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Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Get back on that horse and ride

So go ahead. Fall down. The world looks different from the ground. ~Oprah Winfrey

Saturday I met up with some friends for a bike ride.  We all have long gravel races coming up: this weekend's OGRE (150 miles) for Keith and Dave, and May's Cedar Cross (113 miles) and Dirty Kanza (200 miles) for Chuck and me.  We'd initially discussed riding 80 miles of gravel, but somehow we hit upon riding a trifecta. While considerably shorter in distance (~45 miles), the trifecta's singletrack portion pretty much guaranteed that we'd get similar saddle time. Thursday night's ride hadn't left me particularly confident that I'd bag my first trifecta, but I was willing to give it another try. At worst, I'd bail after the second park like on my last attempt.

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Dave, Keith, and Chuck at Lost Valley

We started with Lost Valley. The trails were in amazing shape, and with the exception of one section where I fell chickening out of something I know I can ride, I had probably my best ride ever there.  My strava file shows all kinds of new personal bests on segments.  Because this is the first trail I ever rode on a mountain bike, every ride there is something of a progress gauge for me. I've finally reached the point where, though there are parts I can't ride yet, nothing terrifies me there anymore, but the biggest mark of progress is that the guys never had to wait for me there.  I was almost always in the back, but I was able to stay pretty close.

Of course we stopped to play on the gate. Here's Keith on his maiden voyage.
Next on our itinerary was Matson Hill Park, via the Katy Trail and a big climb up Matson Hill Rd.  On my first trifecta attempt, a crash midway through had combined with my aching back to send me home without hitting the final park.  This time Matson had my number even sooner.  Attempting to ride over a big root, instead I plowed into it, went over my handlebars, and landed back on the root.  It really hurt.  The guys came back to help me out and pick up my bike, and Chuck asked me if I wanted to walk for a little bit.  Instead, I gingerly swung my leg over my bike and proceeded to ride very tentatively, walking anything that looked the least bit tricky.

I must've banged my rear derailleur in the crash, because my shifting was a mess from there on out and my chain would slip any time I rode up any kind of a hill.  I'd stop and mess with it, ride again, stop and mess with it.  Meanwhile, the guys got further and further ahead.  Which was fine.  I didn't want them to have to spend the rest of the day waiting on me, my damaged bike, and my missing mojo, and when I caught up I planned to suggest that I just cut the loop short so they could finish their trifecta with a minimum of waiting.

Instead, Chuck rode back to check on me: "I just knew you were back here, being all down on yourself and planning to cut things short," he told me.  (He knows me so well.) I tried explaining the problem with the bike to him, but instead I started crying.  Embarrassed, I looked away and tried to pull myself together.  "Hey," he said, "as many times as we've raced together, you don't have to pretend not to cry in front of me! Just tell me what's wrong."

And so, in between sniffles, I tried explaining the shifting issues, and he got it to work a little bit better.  He did not, however, let me off the hook for the trifecta.  While I never really got a lot of nerve back and still had mechanical issues any time I rode up much of a hill, I eventually relaxed a little bit.  Coming back on the Hayes trail, a group of guys had stopped to wait for us to pass.  Attempting to ride it with too much lean and too little speed, I toppled over on my side (thankfully, not the hurt side) right in front of them.  I landed in a nice soft grassy patch, laughed, dusted myself off, and rode on.

Because the way out of Matson is all uphill, by the time I got back to the park entrance I was frustrated with the slipping chain and ready to just ride back to my car. Swayed by the idea of lunch at the Augusta Brewery, I figured riding the flat Katy Trail shouldn't give me too many shifting issues.  Once I'd agreed to go to Augusta, it didn't take Chuck long to convince me to go ahead and ride some at Klondike ("It's just one paved uphill and then all downhill!)...I'm such a sheep.

