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Gourmet farm to table cycling event series featuring aid stations on local farms. Inspired by the Italian gran fondo bicycle ride.

Starting Out Cycling with Julie & Kristen

Laugh and learn with Julie and Kristen as they journey from "I haven't ridden a bike since I was a kid" to reaching the goal of participating in a Farm to Fork Fondo event. 

The Big Day

Ben Demars

I DID IT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! (K- Julie, you are a total rockstar!)

I rode 30.8 miles in the Farm to Fork Fondo, PA Dutch.  In the interest of full disclosure, it was hard.  It was a hilly course; more climbing than I’ve ever done before and some of the hills were quite steep. (K- I already apologized for not being quite as honest as I should have been about how hilly it is in Lancaster County, but I was afraid I would scare you away!)  In two cases, I had to dismount about halfway up and walk my bike the rest of the way to the top.  That said, to quote one of the signs posted along the course, “walking is still forward motion.” (K- I love whoever put that sign on the course!) It was a challenge for sure and I was tired by the end, but I made it all the way across the finish line under my own power.

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In the last 3 miles, with the finish line practically in sight, I started being passed (ok, it was really more like smoked) by some of the faster riders who were finishing the 53 mile Medio course. That was a bit discouraging for about a minute.  But, it didn’t diminish my feeling of accomplishment (dare I say even elation) when I reached the finish myself!  I have to thank Kristen’s husband, Jason, who kept me company after Kristen split off for the Medio course.  Jason typically rides much faster than me, but he’s a good sport and a good friend. (K- Thank you, Jason, for keeping an eye on Julie and being her personal guide on this adventure!)  Maybe next year, I’ll be able to give him a real run for his money! (K- Next year, I hope you give both of us a run for our money!)

Ride stats:

Average speed: 10.0 mph

Distance: 30.8 miles

Elevation gain: 1,885 feet

Aside from being difficult, it was also delicious!  The aid stations offered fresh peaches, apple cider, cherry oatmeal cookies, ice cream, blackberries, stroopwafels (trust me, it’s worth Googling), caprese skewers, and so much more.  The ingredients were local and fresh.  Then, there was the post-ride BBQ.  Wow!!  

This journey into cycling has been very satisfying for me.  I went from not riding at all, to riding 30.8 miles (and let’s not forget the hills!) in just 6 months.  I feel good about that. (K - You should! That’s impressive!)  Each time I rode a little further or a little harder was an accomplishment that made me feel good about myself.  I’ve had 6 months’ worth of personal victories, not just one day.  And, if I can do it, anyone can do it!  You never know what you’re capable of until you get out there and try.  I’m living proof.


Kristen here. I cannot begin to express my pride/delight/awe in Julie’s massive accomplishment. I know people who don’t venture into longer rides even after they’ve been riding bikes around town for years. Julie went couch to course (ok, yoga mat to course, but that doesn’t sound as catchy) in six months, and on a hilly course to boot! I had been commuting for a few years before I rode into double digit mileage. When I  got to the end of the Medio, I asked Julie if she had fun. She said yes! As we were getting home from the event, she texted me to say she’d already started the sign up for next year. What is the blog equivalent of hopping up and down and clapping my hands?

With that, we close this chapter of our little blog adventure. See you on the course next year! Keep the rubber side down until then!

A Milestone

Ben Demars

Two weekends ago, I attempted Valley Forge Park again.  The first time, the hills defeated me after about 10 miles.  The second time, I was able to ride for 2 hours, which, should have covered somewhere north of 800 feet of hills and, at my normal average speed, around 20 miles.  Unfortunately, I forgot my phone at home when I left for the ride, so I had no way to track my distance, speed, or elevation change.  Whatever it was, it was a personal best for me, but the lack of statistics tends to diminish the brag factor.

