Monday, October 29, 2018

Women Involved: Roxzanne Feagan

The past nineteen years have been some of the best years of my life. It's always exciting to share my story of how the bike has had so much to do with that happiness.

It all started with a diagnosis. Days before New Year’s Eve 1990, I was told I had stage four ovarian cancer. I could go on but that's not my story. I refuse to let it be but it does have its place in my history.

The experience taught me what is important and what can be discarded. It made me tougher and more alive than ever before. It is what hardened me to the pains of this sport. I just didn’t know it yet. ;)

This is actually my story:
After recovering from the last of my post-cancer surgeries, I bought myself a bike. It was a mountain bike, blue and rugged looking. The year was 1999, about six months before my 30th birthday. I rode my new bike on paved trails that spring and summer, all-the-while completely oblivious to the robust cycling community that existed in my own town. Then one day an associate, who was a mountain biker and racer (adult bike racing was a thing?), found out about my new toy and like a pied piper, lead me to the woods where he rode his bike. He talked all the time about riding and racing and always with such enthusiasm and joy. How could I refuse? I loved the outdoors so being in the woods riding a trail didn't seem all that absurd. And that's when it happened. I became a kid again and I fell in love with mountain biking. All of it. The freedom it allowed me. The physical strength it asked of me. The courage and resilience it required of me (or maybe I always had it)? Regardless, I was hooked all the way up to me bloodied knees.

And it's been a wild ride ever since. Now here I am, almost 20 years later with as many scars to prove it, transformed from cancer survivor to mountain bike chick, from bike enthusiast to a formidable racer, from a life of obscurity to a leader within my cycling community, including being a past-president of our local IMBA chapter; running the Psycowpath MTB Racing Series for the past 15 years with my husband, and helping the local high school league get off the ground. And if all this wasn’t enough (ha-ha) my husband and I co-founded R&R Outside, a mountain bike instruction and adventure company, about 4 years ago to further share our mountain bike stoke. We’ve put on several co-ed clinics (or better known as the Ride Right MTB School) and just this year put on our first women’s only clinic! We also love to take our friends on mountain bike trips to wonderful mountainous regions to give them memorable experiences. I do all the travel logistics and my husband figures out the riding routes based on the abilities of the group, making the trips more or less all-inclusive. We want people to focus on the fun and not sweat the details.

My husband is also an accidental mountain bike rider and accomplished racer. You won’t be surprised to know we met on a group mtb trip to Moab, Utah, and we’ve been in each other’s company ever since. Married for just nine years, we’ve pretty much dedicated ourselves to this sport in many ways and I have to say we’re really, really lucky to have found an equal in our passions and understands what it takes to manage our crazy cycling-centric lives. That and we don’t have the three Ps–people, plants & pets - to keep alive in the process.

If you would have told me twenty years ago I’d be standing on the top step of the marathon nationals mountain bike podium at the wise age of 48, I’d said you were probably on something. I’ve come a long way on two wheels, been to places I never would have, met my husband, broke some serious bones and have had the extreme pleasure of meeting so many amazing people, including some who will be lifelong friends because I ride a mountain bike. On a weekly basis, I’m amazed at the bravery and courage the bike brings out in

people. It’s practically a medical phenomena! I know so many riders who had no idea what power they possessed until the bike showed them. It’s not typical to expect someone to think they could simply disappear in the woods and come out happier, but it happens. All because of the bicycle. It’s a beautifully simple story to which I hope I can contribute a few of the chapters.

Sites:
randroutside.com 
psycowpath.com 
dirtgirldiary.com (my personal travel-log)

During the final stages of recovery, what inspired you to purchase a bicycle and bring #bikelife into the mix? 
I was inspired by just finding something to do outside! I went with a co-worker who wanted to get herself a bike to ride a new paved path in town. I went with and decided to get one also. It being mid 90's I was in the closet about cycling. I didn’t know it was an organized sport. Never heard of or seen anyone mountain biking. Absolute newbie. The second answer of that question is a series of decisions made over time. At the beginning bringing bikelife into the mix was an evolution of discoveries about the MTB culture and how riding and eventually racing tapped into my outdoorsy athletic side. I don’t know that it was that absolute right at the beginning but the more entrenched I got the more I saw and experienced how much value the sport provided to others in many forms, such as being a gateway for people to not just get outside and have some friendly fun but to challenge them a little bit and support that effort in whatever manifestation. That mountain biking itself seemed like a celebration of all of these things filled me a type of happiness I had not experienced before. That sure sounds a lot like love, doesn’t it?

What was it about your first mountain biking experience that inspired you to stick with it?
Great question. I just did a presentation about mountain biking to a small community library and I told them that even though I crashed epically in the beginning, every new bike person I met was another cheerleader who encouraged me to keep at it. There wasn’t a time I can remember when someone said anything negative or discouraging to me, so one could say it was all the positive support that kept me in it. I just kept getting invited back to rides despite my lack of knowledge, skill, and speed. As we know back then, there weren’t any clinics. Everyone had to learn on their own so if I was going to succeed, I had to get back on the bike and try again. Not sure if it was stubbornness or courage driving that bus but trying hard not being the one the group waited on was certainly a contributing factor! I look back now and see how silly that was.
Why was mountain biking such a positive thing for you?
There are so many answers to this but I look back on 20 years of riding bikes and at 49 I feel like I am who I was meant to become, like I’m living out a story written long ago. Mountain biking makes me feel normal like I’m in my own skin. It has always given me a daily dose of satisfaction, where I’m able to put an exclamation point on the day and claim it to be extraordinary, regardless if I did a ride in the backcountry or my backyard. I can also say that mountain biking, from the beginning, has provided me with an outlet for giving back. It’s easy to allow the bikelife to be one dimensional, doing everything to improve just my performance or skill but for what end purpose? Those goals are there, for my personal journey, but giving back to the sport is way more fulfilling. And doesn’t require doing intervals. :)

Knowing what you know now, do you have any tips or suggestions for folks who are MTB curious? 
Take advantage of clinics. You’ll save yourself a whole bunch of time and have less frustration. Learning the correct skills on the onset will provide a safer and more positive entry into the sport. And try to meet folks to ride with that are at your skill level or at a minimum will accept it and will encourage you to keep trying. The pressure to not be last will always be there even with your closet riding friends but be gentle with yourself. I still crash and am scared of stuff even after riding this long. You just have to ride within yourself and not let outside pressure influence your decisions to do anything you’re not ready to do.

