Get back on that horse and ride

So go ahead. Fall down. The world looks different from the ground. ~Oprah Winfrey

Saturday I met up with some friends for a bike ride.  We all have long gravel races coming up: this weekend’s OGRE (150 miles) for Keith and Dave, and May’s Cedar Cross (113 miles) and Dirty Kanza (200 miles) for Chuck and me.  We’d initially discussed riding 80 miles of gravel, but somehow we hit upon riding a trifecta. While considerably shorter in distance (~45 miles), the trifecta’s singletrack portion pretty much guaranteed that we’d get similar saddle time. Thursday night’s ride hadn’t left me particularly confident that I’d bag my first trifecta, but I was willing to give it another try. At worst, I’d bail after the second park like on my last attempt.

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Dave, Keith, and Chuck at Lost Valley

We started with Lost Valley. The trails were in amazing shape, and with the exception of one section where I fell chickening out of something I know I can ride, I had probably my best ride ever there.  My strava file shows all kinds of new personal bests on segments.  Because this is the first trail I ever rode on a mountain bike, every ride there is something of a progress gauge for me. I’ve finally reached the point where, though there are parts I can’t ride yet, nothing terrifies me there anymore, but the biggest mark of progress is that the guys never had to wait for me there.  I was almost always in the back, but I was able to stay pretty close.

Of course we stopped to play on the gate. Here’s Keith on his maiden voyage.

Next on our itinerary was Matson Hill Park, via the Katy Trail and a big climb up Matson Hill Rd.  On my first trifecta attempt, a crash midway through had combined with my aching back to send me home without hitting the final park.  This time Matson had my number even sooner.  Attempting to ride over a big root, instead I plowed into it, went over my handlebars, and landed back on the root.  It really hurt.  The guys came back to help me out and pick up my bike, and Chuck asked me if I wanted to walk for a little bit.  Instead, I gingerly swung my leg over my bike and proceeded to ride very tentatively, walking anything that looked the least bit tricky.

I must’ve banged my rear derailleur in the crash, because my shifting was a mess from there on out and my chain would slip any time I rode up any kind of a hill.  I’d stop and mess with it, ride again, stop and mess with it.  Meanwhile, the guys got further and further ahead.  Which was fine.  I didn’t want them to have to spend the rest of the day waiting on me, my damaged bike, and my missing mojo, and when I caught up I planned to suggest that I just cut the loop short so they could finish their trifecta with a minimum of waiting.

Instead, Chuck rode back to check on me: “I just knew you were back here, being all down on yourself and planning to cut things short,” he told me.  (He knows me so well.) I tried explaining the problem with the bike to him, but instead I started crying.  Embarrassed, I looked away and tried to pull myself together.  “Hey,” he said, “as many times as we’ve raced together, you don’t have to pretend not to cry in front of me! Just tell me what’s wrong.”

And so, in between sniffles, I tried explaining the shifting issues, and he got it to work a little bit better.  He did not, however, let me off the hook for the trifecta.  While I never really got a lot of nerve back and still had mechanical issues any time I rode up much of a hill, I eventually relaxed a little bit.  Coming back on the Hayes trail, a group of guys had stopped to wait for us to pass.  Attempting to ride it with too much lean and too little speed, I toppled over on my side (thankfully, not the hurt side) right in front of them.  I landed in a nice soft grassy patch, laughed, dusted myself off, and rode on.

Because the way out of Matson is all uphill, by the time I got back to the park entrance I was frustrated with the slipping chain and ready to just ride back to my car. Swayed by the idea of lunch at the Augusta Brewery, I figured riding the flat Katy Trail shouldn’t give me too many shifting issues.  Once I’d agreed to go to Augusta, it didn’t take Chuck long to convince me to go ahead and ride some at Klondike (“It’s just one paved uphill and then all downhill!)…I’m such a sheep.

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Lunch was awesome…I wanted  one of everything but settled for pulled pork…and a big pretzel…and a cider…and a soda.

We definitely took our time at lunch.  Dave and Chuck had a pitcher of beer to finish, and I was in no hurry to get back on my bike.  The place was packed, and we ran into some friends who’d ridden over from St. Louis for lunch.  Eventually we couldn’t stall any longer, so we collected our bikes, met up with Keith (who’d been riding mile out-and-backs on the Katy as he waited for us slackers), and headed towards Klondike.

I was really only there to mark the park off my checklist, so while the guys rode ahead I stopped to take a picture of my bike at the trailhead, then soon after stopped and offered to take a picture of a young couple.  Still feeling pretty iffy about my handling and even minimal obstacles, I walked the places that weren’t pretty smooth and then rode up to the first switchback.

I’m not all that skilled on switchbacks, and because the Hogsback trail is built into a semi-steep hillside, there’s a little more cost to overshooting your turn.  I actually cleared the switchback, and then I got nervous and tried to put down my foot.  Unfortunately I opted to do that at a downhill point where my foot couldn’t reach the ground, and I once again went over the side of my bike, landing hard on some rocks.

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Pretty, huh?

At this point I was officially done.  Done riding anything remotely scary, done pushing my comfort zone. I walked a lot of the remainder of the trail, angry with the park and myself and my shattered confidence. Thankfully the ride back to the parking lot was all nice, wide trail, and somehow as tired and done as I was, I still had enough left to out of nowhere ride my second fastest time ever on the Hamburg uphill.  Weird how that works.  At the end of a very tough day for me, I drove home with 47 miles on my bike computer, lots of new bruises, and a sincere appreciation for the patient friends who put up with my tear-stained, very un-super company, even though they could have finished the trifecta much faster in my absence.

I spent Easter day with my family, avoiding big hugs and any movement that required me to use the oblique muscles on my swollen right side. That made for a relaxing day, and I very much enjoyed sitting around in the beautiful weather.  I was a little worried about the gravel century Mickey and I had planned for Monday, but as long as I didn’t have to sneeze or get off my bike too often (both things that were pretty painful), I figured I should be ok.

Well, I’d be ok physically.  Mentally was another thing.  I was apprehensive about the ride, to put it mildly.  Even though we were riding on gravel and my falls had all been on singletrack, I was really afraid I was going to fall again.  The cloudy morning sky and likelihood of rain further tempted me to bail, but Mickey didn’t take me up on my halfhearted offer to spare him dragging along an anchor.

We started on the Lost Valley gravel, and it was immediately clear that all my hard-won downhill mojo from Tour of Hermann had evaporated. I crept down the first, fairly sketchy, downhill, missing my fat mountain bike tires, and I even did a lot of braking on the backside downhill as well.  On the other hand, while my climbing was slow, I didn’t do any uphill walking (not always a given).

From Lost Valley, we took the Katy Trail back to Klondike Park.  At some point during Saturday’s train wreck ride, I’d lost my camera there, and though Mickey and his kids had a minor search party for it on Saturday night, I’d thought of another place I could have dropped it.  Before looking for the camera, we rode towards the other side of the park, where there are some fun little features, like the tire-popping boardwalk.

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Mickey changing his tire…
Me opting to Facebook rather than taking the suggested opportunity to practice riding on the boardwalk.

And yes, I know that the stupid boardwalk is plenty wide and shouldn’t be scary at all.  But I also know that sometimes I need to just give myself permission to be wimpy until I don’t feel wimpy anymore.  The next stop was the teeter totters, which Mickey “mistakenly” thought he could convince me to do.

Ummmm…so maybe I was mistaken about not riding them.  I was persuaded by a combination of “my kids ride these!”, knowing I’d done it before at Ray’s Indoor Bike Park, and, ultimately, the offer to stand next to the teeter totter and not let me fall.  So, whatever, he was right, I was wrong.  This time.

