Monday, July 29, 2013

Riding on the Cape

We went to Cape Cod for a week again this year and stayed in Chatham.  While it's not my absolute favorite part of the Cape - I marginally prefer Wellfleet, particularly the Gulf of Maine side - it makes a lot of sense as my wife's aunt and uncle live there, another aunt, uncle, and cousin were also renting there, my wife's sister and family were also renting close by, and other aunts and uncles live nearby.  And Chatham does have its nice points, besides getting to spend quality time with Heidi's extended family, some of whom live pretty far away for most of the year.  These include the warmer water of Nantucket Sound, proximity to Chatham Light Beach and Monomoy Island (we will walk down the island one day when the boys are older), and Bridge Street, which the boys really enjoy.  This year they loved the bounce they felt when the trucks drove over the drawbridge and the older boy enjoyed another family catching crabs.  They did this with a stick with a string tied to it, with the string tied to a close pin.  The close pin held a piece of a squid and the crab grabs the squid and the child lands it in a net.  It was fascinating for the older boy and a little scary for the little guy.  So Chatham is really nice and very family friendly, especially for our family.  One day we will take two trips to the Cape and one will be in the more remote Wellfleet area, assuming we can afford it.

In any case, we did bring 3 bikes to the Cape: my Surly, my wife's child carrying Miyata 215 mixte, and her road bike, a 1999 Cannondale.  We ended up using all 3 bikes.

We did a breakfast ride from Marion's Pie Shop (parking here is not really possible so don't try it).  The route was lovely until about 8.5 miles into the ride when we were forced  to take Route 28.  I had done a similar ride last year but started at 5:30 and didn't hit traffic.  We started at 8AM this time and traffic was fast on the state road.  We intended to get off 28 at Bay Road but bailed at Training Field Road because of the traffic.  We found our way to our intended destination, the Corner Store for breakfast burrritos.  The ride back on Route 137 was predictably harsh.  We should have bailed at Morton Road, which intersects the bike path just west of 137.

I got out on my own one day when the boys were entertained and well taken care of by family.  I did the basic bike path route from Marion's out to Rock Harbor and back.  It was an overcast day so traffic on the path was light, except near Nickerson State Park and Orleans.  It was a 34 mile ride, done at 14.0 MPH.  I enjoyed the ride and it is always fun to see Rock Harbor.  The tide was out when I was there:


I rode my Surly and packed more than I needed:


We also did a short beach run on the two child carrying bikes, the Miyata and the Surly.

My wife was not thrilled with riding on the road and I can't blame her.  The roads are narrow and the traffic is fast and heavy.  You can get away with road riding early mornings but you need a lot of resolve to do it when traffic is heavy.

Total miles for the year: 1639.


Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Gearing for the mountains

I recently rode the Ride Studio Cafe's Highpoint ride (which was fabulous).  As part of the prep for the ride, I spoke with Rob and Patria regarding gearing.  Their suggestion was for a 30 tooth ring for my cassette, which Jeff, RSC's mechanic, agreed with.  This would give me a minimum gearing of 34/30, something that should, in principle, get me up anything without loaded panniers and be somewhat compatible with a short cage derailleur.  I have made it up the steep section of Hurricane Mountain Road with 34/25 gearing.  That road has a 1.8 mile stretch with 983 feet of elevation gain.  It's comparable to, but shorter than the steepest road on the Hightpoint route, Whitcomb Hill Road.   But I had to stand and grind my way up Hurricane Mountain Road, which I did in the middle of a 65 mile ride that included Bear Notch Road but was otherwise flat to rolling.  And after the Whitcomb climb, I then had to climb Mount Greylock, which was a long hard climb, though, in some ways, less difficult than Whitcomb.

