Saturday, August 30, 2014

A bad day on the bike is better than a good day at the office

I came really close to debunking that old adage on Friday. Three of us had a Berkshires ride planned. First Brett drops out when a work obligation trumped the ride. No problem, Dave was still in. I left early to crab a Clover machine coffee at Starbucks in Chelmsford. Traffic seemed light for Friday morning rush. Maybe a lot of people were taking the day off for a 4-day holiday.

I no more than got on I-495 when traffic came to an abrupt halt. WTF. Over the course of the next hour I covered about four miles. Dave was asking if he should just start the ride without me, as I had no idea why I was going nowhere. There were no accident reports. Later I learned they shut lanes down at the Rt 2 construction site. Friday morning rush? REALLY?! So Dave was kind enough to wait so we wouldn't each be doing the same ride solo. I made up some time on Rt 2, let's not say how much, lest I incriminate myself.

Starting the ride an hour late heading up Rowe Rd, we saw signs about Depot Rd detour. I had no idea what road Depot Rd was. We were going over Monroe Hill, over the Deerfield River to Kinsgley Hill Rd, the "meanest mile" in Massachusetts.

Well wouldn't you know it, Depot Rd is the bridge over the river. It is being reconstructed and doesn't even have a deck on it right now. There was no way to cross there. The freaking detour dead-ended there. No other roads escape that area except the wall called Monroe Hill Rd that we just came down. Neither of us brought phones to study the situation, nor did we buy map packages for our GPSs. A couple of sorry old fucks if you ask me.

Google Maps did try to route me over another bridge only a few hundred meters north when I was doing some route planning the night before. Apparently Google knows the Depot Rd bridge was out. So we rode over to this other bridge, only to find private property signs all over, keep out, etc. The bridge looked perfectly suitable for us to take bikes across. But this was some kind of utility property and there were people about. I asked a man walking by if there was any way to get across the river from here. He chuckled and said "the bridge is out, didn't you see the signs? You'll have to go back the way you came. You might have to walk your bikes." Yeah, right. I told him we had planned to ride up Kingsley Hill, which is at least twice as steep as Monroe Hill. He looked at us like we weren't normal.

So we mashed our way back up and over Monroe Hill, finding ourselves almost back at the cars 90 minutes into our ride. Now what? Neither of us liked the prospects of riding up and over on Rt 2 with all the semi's going by and little to no shoulder. I didn't want to drive over to North Adams either to hit Greylock, the main feature of the loop I had planned. Between starting an hour late and dead ends, I was almost ready to hang it up. A lot more could go wrong with the day the way things were going.

Dave topping out on East Rd

Near bottom of East Rd

Instead, we decided to just hit local climbs around Charlemont. There are enough of them there, having ridden many of them in various D2R2 routes. East Rd was gravel, but conditions last week suggested it would be fine with 23mm road tires going up. It was. We did it twice, looping over to East Hawley Rd for a monotonic paved descent. Each loop netted 1400ft of climbing. Twice around was equal to Greylock. We also hit Mountain Rd and West Hawley Rd. This got our total climbing for the day up to 7000ft, still short of the goal, but some solid intensity in those climbs.  The day turned out to be a big CF, but the objective was achieved: body depleted, mind purged. A good day at the office can never do that.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Get Your Suffer On: Roll your own D2R2

I quipped after first riding D2R2 in 2006 that I didn't ever need to do that again. Yet I keep coming back. A year must somehow erase the suffering from memory. This year was my seventh.

I've ridden a few of the route options with a variety of bikes, gearing and tires. In 2006, I used 30mm CX tires. 2007 and 2008, I used a road bike with 28mm slicks. That made the descents pretty sketchy, and I didn't need to do that again. In 2010 and 2012, I used 35mm Racing Ralph's. All of these were tube-based setups, riding the full 180k course. Don't recall flatting in any of those years. The 28mm Specialized armadillo tires pumped up to 100psi were pretty much indestructible, but forget about control on the descents.

Last year I tried the 115k course with a hardtail MTB. I had fractured my wrist two weeks earlier and needed the extra cushion on a shorter loop. I enjoyed the route a great deal. Needless to say, I could totally bomb the descents with 60mm wide tubeless tires and front suspension.

This year, a group of us wanted to try something different than the standard 180k route. The 160k route was suggested. Due to road closures, the route was modified and came in closer to 151k with substantially less climbing than the 180k route. The 160k route was attractive because it hits many areas the other routes did not. So I started looking at the color coded map of all the route options to find a way to enhance the 160k route and make it a Hill Junkie worthy loop.

