Thursday, March 21, 2013

Carolina Frolics and the Wakefield Slacker

Greetings cycling enthusiasts back in the homeland. Just thought I would take a few minutes to tally up a tiny tall tale on the tall tree tabloid.

Back for my seventh year in South Carolina and as always it is a good time so far even though the weather has not been up to the standards of the past two years. After an arrival day 35 k spin followed by a sophomore 85 k in the lower hills we decided to tackle a big AND newish route. Much of the route follows the Table Rock up to Blue Ridge parkway route, but with a left hook a couple km from the Blue Ridge onto Explorer Road, followed by Canada Road (281) and back to the 215 at Balsam Grove via Wolf Mountain, Tanessee Creek and Joe House roads.

Those familiar with the area will all too well know the big climb straight up the 178 from the golf course at Jocassee….not exactly a warm up…but that and the second one are mere warm-ups to what will follow. The day is the warmest expected this week (about 65 at the bottom) and pure sun. We got a late start just after 1 pm expecting a 5+ hr ride and not completely sure of the distance. After the first big warmup climb is the drop to Rocky Bottom (where many Canadian teams stay to train) then up up up again along the sparkling Oolenoy river….a fly-fisher’s paradise to the top of the second warmup before descending towards Rosman NC were a much needed stop for drink refill and high fat fudge covered coconut granola bar (only 50 cents !!!) was the order of moment. We knew what was next was basically 20 km of climbing (with a few down-hills thrown in just to taunt us for losing the altitude we would gain just prior. Then comes about 5 km of heinous climbing before hitting Explorer road….where we just happen to meet Mr. Bilenkey and the Gee Gee’s (Jon and Derek) who had come up and around some of the loop we were headed on.

This new to us road opened up after a couple of steep long drops and one steep climb to a beautiful hidden valley of cozy balsam farms….just lovely in the high altitude sunny blue sky. Lots of lovely homesteads dotted the remainder of the road….completely unlike the ramshackle lots often seen on our routes. Finally we make it to Canada road after a longer than anticipated jaunt on aptly named Explorer….here it is pretty much all down to the hook back on Wolf Mountain road where we are greeted by a wall. Grunting up this wall I am made acutely aware of the fact that my road bike (now a 10 speed) low gear is a 26 tooth vs. the 27 that I usually used…..I REALLY miss that extra 4% !! Just as the road curves north again I stop at a nondescript looking road and realize it is our turn point….looked really like nothing more than a driveway so it was good we checked. Another arduous wall but the remainder of the road was mostly along valley shadowed by beautiful cliffs and pastures. Eventually we got back to Balsam Grove on the 215 (the road up) about one hour behind anticipated sked. Down to the nearby country store for another bottle a quick snack and on our way. Still pretty up and down back to Rosman and the ski legs and couch bum are feeling it ! From Rosman there are basically three climbs, one shortly out of town which then drops precipitously down almost to Rocky Bottom, then an evil teasing climb before the final drop to RB, and finally a long but slightly more gradual climb out leading eventually back to the descent to highway 11 and our car. All told it was 134 km and about 3000 m of ascent. I was pretty beat and my legs were weak and like rubber….but for what was essentially my third ride of the year (for me winter is all about the sticks on the feets) I was pretty damn happy with the 6+ hour achievement.

My first real ride of the year had been a week earlier - the Wakefield Slacker. This was an easygoing group ride to Wakefield and Pipolinka consisting of myself, Chris, Pascal, Glenn and Jeff on the same day (tho at a much later warmer time period) as the Tall Tree Hardmen were doing the Wakefield Cracker. (Story by Matt Surch below This was a great ride on a local favorite route, the weather was good, scenery nice and company great. The roads were even drier than expected and me, as the only guy without fenders, was able to contribute going to the front on enough occasions to earn my keep…..I think. Everyone on the Wakefield slacker ride pretty much relegates the bike to the closet and breaks out the skis for winter so we were all in about the same boat….all tired and happy to have completed a fun ride and get ourselves into the mode of the upcoming season. Alas I hear that winter has made a less than welcome return to O-Town. I won’t mind coming back to a few more skis, tho I’m not sure if my backcountry love will be requited, I’m sure the parkway and major trails will be going til mid April for sure. And now I have also remedied my fenderless situation…..!

The route we took was similar to that found here: but instead of Silversteen road (south portion of the loop) ours was higher up - closer to Explorer....and we started at the junction of hwy 11 and 178 as opposed to Table Rock.

