Solace

I hadn’t been on a road bike in quite a while, and it was good to take one out again, even if it wasn’t geared quite to my liking. I had been camping all summer with my fatbike in tow, so this last trip up north I threw my commuter on the rack for a change of pace.

Commuter spec is typically whatever you find in a drawer, which is befitting this Salsa Casseroll – a frame I found for $250 on a forum, paired with some old cyclocross 1×10 running gear. A Thorne 44t chainring on a CX70 crankset, an Ultegra 11-28 cassette, and the requisite 6700 accompaniments. It’s a setup I use around town to get to work, but had yet to be particularly adventurous with.

Camping only two miles down the road from one of the north country’s many fabled passages – Tripoli Road – the decision was made. I’d never seen this road in my years of riding up here, so whether or not I was geared for the task made little difference.

Tripoli opens as a beautiful, flowing road with modest grades. It is serene and exactly a place to be at 7am on a summer weekday morning. There’s no one here yet, except you. I absolutely took that in. I can’t remember the last time I was on a bike and just used it to escape. You forget just how therapeutic these experiences are. The sound of nothing but natural ambiance, and a squeaky left SPD.

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In the time I’ve spent aboard the Casseroll, it has been pleasing in terms of ride quality. I’ve never found it heavy, or heavy feeling for that matter. My carbon frames have never felt particularly substantial – they’ve been hollow feeling and uninteresting – so even for a lower spec cro-moly frame and fork, this Salsa defies expectations. It is a lively climber. It’s not a particularly “quick” feeling bike, which could be my only reservation. Whatever.

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I knew this road would turn to dirt at some point, and my concern was whether or not I had the tires for this ride. I questioned repeatedly if these 25mm Continental 4 Seasons at 80psi would be adequate, and reminded myself over and over that I spent many years riding 23mm tires at 120psi on these roads when I first started, and that I’m still alive. If I could ride such an inadequate spec up and down six gaps, I’d probably survive the day with something slightly more forgiving.

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Having no sense of where the climb ended, I climbed. My sometimes terrible instincts told me that as the grade picked up and became unforgiving, the summit was near. At least today, those instincts would prove correct. 44×28 was a bit of a workout over the final few miles of this road, but staying seated kept the rear tire in contact with the earth, and we had a healthy 45 minute sustained climb in the bag before breakfast.

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It’s always fun to determine what fraction of the time you spent climbing it will take to descend. The condition of the dirt and the width of my tires would dictate that pace, which was generally spirited, until it wasn’t and I pinch flatted.

HED Belgium rims are so easy to work with. Rather than turning a tire change into a stress fest, you can take your time, push the bead back on without a tire lever, and return to business with confidence.

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It’s a short road, but more time and planning could have meant a great loop up and over Tripoli to Waterville Valley; an excursion I look forward to, and wish I had made time for. When I’m traveling with my family, I never make it about bike rides, so I’m generally just finding saddle time and stumbling into something.

I have several great “road” bikes right now, but can’t seem to find the right one. This Casseroll is not far off, but really needs two chainrings. Pretty cheap to remedy that, but it also lacks disc brakes, which I really appreciate descending mountains with.  My Crux has such brakes, but that bike is geared with a 40t single front chainring, and despite deep carbon wheels, just never seems fast to me, as road rides on that bike are entirely high cadence. I still hold onto my Van Dessel Rivet, which is light as a feather, but is very stiff and won’t take a tire larger than certain species of 25mm. I think I’m after a cross bike with a big ring, but I fear that isn’t really a thing. I’ll spend the summer sorting it out.

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2017 Crank The Kanc, Singlespeed Edition

The time trial is known as “the race of truth”.  The only truth I can tell you about racing the Kanc, on a bike with only one gear, is that it sucks!

Why I continue to subject myself to it is a mystery, except it is not.  I approached the race director in 2008, asking if he would create the singlespeed category.  It’s so unique and brutally difficult, and every year I train, hoping this is the year I win and I never have to do it again.  Until then, I carry the torch I asked for.

