Saturday, June 30, 2007

Hoot, Toot, & Whistle

I have always been fascinated by trains and in my youth I would assemble elaborate and complicated train layouts. It started in the basement of our home in Wilton, and then when we moved to New Canaan, it was in the barn. Since the barn wasn't heated it was hard to enjoy my trains in the winter time. Then we moved across town, and there was no basement, so I built my next layout in a crawlspace off of my room which made playing with my trains in the summer time difficult as well, but no matter what the situation was, I was still able to enjoy my trains.

College, the Army, working and living in various places, I never had the space for that next layout I am always hoping to design and build, and when I finally bought a house that had a suitable basement, the kids came along which further prevented that next layout. So I had to find other ways to quench my thirst for trains. One way has been combining my favorite physical activity, mountain biking, and riding rail trails and old rail road beds that one day could be come rail trails. Rail trails and old railroad beds some times have tell tale signs of their past use, namely you will find discarded railroad ties, but the other cool thing about them is the structural engineering that went into building them. Reading and researching these old lines has become my new railroading hobby and then if the opportunity presents itself actually visiting the railroad bed and riding it on my bike. In a way, its like riding the train itself.

One such railroad bed that I have been fascinated with for the past 5 years after spending a week at Mt Snow in the fall as a get away from it all was an old railroad line that connected Wilmington, VT to a main line road called the Fitchburg Railroad, which back in the day you could eventually get to Boston or New York City, or Albany when railroad travel was the fastest way for long distance travel.

Five years ago, I read up on everything I could find about the Wilmington and Hoosac Railroad on a couple of websites. Then, six months ago we planned a family summer vacation back to Mount Snow and now that I have started mountain biking, I decided to look into the possibility of riding some of the old railroad beds. Only, now, I found a bevy of information, including a ride loop that includes a portion of the old railroad bed, which is called the Harriman Trail. This ride can be found on the New England Mountain Biking called the Whittingham to Wilmington and Back.

Mount Snow touts itself as the mountain biking riding mecca for the East Coast but what I really wanted to ride was the Harriman Trail but when you go on vacation and you need to tie up the car for half a day it presents all types of logistical challenges. So, I decided that I would ride from the Condo down to the trail head at Mountain Mills. Looking on the map and asking the day before at a local bike shop, I found the best way to get there was an 8 mile ride. That would be easier enough, I thought, but after a wrong turn which brought me into Wilmington, VT instead of bypassing it, the 8 mile ride turned into a 12 mile ride. Below, the color coded line shows the route that I actually road -- the different colors correspond to the altitude. The magenta line is the route I should have taken that would have saved me four miles of riding!

I could have planned some of my navigational equipment better, since I planned to hit a geocache along the way, I should have had my Garmin Map60 mounted on my bars, instead in a shoulder pouch. That way, I could have set up a route to follow and probably wouldn't have missed the turn that added 4 miles to my ride. Also, one thing I didn't realize is that the Mount Snow Valley has this bus system called the Moover, minibuses (not the Westport variety from 70's) that run between Mt Snow and Wilmington, and they have bike racks on the front! I could have planned on taking the Moover down to Wilmington, and do the loop prescribed on the NEMBA website. Next time, perhaps, and on my single speed 29er!

I left at 9 AM and got to Mountain Mills Recreation Area, the trail head.

This trail, by the way, is part of the Catamount Cross Country Ski Trail Network. So, you will see these blue signs on trees along the way.

One word of caution: While there are the blue signs along the way, they are infrequent and not clear at trail junctions. It's easy to get disoriented and set off down the wrong trail only to come to dead end and a nasty climb back to the main trail.

Once past the gate, the trail starts to climb? What, a railroad bed that makes a noticeable climb? Well, it does and it came as a shock. I was expecting a nice easy, flat ride to the Harriman Dam and back and easy it was not. Apparently there had been quite a few washouts along the way but it seems the trail gnomes fixed that recently. A mile or two further in there is another gate, only this one is quite tough to get through. You have to scuttle through on the sides and carry your bike. I think it was originally intended to discourage off road traffic such as MX and ATVers but they found a go around.

One of the first of many confusing intersections is about a quarter of mile from this huge ridge cut. Right before the intersection is an earthen trestle that at one point was 50 or 60 feet above the existing ground elevation.

What makes it confusing is that there are no Catamount signs and the trail is somewhat obscured through low hanging trails. It would appear that this part of the trail doesn't get as much traffic. It could be because of the cut, its wet and dank, and there are still many ties in the middle of the trail. The picture below is looking back towards that intersection.

Do a 180 and now you are looking into beginning of the cut. It's an eerie feeling, like something is going to jump down on you from above.

