Monday, May 26, 2014

It's gonna rain!

I really needed a solid ride this weekend that didn't involve hypothermia. I was too tired Sunday to do much of a ride after Saturday's debacle in rain, hail and mud. So that left today. Wouldn't you know it, it was raining again when I got up. That wasn't supposed to happen. Fire the weather men and women. We need forecasters that forecast good weather and make it stick!

After a morning of chores, the radar looked safe enough to head out on a long ride. My original plan was to meet Keith up at Kingdom Trails, but the last time I met Keith up there, I nearly froze to death and cut the life of my drivetrain in half. Way safer to time a local ride where the rain was least likely to move through. That would be Massabesic Lake up to Bear Brook and back, my favorite local loop.

Heading out at noon, the skies look highly suspect. It was about 80F, humid, and it looked like a storm could form at any moment. Heading in to the Massabesic Lake carriage road trails, there was a group of four very young children playing in the trail. A young boy, maybe about three years old, looks right up into my eyes and says "It's gonna rain!" That gave me the creeps, just like the little girl from the movie Poltergeist when she says "They're Here!"

Not 30 minutes later, I felt the first drops of rain. How did a three year old know? It's almost like he knew what I rode in two days earlier. Fortunately, the rain never amounted to more than random sprinkles, but the sky remained threatening for a long time.

I maintained a solid tempo pace, legs feeling pretty good despite 4.7hrs on Saturday and 2.2hrs on Sunday. The FOMBA singletracks were in mint condition, brown pow as they say out west. I hit Woodpecker and Hemlock before moving on.

Marble outcropping overlooking Hall Mountain on the I-trail

Just after completing the I-trail in Bear Brook, I very nearly rode over a large snake sprawled across the doubletrack. At first I thought I rode over its head, but it coiled back into a defensive posture. Ok, that creeped me out a bit. I don't have irrational fear of snakes, but this one was big and I did not recognize it. Good thing I didn't let out a girly squeal, as Louis Frechette was just coming around the bend.

You can judge size by scaling snake to pair of ATV tracks. I missed its head by an inch.

We marveled at the snake for a moment before it slithered off into the brush. Louis swore he heard a rattle. I wasn't so sure. Looking up New Hampshire snakes when I got home, it appears we were looking at an Eastern Milk Snake. It is described as reddish-brown blotches over grey base. A Timber Rattler is described as a black snake with brown cross bands that may be difficult to see.

Milk snake on left, rattler on right

After the creepy snake encounter, I bombed down to the campground store to top off fluids and fuel. The best flow trail in southern NH was next, Bear Brook's Hemlock Trail. My legs were still feeling pretty good. No need to disrupt a perfect tempo pace for silly Strava standings though.

After reaching the north end of the park, it was time to start working my way back. This meant some climbing on trails like Alp d'Huez and Bear Hill. It wasn't easy cleaning Bear Hill trail heading up. It was muggy enough that the rocks were slippery with condensation. From the summit of Bear Hill, it is a speed fest back to Manchester, mostly on Trail 15, which is a wintertime snowmobile route.

I completed the 52 mile loop in less than 4.5hrs, one of my fastest, if not the fastest, times for this ride. Had I not stopped at the snake, I doubt I would have had much more than five minutes of stopped time during the ride too. Additional rain never materialized. At least I scored one good ride out of the four-day weekend.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Jay/Smuggs Epic Fail

Satisfying rides can't exist if you don't experience rides on the other end of the spectrum once in a while. Saturday's ride was one of those we'll remember for a long time but hope to never repeat. The weather forecast was dubious at best, yet I encouraged Brett and Keith to not bail on the ride. The temperature was supposed to rise into the 60's with low probability of rain in the morning, but medium to high probability of rain or thunderstorms in the afternoon. I thought if we at least got through the two gravel sections before it rained, it wouldn't be so bad. Plus it would be warmer and we wouldn't freeze.

It was raining or drizzling most of the drive up to Stowe, Vermont. As we approached Stowe, the clouds parted, the sun came out, and it warmed up. Perfect. It was going to a great day for a ride. None of that oppressive 80-90F heat we had last year when we did this 116 mile loop with 11,000ft of climbing.

