Archive for the 'Environment' Category

2016 White Mountains Hut to Hut Adventure

For the July 4th weekend, we returned to New Hampshire’s White Mountains for an awesome hut to hut adventure. Once again, Debbie planned a fun trip for the four of us to take. The itinerary had us start in Franconia Notch and finish in Crawford Notch.

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So, with Horst Engineering close from Friday through Monday for the holiday, we had a window of opportunity to head north. Friday morning, we drove to the Appalachian Mountain Club’s (AMC) Highland Center in Crawford Notch. We stashed our bags and one of my bicycles in the lodge’s gear room before changing into our hiking gear and driving to Lafayette Place Campground in Franconia Notch State Park. Regular readers of this blog will know that Debbie and I are very active and enthusiastic AMC members. We have both served on the Board of Advisors for 15 years and I joined the Board of Directors in January. If you haven’t experienced AMC’s high mountain huts, then you are missing out. In addition to the huts, AMC (and others) manage numerous backcountry campsites if you are into camping on your own. The beauty of the huts, especially when hiking these distances with kids, is that you don’t need to carry all of the food, the tent, sleeping pads, or sleeping bags. With a roof over your head, full service breakfast/dinner, and a bunk/blankets, you can carry less and cover more ground.

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Lafayette Place is where we left our car. Once free of the vehicle, we set off on foot destined again, for the Highland Center, but first with stops at three of AMC’s famed high mountain huts: Greenleaf, Galehead, and Zealand Falls. Our family has a love affair with the huts. Many of our best adventures have taken place in the White Mountains. Debbie have been traveling to northern New Hampshire as a couple since we first met in 1999. Our children have joined us on trips north since 2006 when we took our son to Mizpah Spring Hut at nine weeks old. He has since been to the other eight huts.

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This most recent trip completed the set for our daughter, who at six, is three years younger than our son. The hike from Lafayette Place to Greenleaf was a good warm up for the next three days. It was a short 3.0 miles from the parking lot to the front steps of the hut, but it was straight uphill. We were a little late for dinner, which always starts promptly at 6:00 P.M., but we joined the rest of the guests when we arrived. The weather was good, though just as we arrived it started to sprinkle and we heard thunder in the distance. By the end of dinner, a wave of thunderstorms blew in, dumping two inches of rain on the mountain in only a matter of hours. The thunderstorm brought back bad memories from our 2013 one day Hut Traverse, when a t-storm pinned us down on the slopes of Mt. Lafayette.

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Our 2013 traverse was supposed to improve upon the time that it took us to do the same route in 2011. Both of those adventures were painful efforts and until recently, I swore off ever making another attempt. However, hanging out with the Greenleaf Croo and chatting about the traverse has made me think that we might try it again. I so badly want to do it on a perfect weather day when I’m at peak fitness. We had issues both times and Debbie and I know we can cover the distance in less time than it took us in the past.

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The evening at Greenleaf was fantastic. The four of us slept well and we were up early for breakfast. The sunrise was really nice. We departed shortly after breakfast, knowing that we had a long way to go over difficult terrain, if we were going to reach Galehead by dinner. The summit of Lafayette was windy and damp. It was cold and ice formed on our gloves. The kids were super strong as we made our way across the Garfield Ridge, which was wind whipped. Once we got down the backside and got out of the wind, we were able to pick up the pace going down into the col between Mt. Lafayette and Mt. Garfield. We hadn’t seen too many people, but then our friend, Brian Rusiecki, came around the corner. He was running the 36 +/- mile Pemigewasset Loop in the counter-clockwise direction. He was training for Vermont 100 and UTMB later this summer. It was great to see him and chat for a few minutes before he ran off in the direction of Lafayette.

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The climb up Garfield was rough and slow. I remembered this section of the trail going in this direction from the last time we did the Franconia to Crawford hike. That was back in 2009 when our son was just shy of three years old. Debbie, who was six months pregnant, and I alternated carrying him in our Deuter pack. That was hard! This time, the kids went the entire distance on their own feet, even carrying their own packs. The views from the summit of Garfield were spectacular. We lingered a bit before continuing on our way. The hardest part about this section of trail was the descent to Galehead. The trail was still draining from the prior night’s rain storm and that made the rocks slick. We got down it without incident, but the climbing wasn’t over as the last bit to the hut was uphill again. We were all ready to get there after 7.7 miles and nearly 11 hours on our feet.

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We didn’t arrive until 7:00 P.M. at the end of dinner, but the Croo was kind enough to accommodate us. After dinner, my son and I hiked the 0.6 of a mile to the summit of Mt. Galehead. We witnessed a great sunset. Upon our return to the hut, we got to hear a couple of Appalachian Trail thru-hikers talk about their experiences on the trail. We were all ready for bed by 9:00 P.M. and had another good night of rest.

