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Ride Report – The Muddy Onion (long)
 

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Brian Nystrom
Joined: 26 Jan 2004
Posts: 4471
Location: Nashua, NH

4/23/19 9:51 AM

Ride Report – The Muddy Onion (long)

Note: Some names have been redacted, in the spirit of the times.

Unlike the past three additions we rode, the 2019 Muddy Onion lived up to its name…and then some!

I made one good decision prior to the ride – installing full fenders on our bikes – but things went rapidly downhill from there. The forecast had been horrible all week, with rain projected for the entire day, but it moderated as the weekend approached. Saturday dawned wet after overnight showers, but reasonably warm (mid-50’s) with no wind. The morning forecast showed little chance of rain before noon and after than, only a modest likelihood. Consequently, I opted to save some weight and carry only a light, water resistant jacket and vest, rather than a bulkier [i]waterproof[/] jacket. I also skipped the waterproof gloves. Bad decision #1

We should have known we were in for a long day when literally 1 minute before the 9:30 start, a kind woman tapped Linda on the shoulder and asked “Did you know that your rear tire is flat?” It had been fine 30 minutes earlier when she pumped it up at the B&B, so in a panic, I grabbed the shop’s floor pump and aired it up again, hoping it would seal. The four of us chased down the massive pack, which had already departed and began the arduous, 2+ mile ascent out of Montpelier. Around the halfway point of the climb, it was obvious that the tire wasn’t holding air, so this time I pulled the valve core, squeezed in an ounce of Stan’s sealant, pumped it up again and hoped for the best. Stan came through for us and the tire held for the rest of the ride. Whew!

As soon as we hit the first dirt section, we got a taste of the soul-sucking mud that was going to be our companion for more hours than we expected. While not deep in most areas, it was just soft enough to blunt forward momentum and substantially increase the energy required to keep moving. There were also plenty of sloppy, gloppy sections, but most could be avoided.

We arrived at the rest stop at ~10 miles feeling pretty good. The weather had held and we had metered our efforts effectively. The other woman in our foursome and I wanted to do the “short loop”, which would have be another 11 miles. Linda and our fourth member were all enthusiastic about doing the “long loop”, which added 16 miles before coming back to the same rest stop, then finishing with the same 11 mile return leg. I protested that the likelihood of rain was increasing, but ultimately we allowed ourselves to be talked into doing the longer ride. Bad decision #2

Off we rode and quickly discovered that the climbing on the add-on loop was steeper than in the previous section (most of the hills on the entire route were in the 10-15% range, I kid you not). Around the time that we would have hit the flat home stretch if we’d opted for the short loop, the rain started. Steady, soaking rain. I donned my “water resistant” layers, which soaked through almost immediately. We could have simply turned around at that point and saved 4 miles, but for some reason that never occurred to us and we plowed ahead. Bad decision #3

The bikes, which were already making a fair amount of crunching sounds, now started making noises you never want to hear, as mucky brake rotors dragged and drivetrains ground themselves into metal dust.

Did I mention the snow and ice? The wooded hillsides still had substantial snow on them and the ponds we passed were frozen solid, which created wonderful currents and pools of colder air…just the thing you want to ride through when you’re soaked to the skin!

Eventually, we completed the loop and arrived back at the rest stop. The smartest one of us decided she’d had enough and was going to wait for a ride back to the start. Her husband and Linda waited with her for a while, but I continued on so I wouldn’t get cold and risk having my legs stiffen up. I kept a modest pace, figuring they would eventually catch me. Bad decision #4


At one point, I came to an intersection at a paved road and dutifully followed the route arrow that was pointing to the right. After rolling over hill and dale for a couple of miles without seeing any other route markers, I realized something wasn’t right and decided to backtrack to see if I missed a turn. When I arrived back at the previous intersection, the arrow was now pointing to the left! I was already doubting my sanity simply for being out there in the first place, but now I was really wondering if I’d lost my mind! Shortly thereafter, I would learn that I was the victim of “course sabotage”; someone had changed some of the markers on the course!

I figured I was well behind the remains of our group, but at least I was back on course. Cresting a rise, I saw three vehicles on the sides of the road and, ominously, Linda sitting in the middle. Then I realized there was another figure lying under the space blanket in front of her, who she was attending to (she’s a NP). It was the other member of our group, who’d had problems with his glasses fogging and rode into a 10” deep tire rut, resulting in an endo onto his head. His neck was hurting, he was probably concussed and his day was definitely done, just 3 miles from the finish. The ambulance arrived shortly thereafter and scooped him up. One of the event crew who was sweeping the route took his gear, while a genous woman who lived nearby volunteered to bring his bike back to the start. Linda and I opted to continue, knowing that the rest of the route was downhill and flat to the finish.

We knew descending would be cold, as we were chilled before we started, but it was the fastest way to get back. The last mile of mud was nasty, with several more cratered sections like the one that caused the crash, but we made it safely, if slowly, to the final section of paved road. I cracked myself up when I reflexively steered around puddles on the roadside. Duh, what’s the point when you’re already completely soaked and you have a bike with fenders?

We made it back to the shop around 4:00PM, warmed up a bit, then rode the last bone-chilling mile to the B&B. Revived by long, hot showers and scarfing some high-calorie snacks, we went back to the shop. The organizers had considerately brought out more food, as there were still riders on the course. After a quick bite and a well-deserved beer, we gathered our unfortunate friend's wife, bike and gear, stopped to get him some dry clothes and headed to the hospital. Fortunately, although he was battered, bruised, stiff and sore, he had no major injuries, although he still likely has a concussion. Following a nice dinner and a few laughs, it was back to the warmth of the B&B.

