Sunday, April 12, 2015

Rasputitsa 2015

The 'titsa!

Loosely translated Russian for 'mud season'.  This race/ride has had a lot of chatter behind it in the cross community and Eric talked me into it for this year.  I'm glad he did, I'm really digging these early season adventure rides.  Interesting, challenging, everything I like about mountain biking but on the road!  Mountain bikers take note!

our meal ticket was a Livestrong-esque bracelet that said Never Give Up in English AND French

Since its inception a few years ago they move the course around a bit but they always try to incorporate as much dirt/gravel as they can as well as a section they call Siberia or as I've seen in print Cyberia.  This section is usually barely rideable if at all and can be quite long depending on the course.

My streak of impeccable VT event weather sort of came to an end yesterday.  It certainly could have been MUCH worse but it wasn't the kind of day you wanted to stop and take pictures.  It was more of a we better keep moving cause its real cold and it might start snowing harder soon kind of day.  But those can be fun too!  Roads were in better shape than I was anticipating as well which was nice.  There had been a lot of chatter online in the days prior with some grim reports of slush and deep mud.

I would say conditions ended up being a bit worse than the Maple ride but still very manageable.  Some descents were pretty squirrely and there was some serious washboard in sections.  Lots of water bottles getting rattled out of cages all over the place.  I'm glad I decided to bring my mountain bike.  I would have been really nervous about crashing on some of those descents and blowing my stitches out.  Probably wouldn't have but mentally it was much nicer to be on the MTB.

This year Cyberia was a looooong section of 'road' that was basically an unmaintained mountain pass to get us back on the Burke side of Victory State Forest.  The whole thing was about a 3-4mi climb gaining just over 1,000ft.  The first mile or so was dirt road but then that changed over to snow machine trail that might have been rideable had it been colder but as it was it was about 1-3in of soft mashed potato snow on top of a harder ice crust.  i.e. not rideable even on an MTB.  This section of snow machine trail was about 2.8 miles. WEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE

I would say it was a torturous trail of tears but it really wasn't.  Most folks were just trudging along, chatting, trying to ride here and there and failing.  It was long, and took a long time but it was cool terrain.  At the top of the pass they had an aid station with volunteers wearing rubber unicorn heads and handing out donuts so it was all good.  We then got to descend for about a mile or so on the same trail which was fun.  Very glad I had my MTB at this point.  Lots of folks had to walk it but I was able to ride most of it.

I got real cold descending off the mountain once we got back to the road.  Once we got down into the valley it was a roll'y dirt road back up north to Burke.  Legs and lungs still felt ok but hands and feet were uncomfortable and I was getting ready to just be done.  The 1K to go sign was a very welcome site.  I had hung back with Eric and we crossed together mid-pack for 211 and 212th, I think he beat me by 2 thousandths of a second.  We were 1.5hrs behind the winner.

Post race meal was amazing.  Production value of the event was great.  Great support, well marked.  Another early season event I would highly recommend to anyone that likes bikes of any kind.

hands down best post race meal I've ever had. POUTINE!

Monday, March 30, 2015

Vermont Overland Maple Adventure Ride

textbook old VT farmsteads everywhere

I think its official. In 2015 if I'm going to VT to do something rad its going to be RAD.  Best in years, ideal conditions rad.  Camel's Hump could have been a fluke but this is proof of concept.  I'M THE KING OF THE WORLD! #jinxed

This was another new to me event (not sure how long its been going least 2 years that I know of).  A shortish little loop in the Woodstock VT area with no shortage of climbing.  A stop at a sugar shack at about the midpoint with I'd say 85% gravel/dirt 10% pavement and 5% Class 4 snow shredding.

 when you are riding a loop and starting a climb with a Dead End sign you are in good shape

frozen mud aftermath

I'd say a good ratio to denote a 'climby' route is 1000ft per 10mi.  Thats what we get in my area with all the punchy dirt climbs.  This ride was closer to 2000ft per 10mi which is fairly ridiculous.  But that kind of terrain is ideal for riding these roads this time of year.  Hills drain well, flat roads not so much.  Roads were in great shape for this time of year, just a bit soft and greasy.  Enough to get you real dirty but very rideable.

