Saturday, August 27, 2016

Kearsarge 2016

This has been the summer of having fun.  Any thoughts of structured training have been abandoned. I ride for enjoyment and mental health. Up until last summer, I primarily cycled in the summer months with touch of running thrown in. The running was never really much fun. I did it for bone health. This summer however, cycling has been diluted with hiking. Hiking is fun. The pace is slower for sure, and most hikes don't involve adrenaline spikes, but endorphin enhanced flow states are surely attained.

So why sign up for a hillclimb race then?  I hadn't even been on a road bike in like two months. It's fun to test yourself once in a while, see how bad you suck or if you still have it. You get to ride and socialize with good peeps. Testing yourself against a mountain is one of the safest forms of cycling competition. Plus I like to support small, local events.

The Kearsarge hillclimb race is put on by the Hopkington Rotary Club. They do a fine job with all aspects of the event. Hillclimb races are falling off the calendar like road races have been for a while now. Seems gravel grinders are all the rage these days. Still though, I was encouraged to see many first-timers at Kearsarge today. Registration numbers went from 40 to 80 in the last week with some day-of registrants. Enough to bring this event back next year, but we'll have to grow that number to keep it going.

A few asked about my website. Lycos hosted it for 15 years. I kept my domain name registered through them. Somehow in May, they lost my domain name. They insisted they were working on it and to sit tight, they'll get me back up in no time. Days turned into weeks turned into months. They told me I should contact a third party non-US registration company to get it back. I did, and they wanted ridiculous fee. I have no idea how this can happen, and if this was a business domain name, it would have gone legal. But alas, was just a self-funded overflow of my passion for cycling. I was not going to be extorted, nor did I have the time to mess with it. So after a two month battle, I told Lycos to go f*ck themselves, in so many words, and cancelled my account. I filed a nasty review with the BBB and protested two months charges with credit card company, which I got back.

But wouldn't you know it, the same day I told Lycos to get lost, another north easterner bought my domain name at auction and started a new website. Former visitors pointed out some of my original content started appearing on this new website. What?! I was able to get in touch with the new owner and mentioned he needed permission to use it. He meant no harm, noticing all the failed requests to his new domain name, realizing that it was pretty popular before. He put archived pages up with same URLs so people could find what they were looking for. Not sure what direction he will take yet, but last check my content has been removed. You can find most of it archived on the Way Back Machine. I will likely resurrect some form of the original website under a new domain name.

Back to Kearsarge. I worked through last weekend to meet a deadline and took Thursday through Sunday off this weekend. With a huge cycling trip to Colorado coming up in a week, I wanted to get lots of trail volume in. How would that work out going into a time trial up a mountain? Good "training" for Colorado, I figured, where you get up everyday and do a big ride or hike in the mountains.

We lined up at 9:30am. Temp came up way faster than I expected. It was humid. My goal like last year was to do whatever it took to stay with the young studs over that first 200ft wall, then sit in until getting to the steep toll road to the summit.

Well, they didn't totally kill it over that first wall near the start. That meant I and about 30 others were still part of the lead group. Not much of a selective advantage there. But then the attacks started on the many rollers over the next 3 miles to the mountain road. Lack of VOmax work this summer and tiredness from two days of trail riding left me with nothing to respond to these efforts.  I gave up half way to the real climb, thinking any seconds I gain by staying with the kids would more than be lost going against the mountain. I'd burn way too many matches before the real work began.

I was dismayed at how quickly the lead pack of 10 or so riders vanished. I was in no man's land for a bit, eventually trading places with Mark Virello and one other rider. Peter Megdal, who is in my age group, made an effort to stay with the leaders. He was gone. I wondered if I had just made a tactical error.

The first mile after the toll gate is the steepest mile in the eight mile race. It averages about 12% grade. It didn't take long before I started seeing Peter again. Getting reeled in quickly, he was.  Maybe sitting up during all those explosive efforts was not such a stupid move after all.

We passed Peter. I still wasn't feeling very competitive. After the first steep mile, there are bits that level off and even a couple slight downhills on the way up. There was a bit of cat and mouse going on, like nobody wanted to give anybody more draft benefit than they deserved, no matter how minuscule it was. I was certainly guilty.

Then I started pondering. Do I go all the way to the finish with these two and trust my mad fast-twitch Watts to not lose a couple spots? I knew Mark but wasn't sure what age group he was in. Then I thought naw, I might as well see what I could do now with two miles to go. I didn't feel like I had mad fast twitch Watts anymore anyway. It worked, just barely, finishing 8 seconds ahead of Mark. Turned out he's in next age group now.

Only 18 seconds slower than last year, which is nothing to be disappointed about. I turn 55 next year, which bumps me into the next age category at some events. I may actually get back into training mode and do more races. I find that passion alone gets you 95% of the way potential fitness. If you have lots of passion for your sport, you don't have to rely on regimented training programs to maintain a high level of fitness. I may not do the 5x4 minute VOmax efforts I used to, but passion pushes me to ride hard every week. Achieving that last few percent performance is costly. I haven't been in the mindset to go there this year. Yet in the bigger picture of the general population, just riding for enjoyment will easily put you in the top few percent of health and fitness. Isn't that what matters most?

