Wednesday, September 28, 2016

When Something Better Comes Along

I'm sitting here bleary eyed thinking a bit about a conversation (a short one) that Travis and I had tonight. More often than not, I'm not one to talk about anything customer related that isn't positive to the "nth" degree. Today was one of the times where I didn't fully realize the context of the conversation until later.

A husband and wife had come in and apparently she was familiar with me from when I worked at the Co-Op. Of course, reasons for my leaving the Co-Op are several, but the largest and most insurmountable reason is the fact my body was having a difficult time coping with the job that I did.
Repetitive motion stress plagued me with no end in sight.

I had regular massages to help deal with the issues, but try and try, nothing was acting as a full solution. Not knowing at the time that my body physically was a bit more "predisposed" to issues (in the shoulder area) I was feeling lost and helpless.

There came a time when I had hopes and dreams of being more involved with the bike shop- particularly with rides. I wanted to get more women involved in cycling- my dream was to have a weekly group ride. My work schedule wasn't so conducive to said ideas, being I worked more "second shift" and was never off two days in a row and my weekend freedoms were limited.

I was in a comfortable spot with my employment, but I was hungry for more. Wanting to be more active in the community and having desires that couldn't be fulfilled with cashiering, I made the extremely difficult decision to move forward to Decorah Bicycles. It was time, even tho it meant many scary changes for me- one of which meant knowing near next to nothing. Sure, I knew how to ride a bike, but I didn't know very much about bikes- thus, fear.

Of course the idea of working with your partner is going to come with many comments such as "Oh gosh, are you sure that's a good idea?" to "How's that going?" Do you not realize that those comments carry similar weight to those that are asked of couples who are together for years "When are you getting married?" to "When are you having kids?" Those are personal and something that I feel two adults can decide for themselves without public commentary about the fate of the relationship, marital status, or parental status.

Let me be Captain Obvious, if you will- There are going to be good days and there are going to be days where I wonder what the hell I'm doing. However, the main thing is...I'm involved with something I believe in with someone I believe in. 

The conversation with the woman today, admitting that my arm issues were the main culprit of my job switch- "Oh, you're too young to have issues like that." Said in sympathy...but at the same time I felt like I wanted to kick the workbench. I don't enjoy having an arm that decides to randomly flare up, leaving me feeling a great sense of helplessness as I drop things. I hate when my shoulder aches on a daily basis, making me feel frustration at my body for doing what it does. I'm filled with aggravation when I realize one bike too late that I've tightened down too many bolts and I'm dealing with a hand that aches for days after. I'm inching closer and closer to 32...I'm "young" and I "shouldn't" have issues...but I've had issues since 2009 or so. Please...don't sympathize with me by saying I'm "too young" for something. I could be far worse off than I am and I know what I experience is minute compared to what other individuals out there may be dealing with. It's an inconvenience, yes- but I've learned all too well you are never "too young" for something.

Then there is the comment pertaining to the title insinuation that this job...of me working at the bike shop, is "fine for now" until "something better comes along."
What do you mean? Are you indicating that I've taken a step down from the social ladder because I'm not a cashier at an organic food store, but now a store manager at a bike shop? Am I belittling myself by assembling bicycles and doing the same exact thing as I did when I was at the Co-Op? Cashiering?

I'm sorry, but working at a bike shop is not belittling myself in any way shape or form. Sure, I may not know what I'm doing sometimes and I get riddled with anxiety over how hopeless of a cause I feel by not being a natural at mechanics or simply being overwhelmed by the knowledge I have yet to attain. That doesn't stop me. Reality? I'm just getting started.

Do I know what my so-called dream job would be? No. Frankly, I don't want to sit on my ass and wonder what I'm "supposed to be" when I "grow up." If I did so, I would be a giant anxiety attack and never accomplish anything. Overall, what I want is to follow my passion- that passion is believing in the healing power of riding bikes. Working at Decorah Bicycles is the most responsible way I can follow my passion.

Helping people find their own #bikelife and being able to write when I want. Connecting with women to interview and having some flexibility of doing adventurous things like attending my first women's weekend or attending events out of town, and leading group rides.

Each day at the shop is different and it's like when I worked at a salon. There are the days where you have the same ol' same ol' haircuts that walk in. It's simple and instinctual. Then there are the days where someone comes in and wants a transformation- you savor those days with relish because you know someone has made a difference in their life.

I don't sit around with my morning coffee and wonder about "when will something better come along..." Hell no. I'm there...I'm this ever-evolving, changing world of the bicycle industry and small town business living. I grew up on a small farm in the country where I learned the value of hard work and strong work ethic. Over the years I've learned to appreciate the things I have...I've gained a better hold on my health and well being. I've found a community of women I admire who are near and far, who are local and who are not. I've found and gained confidence that I didn't know I had. I've challenged myself with a job that I may not always be good at, but one I am passionate about because I have experienced first hand what two wheels can do for someone.

My job at Decorah Bicycles isn't one I take lightly and it's not something I consider as my "in-between careers" because career is being me. Being me is riding my bike, sharing the stories of women who ride, and helping women feel more confident riding off-road. That is my career...whether it gets me far or not isn't important, but the fact I enjoy doing it is. It's a challenge, it encourages me to step outside my comfort zone, and it inspires me.

My something better came along just over 4 years ago; I just had to buy a bicycle to find it.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Race Day Adventures: The Chequamegon 40

It was sometime in January when Curtis asked if I had signed up for Chequamegon. "What do you mean? I can sign up?" Well, it turned out that there was not going to be a lottery used to get into Chequamegon but rather you have the opportunity to sign up until all the spaces are filled.

Chequamegon was one of those events where I thought it would be in my 5 year plan. I apparently short change myself all the time when it comes to my physical and endurance levels. I felt that it would be a wasted opportunity if I didn't sign up- because what if it went back to the lottery system the following year? I didn't dawdle.

I signed up that evening.

I cleverly managed to procure Travis as my transportation because I like to plan things WAY ahead of time and I wanted company. I knew we wouldn't have a hard time finding friends to meet up with as quite a few Decorah locals attend the event either participating or spectating. With Travis on board and room booked, I started planning my very loose "training" schedule.

Fast forward to Friday, September 16th- the day before Chequamegon. We made plans to close shop early (noon) and head out on the road. For those who are customers of ours, mark you calendars as Chequamegon 2017 is September 15th, 16th, and 17th! We will be closing at noon again that Friday.

Butterflies were just starting to do uppercuts in my gut. I had spent the following months following a half-ass training regimen which included...not really training. I had every good intention of doing so, but I had other insecurities to overcome first- like not being afraid to go for a long gravel ride by myself. Weeks before Chequamegon I overcame fears and went on 2 solo rides to rack on miles prior to the event. I felt accomplished, I knew I would finish the race, but I had no idea how I would do...and I chose to not worry.
Nerves aside, this was the most easy-going I've felt about an event since I started casually participating. I'm not sure if it was because I knew I'd be riding with other riders in a league that far outweighed my own along with weekend warriors, and the yearly participant. Not having attended Chequamegon before, I had nothing to lose- just experience to gain and the confidence to know I could complete it.

Race day morning came and my stomach was in shambles. I couldn't escape the pre-event stomach bug that seems to plague me no matter what. I sipped some hot coffee and made myself eat a couple of Skratch cookie bars I had baked before the trip. Telling myself as I repeatedly ran to the bathroom that all would be well.
We walked my bike to my gate, Number 7, the furthest gate from the start line. There was a row of bikes already in place and I decided to be ballsy and put my bike in the second row. I knew no matter what, I would be passing people from other gates (Really? Really) and I wanted to give myself some sort of advantage because I wanted to get to my middle spot as soon as possible.

I feel I'm a strong mid-pack rider (for events); I'm not the fastest person on the bike but I'm not the slowest. I also know that as soon as I can get myself away from the biggest group, the sooner I could get into my own groove and ride my ride.
I was given a lot of great advice for my first Chequamegon, all of which was much appreciated. I was feeling very focused and hyper-aware during the roll out. I talked with two fellows a little bit while we were slowly rolling closer to the start. A compliment was given on my bike (Gaston) and I was giddy with anticipation. What some may find crazy is I decided to do Chequamegon on flats. Yup. The lightest most grippy flats I've owned yet- HT pedals.

