Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Going Back To The Start- A Blogging Adventure

On Thursday night here in Decorah I will be at a local event at Dug Road Inn, This Iowa Life: A Blogging Event. The event is put on by GoodBlogs, which originally founded the ever-popular Imagine Northeast Iowa blog site that got my proverbial roots wet with more storytelling-style blogging. Goodblogs also houses the incredibly informative Travel Iowa blog as well-which houses this post: Tackling Mountain Bike Trails of Decorah

I was asked by the GoodBlogs crew if I would be willing to share my experience with blogging on Imagine. My experience with blogging was fairly minimal prior to writing on Imagine Northeast Iowa, and I found it to be a very positive experience.

Frankly, I'm legitimately surprised with how popular my blog has become and I'm beyond humble with the positive response I've received with my writing. My goal is always to provide honest and real content- especially when it pertains to something I love and enjoy: biking aka #BikeLife

Writing is something I love to do, because I feel it's one of the best ways for me to communicate- I want to create a story from my personal experience that puts a person in my shoes, hopefully having them feel intrigued and inspired by the adventure that unfolds within the words.

This has been (so far) quite the year of opportunity for myself and my blog. A few months ago I was featured in the Iowa news paper. The Des Moines Register, in a piece titled: Decorah's hills promise glory for off road riders.

I truly feel that this is a special year for Josie's Bike Life- and I'm grateful for the continued support and continual recognition for all of what I aim to do, spread the joy of #BikeLife to women all over. Help other women find their "Life on Two Wheels" and experience the freedom and confidence-boosting power that riding a bike has to offer!

Monday, June 27, 2016

Women on Bikes Series: Betsy Van Cleve Stiegler

My name is Betsy Van Cleve Stiegler, and I'm a 28yo from Saint Louis Park, MN. I work in development at a local private high school. My first bike was a dumpy Marin mountain bike I got when I was about 12 -- it carried me through my high school years of biking to and from school and around the neighborhood with friends. At that point in time, I had no idea what mountain biking (or even road riding) was. I was much more into the soccer circuit at that point in my life.

I headed off to school at the College of Saint Benedict/Saint John's University. I took up long distance running to save my knees from soccer injuries, finishing my first half marathon in 2008 up in Saint Cloud. It was around that time that I met a Johnnie. This Johnnie, Keir, just happened to be an avid biker and Nordic skier. Not only was he a bike enthusiast, but his immediate family (Mike, Sonja, and younger brother Cole Stiegler) was also into biking... AND a lot of his extended family.

I didn't know what I was getting into, especially with my over-sized and recently purchased Specialized road bike. I start to accompany Keir on a few rides along the Wobegon in Stearns County which moved into road rides with his family in the Cities. Those turned into to week long trips in Colorado and New Mexico -- which were at times trying since I had NO experience shifting on hills. I was convinced to join the Stiegler's on a few mountain bike rides through the trails in Elm Creek in Maple Grove. Sonja loaned me her beloved Trek bike for the rides since I only had my one road bike. Even after a few rides and the energy that comes along with mountain biking, I still preferred my long runs on the Luce Line and city trails. I've run too many half marathons and recently completed my 3rd full marathon (Twin Cities Marathon) in October.

 After Keir proposed in July 2013, the running joke became that I would have to complete a Chequamegon race before officially joining the Stiegler family. The Stiegler's have been riding the Chequamegon for YEARS AND YEARS -- so this is a tradition for them. With a wedding date of 10/4/14, I had some work to do. I continued to borrow Sonja's bike from time to time in the summer 2013 -- and officially signed up for the 2014 Short and Fat -- which also happened to be two weeks before our wedding. Training became a lot easier when I was gifted my own mountain bike spring 2014 -- and before I knew it I was riding/pushing my bike up Big Bertha. I'll ride my 3rd Short and Fat this coming September as an "official" member of the Stiegler family.

I love the Chequamegon trails up in Hayward, WI because of how open they are. I've never been a huge fan of single track riding because I hate feeling like I'm holding others up. I take technical courses like Theodore Wirth here in Minneapolis slowly -- I'm still getting used to maneuvering my bike.

First Chequamegon 2014 finish

My husband would like say that my riding still is a bit like a "bull in a China shop" -- I love taking the descents fast! I've had some memorable crashes -- which have forced me to be a bit more cautious. My heart beat on a mountain bike races a lot faster that an other activities I've been involved with -- you just never know what the trails will bring which is exciting.

You weren’t an avid cyclist when you met your future husband, what was the experience on immersing yourself into a cycling family?
It was definitely a challenge. I had never really ridden a bike more than a few blocks before I met Keir. I had an over sized bike which made it all the more uncomfortable to go out on longer rides. But, alas, I pushed through and made it work. Our solo rides soon became joint rides which I came to enjoy over time. As I became a stronger rider (and actually knowing HOW to properly shift), I was able to keep up with the group and actually have a conversation instead of struggling to breathe.

You enjoy running and marathons- do you feel cycling has helped you in any way with your athletic passion?
Definitely. Running, especially longer distances, beats down your body -- and it definitely burns you out. I've found that cycling really is a "replenisher" - it gives my body time to recover after committing to long distance running training. My knees and body hurts less on a bike -- and when I hurt less, I feel much more active and alert which drives my athletic passion further.

What would you say is your motivation for riding?
Keeping my husband, Keir, happy. No, no -- in all seriousness, I like riding because it's a great cross-training exercise for me. Running gets to be boring. I'll spend hours on a treadmill or on the trail one foot after another. Biking gets me out into the world and allows a fresh routine for my mind and body.

You attended your first Chequamegon event in ’14- what was your experience like?
It was a nerve-wracking first race! Being packed in to a start gate with not only a ton of people but a ton of bikes is a lot different than a running race. Getting clipped by a bike can be a lot more damaging than getting clipped by a runner. With a wedding date of a month later, I knew I had to keep my wheels up and take it real easy. Once I got the pre-race jitters out, the race was challenging and a lot of fun. I had one little mechanical when my chain came off, but I somehow muddled through putting it back on and went on my way. I was really happy to get across the finish line and even happier to get a beer in hand.

What do you feel helped you accomplish your first Short and Fat event? Any tips/suggestions?

I rode the course a couple of weeks beforehand with family which was really helpful. I could envision certain areas that were trickier than others so I could get pumped up before I encountered them on race day. I also went into the day with the only expectation of having fun which is exactly what I did.

Do you see the 40 mile event in your future?

HECK NO! I watch Keir and my in-law's push up Fire Tower every summer when we ride the trails in the Chequamegon -- and I would die. No pirate cheers or rum could get me up that thing. I really do love the Short and Fat because it's a manageable distance and terrain for me. I'm not a huge fan of single track, mainly because I don't like the feeling of holding people up -- and the Short and Fat is mostly open.

For those who have not attended a Chequamegon event, tell us why you enjoy attending/participating.

It is a beautiful course and in a wonderful area of Wisconsin. The organizers do a great job of balancing a competitive environment with a fun-filled weekend. Hayward, Cable, and Telemark are such fantastic hosts.

Do you remember how you felt on your first mountain bike ride?
Really nervous. I used my mother-in-law's prized Trek for a spin with my husband up at Elm Creek in Maple Grove. Shifting on a mountain bike is an art -- and I was no Picasso. Keir and my in-laws are all really strong riders, and they are always very patient which I really appreciate. I don't remember the first ride being really eventful which is probably a good thing.

If you had nervousness at all, what did you do or think to overcome it?
Honestly, I just wanted to get it over with -- and I thought of exactly that. I didn't know what to expect and that insecurity made me really tense. It wasn't a really pleasant experience because I didn't take any time to really enjoy it. The first go at something new and adventurous is always scary, but they only get better from there.

New Mexico 2011 Top of Rollers -- yes, this is me wiping away the tears and sweat after powering up the set of awful rollers. I was upset and elated to have made it to the top.
Looking back on your first few rides, what suggestions would you give to yourself from what you’ve learned?
Take.it.SLOW. The excitement of the first few rides is overwhelming, and you really get lost in the pressure of every single movement. I wish now that I had taken the extra steps at the beginning to get used to my bike and all its confusing components. I think I would have avoided a lot of scrapes and bruises if I just took some time to get acclimated instead of charging headfirst.

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 am a regular pedal girl on both my road bike and my mountain bike. There are definitely pluses and minuses to my pedal methods. I've tried clipless pedals a few times, but I think I enjoy the flexibility and control of being able to move around my foot easily whenever I want to. I get nervous about the idea of falling off my bike or crashing and not being able to quickly detach from it. But, I know that clipless pedals can help with power, especially on a mountain bike. Sometimes downhills on bumpy terrain with regular pedals is unnerving -- your feet slip off and bounce around. I have never counted out trying again -- circle back with me in a year and see where I'm at.

Have you had any biffs that were challenging for you on a physical/mental/emotional level? What did you do to heal and overcome?
I have had some VERY memorable endo's -- and some have been very painful. One of my first rides at Elm Creek included a "silent crash". My family was ahead of me by a ways, and I hit a tree root wrong and went flying. We were nearing the end of the ride, and I was embarrassed and didn't want anyone to know. So, I hopped back up, wiped away my tears, and finished the ride. I had the gnarliest bruise (picture) I've EVER had in my life. We were just up in the Chequamegon a few weeks ago, and I took a downhill through deep sand too fast. Corrected once, corrected twice, and then boom! I flew off my bike and into the sandpit -- luckily, no big injuries. These crashes definitely rattled me a bit. I tend to take bikes a bit more cautiously immediately after them. I'm always learning about biking -- and I think these experiences have helped me ride smarter.

When you started out riding, what were some handling skills that challenged you? Do you have any suggestions for what helped you grasp them?
Shifting, shifting, shifting -- my gosh, the power of shifting. I had no clue how to properly shift on a bike. We took a trip to New Mexico for some road riding back in 2011 and ventured out to the "Infamous Albuquerque Rollers". Over sized bike + little to no shifting knowledge = bad idea. I have never walked so shamelessly up ginormous hills with tears rolling down my face. Keir has worked a lot with me on telling me when to shift, what levers to shift with -- a lot of "backseat biking" if you will. I finally feel comfortable maneuvering shifting, but it's taken a lot of practice.

Are there still handling or technical riding aspects that you find tricky? How do you not let that drag you down when riding?
Ruttier sections of trail (tree roots, rocks, etc.) are always a bit trickier to handle. A rock that looks stationary likely isn't -- so you really have to be ready to hold tight to your handlebars and feel out the terrain. Throw in some tight winding track, and you have to concentrate that much more. I get really discouraged when I'm feeling slow, or having to pop on and off my bike a lot. Sometimes I just have to remind myself to breathe and just have fun. Every ride isn't a race, and it shouldn't be. I'll always be a bit of a novice when it comes to riding -- and I like it that way.

My husband and I completed the MS 150 back in June 2014 from Duluth to the Twin Cities.
75 miles per day for back to back days -- quite the ride!
What do you love about riding your bike?
I'm never alone when I ride my bike -- I really love riding with Keir and family. They're the one's that are usually getting me out riding instead of logging hours at the gym or on the running trails.

Tell us about your bike(s), what they are like and why did you choose them?
I have two bikes -- my road bike and my mountain bike. My road bike is a Specialized Dolce Elite. It's your typical aluminum frame -- a stock bike I got when Keir worked at Erik's a few years ago. It was a good buy -- and a reasonable beginner bike. We're not sure if it's a little too big or a little too small -- I do wish it was a little more comfortable, but it works for now. I definitely recommend getting a fit by a specialist before buying a bike just to be sure.

My mountain bike is the BOMB. My mother-in-law bought it for me as a "first mountain bike/first Chequamegon/thanks for marrying my son" gift. It's a Specialized Jett Expert 29er, and it rolls over everything in its path. It's comfortable, durable, and fast. My husband had a lot of input in the choice because "happy wife, happy life" -- and he knew if I loved it that meant more riding from me.

What clothing/bike accessories do you love? What would you recommend to your friends?
I love my College of Saint Benedict/St. John's Cycling gear -- I love representing a place that has always meant so much to me. I prefer bib shorts over regular shorts -- even though it's a hassle to use the bathroom, they're more snug and stay up. I always try to have my Specialized odometer/bike computer because I like celebrating mileage milestones or seeing how fast I go on a descent. I never go on a run or ride without my RoadID -- you never know what may happen on the trails/roads, and I want to make sure any first responder has my information.

What do you feel deters women from getting involved with cycling? Especially mountain biking?
For me, there's a lot of "what if's" to biking that yoga, running, cardio, and other exercises don't have. What if I crash -- what if I get a flat tire and I don't know how to change it - what if I get lost - and so on. It's really "unknown territory" unless you're brought up living and breathing it.

What do you feel could happen to make changes and/or encourage more women to ride?
I think basic intro to biking classes offered by bike shops would be great. Bike shops should be passionate about all bikers -- no matter their skill set. If you buy a bike, you should be invited to have your first ride with a "professional"/employee of the shop and a group of beginners riders (whether this be by gender or not). Someone who will teach you the basics of shifting, how to change a flat, what biking etiquette is, and so on. It will enable female riders to be comfortable and knowledgeable -- and hey, the bike shop will gain a client for life.

What inspires you to encourage women to ride?
As I mentioned, I will never be an expert when it comes to biking - ever. But, I'm cool with that. Embracing adventure is the best -- and you're never going to experience the same exact ride twice. I think being active and maintaining a healthy lifestyle is important for all women, and riding is just one of the most wonderful ways to do that.

Tell us a random fact about yourself!
I'm a twin! I have a twin brother, and we are NOTHING alike. I'm short and built and my brother is tall and skinny. I loves sports and the outdoors, and my brother enjoys the arts and being a smart cookies. He doesn't know how to ride a bike...but I like to think we're working on it.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

The Ballad of Fred

There is a trail in Decorah that I would deem my favorite even tho there are times where it can scare the crap out of me. It’s one of the more technical trails within the bluffs that house our local singletrack. I went in with high hopes for my first introduction on this trail, only to find myself riddled with fear and anxiety. I didn't make it down the trail without walking, thus I became determined to conquer the trail called Fred's Trail aka Fred.

Since then, it's become almost a daily ritual for me as it seems my rides aren't complete without my trip down Fred. I'm not sure if it's the physical rush or the psychological impact, either way, it's good.

When you first get on Fred, you wouldn’t think that it would harbor anything remotely challenging. It’s when you get towards the latter part where things get spicy! The beginning is fun and fairly simple- you have a couple rolling dips to come out of and you’re riding a trail that makes me think of some sections of Upper Little Big Horn where you have flow.

When you hit the middle you'll encounter some tighter spots and roots to finesse. This is trickier when they are wet, but over the past few seasons I’ve gotten to where I feel pretty comfortable with how to maneuver my bike over them. After this spot, you have another section of flow where you can catch air off a small jump or you can simply roll down and over it. It all depends on your handling skill and confidence level. You can go crazy fast but sometimes have to reign it in when trails are greasy. This fun section leads you into a rocky uphill that only seems to zap energy as you climb.

Don't clip a tree! I did.
So I took a picture of it.
Once you plateau you encounter a rock garden that can provide a challenge for newer riders. I've figured out a pretty good line, but there are days when I still mess up for a variety of reasons. Sometimes it's being in too hard of a gear and not having enough energy to put power down, rocks were wet and slippery, or I simply rode sloppy (or was too over-confident). The days that I ride it clean are more often than not.

Then we get technical-

Fred has a long, steep downhill with a hairpin turn towards the end. You enter the downhill down a couple “steps” of roots and rock; this section can throw you over the bars if you're too brake-heavy. You turn into the downhill but have to be careful because there is a tree to the right that could clip your bars if you’re too close. (Which of course has happened to me.) There are a few rocks that could throw off newer riders, too. This is a spot that helps you gain trust with your bike by simply letting it roll. You quickly learn that this is a section where you need to get back off your bike a bit in order to keep yourself upright.

When you start going down Fred there are a couple sections where rogue roots peek up from the earth which makes you want to move closer to the edge of the trail. It’s not a wide trail by any means which prompts me to say "just keep breathing." No matter how controlled you start, your bike picks up speed. Nerves increase because you’re never 100% certain if someone is going to be hiking/running/walking up the hill you are coming down. (In Decorah, our trails are multi-direction and multi-user.) I've stopped a few times midway down for pedestrians and it's definitely tricky to take off again.

You come to the hairpin and get back on your seat even more which puts the bike out in front of you for control. You don’t want to aim too high or too low and once you’re around the corner you have a straight shot down. Sometimes the latter portion is a bit sketchy; it gets washed out with rain and gets a little rutted. Sometimes there are big rocks right in the path that you hope won't kick your wheel out from under you. Other times it's so dry and dusty and every little thing seems like it's going to trip you up.

The feeling of accomplishment that I get when I ride down that trail sticks with me. Every time I come down successfully I look at it as my conquering my personal fears and anxiety. Each ride gives me a personal challenge because it doesn't seem to matter how many times I come down- there is always a little nervousness mixed with adrenaline.

Coming down the hairpin on Fred
during Time Trials '15
It's the trail I always go to when I'm facing challenges- 

I look at it as making my way thru the recesses of my mind and it helps me to categorize my feelings and emotions. I put all my attention into the trail: riding it well and keeping myself in control. Fred reminds me of the ups, downs, challenges, and successes of life. I feel like Fred is the perfect example of life in "dirt path" form.

Life can be exhilarating, breathtaking, and stupendous. It can also knock you down and make you wonder what the heck happened. Life has flow but it can also slow you up or make you go faster than intended. You have uphills and downhills- and sometimes those can freak you out.

On Fred I immerse myself in my humanness, take hold of the challenge, and ride. Riding the dirt and riding life. #BikeLife

Monday, June 20, 2016

The Not-So-Rolling Rollers and the Small Giants.

It was about 9 p.m. on June 12th, rolling into the yard on our bikes after finishing what we would consider an "epic" gravel ride.

Per usual (which has only been a couple times) we started off our ride on Sunday without an actual destination or mileage goal- just get Josie some hours in the saddle.

We figured a route similar to last Sunday would be good, so I can keep getting familiar with places, however, we'd switch it up a little so I could get a feel for the general location. I'm terrible with directions, I don't read maps, and I have no internal compass. If you ask me which way is North I'll look at you with a blank stare and silently wish you would kick yourself in the bum. Yeah. I'm not proud of it- but it is what it is. With the riding, tho, I'm doing my darnedest to get acquainted the old fashioned way, so with our rides there is no use of magical Google Maps or any some such "technological advancement."

We went a route that we had gone once before, but a few years back that would take us past Travis' mom's house. From there, I'll be honest- I'm lost. I encountered my first dog that scared the crap out of me- thankfully it just gave us warning barks and didn't pursue. "My anxiety is not meant for this" I said to myself.

We ended up on a road that we were looking down last week. We had stopped for some snacks, watched a farmer mow a field, and Travis gave me the lowdown of the general location. I attempt to remember. I appreciated the view as there is something very soothing about being out on the gravels. I suppose it's because it reminds me of home.

We continued on our way, not really sure where we would end up- we crested a hill and came to Madison Rd. A decision of epic proportions would be made....left, right, or straight. Travis had a general idea of where we would end up if we went either sideways direction, but straight would lead us to a semi-unknown. Let's go for the unknown. I didn't know how many additional miles I would accumulate if we kept going forward, but it would be intriguing to find out.

I was completely lost and that was okay.

We encountered another dog or two, again all bark and no bite (thankfully). Eventually we found ourselves looking across HWY 9. I want to pretend like I knew where we were at, and I think I might have- but I wasn't sure therefor....no. We crossed. Travis said that if we could find a left turn, we would be able to make our way back to town. We learned rather quickly that the countryside is not set up with "square blocks" and our left turns were driveways, thus we continued further away.

At one point we rode by a field and startled a doe with her wee fawn. The doe ran across the road and the fawn hightailed it further into the field. That fawn leaped the crap out of that field...bounding thru flocks of birds and around round bales. It was hysterical yet at the same time we felt bad and hoped that the doe and fawn would find each other quickly.

We rode and rode some more. Eventually we came upon a sign that said "Bike Crossing" and it turned out we had hit somewhere along the Prairie Farmer Trail. Either way, we would end up biking to Rideway or Calmar if we stayed on it. Part of me thought it would be neat, but then we came to another crossing where we could reunite with gravel and I decided that would be more interesting. During our ride, Travis saw the windmill that is located on HWY 52, so he said we would aim ourselves towards that. Surely we would hit familiar ground!

During this ride I encountered many emotions- there were times when I thought I would be able to power up what seemed like a fun roller and find myself spinning it out. My legs would go back and forth between feeling very capable to feeling like I stuffed weights in my socks. I had to remind myself "drink water, damnit." There were times when I felt hungry, yet I biked thru that feeling of needing to eat if I hydrated more and simply ignored it- which doesn't really help for bringing back energy.

I hated the thought of stopping because when we would get going again my legs would threaten mutiny. I found for a long distance (so far) breaks don't energize me, they crush me.

Eventually we were face-to-face with Jewell's Skate Country and Travis knew exactly how to get us home. We stopped for a break as hunger got the best of me. I managed to eat a bite of bagel Travis had brought and decided it was the most awful thing I could've put in my mouth. Under other circumstances- I enjoy those bagels. Today it was like dry cardboard for some reason and I didn't want to take effort to chew it. Travis gave me a Clif Blok to give me a different flavor and we continued on before the bugs ate us. We would ride the road until we hit a spot where we could get onto the TRT due to our available light. Oh Middle Calmar Rd....you can pack a punch in some spots...but for conditioning, I guess it's good to get used to putting yourself thru some suffering.

We finally hit the TRT, and it wasn't quite the location Travis thought it would be. Either way would have a climb to it and one was far worse than the other. We went (without my speaking) the favored direction (counter clockwise) and finished off the last bit of climbing before you ride down the switchbacks.

We booked it on that trail, even with my tired legs, I managed to keep a solid clip and ride hard. The only hardship of our final leg was the bug that got lodged in the recesses of my throat. Water couldn't seem to dislodge that little critter. Eventually coughing, water, and spitting brought me relief, but man, it sucked for a bit!

It was delightful to roll into our yard! We both felt accomplished; I was happy to have ridden with minimal breaks- but I knew I needed to work on the nutrition aspect more. My muscles were tired, but not shot. Supper was to be made and you bet I had two beers instead of one!

It's funny how I'm finding another way to challenge myself with biking. Granted, there are aspects of gravel riding that I don't necessarily enjoy (the periodic disrespectful driver and the loose dogs) but it challenges me in a different way than mountain biking. Climbs are longer, some are sneaky- others are surprisingly easy when far away they seemed like Goliath. I work my muscles and lungs to a different capacity- and it isn't easy sometimes. Heck no.

Sometimes I feel down because it reminds me that I still have a ways to go with endurance and breathing- but I won't let that stop me. I'm really intrigued to see how this will carry over into mountain biking...it's really the first time in years I could say I actually feel strong.

If you told me 5 years ago I would be doing any of this....mountain biking, casually racing, riding 40 miles in a day- I would've said you were nuts. Bikes change lives...and I'm forever grateful for how they have changed mine. #BikeLife

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Pushing Past the Rollers and Uphills

Early this year, before all the open slots for Chequamegon 40 were filled up, I decided that I would sign myself up for my "adventure of a lifetime" for the 2016 season. It was slated as an event to do at least one time, so I figured "why not?" I mean, I haven't really ridden 40 miles in one day on a regular, but I didn't perish with 20 miles in -8 degree weather. So, I think I could manage. However, this meant that I needed to do some conditioning.

I won't call it training, because I can really devote only one day to riding long distances and sometimes that day doesn't work out- but I would start to develop a comfort level with the gravel roads that run thru Winneshiek County.

Gravel intimidates me more than mountain biking.

Why? Because I grew up on a gravel road and only have awkward, and non-positive memories of it. I lived on a big hill in the middle of nowhere. I felt scared to ride down it and it was physically impossible for me to ride up it. There were neighbor dogs that would've surely chased me- so I was not very inclined to ride around the countryside for fear I'd be run down by dogs for I couldn't ride very fast. Let alone, my sense of direction and ability to put forth physical effort were minimal.

I was also nervous of the sense of unevenness, especially after fresh gravel was laid down. I felt like it was an unpredictable surface- and I was a fan of consistency, even as a child- and gravel felt like it played against all the rules.

Possibly, there was a subconscious decision behind joining the Chequamegon 40. Maybe it was to force myself to get out of my comfort zone and explore other areas with a purpose behind it. Doing it for conditioning is a choice and a way to force me out there- if I didn't have a reason to go, I'd be out on the mountain bike trails instead.

My first couple gravel rides with Travis felt a bit daunting. He'd be off a ways ahead and I'd be slowly turning my wheels with a lack of confidence and uncertainty clouding my head. Maybe this was wrong.

Sunday (June 5th) we postponed our off-road ride to give the trails a chance to dry out and opted to set out on a gravel adventure. I'm not sure what it was- if it was the empowerment of wearing a new kit or having different shoes on, but my nerves and anxiety were not overwhelming me. I felt more confident- something had shifted. I used my average speed as a focus and kept my gaze ahead- and we rode a mixture of gravel, pavement, and some easy singletrack (by Luther) and logged over 35 miles.

During the ride we had some headwind and side-wind at the beginning- wind is my enemy, but I kept my spirits high.
There were some climbs that took a lot out of me, but once it tapered off at the end I had a feeling of exhilaration.
It was fun to go after the rollers; working on my technique of getting after them is key.

The ride home was splendid, both of us maxing out our gear ratios on the smooth pavement. The question of continuing was asked, but we were both happy with our ride and I was more than ready to eat supper.

Tuesday came and I was hoping to have a long ride, but schedules weren't working out to prove as such. My friend, Barrett, had promised to take me on some rides to prep me for Chequamegon- however our schedules weren't happy to mesh much. I threw out the question with little expectation that it would work out.

Afternoon came, I was filled with lunch, and ready to roll. Barrett was still running errands so I opted to go mountain biking. I had in my head I'd ride a full set of trails, possibly in all three parks- I started in Van Peenen and went to Dunning's. My phone jingled the sweet sound of an incoming text. Barrett was ready to ride- I had to get going and get home to swap my bike and shoes.

I had already ridden over 9 miles. 9.26 to be exact. My ride was less than amazing, tho I did make the "Tombstone" climb on Little Big Horn, really my only saving grace for the off-road ride. After putting on some sunscreen, drinking some hydration mix, and eating some Bloks- we made our way to River Road.

I would not be making or breaking high averages- my legs were feeling heavy. My goal and focus was miles and simply to keep pedaling. There were some great stretches of gravel that were smooth and buff, then other stretches with fresh "fluffy" gravel that I've deduced I hate. I aimed straight and kept going- no mishaps occurred.

There were a couple climbs that really challenged me- I guess it's a good thing I have tenacity, because I was feeling pretty painful. At the top, after my lungs started to accept air again, I would feel a sense of strength take over. There were moments that it felt like pedaling was the last thing my legs wanted to do- but I kept going. Eventually we were back on River Road again- I had a decision to make: take the easy way home, or take the hard way.

Easy route would be to take the paved trail back home- no more climbing or gravel. Hard way would be going on gravel to climb up Whitetail and take the rest of Quarry Hill up and ride over towards Luther and home. More gravel. More climbing...oh climbing.

I questioned my integrity, but I felt I had to push my limits. I guess I like inflicting "punishment" on myself- but I know that at Chequamegon I'm sure I'll have several moments like that. I need to learn how to work thru them and get past those "bumps" in the mental road.

Climb I did.

When it was all said and done, by the time I was at home I had logged 33.95 miles- I had biked over 40 miles with minimal breaks. My legs were wobbly- a hot shower and a cold beer were so extremely worth the extra effort.

I do not foresee a passion for gravel riding, but I can say that I do feel I will be able to make peace with it and use it to assist with cross-training for mountain biking.

Learning to push myself beyond my comfort zone- and feeling good when I break past the barriers I set for myself. Learning to keep going even when it feels like it's dragging out longer than I anticipated, and feeling accomplished when I make it up a climb that seems to go on forever.

It is humbling and exciting to see how I have physically progressed over the last year lung-wise. I'm becoming stronger- slowly but surely- and that makes my heart happy.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Women Involved Series: Sarah Hansing

I’ve been a bike mechanic for 20 yrs now. (Dangit. how did THAT happen? 20 years?!). There’s not a lot of women who are bike mechanics, so I guess I’m sort of a unicorn of the industry. (It's been nice to see that changing a bit in recent years.)

I accidentally found the portal into the Bike Industry when I was about 18, and started working at a bike shop as a second job. Not too long after that, the allure of supervising a restaurant kitchen lost it’s luster (the timing of these two things were DEFINITELY related) and I quit the restaurant to work at the shop full time.

Between college courses and backpacking trips to Europe (to avoid the aforementioned college courses) I worked at my local shop in Indiana.

In my early 20’s I moved to Baltimore to go to college for Animal Science/Veterinary medicine and started working as a mechanic at a large Trek shop in my spare time between classes (ha! spare time between classes….). I also started racing mountain bikes. Single speeds were my specialty, because apparently I have a very acute sense of self-loathing?

Anyways- college was not for me. I don’t really like it. I tried to like it, but I’m a well-rounded quitter with my 9 years of school from several different colleges, each one in a different major, and not a single degree to show for it.

So, I quit accruing student loan debt and went to work at the shop full time as a lead mechanic. After about 6 yrs in Baltimore, I went to work for Trek bicycles in Wisconsin, where I learned that I am also allergic to cubicles.

It’s a bike mechanics' life for me; its a vow of poverty, but it keeps me young (immature), reasonably fit, and stoked. I like fixing things, I REALLY like getting people stoked on bikes, and I REALLY REALLY like riding bikes. Mountain bikes are my vehicle of choice and lucky for me, I now live in the magical single track wonderland known as Santa Cruz, CA.

When did you first start riding a bike?
I believe that I was about 6 or 7. After several failed attempts and skinned knees, I finally tamed the wild stallion known as "Schwinn Stingray". It was mostly Yellow and Tetanus (some might call it 'rust') colored, and had a banana seat, which I fell off of many times before finally propelling myself forward towards freedom.

What inspired to start working at a bike shop when you were 18 and why has that passion stuck?
It was sort of an accident. I was supposed to be going backpacking through Europe with my best friend, Brad Bontrager, and we thought we would take bikes and wanted to know how to fix them, just in case. So, we went to our local shop, and offered to work for free in exchange for knowledge. I believe what happened next was “Well, we totally need to hire a chick…” and so, with a smug look on my face, I won working at the bike shop as a second job. ps. I ended up going to Europe alone, and I didn’t take my bike. But the portal to the bike industry had been opened, and there was no going back.

Can you remember back to when you first started working at a bike shop, what did you struggle the most to learn?
Yes. I can. and I struggled a lot with talking to customers, initially. My background was in running kitchens and you (thankfully) don’t really have interact with the public when you’re in the seedy underbelly of the restaurant. It was scary. Also, I had a terrible time with front derailleurs at first. They’re so easy to adjust, that they’re impossible at first.

What would you tell a woman who was interested in working at a bike shop? 

Do not be intimidated. There is nothing to be scared of. It is a vow of poverty, no doubt. That is the first obstacle. BUT it is typically an amazing group of people you will be working with, and the vibe will keep you happier than you can imagine. I worked a cubicle job VERY briefly, and it aged me in dog years. Bike shop jobs age you backwards. All Benjamin Button and stuff. so go for it.

What styles of riding do you enjoy?
Mostly mountain biking, but overall, yes, there are others.

Do you remember how you felt on your first mountain bike ride?
It was sort of “what the hell?!! I HATE you guys!” I thought that mountain biking was what nowadays is referred to as “fire road”. And when I was directed down that small ribbon of dirt known as “single track” at TK Lawless park ….. well. I crashed no less than 5 ft into the trail. I was enthusiastic. but very very VERY bad at mountain biking.

If you had nervousness at all, what did you do or think to overcome it?
I have always had nervousness before races or before riding with new people or with…. with lots of things. I think maybe its in the best interest of this blog to maybe not say how I really deal with things, which is to continue to be nervous, have to poop a lot beforehand, and then do the thing that scares me anyways.

Clipless or Flats, what do you like?
Clipless. no question.

You write a regular series: Fat Tire Tuesday, for Adventure Sports Journal- what do you love about having an online outlet for your two-wheel adventures?
I love that so many people can relate to what I write about. It is always a happy surprise to read that what I write is relatable to other people, both cyclists and non-cyclists alike.

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 my god yes. I don’t even know whee to begin on this one. SO MANY BIFFS.

Only time and good rides can heal it. Don’t push it. Don’t try to be a hero. because if you’re not totally, honestly, completely confident… you’re going to get hurt again. Its a good mortality check when you crash- embrace it, ease back into it, and be kind to yourself. I know its a bummer that you’re freaked out by a few things now, but that will pass. Honest.

When you started out riding, what were some handling skills that challenged you? Do you have any suggestions for what helped you grasp them?
Hmm. I went too fast for my skill set, that is for sure. the things I wish just one person had told me when I started riding:
Look where you WANT TO GO. don’t look at the tree, you’ll hit it. don’t look at the rock, you’ll run into it. Much like life, the name of the game is just looking where you want to go, and not being distracted by all of the potential ways it could go wrong.

Also, get your butt off of the saddle in a technical section. (This probably also applies to a life lesson, but it seems like the pursuit of an analogy could very quickly go off the rails…)

Are there still handling or technical riding aspects that you find tricky? How do you not let that drag you down when riding?
I remain inept at riding anything that is narrow and off the ground, ala the North Shore. I cannot for the life of me ride the length of a 2x4 if it is even a few inches off of the ground. There is no good reason for this, being that I can keep my wheels aimed like a sniper if I need to steer my bike along a mile long, tires width, ice channel… but there you have it. I don’t let it drag me down by avoiding it entirely. (I mean… isn’t that the best way to handle a problem? Ignore it entirely?) Hm. When I re-read that, it doesn’t sound like such good advice.

Tell us about your bike(s), what they are like and why did you choose them?

Well, due to the fact that I just went to live in Australia for 3 months and sold a bunch of bikes to finance that adventure, I am down to a paltry 3 bikes at the moment. That’s right. I went from 11 bikes to 3 bikes in a matter of months.

So, what I still have in my stable:
A touring bike that has seen many miles, many smiles, and many adventures across the country.
My townie which is a single speed carbon road bike with super moto style handlebars. It’s my cruising vessel and I love it.
A Bontrager Titanium Singlespeed, built with love and ridden with reckless abandon.

What do you feel deters women from getting involved with cycling? Especially mountain biking?
Involved with cycling: not enough other women to do it, not enough advertising to encourage it as a lifestyle, and too many shops that - in spite of best intentions- are simply not welcoming to women.

mountain biking-
honestly, its dirty, bleedy, and bruisy. It can be scary. Doesn’t matter how good you get at it, there is a greater chance of not being on the right side of gravity when you are mountain biking. I think that the perception of the risk is exaggerated, though. It doesn’t have to be the x-games out there. It does have to be a commitment; both mentally and time-wise. And locationally, its a lot easier for some women to get into mountain biking than it is for others- I’m spoiled rotten living within a 5 minute ride from sick single track in Santa Cruz. But I’ve lived places where it is a 40min drive, minimum, to get to a trail head. It’s much easier to just step out the front door with a road bike when you have a tight schedule.

What do you feel could change industry-wise and/or locally to encourage more women to be involved?
Plain and simple: a living wage in the industry.

What inspires you to encourage women to ride?
Hm. I suppose its the same thing that inspires me to encourage ALL people to ride. Watching someone that was a total beginner improving until you realize that they are just CRUSHING it barely a year later. Seeing someone that was fresh to cycling just months ago, grow into a position of mentor and leader to the next wave of new riders coming through. The comradery that comes from riding together. The way all things can become supportive, fun, and non-assuming when a group of women get together to ride bikes.

Tell us a random fact about yourself!
I will not eat red M&M’s. some sort of half-fact misinformation in first grade made me think they were going to be the cancerous death of me, and I’ve been unsuccessful in shaking that particular neurosis.(Pshht… no YOU’RE weird...)

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Is It Ever Enough?- Bikes, Colors, and Attitudes

I feel that I am not quite qualified to stand up on my tiny soap box and talk about women, bikes, and marketing- however, I’m going to do it anyway. I feel that my opinions are still being formed and made as I’m still fairly new to the bike world, let alone the “outdoorsy/athletic” world.  It’s not something I paid attention to long ago, but of course I am immersed in it now in multiple ways.
I want to start off by saying- if you’re a woman that rides a bike. Thank you. You’re awesome.

Here are some things to note.

1. I don’t care what colors your outfit is comprised of. If the colors make you happy- sweet!
2. I don’t care if you wear solids or patterns. I don’t care if those patterns are floral, zig-zag, or houndstooth. Live it up!
3. I don’t care if your bike is WSD or a “men’s bike”...if you love your bike, if it inspires confidence, and you WANT to ride it- that’s all that matters to me.

I desire to have everyone feel included in the #BikeLife. The latest article made some good points, but I also feel that women are constantly judging others- and it’s exhausting. Can I just say I’m tired of feeling that I should feel bad for liking fuchsia pink? 

As I came into my #BikeLife I went thru many style changes and I’m still going thru them! What I wear for cycling clothes/gear is my main way of expressing myself after years of being reserved. I started off with a very relaxed look, then went to semi-form fitted. Then I found I loved mountain biking and I fell in love with relaxed-fit, baggie clothes. Oh yes, this was my comfort zone! Some brights were added, but mostly I wore darker clothes minus a bright pair of shorts here and there. Oh, and don’t forget the SockGuy socks.

Now I’m entering into another year of riding and my preferences are taking another swing. I’ve embraced kits. It makes putting an outfit together simpler and sometimes I like looking “put together.”
I’ve discovered patterns. I don’t hate them.
I’m finding that even with off-road riding I’m either wearing Lycra or more form-fitting baggies (my favorite- RaceFace DIY shorts)…I'm finding baggies are a distraction and since I'm mixing more gravel into my riding this year and they would just get in the way. More days than not I’m in fitted Lycra.
I am a bright-color fan.
I’m also fan of pinks, purples, and bright blues. All the so-called “Girly” colors. Can’t they just be fun colors vs. a “gender” color?

I feel that more companies are working to accommodate the differing styles for women, but there are times when the progress of said companies may be deemed “slow” or without enough variety, yet I’ll be damned if various companies are trying to appease women by offering a wide array of colors/patterns/fits, etc. There is always something to complain about, right?

In the article, the women were upset that there was a pink hair tie for the Bontrager/Trek ad. Really? A hair tie is powerful enough to warrant frustration over marketing? I’m a color fiend. I saw all the colors in the ad and liked it simply because they were all colors that I liked to see together. I temporarily wished that I had been more confident to wear a colored hair tie back when I had long hair. I wore brown. Blah.

I get it. It's stereotypical. However, there are women out there besides myself who like pink. How about we stop color shaming? I hate coral, but I will not make someone else feel sheepish for liking it.

Frustrations over the word usage from Liv- “Actually. I can.” makes me feel like my whole blog is subject to ridicule for being “Yes! You can!” when it comes to mountain biking or finding your #BikeLife, whatever that may be. I love sharing the inspiring and positive stories of women who ride and I'm humbled that there have been so many women willing to talk about their experiences. 
I feel it's important to share my stories, too- proving that tenacity, a willingness to fall, and the courage to get up will allow you to grow with whatever #BikeLife you choose.

People agonize over the concept of WSD or not for bikes.
I say, ride what makes you happy and ride what makes you feel the most confident. You should feel good about the fit and specs. Remember- you are buying a bike for you, not the general public.

I'm glad there are options out there for people to try in both WSD and not. I ride a mix of both, but my mountain bike that really helped me break barriers with myself is a WSD Trek Cali Carbon SLX. On that bike I conquered many hills and I even won a race…I love the fit and feel of that bike and it’s one that will stay in the fleet. I also won a race on a non-WSD bike. The geometry is similar enough to the Cali that I love it and feel comfortable on it.

When it comes down to the bike, you have to be the one to judge whether WSD or not is right for you.

When it comes to women wanting advocates/ambassadors they can relate to- Yes. I am inspired by the professional riders, but it also warms me to see non-professional women being showcased. To see the women who love to ride and want to encourage other women to get on a bike as it’s what I do and live for on a daily basis. I feel the everyday person who lives the #BikeLife is a truly valuable asset!

I find it exciting to see and observe how far the industry has come in the short while I’ve been part of it. Change takes time, it takes feedback, and it takes encouragement. I think it’s a good thing for women to remember that we all have differing opinions on what we like/dislike and I think we should do a good job of not being overly judgmental towards one another. Rather than aim for perfectionism with marketing and the industry- salute the companies that align with your personal views, but don’t look down on others that offer something that other women may be looking for. Not every community has a women’s group where all can feel welcome, so some women really look for a company that has a strong women’s market that provides the encouragement and enthusiasm they are wanting/needing.

It’s important to remember that just because you have thoughts and ideas as to what you feel is important for women and cycling, everyone else will have opinions, too. We should stop judging ourselves or others so harshly; not all women want or need the same things! Instead of going in circles, work together to make a difference and acknowledge the different opinions. It’s good to keep talking about ways to improve and make women and cycling feel more all-inclusive, but don’t take away the improvements that have already happened. 

Be an advocate for the sport you love. Keep voicing what you want to change.
Don't ignore the positives already happening.