Photo by Jason DeVarennes



Thursday, April 26, 2012

Purgatory To Pack Monadnock - from Milford, NH

I like riding off the beaten track, looking for new and interesting roads and cafes.

Over the years I have mapped out loads of different rides all of which could qualify as a favorite ride on any given day. I have now created a page with links to RideWithGPS maps for many of these rides. As I go back out and do the rides again, I will add links to posts with photos to help entice folks to try a ride. This is the first!

This ride starts in Milford, NH. Due to a very rough descent, I decided it is better in the opposite direction than I rode yesterday (map link below is in the recommended direction). I'd rather climb a rough road than descend one. Either direction has stupendous views. As with most of my rides, there are a couple sections of dirt.

There is a great new bakery, The Good Loaf, where you can stock up before the ride, or refuel after. It's on the main road as you leave town or come back in. Connolly Brothers Diary Farm makes a great ice cream reward after climbing Pack Monadnock.

A great side trip is the hike into Purgatory Falls.

I'm not obsessed with suffering, really!
The climb from Purgatory Rd to Paradise Farm does involve a little suffering. But the route now goes the opposite way, so you can enjoy great views out toward Milford, as you descend towards Purgatory Falls. 
The view from Pead Hill is always glorious. Be warned, you have to earn it!

Frye's Measure Mill

The climb up to Pack Monadnock is one of the tougher ones in the area, with a few 20+% sections. It is an optional climb on the route, but well worthwhile. Just bring your low gears! The descent is quite bumpy.

Lots of hiking in the area.
Spotted this lovely house coming around the backside of the mountain

And then I came upon this sight, which took me quite by surprise. Turns out it is a giant pumpkin chucking playground!

Yankee Siege
The used to aim for the castle - but they got so good...

That they had to build this tower even father away

Monday, April 23, 2012

Flèche Vélocio

My favorite randonneuring event is the Flèche Vélocio. This is a team event where all members of the team work and ride and finish together. Traditionally the event is scheduled for Easter weekend, but in northern climates, a bit of leeway is granted to accommodate for less than pleasant riding conditions at that time of year. In France, there is a single destination, but in the US, we are allowed regional destinations. The date (a range of start/finish times) and actual destination is set by the regional organizer, but the team members select their own starting point, actual start time, and route.

There are some basic rules - 24 hours, covering at least 360km, with at least 25km done in the last two hours and no stop more than 2 hours. You can do a large loop, but not repeated small loops. The team consists of between 3 and 5 cycles - so a tandem or triplet counts as one team member. At least 3 members must finish to be granted credit. Complete RUSA rules can be found here.

I have now taken part in 6 events, and am currently working on the application for this year's ride to Portland, Maine. The camaraderie of the Flèche is what keeps bringing me back. That and coming up with fun team names

2005 - Cinque Terre - we rode in 5 different states
2006 - Two Tyred- isn't it obvious
2007 - One for All - 4 fixed gear bikes and a Rohloff for the fellow with the dodgy knees- so one cog for everyone
2008 - Fixie Chicks - 3 gals on fixies

After two years of riding fixed, I was ready for a break. I also vowed to grow more than a single brain cell, and use gears, so the next year, we thought of calling ourselves NOT the Fixie Chicks, but we were even more explicit...

2010 - Gears, Gals and Guy (3g)
2011 - 3 Braids and a Beard (this name popped into my head early on the previous year)

2012 - Misguided Angels

The first few years, I did events that finished in Westfield, MA. After helping develop our route in 2005, I tweaked it and re-used it for several years and even loaned it to another team in 2009. In 2010, the Boston-based club announced a Flèche with a finish very near home. So I designed a new route. The masochist in me came out, and I threw in a few mountains, but at least I left the fixie at home. We used this route twice and then handed off parts of it to form the basis for a new 300km.

This year, we have a new destination in Portland, Maine. So we have designed a new route that includes a ferry ride to the start in Provincetown, a hopefully quiet ride through Cape Cod in the wee hours of the night, a very urban ride through eastern Massachusetts and New Hampshire, before picking up the East Coast Greenway in Maine.