Climbing starts almost immediately heading out of town.  Pavement quickly turns to gravel and its game on. Up, down, up, down. It was a big group, 150+ but things spread out reasonably quick and the roads were very lightly traveled in that area, I probably only saw 10 cars all day.  Course was well marked, easy to follow and they had some support Land Rovers creeping around the course for support.

Eric topping out on the first climb

Very friendly atmosphere.  Lots of folks stopping to take pics and passing riders always asking folks stopped if everything was good and if anything was needed.  Even had locals out in their yards on the nice Spring day cheering us on as we went by.

The Class 4 sections were great.  First one was a slight uphill to a slight downhill with packed out jeep wheel wells to ride in.  Snow, ice and mud the whole way.  It was tricky but fully doable even on a CX bike.  Second one was a descent in deep mashed potato snow.  We got into a rut and just out-rigger'd the whole thing.  I guess that counts as 'rideable'(?)  It certainly was fun.

entrance to 2nd Class 4 section

Sugar shack stop was great.  They had all kinds of goodies to eat.  The best of which were these little yogurt / granola parfaits with maple syrup to dump all over them. Very niiiiiice.  We didn't linger too long as to not cool down too much, plus we had the hardest climb of the day still to come.  And it was a doozy. .9 mi at 12% average with a headwall in the middle that had me cutting the slope just to keep from falling over.  Luckily after that it was a predominantly downhill cruise back into town.

mini maple museum

And to cap off a great event we got $1 off beer coupons for Worthy Kitchen so we stopped and stuffed our faces with some serious VT 'fast food'.

Again this is one of those events where if you like riding bikes of any kind (there were CX, MTB and Fat bikes in attendance) you should check this one out.  Great way to kick off the season.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Camel's Hump Challenge 2015

What an amazing day.  Its so rare to get all the various stars to align when attempting events/efforts like this but as cliche as it is yesterday couldn't have been any better.  Weather conditions, snow conditions were perfect. My gear worked flawlessly. This is what I looked like all day:

I rolled into Huntington early.  Nothing like combining the change to DST with having to get up at 4am to drive up to northern VT.  You get started on the Camel's Hump Nordic Area trails which are a cool tucked away backwoods network of groomed and ungroomed stuff.

this part of the country is not ugly

shoot the gap and off into the wild blue YONDER

Things got going with a mass start send off and the gentle climbing starts basically immediately.  We had a pretty hilarious group think navigation issue early on, probably within the first mile.  I had been towards the front of the first group but had basically been following a group of two that seemed to know where they were going.  But when the trail T'd they stopped and turned around and waited for me to get there.  They asked me if I knew where I was going and I said "nope I'm a first timer, I thought you did...and I'm pretty sure there is a group of 35 people behind me who thought the same thing."

As that big group began to arrive at the T we started trying to figure out who had done it before and of course we were all basically 1st timers with maybe 2-3 who had done it before but couldn't remember which way to go.  Things probably could have been marked a bit better early on but luckily we guessed right and the group finally made it to the potion of the trail on state forest land that is excellently blazed with yellow tags with 'Challenge Trail' right on them.

up up and away.

Much of the first half of the course is gentle climbing / traversing.  I had been a bit worried about my setup.  Seemed like a lot of folks had kicker skins or slightly beefier gear but the snow was ideal for grip with scales and the grade of the contour we were on was pretty much perfect.  A nice gentle climb in most spots and when it got steeper it was wide enough to herringbone for a bit if needed.  Even though the climbing was sustained it was sporty terrain with small little descents here and there.  For my alpine skiing friends it was just like traversing to a slackcountry glade for the first 4 miles or so haha.  I realize that partially sounds horrifying but I actually really enjoyed it.  It was challenging in spots on the lighter skis and kept things interesting.

fun undulating terrain

The terrain throughout was really amazing.  Textbook VT birch glades, cliff bands.  I really think that if you enjoy spending time in the woods and consider yourself a skier of any kind this is a must do event for any New Englander (or anyone for that matter).  Just about every part of the locale and event is classic New England winter recreation.

