Sunday, January 26, 2014

Enjoying good snow with great peeps

It seems most outdoorsy folks have adapted quite well to this erratic winter. It has alternated between mild and wet,  bitter cold and dry, with unreliable snow for winter sports in between. I've learned that if you become multi-disciplined, outdoor conditions are never an excuse to stay inside.

I focus on skate skiing this time of year, striving to obtain most of my weekly aerobic hours on skis. The last several weeks have been challenging. Weston offers a nice loop of machine-made snow, but you go out of your mind skiing circles for more than a couple hours. Jackson up in the White Mountains has maintained the best natural snow conditions of anywhere in the northeast. It's a long haul, but worth it if the roads aren't bad and you need a good endorphin fix.

Saturday I met Brett and Isaac up there.  Isaac has skied about twice as many times as I have this year and hasn't even touched a bike in almost two months. At least I'd be heading up somewhat fresh. Isaac already had 30k on his Garmin when he met up with Brett and I. Hmmm, he's going to ski another 50k with us? Dang, I'm not worthy.

It was bitter cold overnight. Temps were rising quickly in the morning. The snow was still squeaky, but very firm. Races were going on east of Rt 16, so we'd be skiing only the mountainous stuff west of Rt 16. That was fine by me! Despite the cold, dry snow, it skied quite quick. We first did an out-and-back on Ellis River. Of course, Isaac was well warmed up and put the screws to Brett and I on the rises.

Someday Isaac will have to teach me how to descend. He made Brett and I look like rank amateurs carving the switchbacks. Brett tried to stay on Isaac on one descent but lost it, nearly taking me out too, skiing right behind him. I made a note to never try to hold Isaac's ski on a descent.

We hit the Hall/Maple climb next. I upped the pace a bit and held it to the top. I felt pretty good, although the snow got quite a bit slower near the top of the 1000ft climb. Looking at the Strava upload, I scored a couple KOMs out of that effort. Unfortunately, those efforts come with a cost. My legs were blubbery for a good while afterwards. The descent on Maple terrified me. The corduroy was rock hard, almost unedgeable. I didn't trust my ability to control my speed on it and was afraid the corduroy would catch a ski. Of course, Isaac was gone in a flash.

Clearing on Maple Mtn Loop

Brett and Isaac cresting Maple Mtn. Only icy area we found. It was extremely warm up here
two weekends ago and it gets a lot of sun exposure.

Another out and back on Ellis River nearly brought Brett and I to 50k for the day. Isaac cut off part way out, his tolerance of clueless people milling about long gone. He finished with with 66km and I think close to 5000ft of climbing. For those that don't ski, compare that to a mountainous double metric ride, Six-Gaps or maybe D2R2. Impressive.

I finished with 50km in 3.2hrs with 3700ft on the Garmin, one of my best skates of the season. Conditions were superb, especially when considering the recent dearth of snow. I even beat the snow for the drive back home.

Sunday I hooked up with Soups, Eiric and Dave for some riding on snow. There were mixed reports on Hollis snowmobile trail conditions. Some said good to go with skinnies (regular MTB bikes), another said the orchard area was soft. I figured with the temps just breaking above freezing on Saturday and then returning to deep freeze, the trails couldn't be anything but firm. Soups wanted to check out the trails on the east side of Rt 122, so that clinched it. We'd ride Hollis in windchills well below zero.

The parking lot was empty getting there at 9am. The sky was as brilliant blue as it gets. Very deceptive though. The wind stung. Heading up the orchard climb, we quickly found ourselves hike-a-biking. Three of us were on 29ers, Dave was on his 26" Yeti. Smaller diameter tires have smaller contact patch and sink in more. Dave was a bit concerned.

Soups, Eiric and Dave on summit of orchard hill. Joe English Hill and the
Uncanoonucs in distance.

Once we got in the woods, the riding was quite good. Nice and firm, but we still had to work the climbs. It was not going to be one of those crusty ice roller coaster rides, where KOMs effortlessly fall. Most of us cleaned the Bitch Hill, oh, I mean Birch Hill climb. We encountered another set of at least four MTB tracks on Birch Hill. Looked like all skinnies also. Had to have been that morning, as there was a dusting of snow overnight.

The descent to Rocky Pond was chewy. I quickly learned why my Kenda Klondike studded tires were half price. They suck. The rounded tread profile easily knifes into anything that is not set up super firm. I was all over the place, out of control. Soups, on 2.4" wide tires, was just gone.

Much of the rest of the ride alternated between firm and chewy snow. Sleds were starting to hit the trails and mince up the firm surface that set up overnight. That made it even more difficult with my rounded tires. Dave and I were the ballast on the ride. It didn't help matters that my legs refused to obey orders to put out Watts. Dave ran 16 miles the day before, so I don't know how he could even think about doing a group ride the next day.

We had planned to ride out into Brookline, but I sensed that would have taken too long and there would have been dissent in the group. I wanted to make sure Eiric and Soups had a chance to sample the east side trails before we were done. There are no shortage of hills in there. A few forced dismounts and calf stretching exercises. There were some nice roller coaster fast sections too.

A few grades of this east of Rt 122.

There were all manner of trail users out there, about as multi-use as you can get. Besides the snowmobilers and us bikers, there were walkers, mushers and skijorers. We even all got along. We passed several mushers with two-dog teams, mostly Siberian Huskies. Beautiful dogs. One of the mushers asked why were weren't on fat bikes, saying how awesome they were. A topic for another post.

Must have passed 4 or 5 teams like this.

The ride went much shorter than I planned, about 15-16mi in 2hrs with a couple thousand feet of climbing. It suited me and Dave fine. Hope Soups and Eiric didn't feel short-changed. Now I have to rest just as hard as I played this weekend. Tuesday night worlds coming up...

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