Monday, November 12, 2018

Women on Bikes Series: Jes VanDerPuy

I'm a wife. I'm a mom. I'm a mountain biker. I work in management at UPS and and I love a good adventure. Preferably outdoors. I love Jesus and the opportunities I have through mountain biking to show it. I started cycling after my second baby mostly because my husband couldn't shut up about how awesome it was. (Turns out he was right, but don't tell him that.) He raced in the Wisconsin Off Road Series (WORS) and I remember watching all the fast girls and thinking that it looked really tough but would be cool to try. So I did.

I trained all summer for that one race and all I kept thinking was... "Don't be dead last. Just finish."

It turned out to be a life changer for me. I won. By a lot. But I really didn't think I would even finish going in. I took that as a lesson and have been racing ever since.

I love mountain biking because it's a chance as a woman to feel secure in a place that I would never walk alone, but on a bike, you feel so free and able to venture into the unknown unafraid and confident. It allows me to get that little bit of peace in a chaotic world. And it's an absolute blast.

Tell us about your introduction to mountain biking, what about it made you say "Yes! This is for me!"
It’s funny because years ago I always thought biking in the woods sounded cool. I never realized it was something that you could actually do and compete at until I met my husband. He raced through four of my pregnancies and I would tag along and watch all the women race and think how hard it must be. I contemplated trying it but never really thought I actually would. I actually rode with my husband a couple of times and decided that mountain biking sucked. It was extremely difficult and I hated it. All I could remember was rolling my eyes as he would say, “just wait…. Once you get enough fitness it will be fun. I promise.” Then he conned me into buying a road bike. I used that to increase my fitness level and actually started to enjoy mountain biking. Once I realized I could actually do it and enjoy it, I was in.

How did you learn the basics of mountain biking? Did you figure things out solo, take a clinic, or did your husband help?
I had a lot of help from my husband as far as getting started, but once I figured out what I needed to learn I just rode. I rode as much as I could. I would re-ride things I couldn’t quite get. I used an extremely heavy mountain bike to learn on, which I truly believe helped me master a lot of my skills. Then when I hopped on a new bike it was like magic. I just flew.

Clips or flats? What do you use when and why?
I have always used clips. Flats scare me. I feel more secure in clips. However, my first time using them I fell flat on my face from a complete standstill because I couldn’t get unclipped.

Have you had any biffs (accidents) that were challenging for you on a physical/mental/emotional level? What did you do to heal and overcome?
I really haven’t had anything too serious. I have a few scars that remind me that I don’t have to kill myself out there. I have four kids at home that need me. I try and remember that.

When you started out riding, what were some handling skills that challenged you? Do you have any suggestions for what helped you grasp them?
I couldn’t climb. It was so frustrating. We have a section of trail in my hometown that is uphill with probably a million roots. I watched some YouTube videos on climbing and went out and climbed for days. Once I got that section down, I moved onto the next one. There is still one hill I have yet to conquer. But I will.

Are there still handling or technical riding aspects that you find tricky? How do you not let that drag you down when riding?
Of course. There will always be things that need some work. Cornering will forever be a work in progress for me. Also, I’d really like to learn the manual. I can’t let it drag me down, because I’m the kind of person that always needs something to work on. It keeps me interested and gives me something to look forward to.

For folks who are nervous about giving mountain biking a shot, do you have any suggestions on how they can go about creating a positive experience?
Remember that you may not love it overnight. Ride with people who are patient and remember, you’re just riding a bike. Stick with it. Get in some road bike miles so you have the fitness and spend the money on a good bike.

What do you love about riding your bike?
The freedom. The fact that I can get lost in the middle of nowhere. I clear my head and just pedal. I love that it is a sport that I can do with my entire family. I don’t have to sit on the sidelines of a soccer field on Saturdays, we can all do it together. And it keeps me healthy and fit enough to be able to do so many other things.

Tell us about your first mountain bike race! What was the experience like?
It was a WEMS race. My husband and I did the 6-hour duo. It was awful and I was so ridiculously slow. But I really did have fun and it piqued my interest in racing. It gave me a starting point to train for something else. When it was done, despite being dead last it was the most amazing feeling to actually have finished. I was hooked from there.

Why do you feel should folks try at least one mountain bike event?
Racing is different than just mountain biking and it’s hard to tell where you are at without competing against other people. It is a great way to meet people to ride with and an awesome chance to show your skills.

What has been your favorite event to participate in?
We have a winter series here in Wisconsin called Hugh Jass. It’s a one of a kind winter fat bike series. We get to drink beer at every lap and wear ridiculous outfits. It’s actually pretty stiff competition if you want it to be but it’s an absolute blast.

Tell us about your bike(s), what they are like and why did you choose them?
I have a Giant OCR-1 road bike. It’s old, but it’s the bike that made me fall in love with cycling. I got it cheap on craigslist and don’t love road biking enough to buy a new one. My hardtail is a Trek Superfly AI. I absolutely love this bike. We fly together. Also, a craigslist purchase.

I also just recently purchased a Salsa Spearfish from a friend. This bike is my dream bike. And she knew it. When I ride this bike, I feel like a superhero. I remember where it came from and how hard I worked to get here and it gives me the drive to keep moving forward. There is something special about each and every bike you own and it’s always a cool story to tell.

What do you feel deters women from getting involved with cycling? Especially mountain biking?
Have you seen women racing mountain bikes? They look like they’re about ready to kill someone. It’s extremely intimidating. I remember watching these girls race and thinking, whoa. That would be so cool to try, but I could never take anything that serious. I get it now. It’s a sport that requires you to be intense. And it’s tough. But conquering something you never thought you could is so empowering and extremely worth it.

What do you feel could change industry-wise or locally to encourage more women to be involved?
We as women mountain bikers need to encourage our friends and especially the younger generation. Be intense in your race, but afterward remember to make yourself approachable. There are so many people that would be so much more willing to try new things if people made a point to make them feel comfortable. Not just on the bike, but socially as well. I would have tried it a lot sooner if one of the women I watched would have said, “Hey, have you ever tried mountain biking?” Or something like that. Get yourself out there and encourage other women to give it a shot

What inspires you to encourage women to ride?
My daughters. I want them to be able to try anything they want in life. The best gift my parents gave me was that chance to try new things. I never stuck with anything for very long, but now I have so many options.

Tell us a random fact about yourself!
I’m a private pilot. I got my license when I was 16. I had a near death experience and haven’t flown much since then, but still go up whenever I get the chance.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Opening Up To Hope

Letting hope in. It can be a hard task to accomplish when the year has been so full of challenge, and I wasn't ready to let go of my positive mindset.

I had told myself I would not say any particular year would be "the year" but at the same time, I knew in my bones that 2019 would be a better year.

I wasn't going to sit around and just expect next year to be better, but I would go about ways of ensuring it would be by my own ability.

Next year I plan to go on a mountain bike trip, and I'm very excited about it. I'll say nervous too because there is only so much planning I can do between now and then. It may wind up being a solo trip as well, and goodness knows I've never flown by myself. Also, to strategize getting from Phoenix to Sedona. Yaaaas Queen! I'm going to do this. All because I was invited to the fest this year, but wasn't able to make it work out due to our local college homecoming weekend + gun auction.
It looked like it would be so much fun and would allow me to go outside of my comfort zone and experience different riding. I want to meet some of the amazing women I've interviewed. I want to find more women to interview. I want to challenge myself to be fearless! 

Shortly after my mental commitment to going to places unknown, I got the email from Specialized announcing I was brought on as one of their Specialized USA Ambassadors!

This was something that I felt quite torn on if I should or should not apply. I've applied for programs like this before- and have gotten the emails saying I wasn't selected. Reading those emails sucked. With the year I've had, why would I want to read another one of those? I looked at it this way. If I didn't apply, then it would definitely be a no. If I did apply, maybe, just maybe there would be a possibility of being chosen. Also? I was so incredibly stoked over having two new Fearless Women of Dirt chapters in development. I felt that FWD was gaining some serious traction and I was excited to share that. I've continually had great relationships with our Specialized reps and they have been awesome with helping me out for the FWD Women's Night and in general, being supportive.
I know I live in a smaller community, but I dream big. Things are happening. I figured it didn't matter if I got an email saying "We're Sorry"...that wouldn't stop me from growing FWD in 2019.

The fact that I got accepted solidified in my mind that if I stay determined and focused on my dreams, and allow hope in, I can accomplish. I'll leave that statement as is because I don't have just "one" thing I want to accomplish. It's an extensive list!

