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:
Many of us have heard the phrase “it’s not the bike, it’s the rider.” So you find yourself pushing hard on every ride – and still getting dropped. Or the ever-present complaining about the bike being the reason a rider fails to perform.
While most of the time, it is the rider’s abilities that directly contribute to the enjoyment or success of a ride – but sometimes, it is totally the bike’s fault. The right bike can make or break a ride.
My first bike as an adult was a mountain-style hybrid that I never ended up riding much, followed by a comfort hybrid – designed for slow-speed cruising, not crushing double-digit rides. It was very heavy and sluggish with an extremely upright riding position – basically turning me into a wind-sail anytime I rode down a hill.
I pushed myself so hard on that bike, so confused as to why I was being passed on the bike trail by people on bikes with drop bars. All bikes are equal, right? I just need to work harder and get faster. Spoiler – the minute I bought a mid-level road bike, I immediately improved my ability to ride longer with less fatigue.
The reality is, many entry-level bikes serve to get us out there – but then do little to keep us moving forward efficiently. Sometimes entry-level bikes are overbuilt and generally heavier than their higher-level brethren. The bike can withstand a beating, but that’s why it’s holding *you* back.
Like most people, I use the equipment I have to do the adventures I want, generally using the wrong bike for the wrong purposes. It stems from a lack of discretionary funds, not hubris or elite level ability that seeks a new challenge. To be sure though, watching somebody rock a gravel grinder on a bike with a front basket while wearing Tevas, jorts, and a tie-dye muscle shirt is hilarious.
Yesterday I drove to a friend’s neighborhood to do a gravel ride. It snowed earlier in the week – heavy, wet snow that further saturated the already oversaturated earth – so the roads were going to be muddy and slushy. This is not optimal for the road bike that I have MacGuyver’d to be a gravel bike.
So I decided to ride my hardtail mountain bike. It’s cutting-edge stock 2012 entry-level components (although I replaced the brakes and the quick-releases because they failed at various points). It’s an aluminum 29er … but it’s heavy. Really heavy. It’s not built for speed or efficiency.
Once again I am reminded of just how heavy and inefficient this bike is by trying desperately to keep up with my friends, who are also riding their mountain bikes on the dirt roads.
To be fair, I also haven’t ridden my bike in about six weeks due to a combination of life, work, weather, health, and trail maintenance projects. My October Strava stats were kindof hilarious.
The power transfer is practically non-existent, like pouring my energy into a black hole. I have a triple crankset, yet on the road never seemed to find a good gear for keeping up without feeling like I was pushing against a brick wall. To cap it all off, the bike is set up with flat pedals instead of SPDs because I was too lazy to swap them out before the ride.
Contrast with purchasing a pre-loved 2015 full-sus trail bike for when I want to hit the woods – and things that used to be a chore are now routine and even fun. The bike isn’t actively working against me, which my hardtail does. But it certainly would have worked against me on the road had I opted for it instead, including locking out both suspensions, because even though it’s lighter than my hardtail, it’s still a mountain bike on the road.
The right bike for the ride can make or break your enjoyment.
Some of the roads warranted the extra width of my 2.25″ tires, but many were either paved or more tacky than muddy. I found myself wondering if actually getting a gravel or drop-bar mountain bike might be something to consider. Something to bridge the gap of a road bike fitted with slightly-knobby tires and a full-on mountain bike.
But that’s not currently on the agenda after 18 months of unemployment that destroyed our savings and retirement savings. We have other, more pressing projects deserving of our remaining reserves.
We finished the ride in surprisingly good time (a little less than 3 hours for a little over 30 miles) and everyone really took turns hanging back with me to chat and enjoy the ride. It felt really good to be back out turning the pedals, but also reminded me of why I hate riding that bike so much. It sucks my will to ride.
With fat bike season upon us and my schedule freeing up, I’m looking forward to getting out more regularly with friends to explore trails and gravel roads. See you out there!
I am tardy on this write-up. Sorry! I’ve been busy planning my latest trail care projects.
Gravel grinding is one of my most favorite things to do. Westchester County isn’t exactly known for its dirt roads – but we have them. Westchester Cycle Club has year-round dirt and gravel rides. Given the popularity of gravel these days, the Board decided to host a gravel event instead of the usual road ride, The Golden Apple Ride.
