Friday, July 4, 2014

1st Grafton County Grand Ronde Report: when petite is enough

Last Saturday I held the first annual (I hope) Grafton County Grand Ronde. Originally I planned a 140 mile 13k ft. climbing loop in the vain thought of riding dirt roads all day. I spent the past year plotting and checking suitable roads. I also sketched a 99 mile "petite route" that would become the choice of the day. I hoped for fair weather. Thankfully the weather co-operated. We had clear skies and moderate temperatures all day. The morning was a touch cool, but a stiff 2 mile climb a few minutes into the start kept us warm.

We began with a group 6, expecting to meet up with another 3-5 riders along the route. The group included my team mates Jordan, Ryanne, & Andy, and the accomplished brevet racers John Bayley & Pam Blalock (aka the Blayley's). John & Pam were riding their custom Seven tandem to equalize their power against our more modest strengths.

The opening climb up East Rumney Road was just enough to keep the knee warmers off. We shot down the back side toward Campton Bog. Andy dropped his sunglasses causing Jordan to slow and Ryanne touched his rear wheel. She went down hard and we all stopped to help her assess the damage. Ryanne soldiered on bravely to Plymouth and on to the base of Bridgewater Hill. But the fall had bruised her shoulder too much for long steep climbs, so she departed with Jordan to ride home.

Paul Lohnes met us along the route to Plymouth. We apologized & explained our delay. We stopped in Plymouth long enough for a cup at Cafe Monte Alto to prepare for the vertical efforts ahead. I warned the group that the toughest climbs faced us in the first 40 miles. I don't think they entirely believed me. Bridgewater Hill is a beautiful beast of a climb. The first half a mile is paved but an average just shy of 15% grade. As we stomped up this wall Andy called out the spot grades from his computer, 16%, 18%, 19%. 14%. Once the road turns to dirt it flattens out to "only" 7% grade for the next half a mile. A small dip in the road leads to the next 8% section. The sight of the old Town Hall makes one think the climb is over, but it continues for a final steep ramp at 9%. The view of Newfound Lake at the top is spectacular. We all enjoyed a rest in the clear morning sun.

What goes up of course must come down. The descent on Poole Hill Road was tricky. The rain from a few days before left some spots on the dirt road tacky. Negotiating steep drops with occasionally wheel sucking wet spots took nerve. But we all made it down with out incident. We fortified ourselves with a few pasteries and refilled water bottles at the Newfound Grocery.

After a pleasant lakeside transition we started up the next challenge, Washburn Road. John and Paul were familiar with this climb from the Kearsarge Classic. The temperature was climbing as we were & the morning cool mist changed to humid sticky air. I took off my helmet in an effort to stay cool. Still, my head was drenched by half way up the hill. Paul was climbing better than all of us. He had time to take great photos from the view at the peak.

After a few minutes of enjoying the views of Mt. Cardigan & the Green Mountains to the west, we shot down Wild Meadow Road. The tandem lead the way. I quickly realized that I could kill myself if I tried to go the same speed as John & Pam on a familiar descent. We grouped up at the turn north around the west side of Mt. Cardigan. The road on this stretch bumps up & down, never climbing for long, but always going up. After descending from Tuttle Road, we bushwhacked a few steps onto the Northern Rail Trail for the pleasant flat miles into Canaan.

After climbing past Canaan Lake and down again, we stopped for more water. The humid warm air was draining us quickly. Andy seemed to be in difficulty. He was on antibiotics from a dental procedure a few weeks before. The heat & the drugs sapped much of his normal power. But he rallied after the stop, hoping that by lunch he'd find his legs. We continued to bump up and down the Grafton Turnpike. The slope sides at the Dartmouth Skiway were covered in purple lupines. It was a gorgeous alpine view.

We arrived in Lyme for our lunch stop a bit past 11:30. After 6 hours of elapse time, and over 4.5 hours of riding we all needed replenishment. The Lyme Country Store has everything we could want, from sandwiches & chips to cookies & ice cream. Rather than stand in a long line at the deli counter I grabbed a sandwich from the cooler & a big bag of potato chips. (turkey, cheddar, & granny smith apple on a croissant. what could be better!) I entirely expected to share the chips. But everyone else bought a bag of chips to share as well. Funny thing though, all the bags were finished before we left Lyme.

Now I had told the group that the worst of the climbing was over after we past Mt. Cardigan. We all decided to ride the petite route by lunch, Andy was still suffering from antibiotics, Paul wanted to get home for his son, and my knees where starting to complain. In my mind Bridgewater Hill and Washburn Road are the hardest climbs on the petite route due to their length. As we crested the 8% grade on Pinnacle Road Pam called me over: "You said the hard hills were over, Liar." I feebly replied that this was a shorter climb than the ones before, "LIAR!" she repeated. I knew there were more short steep dirt climbs ahead. My knees groaned in agreement with Pam's opinion.

We dropped down to Orfordville then up again on Dame Hill Road. I dislike Dame Hill only because it gives you a stark view of the back side of Cottonstone Mountain: a severe warning of the steep dirt road to Indian Pond. We churned our way up the hill and arrived at Indian Pond about 1:45. I was glad that I changed the lunch stop to Lyme. Paul shot ahead down the descent eager to get back to Plymouth. When I arrived at the turn to Piermont Heights Road I did not see him. I worried that he might have missed the turn on the fast descent. When Andy, John, & Pam arrived I suggested we continue down to Rte 25c to find him. Pam began to object as we quickly sped down the 8% grade after the turn, but it was too late. At the bottom, there was no Paul, he apparently had made the turn without stopping. I apologized but the damage was done. We needed to climb another mile and a half back to the planned route.

Once back on course we quickly found the most challenging track of the day. Piermont Heights Road becomes a Class IV "Summer Highway" after half a mile. This meant picking our way through baseball size stones and around craters on essentially a jeep trail. Fortunately John & Pam appreciate a good bike handling challenge. Once we descended to the smooth dirt road past Upper Baker Pond we all were fatigued. Paul was far ahead of us. I suggested we skip the final dirt road climb up Nichols Hill and simply take the paved road down to Wentworth. The group readily agreed. We arrived at our final stop weary but not broken. Each of us took in just enough water, food, & caffeine to ride the final 11 miles. In the end we all rode within our limits for the day but just.

Arriving back in Rumney was a joy. Ryanne and Jordan joined us for food & drink. Apparently Jordan had tried to ride the reverse route, but arrived much earlier at Indian Pond than we did. He still got his dirt century in, but solo. After changing clothes I grilled some burgers & sausage. We ate all the chips in the house and drank a few (many) beers. We talked about the day's ride, and past races & rides, and rides to attempt in the future.

It was a grand time.