Sunday, October 12, 2014

Fall in the Whites

Can't seem to get enough of riding mountainous, off-road terrain lately. No hostile or inattentive drivers to deal with, solitude, and plenty of vertical to work up a good endorphin buzz.  What is really cool is new places to ride are popping up faster than I can get out to ride them. Two destination riding areas come to mind: the greater Stowe, VT area and the Carrabassett Valley in Maine. Have to put those on the top of my list for next year.

A while back Louis asked me what is up with all the tracks in the Strava Global Heatmap around Campton, NH. I didn't know. I ride from there a lot, usually on a cross bike to hit the gravel roads. But clearly, local riders appeared to be riding much more than forest service and logging roads. I was planning a long ride for Sunday. Plans for the Great River century ride fell through. I didn't feel like driving too far. Campton is less than 90 minutes away. Time to explore.

I pulled a few promising tracks from Strava into my Garmin 510. Rider's speeds on these tracks were very slow at times, often in walking speed range. Would I encounter super chunky terrain and embark on a classic Hill Junkie boondoggle? I didn't know.

After a warm-up on the 1300ft Campton Mtn climb, which is almost all paved now, I bombed down and crossed over Rt 49 to the area of the Welch Ledges. Riders have been riding up to the ledges, but not on the popular Welch-Dickey hiking loop. Looked steep on paper. Turns out it is a very well constructed trail, the gradient never overbearing. Route following was very difficult with leaf drop. New trails hide quickly with leaf cover, as not enough of a depression in the ground has been made yet.

The view from the ledge did not disappoint. There were many, many people up there, most making their way around the Welch-Dickey loop which climbs much higher than I was going. Spent a good while there, talking with a slightly older couple who also cycle.

Oak leaves made the descent a bit sketchy. Oak leaves over bare granite were deadly. I can get better traction on ice. Part way down I forked onto another trail. There was singletrack all over in there. This noodle of a trail meandered in a tight area and again was fun stuff. Never fast, and it undulated mightily with the forest floor. My racy geometry hardtail always kept me on the cusp of disaster.

Crossing back over Rt 49, I hit more trails in the Smarts Brook area. This is signed for XC ski use and there were many bridges at the mostly dry stream crossings. I was lucky it hadn't rained up there in some time, with how rooty and rocky some of the terrain was. I clearly rode one of the long singletrack segments the wrong, uphill direction. Some nasty steep pitches up granite or root mazes that were too much with leave drop to punch up. You can tell by ruts and braking stutter bumps that the trail was primarily a downhill run. Took me forever to reach the top. There is a large network of trails being ridden in this area, and I barely touched it before popping out on Sandwich Notch Rd.

A colleague who fishes stocked ponds in the Sandwich Range mentioned Sandwich Notch Rd was all rutted out from heavy rain. Hmmm, maybe if you're taking a Corvette over the seasonal road. I didn't find it in any worse shape than usual, just fine for a cross bike but probably not a road bike. The descent would suck on a road bike.

Down the other side I picked up one of my favorite doubletracks in the Whites, gated Algonquin Rd. It follows the Beebe River, downstream, for many miles. You feel like a superhero riding the 1% grade downstream. Little work produces big speed on moderately rough surface.

I had planned to pop out on pavement and take Rt 175 the last couple miles back to the car, but Page Hill Rd caught my attention. I tried to ride this once before and it turned into a bushwhack on the other side near the bottom. A few people live on the gravel road on this side, then it becomes an un-maintained road. It went up, the sun was to my back, and the fall colors were brilliant. I gave it a go.

With no GPS track, I had to wing it at a couple junctions. Turns out I chose wisely. No bushwhack this time and got in another 400+ feet of climbing off-road. I got back to the car with 34 miles, 4800 feet in 3.6 hours on the Garmin. Another great fall day of riding. I'll leave you with a photo dump from the ride. Thanks for reading.

Welch Ledge looking across the valley into the Sandwich Wilderness Area

Look up towards the Dickey ledges. A rare moment this view wasn't full of hikers.
The logs keep walkers off sensitive vegetation islands.

Trying not to go over the ledge and win a Darwin Award. It actually wasn't that steep here.

One more from the Welch Ledge.

Beginning the descent back down with Dickey Mtn in background. 
Lots of slickrock which was fortunately all dry today.

Further down, looking down.

Singletrack below the ledge. Where's the trail?

Near the top of the climb in Smarts Brook area.

Atwood Pond

Atwood pond looking more easterly

Sandwich Notch Road, north side looking down

South side of Sandwich Notch Rd looking back up

Algonquin Rd

Color along Algonquin Rd

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