As you may recall: last year I put my name in the lottery for Midsouth Gravel on a whim. Not only did I not overthink it, but I also didn’t really think about it AT ALL.
This is a huge gravel event; what are the chances? There are plenty of other Women aged 40-49 that will sign up and get chosen.
But secretly, I thought it would be cool to get in. And the Fates saw it favorable to choose me.
The moment of learning I got in was both euphoric and terrifying. Because now I had to actually do what I’ve spent years NOT doing:
So here we are on week 7 (of 14) using TrainerRoad and I am not sure I’m cut out for this. Or maybe I’m just not used to having structured workouts at a regular cadence. Or maybe …. just maybe …. this is not the time of year to be doing this.
It’s literally the middle of winter, when all the vibes are cozy, comfortable, stretchy pants, hibernation, hot cocoa with whipped cream or marshmallows.
It’s a time for fat biking. It’s a time for slow and low. Cross training. Snowshoeing. Hiking. Sleeping.
Decidedly not regularly pushing myself to new power heights. Because the part about picking an AI-enabled training plan that adapts with you means it literally never gets easier. If you crush a workout, it just serves you harder workouts next time.
Personal Reminder: The goal is to be prepared for 100 miles on dirt in the middle of March.Not to race, not to podium. Just enjoy the ride.
So … week 7. I completed my latest ramp test and the first workout was a level 6 Sweet Spot 2x23min workout at 92-95% of the new FTP. My legs felt so heavy and it took a bit to find my groove tonight. I had to psych myself up through the each section of the 23min interval (every 5-7min the power target changed) – just 3 more minutes … just 2 more minutes … one more minute and then the watts go up a tiny bit.
Last week I did all three workouts PLUS went outside twice, which Garmin deemed “unproductive” because they were more challenging than a training plan would schedule. I wanted to go ride bikes with friends outside so I have zero regrets – but I’m definitely in need of some rest.
I’m mildly paranoid about missing a workout, mostly because I don’t want to fall off the wagon. But it’s becoming clear to me that I am not in a place where riding every single day (or more days than not) is viable. I’ve never been that person – I’ve always needed/wanted a bit more rest time than others while still doing cool stuff.
It’s not summer, Laura. Summer volume of riding is literally the exact opposite of the universe’s energy right now. Don’t fight too hard. It would be a shame to be totally burnt out when you get to the starting line.
For all my years of riding bikes, I’m a super noob when it comes to indoor, structured training. I’m not afraid of being new and learning. But woof – this is tough.
Thanks for reading and hopefully I’ll be outside more soon (replacing the 90min weekly workout instead of in addition to that workout).
Last night I dreamed I was carrying a heavy bag and while most of the time I could handle the weight, occasionally it would get so heavy I could barely move. I would figure out how to keep moving, but the bag just weighed on my whole being.
Seven years ago, this time of the year, my mom was diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer. Doctors threw the book at her – intense chemo, surgery, radiation. Watching the process that ingesting poison does to someone was rough – doubly worse for the person requiring the ingestion. The goal was to cure my mom of cancer and allow her to live. For five years my mom has been NED – no evidence of disease.
Year Six had other plans.
After several interesting health issues this year, a PET scan confirmed what no one wanted to hear: the cancer is back and it’s spread.
This time, there is no cure. There is no long runway. Treatment will be for the rest of her life, up to 3 years. Maybe more if we’re lucky.
Or she can choose not to treat it and start thinking about maximizing the remaining time she has left. The doctor believes she may need to go into hospice within the next 2-3 months without treatment.
What an unimaginable choice.
My first instinct is to go home, back to Colorado, so I can spend time with my family. Care and organization of whatever we as a family unit need to do to support our mom shouldn’t have to fall exclusively on one or two offspring. My dad will also need support, navigating the prospect of living without the person who’s been a constant for 50 years.
But I have a family here that also needs me – my husband, my youngest adult child still living at home, my elderly dog.
It feels overwhelming to think about my mom choosing to not treat the metastisized cancer – but it feels equally awful to prolong life with frequent doctor’s visits, medications, side effects. Living across the country affords me space to live my own life, but my mom is always a text or call away. There is now an expiration date on the ability to chat with her directly.
I think about the stories she’s told about before her kids were born – living in Europe while my dad was stationed in Germany. Photo albums with pictures of places I’ve never been and people I’ll never meet. I remember her best friend dying in her 30s from lung cancer and how that impacted Mom. I remember Girl Scouts and cross-country road trips to visit distant family. How she started a business selling posters with comfort suggestions for labor to doctors and hospitals to help provide a down payment for her mom to get her own condo.
Choosing to recall the positive over the negative.
But Mom isn’t dead yet. She hasn’t even decided if she wants to accept treatment or comfort.
I want to make sure we can help bring about pleasurable experiences while she can still enjoy them, whichever option she chooses. Visiting national parks, a trip to Florida to see where she went to law school for a year, whatever would make her heart feel full. Whether we have only a few months or a few years ……
The bag is heavy for me, but not nearly as heavy as the one my mom is holding.
