Yesterday, Mike, Alexis and I undertook the first assault on the notches for the year - Jefferson, Crawford and Pinkham. As we left Gorham on the 'cross bikes in the morning, temps were already in the mid 80s, and it was going to get warmer.
Last year, on this same day, Mike and I did this same ride. Temperatures last year, however, were in the high 60s to mid 70s. Several times on the ride, Mike commented that he didn't remember this loop being so difficult last year. I had to remind him that it was a minimum of 20 degrees warmer this year than last (and this was really the first warm weather and the hardest ride we had undertaken so far this year).
The loop starts in Gorham, NH, and begins with an 8% climb over 2 miles. No worrying about warming up ;-). Unfortunately, on the descent (also 8%, but over only 1/2 mile), I ran over a nail, and punctured both my tire and tube. Mike and Alexis were ahead, and didn't realize that I had stopped for a few minutes. They did come back and we managed to get everything changed, and get back on our way.
We continued along Rte 2, and ducked off onto the snowmobile trail to head towards Jefferson Notch. In the winter, this is a great snowmobile route - Mike and I climbed up here on one of the coldest nights last winter, and it was -5 F then ;-).
The climb is on a dirt road which is why we do this loop on our 'cross bikes. My goal for this year's ride was not to walk on the climb. Last year, there were two steep sections where I just couldn't get the pedals turned over while keeping traction on the loose dirt (the grader had just been though, and the same was true this year). At one point, I passed Mike who had stopped at the side of the river to get some cool water on his head, but I kept climbing. I did spin out one one section, but didn't take one step - determined as ever not to walk!
I approached the summit not too long after Mike and Alexis. I had achieved my goal, riding the entire ascent! I had also climbed 2 - 3 mph faster than last year (don't get excited - last year I rode at 2 mph which put me between 4 and 5 mph this year). Goal achieved! We stopped for a break and some pictures, and then began the descent.
Going up is difficult, but going down, to me, is scary. The pitch is steep and there are rocks and ruts in the road that you have to be careful not to hit. There is, however, a fine balance between controlling your speed, and not wearing out your brakes! The funny thing on the descent was passing patches of snow in the woods - 92 degrees, but there was still snow on the ground in places.
Once we got to the bottom of the Notch, we continued across the Cog Railway Road to Rte 302 to begin our descent of Crawford Notch. This is a 13% grade for 3/4 of a mile, and then continues to descend for the next 12 miles. Mike hit a maximum speed of 53 mph going down this section of the loop, but I didn't feel entirely comfortable, and only managed about 38 mph. We moved along pretty quickly on this entire section, maintain a moving speed over about 23 mph until we hit Bartlett, and stopped to refuel.
After a short break, it was back on the bikes to head to Rte 16, which would take us up and over Pinkham Notch. By this point, we were all tired, and really hot, with not much left in the tanks. It is a 9 mile climb up the Notch from Jackson, NH and it was slow going. I watched Mike and Alexis ride off, and resigned myself to the slog fest that would come to get to the top. At this point, I was tired and my back was killing me. I actually experienced hot spots in my feet on the way up as well, and it was the most uncomfortable my feet have ever been!
A quick regroup at the top of the Notch, and we headed back down into Gorham - an 11 mile descent. There was a lot of coasting going down since we were all so tired! We arrived back at the cars about 5 hours and 40 mins after we had started, with a total of 70 miles and 4500 feet of climbing.
A long, hard day in the saddle, but it was worth it, and we'll do it again next year!