Tuesday, October 17, 2017

#SantaRosaStrong

Not even really sure what to say, except that I have been off the grid almost completely for the past 7 days mostly due to the catastrophic events in Northern California. My hometown, Santa Rosa, caught fire a week ago Sunday night, and the tragedy that followed only got worse for days on end. My parents and sister are still living in Santa Rosa, and when my parents were evacuated from the home I grew up in on Tuesday afternoon I knew I couldn't keep teaching in SoCal. I was too distracted/distraught and needed to go be with them. The fear that a fire which only grew for the first three to four days would harm my family was too terrifying, and my parents didn't even have a place to stay from day to do as hotels were filling up with the 90,000 displaced residents of a town I hold so dear in my heart.
So I left school Thursday to drive north not exactly sure what to expect. The radio informed me on the drive that the disaster was still out of control, the fire spreading, more evacuations being ordered through the drive north. 
When I arrived in Rohnert Park (the town my parents were staying in) early Friday morning the sky was permanently dark with smoke, tanks rolled through Cotati as we sat down to coffee, and the mood was a mix of tense and caring with every stranger we encountered, from the people in line to the cashier in the cafe. 
From Friday morning through the weekend I witnessed the most amazing community come together to take care of one another. People offering others rooms in their not-yet evacuated homes, too many volunteers at the Fairgrounds for me to help out, a pages long list of free resources for evacuees. The beautiful mountains behind Santa Rosa continued to burn, but the people of my home town outshone the fear and destruction of the fires.
I've heard and read (in the newspaper) so many insane stories this week. Stories of families escaping in the nick of time, people surviving by jumping in swimming pools, residents saving their animals with a garden hose as their homes burned... I've seen the fire damaged portion of town myself, where the fire jumped the freeway and took out businesses and homes. My sister's school was burned badly on the first day, but somehow the hospital where my dad works, which was right in the path of the fire, is undamaged. 
I feel so fortunate that my family is safe, my parent's home somehow spared, and my friends all accounted for. My heart breaks for those who got out with seconds to spare though, who lost homes and memories, pets and even loved ones in some cases. This week has been an awesome reminder that at any minute you can loose all your earthly possessions, and of the value of your loved ones. I want to cherish and nurture your relationships with family and friends, every minute on earth with the people you love is irreplaceable, and so much more valuable than anything else. 
We return home tomorrow, and will be riding my bike to work Thursday... life will go on. But the things I've witnessed this week will stick with me forever. I'm proud to be from Santa Rosa, and even if there is heartache and pain now I know that the community will take care of each other. 

Sunday, October 8, 2017

That Time We Failed

Laying in bed on Friday night, trying to fall asleep at 8:30pm but failing due to nerves I realized something: I'm addicted to that nervous feeling you get the night before a big race, when you don't know if you can do it, if your body can handle it. And when there is no big race, I get this feeling by planning bigger and bigger weekend rides, rides that I'm not sure my body can handle. I have joked a few times since school started and the race season began winding down that my ceiling has been raised this summer, as in the amount of riding I can do in one day, and the number of hours or miles it takes to wear me out is much higher than it used to be. So lately I've been searching for that bike ride high that comes from biting off something bigger than I can chew, and conquering it. Kinda like racing, but with no competitors, just my mind verses my body.

This weekend's epic ride definitely falls under the category of 'bigger than anything I've done before'. Our plan was to ride from Carl's house to the summit of Palomar Mtn, down the backside to Temecula, then to Corona where we would climb Indian Truck Trail to Santiago Peak, and then loop it back to Carl's. The planned route had about 200 miles and 17,000ft ascent. We borrowed VR2's from Felt to handle the road/fire road combo, and also for the comfort of tall headtubes, compliance to bumps and disc brakes. 

