Most of my bike rides lately have been whatever I can fit in after work, which kind of precludes planning ahead and riding with friends. Since I’m not familiar with any gravel roads around here and am not one to go out exploring on my own in limited time, I’ve stuck to our paved bike paths. With the 200 miles of Dirty Kanza looming ahead of me, though, I knew I need to get in some training on gravel roads, so I turned to my Team Virtus friends for help.
Most of the guys had other plans, but Luke and Adam were able to ride. Since Luke had to be finished by 11:15 to get ready for work, we planned to ride about 35 miles. Given my choice of flat or hills, gravel or pavement, I picked gravel with some hills. Christina from Climbing Those Hills (you can read her ride report at that link) lives in the same area as the guys, so she joined us on the ride, too.
I’ve been riding the Monster bike plenty, but it’s almost all been on pavement, so I was looking forward to seeing how it felt on gravel. In order to get to Jefferson City by our planned 7 a.m. start time, I left the house at 4:15 a.m. That pretty much sucked, especially since I hadn’t made it to be until after 11:30. Still, it was totally worth it to get to ride with my teammates and meet a new friend, and since I had gotten everything loaded the night before, so all I had to do was roll out of bed, braid my hair, and fill my water bottles.
It was an easy drive, and I pulled into the parking lot right behind Luke. Christina was already there, and Adam pulled in shortly afterwards. After introductions and one last bathroom stop, we headed down the Katy Trail. Well, Christina and I did, anyway. Adam was having some bike issues, so the guys stopped to see if they could figure out/fix the problem. We went on ahead, riding slowly and talking so they could catch up. Pretty soon the guys came zooming up, and after a mile or two of Katy Trail, we turned off onto the gravel roads.
This was not only Christina’s first gravel ride, but it was also going to be her longest ride ever, on a new route, on her mountain bike, with strangers (or new friends)…but as she said, it’s good to try things that scare you. A girl after my own heart, for sure.
|Christina is all smiles as Adam gives his best “I’m a badass on a singlespeed” look|
I felt pretty confident on the flat gravel, especially with the gigantic balloon tires currently on my bike, but I’m definitely needing all the practice I can get to get used to the shifting. The Monster bike has grip shifts, which I’ve used for many miles on my hybrid, but the up- and downshifting is exactly opposite the way my brain works (also, it’s perfectly logical–to upshift, you turn the grip…wait for it…up. Why that’s so hard for me, I don’t know), so I’m forever shifting in the wrong direction. Luckily, I made my shifting mistakes early enough to undo them on the first big hill.
The first hill always kicks my butt, and this one was no exception, but by the time I got about halfway up I was feeling better again, and by the time I got to the top I felt pretty pleased with myself. Of course, the guys flew past me on the hill, which is what always happens. I really need to get better at climbing. Come to think of it, I’m not much better at descending, either, especially on gravel. Visions of Ben Palosaari danced through my head on every gravel downhill.
I’ve gotten better (braver) if the downhill leads straight into another uphill. Well, braver may not be the right word. It’s just that some of the climbs are so tough, especially towards the end of a race, that somehow the downhill terror is less scary than the thought of climbing without the aid of momentum. I’m slightly less cautious than normal if the downhill is nice and straight with a straight expanse of road leading from it. If there’s a turn involved, though? I’m going to be holding onto my brakes.
The good news is that I’ve gotten pretty good at braking without skidding or flipping myself over the handlebars. The bad news is having to listen to that scornful voice telling me what a wimp I am. Luckily, Luke was far enough ahead that I couldn’t hear him. OK, so the guys would never say that (to my face)…it’s just my own inner voice providing the commentary.
As I caught up to where Luke was waiting at the bottom of the first downhill, I took the opportunity to dash off behind some trees to pee. Luke’s “You go, girl!” followed me into treeline. I think he was a little disappointed that I didn’t whip out my Go Girl and pee right there on the side of the road, but I assured him that I won’t be using it now that the testing phase is over. That said, my bathroom spot was covered in high weeds, so my butt was itchy for the next several miles. Maybe I need to reconsider the Go Girl.
Adam rode up as I came back to the road, adding his own “You go girl” to the chorus, and Christina mentioned it also. Boy, you write an extensive post about a female urinary device and it’s open season for the pee comments! 🙂 We stopped there for a little snack break before attacking the next hill.
|Boys on the cross bikes, girls on the mountain bikes. Just like Ginger Rogers, we do everything they do, just backwards and in heels…or, in this case, with knobby tires and heavy bikes.|
While our first big climb was paved, the second one was gravel. Definitely more challenging. Thanks to the gears that Monster Bicycle’s Jim put onto my bike (which had previously been set up as a 1 x 9…I think), I had plenty of room to downshift and stay on my seat for the climb, which gave me good traction. I was breathing a little harder at the top of this hill but still feeling pretty good.
|Such a great morning!|
I pretty much crept down the next downhill, though, between the gravel and the curve partway through it. I’m looking forward to getting my new, thinner cross-style tires on the bike for Dirty Kanza (I went with the Continental Travel Contact tires, in case you’re interested), but I’m a little nervous about losing the cushion and the reassuring bulk of my big knobby tires in addition to wondering how the handling will change on gravel. Will I have less traction? Will I be even wimpier? Stay tuned to find out.
