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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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

 

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

 

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