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.