It’s become part of nearly every long ride I do. I pour myself onto the road and the road eats me alive. I have been trying to push myself by doing longer rides. I have shied away from them because the aftermath is ugly. Headaches that turn into migraines, exhaustion, confusion, stomach issues–I’m a complete mess. I’ve tinkered with hydration and nutrition and there have been some improvements, but nothing has been 100% effective.
It’s been something I just sort of live with, but it’s been under my skin for a while now that I can’t do a big mile ride without suffering profoundly for several hours afterwards. Usually, the rest of my day is pretty worthless. I’ve never done a century, and it bothers me, but frankly if I attempted one, I think it would level me completely.
A discussion was prompted with a friend about this. She’s a lifelong runner, and compared my not feeling capable of completing a century with her own experience of never competing in a marathon. “Maybe you just don’t have one in you, and that’s OK.” I considered this a moment. It’s true, I judge myself negatively for not having a century under my belt. But maybe I was being too harsh to myself. (It would not be the first time….)
Still, I’m happy I’ve been focusing on bigger rides, attempting to build more endurance and resilience against my inevitable bonk. Heat is a factor, sun is a factor. I drink every 20 minutes (it’s like a drinking game) and eat every hour even when I really don’t want to. I eat a high protein and glucose rich meal within 20-30 minutes after a ride, and drink for hours after the ride to replenish fluids. Advil is a required ingredient in each post ride ritual to head off any serious headaches and prevent a day-killing migraine.
I’m going to keep pushing these longer rides this summer, at least until mid August, when I’ll switch up to cyclocross & intervals and all of that craziness. But I might just let go (for good) the idea of a century. I shouldn’t need that to validate me as a cyclist or an athlete. And sometimes things like this are funny. Sometimes as soon as you let go of an idea, sometimes, it finds you, or something better comes in the replace the preoccupation. Century or no century, I just love riding my bike.
Last weekend 6 months of planning came together on a hot sunny weekend in the Berkshire hills. Cross bikepacking off the adventure bucket list, and add it back for next year, because bikepacking is a blast.
Laura and I met up at Arcadia Shops in Lenox, MA for a couple of last minute gear needs and then parked at the free municipal lot in downtown Lenox. We rode 15 miles to Beartown State Forest. The climb into Beartown is a long climb, even longer on a mountain bike loaded with several pounds of gear. We made good time and had camp set up long before dark. We even had a enough time to take a dip in Benedict Pond, which felt absolutely amazing after a very hot day.
Originally we had wanted to camp at multiple locations throughout the weekend, but we learned about the 2 day minimum at all the campsites we researched for the Memorial Day weekend, so we decided to amend the plan.
Saturday morning my friend Gail drove out to the campsite. She was our Sherpa for the weekend, bringing a cooler packed with goodies to sustain us in the woods. She brought an extra mountain bike for Laura so we could all ride together (Laura’s Salsa is awesome but really best for gravel and not hopping logs).
The three of us went to Kennedy Park in Lenox for some mountain biking and socializing. We spent as much time chatting as we did riding–a very chill but fun afternoon in the woods.
Back at the campsite we ate like queens, hiked around Benedict Pond, swam in the pond at dusk, and drank wine by the campfire. What a great time. The next morning we enjoyed breakfast burritos made from farm fresh eggs, avocado, rice and black beans. Amazing. Laura and I packed up the bikes and rode 22 miles on a different route back to Lenox.
This trip wasn’t just bikepacking, but also my first experience hammock camping. This is what inspired the trip’s nickname “Bear Burritos.” from Laura’s husband insisting she would be a tasty snack for a bear if sleeping in a hammock. Hammock camping is something I first read about 20 years again in a book called Backwoods Ethics by Laura and Guy Waterman. I have been intrigued by the idea but now it seems a more available option. The reality of hammock camping, for me, was not quite the relaxing ideal that I read about. At first, I liked the gentle sway of the hammock. But in time, my hips began to ache and my neck crimped. At night, the forest does not sleep. And neither did I. There were creatures running all around me all night long. Leaves crinkled inches underneath me. I became obsessed with the random scurrying and pouncing. Armed with a flashlight, I tried to “catch” whatever was making the noises (although I’m certain there were more than one species afoot). After several attempts, I finally caught one of the creatures redhanded. It was a ferocious toad. Throughout the night I heard a chorus of other noises. Barred owls hooting “whocooksforyou?” and another call that I have come to believe was a female moose. Both animals got faraway responses from their calls. I laid in the hammock physically uncomfortable, but fascinated.
At about 4AM, I had a nightmare that I was sleeping in a hammock (funny, not a dream but clearly preoccupied even when unconscious), and I woke yelling and fighting, jumping out of the hammock. I tried to get comfortable again but decided to take a walk by the pond instead. I was tired, but the pond was peaceful and I lingered by the water, just enjoying the stillness.
