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Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Frozen Feet Half Marathon

First off, thanks for the nice comments on Tuesday's post.  There may be lots of problems with the internet, but it also gives the opportunity to connect. A lot of people both here and on facebook made me feel less alone and more ready to walk back into school tomorrow, where students who think nothing of calling me on a bad hair day are sure to mention my missing teeth. So thank you.



It shouldn't have been bad at all.  I mean, I ran a half marathon in October (two, if you count the 13 mile training run on the trails), a 30K in November, just 2 miles shy of a marathon at the end of December, and an 11-miler two weeks ago.  All but that first half marathon were on trails.  With all those races, you'd think I would line up at Saturday's Frozen Feet half marathon in some of my best running shape.  And you'd be wrong.

The problem, as always, is my inconsistency and poor attention span.  January has featured a lot more biking than running.  In fact, the half marathon was my fourth run of any kind this month; up until Saturday, I'd run a grand total of 19 miles in 2014.  I guess that's why I was so weirdly nervous that morning...all of a sudden, 13.1 miles seemed like a really long way to run.

One awesome feature of the race was that you got to wait for the start (and recover after your finish) inside a school.  Though we had a respite from our recent ridiculously cold temps (low 40's instead of single digits), it still wasn't really a day you'd want to stand around outside.  My Virtus teammates Robby and Adam were there, along with Adam's girlfriend and son who'd come to cheer us on (and maybe also to hang out with Adam for his birthday weekend).  Mickey and my long-time running friend Doug were there as well as several other friends, so I had a nice time hanging out pre-race.

Robby, Adam, and I wondering "Where's everybody else?"
Photo credit: Michelle Hughey

The race was almost entirely on trails, all but around 1 mile of which were paved, so we were spread out in waves leaving every three minutes.  My wave, the seventh, left at 8:18.  We started way slower than I wanted to run, so I skirted around the people in front of me along with one other girl and headed down the sidewalk.  Much of the race was held on familiar territory, and I smiled as we hit the trail and I recognized the spot where volunteers had been set up to send us across the road during the Castlewood 8-Hour

We came from the far left, made a right for a short out-and-back, then followed the river until we looped back, turned right for another out-and-back, then headed back to the start.
The nature of the course, with its three out-and-backs, meant you got to see (and cheer for!) other racers a lot.  This was good news for me, because talking to other people is a great distraction.  It also gave me a chance to keep tabs on my competition teammate Adam, who'd started in the wave behind me and who I really didn't want passing me after I'd had a three minute head start.

I felt pretty good for the first four miles and steadily picked off runners in front of me.  I hadn't been on the second out-and-back long when I saw the leaders coming towards me, so I started counting so I could let Mickey know where he stood (14th, though that didn't take into account the fact that many of the people in front of him had started one wave earlier).  It went something like "Looking strong!!...[under my breath]...9...way to go!!...[to myself]...10..."

The route was really pretty with the river views on one side and bluffs on the other.  When we hit the Sherman Beach area, we ran onto the singletrack, where I slowed down significantly, for about a mile.  The sky had looked progressively gloomier, and underneath the tree cover I began to feel raindrops.  So much for the 0% chance of precipitation! Completing the loop, we headed back the way we'd come with the river now on the left.

Once I was off the singletrack, my pace returned the low 9's.  Though I was already counting down the miles by mile 6, I was able to keep picking off runners in front of me and cheering on the people coming my way.  At about mile 6.5, the course turned for the last out-and-back, this one on a new-to-me paved trail that took us uphill for two miles.



I had known the hill was coming.  At first it wasn't that bad, just a steady, though relatively slight incline.  I slowed down, of course, but I kept running...and running...and running.  The paved trail was slightly icy, particularly on the many bridges along the way, so I never completely trusted my footing.  I noticed the letter H on a signpost, then a G on a bridge, so I clung to those letters as indicators of just how much longer I'd have to run uphill.

