Sunday, September 16, 2012

Monson/Blunt Park Weekend

I have a love/hate relationship with August cyclocross. I love the "jungle" courses that the Cyclonaut Racer crew put together for these things, but I really have a hard time coping with the heat. They are a nice way to test out my fitness, or lack thereof, before the "real" season begins.

I hadn't preregistered for Monson, planning on skipping it, but my cross addiction got the better of me. I found myself throwing gear in my car last minute, and driving 2 hours to get there. I thought I wasn't going to make it time, after sitting in traffic near Worcester for 45 minutes, but I arrived in just enough time to get a day of number and get pinned. It was reminiscent of my early Cat.4 days, where I show up late, and don't warm up, or inspect the course. Needless to say, I wasn't expecting to do well, and lined up near the back for my race. I saw a lot of familiar faces in the start grid, and joked with a few of them before we got the whistle.

The start had us going down the pavement into a sweeping right turn, before launching into a loose dirt off camber climb. The first group of guys made it through clean, but by the time I hit the dirt, the whole hillside had turned into a mini-reenactment of the Great Dust Bowl. With visibility reduced to a few feet, most of us were forced to run that section. We were pin balling off of each other like little coke addled versions of Pig Pen. I made up a few places on the run up, but was just hanging on for dear life for most of the course. I really enjoyed the chute into the rocky single track, almost forgetting that I wasn't on my MTB. I managed to lose a bunch of spots when I went down in the wood chips, as the course circled the jungle gym. I then killed myself trying to get them back.

More dust, pain, and heat ensued for the next several laps. With 2 to go, I bottomed out my front tire through the rocky single track area. I wasn't sure that I had flatted, because it didn't deflate immediately. It did start to feel squishy, as I approached the barriers, but I figured that I could make it to the pit. I figured wrong, and rolled my front tire, as I dive bombed the 180 after the quad barriers. I made an attempt to find a route to the center of the Earth, using my left shifter as a drill. After picking myself out of the small crater I had created during my crash, I shouldered my bike and "ran" to the pit. I grabbed a neutral wheel, and set out on my last lap while I hammered my shifter back into place. I was hoping that I wouldn't get lapped, but I really hate taking DNF's. In the end, I did get lapped, but at least I wasn't DFL. Finished up 29/35.

Buckle shovel.

After a poor showing the day before at Monson, I was eager to try redeeming myself. It was also a great chance to race with a bunch of my fellow Hup Cat. 3's. I drove out with David, and we met up with Chip, MVL, and Park. I also saw my single speeding buddy, Matt Lolli, who was sporting an amazing all white Twin Six Metal kit.

With the heat of Monson still fresh in my mind, I dumped water on myself, before heading to the line. With no staging, I again lined up near the back, but I had my friends all around me. With the whistle, we barreled down the pavement straightaway. Seconds later, my ears bled at the squeal of angry canti brakes, when everyone hit the gravel 180. David, Chip, and I all took the outside line, avoiding the scrum. After several sweeping turns, I found myself bouncing over large roots as I gunned it through the woods. There was another big mess, as the group I was with reached the very ride-able log barrier, and several guys dismounted. This caused some chaos, and I found myself doing more than just rubbing shoulders. I knocked the chain off one poor fellows bike, when I got shoved from behind, and stepped right on it.

Dave, Hup's linebacker.
The loose, very fine dirt of the turns right after the log, made for a tricky surface. Several guys crashed in this area, creating nice little mushroom clouds of dust. Right before hitting the stone barriers, I got heckled by several of the Hup women. It was well deserved, since I was riding like a non ambi-turner. This helped me to get my head back in the game, and move up a little by riding smarter. The course was very tight, making the passing difficult. I took advantage of the finish straight to sprint past guys, before we hit the woods again. This worked pretty well, and I had climbed into the low 20's, when I tried to lay down the power too soon, and took a header in the tricky soft dirt section. This also knocked my chain off (karma can be a bitch), which got jammed. It only 20 seconds to work it loose, but I was passed by just as many riders in that span. I set to work trying to chase them down, but was only able to pull back a dozen in the next few laps. Finished up 34/56, which felt better than Monson, but still not what I had hoped for.