With the new gearing I was able to make it up to Whitcomb's Summit and to climb Mount Greylock and I don't think I could have done so with the 34/25 gearing.  It was, in short, a good decision.  Whitcomb's was a bear - it was unrelentingly steep, including a 2 mile stretch with more than a 10% grade and peaking at a nearly 20% grade.  And Greylock was just long and hard.  Even with the easier gearing, I had to stop several times to let my heart rest.  I didn't have a monitor but given my reading of my pulse, I was near my maximum heart rate for much of the ascent and breaks, while short, were necessary.  Mercifully, the upper part of the climb was not nearly as steep as the lower part of the climb.  And I got to enjoy a great view of the summit.  It looks far away here but I was within two miles and 400 feet of the summit:


There were and are some issues.  When I first rode my bike with the new gearing, I managed to jam the chain by shifting into the 30 tooth ring while in the 50 tooth ring on the crank.  This produced disastrous results.  I didn't realize it at the time (though I certainly noticed the rough pedaling) but I had bent my derailleur.  I also put my my rear wheel out of true, considerably so.  I emailed Patria at RSC with an emergency repair request that evening and she advised me to drop my bike off in the morning, one day before the Highpoint ride.  I had a very busy day at work that day and could barely afforded the time but I wouldn't be using the IF unless I had it fixed.  Jeff didn't know all of the details but promised to do what he could.  Patria explained later that I couldn't use the 50/30 combination in any circumstances and if I did, I could expect big issues.  Jeff straightened the derailleur and trued the wheel (both look perfect, again) and installed a Campy chain, which he trusts more than the Connex Whipperman chain I was using.  It was buttery smooth and I was ready to ride.

It took some concentration to keep out of the 50/30 combination and in doing so, the derailleur works just fine.  I don't recommend this combination generally because you can get yourself caught in a jam far from home with one inappropriate shift.  But it worked for me.  I have the old rings, which are still in good shape, and may move back to the 12/25 set for the fall.

I did some riding in the White Mountains of New Hampshire this weekend and, for various reasons, including 7 miles of dirt on each ride, I chose to take my Surly Cross Check, which has an even easier minimum gearing: 30/32.


Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Tripoli Road and Thornton Gap

I have wanted to ride Tripoli Road in the White Mountains of New Hampshire since I first saw it several years ago when skiing into the Greeley Ponds and Mad River Notch from Livermore Road near Waterville Valley.  Tripoli Road isn't plowed in the winter and while it might be a decent ski, it was more appealing to ski on the narrower trails rather than an unplowed road and the narrow trails led to what I know to be an interesting destination.  I did drive part of it once, from Route 93, to climb Mount Tecumseh in the mid 90s but I only drove to the trail head and back to the highway.  So when the family reunion was planned for the Woodstock, NH area, I planned a ride: head south on NH 175 to Upper Mad River Road, follow Upper Mad River to NH 49 to Tripoli Road.  I was very familiar with NH 49, which is a beautiful drive in the winter and a very nice drive to the trail head for the Welch Dickey hike during the summer or fall (which is well worth doing - the views for the effort are quite rewarding).

I tried the route counter clockwise early on the morning of July 4th.  The day would be very hot but the morning was comparatively cool with some fog.  I rode my Surly Cross Check, which is equipped with dynamo powered lighting and wore my reflector vest.  While I started out after sunrise, I tend to be more cautious and try to be more visible in areas where people may not be expecting cyclists, especially early in the mornings.  The ride south on 175 was almost 8 miles of steep rollers - the road is well outside the lowlands of the Pemigewasset River and the road was largely empty and rural.  Upper Mad River Road was even more rural and quieter - I don't think any cars passed me that morning - and just as hilly.  Route 49 was also quiet at that early hour and was quite lovely and much easier on my sleepy muscles.  I had great views of Mounts Welch and Dickey and the slopes of Osceola and Tecumseh.  Route 49 and the first leg of Tripoli Road was in great shape - very fresh pavement and painted lines.  But once I passed the parking for skiing into Mad River Notch, the pavement was either in good condition or torn up in places.  And I was surprised to see that the east side of the road was paved at all.  The pavement ended at the summit of Thornton Gap (about 2300 feet).  The descent on the unpaved section of Tripoli Road was fine although it wasn't fast for me as I braked heavily.  I passed the guard station on the road (all locked up).  There is dispersed camping on the road but you need permits to do so, which are available at the station .  There were a number of cars parked on the road and there were occupied campsites near the cars.  Many people were active by then (I started the ascent around 6:30AM).  In some ways it was like driving through a very long, very dispersed campground.

