Monday, June 25, 2018

Women on Bikes Series: Emily Hairfield

I live in Roanoke, Virginia with my husband Gordon and trail dog Pippy and we love to ride bikes! I work as a Physician Assistant in a Hematology/ Oncology group full time and flex time with Urgent Care. We spent a long time getting me through school and I have been working now for about two years and within that time I've been able to devote more of my time to bike, trail, and travel since my schedule is now mostly my own again. We have traveled all over the world with bikes and seen a lot of really amazing places.

For us, riding bicycles is a vector for adventure and friendship as well as fitness and fun. I very rarely ride on the road unless I have too and I prefer roots and rocks but love a good gravel ride every once in a while. Both my husband and I race for a Blue Ridge Cyclery in Charlottesville, Virginia and in addition to the shop. we have a number of amazing supporters who I love representing.

Tell us about the introduction to your #bikelife and how it influenced you from then on-
I began riding while I was in undergrad because I was poor and couldn't afford to pay the parking fees on campus. I had a bunch of friends who were good mountain bikers and advised that I buy a mountain bike and commuter wheels. I bought a used Gary Fisher 26' for 400$ and had no idea the adventures that little ill-fitting, heavy, outdated bike would take me on!

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 learned to ride in the mountains of South-West Virginia where there are legit rocks and roots and you're either climbing or descending. There was a big learning curve for me but I was already a trail runner so I knew I wanted to spend more time in the woods and be able to cover more ground faster. I crashed a lot! I committed to clip-less pedals pretty early on and that was tough but I wanted to keep up with my friends and they all used them so I followed along. The moment I knew I was "hooked" was when I did my first 100-mile mtb race which was only about 8 months after I had started riding. I signed up for it with a friend 2 weeks before the event and It was the toughest thing I had ever done, physically. It poured rain all day, I was grossly underprepared and it could not have been a more miserable day on the bike. So many people dropped out of the event. It was a real spiritual journey for me though, and when I finished I was so amazed that my body and bike had survived that I wanted/needed to see what else I could do!

What do you love most about being able to mountain bike with your husband?
The fact that at the end of the day we have a fundamentally basic thing that we love doing whether that's separately or together. We always have mountain biking to fall back on and I think that's important to share simple interests. Also though he's just a fun and happy guy and makes all my rides better.

What do you enjoy about racing and why should women consider trying it at least one time?
Racing is great for me because even if I am not trying to win or be competitive, it gives me a goal to focus on and a reason to keep riding my bike and practicing skills. It provides accountability and structure to my riding. It also gives me something to work on afterward too. Even if you're not a competitive person, mountain bike racing provides an amazing community which every rider would benefit from.
Tell us about the Pisgah Mountain Stage race and your experience-
As a birthday present this year my husband signed us up to race the PMSR as a duo and I was SO nervous! I've only ever raced one stage race before and that was a physically and emotionally damaging experience so racing this as a stage race with my husband who is a professional racer and way faster than I am just fed my fears to the point of nausea and tears before the start of stage #1. Gordon is so great through and assured me that the only pressure I was feeling was the ones that I put on myself and that the most important thing was that we were safe and had fun. And we did! We had an awesome first stage and finished in 2nd overall in the co-ed duo. Day 2, 3 and 4 provided legitimate challenges though after an early crash on day 2 left me on the ground with a busted body and bike. We were able to come back finishing 3rd overall and win the 5th and final stage which by far was the most technical descending of the entire race and I have to say it was probably my proudest moment on a bike. Pisgah racing is not for the faint of heart when it comes to rocks and roots. Facing and racing that week with my husband and life partner proved to be the best thing I could have done. My confidence on the bike after riding with him and being encouraged by him just exploded and I am pumped to do more.

Clips or flats? What do you use when and why?
I only ever ridden with clips! I should probably own a pair of flats and work on my skills but I don't... I'll add it to my bike parts which list!

Have you had any biffs that were challenging for you on a physical/mental/emotional level? What did you do to heal and overcome?
Definitely! Probably too many to count. I think that is the beauty of riding in the woods. When you biff or crash or become emotionally overwhelmed by whatever the cause might be, you still have to ride out of the woods. You can't just quit and leave. Everyone has to get back on and keep going.

When you started out riding, what were some handling skills that challenged you? Do you have any suggestions for what helped you grasp them?
Yes! And there still are! I am terrible at hopping logs which are not perfectly level and positioned on the trail. I don't know what it is but I've always had a thing with logs. Certainly (I think) I've gotten better at it over the years but they still intimidate me. The thing that has helped me the most is watching videos of other people riding them. I am a visual learning and so typically if I can see someone else do it I have a better chance both physically and mentally mimicking the skills.

Are there still handling or technical riding aspects that you find tricky? How do you not let that drag you down when riding?
There are many for sure! I'm fortunate though that I love riding a technical trail. Everyone has their bad days though where you're just not riding as well as you know you can and you get frustrated and bummed. I just have to keep it fun. If I'm not having fun then I ride something else and come back to that difficulty another day when I'm more prepared. Of course, there are times when you can't find something more fun or change your route and in that situation, I'll stop and take a breath and eat a snack. I ALWAYS have food on me and I know that eating will give me a metal break from the frustration and time to recover before getting back at it.

What do you love about riding your bike?
I love the places my bike takes me. We have been fortunate enough to travel to some really amazing places via bikes. Bike give me freedom.

Tell us about your bike(s), what they are like and why did you choose them?
My bikes are mostly gifts from my husband! I have a Trek Top Fuel FS with custom Industry 9 wheels and a dropper and it is beautiful! It's a great all around bike and has done whatever I have set in front of it. I also have a Steel Curtlo cross/road bike and a custom 27.5 steel hardtail that I ride mostly on gravel and double track routes.

Do you have any tips or suggestions for folks wanting to mountain bike with their partner/spouse?
It's not for everyone! I've talked to a lot of couples who just can't do it. I think the biggest advice is that you need to communicate your ride expectations before getting on the bike. If you both have separate goals for the ride then it is not going to work and you will be disappointed and frustrated. Whoever the stronger mountain biker is in the relationship needs to adapt and adjust to the skills of the less advanced rider. It can be so good and so rewarding and it can be done!

Why are you a women's mountain biking advocate?
Because women on bikes supporting other women are the best! Riding mountain bikes is freeing and empowering and a way to engage in the community and environment.

What do you feel deters women from getting involved with cycling? Especially mountain biking?
Fear of failure and judgment deter women. Not having a mentor or supportive community deters women. Unequal treatment and payout at races and events deter women. Unequally matched riding encounters deters women. There are a lot of things that can be a deterrent but they are all fixable and can be overcome.

What do you feel could change industry-wise or locally to encourage more women to be involved?
I think there are certainly things the industry can fix as a whole, but for me, the biggest thing is equal treatment and payout at all levels. This is so much better now than it was but if we want women to show up and get involved, they need to be incentivized just as much as men are. I think communities creating women's cycling groups is important too because typically women feel safer and more at ease when there are other women of similar ability or at least who have been in their shoes.

What inspires you to encourage women to ride?
Seeing women achieve goals and try new things and pick themselves up and try again makes me inspired. Women are tough and strong and capable of so many things. Seeing them realize that strength on a bike in the woods is what motivates me and makes me want to be a better rider.

Tell us a random fact about yourself!
I'm pretty boring actually! I'm usually in bed by 9pm and I don't like alcohol. I am traveling to Tanzania this summer though for another stage race and afterward, Asia will be the only continent I have not ridden my bike on!

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

I Never Knew Anybody Until I Knew You.

Transitioning through grief, the ebb and flow of emotions- it's a tricky dance of common sense mixed with the understanding that you'll have to forego all hope of consistency.

A few weeks ago, I became angry. Not just angry, but literally a blind-rage type angry that I can say I've experienced only a couple times in life. The one most visible was when I got so pissed that my step-brother had stolen a favorite CD of mine. I kicked the paneling next to the stairs that lead up to my bedroom and cracked it. My CD showed up shortly after.

This time, my blind rage broke my favorite bike helmet. I stood up and slammed it down as hard as I could- all while crying my eyes out. It took a solid 10 minutes before I could compose myself enough to bike home. After I got home, the emotional wave came crashing down on me yet again- resulting in my crying while seeing my reflection in the mirror...all because I looked so puffy in the nose and eyes. I was crying because I looked (in my mind) pathetic.

I listened to the voicemail my dad left me. Weeping into a pillow and trying to blow snot out of my super-clogged nose. Why Dad? WHY?!

I never expected anger to become part of the grieving process, an emotion that I really do not have time for. It's too exhausting for me to be angry, and too often people have told me I "shouldn't" be I've lived life feeling as tho expressing anger was always bad or wrong. I mean, really? Travis wasn't happy I took my aggression out on my bike helmet. I looked at my helmet with an apathetic sort of "Well, your time was coming up anyway." I chose to use it as an opportunity to find a new favorite helmet, especially since that helmet style from Specialized no longer exists anymore.

In reality, I didn't give a f*ck if anyone thought my temper tantrum was "wrong." In reality, I think it's the first time I accepted that anger is a thing that happens, and in a situation like this- the sudden and tragic loss of a parent...well, I have no f*cks to give. It is awkward to lay down the law and tell people to reduce their expectations of what we (as shop owners) may be capable of this season due to a sudden loss and the process of tying up loose ends.

The hardest has been to actually ask of Travis, to help- also, it's hard for me to ask for help from friends. I just am not a person who has felt it's okay to do so. Mentally, I have a difficult time wrapping my head around it being something that folks even expect. It's challenging as a small-business owner, to ask your partner to set aside his wrenches so you can get stuff down out of town. It strains me each time. Each ask stresses me out because I know customers are waiting- but they may not have an idea as to what is on my plate. Stuff has to get done somehow. It's a balance of asking, giving, and accepting.

Slowly and surely, pieces are falling into place. A group of friends and family started the trash-throwing process in my dad's barn. When we arrived with beverages and pizza, it was a small shock to my system to much...stuff. Ugh. Back to this ol' crap heap again. There were piles of items to save, a big pile to burn, and still stuff in the barn yet.

A barn filled with years of mouse, raccoon, and bat sh*t. Not to mention dust.

I had gone up to the house to show something to a couple of my friends and saw this cooler that had an envelope that stated "Property of Stephen Smith and Josie Smith"
"What is this?"
I opened it up to see hunting prints, but what caught my eye was a stiff paperboard. All I read was "Dear Josie" and I started to bawl. It was Father's Day. I had thought to myself "Damnit, why couldn't Dad have ever written me a letter or something." Apparently, he had, roughly around the time he and my mom separated or divorced. "In case I'm not around when you are old enough to understand..."

I had the same violent tears that had plagued me the night that I broke my helmet. Barrett told my friends to go grab Travis. Travis held me in his arms until I could compose myself enough to read this letter from my dad. "Why, Dad, did you not tell me this so long ago?" There were plenty of opportunities to tell me what he had written. In person. It would've saved me from questioning his love for me for SO MANY YEARS.

It is what it is.

I found some Polaroid photographs too. I laughed out loud to see my dad in his young adult years, acting goofy. I looked at them, trying to decipher if there is anything about me that resembles him.

A few days later, I started to feel the regret of my not keeping every birthday card and Christmas card my dad made. I swore up and down that I had kept my last birthday card and Christmas card, but I made the decision to obsessively look for them right before supper. My failed search had my anxiety levels rising while shoving food in my face. After supper, I went back to searching and found my birthday card he had commissioned a cousin's boyfriend to draw up for me.
"Love, Dad!" ...Yes. That's what I needed to see.

The Christmas card was not found. I suspected I kept it in with the Christmas decorations, but my quick search resulted in nothing. The next day I delved deeper, actually getting into the tote and scrounging through ornaments. A small, white rectangle appeared.

Merry Christmas
Happy New Year
Decorated with a snowman and some trees, drawn in his sketch-style.

On the inside-
"Love, DAD!"

I cried. I tucked it away so I could have something to look forward to again for Christmas.
At this point- I'm not really looking forward to the holidays and right now, my thought is to just be anti-social. It's too much to think about. Celebrating with other family members while I'm not ready to.

Progress on "adulting" has occurred and I'm finding that it's looking more and more manageable. Stuff is happening.
Life continues.

Someone told me, it doesn't take strength to get through the's endurance.
I never feel very "strong" but I feel I can endure a lot. That's definitely it. My endurance for dealing with and handling life will be stronger than before, for sure.

I keep finding out more about my dad, getting a bigger glimpse into his life and personality.
Hindsight is 20/20 and I'm having a hard time not beating myself up over things.
Time...the one thing I know is that it will take time.

Monday, June 18, 2018

Women on Bikes Series: Chelsea Strate

My name is Chelsea Strate, a Minneapolis resident, and bicycles have been ruling my life for several years now! I have dabbled in most racing disciplines, but most enjoy snow, dirt, gravel, and cyclocross.

I race cyclocross for the All-City X Fulton team, and fat bikes for 45NRTH. This past September I picked up what I like to think is my dream job with 45NRTH and Teravail as their brand ambassador, and have had an amazing winter working winter events and racing all over the Midwest and Colorado.

When I'm not riding, racing, or working bike-related events, I love camping and adventuring with my partner and the dogs, riding motorcycles, cooking, baking, and eating.

Instagram: velomeat

Tell us about the introduction to your #bikelife and how it has influenced you-
Oh dear! I don’t know if I can pinpoint the exact introduction, but that 1997 Dyno Air BMX bike that I got in middle school did grant me loads of freedom that I was lacking at the time. In 6th grade, I would ride it the 2 miles to school, meet my friends at the park, try to learn tricks (I pretty much dead-ended at riding off curbs and down steps), let my other friends do cool tricks on it, and I would regularly give my best friend bucks 3 miles across town on my pegs. Using my bike as transportation and exercise persisted from that point forward, and has continued to evolve! I have always loved taking on different challenges with bikes, and I still find new ones constantly.

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, mountain biking was preceded by riding and racing cyclocross, so my first off-road experience was on a cx bike. In fact, my first cx race was at a park on the border of Minneapolis called Theodore Wirth Park, and it’s not uncommon for folks to toe the line with their MTBs. The course incorporated a little of their singletrack trails, and there were rocks and roots and woods: I was in love with off-road riding. Eventually, I found an old MTB on Craigslist, and a buddy took me on a ride on a full loop of the North trail of Theodore Wirth Singletrack, which is tight and windy and feels very old-school. He gave me tips as we were weaving our way through, and made it feel easy. I didn’t explore too many other trails at that time because I didn’t have a car, and the trails felt a little inaccessible, so I mostly found myself on pavement. I ended up selling that bike to fund a blind move to Leelanau County, Michigan, and there I kept racing cyclocross, then started racing Michigan MTB races on my cx bike! The trails in lower Michigan were mostly flowy and not really rocky or rooty, and I rarely felt at a disadvantage on my cx steed (except in the sand – there is a lot of sand there). Now I’m back in Minnesota, and I usually use my fat bike on the trails, but am looking to add a proper MTB to my arsenal!

What do you enjoy about each discipline of riding you prefer (CX/Fatbike/etc.)-
CX: My first love, so it will always hold a special place in my heart. The intensity and the challenge are a few things I love about the sport, but it mostly comes down to the culture. Spending all day cheering on your friends and teammates, then getting cheered on when it’s your turn to suffer is so fun.

Fat Bike: What can I say… winter and I make a good team! My partner and I joke that I’m a ‘Snow Princess’ since I race more in the winter than any other time of year at this point. There are so many variables in fat biking that pose challenges, like how much and what type of snow there is, ice, temperature, tire pressure, etc. No two races are ever the same, and quite often no two laps are the same! The courses vary from snowy singletrack to perfectly groomed cross-country ski trail, and sometimes a seemingly perfect course can deteriorate as the day goes on, or it can get better as the day goes on. The people that race fat bikes are a special breed, and I feel like I fit in well.

MTB: I find the act of riding off-road very therapeutic. You have to concentrate on what you’re doing, and nailing a difficult section of trail is so rewarding! I got a taste of mountain biking in the mountains this past summer, and I can’t wait to explore more downhill riding in the future.

Gravel: Quieter roads, amazing scenery, and a good excuse to spend all freakin’ day in the saddle! Most gravel events take place in the spring or early summer, and Minnesotans love to embrace the outdoors as soon as winter disappears. As the summer goes on, I usually give up on gravel roads and stick to the woods where there is more shade. I melt in the heat!
Clips or flats? What do you use and why?
Aside from my townie bike, I ride exclusively clips year round. I have for years, and feel more secure on the pedals when maneuvering technical terrain. I’ve also grown to depend on the upstroke!

What would you consider your favorite event to participate in? 
This year I was lucky enough to go out to Fat Bike Worlds in Crested Butte, and it was one of the best race experiences that I’ve had. There was a fun race on Thursday, a fat bike demo on Friday, the championship race on Saturday, and a chance to take the lifts and ride down the ski runs on Sunday (I had to miss Sunday, and I’m bummed!). The organizers did a great job of hospitality by providing food, beverage, and entertainment throughout, making it fun for those that didn’t want to take the race seriously, and fast for the fast people. Costumes were encouraged, and there were a lot of good ones out there! Also, the course was designed to double back on itself, so you get to see people throughout the race all on different parts of the lap. There were lots cheers and hootin’ and hollerin’ from the racers on the course!
For folks on the fence about doing a bike race, do you have tips or suggestions that may help their first experience?
You never regret giving it a shot, so just do it! Every race that I do I learn something new, so even when I feel out of shape and my confidence is low, I try to get as much out of the race as I can, and I try to remember that racing is training too!

Have you had any biffs that were challenging for you on a physical/mental/emotional level? What did you do to heal and overcome?
ALL OF THE TIME. Whenever I crash or am close to crashing, I often times will lose my riding confidence for at least a little bit, and sometimes for weeks or months. I just keep riding, but definitely let myself be a little more cautious. If I have to walk a section or feature that I have nailed before, I don’t let it get to me. Earlier on, I wasn’t as aware of the element of confidence, and would get down on myself for all of a sudden losing my groove, and it was starting to get a little toxic. Once I realized that confidence is something that comes and goes, I just try to stay aware of it and ride within my abilities at that moment.

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 up curbs was so nerve-racking for so long! I definitely had the skills to do it, but it was all mental! To get over it (both the fear and the curb, haha), I would just keep practicing, starting with shorter curbs and working my way up to normal curb height. Also, riding slower and more intentionally, then working my way up in speed. Now I don’t think twice about it. I was simultaneously learning how to ride over roots, rocks, and logs on my CX and MTB, but for some reason curbs always seemed scarier!

Are there still handling or technical riding aspects that you find tricky? How do you not let that drag you down when riding?
Cornering is something that I would like to improve on. I feel like I slow down too much to get around corners for fear of losing traction in my rear wheel. I do this on pavement, dirt, gravel, grass, snow, etc. To get over this, I just try to sprint out of the corner to make up any time that I lost. It works ok, but I hate the feeling of holding people behind me up during races and such.

What do you love about riding your bike?
Freedom, exercise, fresh air, it gets me places, it’s therapeutic…

Tell us about your bike(s), what they are like and why did you choose them?
I have a lot of bikes, so I’m going to list them in order of most ridden in case you start to lose interest:

All-City Cosmic Stallion – I love the All-City brand’s style, and wanted a gravel-specific racing bike! I’ve had it for a year and absolutely love it.

Salsa Beargrease Fat Bike – I believe that this is the best [fat] bike in the world. It’s a killer fat bike racing bike, and I think it handles amazingly on MTB trails! I have a Bluto suspension fork that I’ll throw on in the summer for an added factor of fun.

All-City Nature Girl – I’ve had this bike for years! It’s one of the smoothest rolling bikes I have. I built it from scratch, including the wheels, and still use it to race CX!

All-City Macho Queen Team Edition – I loved my Nature Girl, so I decided to go for something similar with gears and disc brakes, and it’s painted to match our All-City X Fulton Racing Team kits!

Focus Izalco Donna– I started dabbling in road racing, and didn’t feel like my CX bike was keeping up! I sprung for this carbon road bike with Shimano Ultegra components that was mostly white but is complemented with a few different shades of purple. It’s light. It’s beautiful.

All-City Big Block – I have this fixed gear bike set up with sweeping bars and a front rack for the ultimate city bike.

Surly ECR – This is a newer addition to my stable, and is set up as my bikepacking rig. It’s only been on one sub 24-hour trip, but will be ridden a whole lot this summer!

Trek Singletrack 930 – My winter ‘beater’, though it’s a little too nice to be a beater. It was built for me by my partner, and he did an amazing job loading in as much purple as possible into the accents (my favorite color)

Surly Travelers Check – This bike comes with couplers so that you can disassemble the frame for traveling, but I still haven’t taken it on a trip! Silly me!

Tell us about your role as brand ambassador, what is your job like and why do you love it?
As the Brand Ambassador for both 45NRTH and Teravail, my job is to travel to different bike shops, races, and other events. I get to drive a big ol’ 4x4 adventure van around and educate shop staff, and provide a fun space for participants at events. In the office, I answer questions from both dealers and customers and get to plan out what the brands are going to do for events for each season.

At the time of answering these questions, I’ve had this job since September, so I’ve mostly been working with the 45NRTH side of things. I love getting more people into winter riding, and with this job, I am able to do that. 45NRTH made the gear that made it possible for me to enjoy riding in the winter (the Wölvhammer boots were life changing for me), and I love educating people about winter riding. I have 10+ years of experience riding in the winter through commuting, recreating, and racing, and I love sharing my experiences. Another thing I love about my job is traveling! It’s super fun, and I love meeting and working with the folks from the bike shops that sell our stuff, their customers, event organizers, and event participants.

Pretty soon we’ll be switching gears and concentrating on Teravail, so I get to do the same type of stuff, just for the other 3 seasons of the year!

What do you love most about the cycling community?
They’re my family! Athletes, commuters, industry folks… we all have something powerful in common! And everybody for their own reasons!
What is on your to-do list for 2018 for events/goals?
It makes me nervous just typing it, but I’ll do it anyway: Marji Gesick 100! From their website: “The Marji Gesick features 100-miles of rocks, roots, punchy climbs, jump lines, flow trails and soul-crushing grinding that DNFs nearly 60% of the field each year.

Last year my goals were finishing the Dirty Kanza 200 mile gravel race and the Leadville 100 MTB trail race, which I did, so I guess it’s on to the next thing??? [insert panic emoji here]

What do you feel deters women from getting involved with cycling? Especially mountain biking?
Cycling is extremely gear-heavy! Where do you even start when it comes to finding a bike to try or buy? Especially a mountain bike? Frame materials, sizing, levels of components, hydraulic vs. cable disc brakes, and shock technology are just a few of the aspects to a bike that can be overwhelming and confusing and can deter folks from getting into it. Then you have to figure out how and where to ride the darn bike!

What do you feel could change industry-wise or locally to encourage more women to be involved?
At my last job, The Hub Bike Co-op, I led a MTB ride for Women / Trans / Femme / Non-Binary (WTF / NB) folks, and we offered up our demo fleet for free for whoever needed or wanted to ride. I did my best to make it as inclusive and accessible as I could. I would set people up on bikes, then load up my little Subaru and bring people and bikes to the different trailheads where we’d meet the other riders. We always had people of all different abilities and usually had people that were brand new to mountain biking, or biking in general! Either I or other experienced riders would stick back with the newer riders and lead them through and offer advice. The idea was to eliminate the barrier of gear, transportation, and to help educate and show the riders how to maneuver through the trails in a safe and pressure-free space. Over the 4 years that I led this ride, I watched riders gain confidence and acquire their own bikes, and show others how to ride mountain bikes.

The industry should follow suit and create spaces and provide resources for WTF / NB folks, and they are more likely to get involved and stay involved.

What inspires you to encourage women to ride?
Where do I start! Selfishly, I like having more like-minded folks to ride with and race against. The women’s fields in racing are generally a fraction of the size of the men’s fields. What would I give to have equal sized fields?! It’s a bummer that there are so many societal barriers and so much machismo in cycling that deters most non-white-cis-dudes from getting out there.

Tell us a random fact about yourself!
For many years in my youth, I worked carnival games (yes, I was a carnie!) for my amazing Great Aunt Peps. This woman is amazing! She helped pave the way for women in basketball and has been recognized with several awards for doing so. In fact, recently her old high school (which she graduated from in 1962) even named their gym after her! I worked my first day at the carnival when I was 8 years old, and helped on and off until I was 21. I was pretty crummy at sales, but I loved the traveling. I feel like those years definitely shaped who and where I am today.

Saturday, June 16, 2018

It's Okay to be Good and Average

This has been on my mind a lot lately as I start to re-evaluate certain aspects of my life since my father passed away.

Being the daughter of two, very talented parents, I always felt like I was hiding in the shadow of expectation.

The expectations of others as well as my evolving expectation of self as I grew older.

As a human being, we have this profound ability to compare.

We compare ourselves to the "nth" degree, seeing all possible flaws of our own character, in comparison to someone else we deem more attractive, talented, or successful than ourselves.

We cast a shadow of doubt on our own ability to be a good human.
We punish ourselves for our perceived shortcomings.
We feel lost.

I thought, for a brief time while I've been in the mountain biking scene, that I found my niche. "I'm a mountain biker!" I'd state, almost with a peacock-like puff to my chest. I'm doing great things, being a woman in the industry. I'm a female on a mountain bike, riding a dirt trail, being a badass.

At first, I was content with just that- being a mountain biker. Then things start thinking "What kind of mountain biker am I?"

Fast? Technical? Endurance? Sprint?
Am I a climber?
Am I a descender?
Am I strong?

You start reading magazines, following people on social media, and reading books.
Everyone wants to put you into a category. You want to put yourself into a category.
Being able to categorize yourself gives you a sense of belonging- your very own niche in the world of mountain biking. You elicit praise with your skill and technique. How quickly you travel the trails can ignite admiration and possibly envy from your fellow riders. The speed in which you descend the hills or how adeptly you climb them brings you pride, for you know that you are doing something someone else is not able to do as well as you.

I have, over the years, worked on putting myself into a category- not just in mountain biking, but in other areas in life. What did that get me?

All it did was make me feel inadequate because the summary of this is: There is always going to be someone better than you and worse than you.
Sometimes your category might change.

I wondered how my dad categorized himself with what he did well at. If he put a label on himself. If so, did it make him feel more proficient or did it stunt?

The more I tried to fish for a label and compliments of my general mountain biking abilities, the more I felt like a fraud or simply inadequate. I'm not the next Kate Courtney or Rebecca what am I trying to prove?

I realized that my desire for a label was stunting my progress more than anything. I've been told by folks that I'm a "good little climber" ...that I have a good motor on me. However, when it comes to overall speed and sprinting, my game completely falls apart. I might be strong, in a sense, but I'm not as strong as others. People say that you are "good" but what if your "good" is more or less "average"... Is average actually good?

Regardless of where you're at, if you are enjoying what you are doing, then what does it matter?

Let's face it. The bulk majority of us are average riders. We are not on the podium at UCI events, and maybe we don't even podium at local events...or maybe we do. We're not flinging ourselves into the unknown during Crankworx nor are we being featured in a Red Bull documentary. Some folks have time to train hard, ride hard, and can be absolutely amazing on two wheels. Some require less effort to land on the podium while others are finding themselves on long-mile adventures like the Tour Divide. Others do not have the same time to devote to training but ride when they can, however, they want. They might race, they might not. Either way- they are doing something they love. Does someone who rides for sponsors, trains hard on the daily, and competes love the sport more than the person who finds their soul out in the woods on two wheels while simply riding to ride?

You spend much of your life trying to find a "thing" and a place to fit in. Something to be the best excel with...You are reminded daily that there is always someone better or less skilled than you are. You think maybe, just maybe, trying to find your place in the mountain biking world is simply allowing yourself to ride. Just ride. Stop labeling. Stop chasing after something that will not make your #bikelife more enjoyable. Just ride the damn bike and be happy. Do what you love without worrying about how much you are or aren't. BE YOU.

Labels can be a confidence-booster but they can also inhibit growth. Instead of building up, they can tear you down if you do not feel you are worth the title that was given. The whole experience can take away and deter you from having the best experience. A good experience is not riddled with medals, trophies, or's feeling the sun on your face, your heart pumping, your lungs burning, and your legs moving. It's feeling free. Feeling strong. It's doing something you love while embracing the challenge- because it's worth it to you.

Why did I get involved with mountain biking in the first place? It wasn't to become the strongest and fastest female rider in was to simply BE a female mountain biker in Decorah. I knew to get into mountain biking I would find challenges- some easy to overcome and others that might not be conquered in the way I wish I could. The knowledge of not being "the best" female rider shouldn't hang over my head veil- because it doesn't matter. I'm not riding for fame, a label, or anything other than simply making my heart happy.

When you stop searching for a label- you'll find just what you're meant to be.

Monday, June 11, 2018

Women on Bikes Series: Brittany Simonis

I'm Brittany Simonis, I'm 28 years old and I'm the HR/Office Manager for a Nutraceutical company in Sisters, OR. I started mountain biking in 2011. My then boyfriend, now finance' who owns & operates a local bike shop (Blazin Saddles) in our hometown got me hooked! I wasn't much of a cyclist when we met, but I saw how much he enjoyed it... and, let's just say I'm a tad competitive, so he showed me the ropes! I was instantly hooked, and the next thing I knew, I was online looking at anything I could find that related to women & mountain biking.

As you can expect, at the time I didn't find much... but what I did find was a free skill event hosted by Lindsey Voreis/Ladies AllRide.

Although I'm competitive, I have a tendency to be very nervous- I was brand new to the sport, would I look like a fool? I put my nerves aside and attended the event, and again- I was even more hooked! I felt like skills were coming naturally, gained a new confidence and saw what it was doing to the ladies around me at the event. I remember getting home and rambling on and on and on about how amazing the event was, and how I amazing it would be to coach someday.

A year down the road, I'm still riding my mountain bike as much as I can and holding onto this idea of coaching. Casey (my fiance') and I are helping out at a local event and I see a couple of the coaches from the Ladies AllRide clinic- now I blame and thank mountain biking for giving me the confidence I had to do what I did next. I walked down to their tent and worked up the courage to ask if they might need any assistance at a future event, and that I'd love to not only dial in my skills but get involved with coaching. And, to my surprise, they were all about it! I started assisting with Ladies AllRide & Grit Clinics out of Bend, OR in 2013, and over the years have moved from assistance to co-coach to now a head coach! Additionally, I'm now in my 3rd year of being an ambassador for Liv Cycling USA where I host women's specific events year round, getting women stoked on bikes and more importantly finding a whole new kind of confidence for themselves!

Instagram: @brittany.rea

Tell us about the introduction to your #bikelife and how it influenced you from then on-
My then boyfriend, now fiancé owns a local bike shop in our home town; I wasn’t much of a cyclist when we first met. I enjoyed your typical cruiser ride around town- but had never been on a road bike and had only been mountain biking maybe twice back in high school. He took me out on a couple road rides, where I quickly found that being on the road with vehicles wasn’t necessarily my cup of tea. I noticed how much he loved mountain biking as well, so I thought why not give that a try!? I instantly loved it! Some would say I’m slightly competitive, so I enjoyed chasing him around the forest, riding new trails and gaining more confidence & skill. The more we went out, the more I fell in love with being on my mountain bike!

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!"
My first few rides were on our local trail system in Sisters, OR- we are blessed here in Central Oregon to be surrounded by endless amounts of singletrack! I remember the rides being a combination of frustration and moments of pure joy. It was something completely new to me, and at times challenging. I HATED climbing… and my fiancé was good at it. I felt slow on the climbs and didn’t quite have the confidence to ride obstacles that seemed impossible to ride on a bike at the time. Thankfully he was patient and willing to give advice. Soon I started to realize that without the climb, there would be no downhill and that typically at the top of that climb there’s something amazing! I guess you could say it was the process that made me say YES! This is for me! The relationship it’s created, the confidence it gave me, and the places it takes me!

Your fiancé is the one who introduced you to mountain biking- how did he make the introduction a positive one for you?
He was patient. VERY patient! Whether the ride was short or long- he’d wait at intersections, give advice through new technical features, and most importantly he cheered me on when I felt “slow” I think a lot of us are worried about being “too slow” or the “slowest” and he always did a great job of reminding me that it’s not a race, we are here to enjoy the ride! The more I realized that, the less I was in my own head.
Do you have any tips or suggestions that might be helpful for someone to consider when introducing their partner/loved one to mountain biking?
Patience and communication are so important!! Make sure your partner knows what type of ride you’re getting into, how technical the trail is and how long of a ride you expect to go on. Communicate preferences- do you like to lead or follow? Can we stop at that rock I usually have to walk? Set some expectations, and don’t be afraid to encourage your partner to grind it out at their own pace at times. Most importantly, always remember that your both out there to have fun and do something you both love, together!

Clips or flats? What do you use when and why?
Clips- It’s what I essentially started out on. Funny thing, I completely ignored the instruction of clipping one foot in and pushing off with the other. I clipped one in, then the other directly after and proceeded to fall over, ha! At first, it was a little intimidating, but I practiced unclipping and clipping back in over and over again on the flat section of trails until it felt natural. I still have plenty of awkward moments where I lose my footing and don’t get unclipped or clipped in, in time. It’s always a learning experience, especially when you’re already naturally clumsy!

Have you had any biffs that were challenging for you on a physical/mental/emotional level? What did you do to heal and overcome?
Most definitely! I’ve been fortunate enough to not have many major spills. The worst crash I had was about 2-3 years into my mountain biking journey. We had a couple pros in town filming a short series on trails in the area. It was an awesome day, but a long one! We spent the entire day riding and filming different sections of the trails (some of which I was unfamiliar with at the time). Towards the end of the day we were riding a fast, flowy section, with minor jumps here & there, very friendly and rollable. Unfortunately, I didn’t know the trail very well and speed was not my friend that day. I found myself not only crashing once, but twice. The 1st time, just some scrapes and a little blood. I could handle that! 2nd time, I found myself flying over the bars and smacking my head on the ground, cracked helmet & crooked bars! It was definitely nerve racking, and gave me this lingering feeling of fear that it would happen again. But, I knew I would get back on the bike soon- I loved it too much! Overtime, as weird as it sounds, I’ve learned how to crash and more importantly how to prevent myself from crashing.

Most of my biffs come from my clumsiness. Standing, talking, one fit clipped in, awkwardly tumbling over. Always makes for a good laugh!

When you started out riding, what were some handling skills that challenged you? Do you have any suggestions for what helped you grasp them?
Climbing! As I already mentioned, climbing was my least favorite. Not only because I felt slow and like my lungs were about to explode, but also cause I felt like my body was always in the wrong place. My front tire would come up or my back would be sliding out, or I’d get hung up on some stupid rock. Then, I would have to get off my bike and push it…which is my 2nd least favorite. I should be riding this thing, not pushing it! Over time I learned that you just need to shift your weight forward or back, and most of the time it’s just micro movements. You can also use stumps or rocks to give yourself a little push if you happen to get stopped on a climb. Or, find some ground that might be more level to start on. It takes some failing to figure it out!

Are there still handling or technical riding aspects that you find tricky? How do you not let that drag you down when riding?
Definitely cornering. One side feels better than the other; some days are good and some are really bad. It can be frustrating at times, especially on new trails when you just can’t find a rhythm. I’ve found getting frustrated only causes more mistakes when I’m riding. So I try to just focus on practicing, enjoying the moment, and knowing that each ride is always going to be different.

What do you love about riding your bike?
I love riding my bike because it gives me clarity, confidence, friendship and a rad relationship! When I’m on my bike I feel empowered, it gives me the motivation to achieve my goals.

Tell us about your bike(s), what they are like and why did you choose them?
I currently ride a Liv Pique Advanced 0- it’s an aggressive, full suspension XC mountain bike. It has 120mm travel in the rear and 130mm of travel in the front. I LOVE my bike! It makes those not so enjoyable climbs seem like a breeze, and I can maneuver downhill terrain with plenty of confidence! I also have a Felt Café cruiser that I commute to work on, run errands around town and just enjoy a little ride whenever’s possible! It’s got skinny little road tires, panniers, and a cup holder… it’s made to do it all!

Tell us about your experience with Ladies AllRide, why was taking a skills clinic a great thing for you when you were a new rider?
My experience with Ladies AllRide was absolutely AMAZING! Honestly, I was terrified at first- driving into Bend solo with this two wheeled thing that I’d just recently fell in love with. I remember pulling into the parking lot of Seventh Mtn. Resort and seeing the group of ladies and thinking…maybe they didn’t see me or this bike on my car. Maybe I can leave?? But, I stayed- and if I wouldn’t have stayed I wouldn’t know a third of the women I do now! The clinic was a smaller private that was being hosted by a local bike shop I believe. We went over the basics- body positioning, braking, level pedals, etc. More and more I felt my confidence growing. We’d all cheer each other on through different skills, and felt empowered to try something that may have intimidated us. It was an environment where we were all on similar pages and felt confident to ask questions. The clinic was great for me because it gave me an opportunity to breakdown & dial in so many basic skills in a comfortable environment.
What do you enjoy most about being a head coach for Ladies AllRide?
Ooo that’s a tough one, there are so many things I enjoy! The environment is everything- having 100+ ladies on mountain bikes, cheering each other on is truly something spectacular. There’s this energy all weekend of pure joy, a little fear here and there, and then by the end of the weekend, it’s like there are all these new women with this burst of confidence.

What would you love for folks to know about the Ladies AllRide grit clinics?
That we are all about empowering each other to be the best we can, whether it’s on or off the bike. It’s not just skill building- although I can promise you that you will leave feeling accomplished, full of dialed in skill, and beyond confident on your MTB!

What has been your best coaching moment during a Ladies AllRide clinic?
I’d say anytime I get to watch a lady conquer a rock garden or any type of rock for that matter. It’s my favorite thing to coach because the majority of the time they all look at you like your crazy when you stop and let them know they are about to ride what’s ahead. One by one, they make their way through, cheering each other on and then there’s this celebration of “HELL YEA, I JUST DID THAT!” It’s really one of the best feelings to see that moment where their thought process shifts from, “I can’t” to “I just did!

Tell us why you love being a Liv Ambassador and what it means to you-
I’ve been a Liv Ambassador for 3 years now, and honestly, it’s changed my life in so many amazing ways. It wasn’t anything I ever thought I’d be doing, but I stumbled upon the program on the Liv website and something inside me said go for it! The Liv Ambassador program has given me an opportunity to grow cycling in my community, to empower women to face fears and enjoy the sport of cycling without feeling too intimidated. I mean who wouldn’t be stoked on being in charge of hosting events with a bunch of rad women!? I love it because it’s honestly the reason I have and know 90% of the amazing women that I get to call friends. Being a Liv Ambassador has become a huge part of my identity, Liv is my family and I don’t know where I would be without the amazing support of this program!

Why are ambassador programs, like the Liv program, important for women and cycling?
These programs are so important because they not only open an avenue for women to become active in their community; it promotes a space & platform for more female role models. Ambassador programs have a positive effect on the ambassador themselves, and the retailer selling that brand as well- it’s an effective way to engage and develop a fan base in an empowering way!
What do you feel deters women from getting involved with cycling? Especially mountain biking?
I think women feel intimidated when it comes to cycling/mountain biking, whether it be the industry in general or just jumping on a bike. The majority of shops lack an environment that is inviting to the female demographic, they would rather sell a bike they like then ask the proper questions to see what it is the rider is looking for. The times are changing though, and it’s awesome to see a change in trends. There are definitely way more options for women and way more women on mountain bikes!!

What do you feel could change industry-wise or locally to encourage more women to be involved?
I think the industry is already seeing a bit of change due to ambassador programs, group rides, and clinics. We definitely have more options than we ever did, but there’s always room to grow. As long as we continue to empower women to step outside their comfort zone, ask questions and feel more confident; the more involved they will continue to be. The more local shops get involved and host events & rides within their community the more we will start to see a change.

What inspires you to encourage women to ride?
My personal experiences on a bike are what initially inspired me to share the sport with women in my community. Soon though, those ladies became my inspiration! Seeing women of all ages experience the same positive, confident boosting effects on their bikes is the absolute best! It’s all about being the best possible version of yourself, whether it’s on or off the bike!

Tell us a random fact about yourself!
I have a minor plant obsession! My fiancé calls me the ‘crazy plant lady’ ha! When we go on vacations rather than a souvenir, I bring a little plant home. We have plants all over the house… slowly working my way towards that mini jungle!

Monday, June 4, 2018

Women Involved Series: Jena Greaser

I race bikes at the professional level. Started my own team with Canadian boyfriend, Dylan Bailey. We met in 2016 on a group ride north of Toronto, in between two Canada Cups.

After coming together as a couple we both had the same vision to form a team and travel the globe, competing and finding the best single track in the world (of course while living the rest of our lives out together amongst the mountain culture).

Last season's races veered away from a sole focus on Pro Tour/Canada Cup events and comprised of everything from Canada Cups, Pro XCT races, MTB Nationals, 3 Stage Races and a few single day marathon events.

Due to this, we have now found our niche and true bliss amongst the stage racing scene.

To us, the bicycle is about so much more than just finding our selves, but rather helping others to do the same and come together as a community. We believe that getting more people out having fun on their bikes is paramount. Dylan is instructing an "Advanced Cycling and Race Preparation" course through the College of the Rockies, Invermere. We will hopefully be able to continue something of the same sort at Fernie's college location.

In the past and present: I have been involved with volunteer and paid positions with cycling events and mountain bike instruction (worked with Rebecca Rush in 2013-2014 when I lived in Sun Valley Idaho and coached mtb program through the Parks and Rec summer camp). I have instructed spin and lead specific cycling training classes at fitness centers.

In the past was a volunteer with CCAP, worked at 2 different bike shops (Benidorm and Competitive Edge) and was the PMC Kids Ride Coordinator in Needham/Brookline Massachusetts in 2011. I was also on the Newton Bike Steering Committee in 2010-2011.

We live in Fernie, BC and are racing for Rocky Mountain Bicycles out of GearHub Sports. This partnership with GearHub is one that we both have been searching for over the past 3 years of our cycling careers and now we have it. So huge! It will provide us with the outlet to lead group rides and turn our racing into more of a career.

Social media

Instagram: @superacingurl

Strava: Jena Greaser

Twitter: @superacingurl

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 use to go mountain biking with my Dad in grade-school, close to their home in northwest CT, as well as in rugged VT trails during summer dry-land ski race training camps (Sugarbush and Stowe specifically). I always was the only girl in the advanced group of boys. Upon recall, I am guessing 5th grade was the first "real" mtb experience that sticks with me and I awoke to the FIRE inside that this was a sport I would partake in for life. I just loved being in the woods, sweaty and covered in dirt/mud. A farm-girl growing up, I was raised to live a life connected to nature, as nature is all of us. I was instantly adapted to riding technical terrain on a rigid bike. It was a black Nishiki with bright blue and pink lettering. It got stolen off the back of a friends car en route to Stowe camp one summer (I think this was during my 5th grade "AH-HA!" year), so her folks bought me a more or less "top of the line": $800 Mongoose front suspension with original rock shox rubber dust seals. I had that bike until I worked at a bike shop in 2008 and got a real mtb...a Specialized Era full suspension...this machine and working at the shop, is what spurred my "racing" of mountain bikes.

What spurred the idea to start racing on a professional level?
Cross-country running and downhill ski racing were my main two sports growing up (among many!)...I know, the irony in that combo, but I also know that being such a versatile athlete my entire life, is what has benefited me to excel across multiple cycling disciplines. College and work were a priority, so I just rode and raced bikes as a hobby in the Category 1 (Expert) fields. I had just got in to mountain bike racing in 2008, but contracted lime disease that fall. Just when I had recovered from that and was all excited to race on the road for my first year in 2009, I blew out my ACL/MCL/Meniscus that February during a skier-cross competition. I was able to get back on the bike that following August, but it was a long way back to recovery. Regardless, I competed in every discipline at the collegiate level; Short Track, XC, Dual Slalom, DH and road in 2010. It was 2011 when I heard about XC Nationals being held in Sun Valley Idaho. I set up a fundraiser to get there, knowing that if I finished in the top 3, I would automatically be able to upgrade to "pro." So, the funds were raised from many a folk who believed that I could accomplish this, and accomplish I did, finishing 2nd in the XC. This adventure convinced me to move to Sun Valley. A year later (I had just signed on to a new job outside of Boston), I did! I spent 2 years there, dabbling in and out of the local race scene, as Sun Valley was pretty remote from everything. They held Nationals again there and Marathon MTB Nationals the next year. I raced the 19-29 Category and won by 13 minutes. My time would have placed me in the top 7 of he pro's, which sunk in pretty good-->hmmm, I should probably take this more seriously! It was hard to justify big travel expenses at the time, but I did make my way to Sea Otter Classic in 2014 and had successful results in STXC, XC and CX. For personal reasons, I had to leave Idaho and come back to New England that summer. I raced and won a few local pro-open events and then at 2014 XC Nationals, after being in the top 10 the entire race, with 2 laps to go, my knee was hurting me so badly that I had to abandon ship. My season came to an abrupt stop, as I soon came to discover that I was in need of knee surgery on the same knee, again! This time it was due to impact on my knee; my lateral ligament had shifted, with a partial meniscus tear and fissures under my knee-cap. Without a job that had solid benefits, I couldn't afford an $8,000 surgery out of pocket. I took finding work that I would enjoy and also receive substantial benefits as a priority. By the fall, I was hired on full time and able to have surgery in December 2014. Motivated more than ever before, I recovered quickly and was racing UCI cyclocross in New England the following fall of 2015. While working full-time, the tremendous success from the season, put me on cloud 11 with the notion that "Hey, I can totally do this!" Throwing all else to the wind, quitting the full-time work life and going back to part-time work at a bike shop. I launched myself right in to my first dedicated professional season, putting all my eggs in to the 1 basket, competing amongst the Pro XCT (cross country mtb tour) events in the states and Canada Cups (Mount Tremblant and races north of Toronto...where I met Dylan).
Riding incredible terrain in Pemberton, BC 2018
For folks nervous about racing their first bike race, do you have tips/suggestions that might help them?
1. Pack your gear the night before (including having bottle and food prepped!)

2. Check your bike over and equipment (all of it!). A loose cleat and water-bottle cage can wreck your race (I have had both happen! luckily was able to finish, but LUCKY is the key word here).

3. Make sure you know where to go EXACTLY for parking, registration etc. prior to the night before. Check and double check this!

4. Eat a meal the night before that you would normally eat before a bigger training ride AND HYDRATE (as most people don't learn hydrate enough the morning of/during races...myself included in that group, up until recently.)

5. It sounds silly, but I can pull up several occasions where I know friends that were too nervous to eat breakfast the morning of...that is the BIGGEST NO NO EVER! Eating 3 hours prior, even if you have to set your alarm for 4am to do that for a 7am race start, it is critical.

6. The goal should not really be to win (although having specific technical, tactical and mental race goals is a good idea to work with on your own or with a coach if you have one). Instead, gain experience of being in a race situation, and most importantly, have fun! Reflection will be key for learning how to be enabled to have more "race" specific goals in the future.

What does it take to be a professional mountain bike racer other than being able to ride your bike really, really fast-
COMMITMENT (to the goals, the sacrifices, and the training regiment). MENTAL FORTITUDE. PERSISTENCE. PATIENCE. TRUSTING yourself, the process and your coach. Getting a coach that you can CONNECT with, in the way you need, KEY. I had a coach for a snippet of a few months in 2010 and then did not have a full-time coach again until the winter of 2017---and our current coach, Dylan's brother with Catalyst Coaching & SportLab. This changed everything for me and is a big reason as to why I am where I am now with my growth as an individual and athlete. Lastly, nowadays, being able to create your own positive, unique image via SOCIAL MEDIA is basically becomes another part-time job to stay on top of the posting aspect and can be challenging but is at the same time, a fun way to build relationships and connect with not only sponsors and other cyclists, but friends/family and other "world relationships" at large.

Clips or flats? What do you use when and why?
CLIPS, since I started in 2008, except for on my pump track bike I had for 2 years (when I lived in Sun Valley, Idaho there was a pump-track literally 1/4 mile from the apartment) and DH in 2009 I had flats because of just coming off my knee surgery (and clips riding DH really weren't a thing yet at all). But currently, even with enduro/dh and fat biking I always use clips. The ability to connect with the bike is KEY and energy efficiency is critical in XC racing. IMO. it is better to learn to clip and unclip as second nature than to ride flats. When air-born, I feel so bizarre without being clipped in. With clips, the connection to the bike and pedal stroke's being more "circular" in output, becomes easy.
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 heck yeah, where to begin with that one?! Specifics would take all day to write out, but in the big picture: in and outpatient eating disorder treatment ages 14-21, knee surgeries, several close to fatal accidents, moving constantly...the list is long, but every single one of my biffs has been a reward. Cliche as it may sound, life really is about the journey, not the destination. These "set-backs" / "hardships" have been moments of OPPORTUNITY (on and off the bike), catapulting critical life-lessons to put into practice and APPLY, indefinitely. There is not a single professional athlete out there (regardless of the level) that won't tell you there were times that they wanted to give up. Like all of them, I know that I need to stick with this path, no matter how hard it gets. Every flower needs rain to grow!

When you started out riding, what were some handling skills that challenged you? Do you have any suggestions for what helped you grasp them?
Since the beginning of first riding a mountain bike, I have loved being in technical terrain. As in rocks and roots. Rough, tough and turny is certainly how I like my singletrack. Technical climbs, in singletrack (as in not wide open areas) are great for me and all-out pedaling power on the flats (technical or none). But my weaknesses since the beginning still remain the same (this part answers the next question as well). I have dabbled in to the basics of getting over these challenges, but big goals and motivated focus are at the forefront of this season to tackle all 4 of these weaknesses. I never really took the time to work on drops (aka being air-born in general) and the more narrow, technical (as in varying widths and rise) skinnies, bridge structures and longer, open climbs (where I can see where I am going and no end in sight...even if I can see the end in sight I am not motivated to push myself on these types of climbs). AS for drops, Dylan has helped me with form on smaller drops and I was able to confidently ride 5-6 foot drops last season. I still "overthink" them at first, but with having a bigger play bike this season and appropriate protection, I know that I will be able to subside my fears. A bigger bike can help "get you out of trouble" and protection, obviously, helps with the "I feel safer" factor. As for riding skinnies and bridges, I know that looking ahead and thinking positively about the end is of the utmost importance. Keeping momentum and speed is also a major factor in riding skinnies and narrow bridges/wet bridges with ease. I still have a ways to go with perfecting my skinnies and bridges riding, but those simple key points have helped tremendously in one season. As for the motivation during longer, less technical, open climbs, my coach and I started working on this at the beginning of last spring and have continued that practice throughout the past months. I know that once I hit the dirt again this year, he will be pushing me to continue onward and upward with where we left off at the end of 2017. The main takeaway here is to know that my strength and power is incredible, to nix the daunting voices in my head and think positively about what is to come. With all 4 of these area I will be working on in 2018, they are 75% mental. I look forward to be excited to practice features more (rather than ride "faster" around them/make up time elsewhere on the course), and cresting long climbs this season, with more positivity and ease than ever before!

What do you love about riding your bike?
Many of the reasons I love riding my bike, reciprocate to the answers below on "What inspires you to encourage women to ride?" Coincidence? I think not ;-) Case in point...IT MAKES ME SO FRIGGIN' HAPPY to be outdoors, moving my body and working hard. It provides me with EMPOWERMENT. INSPIRES me. CONNECTS me to nature, community and most importantly, myself. Riding a bike brings about BALANCE in all senses of the word. Riding bikes GIVES ME PURPOSE and provides me with incredible mental, physical, emotional and spiritual STRENGTH!

Tell us about your bike(s), what they are like and why did you choose them?
This is a really exciting year for me bike wise! Dylan and I are Rocky Mountain Ambassadors. I will have the Element (with a 120mm front fork and dropper post!) for my main endurance/stage race bike and the Altitude for my enduro training / "big-bike." Last year, Dylan was on his 2016 Norco Revolver and I was on my 2017 Kona Hei Hei Race Supreme. In 2016, I was racing for Van Dessel Cycles for cyclocross, so kept the Full Tilt Boogies for my "road bike" training indoors and outdoors. I am still a pro-athlete for Van Dessel, but now within the fat bike scene! Dylan and I entered are both training and racing on the Primo Ballerino's. It has been huge to get technical outdoor training on the snow all winter, instead of just being on the rollers/trainer and only getting outdoor endurance through nordic skiing.

Reasons for Rocky Mountain: Rocky Mountain has an incredible program for athletes and we are so honored to become a part of the team. The pivotal reason for this coming about is us moving to Fernie, British Columbia in May and GearHub Sports (located there) believing in us 100%. The shop is supporting us as true professional athletes. GearHub was the #1 Rocky Mountain dealer in 2017 and we look forward to being a part of helping them continue that title in 2018.

Van Dessel has been of amazing support to me from the start. In 2016 I had no bikes to start the cyclocross season. Owner, Edwin Bull, was stoked to have me reach out and sent 2 frames and parts my way. He is so ambitious, successful and generous. Forming a relationship with him has been one-of-a-kind, just like his one-of-a-kind super sexy looking, not to mention super fast riding, bikes!

You and your boyfriend are your own racing team and plan to race together at a couple events this year. What do you love most about having a partner who is so in-line with what you're doing?
We are living the dream together, pursuing the same vision, accomplishing many of the same goals. In both our ways of thinking (by any means, not saying that this is or needs to be everyone's way of thinking!), it is easier to understand the other person in the relationship, when the main aspirations and activities are shared. Daily, we support and inspire one another through our #bikelife. We can empathize what the other person is going through when they hit a rough patch in training or feel the same overwhelming joy when they have the race of their life! It is just the best thing ever, to be able to travel together to so many awesome places for races and connect with those communities. Sharing this experience is fulfilling on every level of relationship!
Are there challenges to being a team/racing together? Are you both similar in strength or do you play off of each other's strengths?
GREAT question! So yes, as fulfilling and awesome as this is together, it is not all sunshine and rainbows. Certainly, there are challenges, but just like challenges in life and in the relationship in general, it has actually made us closer and helped us grow as individuals. We both have completely different strengths on and off the bike and this has opened both our eyes, hearts, and minds to a whole new level of trust, respect, and generosity. Setting many of the same goals, training A LOT together and going to almost all of the same races last year, was an incredible learning experience, but the biggest hurdle we both faced was actually putting some of our extreme differences in to full-fledged contact with one another racing as a duo co-ed team at Single Track 6 stage race. We laugh, but it is kind of true...every biking couple should go through a stage race as a team, in order to see if they are going to make it together for eternity! Our saying to one another during hard times came about from overcoming the challenges amidst this race. It goes, "We've GOT THIS!"

What are you looking forward to the most for your 2018 season?
We both were super pumped to get into fat biking for the first time! It was a blast and we are looking forward to expanding our race circuit for the sport next winter. As for our main focus, we have finally found our niche amongst the sport; endurance and stage racing. If you would have asked me in 2015 if I would ever see myself doing a 6-day stage race, I would have said, "Uh, no. I can't do that. I am an 'all-out, hour-of-power' kind of rider." False. Yes, I certainly possess that strength as an athlete naturally. However, I am so glad to have met Dylan, who opened my eyes and doors for me to a whole new realm within the sport. We were planning 2017 to be an entire year chasing the full Pro XCT and Canada Cups, as well as the Mount Sainte Anne World Cup and possibly a trip to Europe for 2 more World Cups. The process was stressing both of us out, and we could both tell, something was missing from this plan. HAPPINESS! Where was the fun-factor in it all? If we were going to be putting most of our own money into equipment and travel, we might as well do it for the main reason we love to ride. To have FUN! Our goals immediately transitioned from chasing points to chasing what mountain biking is really all about...finding EPIC trails and having EPIC experiences! This aspect was not being filled within the Olympic course format of racing, so shifting gears was a no-brainer. Last year, we knew we couldn't go full-throttle into a completely new type of racing all season, so we decided to mix-it-up with 3 stage races, progressing from 3-day to 5-day to 6-day at the end of the summer. Amidst those races, we competed in some of the Pro XCT races (myself only), Canada Cups and single day endurance ("marathon distance") mountain bike formatted events. This year, we are pushing into the endurance scene full-throttle with 2-3 stage races, as well as several single day endurance races.

We are really stoked to be working with GearHub Sports in our new (as of May 1st) hometown, Fernie, who was the 2017 #1 Rocky Mountain seller in BC. Our partnership with both GearHub and Rocky Mountain is off to an incredible start. Dylan and I are so happy to become fully immersed in the bountiful cycling community that exists here and we are all thrilled for the connections to organically evolve deeper.  We have enduro bikes (myself on the Rocky Mountain Alloy 70 Sram Altitude) this year and that has us charged up! I am really pumped to practice riding even more technical terrain, with bikes better designed to get after it! I am so excited for the commitment to this new journey with Dylan and our returning and new sponsors.

What do you feel deters women from getting involved with cycling? Especially mountain biking?
1. Fear...of getting hurt/bruises/scars/the uncertainty factor/being judged. Despite it being freeing for those of us who have become "more of less confident" riding in the woods, there is a fear of getting lost, animals, psychos...common', we ALL think those things and always will, but it just becomes less with time.

2. Stigma of being "clean rather than dirty."

3. The investment in expensive and A LOT of equipment/not knowing what equipment is right to buy...overwhelmed with "what to do."

4. Being intimidated by male presence on group rides, although, THIS IS CHANGING ENTIRELY nowadays with women's rides popping up in almost every community, some places multiple opportunities a week. Also, ladies only clinics.

