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Cyclocross is Underway!

Guys, I honestly didn’t think I was going to make it this season. Call me late to the party, but I’m here! Cyclocross season is underway in the #NECX and I’m gearing up for my 6th year.

So lots has happened since I was here last. I sold my house, moved in with my long time partner, started my son at a new school, got braces (yeah you read that right, I got braces–thanks Invisalign), and have been enjoying the “who know what will happen next” feeling of being a contract consultant and working sans contract. Nonetheless, I’m in good spirits, and for the first time in a long time, it feels like my life has some traction (now to keep my head down because saying it aloud makes me wonder just where that next hit will come from).

After the JAM Grand Fundo, I did the NEBRA August Adventure Ride–which was just so amazing.  Pencil that one on the must do list for next year everyone.  As the uncertainty of house selling toyed with me at the end of summer and the beginning of September, I all but stopped riding in favor of tag sales, craigslist, Facebook Marketplace, cleaning, packing, moving, repairing, etc, etc. OMG WHAT A LOT OF WORK. If packing up and selling off 16 years worth of a life isn’t like interval training I don’t know what is.

But it’s over. Officially. And I’m able to focus on a much happier obsession.

KMC CROSSFEST

So I planned to jump into the season at KMC Crossfest in Thompson, CT.  They’ve been trying to make KMC a really big deal, starting things off on a Thursday and concluding on Sunday.  It’s a C1/C2 race, and part of the USAC US Cup CX.  Meaning star power from the Pro Ranks would be there to compete.

I wasn’t there for that–I love watching the pros but I’m always more interested in doing rather than watching.  The entry fee was very expensive as far as cx races go. $60 a day, plus $10 to park-each day! Attendance withered as a result. I used to race in a field of 120 at this event. But on Day 1, only 25 women lined up.

The race was fast–as cross races go.  More pavement than I’ve ever seen at a cx race.  But the technical part was highly technical.

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In the cat 4 race they scored 40+ masters separately from the Under 40 cat 4s…..which to my complete surprise resulted in a podium for me!

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I got third!

I’m still psyched about it.

On my second day at KMC–a much different outcome. The field thinned even further–only 16 racers, and even fewer masters. I felt I had a good chance at repeating the result I had on Saturday and was very hopeful. I was really tired but had slept a good 10 hours and tend to rally after the whistle blows. The course was beat up from 3 days day of hard racing and only 1/2 way through the 1st lap I flatted. What a huge disappointment. My friend Jon was cheering for me and saw what happened. I was walking to the exit the course and had my hand on the tape when he yelled “No Karen! They have neutral support! Run to the pits!” I thought he was nuts. The pits were over a mile away.  “It’s so far!” I whined. But then I realized–yeah, I was whining. Stop it. Pick up your bike and run to the freaking pit.

So I did that.  Thank you Jon.

I’d never pitted before, so I took this as a great learning experience. The Shimano mechanics were great–they fixed things on my bike I didn’t even know needed fixing, and had me on my way very quickly with a new wheel. But the time lost running the course with my flatted out tire was significant. I lost an entire lap and finished dead fucking last. But DFL–>DNF–>DNS and I gained just a little more experience in the sport.

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Multi-approach to the gnarly downhill.  A LOT of crashes here but these Cat 3 women all made it down in one piece.

My sixth year and still a cat 4, still learning, and getting older (just had another birthday but still not as old as my racing age would have you think), but maybe getting better? Maybe.

Minuteman CX

That podium experience got me pretty fired up, and while I doubt that I’ll repeat the perfect storm of low attendance, high entry fee, and high profile event with a rule that has them scoring masters 40+ women separately again this year, I’m still just delusional enough to think I might be improving a bit. So I signed up for Minuteman CX–a race I’d never done before due to childcare schedules, but now my child is a breath away from teenager status and he came along to take pics.

The course is not very hilly and not very technical, except for the incredible number of turns/corners. So many corners! Cornering well would be the #1 skill to bring to this race. To my delight, overcast skies opened up 5 minutes before the race and continued to rain steadily for the whole event. We were ringing our gloves out at the start line, where a healthy group of 58 women lined up for the cat 4 race.

