Bear Burritos Bikepacking: New York Edition

less snack, more adventure

Hey Laura, want to bikepack this weekend?

Many fun adventures begin with a text from your friend asking if you want to do something crazy. So I took a day off work, loaded up my bike, and we hit the road for a bike overnight.

I was deeply apprehensive going into this trip. 50-ish miles a day turned into 65. A fair amount of climbing (5,000′) on day one. Resupply every 35 miles or so. Coming off the epic bonk of Green Mountain Gravel Growler has been second-guessing everything. Will I be ok?

But my imagination is more powerful than my fear and I know my friend wouldn’t ask if he didn’t think I could do it. And worse comes to worse, it’s only a 2 hour wait if my husband needs to pick me up.

Highlights from the Overnight

  • Pavement involves radiant heat as well (I tend to forget this since I ride mostly on shaded dirt roads)
  • Quiet backroads lined by adorable farms
  • Having a bee somehow find its way under the chest strap of my heart rate monitor and having to disassemble my jersey/bib/baselayer combo on the side of the road to get it out
  • Relaxing in the shade because it’s hot
rest in the shade
  • Bananas are game changers, especially if you can’t find pickles
  • So are bathrooms where you can “free up some space” without having to dig a cathole
  • AT through-hikers at the market. They started walking back in February!
  • unexpected dirt roads!
  • views!!
the colors were literally this vibrant
  • fresh thick gravel for miles (thanks MassDOT)
  • guinea hens!!
  • Stop for supplies and a break at the Great Barrington Food Co-Op
  • big climb and then …
  • Climbing out of the nature preserve in search of a place to set up camp for the night
  • we saw a porcupine!
  • Listening to the birds slowly wind down for the night, snuggled into my sleeping bag
  • Day 2 begins! Fortunately today Trends Down
  • unexpected adventure road, complete with dicey bridge
this was fantastically unmaintained
  • Mill River General Store & Post Office – a must stop!! Chat with the old men who run the store and ask about the mugs with names on them
  • Mile 95 – start climbing again after 30 miles of basically downhill
  • riding by a field where hay was being cut …
  • having a truck pass, flinging cut hay into our faces. hello allergies!
  • Mile 100 overall – feeling tired and ready to stop. Rest and eat a ClifBar in the shade
  • Realizing we’re just about at the top of the day’s climb so … keep going
  • North Kent Rd, fully loaded, downhill. Check Your Brakes!
it’s really steep and chunky
  • sit-down food in Kent … only 15 miles to go
  • racing a rain shower to the end (although the cloud cover cooled us down and felt amazing)
30% chance of rain in 15 minutes

Overall, super success. It’s still early in the season, so I’m happy to be able to have a successful long-day bikepacking overnight under my belt. I’ve accumulated enough gear now that I can put together a lightweight (15lb) setup and hit the road fairly quickly. And heading out was a reminder that it IS about the journey, real foods are better than cramming “sports nutrition” in your face all day, and take the time to connect to the people you meet along the way.

Next time I’ll probably just mount the rack back on my bike. We had to transport a gallon of water from town to where we finally set up camp and it was much easier to strap it to Curt’s rack than anywhere on my bike. Plus my sleeping bag didn’t fit anywhere so I strapped it to the top of my seatpost bag – but it kept shifting no matter how tightly I secured the straps. As a small-framed bike rider, the extra capacity and stability a rack provides will be vital for carrying unexpected necessities.

I also picked up a Helinox ground chair but didn’t bring it. Definitely wished I had carried the 1.4 lb chair while sitting on a pointy rock to eat dinner. haha

See you out there!


gear

Route
Strava

  • 2020 Salsa Cutthroat GRX 600, modified with an 11-40 cassette
  • Revelate Designs
    • Pika seatpost bag
    • Gas Tank
    • Pronghorn harness
    • Egress Pocket
  • Sea to Summit
    • eVent waterproof compression sack (for sleeping bag)
    • 13L drysack (for front harness)
    • travel straps
  • Salsa Cutthroat custom framebag
  • Big Agnes Tiger Wall UL1 tent
  • ThermaRest NeoAir X-Lite Women’s sleep pad
  • REI Women’s Magma 30 sleeping bag <– so cozy I didn’t want to crawl out of it in the morning
  • MSR Pocket Rocket and 4oz fuel cannister
  • GSI Soloist cookset
  • Sea to Summit titanium long handle spoon
  • REI self-inflating pillow
  • lighter
  • multi-tool knife
  • Buff (just in case)
  • MSR Trailshot water filter (just in case)