Clips or flats? What do you use when and why?
I’m a complete clip-in rider. I was clipping in at the beginning and learned hard lessons when it was time to unclip. It’s what I know and am comfortable with on all terrain. For me I feel it allows for better, more efficient pedaling, being able to use that upstroke on a long climb, for example. It wasn’t until I took my first women's’ clinic with Trek Dirt Series in 2012 that I even put flats on a bike. It was through those clinics and especially at the IMBA instructor clinic that I understood why flats are appreciated by so many. By eliminating the fear of clipping out when riders are first starting out, they can concentrate on the trail and have a more positive, safe experience early on in their bikelife.

Have you had any biffs that were challenging for you on a physical/mental/emotional level? What did you do to heal and overcome?
What’s the saying, “If you’re not crashing, you’re not riding hard enough?” Plain and simple, I’ve had some of the biffiest biffs for sure! But none have come close enough to destroy my will to continue the sport. Even after I destroyed my right wrist when I crashed attempting a rock roll down way back in the early days of racing, I told myself it was just a temporary set back. It took about 3 months to get to the point of being able to ride outside again (luckily it was late in the season). So that I don’t get too bummed, when I’m injured I take time to do the things I don’t do when I’m training or traveling. For example, during one particularly long recovery period, I put all of my wedding photos into several albums.! I believe that resting due to injury is extremely important to the mind and body. We constantly push through them most of the time, denying our bodies that time so when it can’t be denied, I accept where I’m at and allow the healing to take place. And depending on where the injury happened, I’ll eventually try to get back to the crash site and ride it so I can get over the mental block.

When you started out riding, what were some handling skills that challenged you? Do you have any suggestions for what helped you grasp them?
All handling skills were a challenge but the most challenging were log overs. I had no idea how to get the wheels over a log and back then the only advice from the dudes was “just lift up the front wheel and then kick up the back wheel”. Needless to say, that didn’t work and was almost my undoing. Structured skill clinics just didn’t exist. You learned by doing and no manner of “just lift the wheel” type explanation was going to make me understand the timing and body position that was required to get over a log. I just didn’t get it. So nearly ready to quit, a bike shop owner told me if I raced for his shop, he’d help me get a better fitting bike. I never thought it was the bike’s fault for my failure to execute a proper log-over but I have to say a little bit of suspension does a body good. I bought a “women’s specific” Santa Cruz Juliana that was smaller and lighter than the one I was learning on and had suspension both front and rear. Upon riding that bike for the first time was like the dawning of a new day. I was able to ride not only the logs better and more controlled but also had the proper gearing for my size to make it up hills! Eureka! I’m not saying that’s always the case but I do tell my man-friends, don’t skimp on your wife or girlfriend’s bike. There are a zillion options now for women so they should and can be picky and get a bike that fits their riding style. Also, take clinics. All of them, from many people, even if it’s about the same things. The way someone says something to you may turn on a lightbulb that didn’t happen with a different instructor. We all learn differently thus the reason for trying different clinics. When you just go ride with friends, how many times do you stop and practice? Barely ever, right? Clinics give you the safe space and time to break down moves and understand their mechanics. I wish I would have had them in the beginning for sure. I’d probably be less afraid of jumping and big drops.

Are there still handling or technical riding aspects that you find tricky? How do you not let that drag you down when riding?
Always. I’m far from proficient. I can’t jump upon command. I’m a conservative descender, usually taking the slow line, even when I’m racing. When I started racing Enduro there were days when I was in way over my head and there was even a moment the day before a race at Keystone Resort where my husband and I had a face to face where we asked each other if it was worth the risk? It wasn’t but we didn’t DNS. Instead, we just said let’s go have an experience and walk what we can’t ride. It all went just fine. I wasn’t going to learn how to do some of the technical moves that day anyway so why put myself under that kind of pressure? I’ve been to a handful of enduros since and I’m usually the last one down and the slowest but I told myself I wasn’t doing it to impress some Colorado racers. I was doing it to push myself and have an adventure while trying to expand my skill set.

Tell us about event participation! What inspired you to race and why do you enjoy it?
People inspired me to race. In the beginning, there was always encouragement to try it and not in a competitive way but in the way that we all who do it understand: that racing could unlock some supernatural powers you didn’t know existed. I’ve always been in a sport, growing up playing competitive softball and even playing in college. I was a pitcher so that pathway was already laid but it was dormant after college for a long time. Racing woke that competitive streak back up and let’s face it, riding fast is a damn good time. I’ve had pretty good luck with racing but I work my ass off for every result so the pursuit of a good finish is also part of why I like racing. Racing forces me to train, gives me structure and focus that I can’t seem to muster up on my own and then to put all those pieces together for a good day on the bike is really gratifying. I’m not going to bs around and say there isn’t any ego in this and I’m only in it for the experience.

I’m mostly in it for the experience as racing could go away tomorrow and I’d still have adventures but coming away from an event on the podium, especially in a location that I may not have any advantage, such as a rocky, technical or mountainous course, gives me a great sense of accomplishment, and puts double !! on the day!

