Into the Wild

Into the Wild starts with Chris McCandless selling his car, donating all his money to charity, voiding himself of almost all of his possessions, and setting course on a 3,000+ hitch hiking journey to Alaska. There he takes proprietorship an old yellow school bus and begins his journey into solitude and nature. It’s poetic, appealing, and shocking (spoiler alert!) when after eating wild onions he dies. I read the book once and watched the move once but with my interpretations I take issue with him forsaking society for adventure that for him meant isolation. It seems selfish, unreasonable, and the epitome of privilege to be able to be in a position to even begin his journey. I think there are better ways to show your disdain towards society (like taking an active role to change the problems you have with it) than removing yourself from it. While the premise seems to be that he’s attempting to find true happiness through solitude and nature instead of society; I don’t think you have to completely abandon either to find happiness (obvious a very subjective standard and think McCandless might agree with me on this now). Further, I believe there are ways to be a productive member of society without limiting yourself to a cog in the capitalistic machine. Have I lost you already? Perfect.

We both have ties to South Dakota

I’ve spent a lot of time the past few months thinking about his story. As the approach to graduation accelerated, would my entrance into society result in a cog or contributor or both? Results still pending. Mostly, I spent time thinking about it because I accepted a fellowship in Alaska and hope to embark on my own adventure both professionally and personally. But unlike McCandless I had to buy a new car to get there and in all likelihood will also get a Costco Membership; but maybe like him it’s selfish, unreasonable, and the epitome of privilege to be in a position to begin this journey.

Probably trying to convince them I really will be a ‘different kind of lawyer’

My fellowship is at a health center in Anchorage, on the same campus where my dad was born. Given my area of interest and focus during law school it was an ideal match up. My family is still warming up to the idea. I think it’s a hard adjustment for them because after my rejection from Yale I mostly talked about looking for jobs in Colorado (and I was) so for a lot of them it came out of the blue. But I had loosely toyed with the idea of going to Alaska for a clerkship but soon realized I wasn’t interested in that type of work, yet the appeal of Alaska remained. Maybe it’s similar to McCandless’s quest of seeking adventure, the romanticism of the last frontier, or from my father being born there and me being shocked as a child to learn this (his family eventually returned to South Dakota before he started primary school so we never visited). I was really after the fellowship and it was just a bonus that it’s in Alaska.

For my friends confused by this, don’t forget Canada is in between!

Alaska remains in my mind as a destination of sorts that one vacation just can’t do justice so figured that at least a year (option to extend) might start to scratch the surface of all the state has to offer. My only real hesitation with taking the position is now having to deal with bears, but felt that the cancellation of not having to deal with snakes made it an even wash. And after picking everyone’s brain that has done work or lived in Alaska it seems that bear attacks/sightings are not as common as I had initially envisioned (currently knocking on wood).

As noted before I had to get a different car and while I was really hoping to avoid getting a new one with the limited amount of time (it’s a long story of how the time crunch came to be but telling it won’t change the facts so I’ll spare you) I had left there didn’t seem to be any other option, so after test-driving one, I became the owner of a new car, but it gives my family a false sense of security on my drive to Alaska so worth it…right?

I’m pretty sure my parents were still concerned that I would take off in my 2001 Subaru to Alaska so the day before I left in an attempt to go the farmer’s market with Tenzen I went to start it and it wouldn’t start, the battery wasn’t dead (my normal issue when I leave the lights on for more than 48 hours) but I didn’t have time to get to the bottom of it.

Bye-bye Little Bubaru

I’m pretty convinced that my parents either unplugged the starter or called our mechanic to force my hand. I think my family thought I was exceptionally attached to my old car, which to some extent I was because it came with no car payment and it was the perfect gear box. So this is all to say that buying a new car with limited information (no spreadsheets were painstakingly made and toiled over for months before hand) and time is something that I would under no circumstances ever recommend to anyone. But now I finally have a car worth more than my bikes so I guess that means I have to upgrade my bike…

I’m currently on the road and so far, this trip has been like no other and not just because of the 52-hour drive time. I’ve never felt more like a tourist, with stops in Glacier National Park, Banff, and Jasper National Park in Canada.