An advantage, or maybe disadvantage of being in New England is that our ride can take place well after Easter. Last year, it was the first weekend in June, and we imagined ourselves enjoying warm summer sunshine, but instead had bitter cold conditions. This year the date is the weekend before Memorial Day. We've had a mild winter and spring but I will still be prepared for anything! Last year as we got to the first of two high points on the route, I alerted everyone to the long chilly descent ahead. "Any clothes you have with you, should be on your bodies now. And if you aren't going to wear it, I will!" I ended up graciously carrying an extra jersey - on my body - for one of my teammates. We got into the next town in the wee hours, and only had an ATM for a control. We huddled inside for shelter, but the space heater we found inside was non-functioning. And we had more descending. The next few hours were brutally cold - in June. It may be this memory is still fresh in the mind of one of my teammates, who is wavering on joining us this year. It's fresh in my mind. I will have plenty of warm clothes with me this year.

In addition to planning, training and riding with friends, one also gets to select the start time and route. I really hate the 4AM start times of many of the events around here. I don't get proper sleep before these events and start tired. The first year that we decided to start at 10 PM, I was very resistant, but I have come to love an evening start time for a 24 hour ride. We've moved it up a bit, so we finish in daylight, and every subsequent event has had an 8 PM start. By starting at 8PM, we get ride through the night with fresh legs. There may be a lull just before dawn, but then the suns comes up and I'm awake. Then we finish at supper time, have a nice meal and go to bed. The next morning, we arrive at the brunch awake and hungry, and can enjoy the brunch and then ride (or get a lift) home. For me, this works really well. And if regional planner allows for this type of flexibility in start times, I highly recommend it.

As far as selecting a route, I am a fan of quiet routes on tiny roads with some dirt thrown in. Since the team gets to design their own route, I can throw in as many tiny roads and dirt roads as my teammates will tolerate. As an avid GPS user, I can also throw in a gazillion turns, so long as I have enough controls to verify distance. And the extra battery power to get the GPS to last 24 hours.

I am looking forward to our upcoming adventure. I know lots of regions have already had their Flèche, but we just had our 100km populaire last weekend. Events start coming fast and furious now. We are off to do the Berkshire 200km next weekend, then NER 200km, then Berkshire 300km, then the Flèche. Look for weekly reports...

In the meantime, here are some photos from the 2010 - Team Gears, Gals and Guy ride.

 The abbreviated name was Team 3G, so it seemed appropriate to text and check email along the way!

We selected quiet roads, and we had a bumper crop of poison ivy that year, so it was nice to be able to sit in the middle of the road, when we took a break.
When nothing is open, a postcard may serve as a control

It warmed up quickly as the sun came out
This pedestrian bridge has been on every route through 2011. I love it! With me, Norm and Dena.

 The 3 Gals - Susan, Pamela and Dena
The French King Bridge

A nap after breakfast #2

Leverett Co-op for breakfast #2

A little dirt

What a lovely view from the shoulder of Mt Wachusett!

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Grace, Finally Achieved!

If you've been reading the blog from the beginning (not that long ago), you may recall that last December, Fear Rothar and I took part in Rapha's Ride to Redemption. Actually, if you read yesterday's entry, you may be aware of this as well! But for those who don't know, and just want the Reader's Digest condensed version, or those with short memories...

Last December Rapha ran this little challenge to do 500km in the last 9 days of 2011.  They called it the Ride to Redemption. Fear Rothar and I decided to have some fun with the theme and came up with all sorts of irreverent redemption themed rides. We planned a ride to Redemption Rock, Purgatory Chasm, Purgatory Falls, Mt Grace, Paradise Lost Lake, Pagan Hill, Brimstone Lane, and World's End, along with a few short local rides to nearby redemption centers. We both managed to get well over the 500km, and do most of the rides, but uncooperative weather caused us to replace two of the themed rides with others with lower elevation, or in the case of the final one, when we were just exhausted, with a much less ambitious one.