Before I recap the ride I need to note that Carl is a freaking beast. Most people know this, but it's seriously impressive that he was even willing to try this ride with me. Carl does not race, does not have a coach and certainly does not train like I do, so the fact that he keeps up with me on most our adventure rides is freaking rad. I am stoked/lucky to have someone in SoCal as nutty as me to do these crazy rides with every weekend. Also Carl takes awesome pictures, almost all the pics below are courtesy of Carl's phone. 

We started at 5:30 in Dana Point, and cruised along the moonlit ocean on Hwy 1 to Camp Penalton. It was already warm, and we both wore just a jersey and shorts despite the early start. In the military base we watched a beautiful sunrise and hit a 'Camp Penalton traffic jam' pictured to the right. We made it to Oceanside just after sunrise, and headed east on the bike path that parallels Hwy 76.
SoCal has some great bike paths!
The ride out to Palomar was pretty uneventful, winding through beautiful northern San Diego county roads lined with avocado and pomegranate trees drooping under the weight of ripe fruit. I let Carl draft because we both knew my fitness was better after a season of endurance racing, and sooner than I expected we were at the taco shop at the base of Palomar. It helped that my Garmin was on 'battery saver' mode which means the screen was black all day, as in I have no idea how long it took to get there because I refused to look at it. 

Somewhere between the ocean and Palomar on one of the Lilac's :) 
After a quick water bottle refill we started climbing. Here I left Carl to ride at his own pace and I soaked in the scenery which is pretty gratifying on Palomar since you are rewarded with better and better views as you ascend. 

At the top we stopped for cokes and to eat the PB&J we had in our pockets. Here I looked at my Garmin for the first time, mile 85, 6,000ish feet of climbing. It was about 11:15am when we got to the Palomar General Store, and we had another 1,000ish feet to climb before we could descend the back side. We were mostly on time, but didn't know much about the dirt descent coming up.

Where the cashier is ALWAYS rude to cyclists even though we give him money... I discovered there is a much friendlier bakery next door... we will go there from now on. 
Our dirt route to the oven. 
 After lunch we rode out to the observatory on Palomar mountain, and found our dirt road that would deliver us to the desert. The dirt was MUCH sandier than we expected, and after MORE climbing, in sand, we finally started to go down hill maybe an hour after leaving our lunch spot. This, and the fact that we had to check the map a lot, set us back a fair amount time wise. The views of the desert were phenomenal though, and we had to stop at one point for a picture. It's pretty rad descending from 6,000ft to the desert in one shot.

Somewhere off the back of Palomar. 
Unfortunately for us this weekend had some unseasonably high temps (well Saturday did at least), so the desert at the bottom of the mountain was pretty warm. My Garmin read 100 degrees for 2 hours of our time in the desert. I pulled us to Temecula as Carl slowly started to unravel. Every pitch on Hwy 79 caused him to fall off my wheel. After fixing the only flat tire of the day in the heat of the full sun 10 miles outside of Temecula, me running out of water and a little more trying to be a good draft we rolled into town and found a gas station for water re-fills and snacks. I think we were at mile 119 at this point and I realized all I'd eaten was 2 gels, a sandwich, cookie and coke, a package of Clifbloks and a nutbutter filled cliff bar. I went back inside to buy a granola bar and sour gummy worms. The good people of Temecula probably thought we were a bit strange for sitting down on the ground right outside the Quickmart to eat our snacks and inhale bottle after bottle of ice water.


When we started rolling again I calculated the time and distance to ITT and knew things would be dicy. We had to be at the base of Indian Truck Trail by 3:30 at the latest to make the summit of Santiago by sunset. Carl was slowing down more and more, so we finally had the discussion about splitting up. I know that at my own pace I could get to the top of at least ITT by dusk, but my light wasn't fully charged and I would still be riding for 2-3 more hours after getting off the peak. My ego flexed it's muscle a bit and I decided to push on, I felt really good, and I really really wanted to finish the whole ride. Carl was going to regroup and try to make it over Hwy 74 and then coast home.

