Sunday, June 19, 2016

My own Kearsarge Klassik

I never really loved road cycling. I always found it too boring. Exploration of those paths less traveled, unpaved, technically challenging - this is something that just seems more "right" to me. More fun, more variety and more of the unknown.

The problem I have now is that after a few years of riding in my neighborhood I know it pretty well. There are still some places off the beaten path that I haven't fully explored but those are only few trails of limited length. Craving for some more, I understood that my approach needed to change. This doesn't mean riding across the interior of Iceland or traversing Sahara. I'm not ready for this and my time is limited (unfortunately). But it's easy to load a bicycle into a car and drive to those places a bit further away to ride there.

Kearsarge Klassik is a randonnee in southern New Hampshire, around Mt. Kearsarge, that takes place every early fall. This "race" comes with no prizes and attendees do not compete with each other but the event is still timed. You are supposed to complete to route within a certain time limit, reaching all of its control points. Other than that, you're on your own. This formula gained lots of popularity in recent years but somehow still doesn't really appeal to me. I don't want to limit myself to a certain time limit because I may want to stop more often on the way taking pictures. I don't need a group ride either. I also don't want to ride this route on a certain day as I have no idea how much free time I will have in September.

But yesterday morning I finally found some. Therefore, I loaded my bike in the car, left early and drove to Mt. Kearsarge to ride this route on my own. Because details are available online, it was easy to figure out what to expect. Based on this info I designed my own route that was essentially identical to the original one, with the exception that moved my start point a bit, just because there's plenty of on-street parking on Main St in New London where I could leave my car.

Kearsarge Klassik comes in a few flavors. The ones I considered were the 60 mile and 90 mile routes (or 100 and 145km accordingly). I rode such distances multiple times before but never in such a hilly terrain and on unpaved surfaces. The shorter one seemed definitely doable, the longer one could be too much for the first time for me. Not knowing how my body would respond, I planned for both trails and decided to make my decision en route. The longer one adds an additional loop about 77km (48mi) after start, giving me lots of time to get familiar with the conditions before figuring out which way I want to go.

Then there was a question about the equipment. It's not like I have a large quiver of different bicycles to choose from, but at least I could pick from two different tires, both by Clement - either X'Plor USH 35mm that I know quite well or the brand new X'Plor MSO 36mm. The latter one is a dedicated gravel/dirt road tire and can be set up tubeless, not that I would use it this way. Right now, I only have one wheelset available and I'm planning on switching tires again in the nearest future, which means that it was easier to use the MSO with tubes. I originally leaned towards this tire but then after doing some research, I figured that only about 60% of both routes is unpaved. Not as much as I originally thought. So maybe the faster USH made more sense? Ah, decisions, decisions. In the end, I rolled the dice twice and the MSO became my Kearsarge tire.

Planning for the ride, I also encountered a problem I usually don't have in the more urban (or suburban) Boston Metro area - a place for lunch. If you are looking for a nice cafe to sit down and have lunch, forget it. The route (especially the longer one) will take you through some pretty remote areas in New Hampshire where no grilled Reuben sandwiches are present. This means - I had to pack some more food and be completely self-sufficient. This should actually come as no surprise. The Klassik is an organized brevet, where this level of self-sufficiency is not only expected, but required.

Getting up at 4:00 AM was pretty painful, but this way I could pack my stuff in the car and hit the road by 4:20. The ride to New London was smooth and quick, as highways are completely empty at this time of the day (or dawn, actually). Anyway, I got to my destination safely (passing at least 4 dead deers on I-89 in New Hampshire) and by 6:15 AM was ready to hit the trail. But first, I did a quick pressure check on my tires to make sure they were properly underinflated (It may be improperly inflated for the rest of you). You see, even though the MSOs are rated at 40-60psi I run them at 35-40psi only (with tubes). They do feel like half-flat sometimes but I like it that way.
The first few miles flew by very quickly and the only minor issue was the air temperature. I knew it was going to be a hot day and I didn't take with me neither arm warmers nor a jacket. That early in the morning it was barely 55F (12C) outside and I got pretty chilly on long, steep descents.
Soon, the route takes you off the main road and into the forest. The surface changes to dirt and gravel and then, on Baker Hill Rd, you need to face the first serious climb of the day (10%). Fortunately, after each strenuous climb comes a satisfying descent. However, if you ask me, bombing down the hill on a bumpy dirt road and an unsuspended bike at 70km/h (43mph), which was my case, is pretty nuts.
The next miles towards the town of Warner are lots of fun. This section is mostly a descent, with just a few short climbs and my bike was "flying" over there. On top of that, the long dirt section on N Rd is very scenic, running along the Stevens Brook. Then just before you get to Warner, you have to cross the Waterloo covered bridge, which... was closed.
Fortunately for me, the bridge surface didn't have a giant hole that I was unable to cross. A DPW worker who noticed me let me go, as long I dismounted from my bike. Right after the bridge the route turns onto Bean Rd and takes you to the top of the hill. Be ready for a steep climb (10%).
The next mad climb comes right after Warner and the road there is very appropriately named - the Burnt Hill Rd. It's not that long, but it soon gets bloody steep (14%). On top of that, I had to deal with swarms of mosquitoes and flies - something the cyclists who ride this route in September probably don't have to worry about. I remembered that as long you move faster than 10mph those little blood suckers won't get you. Unfortunately, unless you have some superhuman abilities, there is no way to ride that fast uphill on Burnt Hill Rd.
Once you get to the top, you can pat yourself on the back and take a deep breath. The views are gorgeous. Ahead of you are many more miles of dirt and gravel, some I found actually quite boring (Couchtown Rd). Eventually, you will approach Andover, where you now merge with Northern Rail Trail. If you are familiar with any bicycle rail trails, you will know by now that this means one thing - they are flat. No regular train would ever make it up a 10% slope. This also means that you will be crossing a few old railway bridges.
Moving along, I finally got to the Keniston covered bridge and the old Potter Place Rail Station. Soon I was about to reach the point where both Kearsarge routes split and I could either continue back towards New London or add an extra 40km to my route. I decided to keep it short this time. It was around 11:00AM and the sun was blazing making the last miles much, much harder to ride.
The next section on N Wilmot Rd and then Sawyer Rd sucked the whole life out of me. It wasn't extremely steep (8%), but it was long and steady. And I had to ride through it with sun scorching my head. When I reached Stearns Rd I was out of breath and now was facing another mad 40mph downhill ride. My water supplies were disappearing quickly and I still had a long fight up the hill on Pleasant St - the last mile of the route.

After 6.5hrs on the road and 105km I made it back to the Main St. I put my stuff in the car and drove to a nearby supermarket to get some water, Gatorade and food. It was a really fun ride and probably the hardest one I have tried so far. If I could change something, it would be riding it on a less sunny day and moving the start point to E Main St in Warner. You may say it's a cheat, but this way I could start riding earlier (as Warner is closer to Boston) and the last miles of the ride would be mostly in the forest (shade!) and on a descent.
The beer had to wait until I got back home. Oh, and by the way - D2R2 will be next. Sometime.

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