As we got around the north shoulder of the mountain the terrain got a bit less climby and more up and down as we wrapped around the east side and headed south.  Very fun short little descents and cruising traverses with small little climbs.  Perfect for metering your effort and getting short little rests in.  Mid point rest area was just after we crossed the Monroe Trail heading to Wind Gap.  Really spectacular views / terrain here.

heading into Wind Gap

Right after Wind Gap we even got treated to a small but legit alpine glade.  About 75ft wide, maybe 100 vertical feet or so.  Something I wouldn't have even thought about or really even noticed on my AT setup but navigating on my waxless setup was interesting.  I've gotten pretty comfortable on those skis but it certainly wasn't pretty in spots.  After that its one last gentle climb to gain a ridge and shoot through a saddle by Bald Hill and then its basically sustained descending all the way to the finish maybe 2-3 miles worth?  Super fun traversing, letting the skis run a bit.  Perfect way to end the day.

They had warm chicken noodle soup waiting for us, some excellent smoked ham, all kinds of cheese, apple cider.  I got a pint glass for my efforts as well as a really cool winter sports specific camelbak pack thanks to my generous family making me one of the top fundraisers.


Super excited I found this event and I highly recommend anyone / everyone check it out.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Gluten Free Homebrew

For those who don't know yet I'm experimenting with a gluten free existence (well 90/10 give or take if I'm being realistic).  Decided to give it a try based on a bunch of articles I had read of folks suggesting eliminating gluten in an effort to reduce RA symptoms.

I had tried and tried to find every reason to explain RA away since I have been dealing with my myriad of joint issues.  But the issues that have persisted are some of the most classic early warning signs for RA and a whole lot about how my issues have behaved screams of RA.  Looks like a duck, sounds like a duck.

Once I had finally decided to except that there was a decent chance I was dealing with RA the research began.  HOW DO I FIGHT?  Western medicine chooses to go after the immune system with some nasty drugs that won't be finding their way anywhere near my body.  Luckily the internet had some better more natural strategies the most common of which was eliminating gluten from your diet.  So back in December of last year I went for it.

Long story short its been going well so far. I've gotten to experiment with some new foods and it hasn't been too much of a struggle.

I haven't been avoiding beer entirely of late but I have certainly cut back quite a bit.  I've never actually researched how much gluten remains in beer after it is brewed...I probably should.  But gluten free beers are becoming a thing as gluten free diets become more and more trendy so I figured what the hell I'll make a stab at one.

This is actually the first time I've put together a recipe / kit myself choosing my extract and the individual hops and when to add them etc.  I've always just followed directions given up until now.  New territory for me.  Could be disastrous.  Time will tell.

I haven't decided what to call this batch yet.  I almost feel since this is my first truly custom creation I'll need to wait and taste it first.  Here is what I ended up going with:

  • 6lbs White Sorghum Extract
  • 1oz Warrior (60mins)
  • 2oz Cascade (1oz at 15mins, 1oz at 5mins)
  • 1oz Sweet Orange Peel (5mins)
  • 1 cup Maple Syrup (0mins)
White Sorghum is the most common gluten free grain / extract to use with brewing.  At least from what I can tell based on availability.  When making the wort it had a 'unique' color and smell to it.  Not bad per se but different.  I went a bit heavy with higher alpha hops and tried to get strains that trend a bit citrusy.  I've read that sorghum can have a bit of an after taste and the best strategy is to try and hop it away, that is if you like hops.

I do, so I went with Warrior at 60mins to do the brunt of the bittering and then later additions of Cascade to round things out.  I also tried adding some sweet orange peel for some aroma and hopefully some masking of that aftertaste.  And just for shits and giggles a cup of Maple Syrup for a bit of color and body because #NEWENGLAND.  Also toying with adding some more syrup to secondary but that will be a game time decision.

