Mount Tom/Mount Holyoke/Sugarloaf


Scratch that. No Sugarloaf. In my never-ending quest to make sure that no one will ever agree to accompany me on a ride, I came up with the following route and conned Dave B. into going with me:

The plan was to hit Mount Tom first, but take an alternate route looping down via Easthampton Road, and around Whiting Reservoir. Dave probably had his first clue that I didn’t have my shit together when we turned onto Fort Road and it quickly became dirt. Not problem, however, since I was riding my cross bike with road tires (25s) and Dave had a cross bike (for gearing, primarily) and cross tires.

The first hill of the day was the west side of Reservation Road that climbs up the to the western entrance to Mount Tom Reservation. I’ve done the eastern approach before and assumed this would be similar. A few meters after turning onto the road, however, I wondered what the sign about “No through traffic” meant. Hmm…ignore it. After climbing on pavement for a little while, we came to a gate followed by what looked like a messy gravel road. Checked with Dave to see his opinion, he said he was game to give it a try. For about 1/4 mile it was fine. It became clear that there once was a paved road here, since there were many small-to-medium patches of pavement mixed in with all the gravel. Then we got to the part pictured at the top of the post with huge ruts that were not navigable on a road bike, at least not for me. Options were to turn around (and risk flats descending on the gravel) or hike the remaining portion, which I estimated to be about 1/4 mile. We chose the latter. At the top, we rode through the park to 141 and then took a left into the Whting Reservoir. More gravel, but this was nice and smooth. Lots of hikers and recreational walkers, so we took this nice and leisurely.

Then for the main attraction. Mount Tom. For the first time I went into the climb not being particularly afraid of it, but with a nagging suspicion that I should be. My previous best on Strava (though probably slower than the time I did it with a 34-29) was 12:01, and I was hoping to crack 10 minutes today. In the end I only managed to shave a minute off and got to the top at 11:01. I was hoping the Strava comparison would be more useful in seeing if I went out too hard today or anything, but my time today gained pretty gradually and consistently over the whole climb. In any case, I felt good for the first half, but had to fight the urge not to stop for a breather through the entire last section. The road surface, by the way, already bad, has deteriorated significantly since last time. Dave made it up without walking but had to stop a couple times.

No more dirt-road drama after this point, though we did take the dirt southern approach to Mount Holyoke, but that actually makes the climb slightly easier than taking the more northerly road up from Rt. 47. After that, the plan was to ride up the eastern side of the CT river to Sugarloaf, but given all the dirt (and Dave had a flat early on) we were already at over 3 hours for ride time, and I was already thinking about Korean food in Hadley, so we ditched the last part of the ride when we got back to Hadley.

quick update on Jenckes

So I added to my arsenal of gear for measuring max gradients and bought a car mount for my phone. Calibration is a bit tricky, because you obviously need to have your car on a completely level surface when you set it (you also need it turned off because the vibrations are enough to keep the inclinometer from settling on a number.) But I think I had a decently flat spot when I set it. That said, I can’t guarantee the accuracy of the following measurements to greater than a couple percentage points. I also don’t know what sort of compression happens on the shocks, etc, that might keep the car from matching the true angle of the road. I drove up Jenckes from Star. On Star I got readings in the low 20s, which is about what I expected. And I picked up somewhere around 19-20 (I didn’t write it down) on the section of Jenckes just before Pratt (I didn’t walk that far down the other day). And the section near Congdon came up with a pretty similar reading, around 19, to what I got the other day. Definitely not the most accurate way of measuring this, but a nice option to have if I want to estimate a hill while I’m out driving.

Blog Beautification

As you can see, if you’re looking at this site, I finally decided it was time to upgrade my wordpress installation (which was probably 5 years old and horribly insecure…) and decided to move it into the brentacol directory. Any old links will probably stop working, but if you go to the old address you will be redirected here.