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Lunch was awesome...I wanted  one of everything but settled for pulled pork...and a big pretzel...and a cider...and a soda.
We definitely took our time at lunch.  Dave and Chuck had a pitcher of beer to finish, and I was in no hurry to get back on my bike.  The place was packed, and we ran into some friends who'd ridden over from St. Louis for lunch.  Eventually we couldn't stall any longer, so we collected our bikes, met up with Keith (who'd been riding mile out-and-backs on the Katy as he waited for us slackers), and headed towards Klondike.

I was really only there to mark the park off my checklist, so while the guys rode ahead I stopped to take a picture of my bike at the trailhead, then soon after stopped and offered to take a picture of a young couple.  Still feeling pretty iffy about my handling and even minimal obstacles, I walked the places that weren't pretty smooth and then rode up to the first switchback.

I'm not all that skilled on switchbacks, and because the Hogsback trail is built into a semi-steep hillside, there's a little more cost to overshooting your turn.  I actually cleared the switchback, and then I got nervous and tried to put down my foot.  Unfortunately I opted to do that at a downhill point where my foot couldn't reach the ground, and I once again went over the side of my bike, landing hard on some rocks.

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Pretty, huh?
 At this point I was officially done.  Done riding anything remotely scary, done pushing my comfort zone. I walked a lot of the remainder of the trail, angry with the park and myself and my shattered confidence. Thankfully the ride back to the parking lot was all nice, wide trail, and somehow as tired and done as I was, I still had enough left to out of nowhere ride my second fastest time ever on the Hamburg uphill.  Weird how that works.  At the end of a very tough day for me, I drove home with 47 miles on my bike computer, lots of new bruises, and a sincere appreciation for the patient friends who put up with my tear-stained, very un-super company, even though they could have finished the trifecta much faster in my absence.

I spent Easter day with my family, avoiding big hugs and any movement that required me to use the oblique muscles on my swollen right side. That made for a relaxing day, and I very much enjoyed sitting around in the beautiful weather.  I was a little worried about the gravel century Mickey and I had planned for Monday, but as long as I didn't have to sneeze or get off my bike too often (both things that were pretty painful), I figured I should be ok.

Well, I'd be ok physically.  Mentally was another thing.  I was apprehensive about the ride, to put it mildly.  Even though we were riding on gravel and my falls had all been on singletrack, I was really afraid I was going to fall again.  The cloudy morning sky and likelihood of rain further tempted me to bail, but Mickey didn't take me up on my halfhearted offer to spare him dragging along an anchor.

We started on the Lost Valley gravel, and it was immediately clear that all my hard-won downhill mojo from Tour of Hermann had evaporated. I crept down the first, fairly sketchy, downhill, missing my fat mountain bike tires, and I even did a lot of braking on the backside downhill as well.  On the other hand, while my climbing was slow, I didn't do any uphill walking (not always a given).

From Lost Valley, we took the Katy Trail back to Klondike Park.  At some point during Saturday's train wreck ride, I'd lost my camera there, and though Mickey and his kids had a minor search party for it on Saturday night, I'd thought of another place I could have dropped it.  Before looking for the camera, we rode towards the other side of the park, where there are some fun little features, like the tire-popping boardwalk.

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Mickey changing his tire...
Me opting to Facebook rather than taking the suggested opportunity to practice riding on the boardwalk.
And yes, I know that the stupid boardwalk is plenty wide and shouldn't be scary at all.  But I also know that sometimes I need to just give myself permission to be wimpy until I don't feel wimpy anymore.  The next stop was the teeter totters, which Mickey "mistakenly" thought he could convince me to do.


Ummmm...so maybe I was mistaken about not riding them.  I was persuaded by a combination of "my kids ride these!", knowing I'd done it before at Ray's Indoor Bike Park, and, ultimately, the offer to stand next to the teeter totter and not let me fall.  So, whatever, he was right, I was wrong.  This time.

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Celebrating being off work on a Monday
 We had no luck finding the camera, so we headed back onto the Katy Trail and towards the gravel flats outside of Defiance.  On our way, though, Mickey paused at the intersection with Terry Rd.  "We're right here...people are always talking about this road...maybe we should see what it's all about.  It's just a few miles, and then we can cut back down to the Katy on some other roads."

I knew it was hilly, but I was up for it, especially after riding some big hills last month and having no Garmin proof of it.  As we started on Terry Rd, though, I recognized the scenery.  "I think we've been here before."

This time it was Mickey who was unconvinced (and wrong), but while the climb kind of sucked, it wasn't that bad.  The first big hill was followed by rolling hills, mostly in an upward manner, and eventually we hit an intersection.  "We've definitely ridden that before," I said again.

"Hmmm...have we?  Hey, here's Duke!"

I definitely remembered Duke Road and its rolling hills, especially the ones I'd had to walk.  I'm pretty sure that whole Terry Road "let's check it out" detour was a con job, but thankfully Duke was much less painful in this direction than the way we'd ridden it before.  Those uphills still hurt, though, which is probably why I was so happy to see this:


In the past, signs like these have inspired serious dread, but Monday, for perhaps the first time ever, I saw that downhill symbol and thought, "Yess!!!"  My excitement for the paved hills didn't, however, extend to the gravelly Matson Hill Rd, and I spent a lot of time on the brakes easing myself down safely.

From Matson, we rode out onto the Femme Osage gravel, where after the first out-and-back we were treated to the sight of a maintenance truck dumping fresh gravel onto the roads.  (Well, I was treated to the sight. People who know Mickey will be unsurprised to hear that he never noticed the big orange dump truck in the middle of the road before we turned.)  "Luckily" they'd already gravelled the next stretch of road we attacked, which made for very unfun riding.

As I trailed along behind Mickey, I thought about the fact that we'd been to Lost Valley, Klondike, and right by Matson.  It's kind of like a gravel trifecta, I thought...oooh, we could ride to Bangert and Creve Coeur parks and make it a quint-fecta.  Of course, when I came up with this brilliant plan I thought it was only about ten miles to Bangert rather than the 17 it actually was, and within about 3 miles on the Katy Trail I was grateful I hadn't mentioned the Creve Coeur part of the plan to Mickey because I was already hating myself for committing to 30+ miles of flat gravel.

Naturally the way out was into a headwind.  I even checked with Mickey, "This is a headwind, right?" Seems like I'm always riding into a headwind thinking how nice it'll be when I turn around, only to turn around and realize that hadn't been a headwind at all.  But no, there was even a flag blowing in our direction to show that we had a headwind.  Good...it's not so bad when you know you'll have a tailwind on the way back.

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Finally!
After what felt like a million miles on the Katy, we reached Bangert. After a short snack break, I very grudgingly climbed back onto my bike and proceeded to enjoy the heck out of the singletrack. Unfortunately, we still had a 17-mile ride back to Weldon Spring.  "If someone I knew drove up right now," I said, "I'd jump in their car without hesitation."  I also considered asking the firemen at the trailhead investigating a report of a fire if they'd drive me back.

No, that doesn't bode well for my mental toughness at Dirty Kanza.  Nor do my attempts to convince Mickey that, being so much faster, he could hurry back to the Mound and then come pick me up at the Weldon Spring trailhead. Or the Research Park trailhead.  Or... "No!"  Hmph.  With friends like these...
Oh, and that tailwind we'd expected? Nonexistent, that flag now flying spitefully towards my face.

We'd discussed taking the shortest way back on the paved Research Park trailhead and cutting down Highway 94, but opted to avoid that route due to traffic concerns.  We ended up riding up the quarry trail to the Hamburg and pulling into the parking lot with 71 miles on my Garmin (and quite a few more than that for Mickey, who'd both started earlier and ridden extra).

That made 118 miles for the weekend, pretty good unless you consider that it's only about 5 miles more than Cedar Cross or, more depressingly, would put me not quite halfway to the third checkpoint at Dirty Kanza. But I'm a master of denial, so I'm not thinking about either of those things.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Tour of Hermann

Tour of Hermann is a two-day gravel stage race held around Hermann, MO.  Day one features three 30ish mile loops, and day two follows with two 50ish mile loops. For those of us preparing for Dirty Kanza, the weekend promises a very reasonable entry fee ($40 for two days), a great training opportunity, and the chance to gauge progress to date.  Last year TOH conflicted with the Ava Brown Memorial 5K, but this year it fell a week earlier and I was free.

I spent Friday night celebrating my birthday with my family, and once the party was over I started getting things together.  Since I've been considering taking my new mountain bike to Kansas for this year's DK, I'd intended to take it along to Tour of Hermann.  This plan fell apart when I went to change my rear tire, which has a jacked up valve that I didn't want to have to fight with during the race if I flatted, only to realize too late that the tires were set up tubeless.  Since my experience with this is hearing my friends debate the benefits, I returned my mountain bike and its newly flattened rear tire to the garage and only packed the cross bike.  In retrospect, just putting in a tube and taking the MTB would have been a good move for the weekend.

I headed out of town a little before 6 a.m. on Saturday morning and pulled into the Stone Hill Winery in Hermann with plenty of time to get checked in, get ready, and socialize.  I ended up parking right next to the Sonas, my friends Steve and Mickey were just across the lot, Susy was there taking pictures, and of course there were tons of other familiar faces.  I was moderately nervous because I didn't have anyone there to ride with, but since Chuck and I had ridden parts of the route last year, I was at least a little familiar with the impending pain.

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Pre-race, just look at that happy face. Photo credit: Susy Stephens
I toyed with what to wear, but in the end I decided to go with a light baselayer under my long-sleeved jersey and tights over my bike shorts.  I wore a hat but left off the jacket.  I was a little cool before the start, but my rule of thumb is that if I'm comfortable before a race I'll be too hot during.  Right around 9:00, race director Jeff Yielding said a few words and then sent us down the hill and onto our first loop.  We zipped through town, across the Missouri River bridge, and onto the Katy Trail.  I've barely been on a bike in the past two weeks thanks to adventure camp last weekend (still working on that report), but I felt pretty great early on.

Pedaling down the Katy Trail, I saw a familiar white jersey ahead of me.  Is that a Virtus jersey?  Oh, wow, maybe one of the guys took pity on me since they knew I was going to be here on my own!   Who could it be? I pedaled faster, eventually catching up with Bob.  "Hey, you look like a guy I know!"  Though I'd been fine with being alone, I was delighted to get to ride with one of my friends.  We talked our way down the Katy Trail and onto the turnoff.

As we started up one of the first climbs, a pretty gentle once compared to the hills that awaited us, a girl in front of me waved me ahead.  "You know, you'll probably just be passing me right back," I warned her, knowing that I'm not nearly as strong on hills as I'd like to be.

"I like it quiet," she replied pointedly.


Ooooookay, then.  I've always found the bike community, especially gravel grinders and mountain bikers, to be a really friendly, welcoming group, and if anyone was going to be rude, I guess I'd expect it more from one of the strong riders.  Instead, the top riders and racers I've met have been nothing but friendly, encouraging, and welcoming, and probably the rudest thing I've heard is from a girl who's slower than me.  Go figure. 

I'm on my bike to have fun, and I've never left a ride without having a conversation with a new person.  Though that wasn't about to change, Bob and I yo-yo'd for a while with Library Voice, and I felt uncomfortable every time we passed.  Eventually we pulled away and didn't see her for the rest of the day.  That didn't stop me from repeatedly relaying the story, though, and I had plenty of time to do that at the top of the first big climb.

