Tuesday, September 25, 2012

The Cycle and Circle of Life

Interesting thoughts at the moment, seems I've just witnessed life in so many ways. Was it the lights of Vegas? The hundreds of bicycle wheels and bicycle minds meeting in one gigantic room? The smell of smoky, potentially cancer filled casinos? Ding, Ding, Ding! Keno!

Naw, give and take I say.

More to the slightly long or short, thought filled point...

Eternal Life? Maybe...Evolution while in revolution? I like ice cream.

You see there's this Black and Yellow Garden Spider or more scientifically known as Argiope aurantia. This poor little beauty passed on today, but not before making a special appearance, even if it was in the face of death. My point may be lost entirely, but for the last several summers we've had one of these incredible spiders in our small flower garden. It was as amazing as it was creepy to see. Admittedly, I am not a fan of spiders or snakes for that matter, but I can appreciate the beauty of such a creature while being completely fascinated by them and their existence. This summer though, Stef and I hadn't seen one return to the garden and we might have even expressed some sadness with the lack of such a pleasurable and interesting view of nature. Last night as I was opening the barn door, literally within inches of my head, in the dark, I saw her, she was slender, long legged and looking beautiful. I ran to Stef inside and rushed her outside. Stef was happy, creeped out, and impressed all at once to see our spider friend of various generations make a return to us. I suppose it's possible she could have been around all season, yet we hadn't seen her. Makes you wonder what you're missing on so many different levels without some reflection.

Kindness and Proper Respect...

I found her this morning, motionless and webbed up against the bottom of the barn door. A place I couldn't allow her to remain. She was here for a few months or less and weathered the earth, such a short but incredibly vast life. Maybe there is life bigger and far beyond what we consider it to be?

I found a stick outside and butter tub out of the recycle bin and gently moved her into the plastic tub (at a stick's distance!) then I quietly brought her directly to the area we've had her family members reside over the years. Intent? My intent was to protect her and allow her to litter the garden with her spirit, or become nutrition for some little critter, either way it seemed a more life enriching way to continue to eternal life. She gave, I took, I gave, she took.

What am I talking about? I'm not really sure if you can get it, you'll have to determine if there is a lesson for you or if I'm blabbering on about nothing (to you). I see things in a different light than some.

She remained in these luscious greens all day long, though she had pretty much faded in color significantly over the course of 8 hours while I was away. I'm forever learning about the cycles of and circles or life. It's what you give and take from it. Seems we may have evolved to remain eternally.


Tuesday, August 21, 2012

2012 Mount Washington Hill Climb Race Report

Racer Bib number 286 for the 2012 Mount Washington Auto Road Bicycle Hill Climb.

Here I am reflecting upon one of the greatest rides of my life. For you, I share a few photos and thoughts. Saddle up!

Firstly, I would like to say a special thanks to all my sponsors who generously donated their hard earned cash toward my ride and for the Tin Mountain Conservation Center in Albany, NH. Early fundraising estimates are looking like over Two hundred and Thirty Thousand dollars raised, which includes our awesome contribution of $1173 dollars. In the 40 years of hill climbing on Mount Washington they've raised over 30 million dollars in support of the Tin Mountain Conservations environmental and outdoor education efforts. Whether you donated or not, a lot of you sent words of encouragement to give me energy needed for such a physical effort and I thought about a lot of those comments while riding. Again, thanks, you all had to work for the money you donated, I just had to ride my bike.

Leading up to the start of this years race, I have been riding quite a bit. My year to date mileage is 2,000 plus with combined road and mountain biking. That is well above last years miles prior to the event and nearly all of my training and racing has been ultra, superb, quality. Though there was that one hard ride on April 1 with the Big Chair crew, that was quite the April fools joke on me! I lasted about 65 miles, but had made some key errors in clothing choice and nutrition. I had to drop, and I dropped hard with major leg cramps. After slowly limping in a homeward bound direction, I actually had to break down and have Stef pick me up in the car about 10 miles from home. Then just a couple of months ago, I had similar leg cramps on a big ride in the White Mountains, again Stef to the rescue! This time she rode solo back to the car about 30 miles and then turned around and drove back up to Crawford Notch and picked me up. That was a brutal day, but as a good friend suggested to me via a facebook post, "take it to the bank for Washington", and that is exactly what I did. In both events, I lacked a key element to my riding nutrition plan, I went without an electrolyte and carb sports drink that I normally use and it hit me hard well into a big effort. I know now I can't do that ever again.

Aside from all the time spent riding this season, a lot of other things have changed since last years ride, all for the better. My race day body weight was about 10 pounds less than in 2011 and my diet has changed significantly. For this and a lot of mental inspiration, I owe the credit to my super awesome wife Stef. She's transformed her life in the last eight months and rode a brilliant first time up the hill just back in July, finishing in 1:32:02 with a win for her age group! Seeing her finish SO amazingly strong gave me some pretty incredible mental strength to pull off what I did on Saturday. I learned a lot from her on that climb up. Thanks Stef!
Then there are the dietary changes I mentioned that we have made which have have been very beneficial. It's sometimes hard to walk by that fresh, hot, out of the oven bread at the super market, but I honestly don't miss it on a regular basis like we used to indulge ourselves in. All of the other foods I have taken on are much more satisfying than things I used to eat, and I thought I ate a pretty healthy diet before!