My summer was spent developing routes that were both beautiful and challenging – but not so much that a novice gravel rider would feel they were in over their head. I came up with four roughly-concentric routes, ranging from 30 to 60 miles. My co-Event Director Christine was busy getting permits filed and posters to the various bike shops in the area. I managed our communications, online registration, and marketing. She solicited volunteers and coordinated our rest stops and food. We met up monthly, then weekly, as the date got closer.
Event Directing is a full-time job and even with most of the tasks split between us, it was still a challenge. We had a few other volunteers to help us make decisions, complete day-prior tasks, and fund the event – Bob, Bill, Rich, and Steve – as well as a slew of club members who volunteered the day of the event. We couldn’t have done this without them!
My personal favorite part of the longest route is through a county park. The gravel is chunkier and the climb is a little over 2 miles long, but you feel a million miles away from civilization (even though NYC is about 30 miles south).
The day of the ride went as well as any event can go – a few hiccups but mostly awesome. The weather was overcast but warm and it had rained the night before – perfect dirt road conditions. The general consensus, confirmed by our rider survey, was the routes were beautiful; the food plentiful; the beer deserved.
I’m looking forward to Event Directing the ride again in 2019 – even though it means not getting to ride the event myself! Seeing the happy, muddy faces come back to the start was such a reward for all the time and energy Christine and I put into this event.
Watch the Dirty Apple Ride page for updates as to when the ride will be scheduled next year.
One of the perks of being a Pactimo Brand Ambassador is comp entries to amazing rides. When I saw the Golden Gran Fondo on the list, I immediately knew that was the one I wanted to do because it means a trip back home to see family, friends, and ride my bike with amazing scenery.
I -of course- said I’d do the longest route without really checking the elevation profile. Then I did and promptly thought HARD PASS. So I signed up for the 63 – still a formidable route – and got a friend to also register also. I spent my summer seeking out long gravel rides and extended climbing so I could get the feel for pacing myself over this type of distance and elevation gain. I felt both totally ready and completely Not Ready.
I reserved a hotel room across the street from the ride start (GENIUS, really) and rented a Liv Avail carbon road bike from EVO Denver. My sister decided to join me for the weekend as my support person, which was unexpected and totally appreciated.
The morning was warm and sunny with a low chance of rain. I picked up my timing chip and then waited for my friend. I also chatted with Julie, another Pactimo Brand Ambassador who I have been talking to online. Around 7:45am, we all gathered under the big arch in downtown Golden for the pre-ride spiel.
Right out of the gate we’re sent up Lookout Mountain. This was a ride I had wanted to do forever and hadn’t for a variety of reasons. It’s 5-mile climb that averages 5% grade, which ended up being more accessible than I imagined. Find a cadence and spin. I took a short break right after the end of the timed section and met a few other East Coasters (Philly, New Jersey, and New York in the house!) who were out for the ride. I also met Jan, who was turning 65 tomorrow and this ride was her birthday present to herself.
Coming down the other side, averaging 30 mph, was what cycling dreams are made of. Jan and I made it to the first aid station, manned by a local Boy Scout Troop. They had water, electrolytes, PB&Js – and an adorable puppy “for stress relief.”
I checked my text messages to see where my friend was. I had texted her at the top of Lookout to meet up at the first Aid Station – but unfortunately, my friend was not having a good bike day and ended her ride at 20 miles.
The next section was a series of two long hills up Golden Gate Canyon Rd. As a predominately gravel and mountain bike rider these days, I forgot just how exposed pavement is. Especially in Colorado. It was already well into the 80s and not a cloud in sight. My strategy here was to find an all-day pace and spin; pause in the shade when necessary (it was SO HOT) to catch my breath, eat something, and then continue on. There was also a pretty continuous headwind, which is great for cooling off but not good for energy to pedal your bike up a hill.
Along the way, I somehow lost Jan but met Kevin from New Jersey. We both had stopped in the shade to get some respite from the sun. I was out of water (and 5 miles to get to the aid station) and no cell service. One of the ride support vehicles stopped to check on us (and refill my water). Kevin took a ride up to the top of the steep climb; being told it was less than a mile to the top, I decided to ride.