I had contact with someone pretty much the whole race, traded places, passed some got passed by others, crashed once, and got soaked and muddy. It was perfect. I finished just in the top 1/2 of the group–a solid mid pack finish which is what I aspire to do but always come up a little short. I was 29th of 58 and had a great time with teammates and friends.

Next weekend is the Gran Prix of Gloucester, and I’m racing both days, hosting friends at my Mom’s house, and going to a party with friends from high school. The original hometown race. The competition will be tougher but still shooting for mid-pack finishes, no flats or crashes, and maximum fun.

Guys, cx season is here!! So much fun!

-Karen

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JAM Fund Grand FUNdo – 2017

  • The JAM Fund Grand Fundo has became a signature cycling event in western Massachusetts, known for it’s cycling star power, beautiful and challenging routes, great food & drink, and warm community.  Living in western mass, I feel particularly fortunate to connect with so many cycling friends  at an event in my backyard that I otherwise would not get to see in my day to day life.

This year, Laura came back to do the full Fundo–67 miles and over 5,650 feet of climbing on a mix of paved and gravel roads.  It was a warm and cloudy day and I was grateful temps didn’t move past the mid 80’s.

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Laura & Gail.

We rolled out from Black Birch Winery in Southampton and hit gravel within just a few miles. Soon we all tackled the formidable King’s Highway, followed by Krug Sugarbush and then around mile 22, our first rest stop.

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KIT Teamies, Steph & Kathy at rest stop #1. I felt a little guilty in my NCC kit. They gave me a pass….”when in Rome….”  Northampton Cycling Club for summer, Keep It Tight for cyclocross season.

Soon after, we were back on gravel for what seemed like the next 30 miles. I was riding my gf’s gravel bike, a 2016 Specialized Dolce Evo, which was super comfortable. I loved the stopping power of the disc brakes and the Lazy-Boy quality of the seat. But it didn’t help me in the climbing department, and at 22 pounds, I was used to a lighter machine. I slogged through each hill, which slowed all of us down (sorry guys), but on the descents I bombed past everyone. The Specialized tracked superbly and I could confidentially hit 40+ mph on gravel and then stop on a dime.

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Laura’s taking a selfie and I’m showing her the pretty birdie.

By mile 50, I was more than ready for our downhill finale. 17 miles of reverse hills I was downward dogging it back to the winery. I REALLY wanted to hang out and enjoy the food and beer and friends, both new and old–but my son had been dropped off at a neighbor’s house after 2 weeks away from home (tech camp & a Cape Cod vacation) and I couldn’t wait another second to see my boy. I can’t complain though–It was a full day on bikes with friends at a terrific event supporting the next generation of cyclocross greats. I’ll be back next year for another helping!

-Karen

Muddy Onion Spring Classic

Oh Vermont, I want to run away with you forever.

But for now, I just have the occasional jaunt north. Last weekend, it was for the Muddy Onion-a gravel ride kicking off in Montpelier and looping across 3,700 feet of green mountain goodness on mostly gravel roads. Laura & I signed up back in February, and as the event got closer, Gail and Matt decided to join us. A couple of my KIT cyclocross teammates Kathy & Michele also signed up. The bike tribe gathered to celebrate the end of winter.

Gail & I Laura met up at my place Friday afternoon and we carpooled up to the state capital,  Packet pick up was a cinch at Onion River Sports. Matt had already arrived and the 4 of us dined at The Skinny Pancake–a first for me and definitely not a last! Crepes for dinner were A+.

Saturday morning, the weather for the ride could not have been more perfect. Mid 60’s in late April in Vermont was unusually warm but no one was complaining. We rolled out, and up, and up, and up. We were on gravel within just a couple of miles and stayed on gravel 90% of the time.

The views were beautiful and the rest stops stocked with maple syrup shots, chocolate covered bacon and Pabst Blue Ribbon. We climbed, talked, traded idle chit chat with fellow riders and enjoyed every moment of the 35 miles in picturesque Vermont.

