Monday, March 27, 2017

So where is spring anyhow?

It has been a fabulous winter for the most part. Cathy and I have spend the majority of the season up at our camp in the NEK. We had a good close to the cyclocross season with the USA Cycling National Championships right here in New England and welcomed the snow, which almost on cue hit up north night before Christmas. We've had solid snowpack ever since, despite a pair of thaws in mid and late January and then a finicky February, which saw above average temps.

We started off the winter season with an excellent fat bike race in Northfield, VT, the Fat Santa. The conditions were pretty insane with about a foot of fresh snow and six inches of powder falling the night before the event. It was crazy but a perfect holiday event and a really good way to kick off the season and great to support our friends at Bicycle Express. From there we got in lots and lots of fat biking at Kingdom Trails with some very, very good conditions for a long stretch. Wedged in between we also did a little bike of riding on the cyclocross bikes and also competed in the National Championships in Hartford, CT in some, challenging conditions.

From there it was back to VT and back on the fat bikes. Lots of riding at KT as well as some packing and riding the trails at Victory Hill Sector as well made for some great fun. Before we knew it the Moose Brook Fat Bike Race was upon us. This race was the first fat bike race that Cathy and I ever did, way back in 2014 when we were first getting into fat biking. Through this race we met some of our dearest friends. The Friday before the race we worked to pack and groom the trails with the Coos Cycling Club and then had a party afterwards. This year the race itself hit right in the midst of the second thaw that we had in January, with a bunch of snow hitting us in between. January weather was manic with some crazy cold and some above normal warm. This played havoc with conditions late in the month and made the race, a challenge for the racers. One lap of mostly riding followed by lots of running and riding the rut. Still, great fun, excellent people and a wonderful event. That pretty much rounded out January for us up here in the north.

If January was manic then February was just insane. Harsh cold followed by early summer warm periods, made for a jumbled month. The first few weeks of the month were traditional mid winter and we got hammered with snow. Way above average amount in fact. There was cold mixed in as well with all of that snow, to the north at least. Lots of snow and big snow storms that lasted for days on end. There was a stretch of like five days in a row where I had to snow-blow the driveway every day. Riding was a challenge because we had so much snow and were getting the storms so close together. Kingdom Trails couldn't get it packed in before the next storm hit so they were unable to open. Cathy and I did a lot of really fun snow covered gravel road riding.

We also spent some time south later in the month, back in MA because the weather was just so nice down there, We literally had days that broke 70 degrees in southern New England late in the month, setting records across the region. The month was a blur of riding in near whiteout conditions or on chilly, bluebird days coupled with riding roads in MA dressed in short sleeves and shorts. That was tough for a number of reasons, some of which we would soon come to realize as the weather took a dramatic turn back to winter. It was nice to be able to get in some miles on the pavement though, something we hadn't done in nearly a year. It was also refreshing to have some variety. As much as we love the fat biking, we'd been on the bikes literally every day for a couple of months straight at that point. A change did us good.

Then March hit and literally within a week we went from 70 to below zero. For Winterbike at Kingdom Trails the first weekend of the month we hit a high of 5 degrees above with winds that set the chill at 25 below. The following weekend we had the rescheduled LOCO Cycling FattyFest race at Waterville Valley. If we thought the previous week was cold, this would put that in perspective. The temp at the start of the race was -5 Fahrenheit with a wind chill at 35 below. It was insanely cold, so cold it deep seared your lungs and literally hurt to breathe deep. It was a great event though and we had a really good time.

The latter part of the month has remained cooler than average, feeling more like a traditional February than March. We've also picked up quite a bit of snow as well, with the NEK getting about 5" last Friday which made for an excellent gravel (snow) ride on our Cannondale Slate gravel bikes. The snow made the conditions incredibly challenging but also made them a lot of fun. Last weekend we also got in a good mixed terrain ride with a little gravel up and over Stannard Mountain followed by pavement back and around to Lyndonville. All of the snow, this late in the season, has made for not so great gravel riding. Really, we have done almost none to speak of so far. A couple of rides here and there but when the sun hits the roads, the gravel gets muddy and messy, regardless of the temps. We've opted instead for the fat bikes. They have been the staple that has kept us going this season and we have got many, many hours on them.

Yesterday was the Vermont Overland Maple Adventure Ride down in Woodstock, VT. This is a fun event that we have done each year since it started, also back in 2014. Conditions were much more traditional March VT than last year, with snow, ice and mud covered roads and a good snowpack for the offroad sectors. A great event and an opportunity for me to get out and really put the Slate through the paces for the first time. It handled the terrain and conditions superbly. I'm coming to find that there are many subtle aspects of this bikes design that really work well. The 650b wheels spin up quickly and keep the center of gravity lower than comparable 700c wheels. This combined with the compact frame translates to a very stable riding bike which is also quick, nimble and lively when you want it to be. With the Lefty short travel suspension fork damping the chatter and the higher volume 40c tires, the bike floated much better over the rough terrain. The SRAM CX1 wide ratio drivetrain also worked perfectly in the adverse conditions and had a good gear range for the steep ups and downs. Overall the bike is rock solid and with the Schwalbe G-One tires that we are running, it hooks up well in the snow, slush, ice and mud while also rolling very smooth on the pavement.