After this weekend, I can officially say that I have broken the 20 mile mark!  Kristen and I started our ride on the Schuylkill River Trail, then crossed the river into Valley Forge Park, and came back.  The River Trail is relatively flat and I felt pretty fresh, still, going into the park.  Those hills in the park, though…they’re tough, and I could feel myself fading.  Once we were back on the flat River Trail, I was fine again.  The conclusion is that hills are my nemesis.  At this point, I feel like I could easily do 28 miles on a flat course.  Unfortunately, Kristen tells me the terrain in Lancaster, PA is similar to that in Valley Forge Park.  Grrr.  I can only hope that frequent stops for yummy treats will give me time to recover before moving on!

Ride stats:

Average speed: 10.7 mph

Distance: 22.3 miles

Elevation gain: 568 feet

 

Next stop…Farm to Fork Fondo, PA Dutch.  Wish me luck!

Important Things

Ben Demars

I have been riding on a regular basis, but have not done anything particularly blog-worthy lately. Kristen recently recommended that I try riding in Valley Forge National Historical Park because the rolling hills there are similar to the terrain in Lancaster, PA where the PA Dutch Farm to Fork Fondo is held. I went there with the lofty goal of riding 20 miles, but quickly discovered that Kristen’s idea of “rolling hills” is a bit different from mine. I only managed 10 miles before the 775 feet of hills had me begging for mercy and beating a hasty retreat. So instead of milestone ride stats, I am going to share with you three important things I have learned recently:

1. Bicycle tires may need air added more frequently than car tires. Since my bike was brand new, I figured it would be a long time before my tires needed air (i.e., I figured I could forget about it for a while). On my last ride with Kristen, she pointed out that my tires were looking a little soft. Kristen told me she typically adds air to her tires once a week to keep them at the ideal pressure. Under-inflated tires mean you have to work harder to make the wheels turn and you run a greater risk of getting a “pinch” flat. Sure enough, I added air to my tires before my next ride, and sailed along at 11 mph (noticeably faster than my previous average speed).

2. In remedying the tire pressure situation, I purchased a bike floor pump at my local REI store where I learned that they have a bike shop (REI members get a discount on services!). They also offer classes, many of which are free. My store regularly offers classes called “Bike Maintenance Basics” (which I have registered to take in mid-July), “Women’s Bike Maintenance Basics” (which I would have registered for, except they’re all full until September!), and “Bike Maintenance: Trail and Roadside Repair” (which I will be registering for shortly). They offer assorted other classes from time to time, as well, including “How to Ride a Bike for Adults: BYOBike.” That one would have been perfect for me a few months ago! If only I had known about these classes sooner!

3. Riding on gravel is no fun. This one is somewhat subjective. There may be folks out there who love riding on rough and bumpy terrain. If that sounds like your cup of tea, don’t let me talk you out of it. I can definitively say, though, that it is not for me. I tried riding on a trail along the Schuylkill River that is “paved” with large gravel. The ride was so bumpy and jarring that my vision was reminiscent of footage from the Blair Witch Project and if my mouth hadn’t been closed, my teeth would have been chattering. I made it exactly 0.4 miles before I gave up.

In other important recent news, I’m now officially registered for the 2017 Farm to Fork Fondo! I will be doing the Piccolo 28-mile ride on July 29 in Lancaster, PA. I would like to point out that the title “Piccolo” is a bit of a misnomer as far as I’m concerned. It means “small” in Italian. Ha! 28 miles is not so small in my book! Though, I will admit it doesn’t seem as daunting now as it did a few months ago. When I first started riding in April and 5 miles seemed like a good distance to me, it was almost impossible to imagine myself riding 28 miles. However, now that I’ve reached a point where 15 miles is relatively tame, the last stretch to 28 feels much more do-able. Still, I’m considering petitioning for the name “piccolo” to be changed to “risultato fantastico.” That’s Italian for “awesome achievement!”