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Coming from a downhill and loving it! Photo credit: Susy Stephens
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...and there's the uphill.  Photo credit: Dan Singer
I know that I'm beginning to change because for the first time I'd looked at the roller coaster-esque elevation profile with anticipation rather than sick dread.  We'd bombed down a big paved hill that I remembered riding last year with Chuck, and since it led into a monster hill I barely touched my brakes. Though I had to walk at least half of this climb last year I made it the whole way up on Saturday, though Justin made passing me look easy.  Catching my breath at the top, I had the chance to meet John, who I only knew from my blog's facebook page, and David, whose stlbiking.com forum question I'd chimed in on, in person.  It was really nice to get to ride with and talk to the guys for a while until the next big(ger) hill, which I did have to walk part of, spread things out again.

I missed my mountain bike gearing for sure -- I think I'd have had less walking to do on that bike -- but I wasn't unhappy with how I felt on my cross bike, and now that I (semi)enjoy riding downhill at least there's a payoff for all that uphill work.  Conditions were great: the sun was shining, temperatures were comfortable, and the gravel was well-packed.  I wouldn't say the first loop was easy, because I definitely had to work hard, but it was fun. Towards the end of the first loop my "MawMaw hip" started to act up, so I planned to make a quick stop at the car, stretch it a little, and quickly get going.

In reality, my transition left a lot to be desired.  I dragged myself up the hill to Stone Hill Winery, privately grumbling about why the race couldn't be headquartered at Stone Valley Winery or Stone Plain Winery or Stone Anything-That-Doesn't-Require-An-Uphill-Finish Winery, finishing my first 28 miles in 2:13.  Strava shows my moving time as 2:08, so I only lost 5 minutes to stopping, catching my breath, etc, during that first loop.  Not bad.

Twenty-five minutes of wardrobe adjustment, food resupply, and general time wasting (though no stretching, which was the one thing I really needed to do), I was following a couple guys back down the hill and to roads south of Hermann for loop 2.  Unlike the few spikes starring in loop 1, the elevation profile on this section looked more like a comb, and it let you know right away what you were in for with a 400+-foot paved climb right off the bat.  I remember feeling like I'd been riding forever, then looking at my Garmin and realizing I was only a mile into the loop.

The guys ahead of me stayed in view for a while, but I never quite closed the gap, and my hip had started aching almost immediately.  Make it ten miles, then you can get off the bike and stretch, I told myself, but as we plowed into a long stretch of deeper gravel, a break at the 5-mile mark suddenly seemed much more appealing.  I watched my rabbits pull away as I laid down on the ground, stretched my hip, and started again.
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Couldn't have been a much prettier day.  Photo credit: Dan Singer
As I passed Dan, the photographer on course, he asked if I was doing OK.  It turned out that the guys ahead of me must have noticed I'd dropped off and asked him to look out for me.  Pretty cool of them, since they didn't even know me, but pretty cool people are more the rule than the exception in the St. Louis area bike scene.

The rule for loop two seemed to be big hills and thick gravel.  My comfort level with gravel is way higher than it used to be, so I was ok from a handling standpoint, but pedaling was a lot more work.  So were the uphills, even the ones I walked, but the downhills were an absolute blast and just scary enough that moderate terror would temporarily replace discomfort as my primary feeling.

Other than the hip, I didn't feel too bad, but the mental negotiations regarding loop three had already started around the midpoint.  If you ride loop 3 you can skip the second loop tomorrow.  If you ride loop three you can eat whatever you want tonight [frankly, that was a done deal no matter what]I would have been perfectly happy to call it a day after loop two except for the little matter of Dirty Kanza looming in just under two months.  Riding up a hill, though, I went to downshift, heard a weird crunchy sound, and got nothing from my rear derailleur.  That was going to make the remaining uphills fun.

My downhill ride satisfaction index soon took a steep plunge as well.  A section of gravel had washed away towards the bottom of a pretty big hill, leading to several crashes over the day.  A man waved me down as I approached the hill, warning to go slow because there had been a crash at the bottom.  I eased down to see Justin, Mike, and John among a group waiting with a girl who had hit the washout and gone down.  I felt terrible for her, but since there was an ambulance on the way and I didn't have any skills to add to the situation, I went ahead after a few minutes.

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Not the girl, but the spot of the washout. Photo credit (and victim): Charlie Patterson
Seeing someone crying and bleeding on the ground takes the fun out of downhills, and I was pretty cautious for a while.  That, combined with my limited shifting and achy hip, made for some slow going.  Within a few miles, the group who had stayed with the injured girl caught up with me.  Some of us were walking the same hills, so it seemed like every time I looked back at the riders behind me we were the same distance apart.  After a little bit of this, I decided it was silly to ride together alone and just waited at the top of the hill until John caught up. This was my best move of the loop, as company made the remaining miles much nicer.

As we rode, I told John about my shifting woes, and he offered to look at my bike when we got back.  We got to talk training and about the OGRE and the previous years of Dirty Kanza...all the things that make my husband's eyes glaze over.  With good company and, eventually, a lovely paved stretch, the end of loop two flew by, and before long we were approaching the climb back to Stone Hill.  I'd worried that I wouldn't be able to ride the hill without being able to downshift, but the combination of an audience of winery visitors and the announcer's table gave me the incentive to stay on my bike.  I checked in at the registration table with about 30 minutes left before the cutoff to leave on lap 3.  My Garmin measured my moving time as 3:13; in addition to the 25 minute transition between laps, I left another 17 minutes or so on the course

John came over to look at my bike, and he and a guy from Kentucky who just happened to walk by and strike up a conversation (and who just happened to work at a bike shop!) were able to get my bike fixed up enough that I could ride the next day.  More signs of just how awesome bike people are.  Neither of these guys had never met me in person before, and both were willing to spend a decent chunk of their time to get my bike in order.  I was really touched.

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My heroes!
Of course, the biggest impact of their help was that now there was no way I was going to skip out on the first loop the next day...and I won't lie: while I'd been disappointed to "not be able to" ride any more (because, let's be honest, I could have ridden my bike as a singlespeed and finished up the day), I was also relieved to have an excuse to not ride that last loop.  My mental game needs improvement if I want to finish Dirty Kanza, no question.

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Ready to start day 2, slightly smaller smile than yesterday. Photo credit: Bob Jenkins
A delicious meal of Mexican food, chilly night of camping, and huge biscuits and gravy breakfast later, I was right back in the Stone Hill Winery parking lot, grudgingly getting ready to set off on a 50-mile loop.  I wasn't really sore, just tired, and my legs were dead.  Had I not owed it to my good Samaritans, it would have been really easy to just hang out at the winery and relax.  Instead, I fell in next to Team TOG/Monster Bikes Jim, and as we started the first, long stretch of Katy Trail together I told him about the girl from Saturday who'd been so bothered by my chatter.

And suddenly, there she was in front of us.  I pointed her out to Jim, and we talked nonstop as we rode in her draft.  It was glorious.  I'm, admittedly, a talker, and even I was pretty tapped out on conversational topics by the time she gave in and waved us ahead of her on the trail. 

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This is during the Katy Trail stretch, and despite the flat, easy surface you can tell I'm already not feeling great.        Photo credit: Dan Singer
I'd warned Jim that I was dragging and that I was totally cool with him not waiting on me.  He stuck with me for the 20 miles on the Katy, and I quickly started trailing after we turned off and started what I remember as a fairly gentle climb that was way harder than it should have been.  When I'm tired, any incline seems like a mountain.

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Random stretch of gravel road
Before long, I'd dropped off the back of our little group, and I was really content to just ride at my own snail-ish pace rather than try and keep up with other people.  The downhills were still fun, and I walked a lot of uphills.  I did my best to stay on top of my eating and drinking and promised myself that at/after mile 30 I could get off the bike to take a short break and eat something.  The "short break" ended up being almost 15 minutes, but it kind of gave me a new lease on life for a while.

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Eating + off the bike = happiness
Overall, I think this section (loop 4, for people who were doing the whole race) was easier than my second loop on Saturday but less fun.  Of course, I was also in a "get through it" frame of mind instead of the "isn't this a fun adventure" mindset of the day before.  And my gosh, I was tired.  I for sure didn't want to make any wrong turns, so with no one to follow I looked long and hard when I arrived at a confusing intersection.