My body craves stillness I said to my husband, totally deadpan and completely unironically. Stillness that comes in the form of power naps, savasana, yoga nidra, and sleeping in. It’s luscious and beautiful and so satisfying. (Pete just looked at me dumbfounded, like I was some wellness influencer trying to tell him he needs to take the dog for a walk to have “Me Time”)
Yet 2023 has big plans for me – or more specifically, I have big plans for 2023.
After the absolutely soul-satiating bikepacking trip with my sister and my oldest adult child, I went back to chillaxing. I talked to my endocrinologist to adjust my thyroid medications and my entire being has returned to the fun, chill person I know I am inside. It’s been a game changer for feeling like a real human.
I joined my friends for a 36mi fat bike ride on Cape Cod a few weeks ago, which was really freaking fun. I just don’t understand people who don’t have fun on a fat bike. We were on beaches, in the woods, on rustic rail trails, and quiet backroads.
Which in turn helped me feel motivated to put some new events on my radar for next year. Make my goals to see more places by bicycle. Break out of this location rut I find myself in after 5 years of riding around the Northeast.
On a whim, I put my name in the lottery for Midsouth Gravel Event in Stillwater, Oklahoma. And a week later got the email saying my credit card had been charged and see you in March 2023! OPE. The universe is calling my bluff. 100 miles of red-clay dirt that will either be a dream or a nightmare to ride in all day based on YouTube videos from 2020 and 2022.
I also signed up for the 100-mile Long Wall Rollin’ Coal Gravel Grinder in Shinnston, West Virginia in September 2023. I wasn’t able to go this year but I’m super into the idea of checking out West Virginia’s rolling hills. Plus their logo is absolutely fire! If I can do 100 miles in March, I will be super set for a hilly 100 miles in September!
After several coach interviews, I settled on just paying for a TrainerRoad subscription and buying a smart trainer to help me prep for a literal All Day Epic in a totally different state I’ve never been to. I thought about Zwift and while the community aspect really appealed to me, the gamification didn’t. Everyone I talked to said TrainerRoad is boring but effective; Zwift can be effective but is more social. It’s going to be hard enough to want to be on the trainer (mostly because I’ve avoided riding a trainer in the winter for nearly a decade), but I’m motivated to be effective. Social hour can happen outside on the weekends.
I like that TrainerRoad uses your data to adapt your training plan based on the timeline to your event(s) and your goals. Mine don’t involve racing so I can focus on building endurance, power, and maybe some speed. I’m not afraid of being out for 10 hours – that’s a difficult bikepacking day when I’m riding up big hills with a full load. But I would like to finish in less than that if possible.
But let’s talk for a minute about how super noob I am about indoor training.
mostly because I’ve spent so long avoiding the trainer. My philosophy has been to figure out the distance and elevation profile of the event and then practice pieces of the final event, building up to an approximation of the event. This has served me pretty well – I’m not the fastest but that’s not my focus. My happiness comes from the experiences my bike allows me to have, not specifically for fitness. Plus, I also can get very competitive and really need at least one place in my life where I’m not striving to achieve more/better. Bikes are a way to move through time and space and find happiness.
I plugged in my stats and was assigned a fairly low FTP. Having no real clue about FTP, I decided to try the Ramp Test. I made some assumptions that the test was capped at 20min and while it kept telling me to ride until failure, I didn’t quite “get” what that meant.
The first 20min were very chill, just spinning a very high cadence with an increase in resistance every minute. After 28 minutes, I was starting to feel fatigued, but nowhere close to failure. So I decided to try to shift the gears, which is apparently a very big No-No as my cadence went from 115 to 34 as the resistance instantly ramped up. After a few minutes of fiddling around with this, I decided to call it quits and cool down. So 36min of ramp test.
My FTP was adjusted, but it’s still pretty low. I had some time today to do an actual workout and selected the recommended interval workout. I feel like I shouldn’t be able to sing along to my playlist during the intervals. Midway through the workout I increased the targets to 115% of FTP and it started to feel more like a workout. But still not as intense as I assumed a VO2 max workout should be. For example, my recovery power typically ended up around 70-80, not the 50-60 target. I literally had a hard time getting that low of power output for the recovery segments.
Anyway, the actual training plan doesn’t start until I’m back from my vacation. Already planning to retake the Ramp test to kick it off and see if I can get to an actual FTP and right-size my training plan.
What else will 2023 have in store? Hopefully more bikepacking. More mountain biking (I really, really like mountain biking even though I am very, very mediocre at it). More camping with friends. Seeing more places.
Last summer, my girlfriends and I set out to end-to-end-to-end the Cross New Hampshire Adventure Trail (XNHAT), adding in a loop into White Mountains National Forest. We ended up cutting the trip short due to inclement weather but the stunning scenery and ample off-road riding opportunity made the route a group favorite.
