Monday, September 5, 2011

First 6 hour Solo experience

So today was the first time ever I attempted a 6 hour solo mountain bike race. And it was a hard one. The short story is that I completed it with a total of 54 miles, more miles than I ever raced or even rode on my mountain bike at one time. The course loop was 6 miles and incorporated both mountain bike trails and some horse trails too.
It was definitely an experience and I learned lots of stuff about endurance racing today.

On the first lap, everything was going well. I started out with a "controlled" pace that I thought I could keep up for the entire 6 hours which was the bulk of the advice I had gotten about solo races. It was all going according to plan. But, now as I am riding along, I hear the sound of a rider behind me. He/She is not asking to pass, not saying anything, just present behind me. I keep hearing that telltale buzzing of a single speed's free hub coasting. So I figure, I am going too slow, and not being one to inconvenience anyone, I pick up my own pace. A lot. So now I am hauling through the trail much faster than I wanted to and my brain is telling me that this is a big mistake.  Too fast. Must slow down. But, the other part of my brain was really enjoying the adrenaline rush of the fast speed so I  ignored the sensible part and continued pedaling. I kept this up until I got to a clearing of gravel which took me into the next trail section. I was not ready for the gravel and I hit it full force. As I did, my bike fork and front wheel compressed too deep into it and the bike slid out sideways nearly taking me down. Luckily I was able to recover without crashing. The two guys who were breathing down my neck slowed down to see if I was okay and also express their disappointment that their "pacer bike" had a mis-step. I yelled out: "Thanks, I am okay, GO, GO, GO!!!!". This was partly because I didn't want to slow them down for their lap, but mostly because I just wanted to slow my own pace back down and they were making that impossible. Hopefully they just rode off thinking that I was only looking out for them and weren't offended that I didn't keep riding with their little pack.

"You made the cutoff..."
So off they went. I regained my composure and got back on the bike to continue riding. This time though, I slowed down again as I think that near wipeout was the "fates" way of telling me that I should remember that I still have 5.5 hours of this left  and haven't even finished the first lap yet. I get close to the end of the 1st lap and that's where I see it. The steep uphill climb that I was warned about. I also notice everyone is walking up it and they look much stronger than me to begin with. At this point, my enthusiasm wanes a bit because I know I will have to do this hill over and over. So I groan a little and start the run down the hill to have a little momentum to push my bike up the other side. I nearly fall backwards as I am trying to make it  up and the hill just zaps a good portion of my energy. Ugghhh! I then hear someone behind me say that we can bypass that hill and  do an alternate route for a little longer distance, but easier approach. Longer distance! Easier approach! Sign me up! Needless to say, I would be doing the alternate route for the remainder of my laps. Wish I knew that before I slogged up this hill.. As I approach the very end of this 1st lap, there is this very hard (well for me anyway) super tight right turn switchback that you really have to slow down to clean. I overshoot it and have to then manhandle my bike into the right direction to aim through it going the correct way . You'd think I'd learn, but I did that stupid move on every single lap. I made the same mistake nine times.

So when I finished the first lap and passed the pit area,  my husband wasn't at the tent. He had actually just gone to take pictures of all the racers and hadn't gotten back yet.  I decided to do another lap and replace my water bottle on the following lap since I barely touched this water anyway.  As I am midway through my 2nd lap, I start noticing that the rear of my shoe keeps hitting my front chain ring. I have never had *that* happen before, but I figure it's just a fluke. As I continue to ride, it keeps happening. It finally dawns on me that perhaps my cleat is loose.  I turn my right foot to the outside and it turns 90 degrees, but does not release. I try a couple more times and realize that the cleat is now turning inside the pedal and I can't get my foot out. Panic is setting in because I am going pretty fast. So I slowly bring the bike to a stop, pull off the trail and try yanking my shoe out from the pedal. Finally, it releases and when I raise my foot, I see that one of the cleat screws is practically falling out and hanging by a thread and the cleat is all askew. I quickly grab the screw,  and pull a tool from my pack to re-tighten it. Of course the screw that came out is filled with dried mud so I have to find a small twig to start digging out the dirt before I can even use the allen key on it. Fortunately, in the woods, there are plenty of small twigs so I quickly found something suitable and got to work. I got my cleat sorted out and continued on to finish my lap. I made quick stop at my cooler to grab a clean water because my first bottle was now covered with dirt dust from the dry course conditions we're riding.  Lap 3 was uneventful and went off without any issues.. However, a fellow racer guy did pass me on the trail on this lap and  for some reason he decided to douse himself in so much cologne that I could smell him for like 1/4 mile after he passed me. It was an out of place smell  for the woods, and would probably be better suited for a night club. Honestly though,  it was sort of a nice fragrance so secretly I was happy that I got to ride through it for a ways.  Perhaps this is the "AXE" effect that those TV ads keep making claims about .