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After the ride we enjoyed a free beer and veggie burgers and BBQ chicken. Back to the motel for a quick shower and we went back into town on a mission to find coffee and Zero Gravity Beer. Unavailable in Massachusetts and brewed in Burlington,VT- both Gail and I discovered this independently and have been fans ever since. We found it in liquor store in downtown Montpelier, and cleaned the place out. The store clerk entertained us with stories of his southern Georgia catholic-hebrew upbringing–a delightful encounter with a unconventionally lovely fellow.

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Gail, Laura and I returned to Massachusetts that evening and rode mountain bikes in thunderstorm the next day. Bikes and friends and great food and drink all weekend. I feel happy and blessed to have these getaways to remind me of what a balanced life is like. Occasionally I get it.

-Karen

US Cyclocross Nationals

Last Sunday I drove down to Hartford, CT to watch the pro races at the US Cyclocross National Championship.  The entire week had been a “spin the wheel” of extreme weather: rain, mud, snow, frozen ruts, frozen ruts covered by snow, frozen ruts with a layer of mud covered by more snow–they really had it all.  I watched Katie Compton claim her 13th national championship title, and Stephen Hyde his first. Actually I had to leave about 15 minutes before Hyde’s spectacular finish with a broken derailleur, which I’m still shaking my head over–I can’t believe I had to miss that!  Anyway, I shutterbugged and socialized and had a nice time despite the frigid temperatures.  Here are some of the better photos–enjoy!  -Karen

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Katie Compton was completely dominant

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Stephen Hyde, the new National Champion

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Jeremy Powers, the 2016 National Champion

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Jeremy Durrin

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Jeremy Durrin keeping it together

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Katie Compton

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The safe line on Bonk Breaker Hill

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The pro women down the chute off the hill and into the woods

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#BeardsOfCx is a trending hashtag

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Treacherous

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Lucky 13 for Compton

The What’s Next: 2017

2016 was a pretty great year adventure-wise:  I had a ton of fun and “got away from it all” on more than one occasion.  I doubt I can repeat but will try to with perhaps some variations to my normally scheduled program.

On the list for 2017:

1.) Fat Biking.  Never done it, and we’ve had the snow for it.  I expect we’ll be getting more since it’s only January.

2.) Dog Sledding.  I wanted to do this last year but there was no snow. There’s a team that runs twice a week in Windsor, VT.  I promised my son we’d do it so now it’s a matter of booking the dogs.

3.) Kingdom Trails-again.  I had such fun last year I need another helping of this slice of MTB paradise.

4.) An island…..or a canyon?  My mom has offered to take the family on a vacation.  The problem is, she can’t decide where. Oh I know, how unfair.  It’s rough. It’s between Nantucket and Montrose, Colorado.  Personally I’m in favor of Nantucket because 95% of the trips I take are to the mountains and sometimes I miss the sea.

5.) At least one Mountain Bike race.  Whoever is in charge of scheduling nearly every single mountain bike race in New England doesn’t want me signing up for any MTB events.  This seems to be true every summer.  Right now Domarski Farm lines up with one of the 26 weekends I have free a year.

6.) The JAM Grand Fundo.  The full Fundo this time.  I missed last year due to childcare conflicts.  I don’t know when the 2017 Fundo will be but want to attend.

7.) The Muddy Onion Spring Classic.  This one I’m already signed up for with Laura.  It’s not the Rasputita but its still 34 miles in late April on gravel roads in VT, which means mud.  I’m looking forward to it.

8.) A Dog. Wait, what?!  Yeah, I want one–have for years.  The last of my cats left us 3 years ago and I’m ready to grow my little family again.  A change in my work has allowed me to work from home up to 4 times a week, which means I can be home for an animal.

9.) Bikepacking, V2.0.  We’re doing it again!  Still working out details but locations under review are Fahnestock State Park in Carmel, NY, The Adirondack Trail Ride (TATR) in Northville, NY, or potentially just a bike/camp weekend in The Kingdom.