How about we go straight to the race report so I don't continue to blabber on. After a late and only so, so, dinner on Friday night, I restlessly fell asleep and ever so quickly the alarm went off for a 3:30 AM wake up. It had rained hard with thunder storms all night and I only wondered about the possibility of the race getting postponed. Which we wouldn't know until actually driving from home to the event. On the ride up my spirits were slightly dulled by pretty heavy rain falling and my bike was getting soaked, which I am never psyched about anyways, but the further we north we went and closer to the hill we got, the skies started to clear, when we headed up route 16 into Jackson and I could see the summit, I knew it was game on. 

Just about to cross Mile 7 with a repeat offense of dropping a bottle.
Don't worry Stef hiked it back to the car for me.

I had about an hour before my start so I spent some time visualizing and trying to balance out my thoughts, then I rode up route 16 toward Pinkham Notch for about twenty five minutes to warm up. I stashed my wind jacket and a few things I didn't want to carry with me at a friends car while I watched the Top Notch group start. Then I rolled over to the starting line and positioned myself near the back of my age group. There was still a wave of riders to go ahead of me, but before I knew it, they had gone and then my one minute warning came, then thirty seconds, TEN seconds....and CANNON BLAST! Just picture a tiny little Civil War Cannon replica with a super loud shot blast - unfortunately no cannon balls are used.

From the starting line you race across the flattest tenth of a mile for the next 7.6, usually you hit your max speed in this stretch, which was 17.6 mph for me. The climb starts immediately after and in earnest!
Before you know it, you're at twelve percent or more grade. As I hit the initial slope, I had made it to the front and rushed up and away from all the other riders in my wave with just two or three others. A random memory I have of this was about a half mile up, looking back and seeing a huge peloton of riders strung out across the whole road, slowly crawling up the slope and all bundled up together. I was happy to have escaped that mosh pit! One guy who I rode with all the way up, stood while riding for most of the climb, he was pushing a standard set of road bike gears! Surely I though he would crack, but he managed to hang it and we kept passing each other the entire way. The other guy we also stayed with for most of the way up, but just after mile seven he surged ahead very rapidly, but further down low, the three of us were passing the slower riders in the wave that started five minutes ahead of us. I finished mile one in eight minutes with a 7.4mph average speed, my second fastest time. Aside from the first mile, I set personal records for every mile after, keeping my heart rate under control the whole ride. My breathing was rhythmic and my mind focused, legs spinning efficiently ticking the pedals over like a finely tuned set of valves in a Porsche driving up the Autobahn. Not once on the ride up did I even question why I was putting my body through such physical difficulty and it honestly didn't feel as hard as the year before. I'd say I finished quite strong and feeling like I could have kept climbing for another 7.6 miles. I was keeping track of my distance and average speed along with the elapsed time and I knew around mile five that I would at least achieve my time goal, but I had a pretty good feeling that I would finish with an even better time than I ever imagined I could finishing the ride with an official, 'Top Notch' time of 1:15:25.

Unlike last year where I started out way too hard and maxed out my heart rate from the start then never really recovered, this year I've discovered my optimal power output in certain gears, at a certain heart rate range, on a particular grade of climb. This whole hill climbing thing really comes down to science for me. I've really learned so much about my physical ability this season and I know that I can continue to improve from where I am today with continued training. Below is a stats comparison from 2011 to 2012 taken from my Strava training logs.

  2011 Stats were 83 percent Anaerobic and 17% at threshold.

Quite the opposite in 2012 with 81% threshold and 18% Anaerobic.

Sharing a few photos from the ride and a final thanks to you all and my support staff for the day. Stef, Heidi, Kathy, and Brian. It was awesome to share this day with you all and thanks for taking the time to enjoy it with me.


Embracing the awesome mile seven crew with an unexpected arrival!

With a flash I was gone, so pumped from all the cheering coming from mile seven.
It's the place to be you know.

Showing a little "game" face on the final stretch.
*Photo courtesy of Heidi Spiller.
Sparky, rider in the center of the photo rounding onto the final 22% pitch!
*Photo courtesy of Heidi Spiller.

Happy to have accomplished a brilliant ride and time goal.

Finally, check out this raw little video Stef made. It's going viral shortly!

Thanks for reading!

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Anxiously Confident - Eleven days before the Mount Washington Hill Climb

Looking down from mile 7 on the Mount Washington auto road
Just a little over a week to go before the big climb. Having put many miles on the bikes this year, I'm as ready as I could be, with only a few more training spikes before a nice taper. Anxious I am, my mind wandering about while I try to maintain confidence and strength.

As I reflect on amazing times spent in the mountains with good friends, I come to realize that among all the character building challenges I've put my mind and body through, or those that have been put in front of me from outside sources, there really is no challenge too big or too difficult that one can not tackle with those two things in mind, confidence and strength. Training myself to keep on track of that thought is challenging and rewarding all at once.

I can't predict how I'll feel or what the weather will be on race day, but I'm strong physically and mentally, completely focused on the task at hand. Regardless of whether or not I make my time goal on the hill, the pain and suffering I will feel is exactly the relief I need to continue on this amazing, ever evolving path called life.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Six Gaps, Vermont - Just not all at once

The survey marker at the top of Camel's Hump Mountain, VT.

