Riding Mountain Bikes on Mt. Rogers, VA

Last weekend I was down in the southern Appalachians.  The first 5 days, I was there, I walked 90 miles of the Appalachian Trail in North Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia.  It was glorious.  The wildflowers were in abundance,  and were prolific . There were times when I was backpacking, sometimes over 5,000 feet in elevation, while at the same time inhaling the intoxicating fragrance of woodland plants and trees. It was a healing experience.

Flame Azalea

Flame Azalea

Rhododendron in full bloom

Rhododendron in full bloom

After my backpacking segment, I stayed at my friend Mike’s mountainside cabin that I reported on in my previous post about my week down south.

 

One of the activities that Mike and I shared was a 14 mile mountain bike ride from the cabin through the Mt. Rogers Wilderness, where we pushed our bikes uphill toward the Grayson Highlands.  Our ride then followed an abandoned railroad grade to the top of our ride, where we intersected the Appalachian Trail at a corral known as the Scales.

The Scales

The Scales

The other geographical feature of this area are the Balds,  which are large mountaintops that are devoid of trees.  here’s a panorama of a bald that I visited.

Bald near Mt. Rogers

Bald near Mt. Rogers

Riding bikes here was a unique experience.  My friend Mike owns two Diamondback bikes.  He rode a later model with a front suspension fork, and I chose a 1986 vintage Diamondback Apex for the day.  I have an 1985 Apex at home, that I have converted to a road bike.  On this ride, I was forced to remember why modern bikes often sport front AND rear suspensions. The ride up was not so bad, because it was a steady climb of 1600′.  The ride down was a real suffer fest, due to the constant pounding of the front end on the numerous rocks and ruts that littered the trail.  My forearm and wrists were toast.

The next day Mike, his wife Susan and I went uphill again, walking a new route.  The real treat of the walk was encountering two black bears.  Mike’s Blue Heeler Jackson had run ahead of us and treed them.  The dog came right back to us when Mike called it, when we were able to watch this giant fat black bear drop like a stone down a tall tree with it’s little cub doing likewise on an adjacent tree.

 

 

Big life, big bike- Bubba style

I joke about attending the Church of Two Wheels on Sunday mornings.  But it’s no joke.
Riding with my long-time friends from the Midcoast Maine never ceases to amaze me.  Week after week, the bikes don’t break, we don’t crash (much), and we experience the pure joy of playing around in the woods, challenging ourselves on repeated sections of terrain.  This has been going on close to 20 years, all year round!  This past winter was a great one for riding these same trails when they are covered with packed snow and ice.  Today, my fat-tire Pugsley stayed home and my full suspension Santa Cruz Tallboy was resurrected  back into action.  The bumpy ledges and long  downhill from the top was kinder to my deteriorating shoulders than the rigid framed Pugs.
A bunch of The Bubbas have downloaded the Strava app on our phones or via our GPS  devices.  We encourage each other and share rides that we’ve completed with the rest of the the guys (and gals now) !  We now have maps!
 Pleasant map

Pleasant map

We get elevation profiles, like this one from Sunday’s ride on Mt. Pleasant !

screenshot

Here’s me jumping on the Tallboy, and following Rigger’s line for the ride down from ” the Blueberry field” to the ” Three way”.

photo by John Anders

photo by John Anders

3 minute video of me descending Mt. Pleasant <<– Click to view three minutes of pure joy, complete with me chuckling as The Hawk and I jockey for the right side into the singletrack.  Thanks to The Hawk for sending me his clip, and The Bubbas for being there for me, week after week.
Sanctuary.

The Sunday When Winter Went Away

There’s still a small pile of snow on the north side of my house but I’m declaring “Winter is over!”  No where is that more apparent than on today’s mountain bike ride on Mt. Pleasant, here in Midcoast Maine.  Just last week, a skeleton crew of Bubbas , labored our way up  the 800 foot climb to the top of the mountain, where conditions forced an early bail back to the parking lot.  Deep mud, ice, sleet, freezing rain , and then cold rain wore us down.  screenshot 3

That was then, this was now.  Nine of us went double the distance this week.  There is still mud and  water to churn through , but it’s not so deep.  And not so cold, and the sun was shining.  There was one big tree that had to be cleared out in order to to make the ledge challenge possible today. It was a very long and heavy tree.