Julie Faces Hills

Ben Demars

Kristen told me I needed to work on hills in preparation for Farm to Fork Fondo, so that’s what I did on Memorial Day. I had originally intended to ride the same portion of the Schuylkill River Trail that Kristen and I rode together last weekend and just go a little farther. I had hoped to increase my distance to somewhere between 12 and 14 miles. But, the weather was questionable. It rained on and off all morning and continued to look like it would start up again in the afternoon. I didn’t relish getting caught in the rain on my bike. So, I stayed closer to home and rode a somewhat hilly route. The single hill on last weekend’s ride amounted to a climb of 57 feet.

Yesterday, I climbed ten times more! The hills took their toll and I wasn’t able to go as far as I had wanted, but I did go a bit faster. For the first half of the ride, my average speed was slightly over 10 mph. My speed decreased as I started to tire during the second half of the ride. 9.5 to 10 mph feels like a very comfortable speed to me, now. Kristen thinks with more practice I will reach the point of being able to go even faster, though I may never feel the need to ride faster. I will probably repeat my Memorial Day route over the coming months. Eventually, 611 feet of hills won’t be as big a challenge as it was yesterday and then I’ll be able to do 14 miles AND 611 feet of climbing!

Ride stats:

Average Speed: 9.6 mph

Distance: 9.7 miles

Elevation Gain: 611 feet

Julie & Kristen's First Ride Together!

Tyler Wren

Julie: YES, finally!!!  I was able to take my debut bike ride!  For the last five weeks, my beautiful new bicycle and I have been looking forlornly out the window at a bleak winter landscape.  Mother Nature got everyone’s hopes up for an early spring with an unseasonably warm February.  Then brought winter back, just for spite.  We finally had a decent day! Sunny, cool but not cold; nothing a jacket wouldn’t cure.  Kristen and I thought we’d take advantage of the weekly Philadelphia tradition of closing West River Drive to car traffic on weekends from April to October.  We’d have a wide road to ride on and we wouldn’t have to share it with cars.  Perfect for a novice rider!  It was pretty crowded, being a lovely Sunday in a large metropolis AND a special event at the same time, but we managed with no mishaps.  

Ride stats:
Average speed 6.6 mph
Distance: 4.6 miles
Elevation gain: 0 feet

If it had been less crowded, I may have felt comfortable going a bit faster than we did.  But, with joggers, walkers, and cyclists all around and the potential for small children, dogs, wayward pedestrians, and an occasional Canadian goose to wander into my path at any time, going slower felt safer to me.  Kristen, whose typical speed is in the 15 to 20 mph range, probably felt like she was standing still!  But, I, for one, feel accomplished!  Now, if spring will only stick around for good this time, I’ll be able to get some more practice!

Kristen: I’m super proud of Julie. When we got together to ride her bike for the first time, she seemed daunted by trying to get to 28 miles by July. We had worked out a training plan to get from 0 to 28 miles by July, and have missed the beginning because of Mother Nature. I wasn’t sure how this ride would go, but Julie was seeming ok after we crossed the distance we rode last time so on we rode. While we were riding, I checked in with her about our pace to see if she wanted to try going faster and we got up to 8 mph a few times. She said that she just isn’t comfortable going faster yet. Luckily for her, the only fix for that is more time on the bike!
 

Julie Gets Outfitted to Ride

Tyler Wren

Julie: Some notes about getting outfitted when you haven’t ridden a bike in 20+ years.

If you’re like me and live in an area where you see a lot of people out riding, you’ve probably seen plenty of people who dress like professional cyclists, but clearly aren’t professional caliber.  There must be a reason why so many people dress that way, right?  Maybe you’ve wondered if you’ll have to, too.  Much to my relief, I have found there’s nothing wrong with dressing like a recreational rider if that’s what you are.  Here are some tips I picked up from Kristen:

  • For short rides, it’s ok to wear anything you want.  Jeans or shorts and a t-shirt work just as well as anything else.
  • For rides greater than about 7 miles (the distance will differ a bit for each person), chafing can become an issue if you wear street clothes.  This holds true for men and women.  However, it’s still not necessary to jump directly into bibs and jerseys.  If you don’t know what those are, it’s ok…if you’re not into racing, you probably don’t need to know!  Form fitting leggings, yoga pants, or running shorts/pants will do the trick while being more commonplace, and maybe more comfortable, than pro gear.
  • Different things work for different people depending on your body and your bike’s saddle (that’s the proper term for the seat!).  Experimenting with different gear during regular rides will help you find what’s most comfortable for you before you get to that 28 mile ride at the Farm to Fork Fondo!