Max Gradients

Maximum gradients are kind of silly, but they are also fun to know and talk about. The problem is that you can’t get a reliable max gradient from any kind of GPS/Map data (I mean, I looked down and saw 75% on my Garmin going up Hurricane Mountain back in June…It’s steep, but not that steep). In order to make the mapping data reliable, you need to make your sample (and minimum segment length) long enough to average out any really wacky spikes. That means that even if a hill has a small very steep section, I generally won’t trust it without having seen it for myself. And your subjective opinion from looking at a hill is not a whole lot better. I’m pretty good at judging grade by look and feel, but it’s also very context-based; 12% in the middle of Providence looks much steeper than the same gradient on Mount Washington. So my BRENTACOL maps show max gradient, but it’s only the steepest recorded segment, not the true max gradient spike. For that, the only real way to get it is to measure it by hand.

With that in mind, I was starting to research getting myself a cheap inclinometer, but when I started googling “inclinometer” the first suggested search was something like “inclinometer android app,” so I realized I probably had everything I needed to do this already. The first one I tried was Inclinometer Free, which seemed to work well, but had a few drawbacks, one being that it only gave angle of incline (not the biggest deal since you can just calculate gradient from angle by taking the tangent of the angle). The bigger issue is that it only gives whole-number angles, which translates to showing only about every 2%. So I settled on purchasing the 99-cent Clinometer app, which took care of both problems. I’d like to mount the tablet to a board or something, to take a slightly longer sample size than just the tablet, but for now I can just put the tablet right on the ground to get a measurement.

With that, I took the tablet out to Jenckes and Bowen, and here’s what I found:

1. Jenckes – I only tried a couple spots, but the steepest I found was 18.2%, about what I expected. (This is from just below Congdon.)


2. Bowen. The highest I found on the sidewalk section at the top was 32.2%, and on the pavement past Pratt, it went up to 32.9%. You’ll also notice that on gradients that high it becomes necessary to stop the tablet from sliding back down the hill.


Fun with Strava Names

Speaking of Strava. For a long time I had the KOM on River Ave., a short little hill less than a mile from my house. I blogged about it way back when. I was pleasantly amused when it first showed up in my KOMs that someone had entered it as “Mont Fleuve.” And I was even more pleasantly surprised that the other two people listed in the standings were none other than Keith Kelly and Adam St. Germain, and both can still beat me on any hill they care to challenge me on. (Adam doesn’t seem to be on there any more, but I’d swear he used to be…who knows.) And my time (somewhere around 40 seconds) was good, but not as good as I knew I was capable of. So I went back sometime this year and tried to best my own time. I did, by like 1 second. But the funny thing about strava is that when you do that, it sends the “You lost your KOM” notification to whoever is second place. So I think that must have pissed off Keith enough to bring him out of hiding to get it back, which he did. But then last week, now that I’m finally hitting my stride, I managed to get it back again. No doubt Keith will punish me for my insolence. But still. It’s fun while it lasts.

When I got it back, I posted something to facebook and mentioned how much I appreciated whoever had put the segment in as “Mont Fleuve.” I actually kind of suspected Keith. Turns out it was my new friend and new teammate Dave. So when I decided to add Mount Pleasant (up Atwells) to Strava, I decided to have a little fun and put it in as “Aangenaamberg” – literally “Pleasant Mountain” or “Pleasant Hill.” Dave hoped this might become “a thing” so I changed the names on a few more that I had already created:

  • Aangenaamberg
  • Liefdegildemuur – literally “Love-guild-wall,” which was as close as I could get to “Lovecraft Wall” for the combination of Star and Jenckes in Providence. For the record, there are already WAY too many Jenckes segments, but none starting at South Main, and frankly I don’t care how fast you climb the second part if you don’t start with Star. I’ve started doing the top section from Benefit occasionally because the whole thing wasn’t on Strava (and somehow managed to KOM on a version someone made that goes well past the crest of the climb), but really if you don’t go all the way from Main, it’s not the real thing.
  • Eikelberg – In Phippsburg, ME, a nasty little dirt/gravel climb called Acorn Hill Road.
  • Kalksteenstraat – Chalkstone in PVD.
  • via Astuta – Smart St. in PVD. (recently reclaimed the KOM)
  • via Cristoforo – Christopher St. in PVD. (also recently reclaimed)
  • and my favorite: Helling van de Varkensduivel – Dark Entry Road, the road up to the haunted (by pig demons?) abandoned town of Dudleytown.