Early this spring someone brought up the subject in cycling conversation about riding the Six Gaps in Vermont. Six Gaps? What is Six Gaps? Well it is quite possible that Six Gaps by bicycle, traverses through some of the prettiest stretch of roads in the Green Mountains and challenges you deep into your inner cycling soul with some of the steepest paved, and dirt roads in all of New England, if not the entire US. A Gap is Vermont terminology for a Mountain Pass, or Notch as some might be more familiar with. We've got lots of Notches in Maine and New Hampshire and they're all extremely beautiful and they mean an awful lot to me having traveled up, down, and all around them, but I've found new love, and that love is the amazing landscape in the state of Vermont. Six Gaps entails 135 miles while climbing over 13,000 feet. It's something I've craved trying for a very long time, but oh, to taste the fruit.

Stef cruised out the first Gap Climb of the day. Proudly displaying the Brandon Gap signage.

A couple of pre-ride side notes - It was summer vacation for Stef and I, so we decided to spend the week in Vermont. We planned to camp out (awesome!) near Waterbury, deciding to stay at Little River State Park for a few days then head over toward Lake Champlain for a couple of days. I must say that Little River SP was excellent. It's about 4 miles down a dirt road outside of Waterbury and it's super quiet, with no residual traffic noise. They have showers, a reservoir to swim, playgrounds for kids and everything was super clean, most importantly, the showers and bathrooms. It's definitely not primitive camping, it's deluxe car camping at a fair price. $25 night for a lean-to.

Drinking Mike's and Tuning Bikes.

Our intentions while on vacation in the Green Mountain State were pretty clear, keep moving, no relaxing, what else is vacation for but to recreate? So off we go, riding into the sunset! Literally, as I chose "the long way" and in the end, we merged back onto the interstate and rapidly arrived at the camp site in time to eat dinner, set up our tent and relax before darkness fell. We did however change our plan of riding Six Gaps the very next day and postponed it a day. First we must survey the landscape!

Somewhere near the summit of Camel's Hump.
Stef had never, until this point, hiked a Vermont "Four Thousand Footer" and there are five mountains in Vermont above 4000 feet. After a pretty okay night's sleep followed by super tasty camping coffee and a light breakfast, we head off to climb Camel's Hump Mountain. Camel's Hump is easily accessed from Waterbury, VT, heading for the Monroe Trail. I had once hiked Camel's Hump from the opposite side of the hill on 9/27/92, almost twenty years ago now! The summit was pretty crowded, but we hung out until the group of preteen kids came up, one proudly displaying a frog he had killed with a homemade spear stick. Come on, camp counselor, get a grip and set an example. Before Stef let him have it, I suggested we get moving. We decide to loop around the summit and take the Alpine trail back to the Monroe trail we'd taken up. What a lovely detour looking South and West toward the Champlain Valley.

Alpine Trail, Alpine Mountain, Alpine Flowers, Alpine Fun!

Peace, Love, and Bikes on top of Middlebury Gap.

So back to Six Gaps! Arriving atop Middlebury Gap, our second of planned six climbs, I was just in a total Zen moment. The mountainous terrain was spectacular, roads quiet, climbs steep and cars completely respectful of us on the road. How could you not just get totally sucked into the moment? Now 50 miles into our ride, and close to 4000 feet of climbing, we turn north on route 100 to the quaint little town of Warren, VT. We stopped at the country store for cold water and something for our bellies. One more stop at the town hall for a bathroom break and a chat about cycling with the town manager, a cyclist himself who's done the PMC 10+ years, all the Gaps and even Mount Washington many times. He sent us on our way and wished us well on Lincoln Gap, our next climb for the day.
Lincoln Gap was brutal. It averages 19% grade for over a mile near the top, but gently levels off just before the summit. Part of this week in VT was a mini training camp for me and my upcoming Washington race, Stef had just done Newton's Revenge the previous Saturday, so she was totally primed for this one. I hit it hard and thought my heart was going to pound itself out of my chest. I arrived at the top, dripping sweat and legs feeling it, all good of course.
Fist pumps and high fives all around, Stef crushes Lincoln Gap with a smile!
One of my favorite pics, Stef, a beautiful field, barn, and Mount Abraham.

Descending into the town of Lincoln on super steep gravel, we actually stopped a couple of times to let our rims cool so as not to have a blow out. They were really warm, so good thing we did. Part of the crux of this ride is all the gravel sections you go through. They can tear your tires up in a big hurry and this would be the tale of our day, as you'll soon read about.

Yet again, and with perfect timing, we arrive at a lovely little country store. We're ready for some vasa and Stef mentions how she could really have some pretzels for a little sodium replenishment. Well, it couldn't have been more perfect as she came out with six pretzel sticks, a dime a piece! Amazing you can still buy something at any store for a ten cents. I think she had some sort of premonition that there would be pretzels there...we each had six in the end and they were delicious! 

