Thursday, July 31, 2014

Lessons in Mountain Biking- Recognizing Progress

I’ve been feeling the fatigue. Yes…the fatigue. The tiredness that affects me for awhile each month to prepare my body for the onslaught of “womanhood” that will come about a week or so later.

I had been wondering why I was feeling tired the past few days. My legs didn’t want to cooperate as much as I hoped they would. I became torn on whether I should ride or take a rest day.

My bullheaded self said “Ride damnit!”
I chose a route that would take me on a shorter excursion and explore a couple trails I’ve neglected.

I pedaled off to the usual IPT starting point with the uncertainty of wanting to ride up North 40 or North 40 has a challenge at the very beginning (two turns, one of which I make almost every other time.) I made it up most of the way with the turn one but I ended up putting a food town as I had aimed my bike up too high and lost my balance. I accepted my semi-success and continued on.

The next climb is one where I’ve gained inches on almost every time. Lately I’ve made it to the big root; each time I've gained knowledge of what I need to do a little more or little less of in order to succeed. I finally got myself far enough to aim closer to the right, going around the fattest part of the root. YES! I made it past the first tree on the left and up to the second tree. Then I spun out. Dang…..

I was brimming with excitement and was certain that one day I will ride that climb without clips. My goal now is to accomplish that climb at least one time before winter hits.

I decided that I would ride Little Big Horn in the opposite direction of how I normally ride as I wanted to try going down the switchbacks. I dislike trying to weave around tight turns, which is something I felt the need to improve upon. The first switchback has roots I have managed to ride up and over, so riding down them should be cake.

The second switchback is the hardest, with as much trouble as I have riding up it, how would I manage riding down?

The last switchback wasn’t a big deal as I just get over the log without getting off the bike.

When I pulled up to the roots, I felt that downhill almost looks like you’re going to drop off the earth. I started rolling, trying to keep a pretty good line and I was past them before I knew it!

I sat back, aiming high, and rounded my first corner. I got a little too close to the side and had to put a foot down. I re-situated myself and started to the second switchback; I paused for a moment. I had to psych myself to try it because of how steep it was.
You can do this. You don’t have to do it perfectly, you can put a foot down…but you are not walking down the corner.

I made it! I could feel my back tire somewhat sliding downhill, but I made it around the corner and onto the trail without falling over or having some other calamity. Yeah!
The last turn was simple and I realized that I had successfully rode down the switchbacks without the extreme anxiety or nervousness I had in the past. I’m becoming more confident and sure of myself.

I went onto Dust Bowl, a trail that I hadn’t been on for about a month and remembered how fun it was. What I forgot about was a spot called called "Dirty Harry" which boasts a short/steep uphill that has a patch of roots to ride over. Even without the success of making that climb, I know there is always next time!

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Guest Post: Kacie's Guide to Mountain Bike Riding

After I interviewed  Kacie I asked if she would be interested in doing a guest post for my blog. This is something that I hope to incorporate more in the future. If you have done an interview with me and there is a particular bike-related topic you'd love to submit a writing on-let me know!

One Gal’s Guide to Learn How to Ride a Mountain Bike

Learning anything new is such a fun challenge, especially learning how to mountain bike.  When I first started, I considered myself fairly athletic and in shape and really, how hard could this be?  My boyfriend at the time, now husband, surprised me with a Gary Fischer HiFi for my birthday six years ago and I was pumped.  He had such a strong love for the sport and I was excited to have an activity for us to do together.  I envisioned many vacations and weekends spent with the two of us exploring on our bikes. 
Then reality hit. Mountain biking is really mentally taxing, I didn’t ride like a pro and after a few trips to the Emergency Room, I was really questioning my love for this sport. My husband has been so patient and supportive through my mountain bike journey but that wasn’t without some real “come to Jesus” conversations and a few tears.  Erik just would tell me the faster I rode the easier it would get.  In hindsight, this was really good advice but at the time this didn’t resonate. I have been fortunate to ride with other rides (male and female) and here are a few lessons I have learned along the way. 

My current ride is a Lush 29 that my hubby painted pink with some sparkle accent.

Lesson One: Mountain Biking has a really steep learning curve
Mountain biking has such a steep learning curve and the only way to get better is to get on your bike. I know that sounds pretty obvious, but it’s the truth.  Included on this fun learning curve is falling. If you are new or trying to increase your skills, plan on falling a lot.  I don’t say this to scare anyone but to let anyone know that EVERYONE falls.  Don’t confuse falling with failing, if you fall that means that you are pushing yourself.

Lesson Two: Walk It Out
One of the best lessons I learned from going to the Trek Dirt Series Camp in Whistler, BC was it is ok to get off your bike and walk the trail and see what line your bike should take.  This concept had never occurred to me, you mean I can get off my bike!? Prior to going to the camp, I usually always just rode with my husband.  He has been riding for decades (literally) and it never occurred to him, that I didn’t know the basic mechanics and techniques to mountain biking. It was just one of the many light bulb moments I had across the two days.  It was amazing what seeing what it looked like and walking the trail allowed you to see, which translated to gaining some confidence and then you actually riding the feature or piece of the trail.  For me confidence is contagious, if I ride one feature successfully, I am more likely to ride the next one.  As a sidebar, I do really recommend finding a local bike camp and going to it, you will be amazed on how much you learn.

Lesson Three: Pick One Thing to Work on Each Ride
After about a year of riding with my husband, he had me start leading on trails. The purpose of this change was to force me to learn how to read a trail. Also, he wanted to be able to watch and see what I was doing to give me some advice.  His intention was coming from a good place but he quickly overloaded me with things to work on. This caused me to get frustrated and that snowballed to making more mistakes, riding slower and sometimes a full blown melt down on my part.  We now have the rule of ONE. I pick one thing that I want to work on for that ride. It might be speed, corning, minimal use of my breaks, riding features, etc. My focusing on one thing, I don’t get so overloaded and it helps me (and my husband) have a more enjoyable ride. Just this last week when on the trails, I had the goal of never using my breaks EVER.  This was actually pretty challenging but I quickly saw that it was a nervous habit I had formed and needed to break.