The ride was fun to do and a very nice route generally.  I did the ride on 700x32 tires but I saw another cyclist doing it on a Specialized road bike with 700x23 tires (although he did the ride in reverse after recently flatting on his front tire, nearly catastrophically, on the dirt descent).  The ride was somewhat hilly, about 2800 feet of climbing in 30 miles according to ridewithgps.com.  The surprising thing to me was the amount of climbing besides the main climb on Tripoli Road.  The hills were fairly steep and frequent, except on Route 49.

I did the ride in reverse on Saturday afternoon in the heat (with ice cold water, thankfully).  The ascent up to Thornton Gap was about 1500 feet in 7 miles and unrelenting (call it an hour of exercise near my maximum heart rate).  But the payoff, besides the cool breeze on the summit of the gap, was the long, fast descent in the Mad River Valley.  I think I would choose the clockwise route if I were to do this ride in the future.



The unmarked, nondescript summit of Thornton Gap.  The road turns to dirt right at the summit.  There were no steep sections and the surface was in great shape.



A section of the paved east side of Tripoli Road.  It was more of a wide paved trail through the woods than a road.


A downed Luna Moth.  I had only known about these from The Very Quiet Cricket by Eric Carle.  It was noticeably large and the color stood out on the fresh pavement so I had to stop to confirm what it was.



My ride for the two trips.  It wasn't meant to be light.  I carried extra liquids and a lock in the pannier.  Both remained unused.

Total mileage for the long weekend: 60 miles, total elevation gain: about 5600 feet.


Monday, July 1, 2013

Greylock: Been there, done that

The long planned for High Point ride weekend is now in the past.  It was as fun as advertised, if not even more so.  The riding was fabulous, the routes were exciting, the company entertaining and fun, and the support amazing.  In short, it was well worth the cost and the training time, and, maybe, the stress that it put on my family (all of that June riding when I was away from my family, and the weekend itself).  I rode my 2007 Independent Club Racer with 700x25mm tires and a 13/30 rear cassette.  The gearing turned out to be the minimum I needed.  In short, I did it but it was not easy.

There were a lot of great cyclists on the ride.  Some are well known to me by reputation, like the_wilcox, Fixie Pixie, and Fear Rothar ( I had chatted with the latter two briefly in the past), and others are people I have not met, read about, or otherwise knew about but were strong, smart cyclists and great companions.  The two Ride Studio Cafe owners, Rob and Patria, were great riding companions as well.  I didn't see Rob and Patria until the Summit, both having started in Lexington.  Their crew were fabulous, particularly Steve, Mark, Roger, and Christiano on the road and Drew and Ariela in Lexington.

The ride was designed by Fixie Pixie and she did a great job.  She takes some pride in introducing people to quiet roads new to them and I think she succeeded here.  That I happened to do a lot of exploring in this area in the past doesn't mean that I enjoyed the ride any less than if it was all new.  It was a great way to get the northern most tier of Massachusetts and then cut back in the middle, avoiding more climbing in the south,  find a quieter bridge to cross the Connecticut River, and aiming to pass to the north of the Quabbin Reservoir.  On the way out we hit the deepest cut in the hills in the upper Deerfield valley (and found one of the steepest hills in Massachusetts) and then had a much more moderate return trip on her route.  In short, I liked what she did for us.

Riding steep hills is in many ways a solo pursuit. There is no drafting and trying to keep pace with someone faster or slower than oneself is more difficult for me than trying to climb alone.  So while this was very much a group endeavor, I spent a lot of time on the road alone and that worked for me.

I will invariably confuse some names, for which I apologize in advance.

I had planned on the 70 mile version, leaving from the Erving State Forest, but timing with family made that impossible.  I made it out of the house by 10 and was at the Greenfield site not long after noon, having passed through a very light sprinkle, and waited for a bit while the crew arrived.  Roger, Steve, and Steve's wife quickly set up a table and made everyone comfortable.  There was lots of food available and coffee (which I later regretted having).  Jutta and Jeff took off quickly.  Jutta asked that I start with Andrea, who was soon ready and then we were off!

