Sunday, November 27, 2011

Training - In Maine, In Snow, On a MTB

A few things I relearned Friday:
1. "1/2 inch down and 1 inch over" doesn't necessarily mean it's just a few miles.
2. Android GPS Google Maps doesn't have scale. In other words, it's impossible to tell what "1/2 inch down" means.
3. If the town where you started riding suddenly disappeared from the map, it's a hint that the scale has just gotten to "you should zoom in now".
4. If it takes over 1.5 hours to ride the 1 inch to the left, the 1 inch up and 1/2 inch over will take another 2.5 hours or so. If you have 1.5 hours of daylight left this is a problem.
5. The mountain bike is a bit slower than the road bike.
6. When I realize I've hit the wall and call the Missus, and she's trying to call you at the same time because she realized I've hit the wall...

A corollary:
I have a great Missus. She eliminated the "2 hours of daylight I didn't have" quandary by driving out and picking me up.

All these significant statements requires some explanation.

First off, yes, like the title says, we were in Maine. We were visiting the Missus's Mom and Bob, up at their palatial digs in rugged LL Bean part of Maine. We're not talking the quaint "let's go shopping at the mall" Maine, or the "Let's camp out for Black Friday" Maine.

We're talking the rough and tumble, shoo the chickens out of the way when you walk out the door, the "Can you move the .410 slugs so I can put down the coffee?", the "Are the guns away?" kind of Maine.


That kind of Maine.

It all started on Wednesday when we set out for the drive. It's not bad if you're just going to Portland, but to get to, um, "that" part of Maine, at least the wimpy bit of the rough Maine (I'm too wimpy for the really rough bits of Maine, where breakfast is what you shot that morning), well, Portland is just past halfway there.

Of course another tough storm threatened the area, the Maine area in particular. Down here it was supposed to rain three inches. Up there?

It was bad enough that even the tough Mainers closed down a lot of stuff. We joked that they'd think it was just a dusting, but when Mainers close down schools, for the whole day, by 7 AM, you know it's serious.

And how did we know they were closing schools by 7 AM?

Because, believe it or not, we hit Portland at about that time. That means we left at, right, about 3:30 AM.

Laden with supplies (okay, maybe not, but we felt like we should bring flour and other things that the supply wagons brought to the wild west outposts), we had set off at oh-dark-o'clock.

With the Red Car II shod with brand new aged (I'll explain at some point; suffice it to say that car tires are marked with their manufacture date) snow tires, we made great time in the heavy rain that accompanied us from home. I only felt the tires do a little "wha?" twice, and that was in a row, two stripes of water running across the highway, while doing the "speed limit plus ten" speed.

In Portland we optimistically called the Maine Outpost to report that we'd just gotten past the halfway point, that we'd be seeing them, based on the scarily accurate GPS, about 9:42 AM.

(We fudged - we'd make a couple pee stops so we said it would be more like 10-10:15 AM).

Then reality struck.

Or rather, the rain changed into sleet.

"I don't think that's rain anymore."
"What? No, that's rain."
"Look. It's splattering when it hits the windshield."
"Oh. Look. It's starting to stick."

In about 4 minutes we called the Outpost back.

"We're gonna be a bit late. It's all snow now. No, really. The trees are white! I know, I can't believe it either. I think we should be there at noon maybe."

(GPS was already wondering who the wimp was behind the wheel - it was me - and our ETA quickly flew forward into the 11 o'clock ETA range.)


We passed a lot of spun out cars, a couple spun out trucks, and plodded our way north.

After almost 12 hours, sometime after 2 PM, we arrived, tired and a bit stunned, at the Outpost.

"You're the first ones here. The others should be here at 9 or 10 tonight."

I promptly took a nap.

I woke up to the sound of talking, headed down for some family time, and at some point called it a night.

The next day dawned bright and clear, the storm a memory past. I checked out the situation with the cars a bit closer.

Snow tires, outside side out, performed wonderfully.