5. Feeling pressure/obligation to have children and or be present for current children/family (societal role effect).

What do you feel could change industry-wise or locally to encourage more women to be involved?
More women shop managers and more women instructors are becoming present within the industry by the daily...the tides are turning and the playing field for opportunity/recognition in all sports is starting to become more equalized. Women at all levels in the sport, are stepping up to the plate to do whatever they can in their cycling communities to bring about more women on bikes. Youth programs are critical to keep putting forth energy in to and to keep the momentum going with speaking up to national cycling bodies/race organizers about equal prize money for men and women.
Taking the overall "Enduro Queen" title at Pisgah Stage Race 2018
What inspires you to encourage women to ride?
EMPOWERMENT: being a part of women challenging themselves: over-coming fears, tackling obstacles...basically what I as women go through every day! It is awesome to be able to RELATE and I feel that is mutual for every female who participates in sport. It is inspiring to encourage and it is inspiring to be inspired by working with women on bikes. It is so wonderful in this time of life, to see women realizing that their capabilities are far more than we have been told through history lessons and the messed-up messages portrayed through media.

Riding bikes provide outdoor opportunities, fun, and holistic health/strength, aka TRUE fitness---of the mind, body, soul, and spirit. The act of riding bikes, helps women find community, connection and balance (literally and figuratively)! By riding a bike, regardless of gender, it is all about becoming the best person you can be!

Tell us a random fact about yourself-
I prefer even numbers over odd number. My spirit animal is the wolf and Dory ;-p I still love backing up stuff by emailing myself. Ice cream is my weakness. I have never spoken the words "I am bored." I can't pick favorites. I can make my tongue into a "W." I was in a serious chairlift accident at the age of 13, where the detachable quad in front of 3 of us kids detached and slid backward into us. Pretty much, lucky to be riding my bike like I do, never the less functioning day-to-day I say.
Current Sponsors (financial) ● Catalyst Coaching & Sport Lab ● Gear Hub ● Hyperthreads Gold ● Diabetic Cats in Need (financial) ● Rocky Mountain Bicycles ● Dirt Bicycle Components (wheels) Silver ● Orange Seal ● Kenda Tires ● Crankbrothers Pedals and Tools ● Sidi Cycling Shoes (XC MTB) ● Suomy Cycling Helmets (XC MTB) ● SixSixOne Body Armor, Gloves and Full Face Helmets (XC MTB & Enduro/Downhill) Bronze ● Sirrs LLP (financial) ● Julbo Eyewear ● Planet Foods (Canadian local/organic food product distributor: Stoked Oats, Go Macro, Ultima Replenisher, etc.) ● Honey Stinger ● WPL Oils (Whistler Production Lubricants) ● Rooftop Coffee Roasters ● SockGuy ● The Ritual Natural Skin Care Products Partner ● Evolution Fitness (gym) ● Horst Spikes ● Samurai Cereal ● VestPac ● Bar Mitts ● ESI Grips ● RockTape

Friday, June 1, 2018

Welcome To The New Age.

With everything going on, the world continues to spin on its axis while you're swimming in your own pool of ... "stuff."

It's the simple fact that life does go on, regardless of what is happening in your personal space. At this point, most are still understanding of the stress I'm facing. Knowing me and my personality, how I am so much more type A than I let on. How I fear unknowns. Yet I'm waiting for folks to call me out. Call me out on my lack of involvement with "life" right now. How I'm slacking at work. That I need to "shape up" and that I need to tuck my sadness away and be happy. "Fake it 'til you make it." Start leading rides, otherwise, FWD membership is pointless. Do. Do. Do.

Opinions. Thoughts. Feedback. Everything swirling around me. Some are welcome, and some honestly, just add to the pile. Worrying about hurt feelings. Worrying about "what would Dad think?"

It's one of the most humbling positions I've ever been in. Where you're simultaneously thinking about how a dead person would react as well as everyone else around you that you may or may not be close to.

I am not well versed in many cultures. I do feel that our American culture of mourning simply does not jive with me. I feel like there is no time. You have to get down to business almost as fast as the body hits the ground.

I suppose, for some folks, they are not the heir AND executor at the same time. If one isn't the executor, I think you might have more time to process.

My dad's memorial service was on Sunday, June 27th. The days leading up to it made the whole situation feel more "real." I was not going to be able to put on a stone face- my emotions were going to be out there. Raw. Vulnerable. I've gone away from the little girl who once stood by her aunt and said: "I'm so sad." I've become one who tries to hide and cover up feelings. I do not want people to see me for who I am, sometimes, especially the emotional side.

The events leading up to the memorial service were comical.
First, I forgot my reading. Thankfully we weren't far from home, so turning around was simple.
Out at Uncle Bill's we discovered that Travis temporarily lost my thru-axel for McNasty out on the streets of Decorah.
The realization that I left Dad at home on the kitchen counter.
"^^%$#$%#@&*^%*&^%$^%$#*^%(&^%" is probably what came out of my mouth.

Travis went back to Decorah. He picked up Dad. He also found my thru-axel, undamaged, on the street.

I had a laugh. Dad really didn't want to go to a big "to do." He didn't really seem to like people fussing over him, either. Very much a man who kept to himself in certain ways, even tho he enjoyed company. I think he liked company on his terms- but not in large groups as much.

My goal was to read my reading without choking up. I failed miserably.

My cousins sang beautiful songs, a couple a bit more religion-based than others. Dad and I aren't so much religious as spiritual. During the last song, a breeze came up strong and knocked over the memory board I created as if to say "Okay, enough Jesus-stuff!" Everyone had a chuckle. It was pretty amazing before I arrived the air was still. After, there was a cooling breeze for us on a very hot day. After the service, it wasn't as pronounced.

I was still feeling uneasy.
Uncle Bill came over and we started talking- what he said almost brought me to tears.
Apparently, he and Dad had discussed what to do/what they wanted depending on who passed first.
Dad wanted to be cremated (I knew that.)
Dad did NOT want a wake. (I didn't know, but I suspected.)
Dad was okay with a memorial service like we had for Grandma and Grandpa, but nothing above that. (Wasn't going to have a choice in the matter, but I'm glad he was okay with it.)
Dad knew that I would likely sell the property. Bill said, "He wasn't mad about that." (I was never sure if he knew for sure, suspected, or if I told him. I did worry he'd be disappointed.)

I had made a home in Decorah. My ideas of living out in the country as an old woman has gone out the window. I know it's not for me.
Also, Dad's home was something he never actually shared with me or made into a home for us when I'd visit. It was always going to Grandma's. I mean, I literally can count on one hand how many times I had been inside his little house. ONE HAND. I have, literally no emotional ties to his place other than wondering why he never made it HOME for US.
The only part of the property I resonate with is the woods. That's it. It's not logical for me to keep almost 40 acres of land just for a hillside. Whether there was ever disappointment or not, I think Dad knew that how things transpired- what was considered "home" for him was never really a "home." In a way, I feel like he inadvertently made it that way for me, too. I'm assuming that there was a lot of sadness during and after building his little house, that it wouldn't house a family. So...he kept me away from it.

I could be entirely wrong, but it's what I get from it.

As his child, with answers unknown- I have to accept that they will always continue to be a mystery.

My dad was well-loved. With all his idiosyncrasies, he was loved by many. Maybe that's the beauty of having a relationship with him. It's the bits of his world he lets you into, willingly.

It was time to go up to the hill. At the top of the fire road, there is an old tree that has crumbled a bit. The only clue indicating that it used to house a tree stand was one lone board. I remember that tree vividly. I had this goal in my head that I would climb up dad's tree stand one day. I was scared of how high it was. I never did. Now it's a shell of what it once was. It was dad's tree.

I can't get over how strange it is for me to be in this chapter in life. It doesn't feel right. That's the part that bugs me the most.

Riding has been my solace, and so has rest. I hate to admit how this whole thing has taken so much out of me. I, honestly, still feel like my mind isn't all there yet. I'm still feeling as tho I'm forgetting this and that. It's challenging. Hugs are welcome. I miss his hugs so much.

I know what my aunt said is true. He's okay now.
I know that he was aging before he wanted to. I hate how it was right under my nose and I was oblivious. He hurt a lot. I'm grateful that he now can be how he's always wanted to be and do all the things without having to deal with all the other crap he had to deal with. I'm going to be selfish and say I hate it. I'd like to call him up, in tears, and tell him how sad I am. I know it's all well and good but damn it. I.Am.Sad.

I also know that I am strong. I will get through all of this, and I will be afraid- but it's okay.
I will make decisions, and they will be respected because they are mine.
I might make mistakes, but that's human nature.
I will continue to be active with what fills me with passion and hope- because that's what dad did. It's what he would want.

I shall walk with him. I will ride with him. I'll keep him in my heart. When it hurts to talk and when the tears start to flow- I know he's crying with me, too.