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. 


DaveP said...

Nice action sardine shot - you can see some oil about to drop on the ground from the hunk you're holding in your hand. Mmmmmmm..

rick is! said...

wanna show me around n. conway this coming sunday? i've never been there before and will be in town...


Hill Junkie said...

Rick - tempting! I have hillclimb race in VT Saturday. Haven't thought much about Sunday but will probably stay local to southern NH.