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Rider Down (but not out): DH MTB Crash

After 17 years of riding, it finally happened.  On a trail I had ridden before, at Thunder Mountain Bike Park, I crashed off a small jump and injured myself.  Badly.

Thank God for full face helmets.  Thank God it wasn’t worse.

It was the first day of my vacation–after a year of no vacations, and the weather was a perfect 80 degrees, dry, not a cloud in the sky.  I took my son for a day of mother-son fun before he headed off to camp for 2 weeks.  We took a run together and then he joined his lesson, and I was on my own for a couple of hours.

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My son is happy the helmet doesn’t mess up his hair too much, because he has discovered girls, and is clearly cooler than everyone in the world.

A little foreshadowing:  this vacation time was largely unplanned.  I had no solid plan for this week, other than a ton of cycling.  I made the decision to book a bike and lesson for my son just a couple days before–but….I had some hesitation.  I feared he would get hurt (not me), and felt unsure and uncommitted about even going, even though I love downhilling and bought my new full suspension mountain bike with Thunder Mountain in mind.  I felt a bit displaced and distracted, almost outside of myself mentally on this trip (and in all things lately).  Almost like I was only half there.

Fast forward, my first run solo and I hit the trails. I rode trails I had in the past, “blue squares,” nothing crazy.  I usually stop and regroup with whomever I’m riding with, but this wasn’t necessary being alone….and my impatient nature urged me to keep on.  I hit Chin Strap, a moderate jump trail–which meant you could jump or just pop gently over the feature.  I’m more of a popper than jumper, but I can deal with a bit of air. I’m not certain what happened, I think my speed was greater than I realized and a jump came on faster than expected.  And I bit it.  I remember seeing my entire bike over my head, I think I’d hit the ground at that point.

I knew immediately I was done for the day but unsure of how done.  I scampered off the trail and pulled my bike off too, as another rider soared past me.  I was hurt, a little confused, I hadn’t yet taken stock of my injuries but knew I had to get off that trail before I caused another crash.  I managed to get back on the bike and roll down to where the trail intersected an access road. I found a safe place and sat down to figure out how hurt I was.

My shoulder had taken the brunt of the fall and all I knew was it hurt and wasn’t working right, and I didn’t think it was a good idea to test it much.  I felt a grinding and popping at the tip of my shoulder, which I later learned was my broken bones moving around.

A man on an ATV riding up the access road stopped and asked if I was ok.  I answered honestly.  “I’m not sure yet.”  I asked how tough the rest of the trail was, he advised I take the access road down.  “Will it bring me to the lodge?”  Yes.  I decided for the path of least resistance.

I collected myself and started walking my bike down the mountain.  I felt nauseous. Bike patrol stopped me and asked if I had gone down on Gronk (my favorite trail there).  Nope, that wasn’t me.  They offered to call a buggy to get me down.  I have skied the mountain enough to know I could be at the lodge in 5 minutes if I just kept going.  Plus I’m stubborn as hell.  “Nope, I’m good.”  I kept heading down the rocky, washed out access road, walking my bike.  The nausea persisted, but I felt capable to get myself off the mountain under my own power.  I started to feel pain in my chest while breathing.

I got to the car and was exhausted.  I texted my gf.  My son had another 45 minutes to his lesson.  My shoulder was a mess.  I managed to load my bike into my car with one arm.  I waited for his lesson to wrap up, collected him, and then drove myself a hour home to our local hospital’s ER.

X-rays, a quick exam, and a Motrin and I was sent home with a sling and diagnosis: Comminuted displaced distal right clavicle fracture, AC separation, and non-displaced right fourth rib fracture.  See the orthopedic folks on Monday to access if surgery is needed.  The nausea was from the pain of the trauma, not a head injury.  That was good news. I knew I was badly hurt, but never in severe pain, which may have been masked by adrenaline. Apparently my pulse and blood pressure was uncharacteristically high at the hospital.

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My clavicle. The top bone is supposed to be one piece. There is at least one visible bone fragment under the main fracture.

UPDATE:  Surgery is not needed.* I’m staying in the sling, keeping the joint immobile.  The broken rib hurts the most.  I have a bunch of other abrasions, bumps and bruises that have blossomed in the 2 days since the accident. I have to sleep upright.  I can’t drive.  I can’t put my sling on myself.  I can get MOST of my clothing on myself.  I expect most of this to get better soon.

(*at this time.  Reassessment in 4 weeks).

I am so grateful that this wasn’t much worse, as it easily could have been.  I love cycling but it’s got it’s dangers, even for experienced riders.

So I’m off the bike for a while. More to come with thoughts of this unplanned break, and updates of my progress.  Thanks for reading, and always wear a helmet!

-Karen

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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

Domnarski Farm-Root 66 MTB Race 2017

I finally made it back to Domnarski this year. I last raced this course in 2014 and the course was as difficult as I remembered; an uphill start over a bunch of sharp rocks for 1.2 miles and then fire roads, and a single track descent which was so fun it made you forget that first climb altogether–until you did it a second time. I raced Cat 3 and the loop was the shorter of the two loops at Domnarski–the “beginner” lap. First timers did it once, Cat 3’s twice.

It was a warm sunny day and the hill was exhausting–but the rest of the ride was a bunch of fun. 4 women started, I was the only 35+ woman so as long as I finished I would simultaneously “win” and “lose” my race. My goal was to finish faster than I did in 2014.

Mission accomplished.  I came in 3rd overall and beat my time from 2014 (according to Strava).

2014 lap times:  Lap 1  –  30:04, Lap 2  –  32:39

2017 lap times:  Lap 1  –  29:42, Lap 2  –  31:44

And as mentioned before, I was the only 35+ women, so solo podium for me.

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I’m lonely!

As an extra bonus, I learned after the race that this was the Massachusetts State Championship for the Root 66 Series, so I got an extra medal from USA Cycling, which was kind of cool, but still felt a little over the top, especially since I didn’t compete against anyone in my age group.

I am still racing the Cat 3 (beginner) class, mostly because before 2017 I had done about 2 races since the year 2000. Last year I didn’t do any mountain bike races. This is my 3rd MTB race this year, and while I still don’t feel like I’m ‘fast,” I’m not a beginner and unlike cyclocross–I usually get a good result in mountain biking races. For next year, I plan to suck it up and upgrade to Sport (Cat 2) for mountain biking. This is NOT the plan for cyclocross however–I will remain a cat 4 and continue to finish mid-pack on my best days.

I was also great seeing Kait again who is slaying all the 18-34 age group races in our category, and meeting a couple more women who raced. We were all pretty surprised there weren’t more women racing on such a picture perfect Sunday, but it was fun to chat for a while after the race.

I don’t know if I’ll have time in the schedule for additional MTB races this year. I plan to to the JAM Fund Grand Fundo and need to start training for the climbing/distance right now if I’m going to have a good day that day. And then cross season will be upon us in no time…I usually switch back to riding the cross bike exclusively by August. But I want to stay flexible this year in what I plan to do. I am not sure I’ll be doing so many cross races in 2017–I say this now but we’ll see. I know once I get a taste again I’ll want to do as many as I can.

-Karen

Fat Tire Classic MTB Race-Winding Trails

Last weekend I raced the Fat Tire Classic–a mountain bike race I’ve never done but had wanted to do for years. Up before 6:30am on a Sunday, I was seriously questioning why this was important — a Cat 3, 35+ event at 9am a state away. My stomach was feeling off all morning and I was tired and unmotivated. Already running late, I was concerned to find the LONGEST pre-reg line I’ve ever seen in my life. I barely got to the start on time and with no course inspection whatsoever, we went.

Then, I proceeded to have one of the greatest races of my life. Not because I’m all that. I was lucky enough to be very evenly matched with another woman. First place was long gone but my race was the race for second. I was 3rd, then 2nd, then 3rd, then 2nd again. I’m not sure how often we traded places by but the second lap we had traded names and complimented each other on the spirited rivalry.

In the end, I held her off to claim second, but another mile of trail and it very well could have been her taking the second spot on the podium. We hugged after the race and I thanked her. So seldom do I get a real race in these events, and she really gave me that, which made the day for me.


This race made me want to sign up for more mountain bike events this summer. It was s great result and I felt pushed in all the right ways. More please!

-Karen

Wallum Lake MTB Race

I bagged out of the duathlon I signed up for last February and entered a mountain bike race instead last weekend. Originally this race was to be held at Hodges Dam, but the heavy rains flooded part of the race course so organizers decided to move it to Wallum Lake at Douglas State Forest in Douglas, MA.

The course was a 6.6 mile loop of flat fire roads, rocky singletrack, and doubletrack trails. I entered the over 40 cat 3 race and did 2 laps. My start was great, I was second then first, then it all faded away. I burned all my matches and 3 miles in, I was regretting wearing long sleeves under my jersey, even though temps were just in the 50s.

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The single track was very rocky, and I was queen of the pedal strikes. I had never ridden the course before so it was all new to me, which I know worked against me. I passed one women who flatted in the first lap. At the finish I saw her again; she repaired her flat and kept racing (props). The second lap I was mostly alone. I was passed by a under 40 woman and then we were neck and neck up a double track hill littered with rocks. I passed her on the hill, and was concentrating so much on picking the right like up the hill, I missed a left turn into the woods. Suddenly I arrived at pavement and realized I was off course, and my competitor was long gone. I doubled back and found the trail, but it cost me at least 2-3 minutes. Even though she was out of my age group, I wanted to make up what I lost. I caught sight of her again through the woods a few times and tried to close the gap, but she was too far gone. My final placement was 4th in my age group.

The race lasted 2 hours, 13.3 miles–which is no joke for a Cat 3. I was hungry and tired for the next 2 days, but the intensity of the race felt cleansing and was what I needed to set me on the path I want to be on in terms of cycling fitness. The winter was long and this was a great jump start.

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I’m signed up for another MTB race this weekend, at Winding Trails in Farmington, CT. That course is supposed to be groomed, flat, fast. It will be fun to check out another place to ride. I like seeing new trails and meeting new people, as well as seeing some familiar faces from the cyclocross scene at these races. I’m hoping to do a couple more races after Winding Trails, as well as some longer, more social gravel road rides.

-Karen

FOMO Bike Racing

Last January in a fit of “oh my God I haven’t been able to ride outside in a week” desperation, I freaked out and signed up for a duathlon for mid April. I needed something to focus on. I have done the event before–a couple of times, although it’s been a few years. An off road trail run, a mountain bike ride, followed by another trail run. The while thing is done in about 90 minutes. I reasoned that the running would be a good thing to focus on throughout the winter to keep me active–and easier than trying to ride on icy roads. Plus it would get me in shape for the Spartan Event I’m doing in June (for the 4th time, God help me).

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Me and my little brother in 2009?  2010? at the duathlon. Anyway, in typical competitive first born nature, the thing to point out here is I’m ahead of my younger brother.

All that made a lot of sense. I had been watching Bikereg like a mother–always trying to find a couple of spring/summer events to do before cyclocross season, and it was January–so of course there wasn’t a lot posted. I got an email from the duathlon race promoted with a discount and it seemed like a perfectly good idea. I signed up.

Then about a month later, a mountain bike race was posted for the same time, same day, slightly closer to home. I figured oh well. But as it gets closer, I’m waffling.

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The same thing is happening at the end of April.  I’m signed up for the Muddy Onion Spring Classic. On the same day, another mountain bike race was posted 2 towns away. I am totally psyched for the Onion, but man I wish that mountain bike race was scheduled another day! I’d sign up in a heartbeat if were on another weekend.

It’s been a really long winter and it’s not quite over yet, with more snow expected on the very last day of May. I have found that I need something to look forward to to get me through long stretches like winter. Signing up for that duathlon was a sound choice but now…..now I’m looking at that mountain bike race and thinking–that’s what I’d rather be doing! I suck at running, I just tolerate it. It’s like doing homework. But a couple hours on my bike in the woods with like minded people?  Yeah, that’s my jam. There is a short 5.5 mile mountain bike portion of the duathlon, so its not like I wouldn’t get bike time, but it just doesn’t feel the same.

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I was having SOOOOO much fun at this race in 2015, even though shortly after this was taken I flatted and pushed my bike 4 miles through the woods. This is still more fun than running.

Ignorance is bliss, choices paralyze us. If I bag out on the duathlon and lose the $70 fee, and sign up for the mountain bike race, and then have a bad time at the race, will I be full of regret for changing my mind because of a little FOMO? Or is this just an example of going with my gut?

My gut love bikes, and it’s been a long, long winter.

-Karen

Women’s Mountain Bike Weekend-Planning Phase

Plans are underway for another off road getaway with Laura and Gail,  and with interest from others building from our respective Facebook feeds.  Upstate New York is the place, deep in the Hudson River Valley.

 

Bikepacking was the original plan, and I have a better rear saddle bag this year that I’m dying to test out, but this is shaping up to be more of a camping trip with bikes, with some minor bikepacking required to reach the campsite which is off the beaten path and away from parking. The bonus is our vehicles will be nearby enough and it will be easy to cache food and supplies there, but far enough away to feel a bit more off the grid. And there is less stress around route planning, which takes up an enormous amount of time.

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Camping is primitive and we can obtain a permit for up to 10 women. There has been interest expressed by a few different people. My attitude is the more the merrier–it will allow for mingling and new friendships and small groups to break off to hike or mountain bike or swim or do whatever.  I also am a fan of safety in numbers, and this campsite is said to be much more remote than our trip last year. We will be deep in bear country as well, so having more people and cars nearby (about a mile away) is a plus.

Stay tuned…..it’s coming together!

-Karen