But a mile later, I’m still slowly climbing and the grade is ticking upwards. Another support truck rolled up and said “Hop in! You aren’t the first person we’ve given a quick boost.” About a mile later, they dropped me off at the top and I bombed down the road to the next aid station. Also, they had fruit snacks which were very much needed at that moment.
My goal had been to get to Aid Station 2 by 11am and it’s now 12pm. I decide to take a longer break, eat, and think about my options. The next section is a timed climb – and while my legs aren’t shot, the saddle on my rental bike isn’t playing nice with my sit-bones. And given how far off pace I am, do I really want to spend the next hour and a half climbing over 1,400′ over 12 miles? Not really. It was really hot, I was worried about the water situation, my saddle, and the headwinds (which we heard were worse further up in the canyon).
Thankfully Aid Station 2 would have also been Aid Station 3 – so Kevin and I rolled out to finish the route, minus the 12 miles. The next 5 miles or so were all sweet, sweet downhill through Golden Gate Canyon State Park. We used to take our kids camping there when we lived in Colorado so NOSTALGIA.
Then came Drew Hill. The meanest hill on the entire route. 1.5 miles with whole sections over 15% grade. Dirt over crumbling pavement. I knew it was coming and I rode the first portion until the grade got to a point where I hopped off and started to walk. Which was still a workout. Kevin and I talked the whole way up, cheering on the guys who were riding it. One guy fell over trying to ride up the hill.
At the very top, we were rewarded with spectacular views and a 10-mile descent back into town. We chatted with a few others from the Philly area (so much East Coast love out there!) and then bombed back to town.
This is probably the hardest Gran Fondo in the whole series. I was surprised by the relatively small number of riders compared to other events I’ve been to – but it seems the climbing scares a lot of people away. Nothing was truly awful except maybe Drew Hill. And to be honest, it sounds really impressive to say I had climbed over 5,000′ in 30 miles when I got to the second aid station. The climbing is definitely front-loaded.
While I didn’t complete the whole route, I have no regrets. I had a great day on the bike and met so many cool people along the way. Should I register for this again, I would do one thing differently: Bring my own bike. I know it, I love it, I trust it. It’s worth the hassle and expense. And maybe I would have tackled the second timed section because my butt didn’t hurt.
Despite not completing the whole route, I placed 5th in my gendered age bracket based on the timed segments I completed.
I asked this question at 4:30 in the afternoon as my friends and I took a trailside break, nibbling on yet another ClifBar to fuel the climb back out from the river. I’ve never been to Kingdom Trails before, and have heard nothing but amazing things. We’d been riding their favorite trails all day, and I was curious. My friends looked at me like I was crazy but after a long pause said … “I don’t know. It just is.”
But that’s where Kingdom Trails gets you. The trails are sublime. And I’m once again late to the party on this.
1. The trails are purpose-built. This is probably the most significant factor in why the trails are so great: Kingdom Trails are built to maximize your fun and have opportunities to dial in the experience to your skill level. Love railing berms? Getting some sick air off jumps? Screaming across narrow bridges? KT lets you do that. Just want to relax on singletrack that pops out of the woods into a field straight from a Dirt Rag photo shoot? KT has that too. The trails I rode were not too technical despite the Black Diamond Rating – but I attribute that more to skill-building by riding locally on hiking/biking trails full of natural features. Stand-out trails from the weekend were Kitchel, Troll Stroll, Pines, Coronary Bypass, Farm Junk, and Skydive.
2. The trails exist because of a collaboration between Advocates and Land Owners. Your day or season pass doesn’t fund some corporate entity out to make money on mountain bikers – the trails exist because of an agreement between a charitable conservation organization and landowners. This brings an important distinction that encourages everyone to be on their best behavior. Riders respect the trails more because who wants to be That Guy who ruined the fun for everyone.
3. KT doesn’t engage in price gouging. A day pass is $15 and a season pass is $75 – only 5 visits to make it worth your hard-earned money for a season pass. My friends and I rode for 3 days and barely scratched the surface of the volume of trails available to ride. If KT is within a 3-hour drive or you can plan more than one long weekend devoted to riding, a season pass is the way to go.
