Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Notchfest II - 2012

This past weekend shaped up to be another perfect storm in terms of the conditions being just right for taking a trip up north to do a ride. The local weather forecast was pretty grim with a chance of snow and rain and cool temperatures. The forecast for the Whites was for clearing and some slightly warmer temperatures. The roads were expected to be clear and dry from the mild storm they had on Thursday so we were optimistic. Neither Cathy nor I had any interest in racing, a theme that seems to becoming more and more prevalent as the time passes so we finalized the plan and the route.

I pulled together another route that started in Lincoln, since that is a very convenient place to begin a ride. Although this route shared the same initial section up Kinsman Notch on RT112 and over RT116 to Franconia, we decided to climb toward Franconia Notch and RT3 directly from town. We also veered off RT3 and headed to Bethlehem for a total change of scenery. This would net us some new roads like Trudeau Rd. and some new climbs on both RT302 and on RT142. Back in Franconia we would then take RT117 up into Sugar Hill and then down to RT302/10. This would likely be the worst of roads and traffic, from Woodsville down through Haverhill before we turned onto Mt. Moosilauke Highway (RT25). The final stretch would be the climb up Gonzo Pass on RT118. This is a tough one. We'd done it once before years ago, on the tandem, and it was brutal. We would have to see how that panned out. I often consult Doug J.'s climb central site for climbing info. That combined with personal knowledge and the route mapping software I use usually gives a pretty accurate window into what is in store.

For this adventure, we had one additional cohort take us up on the invitation. Our friend Scott made the trip up with us nestled snugly in the back of the van on the way to Lincoln. This was Scott's first notch ride with us and it was good to have the company and someone to share the time in the wind with. We were all on regular road bikes with normal gearing and 23c race tires. The roads were for the most part good on this route and the climbs are manageable if somewhat painful with normal gearing.

We arrived at the visitor center in Lincoln just before 10AM and got changed up and ready to ride. It was cool and cloudy but hopes were high that it would clear. Still, we all dressed for the chance of cooler weather. Once again, the start is a slight downhill for 1/2 mile into Woodstock and then you start up the approach to Kinsman Notch. The first 6 miles gains just about 1000' of elevation. Once we hit the actual climb the layers started to shed off as the body quickly came up to temperature. I was feeling better than a couple weeks back on the climb but still not terribly great. I found that it was hard to get into a rhythm so I was up and down and up and down. Near the top I quickly swung off to the rest area facilities, which wrecked my Strava score for the climb as the actual top is 50 yards up the road. Live and learn.

The view east from RT116 headed to Franconia.

We regrouped and descended the backside, then turning onto RT116 for the scenic but rough ride to Franconia. We saw no moose but were treated to some nice views of snow capped peaks in the distance and the sun broke free of the cloud cover and opened to a clear sky.

The climb up to RT3 from Franconia on RT18->RT141 isn't that long and isn't that steep but it can wear on you. I decided to hit it hard and steady and get it over with as quickly as possible. This worked well and the legs started to feel a little better. Again the reward was some scenic vistas looking back at Cannon Mountain, whose trails were all snow covered and shining in the bright sun against the blue sky. The run down RT3 was easy as it is downhill and we turned onto Trudeau Rd before the rollers started. The pavement was marginal but still easily passable and we quickly cut over to RT302 heading west just before the hill that brings you into town. This proved to be a small annoyance but Scott took it hard and I followed.

In Bethlehem we stopped at a coffee shop for some quick food, which wasn't so quick. Unbeknownst to us, the place had no meat products so Cathy and I had a grilled Nutella/banana sandwich. It was good but not exactly what I had in mind. All told we stopped for way too long and getting started again was tough, especially given the short, double digit percentage grade we immediately faced on RT142. My legs screamed at me and then cowered. Not a good sign given we were less than half way with the biggest climbs still to come. The ride down over the back side was spectacular. Incredible views, a nice winding road and really, not far from civilization. I'm guessing it is pretty sought after though and property is probably really expensive.