The newly mounted snow tires (Pirelli Sottozero 240s, 225/45-17), after just 6 or so miles of test driving around town on Tuesday, made the half day trip north easily the following day.

You get an idea of the amount of snow we encountered, about 6 hours of steady storm.
On a related note I wonder how the Maine police deal with bank robbers in the winter. No visible plates.

I gathered myself inside and got some coffee from the Missus. My eyes caught something holiday-red sitting on the shelf. When I inquired, I got the answer.

".410 slugs. Less recoil than the 30-06."

Sigh. Such beautiful holiday decorations.

A more business-like item, the aforementioned 30-06. I think there were two in the house.

I headed out of the house to play with some of the kids, guinea hens scrambling out of the way.

Guinea hens.
They look like chickens Darth Vader would raise.

The guinea hens had been roosting outside, refusing the heated shelter on offer just a few yards away. Maybe the more normal looking chickens made them self conscious, I don't know, but for whatever reason the grey hens were outside the whole time.

The standard morning routine for some of the guys (equipped with snow gear) was to gather hunting sticks (aka rifles) and head out.

"I'll be back."

They're return a few hours later, empty-handed. I think hunting is more like fishing, it's really a time to hang out, talk, and trudge around in the woods for a while. It's kind of like going for a long training ride with a couple friends - there's some unspoken communication, a bonding if you will, without much official or measurable transactions.

Trudging back.

Ultimately, through all of this tough living, I went for a ride. I brought my mountain bike, thinking it'd be the appropriate one. I figured that at worst I could venture down some half frozen logging trail, follow some deer, something like that.

Best would be a road ride.

I should point out that although I like this bike, I haven't maintained it much. It still has a broken spoke in the rear wheel (I got it like that, maybe 8 or 10 years ago?). It still has just one usable chainring, the big one; the other two are too bent. The brakes are pretty worn. The front shock is useless, fully compressing almost immediately. The tires have steel beads so they weigh about 1.5 pounds each.

But the bike has its strengths too. It has a set of widely spaced gears (usually too much of a jump at one time, but I could live with that) so I can ride around with just that one chainring. It has my absolute favorite seat for a mountain bike, the old Concorde-like nose WTB saddle. I put full fenders on at some point which are great for inclement conditions.

I hadn't ridden it in so long that before I put the bike in the car I pumped up the tires, just in case they were bad. The Missus had to remind me to toss some pedals on the thing - I'd stolen them off the mtb to equip some other thing, and now they had to go back (Look Keo Classics - road pedals).

At the time I also tossed in my totally full gear bag, with everything and everything in it. I wanted to be prepared.

Luckily for me, the weather turned around and cleared up nicely for Friday, the day after the big feast. 40-something degrees, sunny, and not that windy.

Fully fueled from a huge dinner ("I've never seen you eat that much"), a few glances at a map online (in the house we had just one computer that was internet browsable, with a couple very slow-connection smartphones), and I set out for what I hoped would be a 2 hour ride. I wanted to get a bit fatigued, get that "hey I feel good" feeling, then ride that out until I faded. Such a ride would usually take me 1.5-2 hours for the first part, transition to the second part, then do another 1.5-2 hours before I faded.

The last time I did a ride outside I rode with a teammate, a good two hour ride. I got to the point where my legs just started to come around when we finished up; this time I wanted to push through that barrier.

With just a two or so hour ride ahead I decided to skip any food or water. My last ride I skipped both and it had lasted two hours. After much more food, a lot more rest, I figured that I'd be safe without food/water for a two hour ride.

I set off, ominously almost falling in the deep snow in the driveway, but okay once I got on the drying pavement.

Kind of dry pavement. It got better.

The first few slush ridged made me thankful for my full fenders, a mod I made a few years ago when I rode a few times outside in inclement weather. The tires gave that reassuring SUV feel, letting me daydream until I ran off the road a few times.

