Monday, July 27, 2015

J.A.M. Fund Grand FUNdo

Saturday was a perfect day to join 300+ other like-minded riders for some dirt road fun. I participated in this fund raising ride once before in 2011. This year's course featured new sections. When my friend Brett expressed interest, I couldn't think of a better way to get my weekend fix in.

There were warnings to bring 25mm or bigger tires, especially for the hero extension to the ride, called the "Hundo," because it rides like a hundred miles. The night before I scrounged for 25mm road tires. You'd think with over 50 tires hanging in my basement I'd have something bigger than 23mm that could go on a road bike. Nope. So now what? My cross bike was sitting right there with 38mm tubeless tires on it. Hmmm, seemed like total overkill. But I wouldn't have to fuss with the bike at all. Just throw it in the car. So what if I had to work a little harder on the paved climbs. I just hoped the new course wasn't all pavement.

A mid morning start was nice. I could sleep in. Not having to pin a number on was nice too. No stress, just hours of fun to look forward to. I hadn't ridden in a large group in ages, so I was a little apprehensive about that. There is a certain skill to riding wheel to wheel, shoulder to shoulder, without getting sketched out or messing somebody else up. Would I get nervous? I'll let the photos portray how the day went.

Starting out with police escort

Lead group at first food stop. No rush to get back on bikes.
They had fluffnutter with blueberry and bacon sandwiches!

Timmy playing on the rocks
One of many skinny dirt roads

Many double-digit grade grinds

The Funk Meister

After second food stop, eleven of us remained in the lead group on the Hundo course.
No apprehension riding with this small group of elite riders.


I was starting to like my tire choice after hitting many sections like this. There were many
flats for the day. I could bomb the descents with my monster truck cross tires with
reckless abandon! By the end of the ride, I had no regrets.

More closed roads, please!

Tim frantically trying to get the Stan's to seal while Anthony was extolling the virtues of
his $25 tires. Eventually a tube had to go in.

Poor fella. Mighty tasty.

The venue at Black Birch Vineyards with Mt Tom in background.

This was the funnest group ride I've done in a long time. The event was extremely well organized with great food and beverage afterwards. I loved the new course segments. Hope they are kept for next year and not deemed "too challenging." 87 miles with 8550ft of climbing for the day.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Bears and Berries

Been noticing a lot of bear scat where I've been riding lately. I haven't had a close encounter with a bear in a while though. Last weekend when I hit the North Conway trails, I finished my ride by climbing up Black Cap Mtn a second time so I could ride down Red Tail Trail. On Cranmore trail along the ridge, I hit a pile of bear scat. Hmmm, that wasn't there three hours earlier. Kind of gives you pause.

Blueberries along Hemlock Trail in Bear Brook on Sunday would fall off by the handful.

Blueberries are abundant this year. I'm not particularly fond of blueberries but will stop to eat a handful from the trail when presented with them. I noticed bear scat during blueberry season looks very much like blueberry pie filling. Mmmmm! Just another reason to not like blueberry pie.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Mad River Valley

There are new riding areas lighting up all over New England in Stava's global heat map. One such area I've been keeping an eye on and getting good press is the Mad River Valley of Vermont. The Mad River Riders have been building technical trails in the greater Waitsfield area. Saturday was just the type of weather I wanted for a trip north - minimal risk of rain and too hot in southern New England.

Continuing the theme of last weekend, I kicked the ride off with a climb to Lincoln Peak summit. I climbed adjacent Mt Ellen a year or two ago. I heard Lincoln Peak was a little more doable on a bike. There's a ski area service road that goes all the way up. I've biked up just about every ski area service road in New England. Some you can cruise right up, others turn into hike-a-bike death marches. On which end of the spectrum would this 3000+ foot climb fall?

The first 800 feet were gained on pavement. Was no picnic though. Grade quickly hit 14%. There were many sections of double-digit grades. The late morning sun was already hot and beating right down on me. I put about 70oz of water in my Camelbak, thinking that would be more than enough. I was soaked in sweat before I even got to the meaty part of the climb.

There was a steady stream of cars with DH bikes on them driving up. You know, the kind that would never be pedaled up a hill. The tiny token seats are jammed all the way down and angled back. I wondered if I would be ducking for my life every 30 seconds from these guys dropping down the mountain. As I wrapped around the bottom of the chairlift, sure enough, guys were pushing their bikes up the slightest of incline to get in the lift line.

The service road started out innocuous enough. I started feeling stoked, like this is going to be a piece of cake. But ski area service roads have a way of suckering you in like that. It kept getting steeper and steeper and steeper. Then it popped out under the same lift line of guys I was sneering at earlier just when it got impossibly steep. Great, now I had an audience. What a nut job, I'm sure they thought. I managed to keep the pedals turning. Didn't get any heckles, but I'm sure they were ready with ridicule had I spun out on the loose gravel.

