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.
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!
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).
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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%.
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!):
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.
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!
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 ….
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.
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!
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.
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 :