Sunday, December 21, 2014

Phases of Water

In our temperate climate, water takes on three forms, or phases. These are solid, liquid and gas. This time of year, outdoor athletes are exposed to all three forms. The solid form can accumulate on the ground as snow and ice, making running and riding more challenging. The liquid form falls out of the sky, making trails messy and bodies cold. The gaseous form has less direct impact on athletic activities. When it is warm, high humidity makes sweating less effective. When it is cold and dry, our lungs must warm and moisten the air, causing pulmonary stress.

Going back to high school chemistry, or even 8th grade chemistry for some, the diagram below shows how much energy is gained or released when water transitions between each phase. The energy to evaporate water is many times that needed to freeze water.  The neat thing about a phase change material is that it holds it current state until the requisite energy has been put in/taken out of it, then it suddenly snaps over to the other phase. This is why snow on trails does not melt easily or why bodies of water do not dry up quickly.

This weekend I had to tolerate the liquid form of water on my ride and took advantage of the solid form skiing. The mountain areas of New England are still holding onto a nice base of snow despite the warm weather and copious rain. Friday I hit Bretton Woods for a 54.5km skate ski. It looked like winter wonderland north of Franconia Notch. Hard to believe just a few exits south the highway median was bare grass.

I'd love to ski full time in the winter months, but I ski with passion and it takes a lot out of me. I don't want to lose too much cycling specific fitness either. So Saturday I headed to Ipswich, MA to hit some trails I've very familiar with as well as some I've never ridden. I think in the last 2-3 weeks, the area has received something like 6-8" of rain. Temps were dropping just below freezing at night, so I was banking on water encountered being in the solid form.

Salem-Beverly Canal Trail Path, barely above water

I lucked out for the most part. The ground had a frozen crust, and the coastal area was socked in with clouds, keeping the sun off it. My legs were more limp than overcooked pasta from Friday's ski though. I rode south towards Wenham along dirt rail trail and a path along a water supply canal. The wetlands along the canal were very high, the path just inches above water level. It would have been very messy without that frozen crust to shield my tires from the goo just below. The trails in Willowdale State Forest tend to follow eskers, high and dry. The riding there was mint.

The trail runs through this mess. Took a good while to cross.

To close the loop, I hit trails lit up in the Strava Global Heatmap that are also part of Willowdale State Forest, but west of Rt 1. Hadn't been in there before. It started out with some sweet, almost grown-in singletrack. There are many pockets of wetlands in this area, and beaver no doubt help make it so. After all, they are called natures environmental engineers. Now that they are more nuisance than endangered, I think of them at swamp rodents. Beaver can lay waste to perfectly good trails in no time. Twice I had to cross massive dams with no obvious way to avoid wet feet or risk of injury. Glad I had my Shimano winter shoes on. The Goretex kept my feet dry from the couple times I slipped and went in.

Sunday it was back to the solid form of water at Waterville Valley (in keeping with the water theme, of course!). Grassy median getting off the highway and cryptic snow report had me thinking conditions were dubious at best. But they weren't bad. One of my favorite climbs, 800ft up Tripoli Rd, was Piston Bully groomed and in superb skating shape. An inch of powder had just fallen, slowing things down considerably. I expected icy granular and didn't bother to wax my skis. I'll take the slow skis with better control than fast ice and little control any day.

Flurries from Bob's Lookout at Waterville Valley.

After two depleting days in a row, I felt like death starting out. Why do we dig holes like this? I had planned to ski only 25km or so, but after I hit Tripoli I just had to do it again. The Livermore Rd climb was not nearly as nice, snowmobile groomed, and nearly skied off by the heavy traffic. Full-on death slog to the summit and I was done. That was good for 37.5km, a 92km weekend on skis.

Summit of Tripoli Rd with layer of fresh powder.

Looks like a lot more liquid precipitation is on the way this week, which could kill Nordic skiing in most of New England. I'll be heading to Michigan for a few days, and things look even bleaker there, with no snow and lots of rain all week in the forecast. What to bring... just Goretex shell and running shoes? I normally bring full spectrum of toys. I've enjoyed my best start to the ski season ever, and it sure would be nice to keep that momentum going.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

A little ditty

After a short run on black ice before lunch this morning, Isaac sent me this little ditty:

I'm Hill Junkie No I don't do no pills
Cycling and skiing up all the hills
That's how I get my thrills
Taking care to avoid any spills

Who needs chronic when you have sonic 
Burgers milkshakes and sugary soda tonic
Fueling the day with sardines
Recovering with a burrito filled with beans

Each line in the poem has a blog post or two associated with it.  I received this message during a big, stressful design review at work. I'm sure a couple people wondered what I was on with a perma-grin on my face for a while. That moved the stress-o-meter needle down for a while. Thanks Isaac!

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Run, bike, ski... Repeat

A few have asked if all is well, since I haven't posted anything here in a while. Yep, life is good, although busy. I'm involved with a high schedule pressure project at work demanding more hours of my time than I'd like. I'm putting up with it for the time being, as it is interesting work.

