First bike commute of 2018

I’ve been waiting for this season. More specifically, this DAY. The day when I’m finally able to throw on the backpack and pedal off to work.

Because I choose to work so far from home, the monkey wrench in commuting by bike is always the amount of daylight left for the trek home. That and temperatures being warm enough so this delicate flower’s fingers and toes don’t freeze and snap off. Last Saturday that day came.

Having yet to remove my road bike from the trainer, I saddled up the gravel bike and headed off 15 minutes behind schedule at 6:30am along an unexplored gravel route. I had a vague idea of the roads I needed to take and was grateful for the north wind to blow me south to work.

As is my typical MO, I got a late start. Add that to my already-established sense of unease over lack of route planning and I was super nervous I’d end up late for work. Normally I love exploring new byways, but this particular morning I was distracted and just trying to lay down the hammer and make it to the shop in time for a shower.

Fortunately some map recon I’d done six weeks earlier came in handy and I remembered the necessary turns needed to pop out onto pavement in order to cross the Wapsi River at McCausland. And once I made it over the water, I had a firmer grasp of the terrain and made it to the shop into time to shower AND grab a coffee before the first customers showed up.

strava down

We had a great day at the shop and Healthy Habits is buzzing not just with long-awaited spring madness, but our much-anticipated move and May 11 grand opening at the new digs with Crawford Brewing. It’s going to be so flippin’ rad!

I first became an HH customer of Bruce’s back in 2000 when he had his smaller location near the old HyVee, when he was the only place that had a specific herbal supplement to help new, lactating moms. Then we saw, “Oh, you’re a bike shop, too?! HOLLA!!!!” Shortly thereafter he built his current location and a sweet set of Campy wheels for Marty. Now to witness the next level of Bruce’s vision come to fruition? I’m just psyched to know the guy. He’s put his heart and soul into this venture: half bike shop, half brewery. I’m only partly joking about digging my own “El Chappo tunnel” to Coffee Hound for my daily fix. You can keep the hops, it’s the coffee beans that I’m gonna miss!

Having had a tailwind blow me into work, I knew I’d be fighting a headwind going home, and except for sundown, I really had no time constraints. I had all my lights charged, but with my last miles on the paved highways of the Humeston and 136, I figured I’d be calling my husband to fetch me from riding those final three miles.

The weather was still gorgeous and though the wind had died somewhat, it remained stiff enough to keep me grateful for my health. Fortunately the journey home allowed me the time to take in the views and snap some pix.

ridge top
North of Lost Grove Lake are some great hills that give amazing views of the Wapsi/Mississippi River valley.

The wind, however, did not prove to be the problem. I, Jenny, and my lack of woeful nutrition planning proved detrimental. I’d completely forgotten to plan. I shoved a protein bar in my mouth as I left on the morning ride, ate a protein puck later during work, lunch was cottage cheese and carrots with dill dip, then I ate another protein bar before leaving for home.

Though I had cash and credit on me, my route didn’t pass a convenience store by ONE SINGLE BLOCK (I took backroads through McCausland, not the main road). Because I hadn’t fueled properly all day, my thinking was cloudy and jumbled so I never thought to take the main road RIGHT PAST A GAS STATION. . .WHERE FOOD IS SOLD. . .THAT I COULD CONSUME. So of course, about five miles north of McCausland I got woozy as hell and found I had a single energy gel on me. (At least I had two full water bottles and the gel was a yummy marshmallow!)

But a single, 100 calorie energy gel would not correct a day’s worth of insufficient nutrition, eight hours of work and more than 50 arduous miles of gravel biking already logged. My brother’s place was only about five miles east, but do you think I’d ride over? Hell no? As with the gas station f’up, it didn’t occur to me to call Matt or bike to his house. My one-track mind was focused north on home.

shadow
As the sun continued to drop, my shadow stretched longer and longer. Having just ingested the yummy marshmallow gel, the shakes subsided long enough to secure a picture memory.
behind bars
Now that I’ve ridden it, the gravel commute is a pretty straight north/south route. Though as the sun dropped below the horizon and with it, the temperature, my toes began to suffer.