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Celebrating being off work on a Monday

We had no luck finding the camera, so we headed back onto the Katy Trail and towards the gravel flats outside of Defiance.  On our way, though, Mickey paused at the intersection with Terry Rd.  “We’re right here…people are always talking about this road…maybe we should see what it’s all about.  It’s just a few miles, and then we can cut back down to the Katy on some other roads.”

I knew it was hilly, but I was up for it, especially after riding some big hills last month and having no Garmin proof of it.  As we started on Terry Rd, though, I recognized the scenery.  “I think we’ve been here before.”

This time it was Mickey who was unconvinced (and wrong), but while the climb kind of sucked, it wasn’t that bad.  The first big hill was followed by rolling hills, mostly in an upward manner, and eventually we hit an intersection.  “We’ve definitely ridden that before,” I said again.

“Hmmm…have we?  Hey, here’s Duke!”

I definitely remembered Duke Road and its rolling hills, especially the ones I’d had to walk.  I’m pretty sure that whole Terry Road “let’s check it out” detour was a con job, but thankfully Duke was much less painful in this direction than the way we’d ridden it before.  Those uphills still hurt, though, which is probably why I was so happy to see this:

In the past, signs like these have inspired serious dread, but Monday, for perhaps the first time ever, I saw that downhill symbol and thought, “Yess!!!”  My excitement for the paved hills didn’t, however, extend to the gravelly Matson Hill Rd, and I spent a lot of time on the brakes easing myself down safely.

From Matson, we rode out onto the Femme Osage gravel, where after the first out-and-back we were treated to the sight of a maintenance truck dumping fresh gravel onto the roads.  (Well, I was treated to the sight. People who know Mickey will be unsurprised to hear that he never noticed the big orange dump truck in the middle of the road before we turned.)  “Luckily” they’d already gravelled the next stretch of road we attacked, which made for very unfun riding.

As I trailed along behind Mickey, I thought about the fact that we’d been to Lost Valley, Klondike, and right by Matson.  It’s kind of like a gravel trifecta, I thought…oooh, we could ride to Bangert and Creve Coeur parks and make it a quint-fecta.  Of course, when I came up with this brilliant plan I thought it was only about ten miles to Bangert rather than the 17 it actually was, and within about 3 miles on the Katy Trail I was grateful I hadn’t mentioned the Creve Coeur part of the plan to Mickey because I was already hating myself for committing to 30+ miles of flat gravel.

Naturally the way out was into a headwind.  I even checked with Mickey, “This is a headwind, right?” Seems like I’m always riding into a headwind thinking how nice it’ll be when I turn around, only to turn around and realize that hadn’t been a headwind at all.  But no, there was even a flag blowing in our direction to show that we had a headwind.  Good…it’s not so bad when you know you’ll have a tailwind on the way back.

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Finally!

After what felt like a million miles on the Katy, we reached Bangert. After a short snack break, I very grudgingly climbed back onto my bike and proceeded to enjoy the heck out of the singletrack. Unfortunately, we still had a 17-mile ride back to Weldon Spring.  “If someone I knew drove up right now,” I said, “I’d jump in their car without hesitation.”  I also considered asking the firemen at the trailhead investigating a report of a fire if they’d drive me back.

No, that doesn’t bode well for my mental toughness at Dirty Kanza.  Nor do my attempts to convince Mickey that, being so much faster, he could hurry back to the Mound and then come pick me up at the Weldon Spring trailhead. Or the Research Park trailhead.  Or… “No!”  Hmph.  With friends like these…

Oh, and that tailwind we’d expected? Nonexistent, that flag now flying spitefully towards my face.

We’d discussed taking the shortest way back on the paved Research Park trailhead and cutting down Highway 94, but opted to avoid that route due to traffic concerns.  We ended up riding up the quarry trail to the Hamburg and pulling into the parking lot with 71 miles on my Garmin (and quite a few more than that for Mickey, who’d both started earlier and ridden extra).

That made 118 miles for the weekend, pretty good unless you consider that it’s only about 5 miles more than Cedar Cross or, more depressingly, would put me not quite halfway to the third checkpoint at Dirty Kanza. But I’m a master of denial, so I’m not thinking about either of those things.

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Tour of Hermann

Tour of Hermann is a two-day gravel stage race held around Hermann, MO.  Day one features three 30ish mile loops, and day two follows with two 50ish mile loops. For those of us preparing for Dirty Kanza, the weekend promises a very reasonable entry fee ($40 for two days), a great training opportunity, and the chance to gauge progress to date.  Last year TOH conflicted with the Ava Brown Memorial 5K, but this year it fell a week earlier and I was free.

I spent Friday night celebrating my birthday with my family, and once the party was over I started getting things together.  Since I’ve been considering taking my new mountain bike to Kansas for this year’s DK, I’d intended to take it along to Tour of Hermann.  This plan fell apart when I went to change my rear tire, which has a jacked up valve that I didn’t want to have to fight with during the race if I flatted, only to realize too late that the tires were set up tubeless.  Since my experience with this is hearing my friends debate the benefits, I returned my mountain bike and its newly flattened rear tire to the garage and only packed the cross bike.  In retrospect, just putting in a tube and taking the MTB would have been a good move for the weekend.

I headed out of town a little before 6 a.m. on Saturday morning and pulled into the Stone Hill Winery in Hermann with plenty of time to get checked in, get ready, and socialize.  I ended up parking right next to the Sonas, my friends Steve and Mickey were just across the lot, Susy was there taking pictures, and of course there were tons of other familiar faces.  I was moderately nervous because I didn’t have anyone there to ride with, but since Chuck and I had ridden parts of the route last year, I was at least a little familiar with the impending pain.

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Pre-race, just look at that happy face. Photo credit: Susy Stephens

I toyed with what to wear, but in the end I decided to go with a light baselayer under my long-sleeved jersey and tights over my bike shorts.  I wore a hat but left off the jacket.  I was a little cool before the start, but my rule of thumb is that if I’m comfortable before a race I’ll be too hot during.  Right around 9:00, race director Jeff Yielding said a few words and then sent us down the hill and onto our first loop.  We zipped through town, across the Missouri River bridge, and onto the Katy Trail.  I’ve barely been on a bike in the past two weeks thanks to adventure camp last weekend (still working on that report), but I felt pretty great early on.

Pedaling down the Katy Trail, I saw a familiar white jersey ahead of me.  Is that a Virtus jersey?  Oh, wow, maybe one of the guys took pity on me since they knew I was going to be here on my own!   Who could it be? I pedaled faster, eventually catching up with Bob.  “Hey, you look like a guy I know!”  Though I’d been fine with being alone, I was delighted to get to ride with one of my friends.  We talked our way down the Katy Trail and onto the turnoff.

As we started up one of the first climbs, a pretty gentle once compared to the hills that awaited us, a girl in front of me waved me ahead.  “You know, you’ll probably just be passing me right back,” I warned her, knowing that I’m not nearly as strong on hills as I’d like to be.

“I like it quiet,” she replied pointedly.
Ooooookay, then.  I’ve always found the bike community, especially gravel grinders and mountain bikers, to be a really friendly, welcoming group, and if anyone was going to be rude, I guess I’d expect it more from one of the strong riders.  Instead, the top riders and racers I’ve met have been nothing but friendly, encouraging, and welcoming, and probably the rudest thing I’ve heard is from a girl who’s slower than me.  Go figure.

I’m on my bike to have fun, and I’ve never left a ride without having a conversation with a new person.  Though that wasn’t about to change, Bob and I yo-yo’d for a while with Library Voice, and I felt uncomfortable every time we passed.  Eventually we pulled away and didn’t see her for the rest of the day.  That didn’t stop me from repeatedly relaying the story, though, and I had plenty of time to do that at the top of the first big climb.

