Bear Burritos Bikepacking 2016 Recap

Or, we need more Girls Camping Weekends in this world.

My friend Karen and I decided back in January to try out bikepacking – backpacking but with a bike instead of hiking. Having never done this before, we both got very excited about a plan to ride to three different state parks/forests in western Massachusetts, camping every night in a different park and biking all day.

The only weekend we had available was Memorial Day weekend and the state parks require a two-night stay so we altered our plans and decided to reserve an established campsite for two nights with all our gear attached to ourselves or our bikes for the weekend. We researched bikepacking, read a bajillion articles, and scoured the internet for tips and tricks. We texted and chatted and set up Google Spreadsheets to track our planning: routes, gear, food, apparel. We called businesses and town clerks to find a safe place to park our cars for the weekend in town. We did two dry runs – one driving and checking out the Forest and one to mostly load up and ride the full route to iron out any kinks and establish speed expectations.

And then – the weekend arrived. Dude, we are totally doing this!

We had the most amazing time!

Friday we met up in Lenox, Massachusetts, loaded up our bikes and daypacks, and departed on a hot and humid day for Beartown State Forest. We didn’t have far (about 15 miles) to go but the bulk of our elevation was in a 4-mile section up a mountain.

 

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we’re really doing this! 
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everything we need for a camping weekend
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next 4 miles … UP!

We made a No Guilt pact: no need to hang back for each other but definitely wait for each other at opportune moments. Spending 4+ miles on a 4% average grade is tough on an unloaded bike, much less with loaded bikes. No one was setting QOMs today but everyone was winning!

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finally in the Forest!
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past beaver ponds in a rare flat section
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These cute guys were EVERYWHERE on our final overgrown road descent into camp
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overgrown roads. we like those. 

We made it to camp and got to work setting everything up.

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hammock camping!
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took a dip in the pond to cool off; have to dry your bibs somehow
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Benedict Pond
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we ate like queens: chicken sausage with rice & beans
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good morning from my hammock! 

The next day Karen’s friend G joined us. She drove in and brought a cooler full of food and two mountain bikes! After a quick breakfast (coffee and instant oatmeal), we drove over to Kennedy Park to hit the trails together. Fun Fact: G was on a 29er, Karen on a 27.5, and I rode G’s old 26er GT. Survey says, 27.5 and 29ers are best for steamrolling pretty much everything in your path.

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mountain biking badasses (featuring great trail manners)

After a great ride in the woods, we adjourned to the Great Barrington CoOp for lunch and continued conversation. We were a bunch of Chatty Cathys.

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these guys kept Karen up at night

After G set up her tent, we hit the trails for a short hike around the pond.

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Yes, it’s just that beautiful!

Set up another amazing fire (seriously, we had mad fire making skills this trip!) and once again, ate ourselves silly and went to bed too late.

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sun-dried tomato chicken sausage, couscous/quinoa/coconut milk/kale, and cheddar cheese
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hell yeah we had breakfast tacos this morning! eggs, cheese, avocado, rice & beans

Thanks to the cooler G brought, we had eggs for breakfast! Karen had bought her personal coffee blend and a french press so we stuffed ourselves for the day ahead. Super hot and humid again, we started pre-gaming with electrolyte beverages.

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packed up and headed home (so not ready!!)

Today was a slightly longer and mostly flat to downhill route back to our cars.

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Which way do we go??
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right … this way!
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the street dumps you here 

As we pedaled into Great Barrington, it started to rain which felt amazing. We kept pedaling along the Houstatonic River, through tiny towns and past quaint New England homes.

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pedaling along, enjoying the day
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Obligatory Rustic Barn Photo

The rain started and stopped a few times, each time feeling so refreshing from the  humidity. The final 5 miles of the trip back were uphill and we were racing a thunderstorm. We didn’t beat it and ended up getting soaked with less than a mile to go – but it was so delicious!

It’s hard to believe the weekend is over – it went by so fast! Being able to completely unplug and just flow with the vibe of the day was so revitalizing. We also learned so much from this experience and hope to do this again soon.

All in all, A+ Gold Star Will Do Again.

See you on the road!

