Sunday, March 5, 2023

The One Where I Win Wearing Borrowed Boots

This past weekend 6 crazy uh…intrepid cyclists travelled all the way to Montague, California to race their bikes on the gravel roads near Mt. Shasta. This was the Shasta Gravel Hugger…a race where, on the website, it says, “We can’t possibly have snow four years in a row!” Yes, yes you can!

The steeds of Scott, Karlye, Greg, and me. 

Greg came and picked me up Friday morning at 7:15. We loaded all my stuff (so we thought) and went back to his house, where Scott, having picked up Karlye, arrived. We then loaded all of Greg’s and my stuff into the back of Scott’s truck, and hit the road. 

Meanwhile, back at my house, a bag with a pair of Lake 304 boots remain sitting on the floor of my bedroom. 

We made the nearly 8 hour drive, with a couple of potty stops, and a stop for a picnic lunch in the frigid temps at a rest stop somewhere in Oregon. Karlye brought all the fixins for sammies, and it was good (even though we were freezing). The rest of the drive was uneventful (I did discover I’m not great at knowing colleges and their mascots…a little game we were playing masterminded by the co-pilot, Greg). 

We arrived at the Air B&B. Makaela and Brad, who had come in the day before us, were out on a ride scoping the route (particularly the longest climb). The weather was beautiful, just a little chilly. 

Because we arrived early enough, we were able to drive over to the start in Montague, and pick up our ride packets and timing chips. Brad and Makaela met us there on the way back from their ride. They said the climb was no big deal. 

Packet pickup

The start and finish for the ride. Notice the nice weather. 

The only one not picking up a packet was Greg. He had missed the online registration deadline. Now might be a good time to mention the weather forecast for the day of the ride. It wasn’t looking great. It was going to be cold, with a very good chance (or I should say bad) of snow until about 1:00. The chance of snow was so great that they had shortened the course. We were doing the “Half Hugger” which, in its original form, was to be 63 miles. It was shortened to 47 miles. They also delayed the start until 11:30 (for the Half Huggers). Greg decided to wait until morning to commit to paying an extra $50 for same day registration…see what the weather did. This was fortuitous. 

Mt. Shasta (good thing I took this when I did…the day before the ride).

We all returned to the house, and unloaded our stuff. We made a great dinner of lasagna, bread, and salad. Makaela and Brad had an amazing gluten free, vegan pasta dinner. It was Brad’s birthday, so Makaela put a candle on a muffin, and we all sang Happy Birthday to him (I did a video but didn’t take a photo). We spent the evening laughing and playing “Hearts”. Scott won (lowest score), and Brad had the highest score. 

Makaela and Brad cooking. 

As I was getting my stuff ready for the next morning, I went to find my boots. Uh oh…no boots! First I thought I had left the bag in Greg’s car, but then when Greg’s wife said there were no boots, realized they were probably still in my bedroom. Greg asked what size shoe I wore. My feet are rather long, and since hiking the AT, I can’t tolerate shoes squishing my toes. Greg brought out his boots (Fiziks). I tried them on and, with two pairs of thick wool socks, they fit good enough. But, this meant Greg wouldn’t be able to ride. I told him I could probably get by with my Hoka boots, but he said I could wear his. He wasn’t too keen on doing the ride (because of the weather, and the added cost…but, mostly the weather). This just made the decision for him. I was most grateful, and hoped the boots would work okay (same cleats, fortunately). 

Morning rolled around, and it looked like this. 


Karlye and I also downloaded the “Handshake” route (35 miles) in case we decided the Half Hug was too much. We headed out to the start, hoping against hope that maybe it wasn’t snowing in Montague. HA!!! 

It was kind of snowing, then stopping, then starting again. At the park, we got our bikes ready (timing chips had already been installed, but we still needed to put numbers on). I donned the boots. 

There would be a bit more toe overlap, but I could handle it. 

I made sure I could clip in and out, and rode around a bit. It was snowing again. 

Sly ready to go. 

While I think about 100 of the registered riders didn’t show, there were still quite a few people. 

Snowing…so different from the day before. 

We all got off the start line together, but that was the last I would see of Makaela, Brad, and Karlye. 

In there somewhere…

There I am! Greg took these photos. 

The paved roads were clear, and we were on pavement for the first few miles or so. The snow was coming down pretty good, and was less than optimal as it hit my face. Snow accumulated on my arms and the top of my helmet, periodically falling off in big clumps (it was that wet, sticky kind of snow).

The group, as a whole, took off at a blistering pace, and soon, I was near the back. I did manage to pass one or two people (one guy had a flat before we had even gone a mile).

I followed the tire tracks onto the first gravel section. The snow was sticking more on the gravel, but it wasn’t slippery. I was managing just fine. I passed another woman on a short rise (she would later pass me when I stopped to take a photo). 