Well, the arrival of our patches last week prompted me to think about those two rides. That and my new challenge which involves accumulating altitude...

Both these rides had a nice vertical component, making them great candidates for racking up stravas.

In fact, it was that vertical component that caused our disgrace last December. We had arranged to take a nice shiny Seven tandem out for a real and proper test ride, 90 miles with lots of climbing and descending. But when we got to the starting point at about 1000 feet above where we live, the roads were a bit dodgy, and we decided to, for once, show some good judgement, and do a different test ride on less icy roads.

Well it wasn't icy today! And having ridden backward through heaven and purgatory yesterday, it seemed quite fitting to aim for grace today, Mt Grace, that is.

Fear Rothar had a bit of work to do this morning, so we got a late start, but fortunately we've got significantly more daylight now than we did in December. We arrived in Westminster around 11AM and decided that it would be good to fuel up a bit before heading out on this ride through very remote areas. I've worked very hard designing and redesigning this route over time to avoid numbered roads and cities. The side effect of this is that we also don't see many stores along the way. So after visiting our friends at the double d for some glutenous sustenance, we began the 5km descent towards grace. No fear, we would do plenty of climbing, but one of the fun things about this route is that it starts and finishes with a nice downhill!

The first downhill was followed by a nice climb up into Ashburnham and through Cushing Academy, across the main road and up to the Meetinghouse Hill Cemetery. What possessed the early settlers on New England to put their meeting houses at the top of the steepest hills of each town? The good news is that this was actually the highest point on the ride. So the rest would be downhill, heh, heh, heh... Well it was at least flattish for a while.  In reality, this is what it really looked like...

 We discovered a slight mistake in the GPS track, but it made for a pretty detour...


Later we came to one of the intended dirt sections on the route, where I spotted a few turtles sunbathing, but was too slow to capture them all in a photo, but I got one - look close.

I think this is someone's little slice of heaven - or maybe it's just a fishing shack.

Fear Rothar complained that I hadn't put enough dirt on the route. This section was lovely and smooth - smooth enough for me to pull out the camera.

We had a lovely day, climbing and descending lots and enjoying lovely traffic-free roads, and are very excited to have finally achieved Grace, even if we are 3 months late!

Friday, April 13, 2012

A Heavenly Ride to Purgatory Chasm

According to my very extensive research on Wikipedia, Purgatory is the condition of purification or temporary punishment by which those who die in a state of grace are believed to be made ready for Heaven. We mapped out this ride last December as our final ride in the Rapha Ride to Redemption challenge. However by the time the final day came around, we were already fully redeemed - and the weather was pretty miserable, and we ended up bailing on the temporary punishment that day.

Well we finally got our Festive 500 patches last week, and it reminded me that I should go do this ride.

Unlike December 31, it was certainly a heavenly day today, as seven of us rolled out for this hellishly hilly (the temporary punishment) ride to Purgatory Chasm.

It seemed we came in through the back door. We got to Heaven first!

Then to Almost Heaven

Our friend Matt Roy, will be thrilled to learn that heaven is filled with lawn balls! My photo doesn't do it justice. There must have been 20 of them, or more!

And finally we arrived at Purgatory itself. 

We tried not to get stuck in Purgatory!

These slabs of granite are strewn about in interesting ways. It is well worth the ride out to explore. Just remember your walking shoes.

The ride announcement included a warning to wear recessed cleat shoes for exploring the chasm. We didn't do the full hike today, but we did wander around a bit. (John and I did do the full hike on President's Day)

 At the top of the hill in Sutton (like I really need a sign to tell me it's a hilltop village after climbing all the way up there), I announced that we had successfully completed our mission in Purgatory and now would be blessed with a long downhill!

 Smiles were abundant as we rolled mostly downhill back to Framingham. 

It was a great day out with friends along quiet, albeit hilly country lanes. I'm looking forward to repeating many more of our Redemption themed rides as the weather gets nicer. We may even try for Grace tomorrow!

