Saturday, October 25, 2014

Rapha Course - where blue meets brown

After this week's deluge, I didn't think local trail conditions would be to my liking. And after a confrontation with a motorist during Friday's lunch spin, local roads didn't seem very attractive either. I had yet to ride my Trek Cronus since I put wide 38mm tubeless tires on it over a month ago. Some quiet Vermont gravels roads seemed attractive.

I stitched together a new variant of the first half of the Rapha Gentlemens Race course. After hitting most of the good stuff west of Norwich, I would cut straight back on Turnpike Rd past Gile Mtn. A section of this doesn't even show on Google Maps, but I've ridden it with MTB several times. Pretty rough going, but no more than half a mile of it. This would make for a 100km loop with 7000ft of climbing.

It was frigid starting out, just above freezing. I dressed light because I didn't want to carry excess clothing for most of the ride after it warmed up. That first descent teared my eyes up something fierce. The day turned out to be exceptionally nice. I regretted bringing only my cell phone camera.

The drizzly week packed the gravel down nicely. In fact, a road bike would have been optimal on at least 80% of the gravel sections. Smooth as butter. Only a slightly increased chance of pinch flatting on the other 20%. Could bomb every descent WFO. So much fun.

I've heard it said before you know when you are approaching the summit of a climb when you see blue on black. That means blue sky is meeting black asphalt. Well, Vermont has more miles of unpaved roads than paved roads. So one is more apt to see blue meeting brown when cyclo-touring Vermont. Today's bluebird skies doled out some nice blue on brown crests.

After climbing Foundry Rd, I stopped to take in the view of what I believed to be the Adirondacks in New York. While stopped, a group of four mountain bikers came up what looked like a driveway. I suspect their average age was much older than me. We talked a bit. They were quite far out and heading even further out. I asked about what trails could possibly be around there. They kind of looked at each other and snickered. They claimed they've been riding some of the best trails in Vermont for over 30 years. I looked around on their bikes and saw no GPSs. Then I asked if they load any of their rides on Strava. I got funny looks, like "what's Strava?" Then one commented that they need to keep the secret stash protected. Bummer. I looked in Strava around that area and there was nothing lit up. Either the locals keep a very tight lid on it or there's really nothing there. Has me wondering...

So what is it about Vermonters and their Subaru's? I'm pretty sure 78.9% of Vermont drivers own Subaru's. Does the state give tax breaks? Is there a penalty for owning a non-Subaru? Maybe to fit in with rural culture, you feel compelled to own a Subaru, one of those meme things. Obama, Coexist and NPR stickers must be one of the factory trim package options too. And I suppose because summer is just a transition between mud season and winter, that there is no reason to take the studded tires off. Just having fun here. Nothing against Vermonters or Subaru's. In mountainous terrain that is ice and snow covered half the year, AWD cars no doubt make sense. I may buy one some day after I move to Colorado.

Turnpike Rd starts out nice gravel and drops to about 1.5 lanes wide after a mile. As the houses become less frequent and elevation is gained, the road becomes barely one lane wide. You know you are in for a treat when you start seeing grass growing in the middle. Eventually the gravel surface peters out altogether, becomes leaf covered, and gnarly under the leaves. Very wet too. On the sofa bike, this is no problem. But on my cross rig where your center of gravity is already perched half-way into an endo, riding down steep ledgy rocks is terrifying. I think I lost a mile per hour off my pace riding a half mile of rough jeep road. Eventually you are "back on the map" on the other side and can resume WFO descending. The trailhead for Gile Mtn was packed with cars, 78.9% Subaru's, of course. It was a six mile, nearly monotonic descent back to Norwich.

I finished with 62 miles, 7000 feet of climbing in 4.2 hours moving time. Temp rose to around 60F, and there was very little wind. One of my more satisfying gravel rides. Here are a few iPhone 5S photos from the ride.

Top of Bragg Hill Rd. Seemed like dreary day in valley until you climb up above morning fog.

Joe Ranger Rd. Only oak trees clinging on to leaves.

Blue meets Brown. Potash Hill Rd. Skinny tires would have been fine.

Top of Foundry Rd climb, from Strafford Rd.

Turnpike Rd. I thought there was a reason I brought the CX bike. About a half-mile
of this, some of it up higher was wet, chunky and leaf covered.


The Slow Cyclist said...

I've have ridden these secret trails you speak of and they are no joke. We rent a house in VT every summer and the owner saw I was an avid cyclist and invited me to his weekly ride with some older gentlemen as you described. Entry fee was a case of Long Trails for the guys and they made me park my truck with out of state plates miles away and shuttled me in. I thought they were going to blindfold me at one point. Great guys and great trails that are mostly on private land. They had put a lot of work into them. Everybody knows everyone and we encountered another group and I pretty much got the hairy eyeball from those guys.

I feel a little dirty about it but I stashed my garmin and tracked it in my shirt pocket. I didn't have the heart to upload it to Strava and I was surprised to see nothing on the heatmaps. These guys keep a very tight lid on it. I may have the only gps of the place known to man and I worried if that garmin had fallen out of my pocket, I might have been wear cement shoes at the bottom of a lake somewhere.

I keep in touch with the guys and sent them a couple more cases of beer on my way out of town as a thank you. They invited me back next time I am in town. I wouldn't want to go unaccompanied though. It is a real gem of a set of trails.

Jason said...

I'm curious what happened with the motorist on Friday...

Anonymous said...

When are you moving to Colorado? Good riding out there, I hear! ;)

Michael Scott Long said...

The Spokane area has a lot of nice gravel roads like that. Where I went, lots of smaller rolling stuff (but definitely hilly), along smooth gravel roads through the area farms, and hardly any traffic.

Hill Junkie said...

Jason - A guy ahead of us in SUV moved to right to turn onto Continental. We pulled up alongside to make left onto Continental. We came nearly to a stop, as close to a stop as any car there does, but apparently that wasn't good enough for this guy. Instead of making his right, he cuts across and makes left, pulling up alongside us on busy Continental. He proceeds to scream at us for not stopping. We claimed we did, he said we did not, he got it on video. I saw no recording devices in his car. Meanwhile cars are backing up behind him. We then ignored him and he moved on ahead. Where does this hatred of cyclists come from? 10 cars could have pulled through that intersection not coming to a dead stop and this guy wouldn't have even noticed. He was so infuriated by us he turned the wrong way just to let us know.

Hill Junkie said...

Anon - Colorado transition is dependent on many things. How retirement portfolio does, housing prices, whether my job here stays satisfying, etc. I'd really like to reach a point where work is optional, where I could go into full retirement or at least semi-retirement and consult or teach. This would not be less than three years from now, but hopefully in 4-5 years. The other possibility is if a really attractive job offer came from the Centennial state, that could speed things up. Not actively looking right now though.

Paul said...

Subarus are like cross bikes.... they are lousy road racers, they are lousy at real off-road stuff, but they fill that middle ground. However - they are not exactly the most reliable vehicle out there....

Jason said...

It seems that you've had more than your share of negative interactions with motorists. I only road ride and it's very rare than I have issues. I do my very best to go on roads with light traffic so that could be a factor.

I wouldn't think that you'd have to be on busy roads all the time living where you do but perhaps it's a NH driver thing? It's crazy that that guy decided to make himself a self-appointed policeman out to call you on his version of the "wrong" committed.