I noticed by adding only seven miles or so, over 1000ft additional climbing could be added, replacing a rolling section with two major climbs. With East Road, this meant the loop would have three steep, sustained climbs instead of just one. The added climbs were the uber tough Pennel Hill Rd and the climb up to Heath. Pennel Hill is part of the 115k route, and the climb up to Heath is a descent on the 180k route. Thus we'd never be leaving any of the official D2R2 routes.

A large posse of riders met at the starting area at 7am. A later start allowed most to drive over the morning of. Being the furthest out meant I had to leave the earliest. I doubt I got more than 4hrs sleep.

The area got recent rain, including overnight. The course turned out to be in superb shape, no loose marbly stuff, but maybe a little peanut butter here and there. The temperature was perfect. Just barely warm enough at 7am to not need long layers and rising only into the low 70's.

Alex and Jason were on silly light rigid MTBs. The rest of us were on CX bikes. Pretty sure I had the skinniest tires, 32mm Small Block 8's. I was counting on the tubeless setup to give me some cushion and control with a max pressure of 50psi.

The first 10 miles are flat, paved and through town. The pace was social. Once into the hills, things heated up. With no shortage of firepower and testosterone in the group, I quickly started doing math of how long it would take me to implode. The pace was clearly beyond my 6-7 hour pace. Would I have to bail out of my own enhancement to the ride in shame?

The East Hill Rd descent was interesting. There was a conga line of other riders walking down or otherwise skidding out of control. Yeah, with a Colorado trip coming up in a week, I wasn't going to risk it with my skinny tires. It was rutted out brownie mix covered rocks. Alex and Jason bombed it, of course, giddy they had MTBs. This was perhaps the only place the fat tires made a big difference in the whole ride. I think all of us but Scott on CX bikes hoofed it.

East Hill Road. Doesn't look it, but going down steeply.

A shot Paul captured looking up.

We got to the first food stop at 26 miles. Quarter of the way in and my legs were already getting noodly. Not good. I wolfed down 3x more calories than everybody else, including half a PB&J sandwich which must have had 200 calories of peanut butter alone.

Next up was the long 1300ft climb up Green River Rd. Never steep, but it went forever, and there was no shortage of strongmen to push the pace. There were several steep rollers as we approached the height of land. Now I was really feeling it as we descended into Jacksonville.

Jacksonville at the 43 mile mark was an informal food stop with a general store there. This was also a decision point, where the published 160k route and the Hill Junkie enhanced route diverged. Taking the diversion meant mandatory topping water off, at least for me. There was some whining about the pace thus far and the damage Pennel Hill was going to inflict. Yeah, I was scared too, riding with a couple slow twitch guys 10-15 years younger than I. So do I hang my head in shame and take the "easy" way to the lunch stop, or do I face certain doom and take the hard way?

Alex, Jason, Dave and Ken were solidly committed to the enhanced route, so I really had no choice. I proposed it. I couldn't Sally out.

I didn't realize there was a spanker of a climb on the way to Pennel Hill. I bet Reed Hill Rd hit grades over over 15%. Great, Pennel was going bury me. After some more gentle paved descending, we got to the base of Pennel Hill. The recent rain left the gravel, if you can call it that, in fine form. It was not loose at all, like last year. So instead of fighting to get traction and fighting against gravity, it was just a burn fest. Dave and Alex were gone. I kept searching for a lower gear. Not sure how long Dave and Alex waited, but Ken, Jason and I didn't spread out much by the time we crested.

The paved Ed Clark Rd descent is one of the best of all D2R2 routes. A great view up top, and then ridiculous, but high risk speed on the way down. You can get air over a roller or two if you're crazy enough.

Beginning the Ed Clark descent.

After no more than reaching the bottom, an even bigger, but not as steep climb challenges your will to continue. This his Heath Rd, which is a descent in the 180k route. This comes fairly early in the 180k route, yet a lot of riders were still coming by. Yikes, would they be back by dark? A one mile drop on Long Hill Rd brought us back to the official 160k route. Of course, there were no less than four major rollers to scale before reaching the lunch stop. A few of us were past due for calories.

The rest of the riding gang was still at the lunch stop when we got there. I devoured another massive dose of calories, eating a sandwich wrap, big serving of pasta, cookies, pickles and a Coke.  Good thing we started rolling on a massive downhill, unlike the 180k route of year's past where you begin a massive climb from the lunch stop. Most of the riding group got a head start on Alex, Jason, Dave and I, since they had been at the lunch stop a while already.