So here we are. A dreary Monday morning. It is 33 degrees and we have freezing rain. Everything is coated in ice and the riding looks questionable at best. Heck, just walking is a challenge. The week looks like it is going to be more spring like with above freezing temps every day. It will be interesting to see how quickly the snow melts. More, how quickly the roads dry out. With the sunny and dry days we had early last week, the gravel was drying quickly. Maybe it will be an easy mud season after all. There really isn't much frost in the ground to speak of as we have had snow cover insulating the ground since before if got really cold.

Next up will be the Rasputitsa in a few weeks. We plan to do course pre-rides two weeks and then one week before, reporting back. For now though, I think we are heading south to catch up on some chores, get some things done and miss out on the coming week of, mud.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

The Year's Camp Projects

Completed basement bedroom
It's hard to believe just how quickly the summer flew by this year. I know that I say that every year, but this one really got away from me. Just looking back at the last time I sat down and took the time to write something is a good indicator of that. Hard to believe that it was a half a year ago.

This morning Cathy left early on a business trip to NY for a couple of days. The airport limo service picked her up at 4:45AM. I'd planned to get up and see her off then head back to bed. Of course, as is often the case, my mind started wandering and I started fixating on all the things that I needed to get done. Wrapping Christmas gifts, preparing others, grocery shopping. And writing a post that I'd started months ago, this post. Alas, I thought that I'd made more progress than just the first sentence.

This was meant to be a recap of all of the things that Cathy and I got accomplished at our vacation home, our cottage, cabin or camp as it is more commonly referred to in Vermont. Lots of things happened and for the most part, we had a pretty dramatic transformation with this iteration of work activity.

Stairs are actually a ladder
As of the close of last year, we had the new foundation all buttoned up with full drainage and landscaping completed and numerous improvements to the deck and deck stairs. I'd also begun doing some of the framing of the basement partitions but had not gotten very far at all. Nor had I started any of the wiring for lights or outlets, so as you can imagine, the first bit of framing included lots of working off from extension cords to steal power from the sole outlet we'd wired to date in the basement. There were also nearly no lights down there, so portable light sources were made use of.

This year's focus was to be on the interior of the basement, finishing it off into usable living space.
The plan was to make a master bedroom so we could move away from the open, one room camp layout we previously had. Getting the bed out of the open, main floor space would free us up to make a small living room area. Also in the new basement we planned to have a combination entry room/office with some racks and hangers for outer wear but also a full desk space setup for Cathy to work at. In addition to those rooms we would also do another 3/4 bath in the area that housed the plumbing, hot water heater and expansion tank.

New loft ladder 
The final addition to the basement space would be cutting a passage between the floors to make a stairway. Really, the stairway was just a glorified ladder as we were still severely challenged for space. The intent was to re-use the ladder that I'd built for the upstairs, to get up to the loft. Never throw anything away, especially anything that works well and took a fair amount of time and thought, if not money, to produce. It turned out that although this ladder made it relatively easy to get to the loft, it took up more space than we really wanted to part with. So, I made a new, slightly narrower and slightly steeper ladder to replace the old ladder.

Late last winter I got much of the framing for the partitions completed. You can read about that here in a previous post. I went with simple 2x4 construction with pressure treated everywhere it was touching concrete. This was anchored to the concrete with lots of Tapcon concrete screws. For the wall covering I used lots of V-groove pine in the office, bedroom and bathroom. Then I used versatile and resilient, paintable exterior grade molded press-board siding panels on the outer side of the main divider wall. These were then painted a nice warm, neutral color. Wiring was done through the walls on new lines to the new breaker sub-panel that we had put in the basement. The trim was all done with simple and rustic 3/4" pine which I stained with a whitewash combination stain and sealer. The hope was to keep it as light as possible as it aged.

One side project I did along the way was to put together a small, sliding barn door. I'd had some antique barn door hardware with cast trolleys and a steel track stashed away for years, waiting for a project. I figured that this would be a good way to use it, to make a door that closed off the entryway and Cathy's office from the rest of the basement. Plus, it would be a fun excuse to build a door and use the hardware. The construction of the door was done with simple fir 2x6", a piece of vinyl lattice and some 1x6" pine bead board.

