Monday, July 6, 2015

Riotgrrravel Reflections

This blog entry also appears on my Writing Space blog as R is for Riotgrrravel Reflections.

Two weeks ago, on June 20th, I rode Riotgrrravel, a gravel race/ride for women and am happy to say that I completed the 30 mile ride. Riotgrrravel is very well organized ride meant to introduce women to gravel racing. The ride is organized and put on by an awesome woman named Ellie and her family. Ellie started the ride just last year (I rode Riotgrrravel last year and wrote about my experience on my Idyllwild blog) and I’m so glad she did it again this year.
Here we are at race start just about ready to go! From left to right: Lisa, Joy, Me & Katy. 
Last year the weather was stellar but the route had to be changed practically moments before race start because of flooding in the days previous to the race. This year the roads weren’t flooded but the morning of the race thunderstorms moved in. We woke up that morning thinking the ride would be cancelled due to the thunderstorms but the rain cleared out before start time and the roads ended up just a bit tacky instead of sloppy for the race and the ride was a GO!
Gorgeous scenery along the route
About 200 people were registered to ride the race but because of the uncertainty about the weather and road conditions, only 60 some people actually showed up to ride the 50 mile and 30 mile routes (20 rode the 50 miler & 40 rode the 30 miler).  Given how many people didn’t even show, it’s a great accomplishment to have shown up and finished. I rode with my “gravel gal” friends Lisa, Katy & Joy and we crossed the finish line together in 3 hours, 29 minutes and 39 seconds (a solid 10.6 mph – I believe we were in 23rd place). My Box of Frogs biking friends, Kate and Victoria, were also on the ride and finished 17 minutes before we did. After the ride my gravel gal pals and I ate pastries and lunch at a bakery. And then we got shakes at the Dairy Store. And we laughed and talked and had a good time as we ate and as we drove home.

The self supported ride was full of good gravel, gorgeous scenery and awesome women (and some awesome men). I’m really glad I rode the ride this year. But, I’ve got to say, I found the ride really frustrating simply because I didn’t do as well as I hoped I would. I don’t want to dwell on the negatives here – but it might be helpful for someone to read this anyway (or maybe simply because it’s therapeutic for me to write about it).
I had figured the 30 mile Riotgrrravel would be relatively easy compared to the 60 mile Box of Frogs ride I completed two weeks previous. That ride was a grand gravel/mud/tar/slippery sludge adventure that was terribly difficult. I rode most of Box of Frogs with Kate and Victoria, however, and somehow we chatted and pedaled our way through it all. I had also figured that since two of our group were new to gravel racing and I had oh so much “experience” because I’d ridden two gravel rides already (Box of Frogs and Riotgrrravel) and have been riding for several years, that I would maybe even be sort of a leader in our little group of gravel gals.
Well, those were nice thoughts, anyway. Turns out the ride was not easy and I was not at all a leader as the rest of my group had to wait for me several times so I could catch up.
Gravel, lots of gravel, and my gravel gal friends on the road ahead. 
We started out the ride and got rolling right away. We had headwinds right off and and I quickly fell behind our group of four. We’ve ridden together on training rides and I thought I would have no trouble keeping up with the group. Maybe they are more charged with race adrenaline, I thought (whereas I wasn’t thinking race as much as ride and set off at my normal pace). Maybe they are simply stronger than I am. Whatever the case, I was behind, not far – but far enough that I got discouraged a bit. So I told myself, “that’s okay. This is your pace. You know you can finish the ride at this pace. It’s okay if they go on ahead” and I kept on pedaling.