 

 

For those interested:

My Gear

Salsa Colossal Ti, 53cm

Vittoria Cross XN Pro, 31mm

Revelate Designs Tangle framebag (small), Pika seatbag (small)

Osprey Daylite Plus 20litre Daypack (w/Hydrapak 1.5litre reservoir and Blaster bite valve)

Purist 20oz water bottle, Philly Bike Tours branded

ENO DoubleNest hammock, ProFly, Ember underquilt, and gear sling

GSI Outdoor Pinnacle Soloist cookset

Titanium spork

MSR PocketRocket (w/fuel)

 

My Clothing

on-bike:

2 pairs of bike shorts, jerseys, and socks

Sidi cycling shoes w/SPD cleats

Hoo Ha Ride Glide, individual packets

 

not on the bike:

1 pair of shorts (KUHL Splash 11″ shorts)

3 T shirts (various bike-related brands) <–walking billboard

3 pairs of Patagonia Active Hipster Briefs

Moving Comfort Uplift Crossback Sports Bra (seriously, the best ever. So comfy)

Flip flops for around the campsite (LL Bean)

Hiking boots (Columbia)

2 pair SmartWool socks

midweight SmartWool baselayers (for sleeping)

medications

bug spray, sunscreen, lip balm, basic toiletries

 

My Food (Schlepped)

We had way too much food. Karen brought most of the good stuff (2 packages of chicken sausage, rice and beans, Larabars) and G brought a cooler with beer/wine, juices, eggs, milk, the couscous/quinoa deliciousness, and coconut-date-truffle balls. We never got to the trail mix.

I brought the avocado, tortillas, small bottle of hot sauce, and a block of cheddar cheese. Some Kind bars and a packet of ramen noodles. Instant oatmeal packets. Stevia packets for my coffee.

 

If we were to do this again, possibly without the benefit of a cooler, we would definitely have more single-serve dehydrated food/meals and energy bars. There just isn’t a lot of space for bulky items like fresh fruits and veggies. But … having someone meet you with a cooler (or stashing one at the campsite in advance if you aren’t backcountry camping) opens up a world of great eating. Another option is to just eat in the little towns along the way or bike into town for more food. Lunch at the CoOp was smart and had air conditioning – so we could get out of the heat for a bit.

 

 

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).

The Power of the Pickle and Other Thoughts

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.

bikes + friends + countryside = awesome
bikes + friends + countryside = awesome

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.

(The thyroid controls a surprising number of body functions through secretion of thyroid hormones including metabolism, growth, body temperature, muscle strength, appetite, and the health of your heart, brain, kidneys, and reproductive system.)

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.

finally, some downhill!
finally, some downhill!

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.

let's go check out this new trail!
let’s go check out this new trail!

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.

riding by the lake
riding by the lake

See you on the road!

C is for Cycling … and also for Cancer

The last 10 days or so have been a doozy.

My thyroidectomy went well. After the procedure, I was in Recovery for about 6 hours – much longer than anyone else who was in the surgical unit for other procedures so I watched a lot of people come and go. A few others in Recovery weren’t pleased to see my incision and requested things to block their view of me during their recovery time. Because yeah, it did kinda look like some rando had slashed my throat and the docs had slapped surgical tape over it.

An inch or so isn’t a lot until you see it on your neck. The neck doesn’t have a lot of real estate, so it looks much bigger than you expect.

going home after surgery
going home after surgery

This past Monday was pathology results day – and when I found out that I actually had thyroid cancer.

The brain kindof freezes when you hear the C word. Of course it does. The thoughts in your brain swirl around chemo, hair loss, nausea, fatigue, the epic battle for your body and will to live. Which is why I was so thankful to hear:

“The important take-away from this conversation is that you will live a long and healthy life.”

running errands with my husband, 5 days post-op
running errands with my husband, 5 days post-op

Fun Facts:

Thyroid cancer is the ninth most common cancer in the US, with the number of cases rising each year. No one is completely sure why there is an increase in cases (better technology to identify the cancer early may be a contributing factor) but the death rate has remained low – virtually unchanged since 2002.

Risk factors include:

  • being female
  • a diet low in iodine (rare in the US)
  • exposure to radiation (radiation was used widely before the 1960s for an array of ailments; nuclear accidents; etc)
  • hereditary/genetic
  • family history (Having a first-degree relative (parent, brother, sister, or child) with thyroid cancer, even without a known inherited syndrome in the family, increases your risk)

There are four main types of thyroid cancer:

  • Papillary, which accounts for 70-80% of all thyroid cancers
  • Follicular/Hurthle cell, which accounts for 10-15% of thyroid cancers
  • Medullary, which accounts for 5-10% and is usually hereditary
  • Anaplastic, which accounts for less than 2% and is the most aggressive and unfortunately deadliest

Treatment for thyroid cancer includes surgery (got that out of the way!), radioactive iodine, external beam radiation, and chemotherapy. Most thyroid cancers are cured with surgery and radioactive iodine. Thyroid cancer is actually pretty great for targeted treatment such as radioactive iodine because no other cells in the body soak up iodine like the thyroid does – so the thyroid cells are killed while the rest of the body remains healthy. (pretty neat, right?)

The 5 year survival rate for anyone diagnosed with thyroid cancer today is 97% – and the 10 year survival rate for those who are younger than 45 and the cancer is localized (has not spread to other parts of the body) is 100%.