Why should folks consider participating at an event at least once?
See above: racing could unlock some supernatural powers you didn’t know existed. When you’re in a race scenario, you WILL go faster than when you’re riding for fun. It’s just the nature of things so you may find that you’re faster than you think. You may also end up trying a technical feature that you wouldn’t otherwise, especially if you see someone else doing it. Plus, the races are fun and festive. They’re encouraging. They’re only as competitive as you make them. In the big picture, we’re just a bunch of adults playing on bikes. We all have to get up the next day and put on pants and be adults again. Racing allows us to push, let go and see what we’re made of outside of our 9-5 selves.

Tell us about the Psycowpath MTB Racing Series-
Psy-cow-path, get it?! has been around since the mid-90s. Around 2003 after we said we’d help, the director handed my husband and I a box of number plates and said buh-bye and we’ve been running it ever since. The series then was about 10-12 races all over East-Central Nebraska (and this was PRE INTERNET so how people found out was just word of mouth). Over the years we’ve whittled it down to about 6 races at the most popular venues in or near Omaha. We have XC and Marathon categories and equal payouts between men and women! We invite runners to race the course before the mtb races as a way to make sure they know they are welcome on the trails too. I try to make sure we have cool posters, swag, and awards so people feel appreciated and have a memorable experience. Our events have music, food, and races for the tiny kids to round out the day. We run the series in what we call a “franchise model”, where cycling teams provide the day-of labor and receive a portion of the income for their club. Promoting is a lot of work so having this setup helps everyone!

What do you love about riding your bike?
It’s my escape. Take the training and racing out of it and just riding my bike clears my mind and takes me away from the daily grind, providing that necessary life balance. Add friends in the mix and life doesn’t get much better than that right there.

Tell us about your bike(s), what they are like and why did you choose them-
How much time do you have?! Ha! I ride for Harvest Racing / TREK so this is a TREK-heavy list. For XC and Marathon racing I’ve been riding TREK Superfly 9.9. It’s a 29r that’s baby blue with red highlights and has earned the moniker Powder Puff! But she’s a total shredder. I held out switching to a 29r for the longest time. I was winning races on the 26” just fine but as the technology improved for the bigger wheels, it was becoming obvious that wheel size was more optimal for racing. Powder Puff is carbon and has full suspension so I have a shock in the back that I can lock out from the handlebars if suddenly I have to climb and want more power to transfer to the pedal stroke. For a race in Wyoming a few weeks ago, I put a dropper on her and holy buckets that was a good time. The weight penalty of a dropper (and less one bottle mount) is enough that I won’t use it all the time. Most courses I race don’t demand a dropper and I’d rather have a light bike and jump off here or there than carry an extra pound around for 50 miles! But the fun factor is off the charts, FYI!

For Enduro and all around big mountain riding, I have a TREK Remedy 9.9 27.5. This is the second Remedy I’ve owned and went with 27.5 for weight savings knowing that I’d be not just racing it but using it when we go on our week-long backcountry adventures where I’d be climbing or walking up for hours. It’s burly at around 27lb, it has 150ml of travel so it can take some pretty good hits. I can lock it out for climbing so that helps. I can put up to 2.3 tires on it for really rough terrain making it much more stable on the mountain descents. The handlebars are much wider than the Superfly for added stability. It also has a dropper but that one stays on it 24-7! I don’t do that bike justice. It’s way more bike than I get out of it but I love it.

Going between these two bikes take some getting used to. Each has a different set up on the handlebars in terms of the lockout so it takes me a few minutes to remember what does what! In terms of handling, the Remedy is much more playful and can get around tighter corners better. The Superfly is more stable and takes a bit of handling to get it to be playful as those big wheels just like to go straight and fast.

For day to day training, I’m on an older TREK Madone, a black sparkly carbon bike I call The Darkness. It has my name on it as well as the painter’s signature who painted it, which is kinda cool. It is my worst nightmare and my best training partner. Riding road bikes don’t give me the same feeling as riding mountain bikes. My road bike is a tool for training and though I do get a sense of freedom when I’m out on country roads, it’s not the same as what the mountain bike gives back to me.

I also have a TREK Crockett gravel/commuter bike that’s a few years old. I use it primarily for winter riding and have done a couple gravel races on it, but just for fun. It’s great for base miles in cold weather.

Why did you choose to be active in your local mountain biking community?
Because of the people that did it before me. Without them, there’d be no mountain biking in our area. Almost every inch of trail here has been hand built. Events don’t happen on their own. It takes a dedicated community of volunteers to allow our sport to even exist. We are in the land of ball sports and farm fields. And yet, despite the odds, we are still around and the sport is taking roots in the children of racers and riders. We get close to 150 kids out in the summer for our weekly DEVO night and our local Interscholastic league (not yet NICA) is now in its 5th year. Those were all seeded by way of dedicated volunteers. I felt the spirit of volunteerism immediately when I started riding and there’s never enough volunteers so I jumped right in. I work in advertising, so I was able to help on the branding side for different organizations and I’m an organizer by nature so getting on boards and getting things done was a way for me to give back to the sport. It never ends so give when you can and hope that others see the value and jump in when they can!

Tell us more about R & R Outside and why it's important for you and your husband to cultivate positive mountain biking experiences for others- 
R&R Outside was born out of the light bulb moments my husband and I had during an IMBA-lead instructors course. We found out how many bad habits we had and once we corrected them, we immediately noticed how much our riding improved. We were so excited about it that we felt we couldn’t keep it to ourselves so we took some more courses and got certified and began the Ride Right MTB School. Clinics can be expensive and they’re not all that close by so knowing that we made it affordable and hopefully memorable by giving each participant personal attention, guidance and some fun swag.

