I had absolutely no plans to do Secret Squirrel this year.
First, it’s 2 hours away. Second, I am about done by now. At least I usually am. I had the weekend free and a 4 day weekend at that, I knew I wanted an event to burn off some turkey. With 4 races to choose from, I took to twitter for advice. #NECX spoke loudly and clearly–do Secret Squirrel, you won’t be disappointed.
I wasn’t. The course has everything: gnarly roots and technical sections in the woods, sweeping power on the backend of the sporting fields, hills that grind the energy from your legs, swooping downhills that were hollar-fun, and a legit sand run up. There was even an tiny bit of mud in spots.
They ran the elites and novices together–which in my opinion worked out just fine. I enjoyed having 45 minutes to race and I went as hard as I could, coming back with a top ten finish out of a field of 28 (I got 8th place!). Points-wise this is my very best result to date, building on an already terrific season. I even took another lap after finishing, because it was so goddamn fun.
The day wasn’t perfect: I had a terribly upset stomach all morning, likely from holiday food. I got tangled with a rider-dude during course inspection–I was knocked off my bike, and my foot became wedged between two of his spokes on his back wheel. He then tried to ride away, which really sucked. My foot is pretty black and blue as a result (still). I somehow banged my nose on that same fall and today half my nose is an attractive green and blue (hello make-up bag). I was kind of “off” before the race, not feeling even like racing very much. But reliably, something clicked when the siren blew and suddenly, none of that mattered.
I should also mention, this was the debut of an equipment upgrade: a tubeless wheelset and tires. I have flatted in 2 races this season and even flatted in pre-ride at Noho. I got a lot of great advice from social media and #NECX, and then went to my mechanic who set me up beautifully for less than $500. The wheels run smooth and fast and handled the wild roots of the Squirrel course–my last set up would have never made it out alive. Call me converted, I will endeavor to go tubeless with my entire fleet.
How many more races will I do? I’m STILL not sure, I’m having a load of fun and don’t want it to end. Ice Weasels is in 2 weeks, that’s a definite. We’ll see what other trouble I get into between now and the end of December,
My adopted hometown race weekend never disappoints. I have been really working to have a good showing at this race. Even though I usually do one or two more to close out the season, everything after Northampton is bonus.
The biggest factor was the extreme cold. I was warming up in 19 degrees, racing in 25 degrees. The first lap of the warmup brought painful hands, burning with cold, even through my gloves. After a lap they were fine. As with all things cycling, a little suffering must happen before anything good can come.
Day 1: Cat 4/5 Women
Call up was a mess. Juniors and parents were clogging the entry to staging. They were all loud and many of us missed our call up. I started a row behind where I was supposed to. We went and I was in the back of the field trying to make up for a bad start.
Going into the woods and over the “mound,” followed by a steep hairpin turn had some of us grousing. The women in front were dismounting and walking this section. I heard a rider next to me mutter “it’s so rideable.” I shared her frustration. But I expected this delay–it happens every time on the first lap. If you really want to avoid it, you need to get there first.
I took the steep side of the run up, not on purpose, but at the top, I slipped by at least 3 racers as a result. I had good luck on the tech sections and pushed hard in the grass, trying to ride the corners efficiently and just not lose any time. On the last lap, I saw a racer I knew from other races, and it was someone I knew was way faster than me. She seemed to be suffering a bit, we were back on the grass and I decided to try and catch her. I went like hell, turned in the last corner before the barriers and had the longest slide-out, slow motion crash ever. Boom. The ground had softened by about an 1/2 an inch deep and then under that–still frozen solid. I jumped up and hopped back on my bike. My attack was over and now I was defending….my mishap allowed the woman behind me to gain ground. I rode hard and managed to hold her off at the finish line with a 3 second gap.
I was super pleased with a skin-of-my-teeth top 50% finish, placing 18 of 35 racers (I’m not good at math but crossresults said it so it must be true).
What I was oblivious to was that I had placed 3rd of the over 40 women, and literally missed the podium ceremony. I wasn’t alone, the 2nd place winner, who is a friend, did too. Fortunately we were also friendly with the winner, and we reconvened for a photo op, which is really the big prize anyway.
Day 2: Cat 4/5 Women
I was super tired from Saturday’s race in the cold, and then rest of the day I spent spectating. I had this heavy legged fatigue and I hoped I could shake it for Sunday’s race. Call up was an even bigger mess. Juniors again crowded the entrance to staging. In other races I’ve seen this managed a bit more directly by people working the race. But the actual call up had problems too. They asked us “What row did you start in yesterday?” They didn’t have the right list and seemed to be figuring it out as they went. The racers worked as cooperatively with officials as possible to get staged.
I had another terrible start. Then only a few hundred feet into the race a crash on an icy corner brought down part of the large group I was chasing. I avoided most of the mess and benefited from the spill. My race was mostly uneventful. I had a sense I was further back than I wanted but caught and passed one rider I know I’m ranked closely to in points, so I had that. I rode the techie off camber every time which helped give me some seconds over competitors, but with less of a field racing on day too, I found we were pretty spaced out.
On the last lap, I played cat and mouse with a collegiate rider from UVM. After a few back and forths, she cut a beautiful turn and passed me on a corner. I had to hand it to her, it was a good move and one I’ve done in the past. I was really working to stay with her. We hit the sand and she erred, crashing at the start of the only clear line in the sand that was easily rideable. I didn’t panic and swung wide, and powered through the thick, soft sand past her crash, reconnecting with the hard packed line in the center. I was gone.
But not completely. I tried not to look back for the rest of the lap. We were down on the grass now and the race had become just me and her. I knew she’d be coming for me and I pushed hard. The finish was a long grassy runway, a wide turn and shorter sprint to finish. I went like hell, and good thing because she was on me. Just 1 second was enough to edge her out and take 17th place,
I wasn’t sure about the 40+ placement, and we waited for results to be posted. I got 4th-of the 40+ cat 4/5 Women so no podiums day 2, but was very happy with the weekend overall. I was tired and cold but happy. I went home and had a supremely long hot shower, and made a homemade chicken pot pie for Sunday dinner which was perfect comfort food.
Here are the pros! Women and Men on Day 1. I didn’t stay to watch on day 2 because I was interested in restoring a regular body temperature.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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!
- 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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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
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?