Monday, August 20, 2018

Women on Bikes Series: Katrin Deetz

My name is Katrin Deetz, and I live in the Santa Cruz Mountains of California. I'm a Seventh Grade Math and Science teacher and am married to my adventure-partner-in-crime Ron.

We share a love of outdoor sports, including snowboarding in Winter, but mountain biking is our main passion.

We live near many amazing trails, and I love riding, and running, them as often as I can. Flowing through nature is what keeps me inspired, strong, and happy.


I've been riding since my college days at UC Santa Cruz, when I'd ride my hardtail from my rental in Bonny Doon in the Santa Cruz Mountains, where I was introduced to the plethora of awesome trails in the area. I knew Santa Cruz was a surf-town but learned then it was also one of the best places for mountain biking.

It wasn't until about five years ago, however, that I finally bought a proper full-suspension bike - one that wouldn't rattle my neck on the downhill, and wasn't a Frankenbike. Taking that leap opened my eyes to a whole new world of possibilities, and I was riding features and trails I'd never done before.
It's been a love affair of epic proportions ever since, and in the last couple of years, I've started Enduro racing.

Check out my blog www.flowandgrace.com for more on my adventures, mountain biking, musings, and more!

Instagram: @katrindeetz

Tell us about the introduction to mountain biking and how it influenced you from then on:
When I was a college student at UC Santa Cruz, I lived in a mountain community called Bonny Doon. With the encouragement of a few friends, I began riding my hardtail bike to school on some really neat, backcountry trails in the Santa Cruz Mountains, specifically Woodcutter's Trail. It was here that I was introduced to the plethora of awesome mountain biking trails in the area. I kept riding after my college days on that same bike, but my neck would hurt from the lack of suspension so I didn’t ride very often.

About five years ago, I finally decided I’d “made it” enough to treat myself to my first full-suspension bike: a 2013 Specialized Camber Comp 29’er. Taking that leap opened my eyes to a whole new world of possibilities, and I was riding features and trails I'd never done before within days. It was on; all I wanted to do was be on that bike. Everything else was a distraction. I rode every single day for a year, through sporadic rain (it was a drought year, mind you), several falls (including a few over-the-bars), and cold Winter days. I was hooked on the level of riding that was suddenly possible with some decent equipment. It's been a love affair of epic proportions ever since, and in the last couple of years, I've started Enduro racing.

In 2017, I raced the California Enduro Series Beginner Women category, and after seven races, won series First Place. I'm excited to race in the CES again this year in the Sport 35+ category, and am looking forward to the Sea Otter ClassicOld Cabin Classic, and the Downieville Classic. I'm excited to race on my new Santa Cruz Hightower LT, representing Santa Cruz Bikes and Fox Factory. 29'er for life, Bra!

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’ll never forget those first rides on Woodcutter’s Trail from Bonny Doon to UC Santa Cruz. I came across a wild boar on the trail, who snarled at me before running off. I’d see Red-Tailed Hawks catching ground squirrels as I rode through the meadow; bobcats stalking in the tall grass. The Santa Cruz Mountains are beautiful and quite peaceful. I’ve always loved nature and wildlife, and it was during those rides I realized how much fun it was to experience them on two wheels. It made me so happy in quite a profound way; I felt more aware and in tune with everything. And it was hella fun! Nature was my first hook into mountain biking, but the pure fun of it sealed the deal.

Clips or flats? What do you use when and why?
I ride flats and always have for mountain biking. I dabbled in road-biking years ago and used clips then. I can’t argue with the efficiency they provide, but when it came to mountain biking, I couldn’t imagine being stuck to my bike. Shifting my weight, adjusting my stance, and putting my foot down on corners are more important to me than efficiency. I feel safer with flats. I can’t remember how many times I’ve had to jump off my bike out of a fall or put my foot out to counterbalance. I fear I’d crumple like aluminum foil if I fell while wearing clips.

I also like to push with different parts of my foot if I’m climbing versus going downhill. When climbing, I like to be in my midsole; on flats, I like to be more toward my toes. On a downhill, there’s a sweet spot around the ball of my foot and midsole. Being able to make minor adjustments quickly helps me feel stable on my flats.

What inspired you to start racing and do you have any suggestions for folks nervous about participating in mountain bike races?
I was inspired to race by a few people. Once, while out on a ride, a stranger approached on his bike and asked if I was training for a race. I laughed and said no; he said I should be, that he was a racer, and I was climbing at his pace.

