Friday, May 30, 2014
Last weekend we had our first real team training weekend based out of our place in Bethel Maine. The team has come to be somewhat less that what I had hoped when first I agreed to pool the Bikeway Source Racing with the Bell Lap team, but still my wife and closest riding partner was in as was my closest teammate Kyle despite the family, holiday weekend and being in the process of moving away (the dirty bahstad). Additionally, the nicest and busiest person I know, PJ, took a red-eye back from closing half a dozen crucial deals, blew off work at his company, his family and the soccer team he coaches in order to make the trip up and ride. Respect.
As it played out, Kyle came up Friday morning with the plan being that we would do a nice opener loop over some gravel and paved with some good sustained climbing to prep for the planned big loop on Saturday. The Saturday route plan was robust, with four significant climbs and a bunch of smaller ones as well as lots and lots of mileage. Therefore, Friday would be taken with a grain of salt.
Cathy and I took it easy on Thursday in prep so as to not overdo. The week had been pretty solid for us so far with a MTB race Sunday, the fastest TVR ever on Tuesday and a good stiff dirt road ride for me on Wednesday from the camp in Kirby, VT. As luck would have it, Kyle got a bit of a late start on Friday Am which meant that he slammed right into Memorial Day weekend traffic. I tried to warn him how bad it could be. Additionally, the sunny skies that had been mostly present in the AM gave way to a intermittent rain. The good news was that despite the rain, it was warm.
We finally shoved off mid afternoon riding optimistically through town in some light drizzle. The route I chose headed out of town and up the nice, paved, rolling Grover Hill Road making it's way to Flat Road and then onto the gravel Forest Road in the National Forest. I'm particularly fond of that road as it is seasonal so has a very remote feel while still having very good surface conditions. From there we took RT5 to Hunts Corner, another good climb and then onto Picnic Hill Road, a nice rolling gravel road that turns into a solid class 4 road at best. We opted to turn off and descend back to RT5 rather than press on through the ATV trail/class 4 road, given the conditions which had turned to a pretty steady rain.
On RT5 we turned toward Lovell at the international sign. This was paved and we ran into a steady headwind to go along with the rain. At one point Kyle went to the front and unknowingly jacked the pace, and effort. I looked down to my Garmin which was showing 340 watts (thanks to my spiffy new Stages power meter which I installed on both Cathy and I's SuperX disc CX/gravel road bikes) holding his wheel. We were less than 20 miles into a 60 mile ride on the first day of a two day epic ride weekend. I could see Cathy was struggling as well so I backed off and let a gap open.
A couple miles later Kyle actually realized that nobody was on his wheel so slowed up. This is an interesting dynamic; the group ride dynamic. It is actually harder than it seems and in some cases, takes years to master. That is the ability to set speed and effort based on the other people in the group. It means being cognoscente of and paying attention to the way others are riding, their expressions and mannerisms. Rides like this, no drop, are not designed to crush others, they are designed to be fun for all involved. It also means that you need to be really good about keeping the effort consistent throughout, a difficult concept and task when you move from being sheltered behind a rider to the front to take a pull. Clearly you can't use wattage as an accurate guide else the pace will drop. Pace is a better indicator but you need to be careful to account for ups and downs. Like I say, this takes a long time to master and in reality, I know a number of people that have never gotten it.
After getting the pace sorted out we soon turned off RT5 and headed onto the Evergreen Valley roads. These are camp roads than turn from loosely paved to gravel as we move into the National Forest. This is a really fun section where you are again, pretty remote. This is the same area and in fact, some of the same seasonal roads that we did this past winter when we did the fat bike epic. We rode past an area of the park where you could mine for gems as well as a bunch of hiking trails as well as the defunct Evergreen Valley alpine ski area. All this to a steady rain with warm and humid conditions, which afforded the luxury of not freezing to death despite being soaking wet. Eventually we came out onto RT113 and made the trek toward the final big climb of the day, Evan's Notch.
