Green Mountain Gravel Growler 2020

a bikepacking adventure

Shortly after our 2019 Taste the Catskills ride, Curt mentioned he wanted to ride the Green Mountain Gravel Growler, a 250-mile bikepacking route that links iconic Vermont breweries. I was 100% interested but not able to commit. Apparently no one else was either so it never came together. But the seed had been planted and we started to make plans for this year.

2020 has thrown plenty of curveballs, including having to have my gallbladder removed in June. Even laparoscopically, this is major surgery that required 4-6 weeks off the bike. I spent the end of July, August, and early September rebuilding my strength and endurance – and researching and dialing in my gear for the ride. We also monitored travel guidance to ensure we were in compliance with Vermont travel requirements due to the coronavirus pandemic. For us, this meant self-quarantine in our homestate before traveling.

The first rule of bikepacking is Pack Light (or as light as you can). Originally we planned to bring summer-weight sleeping bags, but as it got closer to the ride, the overnight temps were plummeting towards 30*F so bringing a down sleeping bag (i.e., staying warm) became the priority. While I don’t think I brought an excess of things I didn’t use, my gear isn’t necessarily designed for anything but car camping. I had my shop install a rack and I used the panniers I bought several years ago for bike commuting.

(AFTER I got home, I weighed everything and discovered I had been hauling around at least 27 pounds of gear, food, and clothing. TOO MUCH!! This will be an important factor later in the ride.)

Day 1 – The Easy Day

Exiting Burlington was a combination of bike lanes and multi-use paths and far too many turns – but once we got out of civilization, the number of cars declined and the dirt dialed up. The route was mostly flat until we climbed out of Waterbury towards Stowe. The last 12 miles of the day was a portent of things to come.

The scenery was amazing and pedaling along pristine dirt roads so packed they were like pavement was a nice entry to the ride. We rode a short section of singletrack before deciding to stick to the road with our loads that were less than compatible with the agility singletrack demands. Also, pushing our loaded bikes up a steep incline to get back to the road was ridiculously hard.

We lunched at Stone Corral on the patio and were very careful to wear masks and use santizer when we didn’t have access to soap and water. The food was good and the first pint was had. Well, Curt had a beer. I’m just along for the ride and the adventure. On one of the phenomenal descents, Curt yelled for me to stop. Something was not right with his bike. He tightened up his headset, but I noticed his front skewer looked off. Turns out it wasn’t closed and tight. A few seconds later, we were back to descending … safely this time.

We arrived at our intended campground right on target, got set up, and then rode into town for dinner. It was chilly that evening and the down sleeping bags were very much worth their weight so far.

Day 2 – The Longest Day

Curt is an early riser, so by the time I rolled out of my tent at 7:15am, he already had enjoyed a cup of coffee. I am Not A Morning Person so I had to set my alarm clock to wake up in time to eat, get dressed, pack up, and roll out by 9am. The way we had divided up the route, this was going to be the longest day for miles. The route also had several significant climbs and more singletrack, which we knew would bring our average speed down significantly.

Unfortunately, my isopro fuel ran out while making coffee so when we got to the singletrack section, we opted to backtrack to the road and go into town to see if we could find fuel (and hopefully gain some time back into the day). Stowe Hardware to the rescue! Back to the road and the climbs that awaited us.

The climbs were slow but the descents were fantastic. The full load on the rear transformed my bike into a freight train and I had to scrub speed constantly to keep from flying out of control. Any bump or jostle, especially at speed, disrupted the weight balance and required conscious effort to keep in control. We passed through the first of several covered bridges and enjoyed lunch on the patio at Lost Nation Brewing.

With no campgrounds near our end point, we stopped by the Hardwick police station to ask for their recommendation (and let them know we’re here camping). They recommended a town park that turned out to be perfect. We set up camp and watched the sun set across the pond before turning in the night to avoid the mosquitos.

Day 3 – The Hardest Day

The temps didn’t drop until about 4am, at which point my down bag felt like a good choice. Or was I looking for reasons to justify bringing a bulky bag on this trip? I just knew I didn’t want to spend nights cold and sleepless because there’s no “out” on this trip, no calling to get picked up by a sympathetic spouse. Today was going to be tough, as the route was shorter but the climbing was still intense.

We rolled out under cooler temps to the Hardwick Village Market for more water and supplies. The employees there were super kind and helpful – if you are in the area, Hardwick is good people!

The route gods had a good belly laugh at our loaded folly when we started up an ATV road that as littered with boulders and washouts – and pitched skyward. This is where I learned that pushing my 80-bazillion pound loaded bike was actually more work than riding mechanically speaking. The energy to keep it upright in the conditions would have been too much though. So we hike-a-biked it where we needed and rode where we could.

It took us 2 hours to cover the first 12 miles of the day.

Lunch was in Montpelier at Three Penny Taproom. While we waited for our outdoor table, we stopped in at Onion River Outdoors and I had the guys check my brakes (and picked up a set of spare pads). ORO also runs the Muddy Onion Spring Classic, which is an excellent event that you should totally sign up for when events can run again. You can read about my experiences in 2017 and 2018. Montpelier is also good people.

We decided to once again skip singletrack sections where we could to try to make time to our destination, Waitsfield. We knew we’d either be camping in a town park again or trying to find a room at an inn and wanted to finish before dark.

Important to this route is paying attention to the names of the roads. Anything with “hill” in it usually has a substantial climb. So Hill Rd as our first climb out of Montpelier was peak Truth In Advertising. As we came up to Bear Barn Rd, I was running out of gas and decided to walk the steepest portions of the hill.

Being a rural area, there was a young girl on a quad riding up and down Bearn Barn Rd. She smiled and nodded at me and I reciprocated, a tip of the hat to a fellow female doing bad ass things. She became my spirit guide for this challenging hill as she kept tabs on Curt and I as we slowly pedaled up the hill. When the road ended in a class 4 two-track, she helpfully told us “it gets really steep near the top.” I smiled and thanked her, said we would be OK with that. She smiled and ran off with her dog while we continued onward.

The two-track quickly turned into a gnarly jeep road that did indeed get very steep as we approached the top. Much of this time was hike-a-bike again – which meant further wrestling my overloaded bike over significant chunk and boulders erupting from the earth. Curt mused that the other side was probably not the smooth descent we were hoping for.

It wasn’t. The descent was so steep and littered with rocks, logs, roots, washouts, ruts, and debris that it became perilous to try to ride it. So I ended up wrestling my overloaded bike DOWN the chunky descent. Whenever I tried to ride, the weight on the back of my bike made staying in control and using finesse to navigate the features nearly impossible. Knowing we still had to get through this -and a few more miles- and still find a place to sleep with only one more hour of daylight left- safety took priority.

The route then dumped us onto a class 4 road that was overgrown and had a few blowdowns to navigate (and thankfully no electric fences). Here is where is started to rain. We debated putting on our rain jackets or just leaving our vests on. We opted to not open up our bags to the rain and continued on. When we got to an actual dirt road, Curt noticed something was wrong with his front brake. It had loosened up to the point where it was about to fall off. He tightened the screws and we continued on.

After a long day of wrestling our loads over chunky terrain, we decided to stay at an inn. The first few places we phoned didn’t have any availability, but we did find one that had rooms available and booked online from the parking lot of another inn that didn’t have room for us. We biked over to Mad Taco and phoned in our order from the parking lot. It was dark and we were cold with sweaty gear when we arrived at Lareau Farm Inn as the only guests. A hot shower and a comfortable bed awaited us.

the end of a long day of bike wrestling

Day 4 – The Highest Day (or The Day That Broke Me)

Soul Asylum sang about being so tired that you can’t sleep and that was my experience. I didn’t get to sleep – real, deep, restful sleep – until around 3am and we were up at 7:30am for breakfast at 8. The proprietor was our chef and the whole wheat pancakes with berries sounded good but too sweet so I asked for scrambled eggs. This was my first mistake of the day, as I really should have just had the pancakes for the carbs. I also ended up eating the farm-made sausage, which I knew was going to mess up my digestive system but didn’t want to be rude. So no carb breakfast before a significant climbing day is Not Smart.

We lubed our chains and headed out under cloudy skies to be met with a decent hill within a few miles. I was climbing slower than the previous days, but attributed that to it being Day 4 and how much effort we had expended the day prior. My legs were stiff and it took a few miles for the ligaments in my left knee to soften enough to pedal without soreness. Soon we found ourselves at the base of the Lincoln Gap.

Knowing I would be climbing very slowly and possibly pushing my bike, we agreed to meet at the top. Curt was able to ride the entire Gap by switchbacking the whole way up as cars allowed. I had to hop off as soon as it started to get steep and ended up pushing my bike the final 2 miles to the top.

Pushing my loaded bike over the Lincoln Gap is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. The grades pitch to 20% and are unrelenting. The road would be challenging on an unladen bike; coupled with my load, I ended up pushing for 100 feet or so and then taking a break. Push, stop, catch breath. Push, stop, catch breath. Repeat for a half hour.

Once at the top, I was destroyed. We sat in the grass for a while until I had eaten enough to feel like I could continue on. This was mistake #2, as I only refilled what had been depleted.

A few miles later, Curt noticed I was climbing even slower so we took a break beside a pasture. I laid in the grass for a few minutes before deciding I needed to eat something. Curt also said I should eat something. I dug up a protein bar and started to nibble.

“How do you feel?”

“awful.”

I’m out in the middle of nowhere with no cell service, completely bonked, and with no options but to keep pedaling. Exactly my worst fear for the trip come to fruition. And by my own hand.

We decide to abandon the route in favor of getting into Middlebury for food and descended on a beautiful dirt road that followed the river. I remembered the fruit slices candy in my pocket and ate those to try to keep going. We found a sandwich place, but I couldn’t eat. I sipped ginger ale and tried to find an Uber back to Burlington. No cars available. We decide to ride to the campground we found on the map and see if we could get set up so I could relax.

6 miles later, we arrive at the campground and are told we can’t stay because the bathrooms are closed. I’m wrecked. Curt is handling everything at this point and for that I am grateful. He calls the only hotel in Bristol and reserves two rooms. 5 more miles. I put a few more candies in my mouth, take a swig of ginger ale, and pedal on.

Robin the Innkeeper (Bristol Suites) met us at the front door and got us in our first floor rooms immediately. Of course you can bring your bikes into the rooms. The rooms are good size, well appointed, and very clean. I take a cool shower and decide to keep nibbling on ClifBars to stabilize and hopefully eat my sandwich. Curt heads out for a burger and beer. I’m able to get to a place of feeling stable and fall asleep by 7:30pm.

Day 5 – The Homestretch (or The Day I Tapped Out)

By the grace of a deity, I wake up at 7:26am and panic because I forgot to set an alarm for Saturday. We’re meeting at 8am for breakfast, mostly ready to go. My stuff is still strewn everywhere from the day prior. I get everything packed up , clean up, throw on my bibshorts under my joggers and t shirt, put on flip flops and head across the street to the Bristol Cliffs Cafe.

Bristol is a quintessential Vermont small town, rimmed with mountains that were ablaze with autumn foliage and turn-of-the-twentieth-century buildings on the downtown block. I have been to several Vermont towns but never felt so comfortable. It was a truly magical morning moment, the kind you daydream about when thinking about your next adventure.

After getting my egg & cheese on a bagel (carbs with my protein breakfast!) and coffee (Curt got pancakes again), we walked to the town park to enjoy breakfast. I was feeling hollow still but hoped breakfast would satiate me and allow me to finish strong.

“You have to finish that.”

“I know I do.”

I got 3/4 of the way through my sandwich.

We decide to take the shortest route to Burlington because I’m suffering. All road, no more dirt. Minimal hills. Only 30 miles. A few hours. I can do this.

6 miles later I am nauseated and feeling lightheaded. We pause at mile 10 and I eat a little more. I re-stabilize and we push on, but Curt notices I’m riding slower on the flats now as well as the hills. He pulls over at mile 12 and I follow suite.

“Curt, I’ve got nothing left. I have to be done.”

We take a few minutes for me to eat and drink and I’m not stabilizing. I am so far into the red I’m wondering if there is a color deeper that that for the hole I’ve dug myself. Curt walks up to the nearest house to ask if they will call a taxi for me, which they do without any question. Taxi will be here in 30 minutes. We move ourselves next to their driveway and wait. I nibble a ClifBar and eat ClifBloks and sip my water. My arms and legs are tingling. By the time the taxi arrives, I am feeling stable again – but I know better than to try to do anything. Curt and the taxi driver load my bike into the minivan.

I thank Curt profusely for taking care of me and tell him I will text him when I get to my car, when I am leaving Burlington, and when I get home. He finishes the ride solo.

Once back at my car, I get changed and it saps my energy again. I gas up, pick up snacks to nibble on and a ginger ale to sip, and begin my drive home. A few hours later I feel well enough to finish my egg & cheese bagel, a short can of Pringles, and four Nature’s Bakery fig bars. I’m singing along to the songs as I drive. Just stopping the ride was a good place to start recovering. We ordered in pizza when I got home and I fell asleep surrounded by my very happy dogs.

Final Thoughts

As I sit here at home, doing my best to do as little as humanly possible and eat small amounts frequently … What an amazing adventure! This was far harder than I expected, in no small way compounded by my own errors of not ruthlessly packing light, not eating enough, and underestimating how long it would take to get through some of the gnarliest bits. I know better but sometimes I think it won’t matter as much – and I am basically wrong.

And maybe a small part is taking on a challenge like this only 3.5 month after major abdominal surgery that has altered my digestion. Even using digestive enzymes with each meal, I’m not positive my body was processing the fuel I was giving it optimally.

Our timing couldn’t have been more perfect for great weather and near-peak foliage. Although it could have gone in either direction (too hot or too cold), I think it would be better to do this ride in early September to go as light as possible if camping.

I need to review my gear list and figure out what could have been left at home and what needs to be replaced with lighter or smaller gear should I want to do something like this again. My 2p tent was 5 pounds, each pannier was 11 pounds, plus I had my sleeping bag and a self-inflating sleeping pad. Too Much Weight.

For sure, the best way to experience this route would be a credit card tour – book a room at your final destination so you don’t have to worry about bringing more than a few things. If it doesn’t fit in the handlebar bag, framebag, or seatpost bag, it shouldn’t come along. Or – have someone be your SAG with all your gear and meet you along the way for water, supplies, and keeping the ride as efficient as possible.

I’m looking forward to doing this route again, possibly extending the trip and recalibrating daily stopping points to accommodate the time it takes to clear the class 4 and singletrack sections. Also, if you are looking to do this route and hit up as many breweries as possible, you will need to factor that into your time to complete each day.

See you out there!

The beat keeps going and going …

how is it June already?

I don’t know about you but time is both a raging river and slow as molasses right now.

It feels like a minute ago it was mid-March and I was canceling my new spring classic gravel event, The Frozen Apple. April was a blur of escalating COVID-19 cases in my part of New York and barely-masked anxiety in leaving my house. When masks were mandated, it started to feel safer to venture to the grocer. May came and went in a blink. My friends and my 5th annual Girls Bike Camping Weekend, traditionally Memorial Day weekend, was canceled – as was our June Girls MTB Weekend at Kingdom Trails when the Governor of Vermont indicated anyone not from Vermont must mandatory quarantine for 14 days upon arrival.

And now it’s June.

I’m sitting on my couch, recovering from a planned cholecystectomy earlier this week. I’ve known I had gallstones since 2013, but hadn’t had significant issues until late 2019 (daily nausea despite OTC PPI meds and diet modification). I thought it might be stress-related. By early March, I was only able to function in the world with the help of ginger hard candies to alleviate the nausea. Then the daily pain started to creep in – a dull perpetual ache just under the lip of my right ribcage. I tried to figure out what was making it feel better or worse on any given day. I finally was able to see my gastroenterologist and get an ultrasound in late March and, several weeks later in May, an endoscopy. Results indicated everything is normal … except my gallbladder, which was the source of the pain. So goodbye, rogue organ!

me the afternoon after my surgery

June 1 is also the day I had my thyroid removed due to thyroid cancer. Seems to be The Day to have organs removed for me. Currently awaiting pathology on my gallbaldder but I expect it to not have any surprises.

With this recovery period, I’m off the bike for 4 weeks to avoid acquiring a hernia. I joke with friends that people should pray for my family because of this but really, I’m very familiar with doing other things to stay active. The plan is to get to a place where I don’t need OTC pain meds regularly before starting to walk around the neighborhood. When that feels good, shift to gentle hiking on local trails. If all goes well, I hope to be a little softer and at 75% of previous speed and capacity when I get back on the bike in July. #goals

Don’t let anyone tell you gallbladder surgery is easy. Maybe it is in the general scheme of things but even laparoscopically, it’s no joke. I am still on OTC pain meds and doing hourly breathing exercises to keep my lungs clear. It hurts to laugh. I get tired easily. Surgery is violence to your body and it takes time to heal. Plus the fat-restricted diet can be challenging for someone like me who loves “good” fats and can’t eat avocado toast for the next month.


A Word On George Floyd and Protests

Meanwhile, the country is burning. The death of a black man at the hands of law enforcement has once again sparked protests across the country. While I believe there are many good LEOs and I am friends with several … the reality is our system is stacked against black, brown, indigenous, and generally People of Color. As a white person, I recognize I benefit from this stacked system. And I am angry about it.

Back in 1992, when my biology class emerged from a week-long Grand Canyon hiking trip to learn LA was burning and a black man had been beaten by white LEOs and captured on tape … I thought for sure justice would be served. Evidence was recorded and broadly seen. How naive I was. I kept myself “safely” in the middle ground for years (“I support the protest but rioting and looting I can’t get behind“; “I know very good police officers- this was just a bad cop“; “I don’t see color“; etc ) until 2017 when I attended the Women’s March in Washington, D.C. and heard first hand statements that challenged me at my core. It was then that it helped no one to be “safe” anymore – that I had been part of the problem in upholding the white status quo – and must declare my alliance with my BIPOC sisters and brothers.

Black Lives Matter. Dismantle White Supremacy. Demilitarize the police. Support poverty-eradication efforts. Fund public education and high-quality child care to erase deficits in high-poverty areas.

I have listened to my black brothers and sisters and they are tired, frustrated, and angry. Decade after decade – they have been protesting the same issues with no real change. Their lived experience is valid and true – and I will work as their ally to push for true equality that honors diversity, inclusion, and the rich tapestry of experiences we bring to the table.

I call on my white brothers and sisters to join me in ensuring the United States truly is a land of opportunity to ALL not just in name but in practice as well. White People Must Do the Work to Dismantle Systemic Oppression of Black, Indigenous, and People of Color. Be prepared to be very uncomfortable in the face of exposing unseen privilege. Say it out loud: Black Lives Matter.

Educate yourself with anti-racism reading – and be open about your anti-racist views

Join your local SURJ chapter to join other white allies in supporting our BIPOC brothers and sisters

Listen, lift up, and center BIPOC voices – it’s not about you and what a great ally you are. It’s about creating space for marginalized voices to be heard and lifted so change can happen.

Be there when your BIPOC brothers and sisters need you. Contribute to causes that support BIPOC communities. Shop minority-owned businesses.

Check in with your BIPOC friends and seek to support them during this time where the emotional trauma is too close to home.

Together we can bring about a just and equal society.

My So-Called Life, Pandemic Edition

Adapting to a slower pace of life

It feels like it’s been a year, but it’s only been three weeks since my last blog post. Days feel like weeks; weeks like months; weekends are gone in a blink. The mental and emotional trauma is real. So I wait patiently and try to focus on things that are going well. Forced happiness is detrimental but so is wallowing in anxiety and despair.

Sleep issues are real – where I used to be out cold for 8-9 hours within minutes of hitting the pillow, I find myself either with insomnia at odd hours of the night or supplementing my bedtime routine with antihistamines, melatonin, or other sleep aids.

one of my kids has been a prolific painter during quarantine

I am thankful that I am not part of the dominant “forced stay-cation” (furloughed/laid off) narrative despite taking a massive blow to our finances. I am working from home, so I still have a routine to keep me focused and sane – but I am working 10 hours a day, mostly on back-to-back video calls. Video calls make it easier to be engaged and connected to my coworkers. The hilarious thing is, the introverted software developers are the first to turn on their cameras. I’ve yet to have a sales person turn theirs on for the call. Fascinating sociological study waiting to happen.

My dogs are thrilled I’m home so much. I had to drive to my office the other day to rescue a few things since we won’t be back in the office until at least July at this point. I was gone for 3 hours. When I got home, my 11 year old beagle was beyond himself with happiness that I had returned to him. He jumped into my lap, whining and squealing to express his joy of my return. Separation anxiety will be real when I have to go back to commuting.

Sometimes I get really sad when I think about not being able to go camping this summer. That feels so trivial but if I don’t acknowledge it, that’s also not healthy. Better to be thrilled when the campgrounds open than to be repeatedly disappointed when they stay closed.

Sometimes I am deeply thankful that we chose to live in a suburb instead of the City. We have a house with enough rooms for all of us to spread out. We have a yard that we can sit on the patio or porch to get some fresh air. We have backroads and trails nearby that are not closed and not terribly crowded so we can recreate and social distance.

Markus and Harriet, my succulents

Weird as it sounds, I’m also deeply thankful I’ve been through a 2 week isolation before. G-d forbid anyone in our family get sick and need to isolate, not just quarantine, we can handle it because we’ve done it before.

I am thankful my children are older – teens and twenties – because they can entertain themselves, do their own online learning, or otherwise occupy themselves. I text with my kid who lives in another state so they know we are thinking of them, we love them, and are here to support them from afar. I am thankful to have two of my kids living at home so we can provide for them what they need directly.

It’s certainly a process to become comfortable with this new normal and it’s vital to do so. There isn’t a magic date when we can resume what normal used to look like and to some extent – why would we want to go back to that? Yes, I want to be able to hang out with my friends and go out to dinner and go shopping at a brick-and-mortar … but I also am Marie Kondo-ing my life. Does this serve me? Does it bring me joy? If not, thank you for the times we had; it’s not you it’s me.

Be safe and be well, friends. We’ll get through this. Eventually.

Well, that escalated quickly

our collective descent into a pandemic

“Laura, are you sure you want to go out to lunch for Chinese New Year?”

It’s late January and the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) is spreading rapidly in China. My Chinese coworkers are understandably concerned that their non-Chinese coworkers will be worried about enjoying an authentic meal together to celebrate the New Year here in New York. We assured them it was not and enjoyed an amazing meal together to celebrate.

Work Fam

Three weeks later (mid-February), I had a new job offer that I could’t refuse. I had been looking casually since last September but a recruiter reached out and it was a match. I put in my mandatory 3 weeks notice (plus a few days to end on a Friday), and spent the next weeks training other staff to take on my current role. I also made sure we had a weekly “team lunch” so we could spend maximum time together. I am so glad we did. My husband and I went to the brewery to celebrate.

My guys

I started my new job on March 9, right as New York is starting to shut down due to escalating cases of COVID-19. I tell myself as long as I can get into the office to go through orientation and get my laptop, I can work from home as soon as they allow.

first day photo

March 11 my high schooler’s district shut down for a few days. I send out a notice to registered riders for the Frozen Apple that we will be taking extra precautions at the event on March 22. My oldest child was furloughed from their job.

Two days later, the president announces a national emergency and I cancel the Frozen Apple. I work from home and have been ever since.

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) has great information on how to take precautions and what to do if you’re sick.

The last two and a half weeks have been a surreal trip into the unknown.

Grocery stores were mobbed with people panic-buying everything in sight. There hasn’t been paper products like toilet paper and paper towels or bleach-based household cleaners and alcohol-based hand sanitizer since. It’s only been in the last week that levels of other products like meat and produce have stabilized.

My entire spring gravel event plan has been gutted, most of them moving to late summer and autumn. My girl friends and I are waiting a bit longer before we cancel out late-May bike camping weekend and our mid-June mountain biking weekend. It’s probably inevitable that we will cancel but none of us want to pull that trigger just yet.

This past week in particular has been rough. On Monday my husband was told he is taking a 35% paycut for the next 3 months, possibly longer. I narrowly avoided being furloughed/laid off and took a paycut to a flat salary that everyone in the company is getting (80% paycut). My direct boss left so now I’m scrambling to ramp up as fast as possible with zero context. It’s a good thing I am comfortable asking questions.

Pandemics are no fucking joke.

I am thankful none of us are sick with the virus. That we have enough food in the house right now. That we have a roof over our heads. That the national stimulus bill passed, which will help us navigate that our financial ends literally cannot meet for a while. That our two adult children will benefit more from the stimulus bill than we will (Gen Z deserves a break). That I still have my bikes and can ride locally.

And if we’re being real, I am only riding literally locally from my front door or within a 5 minute drive. I’m increasingly uncomfortable traveling to ride, given the spread of the virus and the levels of cavalier behavior I see among other people. I’ve been doing a lot of walking because it’s quick and easy. Yoga has gone to the wayside because I don’t have a space for it. Forgive me for not wanting to rearrange the living room. Once my mountain bike is back from the shop, I’ll probably do more mountain biking because even though there are fewer cars on the road, they are still there and even less tolerant of a bike these days.

what it feels like we need
(photo found on a Google Search)

My heart is with my friends who are first responders and medical staff – they don’t have the choice to stay home and avoid exposure. My heart aches for families who are suffering or losing loved ones to this virus. I am angry that I live in the United fucking States of America and our federal government is botching the response, allowing needless suffering and death with a shrug. We are in this TOGETHER and states should not be forced to compete for limited medical supplies.

I realize all this is temporary and at some point we will go back to “normal,” whatever that is. For now it’s nice to still be employed but have nowhere I need to go and nowhere I need to be.

Be well, friends. xoxo

2017 in a nutshell

So many blog posts that have lived in my head all year … and what a year it’s been!

January

The signs all pointed to one thing, and that was leaving my job of the past 16.5 years. It was time. This decision has colored every single facet for the rest of the year, from daily job searches to staying close to my network to multiple rounds of interviews that end up going to someone else who had that tiny bit Extra that I couldn’t bring to the table. Like U2, I still haven’t found what I’m looking for.

I attended the Women’s March on Washington DC with my friend Andrea, which was a tremendously powerful experience. We had no idea how massive the march was until we were at a restaurant eating a late dinner and the news was blaring from the televisions overhead. It also opened my eyes – really opened them – to the struggles of my sisters of color. Some of the speeches were really hard to hear – but I had to hear them and made a commitment to myself to be a better ally and use my privilege for the good of ALL.

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this is what democracy looks like

February

Promising job interviews didn’t pan out. There are only so many hours of the day one can devote to a job search before it becomes obsessive and anxiety-stricken, so I decided to fully embrace FUNemployment. I rode my bike – a lot. I rode my first dirt road ride and loved it. I started demoing fat bikes from my local shop because fat biking is So Much Fun. I hiked with my dog. I embarked on home maintenance projects that never seem to get done when fully employed. I re-engaged with the organizations I volunteer for.

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snow hike on my local trails

March

All this fun and productivity came to a screeching halt when I was stricken with what was thought to be the flu but turned out to be a nasty case of pneumonia followed by an even worse case of thrush caused by the powerful antibiotic and bronchodilator inhaler I used for pneumonia. Within three weeks I had been on anti-virals, anti-biotics, and anti-fungals – making me the healthiest person on the planet. haha!

(and yes, I did take a few phone interviews while in the early stages of pneumonia. Not my smartest decision but no regrets)

One of my sisters and my nephews came to visit from Texas on their spring break during a major blizzard here. I flew to see my other two sisters and my nieces in Colorado for a week over their spring break.

By the end of the month I was back home, feeling better, and back on my bike. I managed to crash into a tree while mountain biking, causing bruised rib muscles. I wouldn’t find this out until the pain in my ribs didn’t go away on one side (the side I crashed into the tree on) a few weeks later. Ended up back at urgent care after a particularly painful gravel ride and off the bike for a week to let my ribs heal.

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mountain biking my sister’s local trails

April

More biking. Day trip to Cooperstown with my husband (his current favorite brewery is there). Cleaned out the basement. I went to Vermont and rode the Muddy Onion gravel grinder with my Massachusetts friends. Attended my first Town Board meeting (local politics are what impact you the most)!

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back when my bartape was still white

May

More biking. More hiking. Second annual Girls Camping Weekend. I won’t bore you with the details but when the weather gets nice, it’s easy to have adventures every day. I also paid off my student loans after 17 years, which felt amazing.

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Girls + Camping + Mountain Biking = Happiness

June

Started with a four-day bike tour of central Pennsylvania (an annual tradition). Ended with a family trip “home” to Colorado. My husband repainted our laundry room (repayment for the countless times I’ve heard “I owe you one”). More interviews, no offers. I finally decide to change my endocrinologist to someone much more engaged with my health struggles.

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mountain biking in Colorado with a long-time friend

July

More biking. More JAM FUNdo. This year we did the full 68 mile FUNdo and it was beastly but so awesome. Really loving dirt and gravel roads more than road riding and almost as much as mountain biking, which has been a Thing this year for me.

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this year really was the Year of Dirt

August

August brought the end of my severance, end of my unemployment benefits, and the end of my sanity around not having a job yet despite batting .500 on applications-to-interviews. There’s only so much “you’re great – you’ll land somewhere soon!” one can take before starting to doubt. I keep telling myself – You ARE great. You WILL land a job soon. I play motivational videos on repeat until I feel better about the situation.

It also marked the beginning of a part-time contract role with my state bike coalition, which has been a tremendously personally rewarding experience that marries my professional skills with personal passion. I also spent some time helping a friend at his bike shop and began leading shop rides for my local shop.

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September

I went solo camping for the first time and it was awesome. Three days of doing basically what I wanted to do with no one to be responsible for but myself. I brought my mountain bike too and spent an afternoon exploring the larger park. I’m discovering that my jobless anxiety dies down when I’m not home and become obsessed with finding things to do to keep my brain occupied. Applying for lots of jobs in hopes to land something before the holidays – and raiding our retirement savings to pay living expenses. I also start in leading seasonal mountain bike rides for my local trail committee and exploring new state forests to mountain bike.

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from my solo camping trip – autumn is coming

October

Move one of my kids into their first apartment. Have my first major repair issue while mountain biking. Successfully executed the hardpack/gravel portion of my bike club’s annual fundraising ride, to great acclaim. That happens when you have a dirt route and it rains all morning – the muddier the riders come back, the happier they are. Interviews ramp up again, only to go to other candidates. It’s a cycle. Took one of my other kids on a tour of state university campuses. My Massachusetts friends came to my area and I showed them my favorite dirt roads by bike. Celebrated being married for 20 years.

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hey look – MORE DIRT ROADS!

November

Started with a long weekend in Vermont, reminding me that not everywhere is crazy expensive like the NYC metro area. Enjoyed the most amazing gingerbread pancakes and walking along Lake Champlain. Colorado friends came to visit and we spent a weekend in Philadelphia, one of my favorite cities. And as is the theme for this year – more riding bikes to stay sane.

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words to live by

December

The job search continues but postings wind down a bit due to the holidays. A few more interviews, but once again no offer. I race Ice Weasels again with my friend Karen, who is what a best bike friend should be: always up for an adventure! My middle kid is accepted to his first choice university and we order the senior yearbook with an ad in the back, “love mom and dad.” First snow means getting out the fat bike because there’s no bad weather, only bad gear choices.

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much like life, we don’t always succeed at clearing the obstacles in our path

Final Thoughts …

I look back over the year and am thankful for the Gift of Time I was given this year even though it has been fraught with uncertainty, anxiety, stress, and frustration. I’ve been home for my family more. I’ve seen both sets of my nieces twice and my nephews once – which isn’t enough considering they are all growing up ridiculously fast and I’m not local to be part of their lives more. I’ve volunteered many hours to causes I believe in. I helped build a trail in my local parks. I voted in my first local election. I’ve regained my sense of Self outside of work – I am not defined by what I do, but by who I am. it’s tremendously freeing.

And after 2.5 years of struggling with my thyroid meds, I’m finally feeling like a normal human again. We’re on my third med adjustment in as many months and getting blood drawn every 6 weeks is annoying – but the payoff is dialing in my meds so I can continue to lead a happy, healthy life without fatigue, brain fog, hair loss, or cold sensitivity.

I’m looking to 2018 to be a year of rebirth and growth. I’m looking to land a job in my field (check out my linkedin and let’s connect). I’m looking to become a certified mountain biking instructor to get more people (but especially women) comfortable on the trails. I’m looking forward to another Girls Camping Weekend, sending another kid to university, and most likely another Ride for Homes tour. I want to keep leading bike rides for my shop and my trail committee and stay involved in my community.

Until next year, ride safe my friends!

Real Talk

As I think back across this year, it’s been a stressful one. We sold our house (hooray!), moved to an apartment (eh!), found a new house (hooray!), moved again (two states away!), had to integrate quickly for end of the school year activities (eh!), and have been slowly unpacking and organizing/updating/painting the house. Whole weekends are devoted to Being A Real Adult and that’s never fun.

Oh, and there was that pesky thyroid cancer surgery and radioactive iodine over the summer too. I’m still working on getting my synthetic thyroid hormone balance. While I feel exceptionally thankful my cancer isn’t expected to reduce my life expectancy, I’m now working on finding a New Normal that includes a lot more down time than I’ve previously needed in my life.

No surprise, I’ve been struggling emotionally lately. Like on the verge of Stay In Bed All Day And Full-On Ugly-Cry While Listening to Sad Music and/or Watching Sad Movies. I blame a combination of work (mostly office politics, which isn’t my favorite thing to do), anxiety (impostor syndrome), and a general feeling that my life is very much Not In Balance.

Anyway, I’ve been looking forward to Thanksgiving break because it means a long weekend to relax AND Get Shit Done – but I was in a serious funk. Wednesday I finished up my holiday baking and in the evening my husband and I sat in our hot tub and talked. I know – First World Luxuries. But it didn’t help alleviate the sense of being completely overwhelmed, scattered, and not spending time on the things that matter most.

Thursday morning it was cloudy but in the upper-50s so I decided to head out for a road ride. I haven’t been on my road bike in a while and while it took some internal prodding to get out the door – but soon the pedals were spinning. For the first time ever, I decided to listen to music while I rode. I usually don’t because I like to be able to hear what’s going on around me – but I was on a paved rail-trail and used my Yurbuds, which allow the user to hear ambient sound while delivering high-quality audio. I really should invest in a high-quality single-earbud because riding with music was great.

At the end of my 32 mile ride, I felt a bit better but still anxious. It was nice to spend a few hours just zoned out, spinning.

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pastoral view from the trail

We had a lovely Thanksgiving dinner as a family, thanks for asking. We miss our friends all over the country and our family out West. But we are thankful to have each other, good jobs, a roof over our heads and food on the table every night.

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hello, where is my plate of delicious turkey dinner?

This morning I grabbed my mountain bike and headed over to the local park for a few hours. I am so thankful that I know about this park because it’s perfect for my level: lots of easy flowy trails but also some technical details.

I zipped around a large family enjoying a hike in the woods. I rode over a few of the smaller logs (and just walked over the larger ones). I rode over the bridge across the Parkway and continued on. I fell off a stone wall. I kept going.

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I was the only one on the trails. I stopped frequently to check the paper map I had downloaded of the trails. I stuck to loopy trails that connected easily. I powered up hills and bounced down rocky descents. I felt good.

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perfect day

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all to myself

I found a trail that ended up being a lot more technical than I expected – and I didn’t wreck. I felt like a million dollars.

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this is right before I took a trail that was full of boulders

I took a wrong turn; I doubled back until I found multiple trail blazes. I started experimenting with speed and not shockingly, momentum is your friend when you are mountain biking. I headed back to the gentler park and crushed every trail that I crashed on a few weeks back. I even took a few new trails and had to walk in a few places – but I felt amazing. I got home and took my dog on a walk.

This is exactly what I needed in my life right now. And I still have two more days to Get Shit Done: like laundry and cleaning the house and taking my car in for maintenance.

I need to figure out how to get more of this in my life on the regular.

Life if too short not to see you on the road (or the trails).

My Experience with RAI (I-131) Therapy

This post will probably be most beneficial to someone who’s recently been told they need radioactive iodine (RAI or I-131) therapy. It’s pretty dry but hopefully someone will take comfort that the process isn’t as scary as it feels.

 

The internet is riddled with horror stories (vomiting for days! disappearing taste!) and simple two-liners (“Isolation not that big of a deal! It goes quickly!”) – so it’s hard to get a sense of exactly what to expect. So I thought I’d chronicle my experience, which is probably pretty average, and hope it helps someone else who is frantically Googling what to expect and how long they have to remain isolated.

(There’s about 62,450 people diagnosed with thyroid cancer each year. Not everyone is prescribed RAI therapy and it seems like every doctor has their own method for how to approach the process as well as how long you need to remain isolated and to what degree. What I mention below is what my nuclear medicine department at the local hospital sent me home with – by all means, please follow your own doctor’s orders!)

The process itself is very straight-forward: you will receive 2 injections of Thyrogen (unless you have a reason to need to go off your thyroid hormone replacement meds for 2-4 weeks and deal with severe hypothyroidism) in the two days before receiving your RAI therapy dose. If you are a female, you will need a blood test on the first day of Thyrogen to confirm you are not pregnant. Thyrogen has its own set of potential side effects, the most common being nausea and headaches. I was fortunate enough to have a supportive work environment and was able to work from home on the two Thyrogen days. I have a 90min commute between work and home and didn’t want to have to deal with possibly trying to get home with nausea on an hour-long train ride. Fortunately I did not experience any significant side effects although I noted I was a bit on the tired side.

The day of RAI treatment I had to get another blood test to confirm my severe hypothyroid levels (this is due to the Thyrogen injections) right before heading to the nuclear medicine department at the hospital. My hospital is one that allows you to convalesce at home (i.e., it does not admit you overnight).

I had to sign a bunch of paperwork. The nurse took me back and gave me everything I would need post-therapy, including validating my parking (how nice). This included specific written instructions for isolation, a Personal Disposal Kit (i.e., a kitchen trash bag), and a card for my wallet that confirms my I-131 therapy and that I am not a radiation hazard to the public.

Another nurse came in to talk to me about isolation – the biggest being Time and Distance. The first 3 days are the biggest concern because the radiation is literally emanating from you, not just being eliminated. He answered all of my questions and then took me back to the doctor who would administer the treatment.

My doctor had a Geiger counter on the table next to us; the pill was in a lead-lined cylinder. He explained the therapy to me again as he put on hospital gloves and used a pair of thongs to remove the pill from the cylinder. He gave it to me with a cup of water. My dose was a grey pill about the size of any other average prescription capsule. The doctor advised me to not eat anything spicy or that would upset my stomach for the next few hours to allow the I-131 to absorb into my body. He had me walk to the door of the room and back to show the amount of distance I needed to keep between myself and others for the first several days – and then sent me on my way.

In the few days before doing all this, I recommend doing the following:

* securing a beach house or lake house or other accommodations that have a private kitchen and bathroom. Convalesce in style!

* If you are like me and don’t have any of those available to you, kick your SO out of the master bedroom with attached bathroom and make it your Isolation Suite. Wash and clean everything before undergoing therapy. Yes you’ll have to rewash and clean everything again – but no one likes to wallow in filth.

* Stock up on foods you like, ginger ale (with real ginger), saltines and lemon hard candies. These help you feel moderately better and you’ll actually want to eat them. You may get nauseated for the first 3 days or so – the ginger ale and saltines will help you not feel totally wrecked and you can get some extra sleep. The hard candies are to keep your saliva production up to minimize the sore/swollen salivary glands that may happen. I chose sugar snap peas for my snack and they were super delicious! I also asked for water ice, which was also delicious.

* Find a way to keep your pet at bay. Buy a baby gate if you have to. My dog couldn’t understand why I couldn’t let him kiss me or snuggle up on my lap or sleep with me at night. It was horribly sad.

* Have young kids? Send them to Grandma’s for the week. Have older kids? Get them to make you meals and keep the dog happy. My teens were the best at making me food and leaving it at my door. They kept the dog happy. And in return they got a week of unencumbered video game time because Mom Can’t Do Anything About It.

* Cover your electronics for the first 5 days or so. A plastic sandwich bag over your smartphone is fine. You can get a keyboard cover relatively inexpensively online. Staying in touch with people through the internet or texting is a great way to keep your mind off the fact that you can’t be around anyone.

* Keep the door to your room open and the blinds drawn back if possible. This allows you to feel like you are still incorporated in family life – just make sure everyone is aware of the safety limitations.

My dose was 150 millicurries. I was told I would need to enact radiation safety protocol for 10 days – but the most stringent portions were lifted within about 3-7 days. Keep in mind radioiodine will exit the body through fluids (urine, stool, perspiration, and saliva) – water dilutes the radiation.

For the first 3-5 days and nights:

* sleep completely separate from any other family member.

* have sole use of a bathroom – toilet, shower, sink. Don’t share towels.

* keep as great a distance as possible from others, minimum of 9′ (first 3 days) to 3′ (days 4-7). No hugs, kisses, snuggles, or sex.

* do not travel by plane or mass transit and do not take prolonged car trips.

* drink a minimum of 64oz of fluids each day to encourage unabsorbed radioiodine to leave your system as quickly as possible. Pee a lot.

* use a laxative or eat high-fiber foods to encourage your digestive tract to keep things moving along and minimize any GI issues.

* Use regular plates and utensils. Wash them separately in the dishwasher (2 cycles) to reduce the chance of contaminating the rest of your family for the first 3-5 days.

For the full 10 days and nights:

* Flush the toilet 2 or 3 times after use. If you’re a dude, you have to sit to pee to avoid splashback. If you do splash, wet a tissue to clean it up and then flush the tissue.

* Wash your hands with plenty of soap and water.

* Rinse the sink, shower, and tub with plenty of water to reduce the chance of others becoming contaminated that is being excreted through your bodily fluids.

* Do not exercise for the first 7 days. Radioiodine is excreted in your sweat, which means lots of stuff would be contaminated.

* Do not have any lab tests done unless it’s an emergency through Day 7, in which case have someone call the Radiation Safety Officer at the hospital. Your blood may contain radioactive material!

* Avoid prolonged contact with pregnant women, babies and children. Their thyroids are more susceptible than adults.

* Put all of your trash into the Personal Disposal Kit. You will need to hold onto this bag in your garage until the safe disposal date, which is 75 days after your treatment dose. Write that date on the bag so you don’t accidentally toss it too soon and contaminate the garbage trucks and landfill. Eat an apple? Core goes in the PDK bag.

* wash your towels, sheets, and clothing separately and run the washer on a rinse cycle twice after the final load to minimize any potential contamination.

 

On Day 10 you will most likely get a whole body scan to see where the radioiodine was absorbed. This is a baseline to see where the potential stray thyroid cells are located. The idea is that over time the radioiodine will destroy these cells and reduce the chance of cancer recurring. It also helps to see if there is any metastatic cancer.  This is basically the beginning of a lifelong monitoring of the cancer to ensure if it comes back we can act quickly. The downside is the slight increase in secondary cancers from this treatment. Something we always have to be mindful of and enjoy the time we have and treat anything that comes up as it does.

 

I’m only on Day 7 right now and looking forward to finishing out my isolation time very soon. I miss being with my family and yelling that I love them from my room as they get ready to go to bed or leave for work is kinda sad. I ate my meals in my room for the first 5 days, which is also weird and sad. But necessary! I’d rather be alone and sad for a week than put any of my children or husband or pets at risk.

I tentatively booked a bike ride for this weekend, which I am so looking forward to. Provided the weather cooperates – see you on the road!

Edit to add: My experience included mild nausea and sleepiness for the first 3-4 days. I slept around 14 hours a day! My salivary glands at the back of my jaw became tender on Day 2 so I used hard candy to keep saliva production going and gentle massage of the area. My taste has altered slightly, as things don’t taste as fully flavorful right now. My understanding is this is temporary for the next several weeks and should return. Around Day 5 I started to feel more normal and now at Day 7 I feel mostly like myself again.