Sunday, June 24, 2018

Bentonville for President!

Yesterday I rode the 'Back 40' trails, an extensive network of trails North of the town of Bentonville Arkansas which crosses roads a handful of times, just straight across before diving back into the woods. Northwest Arkansas is the kind of place where cars slow and stop at these trail crossings even when it's their right of way. The trails are like nothing I've ever ridden. For each 3 minute climb you will be rewarded with AT LEAST a 3 minute descent because you deserve to be screaming down a flowy rippin' joy ride if you put in a 3 minute effort! And the people here are the kind of people who feel like real friends seconds after you meet them for the first time. Oh, you are a mountain biker, we have so much in common how could we NOT be friends!? And lastly the town itself feels like stepping into the Truman show. The town square is a gorgeous green epicenter around which adorable families swarm, shirtless runners stride down the street and bikers of all types are always cruising through. It's almost too good, causing me to wonder if I was dreaming most of the time I was there. 
Main street at dawn. This is America to me :)
The reason I came to Bentonville was for a fun little interview with John Furner, but I'm going to say I stayed for the trails and people.

The only picture I have from the filming,
I was having too much fun :)
On Friday after the video bike ride interview (more on that when it's ready) I rode out to Hobbs state park to shred trails there, came back to town to meet up with master trail chief Gary, rode some crazy fun jump line/gnar, and then joined Girls Bike Bentonville for their Friday evening ride. It was the perfect day in the life of Larissa, riding bikes from sunrise to sunset, only stopping to drink incredible coffee at ONYX and eat hush puppies at The Press Room. 

On Saturday I rode the Epic Rides race course with Gary in the morning, and then hit the Back 40 in reverse in the afternoon, along with a handful of random trails I found on accident on the way back to town. Along the way Gary and I picked up differend lady shredders to join us on the mission of RIDE ALL THE TRAILS, and the day ended at dusk with TWO $1 scoops of ice cream from the Walmart museum.
My head is still spinning from the ridiculousness of the last 2 days (180 miles of riding, 15,000ft of climbing in a state whose highest point is 2,700ft above sea level, endless amazing people met) and I'm itching to go see Georgia O'keefe at the Art museum in town (it's free!) but here are some pictures from the last two days. 

Perhaps my favorite coffee shop in the land, ONYX Coffee, is where I stopped a few times to re-fuel over the weekend. The lavender latte and avocado toast are incredible, the whole place is stupid cute, and the people there are crazy nice (in CA this place would be full of snobby hipsters).

It felt like I was in Narnia much of the time, just lush green plants everywhere, trees over every trail, creeks, streams and rivers galore, and endless bridges taking you across them. I was loosing my mind for most of the ride on Friday because it was so dang pretty.

 You're just riding along, trying to get back to town at the end of the day and you run into this kind of thing, a MASSIVE wall ride on a jump line that isn't on any of your maps. It's insane. Gary was telling me they are building an average of a mile of new trail every week, so any map you use will be outdated by the time it gets printed. The craziest part is that the women and kids I met all ride this stuff, like no big deal! How is this even real?!

The 'Hub' at he center of Coler trails, a crazy pirate ship looking bridge that drops you into some amazing flow trails and jump lines. Because just starting at ground level is like, way too boring!

And one more picture of epic drops. This one was on a trail that had TWO jumps over the trail, so yeah, HUGE. Gary rode it like NBD and I just stood there collecting flies.

After my adventure to Hobbs on Friday Gary took me to the Pressroom, a super hip restaurant in town. I was already dying from riding so much, but Gary was convinced we should ride Coler trails because the forecast called for rain on Sat and those trails get muddy. These cheddar jalapeno hush puppies saved my life/were insanely good, maybe because I was starving. We need to eat more fried cornbread in CA, hot and crunchy on the outside, soft and tasty on the inside... I'm drooling thinking about them. The re-fuel stop helped me get through 4 more hours of riding, and a few extra hush puppies stashed in my pocket tied me over till we ate dinner at the Peddlers Pub (yep, an amazing bike centric pizza joint with crazy good pizza and salads!)

The ladies of Girls Bike Bentonville. Such a fun group, all crazy strong and skilled, and most mammas! I LOVE that in this town EVERYONE is into mountain biking, moms, dads, and kids. It felt like in this place the sport is anything but male dominated, adding to the 'Is this real life?' aesthetic.

Saturday we started the ride with Melissa, an absolute SHREDDER whose rad kids built a trail complete with drops IN THEIR YARD because there aren't enough trails everywhere hahaha. On the race route there are crazy bridges build because the trail didn't exist around massive rocks, so they just built platforms to connect dirt, and a super pretty waterfall. Oh and a super fun G-out, endless flow trails, jumps, drops... it's going to be STUPID fun.