Yo, Heave Ho!

Yo, Heave Ho!

Once we cleared the fallen timber, the challenge began and just a few of us made it up the ledge challenge. Here’s a video clip of  The Hawk and Rigger clearing it:

On the way up, I had what we call “a mechanical”. I had a chain suck, which is a dislodged chain jammed into the drive train somewhere, but not exactly. Then I saw a broken part situation like I’ve never seen before. One of the bigger rings on the rear cassette was bent sideways. IMG_2853
I hiked-a-bike up the last short portion to the top, where Ian launched into action, and went into the woods with a saw, cut a hardwood chisel, sharpened a point on it, grabbed a rock, and made it right. Then he adjusted the rear derailleur and I was able to complete the ride. The guy is an exceptional mechanical problem solver. Thanks, buddy!

Ian improvising a fix- photo by John Anders

Ian improvising a fix- photo by John Anders

The rest of the ride was much better, with the climbing over, well most of it.  Ian even made it up the super-challenging Abyss today, a feat that no one else was able to accomplish.  It’s astounding that  four-wheeled drive vehicles get in here right now, when it is so soft and muddy, and totally churn up these old forest roads.  We see parts of cars, lenses, headlight, grills , and undercarriage parts strewn all over the place.

It’s doesn’t get dark now until almost 7:45 PM.  Next up will be my first Rockland Bog ride of the season in two days, now that winter is over.  I hope to have my Pugsley’s rear cassette replaced by then, where I’ll join my Bubba pals in another wild ride through the forest and streams.

Picture Perfect Ride to Pitcher Pond

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The days are sunny and cold, the nights in single numbers to below zero and I’m not complaining. Cracked car engines and splitting thumbs are part of this time of late winter in Maine.

Aided by the persistent polar cold, the snowmobile trails here in Lincolnville are primo for riding bikes right now. I saddled up the Pugsley early yesterday afternoon and had a fast, 11 mile ride from Steven’s Corner at the edge of Camden Hills State Park. I took the snowmobile trail out to Pitcher Pond. It’s a direct route with one turn at a T- a right that takes you over through Tanglewood 4 -H camp. I ran past the parking lot there, and took a left over the suspension bridge spanning the Ducktrap River where I eventually reached the Pond. This ride is perfect this week. A few bare spots of brown undergrowth were spotted on the trail. It’s coming -Spring !

I do enjoy the unique thrill of riding on a large body of frozen water. Ponds are of the canoe world- not biking routes.

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More riding, maybe today?  The Lincolnville Mountain Goats snowmobile riders have a town map with the snowmobile trails on it.  Where next, before the freezing cold leaves us for a while?

Coldest ride yet?

Steve said no.  Sheesh!

Ian, The Hawk, Eric, and Rigger

Ian, The Hawk, Eric, and Rigger

It was 12 degrees when we started and 12 degrees when five Bubbas completed this Sunday’s ride at the usual winter place, departing from Warren Community School parking lot.

screenshotThere had been an ATV out there, probably sometime yesterday, before a couple of inches of fresh snow accumulated over the track.  The going was a bit slow, more grinding of gears to get as far as we are used to going.  No water at all, the streams and boggy sections are rock solid now, after more sub zero nights.

John Anders might have been working on cleaning up the trail from Stevens Corner parking lot to Tanglewood this morning.  John, you do that?  Also, looks like Walter might have been out earlier today.

The wind was tough- definitely over 10 MPH, putting the wind chill at below zero.  Very much evident riding along the power line to get out to the woods, and on any open areas.  I noticed that even in the woods, the higher points were  getting hit by wind.  This kept our stops short.  Once, we even rode purposely slow on a flat segment instead of waiting for guys in back to catch up.

I had to wear more clothing.  I had the hoodie from my wool shirt up, and wore a fleece  hat over that, under my helmet- had to have sunglasses  to cut the headwind.  I had heat packets in my boots, and inside my handlebar pogies.  The bladder tube on my Camelback had to ride inside my Windstopper jacket, which didn’t feel like it was able to stop all of the wind today.  As the ride went on for a couple of hours, I was getting cold.  I read on Facebook  that putting the heat on your chest may be more effecting than placing the packets on all extremities.  Has anyone tried to see if that makes a difference?

