The first time I experienced yoga nidra was the same day as my friend’s funeral. It had been a long morning of gathering with my fellow friends and coworkers, a full funeral mass in Spanish, and bearing witness to the pain in his mother’s cries as his casket was being prepared for interment. I had resolved to not hide my emotions as I might have in another era of my life and cried so deeply, so many times. I found a new level of connection with my friends by being open and vulnerable. We had lost a friend and a work-family member far too young.
Yoga nidra is a state of deep but conscious relaxation. Done completely laying down, fully supported by props, yoga nidra allows the physical body to fully and completely relax while the brain enters a state of consciousness that is awake and aware yet also supporting deep relaxation. It’s like taking a nap while being fully awake.
I had scheduled this initial session so far in advance there was so way to know how raw I would be. I broke down while explaining to our yoga nidra instructor the events of the day, somehow uncovering more tears and heaving, stuttering breath. My head hurt from so much crying and I was hoping yoga nidra would sooth my aching heart.
In this state of grief, I settled in for the practice and succumbed to wave after wave of sensation. It was like floating in a dark pool, the harness of the instructor’s voice bringing me up to the surface to direct my attention somewhere else in my body before lowering me back into the inky water. My third eye ached like it was going to split my head open from sadness.
Gently back into the waters.
So effortless yet so painful. Soaking inside my sorrow.
When it came time to bring my body back to sensation, it as like breaking hard clay off my body to find movement. I had fallen so far into myself it hurt to move.
I’ve been chasing that level of radical relaxation ever since. My brain doesn’t ever seem to stop; my body perpetually in motion. And I miss my friend so deeply … for someone I only had the privilege of experiencing for less than a year, he left a hole in my heart that is slowly repairing itself. But in this loss, I found a way to go so far inside, to the core of my being, to sit with my grief and really experience it.
I wish it didn’t take tragedy to give ourselves permission to be radically vulnerable.
Picking back up a good six months after my last adventure, you may be wondering if I fell off the Earth or what. Maybe not – but let’s pretend for a moment.
The first half of 2019 was a targeted effort to do gnarly gravel rides and build up to the Farmer’s Daughter Gravel Grinder in May. I was out almost every weekend either riding or doing trail maintenance on my local trails … and sometimes, both. I spent not one but TWO amazing weekend with my girlfriends camping and biking and having a blast just relaxing. I decided to go on the Taste the Catskills ride, a definite stretch but well within my capacity.
Then there’s the let-down period after a series of epic adventures.
I switched back over to mountain biking and spent a few months doing low miles/high smiles rides. I raced my mountain bike for the first time ever and placed first in the Cat 3 Beginner Women (19+) category. I went back to organizing my fall gravel event, which always takes more time and effort than one might think. I was doing trail maintenance.
I was stressed out, constantly running from one thing to the next … it just wasn’t fun anymore and I couldn’t remember the last time I had a day to just wake up and sit on the couch with a mug of coffee and my dogs.
I hit a wall of just being Too Busy. So I wrote all my volunteer obligations that I was taking a break.
Of course, in that break I came up with other things I wanted to do, like host a spring classic gravel grinder. And just ride my bike because I want to. And sleep in because I love it when I can do that.
So here we are, in January 2020, and I’m slowing working volunteer obligations back into my life and figuring out – what do I want to DO this year??
About a week ago I learned I’ve been selected as a 2020 Nuun Hydration brand ambassador and I am super stoked about this! I’ve been a big fan of Nuun since my brush with heat exhaustion on Day 3 of a 4-day bike tour and adding that little electrolyte tablet to my water profoundly revived me. Nuun has been my go-to hydration product for years and I’m proud to be able to represent the brand!
I recently picked up a 2020 Salsa Cutthroat GRX600 (a bike I’ve been eyeing for years but they didn’t make my size until this year) and am in the process of dialing in a gravel/adventure set up as well as a bikepacking set up. I love my other Salsa “groad” (gravel-road) bike but the Cutthroat has taken my gravel game to the next level. I’ve named her Monster Truck for the incredible traction, stability, and confidence the bike inspires.
For 2020, I’m starting to stack my spring gravel calendar with an eye towards pivoting to bikepacking for the the summer and fall.
April 19, 2019 – Coming this summer is a three day gravel ride through the Catskills. Slightly modified from what Ralph rode last year. No date yet, but thinking June. – Curt
The beginning of epic adventures is so small – casual words in passing or an idea that pops in your head … or in this case, posting a call for comrades on a social media site for bike rides. I’ve ridden several rides and events with Curt and Ralph so I know their style of riding, which made it easy to say YES to the invite.