I felt my heart tug as I saw Travis watching me from the sidelines and imagined we were both feeling "all of the feels" as we knew that I would ride off into the perpetual unknown that is Chequamegon. As all of the riders and myself rolled out, I had the biggest and goofiest smile on my face. I watched the other riders and simply did as they did. We rolled to Rosie's Field which words of advice were for me to shift down several gears before dumping in. At first I thought "Nah, it looks fine" but believe me, I was grateful for the heads up and made it up the first hill with relative ease.

Now, being this was my first Chequamegon event, I am completely not seasoned with the locations of most of the climbs or areas that people would be able to name. For me it was a whirlwind of challenge and excitement- especially because it was SO wet! I felt that the Time Trials this year prepared me to handle riding in wet, sloppy, and muddy conditions. However, I rode Time Trials on a plus bike and this time I was going to see if I could make it up greasy climbs on my 29" wheeled machine.

I was most pleased to discover I totally could! 

I loved that I had to use strategy with riding. Seeing lines ahead of time, following other riders, sneaking past some on climbs that I was quicker at, keeping myself at a safe distance when descending...the list goes on. I was worried I would be bored with the duration and potential monotony; my mind was far from bored!

At one point I was leapfrogging with a woman, I had been near her before Rosie's Field (I think) and then saw her again later. "Are you Josie?" I heard her ask. "Yup!" It was Melissa, a woman I had interviewed after I signed up for Chequamegon! "You're doing great, lady!" she said and we continued on. Eventually I was ahead and wouldn't see Melissa again until after we finished. This is the coolest part about interviewing rad women and participating in events- getting to meet them!

Eating and drinking during my ride were things I kept having to remind myself to do. With the addition of the wind jacket, my access to my jersey pockets were limited. I opted to use my Camelbak that had side pockets for my emergency necessities- inhaler (which I forgot to use!) and additional GU packets/Clif Bloks. I felt success with retrieving my water bottle that had hydration mix, however consuming the liquid was not very graceful. I probably got half of it in my mouth and the rest of it down my chin. During the race I was amazed as to how many water bottles had escaped their riders, it was a sight to be seen!

The mud puddles I rode thru impressed me, both with how deep they were and how I managed to not fall over and become a mess of brown muck. I would look down at my gear cluster periodically to make sure it wasn't too bad- I brought a brush with me if it was needed.

I was excited to see signs letting riders know that Pirates were ahead. I was stoked to see the Pirates! It meant rum! I'm not one for drinking on my rides, but I did take a shot to relax my lungs. The warmth of the liquid seemed to calm the capillaries and the flavor made me think of coffee. A kind fellow had tried to convince me to have another, but I declined. One swig of rum is good enough for this wench.

It was sometime around here that a fellow had ridden by me and looked down "You're doing this whole thing on flats?! You're a badass!"

Soon Fire Tower loomed ahead. My tentative goal was to ride up the whole thing, however the mass of folks surrounding me both front and rear stopped and started trudging up the hill. It had been miles since I had seen another woman and when we came to Fire Tower, I was walking next to two. Lucas had appeared again, having some unfortunate mechanical issues after he had passed me earlier. It was a mad, steady, and calculated scramble up the hill. Towards the middle, a fellow or two had decided they would get on and poke their way up to the top. I was inspired. I decided that I wanted to impress myself and thought "maybe I can, too!" So I mounted my bike and pedaled upward, hearing Lucas give words of encouragement as I continued forward and rode the last half of Fire Tower successfully.

Riding so many miles at a steady clip in unsavory conditions does take a lot out of a person- it also makes you feel like a winner. I knew more climbing was ahead and was thankful for the aid stations, taking them up on the energy drink they provided and a lone doughnut hole. I have to admit, the doughnut hole was the most difficult thing I tried to consume, but once it was down I felt better.

Lucas caught back up with me and was behind me as we came to a giant puddle. I followed behind a rider who went off to the right. Suddenly I felt a bump and heard a big splash- Oh Lucas! He had followed too close and hit my rear tire and lost balance...I felt awful. All I could say was "Sorry!" and "I thought you needed a bath!

There was one climb I didn't do successfully and I can't tell you exactly where it was at, but it was on a grassy trail section. I had taken a line to the left and spun out. The fellow behind me was kind and we chatted a little. I had mentioned it was my first time attending Chequamegon; everyone was so encouraging, particularly because my inaugural ride was so...well, wet.

There was a section of grass rollers that came upon us and I found myself riding next to another lady for a bit, leapfrogging each other as we went up and down. She was nice to chat with, tho I had a hard time making my first initial "Hello!" She complimented me on my climbing, I mentioned I lived in Decorah, Iowa. "Iowa has hills?!" I smiled "Yup! Decorah does!" It seemed like the rollers were never going to quit, all I could say to myself was "Challenge Accepted."

I was making my way up the last big climb and had Fuhrmann ran next to me yelling "Dig deep! Dig deep!" I couldn't help but laugh at the handful of ferns hiding his beverage. I crested the climb and started on a wickedly fun grassy downhill. O'Gara, Benji, Spinner, and Travis were all cheering me on- my smile was huge! I let out a whoop and started to feel all the feels. Heading down the hill, I soaked in the irony of an upcoming incline right before the finish. One more climb? Worth it. I had joy swimming thru my body and I wanted to break down in tears. I was so happy and stoked that I managed to do something that I thought would be nearly impossible when I signed up. From whim to reality, I was able to come out feeling as good as I could for my lack of experience.
My bike performed flawlessly. I have nothing but good things to say about Gaston- the fit and feel of the bike was amazing. Having confidence bombing down some of the gnarly fire road sections helped a lot with keeping up my momentum. I was pleased with the tires I ran along with the air pressure (23 psi)
Travis was kind enough to have some cold beer waiting for me, and it was delicious! I was thrilled to meet Gary Crandall, the fellow who was behind the event and helped connect me to some fabulous women to interview prior to Chequamegon. He was quite impressed with my mud freckles!

Some folks may be wondering what my goal was for the event since it was my first time. The main goal, of course, was to finish and my secondary goal was to be in the top 10 in my age group. I made my way to the results computer with a small sense of anxiety, because I had absolutely no idea how I did nor did I pay attention to my race time. I typed in my name...*drumroll* I was 10th in my age group! I finished in 3.18.39- sweet! I was the 52nd female and was 916th out of 1,400 riders. I was pleased with my finish and results- I couldn't have asked for anything better out of this ride.

We made our way to the condo where our friends had stayed; I took liberty to take a hot shower before all of the testosterone showed up. It was glorious! We later went back to the Big Top for we could hang out with Kelsey and Patrick (and our other friends.) Not long after, we went back to the condo where the truck was parked to head back to Hayward. I was ready for t.v. and pizza, I felt that my socializing was at the max and it was time to relax and eat some much needed calories.

Final notes on the weekend-
It was fabulous and I agree with folks- it's something that you should do at least once. Everyone I met or rode with seemed very nice; it's an event that really makes you feel like you're part of a family. You have a mix of serious riders who can really pull out the rpms and you have folks who attend yearly for the fun and community that Chequamegon brings. Everyone in town seems so incredibly stoked for you to be there, the volunteers are great, the pirates may slap your bum, and the smiles are infectious. If you're looking for legit singletrack there won't be much in this race. (Keep your eyes open for the Borah Epic!) If you enjoy gravels, distance, and rollers you will find a happy place. With the unfortunate weather that Hayward/Cable experienced throughout the months (lots of rain) there were sections of trail and fire road that were eroded, which provided extra challenge. Several mud sections to roll thru, and greasy climbs to conquer- boredom wasn't an option! If you mountain bike you will find that your skills will greatly aid in your ability to maneuver the tricky spots and longer gravel/road rides prior to will help you with rollers and distance.

Thank you for the ride, Chequamegon Fat Tire Festival...we'll see you in 2017!

Special thanks goes out to Borah Teamwear for the awesome Decorah Bicycles jersey, Shebeest for great shorts that can handle the miles and to SockGuy for rad socks!
A huge thanks to Travis for building one heck of a race bike and for being the best support crew/beer chiller/and cheerleader!

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

The Fearless Women of Dirt Conquer the Pines

It was coming up on another holiday weekend, Labor Day, and we anticipated our usual Co-Ed ride would have minimal attendance due to that. With talking to the new bike riding acquaintance I had made thru my bank, I decided to throw out to Social Media land the possibility of an introductory women’s off-road ride.

