I find the darkness disorienting, or maybe that’s still the head cold I picked up from CX Nats. It wasn’t until I went home for Christmas and returned to Alaska that I realized just how dark it is. The mornings prove especially difficult when waking up any time between 6 am and 9 am casts the same amount of darkness. It seems like everyone’s day sleepily unfolds, including mine. Normal weekend activities that used to begin at 8 am are now leisurely attempted at 10 am because there is only a fraction of light so why rush. My sunlamp helps and most morning I sit in front of it for longer than is recommended before peeling myself away and getting cast back into the darkness for my drive to work. While my natural tendency is to fight disorder and chaos realizing the importance of just sitting and acknowledging these times of off-periods is just as important before taking the next step (you can thank my therapist for that one).
Some of my leisurely attempts at life these days can be attributed to my lack of structured training. After Nationals, I decided to take a minimum of 1 month off the bike, to give myself a mental break and physically recover from what seemed like the longest race season of my life. Mainly because of the bar exam but seemed like I started training last March to really only start racing in September. And while I feel like I have a high penchant for trainer rides, I’m still not quite ready to get back on. I know, I know, but what about a fat bike you ask? I’m not ready for that either, mostly because it’s been (what I’m told is) abnormally cold for Anchorage with temperatures in the negative. If I don’t have to get outside right now, then don’t have the motivation to bundle up for minus 10 and look like Randy from a Christmas Story. The first few times the temperature dipped it felt colder than was reported. In South Dakota I’ve experienced -35 but finally figured out because the lack of sunlight here there isn’t any additional radiation of warmth happening.
Since I haven’t been riding my bike and obviously not blogging what have I been doing with my time? Well, after CX Nats I took the first week completely off, mostly to try and kick my head cold but also to just give my body time to recover. I flew home the next week and embarked on my first physical activity which was just a short run around my parent’s house- leaving the house at 5:30 pm I was thrust into darkness but had at least been able to enjoy the sun for most of the day.
Molly, Wayne, and I hiked Black Elk on Monday, almost convincing Mary Clair to come with us but she bailed at the last minute– but at least Molly and I finally had someone to take photos of us.
Coming down from the summit we were along the ridge line when the sun seemed especially bright and I started singing “sunshine on my shoulder makes me happy.”
The next day I headed back up Black Elk with my dad, I wasn’t planning on it but wanted to see if I could get to the top in less than 50 minutes and the weather for the rest of the week meant that Tuesday was my only window. I was able to get to the top in 47 minutes and back down for a round trip of 1:27, leaving me 4 minutes off of the women’s (unofficial) fastest known time–I didn’t even think to check the times before I left and thought of going back up to see if I could take the 4 minutes off but set myself back with my cold that day. I took almost another week off from any exercise because of my cold, but was still able to spend plenty of time with family and friends.
The trip back from South Dakota was a bit rough, having to drive down to Denver (thanks again, Barb!) and then fly back to Anchorage meant it was about 27 hours of travel time, which is about the same amount of time it takes to get to Viet Nam. Getting submerged into the dark, coldness has meant that I’ve been exploring more things inside, like swimming, bouldering, and a workshop on reduction poetry hosted by the museum.
Reduction poetry (or Blackout Poetry) is created by redacting words from already published work; it’s constraining and freeing because the words are there but requires you to be open to the possibility of what could be while also shifting your expectations as you go. Much like life you learn to let go of the expected outcome, go with the flow and almost count on getting interpreted by some guy asking where the bathroom is when you are on the cusp of a perfect sentence only to loose it and spend the next five minutes trying to recreate it. And no, I don’t know where the bathroom is–which I showcased later by accidentally walking into the men’s….
Reduction poetry is also a rabbit hole to go down, it’s most pronounced form is censorship with the works taking a political stance. But where does the line between editing and censorship for individuals exist? I thought it was a somewhat appropriate space to explore as I had just re-submitted a publication after suggested edits from the editors resulted in 580 revisions. And wondered how much of my voice or narrative got lost in the hopes of having my name in print.
So now it’s been a month since Nationals, my mandatory period off the bike is over but still not inspired to get on a fat bike yet. Yes, I know I have that 100 mile race coming up in March but not looking or planning on being in peak shape for it mostly because my race season goals for next year are mostly focused for August-December so would rather not supernova this season where I burn super bright at the start and then explode for the rest of it. Plus, feel like as long as I do a few plate pushes and get on the bike 4-6 weeks out that’ll be enough, or it won’t.
I have been spending some time in the gym because (1) I don’t want to add too much winter weight, gotta keep my market value up; and (2) “exercise causes endorphins, endorphins makes you happy, and happy people don’t kill their husbands”. So until that sun comes out will be taking more than the recommended daily dose of Vitamin D and keeping my endorphins elevated.
“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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
My first year in Boulder, I lived in a house with mostly engineers–and if you want an idea of what that experiences was like I suggest watching The Big Bang Theory–I’ll give you a hint, I was Penny.
While many hilarious antidotes came out of this living situation, so did some learning moments like the Fermi Paradox, Schrodinger’s Cat, and most importantly when throwing stars come out it’s really best to go to bed.
I think mostly about Schrodinger’s Cat at the moment (and quick recap for those at home: it’s this theory that if you place a cat and something that could kill the cat in a box and sealed it, you would not know if the cat was dead or alive until you opened the box, so that until the box was opened, the cat was both “dead and alive”– or you can watch it here–just like Wayne explained it to me). I think about it because I’m still waiting to hear back from anything and all those decisions are in this box where in theory I have something lined up for next year and also don’t have anything lined up for next year (and I’m sure I botched that analogy- but you get the point).
February was mostly this state of anxiety because one of the applications said they send out responses in Feb/March so most of February was spent refreshing my email. At the end of the month my professor told me to relax that it probably wouldn’t show up till after spring break (that would have been helpful a month ago).
It was so much that I thought about pulling the plug on the Birkie to just sit at home and wallow in my state of being, while also constantly refreshing my email. Instead, my roommate kindly pointed out that I like to exercise for long periods of time, there was a group of us going and all staying in a cabin, and she made me homemade granola for trail snacks. She made excellent points and so we set out on an 8-hour car trip to Haywood, Wisconsin.