Clothing

  • Pactimo cycling attire – (I’m a brand ambassador!)
  • wool socks
  • Pearl Izumi X-Alp Summit women’s mountain biking shoes
  • wool sleeping attire (leggings, midweight long sleeve, socks, underwear)
  • fleece hat and gloves
  • 850-fill down jacket

Food

  • PackIt gourmet Shepherd’s Pie <– this company makes fantastic meals
  • premeasured Quaker Instant oats + trail mix (combined in a baggie)
  • Laird’s superfood coffee + creamer
  • ClifBars – peanut butter & banana; cool mint chocolate
  • Skratch Labs sour cherry gummies <– literally the best
  • Nature’s Bakery fig bars (apple cinnamon, blueberry)
  • Frito’s Chips (bought along the way)
  • Haribo assorted gummies (bought along the way
  • banana

MISC

  • Medications
  • deodorant
  • toothbrush and toothpaste
  • Sea to Summit Wilderness Wipes (clean up before putting on sleep attire)
  • Chamois Butt’r for Her packet<– women are different down there; get the good stuff and keep downtown happy
  • travel sunscreen
  • travel bug spray <– still got a few black fly bites though

Bikepacking Overnights are Adventure Snacks

bite-sized adventure for busy people

This past weekend my friend Anna and I put together a last-minute bikepacking trip to a local county park … for one night. I booked the campsite, threw together a quick route, about 25 miles each way with different roads, and scrambled to get my bike packed up the night before.

Isn’t that a lot of effort for not a lot of payoff?

Sure. And because it’s only (basically) 24 hours or less, one can experiment with minimalism and going as light as possible. Do I need this for the next 24 hours? No? Awesome – not being packed.

Adventure Bike is back!

For this overnight, I wanted to try out a few things:

Things that Worked

  1. Narrower Tires. For this trip, we had mostly pavement and smooth hardpack with the only chunky gravel in the county park. The narrower tires kept things light and quick, especially when the road started tilting upward. The narrower set up was squirrely in the chunky gravel so if this had been a longer trip, I may have switched to the 2″ tires for the added plushness and stability.
  2. Compression Sack for front harness. I was able to cram my tent, sleeping attire, rain jacket, and a few other items into the compression sack and then smoosh it down to fit between my bars. Being able to thread the front harness straps through the compression straps felt more secure than my usual dry bag.
  3. Inflatable sleep pad. I have only used the self-inflating kind so this was new. The Thermarest was extremely comfortable and warmth-retaining despite packing down well and being very light. However it does fit exactly under you so I had to figure out how to place my arms so they wouldn’t be laying on the ground (and cold). It crinkles when you roll over, which wasn’t awful but I was worried about waking up my friend every time I moved.
  4. Ultralight, ultra-packable sleep system. The 50*F quilt, liner, and sleeping pad all pack down super small, making it easy to just toss in the seatpost bag.
  5. Prepaying for firewood to be left at the site by the ranger. Once the sun went down, having a fire to hang out around was super nice. Not having to schlep it by bike was even better.
  6. Water Drop. I was able to bribe my kid with gas money to drop off a few gallons of water for us at the campsite since there is no water available in the park.

ThinGs That Didn’t Work So Well

  1. Summer-weight sleep quilt with spring overnight lows. I didn’t pay attention to the “comfort” limit being 57* for my 50* bag. So even with all my layers plus puffy plus thermal liner, I was chilly all night and slept superficially (low was 43*F) . Going to need to figure out how to bring my down 20* sleeping bag in the future for spring and fall bikepacking.
  2. Forgetting to take my digestive enzymes with dinner. While my digestion has stabilized pretty well over the last 10 months, I still have issues with fats and sugars, especially at the levels most backpacking meals contain. The PackIt Gourmet Chili was delicious – but my guts were gurgling unhappily all night.
  3. Shoes. This was a mix – they were very comfortable around the campsite but after a dozen miles or so or riding, I was getting uncomfortable under the balls of my feet. Likely because the shoes need to straddle being stiff enough for riding without being too stiff for walking around after. Seeing as these are a 2013 model that I bought for bike commuting but then never wore, I’m sure technology has changed and may be able to find something that straddles this divide better.
  4. Somewhere to sit that’s not The Ground. Because we had the fire going, I rolled over a tree stump to use as chair. Anna brought a lightweight backpacking chair. Exploring the idea of getting a lightweight backpacking chair to bring for the good times spent hanging out around the campsite with friends. Need to weigh the weight to need return – but sometimes creature comforts make or break a trip.