I started out in shorts and short sleeves, no arm or knee warmers, taking only a wind shell in jersey pocket with me. Keith and Brett layered up with slightly more. How cold could you really get if it rained with the temp in the 60's?

Brett brought a high-zoot bike - electronic Di2 shifters, power meter and Zipp 303 carbon wheels. I brought my trusty Dean Ti bike, heavy, especially with the Power Tap wheel on back. I figured this was going to be a 5000+ calorie ride and wanted to quantitatively measure how many Chipotle burritos I was entitled to eat later that night.

Heading out on Stage Coach Rd, it felt warm. Lot of punchy climbs on that road, working our way north paralleling Rt 100. I tweaked the standard route I've done three times. Google showed me I could link up a number of back roads to bypass 10 miles of a busy section of Rt 100 that nobody cares to ride. One of these back roads was gravel Cooper Hill Rd.

Well wouldn't you know it, as we're climbing on Centerville Rd towards Cooper Hill Rd, the sky started looking rather ominous to the west. I thought wow, we're just barely dodging a bullet here. But no, the last pockets of blue sky quickly filled in with dark gray. As we turned onto dirt Cooper Hill Rd, it started to sprinkle.

The road was mint gravel, better than the previous 15 miles of paved road. No deep cracks to dodge, no potholes, no bad patch jobs. The rain seemed to pick up as the grade picked up. Muttered F-bombs could be heard.

Part of Cooper Hill Rd is obscured from the sky, so I could not a priori determine the quality of gravel from Google satellite imagery. As we passed the last house, the "road" narrowed to a doubletrack which became very rough and rutted, chocked full of potholes and jutting rocks. It was now all-out pouring rain. The road became a disgusting mess.  F-bombs were no longer being just muttered.

Keith and I, being mountain bikers and no strangers to riding in less than pristine conditions, took things in stride. We figured it was just a passing cell, as rain wasn't expected until later in the afternoon. Cooper Hill Rd then started to pitch downward, and at no trivial angle. This was full-on death grip on the brakes, 23mm tires occasionally skidding, with horrible grinding noises emanating from the rims. I started the ride with 50% pads remaining. I sure hoped they held up for this descent. I didn't even want to think about what was going through Brett's mind...

After a painfully slow descent, we regrouped on pseudo pavement at the bottom. The rain was not letting up. There was no more blue sky to be seen anywhere. My bike and body were already trashed. 20 miles into a 116 mile ride. Surely the rain would stop before we got to Hazen's Notch...

The Mines Rd climb was next. Last year there was a massive washout at the bottom on the other side. I called ahead this week to make sure it had been repaired. It was. The descent chilled me. I still hadn't put on my wind shell. When we got to Hazen's Notch Rd, I was already shivering, and the rain picked up again. Now we had a 800+ft climb, and it was going to get even colder higher up.

Keith and I were still making fun of the situation, as in it was so f'd up it was funny. As we climbed, it rained harder and harder. The road, which was probably in excellent shape before it started raining, turned into peanut butter. Some sections required exceedingly high power output as tires sunk in to rims. What was the descent going to be like? We had no idea on how much more conditions would quickly degrade.

Keith at the summit of Hazen's Notch before the really heavy rain started.

At the summit, I had to back my brake barrel adjusters out to maximum. My pads were almost gone, and we had a 1400ft descent in mud with 23mm tires. Keith led, I followed. The skies really opened up now. There were distant flashes of lightning, but I could not hear the thunder. The roar of rain coming down drowned out all other sound. There were orange-brown torrents of water rushing down and across the steep dirt gradient. You couldn't tell if the water was creating deep ruts or not. You couldn't tell where the soft spots were. I couldn't see out of my glasses. It was descent by feel at snail pace, all the while getting colder and colder.

