were alright. They were still on the phone with 911 and told us the police would be there in a couple minutes. Before the police got there, we knew who the driver was, where he lived, where he worked, even what he did in his spare time.

A Merrimack officer was there promptly to take a report.  He took notes and inspected the skid marks on Naticook.  His inclination was to charge the guy for disorderly conduct. To do that, he would need sworn statements from all of us, and we'd have to appear in court to testify. We did not have unanimous agreement to go that route, unfortunately. Instead, the officer offered an alternative approach. When he talked with the driver, if the driver was still hostile and combative, he would charge him then. If the driver was able to stay calm and have a productive discussion, the officer would leave things at that. We all agreed to that approach.

We brought up the comment about "the huge problem of cycling in Merrimack" and the meetings to discuss it. The officer said that's the first he'd ever heard of that. We saw numerous cyclists ride by in both directions while talking with the officer, all types, from single women to serious old dudes to teenagers on BMX style bikes.  There didn't seem to be any conflict going on. In fact, the officer commented that he passed us just a few minutes before this incident with no difficulty at all. We ride single file and hug the edge of the road when it is safe to do so, which is most of the time. One thing that occurred to me later is that there was a triathlon in town the weekend before. Maybe that disrupted things and had this driver primed.

Interestingly, the officer had a mountain bike on the back of his cruiser. We told him about the "fairy pants" comment. He pulled up his uniform shorts to show us he had cycling spandex on underneath. He joked that maybe he should show up at this guy's door in fairy pants! What a hoot! Besides the neighbor that called 911, we felt we had another ally with the law on our side.

The officer did speak with the driver on July 4. I received a brief voice message from the officer that the driver obviously had his side of the story, but he felt they had a productive dialog. I have not been able to speak directly with the officer for more feedback, partly because I work in a closed area at work with no phones. Phone tag, ugh...

So that's where things are at. Hopefully the driver is at least a little more educated. That won't fix hate or temper issues. A report has been filed. The local cycling community will be watching this guy. The next day in Boulder, Colorado, an almost identical road rage scenario played out between a motorist and group of cyclists. That incident ended with much more catastrophic results. There can be all the laws in the world protecting cyclists on the books. Some drivers believe they have exclusive rights to the roads regardless. What is scary, is some of these drivers have complete disregard of human life in exercising their perceptions. They believe that if they maimed or killed somebody, they'd be completely vindicated because the cyclist shouldn't have been on the road in the first place. All too often, we read stories were drivers are not charged for killing cyclists. How many of these fatalities result from deliberate driver behavior?

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Cherry Mountain - Jefferson Notch Loop

I debated Sunday whether to join a group road ride or explore some new terrain in the mountains. The last road ride I did nearly resulted in casualties (story forthcoming), and the weather looked iffy up north. What to do...

I flipped a mental coin and headed north with my 29er hardtail. A short gravel grinder loop I've been aware of for some time needed a visit by the Hill Junkie. I searched far and wide to spice up the loop a bit. The seasonal mountain pass roads Old Cherry Mountain Rd and Jefferson Notch Rd weren't really enough by themselves to warrant a drive up. Various maps, forums and blogs mentioned ancient routes through the mountains north of Rt 2. It seems landowner disagreements may have cut off the primary through route through there and the trail fell into disrepair. Scratch that. Poking around in Strava, I noticed one of the riders that rode Old Cherry Mountain Rd also did a spur that when up much, much higher. I've gotten suckered by tracks like these before, where the track was actually a hiking track.

But no, it looked like three Strava users have biked up Cherry Mountain, or more properly, to the summit of Martha Mountain. There used to be a fire lookout at the summit, and the route followed the old wagon trail. A little more research showed the route is a popular snowmobile route and is maintained. Hmmm, wonder how rideable it was after all the rain? Was it fully overgrown, as most snowmobile routes become in the summer? I was going to find out.

I parked on Rt 302, just before Bretton Woods, at the base of Old Cherry Mountain Rd. This narrow dirt road is not maintained in the winter. It rises 700ft in 3.5mi with some moderately steep grades before descending to the Jefferson side. With no warmup, I hit it fairly hard.

At the summit, a barely-there gated road goes off the the left, which leads to the Martha Mountain summit. It didn't look good - steep, rocky, wet and overgrown. Once I got back under the dense canopy, there was a well defined singletrack weaving up the plush snowmobile corridor. Sweet! The next mile wasn't all smiles and easy spinning through. There were numerous wet spots, some very steep. A couple forced dabs. It could have been much worse though, as it hadn't rained in a few days. Further up, things stayed much drier but also got much steeper. The Garmin indicated 15-20% grade many times. I wanted a workout, and I was getting it.

Eventually the route hooks north and you start to see light through the trees to either side. The grade relaxes some. The trail was completely dry with a powerful aroma of balsam fir on the breeze. I passed the junction of Cherry Mtn Tr that comes up from Rt 115 at 2-3x the grade I was climbing, a much more popular hiking route. I knew I was close to the summit at this point, but I had no idea of the wall I was about to hit.