Pretzels in my pocket!
We head out from Lincoln aiming for our fourth Gap climb for the day. We're 70 miles in and at neartly 7,000 feet for Alti gain, and I can feel the pain! We turn onto Ap Gap road and begin the climb, well, the climb up to Baby Ap Gap, which I didn't tell Stef about so when we got to the top of Baby Ap, she sort of mentions, hey that wasn't so bad, then I tell her, Oh, yeah, that was Baby Ap Gap, we have more climbing ahead! A couple of casual gripes and moans and we carry on, both feeling it. It was pretty hot out and with us both pushing 3000+ calories burned, we were really working hard. We're about three quarters of the way up Ap Gap when someone has a blow out, I thought it was Stef, but it turns out that my rear tire had torn and the tube popped through the casing then blew out. Cool I thought at first, I haven't changed a flat tire all season, I'll get to use my Co2 device and play bike mechanic. So I proudly change the tube and boot up the tear in my tire, then proceed to inflate, when all of a sudden the tire blows again, it seems I had multiple tears. With both my spare tubes now used up and both of our tire boots in my rear wheel, this leaves little margin for any more flats or tire rips. We'll need to stop at the bike shop in Waitsfield to buy some supplies. So up we go, hitting the steepest section of Ap Gap and then the summit.

That's Sparky (me) heading up the final pitch of Appalachian Gap.

After a white knuckle descent down Ap and by Mad River Glen Ski area (ski it if you can), We arrive in Waitsfield, hitting up Fitwerx bike shop. A decision is made that I need two tires since the front one was also looking ragged, worn and torn. They had us bent over a barrell with the prices they charge on tires. I even mentioned I work in the cycling industry and asked if they offered a discount to industry folks. I got a look like I had two heads on my shoulders, then the shop guy politely gave me a 10% discount off of retail. $160 bucks later, we had new tires on Old Blue and we're back on the road. Nearly nine hours since we left the car and about seven hours "in saddle" both of us were pooched. We had all intentions of continuing for Gaps five and six, but when we arrived at our junction to head east for Roxbury Gap we decided we'd had enough and graciously bowed out of the last two. In the end it was the best decision to call it a day, we would have finished in the dark, if we had made it...

Six Gaps Vermont will always be there and it's already in the plans for the 2013 cycling season. We finished our ride with 115.8 miles, 9,112 feet of climbing, 4,427 calories burned, 7:43:02 ride time and memories to last a lifetime. See you next year 6 G's.

Before we left lovely Vermont, we did ride the final two Gaps, which as I reflect upon, were my two favorite climbs, besides Ap Gap these definitely get the award for best views. Ride file attached below. Cheers and thanks for reading!

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Remembering Gus 10/31/98 - 6/13/03

 Gus Jacques - Standing tall and proud on one of his favorite "perches".

Six Thirteen, not a day, or number combination I am very fond of. I bury deep the pain of Gus' final moments in my arms. I indulge in all the good times and memories of such a beautiful animal soul. Sometimes I can still smell and feel his soft fur.

RIP Gus, who is always running through that field of flowers and lush green grass, yet a constant beacon to my daily teachings in life. 

Learn more about Gus, here.

Until one has loved an animal
a part of one's soul remains unawakened.

-Anatole France

Sunday, June 10, 2012

I Just Rode Away From Them

Just off the start line left of center rocking the red baggie shorts.
*Photo credit - Pat's Peak

I did, I just rode away from everyone in my age group today in my first ever win in a mountain bike race! I was at Pat's Peak for work this weekend at the mountain bike festival and while planning the trip last week, I was talking with Steph, I told her that I was going to race the Cat 2 (Sport Class) cross country, adding that I was pretty confident I could win it. That confidence was not even challenged today as I broke from the group on the first climb and hit it hard. I definitely put some roadie tactics to work and they played out brilliantly. I got no reaction from the group as I had a look back while I was rounding the pond before entering the very first section of single track. In my warm up course preview this morning, I determined it could/would be won on the first climb, and it was...

The course was a lot of fun, not nearly as hard for me as some people I spoke with felt it was. It was listed as 5.62 miles, with 857 feet of climbing per lap, and there was plenty of climbing (which I absolutely love), with some nice fast downhills, in a classic New England ski area trails type of fashion. It reminded me a lot of the old Mount Snow days. In all my days of racing, there are two highlights that I'll always remember.

Mount Snow 1999 NORBA Nationals - This was my first season of racing bikes and I started with the downhill scene. I raced beginner DH and did really well placing two podium 2nd & 3rd place finishes and ended up second overall for points in the Trail 66 Series for that season. Moving on to Mount Snow the week after I finished the Trail 66, I decided to upgrade a category to Sport DH for my first ever national race. Thankfully, I had a boss at the time that fully supported my endeavors and he gave me the week off to head to Mount Snow and dial in the course in my brain. So I headed off for a few days of practice pre-race. After days of riding, planning and memorizing course lines, watching racers like Leigh Donovan, Tara Llanes, Steve Peat, Cedric Gracia, Myles Rockwell and more ride the lines on that course (I actually learned more from the ladies) I had it nailed! My race run was completely amazing! I had an incredible ride, "flashing" (climber lingo) the entire course! Pedal here, brake there, with flow and finesse. I finished second place in that race (by 3 seconds) and I'll always remember feeling so pumped at how well that race run went for me. My downhill "career" ended the following year after a couple of nasty crashes in my final race of the season, which lead me to blow my Trail 66 standings and miss a podium spot for the overall.