One thing I'm excited for is to be able to work more closely with a company that has been so supportive of my endeavors. Decorah isn't a large city, so for a large company to recognize what I'm trying to do is really awesome. As a company, I love how they are continually working to increase the women ridership as well as taking steps to get more youth on bikes. From Little Bellas to Riding for Focus- it's absolutely awesome and I really hope we can bring those to the midwest/Decorah at some point.

I had an emotional high.
Something unexpectedly positive happened and I felt my dad had a hand in it.
More because I let my heart open up. I let the sunshine in.

I had a ride shortly after all of the good news. I made time on a Tuesday morning (when I typically don't have time) to go out for a ride. The sun was out as well as the critters. I saw two blue jays flying around- I have always liked blue jays and never knew why. Not long after my dad passed away, when Travis and I were riding trails, I found a blue jay feather. They were something that I felt connected us in some way.

I heard a lot of rustling off to the side of the trail and looked over in time to see a buck running across the hillside. He was magnificent. That moment of seeing the blue jays and the buck was breathtaking. It was a perfect outdoor scene and one that I imprinted in my mind.

Later during my ride, I had this wish of seeing the buck again. Maybe, just maybe...
On the lower half of Little Big Horn, near one of my favorite spots, I heard the sound of deer running. I looked up and saw the same buck with a doe following behind. I wondered if she might've been the same doe I came upon when riding a few days prior. I had a beautiful moment in time where she and I were literally within feet of each other. It was incredible.

During that time, I was feeling a bit down because I was dissecting the differences my dad and I had. The things we never had the chance to do together.
I realized that we both had a deep connection and appreciation for the gifts nature can give. So what if I never learned to hunt? I found a way to be outside in a way that my body and mind appreciated. I think my dad was simply overjoyed that I found something to be passionate about. Something that gave me drive. Something that inspired me. I feel like he looked for that often in his life, perhaps finding it and sometimes not.

For fun, I decided to look up the symbolism of the blue jay and these were some of the words that came up:
Assertive, Vibrant, Curious, Intelligent, Talkative, Determined, Fearless, Audacious, Trustworthy, Resourceful

For the deer:
Deer also symbolizes the gentle, enticing lure of new adventures. Should a deer come into your life, Ted Andrews tells us to look for new perceptions and degrees of perceptions to grow and expand for as long as the next five years (deer shed and grow their antlers for five years).

It didn't seem wrong for me to assume that I will be continuing quite the journey for the next while. Opening myself up to possibility. Adventure. Growth. If there is something to take away from what I've experienced this year, I would say that it has given me the push I need to go out of my comfort zone. To believe that there is more I need to experience and see. To do.

I'm not sure how adventurous my dad was. I'm not sure where this streak came from. All I know is, I am ready to explore this side of myself, and I know he'll be there with me.

Monday, November 5, 2018

Women Involved Series: Helena Kotala

My name is Helena Kotala and I live in rural central Pennsylvania with my husband Evan and our dog Dinah. Bikes are a major part of both of our lives, and are actually the reason we started dating.

I fell in love with him and rekindled my love for mountain biking riding fat bikes through the snow in Rothrock State Forest in the winter of 2013.

It wasn't long after that I went on my first bike camping trip and began exploring the hundreds of miles of gravel and back roads in the forests and farmlands that surround where I live. I love technical singletrack but I also love long gravel/road rides and visiting new places via bike.

To me, riding offers a sense of both peace and empowerment that is essential to my existence. It is more than a hobby. Feeling my legs burn, my heart pound, and the wind in my face is a necessity. Biking has given me my adventure and life partner and an amazing group of friends and fellow riders. It has connected me to people all over the county and the globe. I love exploring new places but I also love showing people the familiar places that I am proud to call my home trails.

When not on my bike, I work as a mapping specialist for a non-profit called the Pennsylvania Environmental Council. We do a lot of work to help facilitate conservation and outdoor recreation projects such as trails, especially those that connect places and offer people a healthier mode of transportation. I'm also a writer. Previously, I was the web editor for Dirt Rag Magazine and I do freelance work. Other hobbies include trail running, hiking, canoeing, photography and basically anything else outside.

Instagram: @helenakoala
Facebook: Helena Kotala 

Tell us about the introduction to your #bikelife and how it influenced you from then on.
I rode mountain bikes as a teenager but then got away from it for almost 10 years. My introduction to my #bikelife as I know it happened in early 2013. It was half curiosity and a deliberate desire to get back into the sport, half luck, and happenstance. I was a generally outdoorsy person, so I was friends and acquaintances with people who rode, but I didn’t really seriously think much about mountain biking until I started seeing fat bikes popping up in the local scene. I’m not sure why they piqued my interest so much, maybe just because they are something different. Then, at this party, I happened to be standing next to an acquaintance (Evan) who I knew was a local mountain bike guru. He and I knew each other but had never been friends and never talked a whole lot, but for whatever reason, I felt the need to make conversation so I brought up fat bikes and mentioned that I’d be interested in trying one out. He invited me to come ride with him “sometime,” which I thought was probably a statement he’d forget about come morning. But nope, he sent me a Facebook message the next day and asked if I was serious about trying a fat bike and if so, we should go ride the following week. I took him up on it.

That first ride, I pushed my bike SO MUCH. There were about two inches of snow on the ground, and I thought I was in good shape from being a trail runner but I found out that mountain biking is a whole different beast. But I also remembered how fun it is, and I was immediately hooked. Evan told me to come ride again. He worked at a bike shop so he brought me demo bikes to ride. We started riding together about once or twice a week. After about a month, he asked me to dinner.

I fell in love with both bikes and the man who reintroduced them to me. Two and a half years after that first ride in the snow, Evan and I got married. That random conversation about fat bikes at a party changed my life completely.

You stated that in 2013 your love of mountain biking was rekindled after fatbiking in the snow, how did that experience influence your decision to get back into the dirt scene?
Fat bikes were simply the point of intrigue that caught my attention and made me realize that I wanted to give mountain biking a try again. It was only a natural progression to other forms of mountain bikes and cycling in general. From that first ride in the snow, I was hooked on bikes again.

Speaking of fatbikes, why is fatbiking so fun?
Fat bikes open up a world of possibility in conditions that would normally be extremely difficult to ride in, and make riding in certain conditions a lot more fun. Not just snow, but sand, bushwacking and “freeriding” through the woods, and a personal favorite, lakeshore riding. A couple of the big lakes near where I live are drawn down most winters, which allows for a really cool experience riding on the shoreline that is normally underwater. It feels pretty remote and otherworldly, like riding on the beach in Alaska or something.
On a “normal” mountain bike, your tires would be sinking in, but with a fat bike you can float over a lot more.

Fat bikes also helped me build confidence when I was first getting back into riding, which I think is really cool. Not only does more traction actually help you roll over obstacles easier, but the mental security of having all that meat was beneficial as well and probably allowed me to try more things and progress faster because I felt more confident.

What do you love about having a partner to share the cycling journey with?
Ride nights double as date nights, neither of us get mad about the other spending money on bike parts, and we both understand each other’s need to get out and pedal.

For the two of you, was it relatively equal when it came to skills/riding or was there a learning curve? What has helped you both with cultivating a positive partnership with riding?
Evan is one of the best riders I know, so when I first started out there was a HUGE gap in our abilities. I used to get down on myself and had a bit of a complex about being so much slower. I felt like I was holding him back or that he was annoyed that he always had to wait for me, but within the past year or so I’ve come to terms with it. Progressing and closing that gap a little has helped a lot, as well as realizing that he knows my speed and abilities and still chooses to ride with me.

Clips or flats? What do you use when and why?
I ride in clips 90% of the time, simply because it’s what I’m used to. I transitioned to them pretty shortly after I started riding so I never really learned to ride flats well. Sometimes I think I should transfer to flats for a year or something just to learn and challenge myself but I haven’t done it yet.

Have you had any biffs that were challenging for you on a physical/mental/emotional level? What did you do to heal and overcome?
About a year after I got back into biking, I was riding back through town after a mountain bike ride and was playing around trying to ride a curb. I’m not even sure exactly what happened but I fell over on the pavement and broke my elbow. I think that since then, I’ve been more nervous about skinnies, narrow bridges and anything elevated off the ground.