Barn door
I made simple 3/4" wide x 1" deep dado grove cuts lengthwise into the stiles of the door frame. I then cut matching 3/4" wide x 1" deep tenons into the ends of the rails of the four door rails. I also cut the same lengthwise dado grooves into the inner edges of the two outer stiles and on both edges of the inner stiles. Deeper mortise and tenon work would have been stronger but is a massive pain in the butt. It also starts to become counter productive when done my hand given the tolerance and the overlap of remaining material on each side of the mortise, namely 1/4", which isn't that much material to be structurally effective when running a 2" deep mortise cut to receive the tenon.

The bead board then was cut to fit into the main panels of door and the 1/4" thick lattice, with simple 1/4" thick shims on either side of it to take up the gap space, made up the top portion of the door. I wanted this open to promote light and air flow while still being able to keep the animals confined to the other portion of the house. It was assembled with wood glue, clamped together to dry and also screwed through the stiles into the tenon of the rails. I then stained and sealed it with the whitewash stain/sealer combo and installed the trolley hardware, which I'd painted the same burgundy color that I'd used on other hardware in the camp. It came out OK and reminds me of a horse stable for some reason. A perfect rustic feel.

LED lights and ceiling soffit
For the ceiling I wanted to use some that was lightweight, light colored, impervious to moisture and easily removable. This was the basement ceiling after all and wires would be run in there. Access to that wiring or future expansion of wiring, or possibly heating duct would be necessary. That got me thinking about exterior grade options for the ceiling. The easy choice, because it was relatively inexpensive, easy to obtain and easy to work with, was vinyl soffit. This material simply locks together with a simply joint, and can be easily cut to size with tin shears. It is lightweight and flexible as well and can be easily removed, at least the way that I installed it which was suspended by the edges with overhanging pine.

Office LED lights and doorway
This method worked really really well for short runs up to a couple of feet. My hope was that it would be rigid enough for a four foot span, which it is though it sags a bit in the middle. This is annoying but benign, at least at the moment. By that I mean, it hasn't fallen down. The sag gives the feeling of a fabric canopy in the bedroom, which has the longest span at almost four feet, somewhat resembling a canopy bed or a large circus tent. If the free floating soffit fails I will simply affix it with screws through the nail fin in the recessed lip, the way it was meant to be installed. For now, it works pretty much as I'd hoped it would.

For lighting I used a host of different things. In the bedroom I put a pair of switched wall mount lights above the corners of the headboard. The bathroom got a wall mount triple bulb light fixture. In the hall and office, where we wanted good work light, I used near self contained LED lights that screw into a standard E26 light socket, covering the socket with it's own simple shell. They provide excellent light, are relatively cheap and very easy to replace if necessary. The porcelain E26 socket is also very very inexpensive and easy to wire. 

Completed basement bedroom
The bedroom was the first thing to be completed, though just about the final thing to be implemented. That was for a number of reasons. First and foremost, we wanted to have a bathroom easily accessible from the bedroom so as not to have to go up and down a ladder in the middle of the night. The bedroom was also standalone and was fairly simple to complete. Frame it, wire it, put the pine up, install the ceiling, paint the concrete wall, which I did with a nice warm burnt orange, install the floor and then trim it out. I know, that sounds easy and a pro could hammer it out in no time. For me though, that little sentence represented a couple of weeks of effort, anyhow. Still, the project moved forward pretty quickly. 

For the flooring, I banked on the space being relatively dry and went with locking composite floating flooring over tongue and groove interlocking, floating basement subfloor panels. This allowed for air space between the concrete and the subfloor via plastic egg crate material. A layer of foam went between the subfloor and the floating floor creating a moisture barrier which I hoped would keep the composite flooring from absorbing too much moisture. 

Worst case, I figured that at $.79/square foot my investment was low. So far, so good and man, did we get some humidity this past summer. The work that I did last year on the basement, to seal it and properly drain it did wonders. We ran a dehumidifier through the summer which was constantly pulling moisture out and we kept the large windows in the front and side of the walkout basement closed when it was hot or humid, but by and large it wasn't too bad.

In hindsight, I found a flooring option that I much prefer. I used that flooring solution in other parts of the basement including the hallway and the bathroom. It is simple interlocking, puzzle style closed cell foam flooring. We found some online that is printed to look like wood grain or cork. We went with the cork and it is awesome. It provides cushion as well as insulation and is waterproof and easy to work with. It's also fairly inexpensive.

Next completion was the entryway and office. I wanted to get that area done as quickly as possible so that Cathy had a legitimate place to work, instead of having to work at the kitchen table or on the futon. This area required painting, which I did in a pale Earth tone yellow and some simple wiring to bring power across the wall from the panel. I did it with PVC conduit and hardware flat mounted to the concrete wall. It also got the LED lighting I spoke of, wired on a switch and the vinyl soffit for the ceiling. 