Taste the Catskills is a 320-mile self-supported bikepacking route with over 22,000′ of climbing developed by local randonneur Ralph Pruitt. Ralph is known for seeking out every hill and every inch of dirt he can find. Deeming a route a “Ralph Ride” can only mean it’s stupid hard but incredibly fun and rewarding. It should be noted that Ralph previewed the route last year in one shot.
Lodging. We stayed at Blue Hill Lodge & Cafe in Clarysville and Hammo’s Pub & Lodge in Hensonville. Having a room booked in advance gave us a pre-determined end point each day as well as a cool shower and comfortable bed.
Packing. With the daily distance, heat, and humidity – packing light and fast was paramount. If it wasn’t necessary for three days on the road, it didn’t come. Everything fit in my seatpost bag, half-frame bag, and handlebar bag. Also, “fast” is all relative as we were out for 10-13 hours each day.
For a full list of what was brought and what was purchased along the way, check the end of the blog post.
Training. I’m not a fan of formal training plans in the same way I am not a fan of riding on a trainer. My general plan is to figure out what I’m getting myself into and build up to something that’s a reasonable facsimile. 2019 has been a year of challenging rides, with most including around 100’/mi of climbing.
The climbing didn’t feel like an issue so much as I haven’t ridden a century in something like 4 or 5 years. Looking at the daily breakdown of the route (we were riding this over 3 days), there were lots of beastly hills in the back half of each day – pacing would be key to make it through each day.
It was super hot & muggy and not very shaded. Once we climbed out of Pawling, we cruised on the rail trail for 30 miles – so most of the climbing was concentrated into the back 55 miles. Once we left New Paltz, opportunities for refueling and refilling water from commercial outlets dropped dramatically. After climbing Mohonk and Peekamoose, we were pretty shredded. A 15-mile downhill awaited us, which was such a relief. But we were rapidly running out of water and we still had a crazy climb to get to our rest stop for the night. Only 1 of the three camp stores we tried was open. The final 5-mile climb was obscene in places and I’m not ashamed to say I hopped off my bike and pushed it in places.
We arrived at the Blue Hill Cafe to find the restaurant portion closed. All three of us were tired and hungry; the thought of choking down another ClifBar as dinner was nauseating. Fortunately, the owner was closing out her register and set us up with fresh homemade chicken salad sandwiches, pickles, chips, and beverages. The cafe wasn’t going to open before we needed to leave in the morning so we were able to grab delicious coffeecake to go.
Day 2 – The Longest Day.
Coming off day 1 and seeing a forecast of even higher temps (near 90* F) and humidity paired with an additional 18 miles until our next overnight accommodations, we opted to leave earlier. Curt had to repair his front shifting cable so we ended up leaving only an hour earlier than Day 1. The morning chill was most welcome as we zoomed out of town and found our first good hill within a few miles. Today was Dirt Day and we knew there would be some formidable climbs in the latter half of the day. Dirt always takes a bit more energy than pavement but is generally mercifully shaded, which provides much needed respite from the sun.
Brunch was 45 miles into the day at a diner in Downsville where we gobbled up eggs and toast and homefries while draining glasses of lemonade as fast as the waitress could bring them. When asked where we were headed, we replied Windham … to which another patron exclaimed “That’s far!” About 75 miles far. Two women on motorcycles stopped me to ask about my bike setup … turns out one of them is planning a ride from Portland, OR to Denver, CO in September. She asked if I would be interested in that journey. I wish I could have said yes.
Leaving Downsville I noticed my rear tire had gone flat … not from the chunky dirt descent to NY30, but from a staple on the road in town. The guys had my tire changed before I could protest and say I could do it myself. Back on the road, we started the 10-mile climb to De Lancy that was happily mostly shaded. The same could not be said for the road between Delhi and Hobart, which was paved and radiant in the sun. It was so hot the tar was snapping under our tires. We ducked onto the rail trail but it was very slow going and overgrown. In the interest of time, we popped back out on the road into Stanford.
Maybe the best part of touring is ice cream stops. We were hot and sweaty and in need of inner cooling. A massive twist cone was just the ticket to keep moving. We’re at mile 82 with 36 hilly miles to go. By mile 101, we’re all cooked again and just want to get to our next overnight room but we have four more “bumps” to conquer before being rewarded with a 5-mile downhill into Windham. From Windham, it’s only another 3 miles to our room. We finally get cleaned up and head next door to Vesuvio Restaurant in Hensonville. We ate like royalty and after a long day, it felt good to put real food in the belly.