I realized he was right: not to sound cocky, but I was fast. And I thrived in technical, steep terrain. Why not try racing and see how I compared to others?

In 2015, at 34 years old, I did my first race: the Sea Otter Classic Enduro. I didn’t pre-ride the course, a total newbie mistake. I ate it on the first stage - the downhill course. It was a total learning experience, specifically in the lesson of pre-riding and researching the course. It took me a while to learn this; I rode many courses blind last year. But the ones I did preride I did so much better on; more importantly, I felt more confident knowing what to expect. I also watch YouTube videos of the race stages repeatedly, which really helps when I show up to ride it. Thank you to all those Enduro racers who post footage of the race stages! It’s such a gift to see that point of view before hitting the dirt yourself and to read the comments about challenging sections.

Pre-riding a course is advantageous, hands down; I think that’s a pretty obvious first piece of advice to anyone new to racing. Second, there is no arguing with the physicality of mountain bike racing; the need for strength and endurance. Riding as often as you can, and cross-training with other sports of your liking are good ways to keep fit and ready to charge. Be consistent, and take excellent care of yourself. There is no better comfort than feeling like you’re in fighting shape when race day arrives. That’s what allows you to ride a stage blindly (if you have to) without feeling like it’s dangerous.

My third and perhaps most important piece of advice to anyone racing is to enjoy it. A race is not just a couple of hours carved out of a day off your calendar. It’s weeks of planning: hotel or camping reservations, days off work, pre-rides, training rides, watching videos of the ride, reading about said ride on forums. When race day finally arrives, I always feel a sense of accomplishment just getting to that starting gate. Then I really try to enjoy the experience. Though I want to race my best and get a fast time, I also want to have fun. There are so many cool people at the races, and soaking up that tribal mtb community lifts my spirits. Here we all are in a beautiful setting doing what we love; we should be celebrating and having fun!

When it comes down to it, my racing philosophy is quite simple: 1) Ride each course safely with flow and grace; 2) Enjoy the ride, and 3) Kick ass! In that order, every time. My final piece of advice is to just do you. What works well for one person doesn’t always translate to another. I try not to get too caught up in what others are riding, wearing, or the latest trends. Find whatever routine, philosophy, or gear for racing that works for you. Yes, it’s helpful to get advice from others. But in the end, you’ll end up doing what’s right for you, and that’s what’s most important. You don’t have to ride with a matching kit: I raced my way to first place in cotton T’s and workout pants. It’s not what you wear, but how you ride. Just do you.

What do you love about Enduro?
Community. I would say that’s the #1 thing I love about racing Enduro, and it took me a few races to realize it. For how individualized mountain bike racing is, the common thread we all share is a love of being on two wheels flowing through nature. I think people can get too caught up in the independent aspect of racing - comparing times, focusing on edging out a competitor - that we can lose sight of the magic that’s happening around us. Looking out into the crowd at the Ashland California Enduro Series Finale last year, I got emotional seeing everyone. Different ages, backgrounds, and journeys, but all sharing a love for riding.

I also love the challenge of Enduro racing; it’s sometimes more mental than physical. I love knowing that something is going to be hard, but I’m going to prepare for it, do it, and then celebrate its completion. There are climbs on hot, dusty trails that feel incessant; times when I’m exhausted and want to be done. But you keep pedaling, and before you know it, you’re passing through that final gate, its beep confirming you’ve made it to the end. And that is a wonderful feeling! Being done always feels like such a relief; you’re spent, but happy. When you feel you’ve ridden a course truly at your best potential, that feels really good.

Have you had any biffs that were challenging for you on a physical/mental/emotional level? What did you do to heal and overcome?
For sure. I’d had a few falls on my hardtail bike back in the day, but when I got my Camber five years ago, I must’ve fallen a dozen times in the first few years riding it. I’d endo over the handlebars, sometimes rolling out of it semi-okay, other times busting myself up. I’ve been separated shoulders, been concussed, and had bone bruises that bordered on hairline fractures. Each fall taught me something important, whether it was the importance of keeping my weight back, having my seat at the right height or laying off my front brake on the downhill. I think we all have this learning curve at some point in our riding careers to learn these textbook lessons.