The final 200ft to the summit was a ball buster. I gave it my best shot, having no idea how long it would persist or how steep it would get. I did not clean it. Maybe on a really good day. I did ride it down. The summit was 2200ft above my car per the Garmin, climbed mostly off-road.  The summit has clearings in all directions. As I expected, extreme humidity and overcast severely obscured the views. I've read that this summit offers the best view of the Presidential Range. I'll definitely have to come back on a clear day.

There is another peak, lower, but more open just to the north called Owl's Head. I started hiking over to it but abandoned. I didn't want to break a leg up here. My MTB shoes were absolutely treacherous on greasy roots and rocks. The trail may be rideable but also not without risk.

The bugs were freaking nightmarish up top. No deer flies, but every other kind of flying pestilence under the sun was up there, including black flies by the millions, horse flies, mosquito, no-see-ems and more. I booked it back down. With deep ferns shrouding much of the trail tread, I didn't quite dare let my speed run out. Didn't want to wreck up here, as even though I told Cathy where I was going, she probably wouldn't be able to direct somebody to look here. I never saw another soul on this excursion.

Back on Old Cherry Mountain Rd, I bombed down the north side. Crazy fun on a mountain bike, but I would never want to head down that side on a road bike. Lots of super chunky gravel/rocks and rutted out areas. Stopped briefly to see if a couple on a MTB tandem needed any assistance. They flatted and had everything they needed.

I cut across on Valley Rd to Jefferson Notch Rd. Never ridden this bit of Valley Rd before. It offered some fine views of the Presidentials, with the Mt Washington summit nearly 5000ft above.

Jefferson Notch is a road I've ridden several times, always on a road bike. The gravel is good to fair most of the time, getting a bit loose in drier months. Wasn't going to set any speed records going up with MTB and 20psi in the tires. As far as I knew, it was still closed at some point from hurricane Irene damage. The north side was fully open, and I was surprised to not see any barriers up top. Don't even know what side was originally damaged. Both sides have streams alongside. It was fully open now.

Bombing down the south side was so much more fun on a MTB than road bike. Almost no speed checking was needed. Of all those times I rode with groups, saw the sparkling swimming holes below, thinking how nice it would be to stop and soak, well, that time had come. No group to worry about. You'd think with how warm it's been, the water would have been warm. It took your breath away, like snow melt cold. I bet it wasn't over 55F. Anyway, sitting 30 seconds in that will pull your core body temp down very quickly. It was nearly all downhill to the car after this, a great way to finish off a ride.

I finished with 34.4mi, 4600ft in 3.3hrs on the Garmin. This is a must-do again loop, maybe in the fall when leaves change and it is dry. I'm also eyeing a route to the top of Bretton Woods that would make a nice addition to this loop, giving something like 6000+ feet of climbing on dirt in about 40 miles.  I'll leave you with a photo dump from the ride in no particular order.

Cherry Mountain Trail, near summit

Jefferson Brook. Ice bath on slippery rocks. Almost went for a ride.

Heading south from Jefferson Notch Rd summit. That might be Mt Eisenhower in distance.

Highest "highway" in New Hampshire.

The Presidential Range from Mt Martha summit. Here are shots from a hiker on a clear day.

More of the summit trail.

Presidentials form Valley Rd

Friday, July 5, 2013

Hotter 'n Hell BB50

Is there no end of this steamy weather in sight? There's no way to effectively train in this heat. What did I have planned Friday? A grueling 50+ mile MTB ride. Via email from DaveP when I got up "It's 80 degrees and only 5:30am." Ha-ha. My wife tried to go for a ride after she got out of work and turned right around to get back in the AC.  Heading out in this stuff for five hours with a guy that was going to kick my butt was stupid. But a plan is a plan.

Alex from Connecticut is vacationing in NH with his family this week and was cleared for a long trail ride on Friday. He always wanted to get a fuller sampling of New Hampshire terrain.  The Bear Brook 50 loop I've honed over the years would fit the bill nicely. Mostly fast, flowy trail to get at least some air movement and maybe even stay ahead of the deer flies.

Alex showed up with two water bottles. I thought well, he's a slow twitch mutant, he sips fuel, maybe he can get away with it. We were planning to top water off in Bear Brook at the campground mid ride, but that still meant going 2.5hrs at a time with no water stops. Two bottles wouldn't last me one hour. I brought a full 100 ounce Camelbak to start.

It was 84F and wicked humid at 8am rolling out. Just putting my helmet on made me sweat. The BB50 route starts out like the FOMBA Turkey Burner ride around Massabesic Lake. Fast, good air flow, but sweat had no where to go. The air couldn't take more moisture. It just ran off the skin. In 20 minutes, my chamois was squishing. Sweet. Only another 4-5 hours!

The terrain was surprisingly dry, much drier than I expected. The heavy rain that washed out roads just a couple days earlier less than an hour away apparently missed this part of the state. The two FOMBA trails we hit rode nicely.