When time to do things I enjoy most becomes scarce, posting falls by the wayside. Running, riding and skiing are way more important than blogging about running, riding and skiing. And let's face it, blogging in general has been pretty much pushed into oblivion by other social media like Facebook, Twitter, Strava and many others. A few of my favorite adventure riders don't post anymore. That's too bad, as magazines certainly don't deliver content that leads me to dream of great rides and places to visit. In fact, I just cancelled my subscription to Bicycling. Sick of the same old regurgitated crap over and over and over.

I find myself overloading on "training" this time of year. I'm unwilling to back off on anything, especially riding, yet I ramp up on skiing. First rollerskis on pavement, then skate skis on snow. The Nordic ski season has certainly been off to a good start. I skied 80km on Thanksgiving weekend and got in another 25km ski this weekend.

New England has been delivering the best of both worlds early this season. Ample natural snow in the mountains and bare trails to ride south of Boston. When even roadies are buying fat bikes these days, I'll still click into my skinny skis to play in the snow before I ride in it. Some have said I hate fat bikes. Not true. I'd still own one if my knees tolerated the wide Q-factor better. Hoping to buy a 29+ hardtail at some point. Splits the difference between a fat bike and regular MTB and it will not bother my knees with a standard Q-factor.

I might learn to hate fat bikes, or maybe I should say fat bikers, if they start mucking up my ski trails. Waterville Valley is going to allow fat bikes on some groomed trails this winter. I hope it is on a trial basis, as they are welcoming feedback. Personally, I would find riding on wide, groomed ski trails not very interesting. And having to pay for it? I'm not going to get too worked up about it, as the interest may be very low and it just won't be a problem. Some areas, like the Vasa trail in Michigan, are creating narrower groomed trails just for fat bikes. That is the way to go. The trails would be more interesting, can hit terrain that doesn't work for skiing, and eliminates user conflict by segregating the disparate activities.

Here are a few photos from the last two weekends. Some have previously appeared on FB. I'm more apt to post on FB when I don't have much time, if you care to follow me there.

Riding the peninsula out to Plymouth Light from Duxbury, looking south, Sunday Dec. 7. The sandy road was mud, standing water and non-stop holes. The wind was so strong pedaling was optional heading south...

Looking north on the beach. I couldn't figure out why it looked like it was snowing. It was sea foam being carried aloft. Had to brace myself to take this photo. Riding back sucked.  Exploring the coast was part of 42 mile trail ride in Duxbury, MA while trails an hour north were either muddy, icy, snow covered or some combination of all three. The Duxbury trails were perfect.

White Farm trails, Concord NH, Thanksgiving day. First skate of the season, 17km.

Day after Thanksgiving with Isaac at Waterville Valley. 31km. So cool to have this much snow on Thanksgiving weekend.

After two great days on skinny skis, I took my son down to the Cape so we could get our fix on dry trails. The conditions did not disappoint. 20+ miles on the Trail of Tears.

Never let early season snow go to waste. Back up to Waterville Valley on the final day of the Thanksgiving weekend. Met up with Eiric, also out to get his aerobic fix.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Something missing here?

Over the past several weeks, I've noticed an anomaly in my sofa bike (Tallboy LTc) drivetrain. Once per full chain rotation, there'd be a little skip around the cassette. I found a tight link. That was odd, I thought, as the chain had over a thousand miles on it. Chains get looser with wear, not tighter. I hadn't made any repairs during that time either.  I worked the tight link loose and didn't give it another thought.

Then a couple weeks later, I noticed a very subtle bump in the drivetrain when hammering in a smaller cogs. Running the chain through my hand on the bike stand, I didn't see or feel anything odd. Yet the subtle bump persisted. It didn't skip or anything, like it was earlier with the tight link. You just could feel something wasn't quite right in the chain.

Missing Roller

Then one morning before work, I was throwing some lube on and something caught my eye. A link was missing a roller! How does a link disappear without the chain breaking? It can't, the roller has to crack and fall off. Perhaps this was behind the binding link to begin with. Perhaps the binding stopped when the roller cracked and fell off. Then because the pitch of the chain effectively changed for that link, a small bump could be felt each time that spot came around the cassette.

I quickly swapped out a pair of links and was on my way to work. First time in 18 years of riding I've had that happen to a chain. It was a Shimano XT-level 10spd chain. I've had extremely good luck with Shimano chains over the years. My first drivetrain on the sofa bike went 3000 miles, and there was barely 1/16" "stretch" in that chain.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Bone Density Update

It's been two years since I've been in to see my doctor and get a bone density scan. Since my ankle fracture in 2010, when I subsequently learned I had low bone density, I've altered my exercise routine, diet, and risk. If the machine data and study statistics are to be believed, I am many times more likely to break a bone in a bicycle crash than my peers. This is a sobering thought when one ponders how frequent fractures are in cycling to begin with.