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In the morning, after breakfast, we got another prompt start since we had to go another 7.0 miles to reach Zealand Falls. The Twinway Trail connects the two huts and the route isn’t as difficult as the prior section between Greenleaf and Galehead, but it is still tough. The hardest part of the trail was the first 0.9 to the summit of South Twin. This took some time and gave my son and me the opportunity to make an excursion to North Twin, another one of New Hampshire’s 48 4,000 foot peaks. Debbie and I have hiked all of the 4,000 footers of New England. He and I ditched our packs and made the 2.6 mile round trip in good time. We were able to catch up to Debbie and our daughter soon after our return to the summit of South Twin. The 360 degree view from the summit was fantastic and is likely the best view I’ve seen in the White Mountains.

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We had a great day on the trail. The weather was lovely with bright sunshine. We made the short detour to the summit of Mt. Zealand, which was the last of the New Hampshire 4,000 footers that Debbie and I hiked to complete our list back in 2004. On the way to the hut, we also stopped at Zeacliff, which also had a nice view of the Pemigewasset Wilderness. Without as much elevation change, we finally made it to a hut before dinner. Afterwards, we had time to relax by Zealand Falls. After breakfast on Monday, we took our time to get going. We only had 5.5 miles to cover on our way back to the Highland Center in Crawford Notch. The weather was even better than Sunday.

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Once again, my son and I took a side trip. We went ahead of the girls and climbed Mt. Tom (1.2 miles round trip) and then climbed Mt. Field (1.8 miles round trip) before meeting back up. Those two mountains were the 7th and 8th that our son got on the trip. Our daughter managed four, which is pretty good for her short legs! We were back in the notch by 3:30 P.M., which gave me time to ride my bike the 23 miles back to Franconia Notch to fetch the car and return before dinner. Our friends, the Schomburg’s, met us for dinner and fun on the mountain playscape.

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This was one of our best trips ever. My son and I covered 30 miles over the four days. Debbie and our daughter covered about 24. The children are very proud of their accomplishment, and we are very proud of them. As they get stronger, we are looking forward to many more trail miles with them.

2016 XTERRA French River Triathlon

Debbie and I tried something new today. We did the XTERRA French River Triathlon in Oxford, Massachusetts, and had a blast. Despite being experienced off-road triathletes, we had never done an XTERRA race before.

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We had heard good things about XTERRA races, but never made it to one. The Oxford location is only an hour from our home and those trails have previously hosted regional trail running and mountain biking events.

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We had spectacular June weather with bright sunshine and an 8:00 A.M. start time temperature in the low-70’s Fahrenheit. It heated up pretty good; by the time we finished was in the mid-80’s. The water temperature in Carbuncle Pond was nearly 75 degrees, so very comfortable.

IMG_7974The course was billed as a 1/2  mile swim, 12 mile mountain bike, and a 5.5 mile trail run. My Strava data shows that it was more like 1,100 yards or 5/8ths of a mile swim–11.6 mile mountain bike–4.8 mile run. There were so many twists and turns on the bike course, that who knows what the actual distance was. Same goes for the run, though at the start, they said it would be a bit shorter than advertised. That was a bummer because the longer the bike and run, the better for me.

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The swim start was a time trial start, which was also a first for me. We lined up in pairs and they started us two by two at three-second intervals until everyone was in the water. We did two laps of the triangular course. Carbuncle Pond was a bit mucky, but it was fine.

IMG_7979Last night, we drove up and pre-rode the mountain bike course. All I can say is that it was rugged. It was mostly flat, with a few punchy climbs, but it was very rocky and there were lots of roots. It was also very dusty. The trails get heavy motorbike use and the dirt was pulverized into a fine consistency. I’m glad it was dry. I heard that they had a deluge in 2015 and that it was a mudfest.

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Our pre-ride was eventful because we drove up after work and didn’t get on our bikes until 7:30 P.M. By the time we finished, it was dark and past 9:00 P.M. We had to ride the last three miles on the road after bailing out on the trails, which were impossible to see. Still, seeing most of the course in advance was helpful. I was much happier riding the trails in daylight. I felt OK on the bike. I only ride rigid single speed and my Seven Sola SL was awesome, but a disadvantage on some sections of the course. Being so flat, I was frequently spun out with only one gear. Tomorrow and Monday, I’ll feel the back, neck, and arm pain from all of the pounding. I thought I could ride faster, but didn’t end up catching as many of the fast swimmers as I wanted to.

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We didn’t see any of the run course in advance and it the hilly nature of it caught me by surprise. I was told it was “runnable” which technically, is true, though the hills I was running were slow. The trails were also quite rocky and full of roots. I haven’t been running very well. I got hammered by  my rival, Jon Arellano, at this week’s Winding Trails Summer Tri Series Race #2. I had a big lead on him in week #1 and held him off, but this week, we were together coming out of T2, and he put 90 seconds to me in five kilometers on those fast trails.

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So, today, I was happy that the French River course was hilly and technical because I’m better on the ups. I got caught by one guy on the run and couldn’t hang with him. He was flying. Then, I caught a few guys and a few more guys caught me. I noticed from the leg markings that two of them were in my age group. So, I pushed on the final few hills and got ahead of that small group.

