Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Day 15 is a wrap - halfway there!

This year marks the 5th year of 30 Days of Biking, a challenge to ride your bike every day for 30 days straight in the month of April. I've done the challenge every year plus three bonus rounds in September.

That's a lot of biking in all sorts of weather. In past challenges, I have biked through snow, sleet, rain, hail and have been out in very nice weather, too.

The weather this April has been less than desirable. So far I've not had to bike in snow or sleet (though it's due to snow today) but it's been cold and I had to pull out my winter jacket again. Oh well. Thus, most of my rides have been short hops of a half a mile to two miles. They count. I've also had the fun of getting out on some longer rides, like two rides on the Cannon Valley Trail this past weekend when the weather was pretty nice (for Minnesota). I'm looking forward to some more nice weather so I can get some longer rides in.

Taken on one of our longer rides last weekend.
My Vaya, Zippy, alongside the Cannon Valley Trail
Yesterday marked day 15 of this year's challenge. You know what? I almost quit and didn't bother riding. I was tired. The weather had taken a turn and it was cold (again). By the time I got home from work and other things it was past nine. What I wanted to do was take a bath and go to bed.

But I still got out my fatbike, Bear, strapped on my helmet and headed outside. I had to force myself. It was not easy.

Owen joined me on his fatbike (he's doing the challenge again, too) and we rode around the neighborhood and talked. We weren't out long, maybe 10 minutes. But time and distance of the rides doesn't matter. As long as I get on the bike and move forward, the ride counts.

To be honest, I nearly quit after I moved forward three feet and called it a day because that would have been enough to count. But by the time my butt was in the saddle, I figured I might as well keep on pedaling and actually go somewhere. So I did and now Day 15 of 30 Days of Biking - 2014 is done!

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Riding and Writing

“Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance, you must keep moving.” Albert Einsten

I'm at the Anderson Center in Red Wing this weekend with two of my writing friends, Joy and Chris. We're here having a writing weekend and are working on our various writing projects. The Anderson Center is an awesome place. We're staying in a huge house surrounded by lots of green space and a sculpture garden. It's quiet here and it's a perfect place to write, read and rejuvenate.

It's also a perfect place for bicycling as the Anderson Center is right by the Cannon Valley Trail. So in addition to packing some books, my journal, fountain pens, computer and works in progress, I packed Zippy, my Salsa Vaya, so I could ride this weekend - partially because I like to ride the trail, partially because I'm in the middle of another 30 Days of Biking challenge and partially because I find that riding helps me write.

Earlier today I rode about 12 miles. Most of the ride was on the Cannon Valley Trail but the access roads from the Anderson Center to the trail was partially on gravel so I got some gravel in, too. I also deviated from the trail and enjoyed exploring a new-to-me pathway to a park. Both the access road and the park path had some pretty steep hills so I got some hill work in. This is my longest ride in months. Overall, I feel pretty good but it's pretty clear I have some work to do before I can manage the RiotGrrravel ride in June let alone the 60 mile Minnesota Ironaman ride I signed up for at the end of April or the 50 mile Bike MS Ride I'm doing in May.

My Vaya, Zippy, along the Cannon Valley Trail.
The sign marks the head of a walking path
leading up to the Anderson Center's grounds.
While my biking time this weekend is helping me get in shape, I did find myself wondering if it would be wiser for me to spend less time on my bike and more time actually writing during my writing weekend. I mean, I'm here to write, right? And Joy and Chris are writing so much that they both told me they finished their books while I was out on my ride. Okay so they were teasing me but I know they both made progress on their projects whereas I have hardly touched my book or essay projects this weekend.

But here's the deal. My riding time is very much helpful to my writing time. While I ride I create blog posts in my head. I craft sentences. I come up with ideas. I get inspired by the things I see. Pedaling jogs my memory and I recall things that will fit into the stories I'm working on. Sure, it's frustrating that I can't jot down my perfectly crafted sentences and stories while I'm riding my bike. Some of my in my head writing does get lost because I forget what I was going to write by the time I get back to my desk. Or maybe it doesn't really get lost and it's still in my head somewhere? Actually, it doesn't really matter because I have found that my riding time helps motivate and inspire me to write when I DO get back to my desk.