9 days post-op and got in a gentle 16 mile bike ride. it felt amazing!
9 days post-op and got in a gentle 16 mile bike ride. it felt amazing!

The good news is that I am young (under 45), relatively healthy (outside of this bump in the road), and the cancer was localized (according to my surgeon). I have my post-op follow-up in a few weeks with my surgeon and then a conversation with my new endocrinologist a few days later to discuss the appropriate next steps. I’ve started writing a list of questions for him because I tend to forget to ask while I’m at the appointment.

If I’m being totally honest, I was a bit numb after hearing my thyroid pathology came back as cancer. I immediately latched onto the positive points and rehashed those as my narrative publicly. I received a tsunami of support and messages of love from my friends and family while I tried feabily to pass it off as Not A Big Deal. The next morning though I started doing my research and started to panic. OMG this is serious, but thankfully not deadly so. I don’t even know which kind I have/had. Radioactive iodine requires an isolation period. How is that going to work? And there’s a million follow-ups while they get the dosage of levothyroxine correct plus following up to make sure the radioactive iodine worked …. what about work? We’re already swamped – I can’t be taking off time for all this!

I had to put down the internet and go busy myself with what’s really important: my family, my friends, and living life. Work is important too – I’m the primary financial contributor to our family – but I can’t work if I’m not healthy. I am incredibly thankful for the support my boss and company have given me.

Yesterday I went out for a bike ride and made some determinations:

  • Yes I have/had cancer.
  • No it doesn’t define me.
  • But it’s OK to feel like it’s a big deal – because it is. It’s a part of my life story now.

I can ask questions at my next two appointments to get more clarity on what I had and what we can do next.

I will always need to be on top of my medication and communicate with my doctors.

I will live a long and healthy life – and look forward to rebuilding my base miles and bicycling strength soon.

See you on the road!

Internet Reference Sites (in case you want to learn more!):

ThyCa: Thyroid Cancer Survivor’s Association

EndocrineWeb

American Thyroid Association

National Cancer Institute

Endocrine Diseases

American Cancer Society

Let’s play catch-up, shall we dear reader? When we last left off we were on the cusp of spring … and now we are hurtling straight into summer.

from my train ride home one evening. moment of zen
from my train ride home one evening. moment of zen

Personal Transition

We finally made the move and are now in our new home. We closed on the house just a few days after the one-year mark of when I committed to relocating with my job. After such a long and protracted transition, the entire family has settled into our new life fairly quickly. Uncertainty can take a toll on a person and strain any relationship – and we managed to pull through with relatively few emotional wounds. The house is in a lovely neighborhood about 40 miles north of the Big Apple with lots of kids. It’s not uncommon for me to get home in the evening to find my younger two kids out roaming the neighborhood with their new friends, playing until well after dark and coming home sweaty and dirty and more importantly, happy. +1 for our little family!

welcome to my backyard
welcome to my backyard

Bikey Stuff!

Having the extra time in Philly was also very nice. I was able to squeak out a few really nice rides with my friends, including an 88-mi, 5400+’ of gain ride to get lunch in St Peter’s Village that I had no business doing – but felt amazing when I finished! I haven’t felt depleted after a long, hilly ride like that in a while and it felt GREAT.  I planned to do a low-key girls-only ride to get lunch (25mi ride) but wound up with bronchitis and had to cancel all my plans for a few weekends. Then we moved ….

Andy and Ken joined me on the 88mi epic. Perfect day for a ride!
Andy and Ken joined me on the 88mi epic. Perfect day for a ride!

I rode the 5 Boro Tour again this year, this time with my friend Elizabeth. We were slotted in the first wave and what a difference that made! Yes there were still a lot of people but it was FUN. We rode the whole route together, which was surreal when I’d point out a place where the 4-lane street had been literally wall-to-wall cyclists standing around the year prior due to various levels of bicyclists trying to ride together. This year demonstrated why people do this ride year after year. I’m hoping to take my eldest son on it next year.

Elizabeth and I at the start of the 5 Boro Tour.
Elizabeth and I at the start of the 5 Boro Tour.

Up in our new area I’ve been scoping a bike route to the train station (about 12.5 miles each way; about 600′ gain to the station, 900+’ gain on the way home). I’ve seen cyclists on the roads so I know it’s possible (and Strava Global Heat Maps confirms it’s a decent route) but a few concerns that I need to work through:

1. Lots of two-lane no-shoulder roads. I’ve not been successful yet in finding alternate back-roads to use – very few roads actually connect. The roads are not terribly heavily trafficked – but there is some volume, especially at certain times. And there are a few dangerous intersections that would require I get a mirror for my glasses so I could safely navigate.