There were six of us staying at the cabin, with 2 doing the Korte (the 18 mile version); 2 doing the Birkie (the 31 mile race); and 2 along to crew and provide support (really the hardest job). It was nice because the 2 doing the Korte raced on Friday so we were able to go through the production of getting to the start line. Which involves parking in one lot and getting bused to the start line. We saw them off at the start and took the bus back to our car to drive back into Haywood to see them at the finish line in approximately 2-4 hours. I had some work that needed finished so headed to the public library (seriously, public libraries are soooo amazing!). I got back to the finish line just in time and when I greeted Ann at the end she said, “I wouldn’t want to have to ski another 12 miles- ha!”. Gulp.
The two of us racing the Birkie did packet-pickup where I bought another pair of gloves, convinced that the two pairs I had brought would not be optimal (I tell ya, you get caught in a blizzard during one mountain bike race without adequate gloves and it’ll leave a mark). Afterwards, we both picked their brains on a little more course information and race tactics but still slightly unnerved about what was going to happen. It felt different than any other long distance race I had done because my longest ski at this point (pretty inadequate snow conditions) was about 10 miles. And some of it was worrying about how to dress, balancing higher nutritional needs, and generally having no idea how my body would preform after 10 miles. After a few outfit changes and packing different clothes entirely for the start I okay about starting.
The morning was smooth getting there, the other guy doing it had a start time 15 minutes before me so I was knew if I just followed his plan I would be there on time. Megan and Jeff came to the start which was nice so they could grab our things and I could wait until the last minute to take my jacket off. They have staging gates (which really reminded me of a cattle branding) they herd you into one and then when one wave goes off release you to the next holding area until you get to the start. I jumped in right before they got to the start when you run for position and have to start in a track. If this makes no sense to you, I assure you it made even less sense to me at the start of the race. Because I had never done this race I started in the very last wave and while I had a good starting position before the gun went off by the time I crossed the start line (less than 30 seconds later) I was in second to last place. I looked around and everyone had left, there was one guy to the side of me who was literally leap frogging in his skis to gain position and boy did he. I blame him because I was so memorized by this form that I just stood there shell shocked and then realized I needed to go.
Right from the start the course went uphill, it reminded me of baby turtles making their way back to the water from the sand, everyone’s skis were splayed out and we all neatly formed four lines. The first few miles were pretty uneventful. Around mile 4 we were stopped at the top of a hill where someone had crashed and needed a medic (they were able to get up but the people were apprehensive to go down until everyone was on the side). I looked at my watch…oh wow, it’s been an hour. Now, I’m not good at math but knew I had 8 hours to finish and in my mind that didn’t really calculate to enough time to do so. I turned to a guy next to me who had a bib indicating he had done it multiple times, “how strict is the cut-off, will they pull us at the aid station?” He told me not to worry as long as I didn’t take 20-30 minutes at each aid station. I thought that seemed do-able but also have found myself laying on cardboard slabs at aid stations for well over an hour so really it was anyone’s guess.
I made it through the first 10 miles feeling okay. As soon I passed the 10-mile mark it was like my body realized this was the furthest it had ever skied and started to hurt. I made sure to keep eating as best I could but also knew I was behind on nutrition. I found the whole carrying a ski-pole, having to take off gloves and unpack some food, made me less wanting to invest in eating.
I saw Jeff and Megan around mile 15 and stopped for a bit to chat and eat some more food. It was maybe the last time I felt good on the course and was entering a somewhat delirious stage. I went downhill (not a pun, there weren’t a lot of downhills)pretty fast after that and entered a pretty dark place for the next 11 miles. It was totally food related, the course was a bit crowded now with the two styles (classic and skate) merging onto one, but in my mind people were working together to keep me boxed in (yeah they definitely weren’t). One guy kept sprinting by and then halfway up an uphill would just stop to rest and turn his skis to take up a good chunk of the course. In my moment of wanting to ski over his skis to show him how inconvenient of a place it was to stop, I instead opted to eat some granola which helped.
The one thing I noticed is that when biking long distances, I definitely get tired and enter similar mindsets but my body knows what to do. It has ridden enough to keep turning the pedals over (like the MDH when all I wanted to do was sleep, my legs at least knew what to do). With skiing, there was no familiarity in the muscle memory, so each movement required conscious thought to keep propelling myself forward.
I had been leap-frogging with Judy from TDA most of the day and was also nice when I saw her on course, we both joked how we were ready to start biking after this with it being both our first Birkie. In the last few miles she pulled ahead of me and figured I would see her after the race was done. In the last four miles, I caught my second, really my first wind. I felt like I was able to somehow get into a groove, the snow was less slushy and more crunchy/icy, which was similar to what I was used to skiing in South Bend. I even got my sense of humor back, when one spectator said we were looking good another participant yelled, “you are definitely lying there is no way we look good.” I poked back, “speak for yourself”. The last two miles contain a lake crossing (1 miles) and then a passage through town over a bridge and down main street. The lake route was groomed and I felt like I could really move–and I did, I put in my fastest mile of the day going over the lake around 7:30.
I came into town and up the bridge, I was a little concerned about going down because of how many people would see you crash but was able to navigate it successfully. I came up the main street and saw Judy stopped right before the finish line, I caught up to her as she picked up her glove. Woooohooo! We made it and skated across the line together.
Ann greeted me with warm clothes and boots- the other part of the group was with Aaron who had finished only minutes before me. We then went to the beer tent, and Megan bought me a sausage to get some real food and because I had no cash. We all talked about various aspects of the day and then went back to the cabin to cook dinner and decompress.
Megan was right, it was a fun weekend, despite having to ski for 6 hours, it was nice to get out of South Bend and hangout in the woods for a few days. I took a few days off without too much soreness only in my shoulders, before I started biking again.
While I’m still waiting to hear back on applications, March seems to be so busy with deadlines that I’ve mostly stopped constantly refreshing my email and focusing more on what I have to get done. I won a free entry into the TommyKnocker 10 in Silver City, New Mexico this weekend. I changed my flights to reroute through Phoenix for break, but earlier this week realized that I just didn’t have the mental energy to race for 10 hours. So I pulled back and decided to stay in Phoenix for the Cactus Cup, which has a short-track, 40 miler, and enduro. I’m currently signed up for all three but still waiting for my bike to show up so might just end up doing the 40-miler. I definitely was not planning on starting my season this year, but also realize that when I’m studying for the bar I’ll do little to no racing so might as well even if I’m not in racing shape (12 days on the bike won’t do too much for fitness levels).
I’ve also been hitting up therapy again, because as my friend Gen pointed out on her blog, exercise is a great tool, but not really a substitute for actual therapy. Also realizing that anxiety and excitement mask themselves in the exact same physical symptoms, so now just tricking myself to be excited at the endless opportunities that are available instead of anxious about none of them being available.