The other side of the business is the adventure side where we pretty much plan all the details for days-long trips to cool riding destinations or races. I like having sweet accommodations if we’re not camping so hunting down cabins or rentals is my jam. If it’s a bike trip and not a race, Ryan will scour trail maps and come up with daily ride plans. We take on the heavy lifting so our guests can just ride bikes.

All of this to cultivate a positive experience, indeed, which hopefully leads to more people on bikes!

Speaking of your husband, why do you enjoy being able to share the journey of mountain biking with him?
You know what’s better than living the #bikelife? Sharing the #bikelife. And when it’s your partner/spouse, it can’t get much better than that, especially when that spouse is also training. On the racing/promoting side, having someone who understands the commitment is everything. This is not a typical lifestyle - we’re training 5 days a week, home late, eating late, gone half the day on weekends. Then when it comes to planning trips, races, clinics, I do most of the detail work and he does the mechanical stuff like making sure the bikes are in working order and the van is ready for camping or hauling or whatever. It’s very much a team effort. On the adventure side of it, we’re cut from the same cloth: Gotta pay to play. Our curiosity for what’s around the corner is primal and has lead us to not just tops of unknown (to us) mountains or bottoms of canyons, but also to moments of fear, gratitude, and joy that are all the more galvanized when the other is there to bear witness. And now we have this awesome van that we can live out of and spend days upon days off the grid. We love it. It’s funny - every time we arrive home from the mountains, we usually high-five in the driveway as we turn off the van and ask each other, Where to next?

You've held co-ed clinics before and recently held your first women's-only clinic. What was it like and why was it a positive direction?
Most of our co-ed clinics were attended by women, so it was only a matter of time before we scheduled just a women’s only. Honestly, we went about it just the same but afterward, for days, I had this rush of energy after reading the feedback. Ryan was helping me so it wasn’t all estrogen all day but it seemed like there were a lot more questions being asked in real time and we went into detail on some skills that I thought were essential to beginner female riders. We had riders from never-ever to season racers that day and they all started at the same level and went through the same drills and each saw that there were struggles, even for the skilled, so there was some good camaraderie happening the whole day. Stoke meter was way up for sure.

Why do you feel it is important for women to be involved in the cycling industry?
From the top down, having women in the industry will provide pathways for others to join in all the ways that men are already thriving. Seeing someone who looks like us doing bike stuff, be it riding, racing or wrenching, gives women the message that they are welcome and will be supported in their cycling endeavors.

Why is it important for youth to be introduced to the sport of mountain biking?
Mountain biking at its core is a child’s perfect game; it involves adventure, exploration, problem-solving and sometimes self-preservation - tools that will help them throughout their lives. Also, the mountain biking culture of volunteerism and stewardship is a wonderful way for them to learn about respecting the environment and to help take care of it. I also love that mountain bikers celebrate all levels of skill so it’s a way for them to get involved and feel accepted, which is so important at this day and age. And it gets them off the gadgets!

What do you feel deters women from getting involved with cycling? Especially mountain biking? 
The notion of going out into the woods alone is a deterrent for most women so it’s key that ladies find others to ride with who are welcoming and supportive. Plus it will be way more fun that way! There was a big push around racing when the sport came into its own and that has been a big turn off IMO. It should be about participation and cultivating a community, not getting on a podium.

What do you feel could change industry-wise or locally to encourage more women to be involved?
Industry-wise they are on a good trajectory. With women’s only events popping up, the popularity of women’s clinics and more coverage of women riding/exploring/competing in the sport tells us that we’re accepted, invited and supported. On a large scale, that will continue the upward trend of women on bikes. I also think with the rise of NICA, the sport is becoming more and more family friendly. As kids get involved early in life, moms and dads will find others who are bike-curious and hopefully they too will be encouraged to try it.

Locally, I believe we could get more women in the sport through a few avenues: progressive trails where one can learn to ride terrain. We have pretty beginner-friendly trails but again, going off into the woods might be too much to ask, so bike parks or skills areas would at least give them a taste in a more open, safer environment. I also think it’s important for there to be women-only group rides, headed by non-racer types. I did a weekly ride a couple years ago and felt that I was intimidating to some because I raced. I believe non-racers can be better ride leaders, removing that competitive stigma that comes with racers. I also think bike shops could get in the game by offering some kind of event or group rides or skill sessions. It’s all about having fun and creating a welcoming environment that breaks down barriers.

What inspires you to encourage women to ride?
Changing lives. I’ve seen it. I’ve experienced it personally and witnessed the changes in others. Mountain biking reveals our inner super powers. I have a friend who, until she started mountain biking, didn’t realize how competitive she really was at anything and when she started racing, she found out she was really good at it and started traveling with us and racing as well. We don’t grow up thinking we’re going to be mountain bikers. Though that is changing with the NICA leagues, for adults discovering the sport, it can show them what they’re capable of by revealing traits they didn’t believe they possessed and that can life altering.

Tell us a random fact about yourself!
I tandem skydived over Moab, Utah.

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Life Is a Journey, Not a Destination.

Much has happened since my last "real life" update, and every time I started to compile a post I would become distracted by other stuff. Soon, it felt as tho what I had written might not hold as much merit, simply because time passed and the rawness of that moment faded.

September was a month that was riddled with stress due to the on-site auction we had to prep for. I'm grateful for family members who were able to help. I think that's been the most humbling part of this experience- accepting it was way more than what I could legitimately deal with on my own.

Auction day was chilly, but thankfully the rain held off- not that it wasn't a bit of a soggy mess down at the bottom. All in all, over 200 people had attended the auction- which made it successful in my mind. It was a touch overwhelming for me when it came to selling the vehicles and Kubotas. These were items I knew my dad really enjoyed or had great pride in.

After it was all done and folks were loading up their purchases, I made my way to the woods to cry for a little bit. I was cold and sad. I was relieved. I just really needed a hug. The closest thing was leaning against the remains of my dad's favorite tree.

It was bittersweet.

The journey of sorting through my dad's items also brought a smile back to a grade school music teacher of mine. I found a small tomahawk head with a leather case, it had his name on it and some numbers. I thought "How many people could have the same name?" I messaged a friend, asking him to show an image of what I found to his dad, to see if it might be his. It was!

He was reunited with the tomahawk head and has since given it a beautiful wooden handle. I've had two gifts from this man since. A coin and a book.

It was interesting to interact with my former teacher and see him in a different light than what he shed while I was in school. I felt comfort while he visited. The message that the coin and book also had given me solace.
......
It's been a winding road, getting everything buttoned up.
There is one final auction - the gun auction...and after that is over with then I think most everything other than the sale of the property is done.
The septic is getting replaced, but the ironic part is it had to get re-pumped because it was full of water.
Next is furnace/winterizing.

I've been scared.
I've been sad.

I signed up for a grief course that gives you writing prompts, and I felt like a failure because I ended up spending the last few weeks of the course not writing. I couldn't. My mind was consumed by the work and worry of auction prep. I felt scattered. Disinterested. I started to feel frustrated because I wanted to talk, but at the same time, the sadness that surrounded everyone else was strong.
I think I felt at that point the only grief I could truly deal with was my own. I also felt like I needed to shelter my heart. I feel tender. Vulnerable. I experienced a tragic event. I never got to have one last visit. One last "I love you." One last "Good bye."
You have to accept that the last few weeks/month, while he was alive, was what it was. Hindsight is 20/20. I needed time. Time to process. The writings for the course could be done at any time.
......
I've gotten to the point where I'm feeling less awkward simply living life. What I mean by that is, after word got out over how my dad died, it was difficult to proceed about the day without feeling as tho people looked at you like the girl who lost her dad because of a tree.

I feel anxious any time I see someone wearing a Stanley shirt. If they knew my dad or knew of the situation. When they see my face, do they see a resemblance of my dad? Same day as writing this post, someone who would occasionally have lunch with my dad at work stopped at the bike shop. He gave his condolences.

You feel like "It's been 5 months...hasn't everyone said them by now?" and then you have chance encounters of folks who knew him.

Me. Staring in the mirror and wondering if I resemble him at all.
I am my father's daughter.

Don't get me wrong. I appreciate the thought and gesture. However, each time it's like someone is picking up the edge of a newly formed scab. It stings.
......
The most comforting conversation was with someone who lost her dad. Her honest and candid email to me, thanking me for sharing my story. Also telling me it gets better, but it will always hurt some.

I think that is the thing that I'm wrapping my head around. I'm working to be gentle with myself. My heart. My poor heart that feels like a chunk was ripped out of it. It's okay to say "You know what? It's not actually alright. It's not okay. It sucks. It just plain sucks. It's going to suck from here on out. I'm going to be sad for a long while. I'm getting better at coping. It doesn't mean that I'm healed."

Frankly. I don't want to be "healed."
To me...healed means that I've forgotten.
......
Our first wedding anniversary came and went. Of all things, it snowed that day.
I had some serious reflection- and I will be the first to admit it's been a rough year.
No, marriage-wise, we were never "in trouble." I think, tho, for as long as we've been together we haven't had such a tough time in life. By tough...I'm talking about dealing with me.
My sadness.
My loneliness.
My anger.

The whirlwind of emotional crap has been strong. I went back and forth over-relying on Travis and trying to relieve him of what I felt was a burden and rely on myself.

I never saw getting married as some sort of "cure all" when it comes to life. However, we had a solid awakening on what it meant to be partners. Having to be open to the unknown. Having to try and understand when we didn't know what we were trying to understand in the first place.

All I can say is I'm grateful for his partnership. His friendship. His love.
I'm starting to smile more, and I think he sees that.
......
This year I've learned how to say "no."
I've learned to be a better advocate of self-care.
I had to accept that my path in life would look a little different.
Grow.
Believe.
......
I've done so much this year.
Stuff that you typically don't think of in day-to-day life.
Then responsibility falls in your lap, like a newborn.
You have an idea of what to do. Somewhat. But not everything.
You aren't really given lessons. You learn as you go.
You hope you're doing it right.
Stress.
Anxiety.
Satisfaction over figuring stuff out.
Perseverance.
......
I'm ready for next year.
For more smiles.
More bike rides.
More smiles.
A stronger me.

Monday, October 22, 2018

Women on Bikes Series: Clarissa Finks

Let’s see… I am a 38 year old lady who 11 months ago quit her (some may say) dream job in order to shake things up and force the leap into something new!

Right now that new still consists of taking things day-by-day and figuring it out while relying on my previous skills and expertise in product development that was built over the 10+ years I worked in Hardgoods at Burton Snowboards.

I’m currently working part-time as a consultant for a local company launching a new product line and racing mountain bikes professionally for the Liv-Co Factory team and Earl’s Cyclery, a local bike shop.

I grew up in Maine, went to the University of Vermont and, much to the dismay of my mountain biking Momma, didn’t start riding bikes on dirt until I was a senior in college.

I pretty much started riding and racing at the same time when a friend on the UVM Cycling team got wind of the fact that I had a mountain bike and approached me with the offer of a lifetime…"We have a race this weekend and since you’re a girl and have a mountain bike, all you need to do is finish the race and we’ll get points – wanna come??" How could I say no to an offer like that!?!? From there I dabbled in XC racing but was pretty horrible at that, so continued on just riding for fun until I stumbled upon Enduro racing about 5 years ago. Outside of racing I am also a mentor for the Little Bella’s Program here in Vermont and also love hosting clinics and coaching camps to help people build stronger skills on their bikes!

My insta is @shredly1 and here’s a link to my Facebook page.