Overcoming that has been hard, probably one of my biggest struggles currently as a mountain biker. I practice on low-consequence obstacles -- things that are close to the ground and don’t have a lot of stuff around that I could get hurt on. The more I practice, the more confident I get that I CAN ride whatever skinny or bridge it is -- I’ve done it a hundred times, after all! It’s slowly getting easier.
When you started out riding, what were some handling skills that challenged you? Do you have any suggestions for what helped you grasp them?
Most of the trails near where I live in Pennsylvania are pretty rocky and difficult, so learning to ride through rock gardens was a challenge from the get-go. I used to just plow through them and hope for the best, but at some point, along the way, I learned to break it down and practice individual skills that would help me improve my bike handling and ability to actually pick a line and make the bike do what I wanted it to. I became a lot more aware of body/bike positioning and moving the bike underneath me. Practicing trackstands has helped a ton with riding rock gardens because if you can trackstand, you can pause without dabbing if you miss a line and need to get back on track or just need to regroup for a second. I practice little skills like that when I’m in the parking lot before a ride waiting for other people or even if I’m waiting at an intersection. Use those moments when you’re just standing around before, during or after a ride to work on the fundamentals and you’ll see an improvement in your riding.

Are there still handling or technical riding aspects that you find tricky? How do you not let that drag you down when riding?
As I mentioned before, skinnies, bridges, and anything elevated is mentally challenging for me. So are drops and big log overs that I can’t clear with my bottom bracket. When I’m getting down on myself for struggling with those things, it helps me to think of sections of trail that I used to be really difficult for me that I can now ride with ease. That helps me remember that as long as I keep trying, I WILL progress, even if it’s slower than I’d like.

For folks who are nervous about giving mountain biking a shot, do you have any suggestions on how they can go about creating a positive experience?
Choose the trails you start out on wisely. If you ride something that’s way above your ability level, you’re just going to walk a lot and not have fun.

Ride a bike that fits you and that is properly tuned. You don’t need to go out and buy a fancy, expensive bike just to get started, but you’ll enjoy the experience more if you’re comfortable and works properly. For example, shifting issues or a bike that hurts to ride because it’s not the right size or suspension that isn’t set up for your weight can all cause unnecessary frustration on top of trying something new for the first time.

Don’t compare yourself to others. Everyone starts somewhere. If you go out with a group of more experienced riders, try to refrain from dwelling on how slow or bad you are compared to them. They were beginners once too.

What do you love about riding your bike?
When I am riding my bike, nothing else matters. I struggle with depression and anxiety in my daily life but when I’m riding, all of that melts away as I’m only focused on where I am and what’s right in front of me that I have to ride through. I like to say it makes me the best version of myself.

Tell us about your bike(s), what they are like and why did you choose them?
I have 5 bikes:
Proudfoot Primed - This is my go-to mountain bike. 27.5 plus, full suspension, steel frame. I actually got this bike custom built for me when I was writing for Dirt Rag Magazine as a review bike and I loved it so much that I ended up buying it. It’s the perfect setup for what I like to ride and it fits me like a glove.

Salsa Beargrease - My fatbike. My husband surprised me randomly by buying it for me when Salsa was selling off their demo fleet and he got a great deal, but it’s also the exact bike I would have chosen if I was choosing it myself (and he knew that). Right now it’s set up with a 100mm front suspension fork, which makes it a great bike for all sorts of conditions. I tend to ride only my fatbike from November to April just because.

Salsa El Mariachi - This is my first mountain bike. Evan built it up for me when he was working at a bike shop from a bunch of random parts. It’s had many iterations, first as a 1x9 with a fat front tire and regular 29er rear, then as a singlespeed with that same wheel setup, then I put gears back on and 29x2 inch tires and used it for a lot of bikepacking, then I put a suspension fork up front, and now I’m turning it back into a singlespeed with the suspension fork and 29x2.3 inch tires.

Raleigh Willard - My “fast and light” gravel bike. I bought this bike pretty cheap about 4 years ago because I was really starting to get into gravel and road riding, not thinking it would turn out to be as trusty as it’s been. I probably have about 7,000 miles on it with minimal maintenance. It’s always there for me and it just keeps going.

Penhale Gypsy - The latest addition, this is my “bikepacking/go anywhere” bike. It’s a steel frame with drop bars and 29x2 inch tires. I reviewed the frame for Dirt Rag and again, liked it a lot so I wanted to buy it but the builder told me to just keep it and keep enjoying it!

Tell us about your job as a mapping specialist for a non-profit, the Pennsylvania Environmental Council, and what it entails-
The Pennsylvania Environmental Council works to bring people together on a variety of issues and projects throughout the state, from trail building to reforestation to water resource protection and climate policy. We act as a facilitator and intermediary between various on-the-ground groups who are striving for a common goal and figure out how we can all work together to get more done. My job is to provide mapping support for all the different programs and projects. On a day to day basis, my tasks are pretty varied. I make both print maps and interactive web maps and maintain a geographic database of information on trails, watersheds, project locations and more. It’s a combination of creative and analytical tasks. One day I might spend 6 hours entering data into a spreadsheet and the next I might be designing graphics to show how a bunch of different trails could connect. The job is a combination of a lot of my interests -- maps, writing, environmental issues, trails, etc. My boss mountain bikes so that’s rad too.

Why do you feel it is important for women to be involved in the cycling industry?
Women like bikes too and there’s no reason why we shouldn’t!

What do you feel deters women from getting involved with cycling? Especially mountain biking?
I think there’s an inherent “bro” mentality that feels very unwelcoming to a lot of women. I personally have always had a lot of guy friends and have felt more comfortable being “one of the boys” than I do with most women, so this wasn’t much of an issue for me when I was getting into the sport, but I see it happen to others. I also am lucky to hang out with guys who are super supportive! But showing up and being the only woman in a group of 10 dudes is intimidating for anyone, much less a beginner. The fact that it’s a male-dominated sport means it’s harder to find women to ride with. I think women also have a higher tendency to beat themselves up about being slow or not good enough, and fear that when going into a group ride.

What do you feel could change industry-wise or locally to encourage more women to be involved?
We need to be treated as equals. Women’s specific events, rides, and bikes are awesome and it’s great that those things encourage more women to ride and make them feel at home, but we also need to be able to show up for the “guys ride” and feel like it’s okay for us to be there. If we can hang, what difference does it make what gender we are? Same goes for when we walk into a bike shop. Don’t treat us like we aren’t as knowledgeable about bikes or like we don’t need high-quality bikes and gear. I know that I just want to be treated like a fellow rider and bicycle enthusiast, my gender doesn’t matter.

What inspires you to encourage women to ride?
My own positive experiences with riding are the driving factor that makes me want to get others out there. Riding has drastically increased my confidence and has given me an excellent coping mechanism for the mental issues I struggle with. I want others, especially other women, to experience those things too.

Tell us a random fact about yourself!
I’m extraordinarily bad at coming up with random facts. ;)

Monday, October 29, 2018

Women Involved: Roxzanne Feagan

The past nineteen years have been some of the best years of my life. It's always exciting to share my story of how the bike has had so much to do with that happiness.

It all started with a diagnosis. Days before New Year’s Eve 1990, I was told I had stage four ovarian cancer. I could go on but that's not my story. I refuse to let it be but it does have its place in my history.

The experience taught me what is important and what can be discarded. It made me tougher and more alive than ever before. It is what hardened me to the pains of this sport. I just didn’t know it yet. ;)

This is actually my story:
After recovering from the last of my post-cancer surgeries, I bought myself a bike. It was a mountain bike, blue and rugged looking. The year was 1999, about six months before my 30th birthday. I rode my new bike on paved trails that spring and summer, all-the-while completely oblivious to the robust cycling community that existed in my own town. Then one day an associate, who was a mountain biker and racer (adult bike racing was a thing?), found out about my new toy and like a pied piper, lead me to the woods where he rode his bike. He talked all the time about riding and racing and always with such enthusiasm and joy. How could I refuse? I loved the outdoors so being in the woods riding a trail didn't seem all that absurd. And that's when it happened. I became a kid again and I fell in love with mountain biking. All of it. The freedom it allowed me. The physical strength it asked of me. The courage and resilience it required of me (or maybe I always had it)? Regardless, I was hooked all the way up to me bloodied knees.

And it's been a wild ride ever since. Now here I am, almost 20 years later with as many scars to prove it, transformed from cancer survivor to mountain bike chick, from bike enthusiast to a formidable racer, from a life of obscurity to a leader within my cycling community, including being a past-president of our local IMBA chapter; running the Psycowpath MTB Racing Series for the past 15 years with my husband, and helping the local high school league get off the ground. And if all this wasn’t enough (ha-ha) my husband and I co-founded R&R Outside, a mountain bike instruction and adventure company, about 4 years ago to further share our mountain bike stoke. We’ve put on several co-ed clinics (or better known as the Ride Right MTB School) and just this year put on our first women’s only clinic! We also love to take our friends on mountain bike trips to wonderful mountainous regions to give them memorable experiences. I do all the travel logistics and my husband figures out the riding routes based on the abilities of the group, making the trips more or less all-inclusive. We want people to focus on the fun and not sweat the details.

