You may have noticed my blogging went waaaaaaay down a few years ago with my move and cancer diagnosis and treatment. You may also know life got a little crazy and culminated in a year of introspection and self-care.
Time to dial it back up to 11.
This year I’ve started building a full slate of super-rad events where you can ride with me if you’re in the Northeast:
And of course – looking to add a camping & mountain biking Girls Weekend, maybe another week-long bike tour, and perhaps a road ride here and there. Have a ride you think I should know about? Drop the knowledge in the comments.
I’m so stoked, and I hope you are too for this year’s riding season. You can follow me on Twitter and Instagram for timely adventure updates.
So many blog posts that have lived in my head all year … and what a year it’s been!
The signs all pointed to one thing, and that was leaving my job of the past 16.5 years. It was time. This decision has colored every single facet for the rest of the year, from daily job searches to staying close to my network to multiple rounds of interviews that end up going to someone else who had that tiny bit Extra that I couldn’t bring to the table. Like U2, I still haven’t found what I’m looking for.
I attended the Women’s March on Washington DC with my friend Andrea, which was a tremendously powerful experience. We had no idea how massive the march was until we were at a restaurant eating a late dinner and the news was blaring from the televisions overhead. It also opened my eyes – really opened them – to the struggles of my sisters of color. Some of the speeches were really hard to hear – but I had to hear them and made a commitment to myself to be a better ally and use my privilege for the good of ALL.
Promising job interviews didn’t pan out. There are only so many hours of the day one can devote to a job search before it becomes obsessive and anxiety-stricken, so I decided to fully embrace FUNemployment. I rode my bike – a lot. I rode my first dirt road ride and loved it. I started demoing fat bikes from my local shop because fat biking is So Much Fun. I hiked with my dog. I embarked on home maintenance projects that never seem to get done when fully employed. I re-engaged with the organizations I volunteer for.
All this fun and productivity came to a screeching halt when I was stricken with what was thought to be the flu but turned out to be a nasty case of pneumonia followed by an even worse case of thrush caused by the powerful antibiotic and bronchodilator inhaler I used for pneumonia. Within three weeks I had been on anti-virals, anti-biotics, and anti-fungals – making me the healthiest person on the planet. haha!
(and yes, I did take a few phone interviews while in the early stages of pneumonia. Not my smartest decision but no regrets)
One of my sisters and my nephews came to visit from Texas on their spring break during a major blizzard here. I flew to see my other two sisters and my nieces in Colorado for a week over their spring break.
By the end of the month I was back home, feeling better, and back on my bike. I managed to crash into a tree while mountain biking, causing bruised rib muscles. I wouldn’t find this out until the pain in my ribs didn’t go away on one side (the side I crashed into the tree on) a few weeks later. Ended up back at urgent care after a particularly painful gravel ride and off the bike for a week to let my ribs heal.
More biking. Day trip to Cooperstown with my husband (his current favorite brewery is there). Cleaned out the basement. I went to Vermont and rode the Muddy Onion gravel grinder with my Massachusetts friends. Attended my first Town Board meeting (local politics are what impact you the most)!
More biking. More hiking. Second annual Girls Camping Weekend. I won’t bore you with the details but when the weather gets nice, it’s easy to have adventures every day. I also paid off my student loans after 17 years, which felt amazing.
Started with a four-day bike tour of central Pennsylvania (an annual tradition). Ended with a family trip “home” to Colorado. My husband repainted our laundry room (repayment for the countless times I’ve heard “I owe you one”). More interviews, no offers. I finally decide to change my endocrinologist to someone much more engaged with my health struggles.
More biking. More JAM FUNdo. This year we did the full 68 mile FUNdo and it was beastly but so awesome. Really loving dirt and gravel roads more than road riding and almost as much as mountain biking, which has been a Thing this year for me.
August brought the end of my severance, end of my unemployment benefits, and the end of my sanity around not having a job yet despite batting .500 on applications-to-interviews. There’s only so much “you’re great – you’ll land somewhere soon!” one can take before starting to doubt. I keep telling myself – You ARE great. You WILL land a job soon. I play motivational videos on repeat until I feel better about the situation.
It also marked the beginning of a part-time contract role with my state bike coalition, which has been a tremendously personally rewarding experience that marries my professional skills with personal passion. I also spent some time helping a friend at his bike shop and began leading shop rides for my local shop.
I went solo camping for the first time and it was awesome. Three days of doing basically what I wanted to do with no one to be responsible for but myself. I brought my mountain bike too and spent an afternoon exploring the larger park. I’m discovering that my jobless anxiety dies down when I’m not home and become obsessed with finding things to do to keep my brain occupied. Applying for lots of jobs in hopes to land something before the holidays – and raiding our retirement savings to pay living expenses. I also start in leading seasonal mountain bike rides for my local trail committee and exploring new state forests to mountain bike.
