Bear Burritos Bikepacking 2016 Recap

Or, we need more Girls Camping Weekends in this world.

My friend Karen and I decided back in January to try out bikepacking – backpacking but with a bike instead of hiking. Having never done this before, we both got very excited about a plan to ride to three different state parks/forests in western Massachusetts, camping every night in a different park and biking all day.

The only weekend we had available was Memorial Day weekend and the state parks require a two-night stay so we altered our plans and decided to reserve an established campsite for two nights with all our gear attached to ourselves or our bikes for the weekend. We researched bikepacking, read a bajillion articles, and scoured the internet for tips and tricks. We texted and chatted and set up Google Spreadsheets to track our planning: routes, gear, food, apparel. We called businesses and town clerks to find a safe place to park our cars for the weekend in town. We did two dry runs – one driving and checking out the Forest and one to mostly load up and ride the full route to iron out any kinks and establish speed expectations.

And then – the weekend arrived. Dude, we are totally doing this!

We had the most amazing time!

Friday we met up in Lenox, Massachusetts, loaded up our bikes and daypacks, and departed on a hot and humid day for Beartown State Forest. We didn’t have far (about 15 miles) to go but the bulk of our elevation was in a 4-mile section up a mountain.

 

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we’re really doing this! 
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everything we need for a camping weekend
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next 4 miles … UP!

We made a No Guilt pact: no need to hang back for each other but definitely wait for each other at opportune moments. Spending 4+ miles on a 4% average grade is tough on an unloaded bike, much less with loaded bikes. No one was setting QOMs today but everyone was winning!

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finally in the Forest!
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past beaver ponds in a rare flat section
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These cute guys were EVERYWHERE on our final overgrown road descent into camp
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overgrown roads. we like those. 

We made it to camp and got to work setting everything up.

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hammock camping!
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took a dip in the pond to cool off; have to dry your bibs somehow
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Benedict Pond
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we ate like queens: chicken sausage with rice & beans
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good morning from my hammock! 

The next day Karen’s friend G joined us. She drove in and brought a cooler full of food and two mountain bikes! After a quick breakfast (coffee and instant oatmeal), we drove over to Kennedy Park to hit the trails together. Fun Fact: G was on a 29er, Karen on a 27.5, and I rode G’s old 26er GT. Survey says, 27.5 and 29ers are best for steamrolling pretty much everything in your path.

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mountain biking badasses (featuring great trail manners)

After a great ride in the woods, we adjourned to the Great Barrington CoOp for lunch and continued conversation. We were a bunch of Chatty Cathys.

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these guys kept Karen up at night

After G set up her tent, we hit the trails for a short hike around the pond.

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Yes, it’s just that beautiful!

Set up another amazing fire (seriously, we had mad fire making skills this trip!) and once again, ate ourselves silly and went to bed too late.

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sun-dried tomato chicken sausage, couscous/quinoa/coconut milk/kale, and cheddar cheese
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hell yeah we had breakfast tacos this morning! eggs, cheese, avocado, rice & beans

Thanks to the cooler G brought, we had eggs for breakfast! Karen had bought her personal coffee blend and a french press so we stuffed ourselves for the day ahead. Super hot and humid again, we started pre-gaming with electrolyte beverages.

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packed up and headed home (so not ready!!)

Today was a slightly longer and mostly flat to downhill route back to our cars.

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Which way do we go??
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right … this way!
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the street dumps you here 

As we pedaled into Great Barrington, it started to rain which felt amazing. We kept pedaling along the Houstatonic River, through tiny towns and past quaint New England homes.

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pedaling along, enjoying the day
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Obligatory Rustic Barn Photo

The rain started and stopped a few times, each time feeling so refreshing from the  humidity. The final 5 miles of the trip back were uphill and we were racing a thunderstorm. We didn’t beat it and ended up getting soaked with less than a mile to go – but it was so delicious!

It’s hard to believe the weekend is over – it went by so fast! Being able to completely unplug and just flow with the vibe of the day was so revitalizing. We also learned so much from this experience and hope to do this again soon.

All in all, A+ Gold Star Will Do Again.

See you on the road!

 

 

For those interested:

My Gear

Salsa Colossal Ti, 53cm

Vittoria Cross XN Pro, 31mm

Revelate Designs Tangle framebag (small), Pika seatbag (small)

Osprey Daylite Plus 20litre Daypack (w/Hydrapak 1.5litre reservoir and Blaster bite valve)

Purist 20oz water bottle, Philly Bike Tours branded

ENO DoubleNest hammock, ProFly, Ember underquilt, and gear sling

GSI Outdoor Pinnacle Soloist cookset

Titanium spork

MSR PocketRocket (w/fuel)

 

My Clothing

on-bike:

2 pairs of bike shorts, jerseys, and socks

Sidi cycling shoes w/SPD cleats

Hoo Ha Ride Glide, individual packets

 

not on the bike:

1 pair of shorts (KUHL Splash 11″ shorts)

3 T shirts (various bike-related brands) <–walking billboard

3 pairs of Patagonia Active Hipster Briefs

Moving Comfort Uplift Crossback Sports Bra (seriously, the best ever. So comfy)

Flip flops for around the campsite (LL Bean)

Hiking boots (Columbia)

2 pair SmartWool socks

midweight SmartWool baselayers (for sleeping)

medications

bug spray, sunscreen, lip balm, basic toiletries

 

My Food (Schlepped)

We had way too much food. Karen brought most of the good stuff (2 packages of chicken sausage, rice and beans, Larabars) and G brought a cooler with beer/wine, juices, eggs, milk, the couscous/quinoa deliciousness, and coconut-date-truffle balls. We never got to the trail mix.

I brought the avocado, tortillas, small bottle of hot sauce, and a block of cheddar cheese. Some Kind bars and a packet of ramen noodles. Instant oatmeal packets. Stevia packets for my coffee.

 

If we were to do this again, possibly without the benefit of a cooler, we would definitely have more single-serve dehydrated food/meals and energy bars. There just isn’t a lot of space for bulky items like fresh fruits and veggies. But … having someone meet you with a cooler (or stashing one at the campsite in advance if you aren’t backcountry camping) opens up a world of great eating. Another option is to just eat in the little towns along the way or bike into town for more food. Lunch at the CoOp was smart and had air conditioning – so we could get out of the heat for a bit.

 

 

Real Talk

As I think back across this year, it’s been a stressful one. We sold our house (hooray!), moved to an apartment (eh!), found a new house (hooray!), moved again (two states away!), had to integrate quickly for end of the school year activities (eh!), and have been slowly unpacking and organizing/updating/painting the house. Whole weekends are devoted to Being A Real Adult and that’s never fun.

Oh, and there was that pesky thyroid cancer surgery and radioactive iodine over the summer too. I’m still working on getting my synthetic thyroid hormone balance. While I feel exceptionally thankful my cancer isn’t expected to reduce my life expectancy, I’m now working on finding a New Normal that includes a lot more down time than I’ve previously needed in my life.

No surprise, I’ve been struggling emotionally lately. Like on the verge of Stay In Bed All Day And Full-On Ugly-Cry While Listening to Sad Music and/or Watching Sad Movies. I blame a combination of work (mostly office politics, which isn’t my favorite thing to do), anxiety (impostor syndrome), and a general feeling that my life is very much Not In Balance.

Anyway, I’ve been looking forward to Thanksgiving break because it means a long weekend to relax AND Get Shit Done – but I was in a serious funk. Wednesday I finished up my holiday baking and in the evening my husband and I sat in our hot tub and talked. I know – First World Luxuries. But it didn’t help alleviate the sense of being completely overwhelmed, scattered, and not spending time on the things that matter most.

Thursday morning it was cloudy but in the upper-50s so I decided to head out for a road ride. I haven’t been on my road bike in a while and while it took some internal prodding to get out the door – but soon the pedals were spinning. For the first time ever, I decided to listen to music while I rode. I usually don’t because I like to be able to hear what’s going on around me – but I was on a paved rail-trail and used my Yurbuds, which allow the user to hear ambient sound while delivering high-quality audio. I really should invest in a high-quality single-earbud because riding with music was great.

At the end of my 32 mile ride, I felt a bit better but still anxious. It was nice to spend a few hours just zoned out, spinning.

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pastoral view from the trail

We had a lovely Thanksgiving dinner as a family, thanks for asking. We miss our friends all over the country and our family out West. But we are thankful to have each other, good jobs, a roof over our heads and food on the table every night.

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hello, where is my plate of delicious turkey dinner?

This morning I grabbed my mountain bike and headed over to the local park for a few hours. I am so thankful that I know about this park because it’s perfect for my level: lots of easy flowy trails but also some technical details.

I zipped around a large family enjoying a hike in the woods. I rode over a few of the smaller logs (and just walked over the larger ones). I rode over the bridge across the Parkway and continued on. I fell off a stone wall. I kept going.

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I was the only one on the trails. I stopped frequently to check the paper map I had downloaded of the trails. I stuck to loopy trails that connected easily. I powered up hills and bounced down rocky descents. I felt good.

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perfect day
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all to myself

I found a trail that ended up being a lot more technical than I expected – and I didn’t wreck. I felt like a million dollars.

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this is right before I took a trail that was full of boulders

I took a wrong turn; I doubled back until I found multiple trail blazes. I started experimenting with speed and not shockingly, momentum is your friend when you are mountain biking. I headed back to the gentler park and crushed every trail that I crashed on a few weeks back. I even took a few new trails and had to walk in a few places – but I felt amazing. I got home and took my dog on a walk.

This is exactly what I needed in my life right now. And I still have two more days to Get Shit Done: like laundry and cleaning the house and taking my car in for maintenance.

I need to figure out how to get more of this in my life on the regular.

Life if too short not to see you on the road (or the trails).

The Power of the Pickle and Other Thoughts

This past weekend I put my bikes on the back of my Honda and headed for the hills. Of west-central Massachusetts, to be more precise. My friend and fellow blogger Karen lives up there and invited me to join her at the JAM Fund Grand FUNdo. The ride was top-notch: very hilly, well-stocked rest stations, full-on pig roast bbq and local craft beer at the end.

bikes + friends + countryside = awesome
bikes + friends + countryside = awesome

While there, a former pro cyclist approached me about my scar. Turns out she had a total thyroidectomy a few years ago (hers was benign) and is currently not racing due to overtraining.

She shared with me a few gems, one of which was that once your thyroid is removed your body functions differently from when you had the organ even though you are replacing the hormones. As an athlete, it’s easy to build into a certain level of fitness. How the body functions with just the hormones is slightly different. She shared a story about a training ride where she became severely hypothermic, which was her “a-ha” moment about how her body functions differently now.

(The thyroid controls a surprising number of body functions through secretion of thyroid hormones including metabolism, growth, body temperature, muscle strength, appetite, and the health of your heart, brain, kidneys, and reproductive system.)

This was welcome anecdotal evidence, as I’ve noticed my body isn’t responding the same way it used to. I get goose-bumps earlier in hot rides than I used to – which is my key to drink more fluids, dial down the intensity, and stay in the shaded areas as much as possible. The Mini FUNdo we did featured 25 miles of uphill before the glorious 15 miles of downhill – and by mile 22, my muscles weren’t crying but I was definitely Not Myself. Thankfully the rest stop had bananas and, more importantly, pickles.

finally, some downhill!
finally, some downhill!

Never underestimate the power of a pickle to revive you on a hot bike ride.

The rest of the weekend was exactly the relaxing, rejuvenating experience I needed. We biked, we laughed, we talked, and we ate. As working moms, it’s not easy for us to just take a weekend to ride bikes – but I’m so glad Karen was up for it and I was in a place where I could be as active as I wanted … even if it isn’t at my former fitness level.

let's go check out this new trail!
let’s go check out this new trail!

Another friend of mine, Dani, made an excellent observation. She asked me if I had held back my voice – because the thyroid is in the throat chakra and maybe I needed to learn how to be my own advocate more, to speak up and not be afraid of what others think or will say by voicing my concerns or opinion.While I still harbor internal concerns that vulnerability makes me a liability, the reality is I have suppressed my needs too much. It’s OK to ask for help, for down-time, and to take care of me first.

The irony certainly doesn’t escape me that I have moved to a city that never sleeps, is always pushing forward, and thrives on the dreams and ambitions of millions of people – and my body is quite literally telling me to slow down, take time to breathe and relax, and to enjoy life.

Of course, I immediately signed up for another very hilly ride locally in October. I’m hoping to get through my radioactive iodine treatment over the next 2 weeks and get back to building up my cycling strength. I don’t think I’ll see anywhere close to the same stats as last year and I’m making my peace with it. I’ll ride as much as I can and seek out my happy-place as often as possible.

riding by the lake
riding by the lake

See you on the road!

188 & Goal

I’ve been eyeing my trainer warily lately. I’ve been so lucky to not have to hook up my bike to it thus far. My first wish has been to be able to ride outside all year.

But then my other wish came true, and that is for snow. It started last Sunday when I was out mountain biking with my friend Heather. We emerged from the woods into a high meadow and the flakes started to fall. By the time we got to the bottom of a fairly technical descent (rocks and roots and ruts oh my!) it was starting to stick to our tire treads. Powered up another big hill, then back down to the creek.

snoooooooow on the water!
snoooooooow on the water!

 

Now the snow is sticking to everything – so we decide to stick to the main path. Soon the snow is a few inches deep and the men passing us in the other direction are jovially calling us crazy. Winter Storm Warning issued. We decided to head back the five miles to the car. At one point, we had a runner pacing with us at 10 mph in several inches of snow for about a mile, mile and a half. We laughed and joked and had a blast, the snow stinging our cheeks and our breath fogging our glasses.

 

bundled up and ridiculously happy to be biking in the woods
bundled up and ridiculously happy to be biking in the woods

 

A few inches of snow on Sunday.

A few more on Tuesday.

A dusting last night and potential for accumulation on Saturday.

 

I’m so happy about the snow.

I’m so sad to think I’m 188 miles from my goal of 3,000 miles for the year and the weather may be forcing me indoors.

 

I told myself I wouldn’t get into a place where I would stress out about meeting my goal miles for the year. Because every time I’m out on my bike I’m not getting chores done or making cookies with my kids or relaxing with my husband. But here I am – roughly three metric rides away from goal. And I’m stressing.

 

The world won’t end if I hook up my bike to the trainer. I was just hoping I wouldn’t have to.

 

See you on the road, in the woods … or through the window as I pedal to nowhere.

Winter (Temps) Riding

Good morning, dear reader! It has been so long since we last connected – like everyone else, my life has been full of the things that make our lives rich. Busy is an understatement for many of us and I am not immune to over-scheduling and finding no time for blogging.

 

In the past couple weeks I have gone out with my friends on Most-Of-The-Day rides – the ones where you head out on your bike to brunch around 9 and don’t get back until around 4. The goal is to hit 50-60 miles per trip for two selfish reasons: we are all very close to our cycling mile goals for the year and to keep our base miles up for spring. It’s getting more difficult to be motivated as autumn takes a final bow and winter starts to creep in.

One of the problems I had last winter was what I refer to fondly as Fish Stick Toes. I was using my summer cycling shoes with toe covers and thick wool socks. For temps 40* – 60*F, this setup is perfect – no issues. But should the temps dip below 40*, even “real feel” temps, within 10 miles my toes were frozen – every time. There is no greater dread than knowing it’s going to be painful to rewarm them so that hot shower you are dreaming about will ultimately be a lukewarm shower that will not be nearly as satisfying. Or that you are riding on frozen fish sticks. I tried everything – stuffing my shoes with plastic bags, doubling up my wool socks. Summer shoes are simply too well ventilated for winter riding.

 

Yes, I realize this is a DUH. But I was really stubborn about making my existing gear work instead of spending more money on specialty items. Especially winter shoes/boots – at $200+, I don’t know if I ride enough in low temps to make it worth the expenditure. But as we all know, there isn’t any bad weather – just poor gear choices.

Last spring I picked up a pair of Shimano Winter Cycling Shoes when they were on sale ($150). I decided to get 2 sizes larger than my summer shoes to be able to wear thick wool socks without constriction. The fit is good – I can easily layer my Woolie Boolies with a base layer sock without feeling constricted. And since it was late enough in the spring, I never got a chance to try them out.

 

A couple of weekends ago my friends and I decided to bike to brunch in New Jersey. It’s a 60 mile round trip and the temps were going to be mid-30s to mid-40s. Totes doable! Dressing for the 30s is not the same as dressing for the 40s so I tried a new layering plan that worked out well except for my toes. Frozen in the morning when it was in the 30s; totally fine in the afternoon when it was in the 40s.

 

Welcome to winter riding – where layers are king and somehow you don’t feel as strong or fast.

 

When we decided to bike to lunch yesterday, I knew it would be the perfect opportunity to try my winter shoes. The day started with temps in the high-20s and wasn’t expected to get much above the mid-30s. My friend Heather and I had gone mountain biking on Friday and my layering was perfect for the mid-30s in the woods: Smart Wool shorts; Under Armour 2.0 Base (top and bottom), Pearl Izumi Elite Thermal Tights (no chamois), Twin Six Woolie, Novara shoft-shell jacket; Sugoi thermal buffPearl Izumi full-finger gloves. I figured a more windproof external layer for the road and I’d be toasty warm. So I swapped my Novara jacket for my Bellwether jacket (more windproof) and brought along my winter cycling gloves for when it was too cold for my non-insulated gloves.

Definitely a layering win – my toes were only starting to feel cold when we rolled up to the restaurant after 22 miles and felt great the whole way home when the temps were “warmer”. Core stayed mostly cooler on the flats and descents, toasty on hills. Thermal tube pulled up over my mouth to keep my cheeks warm when needed. Overall a great ride for a hot lunch (with hot cocoa and whipped cream too).

 

What I didn’t anticipate is how heavy the winter shoes are. Every pedal stroke worked my legs differently than my lightweight summer shoes. While I most certainly hadn’t depleted my muscles on the 50 mile ride, my legs were tired. Hills were significantly more work. I felt incredibly slow and frustrated at my (perceived) inability to keep up with the guys. I felt wiped out by the end of the ride – but as soon as I stopped pedaling, my legs were clearly nowhere near obliterated. Even this morning, there is no stiffness or soreness. Clearly did not work as hard as I thought.

I suspect the heavier shoes working my muscles differently contributed to my feeling of less power, although I certainly liked not having fish sticks for toes. Definitely worth the trade-off – and I should adjust my expectations for my abilities on cold rides. I’m hoping I will adjust to the different feel of my winter shoes as the season goes on.

 

See you on the road or in the woods!

Singletrack Obsession

Friends, I am going through some serious mountain biking withdrawal.

 

It’s bad.

(Not quite this bad but still pretty bad)

You may recall my continued allegiance to Felt Bicycles and when I saw the Felt Nine Sport 29er, one of the Best Buys for Under $1000, for a very reasonable non-stolen sum in my size I jumped. A few weeks later I took him down to my friend Heather’s house and we pedaled over to the local park to get some easier/beginner singletrack under my belt.

Michaelangelo
Michaelangelo

(This bike is a dude’s bike and the orange made me think of Michaelangelo, the Ninja Turtle. So for now, the bike has been dubbed Michaelangelo)

 

Whoomp. Whoomp. Whoomp.

I rode on the flat pedals with trail running shoes, which were stable but slightly off-center. We rode around the twisty wooded trail, just two girls out on their bikes. It was awesome. I was able to roll over some obstacles I wasn’t sure I could. We rolled over a small bridge, through a stream, and up and down the hillside. Sunlight was fading so we headed back.

trail companion
trail companion
yup, we're going up!
yup, we’re going up!

 

Whoomp. Whoomp. Whoomp.

Is there anything more satisfyingly hilarious than mountain bike wheels on the road?

