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The last rides of the Kermit Niner

May 26, 2010

Way back in April, a week before the Fleche, when I was riding a measly 13-15 hours a week, upon ordinary disassembly and cleaning of my green Niner’s bottom bracket, I discovered a crack in the drive-side chainstay.  Instantaneously that frame ceased to be my Tour Divide race machine.  I’ve been accumulating new parts, spare parts, and extra parts in great piles on the floor of “daddy’s office”, a place where work does indeed occasionally get accomplished.  However, I had been reluctant to install any of those shiny bits too early, lest they be subjected to any wear or abuse prior to the Tour Divide start.  So, for weeks now I’ve been doing high mileage on a drivetrain that has been getting crankier and crankier.  The smallest two gears in my cassette skip under load and there is all manner of general creaking.

I persist and put up with the orneriness in the last few days of the Kermit Niner.  On the 23rd I rode a standard local road loop: Rt 2 east, Rt 14 north to Hardwick, Rt 15 west to Morrisville, and Rt 12 south back to Montpelier.  65 miles and a couple of moderate climbs.  A couple of years ago I’d consider it a significant weekend expedition, but now its just a refreshing jaunt.  The only notable experience on the ride was while I was patiently waiting at the intersection in Hardwick to take the left turn.  The driver of an oncoming pickup yelled at me, “bike path!”, which was rather confusing, since Hardwick is hardly a mid-sized progressive city with a helpful network of bike paths.  As far as I know, Hardwick has zero bike paths.   Its amazing that so few drivers understand that bikes have a right to use roads.

Round barn in Elmore

On the 26th the Kermit Niner took its final voyage, a familiar 45 mile dirt road meandering loop through East Montpelier, Woodbury, and Calais. As my training has progressed over this spring, its been interesting to notice the changes in how my body feels. The first has been nutritional. My previous weekend warrior endurance efforts generally felt limited by my outrageous metabolism, and my need to eat and drink huge amounts just to keep going. These days I always bring peach newtons and whatever flavor of fruit leather Linnaea grabbed at the coop, but as long as I’m regularly sucking my homebrewed electrolyte drink from my Camelbak, I just don’t need those solid snacks on rides of 3 or 4 hours or more.

The second is fitness. In the last five or six months my resting heart rate has dropped 10 beats per minute, from the low 60s to the low 50s. I don’t really care how long climbs are, since I’m generally looking for lots of climbing, and I’m increasingly comfortable shifting into a low gear and just spinning up whatever is in the way. My fitness gains may or may not be related to another improvement: my increased heat tolerance. Yeah, yeah, in north central Vermont, it doesn’t get that hot. However, I’m used to being completely wilted by the first hot (90F+) days of the season. In recent warm days I drank plenty and generally felt fine. Hooray for whatever made that happen.

On this particularly warm day I arrived at the Maple Corner Store looking for a cold something: a chocolate chip ice cream sandwich. Mmmm. A local fellow came out with a 12 pack of cheap cold beer, and tied it on to his 50s vintage motor scooter. He seemed quite intent on riding home to sit back, and not mow his lawn.  I rode home to dismantle the Kermit Niner.

Maple Corner Store, Calais


ACA Notes mention

May 18, 2010

Time will tell how my physical and psychological fortitude stacks up relative to the rest of the Tour Divide crew, but according to Michael McCoy of the Adventure Cycling Assocation, my Tour Divide letter of intent takes a podium position!  That’s a friendly vote of confidence, since he’s the author of Cycling the Great Divide.

Thanks!  …I wonder if he knows Little Debbie…

Mount Montpelier?

May 16, 2010

There is no Mount Montpelier, at least in my town there isn’t. However, with the Tour Divide training window coming to a close sometime soon, with a bit of persistent idiocy, I invented a simulation.  Being in a valley means that most directions you can ride are uphill.  So, ride up every darn hill in town:

Northfield Street
Hill Street
Berlin Street
Phelps Street (short but wowzers its steep!)
Wheelock Street
Gallison Hill Road
Towne Hill Road from Rt 2
Liberty Street
Main Street/County Road to Cummings
Lincoln Avenue and looping through the St. Augustine’s Cemetery
North Street to where it levels out
Gould Hill Road
Winter Street to the Tower
Terrace Street
East State Street

Some of these climbs are pretty ordinary, but Phelps Street is outrageously steep.  You’d best be in the right gear when you hit it or you simply won’t get anywhere.  Taken as a whole, it was a peculiar feeling to have almost no flat terrain where I could just cruise.  Sure, I can hammer up a small climb or two, but with this much climbing in such a modest distance, I was forced to sit down and work through each bump.  It was a tough workout, and probably excellent for technique as well.

Ride stats:
37.2 miles
5300′ elevation gain
3:10 ride time

Note that that’s like climbing App Gap from Rt 100, THREE times, in less distance, and without the valley commute.