Move one of my kids into their first apartment. Have my first major repair issue while mountain biking. Successfully executed the hardpack/gravel portion of my bike club’s annual fundraising ride, to great acclaim. That happens when you have a dirt route and it rains all morning – the muddier the riders come back, the happier they are. Interviews ramp up again, only to go to other candidates. It’s a cycle. Took one of my other kids on a tour of state university campuses. My Massachusetts friends came to my area and I showed them my favorite dirt roads by bike. Celebrated being married for 20 years.
Started with a long weekend in Vermont, reminding me that not everywhere is crazy expensive like the NYC metro area. Enjoyed the most amazing gingerbread pancakes and walking along Lake Champlain. Colorado friends came to visit and we spent a weekend in Philadelphia, one of my favorite cities. And as is the theme for this year – more riding bikes to stay sane.
The job search continues but postings wind down a bit due to the holidays. A few more interviews, but once again no offer. I race Ice Weasels again with my friend Karen, who is what a best bike friend should be: always up for an adventure! My middle kid is accepted to his first choice university and we order the senior yearbook with an ad in the back, “love mom and dad.” First snow means getting out the fat bike because there’s no bad weather, only bad gear choices.
Final Thoughts …
I look back over the year and am thankful for the Gift of Time I was given this year even though it has been fraught with uncertainty, anxiety, stress, and frustration. I’ve been home for my family more. I’ve seen both sets of my nieces twice and my nephews once – which isn’t enough considering they are all growing up ridiculously fast and I’m not local to be part of their lives more. I’ve volunteered many hours to causes I believe in. I helped build a trail in my local parks. I voted in my first local election. I’ve regained my sense of Self outside of work – I am not defined by what I do, but by who I am. it’s tremendously freeing.
And after 2.5 years of struggling with my thyroid meds, I’m finally feeling like a normal human again. We’re on my third med adjustment in as many months and getting blood drawn every 6 weeks is annoying – but the payoff is dialing in my meds so I can continue to lead a happy, healthy life without fatigue, brain fog, hair loss, or cold sensitivity.
I’m looking to 2018 to be a year of rebirth and growth. I’m looking to land a job in my field (check out my linkedin and let’s connect). I’m looking to become a certified mountain biking instructor to get more people (but especially women) comfortable on the trails. I’m looking forward to another Girls Camping Weekend, sending another kid to university, and most likely another Ride for Homes tour. I want to keep leading bike rides for my shop and my trail committee and stay involved in my community.
Let’s talk about Vermont, gravel grinding, and the truly great weekend I had with my dear women friends (and Matt) at the Muddy Onion Spring Classic.
I am blessed to have friends who don’t hesitate to text me “Hey, wanna do this ride?” The answer is usually “YES.” So we secured a cheap hotel room and made our plans for a weekend of gravel magic.
The Muddy Onion Spring Classic is a ridiculously fun ride on lightly traveled dirt and gravel roads in north-central Vermont, hosted by Onion River Sports. Starting in the state capitol, Montpelier, the ride has more elevation gain than linear distance which is made abundantly clear over the first 5 miles. Several climbs topped out in the upper-teens for grade percentage.
The weather couldn’t have been more perfect – mid-to-upper 60s, partly sunny, and fast dirt. Very few sloppy spots on the road made for quick riding.
The first rest stop was about 13 miles (and 1500′ of gain) in and well stocked with chocolate-covered bacon, shots of local maple syrup, pickles, protein bars … and PBR. Water for your bottles was courtesy of the spigot on the side of the house.
It’s like being a kid again, out exploring dirt roads and having a blast.
The second rest stop was 26 miles (and 3200′ of gain) in – more maple syrup shots, more pickles, more chocolate-covered bacon, water from a hose … and fried PB& J sandwiches. We loaded up on electrolytes – only 4 more miles of climbing before the 4 mile descent into town.
We finished in a little over 4 hours of total time, around 3.25 hours of actual riding time, and 3900′ of climbing over 35 miles. Partook of the post-ride BBQ (veggie burgers or grilled chicken; potato chips; local craft beer, soda, and seltzer) before riding our bikes back up the hill to the hotel to get cleaned up.
Grabbed a coffee at Capitol Grounds Cafe and then a case of local craft beer at the state store before heading home.
If you enjoy riding bikes with really cool people, along quiet dirt roads with spectacular views, and you don’t mind a little climbing along the way … the Muddy Onion is a great choice for a challenging event!