Any guilt I had about my friend Gail bringing a cooler of food evaporated when we ate dinner. Here’s the thing: you quickly learn that there is NO ROOM to pack much food while bikepacking. Also consider the temperatures: 85-90 degrees in the heat of the day. The only option is dried foods that can be made with water. This limits the culinary choices significantly. Most of the articles I read on bikepacking talked about just surviving on protein bars or eating at gas stations. Um, no. I like my Lara Bars but there are limits. We ate fantastically, and it was a highlight of the trip. Maple apple chicken sausages, rice and beans, quinoa, kale and coconut salad, Cabot cheddar, homemade oat, chocolate chip and cherry bars, Gail’s date & cocoa truffles, some microbrew and cheap wine, breakfast burritos of scrambled eggs and avocado–we did just fine.
Admittedly, we stayed mostly on paved roads. We found a few ancient roads that were dirt or gravel or a mere footpath to add a bit of adventure. I think when we do this again, we’ll look for more off-road than on.
We did a fair amount of climbing for the distance. Even though this wasn’t super far away, we were out of cell range and felt like a million miles away–which had an enormous amount of value for all of us.
All and all, bikepacking was a huge success. It was a bit of a hybrid experience–combining on road, off road, mountain biking, hiking, and hammock camping. We had a sherpa, which seems against the point, but I have no regrets. Interest from other women has cropped up–we’ll need a bigger campsite, the more the merrier. Girls Bikepacking Weekend 2017 is happening! -Karen
SAY IT ISN’T SO!
It isn’t so. But it feels this way to me. I wanted to do a few mountain bike races this year. Like 3 or 4. I might, might get one this year. One! No better than last year (Putney Cider Classic when I flatted on the second lap and ran the bike the rest of the race–that sucked). The year before that was Domnarski Farm, where I won! That didn’t suck at all. (Hasn’t happened before or since). That’s the one I hope to return to this June.
I really enjoy mountain biking and I want more time to do it. I really like the zen flow, the quick decision making. I like picking good lines and having the strength to push the bike up, over and around a variety of natural objects and landscapes. Racing just means doing it with a bunch of other like-minded people. I don’t think I’ve raced enough mountain bikes to feel like I’m any good at it. I’m always surprised how few women I see mountain biking too–and certainly not a ton of women over 40.
This entire blog was started in part, to find more people to ride bikes with, after a crash I had mountain biking at Bachelor Street in the Holyoke Range. I was riding alone. I was going through a divorce, had a toddler in daycare, and a day off. I needed a good shred on the bike. On a trail I knew well, I crashed and got the wind knocked out of me. I had a moment of terror when I was dazed and sacred, unable to breath, thrown completely from my bike, with my knee impaled on a tree branch. A million thoughts ran through my head of how hurt I might be, how I was going to get out of the woods, and how I needed to get to my baby boy. After a systems check I realized was in fact going to be ok. But immediately after I thought – I can’t do this anymore. I can’t be out here by myself if I’m going to be a single mom.
Breathe Karen. Breathe.
That crash was 10 years ago. Of course, the panic subsided and I got back into the woods. Most of the time, alone. 98% of my mountain bike rides are solo.
Since then, mountain biking has been the strongest symbol for maintaining autonomy and balance in my life. It might seem counterintuitive, but I find a lot of peace and harmony in the woods, moving through difficult terrain, hard sharp rocks, slippery roots, mud and leaves and all manner of surfaces. I love the elemental quality it brings. I love the difficulty. I love the forest. When I’ve had a hard day at work, mountain biking. When it’s raining outside, mountain biking. When I’m confused about things in my personal life, mountain biking. When I have a itch that needs scratching, mountain biking.
When I am feeling out of balance, I start thinking mountain biking. Each summer feels like a negotiation of varying obligation. Work presses at me, even when I have scheduled time off. I still want to connect with others in the sport and I am happy I have a small handful of friends to ride with. I’m very psyched about my upcoming bikepacking adventure with Laura, with a possible guest appearance from my cycling buddy Gail. I need this trip on many, many levels.
I know a mountain bike race isn’t going to complete me. A simple ride will do. Or several simple rides strung together for the rest of my life. Starting with this summer.
Yesterday we put our bikepacking preparation and planning through a well thought out field test in Berkshire county. Meeting up in Lenox, MA, we headed south through Lee and Stockbridge to Beartown State Park in Monterey.
Laura rode her sweet titanium Salsa Colossal Ti, which she will tell you, actively participates in the process of moving you forward. The bike I rode, my beloved Giant xTc 27.5 MTB, carves nicely in the woods. But riding it up the mountain into Beartown, and then back north through Great Barrington up into Lenox, was a total bear. Especially packed with gear. For a total of 38 miles. And 2825 feet of climbing. To complicate my ride, my rear seat pack has a design flaw which caused it to sag and drag on my rear tire. Because muscling a 27 lb. mountain bike packed with 30 lbs. of gear on knobby tires isn’t hard enough.
That said, this was a FUN DAY. It was bright & sunny, the scenery was spectacular, and the adventure was real. I do, strangely, enjoy a level of physical difficulty. I know all the work I did yesterday is money in the bank for training. At the campsite, Laura & I tested out the hammocks and we both had them up in under 5 minutes. Score!