When I went in for lap 4, I noticed as soon as I was just far enough past my pit area and into the trail, my fork started feeling odd. I pulled over and tried compressing it. It would compress, but it wouldn't come back up. So I tried using brute force to at least get it to return back to fully uncompressed, but I couldn't get it to budge. I thought about going back and having my husband take a look at it. But, I would lose time if I turned around which I was hesitant to do. There was also the *tiny* possibility that my fork was working just fine and I was just delirious. If I went back and it turned out it was nothing, I would be kicking myself  for wasting precious time. I opted to just lock it out completely and ride it "as is" until I passed the pits again.  I mean there were a few racers out here who actually had rigid forks or were on cross bikes no less, so I  thought I could at least suck it up for the one lap. By the time I finished lap 4, I was also getting really hungry.  So the next time I pitted, I grabbed an almond butter on whole wheat sandwich and a Coke and started to chow down. That was a last minute idea and in retrospect, I am so glad I brought some real food other than Cliff bars. I told my husband that I thought that something *might* be wrong with my front fork and asked if he could take a look while I ate. He confirmed my suspicion that something was definitely not working and brought it to the tech tent for advice.  After realizing that somehow I had inadvertently messed with the rebound knob and making a couple minor adjustments to it, I was back on my way within 15 minutes now refueled and ready to go again. Each time I passed the pits now, I would replace my water bottle so I had a cold, clean one and not one that was matted in dirt. I swear I myself looked like a breaded chicken cutlet by the end of the race which gives you an indication of how dry the conditions were on the course.  My bike,  shorts, face and legs were covered in a fine layer of fresh dirt. Very attractive.

 I think that Coke did me well because I felt much stronger on lap 5. But by this time, the 3 hour racers came on the scene to begin their laps. New racers with fresh legs flying by me like I was standing still. Most...... demoralizing..... part..... of the race. There were times where I just wanted to yell out, "see my number plate is yellow not blue like yours. That means I have been racing for 3 hours already and YOU JUST GOT HERE HOTSHOT!!" But, I didn't. Fortunately, that tough guy alter ego stays inside my head and rarely gets to do any public speaking. Probably a good thing I would guess.

I also began to feel like I was getting lapped way more than I ought to be. And finally, my dumb blonde moment fog cleared and I realized why that was. While I was getting passed by the same jersey multiple times, it was actually a team and there was a gaggle of them. So it turns out it wasn't the same racer, just the same outfit that kept going by me. I guess in my multi-lap delirium, I could not deduce that little bit of logic. But, at least now I know for next time. Check.

My inspirational message to keep going
I made it all the way to lap 8 before I needed to eat a Gu gel to get me through it. I don't particularly like Gu so I have to really be in bad shape to eat one. I have a distant memory of a time where my riding group got lost in Arizona and I experienced my first case of " bonking". Someone gave me their Gu, but having no water to wash it down with made it a less than pleasant experience.  Anyway, back to the race. Also, by lap 8, I was reduced to putting my front chain ring into the granny gear to make it up the hills. At one point, I just decided to leave it there permanently because it was making so much grinding in the middle ring from how much dust had accumulated all over the drive train. By this time, I was pretty convinced I was finished and this would be my last lap. I also knew that there was a cutoff to make if I wanted to even attempt another lap to have that one count. I sort of milked lap 8 thinking that there was no way I would make the cutoff, and a big part of me was just looking for an excuse to end it after this lap anyway. No such luck. I passed the timing clock and the race organizer informed me that I "made the cutoff!" by 50 seconds and I was eligible to do another lap before the end of the race. Talk about your mixed emotions. On the one hand, I was super excited that I made it, but on the other, I just wanted to get this race over with already. Another lap was the last thing I planned to do. I passed the pits and I told my husband that I was done for the day. Finito, Kaput, Sayonara.  He looked at me and told me I could *not* stop now. I made the cutoff and really should do one more lap because I earned it. Then he threw in a few more "really motivating" reasons and I finally, but reluctantly, agreed. I knew he was right, so I went for it. I mean if I "earned" it, what else could I do? I had no choice after all.

I stomped on the pedals and headed out for one more lap. I also picked up my pace because a) I knew this really was my last lap and b) I didn't know how long I actually had to finish this lap and still have it count.

My 6 hour Award!!!! (No, that's not real gold)
I entered the course with one of the other solo women racers. At first, I was right on her tail as we weaved through the singletrack for our last lap each. I was actually thinking, hey I must be doing all right because this girl looks pretty fast. So she starts making idle chit chat and tells me she's never ridden this far before, blah, blah, blah. Finally she breaks the really  bad news to me. She asks:, "you've done 10 laps already right?" I replied incredulously:   "What? Oh no, I have done only 8 and this is my 9th". She then politely informs me that she is the only female with 10 laps and since she has first place in the bag, that if I want to pass her to go right ahead. Umm, yeah right, like I *could* pass her. In what universe? So I am wondering if this is some devious psyche out technique she is using to break my will? And that's when she took off. Her speed was like she just got on the course with fresh legs and she dropped me like I was waiting at a red light.  I reminded  myself that my goal was to just finish this lap as fast as I can to get back around so I can finally get some real food and drink and also not take so long that I miss the awards ceremony. So I picked up my own pace and rode as hard as I could until I crossed the finish line where I saw a fellow rider friend and my husband cheering me on with a photo finish. Okay, it wasn't a "photo finish" per se, but he took my photo as I finished, so there you go.

I ended up with 9 laps and a total of 54 miles. Most I'd ever done and I felt extremely stoked that I was able to complete the whole 6 + hours. Plus, I came in first in my division and I earned an award. Bonus!
Oh and that psyche out girl...she placed 1st with 11 laps and a total of 66 miles. Sixty Six!!! I am pretty sure she was actually an alien, but I guess I will never know. Can't wait for next year.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Salvaging a ride….when you’re just not feeling it.

Today I went for a ride after yesterday’s butt kicking on the out of town trail.  It was a beautiful day and the air was cool in the morning. I could not pass up this amazing weather. My original Plan A was to time it to meet a few friends  and ride one or two trails with them. But, I timed it wrong and missed them completely. So while I was out there, I decided on Plan B,  to do a long endurance ride. And, so I started out on the first trail. Wow, I was tired. I hadn’t even gotten halfway around when I was feeling really spent. Legs tired, arms tired, breathing heavy. Okay, let’s just turn around here and ride an easier trail to start the day. So I headed down to the easiest trail we have thinking,  perhaps I just need a good long warm up. 