The sign pointed left on P; the arrows painted on the highway pointed right.  I assumed a painted arrow was more reliable than a movable sign, but there were two arrows: one for loop 4, and one for loop 1.  I'd ridden loop 1, and I had no memory of riding this stretch of road, leading me to wonder if the markings were from a different routing last year?  Mickey had made up his own cue sheets and emailed them to me.  I hadn't gotten around to printing them out, but they were still on my phone.  Unfortunately, I hadn't been following along, and in my fatigue-addled mind, I read the sign for the road I was on as the name of the road I was turning onto, which would have had me turning left.

Instead, I followed the painted arrow and went right, hoping I didn't commit myself to climbing hills I didn't have to ride.  Thankfully I'd chosen correctly, as was confirmed by the group that passed me after having made the wrong turn earlier.  We started up a big, paved climb, but my low gears started slipping as the hill got steeper and I ended up having to walk.  It was frustrating to walk something I didn't have to, but I was just grateful that the fix, which the guys had warned me might not hold out the entire loop, had held as long as it did.  And those certainly won't be the last hills I walk.

Towards the top of the hill I passed a church I recognized from last year's ride with Chuck but not, despite the road markings for loop 1, from the previous day.  Still baffled by the fact that I had no memory of a stretch of road I'd apparently ridden while still feeling good, I shot down the gravel hill.  Because it was a pretty straight shot into a big uphill (and because the previous day's crash was a more distant memory...and because I'd reached that point in the ride where my fear of crashing is balanced by the knowledge that an ambulance ride means not having to pedal any more for the day), I was more excited than frightened to glimpse 39mph on the speedometer.

...and then I was walking uphill again.  Oh joy.  There was one more downhill back to the Katy Trail, and then things leveled out and all I had to do was make my way back into Hermann and one last trip up that hill to the winery.  Once again I made it back before the cutoff, this time with a whopping ten minutes to spare.  Aaro, who supplied seriously entertaining all weekend, was trying to convince finishers to do wheelies.  I waited until I was on flat ground to do mine, laughing at the credit card vertical I managed, and then I was finished.   What a good time.

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Another awesome shot by Dan Singer.  You can see my right hand exaggerating how far I got off the ground.
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3/5 loops...room for improvement
And just like that I have another goal race.  I'd love to come back strong enough (and, um, with a bike well-maintained enough) to finish the whole thing. As it was, I had a great time riding, met some awesome people, loved the course, and though I only rode about halfway I did get to be there cheering when Mickey and Emily both finished the entire 200-mile weekend. Awesomeness.

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Photo credit: Dan Singer
The finishing trophy was a jar of gravel, filled to a level equivalent to the percentage of the race you finished. Mine? Slightly over half full, which just leaves plenty of room for the memories.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Little Lost Creek and the bifecta

Dirty Kanza is looming in just a couple short months. Right now I'm about 100 miles ahead of where I was from January to mid-March last year. That difference is small enough to give me mini-anxiety attacks when I think about it, though the majority of my early 2013 miles were on the trainer and the majority of 2014's bike time has been outside on gravel, singletrack, or snow.  I'm about 10-15 pounds lighter than I was last year, a more confident descender and slightly stronger on uphills.  And despite all that I'm beginning to stress out over my lack of long-mileage days.

March is where I start feeling the pressure to be on the bike.  March is also when Jacob starts spring soccer. After 15 years of being at every single game possible (I went straight from a soccer game to my college graduation), I've turned a little selfish.  I'm making one weekend out of 5 for soccer.  I can't decide if that makes me a shitty mom or not; I go back and forth about it, honestly, but there it is. I guess the upshot is that Jacob and I spend the entire summer together and it's worth it to me to miss a few spring soccer games in order to give myself a better chance at finally finishing DK.