5 years ago we packed up our 3 kids and 3 dogs and left Colorado for the East Coast. December 16 is the official first day of our epic road trip with December 19 as the anniversary of closing on our new home just outside Philadelphia. And about 18 months or so ago, we moved to the lower Hudson Valley in New York.
That’s a lot of change.
This specific span of time is always a bit emotional for me, as we literally left everyone we knew and loved for the unknown. A step well outside our comfort zone. And like moving anywhere else, there are regional idiosyncrasies that one needs to adapt to. It was a significant culture shock going from essentially “West Coast” vibe to East Coast vibe – from school closings for a couple inches of snow to humidity to Oh That’s Why Mold/Mildew Killing Products For Your Shower Are So Common.
I mean, I still think California is my vacation destination, not Florida.
You get to know the difference between a sub, a hoagie, a hero, and a wedge. You start to have opinions on cheesesteaks and take sides in the neighborhood shop rivalries. You know the best pretzels are in Philadelphia but you have to go to New York for a decent bagel. You are very lonely in your love of Chicago-style pizza in the land of New York pizza. You develop a love/hate relationship with your local public transit system because there’s actually a robust way to get around without a car.
And for me anyway, you also know more of your region by bike than you do by car.
2016 has been a challenge for many and I felt this year was giving 2015 a run for it’s money in terms of Which Year Can Suck More. So instead of dwelling on all the negative things that happened this year, dear reader, I’d like to share with you the absolute highs that happened.
Basically, #Community. We all need it.
January – Sold my carbon road bike to fund a new bike that would be my Swiss Army Knife. Rode bikes with my friend Kate.
February – Spent two weeks in Colorado with my family (I went home to help my mom through one of her chemo treatments), hiking every single day with my sisters and nieces.
March – Picked up my new Salsa Colossal. Titanium is sublime.
We had our first visitors (family) to our New York home. They didn’t want to spend any time in the City.
April – We had our first friend visitor to New York. Also did not want to spend time in the City.
May – Rode the 5 Boro in a pouring rain (and temps in the mid-40s) with my son.
Rode the Quad County in Pennsylvania with my friend Ken. Also in a cold rain.
Went bikepacking with my friend Karen and Gail.
June – Ride For Homes 4-day bike tour, benefiting Habitat for Humanity Philadelphia. #Community
My oldest child graduated from high school.
July – Five days with my dear Colorado friends who up and moved to Seattle a few years ago.
August – Kayaking on the Hudson with my middle child.
Moving our oldest kid to university.
September – Another friend visit! (Same friend only the weather is nicer and there’s foliage!)
October – Tent camping with my youngest in near-freezing temps.
Friends-cation in Cooperstown with Eric and Stephanie to sample local adult beverages and have a ridiculous amount of fun
November – My parents come to visit in a new RV Trailer they purchased. We hike, bike, and go on a tour of the fourth largest maple syrup producer in the world.
Oldest comes back for Thanksgiving Break. I am That Mom who is ridiculously excited about him coming home.
December – Raced my first cyclocross race (on my mountain bike) with my friend Karen. Had a ridiculous amount of fun, did not finish last, and am now looking to buy cross tires for my Salsa so I have half a chance to move up to 4th from last (instead of 3rd).
Looking forward to 2017 being a fresh start with new beginnings and a whole lot more adventures with my family and friends – and wishing you the same!
See you out on the road, in the woods, or maybe even out on the ‘cross course!
Or, we need more Girls Camping Weekends in this world.
My friend Karen and I decided back in January to try out bikepacking – backpacking but with a bike instead of hiking. Having never done this before, we both got very excited about a plan to ride to three different state parks/forests in western Massachusetts, camping every night in a different park and biking all day.
The only weekend we had available was Memorial Day weekend and the state parks require a two-night stay so we altered our plans and decided to reserve an established campsite for two nights with all our gear attached to ourselves or our bikes for the weekend. We researched bikepacking, read a bajillion articles, and scoured the internet for tips and tricks. We texted and chatted and set up Google Spreadsheets to track our planning: routes, gear, food, apparel. We called businesses and town clerks to find a safe place to park our cars for the weekend in town. We did two dry runs – one driving and checking out the Forest and one to mostly load up and ride the full route to iron out any kinks and establish speed expectations.
And then – the weekend arrived. Dude, we are totally doing this!
We had the most amazing time!
Friday we met up in Lenox, Massachusetts, loaded up our bikes and daypacks, and departed on a hot and humid day for Beartown State Forest. We didn’t have far (about 15 miles) to go but the bulk of our elevation was in a 4-mile section up a mountain.