Oh, in case anyone was worried, two new chains and a new inner chainring later, the bikes are OK.

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dan emery
Joined: 11 Jan 2004
Posts: 6264
Location: Maine

4/23/19 10:38 AM

Epic, dude!

Glad your friend is OK.

I’ve done some events in miserable conditions, but not in mud....

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Sparky
Joined: 08 Dec 2003
Posts: 17410
Location: Portland, OR

4/23/19 11:13 AM

Awesome, also glad to hear that the casualty was less serious then it could have been.

Thanks for sharing.

Oh, and better you than me. ;)

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PLee
Joined: 08 Dec 2003
Posts: 3643
Location: Brooklyn, NY

4/23/19 2:50 PM

Hope your friend heals quickly and well! Sounds like an epic ride. With a story that can be retold over many beers.

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Brian Nystrom
Joined: 26 Jan 2004
Posts: 4471
Location: Nashua, NH

4/24/19 5:27 AM

Yeah, if I had grandkids, it's one I would probably torture them with ad nauseum, in my old age. ;-)

Our injured friend tends to heal pretty quickly, even though he's in his mid-60's. He took up 'cross racing this past season and got the living crap beat out of him in his first race (cuts, bruises, calf run over by another rider, a trip to the ER), but still fell in love with the sport. He's the craziest, most upbeat person I've ever met. Sometimes, I wish I could be more like him.

This level of mud and misery on the bike was a new experience and one that none of us intend to repeat. All four of us agreed to two resolutions after the ride:

1 - Never allow ourselves to be talked into something we don't feel comfortable doing.

2 - Never do another gravel ride when rain is forecast. We're doing this for fun after all.

It was a learning experience in many ways. It reminded me of a rainy epic hike I did in the Presidentials with a close friend when I was in my 20's. I guess one epic every 40 years isn't so bad. It puts things in perspective.

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Sparky
Joined: 08 Dec 2003
Posts: 17410
Location: Portland, OR

4/24/19 12:26 PM

Reminiscent ones I most recall as 'trauma', barring the broken bone ones.. Was when I did support for the club ride on the day of circa 2000. I decided I would just ride it solo the next day.

I never realized how lonely it can be out there without folks for jaw with, no rest stops etc.. It seemed like 12 hours instead of the 5+ it was. A crazy hot, hilly Ramapo Ralley NJ Century solo. bad choice...

Today that ride would take me at least 7 hrs...

One of our yearly NJ 180 mile Parsippany to Wildwood Crest [almost doubles same circa] was 7 hours worth of raining, and so many flats we all lost count. Like one 3 minutes after the previous one, and that was just me. We all used the spare tire we brought, rules where 32x spoke wheels and an extra new tire each.

More DNFs that year, well we usually had none. For me the wet/cold was better than the AUG usual heat, so at least my systems where functioning with higher efficiency.

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April
Joined: 13 Dec 2003
Posts: 6592
Location: Westchester/NYC

4/24/19 1:36 PM

Haha! Epic!


quote:

1 - Never allow ourselves to be talked into something we don't feel comfortable doing.

2 - Never do another gravel ride when rain is forecast. We're doing this for fun after all.

Having mountain biked for more than 10 years, mud and rain is just...routine.

Every time, I vowed NEVER to ride in rain and mud EVER AGAIN. But I violated those vows over and over.

As for the "don't feel comfortable doing" part, I have a more philosophical take. If we've never done anything we "don't feel comfortable doing", we would have been shifting remote controls from a couch long ago. Everyone here had pushed himself beyond "comfort" more than once in the past. That's how we end up HERE! This being a self-selected group of individual who ENJOY punishments! (ok, to SOME degree)

The trick is to balance how much to push and when to back off, AS WE'RE NOW GETTING OLDER...

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Brian Nystrom
Joined: 26 Jan 2004
Posts: 4471
Location: Nashua, NH

4/24/19 2:02 PM

"Comfortable" was a poor choice of words.

In the case of this ride, I knew that it was likely to rain and wasn't prepared to deal with it, so the shorter route was my preference. The other rider who wanted to do the shorter route based it on how she felt after the first 10 miles. We shouldn't have allowed ourselves to be talked into something that was against our better judgement . I think that's a better way of putting it.

All of us like adventures and three out of the four race 'cross (I'm the lone holdout). We frequently push our limits and endure the related discomfort, but this ride went quickly from "adventure" to "stupidity". One of us got hurt and I spent 25 miles trying to stave off hypothermia due to my poor decisions. If I'd been properly clothed, it would have been just an acceptably uncomfortable ride and no big deal. As it was, I imposed an unacceptable level of risk on myself and possibly others. I should have known better.

There was one person who made what could have been a far worse decision than we did. For several rainy miles, I rode with someone who was towing a trailer with a baby in it. He was a very competent rider and the baby was protected from the elements, but with the terrible road conditions and poor visibility, that seemed like a pretty insane risk to me.

On the plus side, the event staff was terrific, as usual. They even stopped by the B&B on Sunday to see how our friend was doing. It's a great event and we'll be back next year, but if it's going to rain, we'll either stay home and call our entry fees a donation, or go up and spend the day shopping and pub-hopping in Montpelier. ;-)

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