New Brentacol Feature

Hilljunkie just posted a couple weeks ago his annoyance at the proliferation of stupid STRAVA segments, which prompted me to add something to BRENTACOL that’s been knocking around in my head for a while. Namely, because there are multiple versions of pretty much every hill on STRAVA, and no real moderation system, there’s no real sense that any one of those segments is the real thing. In most cases, if you win one, you’ll probably win the other, unless they’re mapped very differently, but it’s kind of annoying nonetheless. So, granting that BRENTACOL isn’t really high enough profile to really make this work, I figure I can “certify” a given route by displaying it’s leaderboard from the hill’s description page. Just click on the link that appears for any hill that I’ve registered the strava leaderboard and you’ll see the hill. Currently I’ve only added it for a couple, but here, for example is Blue Hill.


I’ll get the excuses out of the way first: 1. I wasn’t sure how my body would respond after taking the day off after doing Mt. Washington. 2. It’s hot as balls here, and I’m not exactly a fan of the heat. 3. I put a big ol’ bruise on my right thigh yesterday when I slipped on the stairs. None of those things seemed to give me much trouble when I went out to test myself on the BRENTACOL circuit. I went to get my last attempt set up as a Garmin Course, and saw “New Course” in there with a time of 58-something for 17.1 miles, and assumed that was it and I had already set it up, just forgot to retitle it. Heading down the fast downhill section on Ridge Road, I started out losing a few seconds, but with a concerted effort I managed to pull in front just before I turned onto Limerock. Then the Garmin said I went off course. I expected it to figure it out, but going up Limerock I realized what I had done: that was a course from the other circuit that is (intentionally) just about the same length, and was probably from a year or more ago. So I stopped the course and kept going.

I rode quite hard through the top of Limerock, hard enough for a personal record (3rd overall) on Strava. I got my average speed up to almost 21.5 mph heading into Dexter Rock, and only let it slip my about a tenth before Cullen Hill Road. I also got myself a PR on that one, but still well off the leader board. The next section is tough. It’s not quite a descent, and it’s hard to get a rhythm back after the Cullen Hill effort, especially when you know Wilbur is coming. My time up Wilbur was only my third best, but still much faster than my other time this year (the two faster times are both from 2010). I went pretty well down the descent down Harris. My time of 4:13 would have been good enough for top 5 on strava, but still pretty far from my best (and still the course record) of 3:53 – but that was from the time I was trading pulls with Aaron (who is tied for the CR).

Whipple hurt like hell, but was only 4 seconds off my best time. If you go too well on Whipple, that probably means you didn’t ride hard enough on the rest of the ride. But anyway the total time of 53:16 is a 30 second improvement on my best solo ride (It’s about a minute slower than the time with Aaron), so I’m happy.

Newton’s Redemption

If I’m being honest, I was still hoping to crack 1:20 and get close to my predicted time…

(Back on July 18, 2009 I posted a time of 34:20 on Ascutney. According to Doug’s calculator, I should have been able to do 1:17:29. However, that ignores a bunch of things like that my training has been spotty at best during the intervening 4 years, and I didn’t really start riding this year until about May, a good 2 months later than I’d typically try to start my spring buildup.)

