Hampshire 100…66 Miles of Mud!

This past Sunday’s Hampshire 100 was epic. Again, the term “epic” is used sparingly, especially when you don’t quite have the same adventures as you did before you became a parent. Post-children, even an evening Rail Trail ride or morning commute can seem epic, but you have to be careful to avoid watering down the true epics, of which Hampshire 100 now qualifies. I would never compare the experience with commuting to work, unless you make your living as a professional mountain biker. Then again, the pros can be soft with multiple laps on a groomed course with mechanics, massage therapists, and other support staff at their disposal. 

The GPS worked OK with only a few lost signals, and the data tells only part of the story.

The race was longer than the advertised 100 kilometers because of a bridge detour. At 66+ miles it was longer than the Vermont 50 Mile Ride & Run, but shorter than the mountain bike stage of the former Jay Challenge. The 8000+ feet of climbing mostly came in short steep bursts and required a fair amount of walking. Even some of the descents required walking because they were strewn with rocks and washed out in spots. For such a long single loop (that’s epic) course, there was a lot of singletrack. What stands out in my mind 24 hours later, were the miles and miles of ATV/snowmobile/jeep trails and roads that were rocky and wet. I mean wet. 

Southern New Hampshire had 10 inches of rain last week! The conditions are sort of what I would expect from a stage of La Ruta de los Conquistadors in Costa Rica, which I have dreamt about doing for years. The water turned this course into muck. Some sections were thick viscous mud. Others were just running and standing water that often required portages through thigh deep ponds. The mosquitoes were awful. The sand and grit in the shoes was irritating but not debilitating. The damage to mountain bikes was severe. These were gear destroying conditions. The irony is that the weather was beautiful. It was mid-70’sF with bright blue sky and puffy white clouds. The weather on race day was perfect. It was the previous week’s weather that was atrocious.

Normally, a race wouldn’t be run in these conditions. I’m sure the organizers and the Eastern Fat Tire Association considered the impact of the bikes on the trails. Fortunately, the field size was small (less than 120 starters) and the soil was sandy. It was mostly the already beat up dirt roads and doubletrack that had the worst of the water. In the end, the event was held, and to the benefit of Crotched Mountain, the rehabilitation center that the race supports. We crossed the beautiful 1400 acre Crotched campus at about the 60 mile mark. 

Other than the VT50, I don’t know of another single loop course like this anywhere in New England. The length and difficulty is significant. It took more than 25 landowners and more than 70 volunteers to pull it off. They deserve a lot of credit. It was a special experience. The aid stations were well stocked with food, drink, and charm. I found the fiddler on the course, which requires insider knowledge to get the joke. Last night, I decided to hoist a beer in my new Hampshire 100 glass, and printed right on it was, “I found the fiddler.” Funny, he was there, in the middle of the woods playing for a group of crazy cyclists. 

While I was riding, Debbie and Shep hung out at Oak Park and Greenfield State Park, which was across the street from where we camped. I only saw part of Greenfield, when we rode through a section at the end of the race, but Debbie says it was great. She was amazed by the 300 campsites. Apparently, despite the rain, last week it was nearly full. New Hampshire and camping go together. 

I finished the race in 7:41:57, which is respectable. I heard that all the times were slow because of the water and mud. There was also more climbing than predicted. It is hard to get accurate measurements on these things. I rode for more than 55 miles with teammates, Arlen Zane Wenzel and Spike McLaughlin. We had a lot of fun together. We agreed to ride to Aid Station #5 as a team and then we were free to go on our own. I faded a bit as a result of limited training and a poor fueling (eating) strategy, but came back a bit at the end, only to suffer a major mechanical mishap with six miles to go. 

I was fortunate that I didn’t have to walk the last six miles because that could have taken three hours. You can see in the photo below that my wheel spokes are bent.

Fortunately, Mavic Crossmax wheels are bombproof. I have nothing but good things to say about the punishment these wheels can take. However, my rear is going to need some repairs. On the descent off of Crotched Mountain, the wheel seized up at 25 miles/hour and I skidded to a halt. I was lucky I stayed on the bike. A small stick was lodged in my lower derailleur pulley and that caused the derailleur to get twisted back and jammed in the spokes. One spoke was wedged between the aluminum cage and the pulley. I couldn’t get it out. Five minutes passed and it felt like an eternity. Several riders who had been chasing me rode by. It was frustrating. Finally, I figured out that if I loosened my pulleys, I might be able to delicately extricate the derailleur from the spokes. 

If I had aluminum dropouts, I’m certain that the derailleur hanger would have sheered off from the force. Amazingly, my SRAM derailleur held up. The titanium dropout was not badly bent. I got the derailleur out of the spoke, retightened the pulley (thankfully I had the appropriate hex wrench), and rode to the finish. My wheel was quite wobbly and I was nervous about the derailleur exploding, but everything held up. Phew! I will be consulting my chief mechanic (Arthur Roti) and parts supplier (Dave Barrow at Tolland Bicycle) by week’s end. I’ll have work to do to get the bike ready for the VT50 in six weeks. 

In summary, the Hampshire 100 was one of those events that you are blessed to take part in. It is even better if you are a finisher. 

Hampshire 100 Results

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