The morning of the Maah Daah Hey 100 I surprised myself with how well everything came together. The chaos getting to North Dakota (shipping a bike from CO after I had left– thanks again, Chris! Driving from Indiana to North Dakota, somehow only forgetting my headlight, which Barb was able to save me with an extra one!) settled and I felt ready, excited, and nervous. One of my friends put me in touch with the 3x time winner, Kelly–thanks again, Amy! I was able to pick his brain about the trail, mechanicals, and even what time zone it started in. He was very generous with his accrued knowledge. He gave me a heads up about the third section, to mentally prepare for 30 miles and not 25. He also talked about what an amazing race it was and how I would probably surprise myself. He gave me enough confidence that I felt excited but not so much so that I still wasn’t nervous about what I was about to embark on. My plan was to go as hard as I could for first 50 miles and then go from there…I mean I had 18 hours to get there so what’s the worst that could happen?
I pulled into the campground with my parents and started going through my routine.
I noticed that my front tire was a little squishy and figured I had a slow leak somewhere but it would hold for at least 18 hours, this logic was based on nothing other than optimism. I chatted with a few other riders which also helped to take the edge off. The staging area is self-selected depending on how fast you think you’ll be. I saw the first girl a few rows back from Kelly and slotted myself behind her. She turned around and said, “if you’ve won your age-group at Leadville you should definitely be in front of me…sorry I stalked everyone online.” I laughed and told her I had no idea how this was going to go so was going to stick to my spot.
The race started quickly, I moved up to get a good position for the climb as I didn’t want to have to maneuver around too many people. I missed the lead group but managed to get in a pack of 4. I knew from talking to others that the first climb was about 3 miles and 800 feet up. I stuck on the back of the group until about half way up I realized I could get around them and put more distance in between me and the others.
I got to the top and it released into–maybe the only flat section of the day. It was also the only two-track of the day and I saw that my front wheel looked a little low. Hmmm, it’s probably fine but just in case took my phone out (also probably the only place I got service) and texted my dad, “bring my pump to aid station”. I rolled through the first check point at mile 10 and shouted, “does anyone have a floor pump” and drew blank stares. One woman said she did but at her car down the hill, I passed, it wasn’t that low, and turned the corner. I shouted it once again and a lady grabbed one from the back of her car. I popped it on, 20 psi…hmmm I definitely had at least 24 in it this morning, pumping it up. Just make it to mile 25 and get more air.
At mile 14 I heard a noise I couldn’t place right away but my subconscious recognized it as it sent chills down my spine. I immediately searched for the culprit and saw it right in front of me, my front tire was shooting sealant out (bet you thought I ran into a snake). Nooooooo! I hopped off and spun my front wheel like I was on the Price is Right trying to get a dollar. Please catch, please catch, please catch as I kept spinning. It did and fell silent again. Ohhfta that was close. I hopped back on and started to catch the guys who passed me.
My brain quickly went through scenarios of what I should do. This happened to me once before at my very first 50 miler, I got a puncture, got it to seal and rode it for the next 27 miles to get 2nd. The next day when the tire was holding air Sully told me, “you did the right thing, ride it until you have to put a tube in.” Okay I told myself, ride it until you have to put a tube in it and then go from there. But here’s the thing, under no circumstances did I want to have to put a tube in. Given the terrain I figured if I did put a tube in it would puncture again and would need to be replaced at least 1 if not 2 more times. Less than ideal.
I constantly fluctuated from trying to ride gingerly, including holding my breath at moments of peril when I thought it would go again to might as well go hard while I can. It blew again around mile 18 and I pulled off to the side and spun it again, and again, and again. And then in a genius ‘past Kate’ moment I realized that I had my hand pump with me (I didn’t want to use a CO2 in case I needed it for a tube). I pumped more air into the tire and spun it again. It was at this stopping point that a woman passed me. I mentally took note and finished as quickly as I could to keep her in sight.
I wasn’t sure my strategy now, I wanted to try to stay close enough that I could be within striking distance if something happened but also with 80 miles left in the race had no idea how it would play out. We traded positions once again and came into the first aid station together. I found my parents and a volunteer filled my camelbak while my parents restocked me with maple syrups, peanut butter, and bananas. I checked my tire again and put chain lube on.
The tire was still sitting around 25 psi. I saw the woman lead out of the aid station and the volunteer was still fumbling trying to figure out how to close my bladder. I took a breath as this wasn’t going to make or break any position. Number one rule I have when racing: Don’t be an asshole to the volunteers, no seriously, they are amazing. I told him to screw it on and then jokingly asked, “is this your first rodeo?” He said yes, I told him he was doing great and he would have plenty more to practice with during the day. I headed out knowing I would meet my parents at the next aid station mile 50.
For the first few miles out of aid one I was able to keep the woman in my sights. I really tried to not let the mechanical get in my head. I reminded myself that it’s still a long race and that anything can happen, and that I’ve benefited from other’s misfortunes before- it’s part of racing. I prayed to anyone or anything that would listen asking them to hold the seal on the tire and get me to aid 50.
At the start of the race one woman was talking how her husband (who was racing) showed her a video of Devil’s Pass and she couldn’t even watch it because of the heights and exposure. My mom was like, do you know where that is? I responded, no, I don’t even know what that is while laughing. I found it on this section.
There was a sign followed by a cattle gate and it pretty much turned into a narrow ridge that has dropoffs on either side. I hit the ridge line and starting singing very loudly, not even coherent words, just a automatic response to the build up of fear in my body. Luckily, no one was around as my voice leaves much to be desired. I got to the other side and was greeted again by a cattle gate. I stopped and figured I might as well take a picture but just as I did my tire burst.
I did the same thing as before, spin, spin, spin, air, spin, spin, spin. It seemed to do the trick.
A few miles later and close to the 50 mile aid station I was greeted with the Little Missouri River crossing. I hoisted my bike and shouldered it across. The passage had smooth rock on the bottom and the water hit just below my knees offering a brief reprieve from the heat that had began to coat the land. The aid station was a short climb away and on the climb up my tire blew again. Noooo, seriously?!? I got it to catch again and rode into the aid station asking if there was a mechanic there. I put more air in and got it to catch, and then not catch, and then catch, and then not catch, and had a volunteer spinning it while another lubed the chain and I debated putting a tube in. My parents were rockstars and switched out my bottles gave me maple syrups, peanut butter, bananas, and potatoes.
