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!!!