 Sadly I have no pictures from the second half of the ride, when Betsy joined us, followed by riding with Kyla. When we got back to Melissa's house to meet up with Kyla about 12 little shredders all come out of the woods, I'm not making this up, within 3 minutes of getting to the house there was a SWARM of 6-12 year olds on bikes. It was unreal, like the posse I hope one day MY kids get to run free with. The kids and I all hit the back yard trail in a party wave and then played a quick game of 'circle of doom' in which I was the third person to put a foot down (facepalm).

Then I rode the reverse Back 40 loop, and hit every trail I saw on the way back to town. On the way I found Wonderland trail, a fun jump line up high in the woods and couldn't NOT ride it. I also found Sally, a sweet trail connecting the middle school to town which is just a constant stream of skinnies, drops, and features (oh yeah, there are skinnies and drops and obstacles everywhere here, everywhere!)

And my second day ended as the sun hit the horizon (that's a lie, I was riding for a good 20 minutes after this, got lost, and rolled into town STARVING and so so happy).

Long story short, this place is worth a trip. Yeah I know it's so 'far from other riding', and you may think, why Arkansas when I can go to Colorado or PNW?... but it's worth the trip. There are so many trails you wont ride them all in three days, believe me, I tried. And I was just riding in Bentonville, there are literally hundreds of miles of trails in Arkansas, making it the perfect place for a week long vacation/road trip. The people and food and sigh seeing are worth the trip, and you'll leave a MUCH better mountain biker than when you arrived. And the best part is that you'll spend at least 80% of the time you are riding with the gleeful kid on a roller coaster feeling, flying down yet another flow trail, lofting your bike over rollers and off drops, wind in your face and a huge smile on your lips.

And nothing I write does this place justice.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Carson City Off Road

As I rolled into the Spooner Lake aid station at mile 20ish of the 52 mile Carson City Off Road on Sunday one of the crew members for another rider yelled 'What's the quadratic formula?' at me, and after a brief second of absolute panic that somehow I DID NOT KNOW the quadratic formula I burst out in song 'x equals negative b, plus or minus square root...' to the tune of pop goes the weasel. AND then for the remaining 32 miles that dang song was stuck in my head and I felt like one of my students studying for an algebra test.

Carson City was the third race in the Epic Rides series, on a course which took us up one massive 7,000ft climb to the top of the mountains on the east side of Lake Tahoe over the first 35 miles and then plummeted us back down again in one big 15 mile descent. It was freaking epic. Much of the 52 miles of the race saw us racing on trails etched into the sides of mountains with sweeping views of Carson City, Lake Tahoe, the Marlette/Tahoe double lake situation and endless forests of pine trees. It was ridiculously pretty, endlessly ridiculously pretty. Basically I was super pissed off most of the time because I borrowed Brendan's Camelbak, put my phone in a ziplock baggie in a zippered pouch (it rained on us some, so wanted it to be waterproof) and couldn't get to it to take pictures. This probably helped me a lot though, because had my phone been in my pocket I would have taken A LOT of mid-race pictures, despite all the flack I've gotten in the past for such antics :)
Pretty cool to get some pictures riding alone in a group with these two heros. I was in bike race fan girl mode big time here :) Photo: Dave McElwain
And here's how the race played out. The rain started as we made our way out of town. The group of us rolled though neighborhoods quietly as cold rain came down and when the pavement pitched up nastily I prepared myself for some agony. I expected the first half of the race to hurt as much as the first climb at GJ, but oddly it never really hurt that much. I sat behind Chloe, Evelyn and Katerina, waiting for it to hurt, and it never did. We pushed hard to the entrance of Ash to Kings trail (the hole shot that I wanted to have good position for) and as we dropped into the trail there were only three of us off the front, with a nice little gap to the next group. I was freaking ecstatic, but a little stressed that Chloe and Katerina didn't seem to be riding hard enough to keep the other girls away. Where I normally would have obsessed over the fact that we were getting caught by the next three riders I told myself to calm my mind, there was a long long race ahead of us, it was ok to have a group of 6. I kept a quiet, peaceful mind for the length of Ash to Kings, cautiously excited that I felt so good.

