Sunday, August 03, 2014

Binge Climbing

Many young people engage in binge drinking because they want to impress their friends; after all, there's redemption in shared experience.  The drinking masks the decision of when it would be prudent to stop, and many feel that the limitations we attempt to enforce on access to alcohol simply aggravates the problem.  When they finally do obtain the forbidden mead, they tend to engage in excess, leading to unfortunate behavior that encourages the adults to apply more restrictions.  Once one is old enough that buying alcohol is legal, the attraction tends to diminish for most, especially as we begin to recognize the foolishness and negative aspects of it all and so we turn to other things on which to binge, like climbing gnarly roads where no one would drive a car.  Hence, the attraction of the IRR, the Irreverent Road Ride (or, as I prefer, the Irrelevant Road Ride, since some of these roads have outlived their usefulness).  It's a solid, and customizable set of nasty climbs that some use to prepare for the D2R2 and cyclocross season, and others just to slake their climbing addictions.

 The River Rd at 5:30 am

I decided to ride to the start, it being only 15 miles away, as Jonesville was on the return route and that would allow me to complete the ride without any driving.  I left home at 5:15 and arrived at the start in plenty of time to register, even without the half-hour delay in the actual start.  I was impressed seeing that Pamela Blaylock and John Bailey were prepping their tandem for this rugged ride.  They wisely chose to avoid the sections that went over Class 4 roads, but that still left then riding Moretown Mountain, and Roxbury and Middlebury Gaps.  Hats off to this amazing pair!

Only about 20 intrepid riders, few Vermonters
Surprising number of women riding today

First group heading out

The small sub-group that headed out first included the tandem and four other riders, plus myself.  The entire rest of the ride, I only saw two of the riders who started after us.  Only one rider of this group, named Tim, decided to tackle Cobb Hill Rd, the first Class 4 road of the day.  I really think that there should be another classification category for Vermont roads.  Class 4 roads are unmaintained, but those we rode today are also undriveable with anything other than a jacked-up four wheel drive, or an enduro motorcycle.  Class 5 already references ferry routes, so I propose we call these Class 6, which would be right in line with Cat 6 racing--and equally irrelevant.

Tim broke his rear cantilever cable yoke right at the beginning of the rough section of Cobb Hill, leaving him with only a front brake for the rest of the ride.  It didn't slow him down at all.  The camera angle belies the steepness of this climb.

The Mad River in the morning
Cobb Hill dropped us onto 100B, one of Vermont's prettiest roads, especially this morning.  We went downhill to pickup Moretown Common Rd, then Hathaway to Moretown Mountain Rd.

We caught up with the rest of the starting group near the top of Moretown Mountain.  John and Pamela were keeping up with the singles on this relentlessly long climb.

The "Blayleys" climbing Devil's Washbowl Rd, and looking really good!
I believe John holds the record for climbing Mt. Washington on a tandem, with a time that beats most singles. They are well known in the northeast randoneuring crowd for their amazing tandem prowess.  Sadly, this was the last I saw of them for the day, though I caught a glimpse of them leaving Roxbury to climb Roxbury Gap.

I couldn't pass up this picture of a comical road sign.  Yes, there is a farm up that dead end road!

After a short break at the Roxbury General Store, where the counter person graciously filled my empty water bottle, I headed up to ride West Hill Rd.  This was substituted on the ride map when the steeper Tracey Hill section became blocked by road construction.  After a good climb up Webster Rd and the Class 3 section of West Hill, the road shifted to its Class 4 status and didn't look too bad.

Soon, it deteriorated further, but still rideable.

Then it became a muddy mess.  Time to portage.  I didn't see any other bike tire tracks, so I was the first, and as it turned out the only rider to tackle this section.  Eventually the road, which doesn't show up on any maps, becomes a Class 3 again, but it was really steep and the descent highlighted the inadequacies of my cantilevers in the braking department, and the superior howling that I have not been able to eliminate from the rear brake.

Braintree Gap is not really all that steep, but it has few sections that are not at least 10-13%.  What makes it a really tough climb is the surface, which transitions gradually from crushed stone to loose, large rocks as you climb.  It's very technical and would be much easier on a mountain bike.   The sweat was pouring off me to the point where it was hard to hold onto the brake hoods and my leather Brooks became absolutely soaked.  This well-maintained cabin is the only building on the road, an amazing 2/3rd the way up the climb, and the road deteriorates further once past it.

Here's a shot of the road surface.  I tried to hold the camera as vertical as possible, so this should give an impression of its steepness.  It never really lets up, and frequent water bars make it even more challenging, but I was able to ride the whole east side, though I did stop a few times to pick some wild raspberries.  I saw tracks from two other bikes that looked fresh, so I was pretty sure that there were a couple other riders ahead of me.

They have been logging the west side (after pulling an unhealthy amount of timber off the eastern slopes over the past few years), which opened up this impressive view.  It also resulted in some significant improvements in the descent from the previous time I rode this, a few years ago.

There are still sections that would stop any standard four wheel drive vehicle that you cared anything about, but the three foot drops are gone.  The descent was so steep and long that my inadequate braking became too much for me and I opted to walk down a few sections when my hands got tired and to save at least some braking for the rest of the day's riding.

This classic old cemetery on North Hollow Rd doesn't look as if any new residents have arrived in over a hundred years.  The stones I read predated the Civil War.  It is surrounded by an old wrought-iron fence and gate.  The route next followed Rose Rd to the very steep Maston Hill descent to VT-100.  Ah, smooth pavement--it made up a bit for the headwind to Hancock.  How is it that one can always seem to get a headwind, traveling opposite directions on either side of this ridge?  A couple of older gentlemen sitting on the porch of the store offered up the sad confirmation of its closing.  Luckily, I had enough water left for Middlebury Gap.  I asked if they had seen any other cyclists head up the Gap and they said that a small group had gone through a half hour earlier, but they didn't know if one of them was a tandem.  I never did find out if most of the riders were in front of me, or still behind.

Middlebury Gap always fools me.  In spite of all the times I've ridden it, the top section always seems to take me from feeling really good about my climbing ability, to realizing why it earns its status as a gap.  Once over, and after shaking out the stones from my shoes yet again, I stopped at Middlebury College's Breadloaf campus to refill water bottles.  I had never done this before, but there were a lot of students there for summer programs and retreats, so I first tried the laundry, but found only machines and no sinks or spigots.  One of the students suggested "The Barn" and I found it setup with large, blue water dispensers that I used to refill both bottles and an extra, quart bottle I was carrying.  No one objected and I needed all of it by the time I was done.

I had always wanted to ride Steam Hill Rd, so I decided to deviate from the route to do so, and get back on dirt a tad earlier.  I went past the Road Closed Ahead signs and eventually came up on a box culvert installation that required a portage.  The construction workers were all taking the day off, and I took advantage of that gushing stream of water coming from the temporary culvert to rinse off some of the accumulated sweat and mud.  Steam Hill Rd does a fair amount of climbing before dropping back down to the Natural Turnpike, and it's not all that steep, but the surface of packed crush stone and sand proved difficult for my tires.  It seemed to require a lot of energy to ride through and challenging to ride at speed on the descent.  Natural Turnpike was a little better, but a far cry from the smooth, hard clay of Vermont's best dirt roads.

A small pond off the Natural Turnpike

 Natural Turnpike was as beautiful and lightly traveled as ever.  Most of the light traffic that travels between Lincoln and Ripton takes the Lincoln Road. perhaps because of the really gnarly section of Natural Turnpike.  As I approached Lincoln, and the houses started appearing again, the views improved as well.

I saw a couple riders looking at a familiar map outside the Lincoln General Store and they turned out to be the guys who left the tracks on Braintree Gap.  I think we were the only three to ride it.  They were both strong climbers and I rode with them up Forge Hill Rd, taken to avoid a bridge replacement on Quaker Street, leaving them at the top of Downingsville Rd when I stopped to switch water bottles.  We had chatted about whether or not to ride the last serious off-road section, with the general sense that, even without the sections of the route that had already been removed for one reason or another, we had all done plenty of climbing for one day.  They also clued me in as to why they hadn't ridden West HIll Rd--it had been recommended that riders skip this section at the pre-ride briefing.  I missed that little detail, to my regret.  In spite of this, I did start up Beane Rd when I got there, but eventually recognized that the route climbed an amazingly steep section I had ridden once before with John Gaydos, only to find it petering out in an overgrown, log-strewn field in the woods.  I decided not to risk it and returned home via Dugway Rd, to avoid the nasty descent on Wes White Hill.

It was 116 miles of riding and over 10,000' of climbing, much of it on truly challenging terrain.  The time is almost irrelevant, but it took me over nine hours of riding.  I learned that I should not ride such challenging climbs on a humid day, and that I should have switched to the Brooks Cambium for so many hours on a soaked saddle.  It might be a good idea to try a different set of wheels without ceramic rims, in hopes of better braking, since I am not in the market for a new bike with disk brakes.

The ride was memorable enough to warrant such a long blog post, but I might as well have just gone and ridden it alone.  I've done most of these roads already, and rode by myself most of the day.  I could have stuck with the rest of the riders, and probably should have, but few people seemed interested in doing the ride as it was created and promoted, turning it into just another two-gap loop, with a bunch of dirt thrown in.  I'm not clear on why there was a $35 registration fee, since almost nothing beyond the map and a couple of bagels was provided, and the ride organization wasn't very tight.  I'm sure there were some expenses associated with pre-riding and marking the route, and I don't want to come across as cheap, but I really like the model we created with the 100/200 and I think we would all benefit from more free, semi-organized rides, so get out there and plan one! 

Like the teenager with a hangover, I'm swearing off binge climbing for awhile, or at least until my butt isn't so sore.

So, where do you want to ride tomorrow?