I was hopeful, even confident, I would see some improvement, or at least no degradation in bone mineral density (BMD). I've been running for four years now. I've gotten little to no weight bearing impact exercise for most of my adult life before that. Then I added additional calcium supplementation, even though I doubt I've ever been deficient in my life. I added magnesium and D3 as well. It is quite possible I did not get enough vitamin D in winter months much of my life, living in northern latitudes. I've even cut out some of the starchy things in my diet, replacing bagels with nuts.

With T-scores typical of post-menopausal women, I greatly curtailed risk. I gave up road and traditional cyclocross racing. With an anticipated improvement in BMD, I thought maybe I could resume some road and CX racing.

When the report came back last Thursday, I was hugely disappointed to see all my numbers worsen. My spine, especially, is rapidly losing mass. The average T-score of my lower four vertebrae is now -2.0, which means two full standard deviations below that of a healthy young person. My Z-score, which is age adjusted, is -1.7. Each standard deviation equates to roughly 2.5x increase in fracture risk. So -1.7 means I'm 2.5^1.7 = 4.75 times more likely to break my back than an average guy my age. The new report format doesn't give individual scores for L1-L4, but my L1 was -2.2 last time and is probably less than that now. -2.5 is full-blown osteoporosis.

While my spine is losing almost 1% per year, my hips are losing much less. Maybe the running helps more with that. My hips are not as scary low, but still put me at much greater risk in a mishap than normal guys my age.

So now what? My doctor didn't think this was a big deal, but I haven't discussed these latest results in detail with him. I work with yields, reliability and statistical type stuff in my work. These odds freak me right out. I question whether anything I have done these last four years has made any difference. Would things be even worse if I hadn't made changes? I just don't have two populations of myself to run a controlled experiment.

My 10 year probability of fracture is probably not quite high enough yet to indicate drug treatment. That would be a choice I'd have to proactively pursue. The problem is, the fracture risk has to be pretty high because the drugs come with potentially nasty side effects. I don't think I'm ready to go there yet.

In poking around on the web to see what the latest drugs and research are showing, I discovered that a vitamin that is often deficient in American diet can have a profound effect on bone density. This is one of the vitamin K variants, K2, which has sub-variants MK4 and MK7. I take a multi-vitamin that has K in it, but it is K1. This is a pitfall of supplements. There are just too many nutrients in real food that you could never get all of them into a pill.

K2, or more importantly MK7, comes from green leafy things. I've consumed virtually no green leafy stuff my whole life. There's just no caloric value in it, This is a Fat Doug rule: good food has calories in it. MK7 is needed for proper regulation of calcium in the body. Calcium is a fickle mineral. You can take copious amounts of it, but unless you have any number of other minerals and vitamins along with it, you can't absorb it into the right places. Some studies have shown that taking a MK7 supplement not only slowed bone loss, it reversed it. MK7 is now used in Asian countries to treat osteoporosis. MK7 is widely available and quite safe. I'll give it a try. It would be far better to consume natural sources of MK7, but I don't think I could ever become a fan of spinach salads. Natto, fermented soybeans, popular in Japan, has a high concentration of MK7. Most Americans' palate can't tolerate the stuff though. The MK7 I ordered is derived from natto.

Unfortunately, it will be another two years before I will see if any changes I make have any impact. In the mean time I need to continue to curtail risks.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Rapha Course - where blue meets brown

After this week's deluge, I didn't think local trail conditions would be to my liking. And after a confrontation with a motorist during Friday's lunch spin, local roads didn't seem very attractive either. I had yet to ride my Trek Cronus since I put wide 38mm tubeless tires on it over a month ago. Some quiet Vermont gravels roads seemed attractive.

I stitched together a new variant of the first half of the Rapha Gentlemens Race course. After hitting most of the good stuff west of Norwich, I would cut straight back on Turnpike Rd past Gile Mtn. A section of this doesn't even show on Google Maps, but I've ridden it with MTB several times. Pretty rough going, but no more than half a mile of it. This would make for a 100km loop with 7000ft of climbing.

It was frigid starting out, just above freezing. I dressed light because I didn't want to carry excess clothing for most of the ride after it warmed up. That first descent teared my eyes up something fierce. The day turned out to be exceptionally nice. I regretted bringing only my cell phone camera.

The drizzly week packed the gravel down nicely. In fact, a road bike would have been optimal on at least 80% of the gravel sections. Smooth as butter. Only a slightly increased chance of pinch flatting on the other 20%. Could bomb every descent WFO. So much fun.

I've heard it said before you know when you are approaching the summit of a climb when you see blue on black. That means blue sky is meeting black asphalt. Well, Vermont has more miles of unpaved roads than paved roads. So one is more apt to see blue meeting brown when cyclo-touring Vermont. Today's bluebird skies doled out some nice blue on brown crests.

