“Laura, are you sure you want to go out to lunch for Chinese New Year?”
It’s late January and the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) is spreading rapidly in China. My Chinese coworkers are understandably concerned that their non-Chinese coworkers will be worried about enjoying an authentic meal together to celebrate the New Year here in New York. We assured them it was not and enjoyed an amazing meal together to celebrate.
Three weeks later (mid-February), I had a new job offer that I could’t refuse. I had been looking casually since last September but a recruiter reached out and it was a match. I put in my mandatory 3 weeks notice (plus a few days to end on a Friday), and spent the next weeks training other staff to take on my current role. I also made sure we had a weekly “team lunch” so we could spend maximum time together. I am so glad we did. My husband and I went to the brewery to celebrate.
I started my new job on March 9, right as New York is starting to shut down due to escalating cases of COVID-19. I tell myself as long as I can get into the office to go through orientation and get my laptop, I can work from home as soon as they allow.
March 11 my high schooler’s district shut down for a few days. I send out a notice to registered riders for the Frozen Apple that we will be taking extra precautions at the event on March 22. My oldest child was furloughed from their job.
Two days later, the president announces a national emergency and I cancel the Frozen Apple. I work from home and have been ever since.
The last two and a half weeks have been a surreal trip into the unknown.
Grocery stores were mobbed with people panic-buying everything in sight. There hasn’t been paper products like toilet paper and paper towels or bleach-based household cleaners and alcohol-based hand sanitizer since. It’s only been in the last week that levels of other products like meat and produce have stabilized.
My entire spring gravel event plan has been gutted, most of them moving to late summer and autumn. My girl friends and I are waiting a bit longer before we cancel out late-May bike camping weekend and our mid-June mountain biking weekend. It’s probably inevitable that we will cancel but none of us want to pull that trigger just yet.
This past week in particular has been rough. On Monday my husband was told he is taking a 35% paycut for the next 3 months, possibly longer. I narrowly avoided being furloughed/laid off and took a paycut to a flat salary that everyone in the company is getting (80% paycut). My direct boss left so now I’m scrambling to ramp up as fast as possible with zero context. It’s a good thing I am comfortable asking questions.
Pandemics are no fucking joke.
I am thankful none of us are sick with the virus. That we have enough food in the house right now. That we have a roof over our heads. That the national stimulus bill passed, which will help us navigate that our financial ends literally cannot meet for a while. That our two adult children will benefit more from the stimulus bill than we will (Gen Z deserves a break). That I still have my bikes and can ride locally.
And if we’re being real, I am only riding literally locally from my front door or within a 5 minute drive. I’m increasingly uncomfortable traveling to ride, given the spread of the virus and the levels of cavalier behavior I see among other people. I’ve been doing a lot of walking because it’s quick and easy. Yoga has gone to the wayside because I don’t have a space for it. Forgive me for not wanting to rearrange the living room. Once my mountain bike is back from the shop, I’ll probably do more mountain biking because even though there are fewer cars on the road, they are still there and even less tolerant of a bike these days.
My heart is with my friends who are first responders and medical staff – they don’t have the choice to stay home and avoid exposure. My heart aches for families who are suffering or losing loved ones to this virus. I am angry that I live in the United fucking States of America and our federal government is botching the response, allowing needless suffering and death with a shrug. We are in this TOGETHER and states should not be forced to compete for limited medical supplies.
I realize all this is temporary and at some point we will go back to “normal,” whatever that is. For now it’s nice to still be employed but have nowhere I need to go and nowhere I need to be.
April 19, 2019 – Coming this summer is a three day gravel ride through the Catskills. Slightly modified from what Ralph rode last year. No date yet, but thinking June. – Curt
The beginning of epic adventures is so small – casual words in passing or an idea that pops in your head … or in this case, posting a call for comrades on a social media site for bike rides. I’ve ridden several rides and events with Curt and Ralph so I know their style of riding, which made it easy to say YES to the invite.
Taste the Catskills is a 320-mile self-supported bikepacking route with over 22,000′ of climbing developed by local randonneur Ralph Pruitt. Ralph is known for seeking out every hill and every inch of dirt he can find. Deeming a route a “Ralph Ride” can only mean it’s stupid hard but incredibly fun and rewarding. It should be noted that Ralph previewed the route last year in one shot.
Lodging. We stayed at Blue Hill Lodge & Cafe in Clarysville and Hammo’s Pub & Lodge in Hensonville. Having a room booked in advance gave us a pre-determined end point each day as well as a cool shower and comfortable bed.
Packing. With the daily distance, heat, and humidity – packing light and fast was paramount. If it wasn’t necessary for three days on the road, it didn’t come. Everything fit in my seatpost bag, half-frame bag, and handlebar bag. Also, “fast” is all relative as we were out for 10-13 hours each day.
For a full list of what was brought and what was purchased along the way, check the end of the blog post.
Training. I’m not a fan of formal training plans in the same way I am not a fan of riding on a trainer. My general plan is to figure out what I’m getting myself into and build up to something that’s a reasonable facsimile. 2019 has been a year of challenging rides, with most including around 100’/mi of climbing.
The climbing didn’t feel like an issue so much as I haven’t ridden a century in something like 4 or 5 years. Looking at the daily breakdown of the route (we were riding this over 3 days), there were lots of beastly hills in the back half of each day – pacing would be key to make it through each day.
It was super hot & muggy and not very shaded. Once we climbed out of Pawling, we cruised on the rail trail for 30 miles – so most of the climbing was concentrated into the back 55 miles. Once we left New Paltz, opportunities for refueling and refilling water from commercial outlets dropped dramatically. After climbing Mohonk and Peekamoose, we were pretty shredded. A 15-mile downhill awaited us, which was such a relief. But we were rapidly running out of water and we still had a crazy climb to get to our rest stop for the night. Only 1 of the three camp stores we tried was open. The final 5-mile climb was obscene in places and I’m not ashamed to say I hopped off my bike and pushed it in places.
We arrived at the Blue Hill Cafe to find the restaurant portion closed. All three of us were tired and hungry; the thought of choking down another ClifBar as dinner was nauseating. Fortunately, the owner was closing out her register and set us up with fresh homemade chicken salad sandwiches, pickles, chips, and beverages. The cafe wasn’t going to open before we needed to leave in the morning so we were able to grab delicious coffeecake to go.
Day 2 – The Longest Day.
Coming off day 1 and seeing a forecast of even higher temps (near 90* F) and humidity paired with an additional 18 miles until our next overnight accommodations, we opted to leave earlier. Curt had to repair his front shifting cable so we ended up leaving only an hour earlier than Day 1. The morning chill was most welcome as we zoomed out of town and found our first good hill within a few miles. Today was Dirt Day and we knew there would be some formidable climbs in the latter half of the day. Dirt always takes a bit more energy than pavement but is generally mercifully shaded, which provides much needed respite from the sun.
Brunch was 45 miles into the day at a diner in Downsville where we gobbled up eggs and toast and homefries while draining glasses of lemonade as fast as the waitress could bring them. When asked where we were headed, we replied Windham … to which another patron exclaimed “That’s far!” About 75 miles far. Two women on motorcycles stopped me to ask about my bike setup … turns out one of them is planning a ride from Portland, OR to Denver, CO in September. She asked if I would be interested in that journey. I wish I could have said yes.
Leaving Downsville I noticed my rear tire had gone flat … not from the chunky dirt descent to NY30, but from a staple on the road in town. The guys had my tire changed before I could protest and say I could do it myself. Back on the road, we started the 10-mile climb to De Lancy that was happily mostly shaded. The same could not be said for the road between Delhi and Hobart, which was paved and radiant in the sun. It was so hot the tar was snapping under our tires. We ducked onto the rail trail but it was very slow going and overgrown. In the interest of time, we popped back out on the road into Stanford.
Maybe the best part of touring is ice cream stops. We were hot and sweaty and in need of inner cooling. A massive twist cone was just the ticket to keep moving. We’re at mile 82 with 36 hilly miles to go. By mile 101, we’re all cooked again and just want to get to our next overnight room but we have four more “bumps” to conquer before being rewarded with a 5-mile downhill into Windham. From Windham, it’s only another 3 miles to our room. We finally get cleaned up and head next door to Vesuvio Restaurant in Hensonville. We ate like royalty and after a long day, it felt good to put real food in the belly.
Knowing our final day would be lower miles and lower climbing, we opted to see what time we woke up to determine when we would leave in the morning.
Day 3 – The Easy Day
We woke around 6:30am and headed down the street to Nana Gail’s for breakfast, filling our bellies once again with eggs and bread and bacon for the guys. The day was overcast with a 50% chance of thunderstorms so we made sure our rain gear was easily accessible should we find ourselves in a downpour. A short climb out of the Windham area gave way to an epic 15-mile descent back to the Hudson River. We crossed on the Rip Van Winkle Bridge and made our way to Copake, where we would stop for lunch at Dad’s Diner. Our energy is high because we’re on our way home.
This is also the only day I beat the guys up any hills. It should be noted they both have McGuyver’d their gravel bikes to have a 40t or 42t granny gear on their cassette – so they were mostly spinning up the hills like it was Sunday. My granny gear is 34t on my cassette so Grind is my middle name.
If I ever find the funds to start building up a custom gravel bike, you can be sure mountain bike gearing with deep low gears will be top on my list.
After lunch the clouds had given way to brilliant sunshine so we made our way to the rail trail for some shaded goodness. The connection between the two segments from Copake to Millerton is still under construction so we headed onto the pavement. We stopped for cold snacks and water in Millerton before heading back to the cool and shady rail trail to Wassaic.
Sometime after Wassaic, we decided to skip the remaining bonkers hills in favor of an “easier” route to the end. It ended up being only 600′ less of climbing (over 20 miles) but the hills were more rolling than challenging. We’re tired, our bodies are protesting, and frankly this is the second or third day in a kit so it’s getting a bit … funky … around here.
Rolling up to our start location, we decided to get cleaned up and have one final meal together at the local pizza place to celebrate our incredible journey.
Ride What You Got. I love my bike but it doesn’t take tires wider than 30mm. I ride the only gravel tire I’ve found sub-32mm. Sure, I can’t bomb down chunky descents and I have to pick my lines carefully, but I’ve become a skilled technical rider in the meantime.
Learn to Pace Yourself. There is nothing worse than bonking even a few miles from your final destination. Don’t dig yourself into a hole – be sure to eat and hydrate regularly. Take a look at the course so you have an idea of where the hardest parts are and don’t go for KOMs. You need energy for more than just today.
Learn to Eat & Drink On The Ride. “I can’t eat on rides.” You wouldn’t drive your car around on Empty, so why try to bike that way? It’s not a race – Don’t dig a hole you can’t climb out of. The way to do this is to eat something every 90min or so and sip your hydration beverage every few miles. Eat real food like trail mix, salted nuts, potato chips, pretzels … convenience stores are generally well-stocked with these foods. Some even have sandwich counters, which can save the day.
Be Clear & Copious. If your pee isn’t clear and copious, you aren’t hydrating enough. This isn’t always possible to achieve but it should be on your mind as an easy way to monitor your hydration levels.
Have Fun! The whole point of a bike adventure is to get away from it all and explore new places. Remind yourself that all you have to do today is ride your bike. And then go ride your bike.
Thank You to Ralph for creating an amazing route that showcased the hidden gems of the Catskills, to Curt for wanting to ride the route over 3 days, and to Yorktown Cycles for keeping my Salsa in top condition and for the excellent upgrade recommendations. The Nox wheels were clutch in keeping my energy transfer to the bike and not on rotational resistance. And to all my bike friends who have come out to ride bonkers events and routes with me in preparation for this adventure.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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: