Last weekend I finally headed down to Colorado to take the in-person ethics course and get sworn in. When I was booking flights figured end of February would be a good time to leave Alaska (it was) and was a convenient time for my family to come because I’m convinced if they didn’t see it actually happen I’m not sure they would believe I actually did it. Either way it gave me a nice excuse to get out of the darkness and see some family and friends while getting officially sworn in (even though Alaska gave me a license a few months ago via email). The course itself was a bit dry and somewhat redundant as I had taken an ethics course in law school and a national test that proved I could at least think about being ethical. My parents and Joyce (sans Tenzen) picked me up afterwards and we went to Colorado Springs to see Mary work–which is a bit strange as she works in the Air Force Academy Athletic Department, so basically just watched a basketball game.
The next morning we headed back to Denver so I could fill out my application to register and pick up my oath. We had a bit of time to kill so went to the History of Colorado Museum. My dad got me a museum pass to the Anchorage Museum for Christmas but I think when he was looking at which to purchase he just picked the most expensive and went with it– that’s how I ended up with a family of 4 pass and access to all Smithsonian affiliated museums–so I was able to get everyone in for free and we wandered around a bit.
For the swearing-in ceremony, my mom’s friend from law school was able to arrange a good friend who is a judge to perform the ceremony– making it a bit more personal than the clerk of courts.
I imagine taking the oath is similar to reciting vows when you get married–you’re a bit nervous, excited, but mostly you’re like oh shit this is for real–quite a different feeling from getting an email.
We took some pictures, signed the oath, and that was it.
Because I had scheduled my fight for a long weekend, we headed to Boulder where I was able to get a quick run in with Sully before meeting my family again for dinner and then convincing everyone to go to The Downer for kamikaze shots (figured getting sworn in was enough to persuade my family into going down to the greatest bar in Boulder).
We didn’t stay out too late because we were heading to the mountains in the morning and had a 5 am departure (3 am Anchorage time for you folks at home). I slept most (all) of the way up and was greeted with a second cup of coffee (I chugged my first one when we pulled into their driveway) upon the arrival at our friends’ house. With the weather having been so nice and the roads mostly dry we settled for a road ride, mostly, with patches of gravel. I borrowed one of Sully’s gravel bikes and we departed.
It was so nice, I left my tights in the car and about 15 minutes into riding had to shed most of my other layers (one day I will realize that I don’t get nearly as cold as I’m convinced I will). We rode for just over 2 hours and about 40 miles. Providing a stark contrast to my last outside ride which was also just about 40 miles but over 5 hours on a fatbike. I was soaking in the sunshine and finally being outside on bikes. It wasn’t until we turned around did I realize how strong of a tailwind we had (even though we had been warned when Christa and I were apparently pushing the pace with a good tailwind…).
Lucky for me, I mostly tucked into Sully’s draft and sat on his wheel, until I feel off and then he would slow his roll and pull me back to the others. He said he didn’t mind because it was good training for him and I wasn’t going to argue.
We stayed in the mountains that night and did a short hike in the morning before packing up to beat the weather and traffic back to Boulder. We opted for running errands over working out but also both admitted our legs were a wee bit tired.
I schedule my flight for Monday evening in the hopes that it would allow time for one last activity. Because it had been snowing the day before, riding was out and no reason to ride the trainer in Colorado when I could do that in Alaska. We headed up to Sanitas for a hike/run. Most of the way up involves large steps up either stairs or rocks so power walked up followed by getting to the summit surrounded by clouds. We got our yak-traxs out for the way down and had just talked about what trail to take down when the clouds broke, creating an inversion and exposing the flatirons while Boulder remained completely hidden.
The sun was so bright but we quickly descended into tree coverage and onto a less popular trail (we theorized it’s because dogs aren’t allowed on it). We got down the trail by talking about different races, training techniques, and skimo races–joking about doing the Grand Traverse courses; bike, run, and ski from Crested Butte to Aspen. We finished having gone 5 miles and the most vertical I’ve done since South Dakota at Christmas (need to do more step-ups to prepare for the Grand Canyon).
I’m now back in Alaska, with a bit more daylight starting to creep in. This winter was a bit rough for me and I was surprised at how much the lack of sun impacted me–spontaneously crying on my way to work multiple times, check. It was certainly compounded by the cold as my penchant for merrymaking with negative temps was nowhere to be found. I keep thinking about the fatbike race–I think my only inclination to do it is, is because as Sully put it when else am I going to ride a fatbike for 100 miles in Alaska. It makes me feel like when I got recruited for intramural softball because someone thought since I was decent at riding my bike I must just be athletic in nature–very far from the case–and fatbiking is similar, being good at one cycling discipline doesn’t necessarily translate to another. But as if I did my planning quite poorly in anticipation of this race, I head to Albuquerque next week for a conference, and part of my is tempted to stay down and ride my bike in the desert instead of the snow. Stay tuned.
“What goes through your mind at that point? Like what made you decide to keep going and not just quit?” My cousin posed the question to me when I was retelling my experience at Nationals. I didn’t have a good answer for her and told her so, I wasn’t sure what exactly was going through my mind when I took off running.
It’s now been almost 3 weeks since Nationals, my cuts have scabbed over but the cough I picked up on the flight is still lingering. I feel like I’m still processing the races but that’s mostly because unlike last year I didn’t have to jump immediately from finals to racing to finalizing a PhD application. This year I just raced–I pulled the plug on PhD applications about 4 weeks ago when I couldn’t get the appetite to actually submit them. But as a result I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about my preparation, travel, and expectations that went into Nationals. With being in Alaska and the racing season so short its been in the back of my mind that it would be mostly a development year, and racing Nationals for fun and to stay somewhat relevant. For going into a race weekend with little expectations I’m left feeling a little disappointed that I didn’t expect more out of myself but like my dad said I probably learned a lot, per usual, he’s not wrong.
Let’s start with Baby Masters. I got in the day before but arrived at the venue a bit too late to to get my bike built up and on the course. Instead I opted to spin on the trainer, which meant going into the race blind. I knew from talking and studying the course map a general idea but without riding it really wasn’t sure what to expect.
The morning of the race I warmed up and made my way to the starting grid. None of my races in Alaska counted towards points for National seeding so expected to be called up last. I was pleasantly surprised that my points from last year’s nationals counted for this year so was not starting dead last and instead found myself in the second row, slotted behind a friend from Colorado. The light switched to green and we took off, I followed my friend’s wheel down the straight away and as we turned on dirt anticipated the run-up and hesitated before realizing there was still another 200 yards of pedaling before we’d have to dismount. The hesitation allowed a few women to move by and by the run-up I was in a pack, I dismounted and ran up as quickly as I could (which was not very fast).
I quickly remounted at the top and followed another wheel down a path before turning 180 and another 180 into a muddy descent. I followed a wheel down the descent but my front wheel got sucked into some mud and I tumbled off my bike. The pace was moving so quickly that I hadn’t even registered what had happened until I was back mounting my bike on the downhill and hoping not to crash again.
The course went around to the first pits and up and over a fly-over before hitting the second run-up. I dismounted and ran up (really more power-hiked). I got to the top and re-mounted and followed the false flat into a few switch backs before descending down, looping through some trees and getting sent down a muddy shoot back into the flats and by Pit 2. Then it was into the sand pit, which I bobbled and had to get off after 4-5 pedal strokes but I didn’t get off quickly, it was like let me unclip, straddle the top-tube, and then pull my leg over, really one of my worst dismounts of the year. I dashed through the sand and then re-mounted to try and stick on the two wheels in front of me. The last section of the course looped back through the woods before hitting the straight away.
