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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

Adventure Bucket List for 2016

Ambition will probably get the better of me, but I’m fired up about 2016 and I’m making plans.

I lust for adventure, but with a tight schedule and tighter budget, I take what I can get, and work to create the rest. This year I’m looking at some “local” adventure, and with a little luck and the right celestial alignment, I might manage to get out west again in some shape or form (I’d love a repeat of Whistler but haven’t committed to a location quite yet). So here’s the list: some are bike related, other are not. The whole point is to get outside and explore new places and have new experiences with cool people, old and new friends alike.

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En route to Whistler, BC.  The snowpack still up there in early August 2 years ago.  

1.) Bikepacking  This is happening!  A campsite is booked this spring in the Berkshire hills and Laura and I are in. Doors are open to other participants, but ladies only (sorry fellas, it’s a girl’s weekend).  I’ll be recon riding the area prior to the trip, and finding a good spot to safely and collectively park cars.  In the meantime, I’ve been doing a ton of research, collecting gear necessary, and reading up on some really great resources for this new endeavor.  Check out cyclewrite for backpacking in western Mass or Bikepacking.com for great gear hacks.

2.) Hammock Camping This very well may be a part my bikepacking experience.  I have the gear, but need to field test in my backyard or someplace relatively close to home before trekking into the woods for the real thing.

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3.) Dog Sledding This is a birthday gift for my son that I could not deliver upon, since we are in full El Nino here in New England. We finally got snow this week. A bit more snow will make this work. I found a great place with a team of Siberian Huskies in mid-state Vermont. We’re hoping to go by the end of January.

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4.) DH Mountain Biking I’m doing this-either here on the east coast of on the west coast or ideally, both.  I’ll have to rent a ride since I don’t own a full suspension rig (yet).  I had such a great time at Whistler 2 summers ago, I want to do more of this while I still can.

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5.) More Camping My parenting win of the year was successfully hooking my son on camping.  Our trip with friends last summer was so much fun, he cannot wait to do it again and talks about it all the time.  This is great news. He’s even talking about going on a mini version of bikepacking with me.  I have to plan a few trips to get out into the woods more with him.  Hey, it’s better than Minecraft all day long!

Hope you are carve out your own adventures in 2016!

-Karen

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The Nudge

Last year Laura and I had a bet, and I won. It was that same one we had in 2013-who can ride the most miles on their bike in a calendar year. She won that one. The prize this year, which had never really been discussed, was decided to be a day on bikes together. Given that she lives outside of Philly, and I in western Massachusetts, and given we both have crazy schedules, this wasn’t an easy prize to deliver on.

This weekend they posted the JAM Fund Grand FUNdo ride on Bikereg. The FUNdo is 68 miles with 5300 feet of climbing and benefits the developing professional cyclocross team founded by current US Cyclocross Champion Jeremy Powers, Alec Donahue and Mukunda Feldman. This ride is supposed to AWESOME, and it happens nearly in my back yard, and I’ve never been able to do it because of childcare reasons. This year, they moved it out a week and I’m free to do it. Win. I posted the link on her FB page and before I knew it, she signed up and so did I–and it’s on! We’re hanging out and riding bikes all day July 25th. I’m so excited!

This was exactly the nudge I needed too–yes there are races peppered through my schedule this summer and more regularly in the fall, but this is a big ride. 68 miles, 5300 feet of climbing, 20 miles of dirt. And all in the bosom of the beautiful Pioneer Valley. This is the event I needed in my schedule to train for.

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Not from the Fundo–but you get the idea….

I’m not a great climber and long distances burn me out–so I’ll need to prepare carefully. Most of the prep will surround food, hydration and timing of these two important elements. I’ll train too, off course, for the distance and the hills–I know I can do it–it’s just not being completely destroyed afterwards.

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Image credit: Jam Fund website http://www.jamcycling.org

And bonus–I already talked to mysterious co-blogger Heather about this event and it’s on her list to do. Additionally, I’d bet money a bunch of the NCC guys I chat with on twitter will sign up (guys if you are reading I know you are a lot faster than me but at least I’ll see you at the pig roast).

Totally stoked for this event! Hopefully the weather gods are kind and the winds are at our backs. To sign up and support the JAM Fund, go to BikeReg and check it out!

-Karen

MTB Nirvana: My Vacation To Whistler, BC

Speechless, which is what this post will be for the most part. I was utterly speechless walking through the Village of Whistler at the base of Whistler Mountain.  DH, full suspension mountain bikes leaning everywhere, being walked, being coasted and hopped down the playful mounds of earth sculpted in the mountain bike park. I did a couple hours in the park and did a ton of other riding, and hiking. It was freaking awesome. Go to Whistler if you love mountain biking or hiking or being outdoors and seeing beautiful mountains and bikes pretty much every time you open your eyes. I’ll leave you with some of the sites I saw while on vacation. Whistler, I’ll be back!!    -Karen

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Root 66 Domnarski Farm MTB Race Report

The last time I raced my mountain bike it was 2002. I had been mountain biking for about 2 years and raced only twice before. I was in northern Connecticut and don’t remember how I did. I remember my seat post slid down so low over the course of the race my lower back felt like someone had slammed it with a 2X4. Afterwards, I got into one of the worse fights ever with my then fiancée. It was one of the worst days I can remember. That was 2002.

Fast forward to last Sunday, June 1st, 2014. I have finally (and just recently) replaced that same mountain bike with the slipping seat post. I signed up the the Root 66 Domnarski Farm Mountain Bike race. I did this because I finally feel (gasp–wait for it) comfortable with the idea of racing my bike. Sure I still get nervous but I’m not worried about how old I am or how I might look or sucking incredibly bad. I’m happy and comfortable in my own Cat 3 skin.

Just before the race.

Just before the race.

The smartest thing I did with this race was to preride the course. Twice. I did this the day before. I arrived around 11AM and met up with this guy named Joe who had the same idea. We fumbled around looking for the parking lot, and eventually found where lot was (behind a gate–so we parked on the street) and with the use of my cell phone and the Strava App, figured out where to start.

Preriding revealed an immediate, steep, rocky climb that had me off the bike and pushing on and off for about a mile and a half. There were a few breaks with singletrack, stream crossings, and a snaking ascent. Some spots I just had to dismount and hike-a-bike. It was so steep and rocky, on my first pass I thought “maybe I won’t come back tomorrow for the race.”  Yeah. It was that unpleasant.

But I did come back, and good thing too. More on that later. The parking lot was open the next day and was as the race promoter had warned, a complete mud bog. There was a grand total of 4 Cat 3 women racing. Me (+35), Sara (19-34) and 2 juniors (12-18). Each age category was considered a separate race so Sara and I were going to win our respective age groups as long as we finished. I race against Sara in the CX season and we finally got to formally meet at the start line. We lined up together and my plan (based on the preride) was to hang back, not get in the way, and do my own thing. I thought we’d be starting with the other Cat 3’s–with the men, but they staggered each age group among the men and then let our little group of 4 women go together. So my plan changed. There were 2 clean lines heading into the woods and up the mountain. I was on one of those lines. I took the lead early and just tried to ride steady and clean. I had done 2 laps on my preride the day before so I knew most of the lines to take. I still was off the bike for at least 1/2 of the long, rocky ascent. But when I got to the top, I realized I was alone, with no one in sight behind me.

THAT NEVER HAPPENS.

And now that the rest of the way was downhill or mostly flat–I went. I pedaled hard where I could and kept trying to ride smooth and clean. I blew through the start line and ended my first lap, and just tried to repeat for the second lap.

On the second lap, I caught a couple of the Cat 3 guys and played leapfrog with them for most of the race. In the end, I passed one mid lap and I passed the second near the end (he had flatted). I tore across the finish line still not believing that I had come in 1st. And yes, I was going to “win” my age anyway, but I’ll be honest, it felt pretty good to win overall.

All done!!

All done!!

Winner, winner chicken dinner!

Winner, winner chicken dinner!

As an added bonus, afterwards I noticed CX Pro and phenom Crystal Anthony wiping down her bike. I had seen her out there preriding the course–she had past me but I recognized her immediately. I’ve watched her race at Northampton CSIcx and she’s crazy-amazing-good. I walked up and introduced myself and told her she was a pleasure to watch race.  Fan-girl moment of the day.  She was very gracious and friendly.  It’s not every day you get to meet one of the top women cyclocross racers in the country.

All & all, Domnarski Farm was a great time.  I’ll aim to go back next year and race the Sport category (Cat 2), and get my ass kicked again like I’m used to.

-Karen

PS- I wore a heart rate monitor for this race.  My average heart rate was 181 and my max heart rate was 191.  Discuss.

The Rapha Women’s 100km

The Rapha Women’s 100 was held today, an International celebration of women on bikes.  On July 7, 2013 women worldwide celebrated by riding 100km.  The Facebook page is hereScreen Shot 2013-07-07 at 8.39.59 PM.

“The Rapha Women’s 100 is not a competition to see who is the fastest, it is about gathering a global community of women around the world to take part in this shared adventure.”

There was a wonderful organized ride in Amherst, MA held today.  I was invited to go by my friend Gail, and it was a great opportunity to ride with group of local women.  A BBQ was planned afterwards, and the entire ride was preplanned, and supported with SAG vehicles and water stops by the husbands of several women riding (not that I’m an expert on husbands but seriously, these men are dolls for doing this).

I couldn’t go.  I couldn’t get 5 or 6 hours or childcare for my extremely energetic 8-year-old son.  I guessed approximately 4 hours riding with stops, plus the necessary set up/break down and talking before and after. That comes out to about 6 hours by my social calculator.

Bummed as I am for not being able to participate  I did sneak out for an hour (and hour is a lot easier to get a friend to watch the offspring than 6 hours).  My riding time has gone way down between the new job and the rain and now the extreme heat.  I’m getting a bit cagey, and 60 miles (or 100km) today would have been great, even in these crazy temperatures of 90 degrees with dew points of 70+.  I do regret not being able to connect with some new local women.  It’s so hard to find women to ride with, and I know if I did, my riding would improve.  I have a few friends and contacts to call for a ride, but honestly, I am now squeezing in every minute of effort into miles….I have no extra time and every time I get on my bike, it’s squeezed between one commitment or another.

I’m back to my old mantra of “Something is better than nothing.”  But at least it’s something.

-Karen

Early morning rides

I’m not a morning person, but in order to maintain continuity in my fitness, I’ve started getting up early to ride.  I wake between 5 or 6am, sneak in an hour or so, shower, dress, and then drive 45 minutes to work.  I’ve been about to eek out some mileage by doing this.  I’ve also avoided the wave of afternoon thunderstorms that have been plaguing the Northeast for the past 3 weeks.  It’s so hot, humid, and wet here, there are few opportunities to ride without overheating or getting doused.

The early morning rides are nice.  Few cars.  The sun rising.  A hint of coolness still in the air.  Animals. It’s a very beautiful, peaceful way to wake up. Until last week, when as I was cresting a hill just two towns away at about 6:30AM, when I head this ringing pop from my front wheel.  The bike immediately slowed.  I pulled over and discovered one of my spokes dangling helplessly from the rim.

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So what happens when you bust a spoke is your wheel warps.  This makes the wheel impossible to spin.  I was only 6 miles from home but on a truck route with no sidewalks, and as I mentioned, it was 6:30AM. I called my girlfriend who did not answer.  I started to walk home with the front wheel lifted parallel to the ground.  I was traipsing across front lawns, my cleats sinking into the wet, soft earth. At the rate I was going, I wasn’t getting home for another 1.5 hours which would certainly make me late for my new job, which is a 45 minute commute one way.  It was a “save thyself” situation.  I stopped on a front lawn and removed the errant spoke entirely.  Then I was able to bully the wheel just straight enough to roll through the brakes, which I had opened wide.  I wouldn’t have front brakes.  And my wheel was still pretty warped, but it would roll.  So I would roll with it.

I gingerly rolled home, slow but a heck of a lot faster than walking would have been.  I made it to work on time and still got my workout for the day.

-Karen