Of course, downhills go by way too quickly. In no time we were looking up East Rd, the second tallest and second steepest climb of the ride. Combined and late in the ride, this made it the hardest climb for me. Dave and Alex were gone again. I shadowed Jason most of the way up. I was now deep into death march territory.

The 160k route lunch stop.

At the lunch stop, Paul quipped the last 15 miles are downhill. Actually, looking at the profile, it looked like the last 20+ miles were downhill. But you need to zoom in on that profile a bit. Sure, when you drop 1600ft in 20 miles on a 100 mile ride, it looks like it is all down. But there were numerous 50-200ft rises along the way, many of them steep. Scott was just killing all of these, like going for primes in a crit. I was trying all I could to not cramp up by standing and letting my weight collapse on the pedals for each down-stroke. Seated pedaling was coming scary close to full-blown seizure. On this 1600ft net drop, I gained another 1500ft of climbing! So much for downhill finish! Paul later clarified it was a "downhill bias." Yeah, I might have used that expression before too.

One of many punchy climbs after lunch and on the way "down." Think the highway department is trying
to convey a message?

Like clockwork, with about five miles to go, Alex and Dave make "their move." They bolted, not to be seen again until we got back to the starting area. I finished with 102 miles (164km), 10,700ft climbing (3260m) in 6.8 hours moving time. I managed to not completely cramp up, but I was completely wrecked. There were no flats or mishaps in the group of five that rode the enhanced route, but there were a couple flats in the extended group and a close call when Mark Doherty overcooked a switchback and regained the road below, Lance Armstrong style, without meeting trees or rocks.

The riding posse, with HJ, Norm, Mark, John, Mark, Mike, Scott, Paul, Jason and Alex.
Dave and Ken didn't make the photo.

A curious thing I've noticed about my GPS. It measures less climbing than anybody else's I ride with, as much as 10% less. When I begin going up, the elevation display immediately tracks the rise. But the total ascent stays frozen. It is not until I gain more than 15ft that the total ascent begins to register an increase. It does not catch up, but rather just starts counting first foot gained after 16ft have been gained. In other words, my GPS throws the first 15ft of every rise away. How many times do you rise 15ft in a long, hilly ride? Many. This becomes even more pronounced off road. I use a Garmin 510 with software version 3.10. Anybody else notice this?

The beer line is 30x longer than the ice-cream line. What is up with that? I went for the malted
vanilla ice-cream.

Riders beginning to fill the banquet area.

Anyway, I have to commend Sandy and his army of volunteers who put this ride on every year. Organization is superb, replenishments along the course are always spot on, and the post ride food and beverages are not to be missed. Even though I'm temporarily scarred by this ride once again, the scars will be gone next year when contemplating a route.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

15 Years on the Rock Pile

When I first climbed Mt Washington back in 2000, I had no idea what I was getting into. I had already been bitten by the climbing bug, and my passion for this esoteric activity was growing. I had no goal or expectation, other than make it to the top. I finished in 1:14, which blew me away and qualified me for the Top Notch field the following year. That drew me in hook, line and sinker.

I haven't raced every one of those 15 years. In 2003, I got terribly sick and could not start the race. In 2007, the races were cancelled due to weather. Then in 2010, I took a two-year hiatus from the mountain. In those 15 years, I raced up the mountain 12 times, plus a number of practice climbs.

I've seen all types weather on the Rock Pile - near record heat (the worst), hail and lightning, 50+ mph wind, temps near freezing and windchills even colder. This past Saturday's race was easily the coldest I've experienced.

I put no investment into this year's hillclimb. In fact, I've missed Whiteface, Okemo, Ascutney and Equinox. I've never missed all of those in a single year since 2000. Just too much going on right now for me to put in the requisite training. Doing hill repeats or even regular VOmax work on my lunch breaks requires mental energy, energy that I must more importantly spend in other ways right now. Much of my riding has taken on more of a recreational character this summer. I've been doing a large volume of mountain biking. It seems to clear the mind better and uses less mental energy than road cycling. It is too easy to become enraged on the road at motorists that deliberately endanger you. Off road, considerable focus is required for task at hand, pulling your mind away from the pressing issues of the day. A long off-road ride satiates the body and resets the mind.

