Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Race Day Adventures: PertNear 20 2018

The calendar flipped to October before I knew it, which meant the countdown to PertNear 20 in Viroqua! I really enjoy this mountain bike race, not because I do well (a small part of it!) but because I really enjoy the Viroqua area.

Pete and Alycann have done an amazing job putting together the event, and not only that- but every year new trails are added!

It's a great community of people, the trails are fun and challenging (and more flowy in areas than our local trails). It's a treat for sure, and in my opinion, worth being closed a day at the shop to attend.

This year the race would be held on a Saturday. Sunday would be Travis' and my first anniversary of being officially married. So, I figured we should take the weekend off to celebrate. I was overjoyed to have a race without auction stress hanging over my head.

Let me say...I have the best racing juju, ever.
Two days before, I crashed super hard going down into IPT...I take full responsibility for it...my attention wasn't where it needed to be and I saw the pothole-like dip too late. The literal "Oh sh*t...." and knowing that I had no time to react. I landed on both of my forearms but bruised my right one the worst. Banged up the side of my left knee. I sat on the rocks for a few moments before I had the gumption to get up and ride. Fabulous. I was still able to ride, so that was important. At home, my self-diagnosis deduced I had not broken anything. A silver lining, yeah?

Race Day-
On the drive, we appreciated the fall colors decorating the bluffs. This year seems especially pretty, and I'm not sure if it's because we feel a renewed appreciation for life or if it's truly because it's a colorful season. On the drive, an eagle flew overhead, and I took that as a sign from Dad that I should stop worrying so damn much about how I'd do. He'd be there. For him, I think the idea of me doing what I do is enough. Sure, it's extra bragging rights when you have a daughter who wins a podium spot...but I really don't think that's the reason he was proud.

The temperatures were the most confusing and frustrating part of the whole ordeal. We knew we'd be on open road, so in which case, how do you dress to stay warm on that knowing you will warm up and eventually be on 10 miles of singletrack towards the end? It started off cloudy, too, which made it all the more complicated. I decided I would definitely survive if I overdressed my upper half, so long as everything had zippers.

Finally, it was time to line up...the excitement and nervous feelings start to build as you wait for the go ahead. Trying to hammer on the grass to get to the pavement quickly was not easy! Eventually, we were on blacktop and climbing up this immense hill. I have deduced, for myself, it's equally as challenging at the start vs. at the end. I am not "powerful" in the sense of hammering on roads...and even if I were to warm up prior to a race, I feel that I gradually become stronger during the race vs. being strong in the beginning.
My lungs were burning. Travis kept ahead of me and I tried to use him as a carrot until we got to singletrack. He let me go ahead so we would stay together, being my eyes and ears for behind me. We made a couple of passes, and I was leading several of us through the trees and field. Travis ushered me to pick it up a notch as there was a woman behind us; they seemed fine with the pace. I kept waiting to hear the "Can I pass you?"...I flirted between feeling good and feeling anxious. My lungs felt a bit raw, my legs felt somewhat like lead, but I was enjoying the twists and turns the trail gave me.

Until I hit an edge and went down. My shifter smacked against my knee and I landed on my right forearm (OUCH)...The fellow and lady in pink that were behind us passed. She asked if I was okay, I said yes.

My gumption went down several notches. I felt rattled. Was this going to be another sh*tshow of a race? Honestly, I was feeling like crap. I wasn't prepared to push myself this hard. I don't ride "race pace" at home all the time, but the simple concept of my not having ridden much at all this year was weighing on my shoulders. The stress over trying to defend my 1st place finish that I've had 2 years in a row was also there.

For a short time, I stopped trying so hard.
Let me say this now, it's not that I didn't care. I did care. I did feel that this year would be the year that I might not get first. I was tired of having race anxiety over the whole damn thing. I didn't want the pressure. I wanted more than anything to simply do the best I could and enjoy the day. Seeing the woman in pink pass me made me sad, more because of how it happened vs. the pass actually happening. I know Travis had frustration over it for a little while because he's seen me win this race before. He felt it was a race I could win if I pushed myself harder- I just didn't have "harder" to give.

I picked myself up, got back on the bike, and kept going. On the pavement, I could see her pink jacket in the distance. Crap. I cannot ride pavement that fast. Not with what fitness I have. Not with the headwind. Travis did what he could to block the wind for me. I felt like a snail on the uphill climb. Just do what I can...keep pushing! Eat! Ugh...eating. Blech. Smile at the volunteers and thank them. Be in awe of Tad. Get. To. Singletrack.

Singletrack...I was so grateful to be on dirt. This is where I started feeling better, even tho I felt like I was struggling. How often during the race did I feel like my calves wanted to cramp?
I impressed myself with what technical riding I could do. Impressed Travis, too. There were a few spots where I felt too tired to push, so I had to hustle off my bike and keep going. Climb. Climb. Climb.

At one point, I started talking to Travis. "You know what? I'm glad I'm not first this year. It takes the pressure off."
"She's right there."
I looked over and saw her! The woman in pink! She was further up the winding section but within eyesight.
Holy crap. I caught up?!

Know this. I did try to pick it up in spots and not lollygag, but at the same time, I physically knew that I couldn't go past a certain point. I would've likely legitimately blown up and I did not want that. I wanted to leave myself out in the woods, but not make myself feel like complete crap. I didn't want to ride rushed either. Rushing on trails I ride once a year would likely result in more crashes or mistakes that would put me back further.

This was the first time I had another female as a carrot. It was exciting! I made it my goal to see how well I could keep her in eyesight. It gave me the motivation to keep doing what I was doing...don't give up- keep fighting. Either way, coming back to this point and catching up is a win itself.

Pavement again. She's so strong. I hammered the best I could, but hard and fast road riding is not my strong suit.
My strengths are climbing and technical singletrack riding. Riding consistently. Smart. Maneuvering rocks/roots. Skillful. I can be powerful in spots, but not for long stretches.

The second bit of singletrack is my favorite. It was in here where I found that perfect sweet spot of mindless riding. Where you're so in the zone that you aren't paying attention to anything other than your body being on the bike. I tried to ride a pace and speed that would help me use my brakes less. This meant not being a hammerhead...a happy place of speed and control.

My heart was bursting with joy. I felt like my dad was with me at this moment- a moment I haven't really had in months. For the first time in a long while, I wasn't plagued with stress. For the first time during a race, I wasn't feeling anxiety, pressure, or stress. A leaf was snagged by the stem, under my bike computer- a yellow maple leaf. I truly felt that it was a sign from my dad. "I'm proud of you, Josie." I knew that he was there.

I came to the spot in years past, where I've gotten off the bike. Another fellow was off his bike, and I couldn't remember if I've ridden it or not. I tried...and failed! Ah. Yeah. Hit my left knee (the one that took the brunt of Thursday's crash)...tore my tights. Ah, whatever. Made the other section that I did ride last year- that made me feel good!

We were nearing the home stretch- and then sent back uphill on newly built trail! Literally, a trail that was just finished- and it was challenging. Clay-like mud acted like velcro on my tires. I did ride a good portion of it. It was not as bad as Chequamegon, and I hope next year I'll be able to experience it in prime condition! It did take a lot of energy. I saw the woman in pink again. We were not too far apart. It was exciting!

I tried to ride as hard as I could to the finish. I was a little muddy. I saw her and made my way over to say hi. Like I've said, this is the first time that I've ever had another woman to actually compete against to this degree. I found it refreshing. In all honesty, it wasn't my year to pull out a first place victory. I knew it. My post-race cough was a solid indication that I definitely put forth the effort I had. It was fun to hear her surprise over my catching up to her and how she felt she needed to work hard to beat me. It was nice to hear another woman compliment my technical riding ability- and I told her that her ability to road ride well definitely challenged me. She's a more multi-faceted rider than I am and she does cyclocross events and such, which I have no current desire to do.

It was eye-opening for me.
My body is able to do some pretty amazing stuff.
With my lack of riding this year, I was able to pull a second place finish with such a close time to the first place finisher.
I do not feel bad about that at all. I gave her competition. I made her work to win. I made myself work to keep up. I felt my dad's presence telling me I was doing just fine.
So much good stuff!
Another small side story- prior to the start of the race we chatted with a fellow named Bruce. He's been a customer at our shop before and (I didn't know this) but had been a dentist my dad went to. I didn't know that. At the finish, Bruce came over to me and had mentioned I was in his thoughts during the race, and he took the spirit of my dad with him on his shoulders during his 10-mile race. That meant so much to me.