Once I crossed the paved “Elviria Road” I was 10 miles from home, seven of which were gravel. I called my husband and told him where I was, warning him that I’d likely need picked up. By this point, my lone energy gel had long wore off, the middle toes on both feet were numb, my back was a cluster of tight knots and because my shoulders were cinching up tight around my ears, my neck was bound up and I couldn’t look over my left shoulder. Is this due to crappy, insufficient nutrition. I’d argue some of it, but I also know I need to get the magical insight of Dan to have my bike fit tweaked.

selfie
I may be smiling, but I was starting to realize I was going to throw in the towel on today’s journey.
moon
The moon hovered over a cool, weird crossroads.
rollers
Those rollers weren’t part of my commute, but I must do some recon for September’s Turds of Misery 200k! Hopefully it’ll make the course!!!
dying light
The last rays of a gorgeous day . . .

Marty easily found me at the top of a hill about seven miles from home. I feel kind of bummed for not making it the full 78 miles, but at the same time, I still got 70 and that’s a great day in the saddle!

strava back

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The most un-Grumpy of grinds

For my first gravel event, I don’t think it could have gone better! I was nervous, for sure, because I only just got my gravel rig — a 2018 Specialized Sequoia — last October. And it’s one thing to ride gravel on a fatbike with beefy 4+ inch tires and quite another to “unlearn pavement” on a drop bar steel frame with 42 millimeter/1.6 inch tires.

Sunday was the sixth year for Mark Johnson’s 80-something mile Grumpy Grind gravel race out of Milledgeville, Il. Each year is a different course, unveiled the morning of the ride when participants are handed their cue sheets. Mark was clear in warning riders it was unsupported with just water and some snacks available at the midway checkpoint, adding riders needed to finish the 86 mile course by 4 pm.

I loved the idea of this challenge and despite my longest gravel ride having been a recent solo 100k, I was anxious to see if I could handle it, but honestly doubtful I’d make the cutoff time.

I knew several friends of the bike shop doing it, but I’d decided I was riding this by myself and didn’t let myself plan for “what ifs” and use my friends as “fall backs” in the event my ride went off the rails. I had no Plan B. If we rode the same pace? Awesome! If not, I was not going to slow down or push my pace to stay with anyone. I intended to do my thing, plan accordingly and hope for the best.

Between energy gels, waffles, protein & candy bars, I packed enough nutrition to share and had 3 water bottles mounted on the bike with powdered Roctane, Tailwind and Skratch for each. My tires are setup tubeless, but I had 2 tubes and CO2 cartridges in the event of burps or flats. Empty gel packs could serve as patches if a tire got a gash. Any mechanical failure? I’d be fubar’ed.

start
From left: Zoran, Mark, Joe & Jen, optimistically positioned at the front!

At 8:45am the fellas rolled toward the start area, lining up toward the front. “How optimistic,” I joked. After a few words from Mark, me and 90 other riders took off. I tried to stay loose and watch the wheel ahead and the riders around me. Joe took off quickly, as expected. He’s a seasoned gravel rider, great cyclist and finisher of several Grumpy Grinds. Zoran and Mark were near me, but I sensed they were soon off on their own so I ended up falling in with strangers.

It wasn’t my intention to be in a paceline, and I was too scared to take my eyes off the wheel in front of me to turn around and look back, but as the course steered us east into headwinds, it was nice to have bikes and bodies blocking that wind. To quote a member of our shop’s Thursday night gravel rides, “Riding in that draft is soo easy…”

About 14 miles into the ride, I found Zoran and Mark on the side of the road having snacks so the three of us hung together for the next 25ish miles. Eventually the guys fell back while I stuck to my pace and forged on alone. I wasn’t riding super hard, but I felt strong and wanted to see how long I could maintain it before buckling. But going solo meant I’d have to start following the cue sheet. Except for one near miss, I managed each turn though my system of stuffing/pulling the cue sheet from my handlebar bag for each turn sucked.

zoran
Zoran catches Mark & I along a delicious piece of road.

