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.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Fat & Furious at Gunstock v2.0

More snow. More people. More course. More windchill.

Race number 2 in the Polartec series and the final weeknight race at Gunstock.  Word must have gotten out a bit from the last race because attendance was bumped up at least 20 or so riders I would say.  And that is despite it being quite a bit colder this time around.  Last race was maybe 20+ degrees, no wind...last night was maybe single digits with a nice solid breeze making things pretty damn RAW.

I think I layered about right but trying to do relatively intensive cardio "comfortably" in single digit temps is a pretty tough nut to crack.  We hid out in the warming hut until the start.  Things got pretty hilarious within the first 30 secs.  I was lined up next to Eric from Chainline and got a slight jump on him in the initial scrum.  But then he screamed #braaaap! and tried to shoot a gap to my left.  He pretty much made it but clipped my bar mitt going by sending me into a pretty sweet tokyo drift.  I was able to steer into it and eventually got sorted without going down.

Turns out it was a fortunate mishap because about 200 yds later there was a carnage pileup just after a 90 degree right hander at the bottom of a hill.  Very likely I would have been right in the middle of it had it not been for my earlier dust up.  Thanks Eric!  Got around the tangled bodies and bikes and got to freezing my ass off.  Caught and came by Eric early on the first climb.  Thought about returning the favor but figured luck would have me going down as well and it was far too cold for too many shenanigans.

Lap was longer this time around.  They sent us a bit farther out and increased the length of the climbing.  There was even a hike a bike section that was just a bit too steep to ride seated and traction did not support out of the saddle hammering.  Pushing a 35-40lb bike up a snowy slope in bike shoes is really fun!  Luckily it was just a short little headwall.

Descent on the course was rolling and fun but COOOOOLD.  There was one section I was actually getting caught on because I was just rolling it while others were hammering.  I didn't feel like creating any more of my own windchill and I was usually catching those guys back on the climbs anyway.

No clue where I was again this time around.  Felt like top 10ish after the start.  There was a bit less lapping this time around due to the longer lap.  A bit after the halfway mark I was having issues with my right foot.  For some reason my left foot was completely fine but my right was a brick.  Completely numb.  My hands had a rough patch early but came back around as I warmed up.  I was lapping through at one point and for some reason I had it in my head that there would likely be 2 laps left.  There were 4.

No idea why I was that far off in my head I could see the time on my Garmin and knew how much was left.  Temps must have been affecting my math skills...or maybe I was suffering from HACE. Either way this was a pretty decent mental blow.  I was getting a bit worried about the thaw out horror show I was going to have with my foot and I even thought my face might be at risk as the temps dropped and wind picked up.  Wasn't sure I had 4 more laps in me.  I kept at it, I was still feeling ok from a power standpoint and I wanted to get a good effort in.

I was coming into 2 to go and feeling pretty certain I was going to call it and head to the warming hut.  But lucky for me I had been caught and lapped by the top 2-3 guys on that lap and I was no longer on the lead lap.  I was still thinking about just calling it and getting some hot cocoa but when I came through they yelled one to go! and quitting with one lap to go just seemed silly.  Kinda funny looking at my lap times my last lap was about 30sec faster than my second to last lap and was I think my 4th fastest lap overall.

Finished up in ?th place and then tried not to puke while thawing out. GOOD TIMES.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Doublehead: Round 2

Winter seems to have finally arrived in New England.  At least as far as snow cover goes.  We are now clear of #Blizzard2015 and another sleeper event a few days later that dropped a decent amount across NH.  As is usually the case after a few days like that Bill reached out looking to get into the BC somewhere.

We were both looking for somewhat of an easier shakedown tour.  We were both on new setups for the first time and also both looking at our first days skinning for the year.  Always nice to ease into it and we were looking at forecasts for some brutally cold temps and wind on the day.

We decided on getting the Doublehead ski trail, an old CCC trail we had both done together back in 2009 (has it really been that long?!). We were both pretty green in the backcountry game back then.  It is really fun to look back on that post to see what I packed and how silly of an endeavor that was compared to how easy and straight forward our second attempt was.

view of Washington from N. Doublehead

The snow was good albeit a bit tracked out. We got there pretty early but Doublehead is a popular spot being right in Jackson and being a somewhat easier run it caters to a wide range of folks.  We were probably 3rd or 4th up.  Skin up was nice.  Certainly way better than hauling all your gear with snowshoes.  New skins were great, lots of grab although I think my G3's had way better glide but that might have been partially due to the days snow conditions.  I'm not a huge fan of the tail clip.  I was worried about them after trimming the skins and I definitely had a fun time trying to get them off with cold hands on the transition at the top.  Not horrible but way trickier than my old G3's and on a day like yesterday a few extra mins struggling with a tail clip can mean you get pretty damn cold.

double fall line!

you'd think it was nice and warm. you'd be wrong.