As I entered the trail, I was still feeling like a weakling. So I came up with Plan C. I would  do my endurance ride, but I would do it super slow and work different muscles that way. It’s amazing how you end up finding all these back up plan options in your arsenal that you didn’t even know you had when you seek excuses. But, bottom line was, the weather was too nice and I didn’t want to go home without enjoying a good ride. I finished the first leg of the outbound of the trail. I exited into the parking lot and this is where Plan D reared its ugly head. I looked down at the hill and saw the marina. I saw kayaks out on the lake. I thought, you know what, you are really not into this ride, why not salvage it by making it enjoyable and spending some time gazing out at the water for a little bit. It can’t hurt to take a mid ride break for a change and just enjoy the scenery for a bit right? Wrong. Water gazing while basking in the warm sunlight makes a person lazy. I know!  It surprised me too.
The Scenery that Lured Me In.

I sat down for about 25 minutes and enjoyed the solitude from a rock on the lake bed and then I had to summon the strength to turn back around to the return ride home. Normally, this is no more than a 30 minute ride back to the car and if I want to, I can fly through it in even less time than that if I push. Today, those 4.5 miles felt like they were going to be 45. I reluctantly put my helmet back on, groaned a little and threw my leg over my saddle where I slowly pedaled back up the hill to the trail head. I actually contemplated calling my husband and asking him to pick me up. Yes, it was that bad. But, luckily my pride would never let me do something like that so I headed back into the woods. Once on the trail, I felt rejuvenated. I think the little lake gazing timeout did me good. Before I knew it, I was back at my car loading it up again and heading home. Phew, that was a close one. But, after all that, I still got a good ride in anyway. And all that, despite the rocky start to begin with on a trail that has no rocks. Ah, the irony.

Feeling puny.

So you know when you ride your local trails and you start to feel strong on them. And you start to feel like, oh this is so easy, I bet I can ride anything. Well I started to feel that way. And last week, I got to venture away from my familiar stomping grounds to ride at another trail location. Not too far away from me, but far enough that the terrain was significantly different. Lots of rocks, tight switchbacks and most of all lots of climbing. To put things in perspective, I had just the week before done a marathon ride of my own local trails linking them all together for a 4+ hour ride which covered 42 miles of trails at an average speed of 9.5+ mph. Clearly, I have reached invincible status with numbers like that right? Wrong! Cue today. Cut to new trail never ridden before with a group of 5 strong guys and myself.  Right off the bat, it started with the climbing. And the rocks. And the switchbacks. Within 20 minutes , I was climbing up a steep switchback climb and I literally had to stop, dismount my bike and catch my breath. What the???!!!

I watched as the three guys behind me slowly and steadily pedaled up and around my out of breath sorry self.  Clearly, I was out of my league here. The rocks I can do, the switchbacks I can do, climbing I can do, but put those all together in the same spot, and I am like a fish out of water. I managed to finish the trail with the others without incident. I don’t think my average speed was greater than 7.5mph the whole ride though. But, I know for a fact that my heart rate was off the charts. I can safely say that number was the only one that was higher in all the stats I could have logged today than on any of my other recent rides.

Talk about feeling puny. But  to me, that’s a good thing to  feel occasionally because it reminds you that A) there is still more to learn and B) that if you want to continue to grow as a mountain biker, your ego must be knocked down a bit from time to time and C) one man’s mountain is another man’s hill.

So I will be back to that trail. But, next time, I will go in to it with a lot more respect. Because, while I can feel strong on my home trails, ones like these make me remember what it’s all about once again.

Night Riding

Riding under the cover of darkness
I remember my very first night ride. It was an epic fail. I bought an inferior light at a discount price and within the first few miles of the ride, it started to dim. Then it went out completely. You get what you pay for I guess.
Luckily I was with someone who had far more experience on this trail at night and offered to let me borrow their light so I could get back alive. I did and I made it back.  Alive.  And also, hooked on riding in the dark.  I promptly returned that crappy light and purchased a NiteRider lighting set up which was much more appropriate for that type of riding and most importantly, had the potential to last longer than my ride ever should. Assuming I remembered to charge it of course.  But, that's another post for another time. Today, I still enjoy night riding sometimes even more than day riding. To this day, I love the peacefulness of it, the sounds of wildlife when the sun has set, and the joy of being able to focus on only the trail and the line in front of you.  A tunnel vision that you just can’t get during day rides. I also love the fact that at night, you don’t have to worry about oncoming riders and can fly through the trail much faster without that worry once you get the hang of it. I still get a huge kick out of seeing a trail of lights meandering through the woods. It never lets me down.  Even if the sun does.

Conquering the spots that conquered you

So I went for a ride today. Nothing special other than I passed the section where my husband crashed not too long ago. And I had a lump in my throat.  Not more than a month ago, I had a similar crash on an obstacle and already it has put the fear in me where each time I approach it now, I go around it instead of over it. That stupid rock drop has won. So as I passed the trail that took my hubby down, I vowed I would not let that trail win too. I conceded that if every time I have a bad association with some particular trail obstacle, if I let it win, then eventually I won’t ride at all.