But the headwinds were hard to pedal against and I felt tired from the get go. Mentally I just didn’t feel with it. I felt tired (I really didn’t sleep much the night before so I know that didn’t help). And, within the first few miles, I noticed my (ahem) “lady parts” were getting sore. It is not normal for me to be sore so I was puzzled then realized I was way heavier on my hands and front of my seat than I usually am, probably because I was tired and kinda collapsing forward. I did my best to shift my weight back and kept on pedaling.
About then, oh, we were just five miles into the race, I suppose, the helpful little voice that told myself I was riding at my own pace and it was okay that people were ahead of me started saying not so nice things to myself like, “you’re too slow” and “it sucks to ride alone” but then I’d try to offset those thoughts with nicer things and remind myself that I was riding my own ride and I just was having one of those off days and I knew that if I just kept pedaling I’d finish.
Lisa dropped back and rode with me for awhile. Then I decided I needed to stop and rest. That was a smart move. I sat in the shade and ate a Clif Bar. Then I cried rather ridiculously for awhile and told Lisa I was so disappointed in myself and that I was pretty sure I was the last person on the course (the brain is a liar – I was far from last. And what does it matter, anyway?) and that she and the gals should just go on ahead and I’d finish on my own. I haven’t cried on a ride in years. I thought I was over that. I guess not.
Lisa said all sorts of nice things and we rode on. Then we caught up with Katy and Joy at an intersection where they, and several other people who were resting there, got to see me fall as I came to a stop because I was so tired I couldn’t manage to clip out of my pedals. I have never done that. It’s rather embarrassing. At least I didn’t cry! Oh, I didn’t really get hurt, either, just a bit of a scrape on my knee.
We rode on. Looking back, I estimate we had nasty headwinds or quartering headwinds at least 75% of the time. I am not a fan of headwinds. Sometimes I rode with my friends, sometimes I fell behind. I kept pedaling. And tried to say nice things to myself. But the ride was really, really, hard for me.
That said. I kept pedaling and I had some fun with my gravel gal pals. We took some pictures. We crossed the finish line together. And, I cried again because I was just so glad to have finished.
After the ride, after scarfing down some candy bars nicely provided by volunteers from Hope Lutheran Church (they opened their church and parking lot to us as a ride start location – thank you!), I talked to Kate and Victoria about how hard the ride was for me. We talked about nutrition both pre-ride and during the ride to see if that might have been a factor (not a whole lot different but I did lack in energy chews which I found to be helpful on Box of Frogs). We talked about the F-ING headwinds and decided they were a huge factor. I felt better after talking to Kate and Victoria. Ultimately we chalked up my not so great of a ride because I was tired and lacked mental and physical energy and ran out of happy thoughts to something pretty simply – I was having one of those days. They happen.
But here’s the thing – even when you’re having one of those days you keep on pedaling and finish the ride anyway. Partially because no one is there to pick you up but mostly because you set out to finish a ride so you finish it. And that’s what I did. I set out to ride Riotgrrravel and I finished the ride. Yay!
The Gravel Gals (from l to r: Me, Lisa, Joy & Katy) crossing the finish line of Riotgrrravel 2015!

Friday, June 12, 2015

Box of Frogs Adventure

Back in April, I signed up for the 60 mile Box of Frogs bike ride (there was also a 100 mile route). I knew the ride would be a huge challenge as I have only been on one 60 mile ride ever before (and that was back in 2012) and the longest ride I've done so far this year was 35 miles (actually made up of two rides with an hour break after 20 miles).

Uh, now that I look at those stats I realize that it was a bit more than crazy for me to sign up for the Box of Frogs. What was I thinking?

Well, I guess I wasn't really thinking. I just saw the bike ride on Facebook and was intrigued by the fact that the ride was multi-surface (tar, paved bike trails, river bottoms trails, gravel and dirt) and was set up so that the riders all end at about the same time. I like that end at the same time idea and I just felt like I had to sign up for the ride.

60 miles seemed reasonable to me at that moment in time. "I can do this!" I thought. So, without thinking much about whether it made a lot of sense to do the ride or not, I signed up.

All of the other long rides I've been on have been "supported" and included rest stops with snacks and bathrooms and SAG support (SAG stands for "support and gear" - meaning you can get help with a mechanical and/or a ride back to your car if need be). I always go on long rides with Owen (or once, in the case of RiotGRRRavel, with my friend, Lisa). But Box of Frogs would be my first "unsupported" ride and my first solo ride. Heading out on an unsupported ride without a buddy kinda scared me but it also felt important for me to go it alone.

I average about 10 mph on gravel rides so figured it would take me about 6 hours of riding time to finish the ride. I knew that I would need several breaks along the way so I planned to start around 7:00 to finish at 2:00.  I contacted my friend, Kate who was planning to do the ride, so that I would have her cell phone and text her to check in for safety during the ride.

A few days before ride start, Andy, the ride's organizer, mentioned that due to recent rains there would be wet portions on the ride and we would have to walk our bikes around them. I figured I could deal with a bit of damp and was glad to see the forecast for the ride was for clear skies and warm weather. Yay!

The night before the ride, I packed up Zippy, my trusty Salsa Vaya, my bike gear and what I hoped was enough food into my van. Then I did my best to get a good night's sleep so I could wake up fresh at 5:00 a.m. to drive up to St. Paul to start the ride.

It rained all night. Torrential downpours. I couldn't sleep.

Come morning, I was tired but the rain had stopped. I drove to Shamrock's in St. Paul where the ride was to start and end and saw friends Kate and Victoria take off on the ride as I unpacked my Vaya. I got to ride start, checked in, found a guy named Marsh who was willing to ride out with me to get me off the city streets and onto the first portion of the route (on a bike path) and set off on my ride.

The Box of Frogs route
St. Paul to rural Vermillion/Farmington and back to St. Paul
The ride started out so easy! Marsh and I rode and chatted as we found our way to the paved trail. Then he showed me how to get to the river bottoms part of the trail. This part was dirt and very damp but still okay to ride. But then it wasn't okay to ride. Portions of the trail were flooded and I had to work my way around the water "So this is what Andy meant when he said portions of the route would be wet." I thought.

Well, that's sort of what Andy meant. I soon learned that we were on more of a cross-country obstacle course bike challenge than Sunday morning bike ride and that there were many more flooded and wet portions of the ride to come. The wet route was no fault of Andy's - he actually planned a pretty straightforward route - but Mother Nature had other plans and the rain turned the ride into a tough-mudder sort of adventure for the 60 Box of Frogs riders.

Victoria working her way through the deep mud along the Minnesota River Bottoms.
with Grant, Mike and Kate offering support. 
I could go on and on and explain each of the challenges we faced but that would take too long! In short, I ended up catching up with Kate and Victoria and rode with them the rest of the way. Boy am I glad I had their company! (Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!) We rode through mud, around mud, carried our bikes over logs and bridges and slogged through 6 plus inches of mud across an abandoned beaver dam where, once we got through, other Box of Frogs bikers shared their coffee with us. I like nice people who give me coffee :-)

This all happened in the first 10 miles of the ride. We had 50 miles to go.

Self-made rest stop. 12 miles to go. My dirty legs and bike.
Then we found ourselves riding on suburban streets and trails then found ourselves some gravel and rode that happily for awhile. Then we rode alongside some highways. We were only about a third of the way into the ride at this point and were tired and stopped for a rest. Then we found our way onto more gravel and on to what appeared to be nice dirt double track to ride on. But it wasn't nice dirt. The dirt was wet and slippery and our tires sunk in. Portions of the double track were flooded. The riding was really REALLY difficult. But we made it through.
Lovely scenery with dirt double track that was actually slippery to ride and totally flooded in places.
Now that I think of it, "we made it through" pretty much sums up my Box of Frogs ride.

And we made it through the rest of the ride. More muddy and flooded double track. More gravel. A stop at a church to to refill our water bottles and rest (thank you to the nice Pastor who, puzzled at our appearance, asked "what kind of bike ride are you on so that you got so dirty?" yet still graciously welcomed us inside). Headwinds. Hills. Long hills.

But, to offset the tough ride, there were other Box of Frogs riders along the route who shared beef sticks and gummy bears and made us laugh and smile. And, throughout the ride, Kate, Victoria and I shared some laughs and great conversation to make the miles go by. There were also stretches of flat and easy terrain to give us a break and build our spirits.

Post ride - caked mud on Zippy the Vaya. 
Then, finally, FINALLY!, the city of St. Paul where we got to ride (downhill!) across the High Street Bridge (I cried I was so happy!) and back to the ride start at Shamrocks where Owen and my kids, Rose and Ryan, cheered for us as we rode in.

We did it! We made it through. We finished the ride of a lifetime! In the end, we logged 58 miles and averaged 10.1 miles per hour and managed to climb something like 2,300 feet. We spent about 7 hours out in the sunshine and biked for 6 hours. I ate way too much beef jerky and nearly ran out of water. But I did it!
Just after finishing Box of Frogs
I'm looking pretty exhausted but Kate and Victoria look fabulous! 
The ride was certainly A Grand Adventure!
  • A grand adventure that I probably could have finished on my own but was much, much better (and safer) shared with Kate and Victoria.
  • A grand adventure that tested my bike skills (I slipped and slid a lot but never fell over) and my endurance (I believe my REVAMP workouts helped me in strength and staying power).
  • A grand adventure that left me tired for two days afterwards but really didn't leave me feeling stiff and sore. 
  • A grand adventure with no flat tires or any other problems with my Salsa Vaya and Kate and Victoria's bikes (Victoria rides the same make and model of Vaya as mine, Kate was on a Surly something or the other - I forgot which one)
  • A grand adventure that makes me think I'm a bit on the crazy side but I'm okay with that.
I wouldn't exactly call the ride "fun" but my friend, Max (he rode the 60 mile route and only stopped to rest for 7 minutes total - amazing!) said the real measure of whether you had fun or not on such a ride as the Box of Frogs is you say "yes" when it's time for the next ride.