Hi Mom!

I actually got the layering just about right and was able to regulate my temp by keeping my pace reasonable and shedding mittens and unzipping halfway up.  Other than the tail clips I was able to actually transition pretty quickly.  Somewhat surprising since I am usually pretty rusty first time around and bumble with my skins.  I guess crazy cold temps and wind can get you focused a bit on being quick and efficient.

Ski down was great.  Its a fun trail, uses the terrain well and is decently steep in spots.  Keeps things interesting and is just long enough to feel worth it and get a nice burn going.  Couldn't have asked for a better shakedown.  Just enough to test gear and fitness but not leave me shredded.  More snow in the forecast tonight into tomorrow. Looking good for more days like this one in the near future.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Fat & Furious at Gunstock 2015

Weeknight bike racing in the Lakes Region! At night! In the winter!

Polartec is sponsoring a series this year and Gunstock offered up their nordic trails for the first two races of the series as Thursday night events.  I was super pumped when I heard about this.  Usually you only really see weeknight stuff down south in the more populated areas so it was really nice to have the option to get a good race pace effort in close to home.

Gunstock Nordic Association opened their lodge up for the event. It was pretty ideal.

The turnout was great. Looked like 45-50 racers by the time things got going.  Course was a bit modified from what they had hoped to do due to snow conditions and the open trails that were available.  Loop ended up being a short 8/10ths of a mile but it had a decent little climb on the front half followed by some flowy descending on the back half.  There were two high speed left handers that were fun to try and take as fast as possible without washing out.  There was even a fan gun going through the start area that created sand pit like conditions.  Squirrelly snow that required power and quick reflexes to stay upright.

We did a mass start Expert and Sport all at once.  They ran it like a CX race.  45mins for Expert, 30 for Sport.  First go through the 'snow pit' was carnage as expected.  Everyone hit it at full speed trying to establish that front group.  Several guys washed out completely and most others had outriggers going just trying to stay upright.  I escaped unscathed and found myself at the back of the lead group of maybe 10 guys or so.  The gap from that group to the rest opened up pretty fast and pretty significantly.  By the top of that first climb it was probably already 15-20 secs.

I was on my limit on the tail end of the group.  Probably should have warmed up a bit more but that is pretty much always the case and I'm also just not really good in the first 10-15mins.  Lapped through with the group and heading into the snow pit the second time I clipped some deeper powder and before I knew it I was completely perpendicular to where I wanted to be heading.  Didn't go down but it took me a bit to get all figured out in that snow and moving again.  By that time the group had steam rolled away and I was firmly in no mans land.

I spent the next few laps isolated just churning along.  Didn't seem to be making any progress on the front group and no one seemed to be gaining on me.  Lapped riders started showing up pretty early with such a short lap and before too long it was basically impossible to keep track of who was who and where anyone was.  I started feeling a lot better around the 20-25 minute mark.  Power felt pretty consistent.  I'm not 100% sure but I believe I clawed maybe 2-3 guys back from the front group as they started to fade.  I'm only really basing that on how long it took me to catch them once I saw them.  I didn't pass them like a lapped rider it took a bit to come up to them and pass so I'm assuming they were stronger riders from the front group.

If that was the case I believe that put me somewhere in the maybe 7th-10th range?  About mid way through the tops guys lapped even me.  Don, Lee and Anthony all came by but I think that was it.  I was still feeling pretty good towards the end of the race but I was caught by someone on the last lap.  He rolled up to me about halfway up the last climb.  We rode together for a few moments and then he slowly started to pull away right towards the switchback at the top.  Luckily I was able to plow through my brain governor that was telling me I was giving what I had.  It took me several years to have the confidence to push past that, its a pretty strong biological process.

Grabbed two gears and got out of the saddle and closed the gap over the next few hundred yards in the rolly stuff heading into the descent.  I was fairly certain that I could take the descent just as fast as this guy so it was going to come down to getting there first and then keeping the pace up.  We came up to a lapped rider at the same time, I went left, he went right and I tried to use the opportunity to punch it with a clean line in front of me.  Not sure if he got held up but I got a slight gap and I was able to descend a bit faster and get to the line with maybe 3-4 secs to spare.  RACING BIKES!