By the bottom of the second big hill, we were closing in on Christina’s previous distance PR with one cat 5 hill left to go. She was hanging in there like a champ, though I could definitely recognize the tone in her voice as she answered Luke’s question about how she was doing: “I’m still here.” If I read it right, that’s the “grim determination, I’m not going to complain out loud but I’m definitely wondering wtf made me think this was a good idea” mindset that I’ve spent many a group ride in. It’s hard to be bringing up the rear of a pack — I know, because I’ve spent the last two years at the back of most groups I’ve ridden with — but you get stronger by challenging yourself, and I know it’s helped me improve a ton over where I started.
The third hill was a tough one, and at the top Christina mentioned that she was having a hard time catching her breath. Remembering the light bulb moment on a ride last year with Chuck where I was struggling and frustrated with how out of shape I was halfway through the ride, only to have him tell me I needed food, I suggested she eat something. Luke had a spare Honey Stinger waffle. Those are good enough to perk you up even if you don’t need food. 🙂
By this time, we were creeping closer to Luke’s deadline, so he got us to a main road and then took off so he could get to work on time. I recognized where we were from the Deuce, but I never could have gotten back on my own. Luckily, Adam and Christina knew the area. We started on some paved rollers that looked bad but were actually a blast to ride.
The morning, which had been about perfect for a ride, was starting to warm up a bit, but I felt good as long as I was moving. Actually, I felt great. The gravel ride was a huge confidence-builder. I felt like I could ride all day. Lucky for me, I pretty much had all day. Jeff knew I needed to get in some decent mileage, so he wasn’t expecting me home until evening. Adam and Christina both had things they needed to do later, but I had plans to set out for some additional riding after we finished.
I don’t remember riding the last downhill, probably because I’ve repressed the memory. I’m sure it similarly as unimpressive and timid as the others. I make light of it, but my fear is really frustrating to me. I wish there was a quicker, easier way to push past it other than these incremental improvements in courage. Oh, well. We pushed on to the end, cruising back into the parking lot to a huge new distance PR for Christina. Very cool.
|Another fun blogger meet-up!|
We talked for a while in the parking lot, then I sat in the shade with a diet Pepsi while I checked Facebook. After refilling my water bottles, I set off for part 2 of my ride. Since I’m pretty unfamiliar with the area and was now riding alone, I opted to hit the Katy Trail. Even I can’t get lost there. Knowing Bob and Cara were riding back from a romantic B&B stay in Rocheport, I headed that way on the trail. The thought of seeing friends gave me something to look forward to, and I definitely needed distraction since I’d left my ipod headphones at home.
|Heading west on the Katy|
Parts of the trail are just beautiful. Riding past the wooded bluffs was a real highlight. Still, riding a flat, seemingly endless trail alone gets kind of boring. While I’d felt pretty great earlier, I was trying to push a little more here to make up for the smooth, easy terrain, and (surprise, surprise) feeling the effort a lot more. I was also beginning to feel the effects of over 40 miles in the saddle.
I’ve been riding without chamois butter to try and toughen things up, but by mile 50 I was definitely questioning that strategy. Acclimating quickly to long hours in the bike saddle is just no fun. I had set out planning to ride 15-20 miles out, but I really wanted to go 20 for a day’s total of 75 miles. The further I rode, the more negotiations ensued. How about just 17.5 miles out? That would still give you a total of 70 miles. That’s a good long ride. By the time I ran into Bob and Cara, though, I was grimly holding on to get to mile 15.
We talked for a few minutes, and getting off the seat for that time did wonders for my mood. Then they headed off towards Jeff City and I finished off the last .5 mi of my 15 and turned around. I was really looking forward to stopping for some lunch in Hartsburg, another 5 miles back, but Bob and Cara had mentioned stopping there, and I didn’t want to intrude on their couple time. If it’s anything like ours, it’s a pretty rare thing. When I caught up with them as they rode into town, though, they asked if I wanted to grab some food with them. Very nice.
We had a nice lunch (well, they had an appetizer and I had lunch) and did a lot of talking about our upcoming race. Then I took off ahead of them so they could ride side by side, holding hands and making googly eyes at each other in peace. Thanks to the break, the last 10 miles wasn’t nearly as bad as the first 20 had been. It just makes a huge difference to get off your seat every once in a while. Still, the realization at the car that my entire day’s “long” ride was basically the distance to the first Dirty Kanza checkpoint was a little daunting.
Hopefully at DK the excitement, all the people around, the amazing scenery, and the need to pay attention to where I’m going will help the miles go by faster. I’ll be bringing along my grim determination (and ibuprofen) just in case, though. 🙂