 

Rolling into the check-in, I gave my name, unloaded my garbage, dumped my powder-filled baggies into empty bottles, refilled them with water and took off as Zoran and Mark pulled in. The remainder of the ride was just plain awesome. Because I log the majority of my miles alone, I wasn’t bothered being the only person out there. I blew by a couple guys and was passed by a few as well, but for most of the second half, the road lay gorgeously empty both ahead and behind me.

The one challenge was a four-mile segment straight east into the wind. With no draft to ease the pain, I put my chin down and tried to pedal easy. My right quad started cramping so I took some salt, a few fingers on my left hand went numb, my lower back ached, my neck tightened with knots and I had to keep reminding myself to lower my shoulders. But there was NOWHERE else I’d rather be. These aches were minor. The pain? Frivolous! I was damn lucky to have the health and fitness sufficient to grind it out. Even during those four ugly miles, it was a privilege to be on my bike! 

As soon as that segment ended, like a horse sniffing the barn, I shifted into the big ring and sped off toward a finish that was just an hour or so away. And speaking of horse, around Mile 82, just as I was approaching a bridge, three big, beautiful horses were running free . . . straight at me! I did all I could to pull over and get a picture.

wild horses
Had there been four I’d have thought the apocalypse was at hand!

Just as the horses three disappeared, so did the gravel end, pavement begin and the bumpy finish through the field greet me. It was over! I’d made the 4pm cutoff with a few minutes to spare and finished in 31st place! Joe greeted me, having finished an hour earlier, and Zoran and Mark rolled in just 10 minutes later. A fourth friend, Seth, came in a few minutes after Z and M, but with an extra 10 miles due to a missed turn.

finish
From left: Seth, Jen, Zoran & Joe. Mark was naked in a truck.

The Grumpy Grind was done and it was awesome. So awesome that I couldn’t finish a day in the saddle at 86.2 miles . . . when I got home, I went out for an extra 13.8 so I could hit the hay with a cool 100. Now . . . when’s my next ride?!!!

tired
Now I can splat . . .

 

A kindly neighbor & knightly husband

“I just have to ask . . . ‘Why?'”

This from the kindly neighbor who pulled over to see if I was ok. I’d flatted and, caught unprepared, was waiting for my husband to come pick me up.

Road to nowhere

I told her riding these gravel roads (made wet and sticky after this morning’s snow) is a great conditioner.

She laughed, adding, “And you just like to do it, right? Well, you’re dressed right and you have all your lights, just be careful,” adding I could come to her farm any time I needed help.

I didn’t expect to ride, but when I stepped outside and felt the temperature hovering in the low 40s, it dawned on me there was no wind so I wouldn’t have to completely bundle up. Hell yeah!!!!dirty feet

Just as last week’s loose gravel kicked my butt, today’s wet gravel would prove tacky and glue’y and gross. I wasn’t looking to do a ton of miles, maybe just 15, but had my butt handed to me at a particularly steep climb that left me spinning out, forcing me off the bike and walking the remaining incline. (The same thing happened at the same hill last Sunday, but at least today I’d made it further. #smallvictories)

lidDespite a little walk of shame, I was still psyched to be trying a ride in these conditions. Every time my line wandered into a particularly soft, pudding-like spot I’d think of my friend Jacob who did last year’s Land Run when conditions were epically terrible. I remember afterwards his bike hanging in a work stand at the shop, caked in a layer of dried orange’ish muck . . . and that was after he’d already washed it once. He told me of using a frosting knife to scrape built-up mud off his tires. This was far from the case today. Sure I got dirty, but there was no crazy pudding or build up.

But the ride was quickly cut short when, after enjoying a downhill, suddenly my front tire was gone–sealant leaked out and I was without any tools or tube. I hate that I’d made such a boner move, but grateful my husband was around to come fetch me.Bike rescue

Tomorrow I’ll examine the wheel and try to figure out what happened.map

 

MTB: infecting the younger generation

Ask my husband and kids and they’ll tell you they’re tired of me asking them/begging them to go mountain biking. We have a great system of trails at DeWitt’s Westbrook Park and they simply refuse. My kids have never rode trails so don’t know what they’re missing. My husband has and he says he hates them. Whatev’

This afternoon, as I headed to DeWitt for a session at Westbrook, it dawned on me that my 12-year-old nephew had an early-out from school. When I called to see if he was down with trying some trails, he happily complied!nic me start

Nic is a great kid, often game for trying new things and today was no different. With me on my Salsa Mukluk fat tire and him on a 24″ kids mountain bike, we took off. Quickly I could tell he wasn’t utilizing his gears so we did a little “Shifting 101” on the side of the 101 (trail) and we continued. I lead and would call out things to prepare him for what lie ahead.