I was pretty familiar with most of the route, from just east of Colrain to the bottom of Whitcombs Hill Road but that didn't stop me from enjoying the ride.  The first few miles, once I passed I91 was lovely, a typical New England road following a stream.  If you love western Massachusetts as I do, you would have enjoyed the sounds of the stream and the look of the surrounding forest, despite the heat and the humidity.  Soon Andrea realized our paces were off and asked me to continue on alone, which I did so.  I enjoyed the long climb up and think I spotted the place were we joined the 2009 D2R2 route on Greenfield Road.  I again enjoyed the lightning fast descent into Route 112, hitting 48.4 MPH, according to my computer.  Believe it or not, I held back.  This road has real potential for speed, more than what I can handle on my IF with the narrow tires I use.  I did well during the D2R2 on the Surly, using 700x32mm tires and a slightly longer wheelbase.

What was amusing about the second leg, heading up to Rowe, MA, was that I had done this route several times in the past, always in reverse of what we were doing on Saturday, and didn't always recognize the roads.  It was handy having the Garmin along, to follow the bread crumb trail, even if it lagged behind some times.  Mark met us at a street corner at the turn from Number Nine Road.  Jeff was long gone and Jutta was ready to go, which she did shortly. I talked with Mark some and met John and Pamela, who arrived on their new-ish and very striking Seven tandem along with a couple of other riders, including John on his Spooky.  Seeing these folks reminded me to get going lest I miss the 12 MPH sweep, since they were all faster than me, even if they had many more miles on their legs by then.  I headed up the slight uphill run to find the generally fast downhill run into the Deerfield River valley.

Passing by what I believe is the Archambo Road from the long D2R2 ride:



The river was a happening place.  Water was high and many kayaks and rafts were making their way downstream  It was sort of like a parade, with the boats on the river and the boaters walking back upstream, sometimes with a kayak on their shoulders.

A section of the river without boats:


The next section was the hardest, as forewarned by Pamela.  It was Whitcomb Hill Road from the Deerfield River to Whitcomb's Summit on Route 2.  It looks like this on Ride With GPS:


It's a bit hard to read but look at the right side scale.  That is the grade, drawn with a gray line, which is at or above 10% for 2 of the 2.5 miles and peaks at 20%.  This is clearly a hard ride and was harder than Greylock.  I was passed on the ascent by one person and didn't feel all that bad about it.

Christiano managed the rest stop at the summit and ensured we were well fed and hydrated and were aware that the planned stop in North Adams would not materialize so encouraged us to take what we needed for the ascent of Greylock.

Me at Whitcomb's Summit in my stylish reflector vest, just in case the 50% forecast of thunderstorms didn't turn out our way and I needed to be more visible (we were lucky and most of the day the skies looked like this):


Perhaps foolishly, I took off with John and Pamela on their tandem and Dave on his endurance bike.  They ride together frequently and are easily far out of my league.  They set a fast pace over to the descent and then rode down the hill quickly, slowing some at the hairpin turn before the final descent into North Adams.  I wasn't all that far behind and caught up after we all missed a turn on our GPS - something that I noticed frequently when driving with an Android mapping/GPS app and on the Garmin: you can speed past your GPS reading.

The ascent up Greylock, while not as hard as Whitcomb, was hard enough.  I never would have made either of the hills without the 34/30 gearing and even with it I had to stop 5 or 6 times on Greylock to rest and get some oxygen (as in breathe deeply).  The road was narrow and winding with little traffic.  When I saw the summit, I knew it was doable.

Approaching the summit:


Amazingly, I was fifth person (and my bike was the fourth bike) at the summit.  It paid to start 50 miles out, rather than the 115 miles out that the others in front of me did, so there was really no comparison.  And, if I did start 65 miles earlier in the ride than I did, then I would have been far, far behind.  As it was, I was still fresh and also pretty psyched.  It was a great ride so far.  It was cool at the summit and I put on a long sleeve polypro shirt under my jersey and waited for the lodge staff to sort things out and for the vans to arrive with our bags.  At the base, around 5:30, I predicted that I would be at the summit by 7:30.  I believe I made it by 7:05.  The ride was 51 miles with about 7500 feet of climbing.  I averaged 11.0 MPH.  I think all of my training made it possible, if not easy.  I certainly couldn't have done this ride in the beginning of June. The ride ranks as one of the harder days of riding I have experienced.