Conclusion

Bikepacking overnights are a great way to satisfy the need to get away for a bit and try new things in a low-risk way. It also just feels cool to be riding around on familiar roads with everything you need for a day or a weekend while everyone else is just out for their weekend ride. The gear signals Adventure Is Happening and hopefully sparks others to explore their proverbial backyards too.


Pack List

On Me and my Salsa Cutthroat (52) (I’m a Pactimo and Nuun brand ambassador!)

Seatpost bag (12L)

Framebag (4L)

Handlebar Compression Sack (14L, compressed to fit between bars)

Handlebar Pouch (2.8L)

  • camp permit
  • recharger and phone cord
  • travel packet of baby wipes
  • travel packet of chamois cream
  • bandana
  • compostable toilet paper
  • travel size bug repellent
  • travel size sunscreen
  • extra straps
  • medications (pre-portioned into Morning and Night)
  • Tube of nuun sport in grape flavor
  • multi function knife
  • Long-handled titanium spork
  • lighter
  • firestarter
  • Gallon ziplock for trash

Top Tube Gas Can (1.2L)

  • quick energy snacks (2 Clif Bars Peanut Butter Banana, 1 ClifBloks Salted Watermelon, 1 UNtappd maple syrup packet)
  • “medicine cabinet” (bandaids, Advil, throat lozenges, antacids, anti-itch spray)
  • Afternoon medications

See you out there!

Farmer’s Daughter Gravel Grinder 2019

Nothing hurts and I can’t wait to sign up for next year.

Last year’s FDGG was a test of strength, stamina, grit, and tenacity. The ride is still pretty beastly but this year, the weather gods smiled upon us and gifted us with flawless conditions.

Farmer’s Daughter Gravel Grinder (FDGG) is a 65 mile gravel ride featuring 6,500′ of climbing and 6 off-road segments to keep things spicy. The ride is limited to 400 intrepid people and is not something to sign up for on a whim. The course features back-to-back rollers with grades ticking up into the high-teens.

This year I rode with Gail (her inaugural year) and Matt (round 2 with me). At the start I also saw my friends Curt, Kyle, Reba, Melissa, and a few others that I didn’t get to see but knew were there. We also ran into a woman from an online bike ride group I belong to and ended up yo-yo’ing with her for the last half of the ride.

photo courtesy of my friend Melissa

I don’t think I’ve mentioned that I joined a cycling team this year – Splunk. This should be interesting because I don’t race and my idea of training is just to ride my bike more. But the kit is pretty nice looking. I recently learned that I can get the kit from Pactimo instead of the other provider. So I’m re-ordering my kit because Pactimo is high quality and super comfortable. And they are based in Colorado. JUST LIKE MY HEART.

ANYWAY … over the course of the day we passed many riders who ultimately took shortcuts or SAG’d back to the start. Pro Tip: do not underestimate the Farmer’s Daughter.

At one point we had been climbing for a while and I was feeling particularly spunky rolling up on a bearded guy. We started chatting about the ride, how he was tired already, but I encouraged him to keep going. After a few minutes he asks me if I was also at Cross Mountain Crusher (I was). Apparently we spoke at that ride too!

I guess find me at a ride and I will encourage you up any hill. ha!

I have my own philosophy about how gravel grinders don’t need to be super hard or have sections that select few can actually ride while the rest of us mere mortals have to walk, but that’s a blog post for another day. If you are local to the NYC area and looking for a rad gravel ride closer to home, check out my gravel ride in October, The Dirty Apple.

So what was different from last year?

Significantly less mud. My bike was fresh off a tune-up and upgrades to my bottom bracket, handlebars (everyone needs more cowbell in their life), and seatpost. It had never been so clean …

Weather. The day started with gray skies that threatened to rain but ended up with brilliant blue skies and a healthy dose of muggy humidity.