The deeper you travel in the cut, the danker and muddier it gets.

And here you can see where many of the ties are still present.

On the south side of the cut, there are few more exposed ties, even some sporting these. I found a few more after Wilder Brook, too.

The trail makes a sudden right turn and the turn is clearly marked but from the map above you can see I went straight to see what was there. The bed moves out onto another earthen trestle and then just stops, which leads me to believe, back in the day, there was a wooden trestle crossing over Wilder Brook.

Backing tracking to the intersection more Catamount XC Ski signs appear on a nice, rocky, single track trail that intersects with yet another trail that leads down to Wilder Brook and a foot bridge that crosses the stream.

A beautiful little stream that I bet may hold a few little brookies here and there.

After climbing out of this stream valley the trail hits another intersection with trails going off in both directions. The one, in the direction of the lake, obviously is a dead end, but the other heading in the opposite direction may very well be part of the loop that climbs up the ridge and hooks back towards the dam.

Along the way, I discovered that my Garmin Edge305 cut out on me and I lost a mile's worth of data, still riding 19 miles in one day is the most that I have ever ridden.

I took a little break at the Dam. Had a few snacks, took a few pictures, and changed my socks.

The Fixtation performed well, even with my kluge gearing that my local bike shop couldn't get quite right. Instead of using the nine speed cassette I got from a friend, the replaced it with an eight speed but could only get 7 of the 8 gears to cycle. What was worse, was to get into the lowest granny gear, it required a double shift - that was aggravating. The Atomblast wheelset was clearly overkill for this type of riding but that was all I had and probably should have been riding thinner tires - I remember that the next time I do another epic ride like this.

The way back was pretty smooth, except the Edge cutout again. I thought it might be due to the jarring of the ride so I put in my cell phone pouch on later to find that it cut out yet again. Also, about three quarters of the way, atop the earthen trestle I felt what I thought was a cramp coming on behind me knee, so I stopped to stretch and raise my seat. I found out later that it was more likely muscle strain. When I got back to Mountain Mills I called my wife to come pick me up. I actually called her from the dam and found out she was in Wilmington so that was pretty easy. I made it to the ferry landing had a couple hot dogs with lousy sauerkraut while I waited to get picked up.

Total Ride: 28 Miles!

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Valley Trail Ride with the Boys

As you can see, Brodie (on the left) did not want to be crammed into the Burley with his brother. I also forgot that Brodie doesn't like to have wind blown in his face, so by the time we got down to Handle Road, he was screaming. Climbing was no problem but when ever I started to move, he did not like it.

Break time! Maybe a little food and water will help? Brodie loved getting out but did not want to get back in.

Posted by Picasa
Getting these two boys to pose together is impossible. Needless to say, we did a six mile loop and there was a lot of crying by Brodie. Until he is older, I think this is the last time I take him for a ride in the Burley.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

First Valley Trail Ride

This is the start of the Valley Trail in West Dover. This section is maybe a half mile, four foot wide multi-use trail with a nice arching bridge just past this clearing. Great for kids but not very long.

Katie was enthusiastic at the beginning but half way down the trail stalled out and fell over. She wasn't hurt, except for her pride. We rode to the end, turned around, and rode straight back to the pool at the Seasons. It was too hot!
Posted by Picasa

Sunday, June 24, 2007

1000 Feet Climb

To start off my vacation at Mt Snow, I decided to ride on the mountain. Funny thing happened on the way down from the Condos. There is a ski trail that you can jump on to take to the base lodge and after 100 yards I noticed that my edge had cut out. It just powered itself down – kind of like when I endo’d at Trumbull and the bike landed on top of it. Only this time, there was no impact. It turned back on and it started recording again. Funny!

It took forever to find where you get a trail map and in addition to that you have to pay $10 bucks. Well, I went ahead and did it and set out. The guy at the shop recommended that if I were going to climb to the summit, that I should ride the #16 to the #15 to #4 trail and that will eventually turn into an access road for the summit.

I found the #16 but never found the #15 trail. In fact while riding down the #16 I passed right by the condo and wound up at the Carinthia basin for the ski area, but didn’t find the trail I was looking for. So I turned around and started climbing up the #16 trail. When it got really steep, I said there is no way I am pushing up that but I found a little feeder trail that had arrows pointing up, so I took it.

This trail was a bear! I think I rode half and hiked-my-bike the other half until I finally came across the #4 trail. Following the trail markers was really tough and it was nearly impossible to figure out which way the trail went at every intersection. I guess it was sheer dumb luck that I was able to figure out where to go. What they really need is to either blaze the trail or put up numbered signs so that you knew you were actually on a particular trail.

Bicycle Goodie Shop did a great job setting me up with gears on Thursday; however, the nine speed cassette was useless because the derailleur hanger on the Fixation isn’t long enough so Joe couldn’t get it to drop into the lowest gear. He suggested that we go with a 8 speed cassette, which I said do it and it worked, except for the lowest gear, so it turns out its now a 1x7. Still, it’s a step up from a single speed, however climbing is a different story.

With the single speed, I was used to running up to the base of the incline and then standing up and mashing until I couldn’t climb anymore. With gears, if you are in the granny gear, which I think is 32t, and my front ring is 32t, that is a 1:1 ratio and as soon as I came up off the saddle on anything really steep I would spin the tires. So, if I was going to ride in the granny, I had to ride like I was riding full suspension and scrunch up towards the center.

One thing that I found to be a problem, though, was to get to the lowest granny gear, I had to pull the trigger twice, which meant when needing to get to the lowest gear in the middle of the climb meant lost momentum while trying to get the lowest gear. When I get home, I might just try 7 speed cassette and see if that makes any difference. Of course, what I am really thinking of doing is just getting a full suspension trail bike.

Getting back to my climb, there was a sign saying proceed no further due to sensitive habitat, so I veered off onto another trail that looked like it still climbed up until that too said it was in a sensitive habitat. Decided at that point to turn around and head back but by that time, I checked the Edge and found that I climbed over 1000’

The way down was just as confusing as the ride up. Trails are not really marked well. Still it was fun to test my brakes for the trip down. They worked pretty well but they still needed alot of adjustments along the way, like making them tighter! Riding down one of the singletrack trails, I hit a mud hole and endo'd but jumped off at the last second with no injuries what so ever.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Variations on a Theme, second movement.

After one ride on the Fixation with front suspension, I made the jump to gears. Mainly out of need for an upcoming trip in which I can only bring one bike. Running single speed with front suspension was fun and I certainly want to return to that setup but what I needed is a bike with a rear quick release wheel, so that I can change skewers and also pull my boys in their Burley trailer. As you can see in the shot above. Tire clearance is much better, too, compared to riding with the Qball.
Technorati Profile

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Happy Father's Day!

Finally got to Fairfield Hills to ride and it wasn't too bad. A nice loop on the other side of the tracks between Queen Street and the Railroad. Ride it counter clockwise if you choose to do so. Park on Old Farm Road, behind Reed Middle School. Picks up part of Al's trail aka Newtown Trailway. Lots of other little trails in there that could use some more exploring. North of the Town Sewage Disposal Al's trail is on the other side of Deep Brook and doesn't look like it gets alot of traffic.

Variations on a Theme

After 100 miles as a 69er it was time to try something different, so I put a 130mm Manitou Splice on the front and to ride this bike as a single speed hard tail. I also went back to a rear disc brake because I might even turn this into a 1x9 some time soon. For now, however, I am riding it with a different front end, including different bars. I decided to try the Ritchey Comps upfront with the lock on grips I got from my 29er riding buddy. The narrower bars have an interesting feeling to them.

I just pedaled around the drive way and rode down the creek bed along the drive way. One thing I noticed with the suspension fork upfront is that it's definitely a smoother ride, in fact, it feels like it compensates for the shock in the rear, too. Need to try it out on some real trail, next.

Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Williams Park, Brookfield, CT

On Tuesday I tried to get up to Nepaug State Forest in New Hartford for a send off ride for a guy that was shipping out to Iraq the following day but the weather and traffic were so bad that by the time I got to Exit 9 on I-84, there was no way that I was going to make the ride.

Instead, I opted to ride a new place near my house over in Brookfield, called Williams Park or Gurski Farm. It's kind of like my Burr Farm ride. Trails are pretty smooth, very little technicality to them and seem to be laid on a grid. Couple of old roads mixed in there.

I think it might be worth going back and figuring out a couple of loops with all the trails.

Saturday, June 09, 2007


Recently, I hit the 100 mile mark on my fetish fixation, and I have vowed to switch things up on the fixation. By that I mean, the first hundy was riding rigid, SS, and with a Surly Instigator fork and a 29er wheel up front. Hence, I was riding a 69er and I have to say it was an awesome configuration. Why change? I have the parts and its fun reconfiguring the bike.

While the Fetish is on the rack getting its make over, I dusted off the Qball last week, my first single speed and it's a 29er. I said I want to try something new, so its rigged with FUBars, which is mary-esque type bar, only more narrower. Additionally, I went to a 22T for the rear cog. Been riding 16T while using this bike for touring but a 16T on New England Singletrack is bound to open a case of the hike-a-bike.

First ride out on the Qball, after a 6 month hiatus from the trails (there were other medical reasons that kept me off as well) was great and I noticed that the 22T climbed much better then a 20T. After that first ride, I thought, maybe I should try the hill!

The hill is this fire road that the state took no time to plan, in fact I heard they graded the existing trail into a road and thus what you have is a fire road that unless you are in 4 low, you aint getting up the hill. Well, add to that list my 29er and 22T cog on the rear!

I don't know what it was, maybe the different positioning with the FUBars, maybe 2 additional teeth make that big a difference, or perhaps I am finally achieving Conan status in the leg department. What ever it is, I can't wait to do it again and then try it with a 20T and eventually an 18T.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

CT NEMBA Board Of Directors Ride

Tuesday, June 5th, the Board of Directors for the CT Chapter of the New England Mountain Biking association met at Brooksvale Park in Hamden and rode in the Naugatuck State Forest. Of course getting to the State Forest meant having to ride through Brooksvale Park, on the way in, which is implicitly not allowed but it seems the land manager turns a blind eye to this activity along with the equestriennes.

It's ironic that Brooksvale's two biggest users groups are Horses and Bikes and it is implied that they are not included as a permissible activity. Ironically, however, when you look on the Brooksvale Website or read the trail map, there is also no mention that biking and horseback riding is not allowed but they do have 7 miles of hiking trails. Does one imply that only hiking is allowed on a hiking trail?

Anyway, we were a small group, totaling five riders, two FS rigs and the other three on single speeds. In fact, I think this was the largest assembly of single speeders that I have ridden with since making the conversion! The climb to the State Forest, for the most part, was attainable. Being a weaker rider, in comparison to the other two single speeders who train for this kind of stuff, I only had to walk one or two spots. The other two were animals!

Once in the forest, it was almost surreal. First of all, the state has been doing quite a bit of logging there so it nearly resembled a war zone but the trails were still there and they were sweet! We hit almost every trail and it was a great ride, especially for single speeding.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Summerfest Actual

Looks like Terraserver is down, or they just changed their code and you can no longer get "free" maps from them. Any, I thought I would show the difference between what I had intended to ride and what I actually rode. Turns out the "Greenway" that the City of Danbury is still vasilating on whether to aquire or not is just an old road that goes between Tarrywile and Redding. It's largely used by Motocross and ATVers, which is all illegal of course. In fact, as we were riding up the road part two MXers came barreling down at at least at 40 Mph. Fortunately, we heard them before they go to us and we were able to get off the trail in time. All I can say is they are dangerous. I would also say that they are largely responsible for tearing up the trails. Too bad. It was dual track but there were sections where it was pretty bad.

There was an old road that ended in a swamp. I am sure 100 years ago that road went through, but no now. Guess that could be one of the stumbling blocks for the City to make a connector to the Terre Haute property. Still, it was a good ride. 9 miles. Tren was there and a guy from Crankfire who lives in the area showed up. I rode the Fixation in rigid 26er mode and it sucked. Never doing that again unless I have some supension upfront. Of course that is the plan once I get another crown race so I can switch forks easly.

Summer Fest was pretty much a bust. Nobody came for my Mountain Biking 101 class and the only thing that seemed to get the most attention was Geocaching.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Fox on a leash!

Here is the track file of the Ride that Ed P. set up of for West Rocks State Park. We had seven riders, including Ed from Ed's magical mountain biking email distribution list. There was Ed, David, Kathy and her husband Dave, Heather, Jose, and myself. I was there on the Fixation 69er and the only single speeder in the group. Dave (Kathy's husband) was trying to ride single speed because Kathy (who works for Cannondale by the way) gave her husband a 1FG, single speed bike, so Dave thought he might trying riding is FS rig in one gear but gave up after a while.

It was great ride and I was able to keep up but there were times where riding single speed and rigid with a groups of fullies is just not the right mix. As a single speeder and riding rigid, your line (the route you pick for your bike to go down the trail) has to have a little thought behind it, otherwise you could flat because you don't have the suspension that enables the bike to float over the bumps. The 69er handles itself nicely in the technical terrain, but picking the right line is still paramount.

After this ride, it got me thinking as to whether or not I should go back to a full suspension bike for rides like this and others that I have been on lately. Before I do that, when the Fixation hits 100 miles as a 69er I am going to convert it to a regular hard tail with a manitou splice 130mm suspension fork and see how that rides, still single speed of course. I do have a new wheel set that I can go geary on, and I have all the parts, except I need new brake rotors. Once I get that, the fixation will become a normal mountain bike.

At least that is what the track looks like. Sorry there are no contour lines but it seems Terra Server is still on the fritz.