Rack near the furnace
The entryway area, which in reality is the same space, got a custom built coat rack and shelf as well as a six foot long Closet Maid vinyl coated wire shoe rack, which is missing from the image. This freed up some much needed storage space. One thing that is sorely missing from the camp is storage space. There was literally none when we bought it. I've been working to add more and more where possible and we now have an actual albeit small closet in the upstairs bathroom where the original hot water heater, water pump and expansion tank were located. I'll talk more about that later though when I discuss the partial re-do of the upstairs bathroom that I also completed over the course of the summer.

The bathroom came out awesome. I can't express enough just how wonderful it is to have a full, working bathroom right next to the bedroom. Don't get me wrong, there were challenges. The shower needed to be raised up onto a platform in order to get the drain set. We had a p-trap installed in the floor when the concrete went in but still needed to raise it. Space was tight, which is 100% consistent with every part of this small home build. We are trying too make the most with the least, which is really challenging and actually really fun as well. 

The plumbing all runs through a small chase area behind the shower then feeds and drains the sink along the wall. We used PEX everywhere possible. I didn't do it, we had a professional do it, the same person who did the water heater and expansion tank. Our friend Tom who does incredibly good work at very, very reasonable prices and is unbelievably nice. Both he and his wife Sylvie and just genuinely great folks. While they were here I also had them plumb in the drops for a combo washer/dryer unit which we will be getting shortly.

We certainly had budget it mind when we were doing the build, same as always. We also looked at size given the constraints that we had. This place isn't big and we are trying to pack a literal ton of stuff into it. The footprint of the camp is 18x22 or 396 square feet. The initial camp would qualify as a tiny house, commonly referred to as <400 square feet. We doubled that and are now firmly in the small house framework. In all honesty, I think that we could scale that back. There is no way we needed two bathrooms but that is just the way the plan played out. In order to have lower level living we had to have a bath on each level. When we build the next one, possibly our permanent residence, we will do sleeping on the main level with one common bathroom. Who knows though, I keep flip flopping on ideas. I really like building small stuff though. Speaking of which, I took a few weeks off at the end of the summer and built a tiny post and beam bunkhouse. It was a ton of fun. I'll put a post together about that one soon.

Also redid the driveway with a few loads of gravel
The project has been incredible. Countless little projects that all, eventually, combine to form a bigger project, which itself is part of a yet bigger project. I struggle with the macro and really, need to focus on the micro. One day at a time, so to speak. I have an idea of what's on tap tomorrow or next week but am firmly planted in today; the here and now. The reality is simple though, we love this place and we love the spaces that we carve out. This is us, for good or bad. We designed it, we made it. And it is pretty awesome. Having an actual bedroom and a bathroom right next to it is a treat in and of itself. The colors, the textures, the materials. We chose them and their implementation. When we look up, or down, or around, we did that. I know, little things and one can certainly do with much less but the transformation from when we initially bought the camp, a one room place with no foundation. We basically bought it for the land, power, water and septic. 

In retrospect, we probably should have just built new from scratch but where is the fun in that? It's been a ton of work and a long, long process that still isn't complete, but I've learned so much. The next one is going to be ton's easier.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

One Thousand 13

As of today, I'm now at 1013 days in a row, riding a bicycle, outside.

Rain, snow, ice, wind, cold, warm, hot. These are just words and not the enemy. The only enemy to the task is apathy. It is so easy to postpone, delay, or avoid all together. It is hard to make the commitment, get ready, and get outside.

Once you are outside though, and on the bike, the rest is easy. I'm finding more and more often that some of my most rewarding rides are in some of the worst conditions. Just this past week in fact, a late day, heavy rain ride on muddy roads up over a mountain was just what I needed, literally putting a smile on my face.

Live your life every day, ride bikes, enjoy what you are given and take none of it for granted.

2016 Rasputitsa Recap

I know that this is a little late, and I'd said I was done with race reports, but I wanted to at least have some recount of this year's iteration of the Rasputitsa spring gravel road race, which took place in the Northeast Kingdom of VT a month or so back. Really, this isn't going to be as much a race report as it is going to be a synopsis of the event itself. At least that is the plan.

As everyone in the Northeast knows, the recent weather conditions have been abnormal to say the least. When the Rasputitsa was first conceived, the though was that the conditions would be as much a part of the race as the course and race itself. The race would become an individual battle as much or more between man, machine and the elements as man vs. man. The past first and second iteration of the race were more on par with that notion, making it a true tough but smart guys race. Tough in battling the elements but smart in equipment choice and preservation.

This year things were looking to be completely epic, with legendary mud and conditions to make note of. Exactly one week before we rode the course and the conditions were deplorable. It was below freezing and there was snow and mud, both of which froze to the bikes and rendered them useless in a short period of time. Equipment choice and close management and preservation of that equipment would have been crucial had the race been that day not to mention clothing choices for a long, sloppy, well below freezing race. I projected that had the race been one week earlier, the winning finish time would have been nearly an hour longer and the a solid half of the field would have run into mechanical issues caused by the frozen slop accumulation. Of those, many would not be equipped to deal with them and would have been walking. Of those, many would not be prepared for the weather once they were no longer generating heat from riding. They would have suffered and some would have been in trouble. In short, this was the race that I was hoping for, for selfish reasons of course the primary of which being that I excel in conditions like that. The pre ride that we did a week earlier was pretty taxing on my Bikeway Source provided Cannondale Synapse disc, which isn't designed to be a mud bike and as such has low mud clearance. When the mud, slush and grit accumulate and freeze, you only have a certain amount of time before you have to clear it out, otherwise things stop turning.