After climbing Foundry Rd, I stopped to take in the view of what I believed to be the Adirondacks in New York. While stopped, a group of four mountain bikers came up what looked like a driveway. I suspect their average age was much older than me. We talked a bit. They were quite far out and heading even further out. I asked about what trails could possibly be around there. They kind of looked at each other and snickered. They claimed they've been riding some of the best trails in Vermont for over 30 years. I looked around on their bikes and saw no GPSs. Then I asked if they load any of their rides on Strava. I got funny looks, like "what's Strava?" Then one commented that they need to keep the secret stash protected. Bummer. I looked in Strava around that area and there was nothing lit up. Either the locals keep a very tight lid on it or there's really nothing there. Has me wondering...

So what is it about Vermonters and their Subaru's? I'm pretty sure 78.9% of Vermont drivers own Subaru's. Does the state give tax breaks? Is there a penalty for owning a non-Subaru? Maybe to fit in with rural culture, you feel compelled to own a Subaru, one of those meme things. Obama, Coexist and NPR stickers must be one of the factory trim package options too. And I suppose because summer is just a transition between mud season and winter, that there is no reason to take the studded tires off. Just having fun here. Nothing against Vermonters or Subaru's. In mountainous terrain that is ice and snow covered half the year, AWD cars no doubt make sense. I may buy one some day after I move to Colorado.

Turnpike Rd starts out nice gravel and drops to about 1.5 lanes wide after a mile. As the houses become less frequent and elevation is gained, the road becomes barely one lane wide. You know you are in for a treat when you start seeing grass growing in the middle. Eventually the gravel surface peters out altogether, becomes leaf covered, and gnarly under the leaves. Very wet too. On the sofa bike, this is no problem. But on my cross rig where your center of gravity is already perched half-way into an endo, riding down steep ledgy rocks is terrifying. I think I lost a mile per hour off my pace riding a half mile of rough jeep road. Eventually you are "back on the map" on the other side and can resume WFO descending. The trailhead for Gile Mtn was packed with cars, 78.9% Subaru's, of course. It was a six mile, nearly monotonic descent back to Norwich.

I finished with 62 miles, 7000 feet of climbing in 4.2 hours moving time. Temp rose to around 60F, and there was very little wind. One of my more satisfying gravel rides. Here are a few iPhone 5S photos from the ride.

Top of Bragg Hill Rd. Seemed like dreary day in valley until you climb up above morning fog.

Joe Ranger Rd. Only oak trees clinging on to leaves.

Blue meets Brown. Potash Hill Rd. Skinny tires would have been fine.

Top of Foundry Rd climb, from Strafford Rd.

Turnpike Rd. I thought there was a reason I brought the CX bike. About a half-mile
of this, some of it up higher was wet, chunky and leaf covered.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Tour of the Pocumtuck Ridge

Last fall I did a big loop from Amherst, MA that entailed a considerable amount of climbing in rugged terrain. The area struck me as a place that possessed Hill Junkie character - killer fireroad climbs, challenging singletrack and great views from high places. Perusing the Strava Global Heatmap, as I often due when dreaming about new places to ride, brightly glowing tracks in the Deerfield and Greenfield area caught my attention.

I've done the D2R2 ride many times from Deerfield. We start from a large hay field. Across the field to the east is a towering ridge that spans from south to north as far as you can see. I've heard you can ride that ridge. The heatmap showed many have. That clinched it for me. With any luck, there might still be some fall foliage in the area.

To plan this route, I decided to give the Strava Route Builder a try.  I found it has some minor quirks, but it has something nobody else has: heatmap overlay! You can use street, terrain or satellite views, with or without the heatmap overlaid. Street and path following can be turned on or off. I found this to be the most versatile off-road route planning tool yet. Previously, I'd have to go into Strava Explore and grab tracks from specific rides. I had no idea if they were a one-off or followed a popular route. With the heatmap, you know exactly where the popular routes area. Readers will be sad hear this may spell the end of Hill Junkie boondoggles. The heatmap takes speculation out of route building.

The plan was to park in Greenfield, take 10 miles of paved road south to Mt Toby, which I hit on my ride from Amhest last fall. There is nothing super special about Mt Toby, other than it is a superb 1000ft fireroad climb from the north. Descending the south is a different beast. It is four miles of ATV chunder buried under fresh leaf drop. Momentum is your friend on the sofa bike!

There was 0% chance of rain and nothing on the radar when I headed out, despite some pretty ominous looking clouds. I no more than pushed off when it started raining. WTF! It sprinkled the whole way to Mt Toby, enough to make the road and my feet wet. It was less than 50F. Fortunately that didn't last long and wasn't enough to make off-road terrain wet. I never saw another person on Mt Toby until I reached the bottom on the south side.

Crossing back over the Connecticut River, with most of the paved riding behind me, it was time to traverse the Pocumtuck Ridge. The Mt Sugarloaf State Reservation is at the southern terminus. It is a popular state park with a grand view from the summit. I have always wanted to ride up this paved climb, but not necessarily on a sofa bike with sub-20psi in the tires. The leaf peepers were certainly out. The view was worth one more paved diversion.

