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Spring was late and these last two weeks it has been making up for lost time! Instead of the gradual unfolding that happens most years, this year everything is bursting out all at once. Trees are leafing out, shrubs are blooming, tulips and crocus are both blooming, the cherry tree is coming into bloom, the honeyberries and currants are blooming and even a few strawberry plants have flowers already. My allergies have gone haywire and I am fast learning to breathe through my ears since my nose is nearly always stuffed up and my eyes are scratchy, and sneezing! I have never had the sneezing kind of allergy symptom but this year it’s all mine baby! I hit the seasonal trifecta — gardening, cycling and allergies all at once.

The Dashwoods are loving life right now. They get to go out in the garden almost every day and spend a couple hours doing their chicken thing. The garden looks like a series of chicken-sized mines were detonated across it from all their earnest digging. And, of course, when Bookman and I were out working in the garden this afternoon they all had to come help.

There is so much to be done we had to divide and conquer today. Bookman cleared out all the compacted winter straw from the chicken run while I worked in the front yard clearing out the mulch from all the perennial beds. Later in the afternoon we were both in the backyard garden working on separate tasks. We got a lot done, but there is still so much to do. I haven’t even been able to plant early season seeds yet! But this coming Friday Bookman and I both have the day off to go to the big plant sale and all sorts of things will being going into the ground.

While I was working in the beds today I performed the annual exercise of grief over what has not returned and curiosity over what the heck is that plant cuz I didn’t plant it there. This year’s big no return looks to be the creeping thyme. I planted it 17 years ago and it had spread out into a huge, beautiful patch that sometimes I had to clip back so it wouldn’t overwhelm other plants. It has one tiny leaf in the entire patch. I am hoping it is just being a little slow, but it has left me wondering what has caused it to not pull through like usual. Likewise the thriving patch of pussytoes a little over in the same bed are completely gone. Meanwhile the little alpine strawberries I planted in a sunny niche on the apple tree side of the yard have spread out far and wide. They have yet to produce any strawberries but they make a nice groundcover.

In the backyard herb spiral I was pleased to see that putting heavy mulch on top of the culinary thyme and oregano got them through winter for the first time. We have bunching onions coming up everywhere and the walking onion is enormous. The new strawberry patch we started two years ago has filled in nicely and we should get some decent strawberries this year. I can hardly wait!

My friend and I at the ride finish

In addition to all the gardening, I have been on several long bike rides and have finally started racing crits. Last weekend was the Miesville 56. It is 56 miles (90 km) of gravel roads with a short section of “B” road, meaning minimally maintained. The start of this section is a short, steep hill that you have to ride down. Seems easy enough except it is rutted, sandy, and has rocks the size of softballs all over it. In 2017, my first time doing this event, I looked at the road, got off my bike and walked down the hill. This year I was determined to ride down it. I had a hard hold on my brakes so I could go slow and I had one foot unclipped from a pedal so I could put it down easily if I had to. I made it down without incident and was very pleased with myself. It made up for later when the wind picked up and I almost got blown off the road a couple times. I had a cycling friend riding with me too! It was her first big gravel ride and she had a great time. Yay!

Lining up for my first ever crit race

This same friend is also my racing teammate. The Machinery Hill Criterium series at the State Fairgrounds got off to a late start but there have been two races now. Neither my friend nor I have ever raced before, let alone raced crits. Crit racing is done on a short, closed circuit of roads. You race laps of the course for about 25 – 40 minutes (depending on your race category — newer racers get the shorter times) and you race for points, not first one over the line at the end of the race. Points are awarded for where you cross the line in the sprint laps and at the finish of the race. It is possible that the first person over the line at the end of the race does not win. I haven’t gotten any points and I haven’t reached the level of even being able to strategize on how I might get some.

Crit races are fast with lots of corners, so my main focus has been learning cornering. After two races and some instruction, I am getting better at it. And, I learned in my last race that corners are where attacks and repositioning in the pack happens. You want to be riding in the pack, called a peloton, because it moves faster and easier due to drafting. Outside the peloton you have to work twice as hard. On our first race my teammate and I got dropped from the peloton after two laps. We kept going hard, practicing our cornering, and making it our goal to not get lapped by the peloton. We started our last lap about 4 seconds before peloton crossed the finish so we succeeded in not being lapped!

Warming up for the race while chatting with someone from another team

The second race my teammate couldn’t make because of work obligations. I was fully expecting to be dropped from the peloton again, but I wasn’t! A huge success for me to stay in the peloton for the whole race. And wow, did we go fast! I was usually around the edges of the group but a few times I found myself right in the middle of it with the wheels of the person in front and behind me an inch away and the women on either side of me, I could stick out my elbow and hit them. Yes, this is utterly terrifying while at the same time being completely exhilarating.

My race is usually the first of the night, though the schedule going forward has the men’s cat 4/5 race alternating first race of the night with the women’s cat 4/5. As a new rider, I am categorized as 5. It’s fun to stick around after my race to watch the others race. The men’s fields are huge compared to the women’s fields and because of their size, they move even faster. It’s fun to watch but I love watching the other women race and cheering them on.

My third race with be this coming Tuesday night. My teammate may not be able to make this one either. I am hoping to stick with the pack the whole time again and fingers crossed, finish in the top ten. I was 13th my first race and 11th last week so it could happen!