Let’s talk about Vermont, gravel grinding, and the truly great weekend I had with my dear women friends (and Matt) at the Muddy Onion Spring Classic.
I am blessed to have friends who don’t hesitate to text me “Hey, wanna do this ride?” The answer is usually “YES.” So we secured a cheap hotel room and made our plans for a weekend of gravel magic.
The Muddy Onion Spring Classic is a ridiculously fun ride on lightly traveled dirt and gravel roads in north-central Vermont, hosted by Onion River Sports. Starting in the state capitol, Montpelier, the ride has more elevation gain than linear distance which is made abundantly clear over the first 5 miles. Several climbs topped out in the upper-teens for grade percentage.
The weather couldn’t have been more perfect – mid-to-upper 60s, partly sunny, and fast dirt. Very few sloppy spots on the road made for quick riding.
The first rest stop was about 13 miles (and 1500′ of gain) in and well stocked with chocolate-covered bacon, shots of local maple syrup, pickles, protein bars … and PBR. Water for your bottles was courtesy of the spigot on the side of the house.
It’s like being a kid again, out exploring dirt roads and having a blast.
The second rest stop was 26 miles (and 3200′ of gain) in – more maple syrup shots, more pickles, more chocolate-covered bacon, water from a hose … and fried PB& J sandwiches. We loaded up on electrolytes – only 4 more miles of climbing before the 4 mile descent into town.
We finished in a little over 4 hours of total time, around 3.25 hours of actual riding time, and 3900′ of climbing over 35 miles. Partook of the post-ride BBQ (veggie burgers or grilled chicken; potato chips; local craft beer, soda, and seltzer) before riding our bikes back up the hill to the hotel to get cleaned up.
Grabbed a coffee at Capitol Grounds Cafe and then a case of local craft beer at the state store before heading home.
If you enjoy riding bikes with really cool people, along quiet dirt roads with spectacular views, and you don’t mind a little climbing along the way … the Muddy Onion is a great choice for a challenging event!
I am so thankful to see 2015 out the door and welcome a fresh start, one that will include more miles, more smiles, more family and more fun!
2015 ended with my lowest annual miles since I bought a comfort hybrid and started tracking my miles with my favorite fitness tracking app, MapMyRide back in 2011, a slight 1,031.5 miles. Sure, I have lots of excuses like moving twice, a long snowy winter, cancer surgery, radiation, and organizational changes at my employer … and I’m proud that I made it to 1,000 miles. But I’m not satisfied with the downward trend of my annual mileage.
2016 also marks my decision to sell my most favorite road bike, my Felt ZW5, and buy a new bike. This is not a decision that I am taking lightly (I’m selling her to a friend who wants to get into recreational road biking) but is a necessary step to streamline the stable from 5 bikes to 3. I live in a very hilly area now and the reality is my vintage 10-speed cruiser, which beautiful, isn’t going to cut it. And I’ve been trying to unload my mountain-style hybrid for years – might be time to consider donating it.
Laura, what are you replacing your road bike with?
So glad you asked. I love talking bikes.
I thought really hard about what I love about cycling and what my goals are. A few years ago I might have answered “something light and fast!” because I was used to the plush but heavy ride of a comfort hybrid. And having a carbon recreational road bike has been amazing. I’ve taken that bike on so many adventures, across town and across the region. I’ve gone off-road and on, pedaling away the miles with laughter and friendship.
But the one thing this bike couldn’t be is my Swiss Army Knife of a bike. I have two multi-day bike tours planned and a bikepacking weekend with a friend. I want to be comfortable all day long, stop at mile 75 for ice cream, and keep on truckin’. And my thoughts are along these lines:
I love the road-absorbing qualities of my steel Peugeot, so a steel frame is critical.
I want lower gears to conquer steeper hills without brutalizing my legs. I live in a hilly area – biking home from the train station is roughly 100 ft/mile in elevation gain. I’m a big fan of spinning but have found my limits on a couple double-digit climbs.