I left the aid station but didn’t feel super confident so asked my parents to meet me at the next check point, Mile 57. As I was about to turn onto the trail another rider said, “great riding” I didn’t hear him but saw that his wife had a Santa Cruz bike on her car, “Is that a Tallboy with non-boost wheels?!?” Homegirl was dessssssperate. They both looked at me and then I explained what was happening and thought maybe she would switch wheels with me (ha!). It was a 27.5″ wheel so no luck but then her husband who is racing goes, “do you want some more sealant”? “Oh my gosh you have some, that would be amazing”. Here’s the thing, I knew if it blew again at some point I would be out of sealant and would have no choice but to put a tube in. His wife pulls out this tool box with a valve-core remover, a syringe for the sealant, and then it dawns on me…Ohhhh this is what people have if they don’t have extra wheels or a mechanic on course, huh…I’ll have to remember this. They were quick and efficient putting a full shot of sealant into my tire and pumping it up to 30psi (I told them to just in case it blew again I would have extra air in there). I thanked them profusely and offered beers at the finish line (and #42 if you’re reading this please send me your address so I can send you all the beers!). I took off with more confidence in my tire. It did blow one or two more times but it was more when the sealant monster would fall off and pull what was cauterized with it before it could reseal. There was enough sealant in there that I didn’t have to get off my bike at all.
I checked in with my parents at Mile 57. It was still at 30 so the small blows weren’t really anything. I got another potato and said I would see them at Mile 80. Kelly’s info really helped me prepare for this section and I was grateful. There were two more checkpoints after that. The first one I stopped at and there were so many women there that I said, “this is the most women I have seen all day.” They were all part of this team that were either crewing or racing, they gave watermelon and filled up my camelbak at both checkpoints. I was feeling really good going into aid 3. I met my parents, grabbed more syrup, another potato, and a fresh bottle. I told my mom, “Uh, I think I’m going to ride back to town now” she looked at me, “you’re quitting?” “Oh, no I’m just going to ride this last segment.” So maybe I wasn’t feeling that fresh and the heat was starting to get to me.
Soon after leaving Aid 3 my stomach started to resist anything and everything. I was able to force down another maple syrup to try to get some energy but was having none of my drink mix. I kept trying to force water down. I went by the first check point and the workers asked if I needed water and I literally just stared at them because I couldn’t comprehend what that meant. I kept pedaling and forcing down the water.
The last 15 miles were the hardest miles I have ever done in my life. I was so tired, I could barely keep my eyes open and even tried to closed them twice for extended periods, “I’m just resting my eyes” really only works when you’re lying on the couch. I convinced myself that was a really good way to get another brain injury. I also debated taking a nap, I had 6 hours till the cut-off so I could take a little nap but then what if the lady in 3rd is close to me and I’m napping. Then I thought maybe I would just lie on the side of the trail that way whoever the next rider was would wake me because they would think I was injured or dead, also not a great plan. Finally, I convinced myself that getting through the last few miles would be the quickest way to take the longest nap. I settled on that reasoning and kept pedaling. I topped my bottle off with fresh ice water at the last check point.
I made it to the final 5 miles that I had pre-ridden the day before. Now I should mention the cattlegates, they are spring loaded so you lift from one side, it fans up, you go under, and it releases back down. Now I have been doing one pull-up so you can gauge my strength. There are probably 12-17 on the course. There were maybe 3 in the last 8 miles, which let me tell you were a struggle. I wondered at some point if I would just have to wait for someone to show up to open it. At the beginning of the race I would hop off, bend over, lift it up, wheel my bike under, release, and hop back on. Well, by the last few miles I would hop off, squat down, load my legs, use all my strength to thrust it over my head, hold it up, wobble underneath, while praying I didn’t release it onto the back tire, and after a moment of sheer panic thinking my bike would get smashed, get back on and ride away.
After getting through the last cattleguard I was somewhat relieved that I just had to pedal home now. I got back on and started down the first little descent when I suddenly saw the first snake of the day. At mile 103, I just stopped and went, “excuse me sir, I’d like to pass, would you be so kind to get off the trail.” Yeah, I was fully delirious at this point because I definitely did my best Mary Poppins impression. I wasn’t even scared I had no energy for any kind of emotion, it was like all my adrenaline was gone, there was no flight or fight response. But he obliged and slithered off the trail. “Thank you!” And I continued on my way.
I hit the last section being the only pavement of the day and went under the finish banner. I immediately pulled off to the side, got off my bike, and laid down. I laid there for a while, taking everything in, like when you do savasana in yoga to absorb all the good juju. I laid there as everyone talked around me swapping stories of the day with me interjecting when I could muster. I remember thinking this is what it is all about. I finally got up and talked to the woman who beat me. She was an incredibly strong rider, having done the whole thing on flat pedals which convinced me that even without my mechanicals she would have beat me.
Am I going to do it again? Ohhhh you betcha! I’m honestly a little sad that I spent so many years doing Leadville because this race and community is so amazing. Every rider that passed me when I was dealing with my mechanicals offered to help, every volunteer was so great on course, my parents also put in a long day and even drove my car through a river to get to an aid station.
I for the life of me can’t figure out why this race isn’t sold out every year. The terrain is incredible, it reminded me of the Grand Canyon, where there is just so much life and levels of vegetation–definitely not what I was expecting spending time in the South Dakota Badlands. And it’s 99% singletrack. Next summer I’ll be studying for the bar so was thinking of doing it as a team with 50 miles each (yes, you read that as an open invitation), and hoping the next year to possibly go after the women’s course record. My time was 12:45 and I had 44 minutes of stop time, for a comparison at Leadville I usually have 8 minutes of stop time.
Here’s the thing, I’ve never had a race crack the ‘Top 5 Experiences on My Bike’ list but this one definitely did.
“That’s what the trail means. You can go out there by yourself and cry and nobody will hear you except the spirits, and they’ll help you.” -Mr. Baker.
Did you think I sold all my bikes and stopped racing at this point? I thought about it. I can’t put into words how I’ve been feeling but most of the summer felt jumbled and messy and while I should have kept this up-to-date with the races I’ve done I could just never get into it. I still haven’t exactly figured out why I’ve felt so off this summer. I think it’s a bit related to thinking about graduating next year and not really knowing what my life will look like after that, where I’ll be living or what it will even look like to train and race. That in itself has created larger questions like do I want to keep racing and training, am I still going to be fast enough, am I still having fun, are the sacrifices worth it. So far the answer has been yes.
I started off the summer with a gravel race (the one race I actually wrote about) and then two XC races, both about 25 miles. I was able to win both of them, the second one by default as the conditions of the day (muddy and wet) made the other girls who were register not start. They were smart as that seemed to be the start of my bike problems.
I ended up throttling the drive train and having to replace the chain, cassette, and chain rings-yikes. I should have just listened to Sully and shipped it back to Colorado right away but instead thought maybe I would get it all together in time to race the next weekend. I didn’t and ended up shipping it back to CO anyways. Since I didn’t have a mountain bike I opted instead to race a crit. They put the women and the men together and pull you when you get lapped. As a result the 40 minute crit turned into the 12 minute crit for the women. I ended up 4th, which was a bummer because 3rd place got $100 (they seem to pay way better for road racing than any other discipline).
I was able to fly back to CO/SD for a few weeks and work from there. I did the Firecracker 50 as a duo with Sully, he went first and crushed it. I went out and attacked the first climb and quickly realized that living in the flatland has made sustained climbing one of my weaknesses, or maybe it was the lack of oxygen. Either way I could never get into a groove. I finished the race and even though we did it for fun I was a little disappointed with my time. I was about 10 minutes slower than the previous two years (I was told later that most people were because of course changes) and had only beat Sully by 4 minutes. He’s deceivingly fast but it also made me question if I am getting faster. It was a rough few days after Firecracker, and even told my mom I wanted to sell all my bikes (dramatic, much?). Fortunately I had signed up for another race already and when my mom asked why I was even doing it I said the entry fee was too much to not show up. I showed up and had an okay race, I crashed twice, breaking my shoe and having to wrap it in duct tape to finish. I focused on trying to treat it like a training race. I was glad when it was over as the day brought temps to the high 90s and it was pretty miserable. I finished 4th, which again was a bummer because 3rd place got a pretty sweet plaque. What’s the rhyme, 1st is the worst…false– 4th is the worst.
That’s it, I had hoped to do about 3-4 other races but between bike issues and traveling I just couldn’t make the others happen. I started the summer trying to do as many races as possible because I’ve been going back and forth with USA Cycling about points and upgrades, and I feel that’s part of it, if I’m only focused on getting enough results for USA Cycling. Like the race that throttled my bike, I was like oh I can get a podium result here when really I should have just driven home.
I signed up for the Maah Daah Hey 100, its been on my list for a few years. I don’t feel like I have been focusing on the endurance that I probably should for 100 miles. But I wasn’t sure the next time I would get back to do it and with the cut-off time being 18 hours, hoping I can struggle into the finish line if need be. It’s the first race that I’m actually putting a headlight into a drop bag to pick up if I need it. I’m not exactly sure what to expect but feel like it’s going to be a mixture between the Tatanka 100 and my White Rim adventure. It was a little chaotic getting to this point. I have a new bike on order and thought it would show up in time so had other bike in Boulder ready to sell. Having then flown back to Indiana I realized I wouldn’t have the new bike in time and I was fortunate enough to have a friend who was willing to change the handlebars, wheels, and pack and ship it out to me.
One perspective that I’ve gained this summer is how much of a team effort is behind my racing. Being so far from Boulder made me realize how much I took for granted having a great community and support for myself and my bike, either with Sully or other friends when I needed it. Also going to more races by myself this summer it’s pretty anticlimactic; when you finish, you get in the car drive home and try to scour the internet for a race photo. If you’re lucky some random kid is cheering for you at the finish but it’s not the same community I’m used to. When I was back for the Firecracker 50 I ran into people that I used to race with or know from other areas and that was really nice. Even in South Dakota the state is so small that you end up knowing other people at the races. Fortunately, for the MDH 100 I have both my parents coming up and Barb. Barb is racing the 25 mile option and my parents are starting with me and going to head to the aid stations, which even if I don’t need that much from them it will be nice to see familiar faces on the race course. And unlike at the Tatanka 100, I doubt my mom is going to let me lie on a cardboard slab for an hour while I contemplate going on, if that happens she’ll be like, “no, you’re not doing this, we’re going home” and then I’ll get up and start riding again. Super helpful.
Wow, does this blog post seem super depressing? Maybe that’s why I haven’t written because it makes me seem like a Debbie Downer about racing and bikes but that’s why I signed up for 100 miles to press the reset button.
I knew after about 2 miles into the Rattlesnake Rally that I was overdressed. My leg warmers (Sully’s) had fallen down. Which I was a little sad about because they were sized small, and I’ve been lifting so clearly not gaining. I soon went from fashionista to hot mess when I took my jacket off only to realize my handlebar bag was too full of snacks for it to fit and it also didn’t fit in my jersey pocket. I thought about dropping it on the side of the road but then realized it wasn’t mine (problems when you come to WY unprepared for a bike race). I entertained how I would wrap it around my waist but envisioned it falling out and wrecking my bike (it was easy too since it has happened before). I opted for the next best solution, wrapping it around my neck like a scarf.
Fortunately the first aid station was 8 miles in. I counted down the miles and during this time found myself all alone. The lead group (about 6 guys) had split from me and the guy behind me wasn’t too set on catching me. I reached the first aid station and stripped down my first layer as quickly as possible, while simultaneously shoving bananas into my back pocket. I got back on and pedaled away, again by myself, hoping to maybe catch someone by the next station. The course was rolling and smooth and I felt fast, or maybe it was that I had ditched 10lbs of clothing. Either way I was able to get to the next aid station pretty quick. After seeing strips of bacon blowing in the wind (was I hallucinating already?!?), I rode up to see them clothes-pinned to a rope in the tent. My stomach wasn’t really feeling it (as is often the case on gravel races) so opted for more bananas and took off again. There was a short, steep climb out of the aid station which after the crest the land fell away and exposed the harsh, wind-swept, Wyoming prairie. It was quite serene, with endless miles to see, and the lush landscape juxtaposed against the dreary fog clouds rolling over the hills. I kept thinking, Wyoming would be alright to live in. Finding a nice tailwind I tried to push it on this section knowing that when I turned around it would be a losing battle. About 3 miles out from the turn-around I saw the lead group go by, I jokingly called out, “wait for me” but secretly was hoping I could find someone to tuck behind to pull me back to the middle aid station. I got to the turn-around point and was greeted by the fresh smell of boiled potatoes; nothing like bland, tasteless food to make the Irish in me very happy. I shoved one into my mouth and then took as many from the bowel as I could and shoved them into my jersey pocket, I guess this isn’t a typical scene in Wyoming as the volunteers seemed slightly mystified that I would take so many for later. But I knew it would be the difference between riding and limping into the finish. I topped off my bottle and jumped back onto my bike to head back.