Maybe packets on all the extremities and a chest warmer, too, next time it is like this?

No matter, as Rigger said, ” It’s still better than drinking three hot coffees and eating muffins on the couch while watching Meet the Press.”

I agree.

 

Fatbike Says Bye-Bye to Ice

Pugsley takes the plunge

Pugsley takes the plunge

Sunday’s ride marked the end of our visit on top of  the remains of the ” crystal palace”  around here in coastal Maine.  The ice that we have encountered for the past couple weeks is  gone.

Snow almost gone from blueberry field

Snow almost gone from blueberry field

Five riders made a relatively quick out-and-back 10 mile run from the Warren Community School Parking lot.  screenshot We encountered sections of sheer ice that were over a half mile long, with some portions under water that was flowing across the surface.

Ian and I were on studded 45N tires, Jason had unstudded 45N tires, Walter had Surly Nates.

Walter and Ian take a break

Walter and Ian take a break

The Hawk never complained while churning away strong on regular 26″ tires.  Ian declared that studded tires were a good purchase for these conditions- he was consistently far ahead of the rest of the pack.  I even passed Jason once. THE ONLY way that happened is because of the metal pins protruding from my tires.  Walter did OK on his unstudded set, but stated that he is planning to buy a set of studded 45 N’s. Sidecountry in Rockland has some.   At times, he was slipping and sliding.  Walter  told me that Bath Cycle already sold out of the 30 pair that they had a couple of weeks ago.

Enough snow had melted to set up detours around the ice.

Jason goes around

Jason goes around

The feeling of rolling over glistening ice is unique. I expected to go down at some point over the two hour ride, but never did.

Did I tell you how much I am enjoying the winter,  while riding my Pugsley?

Bailing bikes from the Bush

Andy and I were fortunate to escape from the trail this afternoon without broken hips or concussions.  Ice, ice, baby.  Ice that has been present for a couple of weeks had just received a faint dusting of dry snow, which lubricated the surface, hiding the worst ice flows and skidding one sideways on slopes.

Packing a saw and a small axe,  the was plan was to hit the snowmobile trail from here on High Street over to Moody Pond, where we’d clear any remaining blockage from trees that had bent or even fallen down due to the weight of the ice on the limbs.

It wasn’t very long until we were in trouble.  I am not going to publicize exactly what event occurred in the first two minutes of riding due to fear of significant others ( i.e. wives) likely scrutiny of this entry, and neither do Andy nor I give up on much of what we try to do, but we both were in total agreement we had to get off the trail.

We were riding fat bikes- me the Pugsley, and he his Farley.  We let almost all the air out of our tires to increase the contact patches.  The problem was his lack of studs on his tires.  I was able to grip the ice.  I couldn’t walk without slipping all over the place, but he couldn’t walk or ride. We actually tried to walk the bikes back up the big open field we were moving through but couldn’t get up.  Below us was more descent and then flatter, wooded conditions, which we aimed for.

It was no better on the flat.  After reaching the edges of his land, we cut through the woods and headed back through the field across from his farm.

Still, I was able to ride, and ride anywhere. My bike floated over the untracked snow, which was covered by that lubricated  ice shield that made walking very difficult.

I was instantly transported back to the 10,000+’ snow covered High Sierra, backpacking in California in 2010, where my booted feet were kicking steps through the ice in the hopes of surviving the traverse.

IMG_2506

Same thing here, with Andy tracking in my steps.  It took us 45 minutes to walk the little blip near the Start and Finish icons below.

Home to Searsmont and back

Home to Searsmont and back

We gathered our senses, congratulated ourselves on making it this far, and looked at our watches.  It was now 3:15 PM. We agreed to stay on back roads and put in some more miles before the riding would get crappy for the next two days, where above-freezing temperatures, and 1-2″ of rain would turn this rock hard surface to a quagmire.

It’s not easy riding the roads with 4 pounds of pressure in your tires, but we made it in before dark, and we agreed to ride again together some time soon and tackle those downed trees.   Maybe Sunday?

The Crusher in the Tushars

I’ve brought into the world one mean  “psychological rhinoceros” in the form of Lincoln Jamrog.

