Sunday, December 28, 2014


Getting started out from Moose Brook
It's funny how something as simple as a really, really good ride can have the effect of completely rejuvenating one. This especially after one has had a long string of fairly mediocre rides. Truth be told, in my case, I've just been pedaling along for some time now not really getting much out while not really putting much in. Part of the cause is that I've still got the consecutive days streak going, currently at 1095 consecutive days or exactly 3 years in a row. This I find, has in many ways turned riding into a daily check box item.

It has been a long run and a long season. Doesn't help that what I'd consider the best month of the year, was last January. that is because we were new to fat biking and spent a stellar winter with excellent conditions and endless explorations literally right out our door in Maine. I had one of the most epic rides in years, in the dead of winter on the fat bike. It was something new and something fresh. We'd just come off from a long and incredibly successful year of racing as well as riding. Really, last year was the poster child for great rides and adventures.

If last year was a boon, this year was a bust. Once we got past the new found love of the fat bikes in the snow and settled in to dry land riding, the luster wore thin. Sure, there were still some excellent super-bright spots. The Rasputitsa, the VOMAR, the two Maine gravel and notch weekends, the KT weekends, the NEK gravel recon rides, the Thanksgiving gravel ride in the Kingdom, CX fun in the snow at Sterling. We had some really good times. Unfortunately, wedged in between them were countless days of just towing the line, getting out on the bike and getting it done, whatever it is.

One thing that I notice this year especially is how few of the really great cycling adventures of the year were races. Truth is, almost none. That is certainly telling, though nothing which I didn't already know beforehand. Racing is good but the best memories come from the long destination rides or ride weekends spent with friends. Those are the ones you recall. It's hard to remember much about so many of the races. They all simply blend together and average out into either an overall good feeling, or an overall bad feeling. Some years are good, others not. Seems this was the latter. I'm not complaining or whining, just stating how trivial all that hard works ends up becoming.

Anyhow, the point of all this is that some times, the smallest thing can flip it around and give you hope once again. Hope that the overall mood is about to change and the passion is about to rekindle.That happened just last week in the form of a fat bike ride in excellent snow conditions on some great trails with some really good people.

Venturing out on sled trail
Cathy and I headed over to Gorham, NH for a ride with some of the folks from the Coos Cycling Club. These are the same people that put on the Moose Brook Fat Bike Race last year in January and are doing the same this year. They are also the folks that are responsible for getting MTB trails approved and built in the area.

We met up with Jason, Ben and Jamie last Sunday morning at Moose Brook State Park. We'd been out the day before and discovered that the trails in the park were only partially rideable  but that the sled trails were in good shape. With that, we opted to take sled trail to some of the MTB trails that the club maintains outside the park. Those trails were semi-packed and rideable in spots but some had been post-holed badly by someone walking without snowshoes when the conditions were warm. This meant we bailed and stuck to the sled trails.

I actually love riding the sled trails. To me it has all the allure of gravel road riding and in fact, a very similar feel. We've explored a fair number of the trails near us in Maine but hadn't ventured into NH, yet. That said, we are fairly familiar with most of the trails in the area as we use to ride them extensively on sleds. In fact, we know all the way from Bethel to Lancaster to Colebrook to Pittsburg to Rangely to Rumford pretty well. That's a pretty big block of real-estate with literally thousands of miles of trail and virtually no possibly way of riding it all on a fat bike in much less than a lifetime of winters. This year, we plan to add the NEK into the mix as well so we certainly have plenty to choose from.

Happy, smiling faces
Back to the ride. Jason and Ben did an excellent job of showing us around. We decided to hit a trail which I knew existed but had never ridden before on sled. It was a small club trail, the sled version of single-track, called the Bear Springs trail. It looked to be in good shape and it pointed decidedly up. This would be a great test for the new Borealis. Jamie needed to get home so headed back. The rest of us started off with Jason in the lead and me behind him. A couple hundred yards into the climb he bogged down and stopped but adeptly sprung out of the way. I made my way by and kept plugging at the climb. It was a good poke with some steep sections in the high teens and an average of 9% for the mile or so of climb. Not brutal given the good conditions but certainly a challenge.

We regrouped at the top of that initial climb and made our way quickly down a fast, flowing descent, only to hit another climb. The trail rolled on with ups and downs but nothing of the nature of that first climb. Soon we stopped and it was determined that we'd (I'd) overshot the bail out point which would be the quick way back. My reaction was one of joy, that we'd get to do the bigger loop over to Dolly Copp and back around to the railroad bed trail off RT2. The reactions of Jason and Ben seemed less enthusiastic as they recognized the full scope of the loop.

Scenic winter splendor
For me, I was having one of those rides that I just simply didn't want to end. Cathy was as well. Don't get me wrong, I was working hard and could feel it but I was comfortable, thanks in part to the new 45NRTH Wolvhammer boots that the shop scored me. I have historically been unable to keep my feet warm. These boots, knock on wood, have been awesome so far. Will see what happens when the temps really drop of course. I also managed to keep my hands warm, another challenging proposition and my core was fine with the zip/unzip and no wind layer. So yes, I was comfortable and very, very happy to be out and be alive.

Pressing forward the trail continued for a few more, generally upward miles and broke in a scenic outlook where we could see part of the Presidentials straight ahead. Soon we were down and at Dolly Copp road, a seasonal road that goes from RT16 to RT2. In winter it is a state snowmobile trail and is well groomed. Another climb was then on tap for us, this one also a mile long though a slight 6% average grade. Regrouped at the top, we made our way down the long descent back toward RT2 and the railroad bed trail which would take us back to Gorham. The descent was steep but the conditions and wind were such that you had to push pretty hard to go even 15mph let alone 20mph. All in all, a fairly slow day, conditions wise, with semi-loose granular on top of a fairly well packed base.

Tired but happy
When we hit the railroad bed, Ben peeled off and rode home. He was only a quarter mile away and was pretty well used up at that point. Jason, Cathy and I pressed on, back down into Gorham on the railroad bed. This is a nearly flat, almost dead straight, wide and smooth trail that gets lots of sled traffic. Luckily there wasn't that much on the Sunday afternoon early in the season. Regardless, we are very respectful and make sure to ride all the way to the right on the edge. One thing I learned years ago about sled trail is that the best trail is always, all the way to the right edge. For some reason people love to ride in the middle of the trail so that is the part that gets chewed up the worst. The edge tends to stay much smoother and is often, pristine. I also like being as far right, away from oncoming traffic as possible.

The trip back to town was very enjoyable with some near bridges, old mill remains and some scenic water flows. All this through a snow covered evergreen forest on a crisp, clear December day made for the perfect winter experience. We finished up tired but very, very happy. I'm smiling right now thinking back on it.

I need more rides like that. We all need more rides like that. Rides we reflect back on and smile or laugh. Ones that made us feel good then but continue to make us feel good a week later. That is why we ride bikes in the first place, isn't it? Just need to keep sight of that fact.

To be continued ...

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