So I turned my bike around and headed into the dreaded spot. I approached it cautiously determined to clear the section as I have so many times before. Determined to put that bad association out of my head.  Determined to do it for my husband’s sake and mine.  I slowed down and rolled off it. My heart in my throat the whole time.  And, I did it. Made it without any problem. Well except for the fact that I am sure my heart beat was in the red zone from the anxiety. But, I beat it. I won this time. I took the trail back. So there stupid husband taking out obstacle….Eat THAT! As I pedaled back to the car, I called my husband to tell him what I’d done. I was proud. He was proud.  Mountain bike wife 1, Log drop off 0. Now if only I can take that courage and conquer  that rock drop that took me out. Some day.

Riding with a spouse is cool, but…

Often times, I hear  my fellow riders lament about how they *wish* their spouses/significant others would ride with them. Often in mountain biking couples, you find one spouse who is completely in love with the sport and the other wants nothing to do with it. I am lucky in that way. I am definitely the more avid lover of MTB, but my husband rides too. He likes to ride and he rides well. And I must admit, he has much more technical skill than I do.  And far better balance.  So I learn a lot when I ride with him whether I want to or not.
However, as the saying goes:  “with great power, comes great responsibility”….so to speak. 

Don't try this at home kids.
The other day, we were in a group ride with my husband leading down a familiar trail taking it with lots of speed as he has countless times before. And wham…within a second, he was on the ground, knees bloodied, the wind knocked out of him and his bike off to the side in a heap. The horror that goes through you when you see your loved one get hurt like that on a ride is indescribable.  You immediately wish that you were the one who went down and realize how quickly that it could have been you. So we quickly take inventory of body and bike and end up hobbling out of the woods with a tubeless tire fail that can’t be fixed on the fly. And, my husband keeps trying to convince me he is “okay” when I ask. But, I know better. I can read the pain that his limited words convey.

Afterwards you deal with the ensuing healing of the other person that just seems to take forever. You wish you could wave a wand and fix it all immediately.  But, you can’t.  So days go by with lots of bacitracin and bandages and maybe even a trip to the ER at Midnight because an infection has brewed in the wound despite the fact that you have been diligently working to keep it clean.  And you both can’t wait until you are able to ride together again. It just isn’t the same when one of you is bike broken. But, you are thankful that it was not worse as you know so well that it could have been.

So, my advice is to keep that in mind happy couples where only one of you are participants in this sport. Next time you imagine how awesome it could be if you could do this together….think about if you could handle it if you watched that person get hurt on their bike.  The other side of the coin….the inevitable and harsh reality that will occasionally come with it.  The part I wish I could just take away and fix right now. But, I can’t.

Today I crashed.

So that’s the short story. Here’s the long one. I was on a group ride speeding through the woods at the front and I came to the big “rock drop”. Now for 3 years, I have avoided this rock drop because it looked scary as all get out.  I’ve seen others do it and they’ve lived.  But, last week, the group I was with stopped there to “session” it. They convinced me that it was not nearly the 20 foot ledge I’d built it up in my mind to be and that I could easily clear it if I just sat back on my saddle and rolled over it with some speed. At first I resisted and then I must have gotten the courage blast that comes from the shame wave.  Plus my husband assured me I could do it and I trust his judgement. And I made it.  I was ecstatic. It was nothing. I couldn’t believe all those years, I’d avoided it and here I was clearing it like a pro. Okay, not a pro, but a person who can clear things and not fall off their bike. That kind of pro.

With my new found confidence, I rode over it again on my next ride, when I was alone. So now, I knew it wasn’t a fluke because I did it again. And this time, it was much tougher in my mind because there was no one there to carry me out of the woods if I biffed. What a confidence boost. Yahoo.

So now we come to this week. Same trail. Same scenario. Speeding through the woods with my partners in crime enjoying the flowing singletrack.  Here comes the rock drop. First guy clears it, Second guy clears it, Me….I didn’t clear it. As I approached the edge of the rock, I heard one of the first guys yell something out.  As my mind is registering the question “What did he say?”,  that's when I see it. The rocks on the other side have been moved. Instead of it being a smooth landing on the other side, they are askew.  My front wheel hits one of those rocks, gets caught, stops my wheel dead and sends me sailing over the handle bars onto my hands and elbows. Son of a Nutcracker!!! I pick myself up and now the rest of the group has caught up to witness my bloodied limbs. 

I quickly cleaned myself up with some alcohol wipes that a fellow rider offered me. (I swear whoever invented those is the devil as I think that hurt more than the dirt rash cuts themselves). Luckily I was able to pick myself up and continue riding with the group till the end.
And when I finished, my wonderful husband drove out to see if I was okay after I sent him this picture of my fresh wounds since he actually missed this particular ride. Not to make him feel bad or anything of course, but I thought he'd like to see the pic. Okay, maybe I wanted a little sympathy.
But damn, that fall did hurt. Both my extremities and my pride. And now that new found confidence is gone. And once again I am that rock drop off wussie that I've always been. Oh but, now I plan to carry a first aid kit in my camelbak again. Because the next time someone offers me an "antiseptic" wipe after a crash, I think I just might suck the alcohol out of it rather than apply it to my broken skin because it would likely make me feel better.

Meeting Gary Fisher and the 29er that needed a home.