Conditions. The roads were in great shape from rain earlier in the week and dried out enough to be fast-rolling. The off-road segments remained an absolute mud fest, just significantly less so. We ended up walking several sections of mud with standing water that threatened to pull off our shoes when we walked through it.

Photo Ops. Because we didn’t need to spend our energy *just* *moving* *forward*, we were able to take a look around and enjoy the stunning scenery that Columbia County offers.

And let’s not forget the incredible volunteers who check you in, keep you on course, feed you at the rest stops, and cook up plenty of food so that even the stragglers are well fed before cleaning up and going home.

FDGG is getting more popular every year and it’s no wonder why – Columbia County has a bounty of stunning views and wide network of dirt roads to explore. FDGG and the organizers’ other ride, Farmer’s Fatty, are fantastically well organized and run events. If you are in the New York/New England area, put these events on your calendar for next year.

See you out there!

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!

Golden Gran Fondo 2018

Prologue

One of the perks of being a Pactimo Brand Ambassador is comp entries to amazing rides. When I saw the Golden Gran Fondo on the list, I immediately knew that was the one I wanted to do because it means a trip back home to see family, friends, and ride my bike with amazing scenery.

I -of course- said I’d do the longest route without really checking the elevation profile. Then I did and promptly thought HARD PASS. So I signed up for the 63 – still a formidable route – and got a friend to also register also. I spent my summer seeking out long gravel rides and extended climbing so I could get the feel for pacing myself over this type of distance and elevation gain. I felt both totally ready and completely Not Ready.

Golden Elevation 63
the “race” was your total time in the timed sections

I reserved a hotel room across the street from the ride start (GENIUS, really) and rented a Liv Avail carbon road bike from EVO Denver. My sister decided to join me for the weekend as my support person, which was unexpected and totally appreciated.

20180825_1535001
Ready as I’ll ever be

The Ride

The morning was warm and sunny with a low chance of rain. I picked up my timing chip and then waited for my friend. I also chatted with Julie, another Pactimo Brand Ambassador who I have been talking to online. Around 7:45am, we all gathered under the big arch in downtown Golden for the pre-ride spiel.

20180826_074809
Welcome to Golden!

Right out of the gate we’re sent up Lookout Mountain. This was a ride I had wanted to do forever and hadn’t for a variety of reasons. It’s 5-mile climb that averages 5% grade, which ended up being more accessible than I imagined. Find a cadence and spin. I took a short break right after the end of the timed section and met a few other East Coasters (Philly, New Jersey, and New York in the house!) who were out for the ride. I also met Jan, who was turning 65 tomorrow and this ride was her birthday present to herself.

20180826_085559
Philly, Jersey, and New Yawk on the mountain top

Coming down the other side, averaging 30 mph, was what cycling dreams are made of. Jan and I made it to the first aid station, manned by a local Boy Scout Troop. They had water, electrolytes, PB&Js – and an adorable puppy “for stress relief.”

I checked my text messages to see where my friend was. I had texted her at the top of Lookout to meet up at the first Aid Station – but unfortunately, my friend was not having a good bike day and ended her ride at 20 miles.

The next section was a series of two long hills up Golden Gate Canyon Rd. As a predominately gravel and mountain bike rider these days, I forgot just how exposed pavement is. Especially in Colorado. It was already well into the 80s and not a cloud in sight. My strategy here was to find an all-day pace and spin; pause in the shade when necessary (it was SO HOT) to catch my breath, eat something, and then continue on. There was also a pretty continuous headwind, which is great for cooling off but not good for energy to pedal your bike up a hill.

20180826_101528
Me riding up Golden Gate Canyon Rd

Along the way, I somehow lost Jan but met Kevin from New Jersey. We both had stopped in the shade to get some respite from the sun. I was out of water (and 5 miles to get to the aid station) and no cell service. One of the ride support vehicles stopped to check on us (and refill my water). Kevin took a ride up to the top of the steep climb; being told it was less than a mile to the top, I decided to ride.

But a mile later, I’m still slowly climbing and the grade is ticking upwards. Another support truck rolled up and said “Hop in! You aren’t the first person we’ve given a quick boost.” About a mile later, they dropped me off at the top and I bombed down the road to the next aid station. Also, they had fruit snacks which were very much needed at that moment.