Ask me about the one time in the last ten years I completed this race feeling like I did something right. It was 2010 – seven years ago.  A time in my life where absolutely nothing had happened yet, and everything was waiting to happen.  I turned myself inside out in that race, wholly focused on what I was there to do, undistracted.  Focused.  Determined.  The results asserted that I won that race, until I had them corrected to reflect that I was actually second best on the day.

In another year, my grandmother would pass away unexpectedly, marking the end of the period in my life in which cycling was something I gave everything for.  After this, there were no more all-day rides.  No more selfless devotion to sport.  My center was refocused.  Time was a commodity that I never saw the same way again.

We had a child, and my world was new.  In the gleaming wonder of that new life, a stream of ensuing loss.  My thirteen year old cousin.  My remaining grandmother.  My aunt.  A close friend’s father.  A dear coworker.  All to cancer.  The unexpected death of one of my closest friends in high school.  These events serve to bind me in ways that will never release me back to cycling as I knew it before.  At least, that is what I believe, today.

Here I sit, days away from the 2017 edition of this race, considering if I have done enough.  I’m confident I have not.  Thinking back to previous years, and my personal bests, and recognizing the salient milestones of suffering that made those possible.  This year, I can identify no such pillars of work.  My time now is invested 2-3 days a week training alongside my daughter for a black belt in Kenpo.  I rode only casually this year; once a week at best through the winter, and then was sidelined for two weeks with the flu in March.  I rebounded for four honest weeks of training, and then a two week taper for this race.  This, is not enough time to get into bike shape.

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Saturday arrives, and I felt great.  I’ve tapered well, I’m healthy, I slept about as well as could be expected, I had a reasonable breakfast.  The bike gave me no surprises.  My plan was to give it hell for the first hour and then just hang on for the final 4.5 mile climb, which I feel like is my only strategy.

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I started last in our field of five, which I prefer.  The top two guys went off a minute ahead of me, so my job is to ride my ass off and hope to keep them in sight.  We were all similarly geared, so they were either going to decimate me or be taken by surprise by their gearing.

I was definitely riding as hard as I could.  I confidently said that to myself about halfway into this race, which is reassuring – even when you know you’re not at your strongest.  My HR looked great for a while, maybe for four miles.  After that, it dropped kind of precipitously; down about 10bpm, until I reached the final climb.  Four years ago, when I PR’d, it didn’t do that.  Because I had legs!  When you have legs, the motor just runs free – wide open – until you crack.  That wasn’t today, and it wasn’t a surprise.

I never saw one and two.  At least twice, maybe three times, I was sure I was reeling in the second place rider, Forrest Brock.  And each time as I drew close and passed, it was definitely not him, but a geared bike racer wearing similar colors.  The eventual winner, Jonathan Meuse – a guy riding my exact bike but six hundred sizes smaller – I knew before this race even started he was a machine and taking the whole thing.  In the final results, Meuse was ten minutes ahead of my PR; Brock was five.  I was five minutes off my own PR.  In another year I could have made it more interesting, but nothing would have changed.

I have a pretty good collection of these mugs at this point, and all of them say 2 and 3.  One year it will come together.  I’ve been close a few times, this not being one of them.  Hats off to the entire singlespeed field this year.  It takes serious brain damage to want to enter this category.

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Rediscovering Jefferson

My family has property that sits along Valley Road in Jefferson, maybe two miles from Jefferson Notch.  Of their 200 acres or so, my Aunt and Uncle live on one side; now just my grandmother on the other.  This is only about a mile down the road.  The last time I came through here was more than twenty five years ago.

This, the north-to-south approach to Jefferson Notch, is rugged.  Near the top, when Jefferson ultimately bends right and delivers washboard dirt grades in the mid-to-upper teens, the level of discontent is substantial.  Prior to, there are miles of work to do, interspersed with sections where you can climb with great fluidity and listen to the unfamiliar sound of nothing and contemplate.
Nine miles from the start of the ride; it took the better part of an hour to get here.  I only budgeted two hours for today, so descending to 302 and coming back over would have to happen another day.  If you have 25mm tires, well-packed dirt, and undivided attention, you should expect only one or two white-knuckle moments on the descent back to to Valley Road.