Appalachian Gravel Growler 2022

bad ass women bikepack the gnarly stuff

Sometime in late November 2021, the idea started to percolate around getting a few women together to head down to North Carolina to ride the Appalachian Gravel Growler (AGG) route off bikepacking.com. Jeannette’s son is going to school in Brevard so it’s a great excuse to go see him over her spring break. Jeannette and I rode together on the XNHAT and she was looking to expand beyond bikepacking overnights and 2-nighters.

For me, the breweries are a means to get others to join in the fun and six of our women friends who are brand new to loaded bikepacking signed on. As a non-beer drinker, I’m just here for the dirt, the views, and the joy of being out in the world on my bike.

This year I signed up for the AIDS/LIFEcycle Ride, supporting SF AIDS Foundation and Los Angeles LGBT Center. I chose to fundraise for this bikepacking trip to support ending the stigma around LGBTQ issues, HIV and AIDS support, and other life-affirming services. If you are interested in donating, please click here!

And true to not always making the best decisions in my life, I was one week into adjusting to a new SNRI for anxiety and scheduled to get an MRI when I got back for GI issues that have plagued me for the past 3 weeks.

Designed to be a sister route to the Green Mountain Gravel Growler in Vermont, the AGG links iconic breweries on scenic dirt backroads that twist up and down the Blue Ridge Mountains. With 207 miles and over 20k feet of elevation gain in remote (i.e., limited or no cell service; limited small-town general store-type resupply and bail-out options compared to other routes; potential need for roadside/backcountry camping), this is not a route I’d ordinarily advise for brand new bikepackers nor early season riding … but our friends are strong of mind, body, and spirit. With that, we set out for an epic adventure, starting with an 11-hour drive from New York to North Carolina.


The Crew

You’re never too old to try something new.

  • Alta, mid-50s
  • Erin, low-40s
  • Jeannette, mid-50s
  • Kate, mid-60s
  • Laura (me!), mid-40s
  • Lisa, mid-50s
  • Mary, low-60s
  • Megan, high-30s

DAY 1: The Hottest Day

Rolling out under clear blue skies and mild temps (a welcome respite from the freezing cold and random snow and rain squalls we’ve had in New York), the mood is jovial. “You guys, I can’t believe we’re actually doing this!!” is regularly exclaimed as we make our way along the quiet river bike path and out of Morganton.

  • Loose Dogs are a thing in North Carolina
  • More exposure than expected on the backroads. It’s still early spring so not as much leaf cover to protect us from the blazing sun
  • But the scenery is lovely and distracts us from the climbing
  • Watching a local walk back down the road with a busted derailleur (yikes!)
  • more climbing
  • Lunch in the shade on a pull-out. A few locals stopped to chat while we ate
  • even more climbing
  • refilling water bottles from a stream (thanks Trailshot!) and dunking our heads in a waterfall to cool off
  • still more climbing
  • finally, consistent downhill!
  • Betsey’s Olde Country Store was closed when we rolled up just before 5pm- but we found someone who let us refill bottles and use the bathrooms at the campground behind the store
  • Deciding to stay at Mortimer Campground instead of continuing on because of impending overnight rain (around an inch of rain expected). The campground host let us use the picnic shelter for our bikes and meal prep; we pitched our tents a short walk away on Site 2. We put our food bags up in the rafters of the shelter as the campground is near a bear sanctuary
  • Falling asleep to the gentle sound of drops on the rainfly

DAY 2: THE COLDEST DAY

The steady sounds of the rain continued into the chilly morning, making it mentally hard to want to leave my warm, dry sleeping bag in my tent. But because we stopped early last night and the rain wasn’t expected to stop until early afternoon, we had more than a few miles to make up today.

  • Using the picnic shelter to make breakfast, plan the day, and repack everything up
  • Forgetting to pack a belt for my ill-fitting rain pants
  • nearly 10 miles of climbing on a noodling dirt road right out of the gate
  • passing the roadside camping and being thankful we had a shelter to use this morning
  • Warming up with coffee and pizza at the Linville General Store for lunch
  • Deciding to descend on the pavement instead of taking the dirt road and powerline cut to make up time
  • Passing where we would have come out on the powerline cut and being thankful we made up time
  • The sun is coming out and we’re shedding our rain layers when we roll into Woodlawn and decide to ride the next dirt section
  • Suprise double and singletrack
  • Rolling up to Hillman Brewery for burgers and beverages just after sunset
  • Finding two guys with a truck to give us and our bikes a lift to our campsite for the night
  • Setting up and figuring out where the bathrooms and water pump are in the dark. We use the bearproof trash cans as a bearproof locker for our food.
  • throwing extra layers in our sleeping bags because it’s expected to get down near freezing overnight

DAY 3: THE HARDEST DAY

A cold, crisp sun greets us on the third morning and we’re a little slower-going. Today is the biggest climbing day and our legs are already feeling the subtle stiffness of the previous three days. Today is expected to be a few degrees warmer and sunnier, and we are optimistic to get to Craggy Gardens for lunch.