10.) Mystery Getaway.  I have a vacation yet-to-be planned and I have no honest idea of what or where that will be.  It’s been determined that Hawaii is on tap for 2018 so I need to save for that and be a bit leaner this year.  I have time–it’s only January!  I’ll figure it out…

11.) 3 more OCR Races. I’m already signed up.

12.) Cyclocross!  I’m adopting a wait and see attitude about the 2017 season.  I may back off a bit from CX and get a few weekends back to do other things.  Of course when September comes I’ll be chomping at the bit again so who knows.  I’ll stop when I’m dead.

And hiking, and camping, and so on, and so on…..

What’s your 2017 plan?

-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

 

Paradise CX Frenzy Twofer

Sometimes you have to wring yourself out to get somewhere.

I signed up for 2 races last Saturday, the Cat 4 and then the Open Category just 45 minutes later. After too little sleep, too little riding, too much travel, too much work, too much stress, and too much alcohol & food at client dinners (and breakfasts and lunches and coffee breaks)….. I needed the ass-kicking to get me back on track.

The Cat 4 Race

Staging was odd–I was in the second row but figured I’d be in the 3rd. My start was great and I was in the lead group through the squiggly, hilly turns after the first corner. Then the straightaway, and pick, pick, pick….they came. I slid back to the middle. The back fields were a maze of corners.  Around one corner I cut too close to one of the stakes and my foot slammed square into the post and nearly knocked me off the bike. Pick, pick, a couple more slid by me.  Then on a modest descent before a sharper right turn, a young woman blasted by me to the cheers of her friends. She passed, then lost control and wiped out in grand fashion right in front of me. I managed to avoid her crash but was forced to dismount for the sharp right turn and hill (which was totally rideable in any other circumstance).  I pushed on the the front of the course and the heckle-hill. They changed the hill a bit this year; the apex was characterized by a severe left turn on a sloping hill that slowed dismounts and caused some to topple down the hill.

About 3/4 into the first lap, I started coughing and my lungs started filling. My speed slowed to a non-race pace. I’ve had this problem before when the temps get cold: sports induced asthma.  It was in the high 40’s but felt colder somehow. I struggled through the rest of the race, trading places with one other racer a few times but in the end she won the battle and I lost yet another place. No Crossresults posting yet but at the venue I came in 15th/22? I think 22. Not so great and I am definitely capable of more.

At the end of the race, I was literally wheezing. I found my friend Kathy who was getting ready for the Women’s Open and told her exactly how I was feeling at that moment: I don’t want to race again. I went back to my car to warm up and lick my wounds. I called my girlfriend and told her how I was feeling. “You sound miserable. If you feel that awful then just come home and skip it.” Inside my brain, hearing her say this aloud was like a needle scratching across a record. I was miserable, but I was there, and quitting would feel worse than coughing up whatever was left of my lungs.

Women’s Open 1/2/3/4

So I lined up for the second race, the harder and longer race with the fast women. Again, they staged us in an odd manner….someone realized it must be alphabetical, which was really bizarre. I found myself in the front row, which I had no earthly business being. We started fine and on the straightaway I moved over on purpose. I did not want to be in anyone’s way. I didn’t want to interfere with anyone’s race. It didn’t take long for the field to pass me and my wheezing lungs and leave me by myself.

This was just fine.  I concentrated on form and smooth execution, and tried to push where I could, but the previous effort left me with very little. My lungs seemed to settle down but my energy was zonked.

On heckle hill, there were issues. Most heckles are in good fun. I joked with the spectators at the top and let them know I wasn’t taking myself too seriously. At least one heckler’s comments were what can only be described as condescending and pandering. I heard similar complaints from the other women post race, so I was not alone in this perception.

I got lapped and finished last–unless someone DNF’d (which happened last year).  I felt 100% destroyed and 100% better than after my first race.  If the first race tore me apart, the second pounded me into dust,which was exactly what I needed.

I’m hoping for a halfway decent showing next weekend in Northampton.  It’s always difficult to keep momentum during cross season–it’s a big frustration for me to not be able to do my best because “real life” demands don’t allow me to race or train or even get enough sleep to be healthy.  Hopefully Paradise CX’s pain will have some value next weekend.

-Karen

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