So go ahead. Fall down. The world looks different from the ground. ~Oprah Winfrey
Saturday I met up with some friends for a bike ride. We all have long gravel races coming up: this weekend’s OGRE (150 miles) for Keith and Dave, and May’s Cedar Cross (113 miles) and Dirty Kanza (200 miles) for Chuck and me. We’d initially discussed riding 80 miles of gravel, but somehow we hit upon riding a trifecta. While considerably shorter in distance (~45 miles), the trifecta’s singletrack portion pretty much guaranteed that we’d get similar saddle time. Thursday night’s ride hadn’t left me particularly confident that I’d bag my first trifecta, but I was willing to give it another try. At worst, I’d bail after the second park like on my last attempt.
|Dave, Keith, and Chuck at Lost Valley|
We started with Lost Valley. The trails were in amazing shape, and with the exception of one section where I fell chickening out of something I know I can ride, I had probably my best ride ever there. My strava file shows all kinds of new personal bests on segments. Because this is the first trail I ever rode on a mountain bike, every ride there is something of a progress gauge for me. I’ve finally reached the point where, though there are parts I can’t ride yet, nothing terrifies me there anymore, but the biggest mark of progress is that the guys never had to wait for me there. I was almost always in the back, but I was able to stay pretty close.
|Of course we stopped to play on the gate. Here’s Keith on his maiden voyage.|
Next on our itinerary was Matson Hill Park, via the Katy Trail and a big climb up Matson Hill Rd. On my first trifecta attempt, a crash midway through had combined with my aching back to send me home without hitting the final park. This time Matson had my number even sooner. Attempting to ride over a big root, instead I plowed into it, went over my handlebars, and landed back on the root. It really hurt. The guys came back to help me out and pick up my bike, and Chuck asked me if I wanted to walk for a little bit. Instead, I gingerly swung my leg over my bike and proceeded to ride very tentatively, walking anything that looked the least bit tricky.
I must’ve banged my rear derailleur in the crash, because my shifting was a mess from there on out and my chain would slip any time I rode up any kind of a hill. I’d stop and mess with it, ride again, stop and mess with it. Meanwhile, the guys got further and further ahead. Which was fine. I didn’t want them to have to spend the rest of the day waiting on me, my damaged bike, and my missing mojo, and when I caught up I planned to suggest that I just cut the loop short so they could finish their trifecta with a minimum of waiting.
Instead, Chuck rode back to check on me: “I just knew you were back here, being all down on yourself and planning to cut things short,” he told me. (He knows me so well.) I tried explaining the problem with the bike to him, but instead I started crying. Embarrassed, I looked away and tried to pull myself together. “Hey,” he said, “as many times as we’ve raced together, you don’t have to pretend not to cry in front of me! Just tell me what’s wrong.”
And so, in between sniffles, I tried explaining the shifting issues, and he got it to work a little bit better. He did not, however, let me off the hook for the trifecta. While I never really got a lot of nerve back and still had mechanical issues any time I rode up much of a hill, I eventually relaxed a little bit. Coming back on the Hayes trail, a group of guys had stopped to wait for us to pass. Attempting to ride it with too much lean and too little speed, I toppled over on my side (thankfully, not the hurt side) right in front of them. I landed in a nice soft grassy patch, laughed, dusted myself off, and rode on.
Because the way out of Matson is all uphill, by the time I got back to the park entrance I was frustrated with the slipping chain and ready to just ride back to my car. Swayed by the idea of lunch at the Augusta Brewery, I figured riding the flat Katy Trail shouldn’t give me too many shifting issues. Once I’d agreed to go to Augusta, it didn’t take Chuck long to convince me to go ahead and ride some at Klondike (“It’s just one paved uphill and then all downhill!)…I’m such a sheep.
|Lunch was awesome…I wanted one of everything but settled for pulled pork…and a big pretzel…and a cider…and a soda.|
We definitely took our time at lunch. Dave and Chuck had a pitcher of beer to finish, and I was in no hurry to get back on my bike. The place was packed, and we ran into some friends who’d ridden over from St. Louis for lunch. Eventually we couldn’t stall any longer, so we collected our bikes, met up with Keith (who’d been riding mile out-and-backs on the Katy as he waited for us slackers), and headed towards Klondike.