  • Climbing 2,200′ in 6 miles is B O N K E R S
  • Peeks of the Blue Mountains between the trees are lovely
  • shedding layers quickly
  • Turning onto the Blue Ridge Parkway and knowing we still have 2 more miles to ascend around 800′ (but at least it’s paved)
  • SO WINDY but mercifully partly sunny. Icicles are dripping on the protected northern rock outcroppings.
  • Stopping for lunch at an overlook in a sort-of protected place from the wind
  • 2 mi descent is over before it feels real, then back to climbing for the next 6.5 mi
  • Another 2.5 mi descent that goes by too quickly, then the final 2 mi ascent to Craggy Gardens
  • It’s so cold and windy the tops of the mountains frosted in ice
  • Getting to the Visitor Center 30min before it closes. Warm ourselves by the fire, buy water for our bottles, and put on every layer of warm winter clothing we have for the 13mi descent.
  • Dodging falling ice from the rock outcroppings as the sun warms and melts the base
  • Rolling through Asheville’s cute downtown and onto the beautiful bike path
  • Arriving at our AirBnb for the night and celebrating with showers and well-deserved beverages

DAY 4: THE LAYOVER DAY

We enjoy a leisurely morning with ample electricity, hot water, and four walls around us at night. Jeannette’s son had dropped off groceries the day before so we enjoy coffee and cook breakfast in the kitchen. Two of Kate’s local friends arrived and took us downtown for a day of wandering around.

Splitting up, my group and I decided to eat lunch at Early Girl (Mark was an excellent server) and then make our way over to Wicked Weed. More wandering and a Hemp Fest stop, our group split up and I headed back to the AirBnb with Lisa while Erin, Megan, and Jeannette went for a few more beverages at Burial. We grill dinner and relax because our final day is upon us.

DAY 5: THE LAST DAY

Eager to complete our epic early-season journey, everyone is up and ready to go before our 9am wheels-down start time. Let’s do this!


Pro Tips from the Crew

  • “Find yourself the most amazing gnarly girls to share the adventure with!” – Kate
  • “If you get your period, share it!” – Erin

FINAL THOUGHTS

  • Be mindful of group size. While it was amazing and fun to spend time with so many friends, a group of 8 is pretty big. Megan said it best – “it’s gonna be like herding cats.” We strung out and regrouped without too many issues.
  • Prepare for the trip. While it’s generally going to be OK to show up for a group ride without looking at the route or doing much planning – that can be a big issue in bikepacking. We had several Zoom meetings to talk about logistics, the routes, packing, gear, food, and expectations.
  • Use a Navigation Device to stay on course. Make sure everyone who isn’t running the route on a bike navigation device or phone is with someone who is. That being said, the investment of a bike navigation device like a Garmin or Wahoo is worth it if you are looking to do more bikepacking with camping. Running Ride with GPS on phones was not as accurate and ate through batteries
  • Secure your load. Thankfully we recovered everything that found it’s way off someone’s bag or rack. Periodically check your straps to make sure everything is secure, especially when heading into the singletrack.
  • Align on expectations and priorities. It’s never fun to be the person who’s priority is different that everyone else’s – whether it’s choosing more dirt vs making up time on pavement or going to the brewery before or after getting out of your chamois.
  • Everyone finished safely. Which was really my biggest fear and goal for the trip given the number of people who had not done a fully loaded overnight, much less one with this much climbing and gear for camping. I am confident this trip worked well because everyone is a very strong rider and has some level of experience with gravel and mountain biking and backpacking. We communicated well, looked out for each other, and had a blast spending 5 days together exploring the textures of western North Carolina.

See you out there!

Hashtag Goals

FINALLY, my 2022 Bike Goal has come to me

I started riding bikes as an adult in 2011 and back then, I didn’t really have many goals other than to be out longer, get stronger, and have fun.

Then I did a 50 mi recreational fondo with a girlfriend and started to crave more.

  • Maybe try bike commuting (I did).
  • Maybe try a supported bike tour (I did).
  • Maybe ride a century in February with only 3 rides of decidedly significantly less distance than that as “training” (I did).
  • OMG mountain biking is so much fun, let’s keep doing that (I do).

Then came the era of Karen and I’s Working Mom Reverse Trash Talk Cycling Challenge to see who could ride more miles in a year. That first year, I won a bag of her company’s best coffee, Off The Chain. She then proceeded to STOMP me every year thereafter.

  • Let’s try bikepacking (I did).
  • Let’s try a cyclocross “race” (I did and still love going to Ice Weasels)
  • Let’s try a three-day, 320 mile bikepacking trip with two guys I know from the internet after not doing a century, much less three back to back to back, in at least 5 years (I did).
  • Let’s see if I can average 100 feet of climbing per mile ridden for an entire year (I got very close – somewhere around 99 feet per mile average).
  • Let’s spend a year focused on bikepacking (last year was so rad).

But even when I was unemployed for 18 months, I never logged more than 3k miles in a year. That banner milage year was 2013 when I was bike commuting 2-3 times per week in addition to riding as many weekend days as I could. Bike commuting was an easy 30 miles round trip each day I rode – so the miles piled up without taking significantly more time from being with my family or working.

This year’s bike goal is to log 3,075 miles.

Why 3,075? Because in 2013, I rode 3,073 miles. Five of the rides were centuries. Close to a thousand miles from April-October were just commuting.

The only rule will be Free Range Miles only.

That means no indoor trainers, no Peloton, no stationary bike, no Zwift, no Trainer Road, etc. Not that I do that anyway but still.

Seeing as I’ve only logged 43 miles in the first 17 days of the year, I’m already behind pace by 100 miles. I need to ride 60 miles per week all year to achieve the goal.

But I’m not too worried … longer days mean warmer days and more opportunities to ride. I might need to get creative to overcome winter’s deficit. But I’m prepared to do the work. Plus, gravel is great even when it’s chilly out – so a 30mi ride twice a week isn’t crazy talk.

Other plans for 2022:

  • Toad Strangler (Chatham, NY)
  • Great North (Cambridge, NY)
  • Appalachian Gravel Growler (Morganton, NC – Brevard, NC)
  • Girls+Matt Bike Camping Weekend (somewhere in New Hampshire)
  • Girls+Matt KT MTB Weekend (East Burke, VT)
  • Hiking Mount Washington with my girlfriends
  • XNHAT + Cross Vermont Trail bikepacking (Bethel, ME to Burlington, VT)

Tune in later this year to see how this goes! See you out there!

What’s Next for 2022?

dream big

who knows.

Seriously.

2021 clearly became the Year of Bikepacking. Including overnights, I jammed 7 bikepacking trips in 5 months. Bonkers! It was incredibly rewarding and I learned a lot, which has streamlined my Go Kit and made it super easy to say YES to adventure (especially snack adventures).

But now that I’m in the chillax portion of the Bike Year, where I don’t feel like I need to “train” for “that big ride I want to do” anymore and I can just go sloth around in the woods on my fat bike, grinning like a kid.

My brain is always running around in the clouds though, dreaming of my next adventure. I’m pretty terrible at remembering things I haven’t written down (usually literally – in a notebook, on a post-it note, or as a Calendar event) here’s what I’m thinking about for 2022:

THE PLAN SO FAR

What else is on my brain?

More to come …

Coffee, Pie, and Body Image

the struggle is real

“Bring enough supplies for a non-stop ride.”

OK, roadside rest stop it is!

“If you really want to make this a roadside rest stop, we could bring our foldable chairs, coffee, and apple pie.”

this sounds amazing – let’s do it!!

text exchange with my ride partner

I love doing wacky things. The fall riding season is upon us, with cooler days and vibrant displays of color bursting forth along quiet dirt roads. I was very excited when my friend suggested we bring chairs and have a proper break to enjoy some coffee and pie mid-ride.

A few weeks removed from my Green Mountain Gravel Growler trip, I’m still feeling strong with some twinges in one of my knees. So I wore a compression brace for the hilly route and took it easy on the hills to minimize stress through my knees.

We found a gravel pull-out and set up our coffee and pie relaxation station. The pull-out is mid-way up a climb on a forest-lined dirt road … protected from the wind but with the soothing views of nature. Not long after we set up, a friend came riding down the road. He stopped to talk to us, snapped a photo of us, and then continued on. Apparently there was a gravel event doing a similar route in the opposite direction so soon we were seeing all kinds of riders fly by while we enjoyed our coffee and pie. Lots of quizzical looks and smiles as they figured out what we were doing.

Coffee & Pie Stop in the middle of nowhere

We finished the ride a few hours later, feeling really happy with how the ride played out.

I got home and started uploading photos to various social media sites to share the joy of doing something unexpected on a routine ride. That’s when I noticed how unflattering the Coffee and Pie stop photos looked.

The photo on the left is how I feel – fit, strong, sturdy, capable of amazing things.

The photo on the right reminds me that I’ve put on weight since I started taking anti-anxiety medication. After losing nearly 30 pounds in 2 years, watching 15 pounds appear within 6 months of starting medication that helps reduce the anxious electricity that courses through my body 24/7 is … hard.

It doesn’t help that I’ve fallen off the calorie tracking wagon and given myself a bit of grace lately when it comes to food. Especially since tracking wasn’t helping to lose weight anymore, just barely maintain the added pounds. The mental payoff is definitely greater than the physical impacts. I’ve tried tapering off the meds and do not enjoy the pervasive electric buzz of anxiety that creeps back into my life. I appreciate feeling like myself, but with a clearer grasp of reality that isn’t clouded by excessive anxious energy.

My annual physical proves my activities pay off – all my bloodwork comes back great. My BMI is 27, which is overweight, but my doctor feels that is offset by my other positive factors. My home scale roughly calculates fat to muscle (29% fat and 28% muscle) – which is within the acceptable range of body fat percentage for a woman in her mid-forties.

We have only one life – I don’t want to create more stress than necessary. But I would like to see how I feel about myself reflected in photographs.

We’re heading into the off season, where rides will be shorter; less intense. Maybe this is the time to recommit myself to maintaining a healthy nutrition plan with a bit more exercise during the week. Finding that balance of family, work, personal pursuits, and healthy body image.

Thanks for reading!

Green Mountain Gravel Growler 2021: Girls Adventure Edition

we’re only here for the dirt

Prologue

For the past year, I have tossed around last year’s GMGG ride over and over in my head. What I would do differently, how would I feel at certain parts, and ultimately … could I finish the route successfully? Reading so many other ordinary riders complete the route only deepened my self-imposed shame over not having finished the ride last year.

This year’s goal, while not overtly stated, has been Improving Bikepacking Skills. Starting with an impromptu local overnight in April, I worked in several bikepacking overnights and an early-season 110 mile ride to get pizza for lunch. I used these trips to dial in nutrition strategy, and noticed I tend to not eat as much when I’m climbing a lot. That’s an easy fix – stop occasionally to eat and let your body process for a few minutes before moving on!