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Coming from a downhill and loving it! Photo credit: Susy Stephens
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…and there’s the uphill.  Photo credit: Dan Singer

I know that I’m beginning to change because for the first time I’d looked at the roller coaster-esque elevation profile with anticipation rather than sick dread.  We’d bombed down a big paved hill that I remembered riding last year
with Chuck, and since it led into a monster hill I barely touched my
brakes. Though I had to walk at least half of this climb last year I made it the whole way up on Saturday, though Justin made passing me look easy.  Catching my breath at the top, I had the chance to meet John, who I only knew from my blog’s facebook page, and David, whose stlbiking.com forum question I’d chimed in on, in person.  It was really nice to get to ride with and talk to the guys for a while until the next big(ger) hill, which I did have to walk part of, spread things out again.

I missed my mountain bike gearing for sure — I think I’d have had less walking to do on that bike — but I wasn’t unhappy with how I felt on my cross bike, and now that I (semi)enjoy riding downhill at least there’s a payoff for all that uphill work.  Conditions were great: the sun was shining, temperatures were comfortable, and the gravel was well-packed.  I wouldn’t say the first loop was easy, because I definitely had to work hard, but it was fun. Towards the end of the first loop my “MawMaw hip” started to act up, so I planned to make a quick stop at the car, stretch it a little, and quickly get going.

In reality, my transition left a lot to be desired.  I dragged myself up the hill to Stone Hill Winery, privately grumbling about why the race couldn’t be headquartered at Stone Valley Winery or Stone Plain Winery or Stone Anything-That-Doesn’t-Require-An-Uphill-Finish Winery, finishing my first 28 miles in 2:13.  Strava shows my moving time as 2:08, so I only lost 5 minutes to stopping, catching my breath, etc, during that first loop.  Not bad.

Twenty-five minutes of wardrobe adjustment, food resupply, and general time wasting (though no stretching, which was the one thing I really needed to do), I was following a couple guys back down the hill and to roads south of Hermann for loop 2.  Unlike the few spikes starring in loop 1, the elevation profile on this section looked more like a comb, and it let you know right away what you were in for with a 400+-foot paved climb right off the bat.  I remember feeling like I’d been riding forever, then looking at my Garmin and realizing I was only a mile into the loop.

The guys ahead of me stayed in view for a while, but I never quite closed the gap, and my hip had started aching almost immediately.  Make it ten miles, then you can get off the bike and stretch, I told myself, but as we plowed into a long stretch of deeper gravel, a break at the 5-mile mark suddenly seemed much more appealing.  I watched my rabbits pull away as I laid down on the ground, stretched my hip, and started again.

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Couldn’t have been a much prettier day.  Photo credit: Dan Singer

As I passed Dan, the photographer on course, he asked if I was doing OK.  It turned out that the guys ahead of me must have noticed I’d dropped off and asked him to look out for me.  Pretty cool of them, since they didn’t even know me, but pretty cool people are more the rule than the exception in the St. Louis area bike scene.

The rule for loop two seemed to be big hills and thick gravel.  My comfort level with gravel is way higher than it used to be, so I was ok from a handling standpoint, but pedaling was a lot more work.  So were the uphills, even the ones I walked, but the downhills were an absolute blast and just scary enough that moderate terror would temporarily replace discomfort as my primary feeling.

Other than the hip, I didn’t feel too bad, but the mental negotiations regarding loop three had already started around the midpoint.  If you ride loop 3 you can skip the second loop tomorrow.  If you ride loop three you can eat whatever you want tonight [frankly, that was a done deal no matter what]I would have been perfectly happy to call it a day after loop two except for the little matter of Dirty Kanza looming in just under two months.  Riding up a hill, though, I went to downshift, heard a weird crunchy sound, and got nothing from my rear derailleur.  That was going to make the remaining uphills fun.

My downhill ride satisfaction index soon took a steep plunge as well.  A section of gravel had washed away towards the bottom of a pretty big hill, leading to several crashes over the day.  A man waved me down as I approached the hill, warning to go slow because there had been a crash at the bottom.  I eased down to see Justin, Mike, and John among a group waiting with a girl who had hit the washout and gone down.  I felt terrible for her, but since there was an ambulance on the way and I didn’t have any skills to add to the situation, I went ahead after a few minutes.

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Not the girl, but the spot of the washout. Photo credit (and victim): Charlie Patterson

Seeing someone crying and bleeding on the ground takes the fun out of downhills, and I was pretty cautious for a while.  That, combined with my limited shifting and achy hip, made for some slow going.  Within a few miles, the group who had stayed with the injured girl caught up with me.  Some of us were walking the same hills, so it seemed like every time I looked back at the riders behind me we were the same distance apart.  After a little bit of this, I decided it was silly to ride together alone and just waited at the top of the hill until John caught up. This was my best move of the loop, as company made the remaining miles much nicer.

As we rode, I told John about my shifting woes, and he offered to look at my bike when we got back.  We got to talk training and about the OGRE and the previous years of Dirty Kanza…all the things that make my husband’s eyes glaze over.  With good company and, eventually, a lovely paved stretch, the end of loop two flew by, and before long we were approaching the climb back to Stone Hill.  I’d worried that I wouldn’t be able to ride the hill without being able to downshift, but the combination of an audience of winery visitors and the announcer’s table gave me the incentive to stay on my bike.  I checked in at the registration table with about 30 minutes left before the cutoff to leave on lap 3.  My Garmin measured my moving time as 3:13; in addition to the 25 minute transition between laps, I left another 17 minutes or so on the course

John came over to look at my bike, and he and a guy from Kentucky who just happened to walk by and strike up a conversation (and who just happened to work at a bike shop!) were able to get my bike fixed up enough that I could ride the next day.  More signs of just how awesome bike people are.  Neither of these guys had never met me in person before, and both were willing to spend a decent chunk of their time to get my bike in order.  I was really touched.

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My heroes!

Of course, the biggest impact of their help was that now there was no way I was going to skip out on the first loop the next day…and I won’t lie: while I’d been disappointed to “not be able to” ride any more (because, let’s be honest, I could have ridden my bike as a singlespeed and finished up the day), I was also relieved to have an excuse to not ride that last loop.  My mental game needs improvement if I want to finish Dirty Kanza, no question.

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Ready to start day 2, slightly smaller smile than yesterday. Photo credit: Bob Jenkins

A delicious meal of Mexican food, chilly night of camping, and huge biscuits and gravy breakfast later, I was right back in the Stone Hill Winery parking lot, grudgingly getting ready to set off on a 50-mile loop.  I wasn’t really sore, just tired, and my legs were dead.  Had I not owed it to my good Samaritans, it would have been really easy to just hang out at the winery and relax.  Instead, I fell in next to Team TOG/Monster Bikes Jim, and as we started the first, long stretch of Katy Trail together I told him about the girl from Saturday who’d been so bothered by my chatter.

And suddenly, there she was in front of us.  I pointed her out to Jim, and we talked nonstop as we rode in her draft.  It was glorious.  I’m, admittedly, a talker, and even I was pretty tapped out on conversational topics by the time she gave in and waved us ahead of her on the trail.

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This is during the Katy Trail stretch, and despite the flat, easy surface you can tell I’m already not feeling great.        Photo credit: Dan Singer

I’d warned Jim that I was dragging and that I was totally cool with him not waiting on me.  He stuck with me for the 20 miles on the Katy, and I quickly started trailing after we turned off and started what I remember as a fairly gentle climb that was way harder than it should have been.  When I’m tired, any incline seems like a mountain.