Lesson Three: Be Patient and Kind to Yourself
The best tip I can give is to be patient and kind to yourself. Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither will be your mountain bike ability.  Recognize progress and know some days will be rock solid and you will be awesome and other days, not so much.  Celebrate always with a victory beer (my favorite part of the ride) and keep it positive.  I encourage you to sign up for a bike race, camp or find a local women’s group to ride with.  I have really appreciated all that my husband has taught me but it is good to get perspective from other riders (male and female).  I read recently that only 10% of all mountain bikers are women and you are one of the few starting to build momentum for the sport. By making connections, you will be surprised how much this will help you along your journey.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Lessons in Mountain Biking- Getting Comfortable

It was Saturday and Travis and I were planning to go out for our traditional early evening ride. I had been thinking throughout the day where we should go, what to ride, and if I felt comfortable enough to lead.

I was ready to ride for I had a rest day on Friday due to work and had spent Saturday morning and afternoon "Nordic Festing" with my mom.

Also, I had one heck of a “Nordic Rest” aka a much needed nap which was probably induced by allergies, stress, and food. I just hoped trails wouldn't be too slimy from the rain we had received earlier on Friday morning.

I made the decision to lead us up Luge to ride the trails in Dunning's.

I figured that it would be best to get Lower Randy's out of the way so I’m not attempting steep hill climbs while “gassed.” It’s a hoot when you’re trying to make a steep climb and your legs are the consistency of jell-o. My hope was that I would make it over the root-y section on Backside on the first attempt rather than having to try a second or third time. I got hung up. Damn. I stood there panting for a moment when Travis asked “Are you okay?” I nodded my head, then I was asked “Why are you going so fast? You don’t need to go that fast.

I looked at Travis with a quizzical expression. I was going fast? Really? I shrugged my shoulders and said “I didn’t think I was going that fast.” Travis was concerned that I was pushing myself more because he was riding behind me. I really didn’t think about it and once I got on the trail I just started going! I told him it’s probably because I’m just ready to ride as I had a rest day, a nap, and had consumed plenty of calories. I was riding a pace that felt good.

After I assured Travis I wasn’t doing anything “special” I got myself ready to tackle the roots again. Second time=success! What was funny was Travis totally not expecting me to just take off; he was re-situating himself and suddenly I was over the roots and gone!

I took us up and around on Captain's, around the Ice Cave loop, and back down on the Randy’s section(s). I took us back over the Luge so we could come out and start riding on Quarry Hill towards the entrance of IPT. On IPT there is a section where the trail splits and you can go on the rock garden side or take a left and ride alongside a hill. The hillside route includes a climb that has been tricky for me to maneuver at times and then it takes you to a sharp downhill. Both are challenging for me to ride.

After IPT we had met up with a rider that had gone ahead of us (while Travis waited for me at the bottom of the hill) we chatted a bit. He was from the Cedar Rapids area and loved to come up and ride our trails; Fred being one of his favorites. It made me have a greater appreciation for the trail system we have here in Decorah.
We then went on North 40, down to Gunnar, and over to Dust Bowl so I could (hopefully) ride up and over the roots at the last switchback cresting Lower Little Big Horn. (I totally rode over them.) Also, I wanted to show Travis the new log pile additions that were gussied up on the trail, which are my new favorite things to ride.

Before we came to the tight downhill turn that either I make or “break” I asked Travis if he wanted a longer ride…say finish the whole of Little Big Horn and go back down Gunnar and IPT vs. doing Fred and the Luge. Travis decided on the first option and we continued on. For a period of time Travis led while we rode the rest of LBH and Gunnar. I sneaked in front before we went on IPT and had a fun ride back out to “reality.”
It was a great day and a fantastic 2 hours of riding. Both of us were in a good mood, and even when I (or Travis) slipped up, we had fun with it. Apparently I was doing a very good job with my riding, to which I still feel humble about.

We discussed a few things:
I am more comfortable with leading Travis on trails that I’ve been able to develop a comfort level with. There is a feeling of not wanting to have him point out everything I’m doing wrong. I figure if I can ride most of the trail myself a few times, work on some finessing and technique, then I’ll be more confident with opening myself up to his critiques. Having an experienced rider observe you from behind can be helpful. They can see how you pick lines, how you position your body, etc. it’s really great for feedback. You have to allow yourself to be observed, which is something that makes me nervous in general.

I feel it’s like that trust game where you close your eyes and fall back, hoping your friend catches you. Letting Travis ride behind me to give pointers and feedback makes me feel vulnerable and under the spotlight. It’s something that needs to happen (or should happen) to better my riding skills.

Travis likes when I lead because he feels it sets the pace. He would much rather me be ahead riding at speeds that work for me, so he isn’t worried about being too slow or too fast. I will say I’ve never had an issue with the pace he sets, but I can understand it from his viewpoint.

I made the decision that I was comfortable enough with the idea of leading and I made it a goal of riding the Dunning's trails several times so I could feel sure enough about not tripping up or slipping out on every little thing. I found myself feeling confident and it was encouraging to hear positive feedback behind me. There were spots on LBH that Travis gave me pointers with, which helped put things into perspective on how to approach that section.

It was a great day on many levels. I learned more of what I’m capable of and received assurance that I’m doing a great job. I also felt comfortable and more confident in terms of riding with my partner.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Women on Bikes Series: Holly Santiago

Back in April I contacted Grease Rag about interviews, Holly and was just starting to get involved with the community. 
Her introduction was honest and I felt that many other women would be able to relate: “Although I don't own a bit of spandex, rode a $50 bike for over 10 years, and don't consider myself an avid cyclist... I moved to MPLS about two years ago because I was seeking the sort of community that G.R. offers.  I guess I might be becoming an avid cyclist!”

When did you first start riding a bike?
7 or 8 years old…after all my friends…

What motivated you to ride as much as you have over the years?
Health and environmental concerns are two things that are usually on my mind. Biking seems like a relatively easy way to stay healthy (you won’t catch me at a gym) and it obviously impacts the amount of fuel I use. There’s also a social lure to biking…the bike community in Minneapolis/St. Paul hosts a lot of fun activities.  I meet a lot of like minded people there.

