Riding Maine’s Sunrise Trail

I joined my friend and next door neighbor Andy Hazen this weekend, on one of his two-day-long training rides in his preparation for the 2,745 mile Tour Divide race starting June 8th, arguably the most challenging mountain bike time trial on the planet.

Andy, ready to fuel up on Sunrise Trail

We were riding on the Downeast Sunrise Trail, an 87 mile section of old railroad bed that had been converted to a gravel rails-to-trails corridor.  Andy completed it up-and-back twice in this past three weeks after Tour Divide guru Matthew Lee Matthew Lee (Cannondale Factory Racing) and director of the unsupported race,  phoned him and encouraged Andy to train on as much gravel as possible. Two weeks ago Andy churned out 170 miles in 18 hours, riding a fully loaded camping/ parts/ tools rig.
Yesterday ( Saturday) I completed 50 miles on my Pugsley bike, outfitted with a rear rack, a pair of  panniers and a frame bag.

Pugsley- tent and sleeping bag go on the rack

Today we started humping back to Cherryfield at 6 AM, after walking up to 27 degrees inside the tents. Ice coated everything around us- the water in the ditches, swamps, and even the road under our tires. These were full-on winter riding conditions,  even though it is April 28.  Moving at 10 miles an hour creates a windchill equivalent to 19 degrees, and that is real cold, hour after hour. The best decision I made before I left was to grab my winter riding boots and insulated mittens. My hands and feet were not painful,  only mildly uncomfortable. I had 4 layers on up top.

Yesterday’s ride headed east was mostly fun, with 15-30 MPH winds at our backs.

Approaching bridge on Trail

We saw no other bikers all weekend.  There were no real hills, due to it being a railroad bed through mostly swamps and bogs.

There aren’t that many places to camp on the sunrise Trail, and certainly no promoted sites. Not too far from Cherryfield was a large cemetery where you could stealth camp. Then,  I spotted a place past a picnic table beside the Machias River. After mile 70 there is another place for 2 tents near 2 picnic tables over by Cathance Stream. We were lucky to find an elevated head piece of land near a field by a place called Robinson’s Camps at milepost 80.

Camping au sauvage

There is no need to carry much food.  We bought lunch the first day at Helen’s restaurant in Machias. Mileposts occur every mile, with marked gravel crossroads alerting you to lodging, grocery, and cafe options.

We saw quite a bit of wildlife this weekend, including partridges, snowshoe hares, a nesting osprey, various song birds, and a close-up sighting of a moose. We also saw bear scat in the road, but no bears.

We were up riding by 6 AM on Saturday, with no wind until we hit East Machias, where we made the bend around the river and turned due west toward Machias where the cold, strong headwind made pedaling more difficult.

Between East Machias and Machias

After breakfast and warming up at Dunkin Donuts, we continued to grind out more miles, trying to maintain a 10 mph pace, where you click off a mile every 6 minutes. We advanced against the cold wind and repeatedly moved to the side for more than at least a  hundred  scattered ATV’s that were out for their Sunday rides.

I was plumb done after my 53 miles to Cherryfield, where I had my car parked.  Andy wanted to keep going, so he continued alone the last 30 into Ellsworth, where I picked him up at the start of the Trail at the Washington Junction railway yard.

I really enjoyed bike packing. It is challenging and interesting to make so many miles in one day, on your own power.  Often you hear criticism about backpackers who like to walk quickly out on the trails- “Why walk so fast that you don’t have enough time to see anything?”  Well, biking is MUCH faster and you still see plenty- actually more.  On a backpacking trip I would have covered maybe 30 miles instead of over 100.  It’s all good!

I would definitely do this again, but not in June when the mosquitoes would be insane due to the constant flowage that surrounds the corridor. I would end my next foray on the Sunrise Trail by going into Dennysville, and then down Route 1 where  I would  camp at Cobscook Bay State Park, one of my favorite camping places in Maine.

Camping au savage

It’s 6:30 pm and I’m in my sleeping bag trying to warm up. I just finished the longest bicycle ride that I’ve done in at least 10, or maybe 15 years. I started at 9 AM in Cherryfield after dropping my riding buddy Andy Hazen in Ellsworth. He just finished 80 miles, I did 30 less. We are camping in the puckerbrush off the side of the Sunrise Trail, a rail to trails project that runs 85 miles of gravel hardpack from Ellsworth to up near Eastport, ME. I used my backpacking gear and was surprised at how easily it fit on a bike. I chose my Surly Pugsley for the ride, pumping up the Nate 4″ tires to max at 30 pounds. We saw no other bike riders but about two dozen ATV riders today. We ate a big lunch at Helen’s in Machias. Fifty miles was about it for me, and was only possible after riding 35 miles on Tuesday and 36 on Thursday this week. It was cold, sunny, and windy today, with winds 15-30 mph all day. I wore my winter biking boots and lined gauntlet mittens. My hands and feet are not warm yet. The wind has not let up, and has even found us at our sheltered spot. Nothing to do but hunker down and hope it doesn’t get into the low 20’s tonight.

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Bikepacking Downeast

Pretty pumped up tonight. My Surly Pugsley is packed in the Caravan, rigged out with backpacking gear ready for a 60 mile ride tomorrow on the Sunrise trail out of Ellsworth. This is a new one for me. I’m concerned about having the right gear, as the temps are supposed to go below freezing, and the cold front is accompanied by stiff winds. The trail follows an rails-to-trails project that extends up the Maine coast some 80 miles or so. The plan is to ride east up, sleep out somewhere, and then backtrack to the car.

I was surprised how easy it is to fit in all the gear I believe I need. The tent, and sleeping bag were strapped to the rear rack, and the bulk of the gear went into 2 small panniers that I had from 10 years ago, when I was commuting on a bike to work for a year. I also have a new Salsa frame pack that takes snacks, water bottle, electronics, and other items I want to get to easily. Panniers are currently thought of as passe, and are replaced by a seat pack, but I don’t see that as a good idea. I want the weight on my bike to be down a bit lower. I don’t want a top-heavy rig.

Redeemed by The Bike

Stack an injury that lasted two weeks on top of a vacation in Texas that featured multiple excursions to several barbeque pits and Mexican restaurants, and witness my slide down on the fitness profile.  It’s been at least six years  when I have not been able to work out my body by riding a bike, hiking, or lifting weights for this long.  My mood, focus, and view of the word all suffered.

I stopped by Andy’s house and that afternoon we completed a 3 hour ride.  Here is is, from Strava.

It was growing cooler as we rode through the afternoon, with the wind coming in from the Southwest, making a headwind for us most of the ride.  The wind was fierce enough that we had to pedal to make it down a hill on Appleton Ridge. I should have packed more food.  I had just 1 granola bar. On the climb to the top of Moody Mountain right at the end,  the legs held together and I was spared cramping up.  It felt really good to ride today, and what a beautiful place it is to ride. Hope to be ready for an overnight bike-packing camping trip this weekend.

Gear failure not the issue. It’s all about customer service

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Readers may know that I’ve given up on Big Agnes Aire Core mattresses due to multiple valve failures (3), after being told by their customer service that a valve failure is post unusual.
I have been totally satisfied with my Exped Downmat7 until this week, when it began spewing goose down out of the deflate valve, after I had used it about 40 times. Deflating the pad now requires considerable pressure due to the clogged valve.
On the positive side, Exped is right on, so far.
I shot Exped’s customer service an email, and that day received an e-mail from them requesting a photo of some numbers on the mat, and enclosed a photo of the problem. I answered a few questions and received another immediate response informing me that a brand new mat would be shipped out to me. This is the best response that a hiker can ever receive, and sets up a benchmark that should ensure satisfaction in future contacts. My experience is that all gear breaks (except for Western Mountaineering sleeping bags and Four Dog Stove’s Bushcooker LT stoves).
I am slightly concerned about what happened, and don’t want a repeat. Anyone else know about leak valve problems on an Exped mat?

Bashed leg syndrome adventures

Two weeks ago I bashed my shin on a single track section of trail while riding my Tallboy. I’ve suffered countless hours of pain and aggravation in the past couple weeks, due to me electing to leave my shin and kneecap protection in the car that night.
Short story= the wound blew up like a half a grapefruit, 2 doctors looked at it the next morning, I was inside an MRI machine within the hour, blood work was ordered. I read the orders and they were trying to rule out Compartment Syndrome. For those of you have heard of it ,
“Swelling that leads to compartment syndrome occurs from trauma such as a car accident or crush injury, or surgery. Swelling can also be caused by complex fractures or soft tissue injuries due to trauma. Compartment syndrome is most common in the lower leg.
Symptoms: The hallmark symptom of compartment syndrome is severe pain that does not go away when you take pain medicine or raise the affected area. In more severe cases, symptoms may include:
Decreased sensation (check)
Paleness of skin (check)
Severe pain that gets worse (not severe, but pain, yes)
Weakness (check)
I was told to stop hiking and bicycling until the pain went away, which has taken two weeks. I decided to try pushing it a bit early, and hiked 7 miles on day, and 6 the next. Here’s the terrain that made the difference.

20120418-105236.jpgIt appears to have worked in pushing the healing to near normal.
This injury has allowed me to feel for the backpackers who suffer the effects of a fall. It has driven home the need to use hiking poles, and to wake up and be with the Trail, wherever it may run.

Down 140, Up and Around 1,850

Few days are ever spent in Full Range walking. Today was one.
The first part of the day took place in Longhorn Caverns, north of Austin, where tour guide Al Jarreau assisted us in stooping, duck walking, and outright sliding our way down through the depths at some 140 feet below the surface of the earth.

20120417-185032.jpgWe thoroughly enjoyed our $12.40 hour and a-half, 1.4 mile experience down under. The highlight for me was seeing photos of the 1920’s Speakeasy that was crafted out of a giant hallway near the dnd if the passageway that was outfitted with wooden dance floor, bandstand, and dining room.
We were in the neighborhood, so we stopped at Cooper’s Pit, where I consumed close to two pounds worth of pork ribs, sirloin, and brisket.

20120417-185241.jpgThis place has an outdoor ordering area where you point and indicate how big a piece for the fire tender to cut. Next, he tongs the meat and dunks it in a sauce kettle if you wish, and piles it all up on a plastic restaurant tray for you to eat inside, where they have extra beans, sauce, pickled jalapeños, white bread, and paper towels. I used many paper towels.
At this point our group broke up and Tenzing and I split for Enchanted Rock State park, where we hoped to get in some night hinking.
Monday night was quiet. We drove in and found the best campsite we could, in the corner of a flat shady plain, one that overlooked a meandering stream in a green belt. No one was working, so we figured out how much to put in an envelope, and moved on.
We had good maps of the Park, and it was about 45 minutes before sunset, so we struck out for an elevated western outlook one mile up the Loop Trail. We were right with the experience, and next reasoned that we could reach the 1825′ top of Enchanted Rock from the back side with the aid of our flashlights, care, and of course luck. I

20120417-185435.jpgWe continued around Moss Lake, then the Echo Canyon trail until we found the intersection of the Summit trail and then wound our way to the top. I forgot to take my headlamp out of my backpack pocket and transfer it to the day pack, so no light for me. At this point in was a dark, moonlight night, So, no problem- I’d walk in front of Tenzing, who put three fresh AAA’s to work, firing a path for me to walk through.
I was extra careful on foot placement- the path was all over the place, but the Rainbow New Balance 890’s stuck like glue. I used a compass and we sighted in lighted landmarks, so that we could find our way back. Once on top, Clarkie and I settled in on our backs and laid into some depressions on the still warm granite, escaped the breezes up there and enjoyed the light show.
We ended up walking 6 miles.
When We got back to camp, I built a fire from kindling and firewood that we scrounged up, allowing us to continue our enjoyment of the night sky festooned with more stars than can be ever counted.
Down more than 140 below ground, then up 1850 feet with our eyes fixed on the heavens, pondering the impossible, all within one 24 hour period.

Maine Brewer attempts Tour Divide

20120416-091934.jpgLong before there were Spinning classes and suspension bicycles, Andy Hazen was riding. Up and down, all year round, churning out hundreds of miles a week, when most of us hope to get three or four rides in in any 7 day period.
In 2009, I loaned him a DVD named Ride The Divide. It was in the winter, and when it is particularly nasty out , Andy sets his bike up on a trainer and watches videos, where he prefers the Three Stooges. Something clicked in his mind while he was watching the video and when he handed it back to me, he said, “I am going to do this. ”
Never mind that he’s been at home for the past twenty years, tending Andrew’s Brewry, when I recall him taking just one weekend vacation, and that was up to Oquossoc, ME.
On May 25 Andy and I are hopping in his pickup truck and driving out to Montana, before he sets out on an acclimatizing ride from Whitefish to Banff, Canada and starts the adventure of a lifetime, the Tour Divide. I’ ll keep him company as we drive out to Livingston, MT where my son Lincoln has a house.
Last week, Deirdre Fleming and a staff photographer visited Lincolnville and spent some time interviewing the man himself.
Here’s the article.