And the reality is, I rarely use my very top gears because speed is not a huge factor in my rides. I love long, steady all-day epics with friends or 50-60 mile rides with stops for lunch. (note to self, find some new bikey friends so you can get back on the lunch ride train).
I like disc brakes. I also plan to bike to the train station a few times a week now that the bike lockers are available to rent (sent in my check!), and I need stopping power on the epic downhills.
I want to run bigger tires. I’ve been taking my carbon roadie on gravel grinders and let’s be real: 25s have no business on gravel. I’d like to run 28s or 32s for commuting and weekend jaunts; 35s or bigger on gravel or predominately off-road adventuring.
Fenders and a rack mandatory. Can be aftermarket accessories.
I need the complete bike to be about 25 pounds or less. A tall order for a steel bike, but possible. This is significantly heavier than my current road bike – but I’ll take the trade for a buttery-smooth ride and all-day comfort.
And the most important part, all this for $2k or less.
I’ve narrowed my choices down to a few bikes, looking to start test riding soon, in no particular order:
This past weekend I put my bikes on the back of my Honda and headed for the hills. Of west-central Massachusetts, to be more precise. My friend and fellow blogger Karen lives up there and invited me to join her at the JAM Fund Grand FUNdo. The ride was top-notch: very hilly, well-stocked rest stations, full-on pig roast bbq and local craft beer at the end.
While there, a former pro cyclist approached me about my scar. Turns out she had a total thyroidectomy a few years ago (hers was benign) and is currently not racing due to overtraining.
She shared with me a few gems, one of which was that once your thyroid is removed your body functions differently from when you had the organ even though you are replacing the hormones. As an athlete, it’s easy to build into a certain level of fitness. How the body functions with just the hormones is slightly different. She shared a story about a training ride where she became severely hypothermic, which was her “a-ha” moment about how her body functions differently now.
This was welcome anecdotal evidence, as I’ve noticed my body isn’t responding the same way it used to. I get goose-bumps earlier in hot rides than I used to – which is my key to drink more fluids, dial down the intensity, and stay in the shaded areas as much as possible. The Mini FUNdo we did featured 25 miles of uphill before the glorious 15 miles of downhill – and by mile 22, my muscles weren’t crying but I was definitely Not Myself. Thankfully the rest stop had bananas and, more importantly, pickles.
Never underestimate the power of a pickle to revive you on a hot bike ride.
The rest of the weekend was exactly the relaxing, rejuvenating experience I needed. We biked, we laughed, we talked, and we ate. As working moms, it’s not easy for us to just take a weekend to ride bikes – but I’m so glad Karen was up for it and I was in a place where I could be as active as I wanted … even if it isn’t at my former fitness level.
Another friend of mine, Dani, made an excellent observation. She asked me if I had held back my voice – because the thyroid is in the throat chakra and maybe I needed to learn how to be my own advocate more, to speak up and not be afraid of what others think or will say by voicing my concerns or opinion.While I still harbor internal concerns that vulnerability makes me a liability, the reality is I have suppressed my needs too much. It’s OK to ask for help, for down-time, and to take care of me first.
The irony certainly doesn’t escape me that I have moved to a city that never sleeps, is always pushing forward, and thrives on the dreams and ambitions of millions of people – and my body is quite literally telling me to slow down, take time to breathe and relax, and to enjoy life.
Of course, I immediately signed up for another very hilly ride locally in October. I’m hoping to get through my radioactive iodine treatment over the next 2 weeks and get back to building up my cycling strength. I don’t think I’ll see anywhere close to the same stats as last year and I’m making my peace with it. I’ll ride as much as I can and seek out my happy-place as often as possible.
I was talking with my sister recently. She is a marathoner and expecting her second child this summer. She was lamenting her inability to take part in a particular marathon this year because of her impending child. It’s part of the same mentality – she’s losing her ability to just sign up for a marathon and not have to actually train so much as maintain.