The 22nd was my only Saturday home in this 5-week soccer span, and luckily the date coincided with both soccer and Pinewood Derby districts.  Long-time readers may remember my lack of affection for the second round of the Pinewood Derby (and exhibit B), but being as I'm missing so much I was actually glad(ish) to be able to be there this year.

Soccer and Pinewood Derby districts. All about the boy on one of my rare weekends home. #kids #family #scouting
Playing soccer and racing his Pinewood Derby car

Jacob's team lost their game, but he played great. It was really fun to watch him.  He plays soccer a couple times a day at school every day, and it shows.  And though he finished 40/50 in the Pinewood Derby, he went into it with a much more realistic attitude than last time.

After all the morning fun, I managed to convince the guys to come with me to Little Lost Creek State Forest.  Way over in Warrenton, MO, it was kind of a long drive for what was likely to be a relatively short hike, but I've been wanting to check it out ever since seeing it on a map after the Lost Creek Road ride.  We hiked about six miles on one of the main trails.

Day hike at Little Lost Creek State Forest
Scenes from the hike
  It was a nice hike on a multi-use (hiking, biking, horseback riding) trail. Very little singletrack, primarily flat doubletrack. The trail followed the top of a ridge and the bottom of a valley, broken up by one good downhill and one good climb.  I have designs of using this park as part of an adventure race (or non-race), and while the trail itself wasn't too exciting, all of the contours on the topo map look promising.  Jacob really wanted to explore further, so I promised him we'd come back this summer when we had more time. As it was, we had to speed up a bit to beat sunset.

I followed up Saturday's family day with a long ride on Sunday. Well, it was supposed to be long.  Mickey, Bob, and I met up at the Mound with intentions of riding a trifecta (three area mountain bike trails connected by the Katy Trail, around 50 miles of riding with a big chunk of singletrack in there).  Other than the 12 miles at Lake of the Ozarks, this was my first time riding my new bike on trails.

 Lost Valley was awesome. I rode much more cleanly than ever before, clearing sections I've always walked. I only fell once, and that was trying to ride a switchback where I always put my foot down.  I'm always a little happy when I fall because it means I'm trying something instead of chickening out.  This fall didn't even hurt, except for the fact that I managed to break my brand new water bottle cage.  Boo.  Luckily, Bob's multifunctional Awesome Strap came to the rescue!

IMGP0690
Maybe he won't realize I still have it... ;-)

 I still love the way my bike climbs. The gearing must just be made for me.  I still have a lot of work to do, both with carrying speed and getting over my fears, but I left the park very happy. Lots of high fives, as Mickey said.
28 degrees, but perfect temps on Lost Valley and Matson trails. #mtb
Still waiting on spring at this point, but the 28 degree morning felt plenty warm on the trails.

Dealing with bike issues, Bob peeled off after Lost Valley, and Mickey and I headed down the Katy towards Defiance, MO, and Matson Hill Park.   I was dreading the climb up the gravel road to the park, one that's steep enough to make me nervous when riding up it in Chuck's Jeep, but it wasn't that bad.  I mean, it was awful, but it wasn't any worse than the hills we rode a couple weeks ago.  More high fives at the top.

Unfortunately, that was the last of my triumphant moments.  Any mountain biking mojo I'd had at Lost Valley must have evaporated on my way up to Matson.  I had trouble riding things that I've ridden in the past, my legs were dead, and I fell pretty hard on some rocks trying to ride through them.  The good news is that I fell actually trying to ride something rather than walking it and that I got some pretty sweet bruises out of the deal.  My back was pretty sore (not from falling, most likely from my way too heavy pack), my butt is still adjusting to this different saddle, and the fall was the final nail in my intentions to ride all three parks.  Mickey rode towards Augusta to bag his trifecta, and I limped back to the parking lot.

I'd expected to regret cutting out early, but my back hurt so much on the way back that I was very happy with my wimpy decision.  Shortened ride or not, I still ended up with about 32 miles, I almost looked forward to the downhills...and I made it home early enough to spend some time with my family.