Knowing our final day would be lower miles and lower climbing, we opted to see what time we woke up to determine when we would leave in the morning.
Day 3 – The Easy Day
We woke around 6:30am and headed down the street to Nana Gail’s for breakfast, filling our bellies once again with eggs and bread and bacon for the guys. The day was overcast with a 50% chance of thunderstorms so we made sure our rain gear was easily accessible should we find ourselves in a downpour. A short climb out of the Windham area gave way to an epic 15-mile descent back to the Hudson River. We crossed on the Rip Van Winkle Bridge and made our way to Copake, where we would stop for lunch at Dad’s Diner. Our energy is high because we’re on our way home.
This is also the only day I beat the guys up any hills. It should be noted they both have McGuyver’d their gravel bikes to have a 40t or 42t granny gear on their cassette – so they were mostly spinning up the hills like it was Sunday. My granny gear is 34t on my cassette so Grind is my middle name.
If I ever find the funds to start building up a custom gravel bike, you can be sure mountain bike gearing with deep low gears will be top on my list.
After lunch the clouds had given way to brilliant sunshine so we made our way to the rail trail for some shaded goodness. The connection between the two segments from Copake to Millerton is still under construction so we headed onto the pavement. We stopped for cold snacks and water in Millerton before heading back to the cool and shady rail trail to Wassaic.
Sometime after Wassaic, we decided to skip the remaining bonkers hills in favor of an “easier” route to the end. It ended up being only 600′ less of climbing (over 20 miles) but the hills were more rolling than challenging. We’re tired, our bodies are protesting, and frankly this is the second or third day in a kit so it’s getting a bit … funky … around here.
Rolling up to our start location, we decided to get cleaned up and have one final meal together at the local pizza place to celebrate our incredible journey.
Ride What You Got. I love my bike but it doesn’t take tires wider than 30mm. I ride the only gravel tire I’ve found sub-32mm. Sure, I can’t bomb down chunky descents and I have to pick my lines carefully, but I’ve become a skilled technical rider in the meantime.
Learn to Pace Yourself. There is nothing worse than bonking even a few miles from your final destination. Don’t dig yourself into a hole – be sure to eat and hydrate regularly. Take a look at the course so you have an idea of where the hardest parts are and don’t go for KOMs. You need energy for more than just today.
Learn to Eat & Drink On The Ride. “I can’t eat on rides.” You wouldn’t drive your car around on Empty, so why try to bike that way? It’s not a race – Don’t dig a hole you can’t climb out of. The way to do this is to eat something every 90min or so and sip your hydration beverage every few miles. Eat real food like trail mix, salted nuts, potato chips, pretzels … convenience stores are generally well-stocked with these foods. Some even have sandwich counters, which can save the day.
Be Clear & Copious. If your pee isn’t clear and copious, you aren’t hydrating enough. This isn’t always possible to achieve but it should be on your mind as an easy way to monitor your hydration levels.
Have Fun! The whole point of a bike adventure is to get away from it all and explore new places. Remind yourself that all you have to do today is ride your bike. And then go ride your bike.
Thank You to Ralph for creating an amazing route that showcased the hidden gems of the Catskills, to Curt for wanting to ride the route over 3 days, and to Yorktown Cycles for keeping my Salsa in top condition and for the excellent upgrade recommendations. The Nox wheels were clutch in keeping my energy transfer to the bike and not on rotational resistance. And to all my bike friends who have come out to ride bonkers events and routes with me in preparation for this adventure.
Nothing hurts and I can’t wait to sign up for next year.
Last year’s FDGG was a test of strength, stamina, grit, and tenacity. The ride is still pretty beastly but this year, the weather gods smiled upon us and gifted us with flawless conditions.
Farmer’s Daughter Gravel Grinder (FDGG) is a 65 mile gravel ride featuring 6,500′ of climbing and 6 off-road segments to keep things spicy. The ride is limited to 400 intrepid people and is not something to sign up for on a whim. The course features back-to-back rollers with grades ticking up into the high-teens.
This year I rode with Gail (her inaugural year) and Matt (round 2 with me). At the start I also saw my friends Curt, Kyle, Reba, Melissa, and a few others that I didn’t get to see but knew were there. We also ran into a woman from an online bike ride group I belong to and ended up yo-yo’ing with her for the last half of the ride.
I don’t think I’ve mentioned that I joined a cycling team this year – Splunk. This should be interesting because I don’t race and my idea of training is just to ride my bike more. But the kit is pretty nice looking. I recently learned that I can get the kit from Pactimo instead of the other provider. So I’m re-ordering my kit because Pactimo is high quality and super comfortable. And they are based in Colorado. JUST LIKE MY HEART.