My goal had been to get to Aid Station 2 by 11am and it’s now 12pm. I decide to take a longer break, eat, and think about my options. The next section is a timed climb – and while my legs aren’t shot, the saddle on my rental bike isn’t playing nice with my sit-bones. And given how far off pace I am, do I really want to spend the next hour and a half climbing over 1,400′ over 12 miles? Not really. It was really hot, I was worried about the water situation, my saddle, and the headwinds (which we heard were worse further up in the canyon).

20180826_120909
Aid Station 2 was lovely to spend extra time at

Thankfully Aid Station 2 would have also been Aid Station 3 – so Kevin and I rolled out to finish the route, minus the 12 miles. The next 5 miles or so were all sweet, sweet downhill through Golden Gate Canyon State Park. We used to take our kids camping there when we lived in Colorado so NOSTALGIA.

Then came Drew Hill. The meanest hill on the entire route. 1.5 miles with whole sections over 15% grade. Dirt over crumbling pavement. I knew it was coming and I rode the first portion until the grade got to a point where I hopped off and started to walk. Which was still a workout. Kevin and I talked the whole way up, cheering on the guys who were riding it. One guy fell over trying to ride up the hill.

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Drew Hill Rd. Brutal. And then it got steeper.

At the very top, we were rewarded with spectacular views and a 10-mile descent back into town. We chatted with a few others from the Philly area (so much East Coast love out there!) and then bombed back to town.

20180826_132646
10 glorious downhill miles to go

Overall

This is probably the hardest Gran Fondo in the whole series. I was surprised by the relatively small number of riders compared to other events I’ve been to – but it seems the climbing scares a lot of people away. Nothing was truly awful except maybe Drew Hill. And to be honest, it sounds really impressive to say I had climbed over 5,000′ in 30 miles when I got to the second aid station. The climbing is definitely front-loaded.

While I didn’t complete the whole route, I have no regrets. I had a great day on the bike and met so many cool people along the way. Should I register for this again, I would do one thing differently: Bring my own bike. I know it, I love it, I trust it. It’s worth the hassle and expense. And maybe I would have tackled the second timed section because my butt didn’t hurt.

Despite not completing the whole route, I placed 5th in my gendered age bracket based on the timed segments I completed.

Fondo By Age

See you on the road!

 

 

Farmer’s Daughter Gravel Grinder 2018

Everything hurts, which is why I’m signing up again next year.

Sunday night I lay down and thought “My body hurts. Everything hurts. What a great day.”

The Farmer’s Daughter Gravel Grinder is by far the hardest gravel ride I’ve done in the year or so I’ve been riding dirt roads. But it’s also one of the most interesting, scenic, and diverse rides. Organized by two mountain bikers who wanted to showcase the beauty and bounty in and around Columbia County, New York, FDGG takes you on an epic journey through peaceful farmlands, quiet forests, and some of the best hills the Taconics can throw at you.

Let’s start with – it’s been a long winter and wet spring. This week was no exception with more rainy days than not. It rained the whole day before the ride so we knew it would be a bit sloppy. The forecast for Sunday was continually changing, showing we were either going to have a really rainy day or just overcast. Most of the questions being sent to the organizers on the Facebook page were around tire choice.

In the end, I’m not sure what the best tire choice would be for 65 miles on mostly peanut butter roads, some paved, and 6 water-logged, muddy off-road/tractor road sections.

I, of course, went with my 26mm Panaracer Gravel King SKs. It was that or my mountain bike, and I didn’t feel like riding that for 65 miles.

My friend Matt rode with me, and I’m so glad he did because this year was a true test of strength, stamina, and grit.

 

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fresh as daisies

 

In the Beginning …

The first three miles of the course is on a grassy rail trail with a gentle incline and really sets the tone for the event. Fairly quickly the ride separated the speedy folks from the ones who wanted to enjoy the day.

Back on the road for a short bit to get to the second off-road section through a nature preserve. If you are not a mountain biker or cyclocross racer, this is the first sign the route isn’t for you as you are basically on single- and double-track. The rains made this section extremely muddy, and we ended up walking good portions because the mud was so rutted, slick, and deep. We were in good company though – virtually everyone around us was also walking their bikes.

 

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a portent of things to come

 

The first water stop was at a brewery around mile 16. Fueled up on maple syrup shots and pickles, skipping the whiskey-soaked Swedish Fish (which we heard were amazing). Topped off water and got back on the road. The clock indicates we’re slower than expected.

 

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hey look – more mud!

 

More beautiful dirt roads before heading into Off-Road #3 – singletrack edition. We’re yo-yo’ing with the same people and camaraderie is high. We’re getting a bit tired, but we aren’t pushing the pace terribly because conditions are pretty soul-sucking. But at least it’s not raining – just really, really soggy. Rode as much of the singletrack as possible; walked where it felt prudent. Popped out into a field with the first full rest stop at mile 27 on the other side of the field.

 

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takes your mind off the climb

 

FDGG has excellent rest stop food because it’s catered by local businesses like Bountiful Bread Bakery who had delicious sandwiches prepared. I chose the peanut butter on cranberry-walnut wheat bread; Matt chose the turkey with stuffing and cranberry spread. Refilled water, checked the time, had another cookie, then back to it.

 

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mud had been scraped off at least 3 times before this photo

 

Matt and I have ridden gravel grinders together and we both expected to be done around 3pm as a 10mph average is a good estimating target for rides with 100’/mi of climbing. As we left the rest stop, I started doing the math and said “I don’t think we’ll be done until 5pm.” Our average progressive speed, inclusive of breaks, had dipped below 8mph. But with the bulk of the ride (and the majority of the climbing) about to happen, we didn’t want to burn too many matches.

The Middle.

(There are no photos to add to this section because it’s basically a pain cave.)

The middle 20 miles has nearly half of the total climbing for the day, an endless series of rollers with a few back-to-back-to-back hills that put you squarely above 10% grade for a bit.

This is also where I had to humble myself and walk two of the steepest hills, my energy sapped from the struggle just to navigate the soggy conditions. We took a breather at the top of one particularly nasty climb and a tall guy on a Rivendell and wearing Crocs stopped too. He reminded me of one of my kids. We chatted for a few minutes, then continued on.

This is also where it began to rain, turning thick nut-butter roads into pea soup. Our bikes are so caked in mud, gears grinding in the grit. The SKs are shedding mud well, but I still find myself spinning out a few times while trying to power through thick mud. Every fishtail of my rear wheel, every slippery root or rock on the off-road sections remind me that the skills I’ve learned on a hardtail mountain bike will always serve me well in any terrain.

Mile 40 brings us to a pop-up ice cream stop catered by Cold Stone Creamery. It’s stopped raining, and we’re getting chilled, so we put on a few layers to keep warm. We’re at the final rest stop in 7 miles.

The End …

The rest stop at mile 47 is a bounty of food: bananas, PB&Js, Mexican chocolate cake, and probably more importantly, COKES. We take a little longer to enjoy full-sugar soda guilt-free, eat, and strategize our next 18 miles. We still have the last 2 off-road sections to go, including one notoriously steep grassy incline that is sure to be even soggier and slick now.

There aren’t many people around us now, and we overhear many people opt for the bailout at this point – cutting a few miles but staying exclusively on paved roads back to the start. We are not these people and soldier on.

Despite the rest and refueling, there’s simply not enough power left in my body to power up the grassy hill, so we end up walking. We get in a rhythm of riding when we can and walking when we spin out. I will note here that Matt is a beast and rode more hills than I did and I remain in awe of his power. But to be sure, we’re both hurting at this point.

We continue on the roads to the final off-road segment and stop to decide if we want to ride the soggy, grassy loop through a field. We made it this far, I’m not throwing in the towel yet – so in we go. The mowed path goes down, down, down, and then turned sharply right and UP. Hopped off and walked – there was simply no traction on the water-logged grass. Took a short singletrack loop up to a gazebo for a short break to take in the incredible views. We’re 60 miles in and closing in on 5pm. Matt and I are both exhausted.

 

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Drinking in the views at mile 60

 

The last few miles are downhill, as any difficult ride should be. We roll into the finish, and people are still milling around, the band is still playing, and there is plenty of hot food and cold beverages waiting for us. Nearly 8.5 hours after we started, we were finally done. And we are far from the last people to roll in.

 

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well deserved tacos

 

Probably the best part of this ride is the organizers did not pressure anyone to be done by a specific time so they could clean up and go home. They built an incredibly challenging and beautiful route that was meant to be savored. And then let those of us who wanted to finish despite incredibly challenging conditions do so.

We cleaned up, we hosed off our bikes, we said “great ride!” and headed back to our homes tired but accomplished.

Which brings us to …

the opening statement about everything hurting. It hurt to lay down. Ever fiber of my body held the dull ache of full depletion. I haven’t been this wrecked from a ride in a long time – a sign of a really good time.

At the end of the ride I wasn’t sure I’d want to do this ride again but here we are, just a few days later, and I’m thinking … if the conditions are drier next year, I’ll be there and so should you.

The nerdy details were logged on Strava.

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Muddy Onion Spring Classic 2018

Last year I did my first gravel grinder, and I’ve been hooked ever since. Dirt and gravel roads are some of the quietest, most scenic ways to see an area by bicycle. And yes, they often have hills that challenge your mind and body to just. Get. To. The. Top. one pedal stroke at a time.

When Onion River Sports closed last year, the fate of the event was in limbo – but fortunately, a group of former employees decided the show must go on! If you’ve ever doubted what a small band of committed people can accomplish, look no further than this year’s Muddy Onion.

The route was revamped. The rest stops streamlined. The hospitality still off the charts.

Whereas last year we had perfect sunny, dry conditions – this year was almost the total opposite. Winter didn’t start relinquishing control until just a few weeks before the ride. It has been raining more than it’s been dry and sunny, and the roads and trails are in a nearly perpetual state of mud. Lots of people opted for mountain bikes and fat bikes this year over gravel or cross bikes.

Tire Selection

Let’s take a moment to talk about what everyone seemed to be talking about leading up to the event: tire choice.

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Mud2 clearance is “tight”

Last year I threw on 30mm Michelin Mud2s, which are excellent mud tires but sadly do not provide enough clearance on my Salsa Colossal to be used in truly muddy conditions.

After extensive online research (because apparently, no one makes mud tires narrower than 32mm generally), I asked my local shop to order Panaracer GravelKing SK 26s for me.

This was a flawless choice for this year’s conditions, ranging from wet sand to wet hardpack to full-on mud-pits conveniently located at the bottom of every really nice descent. The tires tracked beautifully in suboptimal conditions and were fast-rolling on paved sections.

 

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26mm tires and traction for days

To be sure though – no tire will save you if you can’t handle your bike when it’s sliding in a few different directions. Pro tip: mountain biking on a hardtail will give you the skills needed to improve handling on the road too.

The Ride

Vermont is blessed with an abundance of dirt roads and beautiful scenery – and the Muddy Onion gives you an opportunity to experience both. The first 5 miles still trend up, and by the rest stop at mile 10, we had climbed over 1,300′ while passing family farms, open fields, and taking in views of the Green Mountains.

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the better conditions encountered

The middle 17 miles looped us up to Mirror Lake and the tiny towns that dot Vermont. Screaming downhill to flat lake-side roads that provide an air conditioning effect – not much needed when it’s barely 60*F out! I had pulled off my arm warmers sometime in the first 10 miles, and I certainly wished I had them on as we passed the lake. We passed through beautifully dense pine forest, the scent of pine filling the air. Coming into the final rest stop with around 3,000′ of climbing under our legs.

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Class 4 means Quality

The final 10 miles feature that last few hundred feet of climbing and the last 4 miles trending DOWN and the welcome sight of getting back to Montpelier after 37 miles, 3,650′ of climbing, and a whole lot of dirty fun.

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at the rest stop

Racked the bikes and enjoyed the post-ride BBQ and beverages before getting cleaned up and heading back into town for a coffee at Capitol Grounds Cafe/802 Coffee and purchases at the state store. Sadly, no one at the store knew the whereabouts of Richard. Richard was our superlative Southern Gentleman/MOT clerk last year, and we were hoping to see him again this year.

(I’d love to know how much the Muddy Onion, a smaller gravel event, brings Montpelier in tourism dollars: in accommodations, food, and other purchases. I drive 5 hours each way and purchase gas, stay in a hotel, eat at local restaurants, and make purchases while visiting. Bikes Mean Business!)

Conclusion

The Muddy Onion has once again proven gravel grinders don’t have to be gratuitous sufferfests or hike-a-bike. With an enjoyable route that features stunning scenery and quiet backroads, none of the hills were insurmountable despite providing a truly meaningful challenge (although let’s be real, this year’s peanut butter-like conditions made the steepest of hills that much more challenging).

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this. all. day.

MO18 Elevation

Thank you Onion River Outdoors for another spectacular event. See you next year!!

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See you on the muddy roads!