Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Crushing Gravel 14: Barry Roubaix and Buckets of Rain

And it's a hard, and it's a hard, it's a hard, and it's a hard
And it's a hard rain's a-gonna fall
-Bob Dylan

One week out before my first Barry Roubaix I made the mistake of looking at what is now jokingly referred to by my friends as "". Rain. Lots of it. And cold. Very cold. And wind. Again, lots of it. Over the following seven days, I would return to weatherpessimist hoping that somehow the forecast had miraculously changed. That it would be 60 degrees with sunshine, maybe just a little rain the night before to settle the sand down, and light southwesterly winds for a tailwind coming back into Hastings, Michigan. Bahahahahaha. I laugh at myself even as I write this, knowing fair well mother nature, although kind once in awhile, loves being a complete bitch for planned gravel events.

Friday, the day before Barry came all too quickly. Did I pack everything I thought I needed and the kitchen sink? My pile largely consisted of clothing I'd wear for January rides, not late March rides, and that pile was ridiculously big. Dressing for cold wet conditions is the most challenging combo to be ready for. My former wilderness guide self kept telling me to add neoprene like layers and multiple layers which I could shed if I overheated. It forced me to pack not only chemical warmers for my feet (which became non-functioning the moment the rain started) but also the trusty bread bags I've used as vapor barriers for ages. It forced me to wear 100% synthetic vs. wool, pack extra calories (I normally only eat a bar and one electrolyte bottle on 62 mile rides) and an extra pair of gloves as well as a dry hat in case my others got soaked (which they of course did). I'll admit it, I'm one of those safety gravel girls who packs extra of almost everything just in case I have a (shhhhhh...don't say it) mechanical issue on the course. This, of course, also makes me look like a camel since I never do gravel rides without a small pack strapped to me. So be it. I'd rather look like fool than be a fool.

So here my friends who were joining me were. Standing by the car Friday morning, in bright sunshine and warmth no less, packing for what we knew would be an adventure fun shitshow. The 6 hour drive from Madison to the packet pickup and then Grand Rapids was uneventful other than the 25mph winds threatening to rip our bikes off the car and make it to Michigan before us. We unloaded everything at my gravel friend's, Josh Duggan's, house and promptly proceeded in drinking our way through a couple of the Grand Rapids breweries (for carb loading purposes only).

We woke to the sound we knew we would hear...rain. The radar showed Hastings had been hit even harder than us. And me, always nervous prior to new events, just kept thinking "will I make the cutoff if I have to walk Sager road?" I can do 62 miles, I can do hills, I'm not so great at mountain bike or cross skills through mud. I had no clue what laid ahead of me as one of my friends just kept saying "good times" every five minutes.

As we drove down to Hastings in a downpour, and it stopped raining when we pulled into town, there was that little bit of me that cautiously thought, "okay, it's not going to rain...we'll be good". All while I overheard someone next to us who was also getting his gear ready say to his friend "they cut out Sager". I may have made an audible sigh.

I pulled into my wave 2 start position alongside my partner-in-crime and quickly did several adjustments of layers since I was sweating from, what I suspect to be nerves, not the damp 40 degree temp. It was stunning to see so many people, alongside of us, to brave the elements and come out for what we all call "bike fun". If they could do it, I could too. 

Looking back at the waves behind me at the starting line

Yet another layer change
photo by Tim Reinhardt

I'm always a bit skittish in the first few miles of these events until the pack thins. I don't trust other's skills, especially on mushy gravel with potholes and after being in a crash a few years ago at mile ten during Almanzo, I always err on the side of caution. I don't talk to anyone, even the friends I show up with, I refuse to hug the wheel in front of me and my eyes dart back and forth until I see patterns in riding styles. Hey, it may seem crazy but it's kept me from getting in any serious diggers. 

A few miles in the rain decided to return
photo by Tim Reinhardt

Momma said there'll be days like this, 
there'll be days like this momma said.
-The Shirelles

The first ten miles ticked by, even though the rain had now resumed. Everything seemed completely rideable and safe although albeit a bit slower since I only had 33 mm tires which wanted to sink into the mush. The hills seemed completely manageable and my heart rate actually began to slow down vs. speed up. Body heat was being generated and although it was wet and cold, I felt like I was doing okay...until mile 25. Until then, I had purposely chosen not to look at my computer. I thought wherever I am, I am...and I seem to be doing alright. But sometimes, your mind and body play a little trick on you and make you think you've gone further than you have (this happened to me on the Night Bison as well). That moment, when you "thought" you were around mile 35, only to be told you were ten miles back, is one of the worst feelings out there. I went from feeling okay to feeling completely drained. My feet were soaked, my hands couldn't warm up, despite having neoprene gloves on, the temp felt like it was dropping vs. increasing, and the gravel actually seemed to be getting softer. Shit. Was I going to have to take my first DNF? This is when I forced myself to get to the next aid station at mile 40 (I had blown by the first one thinking I didn't need to make any adjustments). By mile 40 I had made the mistake I warn all wilderness travelers about...NEVER let yourself delve into the hypothermic sate...not even a little. I knew I had to strip my shoes and booties, put plastic bags around my feet, do a hundred or so jumping jacks to produce heat and stoke the fire through calories. What I wanted was to crawl inside one of the warmed up vehicles sitting there and take a nap. But I knew that by taking the volunteers up on their offer to do so, would essentially be a DNF since I was accepting aid. Folks have different feelings about gravel events. I don't race them, I just ride them, but I do believe in carrying everything needed with you and being self supported. It's what separates the new me from the old me who used to race road bikes. It's my wilderness side and my cycling side rolled into one. I was not going to sit in a warm car. I would ride the short way back to Hastings if I had to and pull out of the event, but only if I had been terribly injured would I enter a car. I'm stubborn, I admit it.

Five miles after eating a bar and getting bags on my feet I started to feel better. The miles clicked by, the headwinds increased, but I knew I could make it. I began to really appreciate my surroundings. A house made entirely of river stones, the chorus of spring peepers and sandhill cranes, and the smell of wet earth and decomposing leaves. I began to really enjoy myself even though my neck and back hurt and my feet began to burn with the increased circulation. For a few miles, I couldn't contain my joy in the fact I had not pulled out. And then I heard the thunder. "I can outrun it" I said to myself. Only five miles left. Well, three miles to go, a flash of lightning told me otherwise. The skies opened up and I began to laugh uncontrollably. This, I thought, was comedic. I had already ridden through a steady rain, had fought off hypothermia, had pulled myself together and now mother nature decided to give the remaining few on the course one final test. I think it spurred me to tap into that last bit of strength. I rode into town at around 20mph, parting the standing water on the roads with my bike tires. I didn't care if I didn't have enough energy to find the car at the end, I just wanted to finish the ride. And sure enough, I couldn't find the car until one of my friends came to get me. I stood outside of the car, dripping both sand and rain, shaking once again uncontrollably until I toweled off, got into dry clothes and shoveled food down my throat. I was done, and like any challenging gravel event I do, I had already forgotten the pain and was laughing (until I had to fish out the wet sandy clothes the next day from the car rack).

Did you know Grand Rapids was chocked full of breweries? Well, I, along with my friends and host were on a mission to visit several more of them after a hot the name of carb replacement. Although I would have loved to stay at the bike event for the Founders after party, I just couldn't handle getting soaked again (but don't you worry...Founders brew had been consumed during the weekend!). 

Post race carb replacement!

Thanks go out to Rick and Scott for putting on what must be one of the most challenging gravel events to organize...I'm not sure how you guys make it flawless, but you do. More thanks go out to the hundreds of volunteers who did everything from check us in to stand outside to cheer us on and give those in need aid. Josh and Amy, you two rock for housing three dirty cyclists! And finally, to Tim and Jeff, I never would have done this without you two. I owe you and will gladly pay you back in yet another gravel adventure. 

Friday, March 3, 2017

Crushing Gravel 13: Frostbite 40! I may be getting crazier...for gravel that is

The start of Frostbite 40
photo by Patrick McDonough

Stu and Monica signing people up
photo by Patrick McDonough
I'm driving straight south to Illinois. The sun is rising with a peach colored glow to my left. Barns, all of them now it appears, proudly display their barn quilts. Lone oaks stand in the middle of farm fields with rolling hills all around them and my co-pilot turns to look at me and says something like this, "You know, you are a crazy woman for choosing to drive an hour and a half early on a Sunday morning just to ride forty miles of gravel." I laugh it off. I have to because I'm low on sleep, a little too hungover from beverage consumption the night before, and it's effing cold out with winds picking up from the west, making the flags, even at 7:30am, taunt me. The only reply I could give him is "I wouldn't do this for just anyone...but Stu is putting it on and some of my favorite IL people will be there!"

I met Stu Garwick a few years ago at Almanzo. I felt like I already knew him when I walked up to him, shook his hand (the one free from crutches) and said "You must be Stu!" You see, I was supposed to meet and be able to ride some gravel with this guy a month prior to Almanzo, but a nasty spill on the gravel earlier that spring left him with a broken pelvis. The crazy thing is, he still showed up with his wife, Monica, to act as support for Almanzo. That's right, he drove hours, with a healing fracture, just to cheer his friends on, and hand us beer and peanut butter/pickle sandwiches. I knew I'd like him right away.

Over the past few years, I've gotten to ride with him very little since his hands are always busy on the organizing and planning side of Axletree events. He, along with my other IL gravel friends, are some of the most kind and generous folks I know. They all carry extra gear if someone breaks down, they all stop for someone if they need help and they all do a ton of behind the scenes work at each of the Axletree events. Sadly, Axletree came to an end earlier this year. With that there was a big sucking hole left in its place. Although I mourned a bit for the loss, I knew people like Stu would fill that hole with new advocacy projects and gravel events.

Last year, just around this time, Stu purchased Freeport Bicycle Company in Freeport, IL. It was previously owned by one of the founding members of Axletree, and although it meant a huge life change, switching from being a career electrician, Stu decided this was the path we wanted to go down. He wanted to take his passion for bikes one step further. Very rarely would I suggest someone purchasing or starting a bike shop. It takes so much more energy and love than most could ever manage, but Stu, along with his wife Monica, are just those folks who would make it work. Their commitment to the community, to cyclists and to families ooze out of every pore they have...and that's why I drove my cold ass down to IL to take part in this ride.

Finally, back to Frostbite 40. Anyone who knows me, understands my hatred for cold and wind. Yeah, sure, I help run and ride in winter bike rides every week in Madison, but I do really hate winter weather. What do I love? Gravel, hills, steel bridges, riding with friends and beer. Frostbite had a mix off all this goodness so although the wind was carrying my curses east, I was pretty stoked to be in downtown Pecatonica to partake in my earliest gravel event ever.

Stepping out of the car and walking down to sign the waivers (they really should have read something like "If you lose fingers or toes, tough shit, you should have prepared more" or "If you end up on the east coast due to the wind, we won't pick your sorry ass up...harden up and ride back") was like a mini homecoming. My smile grew bigger and bigger seeing all my friends I haven't seen in what felt like ages. I was so impressed by the turnout, I'm guessing 100 strong, that I was doing a little happy dance inside for Stu and his family.

Thirty minutes later, we rolled out to his warning, "This is not a supported event, you are on your own, there is no sag wagon out there, but there "might" be a rest stop!" And that was it, we all rolled out, into the wind. The groups split up fairly quickly since many choose to race these events. I, along with my co-pilot, Tim, chose to take it more as a Sunday ride. Giddy about being able to ride gravel in late February, delirious (at least I was) about the wind we'd be facing on the way back, and in awe with the surrounding beauty. The gravel was almost pristine, the farm dogs were friendly, we got to go over a beautiful steel bridge and follow it immediately with PBR and even after the temps rose above freezing, the gravel stayed rideable vs. turning into complete peanut butter. Yes, this was a marvelous day (even if I had to go through the hangover tunnel a couple times on the ride).

We finished off, covered in gravel grime, at the Railway bar where bartenders served us with the same smiles they would serve anyone with even though we looked like Pigpen from Charlie Brown cartoons. There, we got to thank Stu and Monica again and ponder if we wanted to take on Ten Thousand over Memorial Day weekend. After getting home, I consumed what felt like a gallon of water and about ten thousand calories. Forty miles has never kicked my butt this much before, and I was still smiling because of it! Thank you to Stu, Monica, their kids and everyone who had a hand in putting this great event on!

