Cross Mountain Crusher 2019

I had spun myself into a pretty impressive anxiety spiral. So much so that just looking at the French toast in front of me, made from buttery croissants and paired with fresh local maple syrup and bright red raspberries, was causing my stomach to flip. I couldn’t eat and I couldn’t figure out why my anxiety was like a tea kettle on the stove, whistling that it was ready.


The Cross Mountain Crusher is a 55-mile, 5,000’+ of climbing gravel ride in the Catskills of New York featuring five monstrous climbs. The namesake ride up Cross Mountain features grades that pitch up to and a touch over 20%. Billed as a training ride for Farmer’s Daughter Gravel Grinder in May, this ride is meant to test your strength, stamina, and endurance.

This spring’s weather has been all over the place – torrential downpours and bright sunny days juxtaposing themselves in a way where it’s hard to find any time to mountain bike because if the trails aren’t mud, they are not quite dry yet. Rinse and repeat.

The 10-day forecast called for low-60s and sunshine for this year’s Crusher. The reality that was slowly eating my sanity was I had signed up for a grueling ride and the forecast was looking … well, not low-60s and sunny.

Actual forecast: 35*, snow, wind on tap for this year’s event

I booked myself a room at the Meadowood Inn, about a half-mile from the start location to maximize my sleeping in time, but the weather forecast had my brain running wildly.

Let’s talk about the weather for a minute. The temps did indeed sit at about 35* all day. The winds were formidable, but gravel roads tend to be in wooded areas so this really only impacted us when we popped out into open fields between climbs.

It ended up snowing all day with periods of sleet. Somehow the sleet squalls coincided with descents, which made visibility a challenge but also, exfoliated my face pretty sufficiently. On the last downhill, the winds picked up so not only were we being pelted by thousands of tiny knife-like ice pellets, but also being pushed across the road by the wind. GOOD TIMES.


The ride itself was amazing and will only be better under warmer spring temps and a little more sunshine. The dirt roads are quiet and scenic – had I not started freezing anytime I stopped moving, I may have had some beautiful photos to share. You’ll just have to go look at the website and trust me. The climbs truly separate the racers from the people looking to enjoy the day. Nothing is unmanageable but one would do well to ride some ridiculous rides with obscene levels of climbing to prep.

The descents on dirt were washed out in places and some had large rocks littering the way way so it wasn’t possible for me to really let go and enjoy the descents. But again, nothing unmanageable for anyone with adequate mountain biking or cyclocross skills.

Quite possibly the worst part of the ride is the last 15 miles, which are 2 miles of downhill followed by 13 miles of flat-to-gently-rolling pavement. After so many back to back big climbs, my legs were D O N E and I just wanted to be back at the start for some well-deserved lunch. Peeling off multiple soaked-through layers of clothing was painful, although putting on warm, dry clothing and a down puffy jacket was delicious.

Rides like this are best completed with friends. My friend Kyle rode with me for this event and I am so thankful he did. We saw our friends Curt and Ralph at the start but they quickly disappeared with the lead pack. We found our other friend Matt on the first climb and fortunately we kept finding each other along the way. When the weather is this challenging, it’s nice to have someone to talk to and make the miles tick by faster.


THREE THINGS I DID RIGHT:

  • My bike choice. I rode my Salsa Colossal Ti with 26mm Panaracer GravelKing SKs. Despite the rain all day prior to the ride, the dirt was flawlessly tacky for the event. I had brought up my hardtail mountain bike in case conditions were deeply muddy, but I’m glad I didn’t ride it.
  • Not driving up the morning of. Staying overnight locally meant I wasn’t too stiff from sitting in the car for 2 hours right before a ride.
  • It’s a ride, not a race. I’m not the fastest gravel rider because my philosophy is one should always have enough in the tank to get back home. The first two climbs were really tough but saving some legs for later was key. You can see my stats here.

THREE THINGS I DID NOT DO RIGHT:

  • Overpacking. I was terrified that I would be too cold on such a long ride and Girl Scout Mode kicked in. I had a few different options stuffed into my backpack – insulated gloves, neck gaiter, wind vest, windbreaker, and a ton of food. In the end I wore a windbreaker over my jersey after shoving my winter bike jacket into the pack. The thing probably added a good 5 pounds to my effort. DO NOT DO THIS ON A CLIMBY RIDE.
  • Using a hydration bladder instead of bottles. Again, lighten up, lady! 1.5 litres of water was nice but unnecessary on a SUPPORTED RIDE. But this was the result of thinking I would be on my mountain bike, which only has one bottle cage. Had I been on my mountain bike (horrible choice), this would have been an excellent decision.
  • Getting stuck in my own head. There really wasn’t any reason to be so anxious. The Cross Mountain Crusher is a well supported, great event in a beautiful part of New York, put on by an awesome group of people.

See you at the Cross Mountain Crusher next year!

Farmer’s Fatty 2019

Again! It’s been a tough winter, although this year dialed down the snow and brutal cold while dialing up the cold rain. Bah.

The guys who brought us Farmer’s Daughter Gravel Grinder announced they wanted to start a new ride, the Farmer’s Fatty, as a Very Early Spring training ride for their signature event in May. Of course, I felt compelled to sign up for both events. Last year was so pretty and challenging – why not take a shorter crack at it?

Farmer’s Fatty was hosted by S&S Brewery in Nassau, NY. This working farm brewery has an adorable taproom and food trucks on-site. The brewery is almost 2 hours from northern Westchester. I met up with a few other friends and riders from my local mountain bike association who I had somehow encouraged to sign up as well.

I should mention is was C O L D. The warming trend that had occurred all week abruptly ended. It was 28*F with 25mph winds at the start, warming to a still-cold 34* at the end.

WMBA showing up for a gravel grinder

The route was an unmarked, abbreviated version of Farmer’s Daughter featuring plenty of rutted nut-butter roads and fantastic scenery. I decided early on to just enjoy the day and not push it too hard. None of the climbs were particularly brutal, but the entire route mostly trended UP.

It was St Paddy’s Day so this Irish-by-marriage girl had to represent

The hills definitely helped keep us warm on the climbs, but the descents were freezing. I usually only wear a thermal headband and windproof gloves most of the winter due to how my body generates and dissipates heat – but had to wear my full skullcap and insulated gloves to stay warm. There was one rest stop at about 12 miles with delicious baked goods, water, and gatorade.

Farm country is beautiful
This wasn’t the worst of the rutted, potholed, nut-better roads but was representative of a good portion of the (wheel-sucking) terrain
Back to the brewery!

Once back to the brewery, there were two food trucks slinging delicious hot food for hungry riders. Each rider received a free pint of beer as well, a nice post-ride refreshment for those who partake. Since I don’t drink beer, I opted to bring home a growler for my husband of their Udder Darkness Oatmeal Stout.

Overall the ride was a great Very Early Spring gravel grinder with Vermont Dirt conditions – but in (relative) upstate New York. The route was 90% dirt, which is something I could only dream of downstate. If you love early spring variability on conditions and challenging terrain, Farmer’s Fatty is right for you.

See you on the road!

Adios, 2018!

I’ve been in a foul mood for the last week. 2018 has felt both supremely long and shockingly short. And while I sometimes feel that everything my husband and I have built for our lives came crashing to a halt in the last two years or so, we have managed to still have some amazing moments.

… Harness in the good energy, block out the bad. Harness. Energy. Block. Bad. It’s like a carousel. You put the quarter in, you get on the horse, it goes up and down, and around. Circular, circle. Feel it. Go with the flow … (Happy Gilmore)

In the spirit of gratitude and reflection, here are the best moments of 2018:

January

  • I discovered others share my life mantra of Maximum Enthusiasm
  • I officially achieved my goal TSH! #thyca
  • I went fat biking – and discovered I enjoy getting fat all winter!
  • Two of my sisters and one of my nieces came to visit me. ❤
  • I adopted a senior beagle, who we named Beauregard, and my dog-mom life is basically complete.

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February

  • I demo’d a sweet Kona Big Honzo DL and questioned if I really wanted a full suspension mountain bike when I got a job
  • The Eagles won the Super Bowl!
  • My doggo had a successful surgery to remove a lump under his leg
  • I rode bikes with a guy in a velomobile

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March

  • Not one but TWO multi-day power outages! Great excuse to break out the camping gear at home. Thanks, Nor’Easters!
  • I became a Pactimo Brand Ambassador!
  • Hosted my first Trail Maintenance work day to repair a section of boardwalk that was devastatingly broken.

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April

  • I did a lot of gravel and mountain biking as the snow abated
  • One son was accepted to the university of his choice
  • My other son went mountain biking with me for the first time ❤
  • Wild green onions grew in our yard for literally no reason
  • Muddy Onion with Karen, Gail, and Matt!! (read the post – then go register for 2019)

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May

  • I celebrated 5 years of mountain biking with … more mountain biking
  • I was one of three speakers as part of REI’s Women’s Speaker Series, discussing trail construction and maintenance
  • Formally announced registration was open for The Dirty Apple Ride
  • Rode gravel in the rain with my friend Judy
  • Farmer’s Daughter Gravel Grinder with Matt!! (go register for 2019!)
  • My in-laws and two of my nieces came to visit! ❤

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June

  • Completed my fourth Ride for Homes, benefiting Habitat for Humanity Philadelphia
  • Girls + Matt Bike Camping weekend at Kingdom Trails was literally me living my best life  #ThankYouLandOwners
  • Rode my bike to the farm for their strawberry festival
  • Friday afternoons at the brewery, sitting on the patio and watching the tractors go by
  • 3 years cancer-free
  • Another child of mine graduated from high school

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July

  • Birthday!
  • Lots of route scouting and adjusting for The Dirty Apple
  • A hawk landed in the tree behind our house and ate a snake while the sparrows of our yard screamed and darted around. That was cool.
  • Mt Riga gravel and Three State rides
  • And I got a job!! … which also means significantly less bike time.

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August

  • Started that new job, which is right off the bike path but doesn’t have showers
  • Hatch chile verde – frozen leftover from the in-law visit in May – is food of the gods
  • NEW BIKE DAY!! Santa Cruz 5010c XX1. She’s orange and her name is Jezebelle.
  • Golden Gran Fondo, courtesy of Pactimo Brand Ambassador program!! (go register for 2019!)
  • Time in Colorado with my friends and family ❤
  • My friend, who passed away suddenly back in May, visited me in a dream. It was his birthday when I woke up.

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September

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October

  • The Dirty Apple Ride was a huge success! I learned a lot about bringing a bike event to fruition and can’t wait to open registration for 2019!
  • Learned Adventure Cycling has a two-week bike tour of Denali and added that to my list of Bike Things To Do In My Lifetime
  • Took one of my sons to see Nine Inch Nails with Jesus & Mary Chain.
  • Took my second ever mountain bike skills clinic and learned exactly how much better I can be with proper technique
  • Organized a trail care morning for my office
  • Summoned for Grand Jury Duty! … but ended up dismissed
  • Our trail town committee (I’m the VP!), along with tremendous volunteers, completed a 600′ boardwalk section of a new trail we’re building

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November

  • Surgery to remove a lump in my breast (it was benign).
  • Built a bog bridge over a section of a local trail that crosses a wetland with the help of 14 fellow mountain bikers. Trail Care is a thing!
  • Not enough riding because Recovery (who knew a 5cm incision would hurt so much?)
  • My son and his girlfriend came home for a weekend! ❤
  • My sister and her girlfriend and her daughter came to visit for almost the whole week of Thanksgiving and it was glorious! ❤

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December

  • Ice Weasels Cometh with Karen! This year was at an abandoned insane asylum. It was cold. And fun. And the only bike race I will ever do.
  • ClifBar brought back Peppermint Stick to the seasonal flavor line-up. Yes, this makes me happy.
  • Finally back on the bike more consistently – if only it would stop raining! #OperationAvoidTheTrainer
  • Installed a new mailbox post and mailbox, instantly improving the curb appeal of our home
  • Went on a night gravel ride to see ERDAJT, the world’s largest outdoor holiday light display
  • Celebrated 7 years as East Coast citizens
  • Had all of my babies home for the holidays ❤

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What does 2019 hold? Hopefully a lot more fun, family, friends, and bikes.

See you in the future!

The Dirty Apple Ride 2018

I am tardy on this write-up. Sorry! I’ve been busy planning my latest trail care projects. 

Gravel grinding is one of my most favorite things to do. Westchester County isn’t exactly known for its dirt roads – but we have them. Westchester Cycle Club has year-round dirt and gravel rides. Given the popularity of gravel these days, the Board decided to host a gravel event instead of the usual road ride, The Golden Apple Ride.

I was super happy to be able to be the co-Event Director for The Dirty Apple Ride.

My summer was spent developing routes that were both beautiful and challenging – but not so much that a novice gravel rider would feel they were in over their head. I came up with four roughly-concentric routes, ranging from 30 to 60 miles. My co-Event Director Christine was busy getting permits filed and posters to the various bike shops in the area. I managed our communications, online registration, and marketing. She solicited volunteers and coordinated our rest stops and food. We met up monthly, then weekly, as the date got closer.

Event Directing is a full-time job and even with most of the tasks split between us, it was still a challenge. We had a few other volunteers to help us make decisions, complete day-prior tasks, and fund the event – Bob, Bill, Rich, and Steve – as well as a slew of club members who volunteered the day of the event. We couldn’t have done this without them!

A few weeks before the ride our photographer, Dave from Kraus Grafik Services, came down to do a photo shoot of various locations along the route.

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all photos by Kraus Grafik Services

My personal favorite part of the longest route is through a county park. The gravel is chunkier and the climb is a little over 2 miles long, but you feel a million miles away from civilization (even though NYC is about 30 miles south).

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Pass between two ponds and the climb begins

The day of the ride went as well as any event can go – a few hiccups but mostly awesome. The weather was overcast but warm and it had rained the night before – perfect dirt road conditions. The general consensus, confirmed by our rider survey, was the routes were beautiful; the food plentiful; the beer deserved.

The official photo album can be found here.

I’m looking forward to Event Directing the ride again in 2019 – even though it means not getting to ride the event myself! Seeing the happy, muddy faces come back to the start was such a reward for all the time and energy Christine and I put into this event.

Watch the Dirty Apple Ride page for updates as to when the ride will be scheduled next year.

 

As always – see you on the road!

New Year, New Possibilities!

Happy New Year, friends!

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:

  1. Salsa Vaya X9
  2. All City Space Horse
  3. Surly Straggler or Cross Check
  4. Raleigh Clubman Disc

Feel free to weigh in on your favorite steel adventure bike!

Hoping you have some epic adventures planned for 2016!

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that time I rode my bike to the park below the dam and then rode back up to ride across it. 

Other goals for 2016 (besides a new bike):

  • Ride 3,000+ miles
  • more mountain biking (it makes me so happy)
  • try bikepacking!
  • more multi-day bike tours!
  • find a new biking bestie for epic adventures, one weekend at a time

 

See you on the road!

Get Knocked Down, Get Up Again

wherein I go mountain biking and crash a few times

A few weeks ago I joined the local bike club on a mountain bike ride and discovered there are three parks with ride-able trails only a few miles from my house. It was really fun to get out in to the woods and not have to go very far. I took a little bit of ribbing because I had driven to the parking lot instead of just riding over, since it’s so close. But I was feeling good and trying new things and clearing logs that I previously wouldn’t have even tried. The trails are very leafy (read: slick) and have a depth that hides the rocks and roots pretty well – but overall are solid trails for early-intermediate riders like myself.

Last week I took my family to the same park to hike the trails. It was good reconnaissance on a few other trails we hadn’t ridden the previous week.

Today I decided to head out and try the trails by myself. I’ve never been mountain biking by myself – I have this belief that it’s better to be with someone in case anything happens. But I can’t keep waiting for “someone else” to be available to scratch the mountain biking itch – so off I went.

Woodlands Legacy Field Park
stupid beautiful – and in my neighborhood!

I opted to ride my bike to the park, which is only 3 miles away. We live in a very hilly area though – so those 6 miles (there and back) accounted for a significant chunk of the 850′ of gain I conquered today.

The trails were thick with leaves and my rear wheel kept sliding out – but I managed to stay upright. I have a hardtail 29er, which handles pretty well when I’m not in super-tight twisties. It always takes me a bit to get used to how the rear section of my bike is constantly getting knocked around.

Today’s ride was all about learning (and crashing). I rode up to a large log that I had previously cleared on last week’s ride – and stopped pedaling near the top, causing me to realize that’s Not What You’re Supposed To Do. I managed to clear the log without issue – but certainly set the tone for the rest of the short ride.

I ventured onto another trail. I walked one log and then tried the next one, which promptly tossed me to the side of the trail (and into a deep pile of leaves – soft landing!). Another log later I realized I wasn’t on an actual trail and headed back. The maps told me I missed the turn to stay on the “official” trail.

Found a different marked trail and decided to take it – it was super delicious and I was rocking the technical descent until my rear wheel slide out and I almost ate it down the hill. A short time later, navigating a leafy rocky section I was tossed off my bike and into a rock, which connected squarely with my knee. I walked the rest of the way down that hill.

rock appreciation 101
rock appreciation 101

Tried a few more trails with tons of big rocks – clearly my first foray into this park were just on the easiest trails! – some of which I cleared and some I was tossed off, struggling to keep my balance.

learning how to navigate rocks
learning how to navigate rocks

I only managed a few trail miles before deciding to head back home (since I have other Real Life things that need to get done today). And I hadn’t even ventured across the parkway to a bigger park with a ton of singletrack! But today’s lessons were solid and I’m looking forward to going back to hone my skills on the more technical trails.

See you on 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!