St. Augustine's Cemetary, at the top of Lincoln Ave

Three snacks and one nipple

May 15, 2010

For today’s training ride I planned to hit a bunch of gaps, just to rack up a bunch of climbing. I knew that the small bag of generic coop peach newtons wasn’t going to be sufficient fuel for that mission, so my first step was to get additional sustenance.

Snack #1
When its a farmer’s market day, there is only one true snack to be had…a Red Hen Baking Pain au Chocolate.  I got one from none other than Fleche teammate Randy George.  Yummy!  He joked that just one Pain au Chocolate wasn’t going to fuel me very far.  True, true.

The first major climb was on Moretown Mountain Road up Moretown Gap.  Its about half paved, half dirt, with mostly moderate grades.  After a zippy descent I rolled southwards on Rt 100 to Waitsfield.

Snack #2
Maple glazed little donuts from the Big Picture Theater and Cafe in Waitsfield.  It felt a tad sacriligeous to buy only a half dozen, but I really didn’t think that my stomach would be thrilled if I threw a full dozen down the hatch.  These little donuts are truly addictive.

I turned up Rt 17 to climb Appalachian (App) Gap.  My new 20 tooth chainring was positively itchin’ for some action, but just before the pitch kicked up to steep, I heard a boiiiing from the rear and found a busted spoke nipple.  Not the spoke, just the nipple.  That was inconvenient indeed.  If it had been a spoke, I could readily have fixed it with my FiberFix kevlar spoke.  However, I had no spare nipple, and it wouldn’t be field repairable anyway since I’m running my wheels tubeless.  I pondering my annoying situation briefly, and turned around to ride downhill and over Duxbury Gap to Waterbury and Five Hills Bikes.  The guys there put in a new red nipple, new Stans yellow tape, fresh Stans sealant, and had me going again in about half an hour.

From Waterbury, the Mad River Valley gap climbs were too distant to take advantage of effectively, so I turned my GPS northwards and took an effective stab at riding the Gravel Grinder route:  Perry Hill, Loomis Hill, Gregg Hill, Dewey Hill and Stowe Hollow for a total of over 3,000′ feet of climbing in under 30 miles.  Its a pretty loop, especially on a day with patchy dense clouds that looked dramatic but didn’t actually produce anything.

Stowe Pinnacle from Stowe Hollow Road

Snack #3
Just after coming off of Gregg Hill the loop follows Rt 100 briefly, and goes right by the Cold Hollow Cider Mill, well known by locals and busloads of tourists alike as having excellent cider and hot fresh cider donuts.  A half dozen cider donuts tasted great, and half gallon of cider refreshed my Camelbak.  I finished up with a pleasantly flat ride back home.

The finest local road snacks: Cold Hollow Cider and fresh cider donuts

Ride stats:
6:00 moving time
14.6 mph moving average
86.1 miles
7041′ elevation gain

XVTMBR scouting: Hardwick to Irasburg

May 13, 2010

All season I’ve exclusively ridden my bike right from my front door. That’s very time efficient, and environmentally noble, but gets a bit repetitive with the mileage I’m putting in, and is obviously not a useful way to scout new terrain for the XVTMBR.  So today I loaded the bike onto the car and drove north to Hardwick, where I parked at the Grand Union just west of town.  It seemed like the best place to “abandon” a car for a while.  My last exploration in this area last fall was quite fun, except for a two mile long section of ATV and 4×4 mud pits that ended in a long-gone bridge.  Carrying my bike over a weak beaver dam brought back memories of the portage to Robinson Lake in Algonquin Provincial Park.  The situation was a bit too hike-a-bike for my taste, so I found a different route this time.

At the end of the regular road I took a left onto a different ATV track and followed it slightly to the west of where I had been last year.  Sure, there were some completely unridable mud pits along the way, and some slippery stream bed, but there was some nice grassy trail, and a fun ledgy climb too.  Connecting in to another remote road, I wound around Keeler Pond.  It was a big improvement to the section.

Keeler Pond in Wolcott

View northwards from Morey Hill

After the descent from Morey Hill I was riding into new terrain, which is always fun and satisfying.  The next section was a long loop of increasing remoteness on the eastern slopes of the Lowell Range.  Loose cobbles and enormous potholes are a good sign that you’re in for a quiet ride.  The sign for the Wild Branch Wildlife Management Area was thoroughly dented by small arms fire, making it abundantly clear that “wildlife management” really means “shoot ’em all”.  I took a brief look at a cyanotically faded map of the WMA and quickly determined that the two “trails” on the property didn’t lead anywhere, and so kept going forward on the dirt road.

Wild Branch WMA, Eden, VT

A skidder fresh from timber harvest, Albany, VT

Just before the last 40mph downhill to Albany village, the historic Bailey-Hazen Road crossed and headed northwest across the Lowell Range directly to Lowell.  If we opt to route the XVTMBR in that direction, it would undoubtedly be a classic mountain bike hill climb.