After the first lap the field had spread out a bit and I was sitting in with two other ladies as we started the second lap. Having then previewed the course I knew what lines I wanted to take and I took them, no longer having the traffic of the first lap. I was able to stay upright on the descent and at Pit 2, Sully called out he thought I was in 10th. 9th remained in my sights and I tightened up my lines, getting off before the sand pit to run it.
Lap 3 the gap remained the same between myself and the women ahead of me. My bike was making a bit of a noise, and I thought of switching it out, really for no other reason than there was a noise and I had a bike so why not. I waited until Pit 2 and then signaled. I hadn’t done a bike switch since last year and came in hot. I was so nervous for the bike toss and at the last minute another racer’s mechanic popped into the field so I threw my bike to him and got the hand off from Sully. For not doing it in a year it went very smooth. I hopped on the bike, since it was Sully’s the fit was a bit different and the shifting was also a different mechanism. It took me a while to realize that I had two chainrings in the front and shifted down to the easier one. The saddle was a little lower than I was used to (even though I had ridden it around and adjusted it). On the last lap, I switched the bike out in Pit 1 and switched back for my bike. At this point the woman in front of me had put in a little more time, and I was trying to reel her back in before I ran out of course. I chased her up the second run-up and around the top section of the course, before dropping back into the flat section, by the pits, through the sand, and the woods. I ran out of course and was 8 seconds behind her.
I ended up 11th, which I kept referring to being the most talented non-finalist, which no one in cyclocross seemed to get since they don’t have pageant backgrounds.
I was a little bummed to miss the top-10 but mostly because it just sounds nicer. I made some mistakes on the first lap that I just couldn’t recover from but showed me that the fitness was still there.
I then did the Mechanic’s mile which if you know, you know. It’s kind of like a beer mile except the length of the course and four beers, and mud, and mostly dudes. I crashed in almost the exact same spot riding but this one drew a bit more blood.
Friday, Barb and I did some sight-seeing. I’ve always kind of thought about living in the PNW, especially because Seattle tends to be a hub for a lot of non-profit health organizations as well as health law scholarship. But Friday confirmed that I’m not cut out for the broody, dreary landscape that sweeps the area. Clearly many people seem to love it, or at least tolerate it because there are a lot of people living there.
I also planned on racing singlespeed because I have a singlespeed bike, it’s a very nice bike. It’s actually what I started cross racing on. Sully built it up for me and took me to my first cross race in 2014, I think I walked/ran most of that race but it hooked me to say the least. I figured out in September that I had shipped it to Colorado and not my parents house last May. I had talked to Sully about getting it to Nationals but we also talked about rigging my geared bike into a singlespeed so I wouldn’t have to ship a second bike and then pack it up after. That seemed easy and less logistically complicated, done.
Sully rigged it up and set me up with 42 x 18 gearing and told me to ride it around to see how it felt. I did a quick spin in the parking lot and the gearing felt good. Sully asked if I wanted to try it on course, I said nah, I knew the course, he said to double check the gearing and I said nah, because I’ll either be running or mashing and was pretty familiar with the course at that point. I think he was trying to nicely say to test out the equipment better but in my mind I was good to go.
I talked to Sully about pit logistics. Because I didn’t have a “B” bike he wouldn’t be switching anything out and realistically thought my only potential issue was with a front flat so joked about just having a spare wheel with him. Even without any equipment and my potential for a mechanical very low he still decided to go stand in the pits. I had a pretty good starting spot, and when the light changed I was I was grateful for a larger gear because of the straightaway. I weaved through some bikes and narrowly avoided a crash that happened to the side of me. It reminded me of when I run over a snake and impulsively pedal faster to avoid the danger.
I turned on to the dirt and looked in front of me, immediately recognizing Meredith Miller (former SS National Champion and former World’s team rider – very fast lady on a CX bike) as the woman in front of me, oh shoot, I might have started a wee bit too fast but no sense of letting off now. I attacked the run up, navigating up the right side, I was motivated from my good start and hungry for a top-10, if for no other reason than it sounds nice. I went down the descent and again found myself behind Meredith, okay stay on her wheel.
I was approaching the pits, rode by Sully and turned a 180 to start the back half of the course. I went through a mud puddle and stomped on the pedals, only to find my momentum dwindle. I was loosing speed but still pedaling, I quickly realized I had lost tension in my chain. I looked down to realize the chain was off the back cog. I hopped off and struggled to get it back on, giving it a quick pedal turnover to check it, popped it back off again. Time was standing still as each woman rode by, with each frenetic moment of struggle, another woman would pass by me, making it feel like the seconds took forever but a minute was lost quickly.
I should take a moment here to explain the pits, the pits allow you to receive help from your mechanic at two spots during the course, even changing out bikes. The only problem is once you pass the pit you can’t go backwards, only forwards (insert some cheesy metaphor about life). 20-yards earlier I could have been in the pits to get help, I called out to Sully what had happened, he said something about the barrel adjuster, which I fumbled to turn having no idea if it was the right away. Because we had zip tied the shifter (so I wouldn’t accidentally shift it off) I could not shift it back into realignment. If you’re struggling to follow what happened, my chain popped off the one cog I had, that was in perfect alignment and got out of alignment and I couldn’t get it back in alignment. I looked at Sully, “it’s not working!” I looked down the course, and back towards the pit. I didn’t even think before I took off running, in my mind I just needed to get to the other side of the pit to get it fixed. I ran with my bike next to me, and shouldered it up the run-up. At the top, people yelled at me to get back on, but joke was on them since that wasn’t an option.
I kept alternating between running and fast walking. I got to the top of the switch backs and a woman handed me a shot of whiskey, she was like you’re going slow enough to grab it, and she wasn’t wrong. I was able to get back on and coast down into the switchbacks where I lost all momentum and hopped back off to take about 20 steps and hope back on for the steeper descent. I rode the momentum as far as I could before getting off and running towards the pits. I rounded the corner and put my hand up to denote to Sully I would be coming in, in case it wasn’t obvious.
I ran in and didn’t even have to tell him what had happened before he had cut the zip tie did some mechanic magic to have it back on the cog. I jumped back on and pedaled away, the bike was still cranky so I was gingerly pedaling, not wanting to pop it off again, even getting off halfway up the flyover so I didn’t mash too hard.
This went on again for the last half of the lap, being able to make it through the straight away and up to the first run-up, back down and by pit 1, and towards the second run-up when it popped off again. Since I was so close to the run-up figured I would keep going and deal with it at the top. At the top I fumbled and couldn’t get it back on, running through all the shifting which I’m sure only made it worse, so started running again. I got to the top of the switch backs and the lady again handed me another shot telling me my race was right there in that cup and she was there for my off day. I took it and hopped back on to cruise down, this time staying on the bike and kicking with my left leg to get enough momentum to carry me down the second steep downhill.
