Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Women Involved Series: Karen Jarchow

Born and raised small town, Minnesota farm girl turned Colorado endorphin junky ;). I started out as most 20 something-year-olds, thinking they had their whole life figured out. Right from college, I moved to the Vail Valley, Colorado where I had some family and a job opportunity in sports medicine prior to what I had planned to then go on to PA school in Denver. Well, in between those plans I found mountain biking and my path abruptly changed.

I now live in Eagle, CO with my husband Jeff Kerkove. I work in marketing with Ergon Bike, and own a kids MTB program, and race professionally with Team Topeak-Ergon USA. There are a million things that happened from point A to bring me to where I am today, some good choices, some not so great choices, but I regret nothing and couldn't be happier doing what I'm doing today.

Twitter: @KarenJarchow
Instagram @Kjarchow
Snap Chat @kjarchow

Tell us about the introduction to your #bikelife and how it influenced throughout your life-
My introduction to my #bikelife came in my mid 20's. After completing college in my home state of Minnesota, I moved out to the mountains to gain patient experience, working in a PT clinic prior to applying to PA school. I had a bike in college, a Lemond road bike that I purchased after my Walmart Mongoose was stolen from one of my jobs as a Jimmy John's delivery girl. It wasn't until living in the mountains that I discovered the world of outdoor adventure. I joined every hike, road ride, ski, climb, float, etc that anyone would invite me on - I was a kid in a candy store. I was introduced to mountain biking through working crew for Race Across America, a team relay road race from coast to coast - this is where I met my friend and local athlete Kerry White. Through crewing for her and her team grew my interest to try out endurance sports. The desire was increased by having a broken leg at the time - driving me crazy that I couldn't do what these strong women were doing. When back, and somewhat healed up, Kerry would take me on the occasional Wednesday early morning mountain bike ride. She had an extra bike and shoes - both were a little small for me, but I didn't mind. I was hooked and loved the challenge and how that challenge brought me closer to nature. Turns out my leg was actually still broken the entire time I was forcing my foot into a shoe that was too small, and cringing on every bump along the trail - here, I thought that was just what mountain biking was. I've gotten a little smarter, not much, since then. Needless to say, I never made it to PA school and my path went a different direction. I now run a kids mountain bike program here in Eagle, Colorado and work as a media coordinator for a PR/Event company - as well as racing professionally for Team Topeak-Ergon.

Tell us about your mountain biking experience in Colorado. Was it easy to figure out where to go/what to do? Where did you love going to ride?
Living in the Vail Valley, I feel very fortunate to be around a solid community of cyclists. If I wasn't riding with a friend, I was just out wandering around alone. It was fairly easy to navigate - however, I've never been one to really check a map, so there were plenty of moments of getting lost. I can remember when I'd have a couple days off work in the mud season, I would pack up my jeep, drive to the desert, park at a trailhead and just ride and ride and ride. It's all I wanted to do, and it didn't matter where I was riding as long as my tires had dry dirt!

What would be your favorite competitive biking event and why do you enjoy competing?
That's a good question - I like so many! I now race a little bit of everything, xc, marathon, enduro, and fat bike. My favorite might have to be marathon racing as it's usually a big loop of great trails. However, my attention is mostly geared towards where the competition is now. I would say the Epic Rides series is where that's at. Tight competition is where I learn the most, where I grow as an athlete. I learn more from a race where I have to dig so deep for a top 10 finish vs. a race where I hold the lead from the start.

What has been the most interesting thing you've learned since you started racing professionally?
The most interesting thing I've learned is how much the thoughts that buzz between our ears affects our performance. It doesn't matter how many other people believe in your potential, if you're questioning it, you're not going to get very far.

What advice would you give to someone who is nervous about attending their first event?
I would say embrace the nerves, to an extent they are a good sign you're about to do something that will positively influence you in a way nothing else can. Nerves are a good thing, but the right amount. If you're nervous to the point of making yourself sick, that's a problem. If you're not nervous at all, that can also be a problem. Being a little nervous means you're getting out of your comfort zone. I would also remind them, that once the race starts, and you're in your element of riding and racing, the nerves go away.

Can you take us back to your first few mountain bike rides? What did you learn and what made you decide that you wanted to continue with it?
Well, I can tell you about my first race - I ended up getting carried off on a backboard. I was a beginner in our local series and really had zero skills. I was relatively quick on the climbs, would pass categories ahead of me, and then hold them up on the descent. So, on the final lap, I decided to just let go of my brakes. That didn't end well with flying into a sage bush, going over the bars, and lawn darting. This experience taught me how to face fears. Once I was healed up I made sure to learn how to ride the same descent when I was cleared to do so. I used the embarrassment of that situation to fuel me to get better.

Have you had any biffs (crashes/accidents) that were challenging for you on a physical/mental/emotional level? What did you do to heal and overcome?
I've had more biffs than anyone probably has the time or interest to read about. Haha. The one I just described being the biggest. I don't like to waste any time feeling sorry for myself or dwelling on what happened in the past. I try to work on what's controllable. My first big crash was due to lack of skills, so I focused on working on skills and committing to challenges vs. hesitating. I think it's really important to be present when overcoming these challenges. I once had a hard crash down a waterfall move in St. George, Utah. Like sling shotting my bike over the back of my head big. The next time I came up on the move, I didn't let my thoughts go back to what happened last time, but I focused on the skill at hand to commit and execute the move. It's also important to recognize that everyone has on and off days - and to be kind to yourself if you're on an off day.
When you started out riding, what were some handling skills that challenged you? Do you have any suggestions for what helped you grasp them?
Everything was so foreign to me when I started out, so unless I was pedaling my heart out going straight uphill or just pointing and shooting straight downhill, it was all a challenge at first. Starting out, I rode with people who were much better than me and learned by watching and mimicking their skills. I now work on specific skills like bunny hopping, cornering, brake control, etc. My coach and I spend a couple days each spring doing some refresher skills work in the desert. Repetition is key, and taking the time to break down the moves vs. just muscling your way through has been a tremendous help.

Are there still handling or technical riding aspects that you find tricky? How do you not let that drag you down when riding?
Yes, I sometimes still have a hard time leaning into right turns. I guess I'm not an ambi-turner, but that's just something I try to always work on. I have to think a little harder on the cues vs. the opposite side that's somehow much more fluid. You can't let things like that get you down. You just can't.

What do you love about riding your bike?
I love so many things about riding my bike. I love the strength and confidence I've gained, the places I've explored and people I've shared it all with.

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

I have acquired a quiver, and never in my life would I ever imagine that I'd be so lucky. I ride for Team Topeak-Ergon, and we are fortunate to be on Canyon Bikes. My race bike of choice is their Exceed hardtail with a Rockshox Reverb dropper. Being a smaller rider, I love this bike for its weight and efficiency. The Rockshox dropper post makes it a very capable bike that I've raced for 99% of all my races this year. I also have a Canyon Lux, their XC 100mm FS bike - another fully capable bike! I raced this bike at the GJ Offroad as well as the GoPro Enduro! The RockShox RS1 fork as the capability to switch to 120mm of suspension which was perfect for the fast rolling terrain of the Gopro Enduro. I also love to ride and train on the road and ride the Canyon Ultimate CF SL. Additionally, I do love riding park, and for that, I grab my Canyon Spectral that is set up 160mm front and 140mm rear...which is just silly fun! This winter I added the Canyon Dude fat bike to the family and was able to win Fat Bike World Championships on it this past January.

