We are well into spring and it is in fact already May but it was only just last weekend on the last day of April that we were able to pull off our first Notch ride of the 2011 season. Last year we were able to sneak in the first NH Notchfest at the beginning of March. Yes, I realize, that the weather last winter was unheard of but still, "summer" is just around the corner and we are only now able to venture north. The reality is that this was one of the first weekends where it didn't snow up north. Just the previous weekend the area that we were in received up to 6" of snow on Saturday, making it nearly impossible to ride safely.
Seeing that the weather forecast was calling for partly sunny skies and temperatures nearing 60 degrees in Lincoln I decided to try and organize a go. Arguably by me anyhow, there were no "good" races to be had this past weekend and the anti-racing backlash in our household is gaining momentum anyhow, so this seemed the right move. Off the bat I had a few interested parties and Cathy wrangled a couple more. As usual I had those who waffled or who chose to bail at the last minute, who subsequently may find themselves on list probation. Anyhow, we got a solid group the committed, which is actually good. I sometimes feel compelled to try and get more participation on a given ride; like I feel as though the numbers somehow lend credibility. The reality is that with all rides but especially big rides like this, it is all about the quality of the participants and not quantity.
Friday was a nice day and it was after all Friday, so we were both anxious to get outside after a long week and ride. Since we would be on our road bikes much of the following day, we (I) determined that the day-before-the-big-ride ride should be a single-speed mountain bike ride. I also decided that we should do some less taxing stuff so how about heading out on the big loop to explore and see what conditions look like. Cathy didn't argue though I'm sure she thought better of my idea and we were off. Nearly three hours and over 27 off-road miles later we were back home and hoping that the ride wouldn't take much of a toll on the legs the following day.
Cathy and I had a good and uneventful drive up and had the pleasure of Teri's company on the way to add to the conversation. Weather held bright and sunny all the way up I93 until just before we got to our destination. As we neared Lincoln it started to spit rain, the temperature dropped and it looked as though it could be snowing at elevation. This was perfect. I stated to the group that I was wondering just how far I'd have to drive to get to the crappy weather, to which I replied "here". It was what it was, so to speak, and we geared up as the drizzle and raw wind picked up a bit. We left the visitor center and embarked on the day's adventure under the cool, overcast and misty rain.
The loop starts off with about a half mild of slight downhill on RT112 but starts to climb as we cross over RT3 in Woodstock. From there you have almost 6 miles of gradual but progressively steeped climb up to Lost River and over Kinsman Notch, maxing out with sustained 12% nearing the crest. This makes for a great out of the gate warm-up and resulted in fracturing of the group and a bit of an on the fly rethink of the overall plan. At the intersection of RT112 and RT116 we stopped to regroup and hash out a new plan. It was clear that there was some pretty dramatic disparity in the group, compounded by the lack of deep spring training due to the weather in New England. This was sure to make the day's planned activity difficult for everyone but ran the risk of making it impossible for some others. Cathy decided that she and the other two ladies, Teri and Michele would do a slightly shorter route that looped east and then south, making it's way to RT118 for the brutal climb over Gonzo Pass. The rest of us would stick to the plan to take RT116 to Fraconia and climb up to RT3 and make our way back around via RT302 eventually to RT112 and the Kanc. And so it was. We wished well and parted ways.
RT116 is a nice rolling road with not great pavement but some nice views of the countryside. Coming down a descent into a flat section of swampy land I spotted a moose on our right just off the road. Instinctively I called it out to the group and warned them to slow and proceed with extreme caution. Moose are unpredictable and really, really big. You don't want to hit one or have one hit you. As expected he spooked and darted out in front of us across the road. Cool sighting up close and personal and nobody died. Unfortunately I gave the camera to Cathy when we split so no evidence was obtained. From there we rode into Franconia's "downtown" and turned right up RT18 to RT141. We could have continued up RT18 to the actual Notch and Cannon Mountain and then take the bikeway down to RT3 which adds a couple miles and a few hundred vertical but I wasn't sure if it still had snow as it's a snowmobile trail in the winter. Turns out we'd have probably been fine. The climb we opted for was fine and the initial stretch of RT141 is a miserable little grunt that fades back into a 5ish percent gradual up, under RT93 and up to RT3 just the other side of Franconia Notch.