Monday, April 9, 2012

Done and Dusted

Last week I mentioned that I was taking part in a climbing challenge through the Strava website. Those who know me well know that this sort of challenge suits me to a T, since it has nothing to do with speed at all. I could ride along smelling the flowers, stopping to take photos and sampling the offerings of cafes along the way. All that said, a few of my riding buddies have been surprised by some of the gratuitous climbs I've thrown in on recent rides.

The challenge has been a bit ...ummm... challenging to do in this area, because it's so far to get to real mountains. What we do have nearby is plenty of short steep little hills, which can actually be much more painful than a long climb up a proper mountain. It's not too hard to create a route with 50 feet per mile of climbing, but it does take all day to get 3-4,000 feet of climbing! Those lucky folks out in California can easily get two or three times that climbing in a day ride :-)

I am quite fortunate to have a bit of time on my hands these days, so I can take all day to get my stravas, but I did throw in a few shorter (easy) days, where I went for more condensed climbing in the Arlington hills. John teases me for calling these my recovery rides. I told him that it's all in how you ride them! The water tower sits at 377 feet above sea level, while the low point in town is about 4 feet. And there are dozens of roads to get up to the tower. So I could go out and do a 25 mile ride with 2500+ feet of climbing and not go up the same way twice, even though I climbed to the same dramatic view of the Boston skyline multiple times. But more so, as long as I wasn't trying for QOMs, or doing the Wednesday night group ride, or riding up School Street, I could actually do this without maxing out my heart rate!

Now maybe this is what Strava and Specialized had in mind with the competition. Get people climbing so much that they stop thinking of climbing as hard. Nah, Strava actually includes a suffer score as part of each ride logged! I hear the racers talk, and it's always about the suffering! But for me, it really was about getting some lovely views and enjoying a day out with friends, or when I couldn't find victims, uh, I mean riding buddies, just rolling along, alone with my own thoughts.

But I admit that as I neared the target of 105,312 feet (32,100 meters), I was feeling a bit tired and I began plotting a rest day. I've only taken two days off in the last 25, one to pack and run errands for our vacation, and the other was the travel day at the end of the trip.

Yesterday, Easter Sunday, I had planned to go out on a local club ride led my one of my regular riding buddies. It was to be a long hilly ride, with a bonus long ride out to the start for me. It would be another full day. But then our friend, Roy, from Connecticut phoned and wanted to come up a retrieve his wife's bike from our garage. We had brought the bike back after New Year's, and John had done some work on it. Now that it was spring, Susan was eager to see if John is really a proper bike mechanic. Well, sort of. She is actually out in California on vacation, but sent Roy up to go for a ride with us and bring her bike home. I was quite relieved that we could just go out and do a shorter, easier ride with Roy on Sunday. 

But with completion of the challenge within reach, I sat down with my mapping software and tried to plot a rolling route out into the suburbs to a nice cafe for lunch, that would be open on Easter Sunday, which would also get me to the magic number. But even with various gratuitous climbs, every route came out to 60 miles, so I just stopped trying to plan a ride. Roy is quite fit from lots of activities, but I didn't think he'd been riding much and wouldn't want to do 60 miles.

I could finish the challenge off on Monday. Have I mentioned that the challenge goes on for 47 days and there is plenty of time left to complete it? The obsessive compulsive side of me took over when I found myself atop the leaderboard for the gals, and I just kept chipping away, trying to reach the goal first, and after 24 days, I just had another 3500 feet or so to do. Get it done in half the time...

Anyway Roy arrived, and then my friend Dena showed up with the most awesome cheese scones. John made coffee. Cocoa made herself at home on Dena's lap, shedding as much fur as she possibly could, and I asked Roy how far he wanted to ride. He said 50-60 miles at a moderate pace. And the die was cast.

After drinking espresso, eating scones and watching a squirrel on the back fence peel and eat what at first appeared to be a Cadbury Cream Egg, but once we figured out which end of the binoculars to use, turned out to be some sort of red flower, we decided to head out the door for a bike ride.