I'm pretty damn happy to be on gravel!
photo by Tim Reinhardt

Half way point!

Friday, January 20, 2017

Keeping Hope

When by my solitary hearth I sit,
And hateful thoughts enwrap my soul in gloom;
When no fair dreams before my "mind's eye" flit,
And the bare heath of life presents no bloom;
Sweet Hope, ethereal balm upon me shed,
And wave thy silver pinions o'er my head.

Whene'er I wander, at the fall of night,
Where woven boughs shut out the moon's bright ray,
Should sad Despondency my musings fright,
And frown, to drive fair Cheerfulness away,
Peep with the moon-beams through the leafy roof,
And keep that fiend Despondence far aloof.

Should Disappointment, parent of Despair,
Strive for her son to seize my careless heart;
When, like a cloud, he sits upon the air,
Preparing on his spell-bound prey to dart:
Chace him away, sweet Hope, with visage bright,
And fright him as the morning frightens night!

Whene'er the fate of those I hold most dear
Tells to my fearful breast a tale of sorrow,
O bright-eyed Hope, my morbid fancy cheer;
Let me awhile thy sweetest comforts borrow:
Thy heaven-born radiance around me shed,
And wave thy silver pinions o'er my head!

Should e'er unhappy love my bosom pain,
From cruel parents, or relentless fair;
O let me think it is not quite in vain
To sigh out sonnets to the midnight air!
Sweet Hope, ethereal balm upon me shed,
And wave thy silver pinions o'er my head!

In the long vista of the years to roll,
Let me not see our country's honour fade:
O let me see our land retain her soul,
Her pride, her freedom; and not freedom's shade.
From thy bright eyes unusual brightness shed—
Beneath thy pinions canopy my head!

Let me not see the patriot's high bequest,
Great Liberty! how great in plain attire!
With the base purple of a court oppress'd,
Bowing her head, and ready to expire:
But let me see thee stoop from heaven on wings
That fill the skies with silver glitterings!

And as, in sparkling majesty, a star
Gilds the bright summit of some gloomy cloud;
Brightening the half veil'd face of heaven afar:
So, when dark thoughts my boding spirit shroud,
Sweet Hope, celestial influence round me shed,
Waving thy silver pinions o'er my head.


Friday, December 23, 2016

Rolling a Fatty

Once you go fat, you will never go back
-most of my cycling friends

Pigs are flying at the moment. Really. I just purchased what I swore up and down for years, I would NEVER buy...a fat bike. Worse (or better) yet, this new acquisition is one of my most expensive bikes and it's not even all that utilitarian. I won't be using it on daily commutes to work (I'll still opt to ride my winter cross bike when the roads are dry since the tires are so freaking expensive to replace on my fat bike), and I won't use it in the summer other than mountain biking. So why did I do it? Friendly pressure from friends. Check. Guilt for not being able to play in all conditions with my friends. Check. Feeling isolated and left out when the proverbial white shit hits the fan. Check. Not being able to bike across the frozen lakes. Check. AND...not owning a mountain bike. Check. 

All of these "checks" got me searching this fall, or at least beginning the search quietly so most of my friends wouldn't know, for a new steed. One which would take up the space of two other normal steeds. After months of thinking about it, it ended up being almost too late when I decided to actually bite. You see, there's a very specific bike I had in mind due to my need of a narrower bottom bracket. My hips and knees don't like wide bottom brackets. So much so that I had to sell my beloved Salsa Fargo because fifty mile rides hurt like hell (not something you want on an off road touring bike). The Trek Farley was really the only fat bike that seemed to fit me and not hurt (although I still have to ride unclipped). For some reason or another, every other person buying a new fat bike must have wanted a Farley too since as of early December, they were almost all sold out--out of stores and out of the warehouse. This left me with a dilemma. I had to either wait until spring or summer to get a 9.6 or face the facts and just pony up the big bucks for a 9.8. Now let me explain I have no business purchasing a carbon fat bike. I mean really...this thing is totally lost on me except for the fact I'm a complete whiner when pushing through sand or snow and it's a bit lighter to haul over that stuff. Essentially, I don't deserve this bike. But it's mine, and I'll be damned if I let an amazing machine go to waste...especially since it's the first thing I've purchased for myself in ages. 