RT3 is a nice road that starts with a few miles of gradual descent on good pavement with wide shoulders that passes by the site of the infamous 1960's alien abduction case of Barney and Betty Hill. This is a great section of road where on a calm day you can average 30mph. The only down side is that the road is posted at 55mph and traffic is regularly doing 65mph, including lots and lots and semi's. The last few miles are rolling and wide open and often hurt, a lot. We made it through unscathed and rolled in to Twin Mountain to make the turn right onto RT302. As luck would have it, we were granted a light cross/tail wind along this section and the clouds and overcast started to give way to some sun and blue sky. This was a welcome change on cold feet.
Cresting Crawford Notch in the easy direction is always a bonus and the ride down to Bartlett is always a good one. Well, unless you fight a headwind all the way as we did last year when doing this loop. As luck had it we cruised seemingly effortlessly at 25mph+ for the entire 12 miles. The first pitstop was at the Deli in Bartlett for a quick snack and a topping off of the depleted fluids. I'd been forcing myself to drink a lot and my two full sized bottles we nearly empty. I'd also eaten half of my PB&J, which was a challenge while climbing back in Franconia as well as my energy bar. A pair of Powerade's and a bag of salty, fat laden goodness was just the trick. We made haste, opting not to even attempt the closed for the winter Bear Notch and proceeded south toward North Conway.
Turning onto West Side Road I knew the end was now within reach and while I was tired from the steady hard pace we'd been setting, I knew the hardest part was still to come. I decided to take a calculated risk and head up Passaconaway Road rather than go into Conway and turn onto the Kancamagus Highway (RT112) at the bottom. Passaconaway is a nice back road that culminated at Albany Bridge, and old wooden covered bridge. You then connect with the Kanc at just over mile 80 in the ride and the real fun begins.
This climb starts gradually and remains shallow for almost 10 miles with only small sections where speeds maintained during calm winds dips much below 20mph, albeit if you are working it hard. Once it ticks up though, it stays that way, for the next 5 miles. By this point in the race it had whittled down to Ben and I. Julian popped the chute literally when we turned onto the Kanc and Michael had had enough after the first few miles of pushing the pace well over 20mph. Ben and I had been trading slightly one sided pulls though I couldn't tell if Ben was suffering or conserving. I chose to believe the latter so pushed even harder on my turns to soften him some. When the real climbing started I could not get comfortable. I was doing between 10.1 and 10.3mph and pushing just under 300watts, which wasn't comfortable in and of itself at that point in the day. A couple miles of this and I was getting impatient. We'd traded the lead a couple times and as bad as setting pace was, I found following even worse. At one point I tried to up my cadence just a bit, hoping to gain some composure. This upped the speed one or two tenths and split us. I kept on the pace and never looked back; I just wanted to get to the top. What seemed like an eternity of intermittent stand, sit, stand, wiggle, sit later and I reached the sweeping left into the right that marked the approach to the turnout near the top. I pulled my arm warmers and gloves out of my pocket and put them on, crested, and attacked the descent back Lincoln as much as my withered legs would allow. The bulk of the 15 mile trip back saw a headwind but the last few miles was a tailwind which made a nice run into town. I finished up at the van to the ladies in wait. Totals on the day were 110 miles in 5:33 of moving time with less than a half hour total stopped all day.
The finale took us to the Woodstock Inn Station and Brewery for some food and drinks before the weary ride home. An excellent accomplishment and day long adventure that all told cost us less than what a modern day of series racing around in a field for 45 minutes would have.
Sunday turned out to be another great day and I was able to get a great local ride on my single-speed mountain bike with Dave L. on our local trails. We had an excellent time riding and enjoying the weather and best of all Dave didn't get hurt and end up at a hospital. This broke the tradition we have had going on the past couple of rides spanning many, many years. Finished off sitting on the grass in the front yard drinking a beer while sitting in the sun. A most excellent weekend indeed.