Thus I had no goals or expectations for Mt Washington this year, unlike last year when I attempted and achieved a personal best. Some may ask, why even bother then? I loves me a good climb, and Mt Washington is the mother of all climbs in this part of the country. You get to meet a lot of good peeps at the race too. I did kind of have a goal though. Tinker Juarez was registered and he is in my age group. How cool I thought, would it be to be on the podium with Tinker. This was remote though, as Tinker would win, Gerry Clapper would take second, then there would be any number of us battling for that third podium step.

Conditions were quite pleasant at the base warming up for the race. Some arm and knee warmers where helpful, but I think the temp was nearing 60F. The summit was socked in with heavy clouds. At race start, the summit temperature was 38F, winds near 40mph, giving a 26F windchill. So how do you dress for that?? A chronic over-heater, I chanced it. I went just in shorts and short sleeves. Many others did too.

The canon goes off. There's a hundred meters of flat, then 12% grade. Gerry Clapper and Erik Vandendries immediately started to pull away from me, and at no small differential. I knew better in my sub-par fitness state to try to stay with them, but dang, they were GONE. I hung with these fast dudes almost half way up last year.

A few riders came by in the first mile, which is never a good sign. Usually the front of this race is like the expanding universe. The space between all the riders just keeps getting bigger as the race progresses. But I passed a bunch that clearly went out way too hard too. After the first couple miles, I pretty much was by myself for the rest of the climb.

When I reached the 4000ft sign, it confirmed I was well off my normal pace. The wind started getting pretty nasty too, even before reaching the tree line. Great. The "5 mile grade" section went by fairly quickly. There was huge tail wind here. That meant only one thing though. As soon as the road switched back to the northwest, there would be massive head wind. Sure enough, the mile 6 section was just brutal. At one point, I slowed to 4mph and there was nothing I could do about it. I was totally over-geared for these conditions.

The temp was becoming downright scary and my arms, hands and feet were going numb. There were occasional burst of mist or drizzle to ensure maximal heat loss. A group of four was never more than 15-30 seconds behind me. The pressure was always on. I couldn't let them catch me, as there could easily be another 50-54 age group rider in there and that would diminish my chances for a podium shot even further. The headwind on the mile 6 section seemed to hurt those four more than me, though. Then we were in the clouds. Out of sight, out of mind.

Now I was in my own little world of gray. Occasionally, there'd be a spectator ringing a cowbell. That was nice actually, because I could count the seconds until the bell rang again to determine how far back the next guy behind me was.

With about half a mile to go, a body suddenly appeared out of the abyss in front of me. I was gaining on him quickly. I surmised this guy must have cracked spectacularly with so little to go. It was Jimmy Hayes, the kid I challenged to the $500 first mile prime at Equinox last year and he took it by a second or two. He also took me by seconds on Mt Washington last year.  Now this old guy was going to return the favor in the final kick to the summit on the Rock Pile. Good times.

The crowd is always such a motivator as you reach the 22% switchbacks to the finish line. The visibility was poor, the road wet. I stood to mash out those last meters. My rear tire slipped badly. My bike nearly stopped and I thought for an instant I was going to crash. I got my weight back over the rear wheel and just barely saved it. I crossed the line in 1:08:48, about 3.5 minutes slower than last year. That was in the range I expected, so I was not disappointed. Times on average were slower due to the wind.

Approaching finish. Photo by Cathy Jansen

Almost to timing mat and gassed. Photo by Heather Dunkerley.

It took a few minutes to find my wife. When I final got inside the summit building and changed into dry clothes, it took another 30 minutes to stop shivering. I was glad to catch some breaks in the clouds as riders continued to cross the line. The view is grand.

Sun starting to burn through. Dressed for winter.

Fleeting instant where the horizon completely opened up.

My time was good for 2nd/107 in the age group. Gerry won it. Tinker was at the race but did not race, not feeling well and resting for the bigger NH100 race the next day. Bummer. Still though, podium spots are hard to come by at this event, as it draws high caliber athletes from varied backgrounds, including several former national caliber runners. The last two years there have been a record number of sub-hour finishers, nine both years.

50-55 podium, the largest age group. Myself, Gerry Clapper and Lawrence Beck.

I think it was LeMond that said it doesn't get easier, you just go faster [as you become more fit]. The converse is also true. If you become less fit, you don't suffer more, you just go slower. But I did notice that I had more residual pain long after the race this year. Maybe I'm just getting old.

I thought for my fifteenth year on the mountain, I'd plot all my finishing times and then trend them. The plot is interesting. The older I get, the faster I get. Wouldn't it be nice if this went on indefinitely...

