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.
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 descent 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. Just ride!
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!!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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?
Right! That never happens. I’ll spend this winter obsessing about what I should have done differently and not forgiving myself for not training harder, despite the reality of a highly demanding schedule.
What’s on my list this winter?
- Mountain biking
- Trail running
So far this winter has been record setting mild. No snow, a few cold days but nothing serious. I need to get back into running; I have some serious muscle imbalance going on, and I need to challenge some different muscle groups. Yoga would help. Now I need someone to make me do some yoga.
In 2016 I am signed up for a few obstacle course races starting in the spring and concluding in September. I’m hoping to squeeze a couple of mountain bike races in this summer too. Mountain biking is something I really love and during the summers I find myself not spending as much time as I would like in the woods.
Goals for 2016 will be forthcoming, but right now, no agendas, just fun. Happy holidays everyone!
I’ve always said my first love is mountain biking. It’s where I started, and I really wish I did more of it. So when a nearby Root 66 race was scheduled on a day in my schedule that I was actually available, I signed up for the Cat 3 women’s slot. A MTB race in southern Vermont was not a hard sell.
Joined by co-blogger Heather, we arrived nice & early, signed in and warmed up. We started on a mowed track through a meadow and into the woods. The climbing started early, and the trails were flowy, fun, with easy to navigate roots and rocks sprinkled throughout the course. There was plenty of downhill as well, with most of the course on singletrack, occasionally breaking out into doubletrack which provided opportunities to pass.
Since I didn’t pre-ride–I really had no idea what to expect and I rode conservatively for the first lap. The climbing pushed me physically–it wasn’t too awful but it made me work. The lap was supposed to be 5ish miles, but my Garmin read 4 miles and I had finished the first lap. I was pumped!
Lap 2 and I started to open it up. I caught air on one of the downhills. I shredded the banked turns. The climbing felt easier. I knew I was close to one of the riders just ahead of me. I thought I might catch her. But mostly, I was just really engaged in the ride–which was awesome.
Soon after beginning lap 2 when my mood was so high, I felt my back rim kiss a rooty section. Then I felt it again over a few rocks. I stood up, riding out of the saddle to keep my weight off the rear wheel. “I better watch that tire,” I thought. I lasted about a mile before descending down a fast double track, turning into a grassy turn and the tube was done. The tire nearly rolled completely off the rim as I hit the grass.
So, keep going. I dismounted and trotted with the bike, pushing it back up the singletrack. I was determined to finish–I did not want a DNF. And even if I wanted to quit (which i didn’t), there was no way I was getting out of the woods without following the trail out. I ran what I could, lifted the bike over the rougher stuff as to not damage the rim. 3 miles, or thereabouts. The lead I had over the 2 women behind me dissolved. in 15 minutes from my flat they overtook me. A few guys came by and asked if I was OK. Reports trickled to the finish line that there was a Cat 3 women with a mechanical on the course. When Heather heard that, she said “That’s Karen.” Of course it was. I finished with a smile anyway.
I was a bit bummed out–but then again, I wasn’t. I got a great workout pushing my mountain bike all that way. I watched my heart rate the whole time and kept it high. I had a wonderful slice of apple pie and a glass of hard cider afterwards. And I was happy to be in Vermont, a place a fall more in love with each time I go.
So I finished last. I had a good time. I gave a good effort and flats happen. I got a race under my belt before cyclocross season begins. I hung out with friends. I got back to Vermont. All good stuff. I do hope that the rest of my races stay mechanically uneventful, but hey–anything can happen….its my first flat in a race so I was due. Happens to the best of us, right? Next time I’ll bring my CO2.