My fingers are crossed.  I think the cards are stacked against me a bit with sorghum but hopefully its at least tolerable.  Maybe serve it with an orange slice you can bite on after each sip in case it really sucks haha.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Local Backcountry Recon Mission

This has been a long time coming.  Finally got out in my own 'backyard' to poke around a bit.  I'll probably be codifying this post.  No point in sending the entire internet to my backyard as it were.

I had a run in with a line that looked interesting this past summer and I had made a mental note to myself that I should probably come back and check that out in the winter.  Although I also noted the terrain seemed like it would need a decent amount of snow to fill in and really be safe and enjoyable to ride.  Queue Feb of 2015 and there is no longer a need to worry about snow depth.

This was a general recon mission with low expectations.  My main plan was to ride this line I had scoped out over the summer but there was some other stuff I wanted to get my eyes on as well.  I was solo so decision making was conservative and I was going to stick to the plan seeing as that line had the highest probability of actually being reasonable.

First part of the skin up is a real treat.  Perfect grades to get warmed up, the sun was out and its a good thing because it was pretty damn cold...again.  I spent most of the early skin up glancing into the woods trying to find those tell tale signs of tracks or slightly open sections of woods that might be rideable.  Before too long you get to see the lower sections of the line I was intending to ride and things looked good.  Deep, open and no one had touched it,.  This sort of surprised me seeing as the line is super obvious and reasonable to hike to.  I figured at least someone in the area would have ridden it since the last major snow fall.

I was taking a round about way to the summit so after seeing the lower parts of the line I traversed north a bit to where the path to the summit multiplies by 3.  I choose the Blue option because it heads over to a drainage that I had an inkling might be rideable.  There was only one track ahead of me and it looked to have been set before the last little accumulation we had.  Again this trail was great for skinning.  Even terrain with reasonable grades.  I was actually somewhat surprised I was able to skin all the way to the summit, I thought there might be a section or two that might require a bit of booting.

To my surprise the drainage actually looked pretty darn appealing.  Sporty but certainly doable, at least for as far as I could see.  But it didn't seem ideal to be heading off into the somewhat unknown solo so I stuck to my plan to stay a bit more centrally located on the mountain just in case.  I'll leave that for another day when I can talk someone into checking it out with me. Rest of the skin up the blue option to the BRT was good.

working my way across the ridge just below the summit

Navigating the ridge got a bit interesting in spots.  Wind was drifting the snow and obscuring the trail in spots.  I had a set of snowshoe tracks to follow but even those tracks disappeared at times due to wind.  I was eventually reminded not to just blindly follow tracks in front of you when navigating in the backcountry.  Remember kids just because someone has already gone that way doesn't mean that person wasn't a complete idiot heading in the complete wrong direction.  As I followed the tracks I began to notice (too late) that the brush around was getting tighter and tighter and then I realized I hadn't seen a blaze on a tree for awhile and BOOM off trail and wandering around. WEEEEEEEEEE

Luckily I've poked around this area in the summer a few times and my sense of direction is pretty good.  I cheated a bit and used Google Maps with the sat image overlay to verify I had the right bearing to hit the fire tower I was shooting for.  Turns out I had already gotten myself pointed right at it, just had another few hundred yards to go.

Temps warranted a quick transition (and little to no picture taking) and I got on my way.  The top section of the line was a bit tighter than I had been anticipating but still completely reasonable and actually down right enjoyable and it only got better as I went.  Little bit better than boot deep fluff with a nice smooth consolidated base underneath.  Good pitch, able to link turns without issue.  I couldn't really believe my luck.  For some reason I had completely prepared myself for a shit show of really sketchy skiing but this was downright shred.

Absolutely great the whole way down.  Intersected the lower skin line and most days I would probably have transitioned back over and gone to do that drainage.  But I had a plan and I nailed it so I figured I would scram and go get some other stuff done at the house.

Very likely this is going to be one of my new go-to spots.  Lots more potential in the area and close to home.  Lots more recon missions to come.