We made a No Guilt pact: no need to hang back for each other but definitely wait for each other at opportune moments. Spending 4+ miles on a 4% average grade is tough on an unloaded bike, much less with loaded bikes. No one was setting QOMs today but everyone was winning!
We made it to camp and got to work setting everything up.
The next day Karen’s friend G joined us. She drove in and brought a cooler full of food and two mountain bikes! After a quick breakfast (coffee and instant oatmeal), we drove over to Kennedy Park to hit the trails together. Fun Fact: G was on a 29er, Karen on a 27.5, and I rode G’s old 26er GT. Survey says, 27.5 and 29ers are best for steamrolling pretty much everything in your path.
After a great ride in the woods, we adjourned to the Great Barrington CoOp for lunch and continued conversation. We were a bunch of Chatty Cathys.
After G set up her tent, we hit the trails for a short hike around the pond.
Yes, it’s just that beautiful!
Set up another amazing fire (seriously, we had mad fire making skills this trip!) and once again, ate ourselves silly and went to bed too late.
Thanks to the cooler G brought, we had eggs for breakfast! Karen had bought her personal coffee blend and a french press so we stuffed ourselves for the day ahead. Super hot and humid again, we started pre-gaming with electrolyte beverages.
Today was a slightly longer and mostly flat to downhill route back to our cars.
As we pedaled into Great Barrington, it started to rain which felt amazing. We kept pedaling along the Houstatonic River, through tiny towns and past quaint New England homes.
The rain started and stopped a few times, each time feeling so refreshing from the humidity. The final 5 miles of the trip back were uphill and we were racing a thunderstorm. We didn’t beat it and ended up getting soaked with less than a mile to go – but it was so delicious!
It’s hard to believe the weekend is over – it went by so fast! Being able to completely unplug and just flow with the vibe of the day was so revitalizing. We also learned so much from this experience and hope to do this again soon.
All in all, A+ Gold Star Will Do Again.
See you on the road!
For those interested:
Salsa Colossal Ti, 53cm
Vittoria Cross XN Pro, 31mm
Revelate Designs Tangle framebag (small), Pika seatbag (small)
Osprey Daylite Plus 20litre Daypack (w/Hydrapak 1.5litre reservoir and Blaster bite valve)
Purist 20oz water bottle, Philly Bike Tours branded
ENO DoubleNest hammock, ProFly, Ember underquilt, and gear sling
GSI Outdoor Pinnacle Soloist cookset
MSR PocketRocket (w/fuel)
2 pairs of bike shorts, jerseys, and socks
Sidi cycling shoes w/SPD cleats
Hoo Ha Ride Glide, individual packets
not on the bike:
1 pair of shorts (KUHL Splash 11″ shorts)
3 T shirts (various bike-related brands) <–walking billboard
3 pairs of Patagonia Active Hipster Briefs
Moving Comfort Uplift Crossback Sports Bra (seriously, the best ever. So comfy)
Flip flops for around the campsite (LL Bean)
Hiking boots (Columbia)
2 pair SmartWool socks
midweight SmartWool baselayers (for sleeping)
bug spray, sunscreen, lip balm, basic toiletries
My Food (Schlepped)
We had way too much food. Karen brought most of the good stuff (2 packages of chicken sausage, rice and beans, Larabars) and G brought a cooler with beer/wine, juices, eggs, milk, the couscous/quinoa deliciousness, and coconut-date-truffle balls. We never got to the trail mix.
I brought the avocado, tortillas, small bottle of hot sauce, and a block of cheddar cheese. Some Kind bars and a packet of ramen noodles. Instant oatmeal packets. Stevia packets for my coffee.
If we were to do this again, possibly without the benefit of a cooler, we would definitely have more single-serve dehydrated food/meals and energy bars. There just isn’t a lot of space for bulky items like fresh fruits and veggies. But … having someone meet you with a cooler (or stashing one at the campsite in advance if you aren’t backcountry camping) opens up a world of great eating. Another option is to just eat in the little towns along the way or bike into town for more food. Lunch at the CoOp was smart and had air conditioning – so we could get out of the heat for a bit.
In January, after over 5500 miles, I decided to sell my beloved Felt ZW5 and get a new bike. It wasn’t because I disliked the bike – I still loved it more than anything. As I entered into my fourth year of riding bikes with my friends, I realized I wanted to simplify as much as I could. Find the Swiss Army Knife of a bike that would allow me to keep up on group rides but also handle non-paved adventures that I tended to take my old bike on. Something that would still feel as good at mile 80 as it did at mile 5. Something that wasn’t carbon fiber – I wanted something sturdy and real.