Monday, March 18, 2013

The Wakefield Windfest: HTFU

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Jim's all-road ripper, shod with 35mm Contis.
With the first spring classic, the Steaming Nostril, within striking distance, Iain and  Jim were not about to embrace the warm confines of their basements on Sunday morning, despite the emails flying about the drama unfolding between Milan and San Remo. No, cold be damned, they'd ride, as would I. Because its March.

-17 degrees celcius at 09:00 was the forecast. We didn't have to wait until morning to agree that was not going to be productive. Have breakfast, embrocate, drive to Wakefield, and roll from Pipolinka at 11:30. It'd only be -9 or so. 

-9 or so is ok with a bit of wind cover. Part of the rationale for riding from Wakefield, rather than from home to Wakefield, was the cover provided by the ridgeline along Mountain Road, then the hills and tree cover further north and along Lac Bernard. Did I mention hills? Yeah, they are important to ride in March.

Once again, I was proven an optimist, as the wind prevailed far more than 'planned.' Overdressed as we were, I was the only one without cold feet. That might have had something to do with my front wheel calamity. 

Iain and I were testing our VTTs on these roads for the first time. Expecting a decent dose of ice, this seemed prudent. Tubeless tires are generally pretty straightforward, but the odd time you can get thrown a curve-ball. I reduced pressure at the covered bridge, then noted a 'very flexy fork' on a fast descent. Sure enough, my cognitive bias (Brad had remarked on his impressions of the same fork a week prior) had me fooled: my tire was running low. I must have broken my valve's seal. I added air, but 10 minutes later, it was soft again, so I decided to install a tube. Thankfully, I was the only one to leave my tools at home. Jim produced his 32mm tube.


Valve off, tube in. Waitasecond. Valve lock-nut not un-locknutting. Not even Jim's Bowflex-Power could break the aluminum-brass welded interface. Goddammit. Iain and I brainstormed, thinking out loud, spitballing, just letting it flow, while Jim attended to some inconsequential issue with his bike. Eureka: shear it off. Cool, with what? My spokes are aluminum. They are like, $5 each or something ridiculous like that. Ok, so kicking it's a bad idea. Aha, jam it into a pedal and snap it off. Bingo, success. Perfect shear. Its off, tube's in, and I'm getting my third upper body work-out of the day: PB!

Weeee, a descent to set the chill right deep! C'mon, lets climb! Iain pumps the pedals to 'warm up,' which is code for 'drop us, and tune up for the Sreaming Nostril.' I get that, its cool. No really, its cool. I rode a bike at 129kph on rollers on Saturday night, I don't have anything to prove today (no, I'm not kidding. Separate post to come). That's code for 'I am a lightweight, drank two beers last night, rode a bike for 01:30, and feel weak.' Jim and I talk about Dave.

Iain's hammering, while Jim and I skinned ourselves, was ok. After all, it was windy, cold, and scenic. More importantly, it was necessary. The reality is that the conditions were just part of the story. Iain needed more than an endurance pace, and we chased, until we didn't. And in all truth, there was many an occasion that we remarked how good the conditions were. It was just hard. As in, 70km hilly mountain bike ride hard. Why not just ride the trainer? Jim's summed it up:

Today we do what others won't; tomorrow we do what others can't.

Its really that simple. If racing is on the menu for spring, you have to put in some really hard days before you can get to the good ones. It simply has to happen. We all need a good dose of HTFU once in a while, especially in March.


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Obligatory covered bridge shot at the Gatineau River. My Niner VTT's maiden voyage.

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Hot water in bottle; fingers crossed....
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Iain leads our trio over a short stretch of snowmobile trail from the Low Gazebo.

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A different perspective of the Paughan Dam. 'Finally' we crossed and completed the RotD loop.
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Bikes and the lake at the Dam. Same bars, rather different tires. 
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VTTs and wind-swept farm field, about to head into the tree cover....finally.

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Iain and Jim, about to head into the trees.

Monday, March 11, 2013

The Wakefield Cracker

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The seal has been broken. On Sunday, a gaggle of Tall Tree Cycles team members, Imad, and Marcel, launched the first official Wakefield + group ride of the season. The 'Alcove Loop' was the plan, a paved ride to Wakefield via Mine, Scott, 105, and River Road, then beyond Wakefield on the 105 for a bit before kicking West at Alcove, and bridging over to the 366 to return to Wakefield. Road bikes with fenders were the order of the day. When I say road bikes, I mean bikes with 28mm or larger tires, not your typical carbon dream-crusher. Proper bikes for spring riding, frienders, fender flaps.

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40k in, and its time for Pipolinka stop #1. They've always got the coffee ready to go;  I can't imagine a better bakery to punctuate a ride. 

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Rob surveys Jamie's steel steed. 
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Rolling the good stuff about 60k in. Buff!
Rather than completing the Alcove Loop as planned, I suggested we roll onto Parent instead to achieve the full 120k targeted. Soon enough, it transitioned into nice hard-packed dirt, just right for our plump tires. Ok, the frozen rut I caught wasn't too cool, but that was an isolated incident....
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Four steel bikes and one aluminum in this photo. Steel is real. Iain rocks his Steelwool Sweet City in 1x9 format.
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Three rides in, and I was finally able to get a decent shot of a dogsled team.! Mush!

A little over 120k for the day, two Pipolinka stops; outstanding. Marty was hardman of the day (HotD), riding his fixed gear and NOT imploding or exploding, and that's with over 1000m climbing. Chapeau! Jamie was also exceptional considering he was ill, budgeting his energy very well. Props. 

Sunday, March 3, 2013

The Wakefield Iceduster

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Back at it in Wakefield early Sunday morning, Iain, Andy, Marcel, Chris-from-the-internet, and I rolled out on all manner of bicycles to put in some base miles on snow dusted dirt roads. With wet snow packed down, ice covered some of the stretches of our route, but all was well, even for Andy on his touring bike shod with Continental reptile tires. Chris and Marcel brought 29ers, while Iain and I represented the fat bike community.

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Chris' first ride in the area, LOVED it.

With temps hovering around -5 today, and little sun, the roads remained frozen and unchanged over the 3.5 hours we rode. Traction was consistent, that is, consistently somewhat slippery, but easily manageable for all. The worst thing that happened was we had to sit on some climbs to avoid spinning. Oh, and Marcel's snow drift bail was, by Andy's report, pretty spectacular! Unfortunatly, like the dog-sled team we saw, I was unable to capture the moment in pixels for you all to enjoy.
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The Paughan Dam. We revered course here for the sake or Iain's marriage.

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Two data points don't constitute a sufficient sample, but I think its fair to submit that the dirt roads around Wakefield will generally be great for fenderless riding as long as the temp is below zero. Once it heats up, the little snow and ice will thaw, the roads will get wet while remaining hard-packed for a bit, then the frost will come out and they will be slow and soggy for a while. So as a rule of thumb, the roads should be excellent any time next winter not immediately following (or during) a significant snowfall or freezing rain. Any bike with 35mm tires and some tread should typically work well, though my personal preference looking ahead is likely to be my VTT drop bar mountain bike, with fast rolling mtb tires in the 2.2-2.4 range. The thinking is that you want to be able to control the bike when you hit frozen icy ruts here and there, and thereby stay upright, rather than bail for the sake of less rolling resistance and grip.

Next winter we'll try to rally the troops and throw an informal Raudax from Wakefield. Or two...!

Click through the pics to access the rest.

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Saturday, March 2, 2013

February Fat Challenge (via STRAVA) Winners!

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Ok, you all want to know who won before anything else, right? By random draw, here's who takes the Strava Premium 1-Year Subscriptions:

Marco D
David Bilenkey

Winners were drawn from a mug by my daughter.

I will drop off the voucher cards inside a handy Strava JerseyBin at Tall Tree Cycles for pick-up any time after Monday. If either are unclaimed by the following Tuesday, and I've not heard from either winner, I'll redraw.

Now for the stats.

Iain Radford pulled massive mileage, totaling 322km for the month of February, almost exclusively on singletrack! Yariv Wolfe and Brad Kukurutz flirted with 200k at 196 and 190, respectively. Here's the rest, in no particular order:

Jay Heins: 168km
Janine Gorman: 110km
Marco D: 147km
Rod Diaz: 147km
David Bilenky: 117km
Thom Johnson: 134km
Matt Surch: 140km (no, I was not in the draw).

Our grand total was thus 1669km, the distance between Ottawa and Little Seldom, Newfoundland, you know, if you could ride there in a straight line.

All in all there were many more miles logged on fat bikes in the Ottawa area, but not everyone is logging rides on Strava, and not everyone on Strava submitted totals. Better odds for those who did. It was clear form comments I received that this Challenge was a good motivator through the month. That's exactly what I was hoping for when I set the point of entry at 100k, which could be attained in 10 rides of 10k. Doable, it adds up. Thanks to Strava for providing these prizes; I'll aim to repeat the Challenge next season, and I will keep the focus on participation, and away form competition.

Thanks to all for being part of the Challenge! Lets see if we can shatter our collective total in 2014!