My friends gently tease me that I’m a Finisher or Completionist … that I like to Do The Whole Thing when it comes to adventure (which, 100% Facts). I’ve been trying to figure out how to end-to-end the XNHAT all year (without having to ride the route in both directions just to get back to my car).
Logistics are always the hardest part.
I realized I could extend the trip and ride my bike across Vermont too. Figured 3-4 days to do both, could camp or book rooms depending on the weather and if I could get anyone to go with me. (Spoilers, I’m learning people are more likely to adventure with me when I say I booked lodging for the trip)
GAME ON …. if I can figure out how to get to the start. Originally planned to take Amtrak from NY to Portland, ME and then …. figure out how to get to Bethel, ME, about 65 miles away. A solid day on the bike, or an expensive Uber ride. Amtrak has a train that runs from Burlington, VT to NY so I was set there.
I was talking to my oldest (adult) kid in Philly, and they decided that sounded like a super fun trip to do together. Later, I was telling my sisters and one of them decided this was going to be her birthday present to herself – fly out to Vermont and ride bikes with her big sister and oldest nibling.
SCORE. the Squad has been assembled. The plan has been created. It’s GO TIME.
But wait, Laura … what about transportation because this is a one-way trip?
So glad you asked. We originally booked a pickup from Maura: At Your Service. Maura provides transportation services predominately in the Presidental Range area, but will also do pick-ups in Burlington (among other locations). I scheduled with her almost a month in advance, as we were planning to need the ride right before Labor Day Weekend and I didn’t want to scramble for such a long ride (Bethel, ME is about 3+ hours from Burlington, VT). Unfortunately, the week before she had to cancel but provided contact information for two other ride services (Priority Transportation and Trail Angels Hiker Services) that may be able to take our (very long) journey.
Dan at Trail Angels was available and a fantastic driver. All three services were wonderful to speak with; definitely recommend reaching out to them for long or short shuttle needs.
Day One Bethel, ME – Whitefield, NH 52 miles, 2,390′ climbing
Setting out under sunny skies and virtually no humidity, we rode into the town center for breakfast only to find the diner packed and a sign on the door indicating they were short-staffed and patience was requested. So we hit up the Walgreens next door for breakfast-y foods, ate in the parking lot, and wandered over to the paved bike path to begin the journey. The bike path had painted games for kids, including fun options for those with mobility chairs, which was super cool to see.
There wasn’t a sign when we crossed into New Hampshire, but we found the stone marker that denotes when you’ve crossed state lines.
North Road continued for a bit until we turned right onto Hogan Road, a true gem of the route.
Lunch in Gorham for delicious sandwiches and salads followed by coffee and ginger molasses cookies at the cafe bookstore. We still have another 25ish miles to go before we can stop, so we shove everything into our bags and get back to riding.
The Presidential Rail Trail alternates between crushed stone, rustic double-track, and mowed grass. The trail gently ascends from Gorham for about 10 miles before tipping down towards Whitefield. The gravity assist is most welcomed, as was the beautiful views of the Presidential Range from the trail.
The trail ends at the Mount Washington Regional Airport – from there it was a short ride to our room for the night.
Day TWO Whitefield, NH – Woodsville, NH 32 miles, 677′ climbing
Short day means more time. We decided on a late start and to relax at lunch. The first 7 miles out of Whitefield aren’t super fun – NH 116 is a paved highway with a nice wide shoulder, but logging trucks passing at 55 mph can be unnerving. There was a new section of rail trail going into Littleton, so we detoured off the highway and enjoyed 4.5 miles of scenic gravel doubletrack along a winding stream.
After a leisurely lunch on a patio, we continued down the trail. It’s all downhill to Woodsville, so we cruise through the rest of the trail. The trail here had a significantly higher number of ORV and ATV riders that were 100% courteous – but it was so dry that we were choking on dust after they passed. We stopped briefly at the Bath Covered Bridge before continuing on.
We arrived at our next room for the night with plenty of time to get cleaned up and walk to dinner. Walking after a day of pedaling feels nice.
But more importantly, we did it! We finished the Cross New Hampshire Adventure Trail!
day THREE Woodsville, NH – Montpelier, VT 44 miles, 1,835′ climbing
The previous two days had been sunny with minimal to no detectable humidity, but day 3 was definitely muggy. We had a huge breakfast, filled up our water bottles, and headed out to tackle Vermont.
The Cross Vermont Trail is still very much in process of creating a contiguous off-road experience, in stark contrast to the Cross New Hampshire Trail which is mostly on snowmobile and ORV/ATV trails. It’s advisable to be comfortable riding on the road with cars.
It’s a short downhill to the river and then it’s back up again for a bit.
It wasn’t very long before we detoured onto our first off-road segment.
From here we bounced between gorgeous forest trails and state highways to get to the next trail.
Brown Drive was a lovely dirt road that leads to the Pine Mountain Wildlife Management Area, which was amazing. A fellow bikepacker passed us while we took a short break, the first bike traveler we’d seen on the trip.