Again, the PertNear 20 delivered. I may not have taken away a fly-away victory, but it was still victorious for me nonetheless. I got to enjoy a chase for the first time, quietly amazed myself with what I was able to accomplish with the exhausting year I've had. I was able to finish with a smile. Mettle wins medals...and had to dig deep to remind myself that I can persevere through a lot.

I am absolutely positive that I did the best that I was able to do this year. I really can't question it. You can go over the "what ifs" as much as you want, but I know with how my body feels as I type this...I did. (Apologies to my massage therapist!) It's not always about winning...my biggest victory of the day was being able to experience that simple and beautiful moment out on the trails. Having my mind open enough to feel like my dad was along for the ride with me.

The second thing that I felt was really awesome was women supporting each other. Cheers, handshakes, compliments, and conversation. More women in this sport is a good thing!

Thanks again to Bluedog Cycles for hosting a fun event.
Thanks again to Travis for being there.
Thanks to Dad for being there in spirit.

Until next year!

Monday, October 15, 2018

Women on Bikes Series: Bonnie Larson

Hi! My name is Bonnie, I’m 56 years old, and I love to mountain bike! While I currently teach high school math, in my former career I flew refueling aircraft for the Air Force and passenger aircraft for a major airline. I guess that’s where I got my sense of adventure!

I live in the Twin Cities area of Minnesota with my husband, Ray, and during the summer, my son Rowdy.

I bought my first mountain bike in 1991, a Schwinn Paramount. I had friends in the Air Force who mountain biked, and it seemed like a fun thing to do.

To be clear, I didn’t really “mountain bike” at the time, but just rode in the woods when the opportunity presented itself. I still have that bike and use it to commute to work.

We lived in Florida for a time and after riding at Santos Mountain Bike Trails, we were hooked! Part of their trail system meanders through the woods between the Ocala horse farms, which is perfect for family rides. After moving to Minnesota, we continued to explore the trails but didn’t really become serious about riding until Rowdy joined the Minnesota High School Cycling League (MNHSCL) in 2013.

Rowdy now rides both mountain and road bikes for the University of Texas Cycling Team in Austin. Ray and I coach with the Roseville Area Composite Team, and Ray is the social media director for MNHSCL. Because Ray spends every race weekend on site, I have volunteered in virtually every position on race weekends, setting the course, parking cars, running the skills obstacle course, riding sweep for girl’s races, acting as a crossing guard, course marshal, etc. I am also on the MNHSCL Demo Team, which trains our league coaches on skills and how to instruct them. I coach at the league’s summer camps, direct Dirt School for a community ed program, and have helped coach at the Liv Ladies All Ride clinic in Bentonville and the Copper Harbor Women’s Weekend. I have both IMBA Level 1 and PMBIA Level 1 certifications and am the Liv Ambassador for County Cycles in Roseville, MN. I lead road and mtb rides out of the shop and do ladies’ workshops as well.

Social media links: 
IG: @bonlovesbikes, @county_cycles
FB: www.facebook.com/countycycles/

Tell us about the introduction to mountain biking and how it influenced you from then on-
I always enjoyed mountain sports like downhill skiing and hiking and was an avid runner and racquetball player. On a trip through Colorado in the mid-90s I went mountain biking with a friend and had a great time, at least on the downhill portion of the ride. However, I eventually moved to South Florida, which had a shortage of both mountains and mountain bike trails, so I spent more time riding horses than bikes. After Rowdy was born, Ray and I began to explore the dirt roads in the Everglades by bike and ultimately discovered singletrack around the state. The more we rode, the more we liked it. We booked a trip with Sacred Rides to the northern rim of the Grand Canyon and knew we had found a sport that the entire family could enjoy.

Can you take us back to your first few mountain bike rides? What did you learn and what made you say "Yes! This is for me!"
I like to say that although I have had a mountain bike for many years, most of my time was spent just riding through the woods, not “mountain biking” in the sense that I know it today. Who knew that there might be a set of skills to be a better rider or techniques to help negotiate the iffy spots on the trail? Over time, I learned there is a fine line between having fun and scaring yourself, and even though I crossed the line many times, I still had a grin on my face from the experience. I always wanted more, and that’s when I knew that mountain biking was the right fit for me. 

When it comes to buying a mountain bike, do you have any thoughts or suggestions that might be helpful?
The best bike is the one you will ride. That being said, buy the bike that fits, does the thing you want to do, and makes you a more confident rider. If you’re new to mountain biking, don’t worry about what features your bike may or may not have. Just keep improving your skills and when your bike no longer does the thing you want to do, trade up.

Clips or flats? What do you use when and why?
I ride primarily in flats unless I am in a race, sweeping a high school race, or riding with people I know that will leave me in the dust. I switched to flats about three years ago. I find I am more in sync with the trail and more confident knowing I can bail if need be. I feel less pressure to be fast and am free to be more playful on my bike. I believe the switch has vastly improved my riding and would encourage other riders to give it a go to see what happens.

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 am currently recovering from a broken clavicle, my first major injury on a bike. I haven’t yet ridden since my accident, so am not sure how I will react on the trail. I am going through the phase where I am second-guessing my decision-making and wondering why I’m flying over drops and jumps when friends my age are content spending time with their grandkids! My biggest challenge remains how to become a better rider while getting older and where my limits should be. I have a few friends close to my age who took big spills requiring surgery and time off the bike, which has not helped the dilemma. It’s not like there are many older women bombing the downhills that we can use as role models! I feel riding is now more of a mental game, taking risks and believing I can continue to improve as a rider while entering my senior years. 

When you started out riding, what were some handling skills that challenged you? Do you have any suggestions for what helped you grasp them?
Keeping my eyes far enough down the trail and trusting peripheral vision was not something that came naturally to me. I thought that if I kept the rock or other obstacle in view, I would miss it, but you know how that story ends. Also, I took many spills before figuring out weighting, especially in corners, and I’m still working on that. Cornering is something I hope to be good at one day. 
Are there still handling or technical riding aspects that you find tricky? How do you not let that drag you down when riding?
I learned to ride cross-country on old-school trails, so the speed of flowy singletrack and jumps still intimidates me. I would like to say I’m getting better at them, but my broken collarbone would not agree! Skinnies are also a nemesis, particularly if they are more than 12 inches off the ground. While I know I can ride in a straight line, I am not a fan of heights. If the fall might be much worse because of the height, I tend to think twice before attempting. This is where I find it important to focus, keep a positive attitude, and concentrate on the can instead of the can’t. However, in the end, some days you have it and some days you don’t. It’s important to be able to tell those days apart and give yourself permission to attempt challenging obstacles on another day. 

What do you love about riding your bike?
I love being outdoors in all sorts of weather. I love the feeling of freedom that riding a bike provides. I love feeling like a kid and being able to play on the trail. I love the community of bikers and seeing riders (myself included) accomplish something new, especially if they previously didn’t believe they could do it.

What did you love most about your son having joined the NICA league while he was in school? 
After Rowdy joined the local high school mountain bike team, we quickly came to realize that race weekends were the absolute best weekends of the year. On race weekends, a horde of like-minded parents, racers, and volunteers descend upon a venue, creating an atmosphere unlike any we had experienced in other sports. In NICA, it’s all about getting kids on bikes. While performance has its place, the majority of the riders won’t podium and are there for the fun of it. Racers from competing teams cheer for each other, hang out in hammocks in the woods, and brutally push each other on the race course, only to laugh and cool down together when the competition is over. Kids that may not have fit in or warmed the bench on high school sports teams find themselves racing for points since in NICA, every rider competes. Race day is a big outdoor party with food, music, friends, and fun. Everyone finds their place in the tribe, a group of adults and students athletes united by their passion for mountain biking.

Through MNHSCL, Rowdy has made friends across the state that he visits and shares riding adventures with. In addition, he has traveled to places such as Arkansas, California, and Utah to ride with teams from those states. NICA is like a big family with members ready to ride with you wherever you go. 

What do you enjoy most about volunteering your time with the MN NICA league?
The sense of community in NICA extends to the parents as well as the athletes. On our team, parents are quick to pitch in and help out in one capacity or another, which I believe fosters a greater sense of ownership and belonging. Many of them are bikers themselves, so we began to have our own rides and social outings apart from the kids. We formed a group of moms of the bikers, the Crank Muthas, who began riding together during practice, some who had never tried mountain biking. Several of the parents also coach the team. This group of parents has become our closest friends even though many of our riders have graduated. Ray and I weren’t quite ready to leave NICA, so we continue to coach and volunteer for the Minnesota League. On any race weekend, we’ll be somewhere on the grounds, sweeping the course, assisting parking, acting as crossing guards, etc.
What do you enjoy most about becoming certified to teach mtb skills?
Being a teacher, it seems to be in my DNA to help others gain confidence in their skills, whether it be at math or at mountain biking. I enjoy the relationships that are formed by interacting with riders, and I enjoy when you are able to explain or demonstrate a skill so someone understands. I love seeing riders grow in ability and confidence and knowing that I helped in the process.

Tell us about being a Liv Ambassador and why women should apply for ambassador programs-
My favorite times are spent on my bike and I like to share that experience with others. Being a Liv Ambassador for County Cycles allows me to do that, whether it is through organizing rides, coaching at clinics or camps, or just getting out and riding with other women. I especially appreciate that Liv bikes are designed by women for women, and how Liv seeks to create a community of female bikers. I feel that when you’re involved with a shop or a brand such as Liv, more women will make time to come out and ride in a group, and it gives your efforts credibility. 

Women should apply for ambassador programs because of the opportunities to learn about riding, bike maintenance, or the bikes themselves. And of course, the opportunity to meet fellow bikers! It connects us with other like-minded women and creates a common bond between us. Just like in NICA, I have crank sisters across the country who I can reach out to ride with, even if we’ve never met before. I think it’s this type of kinship that makes the world a little better place to inhabit.

What do you enjoy most about helping women (and young women!) become more confident with mountain biking?
Biking can a very empowering experience for women, taking them out of their comfort zones and forcing them to stretch their limits. I think many women, especially younger women, have not given much thought to what they are capable of or how powerful they are, or what a difference they can make. I think biking gives women a glimpse into different possibilities, the confidence to try something new, and the permission to pursue their desires, whatever they may be. 

Tell us about your bike(s), what they are like and why did you choose them?
I currently have 4 bikes but, as you know, life on a bike is n + 1. I still have my first mountain bike, a 1991 Schwinn Paramount, which I use to commute to work. I keep it around because it’s a fun bike to ride, especially if I wander off the road on my way to or from work. My current mountain bike is a Liv Pique Advanced 1, which is incredibly lively and responsive. I ride a Salsa Beargrease fat tire in the winter or whenever I feel like being a kid, and a Liv Avail Advanced for the times when the trails are closed, and I’m forced to ride on the road.

What do you feel deters women from getting involved with cycling? Especially mountain biking?
I think many women do not get involved in cycling for many reasons. First, cycling, especially mountain biking, can seem intimidating. Ads and videos portray images of mountain bikers barreling down a mountain catching air or dropping off sheer rock faces. It looks plain scary, not something a sane person would attempt without placing themselves in grave danger. On the road cycling side, distracted driving is an issue that regularly shows up on the evening news. Again, too dangerous. Second, most of us lead incredibly busy lives. We are doing so many things that adding anything more would require us to drop an existing activity, or time with family, etc. that we might enjoy. Or, we may be so busy we have not even considered it. Third, I don’t believe many women know other women that mountain bike. While the percentage of women in mountain biking is growing, it is still just a fraction of the male population. I feel one would have to have a great deal of confidence to show up at a trail and head out without having a companion providing support. 

What do you feel could change industry-wise or locally to encourage more women to be involved?
As bikers, we should be helping others to join the tribe. We need to reach out to bring down any barriers to women interested in trying out the sport. We should create a community wherever we live. Invite a friend to bike. Make a point to meet and ride with other women. Show new riders a more realistic picture of mountain biking. Get them on a bike, keep them safe, have a good time, and empower them to do it on their own. The joy of the experience will take care of the rest.

What inspires you to encourage women to ride?
I just love riding! Many people have helped me with my mountain bike journey and I want to share what I have learned as well. Mountain biking is a sport that continually offers up new challenges and you can take it as far (or not) as you wish. It always seems fresh and exciting and I would like to pass on my enthusiasm for it to others! 

Tell us a random fact about yourself!
Random fact – During Operation Desert Storm, I was deployed as a pilot to the Gulf. On the deployment, I flew an airplane around the world, departing to the west and arriving home from the east!

Monday, October 8, 2018

Women Involved Series: Lisa Gerber

I run Big Leap Creative (PR and communications) and host The Gear Show podcast from my home office in the foothills of the Selkirk Mountains in Sandpoint, Idaho.

I mountain bike, ski and trail run as much as I’m able hopefully with my husband Patrick and my rescue dogs Murphy (Bernese Mt Dog) and Pepper (black lab mix). Every now and then, I shave my legs and get a pedicure and go out and in public speak at conferences on the topic of storytelling.

I took my very first mountain bike ride when I lived in Aspen in the late 80s, and I kind of hated it because it was so frustrating.

Later, when I lived in Seattle, I got more into road riding and had a bike that was more expensive than my car. Imagine my concern, leaving my Bianchi Eros on the bike rack of my 15-year old Honda Civic. Car was unlocked, but that bike was strapped down!

I ski first and foremost. It’s pretty much my reason for existing. So when a friend took me mountain biking again, in the Pacific Northwest, I discovered it’s a lot like skiing through the forest! And I was hooked. The only thing better than sweet flowy single track is a beautiful powder day.

How I got here: I (finally) put my business degree to work at the age of 30, when I joined a real estate development company in downtown Seattle managing the marketing for their mixed-use developments in the city. They eventually bought a ski resort in Idaho I had never heard of (did someone say "ski resort?") and I quickly took advantage of my free ski pass at Schweitzer Mountain. It wasn't long before I fell in love with the place. When the marketing director resigned just before ski season, I was offered the position. I had two weeks to close up my life in Seattle and make the move to Sandpoint, Idaho.

I had a ski rack in my office. I took ski breaks at lunch. I talked skiing when I wasn’t skiing. it was a dream job. Until it wasn’t. And that’s when I decided to take a big leap and start my business. With Schweitzer agreeing to be my first client, I launched Big Leap Creative in 2004 and I advise CEOs and entrepreneurs on how to bring their ideas to life by way of effective communications and compelling story.

I am fascinated by the way our stories affect the way we show up in this world, not only the stories we tell others but the stories we tell ourselves. This is why I started The Gear Show podcast, weekly conversations with outdoor active professionals and entrepreneurs who are pushing boundaries and redefining how we do life and business: on our own terms, so you and I can gear up mentally and physically for our next big leap.

Your introduction to mountain biking wasn't the most positive. Knowing what you know now, how could your experience have been improved?
My having a negative experience was a consequence of two key things, maybe even a third, which underlies the first two: First, I was woefully unprepared in terms of equipment. I had a bad bike and bad clothes (like lots of heavy cotton). Secondly, I was not in shape at all. The third underlying factor: I was young and not terribly smart about things. How bad can it be when some friends say let’s go mountain biking? It sounded more fun than hiking! That was a long time ago. Today, I don’t think people would make that mistake. The bike technology is far more advanced and you have to know where to begin. Maybe don’t start on a black diamond trail your first day out!

Your mountain biking re-introduction was more successful! Was your success more terrain-based? Bike based? Skill based?

Hell yeah! So much more fun. I think I had the same bike so it must have been terrain and skill-based. Most importantly, I was in much better shape, we started on softer single track (not so rocky and treacherous!) and I was hooked on the flow of the trail.

Clips or flats? What do you use when and why?
Clips. I need to feel connected to the bike. I can’t stand being unclipped. I especially like the uphill pull.

Have you had any biffs (accidents) that were challenging for you on a physical/mental/emotional level?
I did, but fortunately, nothing causing injury (knock on wood). It was a downhill fall on a sidehill, you know that one, don’t you? But it was on the slick rock of Sedona and it hurt. A lot. I laid there for a bit as I recovered from the shock of the impact against the rock. What freaked me out about this was that it wasn’t a particularly technical spot. And it, therefore, knocked my confidence because if I can fall unexpectedly there, I can fall at any time, anywhere.

What did you do to heal and overcome?
I told myself not to be such a wuss. I can let that moment define me and decide not to ride anymore or… keep riding and get over it. We chose how we want to react to things.

Are there still handling or technical riding aspects that you find tricky? How do you not let that drag you down when riding?
I might not be the best person to ask this question. My risk threshold tends to be relatively low. If I approach something I don’t feel comfortable riding, I might session it to get it right but I have a huge aversion to getting injured (and subsequently not being able to ride for an indefinite future) so I have no problem getting off and walking something I don’t feel remotely safe on. I’d rather walk a few yards and ride tomorrow. I am not out to prove anything.