4. KT helps fuel the economic engine of Burke, Vermont. The trails are usable can be used year-round, weather permitting – and outdoor recreationalists need a place to stay. We booked a campsite at Burke Cottages & Campground, which has several large sites to choose from and a brand new shower house. Only a short drive into town for passes, bike rentals, or a hearty meal at the end of a long day on the trails. And the warm shower felt great after a long day on the trails. Also a convenient opportunity for tick checks.
5. There is a lunch shack in the middle of the woods. Probably the most brilliant business concept is the lunch shack in the woods. We had been riding hard all morning and getting hungry. No need to leave the trails to refuel or gnaw on bars and goos all day (although you totally can and the Country Store has ridiculously good breakfast and lunch options). We joined the throngs of riders at the lunch shack for a quick wrap, chips, and a refreshing beverage. Stone benches under huge pine trees dot the area around the shed, providing respite and shade.
Bonus Reason: The Views. The trails and the views are some of the most beautiful I’ve had the privilege to experience. Do yourself a favor and climb to Heaven’s Bench. Take a minute to look around when you pop out of the woods into a field.
I had the privilege of renting a Santa Cruz 5010 C XE for the weekend and I can’t speak highly enough of this bike. Nimble, playful, and spry, the bike climbed and descended with ease. A mere 27 pounds, the bike felt light yet stable. There were a few places on Kitchel, in particular, where the bike certainly wanted to get some air. The wingspan of the handlebars felt wide but over the three days, I got used to it. I forgot to ask for a women’s saddle (or to bring my own) so let’s just say downtown wasn’t terribly happy after 3 days of riding.
But I will say – I think this trip solidified the bike I plan to buy once I’m fully employed again. This bike just made me happy.
Do yourself a favor and book a vacation up to the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont and hit the Kingdom Trails. You will not regret it.
Everything hurts, which is why I’m signing up again next year.
Sunday night I lay down and thought “My body hurts. Everything hurts. What a great day.”
The Farmer’s Daughter Gravel Grinder is by far the hardest gravel ride I’ve done in the year or so I’ve been riding dirt roads. But it’s also one of the most interesting, scenic, and diverse rides. Organized by two mountain bikers who wanted to showcase the beauty and bounty in and around Columbia County, New York, FDGG takes you on an epic journey through peaceful farmlands, quiet forests, and some of the best hills the Taconics can throw at you.
Let’s start with – it’s been a long winter and wet spring. This week was no exception with more rainy days than not. It rained the whole day before the ride so we knew it would be a bit sloppy. The forecast for Sunday was continually changing, showing we were either going to have a really rainy day or just overcast. Most of the questions being sent to the organizers on the Facebook page were around tire choice.
In the end, I’m not sure what the best tire choice would be for 65 miles on mostly peanut butter roads, some paved, and 6 water-logged, muddy off-road/tractor road sections.
I, of course, went with my 26mm Panaracer Gravel King SKs. It was that or my mountain bike, and I didn’t feel like riding that for 65 miles.
My friend Matt rode with me, and I’m so glad he did because this year was a true test of strength, stamina, and grit.
In the Beginning …
The first three miles of the course is on a grassy rail trail with a gentle incline and really sets the tone for the event. Fairly quickly the ride separated the speedy folks from the ones who wanted to enjoy the day.
Back on the road for a short bit to get to the second off-road section through a nature preserve. If you are not a mountain biker or cyclocross racer, this is the first sign the route isn’t for you as you are basically on single- and double-track. The rains made this section extremely muddy, and we ended up walking good portions because the mud was so rutted, slick, and deep. We were in good company though – virtually everyone around us was also walking their bikes.
The first water stop was at a brewery around mile 16. Fueled up on maple syrup shots and pickles, skipping the whiskey-soaked Swedish Fish (which we heard were amazing). Topped off water and got back on the road. The clock indicates we’re slower than expected.
More beautiful dirt roads before heading into Off-Road #3 – singletrack edition. We’re yo-yo’ing with the same people and camaraderie is high. We’re getting a bit tired, but we aren’t pushing the pace terribly because conditions are pretty soul-sucking. But at least it’s not raining – just really, really soggy. Rode as much of the singletrack as possible; walked where it felt prudent. Popped out into a field with the first full rest stop at mile 27 on the other side of the field.