To be frank, I had little expectation that anything would happen. It always seemed that whenever I tried to plan a women’s only event/ride that something would inhibit it from actually occurring to its fullest potential.

Weather and people out of town were the usual culprits and I held a shred of hope that something would come to fruition.

I made the event on Facebook and shared it all over the place- in the FWD group, on the FWD page, and my personal page. I hoped that some of the women with whom I had talked to over the last several months that had shown interest would see. Unexpectedly and much to my surprise, two women who had been following the FWD group let me know of their availability and interest! Alright! This was going to happen!

We decided that the Co-Ed ride would be off the table for the weekend, officially, so Travis could load and haul all the bikes and bodies to the Van Peenen park entrance.  From there he would do some trail work and be ready for us when we were finished. I approximated being out sometime around 5:30 p.m. to 7:30ish p.m.

On Saturday, two more women committed to joining the Sunday ride- awesome! Count on Saturday for individuals on Sunday was 5. This was the most number of women I’ve ridden with solo let alone the most number of women who had shown up for an introductory ride! I was super pumped. We set aside bikes for the riders on Saturday before we left work so we would be ready to roll on Sunday. I was feeling excited but nervous- I worried about overwhelming everyone with too much knowledge and wasn’t sure if I could keep my talking to a minimum.
Sunday rolled in and the day went by quickly- soon it was time for the women to start arriving! As they rolled in, we pulled out the bikes we sized to them to have them see how they liked them. Seat heights set, air pressure checked, bikes loaded and we were ready to go!

I started the ride out simple- we would make our way up the Fire Road and take a short break at the top for everyone to catch up and catch their breath. Unfortunately mosquitoes were still an issue, so this made necessary breaks a bit challenging. Either way, bug spray was along in case of re-application. Before we rolled into Pines West I discussed on the importance of using both the front and back brake.

Many times individuals use only the back brake because of tales told about how someone went over the bars (or maybe they did)- and that eliminates your stopping power and control. I described how when I’m mountain biking (or any other style of riding) I flutter them both back and forth, so I have a very controlled slow down and/or stop. That way I’m for sure going to stop if I need to and I’m not wearing out my back tire from skidding.

After we made our way thru Pines West, we came to a stop in front of a tiny knoll. This little hill was going to be the perfect opportunity to go over a couple basic handling skills that some may already do when riding the paved trail or other surfaces.
Standing while descending and standing while climbing up an incline; two tricks that help make riding off-road more confidence inspiring. You find that climbing up hills while sitting and spinning can work, but at the same time there is a lot of effort that goes into sitting and spinning. If you shift to a gear or two harder and stand up, you move forward much more quickly and the effort seems less. Standing while descending helps you keep your center of gravity where it will not feel like you will topple forward over the bars when going down a hill. Some hills you need to be far back over your seat and others not so much, but it’s something that many folks are afraid to do.

We also discussed the importance of level pedals, especially when it comes to riding in
rooty/rocky/rutty sections.  We did a couple laps on the little knoll and then continued into Pines East- it felt like a few more women were feeling a bit more comfortable with the root-riddled terrain, which was excellent! The pines are a great place to go for introductory rides, but the roots do provide a challenge. Fatbikes were definitely the way to go for an extra dose of confidence.

At the end of Pines East, I asked for a volunteer- someone else in the group to lead so I could tail behind. Our fearless leader took off and we followed, back to the knoll where I had everyone do another round of getting off the saddle with climbing/descending.

Our fearless leader took the lead thru Pines East and then I took back over and led us thru a winding route thru some of the Prairie paths. We wound around the Prairie and eventually went down First Right and back to Pines West. I took the rear again until coming out of Pines East, and then we hit the Prairie to the Fire Road so we could all blast down (to everyone’s personal comfort level) a fun hill to end the ride.

Everyone had smiles and even if comfort levels had been challenged, they had a great time! Trying to make the introduction to off-road riding not be filled with intimidation and worry is hard, but I did what I could do to try and make it a worthwhile experience. Regardless of the experience, whether it met expectations or no, everyone could say they did a great job at giving it a solid go!

I was pleased to hear feedback that there were some good lessons and tips given- that made my day. It’s not easy to keep skills that are helpful to know to a minimum when starting out, but going with something simple that everyone can work on in all applications is helpful. Level pedals can be worked on during any style of riding; you just have to think about it. Braking properly is also something that can be practiced anywhere at any time on the bike.

I can’t completely express my happiness over the ride and how proud I was of everyone and their
efforts. It was humbling and wonderful to have a group out and introduce them to the type of riding I’m passionate about. It was great to see confidence increase with the laps along with the smiles that were had as everyone realized that it wasn’t as impossible as they may or may not have thought it would be. Being out in the woods on that Sunday with the group of women who showed up was an experience I will hold close to my heart for some time to come, and I hope we can make another ride like that happen again soon!

Monday, September 19, 2016

Women Involved Series: Lora Curtis

They say you find true love when you least expect it, and this is certainly true of my relationship with the #bikelife.
I bought my first mountain bike in the late 1990's, as my husband wanted us to have bikes to ride to work (a very short commute) and to ride campground trails on our weekends away. My conversation with the bike shop employee went something along the lines of, "I'll just take your cheapest bike because I'm pretty sure I'm not going to like this." I could not have been more wrong. 

My bike path rides soon led into more challenging and technical trails, as I found within myself a sense of adventure that I never knew I had. A few short years later, I bought my first full suspension trail bike and not long after that, in 2006, my husband and brother bought our bike shop, Totally Spoke'd which is located in Stratford, Ontario, Canada.

Being a part of the bike industry has introduced me to the most incredible people and they have helped me expand my skills, and my love for bikes in more ways than I could imagine! Recently, I've been getting to know Josie after contacting her to let her know that an article I read on her FWD movement inspired me to start a women's trail riding riding group based on her principles.

Tell us what has inspired you to share the love of your #bikelife?
When I was learning to ride, I was so focused on just keeping the rubber-side down that I honestly wasn't aware of how few women there were on the trails in my area. As the years went on, I began to travel to places such as Whistler, where I noticed that many more women were not only riding, but could seriously shred on a bike! I realized just how unbalanced the ratio of men to women here in Ontario was when I overheard a couple of guys discussing a ride they were on where they saw a unicorn. When I asked what they meant, I was told that a unicorn was a solo female rider. At that moment, I knew that something needed to change. After I read your article, "Even New Mountain Bikers Can Welcome Others Into the Fold", I decided that I should be a part of making that change happen.

What clicked when you went on your first few rides and turned the "I'm pretty sure I'm not going to like this" into "I love this!"

What I immediately discovered was that riding my begrudgingly purchased, entry level, hard tail made me REALLY happy! OK, I know how that sounds, but seriously, I had never been one to be involved in anything athletic. I was petite, and left handed, so when it came to most organized sports, my skills were awkward at best. My bike and I, however, we were doing this, and it felt good! I had a lot yet to learn, but even on the days when the learning curve seemed to be a line going straight up, riding that bike always made me smile! All these years later, I can't recall one time that I've come back from a ride that I wasn't in a better mood then when I went out. I believe this is why people often say that mountain biking is addictive, you always end up feeling happier and more alive after a ride.

Knowing what you know now, what suggestions do you have for women looking to buy their first bike who have not been riders before?
Please go out and test ride as many bikes as possible. Most shops will be more than helpful with this and finding a shop that you feel comfortable with should be part of your purchasing decision: they will become your family. Try an entry level bike and get a feel for the response in shifting gears and the way the brakes feel, then take a higher end bike and do the same. Try a full suspension bike; demo days held at various trails are popular in the industry these days and are a great place to try out the higher end bikes on the terrain for which they are intended (note - Don't be offended when the person setting up the bike boldly asks how much you weigh. They are calculating suspension set up, that is all. I promise). Consider the fit of the bike; we are each unique. Some women are longer in the leg and shorter in the torso, others carry their height more evenly. Be sure you have a reasonable amount of bend in your arms when holding the handlebars so that you will have good control over the bike. Once you are ready to buy, the best advice I was ever given was that if funds allow, to buy a little more bike than you think you need. I took this advice when I made my first serious bike purchase and I appreciated it, as we tend to grow quickly in this sport and that bike more than fulfilled my needs for five years. Had I had purchased the lesser spec'ed bike, I am certain I would have wished for upgrades after the first year or two.
Do you remember how you felt on your first mountain bike ride?
There was a lot of walking. It was a group ride with a large number of men but thankfully, there were two other women that were convinced by their partners to come out and try this as well. It felt good that at least we had each other while facing all the craziness of this new biking surface. Did I mention there was a lot of walking? We walked up, and sometimes even down, the steep hills. We stood at trail features and talked about how we thought you might ride them, and then walked over those too. Over the next few months, we became stronger, more daring, and really good friends! I really owe it all to these two; I am certain that I wouldn't have become the rider that I am today had I not had Sue and Amy by my side while we learned to ride.

