The temp was expected to rise rapidly Saturday, to maybe above 50F. An early start was needed to get as many miles in before the trails turned to mush. Soups, Geoff, Tim, Dave and Andy joined in the fun. Rolling out just after 7am on the Rockingham Rail Trail, we were dismayed to find conditions pretty loose and soft. It appeared everything had been groomed recently by the local snowmobile club, pulling loose granular from the sides into the middle of the trail. For us guys on skinnies, the middle was nearly unrideable. Geoff was on a fatty and didn't have to chose his lines as carefully. Fortunately, the very edges of the trail were a bit crusty, but still hard work. I felt bad for suggesting this ride and feared a mutiny later in the ride when conditions went from marginal to awful.
Boundary of Bear Brook, with Geoff, Andy, Soups, Tim and Dave.
The effort heading out around Tower Hill Pond was pretty high. I was running my crappy Kenda Klondike tires, which have a rounded profile and knife into anything but ice pretty easily. I sensed impending doom with the firepower in the group. At least we weren't risking black ice on roads and dealing with auto traffic. We virtually had the trails to ourselves at such an early hour.
Dave and Geoff did not plan on doing the whole ride due to other commitments. When we reached Podunk Road in Bear Brook State Park, they with Andy headed south, working their way back. Soups, Tim and I debated about how to continue. I found Podunk Rd pretty sketchy on the descent, again freshly groomed, which my tires knifed into like lightly browned toast. What would that be like coming back up in a couple hours if we went all the way out to Fort Mtn?
Groomer in Bear Brook
Soups wasn't concerned. Of course, he was running 2.4" monster truck tires, gaining some of the advantage that Geoff had with his fat bike. I nearly lost it about three times heading down Podunk. When we got to the park entrance, we saw the source of our increased effort to stay upright, the groomer. Pretty fancy equipment.
A few minutes of pavement connected us to a jeep road off Mt Delight Rd. In a rural area, you'd think every road that dead ends into an open jeep road would have lots of snow machine traffic on it. Not this one! Dang, now what? There was some old sled traffic on it and a lot of foot traffic. It was post hole hell for the next several minutes. Tim was wondering what kind of boondoggle I was dragging him into. He hasn't experienced a full-up Hill Junkie boondoggle yet. Was this going to be the day?
As soon as we reached the power lines, we picked up well packed, smooth trail. It was not a maintained snow machine route, so not groomed. It was perfect! The next several miles turned out to be the best riding of the day. I was so looking forward to coming back down from Fort Mtn on this. It was going to be way faster than the bony, muddy mess it usually is in summer.
I had intel on the Fort Mtn access road from earlier in the week. For some reason, it was plowed down to bare gravel. Normally, it would not be rideable by bike in the winter. My guess is they had to bring communication equipment up there in a truck. The 600ft climb through the switchbacks hurt. A lot. Soups killed it. I did my best but he gapped me on the sustained 25% grade sections.
From Fort Mt summit, looking W/SW. Road was cleared by a bulldozer, pushing snow to side.
Looking toward Whites.
Tim and Soups (in his snow camo kit)
Can almost see Mt Washington.
It was fairly pleasant up top, now above freezing, and not too windy. Overcast obscured Mt Washington. After calorie replenishment, it was time to bomb down the frozen gravel descent. So nice to have tires on dirt, even though it wasn't singletrack. My ears popped like crazy. The real fun came a bit later on the smooth sled trail, still dropping a lot of vertical. Certainly the fastest I've hauled through that section, and I've gone up Fort Mtn many times.
Back in the state park, we started up Podunk Rd. I went about 20ft before spinning out. Son of a bitch! I almost hung it up there, considering taking all roads back. But Soups and Tim kept going. It turned out to be not that bad once we got going, carefully hugging the crusty edges. Snowmobiles and quads were coming out in force by then too. Glad the road was groomed wide.