Ripping down the side of a mountain.
*Photo credit - Scott Snyder Photography

Since those days, I've always kept up with biking, and riding mountain bikes has always been my first love, but I've also come to love road riding and more specifically climbing as much as I can on the roadie. Suffering through century's, long suffer fests with riders much faster than me, two mind numbing past ascents of Mount Washington, and a few XC mountain bike races here and there in the last 12 years since my first racing days. This year as part of my preparation for my time goal on Mount Washington, I decided that I would jump into the racing mix with a few early to mid season MTB races, mostly for heart rate training, and some race pace endurance sessions. So far for the season I've got two podiums, a third place finish a few weeks ago, and now my first ever win. 

As the focus now shifts to plenty of time in the saddle going up steep hills, I'm thinking, with a strong mind, the third time (read about the second time here) will be the Charm. Thanks for reading, ride on!

 Top of the podium to yah!

Thursday, May 31, 2012

2012 Mount Washington Hill Climb

Greetings Family and Friends,

On Saturday, August 18, 2012 I will ride my bike up Mount Washington, a 7.6 mile race to the summit of the highest peak in the Northeastern United States. The Mt. Washington Auto Road Bicycle Hillclimb is the largest annual fundraiser for Tin Mountain Conservation Center. With today's economy and tough times for a lot of folks, I reluctantly send this email asking for a donation, something you may be asked for from others in your life networks. Either way if you donate or not, send a word of encouragement that I will be able to remember or think about during the coming weeks of training, or even while I'm on the climb on race day.

Why do I ride? I'm forever dedicating my bike ride up Mount Washington in memory of one of my best friends Pete Roux, who was ice climbing in Huntington Ravine, on Mount Washington, and was killed in an avalanche, January 18, 2008. This will be my third ride up in the last four years. In 2009, I completed the race in 1:30:42, in 2011 I took over seven minutes off my previous personal record and came very close to my time goal finishing in 1:23:06. This time around I hope to get a "top notch" time and have again set a personal time  goal of 1:18:08. That's one hour eighteen minutes, eight seconds. The seconds might be tough to nail down, so I'll go for within the eighteenth minute.

Many of you know that I'm out riding regularly, but I have started training heavily in the last couple of weeks, recently having my biggest mileage week last week at 169 miles. Getting up this beast of a climb is 90% mental and this mental game may be the toughest challenge of all, but I know the energy leading right up to the cannon blast start and the personal motivations will get me up that hill. When I'm digging deep in my soul at mile five and the view of the top of the southern gullies of Huntington Ravine come into view, I know that I will have a great burst of spiritual energy to continue the push to that time goal. When Steph is at mile seven yelling at me and running by my side for a few feet, I will surge forward to the finish with great force and speed.

Your donation, small or large, will help me with the motivation to achieve my time goal and help the Tin Mountain Conservation Center continue to teach people about our environment in the White Mountains. Information about the TMCC can be viewed, along with the ability to donate securely and conveniently on-line right from my pledge page - HERE

So in closing, I ask of you, in memory of Pete, please help me support a great environmental organization, the Tin Mountain Conservation Center, which has provided environmental education to over 75,000 students, campers and individuals throughout schools and communities in Northern New Hampshire and western Maine for over 30 years.

Kind regards,

Monday, March 26, 2012

The BIG Four-O

Yup, just yesterday, March 25, 2012,  around 3 am, yours truly hit the only sometimes "ripe" young age of 40. No big deal right? Actually according to several, potentially part time pessimist's, it's all over from here, all down hill, no turning back, doom and gloom, blah, blah, blah. This kid is not picking up what they're putting down, I'm riding right by.

Steph, focused on the road ahead.
Kancamagus highway, NH.

Speaking of riding, I couldn't think of a better way to pass some time on the big birthday weekend than on my bicycle. So to that, we arrive at the start of the Kancamagus highway in Conway, NH. It's a beautiful summer like weekend in March, in the white mountains, and rather than gearing up for an epic day skiing powder, or a nice little cross country ski through the wilderness, we're donning short sleeve jerseys and knickers for a leisurely stroll on our bicycles up to Kancamagus Pass and back. This was a course preview for Steph, she'll be racing Crank the Kanc in May. Crank the Kanc starts in Conway and you race time trial against the clock, twenty one miles to the top of the pass. We've ridden on the Kanc many times, but never specifically on the full course. The ride is nice, though it could stand to have a little wider shoulder on this end, but traffic was pretty low volume and we were soon riding comfortably with a larger bike lane. It was an incredible ride, exceptionally warm for March, the only snow was on the very side of the road from the plowing, or in the most shaded, densely wooded spots we rode by. Even at nearly 3,000 feet on the summit, it was snow free. It was super windy on the way up, but we knew at some point we would get a bit of tail wind. As much as we had the wind in our face, It would turn in a tailwind direction often, then just as quick as your speed increased, you get slammed with a brutal head wind, slowing you right back down. Not a big deal really, but more of a trusty training partner.

So our plan was to ride up the pass and back to the car, but we also had reports of riders trying to come over to the Kanc on Bear Notch road from Bartlett the day before. They turned back and headed down, not wanting to hike and bike through what ever snow they might encounter higher up. When we went by Bear Notch road junction on the Kanc, it was all pavement as far as we could see. So I suggested to Steph we see what kind of time we had left on our way back and ride up to check it out.

After much effort while making excellent time, we arrived at the top of the pass, 2855ft. I guess the good news is we both agreed that every year that climb gets easier. I absolutely love riding my bike up these roads. What an amazing ride we were having. We didn't stick around long and I forgot to check the temperature up there, but we both got little cold on the way down even with our light wind jackets, arm warmers, and light hats we packed in our pockets. We did as planned having plenty of time to ride up Bear Notch to have a look-see. We stormed the "road closed" gate and just kept riding. It was nice not having any cars coming up from behind, but I couldn't keep from wanting to look for cars back. There was no snow at all on the south side of Bear Notch and only a 75 yard long stretch of thin cover on the Bartlett side. Officially, I'd say it's ready to ride! We finished up riding route 302, to west side road, than west side all the way to Conway and back to our car at the Ranger station. Fifty Seven Freaking Fantastic Miles!

Other birthday weekend happenings included a post ride dinner at the Moat Mountain House followed by Beach Pea chocolate cake in our hotel room for dessert. Saturday we drove to Sunday River in Bethel for "some" skiing. We got in three runs on what snow they had, with a million other people. Not quite a million, but enough to wear out our welcome enough so that when we got the cost per run down to an acceptable $20 bucks each, we figured we were good to go. It was exactly how I now remember the river to be, long lift lines, with hordes of people plummeting down the trails. Considering the conditions and rapidly disappearing snow, it was a good decision to head out. We made stops in Portland on our way home for some Mexican food as well as picking up a few items at Trader Joe's. 

The big birthday brought rain in the morning, so I postponed a bike ride until around noon.  I was chasing a few PR's and KOM's (It's a Strava thing) and so I was red line pretty much the whole time in certain sections. Then I fell into a brook up to my bum, got cold pretty cold so I rode directly back to the car. That was a great ride too!

I really thought I had a PR on Dam to Dam trail. I hooked up the whole time. Then to get the KOM on Animal was weird. I was going pretty good, but I crashed and then fell in the brook, so I would have thought I had zero chance at anything there. Still had a great ride and it felt good to be pushing myself. So whatever, just another day in the life.

Steph said to me yesterday, "Fourty Kicks Ass, Live Big, Birthday Boy".
I think she's right, so I'll keep on doing just that. 

Thanks for reading! 


Saturday, March 10, 2012

Ghost Rider on Snow

Historic Pittston Farm. Photo courtesy of Kevin Robichaud.

Even though this blog is technically all about day two, I'll back up and start where I sort of left off from Day one on Route 66 coming off of Moosehead lake into Rockwood. I hadn't really orientated my sense of direction after coming off the lake in the dark and I envisioned that we were headed due west to Jackman. Andy was leading, thankfully he had seen the trail signs to send us in the right direction. We had left Pittston Farm at around 1:00pm for what turned into a longish (time wise) ride and we were all getting pretty hungry. I was having that "bonk" feeling, which happens sometimes while out riding bicycles, and the roughness we experienced on Route 66 was not helping my situation, I was getting worked over! At one point while riding up 66 there was a flurry of activity, snow machines were approaching from behind, it was dark, we were riding quickly, and I was feeling slightly out of my element for sure. The first guy that passed me was riding standing up, pounding the moguls. He must have been going 50mph when he went by and the roar of his Ski-Doo pierced the sound barrier of my helmet. His mates were on my bumper, so I waved them by. The flew past and then it was just Kevin behind me again. We were pushing it back to the farm to make it in time for dinner that is served from 5-7pm. At one point we stopped quickly at a junction and the sign read "Pittston Farm 20 miles". This was mentally demoralizing for me as the hunger ate away further at my stomach. Andy and Kevin kept our speed up and with me in the middle of them, I had to play the role, chase Andy and keep Kevin off my tail. They had the right idea though, keep the new guy in the middle. I think we rode that twenty miles in about thirty minutes, making it back to the farm with ten minutes to spare before dinner was done. All the food was nearly gone and the cook was getting ready to depart from his job for the day. Graciously, he offered to get us set up with what he had left. So it was salad, fruit salad and a huge piece of prime rib. YUM! After dinner it was a couple of Mike's Hard lemonades and then I passed out during social conversation in the room.

Ok, it's officially day two now. Our plan was a big ride in hopes to get into the Allagash to the Trains which sit idle on a narrow strip of land between Chamberlain and Eagle lakes. First up though, coffee and breakfast. My arms were still shaking from the ride the day before and there was not a muscle in my body that did not ache. It had snowed another 3 or 4 inches overnight on top of the 15+ inches from the storm just before we arrived on Saturday. After breakfast we suited up, fueled up the sleds, and hit the trails again. Slightly more comfortable behind the bars I hit the fast, flat stretch with ambition and just as quick as I hit my top speed of 83mph. Just a few miles up the trail before Seboomook lake dam we rode into a huge snow drift, I got some good air here! The groomer from Pittston Farm had gone out the night before, but the wind off Seboomook Lake had made some pretty intense drifts and there was already a group who was stuck off the trail.