I was really only there to mark the park off my checklist, so while the guys rode ahead I stopped to take a picture of my bike at the trailhead, then soon after stopped and offered to take a picture of a young couple. Still feeling pretty iffy about my handling and even minimal obstacles, I walked the places that weren’t pretty smooth and then rode up to the first switchback.
I’m not all that skilled on switchbacks, and because the Hogsback trail is built into a semi-steep hillside, there’s a little more cost to overshooting your turn. I actually cleared the switchback, and then I got nervous and tried to put down my foot. Unfortunately I opted to do that at a downhill point where my foot couldn’t reach the ground, and I once again went over the side of my bike, landing hard on some rocks.
At this point I was officially done. Done riding anything remotely scary, done pushing my comfort zone. I walked a lot of the remainder of the trail, angry with the park and myself and my shattered confidence. Thankfully the ride back to the parking lot was all nice, wide trail, and somehow as tired and done as I was, I still had enough left to out of nowhere ride my second fastest time ever on the Hamburg uphill. Weird how that works. At the end of a very tough day for me, I drove home with 47 miles on my bike computer, lots of new bruises, and a sincere appreciation for the patient friends who put up with my tear-stained, very un-super company, even though they could have finished the trifecta much faster in my absence.
I spent Easter day with my family, avoiding big hugs and any movement that required me to use the oblique muscles on my swollen right side. That made for a relaxing day, and I very much enjoyed sitting around in the beautiful weather. I was a little worried about the gravel century Mickey and I had planned for Monday, but as long as I didn’t have to sneeze or get off my bike too often (both things that were pretty painful), I figured I should be ok.
Well, I’d be ok physically. Mentally was another thing. I was apprehensive about the ride, to put it mildly. Even though we were riding on gravel and my falls had all been on singletrack, I was really afraid I was going to fall again. The cloudy morning sky and likelihood of rain further tempted me to bail, but Mickey didn’t take me up on my halfhearted offer to spare him dragging along an anchor.
We started on the Lost Valley gravel, and it was immediately clear that all my hard-won downhill mojo from Tour of Hermann had evaporated. I crept down the first, fairly sketchy, downhill, missing my fat mountain bike tires, and I even did a lot of braking on the backside downhill as well. On the other hand, while my climbing was slow, I didn’t do any uphill walking (not always a given).
From Lost Valley, we took the Katy Trail back to Klondike Park. At some point during Saturday’s train wreck ride, I’d lost my camera there, and though Mickey and his kids had a minor search party for it on Saturday night, I’d thought of another place I could have dropped it. Before looking for the camera, we rode towards the other side of the park, where there are some fun little features, like the tire-popping boardwalk.
|Mickey changing his tire…|
|Me opting to Facebook rather than taking the suggested opportunity to practice riding on the boardwalk.|
And yes, I know that the stupid boardwalk is plenty wide and shouldn’t be scary at all. But I also know that sometimes I need to just give myself permission to be wimpy until I don’t feel wimpy anymore. The next stop was the teeter totters, which Mickey “mistakenly” thought he could convince me to do.
Ummmm…so maybe I was mistaken about not riding them. I was persuaded by a combination of “my kids ride these!”, knowing I’d done it before at Ray’s Indoor Bike Park, and, ultimately, the offer to stand next to the teeter totter and not let me fall. So, whatever, he was right, I was wrong. This time.
|Celebrating being off work on a Monday|
We had no luck finding the camera, so we headed back onto the Katy Trail and towards the gravel flats outside of Defiance. On our way, though, Mickey paused at the intersection with Terry Rd. “We’re right here…people are always talking about this road…maybe we should see what it’s all about. It’s just a few miles, and then we can cut back down to the Katy on some other roads.”