After our race, Dave and I wanted to bury our woes in peach/blueberry cobbler, but we had forgotten to bring the utensils. Being classy fellows, we made some out of gatorade bottles, before heading back to watch the women's open race. We watched Hupsters Ana, Carrie, and Brenda all have great races. Ana really killed it, and took 2nd overall.
It puts the cobbler in its face. Photo by: David

Post race observations:

The Good:
-Had good power out the corners.
-Minimal crashing, and no serious injuries.
-Got to see a lot of my NECX friends.

The Bad:
-Flatted on day 1.
-Had a stupid chain drop, which was preventable.
-I now have to burn off all the cobbler.
-All my friends got faster in the off season.

Overall, a pretty rough start to the season, but it felt good to get some races in. I now know that I need to work on to make this an even better season than the last one.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Lake Sunapee Road Race

My second foray into road racing, went considerably less well than I would have hoped. After doing a panic registration for the race, when someone on twitter said that there were only 3 spots left, I actually looked at what I got myself into. Sadly, I got myself into some climbing, and at 46 miles, almost twice what I did at my first road race.

Showing up at the race, I saw lots of familiar faces at registration, but most of them were racing in the 4's, which left me with only one other guy that I knew, in Phil from the Stampede team. Pinning up in the lot, I tried to size up my competition, but the only thing I was able to gather, was that most of them had no idea how to pin a number on their jersey. Even if I had no idea what I was doing in a road race, at least I would look like I did, and make JD happy.

I spun around the parking area for a bit to loosen up the legs, and headed to staging area. It was getting pretty warm out, so I took the chance to enjoy a little shade until they called the Cat. 5's to the line. It was a neutral roll out through the large traffic circle, but the pace didn't pick up that much once we cleared it. It wasn't until we turned onto rt. 11, that the pace started to increase. I was determined to stay near the front in the top 10-15, in case there was a break. I didn't want to get caught midpack, and try to bridge up like my first race. There were 3 guys from the same team driving the pace at the front, and they made attempt at a break as we crested the first large climb, but I was able to tuck in with them on the downhill, and they shut it down. Through the rest of the first lap, I was feeling really good. I was hitting the climbs well, actually coming out at the front a few times, just by doing a pace I was comfortable with.

Everything was going well, until we started the second lap. Descending 103 towards Rt.11, a stick got kicked up into my front wheel, and damaged a spoke. It wasn't until the end of the race, that I realized that I was getting brake rub the whole second lap. This may have been a partial factor in my total meltdown as we hit the big climb on 11. I was with the lead group of almost 30 guys, and stood up to push my way near the front again for the climb, when my left calf cramped up. I sat back down, and shifted into a lower gear to try and control the damage, but then my right calf joined in the twitchy fun. I shot out the back of the group, like a little mustachioed cannonball, and watched the group quickly pull away. The chase car paused as they went by me, since it must have looked like I had a mechanical. When they saw the mixed looked of pain, anguish, and frustration on my face, they correctly assumed that I blew up, and sped on up the hill. I was pretty bummed, since I had felt so good up until that point. I thought that I was taking in enough fluids/electrolytes, but apparently not.

With 20 miles to go, and some continually cramping legs to nurse, I went into survival mode. I was out alone in the wind, with no one even close in my rear view to drop back to. I spent the rest of the time balancing on the edge of having my legs cramp up if I went any harder, but wanting to go fast enough that I didn't get swallowed up by the women's field. I barely accomplished this, finishing just a few minutes ahead of the women. That last lap was torture though, and it was a little disheartening to know that I lost 11 mins on the group I had been easily hanging with up until the cramplosion. In the end I was all the way back in 29th/45 finishers. A far cry from the top 15 I felt like I could have managed.

A perfectly pinned number, the most pro part of my day. Photo: Mike McCabe

Rather than leaving me with a sour taste in my mouth, I now want to try some more road racing to redeem myself. It should also be noted that even though I was looking at it through a pain induced haze, the course at Sunapee was gorgeous, and the volunteers along the course were all great, and super supportive of the riders. I'll make sure to hit this one again next year, although I'll be hoping for some colder, sloppier conditions.

Post race observations:

The Good:
-Didn't die in any Cat. 5 sketchiness.
-I felt very comfortable, and was one of the faster people on the descents.
-Felt strong on the hills.

The Bad:
-Cramping issues.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

The Weeping Willow

A little history is in order. Last year, the Weeping Willow was my first mountain bike race ever. My friend David, told me it was the race to do, so I showed up on my rigid, circa 1995 Stumpjumper, with cantilever brakes, and far too much pressure in my tires. I had registered for the beginner race, since I obviously had no idea what I was doing. The fast, tricky, single track was a hoot, even though I managed to overcook everything, and wiped out on every slippery root. Post race, I was muddy, battered, and bruised, but it left me wanting more. I knew I would be back, to race this one again.

This year I came back with a new bike, a new team (Hup United), and much better handling skills. Albeit the handling skills were greatly improved thanks to the tubeless conversion I did 2 days before the race. Wooooo, 20psi! Thankfully I signed up early, because it sold out, with over 400 riders preregistered. It seemed as if half the people there were friendly faces from the NECX, which made me happy. My friend Susan, who lives nearby, even stopped by to give me a fresh baked scone and cheer the start. I was signed up in the 30-39 Sport class, and there were 41 guys in my age group alone. With so many riders on course, I knew that the start leading to the single track would be even  more important than usual. Of course I almost missed my start, because I couldn't hear them calling our age group up. Using my ninja skills, I sneaked my way towards the front on the outside edge, a mere 30 seconds before they started us.

Tristan, was just one of the sexy NECX folks taking over the MTB  race.

Soon, our thundering herd of Sport riders were barreling down the fire road. I got off to a decent start, but almost got taken out a few times as people were jockeying for position. I ended up about 15th wheel, as we hit the single track, and started our dusty first lap conga line of suffering. We started hitting the back end of the 40+ men, about a third of the way through the first lap. I got caught up behind some of the passed riders, and lost the leaders. At this point I settled into a sustainable pace for myself, and worked on riding clean, and staying hydrated.

 I had made the last minute decision to wear my hydration pack, which turned out to be a good idea, since the single track didn't give you many places to take a drink from a bottle. The few attempts I made at drinking from my bottle of electrolyte mix, ended with it mostly absorbed by my mustache as I spilled it all over my face. With the temperature already rising close to 80, I was also taking great joy in riding through any of the water on course, even if it was primarily stank puddles.

At the end of the first lap, I blasted up the double track passing as many folks as I could before we hit the single track again. I ended up in a little group of 3, with a rider from Bike Barn, and another from NEBC. We quickly assessed that we were all in the same category, and tried to make up some time on the guys ahead of us. With the pace high, I was content to sit in for a bit, enjoy the terrain, and try to make my move later in the lap. We soon ran into another slower group, and the NEBC squeezed by them, gapping us as we tried to pass with little success when one of the slower guys managed to bobble on a climb. Shortly after that I heard someone come up on me, and gasp out, "group leader, can I pass?", I tried to get out of the way quickly, and only succeeded in getting myself hooked on a small tree as I let him by. I was happy to see that it was my Hup teammate Jon, who was obviously killing it, since he had worked his way through almost two full fields to get to me. He was quickly off down the trail, as I unhooked myself from the tree. I sprinted to try and catch up, but he was already long gone.

I did manage to get back to the Bike Barn rider though. Shortly after I passed him, I clipped my pedal really hard on a rock that was hidden behind a tuft of grass. I hit it with enough force, that it almost knocked the bike out from under me, and crushed one of the wings on my crank brothers pedal. The Bike Barn guy was impressed with my ability to destroy my bike, and still keep it upright. Sadly he said that he did not have his Gopro, to record it. This also left me looking like a drunk, as I fumbled to clip back into the pedal.  For the rest of the race, I was doubly frustrated anytime I got caught behind someone who would bobble, and force me to pull a foot out, repeating my Drinky McCantclipin performance.

We soon came onto another small group, which included my friend Todd, I rode with him for a little bit, and he let me by. Shortly after that I managed to drop my chain as hit a little climb, and lost about 5 places as I pried my chain out. I pushed a little too hard after that, and suffered for it. I managed to just barely catch my handlebar on a tree, as I came sweeping around a turn. This had the undesirable effect of launching me shoulder first into the tree, with enough additional force, that I felt as though I had been launched out of a catapult. Of course this also brought me to a complete, and painful stop, and lost me even more time. It took me a few seconds to shake it off, and then the chase was back on.

I caught back up to the riders who had passed me, and kept looking for opportunities to make a get around them, but no one was interested in leaving the door open for me. We rode by another of my Hup teammates, Ana, who walking out after a flat, but cheered us all on. She is a total bad ass for attempting to do the race on her CX bike. We finally hit the last section of fire road, with Todd right ahead of me. He waved me around, and told me to get the other guys, so I dropped the hammer, and started pulling the other riders in. Several of them seemed like they were no longer interested in sprinting, as went by pushing the big ring, which was fine by me. I did feel one other rider breathing down my neck as I hit the last turn before the finish, but I was able to hold him off by a few bike lengths.
Dirty, happy, Hupsters.

In the end I finished 13th out of 41 in my age group, and approx 27th out of 150 in my category. Overall, not too bad, but I felt like I had too much left in my tank at the end. I obviously need to be more aggressive with my passing in future races, because I felt like doing another lap after we finished. Jon made a nice showing for Hup, winning his age group in dominating fashion, finishing 5 minutes ahead of second place.

Jon was pretty excited about his win!

Post race observations:

The Good:
-Didn't crash much.
-Was much more conscious of staying off the brakes.
-Got to ride some nice trails with all of my friends, at break neck speeds.
-I had a warm recovery scone .

The Bad:
-I wasn't aggressive enough with the passing, which didn't allow me to ride at full throttle.
-Had a stupid chain drop, which was preventable. 

Overall, I have a lot of room for improvement, but I feel like my fitness is getting better. With more practice, perhaps I can be the fastest mustache in my category.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012


This past Sunday, I finally got to participate in the cyclocross adventure that is the Ronde de Rosey. I missed the last edition, because it fell on the weekend before I was to be married. Having seen how often I crash, my wife was smart enough to forbid it. The course layout included 70 miles of riding, with 70% of it off road, in areas I had never ridden before. Having heard tales of suffering on past editions, I was feeling a little concerned about how well I would hold up over the course of the day. I was also worried about my bike situation. Since I was hit by a car in January, my only functioning cx bike was a single speed. Thankfully Chip helped me out, by setting me up with his Hup Edition Honey. I rode it for the first time on the way to the Washington Square Tavern, our host for the race. It happened to be just the right size for me, handled better than I could have hoped, and worked out beautifully with the 1x10 setup.

Borrowed from Chip, the Honey was the right tool for the job.
I also had the benefit on being drafted onto a team that I worked well with. My fellow Hupsters Mike, Mark, and Jay, helped to settle my nerves in the week leading up to the ride. While it was technically a "race", albeit a bandit one, we approached it in a more casual manner. We were there to help support Bikes not Bombs, and ride until our legs fell off. We all agreed to ride together, rest and eat as needed, and not blow ourselves up in the first half of the ride. This game plan was the right one for us, because the temperatures on Sunday were in the low 80's. We were wiped out at the finish, but we saw other teams that looked completely fried by the end.
Team Bryter Layter, ready to roll. L to R; Mike, Me, Jay, Mark
The scene at the Washington Square Tavern was a sight to behold. By my best estimate, there was $250,000 worth of bikes piled halfway down the block. It looked like a cx'ey version of critical mass, with around 135 riders chomping at the bit to start. There was a staggered start, with groups of anywhere from 4 to 6 teams, taking off at 5 min intervals. We had a mid pack starting time, taking off with one of the larger groups.

Mike had loaded the route onto his GPS, so he led us out. I didn't realize how big the group was until I looked back, and saw how many guys were following us down Beacon. Eventually, folks got a little impatient, and started blasting by us. We saw the lead group go flying off course almost immediately, heading the wrong way. We corrected our course, and were soon at Skyline Park. The first turn onto the grass hill looked like a scene from WW1, with 30 guys charging out of the trenches. Thankfully there were minimal casualties. In fact everyone was very courteous to each other, the only yelling I heard, could best be described as whoops of joy.

Once we were out of the woods, we drilled it towards Cutler. We took a little swing into a parking lot just before the park, following the styling ladies of the Hup/Pink Style. As it turned out, they just had a flat, but seemed to have it on lock down, so we continued on our way. Cutler was a blast, with bridges, fast single track, and even a few jumps at the pump track.  All of it was awesome until we hit the roots, and loose railroad ties, and then I remembered I wasn't on a mountain bike. Thankfully we made it out without any flats, and took a brief snack stop, before we hit the road to Needham Town Forest. It was there that I had the only flat of the whole day for our team. While I was changing my tube, multiple teams came barreling by us. I'd like to think that we did a nice job of heckling/cheering, but some of those guys were moving so fast, I don't even know if they even heard us.