I crossed paved Route 14 and headed towards East Albany.  At the top of a long dirt road climb I turned onto a Class 4 road that made a fun rocky descent next to a stupendously maintained sugarbush.  Any competing species had been reduced to slash on the forest floor and the lines were impressively huge and numerous.  Even with my trick new Action-Tec titanium 20t chainring, the climb back up to the ridgetop was a hike.  The well-worn micro knobs on my Nano Raptor tires were definitely not up to the task of propelling me up a hill of moist leafy goo.

A paved road led me to the village green in Irasburg.  If I were out for days and days, I would certainly have gone inside the general store for some well deserved drinks and snacks.  As it was just about turn around time, I headed just a smidge further north to grab geocache GC1Q2J4, a magnetic key holder tucked inside a galvanized culvert.  The 25 miles back to Hardwick was so smooth and fast that I just had to take a rough steep detour up to Caspian Lake in Greensboro to cram in a bit more climbing.

Ride stats:
63.8 miles
4:45 moving time
13.3 mph moving average
6033′ elevation gain

Tech note:
This is the last posting that will feature photos taken with Linnaea’s Argus Bean camera.  It valiantly filled in when my Panasonic LX3 took a lens-first nose dive into pavement at the beginning of the Fleche, the enormous carabiner handle was great for holding onto while riding.  However, its still a bear of very little brain.  It seems to have a fixed focus lens, so it only works on subjects about 6′-infinity.  That makes headshots and closeups impossible.  The lens is tiny, so its not so good in poor lighting.  The sensor, while being an admirable 5mp, can’t handle a broad dynamic range, so outdoor shots in the sun end up looking to contrasty.  Both shadows and highlights are blown out.  Its white balance setting is also not so good.  Interior shots, such as you can catch them, are generally to warm.  I’ve had to adjust the Blue Curve downwards a good bit on all my outdoor shots.  All that criticism aside, its way better then either a Fischer-Price kids camera, or any 640×480 pixel cell phone camera.

In the house now is my new Canon S90.  By spec is very similar to the Panasonic LX3, but gives up a little of wide angle lens range for a lot more telephoto.  Higher quality photos are on the way!

XVTMBR scouting: Montpelier to Granville

May 11, 2010

Last year Dave Tremblay and I began pondering a long mountain bike route in Vermont, the XVTMBR.  Winter has a way of halting route scouting around here, but Dave got back to it recently with an exploration in his neck of the woods. Today’s fair weather ride led from Jones Brook Road, Herring Brook Road, Devil’s Washbowl, and yonder southwards to Raynor Road, somewhere in Roxbury or Granville. Its a classic Vermont road that starts off as a quiet but entirely ordinary dirt road with a solitary house every mile or so.  It gradually turns Class 4, and goes downhill from there.  Not from from its southern end on VT Rt 12A, its little more than a streambed.  Then a nice roll back home on the pavement.

When we’ve commuted around to scope out the whole state, this route is going to be awesome!

Not exactly the regular friendly Vermont farm sign. At least the artwork is funky.

Raynor Road, Granville...or maybe Roxbury

Raynor Road...not a road for my Corolla!

Central Vermont Cycle Tour: Preview #2

May 6, 2010

I was optimistic that by the time I began today’s ride that the spotty weather would have run its course and moved on to other places. However, by the time I had climbed up County Road as far as Mary’s house, I could see yet another threatening wall of clouds in the vicinity of Camel’s Hump and blowing this-a-way. Oh well.

Much like on April 30th, my goal was to cover as much of the CVCT loop as possible before running out of time.  The advantage of looping around the roads here is that I know then reasonably well and there are innumerable ways of shortening or lengthening the route to achieve that end.

Three or four times on my northward wandering rainclouds gently moistened me, and looking back I expected more of a righteous deluge.  Either by happening to ride in the right direction, or by some other form of luck, each time within minutes it was sunny again.

Wilbur Rd, Woodbury

Mirror Lake, Calais

Dog Pond Rd, Woodbury

As I climbed West Hill Road from Worcester to Middlesex, the impending cloud situation became quite a bit more dense and ominous.  Descending through the forested tunnel of the rough South Bear Swamp Road, I couldn’t be sure how much dry time I had left.  Menacing raindrops began as I turned onto Molly Supple Hill.  It was raining in earnest as I flew down Culver Hill Rd, the last dirt of the day.  My eyes, fortunately one at a time, stung painfully from something.  With sweat salt and cheapo Rite Aid sunscreen being washed down my head, and road mud spraying everywhere,who’s to say what the culprit was.  Tomorrow, when my head and helmet have had the chance to dry, I’ll visit Onion River Sports and pick out a large brimmed nylon hat I can wear under the helmet.  Little biker hats are chic and nifty, but in my opinion their brims are too short to effectively protect me from sun and rain.

West Hill Rd, Worcester

South Bear Swamp Rd, Middlesex

Ride stats:
57.7 miles
4:23 moving time
13.1 mph moving average
6520′ elevation gain