A few of you who know me, get the fact I name all of my bikes. This isn't a task taken lightly. The names just come to me: "Blue Velvet, UB40, White Moth etc". It bothers me when they don't name themselves through a whisper. When they do, I know they are mine. When this matte silver frame didn't talk to me, I got nervous. I thought "it's not the one for me", until a friend told me fat bikes don't disclose their name in warm environments (meaning in the bike shop). I laughed and decided to go with the flow on this one since I was too focused on not passing out while my friend, Jesse, at Machinery Row Bicycles, rang me up. 

I didn't pick the bike up until the following day since I had ridden down to pay for it...too nervous it would be sold out from under me if I waited another day. After work, I ran down (yes, how else is one supposed to pick up a bike?) 6.5 miles to alleviate it from its stuffy environment. While I placed my hands on its bars, it began to speak to me and reveal its name. Piglet came to the forefront of my brain. Don't ask how...that's the beauty of a bike naming itself. Other names that were given to me were Wampa and Skunk Ape. I liked them both but it had to be the bike's decision. A poorly named bike will never connect with its rider. Yes, I am "that" kind of cyclist and damn proud of it. Anyway, Piglet and I had a marvelous ride home through puddles and winter slush. I may have been smiling the entire way...I wouldn't know because I was either oxygen deprived from the run still or delirious with the idea I was actually a fat bike owner. Either way, I seemed really damn happy.

So Piglet and I decided to go out exploring early this morning. I had a gift delivery to do down the H8TR (known as the Badger State Trail to most) and since it's paved part way, and is snowmobile trail the rest of the way, I thought it would be a perfect true inaugural ride...until I hit the mashed potato like snow. Then, all I could do was think "This is really hard fucking work" and "Wait, I thought these 4.5" tires were supposed to roll over this shit". I was sweating so heavily, even dressed in just a thick long underwear shirt and a puffball vest, that for a moment I allowed the dreaded thought "WTF! I'm not into this, I'm going to sell it!" graze my mind. I showed up at my friends house,  and he most certainly saw the frustration on my face because he gave me coffee that resembled espresso and we rode back to Madison together. Funny. It's wasn't all that bad on the way back. Yes, it was hard work but the 10mph tailwind certainly helped. No, the snow hadn't firmed up but I laughed at my struggles vs. cursing them. Was is the caffeine buzz? Was it riding with a friend? Was it knowing exactly what to expect when I went out again? Who knows. All I knew was I wasn't going to sell it. I was going to dispel any former thoughts of going fast through snow and just suck it up for what it was, and I was going to enjoy being able to ride a snowy trail...on a bike...for the first time in my life. 

I got home. Ate copious amounts of food following 3.5 hours of moving time if you count the mountain bike trails I hit on the way back (a whole other story) and thoroughly enjoyed my well earned post ride beer. Tomorrow is a new day. A new day on the fatty. With several inches of fresh white stuff I'm sure the ride will pose new challenges. Let's hope they are as fun as today's!

*To all of my fat bike friends, THANK YOU! I am one of you now 😊

My friend, Johnnymac, hanging ornaments on the new "holiday tree"

Hitting the Seminole mountain bike trails

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

In between a rock and a hard place

So here I am, a single female cyclist, and I'm caught between a rock and a hard place. For you guys who think it's easy being a single female cyclist, I beg to differ. It sucks. I mean it really sucks. For the women who don't ride who think we (single female cyclists) are any threat to your partners who do ride, think again...we are very little, if any threat at all. Let me explain all of this, to the guys and the non-riding girls...and let me say I am speaking only for myself, but I have heard similar thoughts from many of my female cycling friends.

First, most of us are seen as guys. Yep, that's right. In fact, one friend of mine told me "you are more dude than dude". What am I supposed to say to that? I've grown up training and racing with guys. I hang out with guys after races, and I'd much rather talk about upcoming rides/adventures than shopping. Does that make me a "dude"? No. That makes me a woman who loves her bikes, loves adventure and loves swilling beers post ride while still on that ride high. Sure, I am seen in my cycling wardrobe (lycra and cycling t-shirts) more than my sundresses, but underneath those clothes, I'm still a woman. And yes, I may sport hideous tan lines when I do choose to wear a dress, but that just shows I'm passionate about being outside on summer days!