With no route loaded in the GPS, this would be a nice-relaxed-follow-our-noses ride. But John and Dena quickly figured out what was up, when a block from home, I turned up a side street for a quick extra 30 stravas, uh I mean feet of climbing. My internal GPS was ticking away, thinking about nearby climbs, as I led us up toward Lincoln. When I took the turn onto Tabor Hill Road, John commented on my OSD. I claimed a nice view was to be had, but in reality, it was just 150 more stravas. No real view, but at least the descent back down was great.

Do my legs feel like this?
Dena, Pamela and Roy
Next stop was for photos at the twisted tree in Lincoln and then the portaloo at Gropius House.

John knew I was cooked when I said Bayley Hill next. This is a little not so well known climb across from Walden Pond. We're not sure whether it has a proper name, but when we introduced it to the Sunday morning crowd a few years ago, I called it Bayley Hill. They call it Mt Stupid - because that's how you feel after doing it. It's short, but brutal. I had decided if I really was doing a climbing challenge, that I had to do a few proper efforts, where my heart rate would go through the roof, and indeed it did on this one.

John sprinted ahead to get photos as Roy and Dena paced me up the climb. We headed back down and on towards Concord in search of another gratuitous climb, this one in the form of Annursnac Hill. I kept going on about seeking out views, but they knew that wasn't what was happening. By this stage, everyone knew they were just pawns in my obsession.

When we left home, the thermometer read 50F, but since then the temperature had plummeted, the sun had disappeared and in fact, precipitation was spitting, and it was white! Fortunately, it stayed in the spitting mode, but the snow did add character to our adventure. 

We rolled along through farmland and horse country to reach the next climb up and over Vose Hill. This one, at least had a proper view. Our legs got a break along the bike path and back roads of Westford, before we took on a few more leg-burners in the form of Heald and Judy Farm. We rolled up into Carlisle center to confirm our suspicion that the store there was closed for Easter, and then decided to aim for Lexington, where we knew Ride Studio Cafe was open, and I could get some stravas on Page Hill and Meriam.

Dena left us there to head home, and we warmed up with some great hot chocolate and scones and fine company in the cafe. It is so great to have a cafe where we can always find other cyclists! Jay, from the racing team, asked me how close I was. I said I thought about 800 feet, and if we diverted over to the water tower a couple of times, that should cinch it. John suggested he and Roy could go straight home the downhill way, but I said that Roy said he wanted to see the water tower. Roy didn't betray my claim and was a great sport about the whole thing!

Now at this stage, John decided that I really needed to earn those final feet. Having sat around for a hour or so, I wanted to warm back up gradually. So we compromised on one easy way up, and one leg-ripper. First we headed out to do Marsh, the easiest way up, then down to Arlington and back up School Street, the nastiest way up. I suppose it's only fitting that the climb that put me over the top also had my heart and lungs leaping out my throat and my legs screaming for mercy. But as we reached the water tower and took in that awesome view of Boston, I looked at the numbers on my GPS and knew it was Done and Dusted. We took the downhill route home.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Brown and Grey

As the road rose up to meet me, I became aware of all the grey and brown. As I climbed along slowly, I noticed all the various shades of grey in the rough aggregate surface. I felt I could see all the individual pebbles and pieces of broken asphalt that made up this ribbon of grey. The edge of the road was littered with the crispy brown leaves that had come down last autumn, with the occasional green tuft of grass poking through that bed of leaves.  Along one side of the road, the wooden posts anchoring the rusty cable fence were grey and weathered. The other side was lined with the ubiquitous, in New England at least, rock wall. These walls are thick, solid and sturdy in places, scattered in others. Some of these rock walls are centuries old and reflect great care and skill from the original craftsman. The rocky soil here provides a seemingly endless source of material for these walls. All through the woods, the color was still brown and grey. There were no buds on these trees, and no wildflowers sprouting here yet. In the areas devoid of houses, there were no early spring flowers like crocuses or daffodils, and no wildflowers either. Looking up, the sky was a deep brilliant blue, and clearly visible with no canopy of leaves that in the summer shelters this road from the sun. I love this shade of blue, one that seems unique to winter and early spring. Maybe it's the contrast between barren branches and the sky, or maybe it is a special shade of blue just for winter.

And I love this road. It winds and twists, and rolls up and down, sometimes passing a stream or small pond, often through a wooded area, but also broken up by a house here and there and eventually opening up to rolling green pastures. 

I pedaled along, listening to the hum of tires against the chip seal, lost in my own thoughts. But also keenly aware of how slowly the numbers were changing on my GPS. To think, I used to consider this route hilly! It is classic New England. Lots of little ups and downs, with no major climbs. But today, as I watched my cumulative climbing figure, it was just barely budging, and I was cursing my favorite ride for being flat! Flat - how could this happen?

What was causing me to only see this a flat ride through grey and brown, and not revel in the solitude and sunshine and the roller coaster that is Lost Lake Road?

As I approached civilization, yellow began to invade the grey and brown landscape. Forsythia and daffodils provided an addition to the color palate. There were a few strands of green hanging from the weeping willows. If I looked close, I could even spot a few reddish buds on trees.

It was still quite chilly. I was wearing long sleeves and wooly legwarmers. Rumor had it that summer-like temperatures had visited Boston while we were away the previous week, but it still felt like early spring on this ride. I think the mild winter may have made me less appreciative of a day like this.

As I neared the end, I came to the familiar slog along Virginia Road, and was brought out of my trance. Finally a proper climb! Local randonneurs know this road well. It's the stinger in the tail of almost all our brevets. Riding the final kilometers in from Concord, one can literally see the parking lot at the end across the runway, but there is no gate in the fence and path across the runway. Instead, there is the final brutal climb up to the corner around to the left and back down again. We jokingly call it Mount Virginia. It is the most painful climb on every event. But this day I would at least get a reward of a few more Strava Climbing Challenge feet for my effort.

Except, it was only 60 feet! Yes, I got to the top, and my climbing total had only risen by a mere 60 feet. This mountain at the end of every 200km and 300km and 400km and 600km brevet was only 60 feet! I would be lucky to break 4000 feet by the time I got home. And since this was just a checkout ride for the event I was leading the following day, I'd get the same paltry climbing figure again the next day.

And it was almost ironic that the name of the dreaded climb is the same as the name of the gal who's been inspiring me to go out and climb more, as we to and fro for first place among the females in the competition.

What is going on here? While I like to do the odd brevet, and enter a few hill-climb races just because I am there anyway with Fear Rothar, the real hill-climber, I am far from what one would call a proper hill-climber or a racer. And really, I am not competitive. But somehow, due to the timing of our recent vacation, as well as having plenty of time on my hands mid-week, I had managed to reach the top of the leaderboard for the women in this challenge. But then, Virginia, a real climber, started to catch up, and over the past few days, we've traded the lead. I've actually gone out and ridden the local hill-climb training route to get some more feet per mile! I come home from rides and divert myself to go over Palfrey Hill. I throw in an extra climb on my way to the coffee shop. People have been asking what I've done with Pamela, the coffee loving cycling loiterer, who just uses the bike as a way to get to the next cafe! No fear. She'll be back. Virginia lives among real mountains and is planning a 20,000 foot event near the end of the challenge. She's got 12,000 foot centuries out her back door! So a proper climber will take over and finish first by a large margin. She is going to pass me for good in coming days, as she should!

But I am still aiming to achieve the 105,000 feet in the 45 days of the challenge, and so I'll keep seeking out hills for the time being. Let this be a warning to my local riding buddies that the Tuesday rides might take on a slightly more vertical nature for a few weeks! We'll still go on quiet twisty country lanes and seek out great cafes. And we'll still take all day and get lots of photos, but don't be surprised when I divert the rides up a few dead-end climbs now and then.