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Random stretch of gravel road

Before long, I’d dropped off the back of our little group, and I was really content to just ride at my own snail-ish pace rather than try and keep up with other people.  The downhills were still fun, and I walked a lot of uphills.  I did my best to stay on top of my eating and drinking and promised myself that at/after mile 30 I could get off the bike to take a short break and eat something.  The “short break” ended up being almost 15 minutes, but it kind of gave me a new lease on life for a while.

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Eating + off the bike = happiness

Overall, I think this section (loop 4, for people who were doing the whole race) was easier than my second loop on Saturday but less fun.  Of course, I was also in a “get through it” frame of mind instead of the “isn’t this a fun adventure” mindset of the day before.  And my gosh, I was tired.  I for sure didn’t want to make any wrong turns, so with no one to follow I looked long and hard when I arrived at a confusing intersection.

The sign pointed left on P; the arrows painted on the highway pointed right.  I assumed a painted arrow was more reliable than a movable sign, but there were two arrows: one for loop 4, and one for loop 1.  I’d ridden loop 1, and I had no memory of riding this stretch of road, leading me to wonder if the markings were from a different routing last year?  Mickey had made up his own cue sheets and emailed them to me.  I hadn’t gotten around to printing them out, but they were still on my phone.  Unfortunately, I hadn’t been following along, and in my fatigue-addled mind, I read the sign for the road I was on as the name of the road I was turning onto, which would have had me turning left.

Instead, I followed the painted arrow and went right, hoping I didn’t commit myself to climbing hills I didn’t have to ride.  Thankfully I’d chosen correctly, as was confirmed by the group that passed me after having made the wrong turn earlier.  We started up a big, paved climb, but my low gears started slipping as the hill got steeper and I ended up having to walk.  It was frustrating to walk something I didn’t have to, but I was just grateful that the fix, which the guys had warned me might not hold out the entire loop, had held as long as it did.  And those certainly won’t be the last hills I walk.

Towards the top of the hill I passed a church I recognized from last year’s ride with Chuck but not, despite the road markings for loop 1, from the previous day.  Still baffled by the fact that I had no memory of a stretch of road I’d apparently ridden while still feeling good, I shot down the gravel hill.  Because it was a pretty straight shot into a big uphill (and because the previous day’s crash was a more distant memory…and because I’d reached that point in the ride where my fear of crashing is balanced by the knowledge that an ambulance ride means not having to pedal any more for the day), I was more excited than frightened to glimpse 39mph on the speedometer.

…and then I was walking uphill again.  Oh joy.  There was one more downhill back to the Katy Trail, and then things leveled out and all I had to do was make my way back into Hermann and one last trip up that hill to the winery.  Once again I made it back before the cutoff, this time with a whopping ten minutes to spare.  Aaro, who supplied seriously entertaining all weekend, was trying to convince finishers to do wheelies.  I waited until I was on flat ground to do mine, laughing at the credit card vertical I managed, and then I was finished.   What a good time.

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Another awesome shot by Dan Singer.  You can see my right hand exaggerating how far I got off the ground.
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3/5 loops…room for improvement

And just like that I have another goal race.  I’d love to come back
strong enough (and, um, with a bike well-maintained enough) to finish
the whole thing. As it was, I had a great time riding, met some awesome people, loved the course, and though I only rode about halfway I did get to be there cheering when Mickey and Emily both finished the entire 200-mile weekend. Awesomeness.

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Photo credit: Dan Singer

The finishing trophy was a jar of gravel, filled to a level equivalent
to the percentage of the race you finished. Mine? Slightly over half
full, which just leaves plenty of room for the memories.

Posted in Bicycling, Bike racing, Race Reports, Training | Tagged , , , , | 5 Comments

Little Lost Creek and the bifecta

Dirty Kanza is looming in just a couple short months. Right now I’m about 100 miles ahead of where I was from January to mid-March last year. That difference is small enough to give me mini-anxiety attacks when I think about it, though the majority of my early 2013 miles were on the trainer and the majority of 2014′s bike time has been outside on gravel, singletrack, or snow.  I’m about 10-15 pounds lighter than I was last year, a more confident descender and slightly stronger on uphills.  And despite all that I’m beginning to stress out over my lack of long-mileage days.

March is where I start feeling the pressure to be on the bike.  March is also when Jacob starts spring soccer. After 15 years of being at every single game possible (I went straight from a soccer game to my college graduation), I’ve turned a little selfish.  I’m making one weekend out of 5 for soccer.  I can’t decide if that makes me a shitty mom or not; I go back and forth about it, honestly, but there it is. I guess the upshot is that Jacob and I spend the entire summer together and it’s worth it to me to miss a few spring soccer games in order to give myself a better chance at finally finishing DK.

The 22nd was my only Saturday home in this 5-week soccer span, and luckily the date coincided with both soccer and Pinewood Derby districts.  Long-time readers may remember my lack of affection for the second round of the Pinewood Derby (and exhibit B), but being as I’m missing so much I was actually glad(ish) to be able to be there this year.

Soccer and Pinewood Derby districts. All about the boy on one of my rare weekends home. #kids #family #scouting
Playing soccer and racing his Pinewood Derby car

Jacob’s team lost their game, but he played great. It was really fun to watch him.  He plays soccer a couple times a day at school every day, and it shows.  And though he finished 40/50 in the Pinewood Derby, he went into it with a much more realistic attitude than last time.

After all the morning fun, I managed to convince the guys to come with me to Little Lost Creek State Forest.  Way over in Warrenton, MO, it was kind of a long drive for what was likely to be a relatively short hike, but I’ve been wanting to check it out ever since seeing it on a map after the Lost Creek Road ride.  We hiked about six miles on one of the main trails.

Day hike at Little Lost Creek State Forest
Scenes from the hike

It was a nice hike on a multi-use (hiking, biking, horseback riding) trail. Very little singletrack, primarily flat doubletrack. The trail followed the top of a ridge and the bottom of a valley, broken up by one good downhill and one good climb.  I have designs of using this park as part of an adventure race (or non-race), and while the trail itself wasn’t too exciting, all of the contours on the topo map look promising.  Jacob really wanted to explore further, so I promised him we’d come back this summer when we had more time. As it was, we had to speed up a bit to beat sunset.

I followed up Saturday’s family day with a long ride on Sunday. Well, it was supposed to be long.  Mickey, Bob, and I met up at the Mound with intentions of riding a trifecta (three area mountain bike trails connected by the Katy Trail, around 50 miles of riding with a big chunk of singletrack in there).  Other than the 12 miles at Lake of the Ozarks, this was my first time riding my new bike on trails.

Lost Valley was great. I rode much more cleanly than ever before, clearing sections I’ve always walked. I only fell once, and that was trying to ride a switchback where I always put my foot down.  I’m always a little happy when I fall because it means I’m trying something instead of chickening out.  This fall didn’t even hurt, except for the fact that I managed to break my brand new water bottle cage.  Boo.  Luckily, Bob’s multifunctional Awesome Strap came to the rescue!

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Maybe he won’t realize I still have it… ;-)

I still love the way my bike climbs. The gearing must just be made for me.  I still have a lot of work to do, both with carrying speed and getting over my fears, but I left the park very
happy. Lots of high fives, as Mickey said.

28 degrees, but perfect temps on Lost Valley and Matson trails. #mtb
Still waiting on spring at this point, but the 28 degree morning felt plenty warm on the trails.

Dealing with bike issues, Bob peeled off after Lost Valley, and Mickey and I headed down the Katy towards Defiance, MO, and Matson Hill Park.   I was dreading the climb up the gravel road to the park, one that’s steep enough to make me nervous when riding up it in Chuck’s Jeep, but it wasn’t that bad.  I mean, it was awful, but it wasn’t any worse than the hills we rode a couple weeks ago.  More high fives at the top.