For folks who are nervous about giving mountain biking a shot, do you have any suggestions on how they can go about creating a positive experience?
Start mellow and progress slowly! There are plenty of beginner rides and easy flowy single track that will get you pumped and having fun. Progress with little features and technical skills and most of all, establish trust in your bike. It’s amazing what she will get done for you. Lastly, don’t stress yourself out worrying you have to ride things you don’t feel comfortable riding.
This detracts from the joy of riding. Push yourself when you’re ready.

What do you love about riding your bike?
What is not to love? I am a skier first and foremost and mountain biking makes me happy while I’m waiting for ski season to start up again. :) Riding a mountain bike is like skiing through the woods. There is a flow to it and you pick your line just as you would skiing. Its faster-paced and more exciting than hiking and it’s way more interesting than road riding! Often more scenic and of course there is no traffic!.

Tell us about your bike(s), what they are like and why did you choose them?
I have a Yeti 575 and am in love with it. Honestly, I’ve been riding a Cannondale Scalpel with the lefty fork for too long. It was an awesome bike when I bought it more than 10 years ago but it’s been holding me back, something I’ve really become aware of riding with besties on IMBA epics and listening to them hoot and holler with joy as I’m struggling and on and off the bike. Getting on my Yeti was like opening the door to a new world. The second I started riding it, I had a perma-grin. Immediately, I could ride things I’d never ridden before. I always thought it was my own mental game holding me back. A lot of it has to do with the bike - a new geometry, more travel, better tires and I am now biking a lot more. Who knows, maybe I’ll even start to love it as much as I love skiing!

What inspired you to take the leap into starting up your own business?

Oh yeah, that was a big one. I had moved to Sandpoint, Idaho to take the marketing job at Schweitzer Mountain Resort and it was a dream job. I emailed my friends and co-workers back in Seattle to show them the photo of my office with skis hanging from the wall. After three years, I needed more of a challenge. I asked to take a six-week leave of absence while I decided what that might be. At this point, there were no other jobs for me in the small town of Sandpoint and I didn’t want to leave because I love it here and I had my boyfriend whom I had just met, who would eventually become my husband. I returned to work after my sabbatical with a plan for my business - PR and communications and a proposal for my employer. They said yes, and agreed to be my first client. In July 2004, I literally took the leap, and launched Big Leap Creative. It’s what allowed me to stay here and do what I do.

What has been the most exciting thing for you since creating your own business?

The most exciting thing is the control. I can work as hard as I want, learn new things, and evolve the business accordingly, pursuing work and projects I want, and getting the satisfaction of attracting the work I want. It also means I have no one to blame but myself when things aren’t going the way I want them to. I have 100 percent accountability to me.

What has been the most challenging?

When we are really busy, I’m stressed out. When we are slower, I’m stressed out. If I let it, this thing will give me a heart attack! I’ve really worked on trying to even out my own response to shifts in our business, and have a bit more faith in the process. Over the past 14 years, I have worked very hard to have more ease in the process and to have to know that everything always works out, whether it goes as planned or not.

Tell us about the Gear Show Podcast and your goal behind creating the show-
Funny you should ask because the Gear Show was a product of a slower period of time in business. I decided to use the extra time to launch this project because I really wanted to get more into working with mountain lifestyle clients. That was our goal from the beginning of Big Leap and as luck would have it, we began working with hospitality clients in the mountain towns, but then, oddly, clients like healthcare technology, manufacturing and hi-tech came to us needing help. I love the variety and the challenge, but how can I get back to being more intentional about attracting businesses from the outdoor industry? Let’s start talking to them. Let’s learn the medium of podcasting, and interviewing, and how to market podcasts and build audiences. Now, I’ve amassed a great deal of awesome content from inspiring men and women in the industry and what will I do with that next? I have ideas!

What do you love about sharing their stories?
I love sharing their stories because patterns start to arise - patterns on how individuals are redefining the way they live life, do work, and we can learn from these patterns. You start to see how they react to challenges that might knock some of us off our course, that make others grit their teeth and work through it. I learn so much from each and every interview so it starts as a selfish curiosity but if I’m curious, then others must be too, right? I hope by sharing their stories, I inspire others to take their own leaps. To make their ideas happen.

Do you always know who you want to feature or do you take submissions?
I definitely take submissions! One of the hardest parts of doing this podcast is sourcing interesting guests. I am looking for outdoor active professionals and athletes who are redefining the way they do work and life. Please submit your ideas at https://www.takeabigleap.com/connect/

What do you love most about the concept of storytelling?
Great question: Humans are wired for story. In fact, we communicate in story. Think about the last time you got together with a friend. You shared stories back and forth, right? Stories draw us in as we anticipate what is going to happen next. We feel empathy and understanding as we live through characters vicariously. What so many of us fail to realize is that our own story has a huge impact on how we show up in the world. The way we tell our story is rooted in the story we tell ourselves first and foremost. That’s where we need to start. Because we have a choice on how we tell our story. If we want to make change happen, we have to start with the story we tell ourselves.

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

I know this is a thing because I have spoken to so many women on my Gear Show podcast that have started businesses to empower women to get into cycling. And we’ve discussed it at length, and they would be far more qualified to answer this question than I because from my perspective, I don’t see it. I have lots of badass girlfriends who love to ride. Others who don’t, love doing other things, so I don’t attribute it to the fact that they are a woman, they just prefer to hike, run, insert their favorite sport here.

What inspires you to encourage women to ride?
I want to inspire women to make their ideas happen. if that means they want to ride more, then that’s great. Making an impact on someone’s life fills me with joy. Whatever the reasons are that keep us from making that idea happen - what are they and how can we shoot them down like beer cans on that bench - fear? time? kids and other obligations? I get it. It goes back to the story we tell ourselves, shifting that story and getting shit done.

Tell us a random fact about yourself!
I majored in French in college and have a deep love for France. Freshman year, I freaked out my first week in 19th-century literature class, worried it was way over my head. My professor calmed me down and suggested I give it more time. I did and ended up doing well in that class. In fact, upon graduation, I was awarded Greatest Academic Achievement in a Foreign Language, much to my surprise. It was a proud moment for me. 

Friday, October 5, 2018

Race Day Adventures: 2018 Chequamegon Fat Tire Festival

When the calendar flipped to September, I proceeded to tick off the boxes leading up to the Chequamegon Fat Tire Festival. I needed this weekend as a short vacation away from life and responsibility. I craved time away, a weekend to spend time with friends and ride my bike. To push myself differently than I've had to push myself this year- which has been far more mental/emotional than physical. I knew going into Chequamegon I would be asking myself a lot. Training rides weren't able to happen, instead, I spend days down at my Dad's property. The work I did down at his place wore me out differently than days on the bike. I would say that this was my least active riding year to date- something I'm embarrassed by, yet at the same time, I had a tendency of burning myself out with riding too much. Maybe, just maybe, I'd find a happy medium somewhere.

The drive up to Hayward was wonderful, completely predictable, and highly enjoyable. The sun was shining, traffic was easy enough to handle, and I enjoyed seeing the start of fall colors peeking out. I like to call them "Party Trees"....mostly green but with a bright hue of red or yellow peeping out.

Pulling into Hayward feels like we're pulling into our second home- I get excited every time. We stopped at the grocery store close to our motel location so I could go about the joyful activity of procuring some non-Iowa beers. Pulling into the parking lot, we parked next to a vehicle that had a fancy Specialized Chisel, and what looked to be the limited-run of the Super Light Specialized S-Works Epic.

Yes, we totally love looking at cool bikes. Even tho, with our vehicle you would never know what we had for our two-wheel rigs as they were hiding. Shoot.

After securing my beverage purchase, we checked into our humble motel, which to my happiness had far better internet in our room than years prior! That was a welcome treat to be sure.

We waited for our friends, Stego and Kenzie to get into town, so we took some time to unpack and relax for a bit. Sitting in a truck for several hours is fairly tiring, that's for sure. After everyone was somewhat unpacked and settled, we went to registration.

While in line at registration, I saw someone who looked like someone I will be featuring on Josie's Bike Life soon, but I didn't feel confident with calling out "Hey, Becky!"
So, I kept taking a side glance and wondering to myself "Should I? I should, shouldn't I?"
Nope. Chickened out.
Went to scope some of the merch and wouldn't you know? She was there, too. I just started to pull up Facebook on my phone when she asked "Josie?" Ha! That was a fun moment. It was super awesome to meet someone who I'll feature on my blog, as it truly doesn't happen as often as I'd like.
After chatting with Becky for a bit, we went to the Borah stand to say hello to Tad. Oh, Tad! He's such a great fellow and I feel so awful for the flood damage rehab he and his wife are dealing with. That didn't stop Tad's face from showering us with a big, beautiful smile as he pulled out his custom Decorah Bicycles sparkle jersey! That jersey, dang! It matched perfectly to his Specialized Epic. Very nice!

We then made our way to Sawmill Saloon, as those delightful little potato barrels were calling my name for the second year in a row. I opted for a very "safe" meal of Chicken Strips...and let me tell you, with the Sawmill Sauce they were fabulous!

Travis and I made the decision to call it a night early, to ensure we would have plenty of time to sleep. (In other words, plenty of time to possibly attempt to sleep, if sleeping before a race happens for me.) Surprisingly, I was able to fall asleep and stay asleep, until my alarm went off at 5:30 a.m. to which had us with the unfortunate discovery of thunder, lightning, and rain.
Lots of rain.

We waited until the weather calmed before we went and snagged some breakfast sandwiches from Kwik Star. I don't have the best pre-race appetite, so something is better than nothing, and a little something is better than getting sick from too much.

Eventually, we took our chance and drove over to the start- found a place to park the truck so our friends could find it, and put our bikes in our start gate. I had this big ol' goofy smile on my face as we rode our bikes over. "It's race day!" We crossed our fingers that the next round of rain wouldn't bring strong winds and knock our bikes over. We had to sit under a canopy for awhile, to wait for the rain to lesson and not have us be completely soaked.

Once back at the motel, we took our time getting changed and I took extra time to get myself pumped up for what I expected to be, a slightly wet Chequamegon. I mean, it couldn't be any worse than my first Chequamegon, could it? Nah.

It was now time to head on over to the start and count down the minutes before we would get to roll out. Word on the street was that if you liked mud, you'd be delighted over the course conditions. It evaded me as to how much rain (total) was had; all I knew was it would be wet. Okay. I can handle wet. I can handle mud. Bring it.
Next thing I knew, we were rolling out and down the street- everyone was cheering and whooping as riders went by. You were surrounded with the sounds of vibration from the bike tires rolling around you. It makes me radiate with excitement!

Now, in true Josie fashion, I find the rest of the race a blur. I know Rosie's Field, but after that, until I get to the Pirate Hill and Fire Tower, I'm lost. I just ride!

Of course, the first big puddle I sloshed through, threw mud up under my sunglasses and got in my eye. A concern Travis had, and one I didn't...ultimately to be proven wrong. Oh my gosh. My race is thwarted from literal mud in my eye. "How did I do this in 2016?"
Eventually, I blinked enough to clear it, but it became a silent concern of mine the rest of the race.

My knee was fairing okay, surprisingly, but I found myself feeling like I was pedaling though brownie batter. Gravel roads seemed to grab my tire and prevent me from rolling easily. What's going on? Why do I feel so slow?

Travis asked at one point if my knee was bothering me. "No....it's fine."
"Well, are we going to go any faster?"
I didn't know what to say. Other than I couldn't go any faster. I was on the tail end of my period. I had 40 miles to ride. My body felt like I was pushing it through a slog. No. I'm not going to go faster "right now." I might later, but it takes a while for me to warm up and I don't want to blow my body up halfway in.

It was a struggle, that's for sure. I know part of it was not having much for base miles and the other part was the conditions. Aside from my body and the mud, things were going well, that is until my chain dropped. I am not sure where I was on the course, but I remember being surrounded by trees and was riding uphill. All of a sudden, I could pedal but not go anywhere- I looked down to see my chain had come off the front. "What?!"

I may not be nimble and quick, but I can get my chain back on. I moved off to the side, looking up to see where Travis was. He was gone. No idea where he was or how far he was either. I'm grateful for the person who rode by and knew who I was and asked if I was okay. I let them know I had dropped my chain- they told Travis who was further up ahead. I caught up, my chain dropped again. Damnit! So we got it back on and rode some more...until we had come down a bigger hill and it bounced off again. This time, no matter how many times we tried it kept falling off. Powers of deduction concluded because of the narrow/wide structure and the chain so covered in grit and debris, it couldn't fully go down on the teeth. So, our backup hydration- Skratch in water bottles, was used to rinse my chain off. Magic! Here we go!

We made our way to the Pirates. I was going to have my shot of rum no matter what.
I grabbed my rum and lost my line. So imagine Josie riding one-handed, into a rut, and proceeding to ride uphill through that rut. The pirates went wild! I got a helpful butt-push out of the rut, and I was once again on level ground; then I drank my rum.

I was shocked that I rode one-handed that long! Ha! It is definitely a weakness of mine.

The only negative, "poo poo" comment that irked me was when we were riding some of the muddy hills towards Fire Tower. The first lineup, many were walking, but I was able to keep my bike going and pedal through the sludge. A fellow asked "What? Are you going to win this?"
I was in my own zone, so I didn't realize how potentially irked he could've been to have a woman ride by him instead of walk.
"If I can ride it, I'm going to ride it."
He said something about catching up with me later on, and I pretty much was like "Okay! Sounds good!"

The next hill I ended up walking, a good line wasn't had and it wore me out to try. I could feel cramps threatening my calves. Oh great...That is why I try to keep riding.
Eventually, I got to where I could ride again and we rode until we reached the start of Fire Tower.

Fire Tower...
I love the sign "Rocky Danger Hill!"...it makes me think of those funny animal memes, like a snake being a "Nope Rope."
Photo Credit: Kelly Randolph
Fire Tower was a "Nope" this year. I didn't have it in me to try and figured it would exhaust me further if I did. Just about everyone was on foot, and to try and get a good start in the mud wasn't going to happen. My calves were burning, but I kept trudging. Eventually, I got to a point where I decided I could trudge faster, so I scampered as fast as I could under the circumstance.

Exiting Fire Tower was a sense of relief, but damn did my calf start cramping. There was a solid "Oh Shit" moment where I started smacking my leg. I started drinking Skratch mix and eating what non-dissolved salt tabs I could. Please, please, please, don't let this get worse!
I was shocked to find the cramp reduce, and then go completely away. Thank goodness!

I ended up swearing really loudly ONE time the entire time- we had just started on some of the grassy rollers towards the end when a big fat stick decided to be friends with my rear derailleur.
I halted to a stop...."Are you f*cking kidding me?!" Seriously. If I'm not dropping chains, I'm flirting with ripping my derailleur off?  This race was throwing down, that's for sure. It was like going out to my dad's to find out the electrical wasn't up to code and he needed a new septic system...What next?
I remember cresting the hill where our Decorah friends were hanging out. I totally teared up, because it meant I was truly close to the finish! I could be done with this race that had not one, but zero Hallmark Movie moments in it. As Travis and I crossed the line, I was on the verge of breaking down into tears. This year has been (to date) the most challenging year I ever encountered (in life). I've had to go through a lot, grow a lot and deal with a lot.

Biking is my therapy, and I've had less of that this year than ever.
Chequamegon basically took the mental/emotional aspects of my year and put them in a physical form. I had to work hard at something I wasn't ready for, I had to mentally overcome my own self-doubts. I had to deal with 5 or so chain drops, which is the most for mechanical issues I've ever had during a race.

Crossing the finish line meant more to me than just finishing a race as it seemed to really represent what my life is currently going through. There will be a finish line. It is possible, even if I come in unprepared if I keep at it- I'll get it done.

Travis was kind enough to rinse my bike, and I went off to the side so I could be out of the way. I ended up conversing with a fellow who had bought a helmet for his daughter a few weeks ago.
We both had attended Chequamegon the same number of years consecutively, and we both agreed this was the worst one condition-wise.

I met up with the Pirates, got a photo op, and more of that delicious rum concoction (I must learn what it is!)
I chatted with Stephanie over at Trek, a rad woman who I met at Trek World a few years ago.

I finally made my way back to Travis and decided to go in and look at the results. I totally didn't care where I ended up. I was shocked to see I was 10th in my age group! Holy cow! With 5 or so dropped chains, even. I was totally surprised and frankly, happy with the end result. Sure, it wasn't a great ending time, but I showed perseverance and determination throughout it all.

On the way out, I got to say hi to Courtney Norman! This time, I was kind of a creeper and as I was biking by, I saw her and decided to be a brave soul and say hi (and hoped really hard I wasn't having a case of mistaken identity). It was great to get a hug, even to I was head-to-toe covered in mud!

A shower was the most welcome thing, tho rinsing the clothes, shoes, and Camelbak came first. You bet I had a shower beer! We went to Frankie's, which I felt the pull of boneless chicken wings and opted to go that route for post-race nosh. I had to try the fried macaroni triangles, too. Oh my gosh! It was delicious.
Back to the motel, eventually to bed, and awake the next day to go on an out-and-back ride on part of the Makwa trail. Before riding, we had to find breakfast, and we went to Hayward Family Restaurant, where I had a delightful Eggs Benedict. Originally we were going to go to Norske Nook, but they weren't open for the day, and we were a group of early risers. I might be easy to please, but I thought it was great food and left very full.
For the ride, I led for some of the time, and then we had Kenzie take the reigns. She did an amazing job! I remember the first time I was told to lead on the Makwa trail, the feelings I had of "Oh my gosh, what's out there....will I get lost? Aaah!" I knew Kenzie would do a fine job, and that she did.
It's a treat to ride something different than our local trails, let go of the brakes and really gain speed. Oh, fun!

After our ride, it was time to head back to Iowa.
A long drive filled with conversation, old rock and roll, and sunshine.
Travis admitted my pace was fine, that I knew how to better pace myself than he would have. Especially given the conditions, this year, he felt worn out, too. (I bet not as worn out as I was!)
We'll see you again, Chequamegon. You were a doozy, but 2018 has been too. On that note, I look forward to bringing my game next year. Cheers!

Monday, October 1, 2018

Women on Bikes Series: Becky Mikrut

Hi! I am Becky Mikrut and I race mountain bikes and cyclocross at the elite level. I am also the founder and manager of the all-women mountain bike racing team, Skunkworks Racing. I serve on the board of directors of the Chicago Cyclocross Cup. By day, I run an internal creative powerhouse as the Americas creative director for JLL, which is a commercial real estate firm.

I grew up in western Michigan, but I’ve lived in Chicago for 13 years, which I’m told is long enough to make me an official Chicagoan. My childhood in Michigan created my deep love of the outdoors, but Chicago is really the place where my bike life began.

I started commuting by bicycle after college. I was broke and someone gave me a bike for free. It was a 1980s turquoise blue Peugeot hybrid and her name was Penelope.

Over time I began commuting in the winter and I got a vintage road bike, and through that I had the realization that I was pretty fast at biking and I wondered if bike racing was a thing? Can adults do that?

I googled bike racing and came across a great video (https://vimeo.com/9952653) of the Chicago Cyclocross Cup and I wanted in. It was weird, hard, and most of all fun. From there, my boyfriend (now husband) told me I had to learn to ride off road so he took me out on mountain bike trails on my new cross bike. It was crazy hard, I fell a lot, but I was hooked. I also thought this must be better on a mountain bike. Turns out, it is!

Eight years later and I have achieved some major accomplishments on the bike—including a recent podium at USAC Mountain Bike National Championships—and have been extremely involved in cycling from the organizing side.

I have been co-leading women’s group mountain bike rides called the Dirt Days around Chicago for 7 years now, have organized and hosted MTB and CX skills clinics, did some community organizing under the guise of Pretty.Fast. and Illinois Women Cyclists (both now have evolved into efforts lead by new women leaders), was previously a Trek Women’s Advocate, and have served on the CCC board for 3 years running. As much as I love racing and riding bikes, I enjoy helping other people find that freedom and enthusiasm too!

You can find me on social media at:
Instagram: @bekasaurus and @skunkworksmtb
Facebook: Becky Mikrut and Skunkworks Racing
Twitter: @bekasaurus and @skunkworks_mtb

The introduction to your #bikelife started off more commuting than competitive, tell us how the evolution of #bikelife inspired you to help others find it, too.
At first, my #bikelife was all commuting. It was the easiest and best way to get around and it still is. I found my way to competing because after riding for a while, I realized that I was missing competition. I had played competitive sports through childhood and high school, from tennis and soccer to figure skating. But I was never good enough or passionate enough to continue those sports as an adult. With cycling, I felt like I finally found the sport that was the ideal match to my body and my abilities. No doubt, all that experience in those other sports prepared me to be a strong cyclist- from the short bursts of quad power from jumping on ice to the body awareness and strength of mind from soccer. I realized that I really missed competing and when I learned you could compete in cycling as an adult—in fact some the fastest women around are well into their 30s and 40s (Gunn-rita Dale, what!?), I just found that really awesome and worth sharing. However, joining a new sport as an adult is also intimidating and I want to remove those barriers to entry for others as much as I can.

Tell us about the joy you found with Cyclcross-
Cyclocross combines all the weird bits of my athletic background plus my new love of cycling all into one. The way that it combines bike handling, different terrain, the dismounts, remounts, and running barriers is just so unique, it always puts a smill on me face—well, after the race at least! Plus, the scene at a cyclocross is amazing. It’s a great entry to competitive cycling because they are shorter races and super spectator friendly. There are always people cheering for you and it’s an easy way to get to know other racers. There is something really great about having fierce competition with someone on the course, and hugging and high-fiving after. It’s probably my favorite thing about women’s bike racing.

For someone who hadn't participated in a bike race before, what was your biggest inspiration to participate?
I saw the energy and the challenge of it and wanted to give it a try. I was in a place in life where I wanted something new and this was it. Little did I know it would totally suck me in and take over my life, but it was worth it. I also just wanted to know if I could do it. I remember standing on the line to start my first race and Tony (now my husband, boyfriend then), had made a big sign that said “Go, Becky Go!” which caught the attention of the woman next to me. She and I chatted—she was an ER nurse who was just out there racing for the workout before she went into her shift later that day. That blew my mind! I was totally destroyed after a race, and here was this woman who would race just to get out there and then go work a shift where she’s on her feet all day. To me, that says anyone can race and find their own purpose and goals within it.
Why do you feel folks should participate in a cycling event at least once?
It’s really liberating to try something new, and maybe something that scares you a little. I think any time I race I feel butterflies in my stomach. That nervous energy as I line up to do something is a little bit magical. It’s great to push yourself and try it, and try not to get caught up in the numbers and placements. I used to really pay attention to my placements like it was the whole point. When I finally learned to let that go and just race to have my best day, I actually started getting better results. So, do it for fun first, glory last.

Another great reason is the people you meet. I have met all of my best friends through bike racing. I have friends from all walks of life and we come together over this shared experience. While one of us may be a creative, another an accountant, or another woman who is a minister, we have these shared qualities of hard work, seeking challenge and overcoming it, and a love of cycling. And we socialize by riding bikes—and the food and drinks we get after.

Your husband was the one to introduce you to mountain biking, what was the experience like?
The first time we went, I just really wanted to impress him and not quit. But I had enough fun that I wanted to try it again. He was very patient, but perhaps he made a few choices that were ill-advised in retrospect. The very first time we went, I was just learning to clip in and so every time I fell, I couldn’t get my foot out of the pedal Slowly it got better, but at first, mountain biking was really hard! My riding style now is very much like my husband’s—I love to jump things and get air, and I love the harder, more technical trails. After I got my bearings on the bike, following him around has helped me learn to ride things that I would have not tried on my own.

Finding a group of women to ride with helped a lot too. I had a teammate I started riding with and it helped that I could keep up and follow her lines, and also I thought “If she can ride that, I can ride that,” and it inspired me to try things I would have stopped at.

Some folks do not have the best experience when their significant other introduces them to a new sport/discipline. How did he make it positive?
I remember one time when I threw a tantrum on top of a big ravine. My shoes felt too loose, I was hot, I was not having fun, and I was NOT riding that. Tony was wise enough to stop and say “Ok, you’re not having fun anymore. We can be done.” He knew that if I wasn’t having fun, I wouldn’t want to do it again. So he was smart enough to recognize all the signs and pull the plug before it was too late. I think that made a huge difference. He would also wait at intersections and come back and ride with me until I got better.

Clips or flats? What do you use when and why?
Mostly clips. I learned on them, and between cyclocross and cross-country MTB with the climbs, it makes the most sense. I do occasionally ride flats when I’m learning new skills because the bail-ability is higher and it helps you feel more willing to try something new if you know you can easily put a foot down.

