Sunday, February 23, 2014

Not all is well that looks well

Having not ridden dirt in ages and jonesen to get dirty, I headed down to the Cape at risk on Saturday. I had no wheeled accounts of how rideable Nickerson State Park was. Back in 2011, I rode Nick several times, as the usual Cape destinations of Otis and Trail of Tears were under snow that year. Otis and ToT were clearly socked with snow this weekend, but models suggest just a little further out was clear. I've been burned by these models in the past. Nearby webcams can be misleading too. They show harbors, bridges, downtowns, areas typically that capture more sun and stay warmer from human activity. To partially mitigate the risk, I at least brought my hardtail with studs in case foot traffic left trails icy.

As I approached the eastern most reaches of the Cape, my hunches proved correct. The area was largely devoid of snow. Saturday was supposed to be a ski day, but skiing in slush at 50F didn't seem as much fun as riding dirt at 50F.

Heading into the trails, I quickly realized snow and ice were not going to be my biggest impediment. To be sure, areas open to the sky but shaded from the sun still had quite a bit of snow. Fortunately, these areas were small and less than 10% of the riding terrain there. My biggest impediment was tree debris. The landscape looked post hurricane - continuous debris from twigs to whole trees.

Starting out, overdressed.

Some of the lesser traveled singletrack trails required such frequent dismounts and bushwhacks to get around fallen trees, it almost wasn't worth getting back on your bike each time. So much for getting a good workout in. If it hadn't been so nice out and the singletrack so dry, it would have been easy to fall into a sour mood.

Blue water and skies, green forests. Still 18" of snow in my yard 2hrs away.
Along Cliff Pond, still overdressed.

The doubletrack linking up singletrack was far from dry. Any routes that had seen vehicle traffic had frost in the ground, which of course was thawing. Runny brownie mix was the top inch.  The sand on the Cape is quite coarse. Shimano narrow drivetrains do not tolerate this well at all. Still nearly new drive train - chain suck big time. Drivetrains should never sound like a blender on high with handful of gravel thrown in. Drive train is not almost new anymore.

On the Brewster high point hill. Shorts with winter riding boots, odd combo.

After hitting most of the good stuff in Nickerson, I crossed over Rt 6 to ride mix of singletrack and ATV trail in Hawksnest State Park nearby. The forest there was much more open, less evergreens, which seemed to contribute to most of the debris on the ground at Nickerson. Awesome, I could meander around in here for quite a while, I thought, only infrequently having to carry over a blow-down or untangle my drive train.

Some boiler plate ice on south shore of Cliff Pond.
Only place studs were helpful.

But then it happened, that dreaded crunch of metal and carbon fiber breaking. In a split second I sheared the pulley arm off my derailleur and bent everything else up. At least I didn't lose any spokes. This was an XTR derailleur with carbon lowers, still original from when I built the bike up 5yrs ago.  My mood went south real quick.

An alloy XT derailleur might have fared better, although I've broken them
on the Cape too.

I pulled out the chain tool, broke the chain, removed the severed lower pulley, then sized the chain for a small ring/small cog ratio. I've found in the past, you have to start as small as possible and it will jump up to a wicked tight cog. If you start big, it just falls off.

When I got ready to splice the chain back together, I learned I only had 10spd pins with me. I must have used the last 9spd pin and forget to restock my tool pack. Son of a bitch! I thought maybe the 10spd will work, there's what, only 100um difference in width? I no more than put the 10spd pin into the chain than it fell apart! There's no way to start a pin without the starter post. Now I was f'd. Chain was already shortened to as short as possible. I couldn't pop another link out half way and try to reuse a pin, like the good old days. Or could I?

I still had the 20 link section I took out. I could pop one of those pins out part way, splice it on to the main chain, then re-shorten it to the minimum length, but only popping that pin out part way too. This actually worked. Upon turning the crank, the chain jumped up two cogs and got so tight I could barely turn the crank by hand. The BB and freehub bearings were both making hideous sounds. That would have to do. I wasn't walking 5mi back to my car. I think I had a 24x13 ratio, a pretty stiff gear for the many steep climbs on the way out.

Legs shredded from tree debris.

The reused pins held with angry mashing all the way back to my car. I finished with 27.5mi and 3000ft of climbing on the Garmin. A pretty junky workout as far as training value goes. Enough to make me tired but couldn't maintain any periods of sustained intensity. Was it worth heading down there? A wash, me thinks.


benjamin sawyer said...

So I rode at willow st today and the trails were in perfect condition! Some were even raked n groomed. Only a handful of snow patches which were totally rideable. I didn't break my expensive derailleur not did I scratch my little legs from bushwacking, in fact I had a blast! I think u should reconsider your blog because I think it might be discouraged people to ride down there.
Thanks, fellow rider

Hill Junkie said...

Benjamin - I know the Cape Cod NEMBA guys have been aggressively cleaning up the trails down there. I was not the only one commenting last weekend on the winter debris. A singlespeeder friend cautioned his geared brethren to consider carefully bringing a derailleur to Exit 7 trails a few days ago. You must have ridden just after a trail work day, which is good to know. Willow St is a lot closer than Brewster.

If you aren't a member of the Local Trail Conditions page on FB, check it out. An update on Cape conditions would be helpful. Most of the chatter there focuses on riding places near the NH/MA state line, but many of us like to head to the Cape during winter too. Anyway, thanks for the update. Hopefully I can get down there again and post a much more positive report.