Well, I must have had fun because, YES, I would do it again!

Back home again!

Friday, May 22, 2015

The Go Somewhere Goal

I envy my friends who live in town who can hop on their bikes and quickly pedal to the grocery store for, say, a red bell pepper needed in order to finish dinner or ride to the library to return books. I also envy my friends who commute to work via bike paths in the cities or by road in Northfield.

It seems so ideal, replacing a car trip with a bike trip and it has long been my goal to ride my bike instead of driving my van on a trip to town. The thing is, I live 7 miles from the nearest town and about 14 miles from Northfield, the town in which I work and run most of my errands. A ride to Northfield would take me about an hour and fifteen minutes. A lot of the route is on busy roads and I don't like riding them alone and don't have panniers to haul stuff and wasn't comfortable riding on gravel and....well,  I haven't managed to complete my go somewhere goal.

Until today, that is.

Today I rode my bike home from work.

True, I have to go back to town now to pick up my van so that sort of defeats the saving money on gas benefit of riding home. But I'm not going to focus on that because today I accomplished a my Go Somewhere Goal!

I packed my Salsa Vaya in my van this morning, worked my shift and changed into my bike clothes. By 12:15 I was on my bike heading for home. It took me an hour and 16 minutes. To avoid the busy roads, I took a route that mostly gravel (a good compromise as I like biking gravel). I saw two red foxes. I got tired and sweaty. My knee hurt. But I did it. Yay!

Now that I know what it takes to ride from work, I can plan to ride to work and back home again and completely replace a vehicle trip with a bike trip.  I'm not sure I'm ready for that 30 mile round trip commute quite yet. Here are my obstacles

  1. I am a little concerned about how I will, uh, smell, after riding 14 miles to work
  2. I don't have a shower at work so I can clean up
  3. I'd have to get up really early to get to work by 8:30. I'd have to leave home at 7:00 a.m.
  4. I'm scared I'll get a flat, fall off, get too tired etc. etc.
Here's how I can deal with these obstacles:

  1. I'm thinking if I leave early enough it will be cool and I won't get too sweaty. I will change into work clothes and they will not smell
  2. In place of a shower, I can always clean up in the bathroom with moist towelettes or something.
  3. Well, I can wake up at 6 and get ready, I guess. It's only 30 - 45 minutes earlier than my normal wake time.
  4. I can pick a day to bike to work that Owen is working from home so I have a backup crew to help me - just in case.
All for now. I'm going to get a whole mile latte to celebrate accomplishing Go Somewhere Goal!

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Writing Space Blog Launch

Some time ago, I updated my writing website found at using WordPress. My website now has a new look, greater capabilities and a new writing-specific blog – Writing Space.
Why a new blog? Well, I’ve been blogging here at my Idyllwild blog since 2010 and, before that, was blogging on a iWeb based blog that I started in 2007. Though I started the blog largely to write about my writing life, over time I realized that my Idyllwild blog was mostly about bicycling and other fun things like flying and baking cheesecakes French macarons. That’s all great fun, of course, but I started to feel the need to create a new blog and keep it focused on writing and let my Idyllwild blog stay on the meandering path it’s already traveling on.
I’ve been somewhat quietly posting content on Writing Space for some time now but am now officially announcing the launch of my new blog! Idyllwild stays alive here as “a blog that’s mostly about Bicycling but also covers Flying, Baking and just about anything else that’s Fun!” and Writing Space will stay focused on my work as a freelance writer. Writing Space is where I’ll share updates on my writing projects and tell you about what I’m reading. I’ll tell you about other writers and their projects and I may slip in a book review or tell you about a writing event. I may also simply share some of my writing just for fun.
To kick things off, I’m going to start a Blogging from A to Z Challenge. This is a challenge that is just wrapping up and, from what I can tell, about 1,500 people officially participated in the challenge this April. I found out about the challenge several days into it so decided to do the challenge in May. So, starting tomorrow (May 1st), I’ll start blogging my way through the alphabet.
Care to join me? Information about how to blog from A to Z can be found HERE.
Please take a moment to bookmark my Writing Space blog so you can easily find it. Or, better yet, subscribe to Writing Space and receive notifications of new posts right in your email in box. To subscribe, visit and fill in your email address in the “Subscribe to Writing Space via Email” prompt in the brown footer at the bottom of any page.

See you at Writing Space - and here, of course!