2 hours in, we rode through Wellesley Square, and pulled over with several other teams to grab more water at the CVS. After that it was up the Cliff Road climb, where the teams we were riding with started to crack, and get strung out. Our team regrouped at the top, and then dropped down into the woods. We had a big forced run up near the Weston Reservoir. There were some jokes about it being a death march, but I was actually excited to have a reason to shoulder a bike for the first time in months.

Mike, still styling after the big climb.
Jay on the big run up.

The next notable section was the railroad bed. We got there at the same time as several other teams, so I kind of wrote off making an attempt at the Strava KOM in traffic. Even so, it was still a hot, dirty, dusty, painful little section. It hurt enough to make us pull over in the shade to take in some fluids, and food. I shoved a whole baked potato, and some Hammer gel in my face. I think I may have been the only person on the Ronde to gain weight through the course of the day. Mike, also smartly introduced the "Less" call out at this point. If the pace was feeling like too much, all a team member had to do, was say, "less" and we would adjust. No explanations needed. I think this saved us all from entering a dark, unhappy place. Just one more example of why I loved my team.

Hi, I just ate a potato.
Feeling strong, I decided to try for the Lincoln Rd. KOM right as we hit the start marker, and sprinted off down the gravel road. I had to outrigger a little through the first curve, and was moving at about 30mph, when I came to a split in the road. Of course I had no idea what direction I was supposed to go, so I just pulled up and waited. So much for the KOM. Looking back up the road, I saw the Mad Alchemy pain train coming up the road, and hopped on. I admired Pete's new Stoemper, and then pulled over and waited for the rest of the team. I apologized for my crazy attack, and off we went to Walden Pond. There was some route confusion, and we missed part of the trail, finding ourselves on Rt.2, riding up the sidewalk. Soon we were in more familiar territory for me, and rolled into Concord Center. 

There were a large number of riders at the water fountain in the town square. We caught up with some of our friends on how their rides were going. It sounded like there were almost as many routes taken up to this point, as there were teams. Once our bottles were topped off, we started jamming up the Concord-Bedford Rail bed. We took turns pulling along, and caught up to 2 other teams, before we made our way to the Col de Lex. Mike and I pushed each other on the climb, with him reaching the top first. After the down hill we ripped through some more trails near Lexington, that I didn't even realize were there. Then it was a lot of pace lining back to Boston. We got a little confused in Watertown, and the Burrito Men flew by us, with their Wattage Mule, Ryan Kelly. We tried to give chase, but gave up that notion pretty quickly when they started dropping watts like they were hot.  

Once we were back into Boston, we were all ready for the ride to be over, and drink some cold beer. Sadly we seemed to be caught behind every light, back to the tavern. When we finally arrived at the Washington Square Tavern, the scene looked even more chaotic than it had when we left almost 6 hours earlier. Thank goodness that the owner Gerry, was good enough to host our sweaty, spandex covered butts. The final tale of the tape had Team Bryter Layter; racking up 65 miles, with a moving time of 5hrs and 1 minute, one flat, dust aplenty, and loads of radness.

Our Belgian tan lines look good!

I would like to thank Rosey, Chip, and Matt A.; for putting together such a great course, rounding up sponsors, raising money for a good cause, and helping me to have one my best days ever on a bike. Special thanks to Gerry of Washington Square Tavern for hosting the madness. As for my team, I want to thank Mike for taking super long stints on the front, and his riding wisdom. Mark for his endless enthusiasm, and great attitude. Jay for his ready laugh, and calming presence. 

Rosey surveys what he has wrought upon Washington Square.

Post Race Observations:
The Good
-My fantastic teammates.
-Riding with all of my biking friends, and making new ones.
-Discovering all new places to ride.
-Hurting so good.

The Bad
-The only thing I can think of, is that these events don't happen often enough.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Fells Face Plant

With snow in the forecast for Friday night, I asked the Internets if anyone was up for an early morning ride. Mike said that he was up for an early morning meet up in Harvard Square, and a ride at the Fells. Saturday morning dawned with a disappointing lack of the white stuff, and some rain, but by 7:00 am the rain was turning to a light snow. We rode over to the Fells, and were happy to see that the snow was just starting to accumulate.