Yes, it really is HIM
I rode my 26in Rocky Mountain regularly, that was until Gary Fisher came to town. No literally, THE Gary Fisher, the godfather of mountain biking. A new Trek store opened up in the area and they were having a promotion where they were going to have a demo day with Gary Fisher not just signing autographs, but actually leading a ride for us. I was completely excited to met him as well as demo some of the new bikes he helps design.  I went into the demo with no interest in a new bike purchase, because my current one was fine. I was curious to try out the new 29 inch bike fad that was sweeping the sport. I was dubious of the whole 29er idea since my 26 inch wheels had always worked just fine. However, some people I knew whose opinions I respected raved over the advantages of bigger wheels so I thought it couldn’t hurt to try. My husband was also curious, and being just over 6 feet, it seemed to possibly make sense for his size.
The New Trek
Well, one demo afternoon later, a photo op with Gary Fisher, and I too was hooked on the 29 inch wheeled fad. I couldn’t believe how fantastic the bike felt and how much better a fit it was for me. This was the best bike I had been on so far, and clearly I had been on a lot of bikes. Two weeks later, we were both sporting new Treks and could not be more pleased with our purchases. The unfortunate side effect though of my new purchase made me realize that both my single speed and my Rocky Mountain bikes were both actually sized too small for me. Something, I never realized before , but became painfully obvious now after riding the right size bike. At least I got my use out of  the other bikes before the buyer’s remorse set in. They now collect dust together in the garage, but I have too many good memories on them to let them go. So for now, they sit as back up bikes if the 29er is in the shop. If necessary, I will still ride them even though they are the wrong size because if nothing else, they are fully paid for.

So now  that brings you up to speed, I bring you to my current blog posts. This will be an update of my riding exploits, foibles and fun.

Going to the Dark Side...and secretly liking it.

So there I find myself reading another bike magazine, and lo and behold, there again is another beautiful bike work of art that I hadn't yet tried, the Cross bike. So I quickly scoured EBAY and  found myself a beautiful orange Jake the Snake for a killer deal. Did I mention it was orange? My vision for this bike was that it was the perfect road bike for a mountain biker. You know, one that wants to do a little road riding, but can't bring herself to make that commitment. One that wants to ride on the road, but wants to have a strong enough bike with tough enough wheels that if she feels a car approaching too closely, she can hop onto the grass and ride there as if that was her intention all the while. You know... THAT kind of bike. Well I tried it out for a little while, but it wasn't getting the love that a bike should and spent a lot of time as the red headed step child bike in the garage...(get it because it didn't get ridden and because it was orange? Red headed step child).  Don't be embarrassed if you missed the joke. You'll get it later and laugh your head off. Anyway.........I sold it to a guy on Craig's List which was an experience in itself to say the least, but at least it finally got a good home. I hate to see any bike being neglected from not being used so I had to do it. I just HAD to. It was the right thing to do. It was the unselfish thing to do. And I don't regret it one bit. Okay, maybe a little.

It's a road bike, No it's an MTB, no wait it's both!
Who let the skinny tire bike in?

And then, last summer, I think I lost my mind a little because I broke down and bought a real road bike. I know! It's a cheap Fuji Roubaix from a local bike shop that was closing down.  I don’t spend much time on the road, so couldn’t justify spending a huge sum. The long and short of it is I love that bike too. It rides really nicely and it fits me perfectly.  And it allows me to keep up with the big boys and girls on their expensive carbon works of art (when they let me.)  Plus it has pink grip tape now, so it says I don't take myself too seriously and neither should you. I mean really, pink tape? What kind of statement is that?

And that’s all I really need in a road bike. For now road biking is something for me to do when the trails are closed or I want a little break from the dirt and thankfully, that isn't too often.
And, yes, I admit it. I have this skinny tired bike which sits right next to my fat tired steeds and I love them all the same. Sure maybe the mountain bikes are loved a little bit more, but that's because they have fatter tires and there is more to love right? However, my new mottoes are "don't knock it till you try it." and "variety is the spice of life". Oh and one more, "American Express, always leave home without it....if you go to a bike shop"

Discovering the Single Speed Bike

Then one day, I discovered the single speed bike. I remember seeing it in the latest issue of Bike Magazine and thinking it was the sleekest, hottest looking bike I’d ever seen. It was a black KHS Solo One and had about  a half of an inch of travel in the back. I had to have one. The first time I took it out, I hated it. I did not have any of the leg strength required to ride single speed and kept stalling out on the hills. I brought it home after one ride loudly proclaiming how I was so selling this thing. Sure it was nice to look at, but it just wasn’t going to work for me. My husband suggested I change the gear ratio in the back from 33/16 to 33/19 and maybe even putting  a front shock on it to take some of the edge off the root hits. Since this was a birthday present to me from him that I specifically asked for, I decided to take his advice and try that option out. I am so glad that I did. After that, I fell in love with the single speed craze. A few more upgrades and this became my only go to bike. I rode it every time I went out on every trail around now and would not ride anything else for a while.

My high end full suspension Rocky Mountain was now collecting dust  in the garage and sitting in the corner only barely used. I can’t remember what prompted me to decide to take that bike out again, but one day, I did and soon remembered how much better full suspension was at being forgiving on the body. I started riding the geared bike again and now this one became my go to bike every time I went out now. I also started doing much longer rides and yes my old buddies "gears" and  "suspension" soon became a staple for my new riding style. It was nice to be reunited with those good friends. But, my single speed was now feeling the neglect. Probably  a lot like how Woody felt when Buzz Lightyear came to town in Toy Story.

My first real "mountain biker" friends.