Secondly, most guys like to test us female cyclists...some may like it, I do not. Does a throwdown somehow make you feel good about yourself? Do you feel like you need to either prove yourself to me or see if I can keep up (aka am I worthy)? Guys, this is bullshit. I ride because I like to ride. I work hard, sometimes I like to push, but if I'm feeling "off" one night, don't pound me into the ground. You won't win any brownie points and I'll just think you're a Strava thumping douche.

Third, and this is for the females who don't ride, if you think we are hitting on your significant others when we ride with them, think again. We are just happy to ride with others who are passionate about riding. Sure, there may be a woman who is looking to "hook up" with a guy, but this is pretty damn rare. What are we thinking about on these rides? Hanging on, not looking like idiots, making sure we take pulls, and the beer at the end. Yep, this is what goes through my mind on group rides.

So let me talk about this whole dating thing. Since cycling communities are way too small, almost everyone is connected in one form or another. This doesn't bode well when you're searching for someone new. Essentially, the cycling community tends to be ridiculously small and incestuous and that's just gross. I really don't need anyone knowing my personal business and I certainly don't appreciate rumors which can spread like wildfire in tight groups like this, but it happens, and cyclists tend to act like little kids about it. In fact, I've heard cyclists bragging about who they "hooked up with" in a very similar fashion to their Strava bragging. Nope. Sorry. I want nothing to do with that. And yet, at the same time, I'm not keen on dating someone who doesn't like cycling. Trying to explain to someone why I'd rather go on an 8 hour gravel ride vs. go to a Packer game doesn't bode well with non-cyclists. I've seen marriages break up over stuff like this (even when it's been discussed early in the relationship). I will almost always choose my bike/health/passion over a relationship, but that's not to say a person isn't important to me. It's just that cycling is my therapy. If I don't have it in my life, I'm not a nice person, and non-cyclists just don't seem to understand that. So ideally, that leaves me with trying to find a guy who loves riding, is someone I find attractive, is age appropriate and likes/respects me enough not to be a douche while we ride together. Much tougher than you think. I laugh and say this is more rare than planetary alignment. I don't think I'm the only woman out there that feels this way. In fact, I think we, female cyclists, should form our own dating website! Until this happens, you'll find me riding solo or with packs of male friends.

Monday, November 14, 2016

So this happened...

Cyclists like to talk about cycling (a lot). When two great friends asked to interview me for their podcast, I went into fits of laughter. But because I love biking, and I'm not going to lie, I like talking about it too, I said "yes". I wouldn't have done this for just anyone though. Listen to Mark and Sean and you'll know why I agreed to do it! Listen here.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Conquerors of the Useless

A Dirt Road

Somewhere there is a dirt road
Long and narrow and traveled much, 
Where trees form a blanket, 
And branches lightly touch.

Shadows from the sun
Float down through the trees
Like patterns of light
Caught in a breeze.

Many footprints line this road
Left by travelers on their way
The road ahead promised more
The road behind begged them to stay.

Along this road in wild profusion
Berry vines twist along the fences, 
And growing in colored masses
Wild flowers swell the senses.

In the trees along this road
Songbirds spend their days
And in the roadside meadows
Horses quietly graze.

This road has all the feel
Of an old and trusted friend, 
And I could travel along this road
Time and time again.

Richard Netherland Cook 

Adventure cyclists, mountaineers, rock climbers, trail runners and backpackers. We are, in essence, conquerors of the useless. We go out searching for adventure. Searching for that place very few people know of or want to go. In search of the high that comes from summiting a mountain, descending a river or hiking as far as possible from civilization. Are we searching for a place per se, or are we searching for solace? And in that solace, are we quietly hoping to find a few answers? 

