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.

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