Before I left Carl asked me what Brendan would say about trying to finish the ride alone. I dismissed the comment thinking Brendan would never think of attempting this ride in the first place, but as I got closer to ITT I started thinking more about the situation. It would be dark by the time I got to the summit, that much was pretty certain. Even if I made it to Santiago Peak at sunset I would have to descend Main Divide and Harding Truck Trail in darkness. My light had about 30 minutes of power, and then I would be alone, in the wilderness, with mountain lions and sharp rocks, without a light. I was on a glorified road bike, about to descend fire roads with very sharp rocks, which means the chances of getting a flat were pretty high. I would need to SEE to be safe, and I had no suspension as back up for hitting a rock wrong. I wanted so badly to just go for it, but the idea that something terrible happen, leaving me with no cell reception alone, started to outweigh the ego wanting to conquer the ride. I thought about how terrible it would be for Brendan to learn that I died on Harding truck trail while he is in Italy, and even worse, in a preventable situation.

So when I got to I-15, ALMOST to ITT, I pulled the plug, turned around, and rode back towards Hwy 74, sad, frustrated, but knowing in my gut it was the right decision. I climbed El Cariso fire road to get off the street for a while, since the cars were starting to annoy me, and then descended Ortega Hwy with a heavy heart wishing I was on ITT instead.

Hwy 74, from Carl's perspective maybe 40 minutes behind me. 
By the time I got to San Juan Capistrano I was happy though. On Ortega hwy, as I wound down to Orange County through a gorgeous canyon, I had realized that the ultimate goal of any weekend ride is to have fun, ride bikes and see pretty places. On all accounts Carl and I did exactly that. We rode a new route, conquered one heck of a ride despite not finishing the planned loop, saw some stunning scenery and we both ended up getting a good serving of suffering. And most importantly I think for the first time ever, I didn't let my ego get in the way of my well being, and I made a good decision that I can be proud of.

But that doesn't mean this route wont be haunting me, until one day we come back for it :)


Thursday, October 5, 2017

Grizzly100

Holy heck this race was fun! 
Imagine picking three of your favorite trails and stringing them together to make a sweet route that you would normally ride on any given weekend and then racing that route with a couple hundred rad people. Yeah, it was pretty great, and the best part is that racing means no stopping which is my favorite! 
The Grizzly 100 was the last race in the National Ultra Endurance series. At 60 miles it wasn't the longest race I did all year, but it was pretty tough. 
We started in the Village in Big Bear and immediately climbed up to 8,000 to Grandview point , which as it sounds, has a grand view. The boys went out WAY too fast, so after about 2 minutes of me thinking I could keep up, I admitted defeat and settled into a pace I knew was more sustainable over the course of the race. When we got to the top of the first descent I got stuck behind some dudes who did not know how to ride a bike down a hill (like coached warned me not to do) but I figured their snails pace was keeping me from killing myself on the crazy steep and loose 7 oaks trail. 
At the bottom a group of about 5 had formed and we tore up the fire road to the start of one of my all time favorite trails, SART. This trail is a net downhill trail, about 10 miles long with a ton of little punch climbs in it. There are tons of crazy exposed sections where you could fall off a cliff and lots of screaming fast flowy bits that always remind me why I love mountain biking so much. 
Despite SART being one of my favorites, I was having a really hard time finding my mojo on Saturday, so it was a bit frustrating feeling slow and sloppy on a trail I know how to shred. I also had to pee so so bad but refused to stop since it was a race, but that made it crazy hard to concentrate, haha. I felt confident though, that the gap I had a the beginning only grew across SART, so that was a good feeling.
 