…and really, who was I kidding, 19 minutes improvement in only a month? Add to that, talking to other racers, it seems conditions Saturday were such that they might have been considering canceling. about 75-80 at the base, 55, light drizzle, heavy fog and 60+ mph winds at the top. In the end, I managed 1:25:23. Everything went better this time. I had the cross bike back, and I had taken it up to Blue Hill for a test run last Monday. All seemed ready to go. Put on a new pair of Ultremo DDs, the bike felt fast and comfortable. I spent the night at the Joe Dodge AMC lodge after grabbing pizza in Conway and a pint of (how could I say no?) Switchback Ale. The Lodge didn’t have the most comfortable beds, but they provided a nice breakfast, which meant I ate better than my typical pre-race banana or powerbar or nothing, as is often the case. I also kept the 12-36 cassette on there, but this time I adjusted the limit screw on the derailleur so I couldn’t use the 36. And during the race I used the 32 less than I had the 36 during the practice ride.

I started pretty hard, keeping the top riders in my group (20-39) in sight for a while. I think I went a bit too hard, because a few people passed me during miles 2-4. After mile 4, just before the dirt section, I recovered a bit and forced myself to use harder gears, 26-26 wherever possible. At the end of the dirt section (or maybe a little earlier) the wind really kicked up. There were some parts where you’d be riding around a curve and feel like you rode right into a brick wall. At one point when the gradient eased up I tried to eat something and could barely keep myself upright with the sidewind. The most amusing was during some sections of (very welcome) tailwind, my sweat would drip down my nose and fly forward and land about 5 feet in front of my bike. Thought to myself, shit, my sweat’s riding faster than I am.

The last 1.5 miles or so, the fog was so tight I couldn’t see more than 10 feet in front. Thankfully, just before the end you start seeing crowds, parked cars, and hearing the announcer. Crossed the line seeing 1:30 on the clock (my wave started 5:00 minutes after the clock) and was greeted by a warm blanket. Awesome day on the bike.

The race photographer also grabbed a pretty awesome shot of me climbing around the 4 mile mark.

Also, if I can keep up this momentum, I have some other updates, including a few great rides in New Hampshire a couple weeks ago.

Hill Repeats are a lot like riding rollers

Kind of boring for starters. But still, I went up to Blue Hill this morning to do repeats. That usually doesn’t go so well for me, and I think it’s similar to why I don’t have the discipline to ride rollers. The first time I did Blue Hill, I did it twice before packing it in. The next time, since I had done a short loop prior to the hill, I decided I didn’t really need to do the “repeat” part of the ride, even though I had that was the point of the ride. So here’s the thing, and why it’s like riding rollers. A hill repeat (at least one roughly the length of Blue Hill) is like a 15-minute increment on the rollers. If you do one and stop, you’ll feel like a complete schmuck, just like if you only ride 15 minutes on the rollers, it wasn’t worth the effort it took to get dressed, take a shower, etc. Once you do the second, you start making excuses for yourself: I don’t really need a big ride today. // This is my first ride in x, so I’ll just take it easy today. Any of those work equally well for hill repeats and for rollers. On the rollers, you tend to be trying to get your season started, so it’s easy to justify as building up to something, taking it easy early in the season.

But a 30-minute roller ride, or 2 hills is pretty lame. Once you do your third hill, you’ve moved into the respectable range. Not very respectable, but a little bit. But like a 45-minute roller ride, you’re also seductively close to an actually respectable ride. (And I know there are some people who regularly ride for multiple hours on rollers, I’m not one of them.) But once you get to the 4-hill/1-hour roller mark, every additional hill or 15 minute increment makes you feel more and more badass. Which is why it actually gets progressively easier to ride each repeat (not physically easier, mind, just mentally). Because if you’ve done 6 Blue Hills, doing one more will be seven, which is “hard core” or something like that.

And before you get too excited, I just did 4 today. But given my past record of doing hill repeats I think that’s pretty good. My time for the first climb was 5:28, 4 seconds slower than my previous best. That’s close enough, however, that I’m feeling pretty decent about my form for the Mount Washington race on Saturday.