Just when you thought conditions couldn't get any worse, it started hailing out. Maybe it was sleet. The temp had plummeted. The pea size hail was stinging my head through helmet vents. I could not feel my feet or hands anymore, and I could barely control my bike because I was shivering so badly. My brake levers were going all the way down to the bar and barely making a dent in controlling my speed. Keith and I were not making light of the conditions anymore. This was dangerous territory. We passed an area where it hailed hard enough to leave accumulation on the ground. We had to get down to Montgomery Center to shelter fast.

We waited a bit for Brett, freezing our asses off, before continuing. Brett could not check his speed with the Zipps and ended up walking some of the steeper bits. If Brett had to put a penny into a quart jar for every F-bomb, he would have filled two jars by now.

The last part of the descent is paved and steep. I had no brakes left, front or rear. The shoes were into the rim. Keith's front brake was in the same condition. 40 miles in, 40 miles from the cars, now what?

We dropped down into Montgomery Center. I vaguely remember there being a sports shop next to the grocery store. There was, a few bikes set out front. It was First Trax sports shop. I headed straight there, hoping at least to get out of the rain.

All three of us were so cold we couldn't even communicate. "I'm sa-sa-sa-so fa-fa-fa-fucking ca-ca-cold." Brett was pretty much speaking gibberish.  Miraculously, they had three sets of Dura Ace brake pads. I took two, Keith took one. My hands were too cold to work the tiny Alan wrench to remove the retaining screws. My bike was disgustingly trashed. I could tell I had a mud wedgy between my butt cheeks too. Mud got into everything.

The other great thing about First Trax is they make some great espresso there, or at least Americano's, as Brett and I ordered it. Anything hot. I normally avoid caffeine during hard rides, as it exacerbates cramping problems.  The rain eventually tapered off. After working on bikes for an hour, we were almost done shivering. There was no way we were doing the northern 40 miles of the route with risk of more rain coming. Unfortunately, this trimmed two of the biggest climbs and 4000ft vertical from the ride. Other cyclists were also holed up at First Trax, awaiting a spousal rescue. We didn't have that option.

As we proceeded south, blue skies returned. It seemed the weather was backwards from forecast. Turned out to be a nice afternoon. At least with new brake pads, we got to ride over Smuggler's Notch. With a shortened ride, we hit the climbs harder than had we done the full route. Brett was full of piss and vinegar. I was hurting enough without contesting him on Smugg's.

My Garmin 705 GPS died coming over Hazen's in the rain. It is not well sealed anymore and water got in it. I lost everything to that point. I couldn't even turn the stupid thing off. It just kept beeping and displaying wacky warnings. Hopefully it will resume working after I open it up and let it dry a few days, as it has in the past. Brett logged 79.5mi in 4:44hrs on his GPS. Altitude seemed way low, probably because the barometric port got plugged with water. This is what the altitude should have looked like.

Descent at mile 18 was rutted, muddy jeep road, six mile descent at mile 32 was in
torrential downpour with brown water flowing across the dirt road.

When we got back to Stowe, it was probably just as well we didn't attempt the double Jay Peak passes, as weather radar showed the next wave of rain was moving it. That would have been more than any of us could have handled. At least we made it back to Stowe dry, albeit extremely dirty. We got a decent workout in. Boosted intensity helped make up for the lost two hours of riding time.  This one will go in the lessons learned book. Don't ride dirt roads with nice bikes and inadequate clothing when potential for rain is high.

Monday, May 19, 2014


Sunday was a fine day for riding in the Whites. Seems several organized cycling tours picked the day. Even some kind of car rally came through the Kanc, which kind of sucked. Over a hundred souped up Subaru's, Mitsubishi's, etc came by making way too much noise and going fast. At least they were coming from the opposite direction.

Brett and I rode the popular "4NaaP" route, the acronym for Four Notches and a Pass. Riding it clockwise, it hits Kinsman Notch, Franconia Notch via Rt 18, Crawford Notch, Bear Notch and Kancamagus Pass. It's actually not that much climbing for 92 miles in the mountains, in the 6000-7000ft range. It's what you do with the climbs that matters. The route is pretty exposed to, so wind is a factor.

