Friday, November 21, 2014

Women on Bikes Series: Alex Pavon

Meet Alex Pavon who lives in Arizona, she's a fan of Enduro and Downhill riding-loves accomplishing anything rocky, steep, and technical. As she said on her Dirty Jane profile: "The gnarlier the better!"
Check out what else she's up to by visiting her blog, Dirty Jane profile, and Instagram!


When did you first start riding a bike?
Well like almost every kid, I learned to ride a bike as soon as I was competent at walking.
Granted, I was walking when I was 9 months old, so maybe I was like 3? 

I never learned to ride with training wheels; my parents would just walk behind me holding my seat until I could ride by myself. From the ages of about 7-15 (or until my older friends could drive) biking was a way of transportation; Flagstaff isn’t very big, so you can get anywhere on a bike almost as fast as you can in a car (sometimes faster, depending on traffic). I was also a ski racer for a long long time, so mountain biking was something we would do for dryland in the off-season.
What motivated you to ride as much as you have over the years?
I really started riding a lot after blowing my knee out in the spring of 2011. I tore my ACL, MCL, LCL, and Meniscus, and my physical therapist had me on a spin bike ASAP after my surgeries to help regain strength and range of motion. When I was finally allowed to do more rigorous activity, I decided I would try my hand at mountain biking. At that point I was riding a 1997 Specialized Rockhopper up and down the urban trails, but that was good enough for me. That was about the extent of my mountain biking that summer; I moved back to Colorado that November to ski race and put my bike in the shed. I spent the next summer up in Oregon and down in New Zealand training for skiing, but managed to get my parents to buy me a new, modern, full-suspension mountain bike at the end of the summer. Over the rest of the summer and fall I progressed to riding single track, riding more and more miles, multiple days a week. I was hooked. I moved back to Colorado for one more season of ski racing, and after another minor knee injury in April 2013, decided it was time to retire my race skis and fully commit to riding bikes. I began racing enduro in the summer of 2013.  
What would be your favorite competitive biking event?
Really, I love all competitive events. I love biking because it is fun, not just for the racing, but competition just makes it more fun for me. If you asked any riding friend of mine, they would probably tell you that I don’t like climbing or pedaling, but that’s a lie. I love going on long rides, I love the feeling I get when I get to the top of a hard climb, I love the feeling of finally cleaning that technical section even though it made me want to rip my hair out. As long as the riding is rewarding, I like it. I obviously like going downhill the most, that’s why I race enduro. I have participated in NAET races, Oregon Enduro Series races, Enduro World Series races, Scott Enduro Cup races, Big Mountain Enduro races, and they have all been phenomenal.
Where would you consider the best place you've ever ridden?
I was just in Crested Butte, Colorado for the Crested Butte Ultra Enduro and it is easily one of the best places I have ever ridden. There is so much riding to be done there I’m sure it would take a solid month of riding every single day to cover the trails just in the valley. Not only are the trails amazing, but also this place is beyond beautiful. Hood River is also a favorite of mine. BUT my all time favorite place(s) to ride are at home in Flagstaff, and in Sedona. Flagstaff doesn’t have a bike park, but the riding is amazing. It’s a lot like Colorado, at 7,000 feet with a lot of climbing and big descents. Sedona is world famous for it’s riding, and it deserves being so. The trails are incredible, extensive, you can ride to all of the trails from town, you can ride year-round, and it’s one of the most beautiful places in the world. But I’m a little biased. 
You ride Enduro/Downhill-what do you like about those styles of riding?
Enduro is the perfect combination of everything that I love. Easy to insanely difficult climbs, chairlifts, bike parks, back country, fast and smooth descents, technical and steep, you name it. I think some people kind of disregard enduro because they think you don’t have to be as fit as you do for XC or have as good of handling skills as you do for DH but it’s completely the opposite. Though the climbs aren’t timed, you do have to make it to the top and sometimes those climbs are grueling. I’m in Crested Butte for the Big Mountain Enduro Crested Butte Ultra Enduro, and over the course of five days we are covering over 100 miles and climbing 23,000 feet, many of the climbs topping out above 11 and 12,000 feet. As for the descending, stages are often held on downhill specific trails, but we ride them on trail bikes with six inches of travel and a 65-68 degree head angle. To be good and to be fast, you have to be insanely fit and have great handling skills.
Do you remember how you felt on your first mountain bike ride? (If not a mountain biker, how about first commuter ride, paved trail ride, gravel, etc.)
The first time I went on what I consider a “real” mountain bike ride, I was like “Shit, this is hard” the whole time I was climbing and “Holy shit, this is so fun” the whole way down. I remember thinking, “wow this is so similar to ski racing” as I was descending, and, “maybe I could be good at this.” After my first real ride I was hooked, I just wanted to go again, and again, and again. The feelings of “this is so hard” and “this is so fun” haven’t changed a bit since then. As I get better, I find myself facing harder climbs, and having more fun on every descent.
If you had nervousness at all, what do you do or think to overcome it?