After SART the course took us up a 3,000ft climb called Radford. This climb came around the halfway point and is the portion of the race everyone dreads. Somehow I blinked and the climb was over though... which is pretty lucky I guess! During the hour I spent ascending I saw Clif pro team rider Menso fixing a flat and I passed 8 dudes who went out too hard earlier in the day. Those 8 dudes would never catch me, but Menso did which was kinda cool because we got to ride together. 
At the top of Radford we tore down some singletrack and the had another much shorter fire road climb to the start of Skyline trail. I had thought Chase, the woman I was most scared of, was right behind me on Radford, because I looked back at one point and was CERTAIN I saw her. So I rode hard up Radford and the next fire road climb. I hoped I could gain time on the descents, but was pretty afraid that if I let up on the climbs I would get caught. 
When I rolled onto Skyline trail though I was already pretty beat and we had something like 18 more miles of racing to go! The Edict is crazy fun to race though, and made Skyline a little easier than when I have raced it on a hardtail in the past, and the miles slowly ticked by. Eventually Menso caught me so I had company to follow and chat with. And then I dropped my chain and menso and some other dude we caught took off, leaving me alone with my fear of getting caught and crazy tired legs. The last 10 miles felt like 50, especially since every turn resulted in another uphill in sand, but eventually I turned onto Knickerbocker fire road and knew the all downhill from here portion was all that lay ahead. 
After the race we had a great time hanging out with the SoCal mtb community, eating some crazy good sandwhiches (thanks erin!!!!) and then Brendan and I rode Hannah Flats trail, ending right as it got dark! Pretty much the perfect day :) 
Thanks Bear Valley Bikes for hosting the best end to the season ever! Now it's time to do some exploring and crazy off season adventuring!!

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

I'd rather be a hammer than a nail. Yes I would, If I only could...

It's only Tuesday, and I feel like I've taken a severe beating at work already this week. Between grading, teaching, planning, trying to stay on top of emails and discipline, meetings for kid's IEPS... just barely keeping my head above water over here.

Feeling like the hammer on Saturday :)
But riding home today, just cruising along after getting the ok to push back my workout to tomorrow from coach, I felt so grateful for this life. Yeah, sometimes it's overwhelming to work full time and try to be an elite athlete, but I LOVE my job. I never dread going to work in the morning, and most days, when I stop and look around, I feel such pride for the math my students are doing, for the conversations I hear when they are discussing how to do specific problems, for their work on assignments and tests. I also felt incredibly grateful for SoCal this week, where the temperatures are finally reasonable and the early mornings perfect for commuting. I felt thankful for the awesome team of people in my corner, from Nicola encouraging me to work on having balance in life, to Brendan tolerating me being on my (re-his) bike all day Saturday, to coach always adapting my training to fit my crazy weekend rides and physically demanding job. I am one freaking lucky kid.

And I'm feeling especially grateful for this past weekend's adventures (which are probably hugely to blame for feeling like a nail this week, haha). How cool is it to do an 8 hour ride within an hour of my house on all new to me trails that blew my mind ALL DAY!? We rode some descents that I could not stop freaking out over. Merril trail, you HAVE to go there if you are in SoCal. SO. MUCH. FUN! And the views, Peanut butter, chocolate, banana Clifbars, tunnel!!, awesome climbs, and In-n-out milkshake at the end were all icing on the 50 mile 11k ascent cake!

All pictures from this weekends epic San Gabriel Ride thanks to action photag Carl. 
This picture doesn't do the tech on the trail justice. It was rock problem after drop after rock problem with a ledge and exposure to boot. Awesome, challenging, perfect. 
There are some BIG rocks in the San Gabriel mountains!

It's ok to feel like the nail, but I'm just going to sit over here reflecting on the good things and this crazy busy, tiring, never ending to-do list week will eventually come to an end :) Off to do some more grading!


Thursday, September 21, 2017

Thank You Sho-Air and Scott Tedro!!!