Seven days before
But that was not to be. The rain and snow ended, the sun came out, the wind blew and the temperatures rose quickly to well above normal. The unbelievable muddy roads dried. The mud ruts were smoothed by the graders and the one bastion of hope left, the Cyberia section of Kirby Mountain even dried out in literally a few days flat. That was good in that it meant I had a bike, my Synapse, which was perfectly designed for the conditions. That said, the race went from a race that plays to my strengths to a race that played to my weakness, big long hard fast climbs. As much as I like to climb, I'm not a true climber. One look at me is all that is needed to see that fact. Sure, I can fake it on the short punchy stuff but when it is a long steady grind and I am forced above threshold, time is ticking.

And so it was. I played it safe early and made it over the first series of climbs then went to the front and drove hard on the first descent to try and stay safe. That worked well but I used too much gas. Through the next sets of rollers I tried to conserve within the large, maybe 25 person front group. That in and of itself is telling as the race was only a few miles in and the nearly 700 starters had been whittled away to a small lead group of a couple dozen racers. By the next long, gradual climb I was starting to feel the strain but seemed comfortable enough, with the discomfort. At the top of Carter Road, the pace bumped and I spaced out, losing contact. I figured I could bridge the small gap on the descent but I couldn't, in fact, I was getting dropped. The pace down the somewhat sketchy rutted and steep race was insane and I was working way too hard, not recovering but digging deeper into the red such that when we started back up again the writing was on the wall.

I was done, fading, losing the lead group. Worse, there was no secret stash of really nasty stuff up ahead that would re-shuffle the deck like Cyberia did last year. I watched the group pull away ahead as we climbed Victory Rd. I was now with a small group including James from the Tekne team. The climbs were putting the hurt on for sure but despite the earlier mishap on Carter Rd, I was descending well. Knowing the course is always a help. Just before the KoM I was caught by the group behind, which had a half dozen folks including all around great guy, John Funk. I really like racing with Funky as he is such a cycling icon. I have the utmost respect for him and I consider any day that I can ride with him, a good day.

Love this area
I sagged the rest of that section and kept at the front of the group on the descents. River Rd was sloppier than it had been a few days before as Victory had apparently graded the road. I tried my best to conserve energy on that stretch as did most everyone in the group, knowing all too well what was looming just ahead. We caught a few people who'd been spit out of the group ahead of us, which was now the chase group on the road chasing after the four leaders.

And then we made the corner off River Rd onto Victory Hill Rd and the final real climb started. this was the big one, a solid 3.5 miles with some good double digit percentage grades. The climb was hard but pretty steady. Things spread a bit on the steep sections but came back on the lesser grades until we hit the run in to the last section of the climb, a solid half mile with looser terrain and some steeps. Over the top I was back a bit but within sight. I was again shocked how fast people were descending what I knew was a nasty, rutted road. Folks were taking huge risks I just wasn't prepared to take. Not on that stuff and certainly not when I saw Jake Wells walking back up the hill toward me holding his likely broken collarbone. I chose to be safe and take my risks on the road descent, one that I know well and knew would be fast. It was fast in fact. Luckily I was, with a huge amount of luck, able to catch back up on. The group came back together after the Kirby town hall and stayed pretty much together along Ridge Rd.

Coming down out of Cyberia
Near the top of the last rise on Ridge Rd I pulled to the front, wanting to get into position for the descent on Ridge Rd that dropped you down to the hard left turn onto Brook Rd. Brook Rd is one of the last roads to get sunlight and tends to remain in pretty rough shape. There are a few blind corners and some rough road on the fast, fairly steep technical descent. I wanted to be at the front as I knew the road well and feared there may be casualties on the road. Turns out that we all made it through OK but there were indeed casualties on that road later in the day when a friend nailed a pothole, went over the bars near 30 mph and broke her nose, toe and neck. Luckily she was mostly OK and is recovering well with a full recovery expected shortly.

We all came back together for the final run in toward the finish. The last descent dropping back down into East Burke caused me the masters race last year when I let myself get pushed off line and crashed at the top. This year I wanted to be clearly first in so I attacked the group about 100 yards out, coming in hot. Unfortunately, I'm just not confident enough to risk dying down that rough chute at warp speed on a road bike. Though I was first in I got passed by three people in the group literally in the chute. I was awe struck that the bikes didn't explode given how much abuse they took. Still, I made it through toward the front of our small group, fourteenth place overall, the third logical group to finish and well out of any contention for a podium spot even in the master's race.

Cathy got the job done in the women's fat bike again
This wasn't the finish that I'd hoped for but I took it with a grain of optimism, that being the fact that the race was essentially a very hilly and dry road race. I'm not a particularly strong road racer and I'm not a particularly proficient climber when it comes to real climbing. I've also had some incidents recently including a couple of bad crashed last fall that have changed my perspective as to just what kinds of risks I am willing to take. Maybe that means I'm not cut out for racing bikes anymore, a possibility for sure. And I'm OK with that.

Did I mention that Cathy killed it, again this year in the women's fat bike category? She did and took about an hour off of her finish time from the previous year. She certainly seems to be carrying this team of recent. She also spent the day before with my mom making homemade donuts for the event. They were incredible and in fact, we just finished the last of them, which we'd had in the freezer. Many thanks for the efforts of both her and my mother, which were above and beyond. Both of my parents spent race day volunteering, perched at the base of the Cyberia section.

Darn, I said this wasn't going to be yet another, boring race report and guess what happened? Oh well. It was a great event and the good conditions, phenomenal and unheard of conditions, were indeed a treat for all. No hypothermia, frostbite. Still, wasn't that or the threat of that why we all signed up for the race in the first place? Nothing the promoters could have done on that front. This was all Mother Nature if not the bizarre, fickle weather patterns caused by the climate change we seem to be experiencing beyond the historic norm. Had the race literally been seven days earlier, everything would have been different, everything.

I'd also like to say how happy I am that the the event is being used to benefit the Little Bellas program, which is run by top professional athletes Lea and Sabra Davison, both VT natives. The program gets young girls into mountain biking through support, outreach and mentoring. Both Lea and Sabra beyond being incredible athletes, are true, genuine people who want to make a difference. In meeting them both I was abundantly impressed. They epitomize what it means to be a professional cyclist. I'd love to see more money go to programs like this, with local impact on every day young people, truly making a difference in their lives.

The old NEBC junior team
We have the ability, through the love and promotion of cycling, to give back by spreading that love to those who may otherwise overlook or abandon cycling. This is especially true in rural areas, like the NEK of VT, where that cycling related support, encouragement and mentoring is all but non-existent. Cycling is a tough sell in rural areas, especially among the poor. It's expensive, exclusionary and lets face it, not exactly mainstream. When rural kids hit high-school the bikes tend to be dropped in favor of motorized alternatives. I believe that this doesn't have to happen, by instilling a love of bikes through enablement, encouragement and mentoring, kids can embrace cycling as a life long sport. And from my perspective, that is the real goal here. Racing is nice and all but we have plenty of groups that promote bike racing among the over privileged. Cathy and I were fortunate to have started and run a junior team that enabled young kids to try a host of different cycling disciplines through crowd sourced parts and gear donations, which I built into a literal fleet of bikes. We got more than a half dozen kids to try MTB and cyclocross and more, helped instill cycling as a life long passion for all of them. These kids are now starting to graduate college and go out into the real world. I follow them and their cycling exploits with both honor and pride. I view this as one of the most important a relevant contributions I've made to cycling, far outweighing any race related accolade or achievement. I hope in the very near future to get something like this started in the NEK, and get rural kids like my younger self, or my nephew engaged in cycling, forever, and off the couch.

Stellar Sunday recovery ride
In terms of the event, I'd say things went pretty well. The organization, timing and results were flawless. The outdoor setup at the finish was spot on, especially given the gorgeous weather. The only thing that seemed to be lacking from events past was the food and drink situation. A single line to food handled one person at a time did not scale to over 700 people. Likewise with the only drinks available inside, at the bar, having to fight through the same narrow, choked entryway that those waiting up to 45 minutes for light food fare were standing in. Last year the drink sponsors wares, Woodchuck and Switchback, were dispensed outside making it easy to get to. This year with warm weather, I'd think the same would have been perfect. I'm guessing that some of the issues came simply from scale, the magnitude of the event. Dealing with nearly 700 people is a challenge.

Anyhow, another great event. what will next year bring? Who knows given the weather that we've seen. Hopefully we are back to more of a seasonal norm but we will have no choice but to take that which we are given.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Rasputitsa 2016 Course Recon - One Week Out

What a crazy spring it has been so far. The lack of winter was odd enough, in and of itself, but now we are getting a prolonged, nearly normal if not a bit on the cold side, spring. Strange new world in which we live and it's getting stranger by the day.