The conditions were pretty slick, so we were both taking it fairly easy. Mike more so because he was figuring out his new bike, and me because I am prone to crashing. Sure enough, as I followed Mike down a rocky descent at high speed, full of false confidence in my abilities, I crashed hard. I started to lose it on my front wheel, and my instincts from riding the old '95 rigid with cantilever brakes kicked in, causing me to grab the brakes. These were the wrong instincts when transferred to the new bike with hydraulic discs, and I went over the bars. Some people say that when you have a bad accident it happens in slow motion, to this I say FALSE! Every major crash I've had, happens so quick I barely have to time to even think, "Oh crap!", before impact. I stopped my forward momentum, by landing jaw and shoulder first on a rock. I had managed to turn my head just in time to avoid injuring the mustache. I lay dazed on the ground, clutching my face, which was bleeding. Mike heard the crash, and doubled back to check on me. I had to lay on the ground for a few minutes, while I took stock of whether anything felt broken. After deciding that I wasn't going to die, I got up, and Mike suggested that I take a chunk of ice from the pond, and apply it to my jaw. Which I did, numbing it up, and then we were off again.

After a little while I noticed that I was riding like a drunk, and after informing Mike, we moved to the easier trails as we worked our way out of the Fells. Even injured, the ride was still fun. The trails were pretty empty, with just a few trail runners out. With the light coating of snow, Mike commented that it looked like Narnia. We even found what could have been the home of Mr. Tumnus near the top of Bear Hill. We stopped there to eat something, and I when I tried to take a bite of my Pro Bar, my jaw felt like it was being stabbed with an ice pick. Between the jaw, and the chance of a mild concussion, we decided that getting my ass back home would be a good choice at this juncture. We had some fun conversations about martial arts, injuries, and such on the ride back. Upon arriving home, Sarah asked how the ride went, and I told her that I think I should go to the hospital. I was primarily concerned that I might have fractured something in my jaw. I stripped down, and discovered that my shoulder was looking a bit rough as well. I washed as much debris as I could out of the gashes in my jaw; I saw a nice array of dirt, pine needles, wood, and blood in the sink.
Dangit, I got blood on my new Lazer helmet straps.
Sometimes, the gnar shreds you.

My wife drove me over to Mt. Auburn hospital. I didn't feel like I was in dire straits, so we went to the walk in clinic registration area. They asked me what I was there for, and when I told them what happened, they looked at me like I was insane, and told me to go to the ER. The ER put me in a room pretty quickly, but things slowed down considerably, due to what I assume was the shift change. I had a cat scan of my head, to see if any of my facial bones or jaw was broken, and an x-ray of my shoulder, both of which came back clear. They gave me some percocet, and as I waited for the results to come back, Sarah asked if my jaw would need stitches. The physician's asst. said maybe 1 or 2 at the most. After cleaning out the wounds better, "maybe" had turned into 9 stitches. I guess it was good that she asked. After 5 hours at the hospital, we headed home, and I took a 3 hour nap. I woke up feeling like crap, but we went to Allston, to wish Mr. Whitney a happy b-day. I turned to a self medicating liquid diet of beer, which led to some ill-advised pull up action. Seeing so many of the NECX crew seemed to be the best medicine though, and I left feeling much better.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Mount Washington Winter Climb

With cyclocross season over, I've been looking for other ways to keep myself fit. So I signed up for a winter Mt. Washington trip with a group of my co-workers. I've done quite a bit of hiking, snowshoeing, and climbing while living in Washington, but I hadn't had an opportunity to climb, "The Home of the World's Worst Weather." since moving to New England. At 6,288 feet, it doesn't sound that strenuous to someone who is used to the Cascades, but as I've experienced on other hikes in the White Mountains, the trails are quite tough since they literally shoot straight up the side of the mountains. Couple that with some pretty gnarly weather, and you have a pretty good workout.

On Friday 1/20, all 8 of us crammed into a Chris's minivan topped with 2 cargo boxes, and made our way up to Pinkham Notch. We made a quick stop at Subway for dinner, our group wiping the place out of meatballs, before pulling off at a parking area to set up camp for the night. I was immediately struck by the cold, with the temperature hovering around -5 F my nostril hairs froze. I was struck even more by being able to actually see the stars. Living in the city, with all the background light, can really make you forget how amazing the night sky can look.

We stomped down the snow, and quickly got the tents set up, and crawled into our sleeping bags. I shared my tent with Dr. Dan, Margaret, and Susan. We joked a bit about the cold, and what people were or were not wearing in their sleeping bags, before people started to fall asleep. I think Susan was the hands down winner at falling asleep the fastest, or is just narcoleptic. She was out 10 seconds after she finished a sentence. I on the other hand was having a hard time falling asleep, not really because of the cold, but more in anticipation of the climb in the morning. Eating the Subway 6 inch BLT right before bed probably didn't help, but I can never fault bacon for anything.