Tell us about the kids' mountain biking program you own and why you love getting the next generation involved with mountain biking-

The kids MTB program Vail Valley Alternative Sports Academy (VVASA) was just an idea four years ago while chatting with my boss, Mike McCormack. Two weeks after this discussion, he said, "here you go!". Since then, I've been able to grow the program to getting 120 kids out on mountain bikes throughout the summers and now own the program! It's been a lot of hard work, but so rewarding to see the joy on the kids' faces. Every year I wonder if I can do it again the following year, and somehow it all just works out. I organize the programming to focus on the joy of the sport, learning the rules of the trails, how to treat other trail users, etc. The bigger picture is that we are influencing a new generation of trail users. I try to not talk about racing at all with the kids, most probably have no clue that I race professionally, and I like it that way as I feel that we need to generate riders before racers. The kids range from 6-14, each year making more exceptions as kids just want to keep coming back and ride with their friends. We even have some older kids who come back and volunteer to ride with the younger kids! It's a huge passion project and really makes my every day riding and training that much more meaningful.

For parents that might be nervous about having their child become involved with mountain biking, what advice would you give?
One thing I've learned through running this camp is that mountain biking isn't really the best choice for ALL kids, and that's OK. Being nervous about your kid joining the sport is probably a normal feeling if you, yourself aren't a mountain biker - but, I think by introducing them through the camp is a great place to start to see if it's something they click with. I had one little girl this past year who was extremely apprehensive, her strength wasn't where the other kids were at, and her fear was palpable. We worked one and one with her, I calmed her tears a handful of times, worked with the other kids as to how to encourage others who might be having a harder time than them and even had to send her home early one day. However, after talking with her parents about things they can do at home to help overcome these fears of hers...she came back! She finished the camp and went from the "I can't" mindset to the, "actually, I can!". That was an amazing moment.

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

I think it's different for a lot of women who are maybe on the fence about giving it a go and cannot really be generalized. I live in a pretty great bubble where I'm not treated any differently than my guy friends, but I'm reminded that's not always the case in other places. I think that dialog needs to change - personally, I don't want to be treated any differently as a female athlete, I just want to be treated as an athlete, the same as any other athlete. I think when we stop categorizing, we'll see more women get into the sport. Let's be honest. Mountain biking can be intimidating, but I'm seeing more and more women get into the sport through women's clinics and social groups. It's pretty rad!

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

In all honesty, I do not feel that women are such a minority in the sport as it seems. Just because not every woman decides to race or goes on a rant on social media doesn't mean they aren't out there enjoying the sport. I think the more the industry shines a light on women making a difference in the sport, it'll just create a trickle effect. So, marketing could change. Give some credit to the women's groups that are already making an impact such as the Yeti Betis, Ladies All Ride, Vida, and so many other women's groups that are getting literally hundreds of women out on bikes with the proper skills they need.

What inspires you to encourage women to ride?
For me, mountain biking has taught me things about myself and life that I'm not sure anything else could. It's my passion. It's what lights me up. That feeling inspires me to encourage women to ride.

Tell us a random fact about yourself!

I can touch my elbows together behind my back. You know that trick kids use to play to get you to look ridiculous - I can do it. I still look ridiculous, but it's been a pretty good lifelong party trick. ;)

Monday, December 18, 2017

Women Involved Series: Erin Machan

My name is Erin Machan, I live in Silverado, CA with my boyfriend, JJ and 17-year-old Jack Russel, Decklynn. I am the creator of a non-profit that empowers women with a bicycle, providing them safe and independent transportation.

I started the idea in December of 2015 and after sharing it in February of 2016 with Belen Remirez, a girl I just met on a mountain bike ride, we co-founded what is now Project Bike Love.

I am also an avid mountain biker and dedicate a good bit of my life to getting more women on bikes. Not just through PBL but also locally in my community; I was just recently certified to coach fundamental mountain bike clinics! I love the mountain bike community and I love that it has connected me to people all over the world, and I love that my passion for bikes has also become a tool for helping women around the world. I grew up riding horses and never imagined doing anything different with my life until I was forced to find something else because competing at the level I wanted to in show jumping became way too expensive. So after selling my horse in 2010, a friend of mine suggested getting a bike because it would get me outside and still keep me fit. I was immediately hooked! I first started doing triathlons and I got a mountain bike while training for my Ironman to break up the monotony of swim/bike/run. I started racing my mountain bike at a local race called Over the Hump and eventually sold my tri bike and haven’t looked back. Mountain biking has my heart. I raced cross country locally and then someone convinced me to try a 12-hour race, which lead to me to doing a 24-hour race (twice, once solo and once as a team) then Leadville twice and Breck Epic and numerous other events. This year I branched out and raced a few Enduros and I did pretty well. My coach always laughs at me for being good and endurance and enduro because I guess not many people do a crossover between those two disciplines. I just love riding my bike, and getting better over time is so rewarding. I also do yoga and recently started climbing which I am addicted to already! Basically my life is: empowering women with Project Bike Love and through cycling and traveling with my boyfriend and dog riding, racing, climbing and all things adventure. I lost my dad a year a half ago and my life changed dramatically. He was the closest person to me in my entire life. We had an amazing and close relationship and when he died unexpectedly I knew as much as I wanted to just fall apart and use it as an excuse to just disappear, I couldn’t, so I took it as a lesson, that life is incredibly short and can be taken from you at any minute. So I put that passion and urgency into my work and my relationships.

Tell us about your introduction to mountain biking, what was it like, what did you learn, and what kept you coming back for more?
I started riding because my ex-boyfriend was getting into it. Of course, it was a disaster. I fell a lot and learning from a guy who barely knew how to ride was not ideal. I eventually got some help from some women in my area and I was hooked. The real life-changer for me was a solo mountain biking trip to Lake Tahoe. In 2014 I was supposed to get married and a few months before, I called the whole thing off. It was my decision but it was still a really tough time for me. I was doing a lot of triathlons back then and was mountain biking just to break up the monotony. I had been given a condo in Lake Tahoe for a week during our wedding and even though the wedding didn’t happen, my friends offered to let me keep the condo. I went up by myself and rode bikes all week in the mountains by myself. Some people thought I wasn’t being very safe, but I was. I would spend hours every day just exploring the trails with no real idea where I was and I wasn’t a very good rider but it was one of the most transformational weeks of my life. I got past that dreaded wedding day that never happened and fell in love with mountain biking. I drove straight home from Tahoe to the bike shop and sold my triathlon bike… I never looked back!

What would be your favorite mountain biking event and why do you enjoy it so much?
Leadville 100!! I love it so much. Also another event I went to the first time by myself. I drove out to Leadville having no idea what to expect. I spent a week there leading up to the race and just fell in love. The town and the people were incredible and I felt right at home regardless of being alone in a place I’d never been. The race itself is so freaking amazing. It’s challenging in ways you never could expect and it’s the most beautiful course. The entire experience is surreal. There is nothing like it in the world!

Do you have tips or suggestions for folks who may be on the fence about participating in their first event?
Have fun! I’m sure that’s so cliché to say and everyone gets told that but it’s what it’s all about. I remember my first event I was at the start line and I felt like I was going to vomit. I had no idea what I was getting into but once the race started all that was behind me. I just had a blast! So I guess that’s the real advice, don’t let the nerves, expectations, or worry keep you from starting. All that is temporary, once you cross that start line you’ll never regret it!
Clips or flats? What do you like best for your riding?
Clips, but I started that way. I think if you are just learning to ride, flats are the way to go. When you use flats you have to use your feet a lot more. You actually gain more bike handling skills with flats then I think you should switch to cleats. But that’s just my general consensus, I am sure people would have opposing opinions.