Tell us about the introduction to your #bikelife and how it influenced you from then on-
I grew up riding bikes all the time as a kid, but once I hit high school and got really into team sports, I didn’t spend much time on a bike anymore. My Mom really got into mountain biking about that same time and as much as she tried to lure me in, I just wasn’t interested. Once I got to college I stayed on the team sports path and ‘played’ soccer for my first 3 years. The reason played is in quotes is because I actually had 2 ACL surgeries back to back years so I spent a lot more time rehabbing than actually playing soccer. That being said I guess you could say my intro to #bikelife was really through recovering from surgery. Riding a bike was the safest and best way to be active again while recovering so I started riding a bike on the road to get the knee back into shape. I think the thing that surprised me, and ultimately influenced me the most, in the beginning was how enjoyable those workouts were. It wasn’t like grinding away in the gym or doing sprints on the soccer field, it was just fun! It almost felt like tricking my body into being in shape again without feeling like I had to work for it.

You stated that you didn't start mountain biking until college (even tho your mom mountain biked)- tell us about your first mountain biking experience and why you kept coming back-
Eventually my Mom talked me in to giving it a try and took me out to some local trails outside Portland, Maine where I’m from. She put me on her hand-me-down Specialized Stumpjumper hardtail, with a Softride stem for suspension and clipless pedals (for my first time out!) Of course I had a heck of a time getting in and out of the pedals, but at that time if you were a mountain biker you rode clipless. I crashed a few times, drew blood from stuffing my front chainring into the back of my calf, but I loved every minute of it and pretty much was hooked from day one. I am someone who loves a new challenge and since I was pretty horrible at this to start, I think that’s what initially drew me in. Something new to learn and conquer. I also was really getting into snowboarding at this same time and to me mountain biking felt kind of like snowboarding for the summer time. Dodging in and out of trees, winding your way through as fast as you can safely go. The movements and overall feelings were similar so I think that’s what really kept me coming back because now I had something to obsess over in the summertime as well instead of just waiting for the snow!

What do you enjoy about participating in a mountain bike race?
There is no question, the best part about racing is the people. I have friends from all over the northeast now and while we are scattered hours apart, we get to see each other at every race weekend which is a blast!

Why should folks consider participating in an event at least once?
What I didn’t include in my answer above is the enjoyment I also get from staying motivated and working toward a goal. Having an event to look forward to helps give you that extra push to get out on your bike when maybe you’re not feeling it, or stick to those early morning gym workouts when you’d much rather sleep in. Even if you’ve only got your sights set on one single race, doing a little prep prior will definitely make that single event so much more enjoyable! Add that to what I mentioned above about the people you’ll get to meet and that’s a full-proof recipe for fun!!

Tell us (in your words) the difference between XC and Enduro and why Enduro jives with you best?
To me… XC = 100% sufferfest while Enduro = 95% fun with moments of suffering sprinkled in here and there. In Enduro you’re primarily just racing down the mountain, you’ll have a set number of race stages (somewhere from 3-6 depending on the race) that are timed and getting from the finish of one stage to the start of the next (the transfer) is untimed. Depending on the race/series you may or may not have specific start times for each stage. The series I primarily participate in, the Eastern States Cup, does not have specific start times for each stage which allows for a really fun and social race day, which is definitely my preference!

The reason Enduro works so well for me is because I am not an endurance athlete, while Enduro certainly takes a lot of endurance it’s done more in fits and sprints instead of hours of grinding away with no break. I’m more of a sprinter/power rider – going hard for short periods of time is more what my body is made for and what I train for.

Clips or flats? What do you use when and why?
Clips just because that’s what I’m used to. Would like to ride flats more so I can switch out for really wet/slippery courses.
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 so many, both in riding and racing. I guess that’s just always been my life in whatever I’m doing so I just pick myself up and keep going. The ACL surgeries were definitely a challenge both physically and mentally because it was back-to-back years so that took some soul searching to get through and more intentional time off than I had planned. I was happy I took a full season off (more than the prescribed 6 months) to really heal because it gave me the confidence to come back after 2 surgeries.

When you started out riding, what were some handling skills that challenged you? Do you have any suggestions for what helped you grasp them?
Descending steep technical terrain was something that terrified me in the beginning. Learning to drop my heels and really focus on putting my weight in my feet has made a world of difference in my abilities and especially my confidence when going down hill.

Are there still handling or technical riding aspects that you find tricky? How do you not let that drag you down when riding?
I feel like no matter how long you’ve been riding there is always something to tackle or improve and that’s why I think I like mountain biking so much! It’s an endless adventure of learning no matter how good you think you are. Framing the challenges in that way, instead of getting frustrated when I’m struggling, is exactly what motivates me and pushes me forward. Now don’t get me wrong, even though I say that there are DEFINITELY times when I get frustrated but I truly try to focus on the fun of learning and progressing and I’m usually able to snap myself out of the funk when I do that.

For folks who are nervous about giving mountain biking a shot, do you have any suggestions on how they can go about creating a positive experience?
Two pieces of advice both equally as important:
1) Get the best bike you can for your budget. Having the right gear for you and your riding goals will help your progression in leaps and bounds. Sometimes the path of least resistance, buying a cheap old bike or a hand-me-down from a boyfriend/husband, seems like a great idea but in the end you’re not doing yourself any favors. There are so many bikes out there all with their own set of benefits so it’s important to think about the type of riding and terrain you’ll be on most frequently and how you’d like your riding to progress.

2) Take a clinic, go to a camp, get instruction. Your gear is important but this may be even more so. I had been riding for about 15 years before I was exposed to any type of real instruction and once I was it absolutely blew my mind! About 5 years ago I attend the Women’s Freeride Fest at Highland Mountain Bike Park in NH and I am not exaggerating when I say that it absolutely changed my life!! Getting specific instruction on body position, bike handling, the physics behind cornering was something I never got just trail riding with friends and it opened up a whole new world of riding. Now there are lots of options out there from camps like Ladies All Ride, Vida MTB or personal coaches for hire, it is all well worth the money and I cannot recommend them enough!