Anyway, I rode that first fat tired bike for a long time and started working for a company where I met my first real mountain biking friends. I was sitting in the cafeteria reading through the latest Performance bike and Nashbar catalogs when my boss’s secretary noticed my choice of magazines. “Hey do you ride?”, she asked. "Why yes I did", I proudly told her. And I had a “mountain bike”. "Great!", she said, "my husband and I mountain bike every weekend. You should come with us." I happily agreed. So a few weeks later, I drove over to their home and they loaded my bike into their car. My mountain bike didn’t look anything like theirs did though. They had no reflectors and no kickstand. How did the keep their bikes upright when not in use I’d wondered? Their handlebars also had these extender bar thingies which I soon learned are called bar ends which are for climbing steep sections. So the questions began. What are those for? Why does your bike have them? Where do you use them? They explained to me their use and schooled me on  other mountain bike things I never knew. We finally arrived to a dirt lot, and we headed into the trail. I soon learned that what I was doing, was not actually mountain biking. Apparently, if you happen to have fat tires and ride it on a paved bike path,  this does not automatically make you a "mountain biker". After a couple of rides with them on my green beauty, I quickly learned that this bike was not going to hold up to the rigors of off road use. So my newfound friends took me to their "real" bike shop and I picked out a serious Mountain Bike . Not just any mountain bike. This one not only had those fancy bar ends, but it even had front suspension…a Red Trek 930 with a Rockshox Quadra 10 fork. Only one of their bikes has front suspension. I was one of the cool kids now and they were impressed with MY bike. I was one of them. When I brought it home, I couldn't even tell my Dad how much I actually paid for it. He would never understand paying so much for a "toy", so I made up a number. Some ridiculous amount that you could only find if you bought your bike at Walmart. He seemed satisfied with that answer. Everyone was happy.

I rode that bike into the ground and cut my mountain biking teeth on that lovely steed. I didn’t realize at the time that it was a “tank” and not knowing any better  thought it was the bomb since it was far cooler than my first ride. I mean, this one didn’t even come stock with a kickstand.
I recall one really frigid Thanksgiving morning going out for a ride on it, and the elastomers in the front shock actually froze solid causing the shock to stop all movement and turn it into a rigid. I learned a little more that day. Basically, elastomer is a fancy word for rubber inserts. And rubber doesn't like extreme cold. I think I  may have inadvertently invented the "lockout" technology for forks that day. No one has ever given me credit for it, but I have to assume that my R&D in extreme temps was taken under advisement and the results sent to Rock Shox for further review. Hey, you don't know!

I eventually found my own personal bike shop and sought out others to fuel my addiction with me. I was in search of the elusive group mountain bike ride and rumor had it that this particular bike shop in town hosted some of the best ones. There were lots of bikes outside leaned up against each other with helmets strewn carelessly all about.  I bravely walked in there to ask for information. This shop was like no other bike shop I’d ever seen let alone been inside. This one was different.  When I walked inside, there were lots of customers.  But, these customers were all wearing their cycling clothes and sitting on the floor eating lunch and talking about the ride they just came back from. How cool.  I soon realized that the shop owners were among some of those seated on the floor involved in the conversation.  They were super cordial and invited me to join their next ride and gave me all the details. I would be back. Little did I know that this place was going to be a second home to me.  I became very close with the owners, Doug and Linda, who were a great couple. They started their original shop from the back of their truck selling parts at the trail heads and then opened this brick and mortar shop just a few years ago. Everyone who met them loved them. This probably had a lot to do with the fact that they were a rare breed that could sit on the floor with their customers after a ride eating lunch and talking bikes. Just a hunch.
I joined many group rides with them and even got my first taste of night riding because they also hosted a couple of group night rides each week. I went out and found the least expensive light I could find and I showed up for the ride. There was a really big group, all guys except for me and Linda. I was ready. Not 30 minutes into the ride, my light started to dim. And that's when my anxiety started to increase. Ten fold. I was riding in the woods now with a fast group and I really could not see. Linda had done many night rides before and knew these trails very well. She offered to give me her light for the rest of the ride and I can’t tell you how indebted to her I was then and still am to this day for her generosity.

Those Canadians know how to build 'em Eh?
Not long after that, I decided I wanted to purchase a new bike. I told Doug, the owner, that I knew I wanted a new bike, but didn’t know exactly *what* I wanted. What I did know was that I did NOT want grip shift for my shifters.  It’s good to be an informed purchaser I always say. So with that limited list of requirements, I sent him on a mission to find me something.  I completely trusted Doug’s advice and I knew he would find me the perfect next bike.  He advised that since I really didn’t know what I wanted, that I should take his personal bike out for a spin on the trails to see what I thought about that. I couldn’t believe he was offering to let me ride his personal bike. It was a Rocky Mountain blizzard and it was awesome, top of the line as most bike shop owners bikes tend to be. It even had those odd grip shifters that I KNEW I didn’t want, but after some persuasion, I agreed to take it out on the group ride. I mean, really, it was the least I could do. Well you can imagine what  happened next. I was keeping up with the guys and flying in and out of singletrack like I had wings. I returned to the shop with a huge grin on my face and my credit card in hand. I’ll have what he’s riding! And so, a few weeks later,  I ended up with a new red Rocky Mountain blizzard with a yellow Rock Shox Judy fork, custom built very similar to his own build specs. Grip shifters and all.  Best bike ever! Well that is until I discovered full suspension had been invented. 

About this time, I realized that I wanted to become a true cyclist. Spending late nights at the clubs dancing all night was fun, but it didn’t give me the same satisfaction as finishing a trail or clearing a climb did. Plus, it was cutting into my quality ride time from staying up all night.
This is the ticket! The "last" one.
Two Rocky Mountain bikes and a harsh aluminum Cannondale road bike later for a dabble into the road scene and came the day when I finally was able to afford the top of the line Rocky Mountain ETSX90 cross country bike, custom built to my specs with lots of carbon upgrades, disc brakes and my first ever foray into tubeless tires.  I too thought this was the best bike ever and the last one I'd ever have to buy. Little did I know.

My first "Mountain Bike"

A few years later I discovered the mountain bike.  I bought my first one from a box store called Hermans and was absolutely thrilled. It was iridescent jade green and shimmered in the sunlight. I thought it was the prettiest bike I’d ever laid eyes on and scooped it up and took it home.
My best girlfriend at the time was a really big into cycling and she was super excited when I told her I got this new bike. We chose a day and I rode to meet her for our big ride. I showed up and she took one look at me and said she wouldn’t ride with me.  What!!!  Didn’t you see how the paint glistens in the sun? She acknowledged that it was a good looking bike, but refused to ride with me because  *gasp*, I wasn’t wearing a helmet. A what? I don’t wear a helmet.  Well she informed me that she would not ride with anyone without a helmet. So back home I went to buy a helmet and we arranged another day.
Of course the next  ride day we arranged was right after a big snowstorm and all the snow hadn’t quite melted. However, we weren’t ones to be deterred so decided to head out to the beach path and ride what melted snow patches we could find. We were on mountain bikes after all. They could handle it. Okay well, it turned out she was on a mountain bike. Mine was a wannabe still stock with a kickstand and reflectors. (She later told me that she didn’t have the heart to tell me how geeky that was, and just snickered quietly to herself when she saw it.) Bitch.

The ride went off without a hitch and we probably spent more time lifting our bikes over snow drifts than actually riding, but it was fun none the less. Made it through the whole ride without incident despite the sloppy conditions until….

Until we decided to ride back to her house and passed a local Dunkin’ Donuts. While she is so busy pointing out the donut place, she drifts into me and down I go. I was unscathed, but this managed to snap my plastic brake lever right off the bars. Oh come on…all the ice I dodge with no damage and she takes me down in the parking lot scuffing up my new baby.  We laughed about it for a long time. Okay, she laughed about it, I just hid my resentment with a smile whenever she told the story. I guess I didn’t have a very good sense of humor that day.

Biking: The Early Years

When I started riding, there were only one or two women who I personally knew who participated in the sport with the zest that I had for it. Hence, I have always ridden with the “boys”. And to this day, I am perfectly comfortable even if I am the only girl who shows up for a ride.  Most of the other riders treat me like one of the guys and I am okay with that. I attribute some of that to the fact that my brothers let their little kid sister hang around with them when they did their boy things. Like I said, I know they won’t admit it, but I think they really needed my mechanical expertise.  I am sure that I gave them lots of good toddler advice back then on how that crescent wrench could make that go cart faster. A little turn here, a tinker there...

Anyway, I started out like most kids. Got a tricycle and cruised around making hell for everyone in my path and leaving lots of marks on my parent's walls. Hey, you give a kid a bike for Christmas, think about it people. It’s cold outside and usually there is snow on the ground. I had to ride somewhere!!! So laps around the dining room into the kitchen and the TV room seemed like the best place at the time. And luckily I was a cute kid, because my parents barely noticed the huge black marks I was making everywhere inside the house at the time. “Oh isn’t she so cute!!” FYI, this only works for cute toddlers on their new bikes. Don’t try this as an adult…..just trust me on this people.

I remember when I was a little older and I got my first adorable pink banana seat bike with the flowers and the basket. Oh man. Nothing makes a kid happier than their first “real” bike.  I remember the freedom that came with that bike and being able to ride to my best friend’s house down the block. Yeah, it’s the little things that make a kid “cool”. However, I wasn’t always so adept at riding on the bike. "That part isn’t exactly in my genes." Both my Mom and my Uncle never even learned to ride a bike having grown up in the city. And I recall a very traumatic day when I they took the training wheels off of that hot little pink bike. I guess my balance was a little off that day and I crashed into the parked car of one of our neighbors. Now any other neighbor would have come running out to see if I was okay. Nope, I picked the car of the nastiest neighbor I could find. This compassionate soul came running out shouting at me for crashing into her car and threatening to call my parents so they could pay for the damage. Thanks neighbor lady….remind me to tag your house with shaving cream on Halloween for all your assistance in my time of need. Bitch.

The next great bike I recall getting was my first ten speed which was a Christmas gift.  That got stolen right out the yard. I learned that day that you can’t trust anyone and bikes belong INSIDE the garage because people suck. I also learned about the illusion of "Homeowner's Insurance."

Not long after that, I put a cute little ten speed on layaway at the local bike shop and paid it off a little every week. This was before I knew what a credit card was so the only way to pay was to visit it every week with whatever little money I had to put toward it. Plus, if I recall, the shop owner's son was cute so I may have made more visits to that store for "payoff" than I needed to. Once I finally picked that beauty up, I rode it everywhere. I was lucky enough to have a great 4.5 mile bike path that let me ride right from my house to the  paved path and down to our local beach. I was hooked. I would ride that path back and forth 3 times in a row every day for a total of 27 miles. In the big ring. Against the wind, well at least in one direction. I felt like Rocky. If Rocky was a cyclist and not a boxer, but you get the idea.  This was going well for a while. Until the day some jackalope was making a right on red at a stop light and I rolled into the intersection just after he had looked right for the last time. He crushed my front fork, but thankfully I was okay for the most part except for some leg road rash. A little bruised, but otherwise okay. But my FORK!!! My beautiful blue rigid fork was crushed. An ambulance was called and I remember being so mortified because the EMTs had to cut open my sweat pant leg to see the injury.  Of all the days to skip shaving my legs. Figures. They assured me they’d seen everything, but that didn’t alleviate the shame. Oh the shame. The police took me home that day and I remember seeing the look on my Mom’s face when she opened the door. Trust me, no Mom should ever have to experience that no matter how many times the cops told her that I was fine but my bike was a little banged up and on the back of the cop car.

The driver offered to pay for my bike damage, so I went back to the store to get a replacement fork for it. Sadly, the aftermarket forks they were selling didn’t match my bike’s color. So I was forced to get a complementing color of shiny chrome silver because it was the only one that looked semi decent and I wanted my bike back as soon as possible.

Once I got it back, I was back in business doing my 3x daily laps to the beach again. This particular path was very busy one weekend crowded with other cyclists, roller bladers and runners too. That day I was riding to the beach once again and about 5 boys were riding abreast on the path leaving no room for others coming the other way. Well, I wasn’t having any of that. This was my path, and surely one of them would move out of my way if they saw me barreling straight toward them with no intention of stopping. Surely one of them would move to offer some room, right?  Nope. Either they didn’t see me because they were a bunch of blind bats or they assumed that one of the others in their crew would move over instead. Let’s just say this was a game of chicken that I lost. Badly. I rode straight into one of them and down we went. Somehow, my bottom tooth pierced through my bottom lip and I remember lots of blood. I also remember one of them asking me “are you okay” with me not responding because I was in some shock when I reached up and saw all the blood from my mouth. The impact did not make me want to talk very much and I thought to myself…there is much blood. This can't be good. And why are you asking me questions bike path hog, look at all the blood coming from ME! That is not the sign of a person who is “okay”. He was fine by the way with merely a scrape.

Once again, the EMT’s came out and I was taken home by the uniforms.  Off to the hospital I went with my parents for a plastic surgeon to sew up the hole in my lip. I never got a scar so I have to assume he was pretty good at his job. Thanks Doc.  I appreciate the excellent workmanship. Because, despite what the adage says, "Chicks DON'T dig scars." Unless they are on someone else.

Pretty Fast....for a Girl

This is not the first blog attempt I have made. The last one I did was interesting for a while, but seemed to be all over the place in terms of topics. I have always heard the advice: “Write about what you know.” So I decided to do just that. And if there is one thing I know about and truly love, it’s biking in most all its forms.

The title of this blog is actually thanks to a young girl  I met this past year who I will call "Skyscraper" who is  on her way to being a great mountain biker. She truly has the heart and soul of one and she is already making herself a name in the youth racing scene at only 9 years old.  She is fortunate enough to have two really dedicated parents who support her in this sport so I imagine nothing will stand in her way of being a champion if that is what she decides to do.

Anyway, back to the title of this blog. I have always been fascinated by bikes. I didn’t realize how far back it went until I found some toddler photos of me with my first tricycle. There I am looking all cute in my little blue dress riding around on my first venture into independent transportation. Then not much further into the pile, I find another picture of me with said bike upside down and I am tinkering with the wheel.  So yeah, I would assume I have been tinkering with bikes my whole life from what I can tell.
I think I have a flat

I think it’s in my genes, because I found out that my grandfather was very keen on cycling too. He even played hooky a couple of times from work so he could go watch the local bike races. He told my grandmother he was going to the factory, but was actually sneaking off to watch the two wheelers at the velodrome in Italy.  How cool is that!!  Well I think it was cool. I am guessing my grandmother’s reaction probably wasn’t   anything like that when she found out at the time. I am also going to assume there was a lot of Italian swear words muttered by her when she discovered it.  But, the point is, it’s in my blood. So it’s only natural that I would become somewhat of a bike junkie in my later years.
I grew up with three older brothers and even as a mere toddler; I wanted to be around the boys doing what they were doing. I think I have always been a tomboy of sorts.  In that same stack of pictures, there I am surrounded with my brother and all his friends, working on a go cart. I for some reason am in the picture wearing my cute little dress wielding a crescent wrench and “working” on the engine of their go cart. The picture indicates that they needed a little expertise, so they came to me. Obviously.  I was glad to oblige since apparently I didn’t have anything to do that day.
Hanging with the Boys..It's Ok, I have my own wrench.

 So for my entire life, because of my brothers, I have always been hanging around the “boys” and have always been comfortable that way. I still love to tinker on my own bicycle and am fascinated by how things work on them. I have seen much in the way of new technology advances since I first started to ride and that is awesome to me. Over the years, I have learned quite a bit about bicycles and their parts thanks to some great bike shop owners,  a fantastic and patient husband , an inquisitive mind always asking questions to anyone willing to answer them for me, and of course the largest encyclopedia in the world….the wonderful world wide web.  I also have a fascination with cool tools. When there is a specially designed tool that makes a particular task that much easier because of  said tool, I am in awe.Cleverness impresses me something fierce. I am also equally impressed when I see something that is an alternative that works for the same purpose just as well.  The whole MacGyver type mentality of using a stick of gum, a paper clip and a pen cap to change a flat is pretty cool too. I can totally appreciate the usefulness of that in the world of biking. Sadly I don't have that. But, I do have a cell phone, so it all evens out in the end.

So for a “girl”, I have a pretty vast knowledge of bike “stuff”. I also have been riding mountain bikes for over 15 years, so to some, I might seem “pretty fast for a girl”, but I've been at this a while now. This sport has come a long way since I first started, but still it seems to be dominated by males.  Yes, there are women in the sport, but the men still far outnumber the women. A stat I hope to see change one day in my future. And so there you have it. A little explanation for the title of this blog.