I think that a little bit nervousness is a good thing for a couple of reasons. First, it keeps you alert and on your toes. Nervousness doesn’t allow you to slack off. But I think you have to channel that nervousness into something that will help you—nerves help me set goals, whether I’m just out riding or if I’m racing. For example, if I was nervous about a big drop on in the middle of a stage, I would try and turn that into something I could work with, like “okay, I’m nervous about it, but to pull it off I will hit my line, push my bike forward and push my butt back.” Second, nerves are a good way to monitor your body and mind. If I am nervous to the point where I can’t focus on creating a goal, I know it’s not a good idea to try something. If I couldn’t focus on how to pull off that drop because it was making me that nervous, I would know that it is a smarter idea to take the go-around line.
Do you use clipless pedals? If yes, what are some tips/suggestions for beginners that you would share? If no, are you thinking of trying it out at all?
Yes, I do. I ride Crank Brothers Candy Pedals. Talking to a beginner, I would tell them this: I know they seem really scary, I was afraid of them too at first. Then I slipped on my flat pedal, railed myself with my top tube and wrecked my shin with the pedal and THAT was scary. I would adjust the peals so that they are the easiest to get in and out of, and then go on some mellow rides to get used to them. It really doesn’t take that long before you get the hang of it. And YES, it’s okay to fall over in your pedals when you stop—sometimes it still happens to me.   
I'm sure you've had several bike biffs. Which one would've been the most physically challenging? Was there a biff that was more mental/emotionally challenging for you? How did you heal/cope?
I have definitely had several crashes. It’s part of learning and growing. There are three particular instances that were pretty physically and mentally tough for me. The first one was last November, I was up at Gooseberry Mesa in Utah with all the employees from my local shop (Flag Bike Rev) for a long weekend of riding and I ended up dislocating my right ankle. It was awful. Not so much the actual pain of dislocating my ankle, but the fact that I had to be drive to the hospital in St. George to have my ankle reset and then my boyfriend had to drive me home the next morning because I was one crutches and couldn’t do anything. I felt so bad. My ortho told me that I would be out for three months and I almost had a mental breakdown. Then I remembered that doctors tend to be pessimistic in their recovery timelines. A week into PT my therapist told me I could ride my road bike, a week after that he told me I could ride my mountain bike in an ankle brace. Three months my butt. In this instance, healing was both mental and physical. I had to keep telling myself that I would be back in no time, and work hard and do everything I could at PT and at home to get my ankle better quickly.
The second biff was actually not my own. This year at the EWS in Winter Park a good friend of mine crashed really hard racing in front of me. I came across her on the trail unconscious and bleeding. Thankfully another racer had already stopped and took care of her much better than I could have. Anyway, she ended up with three skull fractures, a TBI (traumatic brain injury), and two pelvis fractures. She is recovering, but having that happen to someone I know was beyond scary. Mentally, I was kind of messed up for a little while. It took a good break from the bike and some time for me to grasp the idea that I can’t live in fear of hurting myself just because it happened to someone else. Riding scared in a recipe for disaster.
The last instance just happened last week. I mentioned earlier that I am was in Crested Butte for the BME CB Ultra Enduro—well, on day two I clipped a tree with the end of my bar and crashed, hitting my head and face really hard. I had a huge fat lip, a swollen purple cheek and nose, and a black eye. As much as I wanted to keep pushing and finish the next three days of racing, I had to make the decision to withdraw from the race. I know it was the right thing to do, riding hurt is never a good idea, but it was incredibly hard to sit there while everyone was racing. The last day was in the bike park, no pedaling required, so I decided that I was going to “race” the last 3 stages. Really I just wanted to ride and they let me start and get timed. I crashed again, no doubt as a result of crashing earlier in the week, and got really lucky that I didn’t break my neck. I am now strictly enforcing a biking hiatus and letting my broken body recover—all the way this time.
 What do you love about riding your bike?
I love everything about riding my bike. I love the challenge it always presents, I love the feeling I get when I ride, I love being outside surrounded by nature, and I love the people I get to ride with and meet when I ride and race.
Tell us about your bike(s), what they are like and why did you choose them?
I ride a Santa Cruz 5010 c, which I LOVE. It’s light, it’s easy to pedal, and it descends really well. I put a 150mm travel Pike on it, a Fox DOS dropper post, I have it set up as a 1x10 drive train with a 34 tooth Race Face narrow-wide ring in the front and a Shimano XT 10 speed cassette in the back, I run Shimano XT brakes, shifters, and a Zee derailleur. I also have a Giant TCR road bike, which I love but don’t pay nearly enough attention to. I have my eyes on a Giant Intrigue 1 and a Giant Reign 27.5.
How did you hear about Dirty Jane?
I heard about DJ through Facebook, if you asked me now I couldn't tell you who posted about it, but I clicked on the link and saw that DJ was taking applications. At that point in time I had no sponsors and I was just trying to get my name out there. I applied and became an ambassador. Being an ambassador for DJ has been fantastic. Anka has been incredibly supportive, especially considering that her company is still in a growing phase. Plus, all the Janes, even though most of us have never met, are all super supportive of one another.
What clothing/bike accessories do you love? What would you recommend to your friends?
I love Pearl Izumi chamois’/bibs, tech tees, and jerseys. I also really like any of the men’s TLD shorts (I don’t own any of the women’s ones) and TLD gloves. I also really like Dakine women’s shorts and tech tees, Mavic clothing and shoes, and Shredly is also an awesome and fun women’s specific brand. I was sponsored by POC when I ski raced so I am incredibly biased toward their helmets, they are awesome. And I LOVE my Smith Pivlock V2s. My biggest recommendation would be to have a few pairs of nice chamois’ a durable pair of shorts, a nice pair of shoes, a GREAT helmet and good glasses.
What inspired you to start blogging about your bike-related adventures?
I really just like to write and blogging is a really good way for me to look back and reflect and for my friends and family to get a glimpse into my adventures. Also, after I started working with Dirty Jane, I thought it would be a good blog for DJ and a good blog for any women who have an interest in biking to read. Plus, when I started racing more seriously I thought it may be a good tool for sponsors/sponsorship opportunities.
What has been one of the most interesting things to happen since you started blogging?
What I have found interesting is just how much I use my writing for my blog as a tool to assess my riding and racing. It’s like the calm after the storm when I can sit down and really think about everything that happened at the race or during a ride, and I find myself analyzing my riding: what I did well and what I didn’t, how I felt physically and mentally, etc. and that all helps me piece together the madness that was the race or ride.
Your boyfriend rides-did you both discover mountain biking on your own? Have either of you introduced the other to a new style of riding?
Scott has been riding competitively since he was a kid. He grew up racing XC and road before switching over to the gravity oriented events. This year was his first year racing enduro, the last couple of years he has spent racing the Pro GRT series. I also started riding on my own, but Scott works at the shop I go to and eventually (when I thought I was good enough to totally embarrass myself in front of the cute mechanic from the bike shop) Scott and I started riding together. Then we started dating and now we ride all the time. I already had an affinity for going fast and I knew how to pick and assess lines from ski racing, but I didn’t know how to execute. I would say that I owe a lot of my technique and handling skills to Scott. I figured a lot out on my own, but all of the finite things, the details and the tricks I learned from watching and be taught by Scott. And there are still so many I am working on.
How do you enjoy having someone to share a mutual interest with?
I love it. It’s a great thing to always have someone there who supports you, failure or success, who knows how you ride, how to push you and when to back off, and who can make you laugh and smile whenever you need it.
Why is it important to you to break down the boundaries in the cycling world and be a woman who rides styles that are very male-dominated?
I’ve just always thought, “Why can’t I do what all the guys do?” I grew up with a lot of boys, so I was always doing whatever they were and it was never an issue. Of course, as I got older I started to see the biologically undeniable difference in physicality between men and women, so I don’t strive to be as fast as the fastest guy, but I do strive to be the fastest female and show other girls that yes, we can do what the guys do. Maybe we can’t send that jump as far, or plow through the rock garden as fast, we be can definitely do it.
What are some of the reasons you feel women avoid getting involved with cycling? What do you feel needs to change so more are encouraged to take it up?
One, I think it’s scary jumping into a sport that is so male dominated. No one likes embarrassing themselves and I think that women often feel more comfortable going out and trying something new if they are doing it with another girlfriend—not their boyfriend. Second, I think some women are too concerned with how they look, physically and in the public eye. I don’t think that they scares on my legs are encouraging to girls that don’t ride, and unfortunately society likes to dictate how girls think they should look—no scares, slender, manicured, and the image that is often portrayed of elite women athletes is “manly.” AKA strong.
If someone is interested in getting into Enduro or Downhill?
Same as above. I think a lot of women are afraid of the gnarliness of the gravity oriented events and they don’t see a lot of other women doing it so they don’t feel like it is terribly inviting.
What do you feel would encourage more women to take up off-road styles of cycling?
Having the media pay more attention to the women in the sport, especially in the United States. Cycling, road and off-road is huge in Europe and the media pays attention to it. Really the only cycling event that gets any media attention in the US is the Tour de France. Which is 21 days long and all male. LAME. Air the UCI Downhill’s, XCE’s and XCO’s, BMX, Four-Cross, Cyclocross, etc.
What is something random about you that people may or may not know?
Some random things: I am a full-time student at Northern Arizona University studying biomedical science and chemistry, but I LOVE political science so it’s my minor. I suck at golf but I wish I were really good at it. If I lived somewhere where I could do water sports year round, I think I would want to be a professional water-skier. I love animals, I have two golden retrievers and a cat, and I’m always bringing home strays or abandoned animals and taking them to the vet and finding friends to take them—This summer after spending a few days down at Havasupai, I almost took a stray puppy home in my backpack from the Supai Village. I am a firm believer that karma is the ultimate force in this world; what goes around comes around. I have a younger brother who is way cooler than me… The list goes on and on.

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