The hill gets steeper towards the top, but I'd seen letter C on a bridge and had hope that I was almost there.  The next bridge was unsigned, but it had to be B, right?  And then the next one was unsigned as all, but I had hopes that was A and I was almost finished.  I rounded a curve and was very sad to see the B sign still ahead of me.  I really wanted to walk, but I keep being told that the way to become better at running hills is to actually run them, so I followed directions like a good girl and ran the whole way to the top.  My pace for the last mile of the hill, my slowest of the whole race, was 10:48, and I'm pretty OK with that.

At the top of the hill, you had to circle a parking lot past a water station.  Someone there cheered "Hey, SuperKate!"  At the time I was too deep in still feeling miserable to see who it was, but they definitely gave me a lift as I headed back towards the trail.  I'd expected that two mile downhill to be glorious and speedy, but it wasn't so great.  My legs hurt, my feet hurt, my knee hurt...the one thing that didn't hurt, weirdly, was the hip that had been aching all morning before the race.  Gravity helped me hit the high 8's again, but looking at my watch and doing the math on the remainder of the race told me that another sub-2 half was in serious doubt.

My pace flattened out along with the hill, and I really struggled to keep pushing on the flat trail, even knowing that only two miles were left.  Still, sub-2 was in reach if I could just hold 9-minute miles.  If.  Mile 12 was too slow, and mile 13 turned us directly into a crazy headwind.  The wind forecast was in the 20-25 mph range, and I believe it.   It was the kind of wind where you looked down to make sure your feet were actually moving.  How bad was it?  My pace for the last mile, with the finish line in sight, was slower than every other mile except for the second half of the uphill.

Photo credit: Andrea Boianoff

My chip time ended up being 2:01.38, my slowest road half yet.  Maybe without the wind a sub-2 finish was in reach.  Maybe.  But this one hurt.  It was fun to get to see my friends on the course so many times, but the running part...not fun.  That's all about the training, though, or lack thereof.  The sad thing is I had just made a point about how fun running is (usually), so I definitely had to eat my words here.

Don't I look happy?
Photo credit: Michelle
Running the race was one thing, but Michelle, Andrew, and Andrea, who'd come to watch their boyfriend/dad/husband (respectively) all stuck around outside in that cold wind to get pictures of the rest of us too. Very cool. Big thanks to them. It's always nice to have someone at the end of the race for you, even if it's someone else's someone. :)

Telling Michelle "That was really tough!"
Photo credit: Andrea
Though I was a little disappointed in my finish, I was thrilled that my stomach, which usually hates me after a hard effort, was quiet.  I'm not sure what the difference was from my last two halves, but it was a very nice change.  We hung around inside for a while, eating the yummy post-race pizza and talking, then we met up with Bob and Cara for a more substantial breakfast.  And then that evening I had more pizza at my nephew's 9th birthday party.  Hmmm...maybe all that eating is why I woke up two pounds heavier the next day? 

Stats:

Chip time: 2:01:39
Overall: 113/244
Female: 40/114
AG: 12/40

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

All I want for Christmas is my two front teeth. Seriously.

A long time ago, when dinosaurs were a recent memory and I was in grade school, I went over to a neighbor friend's house, jumped off his loft, hit my chin on my knee, and knocked out my bottom (permanent) tooth.  Luckily, the tooth was able to be re-implanted, preserving my toothy smile.


Well, we've had a good run, my tooth and I, but it finally came to an end.  I'd had a stretch with little dental care while I was poor and my older boys were little; I was very thankful for the medical card that covered us, but finding a dentist who'd accept it wasn't easy.  When we finally got basic dental coverage, x-rays showed that the replaced tooth was dead and would need to come out.  Since it's front and center in my mouth, you can imagine how happy I was about that news, especially once I got an idea of what dental implants cost.

We eventually got better dental coverage, but the tooth didn't really give me any problems, so I ignored it while we worked to pay off the ridiculous amount of dental bills we accrued when Jeff needed multiple root canals. And then Nathan had two surgeries, which we're still paying for, so the tooth never moved off the to-do list.  All this is to say that it's my fault, and not our dentist's, that things got to this point.