I would be great to follow the Pocumtuck Ridge Trail all the way back, but there are pesky interferences, like big cliffs along the way, that would not be fun to carry a bike up. So a bit more road brought me around to the north Mt Sugarloaf peak, which goes higher than the south prominence and is undeveloped. I discovered the route that loops up and around the rim is superbly designed singletrack. Some more great views of the valley below along the way.

Dropping back down Sugarloaf, in no time I was climbing up to the Deerfield ridge. This turned out to be doubletrack. With leaf drop nearing completion up top, you could see through the trees in many places to gauge climbing progress. A few openings afforded great vistas too, such as the field the D2R2 ride is run out of.

Dropping off the Deerfield ridge, there was some great singletrack. Crossing over a dirt road brought me past a pack of mountain bikers and onto freshly leaf-blown singletrack. Sweet! No more apprehension of sliding out on hidden roots and slickrock. I expected New England ridgeline gnar on this ride, but thus far, there was none.

It wasn't until I got into Rocky Mountain Park in Greenfield that I finally encountered gnarly ridge riding. More great vistas of Greenfield along the way, but the ridge was getting pretty short, only a few hundred feet above town.

I got back to the car with 41mi, nearly 5000ft of climbing in 4.1hrs. Even though there was a lot of paved riding in this loop, it didn't seem like it. Paved miles go by quickly, and way more than half of the time was spent off-road. I'll do this loop again, maybe with a few tweaks, but it was almost perfect right off the heatmap.

Sunderland Fire Tower at Mt Toby summit

Heading down the Mt Toby AVT track on south side of mountain

The south and north Sugarloaf outcroppings

South Sugarloaf from the bridge over the Connecticut River.
Observation deck in upper left.

Mt Toby on left from Mt Sugarloaf with the Connecticut River in between

South Deerfield from Sugarloaf observation deck

Overlook from the north Sugarloaf peak

Slightly different angle from above photo

Pocumtuck Ridge view of the fields the D2R2 ride start in

Greenfield from Poet's Seat

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Published, sort of

Shortly after I got back from my vacation, I received an email from the director of the Colorado Trail Foundation, Bill Manning. He liked my photos from the Lake City section I rode up around 12,000 to 13,000ft and was wondering if he could have permission to use them. As I am a complete amateur when it comes to photography and have no aspirations to ever make a cent off photos I take, I was more than happy to help Bill out. I sent him full resolution images.

A short while later, Bill contacts me again and said a British magazine was interested in photos from the Colorado Trail and my photos may be of interest to them.  The magazine is called The Great Outdoors. I checked TGO out first before responding to Bill. At first I was cautious, as they appeared to be a hiking oriented mag, and could they possibly be anti-mountain biking? Deeper probing showed not. They ran stories of off-road riding too.

Again, I didn't want compensation for anything they might want to use. I told Bill they were free to use my Colorado Trail photos, just give me credit. Bill also said he'd try to get the TGO to send me a print copy if they used any of my photos.  I wasn't sure they would even use them, as the CT piece was supposed to be more about bike-packing and the Colorado Trail Race.

I don't think even two weeks went by when I got a brown paper wrapped package post marked from the UK. At first, I was like what's this? Then it dawned on me. It was a very thick magazine, a special edition sometimes referred to a "bookazine." It was full of glossy pictures from around the world featuring 100 bucket list epic adventures. Cool! But how could any of my photos have made it into the mag? It probably took two weeks just to come over the pond.

But sure enough. One of my photos was in there on a one-page CT piece. The only problem, they gave Scott Morris the credit! I've never met Scott, but I have followed his blog for many years, and Scott has been involved with bike-packing and the Colorado Trail Race for years. TGO magazine probably had photos to consider from Scott too, as he's posted many photos from the CT on his blog. Here's a rather poorly scanned image of the page with my photo.

That photo certainly captured the essence of my ride that day, and the Colorado Trail over all.  I'm certainly not going to lose sleep over the botched photo credit. I won't even let them know. I'm just happy to get this expensive magazine (10 GBP + 7 GBP shipping) to peruse and dream over what adventures to put on my bucket list. The special edition magazine covers many human powered activities, such as hiking, biking, repelling, kayaking, skiing and more. Many of the adventures are competitive events.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Fall in the Whites

Can't seem to get enough of riding mountainous, off-road terrain lately. No hostile or inattentive drivers to deal with, solitude, and plenty of vertical to work up a good endorphin buzz.  What is really cool is new places to ride are popping up faster than I can get out to ride them. Two destination riding areas come to mind: the greater Stowe, VT area and the Carrabassett Valley in Maine. Have to put those on the top of my list for next year.

A while back Louis asked me what is up with all the tracks in the Strava Global Heatmap around Campton, NH. I didn't know. I ride from there a lot, usually on a cross bike to hit the gravel roads. But clearly, local riders appeared to be riding much more than forest service and logging roads. I was planning a long ride for Sunday. Plans for the Great River century ride fell through. I didn't feel like driving too far. Campton is less than 90 minutes away. Time to explore.