What excites you most about being certified to teach mountain bike skills to others?
I think it has a huge impact on the cycling community and that is what excites me most. I feel like being able to instruct others on how to safely and properly use fundamental mountain biking skills will make for more confident riders, safer riding on our public trails and getting more people on bikes! I just know that first clinic I ever took was a huge game changer for me!

Have you had any biffs (crashes) that were challenging for you on a physical/mental/emotional level? What did you do to heal and overcome?
I’ve had a few bad crashes. I grew up riding horses and I took a lot of major falls that put me in the hospital. I eventually learned how to fall. Being able to bail quickly was a necessary skill in riding horses and it transfers to mountain biking as well. My worst crash was in a local park when a guy was going super fast down a fire road and ran right into me. I have never been so banged up as I was that day. I was bleeding all over, my legs were bruised from top to bottom, my bike was in pieces and I was actually pretty lucky that that was the worst of it. It could have been much worse. I was super new to riding, it may have been my 3rd mountain bike ride or something, so it scared the shit out of me! It was hard to get back on the bike but with my years of horseback riding, I knew getting back on was the only option. I think I’m still super cautious in the parks to make sure I am way over on the right when there is two-way traffic. It definitely left an impact. My worst fall on a horse was when I was 16 and it left 12 stitches in my head and I would cry anytime I even got on a horse. It was the hardest thing to overcome. It took months, a lot of patience, and some really amazing people until I overcame that fear. But that process and that willingness to keep trying no matter how scared I was and never giving up really made an impact on who I was forever. It was terrifying and a lot of parents or coaches would have been ok with me quitting forever. I am sure my dad did not want to see me get hurt again and he could have let me quit. I think that has transferred to not only mountain biking but every area of my life. It was one of those pivotal moments in life that made me who I am today.

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 think bike body separation was really challenging. With riding horses and riding road bikes you stay really tucked in and your body goes with the horse/bike. With mountain biking, it’s nothing like that. It’s all about having your elbows and knees out and letting the bike move around underneath you and there’s this sort of dance you need to learn with your feet. It was SO HARD. I still practice it to this day even though it’s become more natural. Practice is the only thing that helps. Putting pride aside and going out on a grass field and doing all those small things that will make you a better rider.

Are there still handling or technical riding aspects that you find tricky? How do you not let that drag you down when riding?
I still find high speed cornering to be tricky. I have gotten so much better at it but it’s really where I see myself slow down, and I especially notice it when riding in groups. Like all other skills I can do now that I wasn’t able to before, I trust that eventually, it’ll click if I keep practicing.
What do you love about riding your bike?
I love that it keeps me humble and grateful. I’ve learned so much through riding, about myself, about others and about what we are capable of as humans, mentally and physically. It’s been such an amazing part of my life. Because of riding, I have started a nonprofit that has impacted so many people, I have met some of the most amazing humans, I have learned so much about my self and last year when my dad died riding was seriously my best friend. I’d ride for hours and just cry, it felt so much better than sitting around trying to deal with the grief. Even though I didn’t have the energy to train or race I would just pedal my bike and let go of all the emotions I was holding on to. And selfishly, that's what I love most about riding, it makes me a much better human. It’s also why I ride alone most of the time, I need the solitude to let go of the bullshit so I can be present in life.

Tell us about your bike(s), what they are like and why did you choose them?
All my bikes are Specialized. I have been riding Specialized since 2010 and I’ve tried other bikes but I haven’t found anything I love more. I think it started because of Rock N Road Cyclery. I went there as a new rider and they were so great and for me, the shop experience is what matters most. As a brand new rider that didn’t know anything rock n road was so good about teaching me everything and introducing me to people who would help me ride/train.

My race bike and prized possession is my 2018 Epic S-Works. I love this bike, it’s fast, fun and super light. It’s a beautifully engineered machine. I also have a '17 Enduro Pro, a '17 Epic HT Pro, a '17 Crux Pro, and a '17 Tarmac Disc Pro. I have a lot of bikes, but I use them all. I will be getting a Stumpjumper for teaching all my clinics. I chose all my bikes for specific reasons, the Enduro is a great teacher for riding at the bike park and doing steep technical descents, I don’t love it for climbing but for as big of a bike as it is, it climbs pretty well. I chose the Epic hardtail (HT) because it’s also a great teacher, but in a different way, a HT isn’t very forgiving so you have to pick and chose your lines carefully, my first MTB was a HT and I think I will always have one. It’s just too hard on my old body after 3-4 hours so I need the full suspension (FS) for racing endurance. The Tarmac and Crux I chose for training purposes. I don’t cross race much but I do Cross Vegas and I got the Crux for that and when I want to do some pavement and dirt rides. The Crux is fun! The Tarmac is an awesome bike too, but I really only use it for training.

Tell us more about Project Bike Love and why it's so important-
It’s the impact. That’s what’s so important. I had this sort of epiphany in my personal life about how disconnected we are from each other. I really wanted to do something in my short little life here on earth that would bring us more together as humans. I wanted to create a more global connection in the world. That’s basically how PBL started. There are so many small and meaningful events that lead to creating it exactly as it is now but that vision was a global connection. Every step of the process is what creates the huge impact. It starts with the people here in our communities who donate their money or their time to create the bikes, we then work with local partners in the areas to find beneficiaries and organize the bike deliveries, we then hand deliver the bikes to the women, that entire delivery experience is unreal, it’s seriously impossible to describe but it’s life-changing, it will change you to be on one of these bike deliveries. Then the impact goes on and on from there. These women transform their lives because of the bike. They get hours back in their days, they are able to create more income in less time and they can do things in much less time. Most of the women spend hours walking to school or work or just to do laundry, with a bike they can do it in minutes. The most important thing is that PBL empowers people and it empowers people to empower people, creating an impact that will make the world just a little bit better.
What is it about #bikelife that you feel is so vital to share with others, especially women?
It’s empowering and life-changing. I think on a personal level growing up young girls were almost always in competition, and I see it linger well into adult years. Women don’t empower each other, they are always comparing and judging and talking behind each other's backs. I see it in my community of female cyclist and I want to be a part of transforming it. I want to bring more women together and create a real authentic appreciation for each other in our similarities and differences. #bikelife is just my tool or avenue to get there, I know there are a million other women making the same efforts with different tools. I definitely see it changing and I love that!

How can folks help or support Project Bike Love?
The two biggest things are to donate and to share it. You can donate by either giving money or purchasing something from our store. You can share by reposting things on social media, putting a flyer up at your office or bike shop. Anything like that would be so helpful.

What are your goals for Project Bike Love?
To get a bike to every woman in this world that needs one!

What do you feel deters women from getting involved with cycling? Especially mountain biking?
It’s intimidating, it’s dirty and it can hurt when you fall.

What do you feel could change industry-wise or locally to encourage more women to be involved?
More women in the industry. More women working in shops, doing bike fits, racing, leading clinics etc.

What inspires you to encourage women to ride?
I know how amazing and life-changing it is. I also feel like I am not one of these girls that grew up riding, I had to learn and work really hard to just learn basic skills. I was a beginner mountain biker that didn’t start until I was 30 and I think that is relatable and sometimes being able to relate to someone is what inspires women to do something they wouldn’t normally do.

Tell us a random fact about yourself!
I have a master degree in sports and exercise psychology :)

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Embracing the Funk.

The inexplicable wave of doldrums came crashing down on me without myself even truly noticing. Maybe I did notice, but I was in denial. Mornings were becoming harder and harder for me to rise up from the comfort of the warm, cozy bed. I was feeling more tired than usual. I had the case of the "I can't even" and it came hard.

I didn't want to admit that I was feeling poorly on the mental/emotional side, especially since so many good things had happened recently.