At this current period in my life, climbing, mountaineering and wilderness canoeing have fallen by the wayside. Sometimes I think I should feel bad about this, but the lifestyle I had to lead to get me on these trips was one I needed a break from. My roots were tired of being pulled up every year to move around the country, and I couldn't face the thought of working outdoor retail my entire life. So the camping gear got placed in my closet, and I ended up stumbling onto a form of travel I never thought I'd love (or even like for that matter). Yes, this skinny tire/high psi raised, baby bottom smooth road searching girl is completely hooked on gravel. I kid you not. I actually search these roads out now vs. sitting on the side of the road shaking and crying (as I did 6 years ago) after descending one.

No, these rural roads aren't really wilderness, and the chance of getting hip deep in shit is pretty low, but I do know people who have had to hike their bike out for more than twenty miles before they got help after having bike parts essentially explode on them. Try that in cycling shoes, through peanut butter like roads, while being swarmed by mosquitoes, and you may just consider this as challenging as summiting peaks. In fact, as I age, I no longer look for the "biggest", "best" and "least traveled". A backpacking trip on the Appalachian trail in Maine and New Hampshire, just after a backpacking trip in Montana, proved to me that a well trodden path can often be much more difficult than a wilderness path. That brief hiking trip out East wrecked me mentally and physically and made me see the world in a very different way. It isn't about the fame and glory about doing something which will cause others to "ooooo" and "ahhhhh". It's about doing something you love and doing it in a place you love being. I love the driftless area of the midwest. I love it so much I usually plan most of my vacation time around it now.

Please don't think I'm comparing what I do to what true adventures do. In fact, I'm barely dipping my toes in the water when I think of what adventure cyclists like Kelsey Regan, Steve Fuller, Greg Gleason and Joe and Tina Stiller do. But I'm out there exploring new roads, often having no clue what the next hill or corner will bring, and that satiates me (for the time being) and usually fuels my fire for life.

So why gravel riding vs. climbing/mountaineering or wilderness canoeing? Lack of time and lack of desire for copious amounts of gear is what comes to mind first. No longer are the days I can take off for a month or two at a time without losing my job, and no longer are the days when I want to spend weeks prepping my gear, knowing if I forget one thing, the trip could end in a disaster. No, I'm quite happy riding the endless hills of the driftless zone, admiring lone oaks in farm fields, trying to stay upright in sand barrens, finding pine stands in Northern Wisconsin which smell like Montana and sometimes rolling through bottom bracket deep water when the marshes have flooded. Call me weak, call me a quitter, but at the same time, call me happy. Kelsey Regan actually made a blog post explaining why gravel riders do what they do. I'll be honest, before I fell in love with this type of riding, I would have laughed my ass off reading this (while secretly I would have been queasy with fear), but those days are thankfully gone.

This year, with so many changes under my belt, I didn't get to many of the gravel events I would have liked to. I allowed myself, essentially, to be a bit lazy and complacent. I needed it. I needed to go back to a bit of adventure on my own terms, and so I opted to spend most of the spring and summer riding smooth asphalt. This, of course, got a bit boring, and by fall I was searching for my daily dose of vitamin G. Sadly, since I live in dairy country, almost all the roads are paved for the milk trucks, so I had to either ride the gravel rail trails (which honestly almost ride better than a lot of roads) or travel a couple hours to find some much needed dirt, sand and rock. I'm pretty lucky to have friends who are also passionate about this type of riding, so we'd pack up for day trips, or sometimes multi-days to go play. And now, since winter is knocking at my door, I feel a great pull to get one or two more adventures in with them.

A few weeks ago, on one of the day long jaunts into Southern Minnesota (Houston Co. to be exact), I remember looking over at my riding friend, after climbing a three mile long gravel hill to the top of a coulee, and feeling my heart swell. Honest. I actually felt so overwhelmed by the beauty surrounding us, and feeling so blessed to be where I was, I almost started crying. These are the moments I keep tucked inside pull out later when I'm cursing mother nature for dumping massive amounts of snow along with biting cold wind. Even now, just thinking about that ride and how many more roads there are to explore in the area, makes me giddy for spring.

Country roads, take me home to the place I belong...
-John Denver

Exploring Northern Wisconsin near Lac du Flambeau

Riding to the IL border at midnight

Riding the Dairy Roubaix route in fall for the second time this year

Friendly farm dogs are sprinting

Dairy Roubaix

The famous B road on Ten Thousand

Ten Thousand

Badger State Trail