I headed southeast on 170, aiming to make a left on a Molly-something road, then a right at a T, then a right onto 169, then a right back onto 170.

Route 170. Slushy snow and an occasional logging truck going 60 mph.

After a bit I came to basically a T intersection, Routes 170 and 6. Glancing at my smartphone (GPS working fine but no signal for phone use), I saw that my short jaunt had taken me about 1/2" down the map on the phone screen. If I went right on Route 6 I'd have about an inch to get to Route 2. Another inch took me north on 2 until 170, and less than half inch brought me home.

In my somewhat befuddled state, I forgot that the stretch on 170 from 2 to home was almost 9 miles.

Which meant that the bit on 6 would be close to 20.

Totally oblivious to this, I took the right on 6 and headed west.

I noticed the wind right away. I thought about a post on BikeForums, someone asking what to do when faced with a headwind.

"Tough it out," I thought back then.

I did what I thought I should. I toughed it out.

Wind means windmills. Or rather windmills mean wind.
Note the nice condition shoulder.

I did have a glimmer of hope - if the wind didn't change, the slightly left headwind would turn into a tailwind on Route 2. That meant some nice riding for the inch up Route 2.

It took me about a minute longer to grasp the other course difference. Unlike the flat-rolling 170, Route 6 did a lot of up and down. I learned after the ride that the locals call it the Airplane Road because you feel like you're in an airplane constantly climbing or descending.

For a guy on a mountain bike, this was the Purgatory. The road tested me. I slogged over the hills, trying not to gear down too much. I found my second set of legs and started pushing hard (for me). I knew that I had to get to Route 2, then to Route 170, all before about 3:30 PM. I'd left past 11:30 AM, so I had only 4 hours total, and... well, I realized that I was going to be out for a bit more than 2 hours.

The sun looked threateningly low in the horizon, and Route 6 just would not end. This hill, that curve, another descent, and yet another climb, and still no signs of an impending intersection with Route 2.

At some point something twanged and pinged on the rear wheel. I looked down and the 31 spoke wheel, already a bit wobbly, looked positively pear shaped. I could hear some clinking and plunking but since nothing seemed to be failing more, I kept going.

Eventually those noises went away.

(And to be totally honest I never checked what happened. Whatever happened is still like that.)

I started thinking about when I'd have to call the Missus. I realized at about this time (when I had a lot of alone time to think about things) that I had about 9 miles to go on just 170 alone, and I also realized that when we drove up Route 2 to 170 that it took us an hour or so.

This meant that the inch on Route 2 was probably 20 miles, which made the inch on Route 6 another 20 miles.

20 miles which for me on a mountain bike would be about 1:30 by itself. Another 1:30 for Route 2, and 45 minutes of panic-stricken riding would get me to home base.

With the sun so low, I mentally moved my panic-stricken riding ahead of schedule. I'd race for the 2/170 intersection and hopefully meet help there.

I turned onto Route 2. The wind shifted as I hoped, pushing me along. I tickled my top gear, the much flatter terrain really helping.

Then, riding along next to some railroad tracks, my legs suddenly switched off. I struggled just to turn over the pedals.

I was cooked and I knew it. I think you could have heard my legs explode about 20 miles away, it was that bad.

I pulled over. I'd have to ask the Missus to not only drive all the way down 170 but also south on 2. I was a long way away from 2, probably a half inch, so about 18 miles of driving, half hour or so.

When I unlocked my phone I saw that I had absolutely no signal.

In situations like this you can't complain, you can't argue, you can't do anything but harden up and keep going.

I wasn't going to go stupid though, I got going while I thought about things. I'd push forward on this flatter section until I could see more of the surrounding hills. If a cellphone tower sat on such a hill, I could get a signal.

No dice.

My next thought was to get to the top of a small rise. Cell towers work on line of sight so a hilltop would be the best bet for a good signal.

I crawled to the top of the next climb, stopped, and checked the phone.

2 bars.

I rang the Outpost.