It's getting cold in here, time to put on all our clothes.L to R: Dr. Dan, Susan, Margaret, Me. Photo: Micah Chu

When we woke up a little after 5am on Saturday, the exterior of my sleeping bag was covered in a rime frost around the hood. I had slept pretty fitfully through the night, but the cold air woke me up pretty quickly. We  shook the frost out of the tents, quickly packed up, and drove to the Pinkham Notch visitor center. They have a great gear room under the lodge for people to suit up in out of the weather. Chris and I set up our stoves outside in the predawn cold, to heat up some water for whoever needed it. Everyone fueled up with something to eat. I opted for some of the amazing scones that Margaret had baked. It took about an hour before everyone was ready to go, and then we started up the Tuckerman Ravine trail. The first mile and a half  was a steady climb up packed cat track. This validated our decision the day before to leave our snowshoes. We saw a number of people skinning up to ski the ravines, including a pair of ladies with skirts over their ski pants. It didn't take too long before I started to form some icestachicles.

At the base of the Lion's head trail, we all put on our crampons, pulled out the ice axes, and had a quick snack. The trail was very steep going until we reached treeline, with at least on near vertical section. There weren't many other climbers on the trail, but even so things soon got backed up through the vertical section. I was happy that the weather in the trees was exceptionally mild, with the temps at around 10 degrees, with almost no wind, and just a light snow. When we finally broke treeline, we took another quick break out of the wind before starting the ascent. Chris shared his winter climbing energy snack of choice with us, which turned out to be Sour Patch Kids. Once everyone had a chance to get hydrated, we started up into the windblown section above treeline. The trail was much icier, making the crampons and ice axes a must. Just a week and a half before our trip, an inexperienced climber died, when he slipped and fell 800 feet down into the ravine.

Our group heading up the Lion's Head Trail.  Photo: Micah Chu

By this point we were moving pretty slow trying to keep our group of varying skill and fitness levels together.     We had all agreed that we would either reach the summit as a group, or go back down together if someone couldn't make it. This did make it challenging to maintain a good body temperature as the speediest of our group had to spend a lot of time just standing around as we waited. Overall though, folks were very encouraging of the other members. Chris was really key to keeping everyone motivated, and moving. While we were waiting at one point, Bill took a fun little video. I'm sure that "the Abel" will be the next dance craze to sweep the nation.

As we continued up the trail, the temperature was steadily dropping, and the winds were really starting to pick up. With the threat of frostbite looming, we stopped in the shelter of a large rock outcropping and broke out the goggles and balaclavas. I looked a little like a Darth Vader/Ninja/Cyborg in my full get up. 

Don't fail me again, Admiral. Photo: Dan Rozelle.
Even as well covered up as I appear. I still managed to end up with a small patch on my cheek exposed, and suffered some "mild" frostbite. This is definitely not an environment that you want to have to relieve yourself in.

The trail was being covered quickly in snow drifts. Without the cairns and occasional route flags, it would have been difficult to navigate at all. I was really taken with the unusual ice formations on the rocks, caused by the extreme weather. I'd never seen anything like them before. They were like small breaking waves, frozen mid crash.

Windblown ice sculptures. Photo: Dr. Dan Rozelle

Time was not on our side as we neared the summit. The cutoff/turnaround time we had decided upon was quickly approaching due to our slow pace. With a final push, and some extra encouragement, we were able to finally get everyone up to the summit. We reached the observatory right as the worst weather of the day was blowing through. The winds were steady at 40 MPH, gusting to 50 MPH, with a temperature of -5 F. This gave us a windchill of roughly -36F. Needless to say, we did not want to stick around very long. We got our group photo, and Chris got to fly his kite at the summit, which was a pretty cool sight to behold.
Chris doing some extreme kite flying.