Andy tried unsuccessfully to get around the drift by trying to climb right up it.
Here Kevin is looking up at him saying WTF dude, now what!

You can see the folks stuck just in front of Kevin (standing right) through the blowing snow. The wind was fierce and visibility extremely limited, it was total chaos for about ten minutes, and I somewhat doubted we would make it to our destination with the vicious winds we were experiencing.  No sooner did we get Andy off the six foot drift, he managed to get stuck again off the right side of the trail. A group that had left the farm nearly the same time we did had taken a different trail around the trail we were on, but had heard about all of the stuck sleds and they came over from the other side to help us get out. We got the folks up front out, got Andy out, and after a few sleds went by packing the trail down, Kevin and I made it through without issue. Twenty seconds up the trail we stopped in a nice sunny and "wind free" spot to recollect our thoughts. What an EPIC few minutes that was, but having made it through, we all felt better about the days agenda ahead.

The ride from Raymond's Store at North East carry on Moosehead Lake through the Ragged Lake trail system was absolutely beautiful. Long winding trails, mountain views and the magnetic lure of the Allagash was getting more powerful in my soul with every passing mile. Crossing the Golden road just west of the bottom tip of Caribou Lake is where the off-trail adventure began for us. We hit the Chesuncook Lake club trails and the boys started to play in the deep powder off the side of the trail. I tried it too, but my skills were lacking confidence, so I had more fun watching them enjoy it. 

 Here I am saluting the Surprenant's and old Bobby Jo inside the lake house.

We arrived at the Chesuncook Lake House for a refuel and a little warm up inside before venturing out to the trains. Gas is $5.00 bucks a gallon here, and anything on the menu is $12.50, be it a grilled cheese, burgers, or hot dogs. Between both stops on the way up and back including fuel and food for three, it was $160. The photo above is me back at the Lake House after a few years and a bitter experience that I have previously and somewhat cryptically written about here. It's a lesson of life to be cautious and guarded while traveling in the North Maine Woods. No need to be super nice to people up here, a respect when respected kind of story, blah...blah...blah.

View of the Katahdin Range from Chesuncook Lake.
Photo courtesy of Kevin Robichaud.

Traveling up Chesuncook Lake was amazing and we all found some deep powder to play in. There was a bit of slush here and there, but it was SO fun riding through the deep, fresh, snow. There were sleds who had headed out in front of us all with the same destination in mind, some of the machine tracks were getting covered from the winds, but we were able to follow without issue. We got off the lake on the Guy Allen road and started to head in the opposite direction northerly toward Allagash Lake, I quickly realized this, but we had to chase Andy down and convince him we had gone the wrong way. He kept saying he had seen a sign with an arrow to the trains, I just knew in my gut we were heading the wrong way and my GPS was also in agreement with this. We eventually turned back, got on Chesuncook lake again near the Umbazooksus campsite. We needed to head further north on the lake toward the Mud Pond carry at Umbazooksus stream. Back on track, we headed into the chainsaw trails leading us to Chamberlain lake.

Mud Brook between Mud Pond and Chamberlain Lake.

I got a little sentimental as we stopped for a quick break on the shores of Mud pond, telling a tale of Thoreau's first journey through this area back in the 1857. If only HDT could see us now I said aloud. With that statement, we fired up the machines and continued on. Braaap!

Andy back on the train after having visited as a wee one on a canoe trip with his family.

To anyone who has never seen these locomotives, they are quite a sight. Whether you hike, paddle, or ride to them, I highly recommend checking them out. I have been many times in both summer and winter and I never get tired of the trip. The history of why, how, and when is pretty cool too.

Kevin, all smiles, happy to have made the journey.

I have yet to really talk about the machines we were riding, but here goes. Again, my snowmobile experience and knowledge was fairly limited and I've been researching what sled I will eventually buy. Having written off Polaris and Arctic Cat in my mind and only having experience riding a ski-doo two-up rental for any extended length of time, naturally I've been admiring Ski-doo's as my first future machine purchase. Now though, I think I have pretty much squashed that idea for the incredible fuel economy and reliability of the Yamaha brand. You see, Kevin's pop in-law owns Ken's Yamaha in Norway, Maine. After much discussion with Kevin and Andy on the topic, having ridden all three machines on the trip, I'm absolutely sold and eagerly await my first investment...hopefully soon to come. 

 We watched a couple of Eagles playing on the ice just in front of the lake house while eating lunch.

Our one way mileage to the trains was about 93 miles and daylight was fading. So we made the stop at the trains pretty quick then headed back to Chesuncook Village for fuel and lunch. Departing the lake house we opted to ride the optional trail down the lake eight miles back to the spur trail and this proved to be a much faster exit. We could pretty much cruise along at 60-65 mph comfortably. There was a few slushy spots, but it was mainly smooth and the view of Katahdin and surrounding peaks was beautiful the whole ride down. We stopped just for a quick regroup just before getting back on the trails. Andy motioned to Kevin to take the lead, he hesitated, so I jumped at it. I had my iPod playing on shuffle, it went from Mozart to Iron Maiden and beyond with a great music set and we ended up hammering out the first 35 miles, quickly and super aggressively. It was zen for me, I was having such a blast riding. We averaged over 40 miles per hour in the first stretch back toward our "home" for the night. At one point we stopped on a nice sunny knoll while riding the Ragged Lake club trail system for this, one of my favorite photos from the trip.