Curt is always up for adventure, which makes it very easy to dial in planning and develop a Go Kit. The Go Kit has been key, as I have everything I need in one location and have two sets of packing lists based on if there is camping or lodging (or both) involved. I can then focus on picking multi-purpose items to minimize weight and maximize comfort and safety. This helps minimize panic-packing.

This year my friend Jessica flew out from Colorado to do the trip with me. She had never been to Vermont before but knew THIS was the route for her. After talking about camping, we decided to make packing simple and book lodging. It also helped with dialing in her flight, as we could pick dates without having to worry about weather for camping. I shared my planning spreadsheet with her so we could have a central “source of truth” for notes and such. It’s also handy to share with loved ones back home so they have an itinerary of where you should be each day and an estimated route.

Even better, neither of us drinks beer so the ride became less about stopping at iconic Vermont breweries and more about experiencing the best Vermont dirt.

Monday was our travel day – I picked Jess up at the Burlington Airport, got dinner, and settled in for the night. Weather for the week was mid-70s, mostly sunny, with potential for rain and cooler temps mid-trip.

DAY ONE: Burlington to Stowe

The hardest part of this day is honestly getting out of Burlington. The urban flavor for the first few miles is mentally stressful due to the volume of cars – but once we were on the backroads, we could relax and settle into an all-day cadence and talk. Our first detour of the trip took us back onto a busy road with construction for a mile or so.

This was also the beginning of many, many “WOW!!!”moments emanating from Jess. She’s a seasoned traveler, going on multi-week trips with her husband and daughter to snowboard, ski, mountain bike, camp, and hike … but Vermont was a whole new world of lush greenery. The leaves are just starting to change and it was such an honor to be part of these first experiences of the Northeast. I couldn’t help but smile and laugh with every “WHOA,” and “LOOK AT THAT RED,” “WE’RE GOING INTO A TREE TUNNEL,” and “WOW!!!!!”

We arrived at Stone Coral well before they opened so we decided to eat lunch in Waterbury. We knew Prohibition Pig wouldn’t be open either, but we were confident we’d find a market or deli. The roads to Waterbury are flat to trending down, which paired with the winds was delicious. Lunch at Subway on the far side of town (four chickens joined us at the patio table) and then onward to the hills.

Hills are different depending on where you live in the country. Jess was coming from Colorado and had trained by riding up and down the steepest hills in her area as often as possible. But Colorado also believes in switchbacks while roadbuilders in the Northeast tend to just have the road go UP. Maybe you get an S-curve near the steepest part. So we adopted a strategy of Slow & Low & Breaks – slow speed, low gear, and taking breaks as needed. This allowed us to conserve energy that we knew we’d need for more than just today.

We paused at the top of Stowe Hollow and a local out on an afternoon ride stopped to chat with us. We dropped down to VT-100 and opted to skip the hill up to Von Trapp Family Lodge, cutting a few miles of significant elevation but getting us into Stowe in high spirits. Got cleaned up at the Stowe Inn before walking over to Ranch Camp for burritos on the patio.

DAY TWO: Stowe to Hardwick

The morning air was vaguely humid with ominous clouds surrounding us as we pedaled up the road to breakfast at Stowe Bee Bakery. A stiff breeze welcomed us head-on, much to our amusement. We sat on the patio with lattes and scones and breakfast sandwiches made with biscuits (the ONLY way a breakfast sandwich should be made, IMO) and talked about the route for the day. We knew we had big hills to tackle early on and agreed yesterday’s Slow & Low strategy would be good for today as well. It’s 9am and we’re already sweating just sitting outside.

We got to Morristown too early to have lunch at Lost Nation, so we popped into town to take a break and get more water and snacks at a gas station before heading back out into the hills. We decided to get lunch in Craftsbury, a short detour off the main route. The further east we pedal, the higher in elevation we are and the more foliage surrounds us. The colors pop against the cloudy skies and it starts to sprinkle as we roll into Craftsbury. We stop at the Village Store for sandwiches, enjoying them on their covered patio. Jess gets a maple cree-mee, a Vermont specialty.

Since we aren’t beer consumers and with weather to the east looking decidedly wet, we decide to skip the hills out to Hill Farmstead and follow the dirt hills more directly to Hardwick. We found a lovely road that rejoins the original route just in time for the epic descent into Hardwick. We roll up to the Inn by the River and are greeted by Frieda (she recommended we call next time to take advantage of direct-booking discounts). She also allowed us to keep our bikes in the locked office overnight.

A short walk into town for dinner at the Village Restaurant and then back to relax by the river to soak in the day.

DAY THREE: HARDWICK to WAITSFIELD

Hands down the hardest but my all time favorite day of the route.

We got breakfast to-go from Connie’s Kitchen (yes, I got pancakes) that we enjoyed in the shade by the river before kitting up and heading out to Hardwick Market for extra water and snacks.

Buffalo Mountain Road was in surpringly great shape and we were able to ride the steepest parts before hopping off for a bit to walk where it was much chunkier. Riders who prefer to not hike-a-bike will not love this 12 mile section of the route, but we had a blast. It’s truly the gem of the route and a road that should be savored, not skipped.