Except for a tree branch clotheslining him and scraping his upper lip & nose, making him bleed his own blood, he rocked those trails! There were switchbacks he flicked through, rock gardens he bumped over and even some ramps off which he tried SENDING IT!

He told me it was a type of riding he’d never done. Living on a farm outside of town, most of Nic’s biking is around my parents’ neighborhood in town. And now he has this! Easily accessed by paved trail west along DeWitt’s 11th Street.

My favorite part of all of this? Purely selfish! HE WANTS TO GO AGAIN!!!! I think I’ll put him on my son’s Trek 3500. He’ll be beating his old aunt in no time!

Cutting my teeth on gravel

Gravel is hard. Wait, it’s soft, which makes it extra hard! Sunday rollers

On my days off, I’m forcing myself to explore the hilly, twisty, turny gravels north of my home. If a person rides south, they’ll hit a few hills before pancaking a few miles north of DeWitt. Flat is fine. In fact, it’s fun because I can go fast! But flat doesn’t cut the butter when you’re eyeballing Dirty Kanza 2019.Sunday harvest

It’s weird how even within a couple of rides, it seems like I’m getting a feel for this new style of riding. I’m starting to get a slight understanding of how to climb gravel: similar to the road in that I’m “sittin’ and spinnin’” but different because while most road climbing is steady and long or short and sweet, gravel inclines can be sudden and wall-like.

I’m “lucky” to have really hilly gravel near my home. Even though I’ve lived here for 12 years, the backroads are easy to get lost on because they move with the land–rising and falling, meandering and bending. Just a few miles to the south where it’s super flat, the backroads are laid out in perfect squares. But where I live? I never know where I’m going to end up! Not only does that make riding exciting, it’s also very surprising. I’ll be pedaling along and suddenly drop into a valley then just as quickly, need to grind and claw my way up and out.gravel and cows

And yesterday’s climbing was tough: nearly every road had been covered with a fresh layer of rock and then graded.  On one particularly tough climb, I started spinning out and eventually gave up and walked it.

I’m currently riding the stock 700×42 Sawtooth tires on my Specialized Sequoia and I’m learning I probably need a tire with some real tread. Also, much like when I started riding a fat tire a year ago and messing around with tire pressure, 35 psi in my rear wheel is too much. A couple days earlier I was riding at about 19 psi and though it was too squishy, I didn’t seem to struggle with spinning out so much.gravel creek

Aside from the tire issue, I’m also gaining a little experience with gearing. When climbing on the road, I stay aware of how many gears I have before I max out. On gravel it seems like I max out before the climb really even starts. There’s so much “mental” to it. Not only am I deciding where the best line in the gravel lies then trying not to bite it as I move into it, but the environs are gorgeous and I’m trying to enjoy the views. And when that view is suddenly a big ass hill and I haven’t been paying attention to my gears? Ugh. . .there’s a learning curve to this gravel stuff. For sure.

A friend told me it took him three rides to decide if he even liked it. I’m already sold, mainly because of the exploring that’s waiting for me out my backdoor. . .strava tuesday

 

Two-wheeled coven returns for a second slaying at the Halloween parade

full witch group - fixed

For the second year, my crazy and wonderful crew participated in the Bettendorf Halloween Parade as the “Brooms Are For Amatures Bicycle Coven,” rolling along and tossing candy to all the scariest and sweetest.

Held last Saturday night when it was cccccold, we doned layers under our costumes, filled our bags, charged our lights and hit the streets!

Our coven killed it with the candy AND pacing, so much so that many of us had a piece or two left for tossing as we made the final turn into Splash Landing!

