Tuesday, May 29, 2018

ISR

Traveling to new places under the power of my own legs is the number one reason I, as well as pretty much everyone else I know, loves bicycles so damn much. There's something special about using your body, the muscles and tendons and capillaries and synapses firing in your brain, to move oneself farther and farther away from home, to places new and exciting, remote, and rural.

One of the neatest aspects of my friendship with Carl is that not only does he share my almost desperate need to get out there, to ride as far as we can from life and responsibility to places beautiful, rugged, and undiscovered, but he also has a knack for creating routes that allow us to do just that along with the physical ability to actually complete these rides with me. Over the past 5 years we have ridden hundreds of miles through some of the coolest places in Southern California. And the best part is, as we are climbing that random dirt road in North East San Diego county we will look to the left and see ANOTHER dirt road, and wonder 'where does that one go?'

This is the story of 'that one dirt road, the one off Black Canyon rd'

I've started at it a few times, on a ride or two with Carl, and in both editions of BWR that I have completed. It's a fire road, it heads North West. We could never really tell if it was smooth or gnarly, road bike friendly or requiring more tread, if it was a dead end, or if it led somewhere amazing. But Carl and I have been plotting to get back out there to check it out, some day.

This is Cliff, he is a genius.
On Saturday morning I showed up in San Elijo unannounced for the Italian Sausage Ride. Finally having a weekend home meant I got to spend Saturday playing bikes on what I was promised would be one heck of a route, don't bring your road bike, 52% dirt, 130 miles with 12,500ft ascent.

Cliff organized this BWR style ride, and choose the delightfully masochistic loop which took us through Ramona to Julian by way of an epic climb and then back to San Elijo via that one dirt road I always wanted to explore.

Then there were three :)
Although I had been under the impression this was a friendly group thing with multiple stops for water etc, somehow the front end turned into a race the second my Kenda Flintridge tires touched dirt at lake Hodges. The two dudes on mountain bikes threw down the gauntlet and by the time we resurfaced on pavement there were only 5 of us left (of the 20 something who started). Of course I continued to lay the hammer down up highland drive, I was determined to drop the mountain bikes, and as a result we were down to three when we rolled into Ramona.

After a quick bottle refill Brent, Ryan and I rolled on towards the biggest climb of the day. We were soaking wet from the light rain that fell on us for the first 2 hours of the day, but super grateful that it wasn't 90 degrees. The sun poked through the clouds as we dropped into Swartz Canyon county park on a sweet dirt path which stole almost 1,000ft of elevation. When we hit the creek at the end of the path we were at the bottom of an incredible canyon and a 3,000+ft climb, one straight unpaved shot all the way to Julian.

The next 20 minutes are the reason Cliff said 'don't bring a road bike'. We scrambled up and over an endless pile of rocks for the first thousand ft of the climb on a relentlessly brutal but mind blowing trail with this stunning view of the canyon we had just crossed. Every time I thought to grab my phone to take a picture huge rock problems would pop up and it took all my strength/bike handling skills to stay upright. It was like cross bike monster truck riding, so much upper body English to lift the front tire then power over the rocks.
Taken right at the end of the gnar, when I could FINALLY take a hand off the bars.
From when Ryan was dropped and we waited for him... :)
Frustratingly I got dropped by Ryan (who was riding 2.0 mtb tires) and Brent, so when the trail spat us onto a dirt road I had to chase hard to catch up. With 2,000ft of climbing left I settled into a leg numbing pace and I soon caught up, then dropped Ryan (hehe). I tried to drop Brent, but that guy is stupid strong, and my miscalculation of where the climb ended resulted in a poorly timed final dig the didn't pop Brent but did cause me to blow up. As the climb turned to rollers at the top I came unglued and let Brent ride away, cursing him in my mind. I was SOAKED, this time from sweat, when we reached Julian.


We weren't even halfway through the ride yet, but I scarfed down two cookies and half a sandwich, and loaded up on hydration before we rolled out, shivering because it was 40 degrees. Our next piece of dirt heaven was in Santa Ysabel Preserve, another chunk of land I have stared longingly at on rides that took me along Mesa Grande. The preserve was a wild mess of cow trails through super pretty oak woodlands, and thank God it was so pretty because some of the climbs were leg busting steep, and loose! More than once I found myself shouting 'HOW IS THIS REAL!?', basically existing in a space of mind blown euphoria the whole time we were in the preserve. The final descent out was a giggle inducing roller coaster of a joy ride that had me thinking 'well, t's kinda like I rode mountain bikes today!'