Starting out in fresh snow up top
This past Saturday, as in two days ago, Cathy and I were joined by our Coos Cycling Club friend Jeremiah for a recon ride of the complete Rasputitsa race loop. We decided to ride our Bikeway Source provided Cannondale Synapse carbon disc road bikes fitted with Clement X'Plor MSO 32c gravel tires, the bikes we'd been planning to race. As usual, we started the loop from our place, just a little more than a mile off the course at the bottom of the #Cyberia section, which is the ClassIV Victory Road over Kirby Mountain. We'd ridden that section just the previous day, so knew what to expect; mud and snow and really tough going.

We started out at a casual 10:15AM and at that point, the sun was up but the air temperature was still in the low 20's. Winter doesn't seem to be through with us just yet, though at this point in the year, the sun is certainly warm. Too warm in fact and quickly turns gravel road surfaces frozen tight from the cool night time temperatures into, well, slop.

Ridge Rd Kirby was in good shape thanks to the cold

The descent from the bottom of the #Cyberia section down to the Kirby Town Hall, a mile long double digit percent grade drop, was a bit sketchy as it was frozen and snow covered but not terrible. Luckily up at elevation things were still firm and it was still early enough that even Ridge Rd in Kirby was good and firm and we made out way toward East Burke on what is the end of the route, but for us was just the beginning. The descent down Brook Rd off from Ridge Rd was punctuated by frozen mud ruts and some snow cover in spots. That road is in a small river valley with dense tree growth on either side. It also faces west and this time of year, doesn't get much sunlight so is always in poor shape. It is also twisty with numerous blind corners so isn't the place to be a hero.

At this point we were still playing with good conditions and road surfaces that had yet to soften up much. The conditions down low, like on Mt Hunger Rd which is the final stretch before the drop down to the finish line was pretty dry in general and in good shape overall. This was mostly because it was still in the low twenties despite the forecast saying that we should get well above freezing on the day. there was virtually no snow on Belden Hill Rd, the drop down to the finish, but the road is washed in a number of spots and there was a little ice. Lose it here by riding over your ability and you will get a fun trip to the hospital I bet.
Starting to soften up a bit but nice views
And then we were through town and on the paved climb up Burke Hollow Rd, the start. That climb is way harder that it looks and people, myself included, have the tendency to go a little too hard on it. That decimates you for the upcoming rolling section of Darling Hill Rd which has three different punchy climbs on it, the third being the worst. Overdo on the paved start and miss the move and you could easily find yourself chasing for the next, oh lets say 30 miles. This section was still pretty good conditions wise though is bumpy and washboard.

The descent down West Darling Hill was fast but there were frozen ruts and chatter near the bottom. The road is one that can very easily get away from you. I have great respect for that descent. Bugbee Crossing Rd was much the same, firm still and in good shape at that point and with those conditions. In fact, even Brook Rd was pretty darn good though as we neared Carter Rd there started to be snow covering the road from the snow that fell the night before. This wasn't a problem at all as it meant that the road surface was still frozen. From Carter to Marshall Newland Rd conditions were firm and the descent, another tricky one, had frozen mud ruts, snow and generally aspects that required your attentiveness to navigate. The same with the descent down White School Rd. Firm and fast but rutted.

Back into the snow on Carter Rd
We then crossed RT114 and started what I assumed would be the section of the course with some very different conditions, the back side. Cathy wasn't feeling it at this point so decided to turn back rather than continue on past the point of no return. Jer and I continued and ventured up Victory Rd for the long multi mile climb that crested the course KoM and beyond to the height of the land. Conditions were still firm overall but the sun was starting to soften the bare gravel. Fortunately, much of the road was covered in snow, reflecting the sun and delaying the thaw. I absolutely adore riding snow covered gravel and both Jer and I were having a good time despite the steady upward trend. Truth be told, neither of us were out there killing it, that was not the goal. We knew there would be plenty of suffering to come, soon enough, so we chose to simply enjoy the weather and conditions that we were give.

Speaking of conditions, I mentioned that we were starting to see some slop and also that we were still below freezing. Well yea, what that translated to was frozen crud, on the bikes, and the drive trains. Stuff was starting to pile up and tolerances were starting to get tight. We topped out on Victory Rd finally and savored the long, snow covered, rutted but incredibly fun descent down toward Granby. By the time we hit the town center and crossed the Moose River, turning onto River Rd, we'd lost the snow and started to pick up some melting and sloppy, soft surface. We also picked up two sets of other bike tracks, tracks that were very evident in the soft gravel. Immediately I started wondering who it could be and quickly wondered out loud if it could have been a mutual friend we'd invited on this ride but whom couldn't commit to the timing. Jeremiah wasn't convinced but I still suspected it was our friend Jamie who'd started his ride over in Lancaster.

River Rd was typical
And speaking of the Moose River, I'm reading a book about the timber harvest from the 1800's in Victory and Granby. It was large scale and there were numerous mills along the banks of the Moose. The Moose was used for log drives, to get timber from the Granby and Victory down to Concord and StJ and to market. There was even a railroad that made it's way up into the basin and beyond. There are many remnants of this era still present along the river in the form of footings and other concrete structures, though the true extent of the once thriving population are long gone, only a fading memory to very few in an area which is now, nearly devoid of human presence.

