Photo by Jason DeVarennes



Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Belting Up Mt Washington

Yes, this post is about an event that happened a couple of weeks ago. Yes, I'm behind on the blog. What's new? At least I'm not as far behind as my friend Rob!

The 6 weeks between July's Newton's Revenge race up Mt Washington and the traditional August Mt Washington Hillclimb race was a very busy time for me. But with the motivation to do proper justice to my new Seven belt-drive fixie with extra special Mt Washington gearing, I decided to kick it up a notch and do some actual hill training.

I made a nuisance of myself on the various roads leading up to the Arlington Water Tower. I am either now considered part of the neighborhood watch program, or I've been reported by the neighborhood watch program. However, not being one for repeatedly going up the same road, I've found over a dozen different routes  up and a few different ways down, some of which had no Strava QOMs prior to my taking them! Of course, I don't expect them to last. Seems some of my fast female friends take great pleasure in finding and annihilating all my QOM times.

In another concession to training, one weekend, just for fun, Fear Rothar and I headed out to western Massachusetts to take in some of the steepest climbs in the state, including riding up Kingsley, Whitcomb and Monroe Hills in one day. John actually did them all twice! I even managed to fit in a nice climb up Pack Monadnock in the midst of a nice hilly ride in southern NH. It's the type of training I had hoped to get in before Newton's, but couldn't, due to the busted wing.

Speaking of which, when I went in for my 6 week x-rays, I was disappointed to see that I had not fully healed yet. According to the surgeon, even with the plate and screws, it still takes a couple of months for the bone parts to fuse. While the plate and screws fully support the arm, what the lack of healing means for me is that I still need to exercise extra caution riding to avoid falling! Fortunately for uphill only races, it's not much of a concern. Descending is another story, and I'll go into great detail about my lanterne-rouge type descents when I post about D2R2 next week. But that's me getting way ahead of myself.

Anyway, the days leading up to this race were less angst-filled than the days before Newton's this year. I still wasn't expecting a PR time, but I had a bit more confidence that it wouldn't be as bad as my last hillclimb. Hopefully it would be more like Newton's the previous year...

And that's pretty much exactly what happened. In fact, when I compared the two races - Newton's 2012 with Washington 2013, my times were within a few seconds at each mile marker.

The 30mph winds were stronger than last year's pristine conditions, but compared to Newton's this year with the 60mph sustained winds and hurricane force gusts, it almost felt still. The temps in August were much more to my liking as well, lovely and mild for the warmup, and a nice cool finish, so I did not overheat like I did in July.

I had not touched the race bike in between races. Initially I had planned to switch it back to normal gearing, but had a pretty hectic schedule in the six weeks, so I just left it as it was. If you've never ridden a wee-tiny-geared fixie, you might not appreciate how difficult it is to ride it on anything other than up a very steep mountain. With the 42X39 gearing, I can ride at about 5 mph. Anything faster than 5 mph gets into seriously high rpms. In fact one of the biggest challenges of Mt. Washington is the downhill start. Other riders may not think the start is downhill, but try it sometime on a fixie and you'll realize that it is! Because of this, I have to bring another bike for warmup. With plans to explore some dirt roads after the race and on Sunday, I had brought my Honey All Roads, complete with fenders and bar bag and big balloon tires. I got a few strange looks as I warmed up. Folks must have thought I was either stupid or a real animal!

After a short warmup, I packed away the Honey and pulled out the Cafe Loiterer, and walked down to the start line - walking because it is impossible to ride it down a hill! Then I rolled off with half of the old folks. The 45+ wave is the largest and they split this big old folks group alphabetically for some reason, so you may be racing against someone in your age group who starts 5 minutes ahead or behind. My one complaint is this. I wish they'd just further divide the group by age, but so be it.

I did notice that a lot of the usual suspect fast chicks in my age group weren't actually there, and for a brief second thought there might be a chance to bring home a big Mt Washington medal of my own - finally - after lots of fourth place finishes.