I had been mentally preparing for this section, as the director told me that morning it’s a steady incline and would have a nasty headwind. I put my head down and stared at my computer for the next hour. I figured if I could maintain 11mph I would only have to suffer for one hour to get back to the second aid station and then it would let up a bit. That’s what I did and caught a break when two guys came up behind me and I hung on their wheels for about 2 miles–not a lot but enough to help (I later found out they were doing the 120 distance and got first and second place). I successfully managed to get back to the aid station in an hour, eating all the potatoes I had taken and with the help of two songs (this wasn’t on purpose, thinking it would rain all day I didn’t really think I would listen to music so I only had two and they were on constant repeat). I was able to grab about 4 pieces of bacon this time and put them in my jersey for later. The headwind was still persistent but a little better and with more rollers to help break it up.
I had another 120 rider ride with me for a little bit and made small talk with him, he told me he thought the 60 was a better option for the day and I agreed. He also told me that there was no one back there for at least 10 minutes which gave me a little bit of confidence because I’ve had 50 mile races come down to a matter of 30 seconds and wasn’t sure if I could handle a sprint for the end. I also knew it meant I couldn’t take it easy, because there were still enough miles that the time could be chipped away if people worked together in a group to catch me. I let him ride away and soon was at the last aid station. This one was the most busy as the other distance (32) was also on the course now. I shed one more layer, and grabbed another banana. 8 miles to go, less than an hour, just ride smart.
I kept reciting, “smooth is fast” to keep my pedaling consistent and my mind on the race. When I had about 4 miles left to go, figuring I had a big enough lead close enough to the finish, I stopped and picked some wildflowers before getting back on. The last two miles were on pavement and during the roll-out I was busy jockeying for position so didn’t actually pay attention to how long it was–much longer than I thought (it probably helped that it was downhill going out). I got done and felt pretty good.
I ended up winning the Women’s 60 mile overall and was 8th overall (30 minutes down from the lead). I didn’t really know what to expect with this race, but took a risk early on by going off the front and it ended up paying off (this isn’t always the case). I still don’t feel like I’m in great shape and am still about 10 pounds over my racing weight (thanks, law school) but this race at least helped with some early season fitness and confidence going into the summer. I’ll also hand it to the race director, the volunteers, and the participants, everyone was so nice and helpful. It reminded me how much fun racing in less than ideal conditions can be.
I gave my dad the racer’s t-shirt as well as my trophy. They both had rattlesnakes on them and even fake snakes seems to scare the wits out of me.
I’m finally getting back on my mountain bike tomorrow, and pretty excited. I haven’t raced in a long time and have certainly missed it. Next summer I’ll be out of commission to study for the bar. It’s more of a bucketlist summer race season where if I’m inclined I feel like I should do it because who knows what life will serve up after law school.
It has taken me a while to get together this blog post and I came to realize because I don’t exactly feel like it’s my story to tell and law school has taken a bit of time (lolz). Mainly I was there as a supportive role to Sharon but also felt like I had a lackluster performance in that area. I set the goal to have this written before Christmas break was over and since classes are about to start up figured time to start writing. Instead of boring you with an 11:30 hour race report mainly just pictures with some added commentary from the day–okay more than commentary.
At the start line I wasn’t sure how to ride with someone for the full day so I told Sharon if we get separated on any climb and descent and I’m in front I’ll wait for her but if she gets in front of me just go. Even with that I still managed to lose her, a few times.
The gun started and I wasn’t sure what to expect, sure I’ve done the race 3 times before but was starting only one corral from the last one and still get worried about St. Kevin’s getting bogged up. I followed Sharon’s pace on the pavement and towards St. Kevin with the plan to jump ahead of her and create a pathway going up St. Kevin. It worked well with me glancing back occasionally to make sure she was not far behind me.
Unfortunately I soon realized that the woman I thought was Sharon was actually not and I had forgotten what helmet she was wearing. I rode on until the first aid station and stopped there for her. She wasn’t too far behind and handed my arm-warmers off to Doug (who was volunteering at the aid station there). Sharon raced by and I jumped back on to catch up with her.
Sharon is an amazing descender and it was all I could do to stay behind her on the pavement descent. The descent down powerline was pretty uneventful too. Being further back than my pace in previous years it meant that even less people were opting for the B line. I had one woman yell at me to be careful, I replied back, “thanks, mom!”. Sharon and I hit the pavement and started forming a pace line, I took the front thinking Sharon could save some energy here, soon she was in front pulling me. We alternated with another person going towards the next aid station and the pace line blew up when we hit the dirt. One woman came up to the side of us and said all the men should thank us for pulling them, thinking it was only one or two I looked behind to see at least 20 men had been on our paceline– wimps.
The next section is rolling and we chatted with other riders and each other. One woman was on her 11th (or some outrageous number of Leadville) and had just finished Ironman Canada like 3 weeks before. I was just like, oh I just spent my summer writing a thesis soooo…
At Twin Lakes we were greeted by the the WBR tent with Sully and Michelle which is always such an energy boost. I swapped bottles and we took off again. Just across from the dam Sharon had an issue with her camelbak so we stopped and diagnosed it. I did mental math of how many fluids I had to get us to the top and realized that I had left my camelbak on when I meant to drop it. So plenty of fluids. Sharon was able to dislodge the drink mix that had clogged up her hose and we were off again.
We split up for the climb and I started going to a dark place. I kept eating and drinking but my stomach had been giving me problems on and off the whole day so not my usual schedule and I just kept thinking get to the top and make it back to Twin Lakes and take a breath. So that’s what I did, I focused on getting to the top and once there focused on getting down. I saw Sharon at the top as I was headed down and she was just about to the aid station. I figured I was maybe 3 minutes in front of her. I had thought of waiting for her at the top but had gotten cold and thought it was best to get down.
At Twin Lakes I handed my bike off to Sully and took a minute to sit behind the tent and just breath and refocus. Sharon showed up quickly after and I hopped back up, grabbed some new bottles, new food, and a full camelbak and took off behind Sharon. The next section back to Pipeline was again uneventful and even back to Powerline I was able to sit into a paceline that pulled into the bottom of Powerline.
I rounded the corner and saw Sully and Michelle at the bottom so I pulled off, Sharon was in a groove and said she was going to keep going so I said I’d catch up. I restocked and told Sully this was really hard. He told me I was almost done. I started up Powerline knowing Sharon was in front of me and made it to the point where riding brings diminishing returns and walking is more beneficial. I started hiking and focusing on drinking.
