Gravel & Dirt in 2018


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This year is nearly half over, and I’m just feeling like it’s starting. The winter was long.  So long. Like still getting snow in April long.  Now warmer weather is here and all I can think about is being outside riding. I’m getting out enough, but it’s like I feel the need to make up for a lot of lost time. This spring I returned to Montpelier, VT for The Muddy Onion Spring Classic.  I entered the first mountain bike race of the year as a Cat 2 rider, and played hookey for a solo adventure ride that took me somewhere I deeply needed.  Let’s play catch up.

The Muddy Onion

We just call this “The Onion” now.  We actually call it “The Funion” because it’s such a good time. Gail, Laura an I rode up to Vermont together, meeting Matt at a diner for some late night breakfast the evening before the event. Laura didn’t feel well after dinner and I was worried she might not be able to ride in the morning. She toughed it out and rallied for the event, even changing my flat tire at mile 31.

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The route changed slightly this year, but still brought us over some primo peanut butter mud and gravel. It had been raining all day Friday, and the roads showed it. I overheard that it was the muddiest Muddy Onion ride on record. I was just happy to be back in Vermont, a place I feel akin to. Beautiful roads under moody skies with friends and friendly cycling community.  This ride attracts a group of good people.

I should mention, my entry was comped by the GRVL-XX Project.

“GRVL-XX is a group for female cyclists only, dedicated to increasing participation of the ladies in gravel riding and racing and to showcase fun and unique events.”

They have a good community of FB and use their platform to grow the sport for women.  Check them out of you are a female rider, or a race promoter of a gravel event and are interested in promoting a little gender diversity.

Fat Tire Classic-Winding Trailing Mountain Bike Race

Despite the terrible weather all year, I’ve been keeping up with riding and while I’m not dedicated enough to be doing scheduled intervals on the trainer during the freak snowstorms we just kept getting all spring, I felt I was in good enough shape to level up to the Sport category for mountain biking.  When I started racing mountain bikes again in my 40’s, it was only a couple few years ago and I did a small handful of races. I always raced Cat 3 (beginner) and I’m not a beginner. I’m just middle aged and slow. But my bike handing skills are descent enough. I started bringing home some hardware from these cat 3 races-which was nice! Mountain bike races increase overall length of the race when you upgrade, and I can handle the increase in miles, so I figured–just go for it. Upgrade! Also-the mountain biking scene tends to be more chill that cyclocross, which is a nice break. I’m competitive enough in my own head, and a laid back culture is a very nice counterbalance. I like that about mountain biking-a lot. Just ride!

So I entered as a cat 2. Winding Trails is a pretty buffed out course, but this year had some changes to the course and it felt harder–like maybe there were more climbs than last year.  Instead of 10 miles (2 laps) I was in for 15 miles (3 laps). We lined up at the start and it’s nice to know some of the women I race against now. I saw Sarah from cyclocross (who now races elite in cx while I’m still hanging out in cat 4) and Kait who started racing last year and just keeps winning everything. We were causally chatting right up to the whistle, so different than the tense silence in the moments before the start of a cyclocross race. I was hoping to place among the 35+ crowd, and I was foolish enough to think this was possible.

I don’t know if it was the long winter, my overbloated confidence, or WHAT, but 15 miles was HARD. I rode as efficiently as I could, and the trails were not too technical at all, but I got my ass KICKED in that race. Dead last among all the women. I did pass one of the older guys who started before the women’s race on the same course. We exchanged pleasantries on a particularly unpleasant climb. But that was my only pass and it counted for nothing.

Since then, I have not done another mountain bike race–only because of scheduling issues. I plan to do at least one more–maybe two. And I’m planning on sticking to Cat 2, even though I got killed in it. Because I CAN handle the miles and I’m NOT a beginner, and mountain biking culture is totally chill. Maybe that combination is really the right one.

Solo Adventure Ride

A couple of weeks ago, I decided to take a day off and just have a “me” day.  I don’t think I know how much I needed this until I did it. 54 miles, solo. Vague idea of where I was going. Beautiful weather, beautiful roads, beautiful non-roads. The best ride. I’ll leave you with my Instagram post after that ride and the photos of it.

Today I took the day off and rode my bike 54 miles on pavement, gravel, mud, grass, snowmobile trails and cow paths. I accidentally ended up in a cow pasture and the cows noticed me and started coming for me. I was off the map for a while. I hopped fallen trees, crossed a stream, jumped an electric fence, and stepped carefully over barbed wire. I found a very ominous looking murder shack in the middle of nowhere. I found a rubber red goldfish tucked into a 150 year old oak tree. I saw waterfalls. A gaggle of wild turkeys. At one point when I was pretty lost, with no bars on the cell phone, I looked down and half buried in the mud was a small sign nailed to a post that had broken off, that read “YOU ARE HERE.” That was my favorite moment of this extraordinary day.

 

Summer’s finally arrived–go ride!!

-Karen

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About Karen

Mid-life female amateur athlete focused on cyclocross, mountain biking, and road cycling.

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