Team Virtus gravel grinder

My being a big quitter is paying big dividends already. Under my Double Chubb training plan, I was scheduled to run 20 miles yesterday; but quitting left me free to join in on a Team Virtus gravel grinder. Instead of the illicit cheater thrill of last weekend's trip to Middlefork, I left my house at 5:15 a.m. on Saturday feeling the exuberant joy of a teacher student on the first day of summer vacation.

Yeah, it was stupid early.  Unlike the local Team Godzilla (my tri club) training events, this ride required travel time. We were meeting at 7:30 in Mokane, MO, which is a little over 2 hours from my house. Since I loaded up the night before, I was able to "sleep in" til about 4:20 and was dressed, braided, breakfasted, and everything else in time to leave at 5:15. The uneventful drive was marred only by the fact that I spent the last 45 minutes wishing desperately for a convenient bathroom (and in the last stretch I would've settled for the shoulder of the road...had there been one).

Luckily I made it to the trailhead without soiling my chamois, and once I finished my sprint to the bathroom I unloaded my bike and checked out the group. Besides me, there were four other Team Virtus members: Bob, Luke, Robby, and Adam. Friends of TV Justin, Jim, and Tony were also there for the ride, and Travis and his friend Chris met us further down the road after dealing with some car issues.

Photo note: assume all pictures are by Luke Lamb (AKA Capt. Awesome) because he's far better at taking pictures on the bike than I am.

pre ride
L-r: Justin, Adam, Bob, Robby, me, Tony, Jim

I stood out for a couple reasons. I was the only girl, and I was riding the only mountain bike in a sea of cross bikes. The bike was a distinct disadvantage. I wasn't worried for myself bc I have vast back-of-the-pack experience, but I was concerned about slowing the guys down too much. I'm ok with riding on my own if necessary, but seeing as I hadn't bothered to print off the copy of the route Bob had emailed, that wasn't going to work.

I felt pretty good as we took off up the first hill...only to pause halfway up as we realized we weren't sure where our first turn was. Bob, our route planner, was blamed for the initial navigational fail and went off in search of the elusive 3rd St, while a couple of guys scouted in another direction and Luke, Adam, and I waited for them to get it figured out.

the smart ones
The smart ones

3rd St. located, we regrouped and headed off (again). The temperature started off in the mid-30's, and I might have been a little chilly had Bob not thoughtfully provided some climbs. Luke hung back with me for a while, and Adam was feeling the effects of an evening out and 3:30 bedtime, so I had company. 

roll out
On the way (again)
I had a great January of mountain biking, and then I was off my bike until last weekend's trip to Middlefork.  We had 53 miles planned, and it wouldn't be honest to say I felt confident about riding strong the whole time.  That's more miles than I've ridden since last October's private half ironman, plus by far the longest distance I've ever ridden on gravel.  Several of the guys, on the other hand, are in training for June's Dirty Kanza, a 200-mile gravel road race.  I felt good early on, but I was also pretty relieved to round a corner and see Bob changing his tire.

bob changing tire
Checking the tire
I took the opportunity to dig some GU Chomps out of my pack.  It wasn't easy to get them on my own, hence the calisthenics.

waiting for Bob
Me, Adam, Robby

more waiting
Tony, Justin, Jim
Though I get called "Denny" (for den mother, after making sure to bring extra wet wipes for the guys at last year's Tour de Donut) plenty, the guys definitely look out for me. Luke was regularly making sure I had been eating and drinking since I'm "notoriously bad" about eating during rides, and somebody was always riding between me and the numerous dogs we saw along the way. I was mentally prepred to unclip and kick any dog that got too close, but I'd probably have ended up on the ground. :)

As you can see from the pictures, it was an absolutely beautiful day, and we rode through some neat areas. 

great course
Robby's fast, so I'm not sure how I got this close to him.  He must have stopped for a nap or something.

