I made it back to Whistler, and it was totally awesome! I took my son this time. We hiked more than biked, but I still got out to some local mountain bike trails near Lost Lake. We did a lot of hiking, walking, exploring, some XC mountain biking, some photography while hunting bears (for photo reasons not to harm them). Some of our adventure plans were thwarted due to my son’s weight. Most parents are warned about childhood obesity. Not me. My kid is a bean pole. I swear I can cook and feed him often! He’s 11 years old, 5 feet tall, and 69 lbs. soaking wet. For this reason, our plans to white water raft and bobsled will have to wait. He was awed by all the epic scenery and we had a terrific time nonetheless.
The bike park was jamming since it was the week before Crankworx. Unfortunately, I did not DH this trip….I’ll live but I was disappointed that I did not get to do this. Truthfully, I hiked so much I was pretty sore. I soaked in the dh bike culture nonetheless.
I left wanting more, just like 2 years ago. There is just so much to do at Whistler. The beauty of this place in inescapable. It will be a while before I return–I have new places to see and explore. I love the mountains though–and this place really delivers adventure.
This past week I threw together an impromptu trip to the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont with friends and finally got to ride Kingdom Trails.
In a word, awesome. Really, this is Mountain Bike Mecca. We started riding at 2:00pm on Wednesday and finished after 6:00pm, grabbed a delicious meal and a beer at the local tavern. We did 14.8 miles and almost 1500 ft of climbing. Not bad for a late start.
Not long after while on a reasonably easy trail, I hit a small jump (something I had been doing all day). I landed wrong, the bike got away from me and I hit the trail hard. Really hard. It took me a few minutes lying still to take stock of my well being. My glasses came apart and cut my nose upon impact, leaving a trickle of blood on my nose. My helmet slammed again the ground twice and I had a slight headache, but it passed. My hip and backside took the hardest hit and I’m still having trouble sitting down. I kept riding for the rest of the day, but took it easy. I was pretty gassed by the end of the day, and as we wrapped up the skies opened up to a cool and refreshing shower. We ate at Mike’s Tiki Bar and the Vermont Food Truck, where I had perhaps one of the best cheeseburgers of my life.
We camped about 25 minutes north at a small campground that was dominated by RVs, with a few exceptions–including our site, which was a short hike away from the main campground and set next to a waterfall. We arrived late Wednesday night and set up camp in the dark. The ground was riddled with roots and a clear spot to sleep on was hard to find. But the white noise of the rushing waterfall helped lull me to sleep each night.
Despite the crash, I had a fantastic time and will plan a return for next summer. Vermont is a beautiful state and my love affair with it continues. Kingdom Trails, I will be back!
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.