River Rd never ceases to deliver early season. It trends downhill all the way and should be a fast, easy ride but inevitably it is always muddy, washboard and soft and or there is a headwind. That day we had the former. Six miles of seemingly endless slogging through the squishy energy sucking mud, mud that also froze to the stays, the seat tube and the drivetrain, a drivetrain that quickly stopped working.

That was a problem
Tires and rims were rubbing on the gravel encrusted ice that literally polished moving parts clean and devoid of lubrication. Luckily I have internal cable routing and disc brakes on my Cannondale Synapse road bike, which meant no cables to freeze up rendering the shifting useless. However, the rear derailleur cage was literally, packed in and frozen solid. We spent some time chipping the frozen crud from the bikes before moving on toward Victory Hill Rd and the start of the real climbing. At the bottom of the climb we stopped again and extricated another batch of frozen crud from the bikes. We also lost the sets of tracks we'd been following as they continued South on River Rd. At that point I knew that it had to have been Jamie doing a route he and I had discussed a couple of weeks back.

And then we climbed, what seemed an endless climb up the soft grade of Victory Hill Rd, about a mile and a half steady climb up to Masten Rd, where the grade pitches up significantly leading up to the ClassIV seasonal Kirby Mountain Rd and #Cyberia. The approach is daunting. River Rd is always way harder than it should be, on paper. Then the first grade on Victory Hill Rd softens you up, the second pitch on Masten Rd puts a real sting in the legs and then when the real fun starts you are pretty well worked over having gone more than a few rounds already.

Slow and meticulous going in #Cyberia
Having ridden this section the night before, I knew what were in for. It wasn't going to be pretty. Snow covered with deep mud ruts with flowing slurry runoff. Because of the easy winter, the road over Kirby Mountain has been getting lots of traffic from both local residents and four wheel enthusiasts. The bottom half mile of the road was also used all winter for active logging. The net is that it is in pretty bad shape at present. In many places the frozen mud ruts are over a foot deep and a truck tire width wide (roughly a foot). You get in them and you can not get out. The center of the road is highly crowned and off camber and when covered in snow, is nearly impossibly to hold traction on. You just slide out. The section that was logged has some sticks and other debris embedded in the surface as well, just for added fun. To put it bluntly, this section is going to be challenging. Last weekend it was mostly frozen. We rode almost all of the way up but it was slow and methodical going in order to maintain traction and not slip out. If this stretch gets soft, it could be a mess.

Snow and mud ruts #Cyberia
As I mentioned, we made it up over though we had to pull over for a vehicle coming up behind us. Local traffic is going to be a problem as they need to keep moving so as not to get stuck. The road isn't wide enough to pass. More, there are literally two wheel tracks that they WILL_BE_IN. We will have to yield to traffic, there is no way around it. What that means is we will have to get off the bike and get in the ditch while they pass. They will not and can not get off the road for you so do not expect they will and if you push them into conflict, there will be conflict. The people going over that road are either going to be the really nice couple whose front yard you rode through on the way up, folks whom live there, off grid year round and use that road all year. It is their road really and we are guests so treat it as such. the other people you may run into driving over are the other locals and trust me, you do not want to push them as they would be happy to push back none of us need that. This challenge will be part of the race this year. If you see a vehicle coming, get off the bike and run up the ditch to get around it then continue on your way. It won't be any slower.

Couldn't get going again #Cyberia
If you let the bike get away from you on the descent, with the mud ruts we currently have, it will hurt you. Remember though that is there are people coming up behind you on that descent, don't block them. If you are in the rut, that's fine, you own it, but if you are walking three abreast, single up so others can get by. There is nothing worse than the self absorbed who are oblivious to others.

The descent down for us last Saturday was slow but incident free. As we got further down the snow tapered but the mud increased. We reached the bottom, pretty happy to be finished.

The Rasputitsa course is a stout route in any season but especially in the spring and winter. I knew that when I first suggested that particular route to Heidi and Anthony. One of the most appealing aspects of the back side of the course is literally, just how remote you are. For those who didn't look at the map, that is the only road. There are no short cuts, no cut through sections. Once you commit you are either going forward to the end or turning around and going back the way you came. There are no stores and phone service is spotty. It's as close to a wilderness area as we have in that general area, in fact, River Rd takes us right through Victory Basin WMA.

And for that reason, I love it.

My best word of advice is to be ready for everything as I believe, that is what we are going to get. There will certainly be some terrific gravel roads but I suspect there will also be some of the most horrendous conditions you can imagine. It may well be a race of equipment preservation, one where you must meter just how hard you push your bike as much as how hard you push yourself. We'll see, maybe it will all dry up. Maybe.

But I wouldn't count on it.