If you had nervousness at all, what did you do or think to overcome it?

Oh, there was certainly some nervousness in those early days and a great deal of it had to do with the trail surface. All my childhood riding had been on pavement, so all this rooty, rocky, unevenness was a concern to me. I was an apprehensive rider until I realized that everyone else's bike was capably handling this gnarly surface and that the bike I was riding was, in fact, designed and built for this very purpose. Mountain bikes love roots and rocks! Having confidence in the bike made it was easier for me to stay loose and ride without worry. I often share this with my new riders to help them get over those first ride jitters. I believe it is always important to acknowledge feelings such as being nervous, and I still have times where I get butterflies when I'm pushing my comfort zone on the bike. It serves as a reminder for me to take a minute and go over the skills I need to bring forward in my mind. Once it's sorted in my head, I do a quick grounding breath and go for it!

Clips or flats? What do you prefer and why?
Flats paired with good riding shoes! I have always been drawn to techy bits of trail, riding skinnies, over large rocks, whatever "extra" bits I can find. To have the confidence to ride those lines, I need to be able to save it when things start to go wrong, so flats have been the best choice for me.

When you started out riding, what were some handling skills that challenged you? Do you have any suggestions for what helped you grasp them?
Descending was my biggest weakness; oh so many endos! Proper use of the brakes took me some time to learn, especially after being given some well intended, but poor, advice of "only use your rear brake". This, I learned in time, may minimize the flipping, but will also leave you very out of control and skidding on steep grades. Becoming very confident on the descents required me to learn to feather both brakes (apply a bit of brake, let go, repeat), and to become comfortable with the fact that keeping most of the momentum is actually helpful, again, trusting the bike to handle the terrain. The second key part is always remembering to always be off the saddle when not pedaling.
This was difficult in my early days as I wasn't very strong so I would get tired/lazy and stay on the saddle. I can't begin to tell you how much I love now having a dropper post!
How, and when, to change gears was also a struggle for me. Nothing worse than getting caught on a climb in the wrong gear, or than switching to a harder gear by mistake! To learn the basics of how to shift, I would go for short rides around my neighbourhood and would shift all the way through my rear cassette, up and then down, followed by the same with my front chainrings. Once my fingers had their part figured out , I turned my attention to my feet (cadence) whenever I was pedaling. I began to sense, and then anticipate, when to change gears in order to always be applying the same amount of effort to turn the pedals. As complicated as it may seem at first, please don't be tempted to just ride in your granny ring, with just a little practice, I promise that switching gears will become a subliminal part of riding.
Are there still handling or technical riding aspects that you find tricky? How do you not let that drag you down when riding?

To me, riding is a progression. There will always be a skill to learn, or a place to travel to ride and challenge myself. Each season, I choose a goal or two to work on and just last summer, in my mid forties, I learned to do wheelies with Ryan Leech's 30 Day Wheelie Challenge ( Biking has brought the most amazing people into my life, and this is certainly true of Ryan. Through his coaching website, it is easy to tackle a new skill as they are broken down into short video practice sessions. This teaching method encourages me to work towards skills that often look too difficult when viewed as a whole, and if I am ever struggling, I can easily go back a few lessons and review. Presently, I'm working on mastering bunny hops, which will help me pop over a few trail obstacles that are rough to ride through, and I hope to soon find some practice time to work on manuals as well.

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

My bikes are real beauties this year! I've been riding the trails on a 2017 Norco Carbon Optic. I chose this bike as it is a perfect fit for me, both in geometry, and in being responsive and playful on the trail. I had been riding all mountain style trail bikes, but the Optic with less travel (130mm front and 120mm rear with 650b) is proving to have more performance for both pedaling and in holding it's ground while descending. I have to admit, I was so smitten with this bike that I actually chased a prototype of it through a hotel lobby last summer! It's been a good four months for us, I measured my chain wear the other day and found that it's already time for a replacement! This winter, I will be playing in the snow on my new fat bike, a Norco Ithaqua. I love being able to ride year round, and I'm pretty excited to get to know this beautiful, carbon frame fattie when our trails freeze over!

You created a women's ride group- tell us about Totally Spoke'd's Fearless Women of Dirt and what you're all about!
Our FWD was created using the same concept the group in Decorah, providing an opportunity for women that haven't tried trail riding, or are just beginning in the sport, to come together to ride at their own level in an encouraging environment. When I put out the first invitation for women to join me on the trails in a 'women only' group ride, I wasn't sure if anyone would actually show up. On that first ride, there were nineteen women, and most of them had never had their bike tires in the dirt! It was incredible, and our presence did not go unnoticed by the male riders that frequented the trail! It wasn't long until many of them were stopping to ask what we were about and if their wives/girlfriends would be able to join us. Our group has continued to grow over the past two years, and we meet each Saturday morning to ride and work on skills (while also discussing a diverse range of topics, often including wine, chocolate and perimenopause); always welcoming beginners, and helping them feel comfortable on the trail.

What are your future hopes and goals with the group?
My biggest hope is to see this movement grow, and I can see this starting to happen already. These women are becoming stronger riders, more confident on the trail and they are becoming leaders. I see them holding back on a ride to help out a beginner. They share stories of their first rides and offer encouragement to new riders. They are bringing their daughters out and introducing them to trail riding. They are posting their riding adventures on social media, their friends are expressing interest, and they are inviting them to join us. They are joining in on co-ed rides and signing up for their first races, and that helps other women to feel comfortable doing the same. Making women feel welcome and supported, and sharing with them our love for mountain biking will lead to more and more women out on the trails. I'm really excited to see where the FWD grows from here!

What inspires you to encourage women to ride?

It's the smiles; definitely those exhilarated smiles! We can't let the men have all the fun in this sport, can we?

Monday, September 12, 2016

Women Involved Series: Cori Pepelnjak

Like so many, I just love riding bikes and am pretty darn happy on just about any bike, but I am a mountain biker. Give me rocks, roots, drops, and berms—please. Enduro is by far my race of choice, although I have only had the opportunity to compete in three, thus far. Whereas I have raced dozens of XC races, which includes winter fat bike racing. My first ever bike race still remains my favorite, the Dakota Five-O. For me, racing has been primarily about the camaraderie and pushing my fitness and speed. I’ve never been one to train for racing and although it does feed my competitive-self, racing XC has been my “training” to become a better, faster “free” rider, because just riding rad trails with playful, skilled riders is my absolute favorite.

“It’s a passion.” “I can have an impact.” “It’s compelling.” “Why not? It’s worth a try.” “It’s just a temporary deviation.” “I get to do what? With who?” “I am not afraid!”

These are some of the attitudes and considerations that have shaped my work-life trajectory. And by trajectory, don’t think of a nice arching vector, but more errant, seemingly out-of-control missile, where the missile is piloted by someone who loves a little joy riding before hitting the target. These are also, for the most part, some of the main motivations behind what and why I do, what I do, on bikes. So, it is no surprise that my work-life and bike-life eventually merged and became nearly indistinguishable from each other.

At 40 years old, with only one year in the industry as an Account Manager for QBP and no bike shop experience or mechanic skills, I somewhat shockingly found myself with a key to a rattlesnake clad van filled to the brim with Salsa bikes, and responsible for stoking the good folks of California and the Southwest with memorable and veritably rad ride experiences and events.

Previous to my foray in the bike industry, I was a Documentary Photographer (still am and always will be), a Clinical Educator for a medical laser company, a Medical Aesthetician and an Environmental Activist, who dabbled in architecture, enjoyed stints as ski patrol, bartender and server and will likely have her own breakfast joint one day. After residing seven years in Minneapolis, I am finally back West—living in Park City, UT.