I knew it was hilly, but I was up for it, especially after riding some big hills last month and having no Garmin proof of it. As we started on Terry Rd, though, I recognized the scenery. “I think we’ve been here before.”
This time it was Mickey who was unconvinced (and wrong), but while the climb kind of sucked, it wasn’t that bad. The first big hill was followed by rolling hills, mostly in an upward manner, and eventually we hit an intersection. “We’ve definitely ridden that before,” I said again.
“Hmmm…have we? Hey, here’s Duke!”
I definitely remembered Duke Road and its rolling hills, especially the ones I’d had to walk. I’m pretty sure that whole Terry Road “let’s check it out” detour was a con job, but thankfully Duke was much less painful in this direction than the way we’d ridden it before. Those uphills still hurt, though, which is probably why I was so happy to see this:
In the past, signs like these have inspired serious dread, but Monday, for perhaps the first time ever, I saw that downhill symbol and thought, “Yess!!!” My excitement for the paved hills didn’t, however, extend to the gravelly Matson Hill Rd, and I spent a lot of time on the brakes easing myself down safely.
From Matson, we rode out onto the Femme Osage gravel, where after the first out-and-back we were treated to the sight of a maintenance truck dumping fresh gravel onto the roads. (Well, I was treated to the sight. People who know Mickey will be unsurprised to hear that he never noticed the big orange dump truck in the middle of the road before we turned.) “Luckily” they’d already gravelled the next stretch of road we attacked, which made for very unfun riding.
As I trailed along behind Mickey, I thought about the fact that we’d been to Lost Valley, Klondike, and right by Matson. It’s kind of like a gravel trifecta, I thought…oooh, we could ride to Bangert and Creve Coeur parks and make it a quint-fecta. Of course, when I came up with this brilliant plan I thought it was only about ten miles to Bangert rather than the 17 it actually was, and within about 3 miles on the Katy Trail I was grateful I hadn’t mentioned the Creve Coeur part of the plan to Mickey because I was already hating myself for committing to 30+ miles of flat gravel.
Naturally the way out was into a headwind. I even checked with Mickey, “This is a headwind, right?” Seems like I’m always riding into a headwind thinking how nice it’ll be when I turn around, only to turn around and realize that hadn’t been a headwind at all. But no, there was even a flag blowing in our direction to show that we had a headwind. Good…it’s not so bad when you know you’ll have a tailwind on the way back.
After what felt like a million miles on the Katy, we reached Bangert. After a short snack break, I very grudgingly climbed back onto my bike and proceeded to enjoy the heck out of the singletrack. Unfortunately, we still had a 17-mile ride back to Weldon Spring. “If someone I knew drove up right now,” I said, “I’d jump in their car without hesitation.” I also considered asking the firemen at the trailhead investigating a report of a fire if they’d drive me back.
No, that doesn’t bode well for my mental toughness at Dirty Kanza. Nor do my attempts to convince Mickey that, being so much faster, he could hurry back to the Mound and then come pick me up at the Weldon Spring trailhead. Or the Research Park trailhead. Or… “No!” Hmph. With friends like these…
Oh, and that tailwind we’d expected? Nonexistent, that flag now flying spitefully towards my face.
We’d discussed taking the shortest way back on the paved Research Park trailhead and cutting down Highway 94, but opted to avoid that route due to traffic concerns. We ended up riding up the quarry trail to the Hamburg and pulling into the parking lot with 71 miles on my Garmin (and quite a few more than that for Mickey, who’d both started earlier and ridden extra).
That made 118 miles for the weekend, pretty good unless you consider that it’s only about 5 miles more than Cedar Cross or, more depressingly, would put me not quite halfway to the third checkpoint at Dirty Kanza. But I’m a master of denial, so I’m not thinking about either of those things.