Once I ran out of that momentum, I hopped back off and ran again into the pit, Sully fixed it again and got me back out there. I didn’t trust it enough to full let go and got off for the fly-overs, and even some mud puddles just to be sure. I was able to pedal the entirely off the final lap, but still resisted going full gas, I have a bad habit of ripping derailleur a off in prime conditions and figured this was one of those times. I finished on the third lap, the leaders did 4, I was 8 seconds off beating someone but just like top-10 sounds nice, dead fucking last sounds better than 42nd so I guess careful what you wish for. I limped out of the finish area, more so with a bruised ego than anything else and met Sully and Barb.
I was glad to have Barb there just to take some focus off my emotions and just lay out the facts of what happened. She remained upbeat and positive that I had even finished with as much running as I did and some of it transferred to me. I thanked Sully for being in the pits and at least keeping me going, allowing me to keep fighting as painful as it was. It’s the hardest I’ve ever had to work for last place. I cried the next morning packing up my bike, which Sully was like crying while packing a bike is never about packing the bike. It took me a while to write this because I’m still wading through my emotions of it. Not racing for 2 months prior to Nationals left me coming in with a lot of doubt about my ability, which only nasty things stem from a place of doubt. I think it’s hard because that first half a lap of singlespeed showed me that I can compete beyond just showing up to show up. This logic is also following the premise that I would have had a clean, smooth race if I hadn’t broken my bike and stayed at the top, which in of itself is a lot of pressure to put on that thinking. It’s certainly left me hungry for more. I have some lofty goals for 2020 and not sure where Cyclocross will fit into the mix but I’m sure it will, although Nationals are in Chicago next January so might be taking a sabbatical on that race.
I’ve been stuck with writing this post because my drafts never seemed to get where I wanted them to. Which is funny because I’m writing them but feel like a post about death and darkness would make my mother send another care package. It took me a while to get here, just like the darkness that has seeped into Anchorage, but now that it’s here, I’m fully embracing it.
When I started my work I really had no idea what it would look like day-to-day. I didn’t really think about the fact that being based in a hospital means that a lot of the legal needs that are being provided are in anticipation of dying or after someone is dead. As a result, at times there are awkward moments as I fumble to find some form of comfort to provide. It’s like my wanting to be a mortician as a child has finally come to a head, no dead bodies but surrounded by death, careful what you wish for, I guess… and yes, I was a very odd child (but like think of the job security). It’s also odd because had I ended up the route of a mortician I feel like that schooling would have prepared me better to meet people on their worst days. Law school taught me how to read cases, cite statutes, and think on my feet, but also made everything feel so formal and starchy. Rarely were we thinking about the people in the cases, the tears that poured in law offices, the shaky voices as they told their story, and the anxiety that came with the unknown. It boiled down to spotting the issue and not the people.
I spend a lot of time during my days thinking about death and mortality and how fragile it all really is and how at any moment life can completely change. Which is annoying because in a lot of ways I feel like I’m finally understanding my mother after all those years (yes, mom, you were right). When I was a kid and even most recently I get a little miffed at having to celebrate my birthday. I would much rather disappear to the woods to ride my bike or even not acknowledge that the day was any different. But I have grown up with my mother pulling me out of my comfort zone by constantly reminding me that we need to celebrate the good when we can. And there is still a lot of good to be had.
I’ve had trepidation about the impending darkness, ever since I took this position, both figuratively and literally. Because that’s one thing law school did prep us for: depression, addiction, failed relationships, and despair in many forms. And it’s hard to distinguish if the zeal I feel towards life right now is because everything in Alaska is a fresh beginning that my outside life of finding new adventures provides a stark contrast to the ones that end in the hospital. But have found that embracing the darkness has made me enjoy it, giving a fresh perspective on trails, adventures, and life.
The trails have been riding well and my gusto for getting outside is unmatched for my usual November ride attitude. Instead of getting on the trainer most days, the last few weeks have been spent outside, after work, embracing the darkness. Which also meant realizing that I need to actively charge and check the status of my lights, twice relying on (responsible) friends to light the way.
One night I was actually grateful that my light had died and couldn’t see the moose standing next to the trail until I was already past it, unfortunately that meant I couldn’t see my friend had slammed on her brakes and ran into the bushes to avoid another moose on the trail. I quickly followed suit and after realizing the moose wasn’t interested in us, cautiously grabbed our bikes, heading back into the dead thicket to circumnavigate around the trail.
The novelty of the darkness hasn’t warn off on me yet, I’m sure it will at some point. Last week I was doing a trail run on a trail I hadn’t been and was submerged into darkness quicker than I anticipated because of the tree coverage but had an adequate headlight to at least stay on the trail. Half way through the run, the tree coverage gave way to a meadow that opened up to the sky. I slowed to a walk and with the glow of the stars and the sliver of the moon basked in the shadows of the mountains and the quiet stillness the dark exhales. Don’t worry if I think really hard about everything that could go wrong or happen in the dark, I still definitely get scared but also find some odd comfort that maybe I won’t see whatever might attack me coming and be at peace when I die, super morbid, yes.
The nice thing is that all these things in the dark and the chaotic quests to pack as much in aren’t individual pursuits, and I think that’s the tough part about moving here and thinking about leaving. The community that’s embraced me seems to be similar to the one I had in Colorado, where people live here to be able to get outside and it’s been really cool and really humbling (especially coming from Indiana) to get to be a part of that.
This past weekend the weather and timing lined up, with temps in the mid-40s, the trails beckoned to be ridden. I headed down to Seward with some friends on Saturday to ride a new trail for me.
The trail was amazing and the conditions were unreal, I kept apologizing for my level of enthusiasm to be outside and riding but they both seemed to share similar sentiments.
Sunday I stayed in Anchorage, riding the local mountain bike trails with a bigger group. Most of the trails were really good and tacky but did end up on one that was muddy (no trails got harmed) and cold enough when we ended that the frozen mud on my seat kept freezing my butt to the saddle, which made it slightly awkward trying to get out of the saddle to pedal and have my shorts stay, fortunately I don’t think anyone got a free show. It did require a stop at the car wash on the way home.
Monday I was lucky to have the day off with two friends that were also able to take the day to go back down to Seward. We planned on tacking a few trails together to get 30 miles, and to get as much daylight in as possible had an early departure time. We started up the trail and one of the first steeper climbs, ran into a mechanical when a downshift broke a spoke and threw the chain off the cassette. Fortunately we were close enough to the car to go back there and deal with the mechanical. We spent a good 15 minutes wrestling to untwist the valve core from the wheel and finally realized we were getting nowhere so loaded the wheel up in search of the first welcoming looking house (and yes, we had a guy with us, check your stereotypes -haha). We must have been putting out good energy vibes because the first house we stopped at let us in and conveniently had their toolbox in their living room with the pick of pliers in it.
We got the valve core out, took the broken spoke out, put a Canadian dollar in to patch the hole, put a tube in, and started off again. Again the trail, like the on one Saturday did not disappoint, the trail weaved in and out of old growth forest and provided the added challenge of wet roots to navigate.
After being in the forest we were exposed to the ridge line where it felt like riding in the high alpine of Colorado so was slightly disappointed we were only 2,300 feet above sea level.
We started descending the same trail that I rode on Saturday and tucking down off the ridge to eat lunch. The other two had stuffed grocery stores burritos which dwarfed my paltry decision of an apple and peanut butter.
As we sat there, with mountains encapsulating every vantage point, my mind wandered to Yale. At the time of my rejection, I was devastated, I mean I even cried, but quickly realized how many rejections and failures put me on that mountaintop and how in that moment I was incredibly grateful for everyone of them. I told my friends that too but prefaced it with “the next thing I’m going to say is going to be really cheesy”.