Light on the summit beacon around 7:30PM:


Evening at Bascom Lodge was quite fun.  I was initially talking with John and Pamela (and I owe John a beer, or a cup of coffee) and then other riders came in.  Once the room situation was sorted out and the van with the bags arrived, I took a shower and came back to the main room.  It was a very festive atmosphere.  Dinner was served late but not too late for my tastes.  Lots of pasta, shrimp, and a salad, along with water, was a great recovery meal for me.  Late into dinner, around 10:30PM, the last van arrived, along with the last two cyclists, Patria and Katie.  It was exciting to see them come in, having persevered through a very long day and climbing the two hardest hills so late in the day.  I know Patria has raced in the past.  I've known other athletes who seem to draw energy out of nowhere and these two riders seemed to do just that so late in the day.  It was quite impressive.

I spent some time in the evening watching Dave and Roger make bike repairs with less than optimal lighting.  They were amazing.  The fleet of bicycles parked in the porch, were they were working, was the equivalent of the bikes at the studio in Lexington.

Sunday morning came after a nearly sleepless night.  The caffeine of my noon coffee wound me up too much to sleep well.  I very rarely have caffeinated coffee because of how it keeps me awake hours after I consumed it and this result wasn't surprising.

The first nice thing about getting up was seeing Steve smiling, ready to make my favorite morning beverage.  Unfortunately he had no decaf beans but I actually needed the caffeine on Sunday and his cappuccino was very tasty.

A portable coffee bar, with Katie modeling:


I found breakfast served in the dining room and enjoyed several other riders' company.  The weather outside was promising, despite the clouds in the valley.


I don't think we got out on time for our 7AM departure.  After we were all ready we realized that some of us, expecting to descend more slowly, had already left.  The rest of congregated at the summit for group pictures.

The photographers, Patria and Leon:


Looking at the map, the second day looked far easier for me than the first day.  The total elevation gain was only 4500 feet and the first 10 miles was a crazy fast descent off of Greylock.  On the descent I rode mostly with Patria and we managed to have something of a conversation at speed - although it was too hard to hear everything she said at 35 MPH or faster.  I was, of course, overdressed for the descent and was warm when I finally unloaded my jacket at Christiano's rest stop, right before the climb to Route 116.

The ascent was fine, if slow.  Some people were ahead of me and some people were behind me.  There was nothing especially steep about the road.  I had been on it in the past and knew what to expect and it was fine.  Once we made it to Route 8A in Savoy, I knew we had a generally downhill run, with some big rollers until Ashfield.  And once in Ashfield, I knew we had a downhill run to the river, except for a short climb out of the South River Valley in Conway.  I met Christiano in South Deerfield and after a too long stop, headed up to Greenfield.  The River Road route was nice and very quiet until crossing the Deerfield River into Greenfield.  Then it was a 3 or 4 mile slog on a very warm stretch of Route 5 and finally to my car.  There was about 4500 feet of climbing over 68 miles.  We also lost 2700 feet of elevation coming down Greylock. I average 15.8 MPH.  It was my sixth ride over 60 miles this year and my longest ride of the year (and of the previous two years as well).

All in all it was a fabulous trip and was very well supported.  I find that I can easily stretch my limits, or have an easier time within my limits, if people are plying me with great food, cold water (with additives that I appreciated) and had great company, most of whom were faster than me. The first day was quite hard and while I had lots of energy after the climb, I'm not completely sure that I would have had the energy for the 70 miler and certainly would not have tried the 115 miler, let alone the ride from Lexington.

After the ride, I found the next rest stop, which was on my way home, and picked up two riders, Drew and Geneen, who needed to get to Westminster.  That was a convenient errand as I had to get gas before too long and they were great company.  And I had plenty of space for their two bikes.  I bid adieu to Patria, Rob, and Drew at that rest stop and that was the end of the ride for me.  Others gathered at the Studio in Lexington while I made cars with Legos.


I made one serious error.  I left the course for about five minutes in Ashfield to say hello to old, dear friends who live less than 100 meters off the route.  In that five minutes Mark was checking riders on the course and didn't spot me as he passed where I otherwise would have been.  That caused a lot of unnecessary work and consternation, for which I apologize. I am well accustomed to riding on my own and doing what I please. That didn't work out here but it least it didn't cause great harm.