My husband is also an accidental mountain bike rider and accomplished racer. You won’t be surprised to know we met on a group mtb trip to Moab, Utah, and we’ve been in each other’s company ever since. Married for just nine years, we’ve pretty much dedicated ourselves to this sport in many ways and I have to say we’re really, really lucky to have found an equal in our passions and understands what it takes to manage our crazy cycling-centric lives. That and we don’t have the three Ps–people, plants & pets - to keep alive in the process.

If you would have told me twenty years ago I’d be standing on the top step of the marathon nationals mountain bike podium at the wise age of 48, I’d said you were probably on something. I’ve come a long way on two wheels, been to places I never would have, met my husband, broke some serious bones and have had the extreme pleasure of meeting so many amazing people, including some who will be lifelong friends because I ride a mountain bike. On a weekly basis, I’m amazed at the bravery and courage the bike brings out in

people. It’s practically a medical phenomena! I know so many riders who had no idea what power they possessed until the bike showed them. It’s not typical to expect someone to think they could simply disappear in the woods and come out happier, but it happens. All because of the bicycle. It’s a beautifully simple story to which I hope I can contribute a few of the chapters.

Sites: (my personal travel-log)

During the final stages of recovery, what inspired you to purchase a bicycle and bring #bikelife into the mix? 
I was inspired by just finding something to do outside! I went with a co-worker who wanted to get herself a bike to ride a new paved path in town. I went with and decided to get one also. It being mid 90's I was in the closet about cycling. I didn’t know it was an organized sport. Never heard of or seen anyone mountain biking. Absolute newbie. The second answer of that question is a series of decisions made over time. At the beginning bringing bikelife into the mix was an evolution of discoveries about the MTB culture and how riding and eventually racing tapped into my outdoorsy athletic side. I don’t know that it was that absolute right at the beginning but the more entrenched I got the more I saw and experienced how much value the sport provided to others in many forms, such as being a gateway for people to not just get outside and have some friendly fun but to challenge them a little bit and support that effort in whatever manifestation. That mountain biking itself seemed like a celebration of all of these things filled me a type of happiness I had not experienced before. That sure sounds a lot like love, doesn’t it?

What was it about your first mountain biking experience that inspired you to stick with it?
Great question. I just did a presentation about mountain biking to a small community library and I told them that even though I crashed epically in the beginning, every new bike person I met was another cheerleader who encouraged me to keep at it. There wasn’t a time I can remember when someone said anything negative or discouraging to me, so one could say it was all the positive support that kept me in it. I just kept getting invited back to rides despite my lack of knowledge, skill, and speed. As we know back then, there weren’t any clinics. Everyone had to learn on their own so if I was going to succeed, I had to get back on the bike and try again. Not sure if it was stubbornness or courage driving that bus but trying hard not being the one the group waited on was certainly a contributing factor! I look back now and see how silly that was.
Why was mountain biking such a positive thing for you?
There are so many answers to this but I look back on 20 years of riding bikes and at 49 I feel like I am who I was meant to become, like I’m living out a story written long ago. Mountain biking makes me feel normal like I’m in my own skin. It has always given me a daily dose of satisfaction, where I’m able to put an exclamation point on the day and claim it to be extraordinary, regardless if I did a ride in the backcountry or my backyard. I can also say that mountain biking, from the beginning, has provided me with an outlet for giving back. It’s easy to allow the bikelife to be one dimensional, doing everything to improve just my performance or skill but for what end purpose? Those goals are there, for my personal journey, but giving back to the sport is way more fulfilling. And doesn’t require doing intervals. :)

Knowing what you know now, do you have any tips or suggestions for folks who are MTB curious? 
Take advantage of clinics. You’ll save yourself a whole bunch of time and have less frustration. Learning the correct skills on the onset will provide a safer and more positive entry into the sport. And try to meet folks to ride with that are at your skill level or at a minimum will accept it and will encourage you to keep trying. The pressure to not be last will always be there even with your closet riding friends but be gentle with yourself. I still crash and am scared of stuff even after riding this long. You just have to ride within yourself and not let outside pressure influence your decisions to do anything you’re not ready to do.

Clips or flats? What do you use when and why?
I’m a complete clip-in rider. I was clipping in at the beginning and learned hard lessons when it was time to unclip. It’s what I know and am comfortable with on all terrain. For me I feel it allows for better, more efficient pedaling, being able to use that upstroke on a long climb, for example. It wasn’t until I took my first women's’ clinic with Trek Dirt Series in 2012 that I even put flats on a bike. It was through those clinics and especially at the IMBA instructor clinic that I understood why flats are appreciated by so many. By eliminating the fear of clipping out when riders are first starting out, they can concentrate on the trail and have a more positive, safe experience early on in their bikelife.

Have you had any biffs that were challenging for you on a physical/mental/emotional level? What did you do to heal and overcome?
What’s the saying, “If you’re not crashing, you’re not riding hard enough?” Plain and simple, I’ve had some of the biffiest biffs for sure! But none have come close enough to destroy my will to continue the sport. Even after I destroyed my right wrist when I crashed attempting a rock roll down way back in the early days of racing, I told myself it was just a temporary set back. It took about 3 months to get to the point of being able to ride outside again (luckily it was late in the season). So that I don’t get too bummed, when I’m injured I take time to do the things I don’t do when I’m training or traveling. For example, during one particularly long recovery period, I put all of my wedding photos into several albums.! I believe that resting due to injury is extremely important to the mind and body. We constantly push through them most of the time, denying our bodies that time so when it can’t be denied, I accept where I’m at and allow the healing to take place. And depending on where the injury happened, I’ll eventually try to get back to the crash site and ride it so I can get over the mental block.

When you started out riding, what were some handling skills that challenged you? Do you have any suggestions for what helped you grasp them?
All handling skills were a challenge but the most challenging were log overs. I had no idea how to get the wheels over a log and back then the only advice from the dudes was “just lift up the front wheel and then kick up the back wheel”. Needless to say, that didn’t work and was almost my undoing. Structured skill clinics just didn’t exist. You learned by doing and no manner of “just lift the wheel” type explanation was going to make me understand the timing and body position that was required to get over a log. I just didn’t get it. So nearly ready to quit, a bike shop owner told me if I raced for his shop, he’d help me get a better fitting bike. I never thought it was the bike’s fault for my failure to execute a proper log-over but I have to say a little bit of suspension does a body good. I bought a “women’s specific” Santa Cruz Juliana that was smaller and lighter than the one I was learning on and had suspension both front and rear. Upon riding that bike for the first time was like the dawning of a new day. I was able to ride not only the logs better and more controlled but also had the proper gearing for my size to make it up hills! Eureka! I’m not saying that’s always the case but I do tell my man-friends, don’t skimp on your wife or girlfriend’s bike. There are a zillion options now for women so they should and can be picky and get a bike that fits their riding style. Also, take clinics. All of them, from many people, even if it’s about the same things. The way someone says something to you may turn on a lightbulb that didn’t happen with a different instructor. We all learn differently thus the reason for trying different clinics. When you just go ride with friends, how many times do you stop and practice? Barely ever, right? Clinics give you the safe space and time to break down moves and understand their mechanics. I wish I would have had them in the beginning for sure. I’d probably be less afraid of jumping and big drops.

Are there still handling or technical riding aspects that you find tricky? How do you not let that drag you down when riding?
Always. I’m far from proficient. I can’t jump upon command. I’m a conservative descender, usually taking the slow line, even when I’m racing. When I started racing Enduro there were days when I was in way over my head and there was even a moment the day before a race at Keystone Resort where my husband and I had a face to face where we asked each other if it was worth the risk? It wasn’t but we didn’t DNS. Instead, we just said let’s go have an experience and walk what we can’t ride. It all went just fine. I wasn’t going to learn how to do some of the technical moves that day anyway so why put myself under that kind of pressure? I’ve been to a handful of enduros since and I’m usually the last one down and the slowest but I told myself I wasn’t doing it to impress some Colorado racers. I was doing it to push myself and have an adventure while trying to expand my skill set.

Tell us about event participation! What inspired you to race and why do you enjoy it?
People inspired me to race. In the beginning, there was always encouragement to try it and not in a competitive way but in the way that we all who do it understand: that racing could unlock some supernatural powers you didn’t know existed. I’ve always been in a sport, growing up playing competitive softball and even playing in college. I was a pitcher so that pathway was already laid but it was dormant after college for a long time. Racing woke that competitive streak back up and let’s face it, riding fast is a damn good time. I’ve had pretty good luck with racing but I work my ass off for every result so the pursuit of a good finish is also part of why I like racing. Racing forces me to train, gives me structure and focus that I can’t seem to muster up on my own and then to put all those pieces together for a good day on the bike is really gratifying. I’m not going to bs around and say there isn’t any ego in this and I’m only in it for the experience.

