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Nature Baths: Get Outside to Get Right

I use cycling to manage stress and to bring me into a state of overall contentment and happiness.  With my injuries and that now temporarily on hold, I’m left feeling antsy and angsty, which does not make me a dream companion, a good mom, a good employee, or a good friend.

A friend in the cycling community reached out and suggested Nature Baths to calm my spirit.  She had an injury that derailed her summer in 2017 and knew exactly what I was going through.  I had started taking walks immediately after the accident to give my energy a place to go, but how much woods time was I getting?  Some, but not as much as my riding had been feeding me.

So I took this piece of advice and seriously considered what a nature bath meant.  I started taking walks in slightly wilder places.  Off sidestreets and sidewalks and onto paths and trails, even if for a short time.  The break from the noise of the world was truly calming and restorative.  When I was on streets and sidewalks, I’d focus on the birds or butterflies that floated by, or the way the breeze would gently stir the leaves on the trees, or the wildflowers that grew up on the margins of property lines.

And this simple break–it works.  Yesterday I only had a short walk close to home and my mood took a beating.  I was grouchy, sad, having a pity party and ready to argue with anyone who talked to me.  Today, I went out for a 3 mile walk along the slow end of the bike trail and feel relaxed, open, with more positive and creative thoughts.

So–if your feeling down or stressed or grouchy–try a walk in the woods.  It’s free and it works!

-Karen

 

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MassBike, The Wachusett Fondo, Bicycling Advocacy, and putting my money where my mouth is.

Guys!  After many years of wanting to give back to the cycling community and never having the time, I have fallen into a board role with MassBike PV (Pioneer Valley).  I’ve attended 2 meetings thus far, and I’m looking forward to helping the chapter, as well as the organization as a whole, achieve their ongoing mission of bicycle advocacy, education, and community support.

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As my first act of support, I’ve signed up for the Tim Johnson’s Wachusett Fondo.  Tim has been a wonderful, high profile advocate for cycling in all forms, and proceeds from the event will help fund MassBike’s work with cycling advocacy in the state of Massachusetts.  Some of my teamies from Keep It Tight are signing up, and I’m talking some friends into signing up as well. I’m also excited that my little brother Steve will be joining me (he says) on this ride! Steve rides motorcycles and dirt bikes more than he rides pedal bikes, and spends a lot of his time picking things up and putting them down in a gym.  A recent skiing accident this past winter has left him unable to hit the gym and perform his typical weightlifting regimen, so he started riding his road bike to keep fitness. A little sibling challenge from his older sister and I’m pretty sure he’ll be gutting the ride out with me on July 28th. This ride is 70 miles  paved & gravel, and 5,000 ++ ft of climbing, concluding at the summit of Mt. Wachusett.  Beer will follow!

-Karen

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 decent 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.

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

2016 Ice Weasels Cometh – Handups Are Not a Crime!

When I posted last year’s video of the Ice Weasel’s cyclocross race on Laura’s facebook page, with a casual mention that it might be a fun race for her to try, I really didn’t think she’d go for it.  Instead, she registered immediately and our plans began to take shape.

We met late Friday afternoon at the Riverpoint Cyclocross Park in West Warwick, RI for some low pressure course inspection.  It was a windy 31 degrees, with the sun low in the sky and light fading we squeezed two laps in and got a decent preview of the course.

It was a pleasure to wake up 10 minutes from a cyclocross race.  I slept in (7AM!), but was eager to get going in the morning. We were careful however to not arrive too early–the temps were even colder: 28 degrees with a 10 mph winds.  Fires burned in the team tent area as well as on the handup hill where most of the crowds gathered to heckler and pass out treats and beer. The Singlespeed/Fat Tire Race means costumes.  Really costumes are OK for everyone, but the Singlespeeders seem to dominate this category.  Wicked fun crowd.

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The race itself was awesome.  So much fun-I got an excellent start and just tried to apply steady pressure the whole time. Preriding the day before was highly beneficial and I had a good idea of how I wanted to approach each section of the course.  Ice Weasels is a party, but I still wanted to feel like I was racing my bike.  I did, however, remember regretting not enjoying the moment last year.  This year I willingly took whatever handup offered, including a White Russian, a chocolate donut hole, and a dollar bill (I lost the dollar).  Taking handups meant screwing up my descent down the gnarliest hill on the course.  I nailed it during preride but I clearly cannot consume liquor and sweets and ride my bike at the same time. No matter, I didn’t lose a place since everyone had the same healthy attitude about balancing racing and partaking.  It was a blast.  I came in 12 of 28. Finally a top 50% finish this season!