One of the things active people fear most is losing fitness. Many of us started at a sub-par fitness level and have worked hard to get to a point where throwing down a marathon or a century (or whatever the goal was) is just another day. When you have that level of fitness, and life starts to get in the way, many of us panic. It was such an effort to get to this place! I don’t want to have to go back to barely creaking out 25 mile rides!
For me, it’s important to accept the place you are now and work with it. After 2 months of not riding my bike (and spending at least half that time going out of my mind with not being able to go out for bike rides), I can safely say it’s going to be a long road back to fitness when I do throw my leg over the top tube. I’ve focused on walking as much as possible and running or hiking on the weekends to maintain a base level of fitness. I signed up for a 5-mile run in April to have a motivating event to keep me from sleeping until noon on weekends (which is totally on my radar because I am not a morning person). And if all goes well, we should be moving into our new house relatively soon – which means more time back in my life for the things that matter most. Family. Friends. Bikes.
Lots has happened so far this year. We finished up a lovely vacation in Colorado with family and friends; we sold our house finally; we had to make a humane decision for my 18-year-old beagle, Mojo. I’ve gained far too much weight in the last year. Mega-commuting – spending 90min or more to get to work or back – is challenging at best and in the winter, doubly so. I’ve had a few days where I spent as much time in transit as I have at work.
And it’s been a long, cold winter. Every time the snow and cold seems to have melted just enough and the weather warming up, another winter storm or arctic cold front comes rolling through. My bikey friends and I had made plans to go ride bikes this afternoon, but a winter storm of snow, sleet, and rain arrived – so I leashed up my dog and we did a 3-mile walk together. It was fun to be outside with friends, despite the extremely slippery conditions. My dog passed out on the couch from all the excitement.
What I’m really saying is, keep the faith my dear reader! We will all dust off the cobwebs soon enough and slowly turn the cranks again and marvel at the warm sunshine beating on our backs as we zip down the road. Spring is coming …
counting the days until we see each other on the road ….
Yesterday I embarked on my local bike club’s annual ride from Philadelphia to Brooklyn, the Peter O’Dell Memorial Ride. I struggled with the decision to go, having a few very low days emotionally and wasn’t sure I’d be up to the challenge not only of pedaling (I chose the 90mi route) but also of being upbeat and mentally ready. My last significant rides were 110mi in early July and a metric a few weeks ago – so I’m not exactly in All Day Epic shape. In the end I decided I would regret not going more than regret going (and I could always take the train back home if I felt it necessary).
What a great day!
After waking entirely too early (5am!) and picking up my friend Ken, we arrived at the New Hope, PA starting point right at 7am. Many other cycling friends were also milling about, making final preparations for the ride – Kurt, John, Catherine, Phil, and Jeff (who was SAGing this mostly-unsupported ride for us), among others. We loaded our shower bags into the bus and started the journey about 7:30am under cool but humid cloudy skies.
The first thirty miles were mostly rural, passing fields of pumpkins, corn, and apple orchards.
We stopped in Raritan, NJ at the local Wawa-wannabe (Quick Chek) for bathrooms, ice water and a brief snack. The lunch stop was “only” 12 miles later so we didn’t feel the need to refuel too much.
Those 12 miles included a hill that just. kept. going. Every turn, the incline kept going – about a mile at a 6% grade. Ken and I had swept up another cyclist on the ride, Adam, and stayed with him through the hill. He ended up staying with us until just after lunch. At this point we were literally dripping with sweat and sipping our electrolyte-enhanced beverages frequently.
Lunch in Lyons, NJ at a Subway. Apparently New Jersey doesn’t have any good local hoagie shops? Food is good and so is air conditioning, which we relished as the sun had burned through the clouds and the temps were climbing into the upper 80s.
A quick jaunt north to Basking Ridge to see a 600+ year old tree. It was pretty impressive.
By this point, Ken had switched off with Dave, who had been piloting a tandem with our friend Catherine, who happens to be blind. Adam hooked back in with a larger group of cyclists. So I pedaled off to catch up with Ken at the next rest stop in Kenilworth, NJ. And oh, was this the most delicious part of the ride.