This just goes to show if you commit to staying in shape, the normal aging degradations just don't apply. Look at Tinker or Ned Overend, for example. Those guys are still almost as fast as they were 25 years ago. Data like this motivates me to never give up. There is something to be said for that mystical "masters base" that younger riders sometimes bemoan.

I have a couple more endurance events planned for this season, the Vermont 50 MTB race and the Ironcross CX race in Pennsylvania. Hopefully the kind of riding I've been doing will serve me well at these fine races.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Hapha Rapha

I rode a loop on Saturday that is sure to remain on my must-do periodically list. It is a variant of the hilly portion of the 2012 Rapha NE Gentelmen's Race. Paul Lohnes and I have ridden variants of this NH portion of the original course last year, but with Paul's latest tweaks, I think the route is dialed. It runs about 77 miles with upwards of 9000ft of climbing, almost entirely on narrow gravel roads.

I don't have time for a full write-up, so I'll just share a few photos I snapped with my LX7 along the way. You can find our route on Strava. Just watch out for the aggressive country dogs and even more aggressive redneck owners out there.  Something about wrapping a bicycle around one of our heads...

Joe Range Road, beginning stair-steppy 1200ft climb.

Multiple Class 4 town roads on the route

Top of the Foundry Rd climb (tough 1000ft) just after popping out briefly on paved Strafford Rd.
Dave, Keith and Paul.

Keith cresting class 4 Turnpike Rd. Just below this was several hundred vertical feet of
soft black peanut butter loam to ride. Still smiling after pushing a monster gear all day.

Beginning descent from top of Turnpike Rd.

HJ and Dave. Don't remember which summit Paul snapped this one on.

Friday, August 8, 2014

3000 Miles

Approaching the 3000 mile mark on my Santa Cruz Tallboy LTc this week. Just swapped out the original drivetrain and still running the second set of Schwalbe Racing Ralph's. The chain had elongated only 1/16th inch, but there was some funky chain-flying-off-the-big-ring business going on when stomping on the pedals. Perhaps it was some of the teeth on big ring being worn down almost to nubs. Can't complain. I've never gotten anywhere near that kind of mileage out of a MTB drivetrain before.

So what gives? I started using a different lube. Last year when Dave and I hit Utah, the moon dust trails there quickly rendered the wet lube I've always used here in the northeast useless. Over the Edge Sports bike shop in Fruita recommended Rock 'n Roll Extreme lube for riding out there. It worked. It is a dry lube, meaning it dries up leaving a waxy residue on/in your chain. This holds up to dusty conditions well, but not wetter New England conditions. Or at least I thought. I took the remaining lube home and continued using it.

What I immediately recognized is how clean your chain stays. Zero gunk buildup. In fact, I stopped cleaning it altogether, which was a messy deal with petro-based wet lubes. Instead, when the chain started to get a bit dry, I just added more lube and wiped it down. Done in 60 seconds. The bike went out to Arizona with me this spring and saw many hundreds of dusty miles there. Then there were many 50+ mile rides locally in not so clean conditions. The drivetrain refused to show wear. It wasn't until it started misbehaving that I replaced the cassette, rings and chain.  I'll still use wet lube on my fendered winter bike, but for mostly dry trail riding, this dry lube seems to really be the ticket.

Then there are the tires. How do I average 1500 miles on a set of Racing Ralph's? Actually, on the 2.35" snakeskin version I'm running now, I could probably squeeze 2000 miles out of them. People have asked me "are you riding only on sand?" While I may not ride rough, rocky terrain every time I go out, there were certainly several hundred very hard miles on my current set of tires riding Tucson and Sedona this spring. Riding style maybe? I rarely ever skid the tires. I do hit a fare amount of pavement, which can wear some tires down quickly. I'll put my third set of Racking Ralph's on the Tallboy before the bike ships out to Colorado in a couple weeks.

Needless to say, I've been quite happy with the bike. Most weeks I spend more hours on the Tallboy than all my others combined.  I've been mostly trail riding this summer and have nearly abandoned any structured training. Mt Washington in a week will be interesting. Certainly no goals, other than to enjoy the climb and the company of other like-minded souls. Between being busy at work and helping my son through a life challenge, there is little mental energy left to worry about VOmax reps or hitting Ascutney for "training." In fact, the only climb, or race for that matter, that I've hit so far this year is Mt Wachusett. Do I miss racing? A little bit. Do I need racing to maintain my motivation to state fit? Absolutely not! I've done way more spirited pace 50+ mile MTB rides already this year than I have done in any prior entire year. What I may lack in top-end is probably gained in endurance. Looking forward to even longer rides this season.