Have you had any biffs that were challenging for you on a physical/mental/emotional level? What did you do to heal and overcome?
Oof, I can’t remember any notable ones on the mountain bike, but I have certainly had them on pavement. I was hit by a car on my way to work maybe 5 years ago now, and I broke my right hand and my cheekbone. I had to have plastic surgery to fix my face, and that was really hard to get past. I had some PTSD from it and I was very nervous riding in the city. But, I knew from previous minor falls that the sooner I could get myself out there, the less it would become a big thing in my head. I did actually start with the mountain bike. And while I was afraid of falling and breaking more bones, mountain bikes seemed safer because trees don’t move—cars do. Eventually, I found my comfort on the bike again.

Generally, I’d say if you’re not crashing sometimes on a mountain bike, you’re not testing the limits. Crashes are part of the game. I have so many scars. My signature move for a while was washing out in corners and ripping my elbows open. I think I overcame that by learning to corner better through practice and some clinics and understanding how to calculate that risk better.

When you started out riding, what were some handling skills that challenged you? Do you have any suggestions for what helped you grasp them?
Riding over big things—rocks and logs mainly. It’s a total mental block. I surely remember endo’ing over a log when I ran straight into it. To overcome that, I attended several skills clinics in my first couple years of riding. I was fortunate to go one where Shaums March was the coach (a stellar downhiller who wrote the IMBA coaching program) and another coached by Alison Dunlap (a retired Olympian and world cup XC racer). Having those skills broken down into steps and understanding the physics behind WHY the bike will respond the way it does helped me wrap my head around it and overcome those challenges. If you can sign up for. Skills clinic, DO IT. It helps so much! Mostly, the challenge of riding over big things is mental more than anything else, so I just had to practice once I knew the how and the why.
Are there still handling or technical riding aspects that you find tricky? How do you not let that drag you down when riding?
Riding over big things UPHILL! Same challenge, just harder. I was afraid of riding up and over big rocks last summer. There is this rock between two trees on this trail in Brown County, Indiana, that I have walked up for YEARS. It was silly, I knew it was mental. My husband told me “Picture the rocks like dirt. They are the trail.” And that helped. Finally, I just decided to try it. What’s the worst that would happen? I’d fall? Ok, I fall a lot.

So, I tried it, I got up over it, then I stopped and grabbed the tree. He observed that the only reason I didn’t keep riding is that I didn’t actually think I was going to make it, so I wasn’t prepared. He was right. So I did it again and cleared it. That mental aspect is huge. You have to visualize it, believe you can do it, and a lot of the time, you’ve already got the skills to do it. But… I still chicken out on things like this from time to time. I went back to being afraid of big logs uphill after that rock. And for that, I just kept trying it until I got it because now I KNOW it is mental for me.

For folks who are nervous about giving mountain biking a shot, do you have any suggestions on how they can go about creating a positive experience?
Adopt this mantra: When in doubt, walk it out! You may find yourself riding with people far more experienced than you and feel upset that you can’t keep up or ride things like they can. But, remind yourself it is OK to walk. When you are not sure, walk the line. You can see it and then decide if you want to try it. And if you don’t, just walk past it. I still have things I walk. I have trails that I ride clean one day, and walk parts of the next. So remember each day is different, and give yourself some slack. And when the scale tips from fun to not fun, call it a day. When you are tired, you make more mistakes, so know when it’s time to be done. Listen to your body and you’ll know. Beyond that, look for some women’s rides or groups and clinics to help you find your tribe and learn some skills so you feel more confident.

What do you love about riding your bike?
Being in the forest! I love being surrounded by trees and the beautiful sights you see while mountain biking. But I also love going fast and catching air. If feels like flying, and that equals freedom.

Tell us about your bike(s), what they are like and why did you choose them?
I have 3 mountain bikes. A Trek Top Fuel 9.8, Trek ProCaliber 9.8, and a Trek Fuel EX 8. My husband bought me the Fuel EX as a wedding gift. It was my first full suspension mountain bike and I like it because it’s a slacker geometry that makes it great for trying new stuff and riding gnarlier trails. I chose the ProCal as my race bike 2 years ago. I have always raced on a hardtail and that bike is a hartail with a little bit of kindness. It handles so well and climbs super fast. I got the TopFuel last year after watching some ladies ride away from me on some rocky bits on full suspensions. Plus, my back was bothering me, so I figured it was time to give it a try. The bike surprised me because it is fast and nimble and is now my race bike choice 80% of the time.

You have been involved with advocating for women and biking for several years- what was your inspiration to do so?
I just really like the joy and freedom I feel from riding a bike, and especially mountain biking, that I want to share it with others! But I also love the community—I have made all of my best friends through cycling. And specific to racing—I was so happy to find a sport that I could compete in as an adult and I want other women to know that is possible, and for girls to be exposed to non-traditional competitive sports.

Tell us about your cycling team, Skunkworks Racing-
Skunkworks is an all-women competitive mountain bike team based in and around Chicago. We focus on racing specifically because while there are many women mountain biking these days, there are still very few at races. I selfishly started the team to unite the few women I’d see at the races and to have buds to race with. It is so awesome to have teammates on the start line, and also just awesome to have such a strong, talented, and fun group of women to be teammates with. We all face the same challenges getting to the trails in our big city, and there’s camaraderie in finding other women who are willing to jump through the same hoops to do so.
Why do you feel it is important for women to be involved in the cycling industry?
So that we no longer enter a bike shop and feel unwelcome! And so that we find products that work with our bodies, and that we are no longer treated like second-class citizens in the bike world. Having women in bike shops, in product development, in outreach and community building, as team managers helps raise the collective awareness that we ARE 50% of the world, and it makes for a better experience for everyone. I feel fortunate to live in an area where most of the shops have moved past the patronizing view of women and bikes, but occasionally while traveling I will enter a shop and have that experience where I’m talked down to or ignored, and it is enraging! The more women in the bike industry we have, the less frequently this will happen.

What do you feel deters women from getting involved with cycling? Especially mountain biking?
It’s scary! There’s a lot of technology hurdles and cost barriers to overcome. That and, most women did not ride mountain bikes as girls. Most of us didn’t build ramps in our driveways and launch our bikes off them. So we have to start from zero—where men have an innate understanding that goes back to being encouraged to do these things as boys.

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

Locally, I think we have a really good women's community, but I think we can always be asking ourselves if there is more we can do? Road and cyclocross are huge, and more and more women are trying mountain biking which is so cool. So, maybe we could have a bike shop that rents mountain bikes closer to home? Or has a demo fleet of bikes with a full size range so women can try mountain biking before the investment.

You are a former Trek Women's Advocate, tell us about your experience as an advocate and why programs like that are beneficial-
I think the Trek Women’s Advocacy program is awesome. They have done a great job of assembling some really rad women and equipping them with the knowledge to help change the bike industry and grow women’s cycling communities. They are also putting it on the retailer to change the way they sell and train their teams to better serve female customers. After all, women predominately hold the purchasing power.

Tell us a random fact about yourself!
I was once in a pin-up calendar of Chicago women cyclists that raised money for the Chicago Women’s Health Center!

Monday, September 24, 2018

Women on Bikes Series: Kim Andera

Hey there, I'm Kim. Wife. Mom. Sushi eating beer lover. Photographer. Bride pleasing, baby squeezing, lover of all things pretty.

Your boys were your main reason for learning to ride off-road, tell us why you felt encouraging them to mountain bike was a positive thing for them.
Honestly, it was more about me, I told you I'd be honest. In the beginning, it was this badass manly thing they could do. They didn't believe that their wimpy, out of shape, mom could possibly do it...let alone be good at. At the time they were 5 & 6 years old.

I couldn't even keep up while walking and jogging the trail, so, I didn't actually see them ride parts of the trail until they'd ridden a few times. They'd ride something over and over just waiting for me to catch up. They also went on rides with my sister. They had ridden trails that I didn't know existed in Decorah. After I got my bike it became more clear that this would be something that we could do together that was healthy and a positive use of that unattainable little boy energy that is always in abundance. It was also a way for me to show them that this old wimpy mom could and would smoke them at every chance. :)

Can you take us back to your first few mountain bike rides? What did you learn and what made you say "Yes! This is for me!" 
Well technically, my first or so ride(s) was in the dead heat of the summer with my sister Steph. I was a big baby and hated it. It was too hot for me. For me, riding with my sister, whom I love, adore, and admire, wasn't the best thing for me because I'm a bit competitive. Seeing how good she was and how confident and comfortable she was was my own mental shortcomings. At that point, instead of saying "Maybe I should try this with some riders who share my skill level", I just gave up. Side note: this feeling is a real thing. Which is why it is very difficult to learn from a spouse, close friend, or family member. The FWD rides became a game changer for me. It wasn't until things with my boys had progressed to the point that it was unsafe, then I decided that I HAD to be able to keep up to them. Parts of the trail that they would ride over and over waiting for me became less appealing and on one ride they road out of the trail and sat at that four-way intersection known for heavy truck traffic. When I caught up to them they were talking with a total stranger (a very kind Iowa-nice type of stranger, but, a stranger nonetheless.) The next day I walked into the bike shop. I knew this was something that was good for the boys and I needed to find a way to keep up.