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I finished in 1:54:06, was 11th overall and 2nd in my age group, which is cool. Debbie had a good race too. I got to see her finish 3rd in her age group and 9th out of the women. She gained some valuable experience with the longer open water swim and the tough mountain bike course. We each earned a cookie for our efforts, which is good because we have two kids.

It was nice to see fellow Hartford Extended Area Triathletes teammates Doug Lord and Gabriel Jiran. Gabe got the best of me and took first in our age group. I was thankful that I pushed hard at the end because the third place finisher in our age group was only two seconds behind me. With the time trial swim start, you don’t know exactly where you stand, so you  have to just keep pushing. We also got to spend some time with Barry, Carolyn, and Spencer Ralston. Spencer had a great race, finishing 2nd overall. He was bested by Dominic Gillen, an elite off-road triathlete. Third was Joshua Loren. The first woman was Kelli Montgomery. She was followed by Kathleen Wanat and Stephanie Landry.

MRA Multisport promoted the race and they did a good job. The best thing they had after the finish was watermelon! I ate a ton of it. The volunteers and workers were great. We did the Long Course triathlon, but they offered several variations, including a Short Course triathlon, a duathlon, and a Paddle triathlon.

We just might do this race again in the future. We will also consider additional XTERRA Series races, but as of now, have no plans.

Race Results (Long Course)

Race Results (All Events)

2016 Greylock Trail Races

2016 marked the 18th year that Debbie has run the Mt. Greylock Trail Races in Adams, Massachusetts. Greylock is our Father’s Day tradition. Yesterday, we made the journey to the Berkshires for one of our favorite annual events.

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Debbie ran the 13.5 mile (half marathon) long course and the kids and I did the 5K. Our son shaved more than a minute off of his 2015 time and moved up a couple of spots in the standings, which made him very happy. Our daughter had fun as she skipped (literally) through the 5K. I kept my distance (per her request) behind her and just chaperoned her progress. A few times, I prompted her to take a turn, but she was pretty much on her own.

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We saw many of our long time Western Massachusetts Athletic Club (WMAC) friends and many other friends from the trail running community. It’s sad to not see some of our friends from the past, but running injuries, age, and time take their toll.

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Debbie and I are grateful to return year after year. She has been doing this race every year since she was 24, which proves her longevity in the New England trail running community.

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Tim Van Orden won the race in 1:43:12. He was followed by Neil Clavson and Mark Rabasco. Margo Smith, a local 15 year old, took the women’s win in 2:11:17, which is pretty good. It’s nice to see younger generations enjoying the trails. She was followed by Alex Jospe and Dianne Davis, who are both double her age!

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Debbie is a veteran runner now, which is almost hard to believe. She was the first 40+ woman and has logged more than 240 miles on those trails. Afterwards, she and the kids hung out in Greylock Glen. They enjoyed the post race food and spent time with many of the longtime volunteers. I changed up and rode my bike to North Adams. I took Notch Road to the summit. In recent years, I’ve been up there many times on my feet, but hadn’t been up there on my bike since September 2001 when I did a race to the top in 48 minutes. Yesterday’s ride took a little under an hour including stops for photos, and to take in the awesome views. We had spectacular weather for the last full day of spring.

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The sunshine was brilliant all day. After riding to the top, where the Veterans War Memorial Tower is being renovated, I descended and then rode back to Adams. From Adams, I took the back roads most of the way to Northampton, but ran out of energy in Williamsburg. I called Debbie to pick me up. She was gracious enough to drive the “sag wagon” back up Rt. 9 where I met her in Florence. From there, we returned to NoHo and enjoyed a wonderful meal at Paul & Elizabeth’s.

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Race Results

2016 Goodwin Forest Trail Runs

Today was the third annual Goodwin Forest Trail Runs at Goodwin State Forest in Hampton, Connecticut. Hosted by the Friends of Goodwin Forest, this was race three in the Connecticut Blue-Blazed Trail Running Series. The race was also number six in the New England Grand Tree Rail Running Series.

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Next up is Nipmuck South next Sunday. At Goodwin, there was a 30 kilometer long course and a 10 kilometer short course. The undulating trail was in good shape despite heavy rain overnight and light rain during the race. The event was part of a wonderful weekend of National Trails Day events coordinated by the Connecticut Forest & Park Association.

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We are so grateful for the volunteers that maintain the wonderful Blue-Blazed Hiking Trails. Part of the Goodwin course was on the Natchaug Trail. The Shenipsit Striders had a really strong turnout, which was great to see. There is a lot of overlap with our sister club, the Silk City Striders.

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Debbie ran the 30K and our son ran his first 10K, which was pretty cool. Debbie was the first woman and he was the first male under 16 (he is nine). He got an apple pie for his efforts. This event was a lot of fun. I rode from Bolton in a heavy rainstorm, but I didn’t mind. I took some lovely roads through eastern Connecticut. It took me about 90 minutes to get there. The rain paused (briefly) as the runners were finishing, so I rode home too, but the pause didn’t last and I got poured on in the final 45 minutes of my ride. Still, it was worth it.