We hit the back side of Evan's and all decided to go our own paces and meet at the top. Nobody was looking for KoM's so Kyle and I rode easy up the steep grades climbing eventually to the top of the notch. I'd forgotten how long the climb is and was very glad to see it end. We climbed steady but were a couple minutes off the pace I did it at last summer on the same ride with Cathy. Again, planning ahead for what was to come the next day. Cathy was not far behind and without much fanfare, we began the long gradual descent back to RT2 in Gilead Maine and quickly across the river and onto North Road, a nice rolling rural road that sees little use. Back at home we cleaned up and reveled in the fun that we'd had, the sites we'd seen and the other people we hadn't seen. Despite the weather, it was an excellent ride, the type of ride that you feel good about afterwards and will recall and speak of for some time to come.
As you might guess, we ended up at Suds Pub at one point or another for a couple of drinks, some nachos and some socializing. Then it was back to the ranch for some chicken fajitas and a big old salad. And maybe a couple more drinks. Before we knew it we started getting messages from PJ that he was on the way and making good time, good enough that he would make it for dinner. Soon he arrived and we sat around, ate hardily and talked both of the day's ride as well as the ride to come in the AM. Oh, and Iron maiden. Hard to have a conversation with PJ that doesn't touch upon Iron Maiden in one way or another. I think it was because an Ozzy song popped up as we were streaming Pandora in the background. This started a lengthy diatribe on the topic. Good fun. Kyle chose to sleep in the new bunkhouse, it's first but hopefully not last resident, which meant PJ got relegated to the guest room in the main house
We awoke Saturday AM to a light drizzle Not the start that we were looking for but still, at least it wasn't pouring. Collectively, we all decided to skip the first 25 mile stretch of road from the house to the actual ride start in Gorham, NH. The plan had been for Cathy to skip the first section and drive to Gorham so we would have a vehicle parked there just in case. The loop in it's entirety as planned would be over 140 miles, but could be shortened to about 120 miles from and back to the house if need be. that is still a pretty tall order given the questionable weather. Starting from Gorham would cut the first and last 25 miles of Rt2 and North Road off. Fine roads but nothing spectacular, especially given we'd done North Road the prior day. I semi-reluctantly got in the van and drove to the ride. On the way over, the clouds literally parted and the sun came out. In Gorham it was gorgeous weather, good enough that we actually stripped the leg coverings off and decided not to take full rain jackets in favor of wind vests and arm warmers. The sun felt great, but unfortunately, would be short lived.
Underdressing is always a mistake. Doing so on a big epic ride can be catastrophic. I never, ever do that. I'm always the one to be way over packed. Well, not this time. We climbed out of Gorham over the two mile rise on RT2, a stout little 8% grade in and of itself, in the warm sun and made our way toward Jefferson Notch. This is a hefty climb with double digit percentage grades and it is all gravel. We hit the gate, which was still closed, and the sun had gone behind the clouds. That was fine for the efforts required on the climb. We would regroup at the top of the notch once again and on the gentle approach grades, laid down a good solid pace. Cathy peeled off to do her own thing and then it was PJ to fall back a while later. Kyle and I continued to press forward at a steady tempo without going ballistic. We could see tracks left just yesterday by Ray, who had been up doing the climb. He appeared to have narrower tires than the 32c file treads that we had on the CX bikes. All I could think was that I hoped he'd had lower than stock road gearing otherwise it must have been some painful.
When we hit the paved flood control sections of road, where the road crossed the river three times, Kyle remarked that this wasn't bad at all. I exclaimed that this was still the approach and we hadn't gotten to the real climb yet. Soon after the grade pitched up and we started the real climb. The conditions were pretty loose as well given that no motor traffic had been over the road yet this season. In winter the road is a snowmobile trail and had not been opened for the season yet. This is good as meeting cars on that road is scary but bad in that it was loose and soft, making it harder going and affording poor traction in some cases.