I’m mostly in it for the experience as racing could go away tomorrow and I’d still have adventures but coming away from an event on the podium, especially in a location that I may not have any advantage, such as a rocky, technical or mountainous course, gives me a great sense of accomplishment, and puts double !! on the day!

Why should folks consider participating at an event at least once?
See above: racing could unlock some supernatural powers you didn’t know existed. When you’re in a race scenario, you WILL go faster than when you’re riding for fun. It’s just the nature of things so you may find that you’re faster than you think. You may also end up trying a technical feature that you wouldn’t otherwise, especially if you see someone else doing it. Plus, the races are fun and festive. They’re encouraging. They’re only as competitive as you make them. In the big picture, we’re just a bunch of adults playing on bikes. We all have to get up the next day and put on pants and be adults again. Racing allows us to push, let go and see what we’re made of outside of our 9-5 selves.

Tell us about the Psycowpath MTB Racing Series-
Psy-cow-path, get it?! has been around since the mid-90s. Around 2003 after we said we’d help, the director handed my husband and I a box of number plates and said buh-bye and we’ve been running it ever since. The series then was about 10-12 races all over East-Central Nebraska (and this was PRE INTERNET so how people found out was just word of mouth). Over the years we’ve whittled it down to about 6 races at the most popular venues in or near Omaha. We have XC and Marathon categories and equal payouts between men and women! We invite runners to race the course before the mtb races as a way to make sure they know they are welcome on the trails too. I try to make sure we have cool posters, swag, and awards so people feel appreciated and have a memorable experience. Our events have music, food, and races for the tiny kids to round out the day. We run the series in what we call a “franchise model”, where cycling teams provide the day-of labor and receive a portion of the income for their club. Promoting is a lot of work so having this setup helps everyone!

What do you love about riding your bike?
It’s my escape. Take the training and racing out of it and just riding my bike clears my mind and takes me away from the daily grind, providing that necessary life balance. Add friends in the mix and life doesn’t get much better than that right there.

Tell us about your bike(s), what they are like and why did you choose them-
How much time do you have?! Ha! I ride for Harvest Racing / TREK so this is a TREK-heavy list. For XC and Marathon racing I’ve been riding TREK Superfly 9.9. It’s a 29r that’s baby blue with red highlights and has earned the moniker Powder Puff! But she’s a total shredder. I held out switching to a 29r for the longest time. I was winning races on the 26” just fine but as the technology improved for the bigger wheels, it was becoming obvious that wheel size was more optimal for racing. Powder Puff is carbon and has full suspension so I have a shock in the back that I can lock out from the handlebars if suddenly I have to climb and want more power to transfer to the pedal stroke. For a race in Wyoming a few weeks ago, I put a dropper on her and holy buckets that was a good time. The weight penalty of a dropper (and less one bottle mount) is enough that I won’t use it all the time. Most courses I race don’t demand a dropper and I’d rather have a light bike and jump off here or there than carry an extra pound around for 50 miles! But the fun factor is off the charts, FYI!

For Enduro and all around big mountain riding, I have a TREK Remedy 9.9 27.5. This is the second Remedy I’ve owned and went with 27.5 for weight savings knowing that I’d be not just racing it but using it when we go on our week-long backcountry adventures where I’d be climbing or walking up for hours. It’s burly at around 27lb, it has 150ml of travel so it can take some pretty good hits. I can lock it out for climbing so that helps. I can put up to 2.3 tires on it for really rough terrain making it much more stable on the mountain descents. The handlebars are much wider than the Superfly for added stability. It also has a dropper but that one stays on it 24-7! I don’t do that bike justice. It’s way more bike than I get out of it but I love it.

Going between these two bikes take some getting used to. Each has a different set up on the handlebars in terms of the lockout so it takes me a few minutes to remember what does what! In terms of handling, the Remedy is much more playful and can get around tighter corners better. The Superfly is more stable and takes a bit of handling to get it to be playful as those big wheels just like to go straight and fast.

For day to day training, I’m on an older TREK Madone, a black sparkly carbon bike I call The Darkness. It has my name on it as well as the painter’s signature who painted it, which is kinda cool. It is my worst nightmare and my best training partner. Riding road bikes don’t give me the same feeling as riding mountain bikes. My road bike is a tool for training and though I do get a sense of freedom when I’m out on country roads, it’s not the same as what the mountain bike gives back to me.

I also have a TREK Crockett gravel/commuter bike that’s a few years old. I use it primarily for winter riding and have done a couple gravel races on it, but just for fun. It’s great for base miles in cold weather.

Why did you choose to be active in your local mountain biking community?
Because of the people that did it before me. Without them, there’d be no mountain biking in our area. Almost every inch of trail here has been hand built. Events don’t happen on their own. It takes a dedicated community of volunteers to allow our sport to even exist. We are in the land of ball sports and farm fields. And yet, despite the odds, we are still around and the sport is taking roots in the children of racers and riders. We get close to 150 kids out in the summer for our weekly DEVO night and our local Interscholastic league (not yet NICA) is now in its 5th year. Those were all seeded by way of dedicated volunteers. I felt the spirit of volunteerism immediately when I started riding and there’s never enough volunteers so I jumped right in. I work in advertising, so I was able to help on the branding side for different organizations and I’m an organizer by nature so getting on boards and getting things done was a way for me to give back to the sport. It never ends so give when you can and hope that others see the value and jump in when they can!

Tell us more about R & R Outside and why it's important for you and your husband to cultivate positive mountain biking experiences for others- 
R&R Outside was born out of the light bulb moments my husband and I had during an IMBA-lead instructors course. We found out how many bad habits we had and once we corrected them, we immediately noticed how much our riding improved. We were so excited about it that we felt we couldn’t keep it to ourselves so we took some more courses and got certified and began the Ride Right MTB School. Clinics can be expensive and they’re not all that close by so knowing that we made it affordable and hopefully memorable by giving each participant personal attention, guidance and some fun swag.

The other side of the business is the adventure side where we pretty much plan all the details for days-long trips to cool riding destinations or races. I like having sweet accommodations if we’re not camping so hunting down cabins or rentals is my jam. If it’s a bike trip and not a race, Ryan will scour trail maps and come up with daily ride plans. We take on the heavy lifting so our guests can just ride bikes.

All of this to cultivate a positive experience, indeed, which hopefully leads to more people on bikes!

Speaking of your husband, why do you enjoy being able to share the journey of mountain biking with him?
You know what’s better than living the #bikelife? Sharing the #bikelife. And when it’s your partner/spouse, it can’t get much better than that, especially when that spouse is also training. On the racing/promoting side, having someone who understands the commitment is everything. This is not a typical lifestyle - we’re training 5 days a week, home late, eating late, gone half the day on weekends. Then when it comes to planning trips, races, clinics, I do most of the detail work and he does the mechanical stuff like making sure the bikes are in working order and the van is ready for camping or hauling or whatever. It’s very much a team effort. On the adventure side of it, we’re cut from the same cloth: Gotta pay to play. Our curiosity for what’s around the corner is primal and has lead us to not just tops of unknown (to us) mountains or bottoms of canyons, but also to moments of fear, gratitude, and joy that are all the more galvanized when the other is there to bear witness. And now we have this awesome van that we can live out of and spend days upon days off the grid. We love it. It’s funny - every time we arrive home from the mountains, we usually high-five in the driveway as we turn off the van and ask each other, Where to next?

You've held co-ed clinics before and recently held your first women's-only clinic. What was it like and why was it a positive direction?
Most of our co-ed clinics were attended by women, so it was only a matter of time before we scheduled just a women’s only. Honestly, we went about it just the same but afterward, for days, I had this rush of energy after reading the feedback. Ryan was helping me so it wasn’t all estrogen all day but it seemed like there were a lot more questions being asked in real time and we went into detail on some skills that I thought were essential to beginner female riders. We had riders from never-ever to season racers that day and they all started at the same level and went through the same drills and each saw that there were struggles, even for the skilled, so there was some good camaraderie happening the whole day. Stoke meter was way up for sure.

Why do you feel it is important for women to be involved in the cycling industry?
From the top down, having women in the industry will provide pathways for others to join in all the ways that men are already thriving. Seeing someone who looks like us doing bike stuff, be it riding, racing or wrenching, gives women the message that they are welcome and will be supported in their cycling endeavors.

Why is it important for youth to be introduced to the sport of mountain biking?
Mountain biking at its core is a child’s perfect game; it involves adventure, exploration, problem-solving and sometimes self-preservation - tools that will help them throughout their lives. Also, the mountain biking culture of volunteerism and stewardship is a wonderful way for them to learn about respecting the environment and to help take care of it. I also love that mountain bikers celebrate all levels of skill so it’s a way for them to get involved and feel accepted, which is so important at this day and age. And it gets them off the gadgets!