You may have seen the press release this week, but if not, some shocking news hit the MTB community Monday. Sho-Air Cycling Group has ended a 10 year run of supporting the US mountain bike race scene by putting an end to sponsoring the US Cup XC series. This news was a bit of a shock to me, because as long as I have been racing SCG has been putting on the highest level XC mtb races in the US. Because of the dedication of Sho Air International President Scott Tedro, I had access to a bunch of armature races, and then when I upgraded to 'pro' I had access to high level races with international competition. Races that lit the fire in my soul to race bikes, to start training with a coach and to give mountain biking everything I had to see how far I could go. I'm almost certain that without the financial support, hard work and enthusiasm of Tedro there wouldn't have been an XC season at all in 2015.
Team Ridebiker with Tedro in 2016


I am feeling incredibly grateful right now. This news is a huge reminder of the opportunity I received as a byproduct of SCG putting on the US Cup. I am so grateful that Tedro spent so much time and energy fighting to hold World Cup level races here in the US, where I gained valuable experience and earned points towards World Cup qualification. I'm grateful that because of the prestige and payout of the US Cup international riders, Olympians, national and world champions came to the races here in the US, giving me the chance to race with the world's best. I got to watch these riders, learn from them and build my name when I landed on podiums with them.

Thanks Scott, I'm so lucky to have raced XC in the height of US cross country, when your races gave us all reason to be excited and to duke it out for the US Cup title, jersey and belt buckle.

There is so much more I want to say, to thank Tedro for, but this has been an epic-ly long/hard week, and I need to go to sleep. This early to bed thing makes it hard to get stuff done, but I know it's what is keeping me going.

US Cup series podium 2016 

It's hard to imagine what's going to happen to the XC race season now. I'm sure there will still be a PRO XCT series, the US national series which usually includes 7-8 races across the US, but it's hard to believe that any of them will be HC level, the highest ranking of XC races outside of a World Cup. It doesn't affect me too much now that I am focusing mainly on endurance racing, but I wonder what will happen to the development of US mtb talent. How will up and coming racers get the experience they need with high level competitors in large fields? How much harder will it be for those riders to earn the points necessary to qualify to race world cups? Will any other sponsors step up and help shoulder the financial cost that SCG generously provided for so long? 




Monday, September 18, 2017

Aspen50

Student: 'How was your weekend, Mrs. Connors?'
Me: 'Well I met Lance Armstrong, so it was pretty awesome!'
Student: 'Who is that?'

Highschoolers, reminding me every day that no matter how great you think you are, soon you will be replaced/forgotten/unimportant. hahaha

This weekend Lance also told me that blogging is so dead and that I need to get with the times and take up Snapchat and Instagram live instead... being told I'm out of date by an old dude and teenagers in a 48 hour period, yeah, this is my life.

I looked forward to this past weekend for so long that it's hard to believe it's over. After Park City Point 2 Point this is my second to last race of the year, and the last trip to the mountains outside of CA for a while. I was stoked to see fall in Aspen, to ride in cooler temps with a carpet of yellow confetti on the trail and vistas of glowing yellow, orange and green mountain sides. And I got all those things plus some quality time with Aspens finest residents, Pam Alexander who put me up and who spent hours helping prep me for the race along with Rachel Beck and (non Aspen-ite) Nicola Carnmer my team manager. I am one lucky kid. 

The race itself was a blast, highlights of which include:

A 5 mile neutral roll out that had me itching to go fast, chomping at the bit and maybe taking selfies with Lance... 
Yep, I did that... nerd status!
Thought I could hang with this kid... WRONG!!! :)
The first climb annihilated me, because I am 100% unacclimated to altitude and thought it was a great idea to try and keep up with the boys. No, not a good idea. Racing from 8,000 to 10,000 from the gun is NOT something to be taken lightly... oops, again.

A collection of trails on the east side of the valley had my jaw dropping due to ridiculous views and screaming fast fun single track. 

We also got to ride Hobbit trail on the east side, which basically felt like a fairy tale, green moss on the ground crowding a perfectly moist rooty strip of trail that wound its way through a tight forest of evergreen trees. I wanted to cry it was so perfect and beautiful.


The descent out of the first loop was crazy fast, full of rocks and roots and waterbars to jump, and while I was trying not to die I had a blast riding stupid fast, pushing the Edict to its limits. Oh and then we rode past Hunter S. Thompson's cabin... I didn't even know he was a real person until this weekend!

