Last night I dreamed I was carrying a heavy bag and while most of the time I could handle the weight, occasionally it would get so heavy I could barely move. I would figure out how to keep moving, but the bag just weighed on my whole being.
Seven years ago, this time of the year, my mom was diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer. Doctors threw the book at her – intense chemo, surgery, radiation. Watching the process that ingesting poison does to someone was rough – doubly worse for the person requiring the ingestion. The goal was to cure my mom of cancer and allow her to live. For five years my mom has been NED – no evidence of disease.
Year Six had other plans.
After several interesting health issues this year, a PET scan confirmed what no one wanted to hear: the cancer is back and it’s spread.
This time, there is no cure. There is no long runway. Treatment will be for the rest of her life, up to 3 years. Maybe more if we’re lucky.
Or she can choose not to treat it and start thinking about maximizing the remaining time she has left. The doctor believes she may need to go into hospice within the next 2-3 months without treatment.
What an unimaginable choice.
My first instinct is to go home, back to Colorado, so I can spend time with my family. Care and organization of whatever we as a family unit need to do to support our mom shouldn’t have to fall exclusively on one or two offspring. My dad will also need support, navigating the prospect of living without the person who’s been a constant for 50 years.
But I have a family here that also needs me – my husband, my youngest adult child still living at home, my elderly dog.
It feels overwhelming to think about my mom choosing to not treat the metastisized cancer – but it feels equally awful to prolong life with frequent doctor’s visits, medications, side effects. Living across the country affords me space to live my own life, but my mom is always a text or call away. There is now an expiration date on the ability to chat with her directly.
I think about the stories she’s told about before her kids were born – living in Europe while my dad was stationed in Germany. Photo albums with pictures of places I’ve never been and people I’ll never meet. I remember her best friend dying in her 30s from lung cancer and how that impacted Mom. I remember Girl Scouts and cross-country road trips to visit distant family. How she started a business selling posters with comfort suggestions for labor to doctors and hospitals to help provide a down payment for her mom to get her own condo.
Choosing to recall the positive over the negative.
But Mom isn’t dead yet. She hasn’t even decided if she wants to accept treatment or comfort.
I want to make sure we can help bring about pleasurable experiences while she can still enjoy them, whichever option she chooses. Visiting national parks, a trip to Florida to see where she went to law school for a year, whatever would make her heart feel full. Whether we have only a few months or a few years ……
The bag is heavy for me, but not nearly as heavy as the one my mom is holding.
My body craves stillness I said to my husband, totally deadpan and completely unironically. Stillness that comes in the form of power naps, savasana, yoga nidra, and sleeping in. It’s luscious and beautiful and so satisfying. (Pete just looked at me dumbfounded, like I was some wellness influencer trying to tell him he needs to take the dog for a walk to have “Me Time”)
Yet 2023 has big plans for me – or more specifically, I have big plans for 2023.
After the absolutely soul-satiating bikepacking trip with my sister and my oldest adult child, I went back to chillaxing. I talked to my endocrinologist to adjust my thyroid medications and my entire being has returned to the fun, chill person I know I am inside. It’s been a game changer for feeling like a real human.
I joined my friends for a 36mi fat bike ride on Cape Cod a few weeks ago, which was really freaking fun. I just don’t understand people who don’t have fun on a fat bike. We were on beaches, in the woods, on rustic rail trails, and quiet backroads.
Which in turn helped me feel motivated to put some new events on my radar for next year. Make my goals to see more places by bicycle. Break out of this location rut I find myself in after 5 years of riding around the Northeast.
On a whim, I put my name in the lottery for Midsouth Gravel Event in Stillwater, Oklahoma. And a week later got the email saying my credit card had been charged and see you in March 2023! OPE. The universe is calling my bluff. 100 miles of red-clay dirt that will either be a dream or a nightmare to ride in all day based on YouTube videos from 2020 and 2022.
I also signed up for the 100-mile Long Wall Rollin’ Coal Gravel Grinder in Shinnston, West Virginia in September 2023. I wasn’t able to go this year but I’m super into the idea of checking out West Virginia’s rolling hills. Plus their logo is absolutely fire! If I can do 100 miles in March, I will be super set for a hilly 100 miles in September!
After several coach interviews, I settled on just paying for a TrainerRoad subscription and buying a smart trainer to help me prep for a literal All Day Epic in a totally different state I’ve never been to. I thought about Zwift and while the community aspect really appealed to me, the gamification didn’t. Everyone I talked to said TrainerRoad is boring but effective; Zwift can be effective but is more social. It’s going to be hard enough to want to be on the trainer (mostly because I’ve avoided riding a trainer in the winter for nearly a decade), but I’m motivated to be effective. Social hour can happen outside on the weekends.
I like that TrainerRoad uses your data to adapt your training plan based on the timeline to your event(s) and your goals. Mine don’t involve racing so I can focus on building endurance, power, and maybe some speed. I’m not afraid of being out for 10 hours – that’s a difficult bikepacking day when I’m riding up big hills with a full load. But I would like to finish in less than that if possible.
But let’s talk for a minute about how super noob I am about indoor training.
mostly because I’ve spent so long avoiding the trainer. My philosophy has been to figure out the distance and elevation profile of the event and then practice pieces of the final event, building up to an approximation of the event. This has served me pretty well – I’m not the fastest but that’s not my focus. My happiness comes from the experiences my bike allows me to have, not specifically for fitness. Plus, I also can get very competitive and really need at least one place in my life where I’m not striving to achieve more/better. Bikes are a way to move through time and space and find happiness.
I plugged in my stats and was assigned a fairly low FTP. Having no real clue about FTP, I decided to try the Ramp Test. I made some assumptions that the test was capped at 20min and while it kept telling me to ride until failure, I didn’t quite “get” what that meant.
The first 20min were very chill, just spinning a very high cadence with an increase in resistance every minute. After 28 minutes, I was starting to feel fatigued, but nowhere close to failure. So I decided to try to shift the gears, which is apparently a very big No-No as my cadence went from 115 to 34 as the resistance instantly ramped up. After a few minutes of fiddling around with this, I decided to call it quits and cool down. So 36min of ramp test.
My FTP was adjusted, but it’s still pretty low. I had some time today to do an actual workout and selected the recommended interval workout. I feel like I shouldn’t be able to sing along to my playlist during the intervals. Midway through the workout I increased the targets to 115% of FTP and it started to feel more like a workout. But still not as intense as I assumed a VO2 max workout should be. For example, my recovery power typically ended up around 70-80, not the 50-60 target. I literally had a hard time getting that low of power output for the recovery segments.
Anyway, the actual training plan doesn’t start until I’m back from my vacation. Already planning to retake the Ramp test to kick it off and see if I can get to an actual FTP and right-size my training plan.
What else will 2023 have in store? Hopefully more bikepacking. More mountain biking (I really, really like mountain biking even though I am very, very mediocre at it). More camping with friends. Seeing more places.
It’s early August. I’ve completed two multi-day bikepacking trips, including the beautiful and challenging Appalachian Gravel Growler and another spin Roundabout Brattleboro. I camped in 10* on my back porch to test out my new (obscenely expensive, expedition-weight) winter sleeping bag in anticipation of a back-/bikepacking winter overnight. I missed Toad Strangler due to illness and rode (a shorter route for) The Great North in cold, rainy conditions. I went cabin camping and mountain biking in beautiful New Hampshire and Vermont with my girlfriends (and Matt).
Yet, I haven’t even cracked 1,000 miles to date on my bike.
I’m watching my friends train for epic events. I’m seeing friends discover new routes, new adventures, and regain strength after illnesses. It’s incredibly awesome.
But right now, I need to rest more. Embrace non-bike life more. Visit with friends, plan road trips, and yeah, even get the non-sexy things in life done – like cleaning the house and doing routine maintenance. Clear out the clutter and bring in fresh air and fresh space in my life.
I had two pretty big anxiety attacks earlier this year, which resulted in an increase in my Lexapro dose and a healthy step back in pushing myself to achieve new levels of awesomeness.
It’s really hard to not get caught up in the competition cycle of More Miles, More Speed, More Adventure, More Hard Core Adversity. But I encourage everyone to take a moment to think about why they are doing these things. There’s no right or wrong answer; only that if something isn’t serving you anymore, perhaps it’s time to try something different.
Because the reality is that I don’t need to prove myself to anyone. I’m amazing and awesome right now.
So I’ve been sleeping late, taking leisurely bike rides when I feel motivated, going to slow yoga classes (restorative and yin mostly), and hiking more. Turning off notifications on my phone and filling up my library hold list with interesting books. I’m walking my beagle every day, allowing extra time for all the sniffs and stops. I’m re-evaluating my volunteer obligations and deciding what fits and what needs to be set aside for now.
Living a slow life is kindof wonderful.
I have a car camping trip in a few weeks and then a four-day bikepacking (lodging) trip with my oldest kid and my middle sister. Beyond that, I don’t have many plans. Maybe going home at the end of November for a bit, see the fam and my nieces.
I’m looking forward to how the rest of the year pans out. Taking a break from constant adventure, constant “training,” and constant GO-GO-GO has been a huge relief. While it also resulted in a not-insignificant weight gain, I’m also evaluating my relationship with my body and how I can honor where my physical being is. I’m still strong, still resilient, still bad-ass.
May is Mental Health Awareness Month. Check on your loved ones, talk about your experiences, break the stigma around mental health issues. Together we are stronger.
In the summer of 2020, my brain broke.
I know that sounds like hyperbole but I assure you, that’s what it felt like. The mental scaffolding I had constructed around my Self collapsed and the only thing staring back at me was the Abyss I work so hard to keep at bay.
For most of my life, my scaffolding was so good I didn’t really know the Abyss existed. Sure, I have a deeply angry core that I keep in check, but I had worked hard to feel generally happy and successful. I volunteered; I rode my bike; I went to yoga classes; I went to educational classes.
My happiness was predicated on other people’s praise of my hard work, which in turn would make me work even harder. Every successful job landed, every performance review, every raise, every accolade, every call-out where my performance was highlighted as worthy of recognition and praise …. my Self fed off these moments and craved more.
Things were good: work hard, get rewarded. cool.
Then came some stressful years. Times when I felt like no matter how hard I tried, it was never good enough. And ultimately I know now that it really wasn’t about me, but it silently, steadily, chipped away at the walls of my Self and the supporting scaffolding.
So in March 2020, I’m in a brand new job when the realities of covid invading New York … turning everything we “know” to be “true” upside down …. that in one breath said I was being laid off and in the very next breath asked if I wanted to keep my job at a colossal paycut …. I did what I do best.
I worked my ass off to prove my value and worth to the doubters. And to keep my own anxiety about the state of the world at bay.
If I’m busy, I obviously don’t have anxiety. I am strong; valuable; dependable. I can ignore the gnawing sense of fear and dread that’s building up.
Which brings us to August 2020.
The accolades have suddenly turned to demerits without explanation. I find myself sitting in yet another online video meeting and being taken to task when I feel the scaffolding fall away …. replaced by pure panic.
If you’ve never had a panic attack, they suck. There is no sense of reality or the ability to take charge of your direction or have control over anything. For some people, it feels like you’re dying – and while that happened a few times in my twenties, that’s not what it feels like when my brain breaks. It feels flat, out of control, and you have no way to wrestle the beast back into its cage.
So I did what anyone would do.
I logged off the video meeting, told my boss I was having a panic attack, and that I’d talk to them in a few days when I got my head back on. Then I gathered my dogs and we crawled into bed to just exist.
(moment to recognize my privilege to ignore my life for a few days while I rebuilt my mental state)
I submitted an online intake for a therapist and booked an appointment with my doctor. (Recognize my privilege of having good insurance.) My therapist helped me work through my root issues (or at least shine a light on where my behavioral changes need to be completed by positive mental talk and realigning my personal success bar) and my doctor prescribed an SSRI (Lexapro), which helped tremendously. It took the edge off without making me feel like less of Me.
Don’t be afraid of medication; we all need a little help every once in a while.
After a year or so, and about 20lbs of weight gain, I tried a few other antidepressants:
(NOTE: don’t take my experiences as Gospel; if you’re having issues, talk to your doctor or therapist about options right for YOU)
Zoloft (SSRI) – made me super depressed. Three weeks in I was questioning the meaning of anything (why do we do anything at all? it’s so meaningless) and my husband literally said “Depressed Laura isn’t fun. You need to call your doctor.” I am thankful he was looking out for me when I clearly wasn’t in the right headspace to do so for myself.
Prozac (SSRI) – made me moderately depressed, like the entire world was encased in plastic cling wrap and I couldn’t touch it. Distinct lack of Joy in my life and an increase in nihilism.
Cymbalta (SNRI) – this one was interesting. I felt super compartmentalized – like my anxiety was over there, in a box, … waiting to be dealt with. I felt disconnected from my experiences and my default mental thoughts were all negative. I also experienced hyerpsomnia as a side effect, making functioning exceptionally difficult. (I love sleep but this was excessive)
So I’m back on Lexapro because I feel like me, just without the anxiety. The electric buzzing coursing through my body is quieted and I can think, act, and still be my Self. Because honestly, when I took the time to rebuild my sense of Self during covid-times, I like when I take the time to do things that make me feel good that don’t rely on someone else’s opinion of my performance.
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.
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.
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)
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.
This year has been cray on top of the previous three years of political cray here in the US. At this point I’m pretty sure the Hadron Collider shuttled us into an alternate reality that we’re only now able to escape.
I’m sitting here two weeks from starting a new job, enjoying a few days off before becoming the New Kid At Work again. But wait, didn’t you just start a new job right as the pandemic unfolded? Yes, yes I did. Life is too short to waste time trying to please those who won’t appreciate it.
Despite the cray, it was still a pretty decent year. Instead of my usual bike pics, I’m going to share some of my favorite memes from the year because WHY NOT. For bike pics, check my Instagram.
We started the New Year back home in Colorado with family and friends. I continue to cherish spending the time together before the world seemed to fall apart. I celebrated Chinese New Year with my coworkers at a local Chinese restaurant. Laura, are you sure you want to go to a Chinese restaurant? You aren’t worried about coronavirus? Yes, I’m sure. I’m confident it won’t be an issue. I started a “training” series for those who wanted to ride my latest bike event brainchild, The Frozen Apple.
February involved more gravel riding, my youngest kid being featured in the school district art show, and a questionably-advised brewery and distillery trip with friends. Swag for the Frozen Apple arrived and I spent a lot of time ironing out details and getting volunteers.
March saw our world upended. I still can’t believe my goodbye happy hour was at a bar and we all hung out inside, laughing and talking and hugging multiple times. The simple joys of The Before Times. I then started a new job just across the bridge from NYC and 4 days later was advised to work from home for the foreseeable future. Westchester and NYS shut down. It was really scary to live in the epicenter county of a viral outbreak. So much panic buying at the grocery store. Then came the deep paycuts, reconfiguring our budget, and spending hours on hold trying to talk to a rep about mortgage payment relief. Finally see my GI doc. My youngest kid got to have the first Quarantine Birthday.
We end up canceling the Frozen Apple due to the president declaring a National Emergency.
April brought warmer weather and solo bike rides to help manage the stress and anxiety of Pandemic Times. Mask mandates begin and thing start to feel safer – but the grocery stores are still broadcasting an odd mix of 80s pop music and “During these trying times ….” messages. Feeling thankful we bought a huge set of toilet paper and paper towels when they were plentiful.
More solo gravel rides and I’m hitting my stride – seeing a big jump in speed and endurance. All signs point to an amazing bike year and I’m averaging over 100 feet of climbing per mile ridden. I buy myself a smartwatch to monitor my body metrics because it sounds interesting. My girlfriends and I lament not being able to have a Girls Bike Camping Weekend. I start to incorporate one other person on bike rides, and only mountain biking rides because it’s much easier to stay socially distant in the woods.
I’m also apparently in need of my gallbladder to be removed. So I bow out of a redux of Taste the Catskills.
June is a big pile of nothing. Elective surgeries had just started resuming within the last week or so so I’m thankful for the timing of having my gallbladder removed. I should write a post about that experience because there’s a lot that I thought I understood but really didn’t. Main take-away: Laparoscopic surgery is still major surgery. Next time, maybe take more than 3 days off work to recover. I rest, read, and walk the dogs. Celebrated another Quarantine Birthday for my oldest kid.
Ah yes, Birthday Month! Technically I’m allowed to bike again, but I keep it mellow and stop when my insides start to feel Not Great. I discover I still need to stay on a reduced fat diet (I decided to aim for 50g of fat per day because that felt ok) and add in digestive enzymes, which help tremendously. My oldest comes over for a long weekend visit. I turn 43.
Decide I’m officially IN for the Green Mountain Gravel Growler, a bikepacking trip my friend and I had been planning all year to do. A tropical storm knocks out our power so I have to go into the office to work for a day. It’s the weirdest feeling even though only a few others are there and the whole office has been rearranged to be socially distant and masks required when not at your desk. Work stress on top of everyday stress and anxiety are building up and my usual mechanisms aren’t working. I end up having an anxiety attack, signing up for therapy, and talking to my doctor about a low dose of SSRI.
I get my life back with therapy and Lexapro.
Training rides and bikepacking prep. Finally get a Girls Bike Weekend in the Berkshires and it’s everything we needed it to be. We booked adjacent campsites and brought all our own stuff (no sharing anything). We rode gravel and had campfires and talked. It felt magically to spend time with friends I love.
Green Mountain Gravel Growler pushed me to my limits and even though I had to push myself to the very end of my physical abilities, I have zero regrets and look forward to another week-long trip next year. I learned some valuable lessons and have some amazing stories to tell.
October started great – I recovered from my deep glycogen deficit and did some low-key rides with one or two others. I’m driving home one evening from running errands and notice a kitten in the road that looks like it may have been clipped by a car. So I stop and move it to the side of the road … and it bites me.
Cue a massively infected finger, several calls with the Dept of Health, and a mandate to go get a rabies vaccine. PEAK 2020: Potential for Death by Kitten.
I decide I don’t want to be working in the dining room anymore so we convert my middle kid’s room to an office. I redecorate with bike-themed posters. Pete and I celebrate 23 years of marriage. I decide my bike goal for this year is to average 100 feet of climbing per mile ridden.
I’m no political junkie but hot damn, this election was a roller coaster and I’m pleased with the outcome. I’m ready to get back to hating my elected officials a normal amount.
A rare warm November day meant I could meet up with my best bike girlfriends for a mixed terrain gravel ride upstate. I went solo camping with my senior beagle and had to cut it short because it was too cold for him. I rode bikes as much as I could.
As the year comes to a close, the long sleeve thermal jerseys come out, the days are too short, and it feels like time has been a raging river and slow as molasses. January and February feel so far away. But I have hope that with the covid vaccines being rolled out, we will have a shot to get back to mostly normal by this time next year.
I say mostly normal because this year has allowed space to refocus on what’s important. Suspending the things we distract ourselves with forces us to reckon with who we are, what we believe, and what we stand for.
My 70 year old dad got covid this month. He’s still not out of the woods yet but we are thankful he’s been able to ride it out at home so far.
A seemingly minor mountain biking injury blows up into a chronic knee issue so I have to abort my climbing-per-mile goal at an average of 99.4 feet of climbing per mile ridden. I’m not disappointed – this year is teaching me to be at peace with Good Enough (or Close Enough).
As I unwind myself from my current work obligations and prepare to engage in learning a new corporate culture and team, I am thankful for many things:
* Front-line employees and first responders * The privilege to work from home * My family * Friends who also take the virus very seriously * that this year is almost over
I’m still thinking of my bike goals for next year. To be sure they involve more bikepacking trips and hopefully time with friends and family again. And my middle kid will be celebrating his Quarantine Birthday later this month.
Until next year, keep the rubber side down and see you out there.
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.)
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.
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.
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 FarmInn as the only guests. A hot shower and a comfortable bed awaited us.
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?”
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.