I could hear Kyle laboring, much like a bull moose blatting for a mate. I wanted no part of that action so keep the pace just beyond comfortable and soon a small gap opened. This was not a race but then again, as with all rides, it was. Over the countless steep pitches that you could barely turn the pedals over we pressed forward, upward, toward the top. At least I hoped. Eventually I saw the steep pitch the preceded the steep switchback followed soon by the gentled grade to the top of the notch. Kyle retained nearly the same gap the whole way back, within sight the whole way. We regrouped at the top and while we were doing so, it cooled and the light rain began. In the distance there were black clouds marching steadily to our flank, the flank of the rockpile. We descended into the cold quietly, hoping for the best.
As we hit the cog railway access road just past the gate for Jefferson Notch I decided it would be better to descend back to RT302 by Fabyans rather than take the cut through road that placed you near the top of Crawford Notch. This way, we got some more distance and so more climbing. About two minutes later, we also got some more weather. The skies opened, it turned nearly black as night and it poured. Buckets. I cursed myself, my decision and the weather. We were soaked and freezing and still descending at +30mph. PJ fell off the back on some of the rollers.
At the bottom we all regrouped and pressed on, up the gentle RT302 slope over Crawford Notch. The rain was horrific and the temperature had dropped a solid ten degrees. I suspect much of the humidity had dissipated with the storm coming from the north rather than the south. My hands went numb as resources were diverted to the core and to the legs to keep moving and stay alive. The next 25 miles would prove to be some of the most uncomfortable I've ever spent on a bicycle. We rotated on the long RT302 descent to keep the pace high but again, PJ was suffering. Just before Bartlett, where we'd planned to turn and climb Bear Notch, PJ hit the deck on the train tracks narrowly missing getting run over by a car behind him. It was still cold and pouring. We all decided to bail on Bear Notch, which would head us back into what looked like black clouds in favor of riding toward the light, the break the appeared to be over Conway.
Just before the RT16 turn up toward Pinkham Notch, the weather broke. The rain stopped and soon, by the time we hit Jackson, the sun was out. I was still having trouble with my hands though. For some reason, they were numb and didn't work well at all. I couldn't open things like food, squeeze a bottle or navigate my rear pockets. This had me a little concerned. the same had happened at the MTB race the weekend prior. Not sure what the scoop is there. Oddly, in Jackson we saw a white flash and heard a thud right in between our small group. It took a moment to dawn on us that it was a golf ball that had nearly smashed. As we approached the tee from which it came the smug owner of said ball offered no apology so I offered up the compliment of "nice f-ing shot" to which he replied, "hey, there are f-ing kids here". I'm reminded of the scene in the movie Falling Down where Michael Douglas is nearly hit by a ball, intentionally, as he walks across the green.
We stayed together on the run in to the Pinkham Notch ascent but then went at our own paces for the real climb. Kyle and I stayed together and pressed forward at a steady but somewhat less than blistering pace. Still it was a good sustained effort. I'd been thinking that if the weather was now going to be nice, we could still, those who wanted to, ride back to the house to get a few extra miles.
Over the top we regrouped at Wildcat ski area for the long descent back to Gorham. Shortly after Great Glen we could see dark clouds looming ahead of us. Within a few miles, it was again black as night and soon the torrential downpour started again. That sealed the deal for the extended ride. We got back to the van, changed up as best we could given that most of us had no spare clothing and then headed off to the White Mountain Cafe for some hot coffee. An excellent finish to a somewhat questionable ride.
On the drive back home to Bethel spirits were lifted and we commiserated about the good and bad of the day. As bad as the weather may have been we still got in a great ride with some very bright spots. Back home we cleaned bikes and everyone showered and then we headed off to the Bethel Inn for apps and taps, one of our favorites during the past winter. PJ then headed out to get back to the family and Cathy, Kyle and I headed over to some local friend's, Craig and Lori's house for dinner. A great end to a great day and a wonderful, team building weekend. As I say, I'm hopeful that we can do more of this this coming summer and I'm hopeful that we can do so with some better weather conditions. Thanks to all who took part. This was great stuff.