The lady taking this picture said I got the most air of anyone she had seen so far, hahaha
Photo: Liz Kreutz

The second half of the race was on the west side of the valley and started with Rim trail which contains even more stunning views, this time of fresh snow on rocky, scraggly peaks. The trail was smooth and ripping fast both up and down. Somehow the trail builders in Aspen know how to build climbs that feel like descents and I was so psyched on the way up that it was as much fun as the down!

Following Rim trail we got to ride all of Government trail, a technical traverse from Snowmass to Buttermilk ski areas. Government trail is like being punched in the face over and over because you think it's going to be all downhill and then you get smacked with ANOTHER technical climb, over and over, and just when you think you are loosing your mind it turns into a stupid fun and fast descent through Aspen trees on another perfect 6 inch wide strip of hero dirt littered with roots. The Edict LOVED every second of the descent (and the climb too, but oh man that descent). Again I wanted to cry it was so fun, and beautiful. Pushing that bike into the turns and floating over rocks and roots, dipping and weaving through the tight sections of trees, it was a mtb race dream. 

And honestly it feels like the whole thing WAS a dream because here I am, at the end of a Monday where I taught all day, hit Trader Joe's and came home to clean the kitchen for 2 hours (since I'm married to a 7 year old). Life. It's pretty crazy and rad, beautiful and brutal!

Time to go to bed so I can do it all again tomorrow. Thanks Pam and Nicola for making the weekend of my dreams happen! I wont forget this weekend for a long long time. 
#dreamteam but we are missing Rachel in this pic :(

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Pulling the Plug and Other Random Thoughts on a Tuesday

Riding home today I could not get my HR to 130. Try as I might, it just wanted to hover between 116-120. So after twenty some minutes of trying to warm up, and 2 pathetic power intervals I texted coach to tell him, and got the reply that I should pull the plug and go home. While my immediate reaction was a feeling of relief, the second text that read 'and take a rest day tomorrow' immediately made me regret telling coach anything and filled me with a bit of despair (drama queen much?). 

Happy place for sure :)
During the 45 minute pedal home I reflected on this funny reaction. Leaving school I was not looking forward to the workout, to be completely honest I was feeling burnt out and just plain tired. But being told to drive to work flips a switch in me and makes me want to suffer (I even texted back begging to do the workout tomorrow instead of taking an off day). How weird is that? I know in my head that the rest will make me stronger, but oh it is so hard to get in the car and leave the bike at home! This probably sounds nutty to most people, but riding to work and back is my meditation. It's the hour in the morning when my mind can be blank and I can focus on the feeling of the cool air on my face and turning smooth circles with the pedals. It's the 1-3 hours in the afternoon when I can reflect on how the lessons went, take out any frustrations of the day on the pavement. I do my best thinking on the bike, and feel empowered by the ability to transport myself to work without a motor or gasoline. It's my happy place. 

But, despite my desperate desire to ride my bike to school tomorrow I will drive, like a regular, normal American adult, and I am sure I will live through the ordeal :)

And another point I've been pondering lately, I HATE admitting I'm tired, to a fault. It feels weak to need a day off, or to not feel great after a 5.5 hour ride in the mountains. So instead of acknowledging the stress put on my body from training full time and working a physically demanding job, and continuing to travel to races on the weekend I press on and tell myself and others that I am NOT TIRED! I push myself to do hours of yard work after 50 mile mtb rides and then wake up early the next day to go ride more. I pack in all the chores and errands after school to get stuff done, instead of sitting my butt down and letting my poor legs rest from riding and standing all day. So this it me, admitting to the world that it is ok to feel tired, and that it is ok to take an extra day off (I usually don't ride on Fridays already, so tomorrow is an EXTRA day off the bike). And that's where I am at the moment, a little burnt out, a little tired, and trying to use my brain and do the right thing by resting. Legs up, Chai tea in hand, on my butt for the next 2 hours. And it feels kinda good :)

Hope everyone has a chill week with some good 'feet up' moments!