We rolled into Montpelier for lunch at 2pm, enjoying the low-key energy of late lunch on the patio at Three Penny Taproom. Looking at the route, we decided to skip Hill Rd in favor of the more moderate climb up Northfield Rd. Unfortunately, this also put us on a very busy Northfield Rd that wandered along the river with a tiny shoulder. Jess wasn’t psyched about East Coast drivers and how little psychological safety is afforded cyclists so we pulled over to figure out options.

For reasons unclear to me, my RideWithGPS app wasn’t functioning correctly for my off-line route and I couldn’t zoom in to where we were to see options. My Garmin was telling me we had a right turn in about 2 miles, but we weren’t sure if that was trying to reroute us back to Montpelier or get us back on-route. But we did know if we turned left, we’d be able to get back on -route on a quiet dirt road.

Rowell Hill Rd is a 1 mile dirt connector street that averages 11%+. We laughed as we pushed our loaded bikes up the steep s-curves, taking breaks along the way to catch our breath and keep going. We agreed we probably should have just taken Hill Rd and stayed on-route. Once we got to the top, we still had the same amount of distance to our next turn …. which was the same road from before we pushed up this monster hill. We laughed pretty hard about this as we enjoyed the descent on the backroad.

Arriving at Northfield Falls, we opted to turn right onto Cox Brook Rd instead of continuing south on the main route. The official route was recently updated to remove the Waitsfield Gap, which is technically a class 4 road, due to erosion and private land rights – rerouting riders from the south back up to the Moretown Gap. It’s already late in the day, we’re tired, and there isn’t a reason to add the additional southern miles so we head up the Moretown Gap, which was a very pleasant ride along the river.

VT-100b was also very busy so we popped onto Pony Farm Rd and were rewarded with quiet, rolling hills on dirt. We chatted with a woman walking her dog at the top of a hill while refueling. The skies have cleared and the wind is still ever-present, but the sun is shining for golden hour. We roll into Mad Taco for to-go dinner before setting in at the Waitsfield Inn for the night. Vickie and Jon were phenomenal hosts, providing us with access to their shed for our bikes, ice for my knee, and a clean, comfortable room.

DAY FOUR: WAITSFIELD TO BRISTOL

The Lincoln Gap Day. The day that broke me last year. So much trepidation and anxiety was about to culminate. Would the Gap break me again?

Although if I’m being fair and honest with myself, a lot of things contributed to last year’s failure. Mostly not being fully recovered from surgery, wonky digestion, not eating enough throughout the days leading up to day four, and pushing an overloaded bike with 2.2″ tires as hard and fast as I could to keep up with Curt. That’s not on him in any way – we all have to ride hills at our own pace and I needed to be more proactive and protective of my energy levels.

The weather reports had been changing every day and settled in on 100% chance of rain with up to an inch of precipitation depending on where one was in the state for the day. We woke up to pouring rain, already well over half-inch already fallen overnight. We tucked ourselves into a separate dining room, drinking coffee and eating breakfast (oatmeal, scrambled eggs with cheddar and chives, and toast with jam and butter) and talking about the day’s strategy. Temps in the upper-50s/lower-60s meant pulling out the wind vest for the morning.

The rain abated by the time we rolled out, around 10am. Peanut butter roads greeted us and we conserved energy by soft-pedaling up the hills. There was a much bigger fish to fry today. Descents were soft and littered with wet leaves, requiring focus and a lot of braking. We dropped into Warren and stopped at the Library for water and quick bathroom break.

Our legs slightly stiff from the previous three days of riding meant gentle pedaling up the first 2.5 miles of Lincoln Gap Rd. We stopped for photos and talked to an elderly local who told us “it gets steep up there” and “most bike riders push their bikes.” We wished him a great rest of his day and pedaled onward.

Jess managed to pedal a bit further into the steep part than I did, but in the end we both pushed our bikes up to the top, taking breaks for a few moments along the way. Amazing what a significantly lighter bike and a much cooler day will do for stamina! It was very windy at the top and we pulled out our arm warmers while we ate a snack and took photos at the top. It was such a 180 from how I felt at the top last year. We descended carefully as the dirt was still peanut buttery and leafy. As we turned south, the sun came out and the dirt was drier.

We decided to skip the last climb and take the dirt road descent directly into Ripton. The Ripton Market didn’t have sandwiches so we swooped down VT-125 into East Middlebury, rolling into Otter East Bakery & Deli 13 minutes before they closed for the day. We got our sandwiches and sat under the deli’s apple trees to enjoy a well-deserved lunch.

The rest of the day was flat to gently-rolling dirt roads and trails through farmland into Middlebury and then up to Beldens. The 5 miles from Beldens to VT-116 was gorgeous farmland and the backroads up to Bristol were quiet. Got to the Bristol Suites and hauled our bikes up three flights of narrow stairs to our room. Cleaned up, take-out from Bobcat Cafe & Brewery, and slept well after another tough but rewarding day. Hard to believe there’s only one more day left!

DAY FIVE: BRISTOL to BURLINGTON

Take-out breakfast from Bristol Cliffs Cafe (latte, oatmeal with dried fruit and maple syrup) and walked over to the park to enjoy. Last year the park was empty but this year it was bustling with energy as the community was setting up for the Harvest Festival.

We noticed bikes on the back deck of a second floor suite and ended up talking to the group before departing. They were also riding the GMGG, but stopping at all the breweries. I can’t imagine drinking a few times a day and trying to get to the next town – but they couldn’t believe we were just out to enjoy prime Vermont dirt roads. To each their own!