Left to Right: Back Row; Chris, Bill , Margaret, Micah. Middle Row; Me, Dr. Dan, Jimmy.  Laying Down, Being Sassy; Susan

On the descent, about 300 yards below the summit, I slipped and fell when my crampon broke. I was in total disbelief that they had failed, since they were practically new. All manner of curses directed at the manufacturer were flying through my head, as I tried to repair them. Chris saw that I had stopped, and rushed over to help me. While the others continued down, he quickly worked out a way to secure them to my boot, using some spare straps, and we were on our way again. We quickly caught the others, but Jimmy was having some bad cramping issues. Chris, Micah, Margaret, and I stayed with him, and sent the others onward to get out of the weather since Susan was in danger of getting frostbitten feet. With the daylight fading quickly, I was getting concerned that we wouldn't get him down through the more technical sections on the route before dark. I gave him some Cytomax, to try and get some electrolytes into him, which seemed to help. It was still excruciatingly slow as we made our way down. My cx instincts were making me want to push the pace, but we had to get Jimmy down the hill safely. The near vertical section was pretty scary in the gloom of dusk. I was especially proud of Margaret, who conquered her fears and made it down without any help, aside from some coaching. This was after we had to wait to descend, because a woman in another group couldn't handle it, and had to be lowered down by rope.

Once we reached the bottom we had to pull out the headlamps, to make it back to the Tuckerman Ravine trail. Once we reached the cat track, I ran ahead to let the others know that we were okay, since we were probably a full hour behind at this point. Sure enough, once I reached the lodge, Susan, Dan, and Bill had been waiting around for us for about an hour. The others came in about 15 minutes behind me. At this point everyone was exhausted after spending almost 11 hours on the mountain. I'd really like to do this trip again soon with a smaller group, and see if we could do it in a more reasonable 4.5 hours. We quickly packed the van, and hit the road. We stopped at several places to try and eat, but every one had a long wait. So we settled for Burger King, where I was met by the most epic soda fountain ever. It had over a hundred differ flavor combinations, which to my sleep deprived, frostbitten brain, was a little overwhelming. So much so, that I ended up drinking a quart of cherry Mello Yello.

Post Climb Observations:
The Good:
-Chris. He drove, encouraged us all, kept the group's spirits up, helped fix my crampon, flew a kite on the summit, and got everyone safely down the mountain.
-My friends Susan, Margaret, Micah, Bill, and Dan for making what many would have considered a disastrous trip a good experience.
-Cherry Mello Yello

The Bad:
-Frostbite on the cheek. (Not that bad, almost healed already)
-Broken crampon. Camp USA, you will be hearing from me soon.
-Too much Cherry Mello Yello

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The Bitter Cold Showdown

This was such a fun race, and a great way for people to try out cyclocross in a low pressure enviroment.  Andy and Ernest did a great job organizing this "bandit" race, although I've never heard of a bandit race course looking this good. I showed up early on Sunday, to help with the setup, not really knowing what to expect. Andy was already there putting in stakes, and gave Ernest and I the basic rundown of the course. Andy entrusted me with his course map, and we went to work. Having helped to set up several courses, I was surprised at how fast we were able to make it come together. By the end, we had a pretty technical little course, with some off cambers, a set of stairs, two ride ups, barriers, and another forced dismount. So much fun crammed into a small course! There was also the unique feature of two "shortcuts", which would allow people to skip one of the ride ups/run ups by eating a stale munchkin, or doing a random physical task. This added another fun element to the course, and made it friendlier for first time racers.

This was also very unique in that it was a relay style race, complete with batons. The "rules" stated that you couldn't place them in jersey pockets, which led to some interesting ways to carry the batons. Also, if you dropped one during transitions, you had to wait 5 seconds before continuing. There were 8 teams of 4 or 5 people, which was a pretty big turnout. The 3 teams who rode the most laps would move on to the finals. I rode with the Hup team of Chip, Parke, Ernest, and Cosmo. This was my first race as a Hupster, so Chip let me borrow his vest. 

Andy Huff gotz batonz.  Photo: Roger Cadman

I was happy that Ernest was finally going to get a chance to do a race. It was also really cool that Cosmo made it all the way up from CT to ride with Ernest, and coach him on the course. 

We did a Le Mans start for the race, to add to the general level of shenanigans. Chip took a nice little video of it. Everyone was cheering, or heckling in a friendly manner for the entire race. Several times during the race, the police rolled by slowly watching us, but never bothered us. I had to cut out before the finals, because of work, but I heard that they were just as fun. I'm really looking forward to another version of this in August!

Check it out! Tiffany Remy took some great shots of the race, which can be found here. Nick also made a really slick movie using some his Go-Pro footage, spliced with Tiffany's photos.