I am truly going to run out of synonyms for gorgeous on this section of the Cross Vermont Trail because it’s RIDICULOUS how stunning Vermont is.
And then we entered Groton State Forest. What a treat!! We refilled our bottles in the campground and enjoyed the gentle ascent to Mashfield.
At lunch, we saw the bikepacker who passed us previously. Ryan had started in Portland, ME a few days prior and was hoping to ride across the northern parts of the country, eventually getting to Washington State. It was cool to chat with someone else on an adventure and we wished each other safe travels as we departed.
The next several miles are on US Route 2, which had minimal shoulder and a 55 mph speed limit. My sister, kid, and I rode as a group to keep ourselves visible until we could get to the next side street.
The next side street had the Big Hill of the day but put us on the most magical 2 mile trail through the woods near East Montpelier.
More time on US 2 into Montpelier before hopping on the town trail and getting to our next lodging and dinner. Montpelier is one of my Top 10 Vermont Towns I Love, in no small way because it was the first place I visited to ride a gravel event (shout out to the Muddy Onion Gravel Grinder!)
DAY FOUR Montpelier, VT – BURLINGTON, VT 48 MILES, 1,952′ CLIMBING
Our last day of adventure brought much colder weather and rain. We picked up breakfast sandwiches to go in town and hit the road while the rain was still a light mist/drizzle.
We pulled over in Waterbury to eat our still-slightly-warm sandwiches before embarking on a long stretch on River Road.
This is where the rain came down in earnest. There is no redeeming value in riding your bike in the rain, it just sucks. Each mile just gets you colder and wetter, and you don’t want to stop and enjoy the surroundings because you’re cold and wet and just want it to end.
We pulled over in the parking lot of a brewery that we thought was closed, but upon seeing people go in, we sought a brief refuge of appetizers and hot tea (and a beer because, brewery). The rain ends and we embark on the last few miles into Burlington.
Arriving at the Burlington Bike Path, we took a quick celebratory photo before riding to our hotel room to clean up and get one last dinner together. My sister’s flight home was suuuuper early the next day.
While this wasn’t the most challenging trip, it was one of the most personally rewarding. My sister is an ultra-runner and my adult kid rides recreationally but has completed long-distance rides in the past. To be able to spend four days with nothing to do but hang out, eat, ride bikes, take goofy photos, and create inside jokes is time well spent.
The terrain varies from pavement to very rustic singletrack, but the grades are gentle which lends itself to a more relaxed social pace. The scenery is gorgeous, reminding me that there’s still so much of my own country that I haven’t seen and deeply want to experience.
This route can be done with camping as well but that will add a few miles per day to get to a campground site. Some areas might allow primative camping; check with the land owners/managers before relying on that option.
We brought 2 32-oz water bottles each to always have an ample supply, but also brought my MSR TrailShot water filter. We did not run out despite temps in the 80s and the days getting progressively muggier (before raining).
Both the XNHAT and Cross Vermont websites are full of inside tips, resources, trail conditions, updates on connectivity, and more. I definitely made donations to each organization when I got home to honor our trip but also, help keep these trails available to all.
It’s early August. I’ve completed two multi-day bikepacking trips, including the beautiful and challenging Appalachian Gravel Growler and another spin Roundabout Brattleboro. I camped in 10* on my back porch to test out my new (obscenely expensive, expedition-weight) winter sleeping bag in anticipation of a back-/bikepacking winter overnight. I missed Toad Strangler due to illness and rode (a shorter route for) The Great North in cold, rainy conditions. I went cabin camping and mountain biking in beautiful New Hampshire and Vermont with my girlfriends (and Matt).
Yet, I haven’t even cracked 1,000 miles to date on my bike.
I’m watching my friends train for epic events. I’m seeing friends discover new routes, new adventures, and regain strength after illnesses. It’s incredibly awesome.
But right now, I need to rest more. Embrace non-bike life more. Visit with friends, plan road trips, and yeah, even get the non-sexy things in life done – like cleaning the house and doing routine maintenance. Clear out the clutter and bring in fresh air and fresh space in my life.
I had two pretty big anxiety attacks earlier this year, which resulted in an increase in my Lexapro dose and a healthy step back in pushing myself to achieve new levels of awesomeness.
It’s really hard to not get caught up in the competition cycle of More Miles, More Speed, More Adventure, More Hard Core Adversity. But I encourage everyone to take a moment to think about why they are doing these things. There’s no right or wrong answer; only that if something isn’t serving you anymore, perhaps it’s time to try something different.
Because the reality is that I don’t need to prove myself to anyone. I’m amazing and awesome right now.
So I’ve been sleeping late, taking leisurely bike rides when I feel motivated, going to slow yoga classes (restorative and yin mostly), and hiking more. Turning off notifications on my phone and filling up my library hold list with interesting books. I’m walking my beagle every day, allowing extra time for all the sniffs and stops. I’m re-evaluating my volunteer obligations and deciding what fits and what needs to be set aside for now.