If your bike has platform pedals, like mine, you don’t need special shoes.  Platform pedals are flat and don’t require your shoes to clip into the pedal like a ski binding.  Any type of flat shoe will work, though sneakers are recommended – I wouldn’t advise riding in flip flops. 

The last time I rode a bike was before helmets became a thing.  If you’re like me, you’ll need one now.  I have discovered that there is more to bike helmets than meets the eye – literally!  A bike helmet is like an insurance policy.  You hope that you won’t ever have to put it to the test, but you want to have a good one just in case.  After all, you only have one noggin!  Price is not an indicator of how well, or not well, a bike helmet will perform.  Not sure what to look for?  Farm to Fork Fondo sponsor Rudy Project has a range of helmets for all abilities: https://www.rudyprojectusa.com/ 

Julie Learns How to Fix a Flat

Tyler Wren

Julie: Kristen, being the most awesome friend ever, provided me with some essential riding gear – a spare tube, a tube patch kit, a pair of tire levers, an adapter for my car air pump at home, and a saddle bag to carry it all in!  No, seriously, it’s a “saddle” bag – a small zippered bag that attaches to the underside of the bike’s saddle. (I did not get Julie the granola bar to provide energy and/or a boot but did suggest she put one in! I also recommended make up remover wipes, because they’re the best at greasy stuff for post-fixing cleanup.) Kristen also gave me a compact air pump which attaches to the bike’s frame.  Thus armed, I am prepared – theoretically, anyway – to patch a flat tire.  Kristen then gave me a crash course in fixing a flat. (Luckily, no crashing or actual flats were involved as part of this lesson! Even the dog wanted to learn!)

First things first…if you find the concept of a flat tire scary enough to prevent you from taking up bike riding, let me put your mind at ease.  It’s important to understand that the usual flat tire while riding a bike is like having a flat in your car. You’ll hear funny sounds, pedaling becomes more difficult and turning will be less smooth than you’re used to.

Next, let me tell you that fixing a flat is not the easiest task in the world if you’ve never done it before.  If you have the opportunity, like I did, to learn face-to-face from an experienced rider, TAKE IT!  I can’t imagine trying to learn this, or being remotely successful at it, from a YouTube video.  Even removing the tires from the bike isn’t as simple a task as it sounds, especially with the rear tire because you have to dance around the chain and gears.  Kristen demonstrated how to loosen the tire from the rim, feel for the object that caused the puncture, remove the deflated tube, use the patch kit, and put the whole thing back together.  Then, it was my turn to try.  I quickly discovered that it wasn’t as easy as Kristen had made it look.  Her experience enabled her to go through the process relatively quickly and with a modicum of effort.  I struggled, even with Kristen’s voice-of-experience tips, but I got it done.  Now, if I get a flat tire when I’m riding by myself, I will know what to do, I have the proper equipment to do it, and I can at least give it the old college try.  If that fails, though, I have a backup plan.  The Better World Club, the company I use for roadside assistance for my car, also offers bicycle roadside assistance.  If I can’t fix my flat tire, they’ll send an agent with an appropriate vehicle to give me and my bike a lift home!

Julie, there’s a car service that will rescue you on your bike?! That’s amazing! I had no idea! I’m glad to know you have this as a backup option. I’m also glad you now know how to fix a flat because it will probably be a lot faster than waiting for a rescue ride!

Shopping for a new bike

Tyler Wren

With the help of some bike-shop-experts, Julie determines just what sort of bike will suit her new cycling lifestyle while Kristen convinces her to dare the streets of Philadelphia for some test rides.

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