I'm not a group-fitness sort of person so you won't see me at a gym either! I find I like riding my bike because it doesn't feel like "working out" or "exercise". Would this be similar to you?
Yes - 100%. By bike commuting, I've been able to utilize commute time as exercise time. Two birds, one stone. (Hint:  I'm actually quite lazy and can't be bothered with the responsibility of regularly going to a gym.)

What kind of riding is your favorite? (paved, gravel, mountain, etc.)
Paved…and, with the right tires, a fresh snow on pavement! 

Why do you like riding in fresh snow on pavement, inquiring minds would like to know!
Riding on pavement after a fresh snow fall has a different set of rules and a unique pay-out. I love how my tires roll silently through the fresh snow, allowing me to hear the sound of birds and other small things that noisy/crunching footsteps would drown out. At any moment in this enjoyment, I could find myself battling with my back tire as it fishtails and my front tire as it spins around with no traction. The juxtaposition amuses me and makes for a really exciting ride.
Once the snow has been pushed around, packed down, or you're in traffic - the experience is totally different. I switch into survival mode and it's not nearly as much fun.  

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.)
I remember how I felt on my first bike tour and camping trip…we had scouted out a route that we thought was along a cycling path but ended up being an ATV trail. The trail had VERY loose gravel, I didn’t get enough sleep or hydration, we had a late start, we were FAR behind schedule, cycling in the most intense heat of the day, and I was carrying too much weight.  Two hours and 10 miles into it, we turned off the path and onto the roadway. Wow…I learned more about bike touring in those first two hours than I have in the 4 years since…

If you had nervousness at all, what do you do or think to overcome it?
I am nervous about cycling in traffic. Something that’s been essential in overcoming that is a mirror. Just peeking down and seeing the approaching car veer slightly away gives me the assurance that they see me and are giving proper space. It also helps to avoid collisions with inconsiderate cyclists who don’t warn you before attempting to pass too close.

If you are a commuter what are some of the challenges you face and how do you overcome them?
Having everything you need at work, but not packing so much that your ride is burdened down with too much weight. Finding space to change at work and store your gear. Sweat, smells, messy hair, wrinkled clothes…things that could affect your untarnished work reputation. Oh crap – I forgot [something] at home! Do I have to run an errand after work, or attend an appointment during the day?…These challenges mostly involve planning. So, whenever I’ve started a new job, I drove the first few times, biked here and there, until I had eventually built a plan for daily commuting. Trying to figure it all out the first time never seems to work. I’m constantly adjusting, improving. If I ever decide to drive because something out of the ordinary comes up (or, I just don’t feel like it), I don’t guilt myself for not cycling. I’ve learned to celebrate my victories, rather than worry about an end-goal or imaginary standard of cyclist.

What would be 5 accessory/gear suggestions you would give first-time commuters?
A mirror; a good set of lights; a rack with either bungees or panniers; your change of clothes for work; light gloves; a snack (for emergencies - I carry around a salted nut roll, just in case I'm suddenly famished).

What would be some tips/suggestions for people to establish their route to work?
I would suggest scouting a few routes ahead of time (actually riding it to/from work) to see what it's like. Think about safety, traffic flow, weather (wind, shelter, safety), and the differences at the times of day you'll be riding...pick your favorite one and give it a go!  Give yourself extra time, pay attention  to your surroundings, and be prepared to adjust a million things a million times.  Find co-workers who bike commute! 

Do you commute even if the weather isn’t ideal? Why or why not? If yes, what do you do to make it more tolerable?
I like to cycle in all weather and actually enjoy the variations.  When I’m cycling regularly, the extreme temperature changes seem to be less shocking, as if I’ve acclimated my body according to the changing seasons. My picture of what’s happening around me becomes much more rich in description and variation…I hear different bird sounds, catch beautiful settings after a fresh snow, smell the changing seasons after a rain, and soak in Vitamin D (it reminds me of the beach!). When I wasn’t bike commuting, I tended to simplify the seasons according to my discomforts: “I’m hot”, “I’m cold”, “it’s crappy outside, I should stay in”. 
Of course this is an ideal picture…I have rough rides and occasionally opt to drive. But, it’s pretty awesome when you DO ride to work in a snowstorm and stumble into the office looking like a yeti…especially if you beat the drivers there and can compare your daredevil ride to the typical drone of “I had to shovel myself out at X a.m. this morning”…

What do you love about riding your bike?
Two thoughts come to mind:
I remember when I was a kid and I had the revelation that I could go ANYWHERE on my bike.  Everything that was impossible to get to on foot and anywhere I wouldn’t go to on a typical day was suddenly right in front of me. The world seemed to expand as I pedaled past the edges of my typical stomping grounds. Almost 30 years later and I’m still convinced that I can go anywhere on my bike…

The other thought was shared with me from a cross country cyclist who encouraged me to make my first long bike trip. He rode up to my house, cracked a beer, and sat with me as we got to know one another on my front porch, watching the sunset. Between chain-smoking cigarettes and wild stories of his travels around the world, he explained with grand hand gestures and heavy French accent that “time takes on new meaning on a bicycle – it is changed - it is tactile – you can touch it”. I think of this a lot, he was right.

My bike:
I only recently upgraded to a Surly Cross-check that I found for quite the deal on Craigslist, it has great components. Before this purchase, I was commuting on an old Nashbar mountain bike from the early 90's. The years put in with this bike made the upgrade really worth it.  I always advise my friends to start commuting on whatever bike is available...when it's time to upgrade, they'll really appreciate a new bike and be able to make an informed purchase.  

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Breaking Down Barriers

You’re acting like a typical woman.”

No wonder it’s so hard for people to get out of the whole “stereotype conversion” when it comes to genders and who does what. We have been told as children that women or girls cry and men should be strong and suck it up. Men are good at sports while women just “throw like a girl.”

I find it amazing on how people judge others based on gender. Not only are men judging women and vice versa, but other women and men judge others of the same sex.

The other night I was talking with two co-workers/friends, and for some reason I brought up my mountain bike was going to get a new chain ring to aid me with my riding. I’m always in my two easier gears and still having to put forth a lot of effort on hill climbs. I forget what my male friend/co-worker said, but I responded “I’m a girl and I have asthma issues.”

The female friend/co-worker then told me that I am not allowed to use the statement “like a girl” again; otherwise she’d kick my butt. I paused for a second, actually a little embarrassed-because I’m working hard at trying to show everyone that a 5’2” woman like myself, who was never athletically inclined, can bike like a badass. (Be mountain or paved surface, doesn’t matter.)
The day I rode the trails by myself.
Yup. I cried. SO happy!

Being a woman has nothing to do with my bike and how I can or cannot always get up a hill in an easier gear. Take the gender factor out and not read into it.

When I was out in the Van Peenen pines I thought long and hard about the conversation I had, what I’m working on doing for myself, and the experiences I’ve currently had. Travis and I sometimes butt heads when we’re out riding. I tend to frustrate him over my so-called “typical female” moments while I’m out there just being myself.
I’m an emotional person who wears her reactions on her sleeve at times-especially when it’s particularly exciting or challenging. I’m quick to get feisty and frustrated (at myself) over what I perceive as “shortcomings” but I am also easy to bring to tears when I’m extremely happy/sad/mad/frustrated. My tears are my release, never have I cried to attempt to “get out” of a situation for personal gain. I look at it this way; some people throw things, break things, or yell…I cry. Get over it.

I hate how I am a woman and my tears are brought up in a shaming way.

So and so didn’t cry.” Or “So and so didn’t get frustrated like you do.”
I’m compared to another female, another female who has a different personality than I am. This comparison brings up frustrating feelings within me-because I’m being compared to a female in the past. This is something that haunted me in my previous relationship with my ex-husband and it’s something that is completely unfair to do to another person. 

Comparing one person to another is like trying to put two puzzle pieces together that do not fit. It will not work!

As I rode I reflected on how far I have come with my riding skills. I’m not perfect; in fact I’m far from it. I’m not a “beginner” but borderline intermediate when it comes to the off-road scene. I’m pretty darn good on paved surfaces, but still battle confidence issues with both practices.

I thought of Travis and I; sometimes we to get into small tiffs when we're out riding together. I get frustrated over how I do not feel heard and how I'm periodically put into the “typical female” category. I get frustrated over how I feel fear and anxiety sometimes when I’m trying something that really does scare me-but I’m told to look at it like a “dirt path through the woods.” I’m sorry, but that doesn’t give me confidence and sureness that I will succeed. 
I don't want to disappoint Travis-I do not want to do that, hence my being hard on myself comes forth and turns me into a snarky dragon.

However…I cannot say that I haven’t thrown the “You’re being a typical man!” out at Travis. I am just as guilty of throwing out “typical” comments.

Long story short, if it weren’t for Travis and our ability to communicate (as frustrating as we can be to each other) I wouldn’t be where I am today on the trails without his coaching.
I also realized that I try too damn hard to not be “typical.”

How unfair is that?! You are shamed for being a “typical woman” so you try with all your might to not “be typical” but when you have a “slip up” you are called out on it and put to shame. 

Why is it so bad to be in touch with your emotions and feelings? Why are the various ways of expressing your feelings put on a scale of 1-10? Why are we allowed to judge what others’ feel and determine if they are being ridiculous or if their tears are justified?
As I road on the trail I made the choice. Stop comparing.

I compare myself to other women I deem higher up than I am a bad habit of mine. I continually put individuals on pedestals and feel like I fall short. This is something that has to change; this is something that has to stop. I need to stop comparing myself and the men in my life need to stop comparing me to other women. 

I also need to not care so much about how I react. Yes, there are times when one can overreact, but I am going to stop caring so dang much over how someone sees my emotional self. If I’m shedding tears over my success or temporary failure, it’s not something to be ashamed of. Acknowledge instead!

I may never reach the skill level as this woman or that, but I can at least achieve the best skill level I can…for me. I ride my bike for myself, not for this woman or that woman. I do not even ride my bike for my partner…I started riding before Travis came into my life. I love riding with him-it makes my heart feel full and grateful that I can share a simple joy with a loved one.

I cannot express how happy it makes me; regardless of our head-butting moments out there. The fact that he is willing to put up with me at my worst moments (and I with him) makes it work. The last ride we went on we had some wonderful successes and some trying moments, but I made sure that we ended the ride with a fist-bump and a smile.

We as individuals need to stop putting so much pressure on these so-called “gender roles” that have been set in place by our predecessors. They are completely pointless and bring forth so many negative emotions. I’m tired of trying to be a different woman than who I really am-I am a woman, I might get bitchy, and I might even cry-especially when I’m frustrated. It’s not because I was born with ovaries, it’s because it is who I am and how I react.

Photo Credit: Parker Deen
Silver Moon Photography
My success with biking is not because am female. It’s because I have an endless amount of determination and gumption to keep proving myself wrong. I can ride a bike. You better believe that I will keep breaking down walls and boundaries. I’m ready. Ready to show everyone that I have heart, soul, and a will to go above and beyond what I think I can do.

This is the first post in the Breaking Down Barriers series. I'm not sure how long I'll have this particular series go, but with the help of Wheelwomen Switchboard I'll post some posts that discuss the differences and similarities of men and women in the bicycle world.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Women on Bikes Series: Padrin Grimstad

You'll probably discover that even though my "job" is an instructor for indoor cycling, I don't have a lot of experience on an actual outdoor bike than just recreational use.  I'm a newbie biker with a passion for group fitness.  The workout you can get on a bike (indoors or out) is amazing and I LOVE to workout with other people.

When did you first start riding a bike?
I grew up riding my bike all over my neighborhood (a pink Schwinn with a banana seat!)  As for more serious biking, I didn't start that until a couple years ago when the Trout Run Trail opened up.

What motivated you to ride as much as you have over the years?
The main reason I bike is for the exercise.  With the trail in town, it's SUPER convenient for me to hop on and get in a good ride.  A lot of times I will time myself and then try to beat it the next time out.

Have you competed in events (or will you be?) If so, what were/are your reasons for competing?
I have done a few sprint triathlons over the years- maybe three of them.  We've done them with my husband's family.  I'm not a swimmer (I hate the weeds in the lake!) so tri's are not my favorite.  The toughest bike I've done was the West Union triathlon.  It has a killer hill about 3/4 of the way through.  I'd like to try that one again now that I've been biking more.

What would be your favorite competitive biking event?
Someday I would love to do RAGBRAI.  My daughter is Nordic Dancer, and unfortunately the two events happen at the same time.  When she's done in five years, I will do that!

What kind of riding is your favorite? (paved, gravel, mountain, etc.)
My husband loves to go mountain biking and talks about the AMAZING trails Decorah has to offer--- I however, have NEVER biked them!  I prefer the paved roads.  I try to stay off of the roads and avoid car traffic, so you'll usually see me on the side roads or the trail. 

When you started riding regularly, did you have any nervousness at all? How did you overcome?
The biggest challenge for me starting out was having to share the road with cars.  Honestly, I don't know my hand signals and I'm not 100% confident that I know what "share the road" means... so finding roads that have no traffic on them was really important.  I'm getting more confident with my ability to navigate through a busy intersection- so that's progress!
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?
 I JUST got myself some clip-in shoes this fall!  When I started teaching indoor cycling classes, I used them on the stationary bike.  I have baskets on my outdoor bike pedals and loved them. I noticed a BIG difference in how I pedaled after getting those.  I've gone out ONCE so far with my clip-ins on my outdoor bike this spring.  I'm most proud of the fact that I didn't fall over! 

If you are a commuter what are some of the challenges you face and how do you overcome them? If you are not a commuter what would inspire you to do so?
I teach fitness classes for my job, so biking to and from there isn't always my best option.  (I can bike there, but then I'm pretty tired- too tired to bike home!)  For me to get home, I have to climb the daunting Vennejhem trail- a killer hill!!  I would love to be able to bike around town and do my errands; some days I do but not very often.

Do you commute even if the weather isn’t ideal? Why or why not? If yes, what do you do to make it more tolerable?
People who know me know that I HATE being cold.  If the weather isn't at least 60, then I'm cold when I'm outside.  I see many people out biking in the winter- using those hand-warmer mitts (very cool invention, by the way) but there's no way I'm tough enough for that.  I wear fleece from October-May and am quite content getting my riding done indoors!  You won't see me out in the snow or rain.  You might not see me if it's windy either--- I'm a fair weather biker!! (aka wimp!!)

Have you had a bike accident? If so, how did you recover on a physical/mental/emotional level?
I'm lucky enough to have NEVER had a bike accident! (Knock on wood!)  I did get chased by a dog once while I was riding. That was pretty freaky.  I am NOT a fan of people who don't tie up their dogs.  

What do you love about riding your bike?
I love being outdoors.  I love the fact that any given day, even the same route, can feel different for me.  I really enjoy biking with other people, too.

You are an indoor cycling instructor at Reefuel, what inspired you to take that on?
I used to go to Spinning classes up in Minneapolis when I would visit my parents.  The media is full of great inspirational stories of people who used Spinning for their fitness journeys- I knew I had to try it.  I love the energy of a group fitness class- it's COMPLETELY different than working out by yourself.  My favorite part is that the music carries you through the class.  It pushes you to work harder and leaves you with a TON of energy when you're done.  I've been wanting to have indoor cycling classes in Decorah for many years, and FINALLY we've got it!!  I was THRILLED when Laree Schouweiler called me and asked me to be a part of this whole journey.  

What do you enjoy about instructing indoor cycling?
My favorite thing about instructing is the people who walk in the door.  I know they are there for a great workout and that's what I try to give them.  I try to make it fun- so that when I say it's time to cool-down people say, "Wow!  That went fast!"  Every one of my classes is different;  I don't want people to get bored.  I want people to come to class because they WANT to, not because they HAVE to.  I think one of my greatest strengths is working with beginning exercisers.  I want them to feel JUST as welcome as a seasoned rider.  I want them to gain the confidence and enjoy the benefits that indoor cycling offers.  I want them to have that feeling like, "WOW!  I did it!"

What would you like people to know about indoor cycling who've never done it before?
ANY new thing that's new to you is going to be intimidating.  Yes, your rear end will be sore. Yes, it's going to seem hard.  Yes, it's going to make you feel differently.  People who come to just one class and then make a decision are really missing out on a great thing.  Give it a few classes to decide!  My best advice- bring a friend.  Try it out together and hold each other accountable.  If our kids try something and say they don't like it, we don't just say, "OK!".  We say, "well... try again!"  

What are some bicycle products/accessories/gear that you have found you enjoy having?
PADDED SHORTS.  Hands down the ONLY thing you REALLY need if you're just starting out. Oh, and a water bottle.  Because in an indoor cycling class you're going to sweat.  A LOT.  If you're riding outdoors, you NEED a helmet.  I see people out all the time without one and I wonder why they aren't wearing them.  My father-in-law was in a bad bike/car accident a few years back and thankfully his helmet probably saved his life.  (And it was right on College Drive in Decorah.)

How many bike(s) do you have? Tell us about it/them and what you like about it!
I just got a new bike for my birthday this year.  I don't know much about it to be honest.  It's a hybrid (I think that's what it's called!) and rides really nice, and it's a pretty blue/grey color.  It's a Specialized Vita Elite and I got it at Decorah Bicycles.  If I have a question or problem, I know I can just bring it on down and someone will be there to help me.  Can't beat that!

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Riding it Out- The Gut Check.

I apologize for posting rides out of order, however, I feel like my ride this morning is a story worth sharing while everything is still fresh.

Travis gave me a better introduction to the Dunning's trails last weekend, so I've been incorporating those trails more to my rides. I want to become more familiar and adaptable to the trails in that park, so I've been alternating my route a little.

Also, I am trying to avoid the wall of wild parsnip that got me on my wrist during my last Pines ride. (Nothing says attractive quite like a bubbled up blister on your wrist.)

After experiencing the fun of the two new log sections on Little Big Horn, I decided that I wanted to incorporate the bottom half of that trail into my ride. Yesterday I had great success with a tricky and root-y hairpin turn. First try and I went around it smoothly! I was pumped!

Today on my ride I accomplished another challenge. When you go the reverse way on Little Big Horn you climb up some steep switchbacks. I can make most of the climb minus a couple spots and once you come to the last one you have to get over a section of roots. Today was the first day that I rode over the roots without getting hung up! (Hooray new chain ring!)

I was feeling very accomplished and thought to myself that I'm getting closer to my goal of eventually riding that portion of trail dabless. I came up to the tight, hairpin turn that I needed to ride down. I rode up to it confidently, sat back on my bike, guided my bike..."CRAP!" I cut too high and turned too far in which resulted in my tipping over. Usually I'm able to stop my fall with my outer leg, catching myself before anything really happens. This time I lost my balance more than usual and fell with my bar end ramming itself into my lower abdomen. I emitted a groan of some sort and had a long series of "Owowowowowwwwwwwwwwww....." Yeah, that'll bruise. I won't lie..It flippn' hurt! (This is why you use barplugs, folks.) I laid my bike off to the side for a moment so I could breathe and let some tears fall until the pain subsided. I was thankful to not have an audience.
Fun log pile!

"Let's do this again."

I did it again and this time I successfully went around the corner and continued onto the enjoyable log piles.

I took another breather when I reached Rocky Road, opting to walk my bike to the entrance of Fred's vs. riding. I didn't want to stop riding, but I was having a hard time deciding how long my ride should go.
"I'll just ride through the discomfort."

I felt better after a successful ride down Fred; I made my way to the Randy trails to head up to Dunning's. I had a better ride up this time than yesterday, gaining speed in spots, remembering when to lift my tire over a root, and not getting confused by a Y section. I did have to try the uphill turn onto Backside a second time, but that wasn't a big deal. A root-y section that has challenged me was easily accomplished, but further up my tire spun out on a root. I felt frustrated, but I'm getting the area down and before long should be able to master that section more times than not.

Missing a sock, anyone?
There is a fun loopy trail called Captain's that I rode on before riding along Upper Ice Cave. I had in my head I would find my way back to Captain's trail and ride it in reverse, but I still get a little confused how to get back to where I came. It's all about the route you take and I'm pretty pathetic with directions! At some point I'll catch myself and then I'll have an "ah ha!" moment and never forget.

I love riding down the twisty, Upper Randy's trail; maneuvering around switchbacks makes me feel good. I'm not entirely sure why since I'm not doing it fast, but being able to move the bike under me and move my body through the tight corners has me feeling pretty badass.

I'm still fresh with learning but I'm finding that I'm becoming less intimidated by certain areas. I'm taking initiative and working on sections or trails by myself. Today I decided to ride a trail in the opposite direction and found I was not scared of the downhill root corner like I was the first time. Little victories like that make me feel more confident with myself.

The tip-overs, gut-checks, and other minor injuries are just all part of the process of gaining better handling skills.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Women Involved Series: Leigh Donovan

A few weeks ago while on Facebook I saw an article posted by Bicycle Retailer Magazine talking of Leigh Donovan starting a mountain bike skills clinic.

I was intrigued and figured "Why not?" So I sent Leigh an email inquiring if she'd like to participate with my blog interviews.

To learn more about Leigh, check out the links below, also-her website:
Find Leigh on:

What inspired you to start a mtb clinic?
I am involved with an executive women's of cycling group and on a retreat in March of 2013 the ladies reminded me how much I love teaching and educating women about riding, racing, and the industry and since we need to even the scale out a bit more and if you're a single woman you can't beat the chances you'll have at the bike races/events!

What were some personal goals you set out for yourself? Have they been realized? Still working on them?
When I started racing bikes I was young and truth is I didn't really even know what goals were. Once I started racing, I caught on fast to what a goal was and I liked the idea of setting one. My first goal was to jump this 25 foot set of doubles on my 20" BMX bike (if you don't know bike lingo, it's two bumps and you hit the first bump, fly in the air 25 feet and land on the next bump), I crashed a lot of times but when I finally made the jump I became a more confident rider. Since then (that was in 1985), I have set many goals and achieved most of I never did achieve was World Cup Downhill champion, but in its place I won the World Cup Dual championships (which wasn't on my goal sheet, lol). Today some of my goals are to get through a day without fighting with my daughter or to not say a curse word in front of her...simple goals but harder than winning some of those races back in the day. 

What are you hoping for the future?
Currently is in its infant stage. I just launched the business this year and have 3 major women's events along with a slew of smaller ones. The goal for the next 5 years is to add 1 major event a year, so in 5 years I'll have 8 major women's weekends and will hopefully see the bike industry more balanced with males and females enjoying their bike. 

What do you feel keeps more women from mountain biking (or biking in general?) Equipment? Mental/Emotional?
Many of the women I speak with say they don't mountain bike because they are afraid of getting hurt. I believe there is more to it than just fear though. For starters, women in general don't like to sweat, get dirty, and worst they hate helmets. The fashion of cycling isn't as appealing as let’s say yoga or cross fit either, where you can put on your cute little outfit and tennis shoes. And we can't ignore that it's hard at first, which is why so many people (men or women) quit after only a few rides because it takes a lot of fitness, finesse, and frequency to enjoy it. I've found when I stop riding for a few weeks that it's hard to get back in the habit of it but once I do, I can't believe I don't ride every day. I hope ichoosebikes will help change the statics in the future and we'll see loads of ladies on the trails!!!

A topic that I’m finding that comes up quite a bit is the fact that I am a woman and I am “so different” with learning than a man is. The finger-pointing line “you’re a typical girl” comes up. So I’d love to know from another woman’s opinion: Why does it seem women learn differently and react differently than men do when learning the same thing?
In my opinion, women have been held back for centuries, being told often they are weaker, slower, dumber, and in some countries even today treated as second class citizens. It's no wonder women learn differently since they've been told most of their life "you can't" or "you're just a girl."
I think on the other hand, men have been told to suck it up, be tough and many boys are still being raised like that even today, which is why women are insecure and have a hard time handling the pressure of being on public display learning in front of a group and men are totally the opposite, they generally will just go for it because most men have never been told they can't!

What are some ways that both genders can find acceptance with that?
Both genders should be able to see the difference and if they don't then maybe that person isn't really paying attention. Men have held the keys for a long time and in another century things will be very different and I believe both genders are seeing this today. One thing I see a lot is dads dropping their kids off at school and picking them up, which is very different from when I was in school. Things are changing on the trails and in our lives all the time now. 

What inspires you to help women learn and enjoy the mountain bike experience?
I love seeing the smiles and the first time someone does something they never imagined they'd do. Teaching is such a huge reward and teaching people how to ride mountain bikes is both rewarding a super fun! Women are amazing and after spending most of my life having mainly male friendships, I love the support of the females in my life and awesome friendships I have gained through this new business.

What advice would you give to someone wanting to become an advocate for mountain biking in their area?
I'd suggest you get certified with PMBI or IMBA. They can give you the tools and knowledge to help educate and inspire the next generation of riders!

What are tips and suggestions you would give to a woman who is contemplating on giving mountain biking a shot?
Just do it, ride a flat bike path on it until you're ready for dirt. When you go on the dirt, ride something easy. Ask the local bike shops if they have a women's club (that is really popular these days) and join it if you find one. If you feel like you're missing something in your life and you want to enhance your mind, body, and soul...give it a shot, and remember it's not easy but nothing worth having ever is!

What would you like others to know about mountain biking and why it’s such a great recreational activity?
I love the outdoors and riding in the mountains just gets me farther and I get the chance to experience more it. The people are generally fantastic human beings which is probably why I came back to the industry after a 10 year leave of absence to own and operate a women's clothing boutique (fashion is my other passion). 

Tell us a random fact about yourself that people may or may not know
I love clothes, fashion, and specialty furniture, so I opened up a clothing boutique when I retired from racing back in 2002 (after spending almost 20 years racing my bike). The store was named Tangerine and it was open for 8 years. I was able to live my dream of dressing up in high heels everyday to go to work, wear makeup, and dresses. After we closed I was excited to through on my tennis shoes again, wear my flip flops and join the millions of women who dress casually on a daily basis. I do miss the excitement retail brought into my life, the chance to see what was going to be in the stores WAY before anyone else, and the opportunity to help women look their best, but now with I have the chance to change women's lives and help them make a lifelong hobby out of cycling. Thank you for reading!

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Why do I enjoy mountain biking?

So, super awkward video I made today while out on the mountain bike trails. (HA!)
There are times where I think it would be good for people to actually "hear" me vs. read what I have to say...however, I get a little sheepish with the camera on me-even if it's me recording myself. Hence the whole "nervous" aspect. Believe me, I deleted probably 10 videos I tried to take!
No, this probably will not be a regular thing on my blog (video recordings)-I'm much more eloquent with writing than speaking. However, this will give those who have not met me a chance to see the "real-er" me. :)

Lessons in Mountain Biking- Try it With Friends vol. 2

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There are many things about being the "First Lady" of Decorah Bicycles that can be viewed as a "perk"...yeah, I have cool bikes and yes, I have cool gear. However, there is more to being the "First Lady" than simply being a billboard for awesome bikes and product-my goal is to help others get on a bike and ride.

Enter Steph, whom I've met and conversed with for a few years now while working at the Co-Op. I didn't even know she biked until last winter when Travis mentioned that she and another friend had rented fatbikes to ride (up in the pines.) and I thought that was really neat! Other women were trying out fatbikes to go out and recreate in the snow based off my blogging experiences. (Also, from being a conversation piece at the shop to motivate other women.)

I told Travis awhile ago to tell other women who seem to be bike-curious, I'll go riding with them if they would like some support or company.

Steph stops at the shop and is inquiring about mountain bikes, Travis offers me up as a riding buddy-this is where I feel nervous! Because of my blogging and such, I worry that I'm looked at too quickly as a "professional rider" which I am far from. I write about my experiences and lessons, and if you were to read I am honest and keep it real. I admit when I fall, scrap my knee, or otherwise bruise myself. So I'm always slightly nervous-I'm not anyone to idolize, just someone to ride with.

Steph and I communicated and set up plans to go riding on Saturday, a glorious day with low humidity but increasing warmth. She had already gone out on Thursday to explore, Travis had informed her of some trails to avoid, and she had a great time. Very much like me, the whole concept of how the trails connect was something she wanted to learn. It's pretty easy to get confused to where you are at and map reading is not my forte.
I pre-planned a route that I was comfortable with that would give Steph a great ride and help her learn trail connections.

We started off on IPT, taking her on the route I regularly go on and we went to North 40 after. North 40 still challenges me with two climbs at the very beginning, but walking a short ways is worth the fun and excitement after! We came to the hairpin downhill and I went first, then I had Steph stand off to the side while I did the downhill turn again for her. A second visual if you will, so you can see someone head-on/sideways vs. simply from behind. I talked of when I sat back to when I sat back further; Steph decided to try it herself and successfully accomplished the downhill her first time! I gave some other basic pointers (feather the brakes vs. using one more than the other/locking up) and the steepness of declines equaling how far back you stand over your seat.

We continued onto Gunnar, taking a detour on Julia-we went the way that would have a few more climbs to it (took the upper entrance.) I felt more comfortable with Julia today than yesterday, not hitting my handlebar when riding between two trees this time. Small successes!

When we came up and out of Gunnar we had the question of "What should we do next?" I had originally thought of going on Little Big Horn to Dust Bowl, but Steph was curious about Fred's. Well, in that case, a challenge must be accepted! So I altered our Little Big Horn route so we would ride it in reverse (and come back up to the pines.)

I had a first on Little Big Horn, after one of the U-shaped up/downhill there was a rotted log that had been replaced. A couple feet after is a new log pile as well. I had felt intimidated by these two new features since they were implemented and had studied them each time. Both of the new features were designed so you could simply ride over them (at least, that's what I concluded) but the first time I tried the log I tipped over to the left of it. This time, I decided that I would give it a shot and both Steph and I accomplished the log and stack! I was excited! The level of "badassery" I felt was pretty dang high.

Accomplish this on Fred's and you can say:"Awesome!"
After Little Big Horn we did two pine loops before heading to Fred's. We poked along, needling our way around roots/rocks. Then to the downhill that would provide a generous dose of nervousness; accomplishing the downhill is definitely a rush. I made my way down and waited at the bottom and got to watch Steph maneuver around the turn and successfully make her way down the hill-her first time on Fred's! It was awesome to see another woman out there accomplishing dirt goals.

To end the ride I took Steph on the Luge, which is always a fun finisher for the trail riding of the day.

All in all, I would say the ride was a great success and there is another woman out there who is interested enough in mountain bike riding to sneak out on her own. It's something I can relate to and admire; being out in nature, the challenge, and feeling confident enough to say "I can do this." It's also nice to ride with another person who thinks along the same lines you do-both of us are contentious of what we choose to do in terms of challenging ourselves; our bodies are our livelihood-so there is mutual appreciation over not pushing each other out of our comfort zones (but pushing just enough to have a grand time!)

Awesome job, Steph!
It's always interesting for me, usually being a follower, to be a leader when I go out with a female friend. Certainly not an expert by any means, but having figured out how to make my way around the trails and knowing obstacles-falling into the roll of the leader is something that isn't as unnatural as I thought it would be.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Women on Bikes Series: Kacie Freeberg

When did you first start riding a bike?
I first started riding bikes in 2008. I got my first mountain bike, a Gary Fisher hifi

What motivated you to ride as much as you have over the years?
Riding has become a hobby that my husband I can do together. In addition, my brother and sister in law have started to ride. Also, during the winter, riding my road bike on my trainer helps pass the time as well.

Were you and your husband inspiration for your brother and sister-in-law to get into riding? How did you introduce them to it?
Yes, well kind of. So my sister in law rode a little bit before but nothing serious. We got them a new set of mountain bikes for their wedding present. My sister in law took a pretty bad tumble a few years ago and has been rattled ever since so we have been working on getting her confidence back to ride more as a family. 

Full disclosure, Erik works at Trek so that has been pretty key into not only my own involvement and growth in the sport but also my brother and sister in law.  

My husband is my primary mountain bike instructor and I can say it's definitely interesting sometimes! I'm not the greatest with critiques sometimes and he has struggles because he's a natural and just "does it" while I need visuals and verbal explanations.

What were some of the struggles you've had with having your significant other being your primary instructor?
I think we all have been there! Erik and I have had our share of fights on the trails. I think the challenge for me personally was I like to be good at things and this was not something I was just "good at". Also, I hated feeling that I was holding him back.

Now looking back I realized it didn't matter how fast we were going, or weren't going, it was that we were outside and doing something fun. 

I started leading when we go down the trails, that helps me to learn how to read the trails and focus on what I am doing and not what he is doing and I can't do.  To help make sure it’s always "fun", we pack a cooler with a few adult beverages to have victory beers afterwards. Also, I have found going with some friends helps to keep it chill. There are a few gals that I like to ride to change the pace. By seeing what each other can do that helps us push ourselves verses trying to catch up to the guys that have been doing this for decades.  

What have been some of the positive things?
I had to learn how to be coachable from my husband, and he had to learn to be patient. This has translated to other areas of our life beyond the dirt.  He is coming from a good place and intention and realized I am frustrated with myself and not him.

As mentioned before, by including riding in vacations it’s hard not to have fun. Also, I have learned that it’s ok to walk, no judgment, no pressure. Just like life there are good days and bad days. 

What kind of riding is your favorite? (paved, gravel, mountain)

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.)
Scared! I was not a natural at all.  My now husband, then boyfriend, was very patient with me despite the falls and tears.

When you started riding, did you decide to get involved on your own or was it inspired by your (now) husband?
Very much inspired by Erik. He got me my first bike and has been the key "financial backer" of my hobby. Now, it was not without a lot of conversation and being pretty clear that I was interested. 

If you had nervousness at all, what do you do or think to overcome it?
Time, patience and practice.

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. Best tip is just to keep them loose and know you are going to fall. Like anything, the more you do it the better you get.

Have you had a bike biff? If so, how did you recover on a physical/mental/emotional level?
Many! I fall a lot and so much so that when I don’t fall during an outing I feel that I am not pushing myself enough. I have made a few trips to the hospital and have looked pretty rough. Again, falling is just part of the sport. The biggest thing I try and keep in my mind is to not let a fall rattle my confidence. 

What do you love about riding your bike?
Riding for me serves a few purposes. First, for me it is a great way for me to get outside and get some exercise. Secondly, it is a great hobby for my husband and I to spend time together. Our vacations typically involve a bike in some way. My all-time favorite ride is a warm sunny day with long climb up in the Colorado Mountains with a fun descent. 

I feel that people are so lucky when they can bike with their partner/spouse as something to do together. What are your thoughts on that?
I couldn't agree more! I know I keep going on about this but by being able to do this together it’s a great, inexpensive way to get outside and see the country. 

Tell us about your bike(s) and why you chose them!
Madone (road); Lush 29' (mtn); Session (DH) you can tell I am a Trek gal. I am blessed to have a husband in the Trek family and will always ride a Trek.  I do love their products and have had very little maintenance issues or replacements besides the typically wearable parts. Also, I have a pretty big crush on one of the mountain bike engineers. 

What accessories/products do you recommend?
Basic support pack (tube, co2, tires); I love my garmin that I use for my computer and helps me stay on track. Also, I have it linked to my smartphone because I am an avid nutrition tracker as well. For clothing, I just wear whatever is comfortable. Bontrager baggies for mountain biking, Alpine shorts for DH and bontrager women bibs for road.