We put another layer on and took off on the descent, a blanket of cold had settled into my fingers and I was worried about how they would fare but seemed like the lower we went the warmer it got so was able to maintain braking power no problem. We got to the bottom, removed a few layers and rode the highway the 15 miles back to the car, cutting out a section of trail in favor of daylight. I got done and jokingly said, might just go in tomorrow and extend my contract.
As I write this, freezing rain has settled in. I’ve decided to race cross nationals so feel okay having to potentially get on the trainer for the next few weeks. If anything grad school prepared me to deal with it was trainer life. I did splurge and buy a pair of skis so ready to embrace winter whenever it decides to arrive. Still unsure on the whole fat biking thing, but more on that later.
Also, welcome to post-yoga K8 writings. Going on 7 years of practice and I can’t touch my toes but get a pretty good zen going and can savansana with the best of them.
Moose Count: 21 (saw 7 on one ride)
Bear Count: 0 –slightly more concerned now because on average bears are hibernating 11 days later because of the changing weather patterns, which means if I see one it’s going to be so full or very hungry and well we all know what I’m like when I get hangry so imagine a bear.
After the bar when I decided to commit to racing cross, I realized I would be racing my way into shape. Even as I said that I had no idea what that would look like. I feel like in years past I’ve rolled into cross without top end speed, but enough base fitness that I never really thought about the fitness progression throughout the season. While studying for the bar I maintained some level of fitness but riding my bike 4 hours a week is a vastly different approach to the season from 15-20 hours/week in previous summers. But like most things in life, there are cycles of yin and yang and knowing this summer would be a reduction, I approached cross with mostly a development perspective. Spend this season working on skills and technique and then keep developing to build for next season when I move back south.
I thought the last race would be in the Arctic Series, and I think my body was ready for it to be but realized there was one race left down in Soldotna that was being broadcast as the State Championship. With the snow about to set in I decided to race it, or at least plan that I was going to race it and if the weather looked terrible pull the plug.
I was able to catch a ride down which is good because I still can’t get to work without the GPS (yes, mom and dad making friends). Because of this when we got there we all pre-rode the course together. Which was nice because I was able to see how different lines worked and talk through options. One corner I took tight and had to get off and one of the guys had taken a different line and told me during the race to hit it wide like I’m about to ride into the berm and I’ll be fine. There was also a lot of sand on the course and was pretty convinced that since I had just written about how sand was a strength of mine, it would prove not to be.
When we lined up it went elite men, elite women and then another group of men behind us. One of the other girls from Anchorage and I kind of looked around and then slotted into spots right behind the guys. The course started on ski trails with a slight uphill, kind of like the last race. The gun went off and I took off up the hill, I got to the top and finally put my head up to see that some of the really fast men were right in front of me, “Oh shoot” realizing I had maybe started a little too hot, “this is not where I want to be” but no other option than to keep going.
The first obstacle were barriers which seemed slightly higher and farther apart than normal. I had even put embro-cream on my hip-flexers so my legs would be loose enough to step that high. I ran over them and hopped back on, only to realize that the sand on the course made it impossible to simply clip back in. I knocked my shoes on my pedals, while still trying to pedal/not crash and break my face. I followed three wheels into an “S” shape and up a hill, followed by another “S” shape in full on sand which I bobbled and had to scoot around, loosing precious seconds. Just in case my heart rate hadn’t spiked high enough at this point, my breaks squealed down a short hill before turning up into the long, sustained climb. Because of the pre-ride I took the right side line, which held long enough for me to stall out at the top before dropping down an equally sustained descent.
The course took us through a blueberry patch, which was rideable to some but much faster for me to run it. Because the course doubled back on itself I was able to get a glance of the woman in second place who wasn’t far behind. I ran to the top, re-mounted and struggled to get my cleats clipped in, again. The second half of the course had more sections of punchy power singletrack sections and stretches of recovery which I tried to take full advantage of. The final feature of the lap was a death spiral, which has you ride in a circle in and then follow the same line back out. It might be my least favorite feature on a course, ever, because if enough people are riding around me, I get very motion sickness. The first lap had a few people going in and out at the same time I was, I tried to focus on the guy in front of me as a stable point to prevent my eyes from darting to the other riders, it mostly worked. As I was turning to go back out the woman behind me was just entering, ah shoot, she’s close.
I circled around to the start and began it all again. Up the hill, over the barriers, try to get clipped in, through the S, un-clip for the sand, struggle to get back in, up the sustained hill, back out for the blueberry patch, glance at 2nd place, try to clip back in, up the punchy singletrack and back down around to the death spiral, glance at 2nd place again, through the finish line area.
At the start of the third lap I finally looked at my garmin, yikes, my heart rate was excessively high, even for a cross race. Holy, moly, me, oh my it was at least 3 if not 4 more laps of this. I was unsure with my hot start if I’d be able to hold on but figured there was only one way to find out.
I’m unsure if it’s because I looked at my garmin, the realization of the length of the race, or because I only had 4 honeystingers instead of 6 but this lap I entered a pretty dark place, like the place I enter when I’m 85 miles into a 100 mile race and gone. Except I’ve never had this feeling in a cross race, it was like my processing slowed down and I was delayed taking anything in and only just reacting. Boy, was I sloppy out there and it was stupid things too, like taking a line over a rock instead of just to the side of it, or deciding I could ride up the blueberry patch and making it about two pedal strokes before my bike hit something and I lurched forward into the stem, immediately having to get off and run up. I got to the top and realized that if I didn’t pull it together I was probably going to crash myself out.
I tried to focus on what I knew how to do, keep pedaling and stick to the basics. I went through the start/finish area again, “3 laps to go!” someone yelled. Oh shoot, this is going to hurt. I vastly underestimated this course and the time length.
I kept coaching myself, “smooth is fast” and reminding myself that I was on the downhill portion.
I tried to keep my focus on each feature and not make stupid mistakes, getting off the bike when I needed to and not trying to ride through the blueberry patch. My panic breathing had also set in, which I think was maybe at play with the cold but between my breathing being out of sync and my snot sitting at the back of my throat it was enough that I dry heaved, got a little bit of mucus out, opened up my airways and breathed into the pain cave.
With two to go through the finish area, I asked if it was the bell lap but they just looked at me. With the doubling back on the course I was still able to gauge how far behind me second place was; she was still close that if I made a mistake she could have easily capitalized on it. I somehow pulled myself out of my bonk. I kept reminding myself that it’s not easy for anyone, which I’ve found to be oddly comforting, probably because misery loves company.
Right before the finish area for the final lap, the men’s leader lapped me. As he went through, I got my bell lap and he was done. Oh wowzer, just one more lap to try and hold on. It was a bit rough but at that point at least my tunnel vision had gone away. I tried not to look behind me to see if second place was gaining ground and focus on what I could do, which was not take sloppy lines. I’m pretty sure anyone I passed at that point thought I was dying, as my breath wheezed in and out.
I crossed the finish line for the last time, with the momentum carrying me up the hill I pulled off to the side and got off my bike and laid down on the side of the trail. Now, in high school there was this kid from our rival high school that every time he ran the 1600m, he would collapse at the finish line, and most of the time we were like “oh he’s so dramatic.” I like to think of this getting off and lying down as a savasana, trying to let my body take it all in, or at least that’s what I tell myself so it doesn’t seem dramatic AF.