I brought my Ridley Noah out to play on. Since I don't road race anymore, that bike doesn't see much action. It is a thoroughbred race bike, not an all-day mountain epic comfort bike. Super stiff and responsive. Care must be taken on 50-60mph descents. I do not have silly low climbing gears on the Ridley either. A couple of the climbs entailed sustained grades greater than 10%. I was looking for some punishment.

The headwind was pretty brutal heading up Kinsman Notch. No Strava medals on that one! We struggled to find some tail wind all the way to Rt 302. There we got some payback. The 12% drop over Crawford Notch was pretty sketchy with deep dish rims and buffeting wind. Unable to hold a stable line, cars coming through, and people walking all over the place forced me to go for the brakes at 55mph. I could easily have gone over 60mph there with the tail wind.

Next weekend we have a bigger ride planned in northern Vermont, the Jay Peak/Smugglers Notch loop. I've tinkered with the route a bit to take out 10 miles of Rt 100, replacing it with hopefully quiet paved and gravel roads. Adds a bit of climbing too, bringing the total close to 12,000ft. Drop me a note if you'd like to join on Saturday. I'll leave you with a few photos from Sunday's ride.

Brett cresting Bear Notch

Cannon Mountain

The Presidentials, Mt Washington peak on right

Approaching Crawford Notch

Crawford Notch with steep plummet just ahead

If you do any touring in the Whites, you've probably seen this in Bartlett.

Sunday, May 11, 2014


The BUMPS series kicked off this weekend with the Mt Wachusett hillclimb.The weather was a bit temperamental. It poured buckets on the drive over. At least it wasn't cold and there was no immediate threat of lightning. The rain tapered off just in time for the race, but the summit was solidly socked in with clouds.

There were a number of contenders registered for the men's 50-59 year old age group. Dave Kellogg, Tom Fagan and Gerry Clapper to name a few. Gerry contests the overall win on many of these climbs. He didn't show up, so that left things wide open in my age group.

Two waves were sent off, 49 and under and 50 and over. That made it much easier to keep track of those I needed to worry about. Chip timing was used, with a mat at the start and another at the finish. Only chip time mattered, so if you were last to cross the starting mat, you didn't lose any time from the first rider to cross over the starting mat. That can leave things a bit uncertain at the finish, as you might cross the line one second ahead of your rival, but if your rival started in the back row at the bottom, he will have beaten you.

Our wave goes off kind of nonchalant. The pace up Mile Hill Rd was very reasonable. I had no interest in drilling it from the go. Eventually I found myself leading the wave on the steepest part of Mile Hill. When we turned the corner into the state park, I ensured somebody else came up. There's a brief downhill there, and I didn't want to burn kilojoules while my rivals freewheeled behind me. No point. Bob Roldan came up and put in a good effort.

Bob leading a pack of 50's. Myself waving to Heather Dunkerley (photographer), with
Dave Kellogg hidden behind me, Len Engel behind him and Tom Fagan in ATA kit.

Apparently I didn't learn much from last year when I pulled the same move. We still had a big bunch of guys together with stair-steppy climbing for a while. There were many opportunities to gain bits of drafting benefit. When the grade pitched up again, I found myself up front. Should I attack now or should I just chill for a while, I asked myself? The pace was not taxing. I kind of liked my chances of just letting it come down to a sprint on the last pitch to the line.

I was left up front for the rest of the race. I was not going hard enough for anybody to derive much drafting benefit from it, yet nobody came around either. Last year I ditched Tom Fagan and one other rider on the sustained steep grade half a mile from the summit. I could have tried that again but strangely didn't have the motivation or think it was necessary. Playing roulette. After the steep grade, there was still a string of guys behind me. Dave Kellogg worried me the most, but I didn't know a couple of the others.

The morning of the race, I pulled my bike down from ceiling hooks, aired the tires and threw it in my car. I hadn't even ridden the hillclimb bike since last August, and I had to put it back together again after stripping it down for Mt Washington. The rear derailleur was misbehaving pretty badly in the small cogs. I didn't think it was a big deal climbing to this point, as I didn't need to use the smallest cogs.