Back in Franconia there were a number of places we could have grabbed lunch, bad call on my part. The Sugar Hill section and all of RT117 was new to me. I'd never been through that area before. It was a definite climb to get to the top but the views were yet again spectacular. We took it all in as we ascended slowly and then regrouped in the sun at the top. From there an endless descent descent brought us down to the Connecticut River and RT302/10, a fairly well traveled main roadway. This was mainly good and gently rolling, taking us through Lisbon and Bath, past numerous covered bridges and small towns. Eventually we came to the junction of RT112 and we needed to make a decision.

The view east from the climb up to Sugar Hill on RT117.

This was only at 60 miles and it was 21 miles back to Woodstock from there. Initially, I'd intended to go up RT112 through Swiftwater, where my Aunt used to live, to RT116 south and take that back to RT10 in Haverhill, bypassing Woodsville all together. That was mapped as a 110 mile route, which although bypassing a busy section added more distance and more climbing. Cathy wanted to head back on RT112 alone, which I didn't care for given recent happenings in the not too distant area. Scott said that he didn't care either way but I could see he wanted more. I was secretly cooked and had been suffering for the past hour but hated to come all that way and not meet the goal. We compromised and continued south on RT302/10 through Woodsville and would check again at RT116, the last bail point before committing to the southern pass back.

We screamed past RT116 with Scott on the front and the cast was thrown. Cathy shook her head but kept going. I assumed that we had cut off 10 miles or so from the original route but wasn't exactly sure. One thing was certain, that was how we were going and we had better move along. One more stop at a small country store after we turned onto RT25 for drink and then we started the last leg. The route was more rolling than I remembered though it did have some good views. I kept expecting or rather hoping to see the junction of RT118 around every corner but it kept alluding me. Finally after what seemed an eternity, I saw the sign which stated North Woodstock was indeed, the next stop.

Scott on the way up to Sugar Hill with some nice views to the east.

The climb up and over Gonzo Pass on RT118 from Warren is miserable, at least that was how I remembered it. Long stretch of grinding away in the smallest gear possible. Of course, that was on the tandem. Maybe it wouldn't be so bad on the single bike. There was a little heated conflict at the start when the turn left onto RT118 was called into question despite my having checked the sign and common sense telling me that was the only possible way to go. This had me pedal back up the hill to re-check the sign, all the while cursing a blue streak. Of course it was the right way to go but I didn't want to be the one to make a wrong choice that lead to disaster so I measured twice and cut once. The rage carried me the first couple of miles up the gentle grade but then the real climb started and the wheels fell off the bus.

Soon after Scott caught and passed me so I used him as a gauge. He got as far as 50 yards up the road but I kept him at about that distance. After a while I started pulling him back and before long we were together, though not much conversation was taking place. We saw a town line marker in the distance and Scott said we must be near the top. I questioned his reasoning as I could see the road pitch back up shortly after the sign but once around that bend a caution steep grade sign marked the top. We stopped to bundle up and I put on everything I had for clothing for the mostly shaded descent back to RT112. It was frigid and my hands and feet froze. My back had long ago seized up and riding on the drops was miserable. Finally we made it to the intersection and I convinced Scott that we should just move on and finish up rather than hold for Cathy. I knew that a wait at that point would kill me so we rolled down RT112 back to Woodstock and then back into Lincoln to the van.

Cathy climbs up to the height of the land in Sugar Hill.

As we changed up Cathy rolled in, not that long after we had and well before I was able to change, load up and drive out to rescue her. She needed no rescue and in reality, was in better shape than I. A great day of riding but a tough one for sure and it certainly took a toll on me.

From there we once again stopped at the Woodstock Inn and Brewery for some food and drink. I had the Chef's Wreck sandwich, which was excellent. They are putting in an addition and renovation so the place is a bit of a mess, but still open. Another great end to a great day of riding.

Good route with some great views and a brutal climb to end the day.

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