I zipped along, unencumbered by others. It’s not that I don’t love riding with my friends (I prefer it, actually) but sometimes the solitude is exactly what is needed. As I turned on to Sky Top Rd, I knew this was going to be an excellent hill. I didn’t attack it but I didn’t submit to it either – it was almost effortless. The road curved and rose (it was about a mile of 5% grade) in front of me, lovely forest hugging the edges.
It was truly a transcendent experience, one that I can’t adequately express to you dear reader in words.
A few miles later, I was bombing down another rd, twisting out of the Watchtung Reservation and into Echo Lake Park. I ran into a few other cyclists taking a quick break so I opted to hook in with them for a bit (and refill water). I dropped back off in Kenilworth where Ken and Catherine were waiting (with others). Dave went back to captaining the tandem and Ken was back riding with me.
At this point, the ride turns more urban as we meander through Elizabeth and into Newark. We rode through the Newark Port, which was mercifully devoid of vehicles (and unfortunately trees) after navigating city streets. We met up with another group and got Mike to drive behind our cycling groups to get over the Route 1-9 bridge into Jersey City. Craziest bridge to negotiate – I do not recommend attempting alone/without a car behind you to keep the New Jersey drivers away from you. A large swath of the bridge was open grate, which can be extremely slippery for cyclists.
More city streets as we navigated our way to Hoboken and the ferry terminal. About a mile from the terminal, the skies opened up and we were doused with a torrential downpour. As in, we couldn’t see Manhattan across the river (and it’s not that far). After the hot and humid day we’d had, I can’t say the rain wasn’t welcome. Ken and I sought refuge under a few trees (which is totally not what you should do in a thunderstorm but we didn’t have any other options) until the rain let up enough to continue to the ferry.
The ferry ride was a ferry ride – although we did see a beautiful rainbow over Manhattan.
Once in Midtown, the sun came back out and we pedaled down the Hudson River Greenway. A lovely separated cycletrack with separate signals! We mused that this would be perfect for the I-95 corridor in Philadelphia, with the new development happening on the abandoned piers.
Following the signs for cyclists getting to the Brooklyn Bridge we navigated the city streets. Always brings out the aggressively-defensive cyclist in me.
The Brooklyn Bridge is beautiful. It’s also full of pedestrians who seem to think the bike lane is also for walking, taking photos, etc. It’s also got a wooden deck and after the rain, I was skiddish about needing to stop suddenly – so I employed my best “Get Out Of The Bike Lane” voice to clear the path.
There are SO MANY PEOPLE in New York.
We negotiated the final city streets, arriving at the hotel about 9 and three-quarters hours after we set out. We grabbed a cold beverage and a bag of chips while we waited for the showers to be available so we could clean up and change. Dinner at a local restaurant (MooBurger) before climbing on a bus to take us back to New Hope.
Dropped off Catherine and Ken before getting home to my own family around Midnight – tired, happy, a little saddle-sore but tremendously thankful for the amazing experience. Philadelphia won’t be home for much longer and New York (although not Brooklyn) will be home soon – I can’t think of a better way to go out.
See you on the road!
PS – if you like stats and route maps, click below :
so much has happened (and not happened) in the last month or so.
Today my oldest and I parked along the local paved trail and rode into the city to attend a Kidical Mass ride. It’s like Critical Mass – only not angry and with little kids. It was a relatively small group today due to the overcast skies but what an amazing bunch of families! Cargo bikes galore! Little dudes on their two-wheelers, yelling out “HOLE, DADDY! HOLE!” as we glided down the buffered bike lane across the city. I think we averaged 4 miles per hour and it was so satisfying to ride with other pro-bike families. The women who organize the rides are super-women and I felt honored to be able to ride with them.
I have been biking more with my kids, which has been really great. There’s no pressure to perform (not that there is with my friends anyway) – just spending time with them. It does tend to bring out the Mama Bear in me and I probably spend too much time verbally guiding them about things they should be aware of (pedestrians, potholes, cars going straight, cars turning right, cars in the bike lane) … but I hope when they leave home they will be better bicyclists around town. It was fun to challenge him to get to the speed to which the lights are timed (20 mph) so we could glide through every light … we got stopped a few times but I think he enjoyed the experience!