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Brett Stoeffler was the first male finisher. He was followed by Eric Wyzga and Todd Bennett.

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The race benefitted the Friends of Goodwin Forest and the programs that they run at the forest.

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Race Results

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2016 Connecticut Trails Day

Yesterday was National Trails Day. The Connecticut Forest & Park Association coordinated 223 events this weekend. Debbie and the Bolton Land Trust hosted a Family Fitness Hike at Bolton Heritage Farm (Rose Farm) in our hometown. Rose Farm is a local gem. I’ve written about it many times. The Bolton Summer XC Series will once again be on Wednesdays starting later this month. Horst Engineering has been a longtime sponsor of Connecticut Trails Day.

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We had a decent turnout for the hike. Debbie and our kids led the group on a .75 mile walk around the farm with multiple stops to perform exercises including agility drills, pushups, squat jumps, and burpees. It was a lot of fun. The weather was fantastic. It was quite warm and we had brilliant sunshine. Debbie, the kids, and I live nearby, so they were able to ride their bikes to the farm while I jogged over.

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Vermont Six Gaps Ride

Yesterday’s Six Gaps ride in Vermont fulfilled a goal I’ve had for several years. This 132 mile loop with 11,600 feet of elevation ascending has been a bucket list for a long time. I’m no stranger to riding in Vermont, but I never had the right window of opportunity to bang this one out.

My Top 10 Six Gap Ride Highlights:

  1. Preparation
  2. Friends Make the Difference
  3. The Six Gaps
  4. Pavement is Faster than Dirt
  5. It was Hot
  6. Equipment Choices Matter
  7. Vermont is Beautiful
  8. The Long Trail
  9. It Isn’t Just the Legs that Hurt
  10. Solo Adventures are Special

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1) Preparation

In planning the ride over the past few years, this link was the main source of my information: Six Gaps of Vermont – Northeast Cycling Don’t click it now. The website is down. OK, try it. Is it up or down? Well, last week, and for years before that, it was up, complete with maps, cue sheets, and reports. Early in the week, I double checked a few details and confirmed the route I was going to take. I was glad that I had checked out the site because there was a fresh post about new road work on seven miles of pavement through Middlebury Gap. I wanted to have a quick reference of the route to share with a few friends who had inquired about my weekend plans, so I pulled the site up on my iPhone. I snapped a fortuitous screen shot. Then, Thursday night, I returned to print more maps and re-read some of the key posts. The website was down and the URL was redirecting to an advertisement site. I can’t believe that this happened two days before my ride, but apparently, the force behind the www.northeastcycling.com website didn’t pay their GoDaddy bill.

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2) Friends Make the Difference

The window of opportunity to get this ride done appeared 10 days ago. I had a trip to Atlanta, Georgia, and then needed to get to the Sterling Machine plant in Lynn, Massachusetts. For several months, I’ve been needing to connect with Marilyn Ruseckas, who lives in Vermont. I had to pick up a beautiful oil painting that she made. It is going to hang outside my office at Horst Engineering’s Burnham Street plant. I’ve been holding that spot on a blank white wall since we expanded to that plant in 2015. Her studio is in Warren, right in the middle of the Six Gaps loop. Once Debbie was on board with the plan, I made the call to Marilyn.

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She and her husband, Adam Whitney, are long time friends from the New England cycling community and I’ve been to her house/studio/workshop a few times. They offered their spare bedroom to me, so the plan was locked in. I got home from Atlanta early Thursday morning and spent the day working in Connecticut. On Friday I left home for Lynn at 5:30 A.M. and beat the traffic. I spent the whole day at the plant, departing after 4:00 P.M. The trip to Warren took 4.5 hours thanks to afternoon traffic in southern New Hampshire, but as I got closer to the Green Mountains, I felt more and more excited about the pending adventure. Travel to Atlanta, travel to Lynn, and then a Saturday morning ride “squeezed in” wasn’t ideal, but that was the opening I had. At the Ruseckas/Whitney household, I ate the rest of their dinner vegetables and finished their bottle of red wine. We loaded the painting in my car, and chatted some more before bed. It was so nice to not have to sleep in my car, which was the alternative plan. Adam and Marilyn fed me in the morning, I checked out Adam’s sprint car (we have a long history of precision machining race car parts for motorsports customers). I lingered longer than I probably should have, but they have a great spot.

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3) The Six Gaps

I took what appears to be the most popular route for the Six Gaps, and it matched the map on Northeast Cycling site. I drove south on 100 and parked in the center of Rochester. I started the ride there and went clockwise. All six of the mountain passes top out at more than 2,000 feet of elevation, and each climbs more than 1,000 feet.

