Sunday, June 29, 2014

Are we ever going to go down?!

Those words were uttered working our way up to the summit of Black Cap Mountain in North Conway on Saturday. I led a ride with with two never-beens, K-man and Isaac, on the trails east of town. It is my favorite place to ride in all of New England. If the Hill Junkie had his way sometimes, we'd climb all day, with no descent. The climb is the reward.

It was already warm and steamy heading out just past 9am. Recent rain ensured high humidity under the dense canopy. We started up Kettle Ridge Trail. There's barely time to warm the legs up before hitting the heinously steep section at the bottom. There are probably 50 switchbacks on this trail, mostly of them non-trivial to negotiate on a long-travel 29er sofa bike. With a 2x10 drivetrail, there is no way to soft pedal this beast of a climb. You are in the red and stay there until a brief reprieve in the middle. Then it kicks up again. I dabbed three times, once dismounting to pass under a fallen tree over slimy off-camber granite. Didn't need a hip check to granite.

Further up on Black Cap Connector, there is another wall to tackle. I've been managing to clean it regularly, but man am I cross-eyed after scaling it. We had the summit to ourselves upon arrival.  Bit of haze in the air, but the view was still pretty good.

The white knuckle descent down Connector was next. Recent rain ensured the many off-camber granite slabs were still wet with seepage. Ugh. Didn't phase K-man at all. Riding behind me, he "encouraged" me to let my sofa bike carry more momentum over stuff. In other words, "your're going to slow, so get out of my way!" I did, and I struggled to keep K-man in sight after that. I did ride everything though, against better judgement.

We next worked our way around Side Hill, Quarry, Outer Limits and Twilight Zone. All good stuff in there. Isaac admitted to a couple pine needle slide outs that I missed. It was now past noon and very warm out. We all finished our water supplies by this point. After hitting Sticks and Stones, we restocked at the cars parked at Cranmore.

As much as I like climbing, I do like to finish wicked climby rides with a good descent. The Red Tail Trail is my favorite in the Northeast. I save it for last. That meant we had to get back up there again, something like a 1500ft+ steep climb up the ski area service road. Death march!

Red Tail never disappoints. My wrists were ready to fail from fatigue and my triceps were ready to cramp up. That what a long descent that requires a lot of body input will do to you. You can't help but grin ear to ear the whole time.

Near the bottom, the stream was flowing pretty good. Covered in grime and salt, we had to take a rinse. Isaac went in first, carefully navigating the uber slippery granite. His reaction was priceless. He didn't spend two seconds in the water. I thought yeah, right. It is almost July and hot out, it can't be that cold. I checked it out next. Yep. Take your breath away cold. The water couldn't have been much over 50F. It was enough though, totally refreshing.

We finished the day with 33mi, 5100ft climbing, in just under 4.5hrs moving time.  It is one of the slowest but most rewarding rides I do and easily comparable with some of the riding out west. Fun and satisfaction was had by all.  Hopefully a few photos will convey the essence of the ride.

Isaac cresting the summit of Black Cap

Taking in the view of the Presidentials and Mt Washington

K-man looks like a giant standing next to Isaac!

Isaac on Outer Limits

K-man on Outer Limits

Isaac descending through clearing on Red Tail

In for a second...

...and right back out!

Shock, and trying not to let go and going for a ride down the slick granite

Isaac's reaction was even better. K-man was smaht and didn't go in.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

The Summer of Long Live Long Rides

Much going on right now. Work is keeping me too busy. A kitchen project that was supposed to be a winter project turned into a summer project. I work late, then come home and case a window, hook up a new sink or cut and set 10-15 travertine back splash tiles. Seventeen years in our house, it was about time to upgrade the Formica counters with granite and natural stone back splash.

Figures last night, just as I was getting into the project, the power goes out. Our power goes out about twice a month, sometimes hours at a time, for no reason at all. And for this quality of service, we just started paying Liberty Utilities about 30% more. Then we get a notice that another rate hike has been approved. WTF Liberty. For even more money, can I expect even more power outages? Where I grew up it was extremely rare for the power to go out, and it was out in the sticks of rural Michigan.  I had hoped to put a HJ post up last night, but no power, no bloggy time.

I've pretty much abandoned the idea that I'm a bicycle racer. I haven't renewed my license in over two years, and this year doesn't look any better. I've never been happier riding. With high levels of stress at work and not getting enough sleep most nights, I question whether I'm sometimes suffering from adrenal fatigue. You can only push so hard for so long before something breaks. I have zero mental energy to compete right now. Many days at work feel like a crit. There are attacks, you cover them, get back on, only to be attacked again. You have only so many matches in your book, and when they are all burned, you get dropped. My match book feels half empty most of the time lately.

