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.|
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.|
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.
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
|Mickey changing his tire...|
|Me opting to Facebook rather than taking the suggested opportunity to practice riding on the boardwalk.|
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|
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:
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.
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.