Brandon Gap

It’s good to warm up with Brandon. The entire climb is paved, and it is a mild ascent. I’ve done this climb many times. Some of those rides were from the other direction, during the Killington Stage Race, which was a Labor Day Weekend tradition in the old days. I did the race in 1992, 1993, 1994, 1997, 1998, and 2000. It was always one of my favorite events. In recent years, the race was reduced from five stages to three, and moved to Memorial Day Weekend. Coincidently, the race is happening as I type. I saw signs on the road announcing the event.

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Middlebury Gap

This is another road that I’ve ridden before. At least one of those times was during the Mad River Road Race, which eventually became part of the Green Mountain State Race, which took Killington’s spot on the race calendar, and is now held on Labor Day Weekend. I stopped at a country store before the real climbing started. I topped off my bottles, but didn’t stay long. The lowlight of this gap was the dirt road descent. “Dirt road” is not that accurate. It isn’t one of the regular dirt roads. It was dirt because in the past two weeks, they ripped up all the pavement and have yet to replace it. I knew about this road work and there were signs at the base of the climb warning “cycles” to stay away. I was prepared, but that didn’t make it any easier. The road was very wet from the lack of drainage, and it was no fun to get covered in mud two hours in to a 10 hour ride. The road was rough with loose rocks, so I had to manage my speed on the descent.

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The gulf isn’t an official gap, but it also isn’t flat. This section of route 100 connected the lower loop with the upper loop. I might have pushed it too hard on this section because I was a little overcooked when I got to the base of Lincoln Gap.

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This was ugly. I got to the bottom of Lincoln at about the 60 mile mark and my legs were feeling it. I hit a low spot at the worst time. Lincoln Gap Road is one of the steepest in New England with a one mile stretch that averages nearly 15% of gradient. That’s like the Mount Washington Auto Road. There is a short section of dirt road, but it isn’t a factor. About a 1/4 mile from the top, I lost my momentum and couldn’t turn the pedals anymore. This necessitated a shameful push of the bike to the crest. My ego was bruised, but you do what you have to do and none of the motorists that passed me recognized me. Phew!  I was low on water, and probably hadn’t fueled well enough in the lead up to the climb. I was worried that with nearly 80 miles to go, that I was cooked for good. Thankfully, I recovered a bit on the descent. I stopped half way down and was able to fill all my bottles from a spigot at someone’s house.

Appalachian Gap

It was good to be halfway done with the gaps, but I dreaded App Gap in the heat of the day. This one has two distinct climbs, but strung together, it’s a long way up. The first “peak” is the KOM for the Green Mountain Stage Race. You descend a little, and then the real climb begins. At the top, it is just as steep as Lincoln. The road snakes left and then right, and there are fantastic views to the north and west. Thankfully, it is paved the whole way. The downhill was rough with a lot of potholes and cracks, but was paved and generally manageable. I was out of water again, so I stopped to replenish at a convenience store in Waitsfield around the 85 mile mark. I also had an all-natural root beer, which is very rare for me. I only drink “soda” once ever 10 years or so, and usually on an epic ride like this. I wanted the calories to go straight to my brain.

Roxbury Gap

It was a short ride to Warren Village, but in that stretch of route 100, I drained all my fluids again. Mentally, I wasn’t ready for Roxbury Gap just yet, so I stopped at the country store in the village and stayed for a while. I refilled my bottles and also bought some coconut water, a bag of chips, and some Battenkill Brittle. In front of the store, I sat on a bench for 15 minutes before getting motivated to pedal again. There was a lot of activity in town, so it was fun to just hang and soak in the Vermont vibe. I got rolling, and in no time, was headed up the gap. About three-quarters of the way up, two cyclists came bombing down the hill. It was Adam and Marilyn. Yahoo!

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At first, it didn’t register that it as them and not two strangers. I was feeling the pain, but pulled over and we chatted for 10 minutes. They had just picked up their new adventure/cross bikes at the shop in Waitsfield and were out on their maiden voyage. Their plan to find me on the road worked, and I welcomed the visit. Our interconnection lifted my spirits. We took some photos and then I went on my way. I really suffered on Roxbury. I wasn’t a rookie, having done this climb a few years ago from the other direction. Yesterday, I went west to east, so the climb was paved to the top. The descent was packed dirt most of the way in to Roxbury. The road is rough and I had my first serious mechanical mishap of the day. My rear fender has been rattling for weeks, but a stripped Allen bolt prevented me from adequately adjusting the clip that supports the fender from the brake caliper. On the rough descent, metal fatigue caused the clip to snap completely. So, from the 100 mile mark to the finish at 132, I rode with my rear fender rubbing my rear tire and rattling like crazy. My mind is still numb from that rattling sound. I tried to tie it up with a reflective strap that I was carrying, but I couldn’t make it work, so I just dealt with it. After Roxbury, I had only one gap go go, but the ride to get there was a long one.

