Friday, June 19, 2015

Rapha Inspired Gravel Grinding

I've ridden variants of the 2012 Rapha Gentlemen's Race course that snaked through VT and NH four or five times now.  Just the good part too, the section that makes many big hops through Vermont's mountains. The loop offers all the desirable aspects of cycling in spades, great views, challenging climbs, endless descents, solitude and minimal traffic. A cross bike is highly recommended for this route. There are a couple Class 4 roads that would be treacherous on skinny road tires.

Heading over to VT on I-89, a black bear and I almost collided. The bear came bounding at high speed out of the woods to my right. I didn't think I was going to stop in time and started to maneuver to avoid it. But just as the bear came to the pavement, it saw me, did a four paw stop and 180'd back into the woods. That was only my first of three close animal encounters for the day.

Early in the ride on the first Class 4 road, I was ripping downhill when I heard a crashing sound to my left. A large deer came bounding down the mountain on a collision course with me. Slamming on the brakes again, this time on a bicycle with no protection around my body. The deer obviously saw me and cleared the road in one leap about head high fraction of a second ahead of me. That got my heartrate going.

Then on the second to last descent of the ride, I'm hauling ass when a fat woodchuck hops out of the brush immediately ahead of me. I didn't even get my fingers to the levers when I heard and felt a bonk at the rear wheel. The wheel didn't go over it. The woodchuck either t-boned a spoke or the rim. I turned around to look and saw woodchuck four-paws to the sky out cold. A second later, it sprung back to life and scampered off. Dang, that was close. I was going close to 40mph on dirt. Had it gone into the front wheel... I don't even want to think about that. By the way, my redneck friends I grew up with in Michigan would cook those things. Mighty tasty, actually.

I added a climb I hadn't done before into this ride. It was Spring Rd/Monarch Hill. The 900ft grunt up dirt Spring Rd was quite scenic. Reminded me a bit of Glade Hill Rd in the Catskills, but not quite as steep. The descent on Monarch Hill Rd was by far the best descent of the ride. Perfectly monotonic, smooth packed gravel and nice views down the valley.

There was rarely a moment when I was out of ear shot of rushing water on this ride. It must have rained hard into the early morning hours. Everything was flowing. It left the gravel firm and tacky, hero gravel, if there is such a thing.

This ride finishes over Turnpike Rd. Why is it that so many New England roads with Turnpike in the name are roads that were abandoned before cars came along? Anyway, Turnpike Rd starts out as nicely groomed gravel, almost two lanes wide. Then it drops to one lane, still occasional houses and a power line along the way. As elevation is gained, grass appears in the middle. That would classify Turnpike Rd as doubletrack. But after the last house, the road becomes full-blown jeep track. That rain I just mentioned? Yep, the jeep track was a quagmire. It was too rocky to sink in with 38mm tires, but there were huge puddles that could not be entirely avoided. Plenty of off-camber wet granite too. I'd be surprised if I average over 4mph for this half-mile section. Only one dab though. Once through it, it is six miles of continuous downhill back to the car. The ride went 66mi with 7600ft of climbing in 4.6hrs. Here are a few pictures from my shitty waterproof camera.

Top of first climb, Bragg Hill.

Joe Ranger Rd.

Strawberries at high point of second major climb, Old Kings Hwy.
They were yummy, much more flavorful than the giant mass produced kind.

Allen Hill Rd.

Top of Foundry Rd climb from Strafford Rd.

The treat at the end, Turnpike Rd. Can't tell from photo how wet this was.
At least there was only half a mile of it.

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