pretty course
Jim, Bob, Justin
We'd been riding for a while when we came to this ridiculous hill.  All of the guys seemed to fly right up it (a couple of them on singlespeeds, no less), while I trudged up in my lowest gear.  Honestly, I really wanted to get off my bike and walk up the hill, but it was so steep that I was afraid to stop pedaling to put a foot down.  I cursed my way up until finally I made it up to the top, where Tony told me, "Kate, you're one of the toughest girls I've met."

top of climb kate
Tony watching me survive the hill.
Now, if he hung out with the women I do, I wouldn't even be on his top three list of toughest girls, but it was still a great compliment.  This is also the point where Travis and Chris met up with us, but I was too oxygen deprived at the point to realize it.

I had forgotten to turn on my Garmin when we started, and then in the process of doing so on the ride I managed to lock it up, so I never had a clue how far we had gone or had to go.  It's probably a good thing; I'd have fixated on the numbers, but instead I just rode along in happy ignorance.  One thing I did remember was that there was a gas station about 24 miles in where we'd planned to get some food.

Waiting for lunch
Luke, Adam, Justin, and Tony waiting for lunch.
I had made sure to have cash so I could grab food along the way; unfortunately, I had forgotten to bring it on the bike.  Oops.  Big thanks to Luke for making sure I didn't starve.  I thoroughly enjoyed my pulled pork, despite the snickers when I ordered of the costs of hanging out with a group of boys. :)

Fine dining
Fine dining...this picture is funny in light of this post.
After eating I stopped to use the bathroom, thinking to myself that the guys would probably take off while I was in there.  Sure enough, I came out and the lunch table was empty.  When I got outside, though, they were all still there...and we had to wait a while longer for Adam.

waiting for AdamWaiting for adamwaiting for Adam

Waiting...and waiting...and waiting for Adam

Back on the road again.  While my mountain bike seat is vastly more comfortable than my road bike's, I had realized early on that a big part of that stems from the fact that I used my mountain bike primarily on singletrack and am therefore off the seat a lot.  Contrast that with a gravel ride, where I was occasionally off the seat on a hill but mostly planted right on it.  Even with a liberal coating of chamois cream, my butt was beginning to feel like I was wearing sandpaper panties. 

My legs felt surprisingly good, but my back really hurt.  I think it was mostly from my pack.  The more I wear that one, the more I like my adventure racing pack.  When I got home I found a big bruised lump on my back from I guess where the bladder tube connected to the bladder.  That's easily enough fixed by turning the bladder a different way in the bag, though.  Note to self for next time...
Most of the group was way ahead of me by the time that we got to another long climb.  Just as I neared the base of it, I dropped my chain.  Awesome timing.  I got it back on by myself with no problems, but not before Luke and Adam had turned around to check on me.  That left them riding the hill twice. 

during jims flat tire
Smiling for the camera, glad to be outside, and really glad we were stopping while Jim fixed his flat tire. :)

Starting off from a regroup
Part of the route took us past a nuclear power plant.  I'd never been that close to one, so it was pretty cool to see.  I got a chance here to catch up with Travis, who I hadn't seen since the Berryman ride.
cooling tower
A ways past the nuclear plant, we regrouped again and hopped onto the Katy Trail for a stretch. Tony took off at this point; I think he had to pick up his son or something, and it was a straight shot down the trail to our parking lot.

waiting for Travis to fix his cleat
Waiting while Travis fixes his cleat

katy trail
Katy Trail
We had a couple of stops along the trail to check for our turn, and I took advantage of one of the stops to shed a layer.  It had really warmed up, almost 70 I think, and the long sleeves were killing me.  I didn't manage it without comment, but my sports bra is so unrevealing that the only reason I even turned around to change was because there's less fat on my back than front.