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Rochester Gap

The first section of route 12A from Roxbury south to East Granville was rough pavement. Then, it smoothed out with fresh pavement for more than six miles. I hammered this stretch and got my average speed for the day back above 14 mph. The smooth pavement kept the fender bouncing to a minimum. It was mostly flat, so I was able to turn a big gear. When I got to Randolph, I was hurting again. I stopped for the last time at a convenience store and filled my bottles. I sat on the front steps of a building across from the gas station, and drank a cream soda. I was in the homestretch, but had a false sense of comfort about the last big hill of the day. Sadly, the road conditions deteriorated. Once I got outside Randolph, I started seeing signs for road construction. I hadn’t expected this and the fresh asphalt soon turned to rough dirt and rock. That stretch last six long miles. They had coated the dirt with an oily mixture to keep the dust down, but that just made it messier. It was teeth rattling, and most certainly, fender rattling. I had to slow my pace out of necessity. I cursed out loud on multiple occasions. That stretch from 116 miles to 122 miles was the worst of the day. I wouldn’t wish that stretch of road on anyone. To prove how bad it was, I couldn’t wait to start climbing again!

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The climb turned out to be more than I bargained for. I might have been hallucinating when Marilyn described it to me because I thought she said it was “easier” than the other five. Of course, I was doing it on hammered legs. It seemed to never end. Mercifully, it was paved the entire way, but it just kept stepping up. It even climbed higher after the official sign post that marks the top of the gap. I was thinking that couldn’t be right! By the time I got to the top, I was ready for the ride to be over. I bombed the descent in to Rochester. At one point, I passed a state trooper on the side of the road. The speed limit sign said 20 mph and I was going 40 mph. For a moment, I was hoping to get pulled over! Then, I realized that would only delay my quest for food. He didn’t chase me and I was back at the Rochester green after 9 hours and 27 minutes of riding. I started the ride at 8:13 A.M. and finished at 6:48 P.M. The water stops and breaks added up to about an hour.

4) Pavement is Faster than Dirt

I have no problem riding dirt roads. I prefer when I know about them. The surprise road work on route 12A was a bummer. It added a little excitement. The wet road through Middlebury Gap was a mess.

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5) It Was Hot

So far, we have had spectacular weather for Memorial Day Weekend. 85 degrees in Vermont is warmer than usual for late May. The sun was strong and there was no breeze. I sweated buckets. I started with two large bottles and a container of coconut water. I stopped five times to replenish the fluids.

6) Equipment Choices Matter

Earlier in the week, when I was planning the ride, I thought briefly about riding one of my standard road bikes, like my Richard Sachs or my Spectrum Titanium, but I erred on the side of caution after learning about the Middlebury Gap road work, and went with my tried and trusted, Seven Axiom SL. I didn’t have the time to swap gears on those other bikes and I wanted wider tires. The Axiom has 28 centimeter tires, 53/39 chainrings, and a 11-27 cassette. It was perfect for the conditions. I removed my rack to save a little weight. I used my Dill Peak Gear handlebar bag. The Axiom is the bike that I fit the best on. The fenders were nice to have…until they broke. This bike is four years old, and recently got fresh tires, but it needs drivetrain work and a really good tune-up. This was the last big ride before it gets an overhaul.

7) Vermont Is Beautiful

It was a glorious day in the hills of Vermont. I never tire of those mountains and envision myself spending even more time there in the future. One of the most beautiful parts of the route was early on when I rode by Lake Dunmore in Salisbury. The country stores were fantastic, particularly the Ripton Country Store on route 125. That place had the charm that you think a classic general store should have.

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8) The Long Trail

I crossed the Long Trail four times. It runs along the spine of the Green Mountains and holds a special place in my heart. Ever since Debbie and I thru-hiked it in 2005, it has been my standard for adventure. The trailheads were packed with hikers enjoying the warmer than usual weather. After our mild winter, the trail has been drier than usual. Mud season wasn’t a factor and the hikers have been out in force. Debbie and I are Long Trail End-to-End Mentors, and we have helped a higher number of candidate hikers than usual. Last month, we were on the LT in southern Vermont. I’m ready to go back.

9) It Isn’t Just the Legs That Hurt

My legs are fine. It’s my neck and back that are the most sore. These rides tend to give you overall fatigue. I have that foggy feeling that is hard to describe. During the ride, my only issue was a hot spot on my right foot that wouldn’t go away. I’ll have to check the position of my cleat, but it was uncomfortable and annoying, even when I loosened my shoes.

10) Solo Adventures Are Special

Nothing is more enjoyable than a solo adventure in the mountains. It would have been nice to have company for part of the ride, but I cherish these trips. I set my own agenda. I ride my own pace. I get a lot of thinking done on these adventures. I plan business strategy, I set goals, and I use the time to reflect. Many of my thoughts end up in these blog posts. I didn’t take many photos, and it wasn’t for a lack of views. I didn’t want to stop. Once I got moving, I decided that if I was going to finish this thing, I had to roll. 10 hours is a long time to sit in a saddle. I brought my earbuds, but never used them. Some days I feel like zoning out and listening to music. Other days, like yesterday, I avoid the music and just focus on my surroundings. There was so much to see, and I was never bored. The drive home was challenging. After I washed up and loaded all the gear, I drove south on 100. I stopped at the country store in Pittsfield for some snacks. Dinner wise, nothing appealed to me, so I drove farther south. I checked out a few places on the Killington access road before settling for a sweet potato fries and a draught Long Trail Ale (a classic choice) at a local tavern. When I got going again, I was tired. Eventually, I stopped in Chester, and took a two-hour nap in the parking lot of the Vermont Country Store. I visited a lot of country stores in one day! I awoke at 11:45 P.M., feeling refreshed, so I drove the rest of the way home, stopping briefly at our Burnham Street plan to drop off the painting. I was in bed by 2:15 A.M. and never heard the wicked thunderstorm that ripped through Bolton overnight.