ANYWAY … over the course of the day we passed many riders who ultimately took shortcuts or SAG’d back to the start. Pro Tip: do not underestimate the Farmer’s Daughter.
At one point we had been climbing for a while and I was feeling particularly spunky rolling up on a bearded guy. We started chatting about the ride, how he was tired already, but I encouraged him to keep going. After a few minutes he asks me if I was also at Cross Mountain Crusher (I was). Apparently we spoke at that ride too!
I guess find me at a ride and I will encourage you up any hill. ha!
I have my own philosophy about how gravel grinders don’t need to be super hard or have sections that select few can actually ride while the rest of us mere mortals have to walk, but that’s a blog post for another day. If you are local to the NYC area and looking for a rad gravel ride closer to home, check out my gravel ride in October, The Dirty Apple.
So what was different from last year?
Significantly less mud. My bike was fresh off a tune-up and upgrades to my bottom bracket, handlebars (everyone needs more cowbell in their life), and seatpost. It had never been so clean …
Weather. The day started with gray skies that threatened to rain but ended up with brilliant blue skies and a healthy dose of muggy humidity.
Conditions. The roads were in great shape from rain earlier in the week and dried out enough to be fast-rolling. The off-road segments remained an absolute mud fest, just significantly less so. We ended up walking several sections of mud with standing water that threatened to pull off our shoes when we walked through it.
Photo Ops. Because we didn’t need to spend our energy *just* *moving* *forward*, we were able to take a look around and enjoy the stunning scenery that Columbia County offers.
And let’s not forget the incredible volunteers who check you in, keep you on course, feed you at the rest stops, and cook up plenty of food so that even the stragglers are well fed before cleaning up and going home.
FDGG is getting more popular every year and it’s no wonder why – Columbia County has a bounty of stunning views and wide network of dirt roads to explore. FDGG and the organizers’ other ride, Farmer’s Fatty, are fantastically well organized and run events. If you are in the New York/New England area, put these events on your calendar for next year.
I had spun myself into a pretty impressive anxiety spiral. So much so that just looking at the French toast in front of me, made from buttery croissants and paired with fresh local maple syrup and bright red raspberries, was causing my stomach to flip. I couldn’t eat and I couldn’t figure out why my anxiety was like a tea kettle on the stove, whistling that it was ready.
The Cross Mountain Crusher is a 55-mile, 5,000’+ of climbing gravel ride in the Catskills of New York featuring five monstrous climbs. The namesake ride up Cross Mountain features grades that pitch up to and a touch over 20%. Billed as a training ride for Farmer’s Daughter Gravel Grinder in May, this ride is meant to test your strength, stamina, and endurance.
This spring’s weather has been all over the place – torrential downpours and bright sunny days juxtaposing themselves in a way where it’s hard to find any time to mountain bike because if the trails aren’t mud, they are not quite dry yet. Rinse and repeat.
The 10-day forecast called for low-60s and sunshine for this year’s Crusher. The reality that was slowly eating my sanity was I had signed up for a grueling ride and the forecast was looking … well, not low-60s and sunny.
I booked myself a room at the Meadowood Inn, about a half-mile from the start location to maximize my sleeping in time, but the weather forecast had my brain running wildly.
Let’s talk about the weather for a minute. The temps did indeed sit at about 35* all day. The winds were formidable, but gravel roads tend to be in wooded areas so this really only impacted us when we popped out into open fields between climbs.
It ended up snowing all day with periods of sleet. Somehow the sleet squalls coincided with descents, which made visibility a challenge but also, exfoliated my face pretty sufficiently. On the last downhill, the winds picked up so not only were we being pelted by thousands of tiny knife-like ice pellets, but also being pushed across the road by the wind. GOOD TIMES.
The ride itself was amazing and will only be better under warmer spring temps and a little more sunshine. The dirt roads are quiet and scenic – had I not started freezing anytime I stopped moving, I may have had some beautiful photos to share. You’ll just have to go look at the website and trust me. The climbs truly separate the racers from the people looking to enjoy the day. Nothing is unmanageable but one would do well to ride some ridiculous rides with obscene levels of climbing to prep.
The descents on dirt were washed out in places and some had large rocks littering the way way so it wasn’t possible for me to really let go and enjoy the descents. But again, nothing unmanageable for anyone with adequate mountain biking or cyclocross skills.
Quite possibly the worst part of the ride is the last 15 miles, which are 2 miles of downhill followed by 13 miles of flat-to-gently-rolling pavement. After so many back to back big climbs, my legs were D O N E and I just wanted to be back at the start for some well-deserved lunch. Peeling off multiple soaked-through layers of clothing was painful, although putting on warm, dry clothing and a down puffy jacket was delicious.