That is why I cherish the long off-road rides so much. They don't require much mental energy. In fact, being out in nature is mentally stimulating even while you are physically running your body into the ground. It is a different kind of fatigue that balances the daily mental stress. Lets you sleep better at night.

This past weekend I did two off-road 50 milers. Other than trips, I've never done two 50 mile trail rides in the same weekend, especially riding with others at fairly rigorous levels.

On Friday I hooked up with Paul to ride the Massabesic-Bear Brook loop, a loop Paul crashed out of a couple years ago with a broken collar bone. Conditions were stunningly beautiful. Completely dry, sunny and low humidity. I didn't want to go too hard of a pace, as I had another 50 miler planned with others on Sunday. I had severe reservations about this situation.

Funny how two guys not going hard ends up being a hard ride anyway. We each blamed the other for driving the pace. Silly male egos and testosterone. Even an easy ride can't be easy, because if your easy pace is too easy, then you must really be a wuss. Or something like that is how the subconscious male mind must work. Regardless, we had a great ride, no mishaps and my fastest pace ever for that loop. Yeah, easy.

On Sunday, still licking my sore muscles from Friday's ride, I joined Geoff, Soups, Luke, Dave and Ed for the GWB loop, which hits Willowdale, Georgetown-Rowley and Bradley-Palmer. You just know when two prior RAAM competitors join the ride, you are not going to be noodling along...

Legs felt ok, but not when called upon to put out top-end. Once we got into some singletrack, Geoff was lighting things up, usually with Soups in tow. I felt the pace was unsustainable, and somebody in the group was either going to wreck or blow sky high. I thought that somebody was going to be me.

Interestingly, Luke has been riding for just over a year and isn't really into the spandex thing. Geoff joked after the ride that when he saw Luke, he was like, who's this guy in baggies, he's not going to last an hour! Well, Luke was right there the whole time, other than some cramping right at the end. I was cramping too. Give Luke a few more months and he'll be schooling all of us on any terrain, any duration, in baggies.

Anyway, I was hoping the others were in as much hurt as I was as we headed to the final area, Georgetown-Rowley. I commented that surely they'll be some carnage in there. There always is. It is the most technical riding on the loop and you are the most tired.

Sure enough, the mishaps started happening. Three people hit the deck, one twice. A skinny bridge I attempted for the first time and barely made didn't bode so well for Soups. He missed the back side of the up-and-over and promptly augured in. The pace never let up. The whole ride was pretty much don't think, just go. Can't believe I didn't wreck. Sofa bike must give me some margin.

Another 50 mile loop (49mi actual measurement) at another big-time PR pace.  The two rides tallied just over 100 miles of mountain biking, mostly on singletrack. With so much quality singletrack close to home, I sometimes wonder why I would need to drive far away to ride trails.  Here are a few photos from the weekend.

Group passing equestrians in Bradley-Palmer

Luke cleaning the squeeze around boulders in Georgetown

Dave making it with a differently line

GWB ride group - Soups, HJ, Geoff, Ed, Dave and Luke

Paul on I-trail in Bear Brook

Paul on Hemlock Trail in Bear Brook

This is actually Big Bear Down. Paul captured on $120 point and shoot camera.

Paul navigating the boulders on Hedgehog Ledge Trail in Bear Brook

Sunday, June 15, 2014


Plans for big rides fell apart this weekend. The weather was too suspect for a group of us to commit riding a big chunk of the Rapha course in Vermont. The sleet and torrents of mud debacle a few weeks ago was enough for a season. Or three. And the hamstring that decided to spontaneously self destruct while watching TV a week ago would have been none-too-thrilled to push through six hours of dirt road climbing. So we all ended up do our own thing after the weather cleared up later in the day.

Bleeding from hamstring muscle that cramped while watching TV a week earlier.

I headed over the Pack Monadnock with my 29er hardtail MTB for some repeats. I wasn't going to waste fresh legs by waiting another day to ride or do something totally junky in training value. I've been getting in a pittance of high-end work lately the way it is.

So why bring an MTB instead of a much more efficient road bike? I've never liked descending Pack on a road bike. The asphalt has washboard bumps coming into switchbacks, there are frost heaves, and the surface would no doubt still be wet and a little slick. After my horrific crash coming down Kearsarge last August, I became even more apprehensive descending. A mountain bike with disk brakes greatly reduces the risk. With front suspension and wide, soft tires, you barely notice the bumps. The hydraulic disk brakes are far more effective than caliper rim brakes. So what if the bike heft and rolling resistance adds 1-2min to the climb. You're still getting the same workout in.

Many other cyclists were visiting the park, nine others while I was there. On my first time up, I passed a guy with what looked like standard road gearing, maybe a 39x25. Now I wouldn't want to push that up Pack, but I probably could if I had to. A comment was made about having it made with my gear-inches. I just smiled and kept charging on.

Hmmm, I started thinking to myself. I'm on a 29er, which is a larger diameter tire than a road bike. I was in my middle chainring, and not in my biggest cog. What were my gear-inches? At that moment, at the very lowest I would have been 29" * 32/30 = 31". Yeah, pretty low, but not a crazy amount lower than the lowest ratio many set standard crank road bikes up with. There was a tacit assumption made that I was pushing up the mountain so much faster because I had so much lower gearing. I thought it was because I was putting out high 300's Watts of power.

One time riding my full suspension MTB up Wachusett, a roadie said it must be nice to have granny gears as I passed him. I looked down and I was not in my granny gear. In fact, I would not have been able to pass him in my granny gear. Funny things, our minds do.

A little later, maybe on my second or third time up Pack, another rider who I think was also on a MTB asked what I was training for. I hollered out Washington. I started thinking again, because this is what you do when your brain is starving for oxygen and you taste lactic acid in your mouth. At least when you go off into some analytic corner of your mind, you stop thinking about the discomfort.

While most riders that hit Pack are training for something, is it possible that I could have been riding up Pack just for the shear joy of it? The Hill Junkie has been known to climb hills for fun. Another assumption, that nobody would ever climb a mountain more than once if they weren't training for something. I suppose I was training, but I have visited Pack in the past with no training in mind.

Three times up at a pretty stiff pace did my legs in. I went up a fourth time at tempo pace. I've never done more than four on a road bike, and I've never done more than three on a MTB. The MTB takes a lot more kilojoules to get to the top than a road bike.

After the work was done, I visited a nearby ridgeline trail. The overcast day and damp conditions made the non-stop granite pretty much unrideable. The views up there are always nice though. Not quite the hours in the saddle I was looking for on Saturday, but the intensity session on Pack was needed.

Mt Monadnock

Damp, off-chamber granite on the ridge was treacherous

Pack from Temple

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Earning Singletrack

I didn't quite get the ride in I had planned for Friday. Uncertain forecast thwarted an NEK day-trip. My flat, local ride I did instead must have been pretty punishing, however. I cramped up at the 3hr mark, forcing me to stop to get some extra water and carbs. I hadn't had any cramping issues for over a year, so that was totally out of the blue. I did manage my fastest average speed ever riding a "C-town's" variant, which hits Russell Mill, Great Brook, Estabrook and many other smaller conservation parcels along the way.

My cramping problems didn't end with the ride. Several hours later, while watching a PPV movie on Direct TV with my wife, an inner thigh muscle seized up. This wasn't one of those bolt up, quick stretch it before it blows up kind of spasm. No, this went directly to total muscle destruction. Cathy had no idea what was going on. For all she knew, I had been shot or something. The pain was unbelievable, and it just wouldn't stop or release. The contorted muscle was bulging right out of my leg. It looked really gross. Why??? Perhaps I rode harder than I thought...

Needless to say, I didn't sleep well that night. Two Aleve was all I had on hand that might help. Cathy takes stronger stuff for her RA, but that can cause muscle spasms.

Saturday was National Trails Day. NEMBA had a trail work day planned for Bear Brook State Park. I had planned to help out several weeks earlier. Now I wasn't sure if I'd be worth anything. Riding was out of the question. The muscle that locked up seems to be one of the hamstring group. I cannot lift my lower leg up behind me or pull back and up on the pedal stroke. But trails fairies aren't going to create great riding experiences for us. Sweat-equity is needed.  More Aleve, then I hit the road to BB.

A dozen or so workers showed up. On the docket was improving a couple problem areas on Chipmunk Trail. One was a reroute around a perennially wet area, the other was rock armoring a muddy crossing. Three hours of swinging a rogue hoe and ax along with gathering many large stones will surely have me sore in more places when I get up Sunday. I'll leave you with a few pictures from the morning's work.

Cutting a reroute on Chipmunk with a boulder to go over if you're inclined.
Matt with a "Strava Made Me Dope" t-shirt.

This is why we armor trails. Casey wallowing in the mud on Chipmunk Trail.

Beginning the armoring process.

The job completed. Flat rocks were few and far in between in this area.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Work and play

I took the rental bike out one final time this morning before heading over to the convention center. I had hoped to ride a place called Alafia, which purportedly sports the area's most technical riding. But this was just far enough out of town that I couldn't rationalize it, given time constraints. So instead, I headed back to Wilderness Park where I rode on Saturday. It is less than 20 minutes from the middle of downtown Tampa and provides a quality outdoor experience.

Having learned the lay of the land at Wilderness on Saturday, I wouldn't have to pull the map out for navigation and waste precious moments. I could also hit a few bits I missed earlier because I rushed to get back to the car before the skies opened up. No fear of that this morning. It was fairly comfortable too, but still humid.

I was able to get in a 22mi ride in 1.9hrs. Legs were a little lethargic from Monday's steady 3hr tempo ride. At least getting out early like this put my mind in the right place for the rest of the day. I'll leave you with a few photos. Thanks for visiting.

What I'm doing when not riding my bike. Giving talks on reconfigurable transceivers.

Gator Bait trail. Very difficult = beginner trail you bring your girlfriend or wife on in New England.

Panther Trail. Felt very remote when you are never very far from roads.

Another shot of same spot on Panther Trail.

There are vast areas in Wilderness Park that look like it has been plowed. Vegetation is gone,
ground is deeply broken up, even the trail in spots is upheaved. Poking around in Google, I learned
feral hogs are doing this. Huge problem in many areas.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Imagine a place to ride that...

Imagine a place to ride that has a contiguous loop of singletrack 35 miles long. Imagine no crowds of humans and lots of wildlife. Imagine even harder a place where equestrians can be fined $50 for riding on said singletrack. It's not an imaginary place. I rode there early this morning.

After a stressful day at the IMS conference on Sunday, I figured I earned a little reset time before heading back to the conference on Monday. SWAMP maintains a robust network of trails around the greater Tampa area. One such place are the Croom Trails in Withlacoochee State Forest. Croom sports upwards of 60 miles of MTB trails. Equestrians have their own independent network there.  An organized MTB event, called the Croom 35, follows at 35 mile loop around the perimeter of the trail system. That sounded good to me, maybe even easy to navigate, since the rainy ride last weekend killed my Garmin 705.

It is so humid down here that even 7:30 in the morning, you sweat without doing any work. I filled my 100oz Camelbak. It had rained a lot overnight. Croom is a place you want to ride right after rain, as it is very sandy. Rain helps control the looseness.

Heading out, I was concerned whether I was going to work anywhere near hard enough to burn off the massive eating marathon the day before. Flat, just sandy enough to not trust speed into turns, and pretty much all tight turny type riding doesn't work like a long, stiff climb does in pushing heartrate up. Having sub-2" slick tires on my crappy rental didn't help matters. But there was just enough perceptible elevation undulation to get the heartrate up into tempo zone, high enough for a three hour ride.

Trail alternated between open oak and pine and more closed in with more of a rain forest feel

Being the first one out on the trail in a somewhat remote area, I got to clean out all the spider webs made overnight. Florida must have serious spiders. I wouldn't see the webs, They would wrap around my face and torso, and pulls taut. Some webs were strong enough to even bend my head back. The web would then remain stuck across my face and I would spaz out. Like, where's the gargantuan spider that came along with the web and is now crawling on me somewhere!

In the old lime rock mine area, the trail became more interesting. There was some real elevation change there, although still only 20 feet or so, and all man-made. Some pucker-factor drops and rises. There's also areas that become greasy when wet. Not muddy. Greasy, like thin film of motor oil on hardpack. Signs would warn of Gorilla Snot. Tricky to keep rubber side down there.

Benchcut trail with bits of exposure and pucker-factor drops in the mining area

Then at a kiosk, I saw a photo captioned "Dead Deer Walking," taken by a game cam at night. It was a lion ready to pounce on a deer. I didn't know what to make of it, as no way does Florida have mountain lions. I Googled it later in between talks at the conference. Sure enough, the only remaining natural population of lions east of the Rockies is in southern Florida. Males have been found to roam as far north as Georgia. So not only do you have to worry about poisonous snakes, gators, black bear, spiders, but also lions? There's speculation that the photo is fake. But lions in Florida, primarily very southern Florida, lions are real.

One of the trails along the route is call Sugar Mountain Loop. Hmm, what could than mean? Well, there was a noticeable bump the trail went over with some unique trees up top. Just enough to get heartrate up if you sprinted up it.

Sugarloaf "Mountain"

Much of this vast area appeared to have burned many years ago. The lower areas were still lush, the higher areas were sparsely covered with trees. It was kind of nice alternating between very different forms of vegetation and sounds of insects and birds. I saw deer and many different kinds of colorful birds. I could have done without the biting flies. Don't know what they were, but they had a bite about 5x more potent than deer flies in the northeast. They'd be on you the second you stopped, and you wouldn't hear or see them, like pesky deer flies.

I finished the 35 mile loop in just over 3hrs. Definitely a unique riding experience. Most New Englanders would hate riding here, as there is no granite and near zero elevation change. I'm more than happy to just get out while here. I can now color in Florida. Only two states remain on my list to mountain bike, Mississippi and Louisiana.