So I started looking at steel touring bikes and found it’s somewhat difficult to find them in my size and ready to test ride. I tested a Trek 520, which was stable and light but lacked the “let’s go have fun today” zip I was looking for. I tested a Salsa Vaya, which also was stable but not quite FUN. I wanted to test the All City Space Horse but the nearest shop that stocked All City bikes was 90min away.
I get it … niche market and all.
I talked to the guys at the local chain bike shop and after lots of conversation they gave me an excellent recommendation (Raleigh Tamland 2) – in my pricepoint, steel, wide range cassette, accepted wider tires – but no way to test ride the bike. I wasn’t sure I wanted to put down a huge deposit on a bike that I wasn’t sure I wanted.
I also talked to the guys over at the local independent shop and looked at a lot of “adventure bikes” with them, including the new series from Niner. We talked extensively about the types of bike I was trying to find. I really liked the Salsa Vaya but it wasn’t zippy. I need a bike with spunk.
Enter the Salsa Colossal Ti. Everything I wanted – real metal frame, wider range cassette, disc brakes, Ultegra components, takes a tire wide enough for gravel to not feel super sketch. Definitely more than I budgeted – but I rationalized it with how amazing this bike was going to be in my mind because I couldn’t test ride it. The shop owner said he test rode one and it was Next Level riding. My bicycle friends all said the same – if you can swing the Ti, DO IT. You won’t regret it.
So I took their word for it and put down my entire bike budget as a deposit.
I’m here to tell you this bike is the real deal.
When the Salsa marketing materials said “Works with you, not against you, when you are 45 miles from home” – they meant it. I had no idea my previous bikes – all of them – were actively conspiring against me – but they were. How many times have I felt like the bike was not moving forward and my legs screaming in a lactic acid bath?
Put a little more push into the pedals and the bike says YES PLEASE. The energy transfer is amazing. If you have gas in the tank, the bike is totally on board to keep going. Having a 30 (and 32 tooth) sprocket in the back has revolutionized my hill climbing – I was finally able to get up the local 100′-in-2/10-miles hill without walking. This bike eats up road noise like it’s candy – a silky smooth ride no matter what the conditions. The Ultegra groupset is crisp and quiet in its shifting. And the bike is so light – about as light as my carbon fiber bike was – but feels stable and sturdy. Indestructible.
If you have the means, I highly recommend titanium.
So my friend Karen and I are planning a bikepacking trip at the end of May and we did a mostly-loaded ride of the route into camp and then back to our cars. Even fully loaded the bike felt stable, nimble, and still climbed and descended with ease – even on a 3 mile 5% average climb up a mountain or a 16% grade down a loose, rocky abandoned road we navigated. All with minimal rider fatigue.
I swapped the stock Schwalbe One tires for Vittoria Cross XN Pro for this trip and had zero issues when we ducked off the pavement and onto grassy, mossy, overgrown rocky paths. Except for the rocks – let’s just say mountain biking in the 80s pre-suspension suuuuucked.
Side note: when riding around with camping gear loaded on the bike, it looks like you are on an epic adventure. Even if it’s just a dry run to shake out the kinks. It just FEELS cool to glide down the road, loaded up, enjoying sunshine, fresh air, and friendship.
Show some love to your local independent bike shop (what’s up Yorktown Cycles!)
Be honest about what you want from a bike and take the time to learn what you want
Adventuring by bike – especially with friends – is where the magic happens
Have confidence. Confidence in yourself, your bike (team), and your ability to learn along the way.
You have to trust that your bike (team) wants to stay upright (not mess up). It doesn’t want to go horizontal – it wants to keep moving forward.
You have to be open to trying new things, learning when to push yourself and when to dial it back, hop off and walk.
Mountain biking (and leadership) is about picking your line and adjusting on the fly. Look where you want to go, not at the obstacles in front of you. If you are convinced the obstacle right in front of you is the issue, you can be sure there is a much bigger or gnarlier obstacle just beyond it.
It’s about overcoming those obstacles using a variety of methods. On the bike there’s momentum, bunny-hopping, or shifting weight to maneuver over obstacles in the path. Momentum is almost always your friend. As a leader there’s momentum but also pivoting, keeping everyone focused, and moving forward.
Learn to be ok with totally wiping out/making a mistake. You aren’t going to always pick the right line, your wheel might get caught on a rock, you might get tossed off your bike into a puddle of mud. Take a minute to think about how you got there, then pick yourself and your bike back up and keep going.
Mountain biking is hard work but also a lot of fun and incredibly rewarding – as is being a good leader.
How do you see your favorite sport/hobby as a way to improve your professional skills?