2. After about 45-60min on the bike, I have a 60 min train ride to the city. Do I feel comfortable being stinky on a train for an hour?

2a. The train station has bike lockers but refuses to rent them out. ??? So my bike would be locked to an open-air public rack. I’ve seen a few other bikes there in the morning so I know people bike to the station … but probably not as far as I’m thinking of doing.

3. Shower Situation when I get to the City. NYSC has $20 memberships and a club a few blocks from GCT; or I could check out the gym at work.

Really all just logistics – and while I am chomping at the bit to actually ride to the train station and back home, I need to work these things out before I do so. Arrive Alive!

There is a major bike path (36 miles!) with an access point fairly close to our home (a couple miles) that I can’t wait to ride and take my kids. It’s an old railroad bed so it’s fairly flat and shaded. A welcome respite from New York drivers!

Health News

I noticed a lump in my neck a few months back. I had been blowing off the feeling of swallowing behind something for a while, thinking it was a mild cold or allergies or something else. After several rounds of testing and various procedures, it turns out I have a multinodal goiter. Due to the size and number of nodules (and that it impacts my ability to swallow), I’m having a thyroidectomy in about a week. I’ve been advised to take 2 weeks to recover and at least 1 week with no exercise. So the plan is to get past surgery and recovery before throwing my leg over the top tube and getting back into the swing of things.

This past week I contracted a cold that rapidly turned into a sinus infection so I’m taking the surgical recovery period very seriously. My body is telling me I’ve been overdoing it – even though I feel like I haven’t done anything – and I need to listen if I’m going to be able to get back into running and cycling again. I have a few events planned for later in the summer that I need to begin training for – but that will wait! Even though I desperately want to just ride my bike.

Looking forward to seeing you on the road soon!

In like a lion ….

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 …

 

Philly is so beautiful sometimes it hurts
#SpringtimeInPhilly

counting the days until we see each other on the road ….

See you later, 2014 …

What a year it’s been.

I realize I haven’t kept up on the blog as much as I’d like but since September I haven’t been out much. And since this is my bikey blog, it’s only natural to talk about All Things Bikey. I’m living in Philly, working in NYC, and getting out as I can. The last six months have been stressful for our little family, with trying to sell the house and relocate to be closer to work. Indeed life could be worse than having a job that I continue to love, learn and grow; a family that is holding down the house selling process and understanding that sometimes things don’t go according to plan; and a husband who gives me the option and sometimes pushes me out of the house to go ride my bike for an hour because he knows it will keep me sane.

So instead of lamenting my lack of miles this year, let’s talk about the memories that were made on the rides:

The New Year started with an exploratory bike ride with my friend Ken to check out some trails he found on Google Maps. Of course we took our carbon fiber road bikes to ride rutted, frozen mud and gravel trails – that’s just what we do. Unfortunately the ride ended when I started having visual disturbances associated with an impending migraine – so we hightailed it home. Nothing like bombing down a hill with no peripheral vision and the inability to see clearly. ha!

Later in the month, we would make a farewell bike ride with our friend Heather, who had finished the schooling part of her ophthalmology studies and was moving for the first phase of her residency. Heather had been my main source of All Things Mountain Biking and a wonderful road cycling friend as well. Thankful for the wonders of the internet to keep us in touch.

lots of snow this year
January – lots of snow this year

February brought a craving for the freshest, most authentic street tacos I’ve experienced. Ken and I rode to the Belle Vista section of the city to find the El Tacos Rodeo truck to no avail. The winter was in full swing with lots of snow and ice and very little opportunity to get outside to ride – so I focused on training for a 5-mile run in April. Lots of time on the treadmill getting my running legs back.

There was one particular run where it was finally warm enough to run outside – the snow was melting and the smell of fallen pine branches from the heavy snow permeated the air. It felt so fresh and inviting.

Feb brought us an ice storm and lots of snowy rides
Feb brought us an ice storm and lots of snowy rides

March brought the advent of bike commuting again and feeling brave and stupid while riding on Market Street, one of the main streets through downtown Philadelphia. It’s 4 or 5 lanes of people who don’t really give a crap – but somehow I’ve always been able to ride safe on Market. March also brought the first training ride for the four-day bike tour I would do in June.

March - mountain biking!
March – mountain biking!

April means 30 Days of Biking, an online friendly challenge to ride your bike every day in April. I ended up biking to the train station more than biking all the way into the City.  I also took my then-14yr old son on his first mountain bike ride. He wasn’t impressed. My friend John and I hit up the Wissahickon for some spring mountain biking. And I completed my first-ever 5-mile running race in 51:40 – a little over 10min/mi. I was very proud of this because I’m not a huge runner, the course was hilly, and I kept a steady pace the whole time. I was also totally wiped out at the end – not sure how people can run half- and full-marathons!

April - mountain biking with "Grandpa" (my friend John who has grandkids and kicks my butt in the woods)
April – mountain biking with “Grandpa” (my friend John who has grandkids and kicks my butt in the woods)

May started with the TD Five Boro Tour. My friends Eric and Phil joined me for this event, and we met up with internet friend at one of the rest stops. The day before featured an 8-mile ride back to the hotel after the Expo to pick up our race packets in the pouring rain. I’m thankful the hotel staff didn’t blink when we rolled in, muddy and soaked to the bone. A hot shower and clean clothing meant we could get dinner together and chat about bikes and life and the upcoming tour. This was an incredibly disappointing event as we got slotted late and ended up walking as  much as riding (“hey, why are we walking?” “Hill.”). At one point the boys dropped the hammer and were weaving in and out of other cyclists. Corbi and I were hammering to keep up until I asked her why we were hammering. She didn’t know either – so we let off the gas and caught up to the guys naturally later on.

May brought my bike and I to NYC for a 5 Boro Tour/Hike A Bike.
May brought my bike and I to NYC for a 5 Boro Tour/Hike A Bike.

May was also the Quad County. This year Ken and I didn’t get caught in a rainstorm nor did we do the Intensive Climbing Unit (or the Very Intensive Climbing Unit) – and the day was so lovely. Perfect weather, great route … one of the best rides in the Philadelphia area.

May is also when I found out my good u-lock had been cut from my office’s bike racks because I hadn’t been back for over a month. Ug.

June’s highlight was the Ride for Homes, a four day bike tour from Philly to Gettysburg and back. This is the ride where I met so many amazing new friends, learned that I most certainly can ride 60+ miles per day multiple days in a row, the importance of proper hydration, and how to come back from letting yourself down. The Ride for Home was by far my favorite event this year, one that I am looking at doing again next year.

Chris and I keeping our cadence high and spirits higher
June – Chris and I keeping our cadence high and spirits higher

July had a ride to Hammonton and back for lunch – 108 sweaty, stinky miles under a brutal heat and humidity index with a threat of nasty thunderstorms all afternoon. What sticks in my mind is the ice cream shop lady who wouldn’t allow us access to fresh water even though we purchased ice cream (and the sink was right behind her). And how accommodating the Starbucks was next door, filling out water bottles with ice and water and wishing us well on our final 25 miles. And how incredibly draining it is to walk across the bridge over the Delaware River – we spent 10 min drinking electrolyte beverages in the shade after crossing to get our energy back.

July
July

July also had stress miles because the potential buyers for our house walked away. This had never happened to us before – and it’s incredibly anxiety-inducing. We still haven’t sold the house and it’s now almost 2015.

August had a lot of smaller rides – as the office move date grew closer, the less time I had for fun. But a couple fun rides happened – taking my Girl Scouts on an 11-mile trail ride; a lunch ride with Ken and his wife Cathy and my son; riding with Ken and Michelle to see the Super Moon rise over the Delaware at the Spruce Street Harbor pop-up park; and the most excellent ride from New Hope, PA to Brooklyn, NY to get some dinner with friends.

August - of course this is the way to go!
August – of course this is the way to go!

September had significantly fewer bikes rides and a spike in hiking and walking. Not coincidentally, I also started spending 15-18 hours on trains for work. It is what is it is – this too shall pass.

September - Girls Ride The Woods!
September – Girls Ride The Woods!

October had even fewer bike rides but a lovely hike with my friend Eric in French Creek State Park. My desires to go mountain biking were becoming intense but my fear of going alone was keeping me from actually getting out. I even went on a quick road ride instead of the mountain biking that I wanted to do because I couldn’t find anyone to go with me.

October - Hiking French Creek State Park
October – Hiking French Creek State Park

November came and the weather was mild enough to get a hot cocoa ride; a hike with my husband (immediately followed by my first solo mountain bike ride – really hit the spot!); and a 50-mi bike ride with my friends. Without the regular cycling, my legs aren’t really good for much more than 50 miles but that’s going to be OK because we still have a lot going on in life.

November - beautiful fall foliage on a hike in the Wissahickon
November – beautiful fall foliage on a hike in the Wissahickon

December brought a snowy hike with my Girl Scouts and a much-needed vacation out to Colorado. My sister and I hiked twice – a short 2.5 miler with our mom and a longer 8 miler up to Pike Peak Reservoir. December has brought peace of mind, relaxation, and a way to separate from the everyday stresses and refocus on what is important – family, friends, community.

December - snowy hiking in Colorado
December – snowy hiking in Colorado

So while this year I didn’t beat anything numbers-wise from last year, I didn’t do too shabby: 2,206.5 miles on my bike with 100,384′ of gain. I also gained a lot of great memories on fun rides with my friends and explored new boundaries in my abilities. I learned tough lessons and still managed to get back on the bike the next day.

Next year will hopefully be one that is full of resolution – resolution of our house and living situation, riding my bikes more, and becoming more proficient at mountain biking. Of supporting my family though this tough transition and coming out the other side with resilience, tenacity, and strength.

Thanks for being part of my year – see you in 2015!

can't wait to see what 2015 brings us!
can’t wait to see what 2015 brings us!

In the meantime …

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. 

Check out more of their stuff at Give Mom A Bike Lane.

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!

riding with my older two kids
riding with my older two kids

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 

Ride for Homes Recap

This past Thursday morning my husband dropped me and my friend Ken off at a parking lot out in Phoenixville, PA under gray skies and a chance of more rain to come for a four-day bike ride to Gettysburg and then back to Philadelphia. We pumped our tires, loaded our bags into the truck, and set off on a new adventure with 28 other soon to be friends.

The Ride for Homes is an annual four-day cycling event coordinated by Habitat for Humanity Philadelphia to raise much needed funds to support their work in the Philadelphia region. This year they are using the funds raised for this ride to make basic repairs to six Habitat homes. Our group of 30 riders raised over $35,000 for this worthy cause.

I’ve never done a multi-day ride and was both nervous and excited about the prospect.

 

Day One: 61 mi / 3,179′ gain

http://www.strava.com/activities/151188355

The rain was tapering off as we set out on the road. We started as a rather large (17) group. The roads were lower-trafficked and some motorists weren’t as considerate when passing. At one point a woman almost caused a head-on collision as we rolled up a steep hill on a two-lane road and she tried to pass with an on-coming car directly in front of her. We let her pass before moving on at the top of the hill – no need to become road kill!

Lunch was at a tiny Joanna General Store in the middle of nowhere who made us fresh sandwiches to order. Delightful!  At this point I decided riding with my cycling waist-pack was going to be too cumbersome so I pulled out everything I needed and left it in the SAG van. It was at this point I realized I had left my RoadID at home – but had my driver’s license and insurance card on me at all times. We decided at this time to split up the group into two more manageable chunks with about 8 or 9 riders each.

Overall there were three groups – A (averaging 14+mph), B (averaging 12.5+mph), and C (averaging 11+ mph). Our group had a guy riding a single-speed mountain bike (Buckman!) who beat all of us on geared road bikes up the hills, no matter how steep or how long. We dubbed ourselves Buckman’s Brigade.

The roads got quieter after lunch as we rolled into hilly central Pennsylvania and Amish Country. The shaded roads gave way to wide open roads overlooking immense valleys of farmland. So many hills! Every other farm was selling strawberries or promising sweet corn in a few weeks.

We checked in at a Holiday Inn Express in Lititz, PA, got cleaned up, and then walked over to a local church who fed us delicious vegetarian lasagna, salad, fruit, and rolls. We heard from the local Habitat about the work they do in Lancaster County and then departed for a quiet evening back at the hotel.

Farms everywhere!
Farms everywhere!

 

Day Two: 50 mi / 2,057′ gain

http://www.strava.com/activities/151188342

Day Two was the shortest mileage day – or the longest depending on what options you chose. The base miles got you from Lititz to Hanover. The weather was sunny but mild, perfect early summer riding and not a hint of humidity. The ride was mostly uneventful – noodling along country roads until we had to cross the mighty Susquehanna River. There are only a few places to cross the river as it is – and we got to cross on the Lincoln Highway. The bridge is beautiful and the river is wide.

Once across we rolled down to York for lunch. Once we were in the town limits, the C group caught up to us so we ended up taking the lane. It’s always fun to lead a block of cyclists through city streets, two and three abreast. Unfortunately the Turkey Hill branded gas station did not have a sandwich counter and very slim pickings for lunch options. Made do with a couple subpar cheese sticks, a bag of chips, and a coke. We separated from the C group after lunch.

Continuing on back into the country and the endless rolling hills. Thankfully we were able to keep momentum on some of the hills; others were a total bear. Rolled into the Holiday Inn Express in Hanover with time to check in and get more snacks before departing on the optional Gettysburg loop.

Chris and I keeping our cadence high and spirits higher
Chris and I keeping our cadence high and spirits higher

 

Day Two: Optional Gettysburg Loop. 26.6 mi / 1,152′ gain

http://www.strava.com/activities/151188302

A small group of mostly B riders with a few A riders headed out along PA 116 to see Gettysburg National Military Park. The group quickly split into two factions. I stayed with the slower group. We were tired but pedaling felt better. Gathered at the Visitor Center before heading out on a short loop of the battlefields. We stopped to talk about the Civil War and the significance of us visiting on the anniversary of D-Day and war in general. Having missed a decent lunch and not having had dinner yet, we opted to SAG it back to Hanover where copious pizza and salad awaited us.

Gettysburg Battlefields
Gettysburg Battlefields

 

Day Three: 69 miles / 3,787′ gain

http://www.strava.com/activities/151188297

Day Three began at 70* when we rolled out at 9am. We knew this was the longest day in the saddle as well as the hottest. The word of the day was Hydration and unfortunately I failed at it spectacularly despite drinking through my water bottles. Which was very disappointing but we’ll get to that. I only made it 46 miles (and 2,710′ gain).

I wish I remembered more about the ride. The morning was fine if hot. As we rolled up to the first water stop, I hopped off my bike and instantly felt nauseated. I shoveled a banana, ClifBar, and trail mix into my mouth while refilling my water bottles with Propel-laced water. I’ve been using Propel for a couple years now, since Gatorade never sat well with my stomach, with no problems.

I’ve now learned the rules force your hand a bit on multi-day rides – you find your weak points very quickly. If your bike isn’t dialed in, your saddle hurts you, or your shorts aren’t up for the challenge … you will find out. Yes, that was me on Day Two wearing my old worn-down shorts thinking it was a low-mileage day and it wouldn’t be a big issue. It was. I’m sorry, booty.

We rolled out onto a shaded rail trail and I couldn’t shake the nausea. When we stopped for bathrooms, I shoveled more trail mix into my face thinking it was a nutrition issue since the day before we’d had a ridiculously light lunch and I’d tacked on extra miles. I sought out shade at every opportunity. Onward.

Lunch at a Subway in Red Lion was a welcome opportunity to cool off in the air conditioned restaurant and put real food in me. People started asking if I felt ok. At the time I didn’t understand why and said “yes” even though I felt hot and lightly nauseous. I even dumped water all over me after eating in an effort to cool off. It worked for a bit until we hit open roads with no shade and long, long climbs. We screamed down a monster hill (so exhilarating!) before rolling alongside the river to get back to the Lincoln Highway bridge back across the Susquehanna.

I should have been able to enjoy the river road but instead I felt horrible. It was a slog, a death march. Every pedal stroke felt like too much energy. Just get to the next water stop. Just get to the water stop.

We get to the water stop and I immediately start eating again, not thinking this was a hydration issue. Several people asked if I was ok. I finally relented and accepted a spot in the air conditioned SAG van … and noticed it didn’t feel that cooling. I decided to throw in the towel and SAG to the next hotel. I shoveled trail mix and a banana in my mouth. One of the SAG women gave me a cold washcloth for my neck, iced down my coke and told me to sip it. I obeyed.

My group rolled out for the final 23 miles and I sat there thinking what an embarrassment this was. How could everyone be feeling so good and I feel so bad? What was I doing wrong? I knew I couldn’t ride another mile so I didn’t regret the choice to SAG back to the hotel but there was a sense of loss in riding in the SAG van. I’m not comfortable with my own vulnerability.

Checked in at the Historic Strasburg hotel, got a lukewarm shower and sat with a cold washcloth on my neck in my air conditioned room. Everyone asked how I was feeling. Much better – but I didn’t want the attention. I just wanted to be treated like everyone else. But I was also thankful for the SAG team, the leadership on the ride, and also for knowing myself well enough to call it quits before causing a much bigger problem on the road.

While eating dinner at the local church that was hosting us, I was texting with my husband. Toying with the idea of going home. The coke helped but I was back on Propel water and starting to not feel as good again. My friend Coco gave me a Nuun tablet and I added it to my water. Very quickly I started to feel significantly better. I told my husband I was going to try to ride the final day and not to come pick me up. Coco gave me another tablet to drink before bed, which I did.

I say all this because I did my research and turns out Propel does not have any sodium in it. None. So I had basically ridden three long days in the sun and heat with nothing more than flavored water. NO WONDER I FELT LIKE JUNK. This is the Truth of the Bike Tour.

I borrowed a tube of Nuun from Ken for the final day and made the plan to just get to each water or lunch stop and decide what to do. Baby steps. I won’t lie – I was very nervous about riding. The forecast was for hot and similar hills/mileage. But I knew I had to push on as long as I felt good because I can’t let one bad experience influence my cycling journey. Learn from mistakes.

Evening Chores in Strasburg
Evening Chores in Strasburg

 

Day Four: 67 mi / 3,320′ gain

http://www.strava.com/activities/151188291

Very nervous starting out on open roads but we opted to leave a half-hour earlier to try to beat the heat. Pre-gamed with juice, extra salt on my eggs, and 12oz of Nuun water before we even rolled out.

Just get to the water stop.

But not so nervous as to not snap a quick selfie with a guy on the ride who also graduated from my Colorado high school. What are the odds??

This guy graduated from my high school! Lambkin Pride!
This guy graduated from my high school! Lambkin Pride!

The day ended up being so much better than I expected. My new-found attention to hydration paid off. I sipped water every two miles, swigged at every red light or regroup at the top of a big hill. We also eventually rolled onto brilliantly shaded roads by creeks and streams that were very refreshing. Our group had gelled over the past few days into a team of 10, which honestly made the miles disappear. We had a few good hills but mostly gentle rolling terrain and overall the day was delightful.

Our first water stop was at the Coatsville Habitat build site. It was incredible to see Habitat’s work in action. The homes were adorable and had unsurpassed views of the valley. I felt so honored to be supporting such an amazing organization with the help of my friends and family who donated to my campaign.

Lunch was in Chadd’s Ford at Wawa. Seriously – the best convenience store ever.

When we paused in Ridley Creek State Park, I noticed I felt nauseated again and realized I hadn’t been drinking as much when we went through the park due to the high volume of pedestrians and kids on the roughly-paved multi-use path. I started sipping again and got it under control in time for the water stop.

+1 for Laura for knowing how to solve the problem now.

The final 13 miles went by so fast. Before we knew it, we were taking the lane and rolling through Manayunk towards the finish point.

Buckman's Brigade at the finish
Buckman’s Brigade at the finish

* * * * *

Overall this was an amazing experience. The support staff was incredible. The route was incredibly beautiful and as low-trafficked as possible. The people I rode with felt like old friends by the end. I nearly cried hugging everyone goodbye before going home. I love you guys, Buckman’s Brigade!

A huge shout out to my friends: Coco for pep-talking me into signing up; Maux for her unwavering support during my most dire moments; Ken for always riding with me – and the bottle of Nuun; Chris for sharing his touring wisdom and conversation; Kristen for talking Girl Scouts with me; Laura S for her knowledge of political controversy (and being the other half of Double The Awesome); Sarah for her laid-back vibe and whimsical streamers on her helmet; Buckman for leading the charge every time; Kyler for being our most excellent mechanic.

If you have a chance to sign up for the Ride for Homes Philadelphia, I highly recommend it.

Lancaster County Beauty
Lancaster County Beauty

See you on the road!

 

Spring at last!

Finally – spring is here!

 

This week I was able to bike commute in to work two days in a row – both days needed 3/4 bottoms, full-finger windproof gloves and a light thermal jacket in the morning but the evening ride home was in a short-sleeved jersey and fingerless gloves. I felt strong and happy. After a long winter, it feels amazing to be outside and not bundled up.

Interestingly I’m still pacing last year’s total mileage and looking forward to many spring and early summer rides! I signed up for 30 Days of Biking – I’m pledge #2! – to help motivate me to get out and ride. The premise is simple – ride your bike any distance, any speed, every day in April. There’s no pressure, no metrics … just joyful bike riding. If you haven’t signed up before, I encourage you to take the pledge and share your daily experiences online.

 

Yesterday I had (yet another) close call with a female motorist. There is a half-mile section of road that has unbelievably terrible pavement on both ends of the bridge (while the bridge itself is smooth). The right side of the road is littered with potholes and places where the pavement has buckled, heaved and made mini-moguls. This used to be one of my favorite sections of road because once you get on the bridge you are in the treetops. So beautiful when the sun is rising.

Anyway, my commuter friend and I had just gotten to the end of the bridge and I was attempting to merge into traffic (take the lane at about 20mph) to avoid the nasty roadway when a woman passed on my left inches from me, nearly forcing me into the rough. Usually I left this kind of stuff go – no sense in getting upset, it happens – but instead I got mad and started hammering up the hill behind her. I wanted to catch up to her and ask her why she thought that was OK. I wanted to confront her. I had no chance to catch up to her so I ended up just flipping her off from about four car-lengths behind and yelling obscenities in her direction. The upshot is I scored a new PR on that stretch of my commute from giving her chase. Haha

This is the third time this year I’ve had issues with a vehicle and a woman was behind the wheel. Fellow women of the world – please drive safely. Don’t be a jerk.

 

Here’s a shot from yesterday’s bike ride home. There’s a tree that fell in the ice storm (way back when) and is perched precariously across the trail. There’s enough room to ride under it but every time I do I feel like I have tempted fate. I’ve dubbed it The Gauntlet. Hope the park service takes care of it soon!

 

Death-defying!
Death-defying!

 

Every weekend has at least one bike ride scheduled this month – so excited to be back in the saddle with wonderful weather!

 

See you on the road or in the woods!