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?


Anonymous said...

Wow sounds like a crazy ride. I had forgotten to ask you what happened after you cramped, glad to hear you were able to recover. Can't believe you originally thought 2 bottles was going to be enough :)

Anonymous said...

I had been reading your blog for a few months now when I read this one about the cramps. I recently suffered from the exact same cramps where they seized up so bad that they bruised up two days later on the inner thighs, so I was glad that this was not specific to me! I found that pickle juice/salt in my bottles to be a help, along with much stretching after. Thanks for the tip about eating protein during a ride, as I haven't tried that yet. I rode the Raid Lamoille gravel ride up in Stowe last weekend and the riding up there is some of the best I think (well, I am from Rhode Island so our hills pale in comparison). Thanks for your blog....Sean

Ines said...

This is cool!