Our eventual turn was within sight of the trailhead where we'd parked, and while a couple of the guys talked on the phone to their wives, I had a minor war with myself.  I'm sore, I'm tired, the car is right there VS the ride isn't over, you're going to regret it if you quit now, don't be such a baby.  Thankfully, side B won the arguement, and both my personalities and I followed the guys off the smooth trail and back onto the gravel roads.
gravel towards end
Justin, me, Adam
I don't remember a lot from the end of the ride.  I got to ride with and talk with Adam, who despite having been out until 3:30 in the morning, rode circles around me, and I spent a lot of time just appreciating the amazing day and the great group I got to hang out with.  When Bob said that we only had a couple of miles left, I felt like I was home free.  And then, down the road, I saw it.  I swear, it looked like a wall, not a hill.  Adam said, "I wasn't expecting that," and it was nothing that I wasn't thinking, though in my thoughts it sounded more like "Fuuuuu**".

By the time I got to the base of the hill, I was already in my lowest gear and watching the guys cruise up like it was nothing.  My little voice was telling me to just get off and walk, but I was so close to the end of the ride without walking anything.  About halfway up the hill, Chris slid on gravel and had to put down his foot and push. I tried telling myself, Hey, you can ride right past him, won't that be fun, but apparently what my self heard was Look, now you can walk, too, because a few pedal strokes later I gave up.  It was a little frustrating to get that close to the end and walk.

There was one more small hill, and then we cruised back the way we'd come and into the trailhead parking lot.  Some of us grabbed a quick lunch (re-lunch, I guess) at the store there in Mokane and then headed back to our respective homes.  What a great day.  Big thanks to the guys for planning the day and letting me come along.  Chasing stronger, faster people is only going to make me a better rider, and with my built-in mountain bike excuse, it didn't even bruise my ego.


  1. This sounds fun. Envious you ride all year long. You really hold your own in any group you are in. Did you do sports in high school?

    That last hill would have done me in and I would have walked all of it!!! Actually I am not sure I never walk up hills but I might have!

  2. Love the ride report, Kate - sounds like a great morning! My friend and I once did a century ride on mountain bikes, while everyone else was on road bikes. I stopped counting the number of comments we got about 10 miles in, but I was secretly proud of our bad assedness. I think you've got a similar claim for this one :)

  3. Ajh, I played basketball all through high school. And I certainly didn't hold my own, I just had a great group looking out for me.

    Abby, it totally reminded me of all the road rides I used to do on my hybrid. I always said if I had a dollar for every person who told me I needed a road bike, I'd be able to afford a great one. :) I was definitely proud to be able to finish the ride on my mountain bike, and it was great saddle time in preparation for LBL.

  4. Kate,
    My cousin is reading Mindset and told me it fit me. I went and read the description on Amazon and I daresay it fits you quite well too!

  5. Great job, and what a great post. I really enjoyed all the pics!

  6. you make the bike sound fun. this is a HUGE accomplishment, because i really don't like biking. bravo.

  7. You more than held your own. You rocked that ride! Seriously, you don't give yourself enough credit. I was telling the truth when I said you made us a better team.

    It was a blast riding with you, and I'm glad you made it. Throw together a gravel ride on your side of the Mississippi, and we'll head out your way for a group ride.

  8. Nice long ride Kate! Love the pictures too.

  9. I freaking adore your ride reports - you make me feel like i was right there with you :)

    (and then you for SURE would never be last, because I'd be dumped in a ditch somewhere!)

  10. Saturday was totally gorgeous! I can't believe you were so close to me and I missed it! Darn it already - whenever you are even slightly close to Jeff City - email me! I'd keep you company at the back of the pack! My husband has worked a lot of OT at that power plant and we have a lot of friends that work there.

    Way to rock the ride and provide yet another wonderful race report. Can't wait to see you in the Team V kit. :)

  11. Epic! So glad you got to do that, and have a sighting of Homer Simpson's workplace in the bargain. I love that you forget to eat--NEVER a problem for me in similar situations.

  12. I never forget to eat in real life, but I'm not real coordinated, which makes eating during a ride problematic...especially when my food is very inconveniently tucked away in my pack. I'll get better eventually...hopefully.

  13. A very long ride on a tough path. An epic adventure as the pics show.


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