“Never a dull day” / “Unsafe at any speed” / Pep. That’s me.

When did you first start riding a bike?
Honestly, I can’t remember how old I was when I first rode a bike. I do remember getting a yellow Huffy for my 9th Birthday, which was also the first day of school, for which I went all scratched up to. On my first ride, on that Birthday morning, I crashed into the blackberry brambles at the end of a dead end street. The Huffy had had coaster brakes and the bike I had before that had what I think is called a pedi brake, basically a step brake out in front of the pedals, so I couldn’t figure out how to stop. Little did I know that this would continue to be a pattern in my bike riding, for ALL of my life.

What motivated you to ride as much as you have over the years?

I didn’t actually ride that much or with regularity until about 2011 when I had some unexpected upheaval in my life. For all intents and purposes, my life was turned upside down and the bike helped orient me. It also was the conduit to meeting a community of incredible people, which in turn motivated me to ride more—singletrack cabin trips, group night riding, bike derbies behind One on One, Cyclocross racing, River Bottom rambles, fat bike winter pub crawls, races I didn’t even really want to do, but got talked into (like the Chequamegon 40), and the list goes on and on….

What would be your favorite competitive biking event and why do you enjoy competing?
Can I choose two? Dakota Five O and Copper Harbor Enduro.

The Dakota Five-O was my first ever bike race and it was 50 miles long. I doubt I had ridden over 30 miles in a day at that point. I had just moved to the Midwest and was working with Geno at One on One to build up a singlespeed commuter bike. The day before the race I went into the shop to check on the build progress. The guys at the shop told me Geno was at the Dakota Five-O and they must have done so in a very compelling way, because I went home, Googled “Dakota Five-O” and immediately loaded up my RV with my bike and started driving. I arrived to Spearfish, SD—a 9 hour drive—in the wee hours of the morning before the race. This was 2007, so the race wasn’t filling up online in sub 5 minutes. I registered at the start line and spent the first few climbs behind a dude riding in cowboy boots and daisy dukes on a singlespeed.

That whole day was an utter blur to full on blackout (blackout might have come after shotgunning the PBR with 10 miles to go), but it still remains one of my best rides/races to date and still one of the longest mountain bike races I have done. For some inexplicable reason, I didn’t race again until 2011.

My other favorite race is the Copper Harbor Trails Fest Enduro because: 1) It is Copper Harbor, a magical place; 2) In general, the Enduro race format fits my riding style and trail preferences; 3) Specifically, getting trails like Downtown, some combination of Flow and Overflow, and Red Trail, to yourself for a spell to rip as hard as you can is worth the “price of admission”; 4) Did I mention it is in Copper Harbor—so ice cold lake dips and beer with hot BBQ to follow!

I compete because of the camaraderie and it makes me ride harder than I would otherwise, which makes me a better “free rider”/recreational rider. I think this last reasoning might be the reverse of most.
Do you have any suggestions for those who are on the fence about participating in their first event?
Embrace your inner awkward teenage-self because it will be intimidating, you will likely feel insecure and out of place getting yourself to the start line. Don’t hesitate to introduce yourself to the woman (or guy depending on the race) next to you. Let them know it is your first or one of your first races—I bet they will be psyched for you and offer a little advice. Mountain biker racers are friendly freaks, most often.

Know that after it is done, anywhere from immediately to a few hours later, you will forget all the discomfort of the race and pre-race and be scheming about the next one or what you will do differently next time you race the course.

Do you remember how you felt on your first mountain bike ride?

I don’t remember my first mountain bike ride. I grew up in a hilly town on the Puget Sound with a lot of what I would now call “bootleg” trails. We rode mountain bikes out of necessity—low gearing to ride the hills to and from school and wider tires for the dirt trails that took us down Japanese Gulch to the beach or Larry’s Pharmacy for candy runs!

Having been off my mountain bike since May because of an injury, I might have to amend this once I get Doc’s clearance to get back on the dirt in a couple-few more months, as I have a feeling that first ride back on my mountain bike will generate emotions and sensations, commensurate to first riding and falling in love with mountain biking.

If you had nervousness at all, what did you do or think to overcome it?

Nervousness and fear are different. Nervousness strikes me the most pre-race—getting all my sh*t together to getting to the start line. And then there is all the pre-race jitter sh*tt!ng! You don’t overcome it. It goes away as soon as the “gun” goes off.

Now, having raced on and off for five years, I have reduced, to some extent, the panic and franticness I often experience in getting ready for races. My gear needs and pre-race rituals are a bit more dialed, not perfected by any means though. This is something you can really only learn from experience, although it can be partially mitigated if you are lucky enough to have yourself a good race crew or “manager”.

One of my tips is eat a good brekkie, get as much in your system as it allows. I am an excellent eater and love breakfast, but the jitters make it hard for me to get much food down on race day, so I make sure to have a few hundred calories to consume while I get ready at the race site too. Essentially, I have to force feed myself a bit.

Clips, flats, or both? What have you learned?
Clips, but now that I am back living in the West I plan on riding more flat pedals, especially in place likes Moab, Hurricane, and Sedona. It really takes some skill and practice to learn how to ride flats well, but the skills required are vital skills that will help your riding all-around.

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 wasn’t given a middle name at birth, but my family and friends have bestowed “Danger” on me. So, I am Cori Danger “Pep” Pepelnjak. I am bit unbridled and I break easy. Don’t let this deter you—it hasn’t me, at least not yet.

As I mentioned earlier, I am recovering from an injury I sustained in May. It wasn’t caused by a crash, per se, just the right amount of force and momentum on a vulnerable joint, the shoulder. It resulted in a 4 in 1 reconstruction surgery and an estimated 6 months off my mountain bike. A pretty crushing injury on so many levels: the timing—right at the beginning of my first summer back West; it left me physically unable to do my job; and it was my 6th orthopedic surgery (only 2nd from biking incidents and the other was just my left thumb, I am right handed, so it hardly counts); and the oh the $$$, even with insurance.
This surgery was the hardest and most painful I have experienced and during the first few weeks post-surgery, there were some very dark days and self-pitying. But then, it all subsided as I was able to get myself out for hikes with borrowed dogs, on the trainer for short upright spins and begin my physical therapy, which even though was torturous at the start, it meant progress and I was in the talented hands of an awesome and inspiring female PT.

About two months post op I was approved to ride a “beach cruiser”. A friend lent me her turtle bell and plastic flower adorned purple Diamondback Della Cruz and I have been crushing the paved and gravel trails around Park City--fifteen to thirty miles a go on a very wide anatomically wrong saddle! Sporting a flat brim hat on my head, gangster rap bumping in my ears, a scar strutting tank top and my favorite camo patterned Dakine shorts…I made it my goal not to get passed by any lycra clad roadies. I even provide a draft on occasion.

When you started out riding, what were some handling skills that challenged you? Do you have any suggestions for what helped you grasp them?
I never really thought about this before. When I first started riding, I just rode to ride. Everything technical was just something to overcome and to push my “fear” boundaries further out. I guess I only ever thought in terms of sessioning—try and try again. Skills—weren’t a consideration. A lifetime of alpine skiing, which aside from body position, is about picking lines and keeping your eyes up, focusing at least three turns ahead, translated into a solid foundation for riding mountain bikes. I became more conscious of “skilz” in the past couple years. Reasons being:

1) I have known (and been a bit envious) of girlfriends who have done multi-day skills classes with the likes of Lindsey Voreis and taken their riding to the next level. I have learned vicariously through them. Either getting a better understanding of things I do instinctively, like “boobs over bars” when climbing up technical features, or learning techniques that make me a safer, faster or more proficient rider, such as better body positioning for cornering.

2) In order to better support novice riders at my Salsa demo/ride events and to encourage new or more inexperienced female riders I have had to become more conscious and articulate about fundamental mountain biking skills.

3) Racing Enduros (speed + technical features) and having more opportunities to ride in high risk-reward trails means I have had to step up my game. I know I would benefit from participating in one of Lindsay’s clinics and hope to do so once healed.

Last Summer I was obsessed with the wheelie. I spent hours practicing and received lots of (conflicting) tips. I got to the point that I could ride a wheelie 60% of the time. I also broke my sacrum showing off my wheelie to my neighbor…. The lesson here is don’t get cocky, which is a bit inherent in the wheelie!

Are there still handling or technical riding aspects that you find tricky? How do you not let that drag you down when riding?
My wheelie is still a bit inconsistent and that infuriates me. The sacrum incident threw me off.

There are other skills I want to be better at for sure, like really laying it down on a corner, jumping doubles and tabletops and taking big drops. I can’t say I get dragged down. Frustrated at times, but I like being challenged.

Honestly, what frustrates me is being nearly 42 and thinking about my age, and unconsciously doing the math and it influencing whether I ride a high-stakes section of trail or not. The math being some estimation of how long I can realistically pursue the kind of more consequential riding I love against the potential “cost” of riding or “hitting” that high-stakes feature or gnarly stretch of trail. Essentially, I hate saying to myself, if I were 10 years younger….

What do you love about riding your bike?

Pretty much everything, but having had a forced hiatus, what I miss the most and have subsequently realized is what I love is that liberating, swervy, frolicsome sensation. You know what I mean? The flowing, tilting, dipping, hip checking…

You started out working as an account manager for QBP- what inspired you to get involved with the bike industry?
As I mentioned earlier, there was a pretty big disruption in my life, which made it hard for me to continue working as a grant and award funded documentary photographer. All of my photography projects were immersive and intensely emotional, which required more of me than I had during that period.

Biking had become such an essential part of my life during this period that I decided to move my career-life in that direction. Already having invested so much time and energy in the Minnesota biking community, it was a relatively seamless transition once I found a good entrĂ©e role in the industry with QBP, which was originally in sales. I was also given the “backyard territory”. I absolutely loved supporting the local shops with their business and being their reliable, go-to at Q.

Why do you feel women are a valuable asset to the bike industry?
Women ride bikes, and a greater percentage of women should be riding bikes, therefore women must be a force, voice, influence, contributor and participant in the industry be it product development, marketing and branding, sales representation, and event production or as (equally awarded) competitors.

The fact that the word “uncomfortable” is used so often by and with regards to women in connection with cycling is a big problem. There are many barriers to entry for women in relationship to bikes/biking, both perceived and irrefutable, be it working in the industry or pursuing new forms of cycling (mtb, commuting, racing) or just getting physically comfortable on a bike (bike fit, finding appropriate, comfortable, stylish clothing, where to ride, how to maintain a bike). The industry needs women to be involved to help resolve and mitigate these issues.
Women bring a different way of relating, educating and influencing. Our reach, approach, and tone, generally speaking, differs from that of men. There is the obvious fact that we have an intimate understanding and sensitivity to aspects of female anatomy, biology and even psychology that influences product design and messaging.

Although, always having been a tomboy and often considered, “one of the guys”, I absolutely showed up differently being a female Brand Ambassador than my male peers. My first-hand understanding of the “uncomfortable” influenced how I presented myself and related to not only women, but all the riders that I interacted with.

What do you enjoy most about being able to travel with a demo van of bikes?
That I have a van full of rad bikes at my disposal and get to provide fellow cyclists, shop employees and consumers, with truly memorable bike ride experiences that I conceived and executed in some ridiculously amazing places.

What would be the most challenging part about your job?

The only real challenge was maintenance/repair. Not my forte, in fact I have no mechanical bone in my body and I have never received training. Understanding the technical components of a bike and knowing how to repair them are different.

In all honesty, I like having “my” mechanics that take good care of my bikes and even me at times—it is entertaining and makes me feel part of the shop “family”.

What is the most rewarding part?
There were three very rewarding aspects to the job:

1) Supporting bike shops in ways that are specific to their personality, market and growth goals/potential.

2) Growing my incredible network of cycling friends through the events and rides I produced and hosted.

3) Being a respected and valued female brand representative

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

1) Salsa Bucksaw. The bike is just silly fun. I plan to build 27.5+ wheels for XC riding in the summer and it works as my fat bike in the winter now that I don’t l have to worry about sub-zero temps!

2) Salsa Horsethief. It is my do most trails mountain bike with Dave Weagle designed suspension. I had an Ibis Ripley before that, which also had DW suspension, it was my first 29er and like the Horsey, it had great versatility. All that said, I am selling my Horsethief for a longer travel bike if anyone is interested….

3) Salsa Cutthroat. I was pairing down my fleet, sold my CX bike since I am not racing anymore. I don’t really ride road much and when I do it is for miles and convenience, so I don’t need a road-road bike. The Cutty will serve me well on the mountainous roads around Park City. I love riding the drops on non-techy singletrack. Then there is the fact that it is the ideal bikepacking rig.

4) Rodriguez steel frame road bike from ’99. I use it on the trainer now that I am injured.

5) Salsa Casseroll. I set it up with a flip flop hub, SS and fixie, with mustache bars. It is my urban bar bike, but think I will sell it for a cruiser style bike. I have had a blast riding my friends while injured and it is fun to run errands on.

What do you feel deters women from getting involved with cycling? Especially mountain biking?

I alluded to this in the question about women in the industry, but without a doubt mountain biking can be intimidating. The imagery used to market mountain bike products or just envisioning biking on “mountains” is daunting for many. Tight curvy trails, with trees, rocks, ledges and the like, not to mention mountain bikes with their technically overwhelming features—wheel and tire sizes, suspension, geometries. Even some of the names or naming conventions: Epic, Ripley, Mach 429, Fuel Ex #.#, etc….

I think many women like to have activity partners, especially for new activities, and if off the bat they find themselves on trails over their head or with an impatient or insensitive companion it can be a major deterrent. Finding reliable, sensitive riding companions that are encouraging without pushing them too far out of their ability is important.

I shared this interview with a friend and verifiably rad woman in the industry before it was published. She in turn shared a way she has been enticing new women to the mtb addiction by using the “push-her-woman” model with her access to Q’s fleet of bikes. Idea is, make a point of inviting new female riders to ride—get them a bike to use, set them up, show them some basics, the trail, ride easy and then enjoy a trail parking lot beer after. Treat it like the drug it is…the addicting qualities will take it from there. I would add, introduce them to a local bike shop—help them feel comfortable in that environment too.

What do you feel could change industry-wise or locally to encourage more women to be involved?

Some of it is happening—the popularity of women-specific clinics, Little Bellas and HS MTB programs with special mentor programs for girls (kids who ride mtbs can influence and inspire their mother’s to ride), bike shops recognizing their weakness in appealing and connecting with women, and hiring women like myself as brand ambassadors to interact with both the shop and consumer-world.

The industry still has a long ways to go to be an inviting place for women to work and flourish in. Those women that are hired “in” often work in the periphery or find it easiest to conform to the status quo, versus being in positions where they can meaningfully inform and influence aspects of the industry to help it evolve—in product development, marketing and sales. It is still all so tech focused and driven. The fact is, I wasn’t raised working on bikes, paying attention to new technology or bikes now considered “iconic” or “legacy”, sure I remember the lefty fork coming to market, but all I thought was, damn, that is so ugly.

To be completely frank, I feel more disrespected and hindered when criticized or talked down to regarding my mechanic skills, lack of tech “legacy” knowledge or my solid, intermediate understanding of suspension design by a co-worker than blatant sexual harassment, which does exist.

What I would like to see is a flood of women applying to the industry—don’t think you aren’t qualified. I am a testament to that—I had no shop or mechanic skills, and relatively speaking was new to the community of cycling. Find a mentor or advocate in the industry and make yourself, your passion for bikes, and desire to be a part of it all known and available! Feel free to email me and I will help however I can or try to connect you with someone else who can,

What inspires you to encourage women to ride?

It pains me to hear women wish they could do something physically challenging, even to the point of
agonizing over it, but not believing they can or are unable to get past those paralyzing feelings. I want girls and women to be more fearless or emboldened in general and have the confidence in their strength—emotional, physical and mental. It is very freeing, which is a tremendously empowering and believe it translates into other crucial aspects of our lives and relationships.

Tell us a random fact about yourself!

I used to be a medical esthetician with an expertise in laser and light-based treatments.

And if you want to check out my photography…

Sunday, September 11, 2016

The Solo 40 Miler

A couple weeks ago Travis had put the finishing touches on a bike that he had been building up for me since around February/March.

This bike was to be the two-wheeled machine that I would ride at the Chequamegon Fat Tire Festival (September 17th) and I was super excited to get my feet wet on the race-oriented full suspension that just so happened to have my favorite shade of pink for an accent color.