 

Anyway, the next weekend we hit the trails again. This time I opted for some commuter boots, thinking because I didn’t have cleats on them they would bee better on the platforms. Wrong. My feet slid all over (and off) the pedals as I navigated the rocky, rooty terrain. I even walked down a hill because I could not be certain I wouldn’t crash when my feet wouldn’t stay on the pedals. We didn’t stay out as long and despite the poor shoe choice on my part, I had fun.

Having fun on the trail
Having fun on the trail

It’s time to throw on the clipless pedals and cleats. Who ever would have thought I would feel better being attached to my bike?

So Heather lent me her Egg Beaters. I can’t wait to try them.

 

This past week I was off work on Friday and my friend Heather also happened to be available so we made plans to ride mid-morning. Unfortunately Mother Nature had other plans, ones that included vicious wind, torrential rain, and generally unpleasant weather. We decided against muddy trail riding (protect the trails folks!) even though the weather eventually cleared and warmed up to a beautiful day.

 

What is it about mountain biking? There’s something most excellent about getting away from the roads, the people, cars and responsibilities and experiencing nature, quiet, and peacefulness. The crunch of leaves under your tire. The bushes brushing against your legs. Noodling through twisty trails between trees, over fallen logs, and staying upright through a shifty rocky rooty area.

 

In a fast-paced world, we all need a place to get away from it all. For me it’s on my bike – and even more so on my bike, in the woods.

 

See you on the road (or trails)!

 

The Power of Spinning

Since the first time I started bike commuting, I have desired to hold the Strava QOM on a particular three-successive-hills segment near my neighborhood. Not quite a mile, the road pitches steeply under the freeway, levels out with a small downhill while passing the cemetery, and then pitches up to a stop sign before a very short leveling and final slog to the top.

(The segment linked is a little over half a mile but skips the first 2/10ths of a mile from the stoplight – the full road is here)

Last winter my commuting friend and I were out on a fun ride and decided to try to QOM it. I was doing lots of Big Ring riding whenever I wanted to go fast – so I pushed as hard as I could, him leading the way pulling me up the hill. I achieved the QOM at a whopping 13.9 mph average. It felt awesome.

Anytime I tried to get that last tenth-of-a-mile-per-hour, I fell short. 13mph. 13.5mph. 11mph. Every time the segment would kick my butt. I’d stay in the highest gears I could until I couldn’t hang any longer.

 

Forward to this summer. After the supremely hilly Lake Nockamixon Century and a conversation about spinning versus mashing high gears, I decided to try spinning more seriously. The Little Ring Challenge, I deemed it. And I started staying in my small ring as much as possible for entire rides.

 

Spinning feels weird if you aren’t used to it. I had a fairly high cadence (75-80) naturally but most cycling publications will mention a “90-100 rpm” threshold for spinning. Spending time furiously pedaling can feel counter-intuitive at first. But then the body adapts and spinning feels natural. You’re able to hold higher speeds in smaller gears for longer. And hills (or distance) start to not wear out your legs so much. It’s a beautiful thing.

 

Anyway, I’ve been sticking to my Little Ring Challenge through the Scenic Schuylkill and City to Shore centuries. My overall speed improved and I wasn’t completely dead by the end of the ride. Maybe there’s something to all this.

So the other day I decided to meet my commuter friend downtown for a road ride before we headed back to our neighborhoods. I spun up the familiar Three Hills, thinking they felt great but I probably wasn’t going to best my previous best. We met up, stayed on the west side of the river (and the steep hills that come up from the riverbed) before heading homeward. A little over 40 miles with a little over 3000′ of gain. Sure – just a Saturday Spin.

Turns out I did best my previous PR … I’m now the QOM at 15.1 mph average up those hills.

 

Spinning works my friends. Give it a go sometime.

 

* * * * *

The last few weekends I’ve been going out with my friend on mountain bike rides. We’re heading to gentler trails near her neighborhood and I’m having entirely too much fun. Having to choose Mountain or Road is so tough. I’m loving the quiet of the woods and the varied terrain – some of the singletrack is smooth and/or flat but others are rocky, rooty, or slick with gravel, leaves or mud (but the creek crossing). I’m loving my 29er. There’s a blog post in my brain about off-road cycling that will probably get written soon.

 

See you on the road (or in the woods)!