Living a slow life is kindof wonderful.
I have a car camping trip in a few weeks and then a four-day bikepacking (lodging) trip with my oldest kid and my middle sister. Beyond that, I don’t have many plans. Maybe going home at the end of November for a bit, see the fam and my nieces.
I’m looking forward to how the rest of the year pans out. Taking a break from constant adventure, constant “training,” and constant GO-GO-GO has been a huge relief. While it also resulted in a not-insignificant weight gain, I’m also evaluating my relationship with my body and how I can honor where my physical being is. I’m still strong, still resilient, still bad-ass.
After several events that sparked stress and anxiety spirals, including having to make a humane decision for the family dog, I was in deep need to get away from life for a bit and just be. Fortunately, I had planned to ride Roundabout Brattleboro with one of my best biking friends, Karen, and the timing couldn’t have been more perfect.
Logistically, we opted for lodging to keep things light and as stress-free as possible. Having a shower and a bed at night does wonders. We basically packed up overnight stuff and snacks and hit the road with nothing to do but ride our bikes all day.
You can read about last year’s trip here, where it rained 2″ in the first two days. Totally different experience!
Day 1 Photos
Day 2 Photos
Day 3 Photos
Where We Stayed & Ate
The Nutmeg BnB (Wilmington, VT) – lovely family-owned BnB a short walk or bike ride from town. The french toast is amazeballs.
Snowdon Chalet Motel (Londonderry, VT) – super cute vintage 1960s ski chalet with modern amenities (USB and lots of outlets). Light breakfast and coffee in the morning included!
May is Mental Health Awareness Month. Check on your loved ones, talk about your experiences, break the stigma around mental health issues. Together we are stronger.
In the summer of 2020, my brain broke.
I know that sounds like hyperbole but I assure you, that’s what it felt like. The mental scaffolding I had constructed around my Self collapsed and the only thing staring back at me was the Abyss I work so hard to keep at bay.
For most of my life, my scaffolding was so good I didn’t really know the Abyss existed. Sure, I have a deeply angry core that I keep in check, but I had worked hard to feel generally happy and successful. I volunteered; I rode my bike; I went to yoga classes; I went to educational classes.
My happiness was predicated on other people’s praise of my hard work, which in turn would make me work even harder. Every successful job landed, every performance review, every raise, every accolade, every call-out where my performance was highlighted as worthy of recognition and praise …. my Self fed off these moments and craved more.
Things were good: work hard, get rewarded. cool.
Then came some stressful years. Times when I felt like no matter how hard I tried, it was never good enough. And ultimately I know now that it really wasn’t about me, but it silently, steadily, chipped away at the walls of my Self and the supporting scaffolding.
So in March 2020, I’m in a brand new job when the realities of covid invading New York … turning everything we “know” to be “true” upside down …. that in one breath said I was being laid off and in the very next breath asked if I wanted to keep my job at a colossal paycut …. I did what I do best.
I worked my ass off to prove my value and worth to the doubters. And to keep my own anxiety about the state of the world at bay.
If I’m busy, I obviously don’t have anxiety. I am strong; valuable; dependable. I can ignore the gnawing sense of fear and dread that’s building up.
Which brings us to August 2020.
The accolades have suddenly turned to demerits without explanation. I find myself sitting in yet another online video meeting and being taken to task when I feel the scaffolding fall away …. replaced by pure panic.
If you’ve never had a panic attack, they suck. There is no sense of reality or the ability to take charge of your direction or have control over anything. For some people, it feels like you’re dying – and while that happened a few times in my twenties, that’s not what it feels like when my brain breaks. It feels flat, out of control, and you have no way to wrestle the beast back into its cage.
So I did what anyone would do.
I logged off the video meeting, told my boss I was having a panic attack, and that I’d talk to them in a few days when I got my head back on. Then I gathered my dogs and we crawled into bed to just exist.
(moment to recognize my privilege to ignore my life for a few days while I rebuilt my mental state)
I submitted an online intake for a therapist and booked an appointment with my doctor. (Recognize my privilege of having good insurance.) My therapist helped me work through my root issues (or at least shine a light on where my behavioral changes need to be completed by positive mental talk and realigning my personal success bar) and my doctor prescribed an SSRI (Lexapro), which helped tremendously. It took the edge off without making me feel like less of Me.
Don’t be afraid of medication; we all need a little help every once in a while.
After a year or so, and about 20lbs of weight gain, I tried a few other antidepressants:
(NOTE: don’t take my experiences as Gospel; if you’re having issues, talk to your doctor or therapist about options right for YOU)
Zoloft (SSRI) – made me super depressed. Three weeks in I was questioning the meaning of anything (why do we do anything at all? it’s so meaningless) and my husband literally said “Depressed Laura isn’t fun. You need to call your doctor.” I am thankful he was looking out for me when I clearly wasn’t in the right headspace to do so for myself.
