The first Notch Ride of the year is completed. It isn't the earliest we ever did a Notch Ride. We missed that distinction by just a few calendar days from a couple of years back. That year the weather was a big part of the ride with sustained headwinds in the double digits for a large portion of the ride. It was also before the daylight savings time change, so light was a factor.
This year, with the crazy winter we didn't have and the even crazier summer weather we had this past week we figured that conditions would be ripe for a ride. The forecast was for sun and 60 degrees in Lincoln, NH so we packed up the good bikes and headed north. The entire ride up the weather was somewhat less than what we expected. As we traveled further up I93 the temperature continually crept down, until it was in the high 30's. To add insult, the skies were overcast, grey and cloudy. Panic set in as I realized that I may have made a big mistake. About 10 miles out from Lincoln we could see some blue sky opening up on the horizon. As we got to the exit, the sky was blue and cloudless and the temperature was a comfortable 47 degrees. Much better.
Cathy and I changed up and got on the road just after 10:30AM. It was still cool but we had a long climb up Kinsman Notch on RT112 right off the bat. In my opinion, Kinsman is the worst climb of the route. It has some steep sustained grades. Worst is that it starts almost immediately out of the parking lot of the visitor center. Fortunately the approach is a few miles before the grade starts to pick up, which gives a brief chance to warm up. As expected, the climb was brutally hard, more so as I discovered that I had some pretty grumpy legs. Note to self, starting a big notch ride with grumpy legs is a bad idea that makes for a long day of discomfort and suffering. The sore legs put a cramp in my lower left side that chose to hang around all day. Nothing terrible, just annoying. The plan for the day was to take it steady and stay together as much as possible. We would regroup on the climbs if necessary and spend the day, together.
From there it was another good climb up from Franconia to RT3 and over to Twin Mountain onto Rt302. That stretch of RT3 has an extended downhill grade for miles with nice wide shoulders. The down side is that traffic, often heavy, is moving at 60mph or better. Still not a bad section. Coming in to Twin the cloud cover once again parted to reveal sun and blue.
I think for the first time ever we had a neutral/tail wind on RT302 headed to Crawford Notch. The section is a shallow sloped climb up over Crawford Notch and then a long descent into Bartlett. This section is often scary fast and you can make up huge time. On this trip, the wind funneled up the notch which meant we rode into a headwind all the way down. It subsided greatly as we descended but was always present. This meant you were working at a steady pace to get 21mph. Not as bad as we have seen but no 25mph free ride either. It was amazing to see the amount of snow still left in the valley coming down out of the Notch. There was recently winter this year for sure, at least in that area.
In Bartlett we stopped at the deli to refuel. Some drink and a corned beef sandwich and homemade chips in honor of St. Patrick's Day gave us a small respite and then we were back on our way. Bear Notch was still snowed in so we bypassed North Conway via West Side Road. West Side is probably the most heavily ridden road in Conway, thus it has actual bike lanes on much of it. We saw a ton of cyclists on that road including Bruce and one other rider from Sunapee, at least I think it was Bruce. Nice rolling to false flat and a great break, which gave us time to think about the final task of the day that loomed in the near future, the Kanc.
Because Passaconaway Road was also snowed in we had to ride down to RT16 in Conway and take that the the intersection of RT112, the true start of the Kancamagus Highway. I'd never done the whole thing but discovered that the lower part is actually steeper than the mid section. This makes sense as parts of Passaconaway Road are also pretty steep. Cathy and I stayed together a few miles and then she dropped back some while I continued to press forward. I waited briefly and we then pressed through the mid section. The upper section is the real climb. It is 5 miles of sustained effort with some sections of steep that inspire great discomfort, at least for me. I remembered from the last time I did the climb that 11.5mph was where I'd be on much of the climb. I also noticed that the sweet spot was just over 300watts. Much more and I risked blowing up and for what? There would be no prize for the first one over the pass.
I made it to the familiar switchback where you can see the rest area at the top just about 1/2 mile up the road. It was good to be done though the descent into town and the finish would surely be interesting. Soon I could see Cathy on the final approach to the top. We bundled up and headed down. It was amazing just how cold that descent was. It is about 13 miles back to where we parked. All of it is down, the final 5 miles or so slightly rolling. I was frozen solid by the time we hit ski traffic just leaving the bars probably, from Loon Mountain. The downtown of Lincoln was a madhouse and it took all of my concentration to keep track of the mass of traffic and congestion doing crazy things. Just before the lot we saw some friendly faces riding toward us. It was Alec and friends. Apparently they too had been doing some Notch training and got in a slightly different loop.
The final stats were 5:55 rolling time for 113 miles and a little over 6k of climbing. Not the fastest I've ever done the route but with just two people sharing the work, it certainly isn't bad. We changed up and headed to the Woodstock Inn and Brewery for some food and drink and then made our way home to some very hungry kittens who thought that we had abandoned them.
A spectacular day spent together. Hopefully to first of many such adventures we will have this year.