I pulled a few promising tracks from Strava into my Garmin 510. Rider's speeds on these tracks were very slow at times, often in walking speed range. Would I encounter super chunky terrain and embark on a classic Hill Junkie boondoggle? I didn't know.

After a warm-up on the 1300ft Campton Mtn climb, which is almost all paved now, I bombed down and crossed over Rt 49 to the area of the Welch Ledges. Riders have been riding up to the ledges, but not on the popular Welch-Dickey hiking loop. Looked steep on paper. Turns out it is a very well constructed trail, the gradient never overbearing. Route following was very difficult with leaf drop. New trails hide quickly with leaf cover, as not enough of a depression in the ground has been made yet.

The view from the ledge did not disappoint. There were many, many people up there, most making their way around the Welch-Dickey loop which climbs much higher than I was going. Spent a good while there, talking with a slightly older couple who also cycle.

Oak leaves made the descent a bit sketchy. Oak leaves over bare granite were deadly. I can get better traction on ice. Part way down I forked onto another trail. There was singletrack all over in there. This noodle of a trail meandered in a tight area and again was fun stuff. Never fast, and it undulated mightily with the forest floor. My racy geometry hardtail always kept me on the cusp of disaster.

Crossing back over Rt 49, I hit more trails in the Smarts Brook area. This is signed for XC ski use and there were many bridges at the mostly dry stream crossings. I was lucky it hadn't rained up there in some time, with how rooty and rocky some of the terrain was. I clearly rode one of the long singletrack segments the wrong, uphill direction. Some nasty steep pitches up granite or root mazes that were too much with leave drop to punch up. You can tell by ruts and braking stutter bumps that the trail was primarily a downhill run. Took me forever to reach the top. There is a large network of trails being ridden in this area, and I barely touched it before popping out on Sandwich Notch Rd.

A colleague who fishes stocked ponds in the Sandwich Range mentioned Sandwich Notch Rd was all rutted out from heavy rain. Hmmm, maybe if you're taking a Corvette over the seasonal road. I didn't find it in any worse shape than usual, just fine for a cross bike but probably not a road bike. The descent would suck on a road bike.

Down the other side I picked up one of my favorite doubletracks in the Whites, gated Algonquin Rd. It follows the Beebe River, downstream, for many miles. You feel like a superhero riding the 1% grade downstream. Little work produces big speed on moderately rough surface.

I had planned to pop out on pavement and take Rt 175 the last couple miles back to the car, but Page Hill Rd caught my attention. I tried to ride this once before and it turned into a bushwhack on the other side near the bottom. A few people live on the gravel road on this side, then it becomes an un-maintained road. It went up, the sun was to my back, and the fall colors were brilliant. I gave it a go.

With no GPS track, I had to wing it at a couple junctions. Turns out I chose wisely. No bushwhack this time and got in another 400+ feet of climbing off-road. I got back to the car with 34 miles, 4800 feet in 3.6 hours on the Garmin. Another great fall day of riding. I'll leave you with a photo dump from the ride. Thanks for reading.

Welch Ledge looking across the valley into the Sandwich Wilderness Area

Look up towards the Dickey ledges. A rare moment this view wasn't full of hikers.
The logs keep walkers off sensitive vegetation islands.

Trying not to go over the ledge and win a Darwin Award. It actually wasn't that steep here.

One more from the Welch Ledge.

Beginning the descent back down with Dickey Mtn in background. 
Lots of slickrock which was fortunately all dry today.

Further down, looking down.

Singletrack below the ledge. Where's the trail?

Near the top of the climb in Smarts Brook area.

Atwood Pond

Atwood pond looking more easterly

Sandwich Notch Road, north side looking down

South side of Sandwich Notch Rd looking back up

Algonquin Rd

Color along Algonquin Rd

Monday, September 29, 2014

2014 Vermont 50

Did over two weeks fly by without a post? My 10 days in Colorado is already a distant memory. Races were always good for blog fodder. Without trips and races, what is there to talk about here? Even though I was never really a hard core bicycle racer, it seems I have slipped almost completely into the realm of recreational cyclists. There has been no structure or discipline in my training this summer. Sure, I rode lots, mostly off-road, but almost no focused intensity work. I've been riding purely for enjoyment and health, both physical and mental. I have enough stressors in my life right now without adding regimented training to the heap of worries.

I loves me a good sufferfest though, and the Vermont 50 miler is a good one. I've raced the VT50 five times previously in both good and bad weather, going back to 2000. I was not stressing over how I was going to do this year in the race. It was just going to be whatever it was.

I did stress a little over which bike to bring. I've always raced the VT50 on a hardtail. A hardtail may not always be the most enjoyable bike to ride over mixed terrain, but it certainly makes for an efficient climber. There is over 8000ft of climbing in the course. Having so many riding hours on my long-travel Santa Cruz Tallboy LTc since I bought it last year, I pondered how well that bike would do on the course. Overkill, to be sure. It weighs several pounds more than my hardtail with monster truck 2.35" tires.  But damn, that bike is fun to ride. Fun overruled efficiency. The sofa bike was hitting the VT50 course this year.