I was lying there when the race director came up to me, “Ah, good race! But you did one extra lap.” I sat up, “Por que? Um…what?”Apparently there was confusion when the lead man was finishing and with my bell lap because they weren’t sure how far he was going to get on the course so gave me the bell lap but then tried to yell at me to stop. It clearly didn’t work. It was mostly funny, especially because I had convinced myself on the last lap I was going to get caught, but it turns out there was no one behind me because they all finished on the correct lap. Okay, so maybe I never fully pulled out of my bonk.
I hung out in my chamois probably a bit too long post-awards sitting near the fire pit. They ended up with some extra gift certificates and were nice enough that they gave me one for doing an extra lap, unfortunately it was to the brewery we went to after the race but I didn’t realize that so instead bought $26 worth of sweet potato fries with my own money— so here’s hoping one day I get some common sense skills and not just a book brain.
In other non-cycling related Alaska updates, I have studded tires on my car now, except South Dakota seems to be getting far more snow than I am at this point. I’ve found that drivers like to start in one lane and change 2-3 lanes in one go, sometimes even just a full on left turn starting from the right lane and crossing three lanes of traffic. The community continues to amaze me with how friendly people are, Costco still terrifies me with the sheer amount of quantities things are available in– do I need 50 gushers in one box, seems like I do. And every time I look up at the mountains a part of me whispers, “how am I going to leave this place”
But then I get a picture of Tenzen and remember that little nugget hates traveling more than 8 hours.
I’ve never done a full cyclocross series to recognize my strengths and weaknesses. In years past, I’ve ad hoc races together mostly depending on (1) Sully’s schedule, (2) no mountain bike races, (3) my study schedule. So there was really no rhyme or reason for picking these races. So I’ve never really thought about course design plus my abilities. When I decided to race nationals in Louisville last year it was based on the course the year before but in my mind I was just like, oh that course was really fun I want to race it again, and it’s only 5 hours away so why not.
I prerode the last race in the series and was cautiously optimistic because it seemed like it was going to be a fun course. It was mostly on trails with a long sand pit staked out in a sand dune that went up one side and down the other. I went to the start and took off all the layers I thought I was going to be riding in, tights, wool socks, two buffs, a baselayer and decided to race in what I’ve been wearing all season erring on the side of getting cold.
The race started and I started fast again, because of the course design I knew there was about 600 yards until we reached the single track which was technical enough that I figured the further to the front I was the better. I got the hole shot and kept pushing, there was a short hill that as I punched up it, expected the group of women to blow by me, I got to the top and realized I was still in the lead so figured I would at least have one lead lap on the technical section before the sand pit.
There were two small mounds which during preride I made a mental note of which lines to take on each, which came in super handy during the race when I realized I remembered the note but not which lines. The first one was rollable at the top which gave me a boost of speed for the second one. There were two people near the second mound and I called ahead to give them a warning since they were abnormally close to the trail, because of this I took a line to the left, and with enough speed, launched myself off the top, into the air and over, I somehow stayed upright on the bike-in that brief moment of landing with a thud I thanked Sully for designing a bike that has better skills than me. I navigated through the roots and shoots in the trail that ran along a fence line. I shifted down in anticipation of the sand and powered through as much as I could (which wasn’t far) before dismounting and running the rest of the way up.
Halfway up the sand I heard the cheers change for those behind me, realizing they were hot on my heels. I crested the top and hopped back on my bike using gravity to pull me down the sand and loosely holding onto the bike to gingerly guide it around a tree. The exit out of the sand was more perilous than during the preride, with additional speed and the leaves covering any lines it was mostly a guessing game on where to ride down, again the bike landed like a champ with a thud and I was in fight mode.
The back half of the course was small punchy climbs and more singletrack. The course seemed to pull me along and up the climbs. There were a few spots were it doubled back and I could see the group was not far behind. I looped around to the start and went over the barriers and onto the start of lap 2. I tried to settle into a rhythm without getting complacent. I often think of Molly yelling at me to not slack off –like she did in high school during the 800m because the curve between the 400m and 600m I would always falter on.
I ended up being able to hold on to my lead for the duration of the race–and realized I must just really like sand since both courses I won on had sand in them. As a result of that placing, I ended up 2nd overall for the series. Which is kind of funny (and I’m terrible at math so still not convinced it checks out) because this whole season I feel like I’ve been less concerned with results and have become the person I would roll my eyes at, where I’m like, I’m not fast and then win and get 2nd overall, yeah I’m the worst. Don’t worry my parents continue to humble me, when I called to tell them I won my dad asked I won a participation medal and my mom asked if there was any prize money to pay bills-lolz. I won’t bore you with too many more race details, mainly because of the lack of pictures but was really happy with my tire set up once again and the overall course design.
I was able to get out and ride Sunday and Monday after the race. It’s a weird feeling here because unlike South Dakota which just gets blanketed in snow in early October the snow is slowly creeping down from the mountains here. I look up and they’re covered in snow and I realize there is only a matter of time before I’m blanketed it in as well.
Sunday was just a long ride with a friend on some trails I hadn’t ridden before which were just steep enough that my legs felt more interested in walking than turning out power.
Monday I met a friend at the same local trails I’ve been riding but we rode by some cut up logs and I was like oh yeah, four moose were camped out here last week with the wood (I did not see them only heard from friends). We rode around and I mistakenly put my dropper post down in the cold and couldn’t get it to come back up so was mostly out of the saddle pedaling for the ride. I was fidgeting with the lever to see if it could come back up when my riding partner slowed down a bit and I caught up to him just in time to see us going by two bull moose on the side of the trail. We got out of the section and continued on without incident but I exclaimed, “oh my gosh, they were so close, I didn’t even see them!” Which is my fault for not paying attention, he said that he slowed down thinking it was better to have us both rolling through at once. We rode a little bit further and turned a blind corner to go up a small hill, I was still fumbling with my dropper when I heard the rustling of shrubbery and movement coming down the trail, it was a cow moose that was running down where we had hoped to go. We both stalled and it parted ways soon enough she wasn’t charging in any way but it was a little too close for comfort. I was more concerned that a bull would be following her but we were able to get out of the area before we saw another one. The rest of the ride everything seemed to shape-shift into a moose, including a short man in a black jacket.
The final cross race is tomorrow, it’s not in the series but the Alaska State Championship. It’s about 2 hours away which means I’m finally leaving Anchorage and seeing more of this state. Then slowly starting to make plans for winter.
“Kate, how are you still alive?” While this question has been posed many times, in this context it was by my best friend who also happens to be an optometrist. It was the first time she had examined my eyes and apparently realized that I had absolutely zero depth perception. Molly seemed somewhat relieved by this information like “oh it’s just because of your eyes that you fall or crash a lot and not something serious.” Since then (2012) and really grad school I’ve made a habit of wearing my glasses but still struggle with contacts. I really hate eyes and having to try and touch mine to put the one lens on, well seems to be too much for this girl to handle. So that’s all to say that I wear my glasses for most everything except outdoor activities, which is really just how you want it.
Because of this, I usually preride the courses I can because I’ve been known to bust through the course tape only to then realize I was not going the right direction.
I did a preride lap on the course last weekend before beginning my warm-up. The course was long and strung out with limited course tape and mostly pink flags highlighting the direction of travel.
I slotted into the start line, unsure of how my legs were going to respond, they felt tired which means one of two things, they’ll never wake up and I’ll struggle to the finish or they won’t realize what hit them and I’ll have a great race. I took off from the start, fast (is there any other way at this point) and hammered through the grass. We went up a steady hill and down a steeper pitch only to turn around and head right back up, except the line was too steep so I had to get off and run up. I was still leading when we went down the other side of a hill, into a tunnel to the other side of the park, up a short embankment and down onto a leafy, slick trail which briefly put you back on a path to send you back through another tunnel with enough speed to hit the back section.
Unfortunately I was still leading so when we emerged from the tunnel it seemed there were two choices: left or straight. There were pink flags and I stared hard trying to decipher which way to go but a decision was rapidly approaching. I hesitated a moment and then veered straight, immediately overtaken by the pack going left. I slammed the brakes and rerouted going up. I killed any momentum I had to carry me into the hill, I shifted down and scampered up the hill doing my best to catch up and hang on to the lead group.
It was mostly futile, after that steep hill there was only a brief moment of reprieve before having to surge up another hill. The three women started to surge ahead with a long downhill pulling them just out of my reach.
The next section presented a “S” that slunk around and out before putting me over the barriers. I did preride the barriers twice during the warm-up, and by preride I mean ran over them, still not interested in breaking my face and decreasing my market value (you’re welcome, mom). They were positioned slightly on a slope so if I got off on my normal side dismount then when I was remounting my bike was positioned higher than I was used to and felt clunky getting back on, so during preride I decided to dirty dismount, that way I would be on the higher side and then jumping back on my bike would be a little less terrifying. It wasn’t as smooth getting off, or going over and it seemed like a bit of a wash so after doing that for two laps switched back to the regular side for the last four.
The last section of the course had two sections that threw me each time when I was approaching them with which way to go, one area saw me running over a flag each time and the other area had a traffic cone that marked where the trail carved into the hillside in front of all the spectators.
I squinted real hard on this section because it was in front of everyone–not exactly how I want to be remembered in the cross scene here. The climb up was slightly off-camber and followed the fence line down to the field before going through the start finish area. It was a bit precarious as there were three lines that fed into the singular line at the top and found myself alternating the lines depending on the traffic. But being mindful not to do full pedal strokes and slam my pedal into the ground and throw my balance off.
At the end of the first lap the group was just far enough ahead of me that I still had the illusion I could catch maybe one of them, that was quickly quashed as the race went on. The course rendered itself to a lot of pedaling, which might be a weird statement to say but, is not my strong suit. I’m still totally fine with being a one-hit-wonder and back to my main position. I also don’t think that my missing the course made any real difference in my position, the women here remain fast and put in significant time over the course of the race. But did I spend this week trying to get a contact in, yes, did it work, no.
In other non-race news, I finally did a mountain bike ride by myself. I had ridden with a friend for a bit but she had to leave to catch a flight and I figured I would keep going. With notice of four moose on the trail (I avoided that section) I could hear my high school basketball coach yelling at me, “Keep you’re head on a swivel, Ginsbach, see that girl, she went by you because you didn’t see her.” I felt like my pace was much slower than when with a group because with others there is a sense that someone else will see what you don’t. But either way I survived and didn’t even see any animals. I did run into one moose when I was running with some friends in my neighborhood (why I should just not run) and cautiously trespassed through a yard to avoid it.
Last race of the series is tomorrow and then awards on Sunday, hoping to pick up the Lantern Rouge! There is one more race the next weekend about 2 hours away which depending on the weather might happen…
They say motivation comes from a place of hope and not of despair. This is useful information to be reminded of when dealing with human rights, the environment, and bike racing.
The first two cyclocross races were very similar, hot start, fast fade, hang on for last (can you hang on at that point). But after the second race I was really embracing it–like hey I’ll be the one who bridges the gap between the pro and the intermediate so those in the intermediate will see I’m not that much faster and maybe consider moving up. I’ve also never been in a consistent race scene. Sure, in years past there were consistent people that I would occasionally race again– but not the same handful of people each weekend. Last year every start line brought new competition and new questions of strengths and weaknesses. I messaged my coach after the second race, “somewhat liberating getting last, feel like I can try different techniques and approaches since the pressure is off.” And it’s true what’s the worst that happens if I go super hard on a lap and blow up, get last, oh okay (I literally can’t imagine me having this mindset last year so props to my therapist haha). It also released some stress around training, like when you get a call to ride but it’s your day off, might as well ride because if my legs are tired and I get last, oh well.
I went into the third race with the same mindset, start hot and see what happens. The course had equal parts grass and equal parts dirt. From past experience I knew the grass would not be my strong suit. Not to bog you with details but I started fast and then quickly got passed. When I got passed I didn’t feel like I was shooting backwards, so after the next two passed me I caught their wheels and bounced on and off for the first lap. I managed to stay on one wheel for most of the second lap before getting lurched over the handlebars going through a bog style mud-pit and having to dismount and run through. I caught back to a wheel and then crashed on some roots, lucky that my leg took the brunt of the force and not my face (you’re welcome mom). At that point I lost her wheel and was riding by myself for most of the next lap. I eventually got overtaken by the last two women, but was able to hang on their wheels for a good lap before having them pull away in the grass again. During the race I kept asking, “can I give more” or “is my body tired, no”. I finished last but was pleasantly surprised with my racing, I didn’t just start fast and then immediately fade. There were some things I did good and some things I could work on (like changing my tires so I don’t crash four times (2x in the bog, 2x on the roots).
This past weekend was the only weekend that lends itself to a double headed, so another race on Sunday. I went to bed pretty tired and decided I would see how I felt in the morning, or mostly if it was raining or not. I do like racing back to back, I always feel stronger the second day but wasn’t convinced that would be the case this time. The expected rain got pushed back so figured why not–I did change my tires and wash my bike so might as well get it dirty again.
I did a warm-up lap: two logs on a hill, hit the pavement, loop around and into the sand pit, turn 180, back through the sand pit, across a field and down to dash up a steep hill, down into the woods, which had two punchy climbs, sharp right and down back into the field, run over two barriers, around the goal post, and into a steep, slow hill, down around to the finish. On the practice lap I did crash on the last hill when I stalled out and couldn’t unclip in time, so that’s how today is going to go. I did a bit more of a warm up and then headed to the line.
I started but the others started faster and followed two onto the course that funneled us up over the two logs on the hill, I was able to ride over them (always a concern) but took a wide line at the top. I chased the two women down and stuck onto their wheels.
I was sucking air following them into the sandpit when one went right, one went left, halfway in the middle opened up and I surged through, I hooked a hard turn and back through the sandpit, I powered through and got to the other side, putting mere seconds between us. Oh shit, what do I do now? I circled around to the steep run up and took the far line to get a better exit. I hopped back on and headed down into the woods and with a 180 turn I was able to see that they weren’t far behind me. I kept pedaling, “smooth is fast” because the next section was a damp dirt path littered with rocks.