This section was the most frustrating for me because I could ride a lot of the uphill beyond Powerline but there is only one really good line to do it on. I would yell out “rider” for those hiking up taking the good line and no one would move. It happened over and over so I would either take the B line if it was feasible or get off hike around the person and get back on. I couldn’t figure out if it was because it was all men and I was a woman and they didn’t want to move for a woman who was riding or if they were just tired. This was the biggest thing I noticed from having a slower pace- in the past if I said “rider” people would move no problem and usually say ‘nice riding’. It was so frustrating at one point I almost started crying and then realized I didn’t have enough energy to waste on crying. I got to the top and still didn’t see Sharon, it was starting to drizzle and I wanted to get down so opted against putting on my jacket. It was pretty foggy and starting to rain as I descended the back side of powerline and onto the road. Hitting the last road climb I knew it was only 25 minutes till the aid station and should make the 12 hour cut off mark. I still hadn’t seen Sharon and while I thought I would have caught her also figured she had probably put time into me on the descent.
I got up to the aid station and stopped when I saw Doug, he asked me where Sharon was and I said, “she hasn’t been through?” But in my mind it was more “ohhh fudge” and then he said, well I haven’t been out here the whole time so she probably went past. I debating staying at the aid station for a while longer but not knowing if she was in front or behind me opted to keep going and assumed she must have been in front. Even though the back half of St. Kevin is uphill it still pulls you through and I was soon enough at the crest. I calculated time to finish and knew that (fingers crossed) no mechanics I would finish well within the 12-hour mark. I cruised down the front side St. Kevin and made it back to the pavement without any issues but still no Sharon. I rode the dirt section that takes you to the Boulevard and tried to find a pace line to get on to to pull me but there was no one. With about 2 miles to go and knowing I would be well-within the 12 hour cut off I saw some wildflowers so put my bike down by the side of the trail and wandered into the field to pick some up.I was putting together my bouquet when I heard, “Kate?” and it was Sharon. I stuff the flowers into my back pocket and grabbed my bike. “I thought you were in front of me- where did I pass you?” She told me that she had stopped on the side of the road with a group of people to put her jacket on and it must have been there and I missed her. I told her that I bet Rebecca Rusch never lost her pacee. I apologized for not being a better pacer but she told me that I was there when she needed it so I’ll believe her. We cruised into the finish area and I congratulated her and stayed back a bit to try and get a photo of her but instead the announcer thought I was taking a video of the crowd so people started cheering thinking they were on video. I crossed the finish and was so happy to be off my bike but also so happy to be a part of helping Sharon get to the finish (although she definitely did all the work to get there) although she definitely helped me.
My motto for most of the day was “Fourth and Final” it was my fourth Leadville and convinced that it was also my final. Which I had planned on it until I put in for the lottery and now just waiting to find out if it will be a “Fifth and Final”.
A lot of my struggles of the day, my stomach, aches and pains, and even my dark places (almost crying) I actually blame on getting my period at 6am that morning. I know my body pretty well but usually it throws a whole wrench into the system and when I get it I take the day off from training so this was a big 180 for my body. I debated mentioning it but it is a reality for 100% of the women racing and it was the first race that I’ve had to deal with it which I guess makes me lucky.
I realized that in years past when I’ve done Leadville a lot of the fun comes from the prep work, the rides and other races that I do in preparation for the race. This past summer though it was a lot of intervals and time on the trainer to balancing getting in shape with writing a thesis. I really debated not putting in for the lottery but figured, uh why not. I think I find out in about an hour if I got in but wanted to get this done first! Ha
I finally got my racer’s jacket and 2 years ago I tried to put on “K8 the GR8” which they rejected and just put on “Katherine” so the next year instead I put on “Princess Kate” thinking they would also reject that but they didn’t. This year I put on “K8 the GR8” again and when my mom opened it up she texted, “what does that mean?” So maybe a fifth year to finally get it right?
I didn’t plan on doing the Leadville 100 this year, at least not after I didn’t get in through the lottery. I didn’t think about it when I was trekking through the Grand Canyon, finishing finals or traveling in Viet Nam. In fact, most of the time in Viet Nam I thought about how out of shape I was getting and thank goodness I wouldn’t be racing 100 miles. Then I got to Switzerland and started running and had a few long days on trail in France and the thought began creeping back in that maybe I can ride 100 miles with Sharon. When I got back to the states I contacted WBR and it was almost serendipitous as one guy had to drop out due to a medical condition and was willing to give me his spot to ride with Sharon.
That’s been the thought the whole time, at least since Michelle planted the idea in my brain last December that the only way I would do Leadville is with Sharon. Sharon is another member of WBR and due to circumstances outside of her control wasn’t able to finish the Leadville 100 last year. Since we’re both passionate about WBR and riding long distances (she has quite the impressive stage race resume) thought we would be stronger together.
I really thought after Leadville last year I would be done, knowing I would be traveling for a good chunk of the summer and thinking I wouldn’t be able to do enough early season riding to build up the engine I would need to PR (4 years of training for Leadville has taught me a lot). I’m convinced that riding with Sharon is the only way I can top last year’s experience is to help someone else reach that finish line.
This year, Sharon and I will both be riding for World Bicycle Relief. WBR is a program that helps distribute bicycles in Africa. After a year studying global health I truly believe that the one thing we can do that will create the largest impact and ripple in a community is to educate young people, girls especially. With a Buffalo Bike (the one that is designed for WBR) a student increases classroom attendance by 28%. In all my years of schooling, I’ve been granted the privilege of never having to worry about how I would arrive for my education.
After some logistical planning we wrote down our route and figured out estimates of time with where we needed to be an when. We weren’t sure of what to do with the North Kaibab trail closure so just planned for 2 hours out from Phantom Ranch and then turn around which would put the total for the day at 12 hours. Perfect.
We headed to the South Kaibab trail around 7:15 and parked in a dirt parking lot and headed to the rim. I had informed Jessie that I was scared of heights and reminded her that if I’m crouching and hugging the wall, I’ll be fine just give me a minute to get over it. In truth, the moment before we stepped on the trail I had no idea just how much the exposure would bother me–I reminded myself to not let fear define my fate (and sung that song most of the way down). I had read and looked at pictures but I get nervous being on the third floor of the law school building and looking down.