Last year we won second place. No news yet on how popular we were this year, but we definitely cast a spell on those crowds!!! Given that we survived such a chilly night, we may have another festive appearance in store next month!!!

There’s no “easy” in gravel grinding

I don’t know what I was thinking going into last week’s final “official” gravel ride from Healthy Habits Bike Shop. Many of the guys said it was going to be an easy pace. Uh huh.

We started a half hour earlier because the ride would be 30+ miles vs. our typical 20ish. The shop filled with excited riders, some I’d not seen join us before, but when we gathered out back I was immediately concerned with one who’d brought their fat tire bike. We were facing sustained head & cross winds of 25 mph gusting up to 37. It was not a night for fat tires.

night gravel 2

As we rolled out on the Bettendorf Bike Path, the lone fat tire rider realized their misstep and returned to their vehicle. This made for 13 riders, and it would take me about as many hours to cease being pissed off over how hard we rode.

I was on my Sequoia whose wheels I’d adorned with LED lights in preparation for an upcoming night parade. Apparently they looked cool, giving off a Tron’esque vibe, but looks don’t cut the butter, and they certainly didn’t cut through that wind.

Our typical route out of town takes us roughly three miles along paved bike path and another two miles on road shoulder before we actually reach gravel. When we passed under the I-80 overpass, riders started to stretch out. By the time we hit gravel, I was the caboose.

And that’s how it was for the duration. Angry thoughts began raging through my head — “This is BULLSHIT!” “What the fuck am I doing out here?!” Eventually turning into self-defeating no-helpers like “I don’t belong out here!” and “I should just quit,” peppered with some mind-murders of Zoran and Bruce, who were at the front, pushing the pace.

Dan, manager of Healthy Habits, was the first to encourage me to draft, yelling over the wind, “Stay just left of my rear wheel,” which would allow me to conserve some energy as he served as a wind block. But as soon as we hit a slight incline, I’d fall off a mere inch and BOOM! the wind would knock me back and all the way across the other side of the road.

At one point he shouted, “We need to get you arm bands! Your jacket makes you look like the Michelin Man! Bahahahaha!” That’s when Dan became Victim #3 in my mental, homicidal rampage.

Then a Chinook flew overhead. Wh, Wh, WHAT?! Yes, a huge, giant, military helicopter. WTF?!!!! Of course I was too busy focusing on not getting blown into a ditch to actually look up, but then again, it was dark, so . . . yeah, helicopters.

At every turn, the group stopped and waited for me (they’re gentlemanly like that) and for a bit, I’d be able to hang until one of those huge gusts had its way with me. After a particularly bad one, Karl who was riding his MOUNTAIN BIKE (yeah, he’s pretty bad ass) hung back and played windbreaker, but as soon as we turned and had a tailwind, HE GONE!

And one would’ve thought once we’d fought all those miles into the wind, our final miles with a tailwind would be glorious reward, but I was completely spent. How did I lose my cycling fitness so fast?! It’d only been 7 weeks since Ironman Wisconsin, but holy hell, my legs were smoked.

As if we’d not gone hard enough, the boys grabbed that tailwind and dropped the proverbially hammer, their taillights quickly vanishing into the night until we regrouped at a truck stop. (Sidenote: When the ride uploaded to Strava, I’d earned 12 achievements including a QOM (Queen of the Mountain) along this first stretch of tailwind gravel. And I snagged that QOM with a minute and a half to spare. REALLY?! On a night like that, when I averaged 13.2 mph? I know the previous QOM and she ain’t no slouch! This was PROOF the pace need not have been this crazy!!!!)

strava

 

Jacob was kind enough to hang back with me from the truck stop as we rolled along the streets of west Davenport back to the bike path and Van’s Pizza where the crew stopped to refuel.

gravel group Vans

I opted to by-pass the carbs and ride back to the shop with Vinny, the most relaxed 7 miles of the ride. Through our chatting, I stopped feeling sorry for myself and began to feel a touch of gratitude for my healthy body. But it wouldn’t be until I arrived at work the following morning when I could “process” the prior evening’s BS with Dan and Bruce that I’d stop being so ornery. When I brought up all the Strava achievements that not only me, but EVERY other rider but Bruce got, he offered to ride gravels with me — Bruce on his fat tire and I on my Sequoia. I replied with a flat, “Thanks.”

