Cracked.

Bar exam is done. Even though it was three weeks ago it seems like a bad dream at this point. And hopefully it stays that way, pending results. I had big plans post-bar. Standard go 100 mph right after with racing 50 miles on the Maah Daah Hey followed by a world tour with stops in Amsterdam, Greece, and New York. I even waited to register for the MDH until after the bar to make sure I was feeling up for it. I was until Friday when the logistics of getting there and racing were too much for my brain to handle. I felt like my brain was in overtraining mode and there wasn’t much to do about it. I pulled the plug on the MDH which I kept trying to convince myself if I could just get to the start then I would be okay, but even that proved to be too much. I though if I didn’t race I would be in better shape to head off to Amsterdam but just felt exhausted and coupled with the surprise fact of needing to find a new car the overseas trip seemed better suited for February when I need an escape from the cold (more on that later). After the plans got scrapped I quickly texted a friend who lived in the most remote area within a days drive: Cimarron, CO. Never heard of it? I hadn’t either but he works at a private ski resort near the wilderness with plenty of place to stay and the best perk of all: no service.

On my way I stopped and camped on Monarch Pass and rode the trail the next day with Sully. I hadn’t ridden that trail since 2013 but sections of it still felt familiar. We had the added bonus of getting to backtrack when my phone fell out of my pocket on a nice 4-mile section of descent. We liked it so nice we did it twice. For going from riding about 4 hours a week as the bar got closer to riding 4 hours a day my body handled it like a champ. Fortunately there wasn’t a lot of navigation required and my brain didn’t have to do much thinking, and if it did I just defaulted to Sully’s plan.

I didn’t do much in Cimarron, which was the plan. I rode for about 3 hours one day just taking in the views and avoiding bears. I even started reading a book for fun, it’s on the pursuit of endurance and stories about the FTKs on the Appalachian Trail but still not a law textbook so….

I attempted a trail run one morning with my friend before he headed to work but he put me to shame, I threw up twice on the trail (early morning + copious amounts of wine the night before = worth it for the views). It’s been a while since my body had to rally liked that but was a nice reminder that the thrill of adventure is still in there.

If only I had opened my eyes to see this view...

After a few days I headed to Leadville to see some friends and help crew for those racing the 100 mile race. I was surprised at how many people I knew who were racing but the endurance scene is pretty small and Leadville seems to be THE race so kind of made sense. I had two friends who I was able to see finish and had the most inspiring rides, so much that I left debating coming out of retirement.

Pro tip: wear a bright kit so everyone can see you coming

One friend took an 1:20 off her time and finished 6th over all for women. Watching her in the second half of the race it seemed like she was getting stronger as each mile passed. We had shared a podium a few years back; when her Leadville quest was just beginning and mine was ending. After the finish she asked me, “doesn’t it make you want to come back and go for sub-9”, which tempting but putting it on the back burner for now. My other friend finished just past the 12- hour mark, which put her within the finishing time of 13-hours but missed the cut-off for the belt buckle. She got hailed on in the last 10-15 miles and kept going even though she knew that she wouldn’t hit the time mark. I waited at the finish line thinking about how easy it is to keep going when you’re having a good day on the bike but it’s so much harder to not quit when enough little things add up to make it a long day. And there are two options: keep pedaling or quitting. But somewhere deep inside tells you to keep moving forward, speaking from experience the roller coaster of emotions makes quitting such a tempting option. I think I might have curled up at the last aid station and called it a day if I was her. It’s such a mental game and sometimes the most wicked.

With Leadville it’s deceivingly difficult, on the surface it seems like just a long race: not super technical and only a few long climbs. During the race it becomes a whole different story; multiple riders, altitude (which can impact breathing, digestion issues), equipment failures, and body failures can all contribute— plus it’s just a long-ass time to be on your bike without an issue (or multiple ones). It makes it even harder because for most (myself included) it’s usually the A race of the season and all the more devastating when the work leading up to it doesn’t come to fruition in a result representing that. Watching her cross the finishing line was such an impactful moment, you could almost feel the determination resonating off of her. So this is all to say that Leadville was/is off the table but I haven’t fully shelved the idea of returning after watching those women kickass.

But because I didn’t race, I had time to check out some sections of the Colorado Trail around Hope Pass and Mt. Elbert. I’m never disappointed by the sections of the CT I’ve ridden, which is because they aren’t the hike-a-bike sections that people remain traumatized from. I keep toying with the idea of doing the race or just getting a group of friends together to casually ride (probably with a support vehicle).

I was then convinced by some other friends who hadn’t raced as well to hike Mt. Massive outside of Leadville.

Views + Friends like these

It would have been my first 14er but because of our late start and my plans for dinner that night I had to ditch the summit a few hundred feet below and head back down. The views were completely captivating, I started to see the appeal of hiking up at that point.

Okay, this is nice.

I finally left Leadville and headed to Rollinsville and camped at Moffit Tunnel, with only one disturbance in the night coming from the train rolling through. The ride that I had planned to do was on my bucket list for a while. It’s an old railway to Winter Park and it seemed like all my friends had ridden it this summer while I was studying for the bar. It has trestle bridges which always look so cool in the photos. I took off in the morning and rode the 12-13 miles up to where cars can’t access and you have to hike over a blocked off tunnel.

If you aren't hiking, you aren't biking

After the tunnel there was some exposure to the side and the wind had picked up so hugged the hillside as I proceeded on. I got to the first trestle and stopped. In the pictures that I had seen I hadn’t really thought about going over them, kind of thought they would be almost buttressed into the hillside. Instead they seemed free standing with exposure on both sides. The wind was also really strong, and while I’m not at my racing weight still felt like I could be blown off the hillside at any minute.

I got off my bike and crouched/waddled across the first trestle to get my center of gravity lower and to make myself more stable in case a gust of wind did come up. I made it across and then walked to the next one. It seemed narrower than the first one (if that was possible). I debated for a while about going on but I’m pretty terrified of heights and had already ridden a while, had no service, and had only loosely given someone my riding plan so if I botched walking across well end of my story. I turned around and scampered back over the first one and over the tunnel closure.

I was only about 2-3 miles from the top when I slashed my tire. I looked at my watch, only 12 miles back to the car, not a lot of traffic on this road so I worked to patch it with a left over food wrapper and a tube. Man, for dating a mechanic for 5 years, I do not have great skills when it comes to repairing bikes. I think it took me a good 5-7 minutes just to wrestle the tire off the rim and another 5-7 minutes to put the wrapper in the right spot and hold it there while putting the tube in, and another 5-7 minutes to pump the tire up because I didn’t want to use a CO2 and accidentally explode my only extra tube. After I finished that I proceeded down the trail, holding my breath as the miles ticked down until I was in a comfortable distance if it blew again and I had to run the rest of the way to the car (ya know, when there was about a mile left).

I got my tire fixed the next morning in time to catch a ride back up to the mountains with some friends who are unemployed and others who were taking sick days. The first climb was a little rough for me, it was up a ski mountain and my legs were feeling all the riding that I had done the previous days.

Cresting the top I saw the trail trace the side of the hill, I asked if that’s where we were going and suggested that I take an earlier start since the exposure might ultimately slow me down. There was really only one or two places where I questioned my line knowing that if picked poorly I could topple off the side (no pressure, right).

It was so much fun going down though, after the ridge line the trail weaves into the forest and becomes a bit more shaded and a bit more rocky. After getting to the bottom we took a fire road over to another town and up a two-track trail, occasionally stopping to debate which way the trail went. We did a fair bit of hike-a-biking; more so when one guy’s hub broke so pedaling was pointless but with him walking up the hills it was a nice excuse to not ride up as well.

We got to the top and saw the faintest line of a trail descending into the woods. We turned our bikes down and into the trees where the trail became somewhat more noticeable.

I walked down this section

What met me was the steepest trail I’ve ever descended, I had to stop at a few points to let my breaks cool down. Breaking was almost futile because it would just lock up the wheel and slide out bringing a bed of forest underneath it down with it. That’s not to say I didn’t break, I was grabbing a handful of break trying to also gingerly balance not going over the bars. My fingers were the most exhausted at the end, as on the trainer I haven’t had to do any breaking so they were in for a pretty extensive workout. The ride felt so pure in ever sense of the pursuit of biking (super cheesy) but just so fun to get out into the woods with friends and ride, eat snacks, take breaks, not worry about heart rate or power outputs (in fact my computer died 3 miles in). That’s not to say I’m done training quite the opposite but a nice reprieve from it all. It’s one of those days that you can’t even really plan for, just go with a loose ride plan, some macaroons, and some good friends and you get trail magic.

One of the many trail debates.

After the ride I headed back to South Dakota to try to pack up for the next thing (also more on that later). I also had to deal with buying a car which is not a pleasant process for having to pull the trigger on something within a 24 hour time frame of making a decision. I went to Colorado to decompress and take a break post-bar but was abruptly met with the stark reality of having to deal with life on my arrival home from it. As a result I haven’t done much of anything in terms of being able to get rides in. I had a list of places I wanted to ride in the hills but seems like that will yet again have to wait another summer.

Tenzen working so I can go play.

Trust the Process

After graduation I drove back home with my mom. It seemed with each state we crossed into my spirits lifted a bit more–I think it’s directly correlated to the lack of humidity, the unfettered sunlight, and the increased elevation. I had this professor in undergrad that I think of often. She was a corporate lawyer, making a ton of money, getting in a town car at 7am and returning home at 10 pm and she talked about how from the outside people viewed her as money-driven and power hungry but internally that wasn’t what she valued at all. She quit the law and got a PhD and is now a philosophy professor. I don’t tell you this because I’m already jumping ship and wanting to quit the law. More that when I got the end of the semester I didn’t feel like my internal values had been externally represented. It created a weird crisis of conscious; who am I, how to I define myself and how are others defying me, are they even defying me, does it matter, should it matter? I don’t know.

I ended up going home for a few days to unpack/repack/see Tenzen and just decompress.

Which do you think we got first?

I did a bit of riding but also mostly took days off, like three days in a row, and nothing happened, the world kept going, it was slightly reassuring. I had hoped to get to Gunnison, CO for a race but the logistics of it all just meant that I started studying for the bar a few days early.

This is about where I turned my ride around in SD

I moved into a place in Laramie, Wyoming to study. Pretty random spot but I had a few requirements: (1) access to a law school for studying, (2) access to trails, (3) not humid, and (4) low snake count. I initially planned on Boulder or Denver but was slightly worried I would let myself get distracted by friends who want to ride or grab dinner and then 5 nights of not studying I would be freaking out. So I looked a little further north and Wyoming is pretty perfect, it checks all the boxes and I have no friends so plenty of time to study. I should say it’s not completely random, my mom has deep roots to her alma mater and my sister just graduated from here. It’s worked out so far and I actually really like Laramie, it even snowed last week and I was still happy.

After this semester I realized my approach to studying for the bar needed to radically change from my approach to law school. It’s odd because while law school is suppose to prepare you for the bar, and it certainly does, I actually find myself drawing more on my endurance training to approach it. It’s long, 2 months of mostly 8+ hours of studying every day; it’s easy to compare yourself to others, but just like training everyone is individual in their approach and what works best for them doesn’t necessarily translate to you, it’s easy to think you’re overtraining or undertraining but never hitting that sweet spot. Mentally it seems like you’re just going for a PR; not to set a course record. Plenty of people have hit the marks you want, this isn’t uncharted territory. Occasionally you’ll think you know nothing and your whole approach is going to set you up for failure–similar to when your training for 100 miles and 3 weeks before you crack on a ride, cry near the side of a trail for 20 minutes convinced yourself you are the slowest human being ever to sign up for the race, once you pull yourself out of that hole you realize you’ve done what you’re capable of and go race your bike.

Totally how I look studying for the bar…

That’s not to say I don’t hear the quirks of my professors when reading a certain rule or subject, I do, and am slightly amazed at how much I can recall being talked about. I half joked with my dad how much more I would remember if I hadn’t stuck an extra year in for my master’s.

I’m not going to get much into the specifics of actually studying or where I’m at in case someone prepping for the bar is reading this and gets overwhelmingly stressed by my approach. I will say it’s going okay, I’m finding my rhythm and find that I actually like studying (probably why I’m thinking about a PhD). I also know that at some point I’ll cry and be convinced I’ll fail–which probably just means I’ll need a snack.

5 minute pedal from my door

Two other reasons for Laramie, it has a mid-week race series that pending studying I might jump in on; and it’s close to Colorado which means that while racing is much more selective this summer it’s close enough that it’s feasible. Last summer I felt that every weekend I was jumping into the closest race I could find, whereas this summer I find that I’m having to be much more selective. Instead of chasing points and podiums, I feel like I’m targeting ones that are filled with community.

The first of maybe only two races on the docket at the moment I did today, the Beti Bike Bash. I had a friend text me about a week ago telling me he would be there and I responded that I’d be studying and no way. I got an email telling me to register this past Wednesday and previewed my study schedule for the rest of the week, I could work ahead this day and be able to get work done before and after the race. But also realized that my mental state is so much better when I’m riding and racing, so signed up.

The race was pretty hot and the course is super fast. The past times I’ve raced I’ve ended up on the podium but have also usually been racing for at least a month or two at this point, not the first race of the season. The race started and I was able to get a good position but on the first initial climb found myself getting passed by quite a few people. So climbing legs aren’t exactly there yet. The race format is four laps of four miles each with three punchy climbs each lap. I burned a few matches on the first lap trying to keep up with people and with the heat just put myself into a hole that I could not recover from, but I kept pedaling and tried to focus on the person in front of me which only made me realize that they were slowly pulling away. I finished the race 7th out of 8th, and emailed my coach after, “normally would be super bummed by that performance but was just happy to finally be racing.”

Who knew I could look so happy getting almost last!

But like I said, not after podiums or points this year, I went to the BBB because it’s an all women’s mountain bike race and because of that unlike almost any other race I’ve done. It’s filled with this electric, supportive, community that is enthusiastic that women are racing. Plus it helps that I know the Yeti Betis who put it on and am always so appreciative to see them and catch up.

I figured it would give me the mental recharge I needed to carry me for the next month or so. I feel like it definitely did. Plus they have a drag category, which my friend Parker didn’t decide till he was volunteering at the race to do, luckily he wore my shorts better than I do–not sure if that’s what’s meant by the hashtag ‘More Girls on Bikes’ but provided endless entertainment.

Any other season I would be pretty bummed about my placing, but after Nationals I realized that this year would be mostly spent as a developmental year so feel like any race that I can get under my belt is good training. That’s certainly helped my focus and has taken some pressure off of it. I was also reminded when I was riding in Boulder just how far I’ve come. I was riding Walker and I had to do some intervals so I decided to go up the trail that I usually go down. I had only gone up it once before, six years ago-that ride was also my first time up Flagstaff and wanted to get a big ride in because my first Leadville was 3 weeks away. Sully suggested it and gave me various versions of doing it. I picked the worse one. I did Flagstaff and then went right on Walker and instead of doing it as an out and back did the whole loop. I carried my bike down the portal (stairs) and got back on the trail to do the two miles uphill. I looked at my garmin– it was something like 18 miles in 3 hours. At this point I was severely calorie deficient and I cried and I cried and I cried on the side of the trail. With this performance there was no way I would finish Leadville, I wouldn’t even make it through the first checkpoint. Luckily, I had no service and no option but to eventually pull myself out of it and start walking. I’m not even sure I got back on my bike at all on the trail. I just remember hiking up that 2-mile section and the trees rustling with my failures. Its remained in my mind the darkest section of trail in Boulder. In the six years since, I’ve never attempted to go up it. I always assumed it would take at least 30-40 minutes and there is a nice bail out option after going down where you can ride the road back around to the parking lot. That day, I finished the ride and it was 35 miles, 5+ hours and over 7,000 feet of climbing (which made me feel a little better). Fortunately I had dinner that night with other cyclists who told me it was a hard ride and 3 weeks later I finished Leadville well under the cutoff.

Recently, I wanted to ride down this trail (because it’s super fun to go down) and was a little pressed for time so the only logical thing was to do intervals up it, I had six so hopefully that would get me to the top. I got to the top in two and had to keep re-descending down to go back up again. When I finished I couldn’t believe that in the six years I had never once attempted it because it wasn’t nearly as bad as I had made it up in my mind. Why am I even writing about this, especially because those not from Boulder probably have no idea of these references. It made me realize that too often, I am comparing myself to who I was yesterday, last week, last month, last season. It made me stop and think that if I had told myself when I was crying on the side of the trail the things I would accomplish in the next six years, she would still probably be on that side of the trail out of shock. So instead of comparing myself to who I was last season, I think it’s important to remember where I started, and while often it can feel like a step back, as long as I keep moving, that’s progress.

Climbing out–this time no tears!