I made the boys stop for a picture, if I had it my way I would have stopped like 17 times, but this final view caught my breath. 
We turned right onto Mesa Grande out of the preserve, pedaled the pavement a little and then dropped into Black Canyon, a dirt road I've only ever gone up. Then, after a ripping fun descent, we turned right onto that road, the one I always wondered about. It was magic. There is something about heading into the unknown, no map on my computer, no idea where it would lead. The dirt was awesome and it took us across and then up, and up and up. I was struggling with my jacket when we started climbing (the temp was back up in the pleasant to warm range) and although the boys initially waited for me, they didn't wait really enough because I was instantly dropped, probably needed more food and then chasing on the down hill. At some point I was struggling between gaping in awe at another amazing view and trying to ride ridiculously fast down a rutty sandy descent when my front tire washed out. The mini crash really set me back, so I stopped to take a picture, it was too good to pass up.
The view that caused me to get dropped.
What I did when the boys left me. 
The boys didn't wait for me this time, so when I got to the next intersection I had to ask some cowboys where the bikers had gone. After that I got lost a lot. At the next intersection I had to stop and upload the route on my Garmin, almost missed a crucial turn which would have meant missing the longest, most epic stretch of singletrack of the day. Fortunately mountain biker guy rolled up as I missed the turn and showed me the way. Then it was trails and views and mind blowing fun for miles and miles, in a place I never expected there to be epic trails. The best part was that this stretch of dirt helped us avoid an annoying paved descent with cars speeding by or getting frustrated when you take the lane. The dirt fun ended just up the road from Sandy Bandy, a dirt sector in BWR, so everything was familiar again as we rode around Lake Hodges.

After the lake I got lost a few more times, every time mtb guy would roll up and show me the way, and then I would accidentally ride him off my wheel. But then he was in front of me and I got lost in the strangest place, where the 'correct route' was to scramble down this broken concrete thing, and it looked so wrong, but apparently that was the right way. I spent a good 20 minutes trying every other option without success before finally climbing down the concrete thing and realizing that was in fact correct.


And then I was heading up Questhaven on the last climb of the day almost back to the van. I took the picture of the horse art on Questhaven because heck, why not take more pictures? When I rolled into the parking lot where we had started 9 hours earlier my legs were good and tired, and mind full of amazement at all the open space, bike paths and natural beauty in San Diego county, and my heart full from a day spent exploring.

Thanks for an incredible route Cliff. That ride lived up to the hype for sure, especially in quality dirt crushed with cross bikes. One Calzone and half a gallon of chocolate almond milk later and I was a happy camper on the drive back to Orange County. Every ride I do in North county makes me wish I lived in SD a little more each time.





Wednesday, May 23, 2018

GJOR

If you've been following along on social media you know that life has been a little rough in my neck of the woods lately. Between loosing my grandma, to crashing hard between intervals last Tuesday (resulting in a massive rash of most likely infected missing skin), plus flying out of state three weekends in a row for races and the funeral I knew full well going into this weekend that I may not have the legs or brain power to put together a stellar race.

Nevertheless, I still freaking love racing bikes, and having bought the plane tickets and regged weeks ago, before I could anticipate all the things happening, I jumped into GJOR weekend full speed ahead.

The format of this race is a lot like the Whiskey 50, a fat tire crit around town on Friday night, followed by a 45 mile back country mountain bike race Sunday, but this time in the super rad college town of Grand Junction, Colorado, the biggest town in western CO. A side note, I've driven through GJ many times and never really thought much of it, but spending three days there really opened my eyes, not only is there phenominal mountain biking, but the town is rad as heck! I will never use it as a pit stop again. Best part? I heard locals saying the race doesn't even go on the most fun trails! HOW IS THAT POSSIBLE!? I thought those trails were AMAZING!!! Ok, back to race recapping :)

Having never ridden in Grand Junction Colorado before (HOW? HOW have I never ridden there?!) I wanted to see as much of the course before Sunday's race as possible. I was told that I needed to ride the first quarter of the race, a network of technical desert single track with some rock problems and option lines, as well as the descent that followed, a 6 mile black diamond rated trail deceivingly named butter knife (should have been named butcher knife if you ask me...). On Friday, before the crit I rode the first 10ish miles of the course, plus the pedal from my host house, plus the ride back to town, ended up being a 22 mile ride, in the heat of the desert, over the course of 3 hours because I stopped to talk to a lot of people. Not really the ideal prep for a short, fast crit in the evening. But skipping the fat tire crit earns you a 5 minute time penalty on Sunday, so I was at the start line, cracked but smiling at 6:15 anticipating a heave serving of agony.

And that's what I got. After 20 minutes of chasing with dull legs and searing lungs (yeah, 4,500ft is altitude to me) I decided it wasn't worth it to suffer anymore and pullled out with 5 laps to go. More on this decision in a future post, hopefully. Anyway, it hurt.

After another too long pre-ride Saturday (yeah, I know par for the course) Sunday's race FINALLY came around and I was excited to go ride bikes hard on fun trails. To be honest I was also quite nervous that the same issues I had at nationals would resurface, but more on that later as well.

Start of the back country race, as you can tell, we were all undecided about the Camelbak decision. Photo: Dave McElwaine 

The start of the back country race was fast, and after knocking bars and jostling for position with the lead group of 5 for a bit I decided to race my own race and back off a bit. The pace was high enough I was worried I was going to blow up, and I kinda thought the other girls chasing Katerina would too (unfortunately only one of them did).

Alone on rad trail. Photo: Jake Billings
My strategy seemed spot on when I caught the group on the Butterknife descent, and I was stoked to be rolling along the river in the chase group, only Katerina up the road.
But when the dreaded Windmill climb began (it's a 2,000ft climb that starts out gnarly steep and then just tortures you for an hour) I had to let Amy, Crystal and Evelyn go again, because their pace was going to murder me. At this point I was in 5th, and hoped I could make up time after the climb somehow.

Following Windmill, which seemed to take FOREVER, we got to descend this awesome jeep road which turned into 'please just stay alive' style fun. I hadn't seen this portion of the race yet, and I went off some surprise drops which was both crazy fun and terrifying. As I was trying to not die local shredder Alexis Skarda caught me and proceeded to pass me like I was standing still. I was both shocked and out of my mind stoked because I thought I was riding fast, but she just PLOWED through shit piles of rocks like it was nothing, leaving me with that 'one day I want to be that good' feeling. That was the highlight of the race for me. But then I was in 6th, poo, off the podium!

Having all the fun riding bikes! Photo: Jake Billings
At the bottom of the descent though I caught Crystal and had a renewed hope! Until the course turned straight up the longest exposed slickrock climb I have ever seen! And as Crystal and Alexis rode up that damn rock away from me the possibility of standing on that podium pedaled away with them. My body wasn't into putting out power and going up hill fast.


For the rest of the race I focused on having as much fun shredding gnarly rocky trails as possible, launched my bike off tons of drops and little jumps and living in the sheer fun of flying down new trails at break neck speed.

It got a little terrible at the end, when I thought it was 'all downhill' and it most definitely wasn't, but I crossed the line with so much mountain bike stoke  it didn't matter how much the race beat the living daylights out of my body, or that I didn't podium.
At the finish with my hero Alexis and Crystal

And this is the part where I say that I am incredibly stoked on my DT Swiss XRC 1200 wheels. I did a fair bit of blast plowing the rocks and they stood up to the test of my abuse perfectly. Credit also goes to the Kenda Saber tires that I rely on for dry races, they are clutch, and when they are filled with Orange Seal I know I don't need to worry about flats.
And thanks Taryn for lending me your ultra running camelbak. It was so light weight and rad and I would have DIED without it, all that technical single track meant it was hard to drink from my bottle! And extra thanks for the milkshake you brought me, I came back from the dead drinking that, sugar FTW!

And of course I have to end this post with a picture of the AMAZING tacos we ate at a restaurant called, wait for it, TACO PARTY! Awesome tacos, good friends, amazing mountain biking... yep, it was another best day.


Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Marathon Nationals and Disappointment

I couldn't sleep last night. Every time I shut my eyes my mind fixated on Sunday's marathon nationals race, what I did wrong, what I could have done differently and how bitter the disappointment of coming home without a jersey and title felt. My heart was pounding like it does during intense workouts and races, and at one point I felt like I was having a panic attack. As hard as I tried to think about something else my stubborn mind kept coming back to the details of the race.
I've dealt with disappointment before, with sub excellent race results or failed workouts, and I know there will be many more disappointments in the future, but this one has been especially hard to swallow.
Arkansas is beautiful, I can see why they call it the natural state. 


I flew to Arkansas on Friday morning feeling confident, calm, relaxed. I knew the course wasn't the best relative to my strengths, but I had faith in the training I had done, in the plan my coach laid out and in the fitness we had built. On Saturday morning I pre-rode the course, a 21 mile 'loop' of mostly narrow, rocky, flowy fun singletrack with a few short climbs. I felt good about the terrain, comfortable on my bike and confident that I could make the course work to my advantage.
Sunday morning Menso and I rolled to the course early, I did my warm up and arrived at the start still feeling good.

Lots of rocks in Arkansas. I loved it. The trails were pure mtb bliss. 
Here's where I get weird. I wrote a whole big thing, a play by play of the race. And sitting here looking at it I feel confused. I am frustrated and angry and bummed, but I don't know if saying the things about the people involved is the right thing to do. Long story short, instead of getting to race my own race, to go as fast as I am personally capable, another racer decided that blocking me (riding me off the trail, into trees and rocks, over and over) was a better strategy than just being faster than me. I don't know if that's just life, or a shitty approach to racing, or reasonable since she wanted to win too. All I know is that it sucked. It really fucking sucked and as a result of spending the whole second lap trying in vain to pass, and thinking about how I could pass her, I wasn't eating or drinking. All the accelerations from failed passes and 2 hours of racing with no food and very little to drink did me in, and 5 miles before the finish I came unglued emotionally and physically. I cracked so hard I almost quit (if it wasn't for sponsors and Brendan I would have ridden off the course and never looked back).

And that's the scenario keeping me up at night. If I had just sat in and drank/eaten a bunch I could have stayed with her and tried to out-sprint her. I should have been smarter. I should have thought it through. If I had only...
It sucks so bad to feel so confident about something, to feel like the race is yours, and then to come home empty handed. To think about how things would have played out if there had been a fire road to pass on, or someone had seen the shady behavior to corroborate what I experienced (I think the technical rule is you aren't supposed to block others).
But a wise woman once told me that you will have more losses than wins in your career, so knowing how to deal with defeat is far greater than knowing how to deal with a win. I'm still processing it all, feeling the emotions, letting myself feel the pain and disappointment, and hoping that I learn something from this that makes all this unhappiness meaningful.
In the mean time, I'm on a rest week, licking my wounds and doing my best to keep looking forward.

We flew home so fast after the race that I had to get on the plane still dirty from racing :)









Tuesday, May 1, 2018

I Guess I Just like 5th Place: Whiskey 50 Thoughts

There is a loose, steep 1 mile long climb near the end of the EpicRides Whiskey off Road named 'Cramp Hill'. It always seemed tongue in cheek, like a problem the amatures would have... until I found myself in my 44 tooth cog crawling up the rocks, being ever so careful not to set off the cramps in my quads and hammies on Sunday. The threat of my muscles seizing up and screaming in pain stalked me for the last 10 miles of the race, as I desperately fought with every ounce of my will to maintain my 5th place position. Sofia was hot on my heels and there was no room for errors or cramps to slow me down!

Boy building bikes. 
The race really started on Wednesday night when Brendan and I stared building my 2018 Felt Edict. I didn't really know I was racing until about Wednesday afternoon, so it's an understatement to say it was a stressful week. We left Orange County at 10pm Thursday night with the bike still not finished... but that's another story for another time.

Proof I was with the leaders for at least one lap :)

Friday evening the Professionals are required to do a 20 minutes + 3 laps fat tire crit to determine call ups for the big event on Sunday. This is the part of the weekend that scared me the most, since I hadn't raced a crit in 2 years, and lining up with so many ladies who race the short, intensely fast xc and short track races meant it was going to be WAY out of my comfort zone. Somehow though I finished the crit on the podium... much to my surprise. It was a huge confidence boost to find myself with the lead group on lap 3 and 4, climbing the ridiculously steep hill with Annika Langvad, Chloe and Erin, it was pretty cool.

On Sunday morning I knocked out my warm up and hit the start line smiling, feeling ready and excited to suffer/shred bikes on rad trails. After all the cowboys in Prescott fired their rifles (and I bit my tongue to not make a corny joke about getting shot) we rolled out of town, 40 women all hoping to land a spot on the podium, big check in hand. The group stayed together for the 8 mile fire road climb, but right after I got the nerve to tell (my herione) Kate Courtney that I liked the article she wrote for EllaCyclingTips on body image she launched a savage attack, splitting the group in two. Although my first reaction was to try and go with the 4 leaders, I quickly realized I COULD NOT ride that fast, and considering the race was around an elevation of 6,000 ft, I had to be smart about pacing.
Ok, ok, I know, taking pictures during races is no bueno, but THAT IS THE WORLD CHAMP!!!! #starstruck
After briefly settling into the chase group pace I accidentally rode off the front and found myself alone by the first big descent. On the way to said descent the course took us down a trail with a series of crazy fun drops and it was thrilling to launch the Edict over them with wreckless abandon. I am already dying to go back and ride that trail some day, it was insanely fun! Somewhere around here I started to question if I should continue solo or wait for the riders behind me (so we could work together on the long fire road descent into and out of Skull valley) I dropped down into Copper Creek contemplating my options, descending cautiously enough, but letting the Edict float over waterbars ad having fun pushing into turns.

As I began the climb out of Copper Creek I looked up from my Clifbloks and saw Kate! She must have had a mechanical or something, but then I looked up further and saw the LEADERS!!! WHAAAAA How was I within sight of Anneka, Chloe, and Erin!? This was motivating! Maybe too motivating, because I proceeded to blow myself up on that climb trying to catch the world champion and the two fastest American World Cup Racers (for proof check my QOM on Strava haha)
At the top, when we hit aid station #1 I was 30 seconds back, the top 3 ahead of me, getting to work together on the descent, which had a HUGE head wind) and Kate just behind me struggling to get her tire to hold air. I was in the WORST position possible.

Photo: Bill Freeman the light God
So I did the only thing I could do, I dropped into Skull Valley alone, pushing hard the whole time into the headwind that made the descent feel more like a climb. At the turn around I was able to gauge my advantage on everyone behind me, and then focused on maintaining (an unattainable) pace for the hour long climb out. The first half went ok, then the power started to slip, then it slipped some more. When Kate caught me I made a valiant effort to pull her closer to the leaders (who, btw were still just 30 seconds up the road from me) but I blew myself up even harder, and when I pulled over she shot past me, not even willing to let me sit in for a second.

My pace dropped more and more over the course of the climb, but looking back I was reasonably sure I had a buffer, and once we got to the top I could coast in for 5th. At the top though I looked back once more and saw TWO WOMEN headed up the fire road in hot pursuit! PANIC ensued. The only option was to #sendit, sage advice I got from the fanny pack of Luke, a kid on the Laguna MTB team, down every inch of the descent and destroy myself on every climb.

And that led me to cramp hill, where I proceeded to lay down the hammer and emptied every last drop of effort I was capable of. I could still see the two ladies chasing me on cramp hill, but I decided to not look back again until the pavement and focused every ounce of my attention on slaying the last fun, techy, rocky, jumpy trail on the course. The Edict ate up the technical trail, we floated over rocks, hucked drops and thrashed turns. I felt like a Goddamn shredder, although I was entirely spent and cramps were sneaking in on every part of my body, it was the most gratifying end to any race I've ever done. When I hit the road for the last 5 mile stretch into town there was only a rando dude behind me, #sendit had worked!
I'm so stoked I could float away on the wind with this huge piece of foam core!
This year's edition of the Whiskey was one for the books, for many reasons, but mostly for the intense pain I was lucky enough to endure, and the resulting pride I was able to take away from having fought the hardest I've ever fought for a result. Standing on that podium, the epic wind doing everything it could to rip my big check from my hands, I think I felt 10 times more joy than any of the 4 ladies who finished ahead of me. What a day, what a whilrwind weekend, what an EPIC race.

Then I jumped off the podium, ate the best burger of my life at Bill's Grill, and we drove straight home, arriving by 9pm, bedtime.

Black and blue buffalo burger = why I am going to move to Prescott.