I cleaned the climb to the top of the DH bike lift. I still had a thousand feet to go to the summit though in very little distance! That can't be good. The road became much looser, more like talus than gravel, and hit peak grades of over 30%. I met my match. There were two brief pitches where the road was too loose and weeds to the side too dense. I hiked.  I think with hindsight and maybe a gear lower on my 2x10 drivetrain, I could clean that upper section.

The view from the top was glorious. Several hikers were passing through, as the Long Trail runs across the ridgeline. The temperature was pleasant up top, but I blew through almost all my water on the climb! I had a lot of trail riding planned before passing by the car.

The descent sucked. I couldn't believe I actually rode up that. My brakes overheated and started squealing a death screech. I had to stop a couple times to let them cool. Near the top of the DH lift, I picked up a downhill trail called Snowball. It switchbacked across an intermediate ski run all the way down. Nearly all of the 40 or so switchbacks were bermed for speed. A couple of drops gave me pause, but everything was rollable. That was a sweet payback for the climb.

Next I linked up some trails that were both on and off the map. I had hoped to hit a large number of trails in the network below the ski area, but my water was gone as I went into the woods. This was going to have to be a direct linkage of trails back to the car kind of mission.

The one trail I had to hit was Cyclone. I envisioned a flowy, curvaceous downhill run. It was anything but. Sure, some might say it has flow. Brake hard, pedal 400 Watts, brake hard, pedal 400W, over and over. It went down, but constantly scubbing what little speed you could gain just before the next grunt up over something is not my idea of flow. For those that like the STAB trails, they would probably just love this trail. A little further down, the trail Revolution was picked up to continue the descent into the valley. Now this had flow. You could actually let go of the brakes for more than two seconds at a time and not have to pedal 400 Watts ten times a minute. It looked like parts of this trail may have been machine built.

Pulling back up to the car to replenish my water, I hear my name called out. I thought I saw Louis on I-89 heading up. Erie how we keep crossing paths in random places.

I was so dehydrated I couldn't even spit, yet my shoes were squishy with sweat. Oh the irony! I was parked by a popular swimming hole and thought about just calling it a day and join the hoards of yelling kiddies. But no, my mission wasn't complete yet. There was more riding area to check out north of town.

I had no idea what Bragg Hill Rd was about. It was south facing, the day was now in the hottest part. The road hit grades of up to 16%! It seldom dropped below 12% grade. It turned to gravel part way up but was buttery smooth. I climbed another 1100ft in two miles. A couple turns brought me to the top of a trail called Old Center Fayston. Some climbing ensued to the high point, then it was all turns and grins heading down. This was mighty fine riding, still fairly technical, but nice flow. The trail merged into another called Gumball. This was even better, perfectly formed turns with modest berms. A few places it came scary close to a precipitous drop to a stream below. Just don't look down!

All good things must come to an end. Before I knew it I was back on pavement and heading through Waitsfield back to the car. To cool down and rinse off post-ride, I headed a few miles down Rt 100 to Warren Falls, a popular local swimming hole. Some travel guide sites say if you can only visit one swimming hole in Vermont, this is the one.

It must be popular, as I had trouble find a spot to legally park along the road. Cars all over. Felt a bit awkward hiking down to the gorge. Almost everybody there was less than half my age and they weren't sporting a goofy cycling tan either. Lots of beer was being consumed, smell of weed was on the breeze, and plenty of ledge jumping craziness was going on. Oh to be 20 years old again. I spent just enough time there to rinse off and take a brief plunge. Very cool place, nice clear water with a cascade of deep pools.

I liked riding here and would make the trip again to hit more of the trails. I covered about 33mi with 5800ft of climbing in 4.5hrs.  Here are a few photos from the day.

Lincoln Peak summit

Looking up section I capitulated on. Strava says it hit 30%.

Looking down the 30% section.

From summit looking west.

From summit looking east-northeast. Ski village in center, top of downhill MTB
chairlift just visible center right (green object with dirt road to it).

From summit observation deck looking south down spine of range. Long trail runs
through here and the infamous Lincoln Gap is just below.

Snowball Trail heading down.

Gumball machine in the middle of nowhere on Gumball Trail.

On of many amazingly built turns on Gumball Trail.

Warren Falls swimming hole.

Looking down the cascade of pools. Happen to catch this just as the young kid
jumped. Note the banked walls and shallow shelf in the pool. You had to make sure
you hit the center deep spot.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

A common theme?

Seems I can't head outside these days without finding a big mountain to climb. When I head to the Northeast Kingdom with a full squish mountain bike, of course I must ride up the paved auto road to the summit of Burke Mountain. That is half the point of driving that far to ride trails.

After two long days on dirt with bikes, I thought it'd be a good idea to get some hiking vertical in my legs with a planned presidential traverse coming up. Those not in the know question me, "you ride and run 600 hours per year, how could you not be in shape for a hike?" Well, there's something called delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). Some folks are more susceptible to it than others. I seem to be very susceptible to it. Another cyclist commented that hiking induced DOMS wasn't a problem until he took up cycling. There may be a connection.

Anyway, DOMS is typically caused by eccentric muscle contraction when you are not conditioned for it. Cycling, and most running on level ground, are almost all concentric muscle contraction. Eccentric is where the muscle is being stretched apart while trying to contract. This happens when hiking or running down steep grades, where the muscle must absorb energy, not produce energy.  I rarely do this, thus a long hike with many thousands of feet of descending would destroy me.

So on a whim I hit Mt Tripyramid from Waterville Valley on Sunday. I knew only where the trail was, nothing about it. I had no idea how steep and terrifying both the climb and descent were. 3000ft of descending at snail pace was still enough to give me debilitating DOMS 36hrs later. Two days later, my colleagues are making fun at how I'm walking. The presidential traverse has 3x the climbing and descending. Glad I'm finding out now how much conditioning I lack with barely any time to do something about it.

On Monday, when my company was off for 4th of July, I thought a nice, mellow, flat MTB ride would sooth my destroyed legs. I drove over to nearby FOMBA trails, with no intention of riding the flowless singletrack there. No, I was thinking more like a loop around Tower Hill Pond on fire roads and maybe out and back on snowmobile corridor Trail 15 to Bear Brook.

On the bike, I didn't feel half bad. Conditioning and all concentric muscle use make all the difference. It was a rather nice, albeit hot day. The trails were dry, deserted and riding well.  Before I knew it, I found myself at the summit Fort Mountain well past the far side of Bear Brook State Park! How did that happen on a "recovery" day?  My name is Doug Jansen, and I'm a cycloholic.

Three days in a row, a stupid steep mountain was climbed. I am a sucker for great views. I don't know of any mountain in this area that provides a better vista than Fort Mountain. On clear days, you can see Mt Washington from there. It was a white knuckle descent down the 20% loose gravel grade back to Bear Brook. So much for a recovery ride.  Hopefully by next weekend my DOMS is gone and I can start all over again.

Three days, three mountains.
At work, these would be spectrum analyzer plots...

Bear Hill Pond in Bear Brook State Park. A couple was swimming here. Hope I didn't
interrupt anything...

Summit of Fort Mountain looking toward White Mountains. Humid hazy day.

Blueberries on summit of Fort Mountain

Looking northwest from Fort Mountain

Blueberries along Hemlock Trail in Bear Brook. There are acres and acres of berries like this.
Surprised not a soul was out picking.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Is It Sacrilegious To...

On the 4th of July, I had hoped to hit the Mad River trails in Warren, VT.  As a bonus, I had also hoped to bag Lincoln Peak, a ski area peak I haven't ridden to yet (3000+ ft net gain!). The weather radar loop in the morning suggested I should go a little further north and east to minimize any chance encounter with rain. I settled for the Northeast Kingdom trails (NEK).

I try to get up to NEK at least a couple times per year. The town of East Burke and the trails that put it on the map have easily reached mecca status, on par with Moab or Crested Butte. I like NEK because I can do monster climbs, take in great views, and ride trails all day without seeing anything twice.

I think NEK is getting loved to death though. Every weekend, hundreds of riders converge on East Burke from Canada and across the USA. Trails generally stay open rain or shine. The loamy soil doesn't hold up well to such abuse. It has been a pretty wet summer. Sending hundreds of knobby tires over wet, black loam quickly creates pits of quagmire, not unlike many ATV trails in the northeast. To make matters worse, riders will tend to skirt around wet spots for myriad reasons - keeping the bike clean, fear of what lurks within, crashing, etc. This widens the trail, makes the mud holes bigger, and even braids the trail when other obstacles prevent continuous widening.

I was surprised to find my favorite NEK trails pretty messy on the 4th. These are all part of the Burke Mtn trail system. They tend to be the last to dry out in spring and after rain. I thought it hadn't rained in at least a few days there. To make matters worse, Dead Moose Alley was logged this winter. The logging operation obliterated some of the drainage structures. Long stretches of the trail were saturated, severely braided and generally unrideable with logging slash mixed in.

So I started thinking deep thoughts. Am I just so absorbed into the thought that NEK is The Place to ride in New England that I'm blind to anything that says otherwise? I drive 5+ hours round trip, pay $15 trail fee, to ride crowded, braided trails that trash my bike. Why? Is it sacrilegious to think of NEK in this light?  NEK seems to be a religion to some. I could ride better maintained, less abused trails much closer to home.

Don't get me wrong. I thoroughly enjoyed my ride on the 4th.  I won't stop going there. There are several other comparable destinations to ride in New England today, thanks to the efforts of NEMBA and other local trail building groups. North Conway, NH provides an experience closest to what I seek out west. The growing STAB trail network in Brownsville, VT is gaining notoriety. Close to home I have Bear Brook State Park, 10,000 acres chocked full of NEMBA built singletrack. With so many premium choices, NEK starts to drop down the list of best places to ride in New England.

Looking west(ish) from fire tower on Burke summit

Looking south from the fire tower

Willoughby Gap from part way down the summit road

Braiding through wet section on Dead Moose Alley trail

Burke Mountain from Heaven's Bench

Red clover and other flowers on Darling Hill

Lowell fireworks from UMass Lowell parking garage upper deck