Decorah Bicycles hooked me up with a few new bikes to test ride. I left the shop, with the new bike, rental helmet, and off I went. Riding as fast as I could because I had a haircut scheduled with Steph and I wanted her opinion. On the first test run, I caught my toe on a log that was buried into a punch little hill. This sent my front end into the front of the bike known as the handlebars. I stopped, looked around to make sure there were no witnesses and returned to Decorah Bicycles huffing and puffing and as red as a lobster. "So, how did it go?" they asked. "Oh it was awesome, I loved it" I replied. "I'm still feeling like a brown bear riding a unicycle", I replied. "Do, you guys have anything bigger?" On the 2nd test bike, I slammed on the front brake trying to ride down a section of the trail that I shouldn't have pushed my bike up in the first place. Once again, this sent me into the handlebars. I rode another bike after that one and dashed off to my haircut. I remember talking it over with Steph. At one point she mentioned that she had also ridden the purple Stache 7, and loved it! So, that was it. I went back to Decorah Bicycles, freshly plucked eyebrows and a new haircut & color, and I told them I wanted the purple Stache 7 because that's what my sister wanted. Josie hooked me up with pretty pedals, a helmet, and a bike rack to haul 4 bikes.

Clips or flats? What do you use when and why?
I use flats because that's what the girls I ride with use.

Have you had any biffs that were challenging for you on a physical/mental/emotional level? What did you do to heal and overcome?
Oh totally! In the beginning, We were fearless, and still are, just a bit more skilled. One of the very first times I remember having a mental set back and a regression in my riding was on a FWD ride. I was riding with Josie and another riding buddy. It was her birthday and she had just gotten a brand spanking new bike. This was her very first ride on it. Welp, we were riding up a hill and I heard branches breaking behind me. I stopped and turned around to see her rolling down the side of the hill backward. I stopped and made my way down the hillside to help her out of the thick brush. She was fine, the bike had a brand new birthday scratch. I remember feeling really shaken up. That was the very first time I remember feeling that mental setback. Ya know, that voice in your head that says "Oh, shit that could have been me" or "You're too old for this" or "That was really scary". Not even 30 minutes later, I went superman over the handlebars and my bike rode me down a part of the trail I'd ridden a hundred times. What I did to overcome those setbacks was to keep riding. After another big ol' wipeout, I was so nervous to get back on single track that I rode gravels for weeks afterward. I'd go to the MTB trail and my brain just wouldn't have it. I was making mistakes I hadn't made before. It was as if I'd never been on the bike before. I was fearful of things that I hadn't thought of as scary or dangerous, but I knew I had to get through it. I kept riding gravels, I'd ride beginner sections of the trail that we had gotten bored of. I'd ride with other beginner riders. I'd ride by myself so I didn't feel pressured by my boys to ride more challenging trails. I talked about it, a lot. I basically started over and slowly regained confidence. At the end of the summer, I took one of Casey Sheppard's skills workshops. That really helped me to feel confident in myself and I learned so much from her about the basic fundamental skills. For me, that workshop was the missing piece to overcome my mental setback.

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 all of them challenged me! I had no clue about moving my weight around or having level pedals or covering the brakes. Going on the FWD rides helped me immensely with cornering, braking, and getting out of the saddle. I remember one ride specifically with the boys and my sister leading. She would tell them stuff that I had no idea I was supposed to be doing. She'd say stuff like "Look 10 feet ahead of you" "Scan the trail" "Keep your head up". She would stop at the top of a descent and basically walk them through a more challenging part of the trail and give them reminders to get out of the saddle and push their butt back over the rear tire. I soaked that stuff up like a sponge and so did they. During the work week, I'd ride alone and do the exact same thing we did on the rides with Steph or the FWD Sunday rides. I just kept practicing. I would say hands down the FWD rides with those women who shared the same skill level as me.

Are there still handling or technical riding aspects that you find tricky? How do you not let that drag you down when riding?
Some of the things that attracted me to mountain biking are many of the same challenges that attracted me to photography. There is an endless wealth of information. You never stop learning new things. I don't believe there is such a thing "reaching one's full potential". I'm constantly making mistakes, doing things I'd wished I hadn't done and because of that, I'm still learning. There are a million ideas in my head for my riding goals. Trails I want to ride, places I want to ride with my boys, places I want to ride with just my girls.

What do you love about riding your bike?
I really just like bombing down hills. :)

You were chosen as a Fearless Women of Dirt Ambassador this year, tell us how you learned about Fearless Women of Dirt and why you wanted to be part of the community-
I learned about it through my sister. FWD was a huge part in helping me be a confident rider. I want to pay that forward and hopefully help other women become confident riders.

What do you enjoy most about helping women become more confident with mountain biking?
I love seeing women riders. I love riding with other women whether it's just showing them the local trail system or riding most basic trails. It's fun to be with women who share your passion.

Tell us about your bike(s), what they are like and why did you choose them?
Honestly, when I first bought my bike I bought it based on Travis's recommendation. I wanted a nice bike that would help me be a successful rider and be a solid choice that would give me room to grow without having to upgrade too soon. I feel like I got everything I was looking for and then some.

What do you feel deters women from getting involved with cycling? Especially mountain biking?
I think the main reason more women don't get involved is fear. There is this unrealistic idea that mountain biking is bombing big descents and jumping over obstacles. A lot of what we see on YouTube in regards to mountain biking is downhill bike parks. They are awesome and I LOVE watching that stuff, but, that's not what we're doing in Decorah. All those things are very possible IF you want them to be. But, it doesn't have to be. The majority of the riders we see are mom's and grandmas who just want to try something new. They quickly find out that it's just a nice ride in the woods. Sure, sometimes we ride over obstacles. Some folks just get off and walk their bike, some folks try to ride it. Decorah really has SO many trails to accommodate every rider. I'd suggest watching some clips from the FWD YouTube channel. Some beginner trails like the pines, fire road, and the prairie are some great examples of beginner trails. It's a more realistic representation of how chill our rides are.

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

Hmmm, that's a tough one (in my most sarcastic voice ever). I'll start by saying that Decorah Bicycles has been incredibly helpful with special ordering sizes directly from the manufacture and with finding things and keeping larger sizes available in store. Being a small business owner myself, it is very important for me to buy as much as I can locally. As far as the biking industry as a whole goes, it's not friendly to big (bad ass) lady riders. I know this is vain and superficial, but, it really blows goats that women's jerseys fit like a sausage casing and all the sized run super duper small. I special order my 4x from the manufacturer. I wear men's bike shorts because the super cute and stylish pearl zummie ones don't come in anything bigger than an XL and the XL fits more like a medium. TMI ~ My buns are larger than an XL, but that doesn't mean I hate them. That doesn't mean I should have to look like a lumberjack of a lady on the bike trail. That doesn't mean that I'm not interested in wearing cute lady bike shorts. My bike gloves? Both men's size XL and neon green. My size 12 foot has a pair of super masculine men's Five Ten bike shoes that serve the purpose and do the job if their job is to make me look like one butch bike lady. My winter riding pants are also a men's. Not because I'm 6'7 but because they only make pants that fit me for men who are over 6 feet tall. Now, I'm sure there will be those folks who say BS like "Well, maybe you shouldn't weigh 200+ lbs at 5'6 in the first dang place". Valid point, I hadn't thought about that, I'll just stop riding my bike now until I drop 100 pounds said no one ever! So industry wide the lack of feminine riding gear is discouraging in the specific area of clothing. :) Jumping off the soapbox now, sorry I blew up :)

Locally, I'm blown away by Josie's commitment and endless ambition in the area of women
empowerment and inclusion.

What inspires you to encourage women to ride?
Welp, seeing other women riders is inspiring. I want to see women be successful and I will continue to help out any way I can.

Tell us a random fact about yourself!
I still listen to Garth Brooks' live album from time to time.