At that moment I was very happy that I changed my tires, they gripped the ground and gave me the confidence to lean harder into the corners and not worry about washing out. I came out of the woods and down over the barriers, I hit the other side of the grass, knowing I would loose time here so just tried to maintain what I had before hitting the hill. I pedaled up the hill to the point where I fell on the pre-lap and then got off and dashed up the remaining 10 feet to the top. One of the guys at the top was yelling, “what the hill, Kate” or maybe he was saying what the hell. At that point I felt that, what the hell. I took the descent as a time to recover and regroup. Okay, you’re still in the lead, but these women are strong and will in all likelihood catch you, so I figured I would try to ride as hard as I could until I exploded or they caught me and then limp home and get last. Yeah, let’s see what we got. I rode over the two logs but then near the top, hopped off and took the inside line to maybe save some time. I hopped back on and headed towards the sand pit. I rode through both sections and as I was exiting one woman was entering. I kept pushing knowing there would be sections to recover on.
Each time I hit the woods I was reminded of how grateful I was that I switched the tires (can you tell I love these new tires). I kept trying to push knowing that the grass section would slow me down. I hopped over the barriers, still half tempted to try riding them each time, still half tempted to not break my face, so I kept running them. I got through the finish area and settled into the lap, knowing where my strengths were and where I just had to mitigate my weaknesses. Each sand pit, I felt like I was able to gain a little more time, I kept saying, “big legs, little arms” to let my bike go where it wanted to without fighting it and keeping the power on.
I was able to mostly maintain the pace that I had, although when it was two laps to go I did ask if we could do the bell lap instead, but the lap counter said no. I finished and was able to maintain my position for first and I think for a few reasons, (1) the tires, (2) my legs were fresher since I didn’t go as hard the day before, (3) the really fast woman who usually dominates the field raced with the men, and (4) the day before I got just enough confidence in that race to remember that my legs are sometimes capable of going fast.
While I’m sad to have broken my streak, I’m more than happy to embrace the one-hit-wonder role now. I will say though that not winning or finishing high the first few races allowed me to realize that I just really like racing. Often I figured that I just liked winning and doing well and wondered if that stopped if I would still enjoy racing and it turns out I do, maybe more, is that weird? Probably.
Otherwise, Alaska still remains amazing, the cyclocross (also cycling) community is really unlike anywhere else, they do a pot-luck during the races so feel like there is more a community feel to it. As a result I feel like I’ve met a lot of people which is great and the only bummer is that trying to remember all the names really shows off my brain injury (kidding, mom…kinda).
Work is good, I wrote to a professor saying that it’s not what I expected but I’m also unsure of what I was expecting, so actually really enjoying it. I feel like I’m finally in the trenches and can swap war stories with my family.
I did really show my non-Alaska roots the other day when I went on a bike ride that finished on a hill above Anchorage with views for days, no seriously. As I was looking around I saw a massive mountain in the distance and asked what the name of it was, the guy just kind of stared at me, I was like “oh, do you not know either, that’s okay.” Still with a befuddled look on his face, he was like “oh you really don’t know,” and I was like, “should I?” Apparently it was Denali, and you can see it from Anchorage. I imagine that’s how Sarah Palin felt when she realized she could see Russia from her house.
Moose Count: 5 (two on the trail this week plus one in the hospital parking lot)
I thought a lot about racing after the bar. Mainly how much I missed it (there just aren’t a lot of other ways to get your heart race insanely high while tasting metal in your mouth). It was the first summer in 6 years that I haven’t done a long endurance race. I contemplated not racing and just hitting pause, but realized that I’m still having fun when I race, want to keep seeing what new limits my body can get to, and generally like the sense of community that racing gives me.
When looking at the position in Anchorage I found they have a small cross series so figured I would at least have something to do. The series runs until mid-October and then Nationals are in Tacoma, Washington. I’ve loosely thought about Nationals but won’t decide till end of October if I want to keep training for that or just start my first ski season early.
I also thought that cross racing would help me to find a community, as has been in the case in most other places I’ve been, because finding friends when you’re old is not the easiest. I’ve actually found Anchorage to be surprisingly friendly and open to newcomers. It definitely helps that my roommates like to be outside and have plenty of friends who do as well. So wasn’t heading to the race to make friends (ha, kidding!).
The first race happened the weekend I went bikepacking, I was still waiting on my cross bike to get delivered (note to future self shipping is 7-10 business days- haha). I spent the week before the race getting back into training, and actually doing intervals for the first time since before the bar, it was a bit rough.
I wasn’t sure how big the field would be, because they race the women all together (don’t worry they also race all the men together). It turned out to be nice because there were about 25 women who showed up to the start line. The last time I was in a field that big was singlespeed nationals and before that I’m not sure. They called us to the starting line and did a pre-race meeting. The line-up was loose, no call ups, and it seemed like people slotted in wherever. I saw an open spot on the front row so took one of the ends. Nobody else seemed to want it and feel like I go back and forth with my confidence in my ability a lot (especially in a new place where I have no idea how my fitness lines up) but decided to be brave. During the meeting the guy asked if anyone was new to this, I raised my hand but then realized later he probably meant new to the sport and not the series. And then laughed at the thought of lining up in the front row to my first cyclocross race, ever. I’m sure they were even more mystified if they thought it was my first race when the gun took off because so did I. I got the hole shot and then led down the straightaway onto the grassy “S”s where you go down, do almost a 180 and climb back up about three times.
I led through that section and then into the next section which was a steep run up (okay, Anchorage cyclocross–I see you).
I got to the top took a quick breath and then hopped back on my bike. I went a little wide on the next corner because it was a bit off camber and that’s when someone made their move. She took me on the inside and the pass was so smooth, if I had any time to be flabbergasted I would have been. Then I was in the chase and she was moving quickly. As she pulled away another woman went around me before the course dipped into the woods. I followed them in with another one hot on my wheels –only one way to go when you start at the front.
The woods had a few perilous moments with options like go off the trail or go into this bush and a sharp right uphill that made me do a dirty dismount (getting off on the wrong side of the bike but feel like the name sounds like something public schools would try not to teach you in sex ed #sorrymom) run up and hop back on. It was around here the the woman behind me asked to pass when there was a spot but at that moment there was no give on the trail. It hugged the hill side and dropped off on the other side. There was one punchy little uphill that opened up enough that she made her move and I let her go. At the top we got on pavement and looped back around towards the start but not before running two barriers. No, I cannot #bunnyhopthepatriarchy yet but working on it. I went through the finish area…8 minutes per lap so that’s five laps plus one so six laps, there I decided to settle into my pace because it was going to be a long race.
That’s exactly what I did, I decided I might not catch the women in the lead but I could work to not have anyone else catch me as well. I tried to focus on little things to work on, like a better dirty dismount (but it never happened) and to stay strong even at the end. I held on to my spot but also felt like the woman behind me was getting a tiny bit closer each lap. It wasn’t bad for not having raced since last December. I did get last in my category, the 3 women that beat me took 1-2-3 but because we all raced together did not feel like I got last when I was out there–besides if you’re not first you’re last so…
In the few days leading up to the race I did get outside and ride, still haven’t ventured on a trail here by myself but like I’ve said the community is pretty great so that helps. I did run into two moose on one ride, one required us turning around and the other required quite the off trail deviation that I might consider riding in pants next time. Still no bears.
Moose Count: 2
Bear Count: 0
All race photos were courtesy of Dan Bailey who took so many great photos! You can check out the whole album here
“Oh, going on an adventure?” The REI cashier asked me as I handed him my bear spray. “Yeah, it’s called moving here.” I responded.
