Riding in fall

Dark, wet and muddy. Cleaning up the bike after a good ride this week.

I don’t ride in good weather anymore.  Everything seems to be conspiring to keep me riding in the rain and mud.  It’s not like there haven’t been any nice days.  Last week had several days that were exceptionally warm and sunny but I was still recovering from the VT50 and did not feel like riding very much at all.

Generally, I try to get out for a hard ride every other day or so.  It usually works out to about 3 times a week (not counting commuting to work on my bike).  When I was younger, I had a more competitive outlook on my racing and I was a bit compulsive about it.  I’m not really that way anymore – well, not as much.  At this point I still try to train somewhat seriously but it has to be enjoyable.  I’m not about to go out and spend an hour doing hill repeats (link).  When I ride, I like to get out in the woods and ride as fast as I can and climb as hard as I can.  This requires that I take a day or two off the bike in-between rides to recover.  Skip too many days and the training effect is lost.  As a result, this pattern has managed to align itself with all of the rainy days over the past several weeks.More Mud!

Fall is actually a difficult time of year for me to ride.  There seems to be extra constraints on my time due to work and my kids’ school work which makes squeezing in a ride a bit more challenging.   Some of the things that add to the difficulty:
  • It rains a lot.  At least here in New England there seems to be more rain.  Back at the end of August we got a LOT of rain but that’s not what I’m talking about.  It’s these multi-day low pressure systems that seems to just soak the ground.  The actual monthly rainfall averages aren’t really higher so maybe it is just my perception.
  • It’s cold.  I have to admit that I prefer hot weather.  I love riding, racing  and almost anything else in hot weather.  90 degree days don’t phase me much and I don’t mind sweating.  Cold weather can be managed but when you combine it with the rain and mud it is difficult to dress appropriately.  Too much and I’m soaked in sweat.  Too little and I’m sogged from the ground up.  Either way, my nose runs constantly in the cold.  Yes, I’m whining here.

    Leaf covered single-track
    I dare you to find the trail here. It's like a game of Where's Waldo.
  • Leaves.  Once October rolls around the leaves start to cover the ground.  Once they cover the trails it is very difficult to see where the roots and rocks are.  This makes riding single-track at speed especially challenging as wet leaves are nature’s ultimate zero-friction lubricant for tree roots.  I don’t have ESP or x-ray vision so finding various trail obstacles under a bed of maple leaves is impossible.  I’m thinking I may need to work on using my sense of smell.  Sometimes it’s hard to make out where the trail actually is.
  • Darkness.  The shorter days and dark mornings shrink the few windows of opportunity I have to ride.  It gets dark in the woods earlier and makes those off-camber lubricated tree roots even more difficult to discern.
As much as it may frustrate me at times, fall isn’t all bad.  There are some things that I really like about it:
  • After a summer of riding I’m a bit stronger this time of year.  I am able to rip up climbs while seated that I could only do while standing at the beginning of the summer.  I’m even able to ride up some steeper climbs that would have required me to dismount and walk.
  • The trails in East Burke have been growing noticeably less crowded so riding on Saturdays might become an option again.  I normally avoid riding out there during peak hours of the weekends as there are usually many large groups of riders on the trails.  Avoiding those groups makes things enjoyable for all concerned.
  • I need to carry less water since I don’t sweat as much.
  • With the extra challenge of riding on the slippery, leaf-obscured ground, I will become a better technical rider.  Forget that, I’m just being delusional.
Mud & LeavesSince the season is running down on me, I hope to squeeze in as much riding as I can in spite of the weather.  I will savor as much of the remainder as possible.  Kingdom Trails closes at the end of the month.  After that, I’ll hit some of the class-4 roads around my home until mid-November.  Once deer season starts in Vermont, I’m not about to go into the woods at all on my bike.  From there, winter takes full hold here and I’m pretty much done for the year.  Then it is the battle of how to stay in shape over the winter months without losing my mind.
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