Prozac (SSRI) – made me moderately depressed, like the entire world was encased in plastic cling wrap and I couldn’t touch it. Distinct lack of Joy in my life and an increase in nihilism.
Cymbalta (SNRI) – this one was interesting. I felt super compartmentalized – like my anxiety was over there, in a box, … waiting to be dealt with. I felt disconnected from my experiences and my default mental thoughts were all negative. I also experienced hyerpsomnia as a side effect, making functioning exceptionally difficult. (I love sleep but this was excessive)
So I’m back on Lexapro because I feel like me, just without the anxiety. The electric buzzing coursing through my body is quieted and I can think, act, and still be my Self. Because honestly, when I took the time to rebuild my sense of Self during covid-times, I like when I take the time to do things that make me feel good that don’t rely on someone else’s opinion of my performance.
Sometime in late November 2021, the idea started to percolate around getting a few women together to head down to North Carolina to ride the Appalachian Gravel Growler (AGG) route off bikepacking.com. Jeannette’s son is going to school in Brevard so it’s a great excuse to go see him over her spring break. Jeannette and I rode together on the XNHAT and she was looking to expand beyond bikepacking overnights and 2-nighters.
For me, the breweries are a means to get others to join in the fun and six of our women friends who are brand new to loaded bikepacking signed on. As a non-beer drinker, I’m just here for the dirt, the views, and the joy of being out in the world on my bike.
This year I signed up for the AIDS/LIFEcycle Ride, supporting SF AIDS Foundation and Los Angeles LGBT Center. I chose to fundraise for this bikepacking trip to support ending the stigma around LGBTQ issues, HIV and AIDS support, and other life-affirming services. If you are interested in donating, please click here!
And true to not always making the best decisions in my life, I was one week into adjusting to a new SNRI for anxiety and scheduled to get an MRI when I got back for GI issues that have plagued me for the past 3 weeks.
Designed to be a sister route to the Green Mountain Gravel Growler in Vermont, the AGG links iconic breweries on scenic dirt backroads that twist up and down the Blue Ridge Mountains. With 207 miles and over 20k feet of elevation gain in remote (i.e., limited or no cell service; limited small-town general store-type resupply and bail-out options compared to other routes; potential need for roadside/backcountry camping), this is not a route I’d ordinarily advise for brand new bikepackers nor early season riding … but our friends are strong of mind, body, and spirit. With that, we set out for an epic adventure, starting with an 11-hour drive from New York to North Carolina.
You’re never too old to try something new.
Laura (me!), mid-40s
DAY 1: The Hottest Day
Rolling out under clear blue skies and mild temps (a welcome respite from the freezing cold and random snow and rain squalls we’ve had in New York), the mood is jovial. “You guys, I can’t believe we’re actually doing this!!” is regularly exclaimed as we make our way along the quiet river bike path and out of Morganton.
Loose Dogs are a thing in North Carolina
More exposure than expected on the backroads. It’s still early spring so not as much leaf cover to protect us from the blazing sun
But the scenery is lovely and distracts us from the climbing
Watching a local walk back down the road with a busted derailleur (yikes!)
Lunch in the shade on a pull-out. A few locals stopped to chat while we ate
even more climbing
refilling water bottles from a stream (thanks Trailshot!) and dunking our heads in a waterfall to cool off
still more climbing
finally, consistent downhill!
Betsey’s Olde Country Store was closed when we rolled up just before 5pm- but we found someone who let us refill bottles and use the bathrooms at the campground behind the store
Deciding to stay at Mortimer Campground instead of continuing on because of impending overnight rain (around an inch of rain expected). The campground host let us use the picnic shelter for our bikes and meal prep; we pitched our tents a short walk away on Site 2. We put our food bags up in the rafters of the shelter as the campground is near a bear sanctuary
Falling asleep to the gentle sound of drops on the rainfly
DAY 2: THE COLDEST DAY
The steady sounds of the rain continued into the chilly morning, making it mentally hard to want to leave my warm, dry sleeping bag in my tent. But because we stopped early last night and the rain wasn’t expected to stop until early afternoon, we had more than a few miles to make up today.
Using the picnic shelter to make breakfast, plan the day, and repack everything up
Forgetting to pack a belt for my ill-fitting rain pants
nearly 10 miles of climbing on a noodling dirt road right out of the gate
passing the roadside camping and being thankful we had a shelter to use this morning
Warming up with coffee and pizza at the Linville General Store for lunch
Deciding to descend on the pavement instead of taking the dirt road and powerline cut to make up time
Passing where we would have come out on the powerline cut and being thankful we made up time
The sun is coming out and we’re shedding our rain layers when we roll into Woodlawn and decide to ride the next dirt section
Suprise double and singletrack
Rolling up to Hillman Brewery for burgers and beverages just after sunset
Finding two guys with a truck to give us and our bikes a lift to our campsite for the night
Setting up and figuring out where the bathrooms and water pump are in the dark. We use the bearproof trash cans as a bearproof locker for our food.
throwing extra layers in our sleeping bags because it’s expected to get down near freezing overnight
DAY 3: THE HARDEST DAY
A cold, crisp sun greets us on the third morning and we’re a little slower-going. Today is the biggest climbing day and our legs are already feeling the subtle stiffness of the previous three days. Today is expected to be a few degrees warmer and sunnier, and we are optimistic to get to Craggy Gardens for lunch.