It was a gorgeous day, and no climb is complete without the summit. The toll road parking lot stops a few hundred feet shy of the summit via a ledgy hiking trail. I sent up hiking shoes ahead of time, quickly changed, then sprinted up to the summit.  I was amazed at how agile I felt without backpack and without poles. I could actually use my arms for balance hopping across boulders! I took a couple photos up top. I learned how idiots taking selfies die. I wasn't paying attention (not taking a selfie), took a step back without looking, not realizing there was nothing to step onto behind me! Go for a tumble, I did. My second best camera went bouncing down the granite dome. Knee got bloodied up. Mostly just granite rash. I was lucky hip and shoulder checks didn't brake bones. Camera didn't fare well. Have to take apart to see if salvageable.

Part way up trail looking down on parking lot/finish line

Summit looking towards the Whites after I dropped my camera. What is black spot?

Finish area after short hike

Heading back down the trail, again I felt so light on my feet with no pack or poles, like I could almost run on that crud. Maybe I was just hopped up on race endorphins and it was all in my head. Did make me ponder possibilities.

50-59 podium

No big hike or ride after the race this year. Some home projects have been neglected for too long. One day remaining of my four day weekend. Hike or bike?

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Mini Presi-tour: Dreaming of Colorado

I started the Hill Junkie blog in 2007 as an overflow of my passion for climbing by bicycle. At the time, I had no idea I would some day take up hiking. Cycling is still my primary passion, especially off-road cycling. My weekends over the past year are quite different than from a few years ago. Recover a little leading up to the weekend, then do a leg crushing 4-5hr ride on Friday or Saturday. I used to ride again the next day at a mellower pace, but not anymore. I go hiking!

Not that hiking is easy. Some hikes start out with a 3000ft climb in just a few miles with no warm-up going into the climb. I love long monotonic climbs. I quickly get into a grove, a nice steady tempo pace and find my flow state. Climbing a steep mountain on foot can put me in a flow state quicker than riding can. Maybe it's the slower, rhythmic pace of it. I've felt this way about skate skiing too.

This weekend I pushed myself pretty hard on a 50 mile trail ride near the coast on Saturday, hitting Bradley-Palmer, Willowdale and Georgetown-Rowley state forests. There are many miles of near road bike speeds mingled in my loop, but there is a healthy dose of super chunky New England tech in there too. Couldn't even walk right after that one.

Then Sunday, I headed up to the White Mountains on a whim. I said I wasn't going to fight the traffic on I-93 coming back again, but funny how a week goes by, you miss the mountains, and forget how bad 93 sucks southbound on Sunday evenings. A loop I threw together in my head would climb Ammonoosuc Ravine Trail, loop over Mt Monroe, head north over Mt Washington, loop over Mt Clay, then down Jewell Trail. I had not hiked any of this stuff west of the ridgeline before. Had wanted to hike Ammo for a while now.

Forecast showed slight chance of rain in the area, but Mt Washington Observatory said in and out of the clouds, windy and high in the 40's. Sounded good to me. There was a ranger with info table set up at the Ammo trailhead lot at 10am. Summit looked very dark and scary. I asked if it was raining up there, he said no, but probability goes way up at 11am and up more later in day. Great. Takes about an hour to reach the ridge. Some warm layers and Goretex went in the pack. I was surprised how much parking space was left in the lot. Where was everybody? Many of the other lots driving up were only partially full too.

I felt half-way decent heading up Ammo. Didn't take long to overtake most of the people that started much earlier. Overheard comments I've heard many times now while heading up. I'm in cruise mode, light to moderate tempo pace, which means not breathing very hard, not audibly anyway. People see I use poles and see I can scoot right up steep slab or big steppy stuff. Not hardly breathing. Then I hear "see dear, that's what we need!" Or "see, that's how you do it!" Implying that all you need are poles and they too, can scoot right up steep stuff without slowing down.  Little do they know I bring two decades of competitive cycling fitness to hiking.

Falls on Ammo. A dip would be nice, then I'd spoil all those prize photos people try to capture here.

Cascades further up Ammo

Looking over cascades on Ammo

I have never gone against the clock on a hike. I am curious, maybe give an uphill a go sometime. Chris Dailey better watch out! Just kidding. The thing is, I suck-ass going down. I'm pretty sure on most terrain in a time-trial scenario, I will be faster going up than back down the same trail. This would be particularly true of the trails I hiked today.

It took about 70 minutes to reach the Lakes Hut. Mt Monroe was in the clear. Bonus! But I no more than started heading over to Monroe when the whole ridge just suddenly blanked out with clouds. Crap! I had forgotten to put a memory card in my good camera anyway, so maybe I won't be so mad about that now and just enjoy being socked in my own little world.

I was soaking wet with sweat and the temp was probably not more than 50F and the wind was really ripping. I stopped to pull off my soaked top and put a dry long sleeve thermal layer on. It was cold enough to make my nose run and wind was whipping snot all over my glasses. The Presidential Range in August!

As I climbed the wee bump that Monroe is, the orographic cloud deck started to lift again. Maybe I would snag a view or two after all. As I approached the summit and visibility improved, I realized there was nobody else on the summit! A Presi peak to myself on a weekend in August? It was one year ago this weekend that I completed a Presi-traverse, and the peaks around Mt Washington were mobbed.

Lakes of the Clouds Hit. A photo can't depict how dynamic this view was. This clouds were forming in place and ripping over the ridge at 50-60mph.

Posing near Mt Monroe summit, devoid of people

From Mt Monroe, looking back at Lakes, Mt Washington directly in background socked in

Ah, that's more like it! The southern Presi's.

After spending a few minutes there, I hopped down the south side, got on the Crawford Path and headed back to the Lakes Hut. Mt Washington was still socked in with very dark clouds. There were more people now, but not mad numbers. I could still keep a pretty good rhythm going and rarely got bogged down. Most stops were of my own doing to take photos.

For an instant, the cloud deck almost lifted above the Washington summit. Just a teaser. As I approached the summit, visibility was terribly poor, maybe only 50ft at times. Most people up there were dressed almost for winter. The towers and buildings were catching condensation, and the wind was ripping it off, making it feel like it was raining up there. But it wasn't.

The teaser. Mt Washington summit almost in the clear.

Looking back at Mt Monroe while approaching Mt Washington summit cone. Where is everybody?

Further up summit cone, passed a few peeps on the way

Ugh. Couldn't see squat as I popped out on the summit

Only a handful of people waiting to get summit photo. Mostly winter clothes up here.

Choo-choo. Diesel. Do they run the coal engine anymore?

I next planned to take Gulfside trail down to Mt Clay, but I couldn't find it! I went in circles in the abyss. Found Nelson Crag. Not it. Found Crawford. The way I came up, not it. Gulf side was supposed to be in the middle, but I couldn't see shit. Finally I found it behind Tip Top House. Maybe there was a sign out front somewhere, but I couldn't find it.

Going down Gulfside Trail was pretty tricky. My legs were getting a little noodly (remember I destroyed them on the bike the day before?). It was loose scree. As I reached the saddle with Mt Clay, I turned around to see Mt Washington summit in the clear now. Figures! Not all was lost. The rest of the northern Presi's were in the clear now too, and that view across the Great Gulf Wilderness does not suck.

The Great Gulf Wilderness with Jefferson, Adams and Madison flanking the north side

Mt Clay in the clear now

Mt Washington in the clear, now that I'm not up there anymore! Two cog cars coming down.

I passed a couple others dropping down the Mt Washington summit cone. A cog rail train was heading up. An AT through-hiker, a woman, said oh shoot, AT hikers are supposed to moon passing cog trains! That's hilarious, I hadn't heard that one before.

Once I got off Washington's summit cone and started hitting the Mt Clay humps, there were no other people in sight. Again unexpected, to have another Presi peak to myself on what was turning out to be a fine day above treeline.

Hiking down the north side of Clay was also super challenging. Lots of unstable footing there. I had hiked up that last year and probably thought nothing of it going up at the time. Little did I know, that once I dropped 500ft down to pick up the Gulfside Trail again to head back to Jewell Trail, I'd be climbing right back up most of those 500ft on unstable rock!

Mt Jefferson. Not a person in sight. Kinda wanted to keep going that way, but then how would I get back to my car?!

The Great Gulf headwall and Washington summit

Heading down Mt Clay with Jefferson opposite. Strapped my t-shirt to Camelbak in hopes it would dry out before putting it on again at lower elevation.

Mt Clay loop trail. Super hard on my ankles.

Cog Railroad base center, Bretton Woods ski area beyond

Jewell Trail just before it tips off ridge into treeline.

I read somewhere that Jewell was the easiest trail to Mt Washington summit. I thought there was nothing easy about the top 1000ft of vertical of Jewell. Once back below treeline though, the lose rock turned into stable footing the rest of the way down.

Turned out to be a great little hike, about 5500ft of climbing in 12 miles. It was nearly a pure loop. Hikes like these have all the attributes of what I look for in bike loops too. Monster climbs, challenging terrain, and great scenery.

In four weeks I head to Colorado for two weeks. My mountain bike will go with me, but also my hiking gear. The trip will still be cycling-centric. More than half of the days will be riding-only. One or two days may have short spur hikes to 13er summits during rides. 2-4 days will be hiking-only days, where I plan to hit some of the 14ers. I will value some of the less popular, perhaps less accessible hikes for some solitude and get away from motor vehicles. There are many expansive wilderness areas in SW Colorado to find some solitude. I ordered a PLB transponder, as most areas I will go into have no cell phone coverage. Have to keep the misses happy. Looking forward to Colorado.