Back on Trail 15, conditions actually seemed easier for me. High sled traffic pretty much minced up the light toast snow into completely loose granular. There was ice just underneath. I found this easier to maintain control on than when heading out three hours earlier. There were almost no firm edges left anyway, with the traffic using up much of the trail. I think our average speed picked up even though it was thawing and things were softer. All of the snowmobilers slowed down at least some when passing us. I didn't encounter any knuckleheads. We did our best to stay out of their way too.
We got back to the cars with just over 4hrs moving time, 43.5mi on the Garmin, and 3800ft of climbing. That was certainly the hardest, longest ride of the year for me. I really needed that with a cycling trip just two weeks away. The three of us agreed the ride was a big success, everybody getting a superb workout.
So how do you top that off? You ski in the Whites with more ear popping descents the next day. And I don't mean Alpine skiing either. I am my own chair lift. I went up to Waterville for a solo, midday ski. I planned to ski only two hours or so at an easy pace. I was feeling pretty beat from Saturday's ride.
I figured I'd hit all the south end trails I haven't visited yet this season. I forgot just how punishing the climbing is on the south end. The climbs aren't as long as the north end, but they are much steeper on average. Jennings Peak, Upper Fletchers, Criterion all throw big double-digit grades at you. I was surprised how icy it was. Pretty much all of the south end trails were boiler plate (polished frozen granular) in the middle third of the trail. It was extremely difficult to climb on this, as the ski tails would just slide out as you pushed off. It took considerable upper body effort to make it up the climbs. Not how I wanted one of my last skis of the season to go.
I worked around to Lower Snows and started heading up. That was much, much better. Should have started on the north end. That must have been groomed at a different time. When I passed Swazeytown, it was perfect, untouched corduroy. Should I take it and and head up Beanbender? Beanbender is the hardest grade at Waterville. What would Hill Junkie do? Of course I went up it! It wasn't pretty, but I survived. Upper Snows was in similar mint condition. So was Cascade. Conditions were definitely Strava KOM material, but I was easy skiing and nobody looks at Strava KOMs anymore anyway. I'm pretty sure I bombed down the back side of Cascade at my personal fastest.
Looking down Beanbender, Thornton Gap in middle (Tripoli Rd goes through it)
Top of Upper Snows
Livermore Rd was back to the frozen granular. Fast as heck, but no control. Made my ankles hurt trying to find an edge on my skis. I was still feeling ok and started thinking maybe I could do a full perimeter skate. Hadn't done that in while. Looping around Moose Run/Wicked easy was anything but easy. Again, frozen pretty hard.
Heading up Osceola, I started bonking. I brought only one water bottle with me, and it was almost gone. I polished off the last of my calories. The 800ft Tripoli Rd climb coming up next was going to be interesting.
Top of Osceola. Sky just doesn't get any bluer than that.
From Bob's Lookout. Picnic tables only slightly more exposed than two weeks earlier.
Tripoli had a smidgen of crust, just enough to edge. Being more shaded, it was still squeaky and slower. I just had to make it to the top, then it was 1000ft of down back to the Nordic center. Sort of. There was the pesky Pipeline climb right at the end. Full perimeter skate demands you do it all.
Fortunately, Pipeline is groomed first and last, as I believe the Piston Bully comes down Pipeline from the Alpine area to groom the Nordic trails. It was mint, a nice final descent to bomb. I was surprised to see Mad River trail open when I came past. It wasn't open all winter. So of course, I had to ski it. It is on the perimeter. It hadn't been groomed in some time and was terrifyingly icy. I nearly went into the trees on the first drop. The trail probably should have been roped off.
I made it back to the Nordic center seeing cross-eyed right at about 3hrs moving time. Despite challenging conditions, it was a fabulous day to be in the woods. Very few others were out. The temps stayed just below freezing and the sun was blindingly brilliant. Maybe some snow this coming week and one more ski next weekend. That will probably be it for the season, unless somebody is still open when I get back from Arizona. A ski in April would make the sixth month of the season for me.