I lost a lot of time early in the race last year. The fog was bad and my glasses fog up horribly. This was compounded by a completely worthless nickle-battery light to illuminate my way. I think the whole field passed me in the first couple downhills of the race. I falsely assumed I could scavenge off other's lights. But no, bight lights behind me just left me riding into a huge, pitch black shadow of myself. My 0.000001 lumen light could not fill the shadow. So this year I brought my 1200 lumen DiNotte light. Again, overkill, but somebody else was going to be riding in their shadow from my light. The half pound of added weight would totally be worth it. To mitigate glasses fogging up, I applied some windshield anti-fog compound to an old pair glasses. Not recommended for plastic, but I thought I'd give it a try.

Stellar weather was on tap for Sunday. Lining up for 6:05am start, it wasn't even cold out. Most years there is frost on the ground or it is raining. Staying hydrated was a bigger concern, as temps were expected to rise above 80F later in the day.

My second wave of experts go off, a very large field, probably 100+ riders. The pace was ballistic right from go. I don't ever recall having to drill it on the paved downhill to stay with the field in such a huge draft in this race. I let my self get a bit far back. When we got to the first truly off-road climb, it turned into a 3-cross conga line. Argh, it should be all quite rideable. At least on the initial plummets I could see this year!

There were a few riders I don't typically beat in MTB races, maybe never, that I thought I'd keep my eye on. I figured if I could beat all three of these guys, I had slight chance at age group podium. They were Tyler, Zane and Mike. In the dark, I had no idea where these guys ended up, and I don't really know Mike.  As it started to get light, I passed Tyler. Later I learned he suffered some kind of mishap. Zane, I was trading places with the whole race. Mid race he seemed to find turbo boost and I thought he was gone for good.

I have a love-hate relationship with these endurance events. I almost always cramp up 3hrs in or so. The duration is way beyond my sweet spot, such as the 30 minute hillclimb efforts I don't suck at. But an endurance race is an adventure, especially a single loop course like the VT50. At the 30 mile stop where I swapped Camelbaks, my hamstrings felt well along the path to cramping at any time. I started deliberately hopping off my bike on some of the steepest pitches to "run" up them, stretching my hammies in the process. This seemed to stave off cramping last year.

The sofa bike was absolutely crushing the downhills. I scared myself shitless multiple times.  In fact, two riders were like "WTF Hill Junkie, you're killing the descents!" My response was it was the bike, not me, it lets me ride beyond my skill level. Nobody was passing me on the descents. That never happened in the VT50 before. Was the time gained going down making up for carrying all that extra heft up? Probably not, but it was more than worth it in fun-factor. Plus I was not getting beat to shit in the process. That 5+ inches of travel front and rear just soaked everything up.

I was on the hairy cusp of total cramping with about five miles to go. I caught a glimpse of one of my nemesis, Zane, on a switchback or two ahead. I thought at the time that could be a podium spot. Game on, cramping or not. Fortunately there was a lot of high speed technical downhill involved. The sofa bike knows what to do! I caught and passed Zane. Now the big worry was how do I keep him behind me with the big finishing climb coming up, while cramping, and he's on a skinny whippet hardtail that probably weighed 10 pounds less then my tank? I reached the point I couldn't even pedal while seated without my inner thighs locking up. Stand it would have to be. I reached the contouring rollers up top with my gap still intact. Now I just had to not screw up.

As the plummet to the finish line drew near, I noticed another rider gaining on me. Dang, a potential threat? No idea. The pressure was still on. I had to take risk all the way down. Strava later showed me I PR'd that last piece of the course too. I held him off.

I crossed the line in 4:36, five minutes faster than last year and a new personal fastest for me in the VT50. I was pretty happy with that. I've always treated the VT50 more as a personal individual time-trial rather than a race against others. This is how the course is optimally ridden in my opinion. I was surprised to see this time netted me only 6th place in the 45-54 year old age group and 30th overall out of 700 or so. I had a clean race, came out ahead of guys that normally beat me, and still came out further down than expected. Not disappointed though.

Repeat perfect weather of last year

When I first started racing the VT50 in 2000 and 2001, a sub-5hr finish would net you a top-10 overall finish. Now a sub-5hr finish will barely get you into the top 100 finishers. The course is even more technical, with more climbing, and with more singletrack today than in the early years. So what gives? The caliber of riders showing up at this event, that's what gives. Pretty cool that Mike Silverman and staff have built this stand-alone race up to this level. Getting in has become increasingly difficult. The race filled in 12 minutes this year.

With improvements in suspension design and technology, I'm finding less reason to keep a hardtail in the quiver. My Tallboy is the go-to bike for all trail riding. And now I posted my best on a "heavy", long-travel bike on a climbing course that I thought was the exclusive domain of hardtails and rigids. Maybe a racier 29er build should be in my plans for next year.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Final Ride: Hartman Rocks

Even though I buried myself during a brutal 6.4hr ride on Thursday, I wasn't going to get cheated out of a couple more rides I had planned for the trip. That meant a double on Friday. You can always rest when you're dead, right?