FDGG has excellent rest stop food because it’s catered by local businesses like Bountiful Bread Bakery who had delicious sandwiches prepared. I chose the peanut butter on cranberry-walnut wheat bread; Matt chose the turkey with stuffing and cranberry spread. Refilled water, checked the time, had another cookie, then back to it.
Matt and I have ridden gravel grinders together and we both expected to be done around 3pm as a 10mph average is a good estimating target for rides with 100’/mi of climbing. As we left the rest stop, I started doing the math and said “I don’t think we’ll be done until 5pm.” Our average progressive speed, inclusive of breaks, had dipped below 8mph. But with the bulk of the ride (and the majority of the climbing) about to happen, we didn’t want to burn too many matches.
(There are no photos to add to this section because it’s basically a pain cave.)
The middle 20 miles has nearly half of the total climbing for the day, an endless series of rollers with a few back-to-back-to-back hills that put you squarely above 10% grade for a bit.
This is also where I had to humble myself and walk two of the steepest hills, my energy sapped from the struggle just to navigate the soggy conditions. We took a breather at the top of one particularly nasty climb and a tall guy on a Rivendell and wearing Crocs stopped too. He reminded me of one of my kids. We chatted for a few minutes, then continued on.
This is also where it began to rain, turning thick nut-butter roads into pea soup. Our bikes are so caked in mud, gears grinding in the grit. The SKs are shedding mud well, but I still find myself spinning out a few times while trying to power through thick mud. Every fishtail of my rear wheel, every slippery root or rock on the off-road sections remind me that the skills I’ve learned on a hardtail mountain bike will always serve me well in any terrain.
Mile 40 brings us to a pop-up ice cream stop catered by Cold Stone Creamery. It’s stopped raining, and we’re getting chilled, so we put on a few layers to keep warm. We’re at the final rest stop in 7 miles.
The End …
The rest stop at mile 47 is a bounty of food: bananas, PB&Js, Mexican chocolate cake, and probably more importantly, COKES. We take a little longer to enjoy full-sugar soda guilt-free, eat, and strategize our next 18 miles. We still have the last 2 off-road sections to go, including one notoriously steep grassy incline that is sure to be even soggier and slick now.
There aren’t many people around us now, and we overhear many people opt for the bailout at this point – cutting a few miles but staying exclusively on paved roads back to the start. We are not these people and soldier on.
Despite the rest and refueling, there’s simply not enough power left in my body to power up the grassy hill, so we end up walking. We get in a rhythm of riding when we can and walking when we spin out. I will note here that Matt is a beast and rode more hills than I did and I remain in awe of his power. But to be sure, we’re both hurting at this point.
We continue on the roads to the final off-road segment and stop to decide if we want to ride the soggy, grassy loop through a field. We made it this far, I’m not throwing in the towel yet – so in we go. The mowed path goes down, down, down, and then turned sharply right and UP. Hopped off and walked – there was simply no traction on the water-logged grass. Took a short singletrack loop up to a gazebo for a short break to take in the incredible views. We’re 60 miles in and closing in on 5pm. Matt and I are both exhausted.
The last few miles are downhill, as any difficult ride should be. We roll into the finish, and people are still milling around, the band is still playing, and there is plenty of hot food and cold beverages waiting for us. Nearly 8.5 hours after we started, we were finally done. And we are far from the last people to roll in.
Probably the best part of this ride is the organizers did not pressure anyone to be done by a specific time so they could clean up and go home. They built an incredibly challenging and beautiful route that was meant to be savored. And then let those of us who wanted to finish despite incredibly challenging conditions do so.
We cleaned up, we hosed off our bikes, we said “great ride!” and headed back to our homes tired but accomplished.
Which brings us to …
the opening statement about everything hurting. It hurt to lay down. Ever fiber of my body held the dull ache of full depletion. I haven’t been this wrecked from a ride in a long time – a sign of a really good time.
At the end of the ride I wasn’t sure I’d want to do this ride again but here we are, just a few days later, and I’m thinking … if the conditions are drier next year, I’ll be there and so should you.