I have found that the time I spend writing and editing in my head helps me write and edit when I put pen to paper. I have found that I crave the physical exercise and that moving makes me feel happy - and that when I'm feeling happy I can focus and keep working even on difficult writing projects. I have found that I need to move - bicycle, walk, garden, be physical in some way - in order to stay balanced in life. I have also discovered that I need to be feeling balanced in life in order to keep on writing.

So it's all good. I'll not worry about losing out on writing time because I'm riding my bike. All of that time on the bike is time well spent - both for my physical self and for my writing self. Biking helps me stay balanced so I will keep on pedaling and keep on writing, too.

Feeling rather balanced and happy along the Cannon Valley Trail

Friday, April 11, 2014

Bib Number 204

Back in February I read a post on the Salsa Cycles Facebook page: "Minnesota area women - if you are thinking about taking on a gravel event, but perhaps intimidated by the typically 100-mile distance, this might be something you are interested in. RiotGRRRaveL - a 30 - 35-mile women & family friendly gravel ride near Hastings, Minnesota on June 21st. Hit the link to learn more..."

That post spoke to me. I've been interested in gravel rides and races but have been VERY intimidated by the 100 mile distances. As a fairly slow rider who likes to talk a lot and stop for coffee on my rides, I've also been pretty intimidated at the thought of riding a gravel race with a bunch of competitive men (the vast majority of bike racers, gravel and otherwise, are men). Immediately intrigued, I clicked on the link to learn more - and within moments I signed myself up to ride RiotGrrravel

The fact that I signed up for a gravel ride, let alone a race, is pretty crazy. I have a gravel bike (a Salsa Vaya named Zippy) but I had some issues with knee pain so rode less than 50 miles total of gravel last year. I am a slow, back of the pack, sort of bike rider. Add to that, oone of my few gravel rides last summer I managed to tip over in a rather comical slow motion fashion and skin up my knee (Whoops! I have a cool scar now, at least.). With my lack of gravel time, lack of speed, and lack of confidence in my riding skills, It's an understatement to say that I'm not prepared to ride a gravel race.

So it's a good thing I have a couple of months to prepare because I'm officially registered for RiotGrrravel and have been assigned bib number 204 for the race!!!! 

The race will be held on June 21st in Hastings, Minnesota area and will be about 30 miles long. The ride filled up within a month so I feel lucky to be among the 100 riders. There are cool prizes, pastries from a local bakery (motivation enough for me!), and the ride promises to be reasonably challenging but not over the top.

My goal is to finish the race and gain confidence - and have fun in the process! 

So with the race less than three months away, it's time for me to get riding some gravel. A couple of days ago I had my friend, Marty,  made some minor adjustments to Zippy in hopes of fixing my knee issue. Since then I've ridden Zippy twice on gravel and my knee was okay. That's a good start! My friend Lisa is riding the race with me and we are planning to get out and ride some gravel together in the weeks to come to prepare for the ride. I don't know Lisa terribly well but she has such a positive spirit and outlook on life that I know she will be a great riding parter.

Now I just have to put on many, many, miles on Zippy and get ready for June 21st - Look out RiotGrrravel, here I come!!

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Riding the Minnesota River Bottoms

I've heard so much about riding the Minnesota River Bottoms bike trail and have wanted to ride it ever since I got my Beargrease. We've been talking about making this happen for a while but, finally, on Saturday Owen and I made it happen! We loaded up our bikes and drove to the Lyndale Avenue access point and parking lot to explore the river bottoms for a bit. Even though we weren't sure where to go and certainly are out of shape for a long ride, we figured we could ride at least a few miles of the 11 mile trail and check things out.
Owen riding his Mukluk on the River Bottoms trail
The temps on Saturday were above freezing, about 37°F,  and the sun was shining. We arrived at the parking lot shortly before noon and unloaded our fatties. There were about 20 cars in the lot and we saw a couple of fat bikers right off. We unloaded our bikes and got ready to go out and find some fun! Even though we had planned to ride east on the trail, I figured I would play it safe and follow someone, so we headed west on the trail. At first we were riding on a road but then we hit some obvious bike paths in the snow and knew we were in the right place.

Oh, was it ever the right place for this gal and her fatbike. I felt right at home riding the trails on Bear. The trails twisted and turned. They were challenging enough but not so much that I felt completely overwhelmed. Best part of all -  I did not get bored! My brain was fully engaged and my body felt strong. And it was absolutely beautiful riding the snow covered trails!