Now we pray it doesn’t rain when we actually go. There a loads of trails all around the campsite. I’m not sure how many are bikeable, but hiking is on the agenda too. The next big thing to figure out is food, and rain strategies that we hopefully don’t have to rely upon.
No more practice runs, the next time I post about bikepacking, it will be the real deal. 2 nights in hammocks with the bears! #BearBurritos2016
Plans are well underway for Laura & my maiden bikepacking voyage. We’ve already met on location and scouted the campsite, drove the route, hiked other routes on foot, and checked out some possible parking options for the weekend. We’re planning on meeting up in the Berkshires, which boosts beautiful views down nearly every road.
We have routes with options locked down, right now the primary focus seems to be on gear. I’ve never backpacked before, let alone bikepacked, so I’m getting a sense of what is needed to take care of the basics when away from civilization. There are a lot of great resources out there, and I’m reading everything I can get my hands on. I’ve learned a lot by just trying to strap items to my bike.
Laura and I both own hammocks but we’ve never used them. We are trying to determine if this will work for our trip. I need to attempt a backyard set up and figure out if I love it or hate it: everything I read seem to indicate there are people in both camps (no pun intended).
After we determine the sleeping arrangements (hammocks or perhaps a small tent), then I think the next puzzle will be what to bring for food. Given the amount of elevation we’ll be logging with fully loaded bikes, and the potential fun rides and hikes from the campsite, I’m thinking we’ll be looking for every calorie we can get our hands on.
Once we get these details ironed out, we’ll pray for fair weather and then set off for the weekend. We still plan on meeting again at least once to review details and ride the routes. Given that this is our first time and we’ll both be a good drive from home, I don’t mind the extra planning. I like a good adventure but I also like to be prepared. Maybe after a few bikepacking trips under my belt, I’ll explore a trip with less of a plan. But for now, this is a good enough start for me.
PS: We’ve decided the official hashtag to our little trip is #BearBurritos. Hammocks + hungry bears + sleeping cyclists = #BearBurritos.
Like any good cliché I’m changing up the diet and trying to work out more. In all the years I have been riding, I’ve noticed a threshold of activity when I start to really see a physical transformation in my body. That magic spot is 6+ hours. 6 is a minimum, 8 is better. Without noticing, jeans are roomier, I sleep better, and I crave healthier foods (while shunning crappy food–what a great problem to have). I notice it in the mirror, I notice it on the scale.
Getting the saddle time is the challenge, especially in the winter. This week I started riding the trainer. I have to make friends with it every year. Last year I didn’t ride the trainer very much and it was a harder road back to any kind of fitness. I don’t want to start so far behind this year. But I can’t imagine getting 6 hours in on the bike this way.
Recommendations for weight maintenance is 150-250 minutes a week. I’m in that zone right now, hoping to scape together enough outside time to creep past the 6 hour mark and shedding some of the holiday weight I’ve gained. My schedule is such that I achieve my ideal weight for a short period in the summer, then I stat to slowly soften as the days get shorter and my opportunities for exercise diminish with the seasons.
How are you getting your ride / activity time in?
Ambition will probably get the better of me, but I’m fired up about 2016 and I’m making plans.
I lust for adventure, but with a tight schedule and tighter budget, I take what I can get, and work to create the rest. This year I’m looking at some “local” adventure, and with a little luck and the right celestial alignment, I might manage to get out west again in some shape or form (I’d love a repeat of Whistler but haven’t committed to a location quite yet). So here’s the list: some are bike related, other are not. The whole point is to get outside and explore new places and have new experiences with cool people, old and new friends alike.
1.) Bikepacking This is happening! A campsite is booked this spring in the Berkshire hills and Laura and I are in. Doors are open to other participants, but ladies only (sorry fellas, it’s a girl’s weekend). I’ll be recon riding the area prior to the trip, and finding a good spot to safely and collectively park cars. In the meantime, I’ve been doing a ton of research, collecting gear necessary, and reading up on some really great resources for this new endeavor. Check out cyclewrite for backpacking in western Mass or Bikepacking.com for great gear hacks.
2.) Hammock Camping This very well may be a part my bikepacking experience. I have the gear, but need to field test in my backyard or someplace relatively close to home before trekking into the woods for the real thing.
3.) Dog Sledding This is a birthday gift for my son that I could not deliver upon, since we are in full El Nino here in New England. We finally got snow this week. A bit more snow will make this work. I found a great place with a team of Siberian Huskies in mid-state Vermont. We’re hoping to go by the end of January.
4.) DH Mountain Biking I’m doing this-either here on the east coast of on the west coast or ideally, both. I’ll have to rent a ride since I don’t own a full suspension rig (yet). I had such a great time at Whistler 2 summers ago, I want to do more of this while I still can.
5.) More Camping My parenting win of the year was successfully hooking my son on camping. Our trip with friends last summer was so much fun, he cannot wait to do it again and talks about it all the time. This is great news. He’s even talking about going on a mini version of bikepacking with me. I have to plan a few trips to get out into the woods more with him. Hey, it’s better than Minecraft all day long!
Hope you are carve out your own adventures in 2016!