One of the hardest challenges was a lesson in the importance of preparation. Long story short, my husband and I spent the night on a trail in Downieville because we were unprepared. You can read the full story on my blog if you like.

The hardest physical biff I’ve had to overcome was an endo over the bars that left me with a separated shoulder, severe whiplash, and a bad concussion. I spent a week just sitting around the house in a brain fog healing from that, and it was humbling. It was my worst concussion yet and it scared me a bit. Though I was off my bike for a few weeks, fortunately, I didn’t have any lingering injuries from that fall.

That changed in 2016 at Northstar, bottom of Flameout, when I rode off the center steepest jump with more speed than I should’ve for my ability. Soaring higher than I’d ever before, I had time in the air to realize my weight was too far forward. In an awkward attempt to correct myself, I landed in a semi-controlled slideout, crushing my bike frame onto the inside of my left knee. I was mostly okay, but my knee was swollen and hurt like crazy. I made the mistake of not going to see a doctor until six months later when I saw the atrophy in my knee. It was then I was told I’d probably bruised the bone, muscles, and tendons in that region, and there was no guarantee it’d ever be as strong as it once was. I was advised to keep up with the exercise I was doing - riding, running, and yoga - and that hopefully, it would get stronger over time. It’s been a year and a half now, and though it’s gotten stronger, it still troubles me. I’d never had a lingering injury until now, and it’s super frustrating. I just keep on moving, hoping all those one-legged yoga poses and hill climbs pay off.

But the bottom line remains: if you push your limits riding, you will fall at some point. What matters is being able to get back on the saddle again. As I get older, I find myself reconsidering where that limit is.

When you started out riding, what were some handling skills that challenged you? Do you have any suggestions for what helped you grasp them?
Learning how to maneuver my front tire over obstacles on the trail was one of my biggest challenges when I first started riding. I would hit a rock or root and be punched off-axis. I’d go over a rough section with my weight forward, and feel like I’d been rattled to my spine. I didn’t yet know how to anticipate the dynamic nature of a trail; I thought you could just passively sit on your seat and off you went. After a few rides, I naturally equated it to a somewhat familiar activity: horseback riding. You have to use your legs for suspension, and constantly adapt to the changes of your horse. Once I visualized that, it helped me think of the handlebars like the horse’s reins; you could pull up to go over something, like a rock in the trail. Just like riding a horse, you had to keep your weight back on rough sections of the trail and use your arms and legs to absorb the shock (especially on that hardtail I was riding!). It was all about finding that balance, which was continually changing and dynamic.

Once I had that mindset, I focused on how to finesse that balance. I practiced simple laws of physics to gain or lose speed, using my inertia to tackle tougher terrain. I paid attention and learned. I think you can learn a lot by just simply riding a lot; that’s how I learned. For a kinesthetic learner like myself, I need to experience if to really get it. Though there are a myriad of instructional mountain bike videos and clinics these days, good old Experience is the most valuable teacher. In the words of my late good friend Peter Miller, “Just ride, Man. Just RIDE!

Are there still handling or technical riding aspects that you find tricky? How do you not let that drag you down when riding?
I’m really working on jumping at the moment - progressing into bigger, longer jumps. I’m comfortable on small jumps, log drops, and step downs, but I would love to hit bonafide gap jumps someday. Not to say I don’t have areas of improvement on the trail, but it feels more like a philosophical quandary that I’m having now. I’m getting older, and don’t want to crash from jumping. But I don’t want to let age hold me back from pushing my limits. Part of me wants to reconcile that as we get older, gap jumps just aren’t part of our repertoire, while the other part of me sees age as no barrier. At 37 years old, I know I won’t recover from a hard crash like I would at 27. But I also know I’m not too old to give up! I can wear the best protective gear out there, but I’ve crashed enough in my life to not want to test it anymore. I’m riding on my plateau right now, contemplating my mortality and risk-taking.

What do you love about riding your bike?
Riding is my escape, therapy, joyride, and passion - all the cliches you’ve probably heard before. They’re cliches for a reason, though: they’re timeless and true. Flowing through nature on two wheels is one of the funnest things to do; it was fun as a kid, and it’s even more fun now on a nice bike. Being outside in beautiful places is a huge draw to ride. I love riding through the forest, absorbing the phytoncides linked to “forest bathing”. I’ve always loved to move outside, and riding is the perfect medium to manifest this flow state.

I love the intense focus of riding downhill on pure instinct; mind empty, totally present to the moment. Finding a graceful way to flow down a trail is like dancing - rhythmic, balanced, totally engaged. Rapt. It feels like heaven to dance with the trail, one with your bike, solid in your frame. Being on my bike is like being Home.

There’s both comfort and inspiration in the saddle of a bike. I have some of my best think-time when I’m climbing; it’s quiet, peaceful, and brings clarity. Since most of mountain biking is climbing (unless you’re riding park), I enjoy it as a sort of meditation. It’s also a great time to observe wildlife at a low speed.

I am spoiled for trail choices where I live in the Santa Cruz Mountains: there’s upper UCSC (my favorite), Soquel Demonstration Forest (“Demo”), Nisene Marks, Wilder Ranch, Graywhale, Henry Cowell State Park, Bear Mountain...the list goes on. The overarching theme is gorgeous nature - we are fortunate to have so many options!

Assuming you and your husband are close to the same riding level, do you have any suggestions or thoughts on how other couples can make their riding experiences together more enjoyable?
I feel super lucky that I have a husband I get to share the joy of mountain biking with. Ron is my favorite person to hit the trail with! I admit he’s my mobile mechanic, and he has a laugh-a-minute personality. Most of the time, I feel truly blessed to be sharing a ride together.

Sometimes? I’m cursing under my breath: Why did he choose that line? Is he seriously stopping in the middle of the trail?! Where is he?!

I admit, there are times when we’re not in the same rhythm on the trail; when we want a different experience. There are times I’ve actually been mad at him for leading us down a joke of a trail with no flow to it; we climbed all the way for this! I complained. Or I’ve waited impatiently for him when I wanted to just keep going. Sometimes we prefer different lines. Conversely, he’s been mad at me for dragging him up steep climbs, like one nicknamed Suffer Springs at Demo. We have to give each other that grace and leeway to not like what the other is riding without taking it personally; to understand we may have different opinions. Flexibility is key to mountain biking, and this becomes especially more important when you add other riders into the mix. We must be adaptable and compromising, at least some of the time. When he feels me charging with energy, he tells me to ride ahead of him, and visa-versa.

We are fortunate to ride at relatively equal abilities, so there’s not a lot of holding each other back, just a lot of waxing philosophical on what makes each ride a good one. Most days, we share the same vision; some days, we don’t see eye to eye. It’s a gift to share a passion with your loved one, and it’s okay to bicker about it, like the old married couple we are becoming, every now and then. The important part is we can ride together at all, so I try to appreciate that first and foremost.

What do you enjoy most about helping women become more confident with mountain biking?
I honestly don’t know how much I’m helping women become more confident with mountain biking! Though I love people, I’m an introvert by nature and spent years riding by myself, happily so. Riding is such an independent activity as it is. Now that there is an influx of women’s rides and clinics, I’m happy to see the increase in female ridership, but I still love the solitude of riding. I admit I don’t have the natural inclination to ride in any sort of group; I have some room to grow in that regard. To that end, I am racing the California Enduro Series this year with a women’s team, Women’s MTB Experience, led by a cool girl I raced with last year, Jeni Boltshauer. I’m looking forward to coming out of my shell a bit more and learning from the group experience!

Culturally speaking, I am happy we live in a time when most girls in the US are being raised to believe they can do any sport. When I was growing up, there certainly was a lot of encouragement for girls, but deep-ingrained stereotypes prevailed; if you did “boy sports”, you were a “tomboy”. I rode a BMX Mongoose bike as a kid, a “boy’s bike” as it was called by some. That gender exclusivity always bothered me, and I am hypersensitive to it today (read my “Just Do You: I Got This” post for more on that).

It’s awesome to see so many young women out there today who don’t bat an eyelash at charging a technical trail, despite the occasional unsolicited, “Maybe you should walk this?” from a doubting dude on the sidelines. It seems like the younger generation of men is getting used to seeing more women on the trails as well, and when I see gaggles of both girl and boy teenagers at the races, I know the sport is growing.

What was the inspiration behind creating your website/blog?
I’ve always loved to write, from the time I was a kid. I love to read nonfiction, and enjoy many different blogs; I daydreamed about starting my own for years. Last year, I decided to start Flow and Grace, a blog centered around two words paramount to a good bike ride. The more I rode, the more I found myself contemplating Flow and Grace. These themes not only made for an awesome ride but translated to life in general. I wanted to share my adventures and musings with others, but mostly I started my blog to fulfill my passion for writing. Sometimes I connect better with people through the written word and hope to foster that human connection through my blog. I also love the idea of being an old woman in my nineties looking back on all of my writing.

Tell us about your bike(s), what they are like and why did you choose them?
My first bike was a Cannondale Delta V-400 hardtail; it was given to me for free my college boyfriend. I have to thank him for that because it’s what got me into riding in Santa Cruz. In 2013, I got a Specialized Camber Comp 29’er, which was my first full-suspension bike. That’s the bike that opened the door to a whole new level of riding. It was fast, capable, and attacked the trail. But with only 110mm of travel, I longed for more bike- especially in rocky, Sierra Nevada terrain.

After much research and a demo, I just bought myself a 2018 Santa Cruz Hightower LT Carbon XX1 29’er, and am totally in love! I was lucky to get a Grassroots discount for this one. With only a few rides on it, I can already feel it raring to go get some! I can’t wait to race with it this season and hope it’ll lead to faster race times.

Just the dropper post alone has been game-changing: a RockShox Reverb. It’s the first time I’ve had a dropper, and I know it’ll help me on the pedaly stages at the enduro races. Last year, I had to drop my seat low for the timed downhill stages, but then have to stand up for the pedaly sections with my seat all the way down. It was exhausting. I’d put my seat back up for the transfers, of course, but it was hard to be stuck with one seat height for the timed stages. I was probably the only one racing without a dropper.

Do you have any tips or suggestions that could be helpful for someone looking to buy their first full suspension? What did you learn during your bike buying process?
With the internet these days, there is so much research you can do before setting foot in a bike shop. Read reviews and forums; watch videos. There is so much value in doing your homework. Then go to the bike shop and ask questions. Consider the kind of bike you need for the majority of the trail riding you do; also factor in the kind of riding you plan to do over the next few years. There’s no need to buy a Ferrari for a first car, but buying a BMW is something you can grow into as a new driver. Everyone has their own views on wheel size, something riders will fiercely defend if question. Where ever you are in your riding journey, demoing a bike for a few hours is preferable and highly recommended. It definitely helped me decide on my new bike. Don’t make any rash decisions. Take your time until you’re 100% certain. Ultimately, go with what feels best to you.

What do you feel deters women from getting involved with cycling? Especially mountain biking?
I think there’s some misunderstanding out there about cycling. One of the main things non-riders will ask me is if it hurts to sit on the saddle so long; that highlights a huge misunderstanding that acts as a deterrent to riding. If a woman thinks she’s going to be uncomfortable on a bike seat, she’s not going to want to ride one. I think mountain biking can also be a little intimidating to anyone not already in top physical shape; there’s no getting around the need for strength and fitness to ride a bike. But as I like to say, “It’s not what you’re riding; it’s that you’re riding”. It’s okay to start small on mellow fire roads while you build your strengths and skills. It’s better to leave in one piece than in no peace. It doesn’t matter what trail you’re riding. It matters that you’re outside riding at all. Start by celebrating that; then, progress at your own pace.

What do you feel could change industry-wise or locally to encourage more women to be involved?
I’ve seen a lot of growth in the nearly twenty years since I first started riding: more women’s specific gear, online forums, and group rides. It’s fantastic to see so much outreach toward women. At this point, I don’t know how much more I personally need the pendulum to swing. Mountain biking isn’t gender specific in my opinion; riding is riding, and whatever works, works. I don’t need any special equipment because I’m a girl, and I don’t need any special treatment.

What inspires you to encourage women to ride?
There is such simple pleasure in mountain biking, and when you share it with someone else, you really see it reflected in their faces. It’s that jubilant, excited smile, with a sparkle in the eye. Like other outdoor sports including snowboarding and surfing, mountain biking gives you that deeply happy, excited but calmly contented, endorphin high. Seeing someone getting stoked on riding for the first time makes you even more excited because it reaffirms why you ride in the first place: the simple joy of it all. That’s all there is to it!

Tell us a random fact about yourself!
I love birdwatching and can identify many birds by their call. When I was a student at UCSC, I participated in Natural History Field Quarter at five different sites in California. From there my love of Ornithology grew, and I’ve been an avid birder since. I have two feeders in my garden, and especially love hummingbirds.

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