-The New Year brings about new hopes and goals.  Here’s what the Rockies’  Jamrog has in his sights this riding season- the Crusher in the Tushars bike race.

It seems like a joke but it’s real:  69 miles. 10,000 vertical.

This: -Flahute.com, April 5th, 2011 “This event will truly be a crusher for anyone crazy enough to enter it”

and this:  via A Guide to the Crusher in the Tushars – Grizzly Adam.net.

and then this: West Coast’s Arlo Jamrog calls me after a 65 mile ride out of San Francisco as he trains up for a Century ride ( 100 miles in a day).

Just when I am trying to dial down the suffering quotient for the year, these two ramp it up.

Could these two be expressing the “Polish suffering gene” ?

Bubbas Roll Through the 2014 Freeze

In Maine,  the past week has recorded the coldest temperatures in the past three years , where even on the coast, I’ve seen reports of -20 F.  Add wind chill and one ice and two snow storms and its positively wild and beautiful out.

The crazy cold have not stopped The Bubbas, who have kept up the tradition of mountain biking throughout the year, as they have done for the past two decades or so.  We rode twice this week, including New year’s morning.  It’s hard to believe that people not only look forward to riding on ice and snow, but that they do it.

I have a few tricks I use to keep myself warm when the temps hover in the single numbers, and they did during the day this week.

I wear electric socks, powered by D -cell batteries.  I switch to  platform pedals instead of clip-ins, and wear super-insulated LL Bean boots.  Layers of wool work, under windproof Patagonia tights on the bottom and a North Face fleece jacket on top-  but not too thick with the layering, as you do generate heat when the pedals start cranking.

My hands don’t take the cold well.  I have solved that problem by purchasing a pair of lime-green high-res Pogies from Stellar Bags, handmade in Minnesota, land of ice.

Stellar  Pogies

Stellar Pogies

The cordura covers are lined with thick fleece, allowing me to stay warm with a lighter pair of gloves. I have fresh pair of chemical hand warmers in my Camelback that I have put inside the pogies if my hands do get cold.

A hood on my Patagonia wool 3 base layer that comes up under my helmet keeps my head warm, with a big silk cowboy scarf  covering my lower face.  Ski goggles brighten up the contrast with all the snow and keep my upper face warm.

Here are some pics of the two rides:

Jason descending on  Trek Farley

Jason descending on Trek Farley

Stephanie smilin' and climbin'

Stephanie smilin’ and climbin’

Heading into the crystal palace

Heading into the crystal palace

Four fatbikes sported 45North studded tires

Four fatbikes sported 45North studded tires

Suzie ready to descend

Suzie ready to descend

Now what?

Now what?

Andy Hazen 's ( left)  first Bubba ride. Another Farley. Kevin and Craig Mac are here too. The Hawk was flying. Rigger doesn't miss many.

Andy Hazen ‘s ( left) first Bubba ride. Another Farley. Kevin and Craig Mac are here too. Rigger doesn’t miss many.

Bubbas regroup

Bubbas regroup

Looking forward to heading back to Warren, Maine tomorrow for another go at the fresh tracks.  Thanks go out to the snowmobilers  who pack the track for us!

First time out on Maine Huts and Trails

Yesterday, I changed my plan to backpack up here when the weather report scared me. Last week’s unseasonably warm Indian Summer is history.
It’s 1:30 in the afternoon and I’m here at the Maine Huts and Trails Flagstaff hut complex.   OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA  This is my first time with Maine Huts and Trails, where they staff sustainable outdoor hotels in the forest.  It’s 31 degrees out, with  strong wind off Flagstaff Lake that’s pushing the cold even deeper today.
Snow flurries are scurrying about outside the insulated walls and windows of this main lodge- recently constructed on eastern shore of Flagstaff, a man-made lake that is the fourth largest in Maine.
I have camped in this area in all seasons, including one winter trip inside a heated wall tent about a mile from here when the temps dropped to 20 below, with an even colder wind off the lake that refrigerated the air around the tent’s wood stove. No amount of stoking could raise the heat in the tent to a comfortable level.