My last post featured photos with some commentary from the morning ride. The Reno/Flag/Bear/Deadman loop is a worthy ride in its own right. How was I physically and mentally going to do a second ride almost as hard in the same day? At least Saturday was a travel day, so I didn't have to awake in a beat-up state and ride.

After a four-course chicken dinner for lunch, I headed over to Hartman Rocks. A stomach full of heavy food does not seem to bother me riding, especially after blowing 2000 calories during the morning ride.

I've ridden Hartman Rocks just outside Gunnison a couple times already. It is a pretty cool place to ride, especially for the less gravity gifted set who like technical riding. There is no shortage of tech at Hartman Rocks. Trail designers went out of their way to weave singletrack through every rocky outcropping poking out of the sagebrush desert. There are many big commitment moves out there. With tired legs, tired mind, frail bones and generally lack of skill, dismounts were frequent on a couple of the trails. I rode a few trails for the first time, like Ridge and Top of the World. Non-stop rock features is the best way to describe these trails.

The soil seems to be decomposed granite, so when you get away from the rock outcroppings, things roll smooth and fast. That's what I was looking for on this ride, but I pulled a loop from Strava that seems to be a local favorite linkage of tech trails. It was anything but smooth and fast.

Starting this ride late in the afternoon meant I was not going to have enough daylight to do the full planned route.  I was more than ok with that. The lower and upper parking areas had lots of cars, but I encountered other riders only a couple times. Hartman Rocks is a pretty vast riding area. As I was bailing on remaining singletrack and taking a double track back to the trailhead near dusk, I noticed my shadow stretched out far to the east. How fitting to end my longest Colorado cycling trip to date.  Led Zeppelin's lyrics from Stairway to Heaven came to mind: "Our shadow's taller than our soul." Yeah, I was feeling pretty depleted, in a good way. I needed an extended break away from work. My shadow was no doubt taller than my concerns in the corporate world, a faint memory at this point in the trip.

My Garmin logged 23.3mi with 3000ft of climbing in 2.9hrs of riding. That made for 6.7hrs with 7200ft of off-road climbing for the day, my biggest day of the trip. Going back into the office grinder on Monday is going to suck.

Gunnison from Ridge Trail

Ridge Trail. A couple places offered serious exposure.

This was probably Top of the World Trail. Lots of big rock moves here.

Nothing but a sea of sage at the height of land. Bombing down Skyline Trail was an absolute rush.

Shadow's getting tall. Time to head back.

Reno-Flag-Bear-Rosebud-Cement-Deadman photo dump

Friday morning ride, last day of the trip. Classic loop near Crested Butte.

Starting out up Cement Creek Rd. Temp was 28F.

Nice for this guy to pose for me while climbing Reno Ridge Rd.

View from near the Reno Divide at 11,100ft.

Beginning descent on Flag Creek Trail. Five mud puddles in this photo. You couldn't just skirt edge, as clay based soil was super slippery. You'd just slide in anyway. Hasn't rained in three days. Whoop pits don't drain.  Bacon strips slabs of mud would fling off my front tire and slap me in the face.  Don't have this problem on non-motorized trails. More and more trails in the Crested Butte area are becoming non-motorized. May have to stick to them next time.

Bear Creek descent. This makes putting up with motorized trail riding worth while. This is an endless descent, 4+ miles with almost no pedaling and very little hard braking. There was a lot of recent work on this trail making it even nicer.

Further down the Bear Creek descent.

Looking back up the Bear Creek descent from near the bottom. To be sure, there were some challenging sections in the woods along the stream.

Looking up Rosebud Gulch Trail. This becomes quite a hike-a-bike for an old guy like me.

Awkward attempt at selfie on Rosebud Gulch Trail part way up.

Cement Mountain Trail. This makes the death slog up Rosebud worthwhile.

Looking back on Cement Mountain Trail at Cement Mountain.

These flowers were deep purple but I think they kind of wash out against that sky. Today was the first truly cloudless day of the trip. Figures, today is my last riding day.

Initial descent on Cement Mtn trail. There were several braided sections like this with no way to avoid it and impossible to ride through it. There are one foot deep ruts hidden in there. Hard to see, but it is puddles like this all the way down the trail in this image. Frustrating. Note to self: Either avoid moto trails entirely or at least avoid them within, say, a month of last rain.

Final view of horizon before bombing down the 30+ switchbacks on Deadman Gulch Trail. At least Deadman was well maintained and a blast to carve down. Descent fatigue for sure.

This ride went 25.5 miles in 3.8 hours moving time with 4200ft of climbing. Should not have taken that long, but I was dead f'n tired. This is a CB classic loop, except maybe for the Rosebud extension. In over 4hrs out on the trail, I never saw another soul. Guess maybe the views and solitude make up for sections of quagmire. This was ride #1 of the day. In the afternoon I hit Hartman Rock in Gunnison.