When I was in the process of moving I thought about bears and moose encounters but they seemed so far away (literally, more than 3,000 miles), but upon arriving here, I quickly realized that it’s real life and I’m playing the game for keeps. The first few days in Anchorage I didn’t really venture out, I mostly moved my things in and spent time in the garage painting furniture where my chance encounter with a bear was relatively low.
I also realized that I can’t stay in the garage this entire year smelling paint fumes. I saw a flier for a bikepacking course, including an overnight trip by Alaska Bike Adventure. Perfect, baptism by fire in bear country. I figured it would serve two purposes I would likely meet cool people who like to ride far on their bikes and it would introduce me to bikepacking in a way that was structured and comfortable to figure out if it’s something I’d want to further pursue (like when I sell my car and ride my bike home). I always felt like it was similar to alpine touring where it’s something I was interested in but not enough to want to spend money on it first to find out.
I’ve loosely thought about bikepacking. After I did White Rim, Sully got me some bags for Christmas, a seat bag and a top tube bag– apparently when you get off the trail at 1:30am with minimum headlights it warrants the discussion of setting up camp or to keep going. I’ve used the top tube bag for a few races but never the seatbag, because that would mean I’d have to camp. It’s not that I’m adverse to camping, I don’t really mind it but have never slept in a tent by myself, I don’t even own one. If I’m with someone else I’ll sleep in their tent or if I’m by myself I’ll sleep in my car, this is usually a safety thing and it’s definitely limiting in terms of how far you can explore without having to turn back for single day solo-trips.
The bikepacking course was modeled after a NOLS course, we had 4 hours of instruction and then a 24 hour trip. I showed up for the first course and found out I was the only one who signed up– 2 guides for 1 Kate is a great ratio. We chatted for a bit at the start and they talked about the races and tours that they’ve done and I immediately recognized that I was going to be in very good hands. The first course we went over gear for the bike, looking at the design and application. From the function and weight of the gear it was apparent that the gear for the bike was racer/rider designed. We talked about what gear of my own to bring. They humored me by answering my most remedial questions from lycra vs. baggies to all things bears (like how close to the tent to pee is too close?).
The next course was me pulling out my bin full of gear and asking about this versus that option but at the end felt confident with my gear choices. The morning of I packed up my camelbak with my snacks, gloves, book, and light rain jacket and put my riding gear in the car. I met them at the trail head about an hour north of Anchorage. Being in the parking lot assuaged my fears a bit as kids were pouring out of cars–surely parents would not be sacrificing all of them to bears so figured the risk must be pretty low. We loaded up our bikes and split some more group gear and took off.
The trail was mostly flat but I appreciated that when getting used to the gear being on my bike. I found that the front end actually felt more stable with the loaded weight. We rode about 10 miles out. We pulled off to a campsite and then rode through some trees to arrive at a gravel bar that was on the opposite end of the lake from where we started.
We scoured for a position to place our tents that would offer some shield from the wind and then they explained the bear triangle to me. Basically you position your cooking station and your food storage at the bottom end of the triangle with the tents as the third prong, all dependent on wind position. We unloaded our gear and set our tents up –I tried to played it cool, like I knew what I was actually doing when I in fact had no real idea because Sully usually set the tent up, but they even helped me with that.
We took our bikes and explored the trail a bit more until it dead ended at a public cabin that you can reserve (remembering that for later). Then we turned around and headed back to the campsite to cook dinner. First they showed me how to filter water (beyond just dumping iodine tablets in) and we got 10 liters of fresh glacial stream. Then we made tacos for dinner and chatted for a while because it had started raining and it seemed like 7pm was maybe a little too early to go to bed. Like I said they have a well of knowledge when it comes to long distance riding and racing, so we talked about everything from the race scene in Alaska to training to other races and routes to explore. They were maybe the perfect people to spend my first weekend in Alaska with.
We finally headed off to bed but tied our food up first. I stayed up and read for a bit, mostly to distract me from any thoughts about what my body would look like if I got mauled (do not google images that). The rain and wind had settled in which also provided enough of a white noise to cover any noises I might have been startled by. After the sun set, I soon realized I had to pee but I didn’t want to have to get up and go pee just in case there was a bear (plus it was raining). I spent time convincing myself I did not have to pee until I fell asleep for a bit but then woke up to the realization I still had to pee. I still wasn’t sure how close was too close to pee to the tent but didn’t want to go far so I came up with a plan; I would pee right next to the tent but then dump my extra water on top just to help neutralize the odor quicker. I moved quickly, kept my head down, and my bear spray close. I then dump all my water out but lost my pillow because I had been using my water bladder as a headrest– but worth it if I didn’t end up with a grizzly sitting on my body, right? After that I finally fell into a deep sleep.
The next morning we cooked an egg and hash brown scramble, and drank copious amounts of coffee while taking in the morning fog rolling out of the mountain valley.
We packed up our gear, I was grateful that the wind had pushed the rainstorm through in the night so I didn’t have to have most of the gear end up soggy in the stuff sacks. We headed back on the same trail but I swear it was more amazing heading back.
The mesmerism of the landscape tugged at me and on that trail I realized how easy it is for people to stay here [the tables might turn come December and no daylight].
We got to the end and unloaded our packs to divvy things up. I returned the bags but keep a new found sense of ‘hey, I just might be able to do this’. It wasn’t nearly as daunting as I had envisioned and like the idea of exploring multi-day routes. Still need to figure out the whole potentially sleeping outside by myself thing but baby steps. Through talking with the guides I’ve found that the community in Anchorage of endurance athletes runs deep, I gather it’s from the magnetism of the landscape that draws people to want to explore but with limited access (limited roads, trails) they pursue activities that give them that ability. I even left contemplating returning to Colorado next year to take on the Colorado Trail Race and see what I’m really made of beyond a single day event.
I told the guides that if any of my friends who ride come and visit I would probably just have them guide us on a trip like this (so now you’ll know what we’ll be doing when you visit and you can pack accordingly).
We also didn’t see any bears on the trip, which is good and bad. It feels like the early spring days when you start to venture outside and at some point you know you’re finally going to run into the first snake of the season. It’d be nice to just get it over with running into a bear or moose on the trail and being like see I survived, I can do this…unless I didn’t survive… which would a real bummer. I think I struggle with the wildlife because in our ever increasing controlled and manicured lives, they serve as a blunt reminder of how unpredictable and uncontrollable mother nature is. There are definitely things that I can control (like bear spray, proper food storage, bear bells) but in the end it can come down to simply bad timing. But then I remind myself that I’m much more likely to be attacked by some guy up here than any wildlife (Alaska is the #1 state for violence against women, South Dakota is #2). So maybe I’ll just carry bear spray on me at all times…
Some of it is just giving myself time to get comfortable in this space, I keep reminding myself I’ve learned to live with running into rattlesnakes, buffalo, mountain lions, getting caught in lightning storms, and reminding myself that it’s okay to be afraid and do it anyways.
I do start work this week so that will in all likelihood limit my penchant for merrymaking. My cyclocross bike did just arrive though so planning on racing this weekend (race my way into shape, heyo!).
If you’re interested in checking out the gear I used it was from Revelate Designs. I would definitely recommend if you’re in the market for bike gear. If you want to visit Alaska and plan your own bike adventure I can’t speak highly enough of Grande and Dusty at Alaska Bike Adventures!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.