Thinking back to the ride, I moaned a lot, particularly on those long climbs. My Strava activity for the ride will likely remain one of my favorites. I think this is the longest single ride I’ve done. I’ve had longer rides based on time, but not as much mileage. I did the Detour de Connecticut in 2012, and that was more than 120 miles, but that also had a lot of off-road sections where  you go slower. A couple of years ago, I scouted some of these roads, when I did a 118 mile ride from Crawford Notch to Waitsfield.

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I think the lasting memory of yesterday’s ride will be the feeling I had going up Roxbury Gap with the finish within my grasp. Now I have a painting (that features the Green Mountains) that will forever remind me of this adventure. I would turn a corner thinking that the climbing was over, and the road would rise again. That feeling of suffering is hard to describe and you have to experience it to realize why it hurts so good.

2016 Soapstone Mountain Trail Races

I’m going to start this blog post in reverse by writing about Kaz Rybak, the last finisher in today’s 32nd annual Soapstone Mountain Trail Race. I’ve written about Kaz before because he has been a fixture at this race over the past 26 years, half of which, Debbie has been the Race Director.

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Kaz finished the 22.5 kilometer race in 6:10:32. Over the years, he has frustrated and worried us many times, but he has also inspired us, and today, he inspired us more than ever. He violates the time cuts, he forces us to wait for hours after the second to last finisher, and he leaves us exhausted…but even still, we would never leave him in the woods alone.

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When 3:00 P.M. rolled around today, after the last of the volunteers had left, the official timers had packed up, and we were sitting in our van (it was cold!) waiting for Kaz, Debbie suggested that we go look for him. My legs were shot and I was in no condition to walk/run backwards on the course, but Debbie was willing to do it.

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We knew based on previous results that he would be coming soon, so she walked backwards on the course to the Gulf Road parking lot in Shenipsit State Forest. I drove around with the kids and waited for her. She arrived a few minutes later without having intercepted Kaz. She joined us in the van for a few more minutes, and then we saw him coming down the access road after descending the Quarry Trail. She got out and went to check on him. He didn’t stop moving. He couldn’t stop moving. If he did, he might not finish.

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This was his 26th year in a row doing the Soapstone Mountain Trail Race. We don’t think he trains much anymore. He is in his early 60’s and Soapstone is a big part of his life. He always purchases two t-shirts. We know that he looks forward to this day every year. He refuses the invitation to start earlier. He ignores our advice. He relentlessly pursues the finish line. As he came down the access road, I watched Debbie walk with him.

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Our kids were irritable, but I explained to them that their Mom serves others by directing this race and we would never go home without knowing that Kaz (and every other runner) was safe. We had put together a care package for him and left it on a picnic table at the finish line at Reddington Rock Riding Club. It consisted of two Pepsi’s, two cups of a chili, and a bowl of soup.

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Kaz never stopped moving. At this point, he was sort of shuffling down the road. Debbie walked with him, I turned around, and pulled ahead. We got him some Gatorade from the back of the van, which he drank on the fly, and then crossed Gulf Road on to the dirt road headed to the finish. Debbie stuck with him and walked the last kilometer through the woods back up to the horse riding club. He shared enough intimate thoughts with her about his life that it was clear that this race means as much to him as anything.

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The kids and I drove back around and waited for him to finish. We cheered for him and took photos. Every year, he stashes his car keys in the cook shed. His car was lonely out in the open field, where hours earlier, several hundred cars were parked. He told us that he leaves his keys behind because he doesn’t want to bring them in the woods. I was thinking, that’s smart. It would really suck to get back to your car after six hours and not have your keys. This year, he left two safety pins stashed with his keys and told Debbie that he didn’t bring them during the race because every ounce matters and they would weigh him down. From a distance, I overheard this, and chuckled loudly.

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Then, we packed all of his food and drinks in to a box and he carried it across the field to his car. He was wiped out. It took a while for him to get to the opposite side of the field. As we pulled out, we honked and yelled out to him to get some rest and take care. When you have done as much adventuring and participated in endurance sports as often as we have, you have to draw inspiration from somewhere. For Debbie and me, after 25+ years of pushing ourselves to the limit, it is people like Kaz Rybak that give us that awesome feeling that motivates.

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The entire race was a success. We hosted 257 runners (177 for the half marathon and 80 for the Sampler), and fed more than 300 including the spectators and volunteers. After 13 years of directing the race, Debbie still relies on an amazing group of Shenipsit Striders club mates and volunteers from the Northern Connecticut Land Trust and Connecticut Forest & Park Association. Once again, Jerry Turk and Kerry Arsenault, from RAT Race Timing, handled the scoring. Volunteers came from everywhere, including out of state.

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The first place man was Drew Best. He was followed by Matt Shamey and Todd Bennett. The first woman was Kehr Davis. She was followed by Emma Perron and Sarah Pandiscio. The weather was perfect for runners and not so great for spectators. It was cooler than usual, with a strong west wind and intermittent clouds. Thankfully, there was no precipitation. There were several muddy spots on the trail, but the course conditions were generally good. The footing is always tricky with lots of rocks, roots, and leaves. The usual mishaps occurred, including wrong turns, and falls, causing bumps, bruises, and cuts. No one was seriously hurt. Safety is our number one goal, but when you trail run, you take risks and the responsibility is yours to bear.

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For the second year, our 9-year-old son did the 6 kilometer Sampler and had a great time. Last year, I ran with him, but we have since learned that he does better when he is on his own. So, yesterday, I decided to run the long course. I have done one or the other 13 times.

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I had a great race. I broke two hours for the third time, finishing in 1:56:54, my third fastest on the course. I gave it my all and it showed. I fell hard three separate times, the last, only a kilometer from the finish. I had a five-mile battle with Neal Leibowitz. We were never more than 10 seconds apart and traded places half a dozen times. I was stronger on the uphills and he was stronger on the downhills.

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I led him up Soapstone Mountain for the last time, but he passed me on the road after the Quarry Trail descent. I trailed him as we crossed Gulf Road, but as we made our way down the dirt road in Shenipsit State Forest, I caught my toe on a rock and went down in a heap. It sucks to fall on the road and I’m full of rash on my left (bad) shoulder, left forearm, and left leg. I’ll pay for that fall with delayed onset muscle soreness for a week or more.

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That fall gave him a gap, but I still closed in on him on the final singletrack climb before entering the riding club property. I chased him up the hill and towards the finish, but he held me off by one second. He crossed the finish line and went down on his knees. I crossed the line and listed sideways. My legs  instantly felt like jelly; I careened into the rope barriers and bumped a chip timing sensor, knocking it down as I collapsed on to my left side.

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I’ve never had that happen before. I didn’t black out, but I was momentarily incoherent. It wasn’t a pretty moment as a large crowd, including my parents witnessed it, but it symbolized that I had given it my all in an effort to catch Neal. In a weird way, I felt satisfied, but it was frightening for a few people, including my Mom. What’s the point of racing if you aren’t going to lay it all out? I got some help over to a bench, where I sat down next to Neal. We were both knackered. The EMT patched us up as we basked in the glow of having finished a tough race with a flourish. It really was a great day. I saw many grimaces, but also many smiles. The kids race was fun to watch. Introducing young ones to the sport of trail running is pure joy. Debbie and I have more work to do, cleaning pots, putting away gear, and washing our van. That work doesn’t have the same intensity as race preparation. Next year will be the 33rd edition. For now, I’ll hold the image of Debbie walking down the road with Kaz Rybak, as he slogged his way to another Soapstone finish line.

Race Results


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#springfield #massachusetts #connecticutriver Black smoke is never a good sign at an airport, but I inquired and it may just be a training drill. At least that's what I learned from an airport worker I asked. #atl Not a smart place to park the car! #mountainbike #willowdale @nemba_mtb Great find in the @ctforestandparkassociation library! The 1936 @appalachianmountainclub #whitemountain guide. Awesome maps! #mtwashington #whitemountains #appalachianmountainclub #ctwoodlands Nice hike on the Highlawn Forest Trails with friends from the @ctforestandparkassociation Winslow Society. #hiking #ctwoodlands #sterlingmachine doesn't cut much aluminum It's rare and the machinists enjoy it as a respite from all of the difficult #inconel #waspaloy #L605 and #titanium parts. Unlike those metals, aluminum melts in aircraft engines, therefore it isn't very useful! #aerospace #precisionmachining #cnc #cncmachining #instamachinist @horsteng #horstengineering #madeinmassachusetts #madeinnewengland #madeinusa @trailrunningmom shows how you hammer the downhill at the #Bolton Summer XC Series. #trailrunning #rocks #roots #machining these #aerospace parts on our #okuma triple-turret/twin-spindle #lathe @horsteng The material is A286. We use two turrets to pinch turn. #manufacturing #precisionmachining #cnc #cncmachining ##horstengineering #madeinusa #madeinconnecticut #madeinnewengland @horsteng spins our turnings/chips in a centrifuge to reclaim the oil that collects on the surface of the metal. We use water soluble coolant in most of our lathes, but use straight (vegetable based) oil in our Swiss screw machines. #reducereuserecycle #horstengineering #instamachinist #precisionmachining #machining #cncmachining #manufacturing

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