The snow continued to come down, but off in the distance I could see some blue sky. Eventually, the snow stopped. At the base of the largest climb (the one Brad and Makaela had pre-ridden), I had to pull over to take these photos. 

Blue sky!

The photo doesn’t do justice to how pretty it was. 

The road going up. 

For most of the climb, there were clear tracks like in the photo above. But, the higher I went, the more snow there was. I caught up to Scott (who was also taking photos), and rode by. Shortly after that, on a little bit steeper part, my rear wheel started spinning out. I couldn’t get traction to get started again, so I walked for a short bit until there was a clear spot. Just after I got back on, we reached the top, and the Aid Station. Scott and I both downed a small can of Coke, then took off again. 

The descent…oh my! That was very very scary! Scott, of course, took off like a demon. I was carefully riding the brakes, occasionally with one foot out, saying such things as, “I don’t like this!” and “Slowdownslowdownslowdown!” as I rode/slid my way down the hill. The self-talk was nonstop until I made it to the bottom. I tried to ride as much as possible in the non-tracked snow (Mother Nature’s brakes). 

I was so glad to get to the flat part, and even the next climb. There were more scary bits, but I gradually lost elevation, and got to clearer tracks. Those clearer tracks were somewhat muddy, but I was okay with the mud. 

Small sections of pavement were interspersed amongst the gravel. Those were the best, and I could take a bit of a breather. There were two guys who I kept passing, then they would pass me. At one point, one of the guys goes off into the snow toward one of the route signs, and promptly falls over. When I caught up to him, I said, “Why did you do that?” He said he went over to read the sign…it said “Hole”. 

I spent most of the time riding by myself, but then riders would fly by me. They were the ones doing the “Full Hug” route (was supposed to be 100 miles, but was shortened to 80). I would watch them fly by (sometimes in snow), and wonder how they were going so fast in those conditions! Maybe if you go really fast, you won’t have time to slip and crash…nope, not putting that theory to the test. 

The miles ticked by, sometimes slowly, and other times faster (a slight downhill paved part where I was going 16.8). I finished the last bit of gravel, and had just 6 miles to the finish. Then the wind picked up (well, I turned into it). I knew this would happen based on the forecast, but it still was a bit of a blow (no pun intended). It was a long straight road. I just put my head down, and ground it out. The last turn, and the route went through a muddy, puddle strewn section. Really??? Why???

I crossed the finish line to cheers from the gang. Greg took this photo. 

Makaela took this one. 

I got my burrito, and we headed back to the house. How did we do? Brad won his category (Men 50-59), Makaela and Karlye just missed the podium, coming in 4th in their categories, and Scott came in 15th in his category (same category as Brad). I won in my category (Women 60-69)! Of course, it turned out the only other woman in my category didn’t show…so, I won AND I was last too! Brad had gotten some chocolate for his win. We didn’t stick around for the podium for my category. 

Back at the house, we all showered and debriefed. Karlye, who had previously come down to ride, had met a guy named Jason. He is the guy who made the chocolates for the winners. She texted him (or he texted her). She invited him for dinner, and told him to bring his chocolates (so we could buy some). When he arrived, I told him I had won, but didn’t get any chocolate. He let me choose from the selection he brought. He also brought us a big bag to share. We had tacos and chocolate! It was delicious! 

Jason started making the chocolates when he couldn’t find any that were dairy, soy, and gluten free. His main job is as a elementary school science teacher, but he makes and sells chocolates on the side. His company is Jason Friendly Foods. He has a website where I can order more ( The chocolate is very good. 

We stayed up a surprisingly long time, but finally hit the hay. We woke up to more snow, but it didn’t matter. We were going home. It’s amazing how pretty it is…when you don’t have to ride in it!

The route by the numbers. 

My “win”.

We all said we would come back again, but would prefer better weather! Next time, I won’t forget my boots!!!

Tuesday, February 21, 2023

Day 5-Where the Final Day Turns Out to be the Most Difficult

Yesterday, Bethany commented on how we had ridden on every surface imaginable except one, which we did not speak of aloud. Then, last night, it rained most of the night. Yeah, that one surface we didn’t mention? We encountered it today…mud. Sticky clay mud. Oh, and we thought today was going to be easy. It was mostly downhill with two less than a half mile climbs. 

This was after I had scraped some off. Turns out the titanium poop trowel makes a good scraper! Usually, I try to avoid the rocks, but the rocks helped fling the mud off the tires, so I bounced my way down descents hitting rock after rock, and avoiding the soft smooth…mud. Oh, and it totally caked in my cleats on my shoes. It made me an inch taller, and very hard to clip into the pedals!

We came to the first of the two climbs. Couldn’t ride it. Had to push. 