The timing of this bike being complete has been thoroughly off, by quite a long shot. The effort it took to get the cranks from Race Face made this bike almost not be completed in time, however, the good folks made it work and the bike was finally ready to be ridden.

Once we were able to bleed the rear brake and have everything neat and tidy cable-wise, it was time for me to hit the trails (and gravel) to see my thoughts on the fit and geometry.

Stand over didn't seem to be a huge issue and the overall reach was great as it felt more comfortable than the Lush. I was also interested to try out the 29" wheels vs. the 27.5" that the Lush came with. It had been awhile since I had been on a 29'er so I was super stoked to give this bike a go. However, as much trail "shredding" I wanted to do, I knew that I had to put priority on high mileage instead. The first long solo ride was a loop from Decorah to Bluffton and back racking up almost 40 miles.

My next ride I planned on a whim and decided to do a loop that Barrett had taken me on twice. It would be just over 40 miles on gravel and pavement.

Both rides I would say were a big deal, but the longest ride loop from Decorah to Sattre to Highlandville and back was a bigger one as I had done it twice and not exactly the same both times. I am awful with directions and my internal compass was born bent and backwards. I wanted to do the loop we had done on Tuesday, taking the chances with the impending rain coming and dealing with the warm temps and hot afternoon sun.

Prior to my first solo ride to Bluffton on 8/28
Bike's name? Gaston aka BEASTFACE.
In preparation for Chequamegon I wore a small Camelbak filled almost full with water (I will likely be using a larger one in lieu of a seat pack with a tube and tire lever set- because of my need to feel prepared with all of the essentials plus enough water.) I had a water bottle with NUUN hydration mix in it as my secondary fluid source. I had a couple snacks, some SaltStick tablets, and my phone...because if I needed directions I could text Barrett or Travis.

I applied sunscreen and topped off my tires- it was ready to go on my epic solo adventure. I made my way to Trout Run Trail which is a few yards away from the house and rode that to Freeport to connect to River Road.

I knew from there that I would just follow River Road for a long, long ways. I took a quick stop at the usual pit stop area that Barrett stops at for a quick bathroom break and to check the weather. So far so good! My goal was to make any break I took to be short in time, because I wanted to keep riding as long as possible to get a concept of my time and general speed average.

Eventually I came to a stop sign and thought "Crap." I used logic, it seems the ride goes in a big circle and I would need to go left to circle back, so I did. Scenery became familiar and I was confident I was going the right way. I started taking sips of water from my Camelbak and would alternate here and there with my hydration drink. I was sweating a lot.

Eventually I finished the climb into Sattre; I took a short break to take a couple big swigs of hydration mix laced water and continued down a hill into a valley. From there I started my ride to Highlandville, connecting with pavement again, I made my way into another valley and to the Highlandville store where I topped off my water bottle. I chugged some more water and topped it off again. I wasn't hungry but knew I should eat something, so I took a couple SaltStick tablets- fuel is important but fueling on a hot day is difficult for me!

I turned back around and eventually took a left that had me go over a bridge (look at me, forgetting a road name and just going by landmarks!) This road has a pain in the butt climb right now because of fresh gravel being chunky and loose. Last time we road up the hill a vehicle had come down at the same time. This time I made it up the climb without any traffic and was relieved.

Then I came to a fork in the road and took a left, I think it's Big Bear Road. That too, is a climb. I sat and spun my way after I couldn't use additional effort. Once I made it to the top, I took time at the stop sign before I got onto pavement again to take a GU. I was pleased to have the feeling of "Yes, this is good!" sweep thru me and hoped that I would indeed feel some energy for the last leg.

The downhill from St. John's Lutheran Church to Middle Hesper Road was great and welcome. Smooth pavement and the wind rushing past my ears- fun!!

I made my way back to Decorah, feeling confident with myself and knowing that I would totally make it home without getting lost. The challenge had been accepted and also won! I managed to ride my pace, take short breaks, and not completely bonk. The ride down Clay Hill was invigorating and I hoped that no one would be behind me or coming up as I stayed more in the middle of the road due to some side erosion.

I will admit that I was thankful to hit the paved trail and head home. The last bit of my ride on the gravels prior to Clay Hill had been riding into some headwind. I was definitely starting to feel a bit tired and all I could think about was a delicious cold beer from Pulpit Rock Brewing Co. I held out hope that they had some Loopy Lynn still on tap.

When I rolled into the yard I was happy. A bit tired, but so happy. Not only was it a ride to test my endurance, but it also tested some of my fears: roads with traffic and getting lost in the countryside. Also very sweaty, man...pretty much drenched from head to toe. A shower would be in order and I text Travis to bribe him into joining me for a celebratory brew. It totally worked and I got some Loopy Lynn to boot!

I would be as ready as I could be for Chequamegon. I felt my average was respectable given the weather- I'm not a hot weather rider so managing a 13.7 average felt darn good. Also with the lack of food, but to my defense, I had my usual Tuesday Family Table breakfast ingested prior to going out. I had calories to burn.

Looking at the ride, I was most thankful for the lack of vehicle traffic. Cars and trucks are the largest reason why I have not explored more of the roads (gravel and paved) for some time. I've been so appreciative of the kind people out there who give you ample room while passing. I give you my sincerest thanks. I'll keep comments to myself on the other folks who are not so courteous.
My ability to ride longer miles is impressing me, tho I suppose it doesn't take too much to impress me as I'm easily impressed! Can I improve further yet? I'm not sure! Either way I'm feeling proud that I'm able to accomplish more than I originally thought would ever be possible with my bike riding. The rider I am today compared to myself in September of '12 is completely different. It's good and I can't wait to keep the adventures in my #bikelife rolling!

Monday, September 5, 2016

Women Involved Series: Cat Caperello-Snyder

I'm a writer, bike nerd and open road enthusiast! I started my blog, GirlEatsBike, 5 years ago as a public journal of my journey to lose weight and find fitness. I loved the way riding a bike made me feel, and once I made the connection of food-as-fuel, everything changed.

My wife and I moved across country in 2013 from New Jersey to Portland, Oregon and since then I've been immersed in all things bike - with a keen interest in bike camping and touring. Talk about getting my nerd juices flowing!

I recently launched a podcast called The Joyride which is a celebration of women on bikes, and GirlEatsBike is evolving to help bike-curious women get into the saddle, because I believe in the transformative power of the bike in our personal lives, our communities and the world at large.

When I'm not on the bike, writing about bikes, or day dreaming about rides, I can often be found walking or hiking with my supermutt Ziggy, cooking chana masala or sampling craft beer with my wife.

When did you first start riding a bike-
I rode when I was a kid. I remember falling in front of my grandmom's house and then getting lost - probably in the same weekend. I rode throughout youth and into my preteens and lost touch right after that until I was in my late 20s. I've written widely about it at this point, but I was in college in Albany, New York and wanted to work off some pounds and save time and money parking in the dense urban neighborhood. I knew I needed something different in my life, but had no idea how transformational this would prove to be.

What motivated you to ride as much as you have over the years?
The feeling of freedom. The ability to get some place by your own power. Discovering I could do it. Pride. Feeling my body work and thrive and get stronger. And seeing what other people are doing too. I love adventure, I love discovery. I think I’m really into that sense of “awe” that you get when you get to the top of a climb and see an amazing view. I love going fast. It’s really surprised me to feel how much I’ve changed over the years. I’ll never forget the first time I looked at a map to expand the loop I was planning.

Your blog, Girl Eats Bike, has been quite the journey! What inspired you to make your adventures with biking/weight loss public?
I started GirlEatsBike as a place for me to be public and honest about my journey and what I was learning in one place, without alienating my Facebook friends. I wanted a place to have a weekly weight check in, how I was doing, where I was at. I did lose a lot, but I my writing interest turned to the biking more than the weight loss, and eventually I just got to a place where I wasn’t compelled to write about. I’ve learned that the weight thing for me is a lifelong practice of finding balance between ambition and acceptance. Striving to improve my physicality, and also being at peace with where I am. Even yesterday - yesterday - I felt myself relax a little about being in a bigger body. I’ve lost over 120 pounds since age 21 when I was at my heaviest and the scale topped out somewhere around 315. I’m finally just okay with where I’m at right now, even though I can sometimes feel my stomach hit my legs when I’m riding in the drops. You know what? I don’t care. I used to have this point of view that I was less than, that I was not a real cyclist because of my weight. Sure, I still have room for improvement with my conditioning, but I’m celebrating my body and what I’ve accomplished.