I guess it got tired of waiting, and over our extended Christmas/snow break it developed an abscess.  Actually, as it turned out, its neighbor developed the abscess because it had been affected by the other dead tooth, and now I was losing not one, but two teeth. In the front of my mouth.  Today.

I'm trying hard to keep my perspective on this. I know there are far worse things that can happen; in fact, people around me are living them right now.  Even just in the tooth department, at least they're bottom teeth and not top ones. But many tears have been cried. It's taken me 40 years to get to a point where I'm comfortable with how I look, and now I'm very self conscious again.

Maybe not so much for a little while
I should only have a few weeks with this new gap-toothed smile before it gets filled in with an appliance, and luckily, with my reputation for falling, people are likely to believe whatever crazy story I come up with to explain my missing teeth.  Or just assume it's something more extreme than a playdate gone wrong.

Source

And in the meantime, maybe I'll just trade my biking/running time to hang out with hockey players.  I'll fit right in.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Bikes on the brain (gravel edition)

The thing about a long weekend, especially once where my family is otherwise occupied, is that I get greedy. This whole endurance sports thing is still new enough to me that there's a real kid-in-a-candy-store vibe to it. I want to do all the rides. And all the races.

Because of this, even though there was a very real possibility certainty that I'd be wiped out from riding Berryman, I couldn't resist the opportunity to do the Joe Dirt ride the following day.  How could I?? They were practically in the same town!  And it was gravel. And hilly.  Both things I'm going to need lots of practice with before Dirty Kanza.

 I was wiped out Saturday evening, but after ten hours (ten hours!!) of sleep I woke up Sunday morning feeling pretty good and surprisingly not sore.  Joe Dirt didn't start until noon, which gave me a weirdly relaxed morning to pack up and mess around on the laptop for a while (OK, I started the Berryman ride report) before a big breakfast at the nearby Spare Rib Inn.

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Yes, this was mine. No, I couldn't eat it all.
 We had around 45 minutes to make the 15 minute drive to the ride. The excess of time ended up being a good thing due -- allegedly -- to my poor navigation.  And hey, I can totally see how "Stay on Hwy 8" could be a complicated direction, especially since the turn was unsigned.


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Well this is embarrassing...
My dad was always a fan of the scenic route, though, so I have an appreciation for the long way there, and to be fair our little detour gave me the opportunity to realize I'd left my favorite hat back at the restaurant.  We had time to swing by, get it, and still arrive in plenty of time to get a parking spot in the packed lot and gear up before the noon roll-out.  There was plenty of socializing to be done, too, since there were friends getting ready everywhere.  Luckily I'd sorted everything out before brunch and didn't have much to do other than change shoes, throw on my pack, and deliberate over taking my jacket.

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Awesome forecast + great route = large turnout.
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Last-minute instructions
The ride was two loops of a hilly 23-mile route.  Knowing I'd be even slower than normal I'd put myself near the back of the group, but that wasn't quite far enough because most everyone behind me as well as people starting late quickly passed me by.  Within a few pedal strokes my legs reminded me they'd already ridden this weekend; they didn't hurt, but they were pretty dead.  The route, however, was an awesome distraction.  So pretty.

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Check out the rock outcroppings to the left
The gravel roads were in fantastic shape for the most part, solid enough that it was almost like riding on pavement.  I was a little distressed by the amount of effort it took to ride slowly in a fairly low gear on level ground and disheartened when I rounded a curve and saw the first big hill stretched in front of me.  Shifting down to my second-lowest gear, I started to grind my way up.  I could see my friend Lisa in front of me sailing up the hill, but when a guy in front of me got off and started walking my brain flipped a switch and decided it was time for me to walk too.

Eventually I started riding again, so at least I wasn't pushing my bike when I caught up to where Mickey was waiting.  "Were you in your lowest gear?" he asked when I admitted having walked up.

"Well, my second-lowest," I answered.

Elevation profile for the whole ride

Once I caught my breath I started obsessing about the upcoming downhill.  Never a confident descender, I'd been a little freaked out when I looked at the elevation profile in the car that morning (no moment like the last moment, right?) and saw two downhills that looked almost vertical.  It wasn't quite as bad as that, but I was heavy on the brakes as I crept down, only to face a steep uphill once I hit bottom.

