Sunday, April 20, 2014

Spring has Sprung

The local trails are finally drying out after an epic, old-school winter. A week in Arizona at the end of March kick-started the process of getting back in good cycling form. Nordic skiing in the mountains was still going strong when I got back, and local trails were closed for mud season. I was relegated to the road for midweek riding, not entirely bad. The term "roadie fitness" that pure mountain bikers often bemoan comes from hours put in on the road.

As the snow line slowly recedes north, so too does the mud line. Weekend off-road rides started south, then worked north as things dried out. Over the last few weeks, long trail rides have been scored in Uxbridge, Foxborough and then Chelmsford. Today, I rode with my son Aaron three miles from my house in Lowell. Trail conditions and weather were both about as good as it gets.

Saturday's ride was the first 50+ miler of the season. I met up with Soups, Paul and Dave at Russell Mill. We'd be linking up Great Brook and Land-locked with numerous other conservation parcels along the way. Some road and dirt rail trail in there to make it all work, but that is exactly what helps make the loop a great training ride in addition to lots of fun-factor.

Despite punishing efforts on the bike Wed/Thur, I felt pretty good Saturday and set a brisk pace. Paul questioned whether my pace was a "5-hour" pace or not. Dave on a rigid hardtail was getting slinkied off the back.

Dave went about his blood doping all wrong. You see, on Thursday he did doubles. That's about 20% of his red blood cells. It takes a month for your body to replace one unit of blood. Two months for two units? Riding 20% down on hematocrit is probably comparable to riding at 12,000ft elevation unacclimated. I see cross-eyed riding at any pace at 12,000ft.  Here's how blood doping is supposed to work. You siphon off a unit of blood a few weeks before you need it, then you put it back in for the big event. Of course, everybody knows Hill Junkie rides are big events (ha-ha). So siphoning off TWO units of blood right before a Hill Junkie ride? That's whacked. Maybe Dave is on to some secret blood training program. You've heard some coaches promote riding without carb intake to force the body into burning fat. Maybe if you train without blood you force some other oxygen carrying mechanism nobody knows about to get stronger! Dave needs to patent it!

All kidding aside, donating blood is a noble act, something I've struggled with each time the Red Cross team comes to our office. Seems like it is always a bad time of year, have a race coming up, peak training season, etc.

In no time, we found ourselves in Land-Locked Forest in Burlington. Lots of good trails in there, and on such a big loop, we can only sample a portion of them. Don't know any of the names. There is one section that plays around on eskers. On a particular dip that turns left with falling camber, I must have hit the only two small, loose stones on the otherwise wide, hard-packed trail. In the blink of an eye, I was bouncing off what felt like concrete. Hip, ribs, shoulder and head all slammed into terra firma with zero reaction to break my fall. Nearly knocked the wind out of me, and I didn't get up right away. Blood was running down my shins too. I was lucky there were no sharp rocks to splay me open right there. Damage wasn't too bad. It only hurt when I breathed...

That took some wind out of my sails. We still had 25 miles to go. A quick water stop at the CVS in Bedford had us back hammering away on the rail trail to Estabrook. The water crossings in Estabrook were all rideable.

The only sustained wet area we encountered on the ride was wrapping around Acorn Hill in Great Brook Farm State Park. It can be wet there most of the year, so no surprise, really. The group was holding up well, but time commitments were encroaching on adding any additional singletrack towards the end. We finished going up and over Indian Hill. With a wheel sensor on my bike, I logged 51mi in 4.5hrs on the Garmin. A great ride on a nice day.

On Easter Sunday, my son came over with his new Motobecane 29er Hardtail. The Lowell-Dracut-Tyngsboro (LDT) state forest is just three miles from my house and is in prime condition for riding. Aaron hasn't been doing as much cardio work since finishing his tour of duty in Korea and coming home in January. He was running up to 16 miles at a time in Korea. Now full-time study at UNH is keeping him busy.

Aaron on one of many log features in LDT

For just getting into riding, Aaron did extremely well. He did ride with me some in his teens, and he's romped around in skate parks with BMX bikes in the past too, so he's not totally green.  We covered about 75% of the singletrack in LDT, including much of the most challenging material. I have no doubt in no time Aaron will be schooling me in there. We rode 22mi in 2.2hrs before the Easter feast awaiting us when we got back to the house.

Aaron exiting trail called "B-town" in Strava

Looping over the summit of Seavey Hill, the hill I live on, where 60 new homes are slated to go up

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Season Finale

Today wraps up the best ski season since I took up the crazy activity 11 years ago. Hard to believe that I've been skating on snow for so many years already. I can vividly remember the first time on skate skis, a crusty granular kind of day, where I spent more time on the ground than I did on my feet. Somehow I persevered through those first few challenging sessions and came to enjoy the sport immensely.

This season started back in November for me when I went up to Rikert in Vermont on Thanksgiving Day weekend. There was a period of uncertainty after that, but then the "polar vortex" stuck around for much of the winter, creating phenomenal, but often cold ski conditions.

The weekend before leaving for my Arizona cycling trip, I checked with Leah at Waterville to see if there was any chance if they'd still be open into April. There was something like over 30" of snow in the woods, so I thought certainly the snow would be there. The question was, would there be a business case to keep grooming the trails, pay staff, and stay open? Skier interest drops off pretty rapidly when the snow melts in people's yards even though the mountains are deeply blanketed.

Last weekend, 24 hours after adding to my sunburn in Arizona I was back at Waterville, in winter wonderland. The saturated powder was not much fun to ski in, but I did get a good workout nonetheless.  The base was still solid. The trails were going to close during the week, then late in the week an assessment would be made to see if they could open for two final days of the season on April 5 & 6.

I don't think I ever skied November to April before, six months out of the year, although barely touching the months of Nov/Apr. I really wanted to get an April ski in before putting the skis up for the season. Waterville came through for me. They groomed and reopened.

Arvid, the guy probably most responsible for getting me into this sport, joined me Saturday. The problem was, it was an identical repeat weekend weather-wise to the weekend before. A lot of rain with some snow fell over night, and that was going to coat the north-end trails. Another molasses ski to close the season out?

Mid winter conditions in April! Tripoli Rd on left, Lower Osceola on right.

It turns out the snow was much more like sleet. Sleet skis infinitely faster than soggy powder that hasn't transformed. Heading out, conditions were a bit soft, but otherwise fast. We went right for the hills. It wasn't PR fast, but descending was pretty good. I believe I descended Cascade Brook Trail my fastest. Arvid owns the downhill KOM in Strava and was potentially on track for a PR when he wrecked around one of the switchbacks. Of course, he was well ahead of me by that point so I didn't get to see it. Just the evidence in the snow. We were the only ones making tracks up there.

Funny, back at the Nordic Center, I was waiting for Arvid's electronic gizmos to sync up. The gal at the desk overheard my impatience and said "if you can't Strava it, it didn't happen!" Another Strava junkie no doubt.

Waterville really came around with their grooming later in the season. I had some big disappointments earlier in the season. I suspect the Nordic center doesn't have total control over grooming, as the Piston Bully comes down from the Alpine area. Perhaps criticisms became loud enough to bring more support to Nordic operations. Regardless, I was happy they opened this weekend. I ended up skiing at Waterville enough times I should have gotten a season pass. Maybe next year.

The sun started poking through by the time we got to Tripoli Rd and really put a damper on speed quickly. Still no other tracks there. Where was everybody? WV advertised they'd be opening for the weekend. You'd think a lot of people would want to get a final fix in. The 800ft climb was a bit of a slog, more effort than I planned to expend with a big ride planned for Sunday.

Arvid finishing Tripoli descent.

As we worked our way back, the lower elevation stuff that was groomed that morning became super sloppy and it was time to wrap it up. I finished with 32km and 2500ft of climbing in about 2.2hrs moving time. The road and mountain bike racing season has already started. I was in no hurry to shift 100% focus to the bike just yet. Training for Mt Washington can start now.