What do you feel deters women from getting involved with cycling? Especially mountain biking? 
The notion of going out into the woods alone is a deterrent for most women so it’s key that ladies find others to ride with who are welcoming and supportive. Plus it will be way more fun that way! There was a big push around racing when the sport came into its own and that has been a big turn off IMO. It should be about participation and cultivating a community, not getting on a podium.

What do you feel could change industry-wise or locally to encourage more women to be involved?
Industry-wise they are on a good trajectory. With women’s only events popping up, the popularity of women’s clinics and more coverage of women riding/exploring/competing in the sport tells us that we’re accepted, invited and supported. On a large scale, that will continue the upward trend of women on bikes. I also think with the rise of NICA, the sport is becoming more and more family friendly. As kids get involved early in life, moms and dads will find others who are bike-curious and hopefully they too will be encouraged to try it.

Locally, I believe we could get more women in the sport through a few avenues: progressive trails where one can learn to ride terrain. We have pretty beginner-friendly trails but again, going off into the woods might be too much to ask, so bike parks or skills areas would at least give them a taste in a more open, safer environment. I also think it’s important for there to be women-only group rides, headed by non-racer types. I did a weekly ride a couple years ago and felt that I was intimidating to some because I raced. I believe non-racers can be better ride leaders, removing that competitive stigma that comes with racers. I also think bike shops could get in the game by offering some kind of event or group rides or skill sessions. It’s all about having fun and creating a welcoming environment that breaks down barriers.

What inspires you to encourage women to ride?
Changing lives. I’ve seen it. I’ve experienced it personally and witnessed the changes in others. Mountain biking reveals our inner super powers. I have a friend who, until she started mountain biking, didn’t realize how competitive she really was at anything and when she started racing, she found out she was really good at it and started traveling with us and racing as well. We don’t grow up thinking we’re going to be mountain bikers. Though that is changing with the NICA leagues, for adults discovering the sport, it can show them what they’re capable of by revealing traits they didn’t believe they possessed and that can life altering.

Tell us a random fact about yourself!
I tandem skydived over Moab, Utah.

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Life Is a Journey, Not a Destination.

Much has happened since my last "real life" update, and every time I started to compile a post I would become distracted by other stuff. Soon, it felt as tho what I had written might not hold as much merit, simply because time passed and the rawness of that moment faded.

September was a month that was riddled with stress due to the on-site auction we had to prep for. I'm grateful for family members who were able to help. I think that's been the most humbling part of this experience- accepting it was way more than what I could legitimately deal with on my own.

Auction day was chilly, but thankfully the rain held off- not that it wasn't a bit of a soggy mess down at the bottom. All in all, over 200 people had attended the auction- which made it successful in my mind. It was a touch overwhelming for me when it came to selling the vehicles and Kubotas. These were items I knew my dad really enjoyed or had great pride in.

After it was all done and folks were loading up their purchases, I made my way to the woods to cry for a little bit. I was cold and sad. I was relieved. I just really needed a hug. The closest thing was leaning against the remains of my dad's favorite tree.

It was bittersweet.

The journey of sorting through my dad's items also brought a smile back to a grade school music teacher of mine. I found a small tomahawk head with a leather case, it had his name on it and some numbers. I thought "How many people could have the same name?" I messaged a friend, asking him to show an image of what I found to his dad, to see if it might be his. It was!

He was reunited with the tomahawk head and has since given it a beautiful wooden handle. I've had two gifts from this man since. A coin and a book.

It was interesting to interact with my former teacher and see him in a different light than what he shed while I was in school. I felt comfort while he visited. The message that the coin and book also had given me solace.
It's been a winding road, getting everything buttoned up.
There is one final auction - the gun auction...and after that is over with then I think most everything other than the sale of the property is done.
The septic is getting replaced, but the ironic part is it had to get re-pumped because it was full of water.
Next is furnace/winterizing.

I've been scared.
I've been sad.

I signed up for a grief course that gives you writing prompts, and I felt like a failure because I ended up spending the last few weeks of the course not writing. I couldn't. My mind was consumed by the work and worry of auction prep. I felt scattered. Disinterested. I started to feel frustrated because I wanted to talk, but at the same time, the sadness that surrounded everyone else was strong.
I think I felt at that point the only grief I could truly deal with was my own. I also felt like I needed to shelter my heart. I feel tender. Vulnerable. I experienced a tragic event. I never got to have one last visit. One last "I love you." One last "Good bye."
You have to accept that the last few weeks/month, while he was alive, was what it was. Hindsight is 20/20. I needed time. Time to process. The writings for the course could be done at any time.
I've gotten to the point where I'm feeling less awkward simply living life. What I mean by that is, after word got out over how my dad died, it was difficult to proceed about the day without feeling as tho people looked at you like the girl who lost her dad because of a tree.

I feel anxious any time I see someone wearing a Stanley shirt. If they knew my dad or knew of the situation. When they see my face, do they see a resemblance of my dad? Same day as writing this post, someone who would occasionally have lunch with my dad at work stopped at the bike shop. He gave his condolences.

You feel like "It's been 5 months...hasn't everyone said them by now?" and then you have chance encounters of folks who knew him.

Me. Staring in the mirror and wondering if I resemble him at all.
I am my father's daughter.

Don't get me wrong. I appreciate the thought and gesture. However, each time it's like someone is picking up the edge of a newly formed scab. It stings.
The most comforting conversation was with someone who lost her dad. Her honest and candid email to me, thanking me for sharing my story. Also telling me it gets better, but it will always hurt some.

I think that is the thing that I'm wrapping my head around. I'm working to be gentle with myself. My heart. My poor heart that feels like a chunk was ripped out of it. It's okay to say "You know what? It's not actually alright. It's not okay. It sucks. It just plain sucks. It's going to suck from here on out. I'm going to be sad for a long while. I'm getting better at coping. It doesn't mean that I'm healed."

Frankly. I don't want to be "healed."
To me...healed means that I've forgotten.
Our first wedding anniversary came and went. Of all things, it snowed that day.
I had some serious reflection- and I will be the first to admit it's been a rough year.
No, marriage-wise, we were never "in trouble." I think, tho, for as long as we've been together we haven't had such a tough time in life. By tough...I'm talking about dealing with me.
My sadness.
My loneliness.
My anger.

The whirlwind of emotional crap has been strong. I went back and forth over-relying on Travis and trying to relieve him of what I felt was a burden and rely on myself.

I never saw getting married as some sort of "cure all" when it comes to life. However, we had a solid awakening on what it meant to be partners. Having to be open to the unknown. Having to try and understand when we didn't know what we were trying to understand in the first place.

All I can say is I'm grateful for his partnership. His friendship. His love.
I'm starting to smile more, and I think he sees that.
This year I've learned how to say "no."
I've learned to be a better advocate of self-care.
I had to accept that my path in life would look a little different.
I've done so much this year.
Stuff that you typically don't think of in day-to-day life.
Then responsibility falls in your lap, like a newborn.
You have an idea of what to do. Somewhat. But not everything.
You aren't really given lessons. You learn as you go.
You hope you're doing it right.
Satisfaction over figuring stuff out.
I'm ready for next year.
For more smiles.
More bike rides.
More smiles.
A stronger me.

Monday, October 22, 2018

Women on Bikes Series: Clarissa Finks

Let’s see… I am a 38 year old lady who 11 months ago quit her (some may say) dream job in order to shake things up and force the leap into something new!

Right now that new still consists of taking things day-by-day and figuring it out while relying on my previous skills and expertise in product development that was built over the 10+ years I worked in Hardgoods at Burton Snowboards.

I’m currently working part-time as a consultant for a local company launching a new product line and racing mountain bikes professionally for the Liv-Co Factory team and Earl’s Cyclery, a local bike shop.

I grew up in Maine, went to the University of Vermont and, much to the dismay of my mountain biking Momma, didn’t start riding bikes on dirt until I was a senior in college.

I pretty much started riding and racing at the same time when a friend on the UVM Cycling team got wind of the fact that I had a mountain bike and approached me with the offer of a lifetime…"We have a race this weekend and since you’re a girl and have a mountain bike, all you need to do is finish the race and we’ll get points – wanna come??" How could I say no to an offer like that!?!? From there I dabbled in XC racing but was pretty horrible at that, so continued on just riding for fun until I stumbled upon Enduro racing about 5 years ago. Outside of racing I am also a mentor for the Little Bella’s Program here in Vermont and also love hosting clinics and coaching camps to help people build stronger skills on their bikes!

My insta is @shredly1 and here’s a link to my Facebook page.

Tell us about the introduction to your #bikelife and how it influenced you from then on-
I grew up riding bikes all the time as a kid, but once I hit high school and got really into team sports, I didn’t spend much time on a bike anymore. My Mom really got into mountain biking about that same time and as much as she tried to lure me in, I just wasn’t interested. Once I got to college I stayed on the team sports path and ‘played’ soccer for my first 3 years. The reason played is in quotes is because I actually had 2 ACL surgeries back to back years so I spent a lot more time rehabbing than actually playing soccer. That being said I guess you could say my intro to #bikelife was really through recovering from surgery. Riding a bike was the safest and best way to be active again while recovering so I started riding a bike on the road to get the knee back into shape. I think the thing that surprised me, and ultimately influenced me the most, in the beginning was how enjoyable those workouts were. It wasn’t like grinding away in the gym or doing sprints on the soccer field, it was just fun! It almost felt like tricking my body into being in shape again without feeling like I had to work for it.

You stated that you didn't start mountain biking until college (even tho your mom mountain biked)- tell us about your first mountain biking experience and why you kept coming back-
Eventually my Mom talked me in to giving it a try and took me out to some local trails outside Portland, Maine where I’m from. She put me on her hand-me-down Specialized Stumpjumper hardtail, with a Softride stem for suspension and clipless pedals (for my first time out!) Of course I had a heck of a time getting in and out of the pedals, but at that time if you were a mountain biker you rode clipless. I crashed a few times, drew blood from stuffing my front chainring into the back of my calf, but I loved every minute of it and pretty much was hooked from day one. I am someone who loves a new challenge and since I was pretty horrible at this to start, I think that’s what initially drew me in. Something new to learn and conquer. I also was really getting into snowboarding at this same time and to me mountain biking felt kind of like snowboarding for the summer time. Dodging in and out of trees, winding your way through as fast as you can safely go. The movements and overall feelings were similar so I think that’s what really kept me coming back because now I had something to obsess over in the summertime as well instead of just waiting for the snow!

What do you enjoy about participating in a mountain bike race?
There is no question, the best part about racing is the people. I have friends from all over the northeast now and while we are scattered hours apart, we get to see each other at every race weekend which is a blast!

Why should folks consider participating in an event at least once?
What I didn’t include in my answer above is the enjoyment I also get from staying motivated and working toward a goal. Having an event to look forward to helps give you that extra push to get out on your bike when maybe you’re not feeling it, or stick to those early morning gym workouts when you’d much rather sleep in. Even if you’ve only got your sights set on one single race, doing a little prep prior will definitely make that single event so much more enjoyable! Add that to what I mentioned above about the people you’ll get to meet and that’s a full-proof recipe for fun!!

Tell us (in your words) the difference between XC and Enduro and why Enduro jives with you best?
To me… XC = 100% sufferfest while Enduro = 95% fun with moments of suffering sprinkled in here and there. In Enduro you’re primarily just racing down the mountain, you’ll have a set number of race stages (somewhere from 3-6 depending on the race) that are timed and getting from the finish of one stage to the start of the next (the transfer) is untimed. Depending on the race/series you may or may not have specific start times for each stage. The series I primarily participate in, the Eastern States Cup, does not have specific start times for each stage which allows for a really fun and social race day, which is definitely my preference!

The reason Enduro works so well for me is because I am not an endurance athlete, while Enduro certainly takes a lot of endurance it’s done more in fits and sprints instead of hours of grinding away with no break. I’m more of a sprinter/power rider – going hard for short periods of time is more what my body is made for and what I train for.

Clips or flats? What do you use when and why?
Clips just because that’s what I’m used to. Would like to ride flats more so I can switch out for really wet/slippery courses.
Have you had any biffs that were challenging for you on a physical/mental/emotional level? What did you do to heal and overcome?
Oh so many, both in riding and racing. I guess that’s just always been my life in whatever I’m doing so I just pick myself up and keep going. The ACL surgeries were definitely a challenge both physically and mentally because it was back-to-back years so that took some soul searching to get through and more intentional time off than I had planned. I was happy I took a full season off (more than the prescribed 6 months) to really heal because it gave me the confidence to come back after 2 surgeries.

When you started out riding, what were some handling skills that challenged you? Do you have any suggestions for what helped you grasp them?
Descending steep technical terrain was something that terrified me in the beginning. Learning to drop my heels and really focus on putting my weight in my feet has made a world of difference in my abilities and especially my confidence when going down hill.

Are there still handling or technical riding aspects that you find tricky? How do you not let that drag you down when riding?
I feel like no matter how long you’ve been riding there is always something to tackle or improve and that’s why I think I like mountain biking so much! It’s an endless adventure of learning no matter how good you think you are. Framing the challenges in that way, instead of getting frustrated when I’m struggling, is exactly what motivates me and pushes me forward. Now don’t get me wrong, even though I say that there are DEFINITELY times when I get frustrated but I truly try to focus on the fun of learning and progressing and I’m usually able to snap myself out of the funk when I do that.

For folks who are nervous about giving mountain biking a shot, do you have any suggestions on how they can go about creating a positive experience?
Two pieces of advice both equally as important:
1) Get the best bike you can for your budget. Having the right gear for you and your riding goals will help your progression in leaps and bounds. Sometimes the path of least resistance, buying a cheap old bike or a hand-me-down from a boyfriend/husband, seems like a great idea but in the end you’re not doing yourself any favors. There are so many bikes out there all with their own set of benefits so it’s important to think about the type of riding and terrain you’ll be on most frequently and how you’d like your riding to progress.

2) Take a clinic, go to a camp, get instruction. Your gear is important but this may be even more so. I had been riding for about 15 years before I was exposed to any type of real instruction and once I was it absolutely blew my mind! About 5 years ago I attend the Women’s Freeride Fest at Highland Mountain Bike Park in NH and I am not exaggerating when I say that it absolutely changed my life!! Getting specific instruction on body position, bike handling, the physics behind cornering was something I never got just trail riding with friends and it opened up a whole new world of riding. Now there are lots of options out there from camps like Ladies All Ride, Vida MTB or personal coaches for hire, it is all well worth the money and I cannot recommend them enough!

You are a Little Bellas mentor, tell us about the program and why you wanted to be involved-

As long as I am able to ride a bicycle I will be a mentor for Little Bellas. It is the best programs I have ever had the pleasure of being involved with!! Little Bellas is a program whose goal is to help girls realize their potential through riding bikes. It’s aim is to create a community that empowers and promotes and healthy lifestyle and confidence. I have been involved for about 5 years now and I swear the mentors get just as much out of it as the attendees! I’ve watched girls go from shy, tentative bike riders to bold and confident shredders! Getting the chance to be a part of that transformation is one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done. That on top of the fun we have riding bikes and playing around makes this a pretty special experience for all involved!!

Why do you feel it's important for young women to be introduced to mountain biking?
Mountain biking (and cycling in general) is truly a lifetime sport and even though I came into it a little late I am so grateful for finding it when I did. Mountain biking gave me something active and healthy to transition into after my team sports career was over. Regardless of when you get involved I am a believer that mountain biking truly changed my entire life and I think it’s important for as many young women to get the chance to experience that for themselves. The motivation and confidence it has brought to my life has been like non other and it has also opened up the most inviting and wonderful community to be a part of.

What do you love about riding your bike?
Is it wrong to say all of it?? The freedom, fun, laughs, crashes, people, jumps, berms, climbs and being totally exhausted at the end but still wanting to do it all over again!!!

Tell us about your bike(s), what they are like and why did you choose them?
Right now my primary focus is getting faster at descending steep technical terrain so I ride the Liv Hail Advanced 0. It has 160mm travel on both the front and the rear with a nice slacked out headtube to give me the ultimate confidence in going down anything the trail throws at me. There are definitely times when I probably shouldn’t make it through a section of trail because I get off my line or stuff my front wheel in a spot where I shouldn’t but because my bike is purpose built to handle it, it gets me through rubber-side down!
Why do you feel it is important for women to be involved in the cycling industry?
There are so many reasons but my brain is having a hard time articulating at the moment so I’m just going to list some things out:
More women working in the industry, building brands, making product, leading the way will only help make the whole industry stronger
To be role models - showing girls out there that they too can be a part of it all, it’s not just for the guys
I’ve worked with so many amazing and supportive men in the outdoor industry but having more women at the table in decision making positions is hugely important to moving the whole industry forward in the right direction.
More women involved make it way more inviting to those not involved.
Those involved in a meaningful way find so much fulfillment and confidence through their involvement. It feels good to break through the "boys club" mentality and make a place for yourself.

What do you feel deters women from getting involved with cycling? Especially mountain biking?
I think it’s a combination of access/exposure and fear. Some women don’t have the gear or anyone to guide them through the process and experience and sometimes those who do are fearful of getting hurt. Mountain biking is so different than it was when I started that I can pretty much guarantee a beginner that comes out with me for their first time, won’t get hurt and will leave excited coming back for more. Here in Vermont we have access to so many amazing trails you’re able to take someone out for their first adventure on a beautiful flow trail that gives them the rush of excitement that comes from sweeping through the trees

What do you feel could change industry-wise or locally to encourage more women to be involved?
This is a circular answer but more women getting involved will encourage more women to be involved. This happens when we build women’s confidence on and off the bike, focus on that and the involvement follows. I really look to the work Lindsey Richter is doing with Ladies ALLRide camps, she and her team are teaching bike skills but when you’re there and a part of it all, it really is so much more than that. It’s believing in yourself, practicing self-care when necessary and having an incredible time with incredible women.

What inspires you to encourage women to ride?

Riding bikes has changed my life in a million positive ways and I just want more women out there to experience that as well!

Tell us a random fact about yourself!
Just over a year ago I quit my dream job of Category Manager of Hardgoods at Burton Snowboards to force myself out of my comfort zone and into my next adventure…which honestly is still in the process of materializing. :)

I also have two dogs named Dozer and Meatball. They are the cutest.

Sunday, October 21, 2018

2018 Specialized S-Works Epic Review: Following Up on McNasty

Specialized Epic
Late last year I introduced you to Stephen McNasty, my 2018 Specialized S-Works Epic. This would be my new XC machine that I'd use for general riding and for the few races I attend throughout the year.

The good- due to the timing of his arrival, I could get a few rides on this awesome bike before winter. The bad- I got only a couple of rides in before we had to hang him up for winter.

Those rides were enough for me to feel that the investment was a great decision, but it left me wondering "What else?" What was I missing out on or what would I not realize about this bike until after I've had more hours in the saddle?

This year, unfortunately, wasn't filled to the brim with riding like I hoped, but I did manage to have a solid number of rides on McNasty to say that I'm still very happy with the bike and I will be keeping him in the stable for a very long time.

When I first rode McNasty he was mostly stock minus a few small changes. During the 2018 season, we started making additional changes.

Change #1 was the addition of a sweet Industry 9 Ultralite carbon wheelset with pink spokes.

Change #2 was putting in a pretty, matte pink, Chris King bottom bracket for a little extra "Wowza!"

Change #3 was trying out different tires. At one point I was playing around with Specialized Renegade tires in the 2.3 size both front and rear. I had fun comparing the tires to the Fast Traks that were originally on the bike, but in a staggered size: 2.3 in front and 2.1 in back. Overall, I think the Renegade tires would work pretty darn slick if our trails had ever been dried out long enough to warrant using such low-tread.

Many might put a Renegade in the rear and keep a Fast Trak up front. I did not try that combination out this year.

I had amazing success with the Fast Traks given the consistent wet conditions this season and ultimately made the change back to them. We put the 2.3 size on both front and rear as I wanted to see if I could tell any difference in ride quality or plushness. I figured for Chequamegon and on our trails, I'd like the stability of a wider tire both front and rear. Currently, the rig is still set up with Fast Traks and I am really impressed with their ride quality compared to the Bontrager Team Issue XR2 tires I rode last year. Wow! I tried the XR2 tires for 2 rides this season and I ultimately said "Nope." They had a stiffer feel to them and I didn't feel like they shed the mud quite like the Fast Traks. So with that, I opted to stick with what I became familiar with.

I really have enjoyed the 2.3 size front and rear.

After PertNear 20 we put on Specialized Ground Control tires in the 2.3 size front and rear. Our trails can be pretty leafy and nut-covered in the fall months/early spring and we figured it would be good to try something with more blocked tread. We had a friend test ride the Specialized Epic Comp EVO and he really liked the control that the Ground Control tire gave him with cornering. Next spring I might try a Ground Control in front and a Fast Trak until trails are more clear of sticks/old leaves.

Current thoughts are the Ground Control tires remind me of the Bontrager XR3 Team Issue tires I've run. We went on a very leaf-covered trail in Dunning's and the traction they had were amazing (I was running about 19 psi front/rear.) I felt like going to this tread style was a good idea. I felt a bit more confident with descents and traction while climbing on leaves was great. Not saying that the other set up wouldn't have worked well- I've been super impressed with the Fast Traks, but it is getting to the time of year where I'd be pulling back speed. So we'll see how it goes with additional rides, but I'd say two thumbs up.

Change #4 was changing to a 30t Absolute Black Oval chainring up front. We did this right before Chequamegon as my S-Works Epic HT has an oval. I've only ridden oval on gravel and we thought that for a long ride (with an already questionable knee) we should stick with what my body would be used to.

I'm used to riding oval regularly on my previous full suspension, but I didn't notice "negatives" with the stock drivetrain on the Epic. The only thing that threw me off my game was during Chequamegon, my chain kept dropping on the front. It was super wet and muddy, and the grit that coated my chain wouldn't allow it to stay on the teeth of the chainring. We figured the narrow-wide design and my 1x12 setup was my downfall. I rode a wet Chequamegon with an oval on a 1x11 drivetrain and didn't have any issue with chain drop. I know that if conditions had been favorable, it would've been okay. I've since ridden McNasty with the oval on our trails and have not had an issue- I'm stoked to be back on an oval again for the trails!

Other Stuff-
I have the front fork on the Epic set to be fully open. Yes, I'm not maximizing the Brain technology, but I deal with chronic shoulder/neck impingement and I want as much forgiveness in the front end as possible. With that, I do not feel my ride quality is compromised. I had it set to open during Chequamegon and frankly, with bombing down some gnarly fire roads, I was grateful to have it set to open! I would say I'm a mixture of someone who likes to bomb down stuff blended with a slow/technical rider. I like to have as much control as possible, and I feel the open setting allows me to do that more successfully. I do not have it set to a slow rebound, either.

I run the rear suspension a little softer, too, but not fully soft. It's typically a couple clicks in from soft. Yes, you can feel the Brain shock open up when you hit bumps. I am great at tuning things out, and when I'm on a ride the "knocking" isn't a bother.

I have played around with the settings minimally, at this point, I've only ridden this bike on our trails and the Makwa trail in Hayward. The couple clicks away from the softest setting really makes me feel like I have efficient enough climbing to meet my needs. Keeps me planted on uphills and keeps me stable and confident on downhills. Yes, the firmer you have the setting, the more pronounced the knocking becomes. Yes. I did try the setting another click or two in recently and changed it back because of the knocking. I was feeling particularly sensitive that day and it did distract me. I also felt that I didn't feel as connected to the bike with it that firm.

Update: Before the PertNear 20, I put the setting one click firmer than usual due to the course including pavement miles. I've actually left the setting as is for the moment! I've not felt bothered by the setup or how the suspension feels when going over bumps. It handled the singletrack very well in Viroqua and so far at home, too. Experimenting is key and remembering what bugged you one day might not bother the next.

How Capable is this bike?
I rode down a super gnarly trail in Decorah on the Epic and was successful when I originally thought I would need a bike like the Specialized Stumpjumper or Stumpjumper ST to accomplish it. I did have the rear shock fully open for that trail, along with the front fork fully open, too. I was super stoked to find out how capable my bike could be- it's not something I'd do on a daily basis, but the occasional ride down Backbone would be fine and very doable.

All in all, for my riding I have been very impressed with the Epic and what it brings to the table. I've been out on some slimy trails this year and have been absolutely stoked about how it has performed. In my opinion, it climbs great- and I was surprised by how well the stock tire setup worked with greasy trails. (I often scope trails out during the season to update the Decorah Mountain Bike Trails page.) I would say I really enjoy having the 2.3 tire size front/rear, but having the staggered size worked nicely, too. It's great to have a frame that allows that option!

S-Works EpicI never had the opportunity to take McNasty out on gravel rides, but I would say for the riding you experience at Chequamegon, he handled it like a champ. I never felt like the suspension was "too much" or "too little" with where I had my settings placed. If I were taking him on gravel I would put the Brain rear shock on a firmer setting. My hope is next year I'll have more opportunities to do so and really play around with the different settings to see how they change the ride.

While reading this review, please remember that I am not a professional rider. I'm just a woman who loves to mountain bike a LOT and race occasionally.

This is my first season really experimenting with the bike and I'm learning more just about every time I ride. McNasty will be a fixture in the fleet for years to come as he's nimble, efficient, and confidence-boosting. The Epic is a great bike that is capable of handling our local trails and more.