The view of Big Spencer mountain from the Ragged Trail system.

We continued our ride back to Pittston Farms and as the sun went down, I rode the memories from the day back through my mind over and over. The rush was amazing and I felt as I could rode all night long. Our GPS tracks and a few more photos to finish the day. Day three write up coming!

Ghost rider, Chesuncook Lake.

 The deer that gather daily for feeding at Raymond's store in North East Carry.

This guy stared at us for about five minutes.

The North East Carry groomer.

Sunset shot. photo courtesy of Kevin Robichaud.

Ghost Rider- Rush
"Pack up all those phantoms, Shoulder that invisible load
Keep on riding north and west Haunting that wilderness road
Like a ghost rider
Carry all those phantoms Through bitter wind and stormy skies
From the desert to the mountain
From the lowest low to the highest high
Like a ghost rider"

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

The Wilderness with New Eyes.

 Our rides for the trip, left a 2008 Yamaha Vector that I rode, middle Kevin's 2011 Yamaha Apex, and right Andy's 2010 FX Nytro.
Photo courtesy of *Kevin Robichaud.

I've just had one of the best times of my life, recently returning from an amazing snowmobile tour of north western Maine. This trip came together pretty quickly, so it's going to be a summed up in a different post from each day including a few informational bits, photos and GPS tracks.

Before crackin' on, a brief run-down of my personal snow machine history. Growing up as a kid who never really had exposure to motor sports, but friends who did, I always have had a special yearning and appreciation for motorcycles and snowmobiles. I'm not sure I'll ever own a moto, but a snow-moto is definitely in my future. Since my first snowmobile adventure with a friend Stevie Jalbert, who had a spare machine way back in ninety three or ninety four, I have always wanted to get behind the handlebars of a snowmobile. We rode for hours one night all over mountain bike trails and power lines we had been riding on for years back in my home town of Lewiston. Over the decade plus since then, I have been out riding a little bit and always have a blast. I've spent a fair amount of time getting towed behind a snowmobile on a dog sled heading into the Allagash wilderness too, and a couple of years ago, I did a longer trip into the Allagash, riding a mere 150 miles over a few days, but mostly it has been tooling around on lakes while hanging out with friends ice fishing.

Enter the year 2012, I'll reach the ripe young age of 40 in a few weeks. Call it a mid-life crisis to seek some adventure with just a bit more thrill factor than riding a bicycle, driving a car, or even the ride-on lawn mower. While I was planning out a trip, I had a grand scheme to hire a rental snowmobile in Millinocket and ride solo up through Baxter State Park to the Matagamon store where I would meet a guide who would take me into the Allagash from there. At the brink of me making reservations, I got a message from a friend, Kevin, who told me he wanted in on the trip and that if I hadn't made a reservation for a machine, he could likely come through with something for me to ride. Quite generous of Kevin to arrange this and it worked out perfectly. I mostly rode the 08' Vector in the photo above. Joining us was Kevin's riding bud, Andy. I had a feeling I would be up for a big learning lesson riding with these guys and it was. We no sooner left the driveway of Pittston Farm when the trail went wide, fast and flat. I hit 70 MPH in seconds as I watched Andy in front just peel away from me at a much higher rate of speed. I thought to myself, ok, here we go, this is how it's done! The thrill factor was instant and I would go on to have a perma-smile for the next four days.

Our first ride mission on Saturday was to go visit the B-52 crash site in Greenville. This ended up being an excellent training mission for me. Trail riding like this was totally new to me, aside from the riding, you have to deal with on coming sleds, large groups out riding, waiting in line for fuel with 25 other machines and so on. It could sound chaotic, but actually was quite a smooth flowing wave. I learned quickly the proper hand signals and trail etiquette while approaching others as well as holding your line and being courteous. It's not that much different than riding bicycles with others, just a bit more powerful.

The B-52 site was pretty neat to see. There is a lot of info about the crash on line. I found one interesting article here.

Our GPS Track from Saturday's round trip ride from Pittston Farm to the B-52 crash site. How about that calorie burn count eh?

One little memory from this ride besides the hundreds of others, ok two memories...We were coming down off the trail the crosses Moosehead lake near Mt. Kineo, it was just after dusk, with only a slight touch of ambient light. We had covered some amazing terrain that I had dreamt about over the last couple of months. As we came down off the trail, I looked off to my right to see one of the huge impressive ice flows that form on Kineo's rock face. It was a quick but amazing shot you can only imagine as I don't have a photo. Then we crossed Moosehead lake and hit Route 66, one of the Rockwood club trails that leads you back up toward Pittston Farm and ITS 89. I must have stood up while riding the machine for 15 miles, at least that is how it felt. The trail had been pounded all day and it was rough. I was so damn sore that night when we got back, but what a rush it was riding out on the trails.

A few more pics from Saturday. Day two write up is forthcoming.

 Debris in the trees near the B-52 site.

Large main fuselage sections of the plane.

Another fuselage section with memorial plaque.

Greenville local club trail sign near the B-52 site.