We got on the trail, walked for a few yards and then Jessie asked if it was time to run, it was, and so we began going down. The trail was wide with a forgiving edge that gradually fell away instead of a shear drop off, and while a tumble would have resulted in death no doubt, I could at least trick myself into thinking I would survive. The views were astonishing and kept me focused from falling off the edge, it seemed the every corner we came around we would stop and just stare in amazement and then go, “how cool is this?!?” before proceeding on our way.
All the hikers going down were really nice about giving us room on the trail. At one point we came up on a big family and most of the group gave way, except for this 7ish-year-old girl with a red camelbak on, she stepped onto the trail in front of us with no fear and started running, so we followed her. We caught up to the next group of hikers and as we passed through, one of the group members goes, “is that for real?” Inquiring about the child, my response, “Yep, she’s our pacer!” The girl pulled off a little further down the trail, not too far from her family and it seemed like her group was spread out enough that we weren’t just leaving her.
It wasn’t too long before we saw the Colorado River and continued to navigate our way down the trail, and only encountering the two mule trains of the day on this section.
We crossed the bridge and rolled into Phantom Ranch area just before our estimated time. We stopped at the Ranger’s Station to ask about a trail that had been closed, the one going over the silver bridge to Bright Angel, she told us that it had opened this morning. This was great to hear because otherwise we would have to go back up part of South Kaibab and then over to Bright Angel on a cut-across with no access for water after leaving Phantom Ranch until back to Bright Angel. We headed over to the Canteen and pulled out some snacks and discussed the next part of the plan. It wasn’t even 10am. We couldn’t believe it, what would we do if we only went to the river and back, we’d be done so early so we decided to head up on North Kaibab trail and try to at least get to Ribbon Falls or Cottonwood Campground, even if it was longer than the allotted two hours.
We refilled our water, applied more sunscreen and set off again. We walked for a short period with a group of four hikers that were from Texas but then took off in front of them.
One thing that was sensational was how much the landscape changed from the top of the rim to the bottom, with the bottom of the canyon unfolding in a luscious landscape of shrubbery and color.
When I called a week earlier about trail conditions they said that Ribbon Falls Trail was closed and the only way to access was to cross the river, which is highly advised against. It wasn’t till we got to the trail junction that we saw this sign.
We decided to turn back around as some storm clouds began to encroach on us and at this point we were at about 15-17 miles, depending on whose watch you looked at. We started running and continued most of the way back to Phantom Ranch. Except for when we stopped to take Senior Pictures because when you’re in the bottom of the Grand Canyon, why not?
We stopped again at the Canteen to refill water and have a snack before beginning the 9+ mile trek out. We did some wardrobe changes and applied more sunscreen, then took off. We got on the trail and began going up, the miles flew by going down but the tedious task of going up made them drag on, fortunately the views did not suck. We stopped at one point and watched some rafters try to get their raft unstuck from the one rock in the river they could have gotten caught on. We ran into a few people, but not many, and kept climbing the switchbacks on our way to the top. At this point both our watches had died so we didn’t have the best knowledge of how far each point was. We were often greeted with patches of shade, which I was grateful for because it seemed that the South Kaibab trail didn’t offer much coverage and I didn’t want to get sunburned. Approximately 4 miles later we reached Indian Garden Campground, we sat down and talked to a guy who was hiking rim to river to rim, he had done it about 50 times in his life and this was his 4th time this year already–goals. He said out of all the times he’d only ever ran into two snakes. This knowledge made me feel better because in my worst nightmare I would run into a snake on the trail and try to avoid it only to fall off the ledge.
We refilled our water, ate a snack and the guy informed us we were still about 4 miles from the top and had about 2 hours to go.
We began going up, again, this time at a steeper grade than the previous four miles. Steps began to feel laborious and arduous– every 5 yards was met with a waterbar, which meant lifting our legs just a little higher than just hiking uphill. With our watches still dead (I know I was hoping they would magically turn on too) we could only go off of how far away the rim seemed. I couldn’t believe people ran up this section (the FTK on R2R2R is just over 5 hours–crazy!!). We passed time by talking about plans to come back in the fall, what we would do differently and how we would prepare (yes, we are planning on going again to get the full R2R2R). Most of our concerns centered around nutritional choices, packing sandwiches and more real food instead of makeshift protein and carbs in the form of bars and GU. We also passed time talking about what we would eat when we were done, trail mix was no longer cutting it but we kept force-feeding at 45 minute intervals to keep our energy up.
Realizing our sun was going to be going down soon, we made sure to take even more photos.
We continued up the switchbacks. My first trip to the Grand Canyon when I was 5, I have a picture of Wayne and I by this arch on the trail. Upon seeing the arch, I figured we were very close to the top, what 5 year-old with a fear of heights would venture that far down? Apparently, this one, especially if I was with Wayne. Thinking that it would only be about 100 yards from the top I thought we were almost done–I soon found it was definitely closer to a mile.
The top seemed so close but visually still far off. The day had started turning to dusk and I asked Jessie if I should put my headlight on. While it wasn’t necessarily warranted at this point, I had drug it around the entire canyon in the event of having to use it and well I wanted to make it worth it. She said no. We kept walking and came upon a second tunnel. I started laughing, I bet this is the tunnel we made it to when I was a kid, and here I thought I was a fearless individual as a child, good to know I’ve always been risk adverse. The second tunnel we went under was only .18 miles from the top (I looked it up later). We could see the lip of the rim peeking out above. It was dark enough now that I was able to justify my headlamp but only because I saw one below us. I told Jessie, “better to be safe than sorry” but in all actuality I just wanted to use everything that I had packed at least once. We reached the top of the rim, saw the trail sign, I said, “Jesus, Mary and Joseph, we’ve made it!” and that was it. The finality was rather subdued. No fanfare, no one handing out water, no collecting a medal, and yet it was beyond comparison to finishing some races.
We grabbed some dinner showered and retrieved our car (taking enough steps already, we opted for a taxi). I think the dust I had collected on me made me close to the tannest I have ever been in my life. We went to bed early and the next day headed up to Antelope Canyon and Horseshoe Bend.
We’re planning on doing it again this fall with options for R2R (going before Oct. 15 to get a car on the north side) and doing R2R2R–if interested let me know!
Here’s also what I’ve been telling people, even if you have no earthly desire to ever hike or go down into the Grand Canyon- GO! I could have spent hours just sitting on the rim. We did 32-33 miles and 12 hours going into the depths of not only the canyon but my soul– being completely present and in awe of my entire life. I left with a cup overflowing of gratitude.