Looking at your blog now compared to when you first started, what would you say is the biggest change/shift?
Actually, this question is huge. GirlEatsBike started as my own personal “losing-weight-finding-fitness” journal and the name was inspired the by my first “bonking” experience. I’ll never forget that ride where the light bulb went off: The better I eat, the stronger and further I can ride. At the same time, the more I ride, the more I get to eat! It’s a win-win! But GEB has lacked a clear focus over the five and a half years since I started it, and didn't satisfy my desire to create content that built community. That’s one reason why I’m so excited about the Joyride! It’s been a really wonderful to connect with so many awesome people. I’m keeping GirlEatsBike but reclaiming it as my personal journal again where I write about whatever, and instead shifting (no pun intended) my content creation energy into the Joyride Podcast and building community there.

Why is social media such a valuable tool and outlet for your adventures/advocacy?
I think the way that social media helps people to connect and build community is unprecedented. It has never been easier to click on a hashtag and see all these cool things that people are doing in the world. Honestly, it’s one of my favorite things about biking anyway - so many different ways to do things. Social media is a double-edged sword though, because as much as we can take a peak into someone else’s journey and get inspired by that, it also has this uncanny effect of inducing more of the “grass is greener” thing, where someone compares themselves to others.

Tell us more about the riding styles you enjoy and why-
Ahh! I’m so into bike camping! I love camping (gear nerd alert) and maps and bikes. So this is a place where I can just let that freak flag fly. Plus, I’m pretty introverted and perpetually connected via the digital leash of the iPhone. It feels good to get myself outside where I’m “forced” to disconnect and bring things down into the most simple, essential needs: Eat. Sleep. Ride. It feels really good instead of how overly complex things get in this world. Just: Eat. Sleep. Ride. The longest tour I’ve ever been on has only been two nights. I’ve done mostly overnights - they're a great place to start, but I’m really looking forward to expanding that.

What has been the most surprising thing you’ve discovered about yourself since you started biking?
How resilient and strong I am. For real. I’ve spent so much time - years and years - being critical of myself and my body. I had no idea how truly amazing my body is. I think a lot of women have a similar epiphany at some point. It can be tremendously eye-opening and smile-inducing.

Do you have tips/suggestions for those looking to get involved with cycling for fitness purposes?
Be patient. Start slow. Look for your people, but don’t be afraid to give things a try on your own in safe ways. Also, you can start with any bike, but try to get on something that fits you - it makes a world of difference. And if you’re going to spend money, try to do it at a bike shop you feel good going to, where you’ll build relationships over time.

What biking adventure is on your 5 year plan?
I want to do the Pacific Coast tour! Actually, perfect world, I would circle the U.S. ~ Trans am northern, Atlantic coast, southern tier, Pacific coast. I don’t really know if I would go clockwise or counterclockwise. Nor do I know where I would start/end. But it sure is fun to think about. :)
Tell us about the Joyride Podcast and what you hope to accomplish with the program-
I want to share the many, diverse voices that make up our community of women who ride bikes! The Joyride aims to share stories that celebrates women on bikes to build community, educate, and inspire each other. Everyone has a story and a point of view that is unique, yet we all share so many commonalities. I want women to be able to see themselves in each other, to inspire each other to ride more or try new things.

One more thing: I think it’s really important to make sure that the image of women's cycling is reflective of what women who ride bikes truly look like. The media is plastered with super lean, spandex-clad women or the fashionable and stylish (and believe me sisters, there is nothing wrong with this, I support you!) but I want to make sure that everyday, imperfect women are reflected here too. I think hearing women tell their stories helps other women to feel comfortable to start where they are and make their own relationships with riding a bike in their own way, wearing whatever the hell they want, doing whatever the hell they want.

When you started out riding, what were some handling skills that challenged you? Do you have any suggestions for what helped you grasp them?
For riding on the road.. Really understanding how to shift gears and that personal cadence trumps struggle. Don’t try to be a hero, or make yourself suffer, just downshift. Try to find that perfect, juicy rhythm that your legs love, where you could just do that all day, and try to anticipate downshifting as you encounter hills and grades so that you can keep your legs going in that same rhythm even as you maybe have to slow down and climb a little. I don’t know if that’s professional-worthy advice, but when it clicked for me, it worked.

What do you love about riding your bike?
Power, joy, and freedom. I love how poetic it is, how so many aspects of riding are like metaphors for life. I love that there are never ending variations on bikes, and how they are vehicles for expression. I like how you can simultaneously be solo and part of a group at the same time. I love that you go slow enough to meet your neighbors. I love free parking. I love the way neighborhoods smell at dinner time. There's no better way to get to know a place - the very texture of a community than by bike. I love looking at a map and seeing how far I've powered myself. I love feeling fast and strong.

Tell us about your bike(s), what they are like and why did you choose them?
My main bike is a Soma Double Cross Disc. I love it! I got it last fall and have put heaven knows how many hundreds of miles on it since then. It’s a solid, well-made cross bike. I heard cross bikes might be a good fit because they have lots of braze-ons for fenders and racks, a higher bottom bracket to clear cross obstacles, enough clearance to add wider tires in the future, and a longer top tube which I thought would suite me. Plus it’s dead sexy and thanks to Ben at Block Bikes PDX I got a screaming deal on it, making a totally-out-of-my-price-range bike magically fit my budget. Too good to pass up. I really like it, but the fit still needs to be dialed in, and I want to put a triple crankset on it and gearing that’s better for loaded climbing.

I still have my Specialized Crosstrail hybrid that was my first big girl bike in 2009. It’s too small for me. I want to see if I can swap out some parts, and either try to find an Xtracycle Free Radical for it or set it up for gravel bikepacking. I think my next bike will be something quick and sporty. Feelin’ that.

What clothing/bike accessories do you love? What would you recommend to your friends?
Good bike shorts are so important to saddle comfort on long rides. A saddle that fits properly helps too! Other than that, I really like my Niteize Handleband - it's a rubberized doohickey that secures your smartphone to your bike (bars or toptube). It's pretty secure and fairly inconspicuous. I use it daily on my bike commute.

What do you feel deters women from getting involved with cycling?
Speaking for myself, where I was ten years ago: body shame, and shame around physical ability and conditioning. Additionally I think some women feel challenged by the mechanics of a bike - how to shift or "what if something goes wrong." I think a lot of women think that it's too hard or too complicated to try and understand the bike as a machine because they're just not mechanically inclined, when really it's a lot of conditioning thanks to the stories we tell ourselves, or have been feed culturally.

What do you feel change locally and/or industry-wise to encourage more women to be involved?
I’m a fairly gender non-conforming person. I always have been, so the “pink-it-and-shrink-it" thing really irks me about women’s specific gear. So personally, if things were a bit more gender neutral while still fitting my body, that would be awesome. I end up wearing a lot of mens stuff because it fits my personal style and aesthetic.

In terms of more women in general, I’d love to see more women-only events and rides to help women develop skills in a safe, welcoming space. More classes and clinics - especially free ones - to help demystify things and clear up the mechanical penumbra of the bike. I know there is debate in the community about the value of womens-only spaces and events, but I’m a firm believer in the power of women in groups, and the chilling effect that co-ed environments can have. I’ve witnessed it first hand.

What inspires you to encourage women to ride?
I believe in the transformational power of the bike for both our personal landscapes and our communities at large. I have witnessed the personal growth that riding a bike has facilitated for me, along with a profound shift in my health. It’s a powerful antidepressant and stress reliever. There sure is enough data to go around proving how communities benefit. Elly Blue’s Bikeonomics, anyone?

Interestingly, women are considered the “indicator species” of the health of a biking community. When women are seen riding, the community is perceived as being safer for riding - this helps perpetuate more cycling for transportation, fitness, and recreation. As more people ride, the community becomes safer almost by default.

Finally, as a feminist, I believe the world is improved when women step into, embrace, and exercise their personal power. Women riding bikes is a win-win-win-win.

Tell us a random fact about yourself!
I have a deep and abiding love for hot sauce and spicy food. I keep chili flake at my desk at work, and of course, in my bike camping mess kit.