Taking the clandestine route to Bear Brook, we both cleaned the "Candia Drop" going up, but both failed to ride up the ledge wall that comes later. Need to come up with a name for that one.  Alex has ridden Bear Brook before, maybe five years ago. He has not ridden the I-trail, Hemlock, Alp d'Huez and a few other recent NEMBA additions.

Alex en route to Bear Brook. This is the bony climb neither of us cleaned.

After crossing the Hall Mountain Marsh dam, we continued with the I-trail/Hall Marsh trail. The areas that were clear-cut a few years ago are growing madly, filling in, as nature does. You almost couldn't see the trail in places, as plants were competing for every available bit of sunlight with the tree canopy gone. But this was not the real problem. The deer flies were. Never have I encountered such a pestilence. I'd say the current deer fly plague has reached biblical proportions. I don't know how many I inhaled during the ride. I got bit at least 40-50 times, half of them on my ass. The bastards forced us to ride much harder than a 97 degree day says you should ride trying to outrun them. Foolishness. I'm sure we looked like deranged men cussing and slapping our bodies everywhere.

After topping off water at the campground store, we hit the Hemlock Trail. Interesting. Not a deer fly there. Funny how they come in pockets, all or nothing it seems. Alex commented Hemlock was a top-five New England trail for him.

One of the last things we hit in Bear Brook was the Bear Hill climb. I was teetering on the precipice of heat stroke by this point. Alex scooted right up the thing. I tried to not blow a thermal fuse. That is the highest point of the ride, at least.

Heading back on Trail 15, the deer flies were so thick it was like riding through a fog of them. When Alex was leading, no exaggeration, he had at least 200 buzzing around his head. Lots of spirited tempo riding ensued. And muddy bits we would have slowed to ride around earlier in the ride? Forget about it! Any sacrifice of speed meant 20 of the blood thirst f'ers would land on you simultaneously to make a withdrawal.  Bikes got a little dirty in the last 10 miles.

Alex didn't tell me he ran out of water long before we were anywhere close to being back. I had already mostly depleted a second 100 ounces in my Camelbak. It dawned on me yet again, I didn't totally implode in heat that I normally wither in. This has me thinking I can actually condition myself to perform better in heat. Heat has always been a huge problem for me, and I've never been one to push myself in the heat. But this summer leaves me no option.

We got back to the cars with 52 miles, 4000ft of climbing, in about 4.6 hours moving time. A solid ride in any conditions, and surely a solid ride in the heat. I drank about 210 ounces during the ride. Alex had about 110. Almost a gallon more, and I wasn't peeing any of it out either. Once I got moving on the road, my car thermometer showed 97F. Weatherunderground gave a 81F dewpoint for my hometown, but I'm skeptical of that weather station now. Most other area stations were reporting dewpoints in the low 70's. Either way, an oppressive day. Turned out to be a pretty good ride, no mechanicals or mishaps.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

More tasty bench cut at Bear Brook coming soon

Decided to give the trails and my cycling muscles a rest on the Fourth of July. My punishing ride yesterday (in multiple ways) deserved a day off the bike, and the off-road terrain is pretty saturated right now. Max'd out dew points are not helping the drying process.

NEMBA is replacing a portion of the Hemlock Trail in Bear Brook. This section has some steep grades that are getting rutted out and has a problematic water crossing. Hemlock is already a great flow-trail. It is about to get even better once the replacement trail is completed. It contours the extremely steep banks of Bear Brook. You know it is steep when your bench cut is as deep as it is wide. That implies 100% grade you are benching into.

Peter rented a Bobcat to experiment with, hopefully to do some of the heavy benching work. I wasn't convinced it was much of a net gain vs. everybody just breaking their backs with rogue hoes.  The Bobcat bucket could not be angled into the slope. The Bobcat just wanted to take on the grade it was traversing rather than cut a horizontal bench into it. Multiple times the Bobcat had to be rescued with come-along to pull it back from sliding all the way down to Bear Brook. The Bobcat makes a wide cut too, and hopefully the new trail doesn't catch the eyes of ATV'ers.

Benching with the Bobcat. Notice how it is not level. At times we had to pre-bench the grade
in front of Bobcat to help keep it from sliding down the hill.

Bear Brook almost straight down. Some Colorado caliber exposure here!

Hand benching behind the Bobcat in progress.

Almost finished product. This is going to be fast!

I mostly benched with a rogue hoe or chopped roots out with an ax, about four hours straight. I was completely wrecked when I decided to hang it up. The heat index was 117F with a 80F dew point when I got home. It is rare the dew point gets much higher than this anywhere in the world. In 1995, the dew point just touched 90F near Chicago and 750 people died as a result. That might be the highest ever recorded in the US.

I probably lost well over a gallon of fluids with no air movement in the woods and took in only about half a gallon. At least the bugs weren't bad.  We got through a first pass with the Bobcat, maybe a half mile of new trail. There's still many work days ahead to finish benching out the the trail and cleaning up the edges. Looking forward to riding this soon!