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Someone kept snow in a cooler for a week and brought it to the race to throw at anyone who managed to claw their way up this intense run up.  Many crashes here, even when snow wasn’t being thrown.

Laura faired well for her first time, placing 26/28.  It’s worth noting there were approximately 36 women preregistered: the cold definitely kept some away.  She took handups and generally enjoyed herself.  I don’t think she was being polite either since she started texting me Monday night asking about tire widths and setting her Salsa up for another race.

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After our race we watched the Singlespeed race and passed out mini chocolate cupcake handups and brownie bite handups.  It was fun to participate in the handup &  heckling and I find my thoughts keep drifting back to an outrageously fun weekend.  It has me thinking of one more race (maybe just one!) next weekend…..no decisions yet but seriously considering March Farms Cyclocross race in Bethlehem. CT.  Snow and rain are forecast, sound like the makings of a fun day!

-Karen

 

The Ice Weasels Cometh, El Nino Style

At last, I’ve experienced the infamous Ice Weasels.  Considered the end of the season party for the New England Cyclocross community, I have regrettably missed this party for the last 3 years.  Now I see what all the fuss is about.  This was a blast.  A completely rad course, beer handups, White Russian handups, candy cane handups, silly costumes, a Star Wars theme, and a bike jump!  What more could a girl ask for?  Oh, the amazing #NECX community.  So great. With ironically warm temperatures in the low 60’s, the Ice Weasels did not disappoint. Here are the highlights:

  • the above photos collected from links from the crossresults.com site  Thank you to the awesome #necx for sharing!

The race had some serious gnar.  Crazy chutes and granite ladders, dual pump tracks through the woods, a deep sand section that hells yeah, I rode through nearly every time, and lots of on and off the bike action.  I really loved this course–it was sick and twisted in all the best ways and the cheering from spectators was a frenzy of fun.  I haven’t raced since Northampton last month and have had almost zero time on the bike. My fitness was marginal but none of this mattered: this race was all about the fun.  But, you still are racing, you are still moving along at a good clip.  So when I felt a pop in my left calf on my very first dismount, followed by searing pain, I knew things were not good.

At first I tested what I could do….riding the crazy downhills was so much fun, I loved it.  I heard a couple loud crashes behind me as women lost it on the loose sand descent of some of the downhills.  I played tug of war with a Cannondale rider.  It was hard to assess what shape my calf was in while I was on the bike. I was in the moment.

Then I dismounted for the granite steps, and I felt more searing pain in the calf. I could pedal fine, but running off the bike, and worse, remounting, was agony. I limped through my runs off the bike.  I slowed way down, babied it as much as possible, and at times, walked when I would have been running.  I tried to push through it but to what end?  This was the fun race, I reminded myself.  When someone is sticking a solo cup in your face…..sometimes, sometimes you should just slow down and take it.

Next time, I will!

-Karen

More photos for your enjoyment (these ones are mine):

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Looking for Cookie and a Good Deed Done

Last Sunday I got to ride. After a leg stretching 18 miles in a balmy 40 degrees. I returned to my girlfriend’s place. As I was cleaning my bike up out front, an elderly woman approached. I greeted her and she said she was looking for her lost dog. After some prompting, I got a description of her little mostly white dog, Cookie, and offered to spin around the neighborhood looking for the little guy.

I rode around through the immediate neighborhood, and then hers. I stopped another older woman on her walk and asked if she had seen a little lost dog named Cookie. She asked where, and  told her what road the woman lived on. The woman exclaimed, “My daughter lives there!” She agreed to talk to her daughter and I pedaled on, calling “Coooooookie!  Cooooooookie!” I weaved down side streets and cruised slowly, scanning for little lost Cookie.

I turned back down the woman’s street and notice the walker I had stopped standing in the middle of the street, talking to a man and waved me toward her. I rode over and entered the discussion.

The man was the son of Cookie’s owner. I told him “I’m looking for a lost dog for a woman, it’s small and white and named Cookie.” He replied, “The woman is my mother, and that dog has been dead for years. I’m more concerned about where my mother is.”

Oh. Well I could still help. I knew where his mom was. He explained she gets a bit confused and occasionally wonders off her walking route. All was well that ended well. Mother was found, and I returned home shortly after.

This story didn’t turn out how I thought it would, but it felt good to help out in a small way. It’s sad that we age at all, and the results of aging for everyone varies, but no one choses how time will diminish us. That might sound strong–I don’t mean it to–but it captures my fear of aging. I want to remain as strong and sharp as I can for as long as possible. The march of time is without escape. Riding keeps me young–I feel like a kid when I’m on my bike.  I’m counting on that to help me as I travel through the last half of my life.

-Karen