Rides like this are best completed with friends. My friend Kyle rode with me for this event and I am so thankful he did. We saw our friends Curt and Ralph at the start but they quickly disappeared with the lead pack. We found our other friend Matt on the first climb and fortunately we kept finding each other along the way. When the weather is this challenging, it’s nice to have someone to talk to and make the miles tick by faster.
THREE THINGS I DID RIGHT:
My bike choice. I rode my Salsa Colossal Ti with 26mm Panaracer GravelKing SKs. Despite the rain all day prior to the ride, the dirt was flawlessly tacky for the event. I had brought up my hardtail mountain bike in case conditions were deeply muddy, but I’m glad I didn’t ride it.
Not driving up the morning of. Staying overnight locally meant I wasn’t too stiff from sitting in the car for 2 hours right before a ride.
It’s a ride, not a race. I’m not the fastest gravel rider because my philosophy is one should always have enough in the tank to get back home. The first two climbs were really tough but saving some legs for later was key. You can see my stats here.
THREE THINGS I DID NOT DO RIGHT:
Overpacking. I was terrified that I would be too cold on such a long ride and Girl Scout Mode kicked in. I had a few different options stuffed into my backpack – insulated gloves, neck gaiter, wind vest, windbreaker, and a ton of food. In the end I wore a windbreaker over my jersey after shoving my winter bike jacket into the pack. The thing probably added a good 5 pounds to my effort. DO NOT DO THIS ON A CLIMBY RIDE.
Using a hydration bladder instead of bottles. Again, lighten up, lady! 1.5 litres of water was nice but unnecessary on a SUPPORTED RIDE. But this was the result of thinking I would be on my mountain bike, which only has one bottle cage. Had I been on my mountain bike (horrible choice), this would have been an excellent decision.
Getting stuck in my own head. There really wasn’t any reason to be so anxious. The Cross Mountain Crusher is a well supported, great event in a beautiful part of New York, put on by an awesome group of people.
Again! It’s been a tough winter, although this year dialed down the snow and brutal cold while dialing up the cold rain. Bah.
The guys who brought us Farmer’s Daughter Gravel Grinder announced they wanted to start a new ride, the Farmer’s Fatty, as a Very Early Spring training ride for their signature event in May. Of course, I felt compelled to sign up for both events. Last year was so pretty and challenging – why not take a shorter crack at it?
Farmer’s Fatty was hosted by S&S Brewery in Nassau, NY. This working farm brewery has an adorable taproom and food trucks on-site. The brewery is almost 2 hours from northern Westchester. I met up with a few other friends and riders from my local mountain bike association who I had somehow encouraged to sign up as well.
I should mention is was C O L D. The warming trend that had occurred all week abruptly ended. It was 28*F with 25mph winds at the start, warming to a still-cold 34* at the end.
The route was an unmarked, abbreviated version of Farmer’s Daughter featuring plenty of rutted nut-butter roads and fantastic scenery. I decided early on to just enjoy the day and not push it too hard. None of the climbs were particularly brutal, but the entire route mostly trended UP.
The hills definitely helped keep us warm on the climbs, but the descents were freezing. I usually only wear a thermal headband and windproof gloves most of the winter due to how my body generates and dissipates heat – but had to wear my full skullcap and insulated gloves to stay warm. There was one rest stop at about 12 miles with delicious baked goods, water, and gatorade.
Once back to the brewery, there were two food trucks slinging delicious hot food for hungry riders. Each rider received a free pint of beer as well, a nice post-ride refreshment for those who partake. Since I don’t drink beer, I opted to bring home a growler for my husband of their Udder Darkness Oatmeal Stout.
Overall the ride was a great Very Early Spring gravel grinder with Vermont Dirt conditions – but in (relative) upstate New York. The route was 90% dirt, which is something I could only dream of downstate. If you love early spring variability on conditions and challenging terrain, Farmer’s Fatty is right for you.
I’ve been in a foul mood for the last week. 2018 has felt both supremely long and shockingly short. And while I sometimes feel that everything my husband and I have built for our lives came crashing to a halt in the last two years or so, we have managed to still have some amazing moments.
… Harness in the good energy, block out the bad. Harness. Energy. Block. Bad. It’s like a carousel. You put the quarter in, you get on the horse, it goes up and down, and around. Circular, circle. Feel it. Go with the flow … (Happy Gilmore)
In the spirit of gratitude and reflection, here are the best moments of 2018: