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!
Goals are funny. We want to achieve them but we like our routines. We like our habits, even the bad ones.
I set a goal of 3000 miles. I’ve wanted to do this kind of mileage before but never (I don’t think) put it in writing. 60 miles a week doesn’t seem insurmountable. But I’ve never been able to pull that kind of mileage off. Here are my most recent stats:
Distance 2,114 miles
Elevation Gain 92,450ft
Distance 2,345 miles
Elevation Gain 89,850ft
Distance 2,710 mi
Elevation Gain 118,000+++ft (should have written this one down!)
Elevation Gain 81,385ft
2013 was my best year for miles and climbing, and there is a great reason: I was laid off from my job for the first time in my entire life. Being out of work and being COMPLETELY stressed about it is a perfect recipe for high miles: high stress to pedal off and lots of free time to do it. Honestly I can thank cycling for getting me through that dark time. But things are on the upswing these days, so it would be great to log even higher miles and have them just be for fun, not exclusively for mental health.
Mid summer in 2015, I was feeling a loss of wind in my sails around training, about the approaching cyclocross season and how invested I could be or wanted to be in the race season. I got it together, mostly. But my miles dropped off hard as soon as daylight saving time came around, and with that, so did my overall fitness.
So why 3000 miles? It feels like a magic number to me. In 2013 when I was riding a ton, things started to shift for me in terms of my cycling performance. I got faster, I climbed better, I became a more capable cyclist. It felt so great. I moved off the plateau and onto higher ground, and it was nice, and surprising, to learn that was still possible in my forties.
So-3000 miles for 2016. Hopefully the mild winter will continue, my personal schedules fall into place, and I can get the saddle time I need to get there…..and hopefully I’ll move off that plateau and onto that higher ground I’m looking for.
As the year winds down and we all start thinking resolutions, I’m left to consider what I did this year and what I didn’t.
In reality, I have a ton to feel proud about. But if I’m being honest, I have to admit one of my character flaws emerge when I look back on the year. I have a problem with comparing myself to others. I’m always thinking I could have ridden more miles, climbed more hills, hiked more, skied more, mountain biked more. My desire to be outside and exploring is compulsive. It’s as essential as breathing. Yet I am never fully satisfied. I always want more. And at the end of the year, I feel, somehow, that I could have done more.
This is crazy talk. I was outdoors all the time. I raced 10 cyclocross races, 1 mountain bike race, 1 Spartan Sprint. I did the JAM Grand Fundo with Laura. I joined a cyclocross team, which was a great step ahead in my cyclocross experience. I went hiking and camping and riding in beautiful Vermont. My son and I panned for gold and chased crayfish in a shallow river there. I gave him his first knife–a Swiss Army and taught him to whittle. I snowshoed and skied and trail ran and I can keep listing these things to prove….to myself…..that it was enough.
I don’t want to falsely give the impression my insecurities are the primary driver of my outdoor life. I’ve always loved exploring and being outdoors. I love the camaraderie of competition, pushing myself and the shared experience of pushing physical limits. I love finding new places. I feel simultaneously fascinated and at ease with nature. I suffer from FOMO (fear of missing out) and I shouldn’t. I don’t have oodles of free time and to get outside and do any of the many things I do get to do–it takes a lot of planning and intent. Constant intention.
One thing I’ve learned about myself is that I’m ridiculously persistent. I feel this is one of my better attributes and it’s served me well. So as 2015 comes to a close, I’m considering what adventures lie ahead. In 2016 I intend to do the following:
- Another 10+ races of Cyclocross
- Compete in Cyclocross Nationals in Hartford, CT in 2017
- Bikepacking Trips
- Spartan Sprint Boston
- Warrior Dash Boston
- Rugged Maniac
- DH Mountain Biking @ Berkshire East
- The JAM Grando Fundo
- More Camping
- More Hiking
We all lead busy lives with demands on our time. So many things are important and balance is hard to strike. Here’s to living with more intent to get outdoors and into another great adventure.