On the first ring the Missus picked up.

"You're alive."
"Yeah. Um, can you pick me up?"

I told her where I was, and we both figured it'd be about 17 miles to get to me.

I didn't realize but the Missus could drive about 50-60 mph the whole way, as the speed limits were that high, even on secondary roads.

I set out again, the thought of help sapping any remaining strength from my legs.

I rolled up the biggest hill on Route 2, passing a house surrounded by kids standing around drinking beer.

I looked over at them.

They looked at me.

I'm sure we both thought the same thing.

"Thanksgiving, and you're doing that?"

I didn't make it much further until, to my surprise, I saw the Red Car flying towards me, the front end wiggling as the Missus threw out the anchors.

(Okay, that wasn't accurate, but she did slow might fast, and my mind did see the front end shuddering as if under massive braking. Plus a hatch driving in snowy conditions screams "Rally!" to me and rally cars wiggle under braking.)

I tossed the bike in the back, jumped in the car, and the Missus expertly K-turned and started hauling north on 2.

"I tried to call you about 10 minutes before you called the house. I figured you'd be running out of gas."
"Oh. I tried to call you 10 minutes before but I didn't have a signal."

I thought about that for a moment.

"Waitaminute. You called me when I was trying to call you because you thought that that's when I'd be blown?"
"Yeah," she grinned. "I'm good aren't I?"


We flew home, the Red Car acting just like a rally car on the potholed and dirt covered roads. Okay, the Missus acting like a rally driver, driving along the backroads to the Outpost at top speed.

Once at home I had to share my adventures with the group (12 of us there at the Outpost). The locals (Mom and Bob) filled me in on the details. I'd ridden just under 50 miles on the mountain bike, some hilly stuff, some flatter stuff.

My "one inch" on Route 6 was about 20 miles. The bit down 170 to 6 was almost 13. I rode 11 miles up 2 before I faded hard, and another 4 before the Missus got me. It was 16 miles back to the Outpost.

I staggered around a bit once at the Outpost. The Missus whipped up a plate of awesome, which I downed in about 5 minutes; an hour later I joined everyone for dinner.

And in the middle of the night I got up, starving, and ate cookies, bread, muffins, and drank Coke, juice, and water.

Incredibly, the next day, the day we headed back, I felt fine. No sore legs, a bit fatigued, but otherwise totally recovered.

The Missus asked me how I felt.

"Tired. But if this was California, I'd be doing it again today."

We both grinned.

For us, though, it was time to get home. We did the return trip a bit quicker, stopping to visit the Maine brother and his family. Finally we arrived, well into the night, but with enough time to spot some of the mischief our cats had accomplished during our absence.

I heard the Missus in the kitchen.

"Someone left little tooth marks in the sweet potatoes."

Riley's curiosity teeth marks. She loves sweet orange things.

At least we won't have to poke holes in them.


Anonymous said...

haha, crazy winter riding! 50mi on a mountain bike, you certainly did HTFU!

here's a bit of a tip (and I'm doing a little assuming based off of your phone gps description)..assuming you are using the google maps app on your android, you can get a scale:

hit your menu button, click the "more" icon, click "settings", click "labs", and scroll to "scale bar"

Aki said...

What a tip! Did it. Now I have no excuses :)

Anonymous said...

Quite a trip! I work for a publishing firm and a driver delivering paper from a Maine mill commented that it was 'snowing to beat all' when he left there. Thanks for the story and did the cats get any more than just a taste? -Ron

Jake said...

Wow! The things you'll put yourself through just to come up with material for a blog post...impressive!

Aki said...

I have to replace the picture - when I turned the other two sweet potatoes over there were tooth marks everywhere!

Unfortunately for the cats they just got the little scratches for tastes. We spoil them with treats and some chicken and such.

Usually I'm not a gluten for punishment but after a couple days off the ride just kind of happened. If the Missus hadn't been there to pick me up it'd have been ugly though.