You are a Little Bellas mentor, tell us about the program and why you wanted to be involved-

As long as I am able to ride a bicycle I will be a mentor for Little Bellas. It is the best programs I have ever had the pleasure of being involved with!! Little Bellas is a program whose goal is to help girls realize their potential through riding bikes. It’s aim is to create a community that empowers and promotes and healthy lifestyle and confidence. I have been involved for about 5 years now and I swear the mentors get just as much out of it as the attendees! I’ve watched girls go from shy, tentative bike riders to bold and confident shredders! Getting the chance to be a part of that transformation is one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done. That on top of the fun we have riding bikes and playing around makes this a pretty special experience for all involved!!

Why do you feel it's important for young women to be introduced to mountain biking?
Mountain biking (and cycling in general) is truly a lifetime sport and even though I came into it a little late I am so grateful for finding it when I did. Mountain biking gave me something active and healthy to transition into after my team sports career was over. Regardless of when you get involved I am a believer that mountain biking truly changed my entire life and I think it’s important for as many young women to get the chance to experience that for themselves. The motivation and confidence it has brought to my life has been like non other and it has also opened up the most inviting and wonderful community to be a part of.

What do you love about riding your bike?
Is it wrong to say all of it?? The freedom, fun, laughs, crashes, people, jumps, berms, climbs and being totally exhausted at the end but still wanting to do it all over again!!!

Tell us about your bike(s), what they are like and why did you choose them?
Right now my primary focus is getting faster at descending steep technical terrain so I ride the Liv Hail Advanced 0. It has 160mm travel on both the front and the rear with a nice slacked out headtube to give me the ultimate confidence in going down anything the trail throws at me. There are definitely times when I probably shouldn’t make it through a section of trail because I get off my line or stuff my front wheel in a spot where I shouldn’t but because my bike is purpose built to handle it, it gets me through rubber-side down!
Why do you feel it is important for women to be involved in the cycling industry?
There are so many reasons but my brain is having a hard time articulating at the moment so I’m just going to list some things out:
More women working in the industry, building brands, making product, leading the way will only help make the whole industry stronger
To be role models - showing girls out there that they too can be a part of it all, it’s not just for the guys
I’ve worked with so many amazing and supportive men in the outdoor industry but having more women at the table in decision making positions is hugely important to moving the whole industry forward in the right direction.
More women involved make it way more inviting to those not involved.
Those involved in a meaningful way find so much fulfillment and confidence through their involvement. It feels good to break through the "boys club" mentality and make a place for yourself.

What do you feel deters women from getting involved with cycling? Especially mountain biking?
I think it’s a combination of access/exposure and fear. Some women don’t have the gear or anyone to guide them through the process and experience and sometimes those who do are fearful of getting hurt. Mountain biking is so different than it was when I started that I can pretty much guarantee a beginner that comes out with me for their first time, won’t get hurt and will leave excited coming back for more. Here in Vermont we have access to so many amazing trails you’re able to take someone out for their first adventure on a beautiful flow trail that gives them the rush of excitement that comes from sweeping through the trees

What do you feel could change industry-wise or locally to encourage more women to be involved?
This is a circular answer but more women getting involved will encourage more women to be involved. This happens when we build women’s confidence on and off the bike, focus on that and the involvement follows. I really look to the work Lindsey Richter is doing with Ladies ALLRide camps, she and her team are teaching bike skills but when you’re there and a part of it all, it really is so much more than that. It’s believing in yourself, practicing self-care when necessary and having an incredible time with incredible women.

What inspires you to encourage women to ride?

Riding bikes has changed my life in a million positive ways and I just want more women out there to experience that as well!

Tell us a random fact about yourself!
Just over a year ago I quit my dream job of Category Manager of Hardgoods at Burton Snowboards to force myself out of my comfort zone and into my next adventure…which honestly is still in the process of materializing. :)

I also have two dogs named Dozer and Meatball. They are the cutest.

Sunday, October 21, 2018

2018 Specialized S-Works Epic Review: Following Up on McNasty

Specialized Epic
Late last year I introduced you to Stephen McNasty, my 2018 Specialized S-Works Epic. This would be my new XC machine that I'd use for general riding and for the few races I attend throughout the year.

The good- due to the timing of his arrival, I could get a few rides on this awesome bike before winter. The bad- I got only a couple of rides in before we had to hang him up for winter.

Those rides were enough for me to feel that the investment was a great decision, but it left me wondering "What else?" What was I missing out on or what would I not realize about this bike until after I've had more hours in the saddle?

This year, unfortunately, wasn't filled to the brim with riding like I hoped, but I did manage to have a solid number of rides on McNasty to say that I'm still very happy with the bike and I will be keeping him in the stable for a very long time.

When I first rode McNasty he was mostly stock minus a few small changes. During the 2018 season, we started making additional changes.

Change #1 was the addition of a sweet Industry 9 Ultralite carbon wheelset with pink spokes.

Change #2 was putting in a pretty, matte pink, Chris King bottom bracket for a little extra "Wowza!"

Change #3 was trying out different tires. At one point I was playing around with Specialized Renegade tires in the 2.3 size both front and rear. I had fun comparing the tires to the Fast Traks that were originally on the bike, but in a staggered size: 2.3 in front and 2.1 in back. Overall, I think the Renegade tires would work pretty darn slick if our trails had ever been dried out long enough to warrant using such low-tread.

Many might put a Renegade in the rear and keep a Fast Trak up front. I did not try that combination out this year.

