What’s Next for 2022?

dream big

who knows.

Seriously.

2021 clearly became the Year of Bikepacking. Including overnights, I jammed 7 bikepacking trips in 5 months. Bonkers! It was incredibly rewarding and I learned a lot, which has streamlined my Go Kit and made it super easy to say YES to adventure (especially snack adventures).

But now that I’m in the chillax portion of the Bike Year, where I don’t feel like I need to “train” for “that big ride I want to do” anymore and I can just go sloth around in the woods on my fat bike, grinning like a kid.

My brain is always running around in the clouds though, dreaming of my next adventure. I’m pretty terrible at remembering things I haven’t written down (usually literally – in a notebook, on a post-it note, or as a Calendar event) here’s what I’m thinking about for 2022:

THE PLAN SO FAR

What else is on my brain?

More to come …

Coffee, Pie, and Body Image

the struggle is real

“Bring enough supplies for a non-stop ride.”

OK, roadside rest stop it is!

“If you really want to make this a roadside rest stop, we could bring our foldable chairs, coffee, and apple pie.”

this sounds amazing – let’s do it!!

text exchange with my ride partner

I love doing wacky things. The fall riding season is upon us, with cooler days and vibrant displays of color bursting forth along quiet dirt roads. I was very excited when my friend suggested we bring chairs and have a proper break to enjoy some coffee and pie mid-ride.

A few weeks removed from my Green Mountain Gravel Growler trip, I’m still feeling strong with some twinges in one of my knees. So I wore a compression brace for the hilly route and took it easy on the hills to minimize stress through my knees.

We found a gravel pull-out and set up our coffee and pie relaxation station. The pull-out is mid-way up a climb on a forest-lined dirt road … protected from the wind but with the soothing views of nature. Not long after we set up, a friend came riding down the road. He stopped to talk to us, snapped a photo of us, and then continued on. Apparently there was a gravel event doing a similar route in the opposite direction so soon we were seeing all kinds of riders fly by while we enjoyed our coffee and pie. Lots of quizzical looks and smiles as they figured out what we were doing.

Coffee & Pie Stop in the middle of nowhere

We finished the ride a few hours later, feeling really happy with how the ride played out.

I got home and started uploading photos to various social media sites to share the joy of doing something unexpected on a routine ride. That’s when I noticed how unflattering the Coffee and Pie stop photos looked.

The photo on the left is how I feel – fit, strong, sturdy, capable of amazing things.

The photo on the right reminds me that I’ve put on weight since I started taking anti-anxiety medication. After losing nearly 30 pounds in 2 years, watching 15 pounds appear within 6 months of starting medication that helps reduce the anxious electricity that courses through my body 24/7 is … hard.

It doesn’t help that I’ve fallen off the calorie tracking wagon and given myself a bit of grace lately when it comes to food. Especially since tracking wasn’t helping to lose weight anymore, just barely maintain the added pounds. The mental payoff is definitely greater than the physical impacts. I’ve tried tapering off the meds and do not enjoy the pervasive electric buzz of anxiety that creeps back into my life. I appreciate feeling like myself, but with a clearer grasp of reality that isn’t clouded by excessive anxious energy.

My annual physical proves my activities pay off – all my bloodwork comes back great. My BMI is 27, which is overweight, but my doctor feels that is offset by my other positive factors. My home scale roughly calculates fat to muscle (29% fat and 28% muscle) – which is within the acceptable range of body fat percentage for a woman in her mid-forties.

We have only one life – I don’t want to create more stress than necessary. But I would like to see how I feel about myself reflected in photographs.

We’re heading into the off season, where rides will be shorter; less intense. Maybe this is the time to recommit myself to maintaining a healthy nutrition plan with a bit more exercise during the week. Finding that balance of family, work, personal pursuits, and healthy body image.

Thanks for reading!

Green Mountain Gravel Growler 2021: Girls Adventure Edition

we’re only here for the dirt

Prologue

For the past year, I have tossed around last year’s GMGG ride over and over in my head. What I would do differently, how would I feel at certain parts, and ultimately … could I finish the route successfully? Reading so many other ordinary riders complete the route only deepened my self-imposed shame over not having finished the ride last year.

This year’s goal, while not overtly stated, has been Improving Bikepacking Skills. Starting with an impromptu local overnight in April, I worked in several bikepacking overnights and an early-season 110 mile ride to get pizza for lunch. I used these trips to dial in nutrition strategy, and noticed I tend to not eat as much when I’m climbing a lot. That’s an easy fix – stop occasionally to eat and let your body process for a few minutes before moving on!

Curt is always up for adventure, which makes it very easy to dial in planning and develop a Go Kit. The Go Kit has been key, as I have everything I need in one location and have two sets of packing lists based on if there is camping or lodging (or both) involved. I can then focus on picking multi-purpose items to minimize weight and maximize comfort and safety. This helps minimize panic-packing.

This year my friend Jessica flew out from Colorado to do the trip with me. She had never been to Vermont before but knew THIS was the route for her. After talking about camping, we decided to make packing simple and book lodging. It also helped with dialing in her flight, as we could pick dates without having to worry about weather for camping. I shared my planning spreadsheet with her so we could have a central “source of truth” for notes and such. It’s also handy to share with loved ones back home so they have an itinerary of where you should be each day and an estimated route.

Even better, neither of us drinks beer so the ride became less about stopping at iconic Vermont breweries and more about experiencing the best Vermont dirt.

Monday was our travel day – I picked Jess up at the Burlington Airport, got dinner, and settled in for the night. Weather for the week was mid-70s, mostly sunny, with potential for rain and cooler temps mid-trip.

DAY ONE: Burlington to Stowe

The hardest part of this day is honestly getting out of Burlington. The urban flavor for the first few miles is mentally stressful due to the volume of cars – but once we were on the backroads, we could relax and settle into an all-day cadence and talk. Our first detour of the trip took us back onto a busy road with construction for a mile or so.

This was also the beginning of many, many “WOW!!!”moments emanating from Jess. She’s a seasoned traveler, going on multi-week trips with her husband and daughter to snowboard, ski, mountain bike, camp, and hike … but Vermont was a whole new world of lush greenery. The leaves are just starting to change and it was such an honor to be part of these first experiences of the Northeast. I couldn’t help but smile and laugh with every “WHOA,” and “LOOK AT THAT RED,” “WE’RE GOING INTO A TREE TUNNEL,” and “WOW!!!!!”

We arrived at Stone Coral well before they opened so we decided to eat lunch in Waterbury. We knew Prohibition Pig wouldn’t be open either, but we were confident we’d find a market or deli. The roads to Waterbury are flat to trending down, which paired with the winds was delicious. Lunch at Subway on the far side of town (four chickens joined us at the patio table) and then onward to the hills.

Hills are different depending on where you live in the country. Jess was coming from Colorado and had trained by riding up and down the steepest hills in her area as often as possible. But Colorado also believes in switchbacks while roadbuilders in the Northeast tend to just have the road go UP. Maybe you get an S-curve near the steepest part. So we adopted a strategy of Slow & Low & Breaks – slow speed, low gear, and taking breaks as needed. This allowed us to conserve energy that we knew we’d need for more than just today.

We paused at the top of Stowe Hollow and a local out on an afternoon ride stopped to chat with us. We dropped down to VT-100 and opted to skip the hill up to Von Trapp Family Lodge, cutting a few miles of significant elevation but getting us into Stowe in high spirits. Got cleaned up at the Stowe Inn before walking over to Ranch Camp for burritos on the patio.

DAY TWO: Stowe to Hardwick

The morning air was vaguely humid with ominous clouds surrounding us as we pedaled up the road to breakfast at Stowe Bee Bakery. A stiff breeze welcomed us head-on, much to our amusement. We sat on the patio with lattes and scones and breakfast sandwiches made with biscuits (the ONLY way a breakfast sandwich should be made, IMO) and talked about the route for the day. We knew we had big hills to tackle early on and agreed yesterday’s Slow & Low strategy would be good for today as well. It’s 9am and we’re already sweating just sitting outside.

We got to Morristown too early to have lunch at Lost Nation, so we popped into town to take a break and get more water and snacks at a gas station before heading back out into the hills. We decided to get lunch in Craftsbury, a short detour off the main route. The further east we pedal, the higher in elevation we are and the more foliage surrounds us. The colors pop against the cloudy skies and it starts to sprinkle as we roll into Craftsbury. We stop at the Village Store for sandwiches, enjoying them on their covered patio. Jess gets a maple cree-mee, a Vermont specialty.

Since we aren’t beer consumers and with weather to the east looking decidedly wet, we decide to skip the hills out to Hill Farmstead and follow the dirt hills more directly to Hardwick. We found a lovely road that rejoins the original route just in time for the epic descent into Hardwick. We roll up to the Inn by the River and are greeted by Frieda (she recommended we call next time to take advantage of direct-booking discounts). She also allowed us to keep our bikes in the locked office overnight.

A short walk into town for dinner at the Village Restaurant and then back to relax by the river to soak in the day.

DAY THREE: HARDWICK to WAITSFIELD

Hands down the hardest but my all time favorite day of the route.

We got breakfast to-go from Connie’s Kitchen (yes, I got pancakes) that we enjoyed in the shade by the river before kitting up and heading out to Hardwick Market for extra water and snacks.

Buffalo Mountain Road was in surpringly great shape and we were able to ride the steepest parts before hopping off for a bit to walk where it was much chunkier. Riders who prefer to not hike-a-bike will not love this 12 mile section of the route, but we had a blast. It’s truly the gem of the route and a road that should be savored, not skipped.

We rolled into Montpelier for lunch at 2pm, enjoying the low-key energy of late lunch on the patio at Three Penny Taproom. Looking at the route, we decided to skip Hill Rd in favor of the more moderate climb up Northfield Rd. Unfortunately, this also put us on a very busy Northfield Rd that wandered along the river with a tiny shoulder. Jess wasn’t psyched about East Coast drivers and how little psychological safety is afforded cyclists so we pulled over to figure out options.

For reasons unclear to me, my RideWithGPS app wasn’t functioning correctly for my off-line route and I couldn’t zoom in to where we were to see options. My Garmin was telling me we had a right turn in about 2 miles, but we weren’t sure if that was trying to reroute us back to Montpelier or get us back on-route. But we did know if we turned left, we’d be able to get back on -route on a quiet dirt road.

Rowell Hill Rd is a 1 mile dirt connector street that averages 11%+. We laughed as we pushed our loaded bikes up the steep s-curves, taking breaks along the way to catch our breath and keep going. We agreed we probably should have just taken Hill Rd and stayed on-route. Once we got to the top, we still had the same amount of distance to our next turn …. which was the same road from before we pushed up this monster hill. We laughed pretty hard about this as we enjoyed the descent on the backroad.

Arriving at Northfield Falls, we opted to turn right onto Cox Brook Rd instead of continuing south on the main route. The official route was recently updated to remove the Waitsfield Gap, which is technically a class 4 road, due to erosion and private land rights – rerouting riders from the south back up to the Moretown Gap. It’s already late in the day, we’re tired, and there isn’t a reason to add the additional southern miles so we head up the Moretown Gap, which was a very pleasant ride along the river.

VT-100b was also very busy so we popped onto Pony Farm Rd and were rewarded with quiet, rolling hills on dirt. We chatted with a woman walking her dog at the top of a hill while refueling. The skies have cleared and the wind is still ever-present, but the sun is shining for golden hour. We roll into Mad Taco for to-go dinner before setting in at the Waitsfield Inn for the night. Vickie and Jon were phenomenal hosts, providing us with access to their shed for our bikes, ice for my knee, and a clean, comfortable room.

DAY FOUR: WAITSFIELD TO BRISTOL

The Lincoln Gap Day. The day that broke me last year. So much trepidation and anxiety was about to culminate. Would the Gap break me again?

Although if I’m being fair and honest with myself, a lot of things contributed to last year’s failure. Mostly not being fully recovered from surgery, wonky digestion, not eating enough throughout the days leading up to day four, and pushing an overloaded bike with 2.2″ tires as hard and fast as I could to keep up with Curt. That’s not on him in any way – we all have to ride hills at our own pace and I needed to be more proactive and protective of my energy levels.

The weather reports had been changing every day and settled in on 100% chance of rain with up to an inch of precipitation depending on where one was in the state for the day. We woke up to pouring rain, already well over half-inch already fallen overnight. We tucked ourselves into a separate dining room, drinking coffee and eating breakfast (oatmeal, scrambled eggs with cheddar and chives, and toast with jam and butter) and talking about the day’s strategy. Temps in the upper-50s/lower-60s meant pulling out the wind vest for the morning.

The rain abated by the time we rolled out, around 10am. Peanut butter roads greeted us and we conserved energy by soft-pedaling up the hills. There was a much bigger fish to fry today. Descents were soft and littered with wet leaves, requiring focus and a lot of braking. We dropped into Warren and stopped at the Library for water and quick bathroom break.

Our legs slightly stiff from the previous three days of riding meant gentle pedaling up the first 2.5 miles of Lincoln Gap Rd. We stopped for photos and talked to an elderly local who told us “it gets steep up there” and “most bike riders push their bikes.” We wished him a great rest of his day and pedaled onward.

Jess managed to pedal a bit further into the steep part than I did, but in the end we both pushed our bikes up to the top, taking breaks for a few moments along the way. Amazing what a significantly lighter bike and a much cooler day will do for stamina! It was very windy at the top and we pulled out our arm warmers while we ate a snack and took photos at the top. It was such a 180 from how I felt at the top last year. We descended carefully as the dirt was still peanut buttery and leafy. As we turned south, the sun came out and the dirt was drier.

We decided to skip the last climb and take the dirt road descent directly into Ripton. The Ripton Market didn’t have sandwiches so we swooped down VT-125 into East Middlebury, rolling into Otter East Bakery & Deli 13 minutes before they closed for the day. We got our sandwiches and sat under the deli’s apple trees to enjoy a well-deserved lunch.

The rest of the day was flat to gently-rolling dirt roads and trails through farmland into Middlebury and then up to Beldens. The 5 miles from Beldens to VT-116 was gorgeous farmland and the backroads up to Bristol were quiet. Got to the Bristol Suites and hauled our bikes up three flights of narrow stairs to our room. Cleaned up, take-out from Bobcat Cafe & Brewery, and slept well after another tough but rewarding day. Hard to believe there’s only one more day left!

DAY FIVE: BRISTOL to BURLINGTON

Take-out breakfast from Bristol Cliffs Cafe (latte, oatmeal with dried fruit and maple syrup) and walked over to the park to enjoy. Last year the park was empty but this year it was bustling with energy as the community was setting up for the Harvest Festival.

We noticed bikes on the back deck of a second floor suite and ended up talking to the group before departing. They were also riding the GMGG, but stopping at all the breweries. I can’t imagine drinking a few times a day and trying to get to the next town – but they couldn’t believe we were just out to enjoy prime Vermont dirt roads. To each their own!

The phrase of the day was “hey look, another hill!” as we pedaled north through farmland. As we crested one early hill, we could see Lake Champlain with the Adirondacks as a backdrop. Stunning!

A few miles and hills later, we rolled up to Monkton Ridge Orchard, a tiny orchard on a side road no more than a quarter mile from a clearly larger and more “professional” apple orchard operation. We stopped for cider donuts and a glass of fresh cider before continuing on.

Jess marveled at how a regular dirt road would turn into these single-lane rustic roads and back on the same “road.” Part of the charm and texture of Vermont dirt!

We stopped for lunch at Folino’s Pizza in Shelburne before the final few miles into Burlington, splitting a large margherita and guzzling lemonade. The Burlington Bike Path has rolling closures so we ended up having to detour. This detour brought us to Lake Champlain Chocolates, which Jess had been hoping to find again before she flew home. The detour was clearly kismet.

Rolling up the Burlington Bike Path along Lake Champlain was a perfect end to our trip.


TOTALS

  • 226 miles
  • 19,305′ of climbing
  • 5 days (just shy of 24 hours total ride time)

THINGS I DID RIGHT

  • Focus on FUN. Having done the route before, I knew what to expect and could offer options when we had opportunities to make adjustments. As cool as it would be to show Jess the Von Trapp Lodge, the dirt climb to get there is soul-sucking. Better to get burritos and have something to look forward to next time.
  • No need to rush. I am exceptionally proud of my “second fastest time” notes on Strava throughout the routes. I was able to finish strong and with plenty of energy each day.
  • Pack Light. Lodging lightened my load by about 8 pounds, to a total of 16 pounds of gear. Which is still MUCH less than the 30 pounds I hauled around last year.
  • Nutrition. I was constantly eating a bite here and there, a few gummies every few miles. Fueling the ride meant more days feeling stable, solid, and ready for the day. I also focused on carb-centric breakfasts like scones, oatmeal, and pancakes with bananas and eggs to complement.
  • Modifications to the route. We made changes to almost every day, whether to remove unnecessary miles/hills or to get off heavily trafficked roads. All edits were made to maximize the FUN part of the ride – and since we didn’t have a need to get to a brewery for a beer, we were free to check out other local attractions. We took the main route as a set of options and chose the ones we wanted to do.

THINGS I CAN IMPROVE

  • Packing. I brought an entire nano panier of food (probably 5-6 pounds) and came home with 3.5 pounds of untouched food. Psychologically it was a safety net and I always had something to eat – but yeah, can definitely pack lighter there.
  • (I’m sure this will get updated as I think of more things to do better)

Packing List

total gear+supplies weight – 16 pounds
bike weight estimated at 25 pounds

The Bike & The Packs

Salsa Cutthroat GRX600, size 52
modifications: 11-40 cassette
Teravail Rutland 42mm 
Salsa bolt-on framebag
Revelate Designs Pronghorn Harness w/small drybag
Revelate Designs Egress Pocket
Revelate Designs Nano Panniers
Revelate Designs Gas Can
Topeak Explore MTB rack
26oz water bottles, mounted to fork

Attire On the Bike

rinsed out my kit nightly, hung to dry
changed kits after 3 days

Off-Bike Clothing & Gear
  • Showers Pass Syncline CC jacket in leaf green
  • Pactimo thermal arm and knee warmers
  • Pactimo wind vest
  • Extra wool socks
  • Capri leggings, t shirt, softcup bra for off-bike time
  • Shorts, t shirt, old sports bra for sleeping
  • Midweight wool quarter-zip long sleeve for layering
  • toiletries (travel size toothbrush, toothpaste, deodorant, tweezers)
  • Chamois Butt’r travel packets
  • medications sorted into plastic jewelry bags (morning, afternoon, evening)
  • day hike first aid kit
  • wallet pouch with laminated photocopies of my ID, insurance card, and covid-19 vaccination card, cash, and a credit card
Mechanical & Tools
  • extra velcro and voile straps
  • multi-tool, tire levers, CO2 for MTB tires
  • spare tubes
  • spare brake pads
  • spare shifter cable
  • travel size chain lube and shop towels
On-bike Nutrition
  • ClifBars, assorted
  • Skratch Labs gummies (sour cherry is my fave)
  • Skratch Labs hydration, individual packets
  • Untappd Maple Coffee flavored maple syrup packets
  • ClifBlok gummies in Salted Watermelon
  • Spare cookies from the first night’s hotel stay

GMGG: Round 2 Pre-Thoughts

welcome to my anxieties

So I’m leaving tomorrow for a second shot at the Green Mountain Gravel Growler, an epic adventure in north-central Vermont. My brain alternates between “you got this, girl!” to “wtf are you doing?”

Readers may remember last year’s ride, which was deeply influenced by a few key factors:

  • Limited bikepacking experience (it was my 4th bikepacking ride)
  • overpacking (27-30 pounds of anxiety packing)
  • Not eating enough quick-energy snacks on the hills
  • digestive issues, directly related to …
  • having major abdominal surgery 3 months prior

While I had an amazing time on the ride last year, I’ve been pretty hard on myself for calling a taxi 18 miles from finishing the route. I have zero regrets about this, as I remember how deeply bonked I was, and used this vulnerable moment to inform my adventures this past year … but I also feel I have unfinished business with the Gravel Growler.

My girlfriends tease me about being a Finisher, but there’s an element of truth there. I want to finish what I started last year.

This year I spent a lot of time working on my bikepacking skills, starting in April with a local overnight and culminating in late July with the Cross-New Hampshire Adventure Trail: how to pack lighter, how to decide what to leave at home, how to dispersed-camp, how to know your route enough to know where other options are when your plan A doesn’t pan out.

I did another local overnight in August but have been focused on just riding and keeping the legs prepped. I have spent hours pouring over the map, dialing in contingency plans and writing down notes in case cell service is absent when we need it most.

This year, my friend Jess is flying in from Colorado to join me on this trip. To keep things light, we decided to shift from camping to lodging along the route. I think this will be a key benefit, as the weather forecast has two days of steady rain in the middle of the ride. If Brattleboro taught me anything, it’s having a warm shower and bed to sleep in is amazing after a day in the rain.

That and bringing spare brake pads in case we need to put in fresh ones after a rainy, dirty day.

I just weighed my bags for the trip … 16 pounds. A good chunk of that though is quick-energy snacks for the whole trip plus a few extra. Understanding this isn’t totally necessary as we can stop along the way to get food at convenience stores and local markets, it’s giving me psychological safety. And the load will get lighter over time.

Bottom line, I have three goals for this year:

  1. Have fun, one day at a time
  2. eat the damn pancakes
  3. finish the ride happy, healthy, and feeling accomplished

Stay tuned for the recap post when I return.

See you out there!

XNHAT + NWM Loop Bikepacking Overnight

Live Free or Die

A low rumble sounded. I’m pedaling up Old Cherry Mountain Road into White Mountain National Forest, enjoying the stunning forest gently hugging the dirt road, squarely centered on being fully present in this moment. My friends are out of sight behind me, but not worried … we’ll all regroup at the top.

That’s interesting, I didn’t realize there was a logging operation nearby.

A short distance later, the low rumble sounds again.

That’s not logging operations. That’s a thunderstorm. We need to set up camp NOW.


A few years back my friend Karen sent me a website for the Cross New Hampshire Adventure Trail (XNHAT). At the time, there wasn’t a lot of information other than a Map My Ride link and a few pages with trail conditions, including that ATVs had chewed up a section of the rail trail pretty badly. We put this in our back pockets for a future adventure when more information was available – but it was appealing because of the gentle rail trail grades, lots of dirt, and biking across New Hampshire.

Earlier this year I saw the Northern White Mountains Overnight Loop (NWM Loop) on Bikepacking.com and immediately wanted to do the ride for the scenery. But with a 6 hour drive to the start, I needed a bit more to make it worth the drive.

Karen, our friend Ashley, and I originally planned to ride the Brattleboro Loop from bikepacking.com but as the year progressed and the weather was persistently rainy, we decided to find something more in line with a Type I fun trip.

Enter the mashup of the XNHAT and NWM Loop: start from Woodsville, NH (a mere 4 hours from my house) and ride to Maine and back with the scenic NWM Loop hooked in on the eastbound ride over 3 days (2 nights). My friend Jean also joined us.


Day One Highlights

  • The Ammonoosuc Rail Trail isn’t your typical rail train in that it allows OHRV/ATVs. The gravel can get deep and chunky at times as well as significant washboarding. Wider tires help, but our hands were continually going numb from the vibrations.
  • The bridges and trestles are wide and well maintained, offering stunning views along the river
  • Seeing a buck running through the river. We watched for a bit to make sure a bear wasn’t chasing it before continuing on.
  • Covered Bridge at Bath
  • Old Train station in Lisbon
  • Lunch at Littleton Diner
  • Getting caught in a pop up rain storm leaving Littleton
  • 11 miles of exposed pavement (Route 116) from Littleton to Whitefield is by far the least enjoyable part of the journey.
    • The shoulder is wide, but it’s a busy road with lots of logging trucks and virtually no shade or opportunities for shelter when weather changes
  • Deciding to pick up extra water in Whitefield since we intended to dispersed camp in White Mountain National Forest
  • Getting caught in another pop-up rainstorm as we leave Whitefield. This has got to be a record year for rainfall in the Northeast.
  • Back on quiet backroads and the start of actual climbing, not the gentle rail trail grades we’ve been enjoying so far
  • Old Cherry Mountain Rd is a fantastic climb into White Mountain National Forest
  • Thunder!
  • checking dispersed campsite after campsite and finding them all occupied. Feeling disheartened, but also that we need to get set up quickly because a thunderstorm is approaching.
  • Recalling there is a campground at the bottom of the descent … and going up to the front door of the house to see if we can get a site …. quickly
  • Spending the next hour on their covered front porch while thunderstorms form, merge, and then move south … while another forms in its place and dumping lots and lots of rain.
  • Fortunately the campground had hot showers for the coldest among us … and the owners brought us firewood so we could have a fire
  • Setting up camp, enjoying dinner and laughter by the fire
  • Helinox chairs are worth the weight when it’s been raining!
  • Finishing the day at 50 miles

Day Two Highlights

  • Everything is somehow still wet from overnight – but the temps are rapidly rising and drying things off
  • checking the weather forecast and realizing Sunday is 95% chance of .5″ of rain and by heading westbound, we won’t see any tapering off. Sunday is our longest day, an expected 65 miles on the Presidential Rail Trail, Route 116, and Ammonoosuc Rail Trails.
  • Making the decision to finish the NWM Loop portion of the route and then head back to the cars for a total of 57 miles for the day.
  • It’s hot. We take frequent breaks in the shade
  • Turning left onto Jefferson Notch Rd and feeling relieved to see it’s a gorgeous shaded dirt road
  • Everyone taking the climb at their own pace
  • SO HOT at the summit!! Photos, food, quick break in the shade, then 6 miles downhill
  • Learning the Presidential Rail Trail is significantly more rustic than the Ammonoosuc Rail Trail. But the views!!
  • Sled dog kennel!!
  • The heat is starting to get to some in the group so we start taking frequent breaks in whatever shade we can find
  • Whitefield Market for food and time in the A/C
  • lunch in the shady grass at the center common park was peak bike adventure happiness
  • Back on Route 116, which is still really exposed but now really hot as well
  • Arriving in Littleton and deciding to head to the river and put our feet in
    • GAME CHANGER! The river was so refreshing and cool.
  • It’s all downhill from here, with gravity gently pulling our bikes a little faster
  • Arriving back at our cars tired, dirty, sweaty, and happy for the overnight adventure with girl friends

Pro Tips & Takeaways

  • Align expectations prior to the start. Want to stop for photos and ice cream? Prefer to heads-down hammer between resupply stops? Be open and honest about this. Not everyone knew each other on this trip and talking over dinner about what we hoped to get from this trip put us all in the same mindset so we could have an amazing time together.
  • Be sure to “train” and acclimate. If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you know “training” generally means finding something similar to what you’re about to do and doing that a few times before the trip. If you prefer a training plan, knock yourself out.
    • This includes in all kinds of conditions – hot, cold, rain, exposure, shade. Know how your body reacts and how to adjust on the ride. And if the situation goes sideways, always prioritize health over schedules or expectations. Do not put yourself in a dangerous place for whatever perceived “glory” you’ll get from the trip.
  • Planning is essential for any adventure – know options and have back up plans.
    • We expected to camp at the dispersed campsites but they were already claimed with no one around to ask if we could share the site. Thankfully we had scoped a campground on the planning map that had room for us for the night.
    • Also changing our plans due to weather. Much easier to consider because we knew where the route option points were and distance between towns/resupply.
  • Prioritize packing for health and safety on the trip. Literally putting out legs in the ice cold river helped relieve the heat of the day and provided a nice respite.
  • Creature Comforts are important too!
    • Box Wine was worth the weight while around the campfire the first night
    • As were the Helinox and Z-chairs. The deluge had made everything at the campsite completely soaked – having a dry place to sit and warm ourselves by the fire was amazing
  • Rail Trail grades are appealing – but know the energy consumption increases as the surface gets progressively more rustic. Long stretches at a 1-2% incline can also sap energy reserves! Fuel appropriately and consider tire choice before heading out.
  • Not every adventure has to be EXTREME. Be safe, have fun, pick two.

Packing List

total gear+supplies weight estimated at 24 pounds
bike weight estimated at 25 pounds

The Bike & The Packs

Salsa Cutthroat GRX600, size 52
modifications: 11-40 cassette
Teravail Rutland 42mm <– very pleased at the low rolling resistance and good traction in the chunk
Salsa bolt-on framebag
Revelate Designs Pronghorn Harness w/small drybag <–no impediment to shifters and minimized overpacking
Revelate Designs Egress Pocket
Revelate Designs Nano Panniers
Revelate Designs Gas Can
Topeak Explore MTB rack
Sea to Summit eVent waterproof compression sack, Medium (14L)
26oz water bottles, mounted to fork
17oz collapsible Platypus bottle for extra water on Day 2

Attire On the Bike
Off-Bike Clothing
  • Showers Pass Syncline CC jacket in leaf green
  • Pactimo thermal arm and knee warmers
  • Pactimo 2019 Brand Ambassador wind vest
  • Extra Pactimo Bibs and wool socks
  • Title Nine Swelter Shelter dress
  • sleep bra & underwear
  • wool sleep set (leggings, long sleeve, socks)
  • fleece hat and gloves
  • 850-fill puffy jacket
Camp Gear
  • Big Agnes Tiger Wall UL1 tent and footprint
  • Sea to Summit Trail 50* sleeping quilt
  • Sea to Summit Reactor liner
  • Thermarest NeoAir XLite Women’s sleep pad
  • Exped Mega inflatable pillow
  • toiletries (travel size toothbrush, toothpaste, deodorant, tweezers)
  • Wilderness Wipes
  • Chamois Butt’r travel packets
  • medications sorted into plastic jewelry bags (morning, afternoon, evening)
  • day hike first aid kit
  • camp toilet paper and titanium trowel
  • Emergency mylar blanket
  • wallet pouch with laminated photocopies of my ID, insurance card, and covid-19 vaccination card, cash, and a credit card
Camp Kitchen
Mechanical & Tools
  • pocket knife and lighter
  • extra velcro and voile straps
  • multi-tool, tire levers, CO2 for MTB tires
  • spare tube
  • spare brake pads
  • spare shifter cable
  • travel size chain lube and shop towels
On-bike Nutrition
  • 2 Pack It Gourmet dehydrated dinners
  • 2 baggies of Quick oatmeal with dried fruit and nuts mixed in
  • instant coffee and baggie of powdered creamer
  • ClifBars, assorted
  • Skratch Labs gummies (sour cherry is my fave)
  • Nuun Sport + Caffeine Mango Orange
  • Skratch Labs hydration, individual packets
  • Skratch Labs Recovery Beverage, horchata flavor
  • Lunch in towns during resupply

Roundabout Brattleboro Bikepacking

Not Made of Sugar Edition

I spend entirely too much time on Bikepacking.com looking at routes and daydreaming about the pleasures of exploring time and space with everything I need loaded to my bicycle. As a subscriber of their print publication as well, there’s a regular feed of tales from the road that fuel my desire to truly experience the details of where we live. Less blazing my own path forward and more leaning in to those who know the best roads and the great places to stop for a meal to see the very best of what the location has to offer.

After tackling (and being humbled by) the Green Mountain Gravel Growler last fall, I decided to scale back and focus on building my skillset on overnights and 3 day adventures. Fortunately Roundabout Brattleboro registered as a great way to experience a mini-GMGG … and my adventure partner was totally game for a shorter route that fits nicely in a 3-day weekend.

In the ten days leading up to the trip however, it became apparent that Mother Nature was not planning to cooperate for the second long holiday weekend in a row. The first being Memorial Day weekend, which Curt and I had planned to ride the Delaware County Catskills Dirt Circuit but canceled due to rain and cold. The forecast called for two of the three days to be a steady rain with the third day a toss-up. Determined to stick to the plan despite the rain, we pivoted from camping to booking lodging in Wilmington and Londonderry. 80% less packed gear was nice!

Growing up, any time it was raining and I didn’t want to go outside, my mom would remind me I’m not made of sugar so I won’t melt if I get wet. So I dubbed this trip the Not Made of Sugar edition.


Day One: Where the Hills ArE

  • Making a conscious decision to ride bikes for at least 48 hours with up to 2″ of rain expected
  • the woman riding a unicycle under an umbrella, looking super unphased by the weather
  • Climbing 3,200′ in the first 24 miles felt much more accessible than it sounds
  • Running into a solo bikepacker on the same loop with full camping gear at lunch in Jacksonville
  • Coffee and warm sandwiches for lunch
  • Spillway at Harriman Reservoir
  • Catamount XC Trail is a GEM that should be savored
  • Hot shower and comfortable bed waiting for us at The Nutmeg Vermont

Day Two: Where the Mud Is

  • 10* cooler temps and expected light rain all day.
  • Replacing our disc brake pads before setting out (due to the wet and dirt from Day One)
  • Deciding to skip Castle Brook Rd since conditions were subpar on even the dirt roads (pretty soupy to peanut buttery)
  • Arriving at USFS 325 and deciding to remain on Forest Road 71 for above reasons (we missed the bus because of this decision)
  • Forest Road 71 is actually very lovely
  • A group of guys at a dispersed campsite with a huge fire going, asking if we wanted to come hang out with them and their red solo cups (and other altering substances)
  • Sitting at the gate for IP Road, weighing an up to 2 hour slog through mud or sticking to the road to make up time and get to resupply (and potential warmth)
  • Low traffic backroads climbing Stratton south to north with our rain jacket hoods down for the first time in the trip
  • Descending into Winhall in a blinding rainshower (funny how weather can be different on opposite sides of a mountain)
  • Seeing our fellow bikepacker at Winhall Market. He confirmed camping was super soggy and the trails were muddy.
  • More coffee and a sandwich on the front porch swing, shivering in the rain
  • Lovely dirt along the Winhall and West rivers
  • Deciding to head into Londonderry to the bike shop to get another pair of brake pads (sadly, they didn’t have the specific brake pad my bike needed – but the rain stopped and the sun came out!)
  • Another hot shower, short walk to a tavern for dinner on the patio, and comfortable bed at the Snowdon Chalet

Day Three: Where Redemption is FounD

  • The weather gods have smiled upon our sacrifice and provided a perfect day for our final leg of the journey – mid-60s, partly cloudy, no rain
  • Coffee and continental breakfast on the motel porch to strategize the day, mist artfully decorating the mountain tops
  • Knowing today’s route trended downhill on long stretches of backroads
  • Most importantly, FRESH BIBSHORTS today!
  • Route 121 at mile 94ish was a little slice of heaven
  • early stop at Grafton Market for pre-lunch. Enjoyed half and decided to go for the final off-road section
  • Ledge Rd is a GEM that also should be savored.
  • We didn’t see our fellow bikepacker but we did see his tracks
  • Brookline/Grassy Brook Rd featured a gentle incline to mile 118, then it’s all downhill to the end
  • Eating the rest of our wraps on the side of the road, bike propped against a split rail fence while we soak in the farmland
  • Finishing on the beautiful Quarry Rd and the West River Trail

Pro Tips

  • Plan ahead – but be flexible and adapt plans to conditions. Research your route, watch the weather, and adjust along the way. Knowing when to deviate from the plan in favor of health, safety, and fun is key. Pivoting from camping in the rain to lodging, making route edits along the way to save energy and time exposed to the elements, meant stripping away a layer of survival that was unnecessary for a three-day trip. Be safe, have fun. Pick two.
  • Bring extra maintenance items, especially on wet and muddy trips. Curt brought a can of WD40 to keep our derailleurs functioning. Checking and replacing our brake pads on Day Two meant we could continue our journey safely.
  • Pack for the weather. Curt’s fashion choice of rubber banded plastic bags over his shoes kept his feet warm and dry on Day One. We also brought extra socks for each day. I definitely wished I’d brought a thermal long sleeve instead of just a regular long sleeve jersey to better retain my core warmth. It was a tough call though – day two was supposed to be in the 60s, not the 50s, when I drove up to Vermont. Certainly had room in my pack for the “extra weight” of a warmer jersey and it wouldn’t have been terrible to have that option.
  • Water Resistant is NOT Water Proof. Know the difference. Packing my items in freezer zip-lock style bags kept everything in my panniers dry despite 2″ of rain and riding through muddy conditions. Side benefit: using quart sizes kept everything modular and organized!
  • Lube your downtown. Wet conditions mean extra chafing opportunities as skin gets waterlogged. Don’t skimp on the chamois cream if you know you’ll be out in the rain all day.
  • Eat, eat, eat. The best nutrition plan for me has been to start eating an energy bar within the first hour of riding and keep eating a bite every few miles. Eat real food as often as possible. Do not underestimate the restorative powers of coffee, pickles, and potato chips.

Fantastic adventure overall! Joe Cruz routes combine scenery with challenging terrain to create an uniquely amazing adventure. Guaranteed to be the best roads and trails available! Do not underestimate these routes though … enjoy the time spent experiencing the textures of the land.

Curt and I are already talking about our next trip and strategizing the GMGG Redux planned for this fall. We even created a day-trip loop to go back and bag the two trails we skipped this time due to conditions.

Hope to see you out there!

Link to Strava of the ride


Packing List

The Bike & The Packs

Salsa Cutthroat GRX600, size 52
modifications: 11-40 cassette
Teravail Sparwood 2.2″ tires
Salsa bolt-on framebag
Revelate Designs Egress Pocket
Revelate Designs Nano Panniers
Revelate Designs Gas Can
Topeak Explore MTB rack
26oz water bottles, mounted to fork

Attire On the Bike
Non-Bike Attire & Accessories
  • Title Nine Swealter Shelter dress
  • softcup bra & underwear
  • shorts and tshirt to sleep in
  • toiletries (travel size toothbrush, toothpaste, deodorant, tweezers)
  • medications sorted into plastic jewelry bags (morning, afternoon, evening)
  • day hike first aid kit
  • wallet pouch with laminated photocopies of my ID, insurance card, and covid-19 vaccination card, cash, and a credit card
Mechanical & Tools
  • multi-tool, tire levers, CO2 for MTB tires
  • spare tubes
  • spare brake pads
  • spare shifter cable
  • chain lube and rag <– rag got soaked and was useless. used paper towels and napkins available at our lodging
On-bike Nutrition
  • ClifBars, assorted
  • Skratch Labs gummies (sour cherry is my fave)
  • Skratch Labs energy bars, assorted
  • Skratch Labs hydration, individual packets

Bear Burritos Bikepacking: New York Edition

less snack, more adventure

Hey Laura, want to bikepack this weekend?

Many fun adventures begin with a text from your friend asking if you want to do something crazy. So I took a day off work, loaded up my bike, and we hit the road for a bike overnight.

I was deeply apprehensive going into this trip. 50-ish miles a day turned into 65. A fair amount of climbing (5,000′) on day one. Resupply every 35 miles or so. Coming off the epic bonk of Green Mountain Gravel Growler has been second-guessing everything. Will I be ok?

But my imagination is more powerful than my fear and I know my friend wouldn’t ask if he didn’t think I could do it. And worse comes to worse, it’s only a 2 hour wait if my husband needs to pick me up.

Highlights from the Overnight

  • Pavement involves radiant heat as well (I tend to forget this since I ride mostly on shaded dirt roads)
  • Quiet backroads lined by adorable farms
  • Having a bee somehow find its way under the chest strap of my heart rate monitor and having to disassemble my jersey/bib/baselayer combo on the side of the road to get it out
  • Relaxing in the shade because it’s hot
rest in the shade
  • Bananas are game changers, especially if you can’t find pickles
  • So are bathrooms where you can “free up some space” without having to dig a cathole
  • AT through-hikers at the market. They started walking back in February!
  • unexpected dirt roads!
  • views!!
the colors were literally this vibrant
  • fresh thick gravel for miles (thanks MassDOT)
  • guinea hens!!
  • Stop for supplies and a break at the Great Barrington Food Co-Op
  • big climb and then …
  • Climbing out of the nature preserve in search of a place to set up camp for the night
  • we saw a porcupine!
  • Listening to the birds slowly wind down for the night, snuggled into my sleeping bag
  • Day 2 begins! Fortunately today Trends Down
  • unexpected adventure road, complete with dicey bridge
this was fantastically unmaintained
  • Mill River General Store & Post Office – a must stop!! Chat with the old men who run the store and ask about the mugs with names on them
  • Mile 95 – start climbing again after 30 miles of basically downhill
  • riding by a field where hay was being cut …
  • having a truck pass, flinging cut hay into our faces. hello allergies!
  • Mile 100 overall – feeling tired and ready to stop. Rest and eat a ClifBar in the shade
  • Realizing we’re just about at the top of the day’s climb so … keep going
  • North Kent Rd, fully loaded, downhill. Check Your Brakes!
it’s really steep and chunky
  • sit-down food in Kent … only 15 miles to go
  • racing a rain shower to the end (although the cloud cover cooled us down and felt amazing)
30% chance of rain in 15 minutes

Overall, super success. It’s still early in the season, so I’m happy to be able to have a successful long-day bikepacking overnight under my belt. I’ve accumulated enough gear now that I can put together a lightweight (15lb) setup and hit the road fairly quickly. And heading out was a reminder that it IS about the journey, real foods are better than cramming “sports nutrition” in your face all day, and take the time to connect to the people you meet along the way.

Next time I’ll probably just mount the rack back on my bike. We had to transport a gallon of water from town to where we finally set up camp and it was much easier to strap it to Curt’s rack than anywhere on my bike. Plus my sleeping bag didn’t fit anywhere so I strapped it to the top of my seatpost bag – but it kept shifting no matter how tightly I secured the straps. As a small-framed bike rider, the extra capacity and stability a rack provides will be vital for carrying unexpected necessities.

I also picked up a Helinox ground chair but didn’t bring it. Definitely wished I had carried the 1.4 lb chair while sitting on a pointy rock to eat dinner. haha

See you out there!


gear

Route
Strava

  • 2020 Salsa Cutthroat GRX 600, modified with an 11-40 cassette
  • Revelate Designs
    • Pika seatpost bag
    • Gas Tank
    • Pronghorn harness
    • Egress Pocket
  • Sea to Summit
    • eVent waterproof compression sack (for sleeping bag)
    • 13L drysack (for front harness)
    • travel straps
  • Salsa Cutthroat custom framebag
  • Big Agnes Tiger Wall UL1 tent
  • ThermaRest NeoAir X-Lite Women’s sleep pad
  • REI Women’s Magma 30 sleeping bag <– so cozy I didn’t want to crawl out of it in the morning
  • MSR Pocket Rocket and 4oz fuel cannister
  • GSI Soloist cookset
  • Sea to Summit titanium long handle spoon
  • REI self-inflating pillow
  • lighter
  • multi-tool knife
  • Buff (just in case)
  • MSR Trailshot water filter (just in case)

Clothing

  • Pactimo cycling attire – (I’m a brand ambassador!)
  • wool socks
  • Pearl Izumi X-Alp Summit women’s mountain biking shoes
  • wool sleeping attire (leggings, midweight long sleeve, socks, underwear)
  • fleece hat and gloves
  • 850-fill down jacket

Food

  • PackIt gourmet Shepherd’s Pie <– this company makes fantastic meals
  • premeasured Quaker Instant oats + trail mix (combined in a baggie)
  • Laird’s superfood coffee + creamer
  • ClifBars – peanut butter & banana; cool mint chocolate
  • Skratch Labs sour cherry gummies <– literally the best
  • Nature’s Bakery fig bars (apple cinnamon, blueberry)
  • Frito’s Chips (bought along the way)
  • Haribo assorted gummies (bought along the way
  • banana

MISC

  • Medications
  • deodorant
  • toothbrush and toothpaste
  • Sea to Summit Wilderness Wipes (clean up before putting on sleep attire)
  • Chamois Butt’r for Her packet<– women are different down there; get the good stuff and keep downtown happy
  • travel sunscreen
  • travel bug spray <– still got a few black fly bites though

Bikepacking Overnights are Adventure Snacks

bite-sized adventure for busy people

This past weekend my friend Anna and I put together a last-minute bikepacking trip to a local county park … for one night. I booked the campsite, threw together a quick route, about 25 miles each way with different roads, and scrambled to get my bike packed up the night before.

Isn’t that a lot of effort for not a lot of payoff?

Sure. And because it’s only (basically) 24 hours or less, one can experiment with minimalism and going as light as possible. Do I need this for the next 24 hours? No? Awesome – not being packed.

Adventure Bike is back!

For this overnight, I wanted to try out a few things:

Things that Worked

  1. Narrower Tires. For this trip, we had mostly pavement and smooth hardpack with the only chunky gravel in the county park. The narrower tires kept things light and quick, especially when the road started tilting upward. The narrower set up was squirrely in the chunky gravel so if this had been a longer trip, I may have switched to the 2″ tires for the added plushness and stability.
  2. Compression Sack for front harness. I was able to cram my tent, sleeping attire, rain jacket, and a few other items into the compression sack and then smoosh it down to fit between my bars. Being able to thread the front harness straps through the compression straps felt more secure than my usual dry bag.
  3. Inflatable sleep pad. I have only used the self-inflating kind so this was new. The Thermarest was extremely comfortable and warmth-retaining despite packing down well and being very light. However it does fit exactly under you so I had to figure out how to place my arms so they wouldn’t be laying on the ground (and cold). It crinkles when you roll over, which wasn’t awful but I was worried about waking up my friend every time I moved.
  4. Ultralight, ultra-packable sleep system. The 50*F quilt, liner, and sleeping pad all pack down super small, making it easy to just toss in the seatpost bag.
  5. Prepaying for firewood to be left at the site by the ranger. Once the sun went down, having a fire to hang out around was super nice. Not having to schlep it by bike was even better.
  6. Water Drop. I was able to bribe my kid with gas money to drop off a few gallons of water for us at the campsite since there is no water available in the park.

ThinGs That Didn’t Work So Well

  1. Summer-weight sleep quilt with spring overnight lows. I didn’t pay attention to the “comfort” limit being 57* for my 50* bag. So even with all my layers plus puffy plus thermal liner, I was chilly all night and slept superficially (low was 43*F) . Going to need to figure out how to bring my down 20* sleeping bag in the future for spring and fall bikepacking.
  2. Forgetting to take my digestive enzymes with dinner. While my digestion has stabilized pretty well over the last 10 months, I still have issues with fats and sugars, especially at the levels most backpacking meals contain. The PackIt Gourmet Chili was delicious – but my guts were gurgling unhappily all night.
  3. Shoes. This was a mix – they were very comfortable around the campsite but after a dozen miles or so or riding, I was getting uncomfortable under the balls of my feet. Likely because the shoes need to straddle being stiff enough for riding without being too stiff for walking around after. Seeing as these are a 2013 model that I bought for bike commuting but then never wore, I’m sure technology has changed and may be able to find something that straddles this divide better.
  4. Somewhere to sit that’s not The Ground. Because we had the fire going, I rolled over a tree stump to use as chair. Anna brought a lightweight backpacking chair. Exploring the idea of getting a lightweight backpacking chair to bring for the good times spent hanging out around the campsite with friends. Need to weigh the weight to need return – but sometimes creature comforts make or break a trip.

Conclusion

Bikepacking overnights are a great way to satisfy the need to get away for a bit and try new things in a low-risk way. It also just feels cool to be riding around on familiar roads with everything you need for a day or a weekend while everyone else is just out for their weekend ride. The gear signals Adventure Is Happening and hopefully sparks others to explore their proverbial backyards too.


Pack List

On Me and my Salsa Cutthroat (52) (I’m a Pactimo and Nuun brand ambassador!)

Seatpost bag (12L)

Framebag (4L)

Handlebar Compression Sack (14L, compressed to fit between bars)

Handlebar Pouch (2.8L)

  • camp permit
  • recharger and phone cord
  • travel packet of baby wipes
  • travel packet of chamois cream
  • bandana
  • compostable toilet paper
  • travel size bug repellent
  • travel size sunscreen
  • extra straps
  • medications (pre-portioned into Morning and Night)
  • Tube of nuun sport in grape flavor
  • multi function knife
  • Long-handled titanium spork
  • lighter
  • firestarter
  • Gallon ziplock for trash

Top Tube Gas Can (1.2L)

  • quick energy snacks (2 Clif Bars Peanut Butter Banana, 1 ClifBloks Salted Watermelon, 1 UNtappd maple syrup packet)
  • “medicine cabinet” (bandaids, Advil, throat lozenges, antacids, anti-itch spray)
  • Afternoon medications

See you out there!

Turn the Page to 2021

bike trip odometer reset to zero

The first day of the year …. a day that no matter what we did activity-wise in the last 365 days, the slate is wiped clean. Back to zero. The grind starts again.

I’ll be starting my year with doctor-advised rest to let my body heal. I’ve managed to create an overuse injury that needs time and variety to heal and allow for future bike adventures.

But I can’t help but start imagining what I’m hoping this year will bring.

photo by Dave Kraus, Kraus Grafik

Personal

This year will be transformative. My youngest child is expected to graduate from high school and head off to college, meaning it will just be my husband and I and the dogs in a few short months. Younger Me, sitting in the hospital after birthing her first child, could only dream of the day when her house and time would be her own again. I blinked, time happened, and the house doesn’t need to be this big anymore. We’re looking forward to helping our youngest get settled into the start of their adult life.

I start a new job on Monday, one that I am very excited for and see myself growing with over the next few years or so. Professional growth is vital to my mental well-being.

Continue with therapy to build and maintain healthy boundaries and explore areas that need some work.

more time with other bad ass women doing bad ass things

Active Plans

WALKING & HIKING – I plan to continue with daily walks as long as I am able to work from home. My senior dogs definitely appreciate that as well. Fresh air and all the smells. I picked up some trekking poles so I can get out and hike more without destroying my hips and knees.

YOGA – I started this year with a 10 minute meditation on Om and rededicating myself to a regular yoga practice. I’m not as disciplined when it’s home-based practice and I certainly look forward to when my studio can open back up. But I realize yoga is a huge part of my life that I miss. As I get older, my body also needs gentle stretching to stay limber and flexible.

BIKEPACKING – My arsenal of bikepacking gear is in good shape, so I’m planning to do more overnights/weekends and two longer trips:

* local overnights to various parks and forests in the Hudson Valley
* Brace Mountain & Beartown (3 days) in the tri-state area
* Roundabout Brattleboro (3 days) with some girlfriends, targeting June (pending vaccinations being readily available)
* Taste the Catskills (3 days) triple century is a strong Maybe
* Green Mountain Gravel Growler or VTXL (5 days) with my adventure partner (pending vaccinations being readily available)

2018 Farmer’s Daughter Gravel Grinder ft. 26mm gravel tires in 65 miles of sloppy mud

GRAVEL EVENTS – I’m also keeping an eye on gravel events. Given covid’s unchecked community spread, I won’t be able to run the Frozen Apple again this year unless we do it late in the season. I signed up for Farmer’s Daughter Gravel Grinder in May to have something to look forward to. But I’m also trying to keep it flexible because if 2020 taught us anything, it’s be ready to change plans.


I’m not sure yet if I want to target a bike goal this year other than having as much fun as possible. I love mountain biking and have been getting better in the last couple years, tackling terrain I previously was scared to think about. I enjoy riding on new roads and meeting up with friends to explore. I barely touch my road bike, but it’s super fun to ride because it’s titanium with carbon wheels so it flies.

Maybe it’s OK to just say I’m going to ride when I want and do other stuff when I want and find balance.

We have the whole year ahead of us … let’s make it a good one. See you out there.

So You Want a Gravel Bike …

nobody asked me for my opinion but you’re getting it anyway

Hey Laura, I’m interested in getting a gravel bike. What do you think I should get?
Well … what do you want to do with that gravel bike?

I spent a lot of time reading about gravel bikes before pulling the trigger and getting one: various frame materials, geometries, gearing, and tires. It’s a lot. But it all comes down to what you are looking to do with your gravel bike.

Are you racing? Don’t buy a bike made for bikepacking.
Prefer smoother hardpack to logging roads? You probably don’t need tire clearance for 2″+ tires. 38mm might be just fine.
Want to load up your bike and disappear for a while? You need a bike that is in it for the long-haul too.

There’s other searches you can do to learn more about gravel specific bikes but here’s my recommendations based on my own research. Think about what’s important to you now and what you think you might want to try and get yourself a bike that will meet those needs and aspirations.

A word about bike brands: You will not see a Big Three bike on this list nor will you see Lynskey. Lots of people ride and love them. I have no beef with them (cue my girlfriends laughing hilariously about a certain brand I believe rides dead). If you have one and love it, keep riding it. More important than anything is the bike works for YOU and you WANT to ride it.

I prefer the “boutique” brands that cater to specific types of riders. All of the brands below are one I’ve ridden and loved because the bikes are spunky and fun. They WANT to be ridden and make it fun to explore. I subscribe to the Salsa ethos of Adventure by Bike and it remains my #1 brand.


Think about … Drivetrain (1x or 2x)

It’s a tradeoff – do you want lower gears or higher gears?

1x are good for general gravel riding and racing and yes, they do provide a similar range of gears as a compact road setup. If that works well for you, amazing. Get yourself a 1x set up. Enjoy!

For my purposes, DON’T BELIEVE THE 1x HYPE. Yes it’s lower maintenance and yes, it’s a cleaner aesthetic, but if you plan to do any bikepacking or major climbing, do yourself a favor and get a 2x and the biggest cassette you can MacGuyver onto your bike. You’ll thank me when you spin up steep hills like it’s Sunday morning while your riding pals grind it out and are ready for the post-ride beer well before you’re legs start complaining.

WHY DOES THIS MATTER? Read more about Gear Ratios here


Talk about … Tires

In the early days of my gravel riding, I mounted 26mm Panaracer GravelKing SKs to my titanium road bike and hit the dirt. This is the only gravel-specific tire I’ve found that comes in sub-30mm widths. GravelKing SKs are my go-to gravel tire for the low rolling resistance on pavement and just enough bite to handle most hardpack and light gravel roads in the Northeast. I like them so much I bought 38mm GK SKs for everyday gravel uses.

For bikepacking and mixed terrain that includes trails, I’ve been using the stock 2.2″ Teravail Sparwood that came with my gravel bike. When riding unladen, the wider tires are smooth rolling and P L U S H. Like riding in a La-Z-Boy down the road. When laden, the extra width provides stability, traction, and additional support as terrain changes.

In terms of width, wider tires generally have more rolling resistance so if you aren’t looking to ride in a place where width makes the ride safer and more comfortable, you don’t need the widest tires out there. Everyone has their preference for width, but generally 35-38mm works for a wide variety of situations. If you want the extra traction and stability in uneven terrain, look for clearance for 50mm or more.

WHY DOES THIS MATTER? Tires can be swapped to reflect the ride you’re doing or your preferences – but tire clearance on the bike can’t be changed.

When I took my Cutthroat out for the first few rides, I kept the stock 2.2″ tires on. The bike felt incredible on flats and descents – but sluggish as I pushed through the extra rubber on the ground when ascending. I started to question if I even liked the bike because I had done so much research but wasn’t able to test ride and omg what if I made a really expensive bad decision …..

Then I put on some 38mm GravelKing SKs and the entire ride feel changed. The bike was no longer sluggish on the uphill and I still felt confident screaming down descents, something I never did on my road bike with the narrow SKs. Swapping the tires aligned my lived experience with my research and the Cutthroat is now my favorite bike to ride.


My Recommendations

Salsa Cutthroat

link: https://salsacycles.com/bikes/cutthroat/2020_cutthroat_grx_600

Best for: mountain bikers, anyone looking for a swiss army bike that can tackle anything you throw at it, bikepackers

Pros: Confidence and stability come standard. The GRX hoods are much (thicker? wider?) than road hoods but that comes in handy when bombing down a chunky descent and you want something that helps you feel in control.

Cons: Overkill if you only ride manicured dirt roads and have zero interest in bikepacking. It looks like a mountain bike too so if you want that clean road-bike look, this isn’t for you.

Comments: This is what I ride. I bought this bike because I wanted to keep riding gnarly logging roads – just not with narrow tires. I also wanted to do more bikepacking (which I also started doing on my road bike) so a bike that can take me and my stuff anywhere I wanted to go was vital. I wanted ultra-low gears so I can climb every mountain and not get obliterated by the grind so I swapped in an 11-40 cassette. Paired with the subcompact 30-46 up front, my gear-inches are as low as 20. (calculate your gear-inches here – bikepacking/touring should be sub-23 with preference for sub 20)


Salsa Warbird

Link: https://salsacycles.com/bikes/warbird/2020_warbird_grx_600

Best for: roadies looking to go fast on dirt, gravel originalists, anyone looking for a sexy bike to take on dirty adventures

Pros: Look at this sexy bike! The first bike designed for riding on gnarly Midwest gravel roads before gravel riding was cool. The Warbird is a perennial favorite for good reason- it’s an awesome bike that will get you stoked on riding all kinds of dirt.

Cons: Definitely more road-end of the gravel bike spectrum although it looks like with the 2020 models Salsa updated the spec to be more bikepacking friendly (30-46 subcompact up front, 11-34 in the back).


Santa Cruz Stigmata / Juliana Quincy

Link: https://www.santacruzbicycles.com/en-US/bikes/stigmata

Link: https://www.julianabicycles.com/en-US/bikes/quincy

Best for: Anyone looking for a really lightweight machine that crushes dirt and gravel for breakfast

Pros: Santa Cruz makes bikes that are just really stupid fun to ride. The Stigmata is no exception. Built around their deep background in mountain biking, the Stigmata and sister bike Quincy are for those who are looking for a lightweight bike that rips.

Cons: Only fits up to 47mm for a standard 700c. You can squeeze in a 2.1 if you get a new 650b wheelset … so not a pick for seriously-loaded bikepacking.

Stigmata
Quincy

Kona Sutra LTD

Link: https://konaworld.com/platform_sutra.cfm

Best for: multi surface touring and those looking for a more traditional road bike aesthetic. To quote their marketing materials, it’s as if a mountain bike and a road bike got together …

Pros: STEEL IS REAL. and bombproof. This bike is going to take you places and still love you when it accidentally get dented by a wayward flying rock. 2″ tires are standard, which will make for a plush ride feel.

Cons: The standard gearing really only gets you down to 24 gear-inches, which is nowhere close to what a touring machine should come with. But it does split the difference of speed vs climbing. Steel can be heavier than carbon, if you care about that.


Hope this helps! If not, there’s plenty of publications that have Best Gravel Bike of <Year> on the web. You can also comment and I’ll do my best to help you figure out what to take a look at.

See you out there!