See that track snaking up the hill? At least there was more rock than dirt, so the wheels (and my shoes) didn’t get too caked up. Bethany said her wheels seemed to attract the mud more than mine. I don’t think it was so much that as it was that mine shed the mud better (with some speed and rocks, the mud was flying off).

We finally got to some less dirt, and were able to ride more. We came upon a gate. I think it was the first one of the day (there were several). The only problem was this one had a padlock on it. After having a fit (okay, not really), we commenced with taking all the bags off the bikes so we could lift them over the barbed wire fence. Bethany was able to lift her’s by herself. It took both of us to lift Billy. 

Over the gate, and putting the bags back on. We commented how little did we know we would be unpacking and packing the bikes two extra times (at this time we didn’t know we would get to do it twice more…). 

Back to riding, it was pretty good. The weather was drying the ground out, and we weren’t collecting mud at all. We still had one more “climb of note” (that initiates the climb profile on my Garmin). Pretty soon we could see it looming in the distance. Oh, this was going to be a doozy! As we looked at the monstrosity, Bethany said we should take the bikes up one at a time. Me, ever the optimist, said, “Often the hill isn’t as steep as it looks once you get going.” Bethany said, “Oh, it’s steep!” I said I wanted to give it a go, and push Billy up myself. 

As you can see, I managed it. 

So did Bethany. 

We took a little snack break at the top (little indeed, as we didn’t have much food left). 

Sitting on a rock. 

From there, things got much better. A nice long straight gravel road. 

Trending down, no less!

We came to where the road curved, but there was a road continuing straight too. The route said to continue straight onto Broad Canyon. There was a little sign that said, “No access to Hwy 185”. Had I looked ahead more at the route, I would have seen that we were heading to 185. However, I would have just thought it was meant for cars. Surely not bikes. We continued onto Broad Canyon. It got a little rougher, then it got really sandy. 

Basically, we were riding in an arroyo. Because it was still trending down, I was able to ride it. Bethany, unfortunately had her front wheel come to a sudden stop…but she didn’t. Fortunately, if you have to go over the handlebars, landing in  the sand isn’t too bad. 

Before long, my Garmin was saying we were off course. Since we didn’t much care for riding in the sand anyway, we decided to heed its warning, and find the course. We walked in the direction of the purple line on my Garmin. It said “Course found”, but there was no track. Bethany went scouting with her Garmin in hand. She came back to say there was kind of a trail, so we started pushing the bikes on the trail. 

Do you see a trail? No? Me neither. 

We could see the highway we were supposed to turn onto. We just kept picking our way toward it. Then we came to a barbed wire fence. Not a gate, but a fence. In fact it was a triangle of fences. On the other side of the fences was a plowed field. I climbed over and went around the corner to see, if we lifted our bikes over the fences, could we get out of the field? It looked possible. So, once again, we took all the bags off, threw them to the other side of the first fence, lifted the bikes over, and climbed over. The second one, we were able to lift up the wire and slide the bikes, and ourselves under. 

Billy was next to go under. 

Once we were in the field, we made our way to the gate. There were actually two gates, one of which was next to the highway. We opted to go to that one. It was locked. For the third time, we took the bags off, lifted the bikes over, and put the bags back on. We were actually getting pretty fast!

Finally, we were on the highway. Next stop, Radium Springs, and some food! There was a little bit of climbing, but it wasn’t too much. The wind, however, was starting to make itself known. We rode about 5 miles to Radium Springs. 

I like to call it Radiator Springs (from the Cars movies).

I pulled up to the Blue Moon Bar and Grill and waited for Bethany. Once she arrived, we headed in for some hot food, and a couple gallons of water to drink pronto (we were running low on that too). We both had chicken tenders and fries. They weren’t anything special, but they sure tasted good!

Back on the road, we had a couple miles to go before getting onto the Rio Grande Levy. 

Crossing the Rio Grande

Pecan Orchards on both sides of the road (NM grows 20% of the country’s pecans).

Once on the gravel levy, the wind had really picked up. It was sometimes a crosswind and sometimes a ferocious headwind (like you could barely move).

Couldn’t really see the river from the levy. 

It was a slow slog. We came to a point where the levy was closed and the route took us back to the highway. That lasted about 3 miles before we were routed back to the levy. Bethany wanted to stay on the highway, but it didn’t look like it would take us where we needed (turns out it would have). She Google mapped the route to our hotel in Las Cruces, and it said to take the levy. So back to the levy we went. Again, the wind was howling, and the gravel on the levy was thick in places, and washboard too. There was a dirt road down below that looked smoother, and maybe out of the wind a bit. I told Bethany we could try it, and see if it was easier. If not, we could just come back up at the next opportunity. It was easier. Not much less windy, but smoother, so we could go a little faster. 

We finally reached the end of the levy, and came to a paved path. 