Well wouldn't you know it, an all-out sprint even on double-digit grades needs those small cogs if you start in the small chainring. The chain was refusing to drop down to the smallest two cogs under load. I spun out wildly as we approached the line. Len Engel just pipped me at the line and Dave was just another couple seconds back. I deserved that. I should have attacked a half mile earlier and put in a honest fight rather than saving it for the last few seconds. I congratulated Len and we discussed our relative starting positions, as in theory, "gun time" doesn't matter, only chip time. He started a row behind me. So that pretty much clinched it.

Less than 100ft visibility at the summit. Damp, but not raining nor cold.

When preliminary results were posted back at the bottom, sure enough, Len beat me by 0.2 seconds. Talk about close. A little while later, however, results were revised, showing me 0.6 seconds faster than Len. I thought chip timing eliminated these kinds of things. The only thing I can think of what might have happened is initial results were gun time (everybody's clock starts at once when "go" is yelled) and revised results were chip time based on when you crossed the starting mat. This could only be if I actually crossed the mat after Len did. This may be possible, as I was in second row on inside corner, and a rider in front of me missed the clip-in, causing a minor delay. We may never know. Maybe we should just call it a tie.

Thinking about this a bit, only gun time should be used in a mass start race. That way you know exactly where you are relative to others as you approach the summit. Get to the line first, you win, zero doubt.  A timing mat can still be used at the bottom to ensure everybody starts in the correct wave, but don't use each individual's starting mat time as in an individual time-trial. This would make Len the winner.  Hillclimb races rarely come this close, so it usually doesn't matter if you are in 10th row and start moving a few seconds after the faster riders in the front start moving.

Anyway, for now I'm shown as the winner of the 50+ age group. The timer will look into this.  Had 49 finishers, in this group, a quarter of the participants! Regardless of timing confusion, Joe and Marti do a superb job organizing this event and the Mt Ascutney event in a couple weeks.

Due to dank conditions, a planned post-race ride didn't happen. Things did eventually clear up though, so I went for a spirited MTB ride from home in Lowell-Dracut-Tyngsboro state forest. Strava says I went my fastest ever on many segments. I guess when you go light on training for two days in a row (a rare thing for me), a 17 minute race doesn't really take much out of you. It is interesting to note how not only does speed go up when you are fresh, but finesse and skill are more solid too. I was cleaning everything.

On Mother's Day, I went out for a 50 miler off-road, hitting my favorite local trail system, Bear Brook, along the way. The trails and weather were both mint.  The ride was not without incident though.

Somewhere in Candia en route to Bear Brook

Ant hills on Bear Hill

Heading back on Trail 15, I caught up to punks stopped on a pair of ATVs. They saw me coming, took off, stopped a bit later, I caught up again, they took off again. Third time I caught and passed them. Then they took off again, buzzed me and threw mud up on me. I was BS, letting them know it, but I don’t think they heard me on loud machines with helmets on. They then pulled off on an illegal new trail, probably up to their dad’s back yard. What I should have done is followed them and called the police from the street in front of their house. Dad would have been unhappy having his $10,000 ATVs impounded for illegal, underage use on Manchester Water Works property.

So that was a minor buzz-kill on an otherwise perfect solo ride. I enjoyed large blocks of time without encountering or hearing other people. I finished with 52.3 miles in 4.6hrs on the Garmin. I feel very fortunate to have large tracts of undeveloped land to ride just 35 minutes drive from home.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Essential Exhaustion

Posting has been rather sparse lately. Work demands more of my time than I would like for this time of the year. When budgeting time for sleep, riding and writing about riding, guess what comes out on the bottom of that trade? At least my work is interesting and I'm teamed up with some of the best people in the company. That helps make ridiculous schedules a little more bearable. I have lots of topics I'd like to share but not enough time to do them justice right now.

Training, if I can really call it that anymore, is barely limping along too. I can't get as much riding in during the week as I would like. Maybe one day with some intensity, and another day with some steady state. That's it. Add in two very easy pace (8.5-9min/mi) runs, that's my work week. Running is very efficient, as there is no bike to maintain and kitting up requires much less equipment.

I run only for bone health. It's been going on two years since my last bone density scan. I pan to request a scan as part of a routine physical this fall. I'd really like to see an improvement, but I'd take no loss as a minor victory as well. Guys my age expect to see decline in bone mass. Having the bone density of a 70 year old woman still causes me to regularly assess risks of riding and competition.

Weekends are less time crunched. Saturdays have typically been 4-5hr hard paced rides with 2-3hrs easier paced rides on Sunday. 70% of my training load two days a week. Some may ask what are you training for if you don't race anymore? Fair question. Exercise has always been a process of achieving and maintaining health. We're not just talking VOmax scores here, but mental acuity too. In fact, it has dawned on me several times over the last few months that my mind has never been clearer and sharper in my life. Regular exercise plays a major role in this. A daily does of exercise is my stress release button. It is a control-alt-delete for the mind. I could say my riding is training for peak brain performance.

The riding this past weekend included a 4.5hr hillfest with Dave and Brett on Saturday and an easier, flatter trail ride with my son Aaron on Sunday. I actually got more than a pittance of sleep Friday and felt somewhat fresh for Saturday's hillfest. The three of us headed out of Hollis, passing through too many towns to name, even hitting a couple roads I've never been on. After many super-threshold efforts, we hit Pack Monadnock mid-ride. None of us had granny gearing. I was somewhat dreading the last 0.2 miles of 20% grade. Dave had the least suitable gearing and wisely sat the summit climb out. Brett and I pummeled ourselves. The depth of exhaustion was perversely satisfying.

Brett summitting Pack. Exhausted but satisfied.

Looking down Pack's 20% grade

I think that was the first 12% average grade descent I've gone down since my wreck on Mt Kearsarge last summer. Weirded me out some, flinching on every frost heave on the way down.  Of course, that wasn't the end of climbing. We still had 9% Pead Hill and that nasty neighborhood climb to Mont Vernon. From there it's a long haul back to Hollis. We couldn't just take Rt 122 all the way back either. Too busy. Federal Hill, baby! That threw in a final lengthy section of gravel into the ride. We finished with 78mi, 7500ft of climbing in 4.5hrs.

My son picked up a mountain bike about a month ago and has been riding quite a bit. Sunday I asked if he wanted to give my "C-towns" loop a try. It would be the longest trail ride he'd ever done, about 34 miles. The weather was a tad questionable, with bits of rain swirling all around us in nor'easter fashion. We'd give it a try anyway. I'd get an easy-ish flat day out of it and Aaron would get a good endurance workout.

Aaron on beaver dam crossing on Old Morse Rd

Near top of Indian Hill, momentary track stand before toppling over

Aaron had ridden Great Brook with me a while back when on leave from the Navy. He hadn't ridden Russell Mill before. I'm learning Aaron gravitates more toward the tech and less toward the cardio/endurance side of the sport. That might change as he builds cardio base. He liked the perimeter loop of RM.

As we worked our way through Carlisle and Bedford on mix of conservation singletrack and rail trails, Aaron didn't find that material as inspiring. I like it because when I want a solid steady-state cardio workout, I can get it there off-road without worrying about cars. Hill Junkie perspective, I guess.

Threading the needle in Thanksgiving Forest.

Almost made it.  Exhausted but satisfied.

The pump track was being worked on when we started the ride. Aaron wanted to check it out
when we got back. He can almost pump it all the way around. I can't.

A pass through Estabrook and Old Morse Rd brought us back into Great Brook. I had to go the hard way up Indian Hill to finish the ride, lest Aaron thought the whole ride was technically too easy. Aaron met his match on that hill with a mishap on the ledge step-ups. Hope he'll still ride with me after that. Just some minor granite rash. We got back with 34mi in 3.2hrs moving time, narrowly escaping all-out downpours multiple times.

Despite hectic schedule and chaotic training, I'm feeling pretty good about my fitness right now. Staying injury free at the moment. Can't ask for more than that. I signed up for the Wachusett hillclimb race next weekend. I don't expect any miracles there. My targeted events come much later in the season, Mt Washington, Vermont 50 and Ironcross.