Long and short of things - Yippee Skippy! We had a blast and rode about 7 miles of the trail in just over an hour. We were tired in the end but really had a great time. I can't wait to do it again. And I'm SO glad I bought my Beargrease just over a year ago!

Yep - that's all! End of blog post. Sort of...

Here I am going down a big hill to cross Nine Mile Creek
(I made it about 3/4 of the way up the other side and had to push the rest of the way)
If you are a bike person you may want to know more about trail conditions and stuff. Or maybe you want to read about how I almost had to walk back because I let the air out of my tire. If you are interested in reading a lot more, read on! If not, you're off the hook and can get back to whatever it was you were doing before you visited my blog.

Back to the ride:

The River Bottom trails are relatively narrow, anywhere from the width of a fat tire to about a foot across. The trail twists and turns through the woods along the Minnesota River. It's quite scenic! I loved it. I find I like riding single track and LOVED riding in the snow!

We saw about 20 other riders and, since we were riding single track, we had to move over to let people pass us from time to time. The good thing about this is that we got to see a lot of people and actually talk to some. Sometimes we'd pull off the trail to let people pass, say "hi" and "thank you" and bike on. Other times we'd all stop and chat, maybe ask about the trail or talk bikes. Almost everyone we saw was SO friendly and helpful. So far with riding trails, I've been fortunate to meet riders who are generally friendly - Maybe it's the fact that people are riding fat bikes that makes them so cheerful :)

This whole passing on the trail thing is not an easy feat, at least not in the winter - basically you either stop and awkwardly move your bike off the trail into the snow so people can pass you or you just ride off the trail and coming to a dead stop in over a foot of snow. Either way, it's awkward and you end up standing off trail in the snow until the other rider passes.

As the day went on, it got warmer outside and the snow got squishier. One rider described the conditions to me as like riding on mashed potatoes. That was a pretty good description! The trail was well packed but the top few inches were pretty soft in places. I decided that I would let some air out of my tires so they would handle the soft snow better. So I stopped and stepped off the trail and let some air out of my rear tire. No problem.

Then I went to let some out of my front tire. I took off the valve stem cap then unsecured the tip of the valve so that I could push it to let air out. Unfortunately my valve core (the tip of the valve stem) unscrewed and came off of the stem leaving the top of the stem open so that air started coming out fast. I had to put my finger over the hole to stop the tire from going completely flat. In the process I dropped the valve core into the snow. So there I was, digging in the snow with one hand and covering the tip of my valve stem with my other hand. Brilliant!

I found the core (thankfully - had I not my only option would have been to completely change out the tube with a new one, or, now that I think of it, maybe pull the core out of my spare tube. But generally you'd need a pliers or something to loosen the core, and I didn't have one of those) and Owen helped me screw it back in. Whew. Relief!
Bear in snow
So now I was ready to get some air back into that tire (it was pretty much completely flat at this point). Owen got out his bike pump and tried to attach it to the valve stemp to pump the tire. But the pump fitting wouldn't fit onto the stem. After some troubleshooting and after dropping of a very small piece of the pump into the snow then digging for it and finding it, we got the pump put together correctly and started pumping up my tire. It takes forever to pump up a flat fat tire. And it doesn't help when you bend the stem a bit like I did. But we finally got my tire pumped up and we were ready to ride again.

All in all, we were maybe working on the tire for 10 minutes but it felt like forever. There was more than one moment where I thought we'd be walking back or waiting for someone who had a pump we could borrow. But, in the end, we were able to fix things and get back on our bikes. And, best part of all, I learned a lot about valve stems and pumps. That's all good.

We rode a bit further up the trail but the conditions were getting worse, we were already tired and I was not keen on trying to adjust my tire pressures anymore - so we turned back to the trail head and called it a day. And a good day it was!

Lessons learned:
  • valve stems have valve cores (I knew this at some level this but know I REALLY know this)
  • it make sense to make sure your valve cores are actually tight
  • remember to bring a spare CO2 cartridge just in case your pump doesn't work. 
  • before you ride, test your pump to make sure it actually works
  • seems like a good idea to add a small pliers to bike bag
  • if you need to make adjustments to your bike, find a place that is NOT in a foot of snow
  • almost everyone who passes you will ask you if you are okay or need help 
  • laughter helps everything
Owen and I along the trail