Promoters decided to focus on the podium for both classes when it came to results.  With all the lapped riders and lack of timing gear it just got too tricky to keep everything straight.  Its all good.  I was about where I thought I should have been and I felt good on course so I'm happy with the day.  Upon crossing the line the race promoter was walking around giving out swag and I scored a free Bontrager beanie and then had some Moat Mountain beers with the Clarks Bro Racing crew.  Solid Thurs of racing bikes.

Can't wait to do it again in two weeks.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

MLK Super Weekend

On the surface this past weekend sucked.  Weather in my area was horrible. Brutal cold Saturday followed by a big warmup and tons of rain Sunday afternoon / evening into Monday.  Thanks New England!  BUT there were windows of opportunity and with a bit of travel I was able to turn this weekend into a SUPER weekend.

I had to bail on a KT ride Saturday due to -19 degree temps with some silly wind chill values.  I really wanted to get a bit more time on the fat bike before my next race Thurs so when I woke up Sunday and temps were reasonable and the rain was still en route I decided to make a stab at FFD.

Luckily Franklin seems to have reached a critical mass of winter trail users that has been consistently getting at least a subset of the trails packed out and perfect for fat biking within a week or so of fresh snow.  I'm getting better at layering at different winter temps and some of my new winter riding gear is making a world of difference.

Gina got me some Bar Mitts for Christmas and I think I can safely say that they (or something similar) are a MUST for winter riding.  Its like night and day.  Keeping my fingers warm seemed to be that impossible task that no matter what you tried it never seemed to pan out.  Now with the bar mitts I can wear a light glove in just about any temp and be completely fine.  And it only took me about 1/4 of one ride to get used to getting my hands in and out on the fly.  Couldn't be happier with them.

this was from several weeks ago. lots more snow now.

I also have several rides in on my new winter shoes the Louis Garneau LS-100 0 degree's.  Also a great purchase that makes a HUGE difference.  Its nice being able to clip in and ride like I'm used to.  My first few rides on the flats were not as bad as I thought they'd be but clipping in is always better.  My only warning on the LS-100's is they run small.  Half size up.  Mine are going to work and I don't feel like dealing with returning etc. but if I did I would get a half size larger.

I got a great 9+ mile ride in before the freezing mist started and then I hunkered down for what I thought would be a lazy Sunday / Monday avoiding the crappy local weather.  Then late Sunday I got a text from Jake.  Day care was staying open for MLK and he had a hall pass and an extra voucher to Jay and was looking for a wing man.  SIGN ME UP.

Most forecasts had called for Jay to get mostly snow and be just about the best place to be for down mountain shredding.  I figured it'd be a great last second get but I had no idea how ideally the entire day would set up...

I will preface this recap by saying this was, to date, the best post-college ski day I've had.  I specify post-college because our college years were far too jam packed with big days, travel to Europe etc. responsibilities were low so we got just about every big day there was.  And I've gotten plenty of big days post college but as life responsibilities increase there is more that goes into a 'big day' and most big days come with a price.  Horrific travel, home owner duties...all that good stuff.

So nowadays when I'm talking about the BEST ski day I'm talking a balance between gnar conditions at the mountain and 0 gnar life conditions and Monday was all of that.  A perfect storm of perfect old man considerations.  A zero stress drive.  Roads were completely fine on the way up, not death defying in the slightest.  Jay had gotten 8-10in of lighter than expected snow.  Temps were right around freezing with reasonable wind and it snowed just about all day.  Crowds were non existent, didn't wait in one significant lift line all day with most lifts being ski-on all day.  Despite the snow during the day the only road that needed attention was the access road.  After that it was stress free smooth sailing all the way home.  And when I got home I didn't have to shovel or rake my roof or do anything home owner related.  AND I GOT FIRST TRACKS IN ARGUABLY THE BEST GLADED RUN IN NEW ENGLAND.

one of the best single runs of my snow riding career

Still don't know how it happened. We didn't rush over there in the slightest but we found ourselves breaking trail on the hike up and over.  Coverage was good and the snow was deep.  It was a bit surreal.  This was a forgiving, go as fast as you want, waist deep in the troughs, face shot snorkel fest.  We couldn't help but laugh the whole way down.

later in the day and still SUPER DUPER

 I tried real hard to get Jake to ride this tree but he has kids to think about now

So yeah, I'll stop rubbing it in. It was good. Real good. After this weekend I'm realizing my current winter recreation status means I can almost completely ignore the weather.  No matter what it does I'll be able to either fat bike in decent conditions or ski in decent conditions.  I'M THE KING OF THE WORLD.