But neither Bruce nor Dan suffered my angst for long. Basically I needed to suck it up and reflect on the hard truth that such conditions and paces will make you a better rider. And this point was proven during my lunch hour when siting at the bar in the shop, I started reading an issue of Bicycling magazine in which a pro rider offered advice on keeping up with fast riders.

Leah Thorvilson, winner of the 2016 GoZwift Academy, said, “Plan to get dropped. You don’t always want a slow or no-drop ride–explore your comfort zone and get out of it. Look for a group ride in your area with a pace that’s challenging, but within your ability and a route you know in case you get dropped.”

(Dan later admitted to leaving the magazine open to that article. SERIOUSLY? I’m that transparent?!!!)

Today, I read a blog post on professional mountain biker Kyia Anderson who gave similar advice: “I learned really quickly that the faster you descend the better, as that is the only way to keep up with the group I started with.”

So I guess I need to swallow my pride and take on the tougher rides. Apparently my nearly 2 months of rest since IMWI is done.

What happens after bike thievery

It was a gorgeous fall afternoon when I walked out the back door of Healthy Habits Bike Shop & saw my favorite bike was gone. Was she locked up? No. As employees, we’ve always left our bikes parked out the back door, unattended. We’ve been at this location for 10 years, “It’s Bettendorf!” and we’ve never lost a bike. Well, no longer can we be so lax with our babies.

My bike was a 2016 Salsa Mukluk. It was the base model, aluminum frame with the Bearpaw carbon fork and a SRAM x7 drivetrain. She arrived attractive enough, but the boys promptly helped me remove the front derailleur and replace the two stock chainrings with a single orange RaceFace Narrow-Wide 30t chainring. The benefit was it allowed for a bit more room in the rear chainstay so I could upgrade from the stock Surly Nate 3.8 tires to the wider Specialized Ground Control 4.6. Using yellow Duct Tape for my rim strips, I set up the tires tubeless, put on yellow Fyxation Mesa MP Platform pedals and Arundel sport bottle cages. I later added an orange Chromag riser bar and orange Wolf Tooth headset spacers and stem cap. I named her “50 Shades of Orange” and she was HOT!

We had so much fun together!

halloween parade 2016

We rode in parades, we “stomped” on Davenport’s Credit Island and Clinton’s bottoms, we were one of more than 100 who participated in the 2016 Quad Cities Global Fat Bike Day, we lead gravel rides and rode trails, hell I even rode the cow paths in my neighbor’s pasture, working on my off-road skillz. And yes, she killed it at the 2017 Quad Cities Criterium Faterium! She was my girl!!!

Despite filing a police report, having loads of people share the theft post from our shop Facebook page resulting in thousands of views, regardless of mates riding urban creeks and thickets, the reality settled in: she was gone and I had to replace her.

But how? How do you replace a ray of sunshine? She was so bright, it was like looking into the sun!!! But having tasted fat biking, I couldn’t be without a steed and began a sad search for No. 2. This was not fun shopping. First of all, I didn’t want a new fat bike. I wanted MY fat bike. Secondly, there was only one model that appealed to my penchant for color: the Salsa Beargrease Carbon NX1 in red with a galaxy print on the underside of the downtube. But I’d just sold one to a friend and I was not going to steal her thunder.

I looked at the rest of the Salsa fleet, the Surlys, the new Heller and the Fatboy from Specialized. NOTHING appealed to me. Everything was so basic and blah (in color) so I focused on the components I wanted: trails showed me that I enjoyed a 1x drivetrain and I wanted more than the seven gears I had previously. I did not want a suspension fork, didn’t care if I rode carbon and enjoyed the relaxed geometry of the Mukluk and wasn’t sure the more aggressive, shorter headtubes of the Beargrease or Fatboy were for me.  As I whittled down my options, price was an issue (remember I’d just ordered my gravel bike and really didn’t have a second bike in the budget), but when I looked at the 1x11s available in my size, the price between aluminum and carbon fat tire rubwasn’t a crazy difference.