I had amazing success with the Fast Traks given the consistent wet conditions this season and ultimately made the change back to them. We put the 2.3 size on both front and rear as I wanted to see if I could tell any difference in ride quality or plushness. I figured for Chequamegon and on our trails, I'd like the stability of a wider tire both front and rear. Currently, the rig is still set up with Fast Traks and I am really impressed with their ride quality compared to the Bontrager Team Issue XR2 tires I rode last year. Wow! I tried the XR2 tires for 2 rides this season and I ultimately said "Nope." They had a stiffer feel to them and I didn't feel like they shed the mud quite like the Fast Traks. So with that, I opted to stick with what I became familiar with.

I really have enjoyed the 2.3 size front and rear.

After PertNear 20 we put on Specialized Ground Control tires in the 2.3 size front and rear. Our trails can be pretty leafy and nut-covered in the fall months/early spring and we figured it would be good to try something with more blocked tread. We had a friend test ride the Specialized Epic Comp EVO and he really liked the control that the Ground Control tire gave him with cornering. Next spring I might try a Ground Control in front and a Fast Trak until trails are more clear of sticks/old leaves.

Current thoughts are the Ground Control tires remind me of the Bontrager XR3 Team Issue tires I've run. We went on a very leaf-covered trail in Dunning's and the traction they had were amazing (I was running about 19 psi front/rear.) I felt like going to this tread style was a good idea. I felt a bit more confident with descents and traction while climbing on leaves was great. Not saying that the other set up wouldn't have worked well- I've been super impressed with the Fast Traks, but it is getting to the time of year where I'd be pulling back speed. So we'll see how it goes with additional rides, but I'd say two thumbs up.

Change #4 was changing to a 30t Absolute Black Oval chainring up front. We did this right before Chequamegon as my S-Works Epic HT has an oval. I've only ridden oval on gravel and we thought that for a long ride (with an already questionable knee) we should stick with what my body would be used to.

I'm used to riding oval regularly on my previous full suspension, but I didn't notice "negatives" with the stock drivetrain on the Epic. The only thing that threw me off my game was during Chequamegon, my chain kept dropping on the front. It was super wet and muddy, and the grit that coated my chain wouldn't allow it to stay on the teeth of the chainring. We figured the narrow-wide design and my 1x12 setup was my downfall. I rode a wet Chequamegon with an oval on a 1x11 drivetrain and didn't have any issue with chain drop. I know that if conditions had been favorable, it would've been okay. I've since ridden McNasty with the oval on our trails and have not had an issue- I'm stoked to be back on an oval again for the trails!

Other Stuff-
I have the front fork on the Epic set to be fully open. Yes, I'm not maximizing the Brain technology, but I deal with chronic shoulder/neck impingement and I want as much forgiveness in the front end as possible. With that, I do not feel my ride quality is compromised. I had it set to open during Chequamegon and frankly, with bombing down some gnarly fire roads, I was grateful to have it set to open! I would say I'm a mixture of someone who likes to bomb down stuff blended with a slow/technical rider. I like to have as much control as possible, and I feel the open setting allows me to do that more successfully. I do not have it set to a slow rebound, either.

I run the rear suspension a little softer, too, but not fully soft. It's typically a couple clicks in from soft. Yes, you can feel the Brain shock open up when you hit bumps. I am great at tuning things out, and when I'm on a ride the "knocking" isn't a bother.

I have played around with the settings minimally, at this point, I've only ridden this bike on our trails and the Makwa trail in Hayward. The couple clicks away from the softest setting really makes me feel like I have efficient enough climbing to meet my needs. Keeps me planted on uphills and keeps me stable and confident on downhills. Yes, the firmer you have the setting, the more pronounced the knocking becomes. Yes. I did try the setting another click or two in recently and changed it back because of the knocking. I was feeling particularly sensitive that day and it did distract me. I also felt that I didn't feel as connected to the bike with it that firm.

Update: Before the PertNear 20, I put the setting one click firmer than usual due to the course including pavement miles. I've actually left the setting as is for the moment! I've not felt bothered by the setup or how the suspension feels when going over bumps. It handled the singletrack very well in Viroqua and so far at home, too. Experimenting is key and remembering what bugged you one day might not bother the next.

How Capable is this bike?
I rode down a super gnarly trail in Decorah on the Epic and was successful when I originally thought I would need a bike like the Specialized Stumpjumper or Stumpjumper ST to accomplish it. I did have the rear shock fully open for that trail, along with the front fork fully open, too. I was super stoked to find out how capable my bike could be- it's not something I'd do on a daily basis, but the occasional ride down Backbone would be fine and very doable.

All in all, for my riding I have been very impressed with the Epic and what it brings to the table. I've been out on some slimy trails this year and have been absolutely stoked about how it has performed. In my opinion, it climbs great- and I was surprised by how well the stock tire setup worked with greasy trails. (I often scope trails out during the season to update the Decorah Mountain Bike Trails page.) I would say I really enjoy having the 2.3 tire size front/rear, but having the staggered size worked nicely, too. It's great to have a frame that allows that option!

S-Works EpicI never had the opportunity to take McNasty out on gravel rides, but I would say for the riding you experience at Chequamegon, he handled it like a champ. I never felt like the suspension was "too much" or "too little" with where I had my settings placed. If I were taking him on gravel I would put the Brain rear shock on a firmer setting. My hope is next year I'll have more opportunities to do so and really play around with the different settings to see how they change the ride.

While reading this review, please remember that I am not a professional rider. I'm just a woman who loves to mountain bike a LOT and race occasionally.

This is my first season really experimenting with the bike and I'm learning more just about every time I ride. McNasty will be a fixture in the fleet for years to come as he's nimble, efficient, and confidence-boosting. The Epic is a great bike that is capable of handling our local trails and more.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Race Day Adventures: PertNear 20 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Until next year!

Monday, October 15, 2018

Women on Bikes Series: Bonnie Larson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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