Unfortunately, that was the last of my triumphant moments.  Any mountain biking mojo I’d had at Lost Valley must have evaporated on my way up to Matson.  I had trouble riding things that I’ve ridden in the past, my legs were dead, and I fell pretty hard on some rocks trying to ride through them.  The good news is that I fell actually trying to ride something rather than walking it and that I got some pretty sweet bruises out of the deal.  My back was pretty sore (not from falling, most likely from my way too heavy pack), my butt is still adjusting to this different saddle, and the fall was the final nail in my intentions to ride all three parks.  Mickey rode towards Augusta to bag his trifecta, and I limped back to the parking lot.

I’d expected to regret cutting out early, but my back hurt so much on the way back that I was very happy with my wimpy decision.  Shortened ride or not, I still ended up with about 32 miles, I almost looked forward to the downhills…and I made it home early enough to spend some time with my family.

Posted in Bicycling, Family time, Training | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Going solo: BonkHard Chill volunteer report

What do you do when no one wants to go along with your brilliant ideas? I used to miss out on a lot because I was afraid to do things alone, but in the past five or so years I’ve come to the realization that, for me, doing things on my own is way better than sitting at home, missing out, and feeling resentful.  This past weekend I had the opportunity to test out my commitment to that theory.

The BonkHard Chill was March 15.  I’ve never raced it, but of course I wanted to.  I’d race every single weekend if I could afford to and if my schedule, which unfortunately is full of conflicts with this year’s adventure race calendar, would allow.  After my teammates decided not to race the Chill, I brought it up first to my sister-in-law and then to another friend who’s been wanting to try out AR.  When neither of them were able to race, I didn’t put out any more feelers.  I probably could have found a teammate, but instead I decided to volunteer.

While it’s certainly not the same as racing, it is free, and I love volunteering.  I’d hoped that Jeff and Jacob would join me and make it a family camping trip; they could hang out at my volunteer station while they wanted to and then go explore when they get bored. Great idea, right?  They were unconvinced, and Jacob’s soccer schedule (first game: race day) put the final nail in Chill Plan 2.0.  Version 2.1 (operation convince your teammates to volunteer with you) also failed, and just like that I was back to “doing things on my own is way better than sitting at home and missing out”.

I took a half day off work and left Friday afternoon.  I have a new bike (I know! I haven’t even talked about that yet!), and I wanted a chance to ride it before Sunday’s (later cancelled) mountain bike race.  My friend Dan runs Oz Cycles down at Lake of the Ozarks, so I messaged him to get a trail recommendation: “Nothing too hairy because I”ll be on my own and I’m not very good.”

He suggested the Honey Run trail, so I printed off a map, put the coordinates into the GPS, and headed off right after my students left for lunch. I made it down in time to spend a couple of hours on the trail and ride each of the three loops.

Honey Run trail, Lake of the Ozarks State Park. #mtb #missouri
Scenes from the trail

This was my first foray onto singletrack on this bike and my first time riding dirt since January’s Berryman weekend, and I was alone on unfamiliar trails, so I was even more slow and timid than usual.  Other than clipping a tree early on, I survived without incident.  The whole ride was more or less a Sunday drive type of pace, but it was fun and enough to convince me that I don’t need to hang onto my old mountain bike.  I really love the new one.

The three sections of trail that make up Honey Run come together around a parking lot off of a gravel road.  I’d ridden the out and back section from a different lot, planning to hop onto the other sections.  It wasn’t quite that easy and took a little studying of the map to figure out where to get onto the north loop.  The good news is that the map actually helped.

Just bc you have a map doesn't mean it'll be easy to figure out where you're going. #mtb #wheresthetrail #lakeoftheozarks
Map check!

When I finished riding all three sections, it was close to time for pre-race check-in to start, so instead of riding back on singletrack, I took the gravel road back to my parking lot.  It was a pretty good climb, and I was delighted with how easy it felt.  That’s two tough-for-me gravel climbs that this bike has cruised up, which has me seriously considering riding it for Dirty Kanza.

I wasn’t really needed at pre-race check-in, so instead of helping I visited with arriving teams and mostly managed to control my envy that they were racing and I wasn’t.  It was fun to catch up with friends and put faces to some names I only knew on paper.  When the pre-race meeting started up, I headed off in search of the campground, which was also serving as race HQ.

Even though I arrived after dark, someone was right there to check me in and direct me to my tent site, where I saw that I was the only person in that area.  I was already less than thrilled about camping by myself, so you can imagine how delighted I was to be completely alone.  Luckily, my friends provided plenty of reassurance.

I’d expected to be a little nervous on my own, but I fell asleep right away.  I woke up freezing around 3 a.m.  I had a bag full of clothes right next to me, but I was too cold/lazy to get my arms out of the sleeping bag and dig for them. Instead, I tossed and turned until finally giving in around 5:30 or so.  No need to worry about setting an alarm after all.

My tent and car were covered by a layer of frost. I’d anticipated a low of 40* , but that was in town. At the campground, my car’s dashboard showed high 20′s, which may not be bad if you’re tough and/or properly equipped, but I’m neither.  I think it was my coldest night of camping, and my previous low temperatures were shared with my husband and tempered by hats, coats, gloves, and body heat.

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Home sweet home.  The white smudges on the right side are some of the BonkHard vehicles.

The canoes were being trucked in by the time I finished getting ready, and it turned out that I’d inadvertently chosen a spot as close as possible to race HQ.  Had I overslept I would have been woken up by all the arriving racers; as it was, I was packed up and was huddled in my warm car when the first teams pulled in.

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Starting to get a little busier as the sun comes up.
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Almost start time…

I wished my friends good luck, and then Gary drafted me to hold the American flag while the National Anthem played.  He made some last-minute remarks and at 7:30 sent the racers on their way.  All of the volunteers met with Ellen, where Doug (my partner for the day) and I were assigned to CP4, the canoe take-out and gear check.

I was delighted to learn that our station was at Ha Ha Tonka State Park.  I’d heard of it and seen pictures, but I’d never actually been there.  Doug and I took his Jeep over to our assigned shelter, but not before we caught sight of a team pull into the campground well after the other teams had disappeared, check in with Gary, and then take off.  My team has its own issues with timeliness, so I felt for these guys.

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The Kennedy clan plays catch-up.  Also, my car is still covered in frost.

I lucked out by getting a partner who is really familiar with the area, so over the course of the day we checked out a couple of the highlights of Ha Ha Tonka.  We arrived at our station almost an hour early, so we killed time by checking out the nearby spring.

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The average flow of the spring is 58 million gallons of water a day.

We certainly couldn’t complain about the view Gary and Ellen had given us for the morning.  The lake view was gorgeous, and we could see the castle ruins on the opposite bluff.  The early morning chill gave way to an absolutely lovely day, and before long I was peeling off layers.

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Rough life. ;)

Our job was to mark down the times teams arrived, make sure they carried their canoes to the parking lot, and then check to make sure they had several items of required gear: everyone’s headlamp and whistle, and the team cell phone and UTM tool.

A gear check is stressful because if a team doesn’t pass, they don’t get credit for that CP, and I don’t want to be the person who tells them that, even if rules are rules.  Also, it can get pretty hectic when a bunch of teams are all in at once, wanting to get through the gear check and on their way. Doug and I did our best to work together, be efficient, and get teams moving as quickly as possible.