But I needed to take that pressure away so I could enjoy my spin up the rockpile. And that's precisely what I did. Yes, I really enjoyed it. I've been saying that eleven times racing up the rockpile is enough and I'm done, but I've found myself talking about next time recently!

Fixie Pixie, Fear Rothar, Henry, Jutta and Mary
I found the rest of the gang from Ride Studio Cafe at the top, with everyone else also quite happy to be on top and done with this insanity for the year!

After changing into warm clothes and grabbing a drink, I posed for the obligatory picture showing off how light the bike is.

Then we found Margaret and Phil for our ride down. As Phil drove us down, Margaret entertained us with tales from her Leadville race the weekend before.

John had a much better race than last year's duathlon, and took 2nd in his age group.

And thanks to so many of my contemporaries for staying home and letting me collect a bronze medal in the women's 50-54 age group. Finally my own Mt. Washington medal!

The Ride Studio Cafe crowd came home with a lot of hardware. Mary won her age group and Rich took the Clydesdale division. And John and I also got second family to add to our collection of family medals!

The bike is on display at Ride Studio Cafe for a few more days. But soon, I'll collect her, and convert her back to a normal road fixie, and I'll be beltin' all over eastern Massachusetts again... well beltin' and loitering!

And now the sun has set on hill-climb season for me. Bring on the dirt!

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Mars Hill, NC 200km brevet

Apologies again for getting so far behind again. Between riding, weekends away and going to lots of physical therapy and doctor appointments, there's just no time left to blog!

Also after my accident, it seemed I had various collarbone related appointments every other day, so I put off going down to NC for a visit my dad until things settled down a bit. But I'll also admit that my hesitation to go to NC in the middle of summer was also partly due to the heat. If it was miserable in Massachusetts, I couldn't imagine what it was like there.

After a few weeks, I finished up PT, and my dad was starting to ask me more often about coming down, so I booked a flight for the end of July. I then checked to see if there were any rides of interest in the area while I'd be down and noticed a full set of brevets on for the weekend. To make it more enticing the rides were in the mountains of Western NC and this was the route profile of the 200km...

Given that profile, I decided that riding the fixie that I keep at my dad's, wouldn't be the best idea, so I decided to bring down a geared bike. Fortunately, I've got a coupled bike, meaning that it's not too much hassle and expense to take on a short trip.

I just had to take the bike apart, wrap the tubes, put the puzzle in the case, and fly.

Then after a couple of days visiting with Dad, I hopped in his van and drove west. 35 years ago, this drive didn't seem so bad. I went to college in the NC mountains, and used to do this drive a few times a year, but this time around, it seemed much longer than I had remembered - what did I post in January about distances becoming shorter than in my youth - this time was the opposite.

After my long drive, I arrived at Mars Hill College, where Tony, the organizer, had arranged rooms for us. I got settled and headed a block into town to a local pub, where I was delighted to find a local Belgian Triple on tap, which I used to wash down my curried veggie dinner.

Once back at my room, I met a few other folks who were staying the night before the ride. We chatted a while, and then tried to get some sleep before the almost civilized 6AM start.

Tony's rides are set up as 200/300/400 and 600km rides all at the same time. They start out together, and branch off at various points. There were 5 folks planning to ride the 200km on Saturday, and 7 others doing the longer rides. We all headed out together for the first 30 miles, although the first 30 were not very conducive for social riding, as we spread out due to climbing about 2000 feet in the first 10 miles. Still, while climbing, I managed to take part in a few conversations with various folks including Joel Lawrence, who I'd first met back in 1988 when I ran the brevet series in Raleigh. Joel was doing this 600km in preparation for the Endless Mountains 1200km a few weeks away.

However, the climb was over before I expected, and then came the long swoopy descent. The road was damp and sand and gravel had washed into the road along the way, so I took it quite handy heading down. After spreading out on the climb, the whole group came back together near the bottom, and we rolled along the next few flat miles chatting away.

The skies were looking threatening, just as the forecast that I heard on the radio the day before foretold. Of course, silly me, I hadn't paid any attention to the forecast until I was miles away from the fenders I had not installed on my bike after reassembling it in NC. So I must take the blame for all the rain.

It was starting to sprinkle as we came into the town where the longer riders would split off. Just as we pulled up to a traffic light, a train began to cross the road ahead. The 200km route continued straight across the tracks, while the longer routes turned right - before the tracks. There was a drug store on our side of the tracks, and our control was on the other side. The train was slow and looked long. We decided to forage for food and drink at the drug store. The longer riders turned right and continued on their route. After buying food and drink and finding bathrooms, we came out to find the train still moving slowly. Then the sprinkle of rain turned to a heavy downpour! It was cool enough that I put on my rain jacket, despite having a small climb ahead.Finally the caboose passed!

Conversation flowed and the miles passed quickly despite the heavy rain. Rob, John, Mike and Tony were great company as we made our way into Johnson City, where we enjoyed breakfast sandwiches at Subway.

When we emerged, the sun had come out and it started to warm back up. The next segment was flat with a long gradual downhill.

At the next control, Tony suggested getting just water, since the feature of the day, a restaurant called the Farmer's Daughter, would be coming up soon. I'd been eating a drinking all along the way, so I wasn't sure how much room I'd have for a meal. Then we got there and I knew there was no room for this meal. The place serves family style country cooking. You select two meats and they bring out 20 side items to go with them, all dripping with butter. My arteries started to clog just breathing the air.

Mike, John and Rob enjoyed their meal and did their best to do it justice. I promised to keep the pace at digestive after lunch, but may have just pushed it a bit on the little climbs. No one lost lunch, and eventually the country ham kicked in to provide fuel for the later parts of the ride.

We rolled along through beautiful countryside, but I wasn't so good at pulling out the camera. Then we hit the final climbs. Tony had promised 12000 feet of climbing, and we were well below 50% of that still 2/3 of the way into the ride. This was not a good sign for those wanting an easy finish.

The route profile showed three big climbs at the end. The first was pretty steep, but only a few kms long and then was followed by a long gradual descent. We stopped at the bottom for iced coffee, and then began the next climb. It was a bit longer, but at a nice steady gradient, the kind that works well for me - find the right gear and go. This was followed by another swoopy descent and then a sharp drop down into Marshall, where we found another coffee shop. This one looked like a great place to hang out, but we had a ride to finish. I decided it would make a great destination for Sunday, but neglected to check the hours - foreshadowing?

Leaving town, I noticed they seem to like cyclists here...

The final climbs back into Mars Hill were not bad, and I seemed to get a smell of the barn. We finished up and headed up into town for a celebratory drink, before John, Mike and Rob headed home to Asheville. Tony and I had a nice dinner, and then I turned in while he waited up for the 300km riders to come in a few hours later. The 400 and 600 riders arrived in the small hours of the morning, with the 600km folks taking a few hours to sleep before heading back out.

I loaded the GPS with a century route I'd found online, with that coffee shop in Marshall as a destination. It was only 15 miles into the route. I figured I'd just do an out and back for coffee.

The century route was on tiny little back roads and I was in heaven. Despite having a net downhill to Marshall, I had climbed about 1200 feet when I arrived, and sadly discovered that the entire town is closed on Sundays. No coffee for me. Still I had a lovely ride out before turning back along the same little back roads.

Then I had the long drive back to Durham, and time to reverse the process, taking the bike apart and repacking. 

 I had a great time in the mountains of NC, and definitely want to return for a longer trip. I must admit that I violated my rule for not driving more miles that riding. Still it was fun to connect with some old friends and ride in a new area, and of course make use of those nice couplers!