In other news:
Our buyers walked away so we’re still trying to sell the house in PA. Hard to think a beautiful house in a great location with good schools and in good condition would be difficult to sell but this has been the most difficult home-sale experience I’ve ever had. We’ve been *thisclose* to getting another buyer so many times we’re starting to get numb.
I gave up on trying to bike commute. The stress has been overwhelming so I have been biking to the train station and back and going out on longer rides on the weekends. Somehow I’m within a few hundred miles of where I was this time of year last year. And somehow, getting to 3,000 miles for the year seems like it would take an eternity to get there.
And … I’ve been struggling with anxiety and depression lately. I know this because many days I don’t even want to ride my bike – which is very strange to admit. I love riding my bike – but until I’m actually pedaling, my brain is just not interested. It’s become a struggle that shouldn’t be. My GI symptoms from last summer also came back in full force a few weeks ago. The doc I saw prescribed a low-dose anti-depressant in addition to my usual PPI meds. It’s helped tremendously to file just enough of the edge off to be able to think clearly and rationally. I still find myself getting worked up occasionally but now I can understand it’s not personal and I can usually calm my inner voices to bring myself back to a place of homeostasis.
I’m thankful the doctor saw beyond my symptoms and heard the franticness in my voice, assuring me that “it’s not all in [my] head” but to “try this in addition.”
They say two of the most stressful things you can experience is buying and selling a home. We certainly are living this.
Anyway – I’m still out riding bikes, just not as much. But hopefully I’ll see you on the road soon. xoxo
Let’s be honest – buying and selling homes is stressful business. Everything has to be perfect for the right person to want to put down a huge amount of money to call your abode home. Then you as a seller have to turn around and look at other people’s houses until you find The One that speak to you on another level.
That’s been my life for the past month or so. Not enough riding bikes, too much stress.
I’ve done an impromptu century (first of the year!) on the hottest, muggiest day of the year so far. You wouldn’t think walking your bike across a bridge over the Delaware would deplete you physically but it did (it was so hot – we were just baking). We stopped for ice cream at about Mile 80 and the proprietor refused to fill our water bottles (despite the heat index being well over 100*). We bought and enjoyed the ice cream anyway because we were hot and needed a break – but thankful for the Starbucks next door who filled our bottle with ice water and wished us well for the final 28 miles.
I’ve been riding my bike to the train. This is not Mega Miles or anything but it’s a few minutes each day that the wind is in my face and for the most part, no one is actively trying to kill me while riding on the street.
Although why motorists feel it’s wise to pass on hills or around corners is really beyond me. I pray no one gets into an accident while passing me, even though I am clearly within my legal bounds of taking the lane when it’s too narrow to accommodate both of us.
I biked with friends to get lunch in Doylestown one weekend. I biked with friends around Bucks County and remembered why a shorter distance is so challenging out there (hills. Lots of them). Although it was nice to be dropping the boys on the hills while chatting away with my friend. I’m getting stronger as a cyclist!
But mostly my life is consumed by work, figuring out the house situation, and too much stress.
Today I declined what would have been an great day on the bike (lunch in NJ, about 63 miles round trip) in favor of a shorter ride to kill some stress energy (about 27 miles round trip). I tend to get higher averages on my rides when I’m alone, most likely because I’m not talking. Today was hot and humid – the kind of day where your body feels like it’s suffocating when you stop pedaling – and I kept up on my hydration really well.
I’m also looking at maps to try to figure out a new multi-modal bike commute once we move. The house will be about 8 miles from the train station – totally doable! The area is even more hilly than where we live now so I’m hoping to graduate from a hilly-goat to a full-on mountain goat. And it looks like there are great opportunities for mountain biking this winter. Hooray for new opportunities!
Anyway, I’m still here. I’m still riding. You don’t need to hear about every little thing I do but hopefully I’ll see you on the road soon.