Everything came crashing down over holiday stress and some news pertaining my step-dad that, quite frankly, pissed me off.

My feelings were deeply hurt, because he tried to insinuate that he hadn't been invited to the wedding to some relatives of mine. I call bulls*it and I have the text messages to prove it. What I envisioned for our father/daughter relationship crumpled at my feet: Anger, sadness, and frustration took over.

I have firmly accepted, without a shadow of a doubt, that my step-brother can screw up his life and still be higher on the parental acceptance totem pole of my step-dad than I ever will.

I learned over the "mourning" period of these past few weeks, that my quest to be acknowledged and considered as my step-dad's "daughter" needs to end.
I do not think I totally grasped how much this hurt me. This man has been part of my life for a long, long time and I truly considered him a second father. I wanted acceptance. Hell, after I learned I  LIKED beer I felt that I was closer to being a "Miller" than not.

All in all, I was very young when my parents got divorced, so I never really had to deal with the strain and turmoil of being an older child going thru the process. I did have my ups and downs as I grew older, trying to understand and accept- but really, it was what I knew. I had a dad I visited and a dad I lived with...and step-brothers I was too young to relate to, and who didn't want me around. I would say that was a huge challenge. Especially when I got older and wanted to "have a brother" who liked me.

Instead I was the step-sister only his closest friends knew about. My ex-husband, who graduated with my step-brother, didn't even know I was my step-brother's step-sister until I told him. I shocked my fellow classmates who had siblings in my step-brother's grade. I'll never forget some of the locker-room chatter, "Oh my GAWD, you're his step-sister?!" I secretly hoped I would somehow become more liked by my peers once they knew. Ha. That never happened.

My biggest blessing was when the step-brother discussed in this post moved out. Freedom. I got the coveted upstairs bedrooms. I was going to finally be "The Kid" and I would win all of the favor and acceptance I could. I'd help out my step-dad on the farm and become a real asset! I would be loved! Accepted!

It kinda worked out that way.
I did gain acceptance from my step-grandpa, which was something I never thought would ever happen. I finally wasn't the lazy, fat kid whom he would berate. Instead I was helpful, hard-working, and had become (to my knowledge) almost a "Miller." At least "Miller" enough to not be bashed anymore.

My world broke when my step-brother came back to the area. He started helping on the farm and became more of an asset because 1. I was still in school and 2. He was older and stronger. I wasn't without purpose. My step-dad could go and help his son with whatever while I milked. It was tedious and frustrating at times, because there were some cows in the barn that seemed to hate me. They would try to kick me, slam me against the wall or into another cow, and just be turds. Oh, Holsteins.

Eventually, I was "let go" from helping on the farm because our herd became smaller and with my step-brother's help, my step-dad didn't need me anymore. I remember the phone call. I was sick with a cold and even tho I was feeling like crap, I was readying myself to go do chores. My heart dropped. My usefulness was gone.

Other things happened, too, which directed my step-dad's attention even more towards his son. I slipped further and further away. I couldn't do anything. I could get married, and that didn't change how accepted I felt. I could've had kids, but I know that it wouldn't have done anything to change how I was viewed. I could drink beer. That didn't bring me into the fold any further than I already was. It was what it was and is what it is.

After moving away from the farm, it wasn't on my mind as much. My coveted and highly appreciated call on my birthday from my step-dad always made me smile. It was a highlight of my day! I would make sure my ringer was up high in case he called on a bike ride or make sure my phone was near me at all times until he did.

This year, on my birthday, there wasn't a phone call.
I had my phone near me on the drive to Viroqua. I had my ringer up high. No call.
My happiness meter went down, and down again, until basically it had plummeted to the bottom.
"He's probably busy. He'll call. He always calls."
No call.
Eventually, early evening around 5 p.m. I got a poorly spelled out text message saying "Happy Bday."
"Well, it's better than nothing." I sent a thank you and invited him to the wedding.

Flash forward two months later...and I'm looking at a relationship that I tried to have, but never was able to attain. I've tried to compete against his own son, and it didn't get my anything other than feeling like utter crap. I also had to sit back and reflect on my feelings towards my step-brother.

A period of time in my life I idolized him. I was jealous of him. He could get away with EVERYthing. He was popular. He had charisma. He was very smart (even if he didn't truly apply himself in school- I have a fond memory of one time he was feeling nice enough towards me to help me with a math assignment.) He could ask for money without working for it. (From his dad, NOT my mom.) I had times in my youth where I resented what seemed like luxurious freedom on his end- where I had responsibilities. I had to do my chores, I had to earn my allowance, and I would get punished if I did something wrong. The grass is always greener, and I learned in my latter years that never being held accountable for your wrongdoings really doesn't get you anywhere.

I had a very big pill to swallow over someone I looked to as a brother, not ever really being a "brother" to me. There has been a secret rivalry between us all these years that I never really acknowledged until now. (I would imagine he didn't know, either.) A lot of resentment. Resenting him for all the years he was an angry, teenage sibling to me and for being the shadow over me for many years after. The other pill- trying to win the acceptance and love of a man I considered my second father. To be seen as his "daughter." It became apparent that it was never going to be the type of relationship I thought it could be.

I started to head down a path of some major self-pity. You try hard for years to find acceptance with someone you love and admire, only to be shown that they just really do not have the capacity to do so. Self-worth plummeted and I had to make the choice on whether or not to let it take hold.
My fatbike ride with my husband this morning (Ha! I said husband! That still makes me giggle) gave me peace. The past week has been challenging for me. I feel because I try every year to make Christmas as special for myself as it was during my childhood,and it always seems to fall short. I was letting bitter feelings and sadness take hold. My stress elevated, I became snappy and defensive. It didn't help I wasn't biking, either- I had no outlet. I felt like I was a popcorn kernel just about ready to explode into a piece of popcorn. Not good.

Our ride this morning wasn't the speedy clip we had last weekend, but a more casual ride that was fast enough for me. I took in the scenery, listened to the snow crunch under our tires, and found joy in feeling my lungs breathe in cold air. The effort felt good. The trails were great, the ground was frozen, and riding warmed us up quickly. I reminded myself of why I need biking in my life- it makes me sort out all of the craziness in my mind and lets me just "be."

I'm okay. I know this. I know I get into slumps and I really have to immerse myself in "all the feels" before I can truly work myself out of it. During these times, I'm not the most loving to myself and become frazzled over all of the goals and things I wish to do, yet do not have the capacity to do them. I worry I'm letting people down. The feeling of panic over procrastinating takes over and I start to doubt myself and my dreams. Then, I start to feel sick and tired of feeling tired and frustrated- I push back at myself. "Josie, you have to start waking up earlier if you want to ride! Don't you want to?!"

I have to thank Travis for going out riding with me these past few Sundays. I think if he hadn't, I would've found myself wallowing instead of getting off my ass and doing what I love- riding my bike. I also have a thank you for Stego and Ed, who joined us for our group ride last week. I very much almost said "ah, I'll just go do my own thing" but everyone made it enjoyable. I surprised myself and the ride brought back some of that "Aw, yeeeah!" I was missing.

Sometimes lessons are learned in the processing and you have to process to learn. I have come to realize I have family and network of wonderful friends who are like family.

They help bolster me when I'm down, support me, encourage me, respect me, and help me realize that my value as a person should not be defined by anyone other than myself.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Women on Bikes Series: Mary Avenanti

I am a mother of seven grown children and grandmother of five. I am a graphic designer, copywriter, researcher, and publisher by trade. I am a recently certified 200-hr RYT (registered yoga teacher) and avid kayaker and mountain biker. Nature is where I go to collect all my thoughts, gather my emotions, and refocus...I ALWAYS find freedom and serenity there...in the woods or on the water.

Tell us about the introduction to your #bikelife and what it entailed-
I grew up in a family of ten children. For my tenth birthday, I finally got a bike. it was a large, re-purposed 'old lady' bike. (Not the cool high-handle bar/banana seat bike my sister got.) Parents painted it blue and I had to share it with some of my siblings. I rode the hell out of that bike! I used it to race the boys in the neighborhood, and still have the scar on my knee from my first major crash.

I tasted freedom on that bike and bought my first ten-speed with money from my first job at 16.

More freedom...my first real taste of mountain biking happened on a family vacation in Winter Park, Colorado. I was deep in kids and family responsibilities at the time, so it wasn't until almost ten years later, in the midst of a divorce, that I was able to experience riding dirt again.

The first thing I bought for myself after my marriage disintegrated, was a trail bike from Decorah Bicycles. I rode the gravel back roads out to Volga River State Park, lifted it over the cattle fence and hit the horse trails. My body and mind were beginning to remember the freedom. 

Life stepped in, new jobs, new location, kids were the focus and the Giant remained in the garage, unridden, for years. My youngest daughter took it to Ames for school and it was stolen in the first week. Se la Vie. I wouldn't return to biking for another five years...

Tell us about your introduction to mountain biking? What made you decide "Yes! I want to get better at this!"-
There is a program here in the Cedar Valley called Nature Force. Nature Force is the brainchild of Mary McInnis, yogi, mountain biker, kayaker...she is 500 RYT and the program grew out of her love for yoga and biking and nature. She recruited local experts to help train women to kayak, mountain bike and run – a 12-week program that readies participants for a local eco-triathlon (Rugged Toad) at the end of August. Kayak-run-mtb. I was a runner most of my life. From the time I was 12, I ran competitively until I turned 50. I fell in love with kayaking years ago, mostly as a leisurely activity, and have been a yoga student of Mary's for eight years. So I trusted and signed up....full of trepidation, especially over the mountain biking.

The first year, I was terrified. Really! I walked the bike a lot. Anything that scared me I got off the bike and walked. Up or down or through trees, over rocks...I did a lot of walking that first season. I showed up for every practice session though. Something kept calling me back; the taste of freedom and being in the woods. I started to remember how much I loved the woods.

You did not become involved with off-road riding in your youth-years, but rather in your adult years. Why do you feel it's been positive?
In my youth, I loved riding my bike, but the only time I had an off-road experience I ended up going way too fast on a descent into a wooded area on my cousin's bike. I lost control of the bike, went into the trees and landed in a creek. to this day I get a bit nervous riding near rivers and lakes, especially on the edges of steep embankments :)

I started practicing yoga seriously about 10 years ago. Before that, I was a runner, through grade school, high school, college, and well into my adult life. Raising seven children in a broken marriage had its stresses and running was my therapy, then yoga. Like I mentioned previously, About three years ago, Mary McInnis, and the Nature Force Program inspired my participation. I witnessed her excitement and the joy she was finding in mountain biking.

My progress in mountain biking felt slow and frustrating.
I was scared, overly cautious, and I was much older than most of the women who had signed up. I was also inspired by them. I observed, I walked up and down hills, walked over any rock larger than a golf ball, walked between trees, and slowed to a crawl on all the bends in the trails. I cried from frustration because I wanted to ride so badly. I wanted to experience that freedom and my body was remembering that freedom I felt on a bike when I was younger. I remembered my love for the woods! I improved gradually and I was my own worst critic; the leaders and the other women in the program were encouraging. I did not race at all that first year, except in the Rugged Toad, and I was thrilled to finish! I really felt a part of something bigger with the other women in the group and the supportive biking/kayaking community in the area. I started to feel, after living in the area for more than 30 years, that I had finally started to rediscover myself in a safe and accepting community. My voice was respected, and women started letting me know they were inspired by my efforts.

I signed up for a mountain biking clinic in Omaha that fall. I cried there too! I, again, was the oldest by about a decade. But I hung in, tried everything, practiced, and listened to the coaches. I still hear them when I ride today, a year and a half later! That camp was certainly a turning point in my confidence. I started to understand better how mountain biking worked, why balance was important, why and how my body position mattered. (Being a creative person and a mathematician, I have a deep desire to understand the intricacies and dynamics...this is, of course, a double-edged sword. That awareness certainly can empower a rider, but can also hinder progress with overthinking and overanalyzing situations.)

What would you say has been your biggest motivation for riding?
Freedom! Feeling free in body, mind, and spirit is what keeps me heading back out. I feel like I am flying...it's just magic. riding in the woods is, for me, a moving meditation. Mountain biking requires intense focus. Constant reading of the trails, any bends, descents, climbs, and obstacles can be navigated safely and effectively only with intentional focus. My mental clarity and problem-solving ability are always better after a ride in the woods. Once I started riding regularly. I began eating better and sleeping better than I had in a really long time. I truly look forward to the rides and do anything I can to get a ride in. I overcame my fear of being alone in the woods in the dark and rode in the dark last winter. I found it so peaceful. I left behind so many fears, rational and irrational alike. My blood pressure and heart rate are back to what they were when I was on the college track team.

I take the confidence gained from conquering obstacles on the trails and bring it into my everyday life– at work, in my relationships, with my family, and in my own personal goals and accomplishments. My perspective in life has shifted; everything is an adventure and one of my new mantras became "remain curious.

Curiosity goes a long way toward overcoming obstacles on the trails. Don’t judge the bend in the trail, remain curious about how the bike will roll through, about your skills available to you, about your mindset, and let go of outcomes. It's about the experience, and when a person remains curious throughout, the doors remain open to all possibilities.
For folks who feel they are "too old" to mountain bike, what would you say/suggest?
I have 60 years of life experience and on my 6th birthday, I rode the Decorah trails on my fat bike. Three days later I set a PR at Ingawanis on the fat bike! I would say that mountain biking can be approached cautiously. I’ve never considered myself a risk taker, however, calculated risks are in my toolkit, and the freedom I feel out there on the trails is worth it to me. I love the sense of empowerment I feel when I overcome the fear that previously stopped me from experiencing the thrill or joy that usually results. Life is way too short to sit on the sidelines. Adulating is intense, my day job is stress-filled. All I have to do to relieve that stress? Simply think about the next time o get to go play on my bikes.
There are some great mountain biking movies out there, one has a scene where the boss is yelling at the employee for staring at a picture on the wall all day. He yells, "What is so great about that picture?" Of course, it's a picture of the trails, Whistler, I think. I feel exactly like this at work, me daydreaming about riding the trails. Another thing I think is important to remember is that it's your ride...always. It's not about being as fast or skilled as your neighbor. It's skill set and mindset, build one and the other comes along. Everything I learned on the trails I take into life; I have learned so much about myself! I have found my voice- I've been speaking up and sharing more, at work, in relationships, with my kids, and in my community. Do not live life by the numbers! I feel younger and healthier and more energetic than I ever have, and I'm having so much fun!

Clips or flats? What do you use and why?
I found flats to be very helpful, especially when learning the basics on a mountain bike. Some flat pedals have a lot of real estate for my feet and flats give me the option of re-positioning my feet if needed. I have been working on taking corners a bit quicker or smoother (or both) and with flats I can put a foot down or take my foot off the pedal while leaning, even if it never hits the ground. Also, when learning basic skills, like being able to stop on an incline or descent without falling or letting go of the bike etc. There are many instances when taking a foot off the pedal quickly is helpful and can deter a fall, etc.

When first learning all the ins and outs of riding on soft trails, it's nice to be able to focus on reading the trails, one-finger braking, bottom off the saddle, weighting the front or getting weight back etc. without having to worry about getting a foot unclipped.

Have you had any biffs that were challenging for you on a physical/mental/emotional level? What did you do to heal and overcome?
Have I had any accidents, crashes, slow rolls into a tree...etc? Yup. Like I said before, I was overly cautious at first. Until I learned to look ahead on the trail, I had such a hard time riding through trees. It took a while to figure out that the bike goes wherever you are looking, so look past the trees, and like magic, the bike goes right through...look at the trees? The bike heads right for them!

I learned to navigate, to put serious effort into reading the trail ahead, and navigating obstacles mentally before I got to them. I moved faster and smoother on the trails. I gained confidence, and rode faster and rode more challenging portions of trails I was afraid of before.

In the Fall of 2016 at White Rock Conservancy when heading down a descent at a decent speed on a new trail, I lost control on a drop-off. The terrain was red clay and sand that fell away from beneath my front tire, it happened really fast. The bike went one way and I went the other. My helmet cracked when my head hit the ground, and my hands were horribly bruised. We were out in the middle of nowhere and the quickest way back to camp was to ride the rest of the trail, so I did. That was a good thing, it kept my mind off of my hands. The palms of my hands and up into my fingers turned purple almost immediately.

I found out later that the lockout lever on my front shock had malfunctioned and I had been riding the bike with the shock locked out for weeks- No travel at all. More lessons learned. I was more determined than ever to continue riding and apply any new knowledge to improving my experience on the trails.

Writing about it helped a lot and talking it through with other riders helped as well. It helped me process what had happened, what I could have done differently if anything, and what skills could have helped. I have been working on those skills since. I am a much more assertive rider today than when I started out, it is truly a wondrous evolution.

Being forced to get back on the bike right away really helped. I finished out our weekend riding the rest of the White Rock trails. Having a supportive, non-judgmental riding partner was helpful too!

Since then, I have gone over the handlebars once or twice, and have gotten kicked off the bike a few times. No serious injuries. I didn't fall the whole first year I rode..and that was ok. It's ok to ease into it, and it's ok to jump in with both feet pedaling hard and fast! It's ok to do anything in between. It's your ride...always YOUR ride.

One of the revelations or "aha" moments I had recently, a life lesson learned on the mountain bike trails was learned riding the trails at Banner Lake in Indianola. Banner is challenging. A lot of punchy climbs and more than one scary steep descent. At one, in particular, I stopped at the top (it was my first time on this trail and Chris was shouting out tips and features. I saw him go over and had stopped to hear him) I looked down that descent and was readying for my 'jumping off the high dive routine' where I try, chicken out, and try. This time I said "I'm not going down this tonight. I'm too emotionally and mentally fatigued to fight with my mind right now." That was truly freeing. I didn't feel bad about myself, I didn't stand at the top in angst; I recognized my fatigue and took care of myself.

How do we heal? We remain curious...about how a crash happened, about steps we might take to prevent it, about awareness building, and about our skill set and our mindset. We continue to love the amazing people we are, give ourselves high marks for the courage it takes to be out there, and our attitudes of loving and living life to the fullest.

When you started out riding, what were some handling skills that challenged you? Do you have any suggestions for what helped you grasp them?
Not long after riding George Wyth for the first time in awhile, I thought about the ascents, the descents, the twisty trail between trees...how it all was so scary to ride in the beginning. I had walked so much, up and down and through trees etc. George Wyth is the flattest and easiest trail in these parts, however as a beginner, I found it intimidating.

How the hell was I supposed to get the bike through those trees so close together? No way am I going down that hill...with rocks at the bottom? Are you nuts?

Cornering? Ha!

Mountain Bike camp helped a lot...and practice. Practice does not make perfect, but practice does make stuff more permanent!

Skills Drills in parking lots or in the yard, or in the street for ten minutes a day. Seriously, just spending more time with my bikes help. The more time we spend with anyone, including our bikes, the more we learn about each other.

Watching MTB videos! :)
What do you love about riding your bike?
Ha! How long do you have? The sense of freedom. How it literally feels like flying, like magic in the woods, I have a personal relationship with each of my bikes..they each have energy that's a little different...but mostly I learned and am still learning to trust them...each of them...and really enjoying learning to let them move under me. It is my go-to for stress relief, for sorting, for meditating, for playing, playing, playing!

Tell us about your bike(s), what they are like and why did you choose them?
My first bike was a basic hardtail, Fuji Addy and was an unexpected gift from my sister and brother-in-law who own Action Bikes in San Antonio Texas. I learned all the basics, was super cautious and the Fuji carried me through the first year or so with grace. I learned so much, took her to a mountain bike skills clinic and was told the fit was off quite a bit and was too big. I rode her for another year and shed ten minutes or more off of timed routes on trails, even on a bike that was too big! The reach was way off and I'm sure my body position was not ideal because of it.

I rode cautiously and gradually improved over the year+ that I rode the Fuji. (she became my trainer this winter).

I bought a Specialized Hellga fatbike and it was a mega confidence builder. Fatbikes feel sturdy and supportive underneath you. The geometry (which I began to understand a bit better) really fit me so much better than the Fuji. This was my first experience with a bike that was the right fit, and it felt playful. Although she weighed as much or more than the Fuji, she felt so much lighter and bike handling really started to make sense. I learned so much and most importantly, I learned to trust her. Trusting the bike will do what it's built to do, and that's huge!

I gained a ton of confidence going over rocks, and my climbing improved 100%. I rode the Hellga in the snow and even raced her in the snow. I took some winter trips to Missouri and rode her on rocky descents, up and over chunky boulders. Ripping down a twisty descent is so f**king fun if you have the confidence and skill to do it, but before that it's scary. Period. Climbing can be frustrating, but once skills and stamina are built, they are more fun. Really, probably not a word most mountain bikers would use to describe climbs, but they definitely become less frustrating! You get to the top faster and can hit those awesome downhill sections sooner. :)

My experience on the fatbike led me to my next decision to purchase a full suspension trail bike. After much research on quality, price range and fit I settled on a Specialized Camber Comp 29'er. Pure bliss is all I have to say about it. I put in a lot of hours on a mountain bike in the last two and half years and felt my skill level was ready for this bike. Decorah Bicycles' Travis and Josie were super supportive and spent one whole afternoon (not kidding, we were there for four hours) letting me try different bikes, running 'fit' numbers, sharing their knowledge and I could not be happier with my choice. I bought the bike on my birthday in April, picked it up a week later and have already put tons of miles on it...ride every day I can! I named her Magia which is 'magic' in Italian (nickname Camberghini ;))...playful, similar fit to my Hellga, moves amazingly well under me and absorbs the terrain beautifully. I'm enjoying learning new skills and practicing old skills with renewed perspective. All with a better understanding of how things like balance, bike/body separation, using legs to power things like manuals, body position to lean the bike, rear wheel lifts, and all sorts of subtle body movements that direct my energy where it's needed and letting the bike respond to that energy...Magia is very responsive....
I love all three of my bikes...and when I first started riding I didn't understand why anyone needed more than one. Honestly, to get started in learning the basics and riding local trails, a basic nice quality bike is all that's needed. Find a bike shop that will spend some time with you and listen to your needs and wants.

Why do you feel a women's clinic was/is helpful for those new or experienced in off-road riding?
I just experienced an all women's clinic and I liked it a lot; the first clinic I went to was co-ed. It was advertised as all levels, and was well done, however as a newbie I was very intimidated and also felt I was holding up the group. There was not as much opportunity for women-specific issues (and I am talking about anatomy.)

More times than not, the fact remains that some women are not as experienced in this type of activity and some of us were not taught as girls to take risks. The boys could climb the tree, but we were told to be careful and no climbing (not ladylike). When I raced my bike and got scraped up, when I went to explore the woods with the boys and got hurt, when I had snowball fights and got nailed from them, climbed trees, etc. I was told, "I told you not to play with those boys. You can't do the same stuff they do." This message followed me into adulthood and I think it was the same for many women in my generation. Women have been infantilized at every turn for a century or more. We believe on some core level that we are not as capable and yet we manage so much in our lives that screams the message "you are capable!"

Off topic a bit. Just learning to stop apologizing on the trail and learning to own our badassedness. Feeling emotionally safe is important and especially important when you are feeling vulnerable. Women usually know how to offer support and understanding to other women. Can relate to their fears and frustrations. We understand each other's tears, and we inspire each other through moral support. So yes, the women's clinic was awesome and we are still teaching and learning from each other.
For folks on the fence about mountain biking, do you have any suggestions that might help them gain confidence?
I think I would encourage them to try it a few times before giving up. The fear is a tough challenge for men AND women alike. Learning and practicing basic mtb skills on pavement or flat ground is something I wish I had done more of before I hit the trails the first time. A bike that fits properly is very helpful, finding a patient coach or mentor who is willing to walk you through the little things more experienced riders don't think about like how to navigate roots, rocky or sandy surfaces, trees... even riding on grass is very different than riding on hard surfaces. No one taught me about gears... that would have been incredibly helpful. Even knowing the names of the major bike components and how they work increases understanding and inspires more trust in your bike. Learning to trust my bike was huge. Letting it do what it's built to do really freed me up to focus on my responsibilities as the rider.

What do you feel deters women from getting involved with cycling? Especially mountain biking?
Fear of injury. Lack of confidence. Wearing too many hats and remaining in the caregiving role, feeling guilty about taking time for themselves. Putting others first and their wants or playtime last. Lack of support from family and 'friends'. (My family thinks I'm a little nuts. Resent to an extent, the time I am taking for myself after spending decades caring for others.) I'm much more free of negativity and drama, finding freedom in all aspects of my life. Free to be my authentic self.

Also mountain biking takes time to learn. Have to focus and gain some technical skills. So not as easy as running or walking or riding the road. So supportive community is vital.

What do you feel could change industry-wise or locally to encourage more women to be involved?
Well, the industry can get more serious about making quality bikes (with 29 inch tires) available to women. There is a huge opportunity for them to cater to women, find out what women want in bikes, accessories, clothing, and shoes. The number of women ages 40 and over who are interested in mtb is growing fast, so cater to them! We want to give you our money! Give us quality women-specific stuff to spend it on...and ASK US!

I think education is in order. Educating ourselves. Educating the bike shop owners. Owning our knowledge and power and letting them know what we want and be confident enough to demand respect from them. SHOW them that we know what we want, what we need etc.

What inspires you to encourage women to ride?
I know from personal experience and from seeing first hand the changes in other women, that mountain biking is truly empowering stuff. It pushes women out of their comfort zone faster than most physical activities, it requires a regular mindfulness practice when out on the trails, we are constantly forced to face our own fears and get to the root of them...this is not an easy path. To be honest, sometimes it just sucks...however, when we shed the layer, reveal our truths, and conquer that downhill, rocky ascent, first wheel lift, successfully corner etc, or navigate a drop...what a rush, what a feeling of accomplishment! We ride off the trail and take that confidence and fearlessness into all aspects of our lives and holy moly, it's the best kind of magic...I have seen women (Mary McInnis included) morph into spirited, confident, supportive, empowered loving warriors.

I want to share a Facebook post of mine- "Two summers ago, I started mountain biking with a group of local women and that Fall I attended a MTB camp in Omaha led by Ryan and Roxzanne Feagan. There I met Wendy, another curious and somewhat terrified MTB student. We brought up the rear in most activities, and most likely stood at the top contemplating drops and descents long enough to grow roots. cut two years later and we meet again... at a MTB race of all places! she reminded me today that while she was hesitant and felt completely out of her element at camp, she did not cry, like I did... point being we both lacked confidence and skills, but we showed up all three exhausting days, and we were inspired to just keep going. Now, look at us! This sport, this community-- who knew empowerment could be so much fun! Congrats Wendy, it was WONDERFUL seeing you out there Truly a highlight of a crazy fun day ridin' bikes and playin' in the mud! #natureforce #randroutside#mtblove #gratitude"
Tell us a random fact about yourself!
There are so many! The question is which do I not mind sharing! My last three vehicles over past 15 years have been five speeds (manual, stick....) I'm pretty sure I was a race car driver in one of my past lives! I drive with no shoes and bare feet in the summertime, then I'll wear socks when the temps get cooler. I'm very tactile and gotta get intimate with the clutch!

I love socks...nothing more comforting than sliding tired or cold feet (that serve us so SO well!) into some great, soft, warm socks...and nothing more empowering than pulling on my favorite pair of MTBing socks when getting ready to ride. :)

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Favorite Things of 2017

Last year around Christmas time I came out with a "Favorite Things" post and figured I needed to come back with another list for 2017!

#1. Bontrager Anja Saddle 
I have finally found the saddle that I feel is my go-to for trail and gravel riding. It's firm, it has a generous cutout for comfort, and it's supportive. Finding the right saddle for different styles of riding can be absolutely frustrating, and when you find the right one- it's liberating! We spent time investing in this style of saddle to update most of my bikes. It's been the ticket. After 2016 Chequamegon I had a lot of regrets- 2017 Chequamegon I fared much better. Even with a shorter 12-ish mile paved trail ride on a bike that we didn't change the saddle out on, I knew instantly that I wouldn't want to make that same decision again. Take the time to find a saddle that works- it might take time. You might think what you have is okay, but I can assure you- once you find the right one...you'll be mind blown!

#2. Specialized Women's SL Pro Bib Short
2016 was my first season trying out bibs, and it was a challenging experience. Eventually, once I figured out the fit, it wasn't so bad, but I wasn't entirely sold.
I gave bibs another shot by trying out what Specialized had to offer, and I will say it was much better!

The Specialized bibs had a little clip on the women's style that allows you to (carefully) pull the bib away from you without having to take it off, or you can more easily remove the halter strap without having to unzip your jersey too much. I felt like it was easy to use- the magnet aspect is slick. The chamois is designed for longer rides, and even tho it doesn't feel super thick- it was awesome on my longer gravel rides. There were times I'd scoot and find that "magic spot" and felt like I could keep going for a few more hours beyond the ride.

The fit of the shorts is comfortable, I felt, almost too comfortable to be true. The leg gripper is wide and will not tug your skin. The fabric is soft and silky. Without a doubt, definitely a great investment piece. I still prefer shorts, however, these are very comfortable and I enjoy wearing them.
(Don't forget to check out the SL Pro Women's jerseys! Comfortable, silky, great-fitting. They perfectly compliment the SL Pro Women's shorts or bibs!)

Decorah Bicycles has access to ordering anything in stock from Specialized, and it takes 3 days to get it if it's from the California warehouse!

#3. Specialized 2FO Flat 1.0 Shoe
I'm a die-hard Five Ten shoe-wearer but I have to say that the updated 2FO design is much better than the first style that had come out. Plus, Dynamite Panther is absolutely cool, and for women who would love to have something colorful that can fit larger sized feet- this will be the ticket! 38 is the smallest size the Dynamite Panther shoes come in, and I fit in them well.

This size goes across the board for the women's shoe as well as the men's shoe. (I made sure to ask my rep, because I was curious in case I wanted to try the women's shoe.) They work well from the rides I've used them on! I usually wear Five Ten Freerider Contact shoes- These more resemble the Freerider Contact shoes with more of a honeycomb design. The sole is much improved from the first pair of 2FO's I had, I feel it sticks better to the pedal pins. They feel comfortable, and the material that rests above your heel (closer to the ankle) is nice. More flexible, not going to cut into the area under your ankle- a solid win.

#4. Shebeest!
Divine Jersey, Virtue Jersey and Petunia Shorts for the win! I told myself "Josie, you aren't going to buy more Shebeest things this year." Then they came out with the updated Shelastic 2.0 pad in their Petunia shorts and it became a top favorite. If the bibs I had last year had THIS chamois pad...they would see more time outside.
The Divine jersey is soft, silky, and fits beautifully once you fine-tune your size.

#5. Skinny Americano Shorts
Again, Shebeest, but this gets a special spot for being baggies with fit, functionality, and attitude.
I have been off the baggies bandwagon for a season and a half now, but I'm going to find myself slipping these on a few more times next riding season. They are not overly long. They are not baggy! They don't snag my seat. They have a zipper pocket. They have a zipper AND snap closure on the front. They are a soft, stretchy, forgiving material- you can wear these over a lycra short and feel very comfortable. They make your butt look awesome!

#6. Enso silicone rings
Travis and I got engaged before Christmas 2016 and we picked out a ring for me to wear at work and a prettier one to wear out for dates, social, etc. Very practical. However, I have hands that get very cold in the winter months and had some serious issues getting my traditional rings sized to where I could (with confidence) wear them out or at work.
I became increasingly concerned how my claddagh ring would do during the busy season at the bike shop. I wasn't concerned about wearing down my beloved ESI grips- but I did worry about it getting caught on bikes.
Travis is a mechanic and he (understandably) did not want a metal ring to wear at work. So, I did some research on silicone rings and found that I loved the options Enso had. If I was going to lose a ring due to my fingers being too cold, not a big deal!
Enso rings come in different styles, you can get stackable ones or others that are more traditional. My favorite (and Travis') is the Element ring that was released during Earth Day 2017- Peacock Quartz Element ring. We've had several folks comment about how beautiful they look! I picked up a pair for us along with a black one for Travis and a purple one for myself, just in case we would want to switch things up! I never notice it while I'm working or riding- they are fantastic.

#7. Borah Teamwear FWD Jersey
We finally have our first Fearless Women of Dirt jersey! These are a freeride-style jersey that wears more like a tech-t. You'll want to size down if you want a less relaxed fit; they are very roomy. We will (in time) get a traditional full-zip jersey made (short sleeves & sleeveless). These jerseys can be purchased thru Decorah Bicycles and retail $74.99. We have sizes Small-XL in store but can easily order in other sizes for you. If you need a jersey shipped to you, just ad $4.00
Don't forget a FWD water bottle! One of the easiest ways to take the spirit of Fearless Women of Dirt with you! They retail for $6.99

#8. A hip pack
I never thought I would like using a hip pack. I was inspired by a good friend of mine who wore one during a FWD ride. The more I looked at it, the more I thought "This might not be a bad idea!" I went with one from Dakine. I had seen it in person (the brand she used) and I liked how sturdy it felt yet didn't seem it would be obtrusive. It has a nice sized waistband and (overall) nice sized pockets. I can put my phone, keys, lip balm, and eye drops in with a little room left to shove (really stuff) a lightweight wind jacket. This is more used for my morning rides when I'm out for under an hour- I'm barely drinking water nor do I need snacks on those quick rides and this frees up my shoulders from having unnecessary weight on them just for a couple essentials.

#9. & #10. 2018 Trek Farley 9.8 & 2018 Specialized S-Works Women's Epic
These two bikes have brought me some huge smiles this season. I'm super excited for the snow season this year and I can't wait to take this bike out in the snow! The rides I've had on it this season (so far) have been very enjoyable. Just recently I would say I found its weak link on our trails, but that's okay. One area out of miles of riding doesn't take away how awesome this bike is.
2018 Farley 9.8
The Epic hasn't had many rides because it was a late-season arrival, but the few rides I've had on it really stoked me! I wasn't entirely sure how I would like the bike with the suspension setup, you can read a lot of reviews on the Specialized Epic and some love it, some like it, and some don't care for it. I fell into the "love" category.
2018 Women's S-Works Epic
Both of these bikes are investments and both bikes are set up to where we wouldn't have to upgrade anything on them. The Epic will be my race bike for the dry season, taking over the Salsa Spearfish I've ridden for a couple seasons (due to us not being Salsa dealers, we felt it better for me to be on a brand we sell.) The Farley will be the go-to winter ride unless conditions get icy and I'll go back to my Specialized Fatboy that is currently set up with studded tires.

#11. ESI grips!
These were on the list last year...they continue to make the list! They are my go-to grip for all of my bikes. I'm still figuring out preference between Chunky and Extra Chunky, really it depends on what gloves I'm wearing. They have a variety of styles and colors that should please everyone!
For those who fight hand fatigue...don't forget about TOGS either! They just came out with a new model that is a little more flexible! I use the carbon ones on several of my bikes and find them to be super helpful for long rides. Especially gravel grinders where being able to move your hands around is helpful to combat numbness!

#12.  Specialized Women's Base Miles Featherweight Backpack
Finding a lightweight backpack for me to use for my commute that would allow me room to help haul some groceries home at night or stow away gear for group rides was tough. I had a bag I was using that was super great for those grocery trips and had plenty of room for clothes- but it was big. I mean...BIG. I looked like a turtle. Now, I might need to break it out for times we host winter group rides because winter clothes can be bulkier than summer gear- we'll see.

Here are some fine details about the Base Miles Featherweight Backpack-
Women's-specific straps distribute the weight across the top of the chest, enabling you to ride in any position without pressure.
Ultra lightweight construction.
Reflective pieces welded throughout to increase your visibility to motorists in low-light conditions.
Laptop sleeve can double as a water bladder pocket and keeps the weight in one place.
Triple-pointed helmet straps keep it tight against the bag.
Win-Tunnel-tested to keep you as aerodynamic and fast as possible.
Magnetic sternum buckle for one handed use while riding.
Volume: 15L

It's been my favorite backpack so far- smaller than one I would've used for school but large enough to accommodate most of my commuting needs! A bag like this vs. a traditional messenger bag has been better on my shoulder- which I appreciate.

#13. Bar Mitts Extreme
2018 Farley 9.8Bar Mitts are something that I have no shame in admitting I use during the winter months. Without a doubt, for my hands, they help keep me warmer than any glove I've ever used. Believe me, as a person who has been told they likely have Raynaud's, I have cold hands from the end of October until May. It's uncomfortable! I also struggle when wearing thick, fat gloves when it comes to having any sort of dexterity.

I used 45 NRTH Cobrafist pogies for a few seasons with mixed results. I liked them, but the donut insert that I had to deal with was not working well. We tried all the tricks we could think of, but I'd have one donut that would always get messed up. Finally, Travis convinced me to change (I was bullheaded!) and I'm grateful I did. No longer am I wasting time looking for a fallen donut or trying to shove it back into place so I wouldn't be exposed to cold hands. Now I put some gloves on and simply ride my bike!

If you are commuting by bike or riding fatbike trails, Bar Mitts Extremes will keep your hands toasty. You can even store snacks! What's not to love?

This rounds up my personal list of favorite things for 2017! Hopefully you've found something that you'd like to try out during your next riding season or maybe a gift for the favorite bike rider in your life! Keep the rubber side down and enjoy #bikelife!