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This hill is so much worse than it looks...
I actually rode up the next two big hills (in my lowest gear).  I probably could have walked them faster, but I keep being reminded that you don't get better at riding hills by walking them, and I'm trying to take that advice to heart.  After summitting hill two, inordinately proud of myself for not giving up and walking, I considered the difference in gearing.  Finally catching up again with Mickey (and you should understand that by "catching up" I mean he either waited or turned around and rode back my way, not that I actually caught up), I commented, "I know this is probably a stupid thing to say, but it's amazing how much easier just one more gear makes."  Turns out that there's a bigger jump between the easiest two gears than the other ones.  Hmmm...you learn something new every day.  If only my new things weren't "Bicycling 101" material.

He's smiling and riding uphill one-handed while taking a picture; I'm dying in the background.
None of the downhills were terrifying, but at least one was kind of damp and rutted and made me pretty nervous.  I had to walk part of the fourth hill, but the last six or so miles was fairly mild and I was actually able to shift into my big ring for the first time all day and move at a decent pace.  The final downhill was a good one, smooth, slightly winding, and not super steep, and I let myself carry a little more speed than normal for part of it.  We pulled back into the parking lot after about 2 hours and 10 minutes, and I don't even want to think about how much faster Mickey could have ridden it if he wasn't waiting on me.


Overall, once the first few miles were out of the way I started feeling a little less terrible, but despite the fact that it's been a long time since 23 miles sounded like a big distance, the first loop seemed to take forever.  I'm sure that's largely because of all of the hills, but it was probably also part mental.  Knowing I have a tendency to let myself off the hook when things get difficult and having been thinking about bailing on the second loop pretty much since my first pedal strokes, I tried to frame the ride in terms of the whole distance (so when we were coming back to the parking lot after the first loop, I wasn't at the end of a loop; instead, I was at the halfway point of the ride).

Quite a few people opted not to go out again. To be honest, despite all my talk about wanting to be ready for Dirty Kanza, I'd have been one of them in the absence of peer pressure.  Knowing my company, I didn't even suggest skipping the rest of the ride, but I'd be lying if I said I didn't look enviously at the people relaxing in the parking lot.

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All that said, the second loop seemed to go by much more quickly than the first.  The hills still sucked, and I only made it up one of the four without walking this time (giving me less than 50% for the ride, and a goal to target: by this summer I want to be able to ride all of the hills without walking), but counting down from 23 made it seem like the miles were flying by.  And make no mistake, I counted down almost every single mile.

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I find it's much easier to take pictures on hills while I'm walking.
A big advantage for me of a loop course is the increased familiarity the second time around.  I still wasn't screaming down the hills (well, I was on the inside), but I could go faster because I had a better idea of what to expect.  Of course, I still couldn't remember exactly where the uphills were (rounding a corner and cursing, "Oh, this *$%@ hill...") or how many of the big ones we'd already ridden (leaving me convinced we were finished with all of the bad climbs right until I rode up to the real last one...much of which I ended up walking).

Sharing my thoughts on hills and having to walk them.

The experience all paid off on the final downhill, though.  The last few miles are relatively flat with some rolling hills, and you can get going pretty fast.  Rather than brake as I started down the hill, I shifted into a harder gear and kept pedaling.  My bike picked up speed, and though typically anything about the low 20's scares me, I felt weirdly comfortable as I caught a glimpse of 30+ mph on my Garmin.  Rounding a curve, I saw 36 mph and still had time to go.  Maybe I can hit 40...I marveled, remembering last May when my fondest wish was to stay below 30 mph at Cedar Cross.  I don't even know who I am anymore...


After the close encounter with the station wagon
My downhill bliss came to an abrupt end as a station wagon swung into the middle of the road in front of me.  Startled, I grabbed the brakes, we moved to our respective sides of the road, and I continued my descent a bit more cautiously.  We pulled into the nearly empty parking lot, loaded up the bikes, and headed out.  What a day.  What a weekend.

Of course, the weekend wasn't quite over yet. This was the Sunday of Martin Luther King weekend, after all, and I had bike plans with Chuck, Lori, and Patrick on Monday.  Plans, that is, that I'd decided to cancel.  I was way too tired to go mountain biking the next day; I knew how that ride would go and wasn't up to trying to ride on dead legs again.  Checking the weather app on my phone, though, I realized that the weather was going to force a gravel ride.  That I could do.

Getting up the next morning sucked, but it was well worth it.  One of my biggest weaknesses is lack of mental toughness, so it was good for me to be tired and sore and not want to get back on my bike (all things which are sure to happen in Kansas) and do it anyway.  Plus, it was a blast.  We had a fun, adventure-paced ride.  What does adventure-pace mean? Slow, with lots of stops to check out cool stuff.

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Like lesser-known trails...
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And relics of big plans that never happened...
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And creepy old flood control buildings...
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And buildings that made us curious...
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And then answered our questions...
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...and gravel out-and-backs ending on levees
All told, I finished the weekend with just shy of 100 miles on the bike, which sounds pretty good until you realize that would get me not quite to the second checkpoint (halfway point) at Dirty Kanza and that I have yet to ride into the third checkpoint.  I've got a long way to go.  Luckily, unlike the Bandit, I have a long time to get there, and with the awesome group of training partners I have around me, I'm going to enjoy (almost) every pedal stroke.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Bikes on the brain (part 1)

Gravel season is upon us, my friends.  Last Saturday morning, I rolled out of bed at the delightful hour of 9:30 to a facebook reminder about Dirty Kanza registration.  Not ten minutes later, I was signed up and committed to 4.5 months of serious bike mileage in preparation for this 200-mile race that has, in the words of the Emporia Main Street Facebook page, been my kryptonite for the past two years.

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 What that means for you, of course, is 4.5 months of blog posts about bike rides (although there are at least two running races on my schedule also).  I know the majority of my readers are runners, so I hope you keep coming back because I love your comments. If you just can't stomach any more bike talk, though, I should be finished talking about the race by mid-June, when you can tune back in for pictures of Nathan's graduation from Marine boot camp.

So, DK registration was Saturday morning, the SHITR was Saturday night, and Sunday morning we saddled up.  Bob and I met Chuck, Lori, Dave, and Mickey at the Mound for a combination gravel ride/course clearing excursion.  Out of the six of us, only Dave isn't signed up for DK, and he's got a different gravel race in his sights.  We planned to start by riding the Lost Valley gravel to finish picking up the course markers for the previous night.  The Hamburg Trail had a fair amount of slush and snow on it, all having frozen over again the previous night.  This made for some "fun" bike handling moments, and I started thinking about the drop down into Lost Valley, a ride that scares me even in good conditions.

I suggested to Lori that we ride the gentler Hamburg downhill and come into Lost Valley from the lower parking lot, eliminating the bigger (and more importantly here, snow and ice-covered) hills.  We spun it as being more time efficient to work towards the guys and meet halfway, but everybody knew I was wimping out.  I was OK with that.

As it turned out, there was no "easy way out" on this ride.  While the Hamburg downhill wasn't bad, some of the flat parts were tough going.  There was still a lot of snow on the ground, and footprints and bike tracks from the previous day had frozen over.  We decided Lori was the smart one for leaving her mountain bike tires on!

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Footprints, ruts, snow, and ice. The snow was the easiest going, but even that was tough for me.
We did our fair share of walking. I was starting to think the guys would be waiting for us at the parking lot gate because it was taking us so long, but eventually we made it to Lost Valley and managed to clear a few markers before they came down the trail with reports of how sketchy their ride had been.  Now I felt more smart than wimpy.

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Since the guys had ridden the SHITR route, there were way more footprints and frozen spots than we'd had.
Nobody wanted to try riding back up the way the guys had come, and since Lori's and my route wasn't much better we all opted to take the Katy Trail to the less traveled quarry trail and head back towards Busch Wildlife that way.  The Katy was much more rideable, thanks to thawed areas and to whatever vehicle had driven on it and laid down a couple nice tracks, but the quarry trail looked like an icy mess.  So much for that idea, but the detour wasn't a total loss.

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There was throwing of rocks onto the ice...

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...and digging out beaver-chewed sticks...

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...and group pictures
Still looking for a suitable route to Busch Wildlife, we decided to take the Katy to a paved trail that would eventually lead us back onto Highway 94 for a short ride to our destination.  I'm not a fan of riding on the highway, but in this case it seemed the least treacherous option. Still, I was relieved to reach our turn. Chuck, Lori, Bob, and Dave all had other things to do, so Mickey and I set off onto the gravel roads of Busch Wildlife without them.

I'd been anticipating clear roads.  Since Busch gets a lot of sun, all of the snow should be melted and we'd get a break from riding on snow and ice.  While this was mostly true, "melted" didn't imply "dry", and instead of solid road we found ourselves trudging through soft, soupy muck, gray rooster tails spraying behind us.

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My poor pack...
We arrived back at the parking lot with 30 miles on our Garmins and a liberal coating of gravel paste.

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It took multiple trips through the wash to get all the dirt out of my clothes
The rest of the week I managed to squeeze in a 3.2 mile treadmill run and a 1.5 hour trainer ride, but life was mostly about taking care of things at home since I'd be gone for the weekend.  Martin Luther King weekend features the happy intersection of the Cardinals Winter Warmup and Team Virtus's MLK Ride at the Berryman Trail.  Jeff and Jacob spend every day of the three-day weekend scoring autographs and meeting baseball players, leaving me a guilt free ride binge.  This year allowed for back-to-back rides, with the Rte. 66 Bicycles Joe Dirt Ride being held the day after the MLK ride.

I left from work on Friday afternoon, and after eating the awesome dinner Mickey's wife cooked we headed to Cuba, MO, where we were staying with Luke and his family at his cousin's house.  The next morning we hit the trail, rolling out on time for perhaps the first time ever in Team Virtus history.

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Some of the group waiting to roll out
With as much as I've been riding over the past couple months, I expected to feel pretty good on the trail, but the first few miles weren't awesome.  My mental warmup takes just as long as the physical one, but once I changed my thoughts from "how am I so out of shape??" to "this is good training", I felt a little bit better.

Photo credit: Kevin
We had a decent-sized group strung out at the back of the pack with us, but it gradually whittled down. Luke and Rhonda dropped off to go get the grill started, leaving Mickey, Chuck, Dave, Kevin, and me.  I was frustrated with myself because the guys had to keep waiting for me, so it was a little nice to catch up to them with Chuck walking his bike.  He'd broken his chain, but luckily he had a spare link.

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He made quick work of the repairs and we were back on our way.
Not long after this, Kevin had to drop off and head back home for other plans.  Later, after having to walk an uphill switchback on his bad ankle, Chuck was really hurting and decided he was better off heading back early too.  I stopped with him so he could check my map before taking off, so Dave and Mickey got even further ahead of me.  It was at this point, though, where finally my brain kicked in and all of the sudden riding felt good.

Of course, it helped that this section of the trail was primarily downhill, but that hasn't always been a positive for me in the past.  I typically get scared on downhills, but the trail was in the best shape I've ever seen it in, and this was the kind of downhill I like: fairly gradual, winding and swoopy. All of the sudden I was having fun, and the guys were surprised when I took much less time than normal to catch up with them.

After a quick, somewhat triumphant, snack break, my hard-won flow disappeared and I could barely stay on the trail.  Rather than be frustrated, I was laughing to myself as I careened from edge to edge of the singletrack, happy for once that the guys were far enough ahead to miss my ineptitude.  We had a brief detour to check out a frozen waterfall Mickey had found while riding around waiting for me to catch up...


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Me and Dave
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Couldn't resist the triple dog dare
Two years ago when I rode about half of the trail with Luke and Jim, my very favorite part was the downhill into Brazil Creek, and once again this section was a blast.  Granted, my speed was probably still slower than the fast guys ride uphill, but it was fast for me.  We ate a little something by the side of the road and then set off on the last ten miles of the loop.



This section of trail was a little rougher than the first part, and of course I was more tired by this point.  I had to walk some short washed-out, rocky, rooty sections and some hills.  Shifting down into my lowest ring in the front, I managed to drop my chain and get it really caught.  I tried pulling it out, but it was so stuck I couldn't budge it, so I resigned myself to walking until I caught up with the guys or one of them turned around looking for me.  I walked and then tried dislodging the chain, walked again, and then stopped.  At this rate I'd be walking forever, and it was killing me to walk downhill.

Normally I'm a huge chicken on hills, but the best thing about getting tired is that I typically lose a little of my fear.  Coasting downhill, eating up distance with little effort suddenly seems so much more appealing, and if I crash and die, chances are I won't have to ride my bike anymore.  Win-win.  I took another look at the chain and remembered that if I shifted the back cogs I might get more slack and be able to put my chain back on. Success!  I was riding again.

...and walking.  I basically walked part of every uphill in the last 4-5 miles.  And by "part", I mean a big part.  I was vaguely embarrassed but too tired to care.  Trudging up to where Mickey was riding back and forth on the gravel waiting for me, I urged him to go on without me --  "I've only got a couple miles left...if anything happens I can just walk out" -- but knowing I was much more likely to take a gravel bailout if I was on my own, he stuck with me.  The rest of the ride followed a pattern familiar from Dirty Kanza: ride the hill as far as I can, walk to the top, bomb down, repeat.

I was so tired that I just wanted to sit down on the trail and cry, but I was also excitedly watching my mileage and realizing that I was going to finish the loop for the first time ever.  I was just giving myself a pep talk ("Two or three miles left...anyone can ride two or three miles...") when I caught up with Mickey at a gravel road crossing.  He gestured in front of him: "Do you see it?"  I looked blankly for a moment and then realized what he was showing me.  The parking lot and pavilion where we'd started were maybe 100 feet away through the trees.  Now I wanted to cry because I was so happy.

I changed into some dry clothes, parked myself by the grill, and filled up on brats (yeah, plural), a hamburger, and a couple of cookies.  We hung out for the next couple hours, and while it was a smaller crowd for the ride than in past years, some of my favorite people were there.  Meanwhile, as I celebrated my epic journey of 26 miles, some guys rode two laps, and one finished three.  Amazing.  I was wiped out by my one lap and was wildly unsure how I was going to manage the challenging 46-mile gravel ride the following day...but this post is long enough, so that's a story for another day.

Friday, January 17, 2014

My snow days photo album

No matter how much I love my job (and most days I really, really do, especially this year), I'm really never quite ready to go back after a weekend or a holiday break, even a break as fun-filled as the one I enjoyed over Christmas.   I was, however, ready for my sweet child to go back to school...his school started back on Jan. 2, while my first day was the 6th.  Instead, we got 4" of snow, enough for Jacob's district to close the schools that Thursday and shoot down my snow biking plans.  Grr. 

The following day, however, roads were clear, the schools were open, and I happily headed to Lost Valley to get that snowy ride in after all.  The temperature had started in the low single digits but was in the mid-20's by the time we met up, perfect riding conditions!  There were a couple of tire tracks on the Hamburg Trail, where we quickly learned it was easier to ride in fresh snow than in someone else's line, but we were the first bikes on the snow-covered singletrack.


Wheels on snow today. I'm loving this winter so far, even if today's ride did kick my butt and make me want to throw my bike downhill a couple times. #mtb #snow #winter #trails
Selfie with Chuck crossing the icy creek in the background
 As excited as I was to ride in the snow, I quickly remembered it was hard work.  It takes me even longer to warm up mentally than physically, and the snow added to the head games I always have to work through before I feel comfortable riding.  Trouble with hills, trouble clipping in with my snow-crusted cleats, trouble with off-camber sections in addition to my usual timidity...it was "fun".

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Looking back at our tire tracks on one of the doubletrack sections
Actually, it was fun, mostly...during the times I wasn't having mini-tantrums and wondering how long it would take me to hike back out after I threw my bike downhill.  The day was absolutely beautiful, the company was great, and we had the trails all to ourselves.  Pretty cool.

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Chuck working on his ice beard
Luckily Chuck is super patient (a result of a few years of riding with and waiting for me) and enjoyed lots of rest breaks while I muddled through.  Like I said, it was fun, but I was exhausted by the end and most definitely NOT up for a repeat the next day as we'd initially planned.  Instead, he, Lori, and I hit the trails at Bangert Island.

Bangert had the same amount of snow, though a few more tracks to help us make our way a bit more easily.  The terrain is much more gentle, too.  I had 100% more fun than at the Lost Valley and got some good lessons on skidding, traction, and momentum. 

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Chuck and Lori by the river
 We rode a couple of laps and then headed back towards the parking lot. Chuck saw a tree across a creek and thought that would make a good picture, so Lori and I obliged him (well, Lori agreed to, and then I went too bc you know I can't stand to miss out). I'll admit...he was right.

Taking a break on our ride. #bangert #snow #winter #friends
Lori and me
 That little 4" snowfall we got was only the tip of the iceberg.  Back-to-school-eve (otherwise known as Sunday) brought temperatures in the negatives and about a foot of snow.  No school for us on Monday.  Instead, Jeff and I shoveled the driveway.

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Jeff and Jacob

...and the boys played football...

Fair catch! #snowmaggeddon2014 #winter #snow #family
This boy LOVES to play catch
 As the temperature dropped over Monday (I think Tuesday's high was -1) the schools quickly called off again.  Unfortunately, it was really too cold to do much playing outside for the next couple of days, so we hibernated inside and relaxed together.  Can't complain at all about that.

Snow day fun
This is the most "playing in the snow" we did for the first half of the week.
 
By Thursday, the temperature had risen into the teens and twenties, but roads and parking lots were still a mess.  No school, and Jacob and I finally got to go sledding.

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He's heading up the hill.
 The older boys weren't able to join us, which is a shame because we had a blast.  There were only two cars in the parking lot when we arrived, and at most there were about 10 other people by the time we left. So much fun, and thanks to me being just a little heavier than he is, I destroyed him in every single race downhill.

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He's not enjoying himself at all.

And then I dropped him off at my mom's and went back to Bangert Island, which was a very different experience in a foot of snow.  It was perhaps not the brightest idea to go ride, but Mickey wanted to try out his new mountain bike and I'm not smart enough to say no thanks.  I fell twice on the flat Katy Trail in less than a mile.  I fell more on the singletrack.

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This isn't me, but it's an accurate representation of what I did. A lot.
 I pushed my bike a LOT.  I tried (and failed) to get going a LOT.  It was frustrating but funny, so I laughed a lot.  I did get a good reminder of how much more effective it is to "look where you want to go" rather than right in front of you. That strategy might have given me a few extra feet of ride time before I was back to pushing.  And, you know, falling.

Went bike riding in 10" of snow. Made a lot of snow angels. #mtb #winter #snow #snowmaggeddon2014 #snowdaynumber4
This is my bike. And my snow angel.

The snow didn't stop my more ambitious riding buddy from tackling the little bridge off the trail.  Well, attempting to tackle it.

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You can see where this is headed.  I think this is considered a "controlled fall" by the fall-er
 We rode 5.5 miles in two hours.  TWO HOURS. I could've walked it faster, even in the snow.  But it was a lot of fun...and when I got back to my car I found out I had ANOTHER snow day.  Hurray!  We ended up missing a full week of school, and while I know I'll be regretting it come the end of May when I'm still in school, I thoroughly enjoyed my extra time off. 

All good things come to an end, though.  Most of our big snow is gone, and I'm back to school. That's ok, though, because now we have a three-day weekend. :)

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Jacob and his friend in what was left of their igloo after the thaw started.