So I made my decision–the Salsa Mukluk Carbon SLX 1×11 in matte black. In addition to having the drivetrain I wanted, the rear spacing on this model was wider than my first bike which will hopefully alleviate the issues with rubbing. (During February’s Frozen Fat Fondo Fest, the mud caked so heavily on my tires that it wore into the chainstay.)

When the new ride arrived, I felt pretty blah and the guys at the shop teased me, “Oh, my new fat bike arrived, woe is me.” I probably sounded like Eeyore.

I couldn’t let it remain a black-on-black bike so I chose red for my accent color. Even though it arrived tubeless ready, complete with sealant rim strips already applied, I pulled them off and repeated my Duct Tape rim strip trick only this time in red and proceeded with a tubeless set up. I then put on red RaceFace Chester pedals, red Arundel bottle cages, a red Salsa Lip Lock seat post collar and topped it off with a red Spank Oozy riser bar which I cut to fit my shorter wingspan. It was starting to grow on me.

Then I took her out to DeWitt’s Westbrook Park for some trail riding. Oh. My. GOSH! I couldn’t believe how different it rode!!! I was zipping around on those trails like my hair was on fire! I definitely had bugs in my teeth because I couldn’t stop smiling!!! The beefy Maxxis Minion FBF 4.8 tires were grippy AF! Meet Black Betty. . .

black betty

The following day I took her on our weekly gravel ride and had my ass handed to me. Is it the tires? I was completely gassed after just 16 mostly-flat miles! And during Sunday’s Fatties at Five ride from the shop, I was the “sweeper” mainly because I couldn’t keep up! WTF?! Apparently Black Betty is a beast and she is going to attack my legs like a crazy mutha! I’ve already been told I’m not going to want to ride the Maxxis Minions in the Fat Bike Birkie going down next March in Hayward, Wisconsin. We shall see. Until then, let’s ride!!!!

Entering a new realm of gravel

It’s been just 10 days since I introduced my Specialized Sequoia. It was in a Facebook photo of the progress on Healthy Habits’ new location going up yards from our current digs. She arrived beige. Boring beige. And I don’t ride boring bikes.

gravel rig

Taking orange decals originally intended for my recently stolen 2016 Salsa Mukluk fat bike, I dialed in her color with cable housing, bar tape, Arundel bottle cages and Issi pedals. A few days later I added an orange Salsa Lip Lock seat post collar. She ceased being boring.

In the last week I’ve had her out four times, putting in miles where and when I could. My previous gravel riding was done on either mountain or fat tires, but with my next big goal being Dirty Kanza 2019, skill building starts now on the Sawtooth 42mm tires that came stock on the bike.

Already I can tell gravel riding on narrower tires is a whole different beast. Last year I was doing much of it on a mountain tandem with my son which definitely has its advantages for honing one’s handling skills.

This year I did all my gravel riding on my fat bike, and nothing beats the stability of a fat tire to make gravel GRAVY! Those monster tires and treads mean even the loosest of gravel is no problem. But those monster tires are also slow and exhausting. It’s one thing to do 20 or 30 miles on a fat bike, and quite another to do 200.

first gravel ride

So why did I choose the Sequoia? It’s been a year-long process of elimination. I loved the pre-2017 Salsa Warbird, but the new design features a 1x drivetrain. Many people tell me that’s what all gravel bikes are heading to, but I know myself–I need gears and wanted a 2x setup. With the Warbird out, I figured I’d do what my husband did and go with the newly designed Diverge Comp from Specialized. A full carbon rig with the new Future Shock in the headset makes for a super comfortable ride.

But steel, especially for riding gravel, was something I couldn’t ignore. The stock Sequoia is pretty hefty, but earlier this fall a customer, Vinny, ordered a Sequoia frame and had us do a custom build from there. I was stunned how much weight was shaved just in wheels. That’s all it took. I chose the Shimano 105 group set and plan to build lighter wheels in the future. She’s set up tubeless and for now, I’m simply riding and figuring out what psi works best for me.

I find gravel super intimidating so as I delve deeper into a new way of riding, I’m drawing on last summer’s Ironman training. Hill repeats, week in and week out, for several months taught me to finally surrender my fear of hills. It was in the doing, over and over again, that I lost my fear. I’m going to trust that by riding gravel, day in and day out, on hard dirt and the loosest of fresh rock, I will eventually jettison my fear and embrace the suck.

gravel Oct 23

 

The DIY Freedom Tri

Today’s DIY Freedom Tri was the most fun I’ve had over the last four years we’ve been doing this event! Not lacking in surprises, the morning started with me locking my keys in the car at Lost Grove Lake. Fortunately I was already wearing my wetsuit and thanks to the kindness of buddies–Heidi had an extra swim cap, Michael spare goggles and Erin, vital ear plugs (I’d end up in the E.R. without ’em)–we were able to start what would be a .9 mile swim.

swim

While this went down, Marty brought a spare key and treated the seven of us to AC/DC’s “Thunderstruck” as we exited the water! Unfortunately Lisa and Cathy had to bail after the swim so the bike was down to Bonnie, Heidi, Erin and I doing the century and Michael doing 50, blowing the doors off our quartet of female badassery. Our century was a loop north out of Scott County, west along the southern portion of Clinton County, south back into Scott County and east along LeClaire Road back to Lost Grove Lake.

The first 30 miles were fairly uneventful, but Marty rode out to meet us east of Charlotte, snapping the first of many group shots.

charvegas

After leaving “CharVegas” and waving at my house, we pit stopped in Delmar where Erin met half a dog!

half dog

caseys

Eventually Marty left us at Elwood where we continued onto Lost Nation.

Despite the “Lost” Grove Lake and “Lost” Nation, we were pretty solid with our map skills (compared to last year, eh hem). Some people wondered why we were starting the swim at 5:30 am and much of the reasoning rested in the fact we were cycling 100 miles. As we moved westward toward Lost Nation, it was clear the west/southwest wind was picking up and getting stronger. And headwinds SUCK!

tri stop

After regrouping in Lost Nation, we headed south and west toward Toronto where I started to feel so damn grateful for my health. To be out in the middle of cornfields, pedaling my ass off, chafing because I forgot my chamois butter, sweat dripping down, I remembered how lucky I am. Not just to have the strength to do it and to have beautiful open roads, but that all four of us are doing Ironman Wisconsin in September. None of us are bent on competing with each other. We’re just in it together, excited for the experience.

road selfie

open road

Somewhere north of Wheatland, however, my gratitude flagged due to the buckshot of gross, hard, large flying beetles swarming in slow flight everywhere! But it was also time for sugary sustenance (ice cold Mountain Dew) so after a brief stop in Wheatland it was on to Dixon where Erin had to document our visit due to one of her two fur babies sharing the same name.

dixon welcome

dixon batter

One of the best things about Dixon, aside from Erin getting to set up in the batter’s box was the direction we were headed: south east! Finally the sweet reward of a tailwind that would carry us past Jeff and Cirt’s giant cob and eventually LeClaire Road via a final Mountain Dew stop in Donahue.

corn cob

Given the straight shot through Eldridge to Well’s Fargo/240th and back to Lost Grove Lake, Bonnie told Erin, Heidi and I to “give it hell” during the last miles to see what our legs could do. And give it hell we did! The three of us worked a short pace line that resulted in a Strava “Queen of the Mountain” along one of the segments of LeClaire Road! And Heidi achieved her first CENTURY!!!!

heidi hill bike

But the day’s challenge wasn’t complete–we had a run to knock out. Initially it was to be a 10k, but admittedly we jacked around enough during the bike that we just wanted to be done so we simply ran to the first water stop and turned around. It was a perfect 5k.

run

 

5k finish

What a day! It was hard, but not impossible. Uncomfortable, but not unbearable. Hot, but not awful. Joyful and totally badass!

Final shot

Last week someone questioned if we’d have medals. No. But Bonnie’s search of heavy metal for an eventual work of art was definitely the best metal of all!!!

Heavy metal

Much like Superman, we were all a little beat up, but still had our capes. HELL YEAH!