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