Climbing 2,200′ in 6 miles is B O N K E R S
Peeks of the Blue Mountains between the trees are lovely
shedding layers quickly
Turning onto the Blue Ridge Parkway and knowing we still have 2 more miles to ascend around 800′ (but at least it’s paved)
SO WINDY but mercifully partly sunny. Icicles are dripping on the protected northern rock outcroppings.
Stopping for lunch at an overlook in a sort-of protected place from the wind
2 mi descent is over before it feels real, then back to climbing for the next 6.5 mi
Another 2.5 mi descent that goes by too quickly, then the final 2 mi ascent to Craggy Gardens
It’s so cold and windy the tops of the mountains frosted in ice
Getting to the Visitor Center 30min before it closes. Warm ourselves by the fire, buy water for our bottles, and put on every layer of warm winter clothing we have for the 13mi descent.
Dodging falling ice from the rock outcroppings as the sun warms and melts the base
Rolling through Asheville’s cute downtown and onto the beautiful bike path
Arriving at our AirBnb for the night and celebrating with showers and well-deserved beverages
DAY 4: THE LAYOVER DAY
We enjoy a leisurely morning with ample electricity, hot water, and four walls around us at night. Jeannette’s son had dropped off groceries the day before so we enjoy coffee and cook breakfast in the kitchen. Two of Kate’s local friends arrived and took us downtown for a day of wandering around.
Splitting up, my group and I decided to eat lunch at Early Girl (Mark was an excellent server) and then make our way over to Wicked Weed. More wandering and a Hemp Fest stop, our group split up and I headed back to the AirBnb with Lisa while Erin, Megan, and Jeannette went for a few more beverages at Burial. We grill dinner and relax because our final day is upon us.
DAY 5: THE LAST DAY
Eager to complete our epic early-season journey, everyone is up and ready to go before our 9am wheels-down start time. Let’s do this!
Pro Tips from the Crew
“Find yourself the most amazing gnarly girls to share the adventure with!” – Kate
“If you get your period, share it!” – Erin
Be mindful of group size. While it was amazing and fun to spend time with so many friends, a group of 8 is pretty big. Megan said it best – “it’s gonna be like herding cats.” We strung out and regrouped without too many issues.
Prepare for the trip. While it’s generally going to be OK to show up for a group ride without looking at the route or doing much planning – that can be a big issue in bikepacking. We had several Zoom meetings to talk about logistics, the routes, packing, gear, food, and expectations.
Use a Navigation Device to stay on course. Make sure everyone who isn’t running the route on a bike navigation device or phone is with someone who is. That being said, the investment of a bike navigation device like a Garmin or Wahoo is worth it if you are looking to do more bikepacking with camping. Running Ride with GPS on phones was not as accurate and ate through batteries
Secure your load. Thankfully we recovered everything that found it’s way off someone’s bag or rack. Periodically check your straps to make sure everything is secure, especially when heading into the singletrack.
Align on expectations and priorities. It’s never fun to be the person who’s priority is different that everyone else’s – whether it’s choosing more dirt vs making up time on pavement or going to the brewery before or after getting out of your chamois.
Everyone finished safely. Which was really my biggest fear and goal for the trip given the number of people who had not done a fully loaded overnight, much less one with this much climbing and gear for camping. I am confident this trip worked well because everyone is a very strong rider and has some level of experience with gravel and mountain biking and backpacking. We communicated well, looked out for each other, and had a blast spending 5 days together exploring the textures of western North Carolina.
No sooner did I set my annual mileage goal than a series of weather events left my area snowy and icy. I’ve managed a few fat bike rides and one 30-ish miler on gravel – but conditions are more conducive to cross training. My friend M and I have been hiking with microspikes as a way to get outside for fresh air and conversation. It’s been lovely.
A few weeks ago, my friend Jeanette mentioned she wants to do a winter overnight. The idea is we would fat bike, snowshoe, or hike in to a lean-to; ride/hike/snowshoe the trails; overnight at the lean-to; and head back the next morning. Immediately my brain went to all the Insta-Worthy shots that get posted.
My next thought was Yes, I want to do this followed by I hate being cold and my warmest sleeping bag is rated in the 20s. Honestly, that first photo above sold me on finding a high-quality winter bag that wouldn’t necessarily get a TON of use, but when it did get selected from the gear closet it would keep me toasty and not a Laura popsicle.
I did a bunch of reading and connected with my friend Jana who is a Winter Hammock Camping Queen. She dislikes being cold as well and helped me look for pre-loved bag options that would keep me toasty. She found a Western Mountaineering Puma GWS Expedition on eBay that I bid on and eventually won.
Is this bag a bit …. much? extra? expensive? Yes, yes it is. But I was so excited when it arrived in the mail. The loft blew me away – I knew this was going to be an excellent heirloom-quality bag that can support adventures for me and future generations (as long as they are shorter than 6’0″).
Fast forward to telling my friends and coworkers about it and their immediate thoughts were “you are insane” and then “when are you going to use it?” The weekday forecast was more snow, rain, and then a flash freeze but the weekend was going to be sunny, clear, and cold with lows in the single digits. Perfect testing conditions.
Heavy blue tarp, folded in half
Big Agnes Copper Spur UL1 with rainfly held out on the sides by rocks, vent open
cheap foam sleeping pad (R=2?)
REI 3.5 self-inflating sleeping pad (R=6)
Western Mountaineering Puma GWS (rated to -25)
Nalgene with boiling water
Smartwool midweight baselayers (top and bottom)
Defeet Woolie Boolies
REI silk sock liners
Trailheads fleece hat
Additional clothing stuffed into bag in case I needed additional layers (thermal pull-on pants, 850-fill down puffy jacket, wool liner gloves, fleece gloves)
phone, spare battery, medications
How did it go?
I was a little concerned at first because I was VERY warm at the beginning – mostly because I kept my pillow and sleeping bag inside before crawling into my tent for the night and the Nalgene at the toebox was giving off significant heat. Under camping conditions, I expect I would have had to crawl into the bag to warm it up and be chilled for a bit. Everything I’ve read says to crawl in with just your baselayers on to get the bag warm and not trap heat in your layers.
That being said, I did not need my additional layers at all and even took off my wool liner gloves to avoid overheating.
I was curious how condensation would play out. I cinched the hood around my face and draft tube around my neck which kept all my warmth in the bag. I woke up a few times in the night to move around and noticed the outside of my bag where I had been breathing was damp. By morning there were tiny ice droplets around the top bag, ice crystals on the mesh part of my tent and lamp. Science!
I slept as well as I usually do when camping, which is lightly and frequent waking to sounds. My backyard is apparently a wildlife superhighway, with plenty of sounds throughout the night.
At 7am, my back was hurting from sleeping on an overinflated sleeping pad so I crawled out and went inside to my warm bed for a few hours of restful sleep.
Overall, a big success! It was amazing to be able to be outside, crisp air against my cheeks but warm and snuggly inside my sleeping bag. The thick tarp folded in half was a key upgrade from my footprint as you can see where my body heat melted the ice on the deck below the tarp.
Next time I’ll put everything outside and have morning coffee outside before heading back in, to better simulate actual camping conditions.
I started riding bikes as an adult in 2011 and back then, I didn’t really have many goals other than to be out longer, get stronger, and have fun.
Then I did a 50 mi recreational fondo with a girlfriend and started to crave more.
Maybe try bike commuting (I did).
Maybe try a supported bike tour (I did).
Maybe ride a century in February with only 3 rides of decidedly significantly less distance than that as “training” (I did).
OMG mountain biking is so much fun, let’s keep doing that (I do).
Then came the era of Karen and I’s Working Mom Reverse Trash Talk Cycling Challenge to see who could ride more miles in a year. That first year, I won a bag of her company’s best coffee, Off The Chain. She then proceeded to STOMP me every year thereafter.
Let’s try bikepacking (I did).
Let’s try a cyclocross “race” (I did and still love going to Ice Weasels)
Let’s try a three-day, 320 mile bikepacking trip with two guys I know from the internet after not doing a century, much less three back to back to back, in at least 5 years (I did).
Let’s see if I can average 100 feet of climbing per mile ridden for an entire year (I got very close – somewhere around 99 feet per mile average).
Let’s spend a year focused on bikepacking (last year was so rad).
But even when I was unemployed for 18 months, I never logged more than 3k miles in a year. That banner milage year was 2013 when I was bike commuting 2-3 times per week in addition to riding as many weekend days as I could. Bike commuting was an easy 30 miles round trip each day I rode – so the miles piled up without taking significantly more time from being with my family or working.
This year’s bike goal is to log 3,075 miles.
Why 3,075? Because in 2013, I rode 3,073 miles. Five of the rides were centuries. Close to a thousand miles from April-October were just commuting.
The only rule will be Free Range Miles only.
That means no indoor trainers, no Peloton, no stationary bike, no Zwift, no Trainer Road, etc. Not that I do that anyway but still.
Seeing as I’ve only logged 43 miles in the first 17 days of the year, I’m already behind pace by 100 miles. I need to ride 60 miles per week all year to achieve the goal.
But I’m not too worried … longer days mean warmer days and more opportunities to ride. I might need to get creative to overcome winter’s deficit. But I’m prepared to do the work. Plus, gravel is great even when it’s chilly out – so a 30mi ride twice a week isn’t crazy talk.