The phrase of the day was “hey look, another hill!” as we pedaled north through farmland. As we crested one early hill, we could see Lake Champlain with the Adirondacks as a backdrop. Stunning!

A few miles and hills later, we rolled up to Monkton Ridge Orchard, a tiny orchard on a side road no more than a quarter mile from a clearly larger and more “professional” apple orchard operation. We stopped for cider donuts and a glass of fresh cider before continuing on.

Jess marveled at how a regular dirt road would turn into these single-lane rustic roads and back on the same “road.” Part of the charm and texture of Vermont dirt!

We stopped for lunch at Folino’s Pizza in Shelburne before the final few miles into Burlington, splitting a large margherita and guzzling lemonade. The Burlington Bike Path has rolling closures so we ended up having to detour. This detour brought us to Lake Champlain Chocolates, which Jess had been hoping to find again before she flew home. The detour was clearly kismet.

Rolling up the Burlington Bike Path along Lake Champlain was a perfect end to our trip.


TOTALS

  • 226 miles
  • 19,305′ of climbing
  • 5 days (just shy of 24 hours total ride time)

THINGS I DID RIGHT

  • Focus on FUN. Having done the route before, I knew what to expect and could offer options when we had opportunities to make adjustments. As cool as it would be to show Jess the Von Trapp Lodge, the dirt climb to get there is soul-sucking. Better to get burritos and have something to look forward to next time.
  • No need to rush. I am exceptionally proud of my “second fastest time” notes on Strava throughout the routes. I was able to finish strong and with plenty of energy each day.
  • Pack Light. Lodging lightened my load by about 8 pounds, to a total of 16 pounds of gear. Which is still MUCH less than the 30 pounds I hauled around last year.
  • Nutrition. I was constantly eating a bite here and there, a few gummies every few miles. Fueling the ride meant more days feeling stable, solid, and ready for the day. I also focused on carb-centric breakfasts like scones, oatmeal, and pancakes with bananas and eggs to complement.
  • Modifications to the route. We made changes to almost every day, whether to remove unnecessary miles/hills or to get off heavily trafficked roads. All edits were made to maximize the FUN part of the ride – and since we didn’t have a need to get to a brewery for a beer, we were free to check out other local attractions. We took the main route as a set of options and chose the ones we wanted to do.

THINGS I CAN IMPROVE

  • Packing. I brought an entire nano panier of food (probably 5-6 pounds) and came home with 3.5 pounds of untouched food. Psychologically it was a safety net and I always had something to eat – but yeah, can definitely pack lighter there.
  • (I’m sure this will get updated as I think of more things to do better)

Packing List

total gear+supplies weight – 16 pounds
bike weight estimated at 25 pounds

The Bike & The Packs

Salsa Cutthroat GRX600, size 52
modifications: 11-40 cassette
Teravail Rutland 42mm 
Salsa bolt-on framebag
Revelate Designs Pronghorn Harness w/small drybag
Revelate Designs Egress Pocket
Revelate Designs Nano Panniers
Revelate Designs Gas Can
Topeak Explore MTB rack
26oz water bottles, mounted to fork

Attire On the Bike

rinsed out my kit nightly, hung to dry
changed kits after 3 days

Off-Bike Clothing & Gear
  • Showers Pass Syncline CC jacket in leaf green
  • Pactimo thermal arm and knee warmers
  • Pactimo wind vest
  • Extra wool socks
  • Capri leggings, t shirt, softcup bra for off-bike time
  • Shorts, t shirt, old sports bra for sleeping
  • Midweight wool quarter-zip long sleeve for layering
  • toiletries (travel size toothbrush, toothpaste, deodorant, tweezers)
  • Chamois Butt’r travel packets
  • medications sorted into plastic jewelry bags (morning, afternoon, evening)
  • day hike first aid kit
  • wallet pouch with laminated photocopies of my ID, insurance card, and covid-19 vaccination card, cash, and a credit card
Mechanical & Tools
  • extra velcro and voile straps
  • multi-tool, tire levers, CO2 for MTB tires
  • spare tubes
  • spare brake pads
  • spare shifter cable
  • travel size chain lube and shop towels
On-bike Nutrition
  • ClifBars, assorted
  • Skratch Labs gummies (sour cherry is my fave)
  • Skratch Labs hydration, individual packets
  • Untappd Maple Coffee flavored maple syrup packets
  • ClifBlok gummies in Salted Watermelon
  • Spare cookies from the first night’s hotel stay

Muddy Onion Spring Classic 2017

Let’s talk about Vermont, gravel grinding, and the truly great weekend I had with my dear women friends (and Matt) at the Muddy Onion Spring Classic.

I am blessed to have friends who don’t hesitate to text me “Hey, wanna do this ride?” The answer is usually “YES.” So we secured a cheap hotel room and made our plans for a weekend of gravel magic.

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at the starting line, fresh as daisies

The Muddy Onion Spring Classic is a ridiculously fun ride on lightly traveled dirt and gravel roads in north-central Vermont, hosted by Onion River Sports. Starting in the state capitol, Montpelier, the ride has more elevation gain than linear distance which is made abundantly clear over the first 5 miles. Several climbs topped out in the upper-teens for grade percentage.

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gorgeous scenery along quiet dirt roads

The weather couldn’t have been more perfect – mid-to-upper 60s, partly sunny, and fast dirt. Very few sloppy spots on the road made for quick riding.

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still smiling, even though we’re climbing

 

The first rest stop was about 13 miles (and 1500′ of gain)  in and well stocked with chocolate-covered bacon, shots of local maple syrup, pickles, protein bars … and PBR. Water for your bottles was courtesy of the spigot on the side of the house.

It’s like being a kid again, out exploring dirt roads and having a blast.

The second rest stop was 26 miles (and 3200′ of gain) in – more maple syrup shots, more pickles, more chocolate-covered bacon, water from a hose … and fried PB& J sandwiches. We loaded up on electrolytes – only 4 more miles of climbing before the 4 mile descent into town.

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8 miles to go, only 4 more miles of climbing! 

 

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just keep spinning … 

We finished in a little over 4 hours of total time, around 3.25 hours of actual riding time, and 3900′ of climbing over 35 miles. Partook of the post-ride BBQ (veggie burgers or grilled chicken; potato chips; local craft beer, soda, and seltzer) before riding our bikes back up the hill to the hotel to get cleaned up.

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Grabbed a coffee at Capitol Grounds Cafe and then a case of local craft beer at the state store before heading home.

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If you enjoy riding bikes with really cool people, along quiet dirt roads with spectacular views, and you don’t mind a little climbing along the way … the Muddy Onion is a great choice for a challenging event!

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See you on the road!

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.

 

 

Adventure by Bike

In January, after over 5500 miles, I decided to sell my beloved Felt ZW5 and get a new bike. It wasn’t because I disliked the bike – I still loved it more than anything. As I entered into my fourth year of riding bikes with my friends, I realized I wanted to simplify as much as I could. Find the Swiss Army Knife of a bike that would allow me to keep up on group rides but also handle non-paved adventures that I tended to take my old bike on. Something that would still feel as good at mile 80 as it did at mile 5. Something that wasn’t carbon fiber – I wanted something sturdy and real.

So I started looking at steel touring bikes and found it’s somewhat difficult to find them in my size and ready to test ride. I tested a Trek 520, which was stable and light but lacked the “let’s go have fun today” zip I was looking for. I tested a Salsa Vaya, which also was stable but not quite FUN. I wanted to test the All City Space Horse but the nearest shop that stocked All City bikes was 90min away.

I get it … niche market and all.

I talked to the guys at the local chain bike shop and after lots of conversation they gave me an excellent recommendation (Raleigh Tamland 2) – in my pricepoint, steel, wide range cassette, accepted wider tires – but no way to test ride the bike. I wasn’t sure I wanted to put down a huge deposit on a bike that I wasn’t sure I wanted.

I also talked to the guys over at the local independent shop and looked at a lot of “adventure bikes” with them, including the new series from Niner. We talked extensively about the types of bike I was trying to find. I really liked the Salsa Vaya but it wasn’t zippy. I need a bike with spunk.

Enter the Salsa Colossal Ti. Everything I wanted – real metal frame, wider range cassette, disc brakes, Ultegra components, takes a tire wide enough for gravel to not feel super sketch. Definitely more than I budgeted – but I rationalized it with how amazing this bike was going to be in my mind because I couldn’t test ride it. The shop owner said he test rode one and it was Next Level riding. My bicycle friends all said the same – if you can swing the Ti, DO IT. You won’t regret it.

So I took their word for it and put down my entire bike budget as a deposit.

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meet Sia

I’m here to tell you this bike is the real deal.

When the Salsa marketing materials said “Works with you, not against you, when you are 45 miles from home” – they meant it. I had no idea my previous bikes – all of them – were actively conspiring against me – but they were. How many times have I felt like the bike was not moving forward and my legs screaming in a lactic acid bath?

Put a little more push into the pedals and the bike says YES PLEASE. The energy transfer is amazing. If you have gas in the tank, the bike is totally on board to keep going. Having a 30 (and 32 tooth) sprocket in the back has revolutionized my hill climbing – I was finally able to get up the local 100′-in-2/10-miles hill without walking. This bike eats up road noise like it’s candy – a silky smooth ride no matter what the conditions. The Ultegra groupset is crisp and quiet in its shifting. And the bike is so light – about as light as my carbon fiber bike was – but feels stable and sturdy. Indestructible.

If you have the means, I highly recommend titanium.

ItIsSoChoice

So my friend Karen and I are planning a bikepacking trip at the end of May and we did a mostly-loaded ride of the route into camp and then back to our cars. Even fully loaded the bike felt stable, nimble, and still climbed and descended with ease – even on a 3 mile 5% average climb up a mountain or a 16% grade down a loose, rocky abandoned road we navigated. All with minimal rider fatigue.

I swapped the stock Schwalbe One tires for Vittoria Cross XN Pro for this trip and had zero issues when we ducked off the pavement and onto grassy, mossy, overgrown rocky paths. Except for the rocks – let’s just say mountain biking in the 80s pre-suspension suuuuucked.

I also swapped the stock WTB Silverado Race saddle for a white Terry Butterfly Ti. Some of us need a wider saddle to keep downtown happy.

Side note: when riding around with camping gear loaded on the bike, it looks like you are on an epic adventure. Even if it’s just a dry run to shake out the kinks. It just FEELS cool to glide down the road, loaded up, enjoying sunshine, fresh air, and friendship.

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one of the abandoned roads led us here

Take-aways here:

  1. Show some love to your local independent bike shop (what’s up Yorktown Cycles!)
  2. Be honest about what you want from a bike and take the time to learn what you want
  3. Adventuring by bike – especially with friends – is where the magic happens

See you on the road!

Be a Better Leader Through Mountain Biking

I’ve been thinking a lot about mountain biking and how it relates to leadership – or at least getting shit done at work. And it’s surprisingly a great metaphor –

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while totally bad ass, mountain biking isn’t only jumping off rocks

(photo from here)

Have confidence. Confidence in yourself, your bike (team), and your ability to learn along the way.

You have to trust that your bike (team) wants to stay upright (not mess up). It doesn’t want to go horizontal – it wants to keep moving forward.

You have to be open to trying new things, learning when to push yourself and when to dial it back, hop off and walk.

Mountain biking (and leadership) is about picking your line and adjusting on the fly. Look where you want to go, not at the obstacles in front of you. If you are convinced the obstacle right in front of you is the issue, you can be sure there is a much bigger or gnarlier obstacle just beyond it.

It’s about overcoming those obstacles using a variety of methods. On the bike there’s momentum, bunny-hopping, or shifting weight to maneuver over obstacles in the path. Momentum is almost always your friend. As a leader there’s momentum but also pivoting, keeping everyone focused, and moving forward.

Learn to be ok with totally wiping out/making a mistake. You aren’t going to always pick the right line, your wheel might get caught on a rock, you might get tossed off your bike into a puddle of mud. Take a minute to think about how you got there, then pick yourself and your bike back up and keep going.

Mountain biking is hard work but also a lot of fun and incredibly rewarding – as is being a good leader.

How do you see your favorite sport/hobby as a way to improve your professional skills?

See you on the road!

 

New Year, New Possibilities!

Happy New Year, friends!

I am so thankful to see 2015 out the door and welcome a fresh start, one that will include more miles, more smiles, more family and more fun!

2015 ended with my lowest annual miles since I bought a comfort hybrid and started tracking my miles with my favorite fitness tracking app, MapMyRide back in 2011, a slight 1,031.5 miles. Sure, I have lots of excuses like moving twice, a long snowy winter, cancer surgery, radiation, and organizational changes at my employer … and I’m proud that I made it to 1,000 miles. But I’m not satisfied with the downward trend of my annual mileage.

2016 also marks my decision to sell my most favorite road bike, my Felt ZW5, and buy a new bike. This is not a decision that I am taking lightly (I’m selling her to a friend who wants to get into recreational road biking) but is a necessary step to streamline the stable from 5 bikes to 3. I live in a very hilly area now and the reality is my vintage 10-speed cruiser, which beautiful, isn’t going to cut it. And I’ve been trying to unload my mountain-style hybrid for years – might be time to consider donating it.

Laura, what are you replacing your road bike with? 

So glad you asked. I love talking bikes.

I thought really hard about what I love about cycling and what my goals are. A few years ago I might have answered “something light and fast!” because I was used to the plush but heavy ride of a comfort hybrid. And having a carbon recreational road bike has been amazing. I’ve taken that bike on so many adventures, across town and across the region. I’ve gone off-road and on, pedaling away the miles with laughter and friendship.

But the one thing this bike couldn’t be is my Swiss Army Knife of a bike. I have two multi-day bike tours planned and a bikepacking weekend with a friend. I want to be comfortable all day long, stop at mile 75 for ice cream, and keep on truckin’. And my thoughts are along these lines:

  • I love the road-absorbing qualities of my steel Peugeot, so a steel frame is critical.
  • I want lower gears to conquer steeper hills without brutalizing my legs. I live in a hilly area – biking home from the train station is roughly 100 ft/mile in elevation gain. I’m a big fan of spinning but have found my limits on a couple double-digit climbs.
  • And the reality is, I rarely use my very top gears because speed is not a huge factor in my rides. I love long, steady all-day epics with friends or 50-60 mile rides with stops for lunch. (note to self, find some new bikey friends so you can get back on the lunch ride train).
  • I like disc brakes. I also plan to bike to the train station a few times a week now that the bike lockers are available to rent (sent in my check!), and I need stopping power on the epic downhills.
  • I want to run bigger tires. I’ve been taking my carbon roadie on gravel grinders and let’s be real: 25s have no business on gravel. I’d like to run 28s or 32s for commuting and weekend jaunts; 35s or bigger on gravel or predominately off-road adventuring.
  • Fenders and a rack mandatory. Can be aftermarket accessories.
  • I need the complete bike to be about 25 pounds or less. A tall order for a steel bike, but possible. This is significantly heavier than my current road bike – but I’ll take the trade for a buttery-smooth ride and all-day comfort.

And the most important part, all this for $2k or less.

I’ve narrowed my choices down to a few bikes, looking to start test riding soon, in no particular order:

  1. Salsa Vaya X9
  2. All City Space Horse
  3. Surly Straggler or Cross Check
  4. Raleigh Clubman Disc

Feel free to weigh in on your favorite steel adventure bike!

Hoping you have some epic adventures planned for 2016!

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that time I rode my bike to the park below the dam and then rode back up to ride across it. 

Other goals for 2016 (besides a new bike):

  • Ride 3,000+ miles
  • more mountain biking (it makes me so happy)
  • try bikepacking!
  • more multi-day bike tours!
  • find a new biking bestie for epic adventures, one weekend at a time

 

See you on the road!

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