It was 2 miles to the end of the route. Bethany wanted out of the wind, so instead of going that way on the trail, we went the other way. It was probably about the same distance, but the wind was behind us for awhile. 

We were making our way toward the hotel when we came upon this. 

Yeah, we stopped. I got a few items while Bethany watched the bikes. It was a delicious Mexican panadería. So many things to choose from! I got a coconut covered cookie, a blueberry empanada, and another thing that looked good, but I don’t know what it was called. I took a couple of bites of the cookie, then we continued to the hotel. 

We arrived at the hotel at 5:15 (we had left this morning at 7:45). We had gone just 41 miles in over 9 hours! 

Sara had texted me asking if we wanted to go to dinner when we got back. Of course! She said she’d invite the other SheWolves too. I took a quick shower (Sara was picking me up at 6:15). Bethany, being flat out exhausted, opted to stay at the hotel so she could get working on packing her bike. 

Sara and I met Tanya at a cool Mexican restaurant in Masilla (which was the first town, before Las Cruces). 

La Posta. 

Inside, the restaurant was really cool. There were two large macaw parrots in a giant aviary. There were these big stars (I’ve seen them as piñatas before) hanging from the ceiling, and lots of other artwork. We had a great dinner, which Sara paid for, even though I told her I should be buying their dinner since they have been so helpful and welcoming!

When I told Sara (who had created the route for us that we could do in the time we had) what today had been like (especially the fences), she was shocked. Then she realized that Ride With GPS must have used her most recent route (Broad Canyon), and not the route she intended. That place where the road curved, and we went straight?…we should have turned. 

Yes, today was very challenging, but we channeled our mantra of we can do hard things, and managed to not only survive, but have an epic adventure. 

For this being Bethany’s first multi day bikepacking adventure, and a pretty difficult one at that, she did amazingly well. She’s not so sure she would do one with this magnitude of epicness again, but now she had an experience with which to compare all future adventures!

Day 4-Doing Some Pushing, But Not Up the Big Climb!

There were some sprinkles of rain throughout the night, but no rain once we got up. 

Our campsite in the morning. I like the clouds that look like they are emanating from Picacho Peak. 

Today’s route was a little bit of everything, and not at all boring. Shortly after we started we went the wrong way. But, it was great because we ended up at the Box Canyon Dam. 

From what we could make out on a weathered marker, it was built by the CCC in 1935 (or maybe ‘39-couldn’t tell if it was a 5 or a 9).

I told Bethany how I always see something cool when I go the wrong way. 

Back on the route, the keep tracks were rough. It was also quite the rollercoaster. I rode most of the downs, and walked a number of the ups. Also got bogged down in sand a few times. 

Yes, I walked up this. 

I rode down most of this. 

Finally we got out of the canyon, and up on the plateau. It was much easier going. 

The rocks were a little annoying…

We could see this hill with a road going up it. Sure enough, we were going up it. By some freak of nature, I managed to ride up the whole way. The descent on the other side was pretty scary, but I made it!

Bethany did great too!

Then it was easy pedaling to the paved road. We only spent about 3 miles on the pavement (saw a Border Patrol vehicle go by us), before getting back on gravel. This section was pretty easy. We had to go through a couple of gates. I would get to them first, open the gate, then Bethany would close it. 

This area was called Yucca Flats. 

Pretty easy going (sometimes some sand though)

What’s wrong with this picture?

The wind was a bit of a factor today. For awhile we had a headwind, then after lunch we had a section of delicious tailwinds. Bethany said it made her feel like a rockstar. 

We returned to pavement (curiously, the same paved road we had been on before). This was the beginning of the longest climb of the whole route. It was over 5 miles long, and at one point I saw 13% grade on my Garmin. But, since it was paved, I was able to ride up the whole thing (took one break at spot where it was “only” 11%)! So thankful for the 600% gear range on Billy! I used that 15.9” gear the whole way up!

Not even the top yet. If you zoom way in, you can see Bethany down there. 

The climb leveled out for a bit, even went down a little. Then I looked ahead. (Side note: We have a route we do in Capital Forest that has two climbs that Scott refers to as MF #1 and MF #2.) If Scott were here, he would name these the same. I knew that just as I came to to top, there was a campsite option. I decided to stop there and let Bethany choose if she wanted to go on, or stop for the day. 

It’s just a flat spot. 

Unfortunately, the wind was really whipping there. Also, we were nearly at the top of the climb, then it would be downhill, and…it was only 2:30. We decided to go on in hopes of finding a flat spot somewhat sheltered from the wind. About another mile, we found a flat spot, but the wind was still blowing. Still it’s better than it would have been up on top. 

Sorta sheltered. 

Anyone know what this plant is?

Bethany says this was her hardest day ever. I’ve had harder days, but this wasn’t easy. We did it though! We can do hard things!