Photo credit: Doug Arendt

Working an early CP is nice because you get to see all of the teams (and inadvertently insult at least one of them…sorry Laura!) and your job is finished relatively soon.  Doug and I had both signed on for the whole day, but we had a break between assignments.  After droppiing off Doug A (the photographer) at the bike drop, we did a little sightseeing.

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The castle
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Lake view from the castle…not to shabby.  The parking lot on the left is where our CP was.
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Natural bridge

Because there were some CPs in this area, we got to see a few of the later teams as we hiked around.  The morning had warmed up into an absolutely glorious day, and in addition to adventure racers the park was filled with families hiking and picnicking.  I felt for the racers, though, because the first warm day is definitely a mixed blessing since no one is really acclimated for heat after our polar vortex winter.

Sightseeing finished, we headed back to race HQ to drop off our paperwork and pick up our next assignment.  The way back covered some crazy steep hills, and I was glad Doug was driving so I could admire the view without worrying about steering us off a cliff.  The road into the campground was so hilly that every time I drove it I was thankful Jeff and Jacob hadn’t come (because I’m not sure our van could’ve towed our camper up it!) and that I didn’t have to ride my bike up it.  Somehow, though, while I was relaxing around race HQ talking to Ellen and Doug I started thinking…I wonder if I could ride up it?

Eventually I decided to try.  Ellen gave me the map to our next station, and I left before Doug so I could ride to it.  Expecting to pass one of the orange and white checkpoint flags marking our spot, I rode right past it and all the way to the cross road before I realized my mistake.  Luckily, I had the map.

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Trying and failing to replicate the previous day’s uber-flattering angle.

I’d planned to ride a little of the ATV trails on the map, but finding our (unflagged) spot, I remembered that WE were the CP and so it didn’t need a flag.  No big deal, except that Doug didn’t know that and might not find the spot if I wasn’t there.  The more I thought about it, the more I realized that I really didn’t want to descend this hill in the dark when we were finished at our CP.  Instead of covering any additional trails, I just rode back down to meet up with Doug at the HQ.

Our second assignment was to set up CP14 on the gravel campground road at an intersection with an ATV trail.  We were about 500m from the finish line, and teams expecting to cruise downhill to finish a tough race were instead greeted with our smiling faces…and a “bonus map” with 5 additional CPs.  Between the gear check and now this, Gary and Ellen must have been on a mission to make us the least popular volunteers.  And it was pretty effective.

We had about an hour’s wait before the first team showed up, and I slowly started adding layers back as the day cooled.  At almost 4:00, we heard the first team climbing our hill and saw the smiling faces of Alpine Shop. Well, they were smiling until we handed them the map.

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David and Jeff look over this evil new twist.

They were less than enthused, and this was by far the most positive response we got.  Thankfully no one shot the messengers.  One team, riding off with the map, muttered, “F-ing bonus.  I hate bonus.”  Another, on seeing us, groaned, “Oh, not another gear check!”   We tried to sweeten our bad news with cookies, and that seemed to help a little bit.

The distance between teams had spread out a lot by the end of the race, so we never got much of a rush at this CP, but it was always exciting to hear voices coming up the hill or (after dark) to see the bike lights coming our way.  Judging from the faces, it had been a good, but tough, day.

It was a good, but long, day for us, and I was pretty glad when Gary showed up at 8 (or 8:30, I don’t even remember now) to hang a flag for anyone who was still on the course and send us back down to race HQ.  As much as I love to hang around after a race and talk, I still had a 4 hour drive home waiting, so I said a couple quick goodbyes and scooted out of there.

I made it home just before 1 a.m.  It would have been nice to have someone to share the driving with, but I caught my second wind after the first hour or so and was ok after that.  Was going on my own ideal? Not particularly, but it was worth it.  I had a fun weekend, rode some new trails, saw friends, met cool people, and still got to be part of the race.  That definitely beats missing out.

Race results and pictures
Emily‘s blog post about Alpine Shop’s race
Toporadicals‘s blog

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Adventure racing for cheapskates

Adventure racing, while being the coolest sport on the planet, can present some obstacles to the budget-minded athlete. Prospective racers first face the hurdle of acquiring basic gear, but it doesn’t stop there. Unlike camping, where most expenses are incurred at the start, after gear is accumulated racers still have to pony up for entry fees…which don’t necessarily come cheap.

Now, my definition of “cheap” may be different than yours, so let’s clarify that. In my brief adventure racing career, I’ve paid between $100 and $225 for most races. Compared to the $130 registration fee for a Rock’n’Roll series half marathon, of course, or $675 for an official Ironman race, adventure racing looks like a bargain!

I agree that it’s a great value, especially when you consider the cost in terms of time on the course. Calculated that way, the LBL Challenge cost me $6/hr — far cheaper than even a small, local 5K. Even so, it’s a big chunk of money to lay out at one time, and with additional expenses of nutrition, travel, and race-specific gear, the cost can be downright prohibitive for someone on a tight budget. Caught between a love for adventure and a need to pay the bills, what’s an adventure-hungry cheapskate to do?

Happily, there are some things you can do to remain on the AR circuit and safeguard your credit score. Financial barriers crop up in three main areas: gear, race fees, and travel expenses. We’ll look at each category.

Save on gear:

My beloved (bargain) Osprey pack and trail shoes ready to race

  • Research. Know what you need and what features matter to you. The most expensive gear is that which sits in the closet unused because it doesn’t suit your needs.
  • Hit up sales. Outdoor stores have great seasonal sales. Watch for these like a hawk.
  • The internet is your friend. Often you can find better prices for new items on Amazon.com than in-store, and TheClymb has great bargains.  You can also check out sites like GearTrade.com, where people sell new or gently used outdoor sports items at a discount. I got my AR pack there for about half of what it would have cost new. Of course, there’s always Craigslist and ebay.
  • Beg, borrow, or steal: you’ve built your Personal Adventure Network, now work it. The endurance community is full of amazing, generous people. Maybe you can borrow an item from a friend who’s not racing. Just make sure you return things in good condition.
  • Gift list: Remember when your birthday list stretched for miles? Welcome back to those days. You’ll never again groan, “I don’t knoooooow,” when asked what you want for Christmas. Be specific. If your loved one isn’t an adventure racer, they won’t know what qualities are important in a pack/compass/headlamp.
  • Prioritize (part 1): You probably have a full closet. Dedicate the money you would have spent on that cute new pair of shoes to your adventure fund. My wardrobe has gotten a little stale, but bushwhacking through backcountry is way more fun than fighting mall crowds, right?
  • Make do. I’m still packing a bulky Target fleece sweatshirt while saving for the Patagonia shirt I really want. It’s a pain to fit into my pack, but it fulfills the requirements until I can afford better.

OK, you’ve checked off every item on the required gear list, but there’s nothing worse than having a bunch of great gear taking up space in your garage because you can’t afford to race.

Save on race fees:

chill vol

Working gear check at the 2014 BonkHard Chill

  • Volunteer – You can receive valuable swag and discounts on race fees as well as feeding your AR habit by being a part of the race and meeting new people. Just don’t take it personally if they’re too busy punching their passport to shake hands. 
  • Volunteer your family – You’re involving them in something you love, and if they don’t want to race, you get their coupons. Win – win.
  • Prioritize (part 2): Cut back on events. Unless you’re independently wealthy, there’s only so much race money to go around. The year I started adventure racing I paid for 17 running / biking races. The second year: 7. Sometimes it stinks to miss out, but it’s worth the trade-off.
  • Make your own adventure – Adventure races don’t always have to be something you pay for.  You can have a blast at non-races, virtual races, hike/bike adventures, or practicing at local orienteering courses.

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Climbing barbed wire fences for FREE at the 2012 Carnage at the Creek non-race

Once your garage looks like an outfitter’s warehouse and your registration has been sent off, all that remains is getting there!

Save on travel:

Perfect 10

A cozy ride to the Perfect 10 orienteering race

  •  Carpool – Ride with friends is more fun anyway, and you can share the pain (or switch drivers) on the way back when everyone is wiped out from that long race.
  • Race locally – Limiting yourself to events within driving distance eliminates the cost of plane fare and the hassle of shipping bikes and gear. What constitutes “driving distance” can be determined by the team.
  • Share your hotel room – My team crams as many people as the hotel will allow into our room. It gets cozy, but if you can’t tolerate each other in close quarters you shouldn’t be racing together under pressure for the next 24 hours. Plus, being the only girl on the team I get the guaranteed perk of a bed to myself.
  • Camp — It’s even cheaper than filling your hotel room like a clown car, and while you’ll still hear the snores, at least you won’t be smelling what 24 hours of Ensure can do to a stomach.
  • Take advantage of local friends/family: I’m slightly notorious for my love of the Acquaintance Motel. If we’ve met (sometimes if we haven’t) and I’m traveling near you, you’ll probably get a phone call. Don’t worry, though. I’m comfortable on the floor, I’ll be gone most of the time, and I can get my own breakfast…probably an Ensure. 
Posted in Adventure racing, Fun events, Uncategorized, Volunteering | Tagged , , , | 3 Comments

Gravel double

Alternate title: If a bike ride doesn’t have a GPS track, did it ever really happen?

***Catching up on last weekend’s goings on***

Saturday (3/8):

Finally, finally the weather forecast was semi-favorable, and we made sure to take advantage of the polar vortex’s absence.  At the ridiculous hour of 7:00, Chuck, Lori, Bob, Mickey, Justin, and I met up at the Mound parking lot to take on some gravel.  We were planning a pretty relaxed pace, so Mickey took off to get in some extra miles while the rest of us took pictures and waited for Chuck to take off his fender, a job which ended up being a little more involved than he’d anticipated.

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Photo credit: BLD Jenkins

The weather, too, wasn’t quite what we’d anticipated.  Between the wind and temps that never made it into the 40′s, Justin was regretting his decision to wear shorts and I was very thankful for the jacket I’d considered leaving behind.  Luckily the roads in Busch were more sheltered from the wind, and as long as we were moving we stayed pretty comfortable.

We looped around on the gravel roads weaving through the area.  With a five hour ride planned, we weren’t too worried about where we went, so instead we just explored, enjoyed the company, and headed where our wheels pointed us.  Lori spotted a new bridge and trail, so of course we had to check that out.  Justin had stopped at the top of the hill when we all rode down; we’d thought he was just shedding a layer or grabbing a bite to eat, but when he didn’t join us after a while I headed back up to check on him.  We’d ridden across the bridge and were hanging out right on the other side, so I rode back across it, braving (hey, for me it’s brave) the foot-plus drop down from the bridge.  I made it ok, but my positioning on the bike probably wasn’t ideal and the landing didn’t feel great.

Justin was at the top of the hill working on his bike after the crank had almost fallen off.  He got it secure enough to ride downhill, and then he, Bob, and Chuck played bike mechanic while Lori and I supervised. Once they had it more or less fixed, we headed back across the bridge to tackle more gravel.  This time I decided I’d just walk my bike down the step I’d ridden before.  Instead of climbing off the bike and walking it down, though, I somehow thought it was a good idea to stand over the bike and walk down still straddling it.  It was a big step, though, and after my front wheel touched down the bike just kept going…and so did I, right onto my back.  It’s a little ironic that my biggest fall on a bike is from walking it. I laid there on the ground, laughing my ass off while Bob dug for his camera, telling me, “Don’t you DARE get up!”

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My first endo and it’s from WALKING my bike!

Lori wasn’t really feeling it after a rough couple days, so she headed back while the rest of us rode on for a while longer.  A big highlight of the morning was seeing a bobcat dash out into the road and then dart back into the woods.  I’ve never seen one in the wild before.  A lowlight was the fact that my bike seat, which I’d raised the night before, slowly slipped back down until my riding position was fairly uncomfortable and hard on my knees, and because the bolt was pretty stripped out, there was no mid-ride adjustment (I shouldn’t be allowed to touch my own bike).  We ended up with around 30 miles for the morning and probably did almost as much hanging out as riding (4:30 total ride time, 2:51 actual moving time).  Overall, while I didn’t feel amazing I felt pretty good and was happy with the chill pace, knowing the following day was going to be tough.

Sunday (3/9):

The intersection of Daylight Saving time with a 7:30 a.m. rollout (and an hour-plus drive to get there) left me a little grouchy, and to add insult to sleep deprivation, I the forecast high of mid-50′s certainly hadn’t led me to expect starting temps in the 20′s.  I knew I’d be fine once we got started, but that didn’t keep me from indulging in a little facebook whining.

Mickey was kind enough to bring me my own cue sheet, which I promptly forgot in my car, and once we were sufficiently bundled up we headed East on the Katy for a minute before turning onto Defiance Rd. We were riding part of a route he’d put together for a ride earlier in the month that ended up being iced out, and it turned out that a large portion of the route was on pavement.  It felt sooo much easier than all the gravel we’ve been riding lately, and what it may have lacked in challenge it made up for in quiet rural beauty.

Before long we were turning onto the first gravel road of the day, Femme Osage Ridge Rd.  As nice as the pavement had been, I was happy to be on gravel again. Somehow less maintained roads tend to be even more scenic.

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Look…the sun!

Soon after turning onto the gravel we crossed a bridge, and in the water next to it were a bunch of dead birds.  They didn’t look like they’d been there for too long, and there was no obvious cause of death.  Weird. If I was a Virtus boy, I’d have a picture of them to put here or have pretended to eat one or something, but I’m a Virtus girl, and so you get nothing. Sorry about that.

The ridge road started out nice and flat, but it quickly became an intimidating (to me) climb.  Usually I manage to freak myself out about uphills and have developed a nasty habit of giving up way too early, but this time I just told myself, “Just do what you can…” and I guess this kinder, gentler approach worked because eventually I made it to the top.  I was pretty happy with myself that I made it to the top.

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I may have looked slightly less energetic at the top of the hill than this portrays.

(Photo credit: Mickey)

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I’ll move over to the sunny side of the road, but I’m not lifting my bike again…

Mickey was nice enough to play blog photographer again (he’s so much happier when he hasn’t just gone swimming in freezing water), and because the downhill ended up being nicely paved with good visibility and limited curves, I didn’t keep my usual death grip on the brakes and ended up hitting 40 mph…a new high speed for me.  Good stuff all over.

My speed PR high only lasted until we hit Schleursburg Rd, with a climb that looked (and felt!) like it went on forevvvvver.  Having made it up the previous big hill made me more determined to stick it out on this one…or maybe I just didn’t feel like I could quit on it if I’d ridden the other one.  Whatever the reason, I managed to make it to the top eventually.  Mickey had ridden partway back down to encourage me/ make sure I didn’t give up, and he “motivated” me with gems like “Woooo, we’re having fun now!” and “Wanna pop wheelies?” while I gasped for breath, and suggested things like, “Wanna fall over and die?”

There was a nice, flat section at the top where I could recover (“Are you moving? Keep pedaling!”) before flying down another fun (I can’t believe I just said that) downhill.  I am still FAR from brave on hills, but I’ve made a lot of progress and now can at least keep the braking to a minimum on smooth roads with good sight lines.  On this downhill I hit 43 mph —  a second speed PR in the same ride.  We passed these guys after the hill and had to stop for a picture.  They found us far less interesting than we found them.

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Longhorns

We detoured down Calloway Fork Rd, a gravel road off of Hwy F that looked interesting.  It featured several creek crossings, but unlike our last foray into cold weather creek crossings, Calloway Fork had several new low-water bridges and almost no spots where our tires got wet.  It was another really pretty road, and I lagged behind Mickey admiring the view all around me.  The first 3.5 miles were relatively flat, and the hill started right about when the thick new gravel did.

I slooooooowly made my way up the hill, buoyed by my previous two hill conquests, but I was having a tough time and I really had to go to the bathroom.  Mickey rode back down — “Almost there! You’ve got this…” — and then back up.  I looked past him and the hill only seemed steeper.  Disheartened, I stopped and stood over my bike catching my breath.  Resigned at first to walking the rest of the way up the hill, I took advantage of my wimp-out to take a bathroom break and then decided to try to finish riding the hill (which I did).

This was definitely a better hill-riding day than some of the ones I’ve had lately, but that success was a bit of a double-edged sword.  One one hand, yea I rode the hills!  On the other hand, somehow that made the thought of needing to walk a future hill that much more stressful, and each uphill was starting to feel like a personal affront.  I mentioned to Mickey that I’d be perfectly content to skip Duke and Terry roads.  Pretending he thought I was joking, he led me up Matson Hill Rd (the paved part) to Duke road, reassuring me that it turned out that we were tackling Duke from the “easier” side.

Whatever. Turns out that’s like saying giving birth to a 9 lb baby is easier than a 10 lb baby.  It might be true, but they both hurt like hell.  We started Duke at the top of a hill, and never having ridden it I happily asked, “Oh, we’re riding the downhill part?!”

“Yes,” Mickey replied, and then continued, “you do realize I’m just agreeing with you, right?”  I kind of ignored this part and blissfully sailed down the hill; my bliss was interrupted with the sight of an uphill.  I might have inadvertently taught a couple kids who were playing outside a new word at that point.  Thankfully the hills on Duke were rolling hills.  That was a big help, though at one point I counted a little too much on momentum, didn’t downshift soon enough, and had to walk the last 20 feet or so of a hill.  A little later, I stopped a climb maybe 200 feet from the top and walked the rest of it.

Other than those two blips, I rode every hill of the day over our 50 mile ride.  I couldn’t wait to go home and upload my Garmin and look at the route.  Unfortunately, it had some kind of software malfunction and lost ALL of my data from the weekend.  In this “garmin link or it didn’t happen” day, I guess that means I’m going to have to reride the route (and hills).  In the meantime, Mickey’s elevation graph will have to do.

femme osage gravel elevation
His shows like 57 miles bc he rode 7 extra miles while waiting for me, but the hills should be basically accurate.

Definitely a tough ride for me, but riding hills like that is exactly what I need to be ready for Dirty Kanza. Well, that and longer miles.  It’s 2.5 months away and I’m starting to get nervous about my lack of long rides.  Hopefully I can kick it into gear pretty soon here.

Posted in Bicycling, Dirty Kanza, Training | Tagged , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Adventure Racing 101: How to build your Personal Adventure Network

In education, the Personal Learning Network (PLN) is a popular concept. Basically, a PLN is a network of resources — blogs, websites, and individuals — that inform and inspire you in your career. Similarly, aspiring (or active) adventure racers can benefit from building a personal adventure network. You can’t overestimate the benefits of knowing what to expect, learning answers to questions you haven’t even thought of, or just seeing a familiar face out on the course.

When I initially fell in love with adventure racing, I knew nothing about it beyond what I’d seen on Checkpoint Tracker’s live race coverage, but that soon changed. Over the next year, I embarked on my own personal course in adventure racing, and though my first official race was hardly a resounding success (we were disqualified for missing the time cut-off), it was an absolute blast. I attribute my ability to have fun even while lost in the woods after 13 hours of racing to the mental preparation my personal adventure network afforded me.

Here are some tips for building your own personal adventure network:

1. Explore race websites: These include basic details about the races and required gear lists. Some have suggested links to organizations where you can learn more about facets of adventure racing (orienteering clubs, for example) as well as recaps of past races. Many will list the teams who are already registered, along with links to their websites/blogs.

2. Dig into blogs. I read every word of my friend Patrick’s post about his first adventure race and then looked up his ROCK Racing friends who had also competed. If you don’t have a personal AR connection, start with the teams listed on your target race’s website or google “adventure race”, “adventure race reports”, or the name of any race or team that has caught your eye.  Blog posts are filled with helpful information and can give a clear picture of the ups and downs of a long adventure race.

3. Be a Facebook stalker: Many teams (like Team Virtus, my personal favorite) also have Facebook pages. “Like” these pages and you can read about their training and upcoming races, view race pictures, and see links to adventure racing articles you might never have come across.  My stalker tendencies (I’m harmless, I promise!) paid off in spades, eventually leading to a spot on a team.

4. Join the conversation: Comment on the blogs and Facebook pages you’re following. Cheer them on. Ask questions. Most adventure racers love to talk about their sport and many of us are surrounded by family members who are sick of the topic. Interested ears are a refreshing change! In most cases, you’ll find that even people on top teams are super cool and very approachable.  Adventure racers want more people drinking our kool-aid.

5. Don’t overlook the little guys: While I logged a lot of time obsessively following perennial front-runner Tecnu‘s progress at the AR World Championships and always benefit from Emily Korsch‘s race lessons, seeing top teams in action is like watching Olympic gymnasts: the things they make look easy are well beyond my abilities at this point. You can also learn a lot from middle-of-the-pack teams, who often come by their lessons the hard way. With careful reading, you might even avoid some of their mistakes.

6. Volunteer: Once the race reports failed to scare me away from adventure racing, my next step was volunteering at a race. It can be surprisingly fun (even in 20-degree weather), and volunteering offers you an up-close view of adventure racing.

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My volunteering partner looking official(ly) cold

Since many volunteers are also adventure racers, you’ll add to your AR contacts. Of course, you’ll also see plenty of race staff and participants. They may to be too busy for introductions, but just by being there you’re becoming a more familiar face and helping support a sport you love.  If I can’t race, the next best thing is volunteering so I can still be a part of it.

7. Join the club: Orienteering is vital in an adventure race, and mountain biking and paddling are generally featured as well. Some races may include rock climbing or kayaking. Your skill level in any race discipline will definitely impact your success on race day. Look for clubs or groups targeting these sports and join in some of their activities. You’ll have fun and develop your skills while meeting like-minded people (and potential teammates).

Getting ready to start the Hawn Turkey-o #sloc #orienteering

Getting ready to practice nav skills at an orienteering meet.

8. Say yes: If a team you’re following online hosts an open event and you can go, do it. You’ll meet cool people and gain experience. My first taste of adventure racing was at a “non-race” hosted by a team based 2 hours away from me. While it was no picnic convincing my husband it was a good idea for me to spend the day in the woods with a group of strange men, that 9 hours cemented my love for adventure racing.

9.  Jump in: Preparation and contacts are good, but in the end, the best way to learn about adventure racing is to do it.  Find a teammate, pick a race, and enter.

10. Complete the circle: After all you’ve learned from others, wouldn’t it be nice to give back? If you’re so inclined, start your own blog. Share your training, funny stories, race reports, triumphs, and failures. Blogs afford the ability to connect with others, obsess in print about favorite topics, and collect great memories and pictures in one place. Platforms such a Blogger, WordPress, and Weebly offer free blog hosting and are pretty simple to negotiate.

Use these ten tips and before long your calendar will be full of fun training opportunities and your adventure races will be full of familiar faces

Posted in Adventure racing, Team Virtus, Training, Uncategorized, Volunteering | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments