I'm attending the Chequamegon Fat Tire Festival in September, so I figured that this would be a great way for me to get the lay of the land. Also to overcome fears of driving far away and check out some trails that Travis and I could go riding on the Sunday following my 40 mile event.
I made sure my bag was packed ahead of time, and I certainly questioned on whether or not I packed enough. Mildly embarrassed that I had packed so many padded shorts- but it turned out to be a good thing! I bought beer to share, made some Skratch cookies, and bought myself mini doughnuts for the drive. Mini doughnuts are "travel" tradition that Travis and I started. Granted, doughnuts from a bag are NOT real doughnuts- but they are easy enough to eat.
Friday came and I had made plans to go for a short ride with Stacy once I arrived. My calculations I figured I would be arriving around 2:30. Nope. Once on the road, the GPS stated it would be more around 4 p.m. WHAT?! I can't remember at this point if I was Preston or Chatfield- but I had realized I had forgot my doughnuts. I also was concerned that my Google Maps on my phone was not meshing with the GPS directions. I realized that the Sawmill Saloon address I had used was not in Wisconsin. and at this time I changed the destination on my GPS to a random gas station in Hayward- BOOM! Now we were on track.
(For those wondering why I didn't just go towards La Crosse, don't ask. I'd say getting "lost" worked out for the better and I wish I had found a similar way home. More on that, later. I'll take going the "wrong way" over detours any day.)
There was driving. So much driving. The amount of driving that makes it so you can't find a "sweet spot" and your butt hurts no matter what you do. I loved the rural and scenic routes during the drive, along with 80's rock music. I made a stop to get gas not too far from Hayward, I did my best to wait and find a gas station that was easy to see from the road, even if it posed a mild difficulty to get to it. Let me say, I did a great job dealing with cross-traffic. When I got out to start the gas pumping process, my legs felt so wobbly and I worried I'd fall into my car! Holy cow, they were stiff. I hobbled inside to use the restroom, because who wants to continue on with high-pressure driving situations with a full bladder?
Onward. Until I missed a turnoff I was supposed to take and was taken on a route to put me back on said location- that is, until I realized I was going to be driving down a road that had been damaged by the rain they had a few weeks ago or so. When you're looking forward at a badly rutted dirt road (with ruts that look like the width of your tires. I have tiny tires.) you have a big "Heck NO" and turn around and hightail it out of there. I did get back on track- that's all that matters.
I used the directions Stacy gave me for getting to the cabin, but neglected to turn left at the Mountain Bike Way sign. What I remembered was to make sure I went "Up" and I certainly did, but my going "Up" took me nowhere. A quick phone call with Stacy verified that I would make it- we would meet up shortly to go for a ride and then all would be right in my world.
It was super helpful to see arrows pointing to the direction needed to go for getting to the cabin once I was on the right road! I pulled into a spot and breathed a huge sigh of relief. I made it!!!
I started the process of unloading my car and putting my bike back together (front wheel was out for transportation.)
I went inside and met the ladies that were currently there- a hug from Lindsey and the meeting of my name-twin were highlights. I was given a tour of the cabin and picked my bunk- bottom one for me as I was certain I'd have to get up in the wee hours of the night. I'm blind as a bat without glasses or contacts, so figured I would make it as easy as possible for myself.
Once snacks were set out, beer put in the fridge, and bags set down- I text Stacy and started to get ready. We'd be out for an hour, hour and a half- making sure I'd be back before everyone would pack up and head out to supper at River's Eatery.
I rode down the gravel that I had came up, the words of the fellow in the driveway echoing in my mind- that will be one heck of a climb back up. I said with a smile, "I ride in Decorah"...hoping that I didn't just make myself sound like an ass and get caught in a situation where I would be stuck walking up a gravel road.
It was fun to meet up with Stacy as I don't often get to meet the women I interview! So it's treat when I get to do so and I hope it happens more often. Ironically we had the exact same Trek Carbon Lush! Stacy took me on a ride that would have me come out near the 00 trail head. She also pointed out some of the roads that I would be on when I come back for Chequamegon 40. Before I knew it, our ride was done and I was making my way back to the cabin. The gravel hill back to the cabin was not as bad as I thought it would be. Turns out that riding in Decorah did indeed pay off.
A quick shower, meeting the rest of the ladies, and situating myself with someone to carpool with to dinner commenced. During this time I had looked at my phone and had seen an email relating to the Trek Women's Advocate program. I had a battle with myself if I should open it or not and figured the band-aid effect would be best. It was the email that I hoped I wouldn't be getting and my gut proceeded to turn into a lead weight and plummet into the depths. Well, this would definitely put me to the test- I wouldn't have time to mourn the loss over an opportunity I was so hoping to get. I knew I couldn't let the news affect my trip and experience at the clinic- it was what it was and I would get past the feels and continue forward.
Once everyone was situated after coming back from their respective ride(s) and showered, we piled into a couple vehicles and went to supper. I couldn't feel bad for too long, because when you have freshly made woodfire pizza in front of your face, you can't help but smile.
I engaged in conversation and listened to many- the manager/owner of the restaurant had come over and said that we would all be able to take a shirt home with us.
We selected our sizes, had a photo, and then went back to the cabin. I was grateful to hitch a ride, because driving at night is not my strong point!
Back at the cabin we split up again to separate conversation groups and hung out. I was definitely ready to call it a night by the time we went to bed. Unfortunately sleep did not happen for me too well. Period cramps along with a different bed and over-thinking kept me up into the wee hours of the morning.
Morning came and the sweet, luxurious smells of eggs and bacon wafted in the air. Okay, maybe I couldn't quite tell what was being made for breakfast, but it smelled good. Lisa's husband, Bruce made these wonderful baked egg/bacon cups and there was some gloriously delicious coffee that had been brewed. I was filled with nerves and ate sparingly, but the coffee was a welcome treat which topped my store-bought cold-brew coffee. We figured out the itinerary- I was happy to partner up with Julie who had a 2-bike rack on her vehicle so I wouldn't have to take my bike apart several times. Our skills session would be at the OO trail head- after skills we would head back to the cabin for lunch and eventually make our way to the tails in Rock Lake.
I didn't know what to expect at my first skills session so I was on pins and needles. Lindsey likes to do an introduction and have everyone tell a bit of their story, what they are most proud of, and what they would like to learn. It's nice because we go thru names multiple times and for me that is SO helpful. I felt like I bumbled thru my story, but I made it! For what I was most proud of: my blog...and for what I wanted to learn: everything!
Skills went well, tho Lindsey did say that she was going over a lot in a short period of time- typically her clinics are two days vs. 1. During the exercises I followed behind Josie W. and watched how she did techniques- SO impressive! I felt happy- so far I hadn't embarrassed myself by falling over, sweet! The next thing I knew, I overcooked myself while trying to put a bunny hop together and went over my bars. It was slow motion and ridiculous, of course that would have to happen, right?!
I had smacked my right knee pretty good. With the urging of Lynn and Lindsey (to make sure I was okay) I went off to the side and observed a bit more. I knew I had simply done too much at once. I'm much better if I can master one skill at a time and instead of trying to mash so many un-mastered skills into one. I was pleased to come out of the experience being able to understand a bit more on foot placement on my flats along with getting my rear wheel up off the ground.
After skills (and being eaten alive by mosquitos who didn't seem to give a crap about the layers bug spray put on) we went back to the cabin for lunch and discussed Rock Lake and what we would be working on.
The trails were to be more technical with additional rocky features and we were to work on pointing our bike down where we wanted it to go. When descending we were to work on not moving far back on the seat, especially on steeper features. My thought? "This will be interesting"
When we started out, I wasn't sure where I was at skill-wise compared to some of the ladies, so I opted to stay further back. Also, new trails have me riding more cautiously, so I figured it would be better for me to ride within my comfort zone. I rode with Janet, appreciating the lack of needing to ride super fast and being able to take my time. I didn't need to prove anything, I just wanted to have a good time. I rode over and down sections I wasn't sure I'd be able to do - great! I felt accomplished.
Then we come to a section called Wall Street, which any image I could find after to seeing it and being there has not done it justice. I will say, it was a feature I should've tried riding without inspecting it first. Yes, after seeing it I decided I wanted to watch some other women ride it so I could figure out how to go down a steeper section without having my butt back behind my seat. The more I watched, the more intrigued I became. I wanted to do something cool that I could come home to Travis and say "I totes did that!" I felt like I had something to prove.
Unfortunately, it didn't happen. Martha bravely went out of her comfort zone and had an unfortunate fall. We were certain her ankle was sprained; unable to bear weight, we opted to call the session for the day. Rain was coming and we didn't want to be caught in a potential downpour- this meant teamwork! A couple of us (Josie W., Julie, and myself) trucked an extra bike- Julie and I switched off and towards the end. Eventually Kristin joined up and offered to take over the second bike. Normally I like to be bullheaded and pull my weight, but the ineffective bug spray and hoisting of two bikes were taking their toll and I relished the break.
Martha went back to Minnesota with another lady to get her ankle looked at (found out it was broken! She's on the mend!) The rest of us went back to the cabin to get ourselves cleaned up and ready for supper. This time we went to the Sawmill Saloon. I picked a simple meal of chicken strips, a rare treat and something that I felt would help calm my nerves. Of course the night before driving home I was already wondering and worrying about 1. will my car start and 2. will I manage to get home okay...keep in mind I was also running off fumes as I had hardly slept the night before...and 3. still working thru feels.
After supper we came back and Lynn, Julie, and myself played Yatzee, a first for me! I didn't do amazingly well, but by the end of the game I had vague understanding of what I was doing. Not growing up in a game-playing family, it's success if I can figure something out besides Cards Against Humanity.
Soon it was to bed, I had high hopes of being able to go to sleep...and pretty much completely failed. Rain came and I wondered how the trails would hold- the mysteries of riding somewhere else that isn't your home turf.
Soon it was morning again and fatigued with a stiff knee, I went upstairs for some coffee. I wasn't very hungry that morning as I'm typically not a heavy breakfast eater- poor form, I know. We figured out where we wanted to go and what to ride. Lindsey was going to take a crew back out to Rock Lake- Julie wasn't feeling it and with my knee, I opted to be on the safer end of the spectrum and felt riding something less involved would be grand.
Julie and I made plans to ride together and Bruce said he would ride with us- helping us feel confident with the fact we would not get lost. Bruce led us to the Makwa trail start; after we were situated he did the unthinkable "You two can go first and I'll follow behind." Oh gravy! Me? Lead?
Bruce was a treasure and wealth of information and it was wonderful to hear him talk candidly about all sorts of things. He is a coach for NICA and a really outstanding fellow.
We came to a midway point, which he thought we were closer to the OO trail head- but that was around 7 miles away. Bruce then said "Josie, you can keep riding and we can meet you at the trail head." Oh! I could keep going? Solo? Should I? I had a lot on my mind and a ride that was solo was probably just what I needed. Time to myself and to ride though all my thoughts and concerns.
The last parting notes from Bruce "Stay on Makwa."
As I rode off, I then wondered- "You mean I could get lost?!" I tried to not worry about it and continued onward.
I didn't run into another soul out there, and the Makwa trail reminded me so much of home, which was fantastic. I was feeling homesick...I was feeling out of my element...I was feeling down-ish about not making it into the Trek Women's Advocate Program...and I needed to feel like I was capable. I needed to feel like I was strong. I wanted and desired to have the confidence of saying I was able to ride a trail and not get lost.
So I rolled with it.
I loved it!
I had flow I couldn't experience in Decorah and I rode over a bridge section without fear. (You'll do anything to not fall into what looked like swamp water!) Not much elevation helped me keep riding with a bum knee, tho I will admit towards the end I was ready to stop riding. Hunger finally set in and I felt tired. About 14 miles of riding was had and I felt sated and ready to go on my journey home. Back at the cabin I took a quick shower and started to load up my car again. Bike, beer, and leftover snacks. About 20 minutes or so into my drive I got a call asking if I had forgotten a pillow. Damnit! I had! Lisa was kind enough to say she would mail it to me once she was back home.
The route I took to get home was not the route I took to get up there; much longer bouts of freeway/interstate driving and detours. Oh the detours. Thank goodness the GPS knew were to go for alternate routes, because I was completely lost in a vast world of unknowns. I will admit, I wound up in some tricky situations and mentally questioned if I could handle the stress.
Then arriving Onalaska and figuring out the detours going on there; I about had an anxiety attack. I kept getting turned around and was unsure where to go- stuffing Swedish Fish and Sour Patch Kids into my mouth, I maintained a sense of calm. A small sense. I did manage to get to out of the mess bordering on the edge of tears- you knew I wanted to get home badly when I passed an opportunity to stop at a gas station and cry it out- I just keep driving.
Relief was had when I finally rolled into Decorah- I smiled. I was home. Especially when I rolled up to the garage and Travis was sweeping. Seeing him in that moment was all I needed.
The weekend had given me so many wonderful opportunities to grow and expand with my personal self. I experienced a weekend with some wonderful women- learned a few skill techniques that I can improve on, and also accomplished driving in situations that are way beyond my comfort zone. It was a trip that helped me grow as a person on several levels.
I rode a trail solo and didn't get lost.
I conquered fears.
I conquered fears.
I made friends.
I stayed positive even tho I felt I had missed a great opportunity.
I was thankful for what I had, what I experienced, and what I achieved.