My original plan was to hike on the Appalachian Trail for a few days, in an area where I enjoy hanging out. I stayed at the local “hiker oasis”- the Stratton Motel last night, so that I could get an early start. My plan was to walk southbound on the AT from Route 27, then  up and over the side trail to Sugarloaf summit. I like going up and over Sugarloaf- it’s the original Appalachian Trail route after all.   I hoped I could get out of the elements and bed down  in the now decrepit and supposedly vermin-infested Summit building. Today would have been a 12 mile day if it all worked out. But several factors combined to change my mind.

Cold- how about nights in the 20’s?
Snow- flurries.
Uncertainty- about whether staying in the Sugarloaf summit building was still possible. It has been gloom and doom about the place for at least the past 5 years.  In the warmer weather many options exist for sleeping, but right now I don’t want to either stand around in the long hours of dark and freezing cold. I envisioned getting way up there and finding the doors nailed and locked shut. Spending tonight up high in a little flimsy tent is definitely not on my Bucket List. I have not so fond memories of a yet another very cold, miserable December night-  up on Bigelow-  that does not need repeating.
Two other factors pushed the hiking into the “Nope” zone. Both were unsettling.
Both involved a connection to Sue Critchlow , the proprietor of the Stratton Motel/ Maine Roadhouse.
The first was a 2012 article from the Boston Phoenix where Sue was one of the local Stratton/ Rangely residents who was quoted heavily concerning the history of weird hovering lights in the area. Shades of extraterrestrial visitation.
The second was the 2013 mysterious disappearance of 66 year old Appalachian Trail hiker Geraldine Largay, who left the Poplar Ridge Lean-to shelter near Rangeley on Monday, July 22, after checking in with her husband via text message as she headed toward the Spaulding Mountain Lean-to, eight miles north. “Inchworm” (her AT trail name) had already hiked from Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, almost 1000 miles, with her final destination the AT terminus at Katahdin. She was last seen by three male hikers that afternoon near Lone Mountain, about three miles from the Spaulding shelter. To them, Largay, seemed fine.  Then she vanished, launching one of Maine’s largest missing-person searches in memory. For 11 days, hundreds of people on foot as well as  ATVs and horseback, along with a helicopter,  airplanes, and nine search dogs failed to turn up any perceptible trace of her passage.

Read more about the puzzle, including the mystery phone call Creighton stated she received from a woman who told her that she wanted to get word to George Largay that his wife would be late in meeting him.   Full story here.

So, instead on a night out in the cold, mulling about the strange events here in drama city,  I biked 19.2 miles from Route 27 today, where I put in at the trailhead parking for Maine Huts and Trails. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA I had the official map for this route, but needed to study it frequently, as it was my first time out on the route. There were plenty of signage, but this same complex of trails is used by snowmobiles, all terrain vehicles, hikers, cross country skiers, and snowshoers. There was at least one intersection where there were four choices to decide upon. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Sort of complicated.

Sizing up the day at 7:10 PM tonight- it turned out great. I am the only guest here tonight, sleeping out in a three person dorm room in another cottage that is heated, but definitely not over 60 degrees. I spent the bulk of the afternoon on a big leather couch, about six feet out from a wood stove perched on a field stone hearth, where the warming flames of cowboy TV were visible through the glass doors. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Two of the staff and I ate supper together- a stir fry over rice with homemade bread, brownies, and peanut butter cookie, capped off with a glass of cold milk. They even materialized a bottle of Allagash White for me ( $5).

From 10/28/2013 to 12/19/2013, MH&T stops cooking meals for guests, but the Huts remain open, with a caretaker on premises. For that time period $35 a night ( $30 for members) gets you all the amenities ( yes for hot shower), including the use of the kitchen – $70 for a cold weather weekend of exploring in this area is a screaming deal. You could get up and over on the AT for a day hike up the Bigelows, walk the shore of this Lake a bit, or bring bikes up and ride around in the woods.  Then hit the hot showers, use the kitchen, enjoy safe drinking water out of faucets,  have electric lights to read by, and sleep in a heated room on a mattress.

Long Falls Dam Road is plowed all winter.  It’s important to understand that you cannot actually drive into any of the four available Huts. You have to hike, bike, ski, or snowshoe in.  The 1.8 mile traverse into Flagstaff Hut from the TraiIhead parking lot is the shortest trip in to any of the huts.  It’s a whoop on a bike.