Ash to Kings from my pre-ride.
At the very end of the singletrack I tried to mini-jump a rocky section and kissed my rim on a rock instead. While I was running higher tire pressure than normal (since I was on the hardtail and heard there were a lot of rocks) I still managed to somehow poke a hole in my tire in the worst place, right near the rim. As we turned onto the fire road I asked the spectators if I had a flat, but soon knew by the squishy feeling below me that I did. After hesitating for a few minutes and continuing to ride the squishy tire I stopped and hit it with a C02, hoping the sealant would plug the hole. Sadly it couldn't reach the rim as I continued to pedal up the fire road, and I had to let 4, 5, 6 place go and stop again to actually fix the problem. Shaking the bike upside down and sideways didn't seem to get enough sealant in the hole to plug it, so after a second C02 with no luck I had to beg every rider who passed for a spare. Fortunately Megan Chalf was coming up the road at this point and she gladly stopped to lend me a C02! MY SAVIOR!!!! I pulled out my 'Samari Sword' barplug with a sticky tire plug loaded on it for quick flat fixes (hahahahaha, something Brendan bought me that I thought was kinda redic but actually worked so so so well!), shoved it in the hole and hit the tire with a third C02. This time IT HEALD!!!!! And I was back on my bike pedaling up the fire road as fast as my little legs could go.

Waterfalls on course!
A LOT of ladies passed me when I was stopped, so I kinda just let go of my expectations for the race and settled into a nice rythm of pedaling hard enough to reel in each rider I saw up the road. I was super bummed at first since I had felt SO dang good up until the flat, but I thought about all the pro riders who inspire me and what they do when they have mechanicals in races. If Jolanda or Emily Batty got a flat in a World cup they would still try to win, so I decided to give it a go and see what I could do with the less than ideal situation.

By the top of the fire road, as we rolled into the first aid station I had somehow caught all but the lead group of 4, and was shockingly 45 seconds behind the leaders. I was really really suprised, but very worried I had ridden too fast and caught them too soon, which might mean blowing up before the last 2,000ft climb to the high point of 8,600ft above sea level.

I didn't have to worry too long though because right about then is when the dude in the feed zone asked me what the quadratic formula was, which was both awesome and awful because it distracted me from being worried/stressed but it also got that DAMN SONG STUCK IN MY HEAD for the rest of the race! It's not like I didn't spend enough of the school year singing that dang song! Then I saw Brendan and was stoked to tell him I had made use of his barplugs!

Another nice view of the trail from our pre-ride.
Soon after the feedzone I caught a glimpse of the lead group of 4, and slowly reeled them in. How the actual heck did I catch the leaders after being stopped for so long?! This was a HUGE confidence boost, and I took a minute to freak out in my mind, and just as I finished silently celebrating Katerina attacked and her, Chloe and Evelyn rode away from me! The agony! All that work, what a tease!

So I continued to race my own race, conscious of the elevation and not wanting to go into the red before the last heinous pitch. When I got to the Flume trail there were no course markings, and having not pre-ridden I had NO idea which way to go. I had to stop and was about to pull out my phone to look at a map when I saw a dude with a number plate on the trail below me. Hoping I wasn't hallucinating I dropped into the trail. Flume trail provided another good 15 minutes of extreme frustration as I wanted so badly to take pictures, but couldn't get to my phone. Also not pre-riding that section meant I was a little freaked about hitting my bars on a rock and falling off a cliff to my death, so I went the safe route and didn't pin it.

The climb following Flume didn't hurt as much as I expected, I started cautiously hard and waited until I was pretty sure we were near the top to empty the tank (which looks like a sad sort of effort given the elevation). And then it was all pushing as hard as possible on trails I had never ridden screaming downhill to Carson City. Some of the fire road was crazy steep with ruts, so I was channeling Carl trying to ride the shoulders of the ruts as fast as possible. I almost died like 4 times, and am shocked that despite smacking my bars on trees, and clipping my pedals on rocks I stayed upright and made it to town in 4th place!

Overall it was one heck of a good weekend, complete with the most amazing meal at a farm to table restaurant in Carson City we stumbled into on accident, a result I'm super proud of because it came despite adversity, and plenty of time spent with good  friends and Roger. Thanks again to EpicRides for continuing to blow my mind with your outrageously fun, scenic races! I don't know how you do it, but every race is better than the last! 

Any weekend spent in the van with this boy is a good weekend! From our accidental fancy date Friday night at Adele's in downtown Carson City

Thursday, June 14, 2018

On Being Competitive and Finding Purpose

It's hard being a competitive person, especially if you have tasted success. It's a strange balance between expecting yourself to do well, wanting to do well, being realistic and all that 'if you think you can...' stuff.

Here I am, last day of school, getting ready to go proctor graduation, and then rush off to Carson City feeling these competitive person angsty feelings.

I love bikes!!!
Different people race for different reasons, and although for some it's as easy as a full time job doing something they are crazy passionate about, I feel like I've been floundering a bit since May when things were rough (lost my grandma and had a less than stellar day at nationals). Coming out of a period of frustration, stress and excessive traveling on top of working full time I needed to take a good hard look at WHY I'm doing all of this. And although I'm still trying to wrap my little brain around life, and why I'm here and what I'm doing, coming back to the basics of exploring the world on two wheels and spreading stoke for mountain biking is all I've got for now. That's pretty much how I got started on this strange path, and I want that to be my compass forward.

From the trails behind my house to world cup courses in Europe, I just LOVE MOUNTAIN BIKES!
Now that the most overbooked wacky summer of my life is here, I'm over the top stoked to just go out there and have a blast, give it my all and try to find happiness in each moment of each day. No one cares if I win or don't podium at all. What matters is that I focus on lifting others up, having a great time riding bikes, and spreading stoke. Competitive nature be damned, I will have so much fun racing my brains out this summer!

I was supposed to update the blog today, to revamp the 2018 race schedule/sponsors... but school and grading and packing... and I am plumb out of time. This weekend I'll hopefully have time for that, because this summer is going to be nutty and awesome and rad. Vanlife 3.0 coming in hot!!!

Sunday, June 10, 2018

A little more real talk and a smidge about mental health.

Today a student asked me what I am doing this summer. After listing the places I'll be traveling to for races and other projects another student asked 'Why don't you just quit teaching and race bikes full time?'

Funny, I know. Obviously they have no idea what I was doing before I came to Laguna Hills High School to teach Algebra...

The day I failed my least I ended up here!
Anyway, that question has been on my mind, pretty much constantly this spring. I'm missing out on a lot of races because of school, Brazil Ride, Kanza, IronBiker... And although there have been times that I felt like I wished I had kept racing full time, and times where life seems like it would be WAY easier if I didn't have a full time job, I had this surreal moment of clarity when the kids asked me this question. And I told them the truth. When I was racing bikes full time, when it felt like a job, it took some of the joy out of it. And I was SUPER unhealthy. I felt immense pressure to be super thin, which resulted in disordered eating. I took all the fat shaming from male team mates too seriously, took the idea of power to weight WAY to seriously and as a result I was sick the whole summer of 2015 because I wasn't a healthy human.

Although it's hard to train, race, and work full time, for me personally it's healthier to have the balance and to know that the race results don't really matter at the end of the day, because there is so much more going on in my life.

But I'm not saying it's all good working and training. There are pretty major hurdles I have to overcome, and lots of sacrifice, like religiously going to bed at 9, but I'm a happier, healthier human when I know that even though I didn't land on that podium at Grand Junction, I DID help a kid pass a class they previously hated, or that last week I overheard a student explaining factoring to another (the epitome of joy for a math teacher, when kids can explain the material to each other, then you know they REALLY get it).
Every morning the commute is like a reset for me. New day, new possibilities!
It can be hard to actually HAVE balance though. Friday, when I failed the interval workout coach gave me I got pretty bummed, like almost crying on my ride bummed. But then I have to think back to the week, what was going on, what added stresses I have which can cause my body to not preform at it's peak on any given day, and I have to remember that JUST nailing workouts is one thing, doing them in a week when I had to pack my classroom, lost some sleep because of grouting a floor after school Weds, was stressed about if I have a job next year, and did a physically demanding job for 40 hours... is another thing entirely. And I need to be kind to my body and mind. Although I want to be careful to not use work/stress as an excuse (you know, really evaluate WHY I couldn't do it in case it is a variable I can control), it's also ok to be tired and to not have great workouts every time I get on my bike.

And one more thing.
Yolanda Neff posted on Instagram this week:
  • I have no idea what living a balanced life feels like. When I‘m sad I don‘t cry, I pour. When I‘m happy I don‘t smile, I glow. When I‘m angry I don‘t yell, I burn. The good thing about feeling in extremes is how intense life becomes. Two weeks ago I had no idea yet how this season would turn out, if I could turn the page after my early season collarbone injury, if the missed training sessions after my leg injury could be made up for, if my body would even be ready to race after four weeks on rehab mode. Question marks all over the place but all I knew was that karma is real. I just had to be patient. Today it feels like an eternity ago that we lined up for the first ever short track, and whereas my legs started to feel better and better with every race they got to do, my emotions hit the extremes. From buzzing exitement overload to explosions of happiness to bitter tasting frustration to massive relief and endless smiles. It feels like my heart just raced a marathon from heaven to hell and back. Thanks so much to every one who supported me at all times, thanks for all your kind messages and sharing these emotions. I can‘t wait for the next few weeks of sunny training and everything that‘s to come. Here‘s to a life full of emotions, because emotions are life 🖤

Just over here having a blast on my bike.
I feel relief when someone else posts something I can relate to this so so much. Maybe it's personality, or being a competitive person, or we are just crazy but Im not alone, and I know many other women feel the same. Big picture I'm enjoying the rollercoaster of life, but also trying to not let the lows get me down so much. The last month has been tough, but I think I kept my head on straight-ish this time and I'm coming out of it swinging. Not going to let 2 bad workouts drag me back into the slumps!

Happy Sunday. Now go ride your bike!

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Hunt of the North!!! Brought to you by Gravelstoke

Friday morning I awoke in my own bed confused by my surroundings. I had just been dreaming that Brendan bought me a surprise plane ticket to Kansas and that I was going to race Dirty Kanza, a 206 mile gravel race through the plains of Kansas, and arguably the most prestigious gravel race in the US.

It was my choice to not race Kanza. When the time to decide on such things was upon us I was convinced that to be a good teacher I could not miss any days of school for bike racing shennanigans (which is why BWR worked so well, close enough I don't need to miss school to travel), and made that call that I shouldn't go. Since then my tune has changed a bit, like the time Brendan convinced me to miss a Friday to drive to Prescott, AZ for the Whiskey, but for the most part I do feel obligated to my students and school.
Any way, staying home this weekend may have been a little hard seeing all the updates and hearing all the hoopla about Kanza/wishing I was there, but it DID mean I got to participate in the first ever Gravelstoke Hunt of the North, a scavenger hunt style bike ride in Northern San Diego county.
Any day where you see thses guys and drink their coffee is THE BEST DAY!!!!

This is not gravel, but this climb was sick!
The 'hunt' consisted of three route options with varying distances/difficulty levels that all hit 5 geocache sites with hidden colored gravel. Participants collected all 5 pieces of gravel and cashed them in for raffle tickets at the finish, where they could win some pretty freaking legit gear from some of my personal favorite SoCal companies (like Wend wax kits, and TASCO socks and gloves) I choose to do the 'extreme stoke' edition, which was a pretty fantastic compilation of 53 miles of the greatest gravel hits in the Carlsbad/San Marcos and Olivenhain areas.

Although I tried to load the route on my Garmin in advance, the dang thing didn't save the route, so when we rolled out I was 'stuck' riding with all the other crushers who choose to do the extreme stoke ride, and that was maybe the best mishap of my life. Being tethered to the group made the day WAY more fun, and although there was a good amount of stopping for scavenger hunting and waiting for the person who knew the route... it was really freaking fun following locals through the hidden stretches of dirt they ride every week. We dipped and wove between and under streets, along creeks and through open spaces in the coolest network of gravel roads and trails, which had me exclaiming 'HOW IS THIS REAL?!' all day.
When the group stops I work on my skills... Need to have all the skills!!!!!!
Badass lady alert!
The absolute highlight of the day (besides the Badsea nitro coldbrew in the morning, and Mexican ice cream before driving home), was riding on the front of the group with four super fast, crazy talented SD ladies, Laura, Casey, Christina and Leeanne. I was trying to keep up with Leeanne on this super rippin, twisty, bermy trail next to the smallest volcano in the US (yeah, it's a thing, and it's in SD apparently!) and just thinking 'wow, these SD ladies are super badass!.

Our super fun group of lady shredders and random dudes stayed together until about halfway through the day, when a few of us went off the front in an effort to finish the 53 mile route by noon. We got lost a few times, had to wait for Laura to tell us where to go a few times, and then eventually went too far off the front and ran into Andy and Casey who had cut off a dirt descent to end up ahead of us. Somehow I talked them into doing the whole extreme stoke route and I got to finish the day hanging out with two of the raddest Coureur teamies in CA (sorry BP, you've been replaced as my favorite Coureur!). Thank god for these tow, because they had the route on their Garmins and showed me all the 'funnest' gravel, and coolest tunnels, I fricking LOVE tunnels.
My fearless tour guides
At the end of the day I had 5 pieces of gravel in my pocket, a giant soyrizo burrito in my hand and a HUGE smile on my face. What a fun day! Turns out I was the only rider to actually complete the extreme stoke ride and we finished an hour late as a result, but it was worth every pedal stroke, climb, and stop to look at directions.

I'm sure Kanza was a life changing experience and all, but I'm also sure I had WAY more fun this weekend at the Hunt of the North :) Thanks Gravelstoke, for a really freaking good day on the bike.