When I’ve been to other national parks it’s always been with a purpose beyond just looking around. But it’s been a nice change of pace of not having to plan around rides/runs/find trails and coordinate the logistics. I somehow convinced a friend to drive with me and she’s a master traveler and booked most everything on the way–so I really just had to get in the car (oh, and pack). All the stops so far have been exceptionally beautiful and with the limited amount of time have only been hitting the main tourist spots (Road to the Sun, Lake Louise, Icefields Parkway).

Road to the Sun….

It has made me realize how many people utilize the national parks, and while visitation is at an all-time high, budget cuts result in fewer resources available to those visitors. It’s also strange to think about seeing something that in all likelihood will not be around for the next generation to be captivated by. But as I have gone back and forth with a professor about, on the surface overcrowding is a problem but by getting more individuals outside we are creating more advocates that can potentially serve as environmental stewards and conservationists and work to preserve these pristine areas for the next generation.

Really crushing that tourist game

It’s really been a breathtaking drive and leaves the backcountry beckoning to come explore off the beaten path. Hopefully on the return trip there will be more time to go from trail to trail (now accepting adventure partner applications).

The Alaska Highway is a major route connecting Alaska to well everything else. But in a lot of ways it still feels primitive. The highway is only a two-way with every changing speed limits reflecting the ebb and flow of the landscape. It’s been odd to think that about 65 years ago my grandfather drove the same route to Alaska. Unlike other trips that have followed my grandparents markings this feels more ethereal, maybe because the areas seem so resistant to change that a lot of what I’m seeing today is similar to what he saw during his travels as well. In a lot of ways our journeys feel similar while at the same time completely different. I have the luxury of podcasts, endless music, rooms booked each night, and the convenience of knowing how far I’ll go between gas stations.

My grandfather headed north after WWII, after returning to South Dakota he wreck 2 or 3 cars in the span of a few months while on various benders (can’t really blame him, he did get shot, twice). Much like his generation the effects of war were felt, but the atrocities that the young men endured were never mentioned. Maybe he headed to Alaska to clear his head, get a change of pace, put some distance between who he had been and who he became during the war, or really no other reason than to follow a good and steady job. As I’ve grown older and have lost grandparents over the years I’ve realized the depth of their lives that existed before they had children (as a 4 year-old it was lost on me that they could exist beyond the one-dimension of being my grandparent) and it leaves a lot of gaps that in all likelihood will never be filled. This does, however, leave a lot of room for imagination of what his trip to Alaska entailed—and without cell service for days on this road not much else to do except think about the places he stopped, the corners he probably blew, and if he too felt like he was selfishly embarking on an adventure removed from his family.   

Okay, have I waxed enough metaphysics on you? Well this is all to say I’ll be in Alaska for a year with an open door invitation. Also hoping to write more to mainly keep my family updated on my adventures. I’m still planning on racing and starting to figure out which races I want to come back down for. But as for now we still have about 2 days before we hit our destination.

Cracked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Views + Friends like these

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

Okay, this is nice.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I walked down this section

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

One of the many trail debates.

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

Tenzen working so I can go play.

Trust the Process

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

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

Which do you think we got first?

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

This is about where I turned my ride around in SD

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

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

Totally how I look studying for the bar…

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

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

5 minute pedal from my door

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

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

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

Who knew I could look so happy getting almost last!

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

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

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

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

Climbing out–this time no tears!

Supernova

If my semester could be summed up in one word it would be Supernova. Which the way Molly and I use it is we burn so bright and then explode.

After the Birkie I switched back to training for biking. I was planning on doing marathon nationals in May and needed to start building my base. I won an entry into the TommyKnocker 10 in southern New Mexico and rerouted my spring break flight to Phoenix. With a week to go until the 10 hour race something in my mind clicked and I realized that racing my bike for 10 hours would amount to 80-100 miles of riding—and I had been on my bike for 12 days at that point. I still had my flight to Phoenix and switched to the Cactus Cup, which had 3 days of racing: shorttrack, cross-country, and enduro. I supernova-ed so hard. The race started and I burned so bright and then exploded. To save you the mundane details I’ll summarize: my bike got lost in shipping, I tracked down a rental for short track, showed up with what I thought was 11 minutes to spare, turns out I was 20 minutes too late so they started me in the group after; got the hole shot and immediately faded to the back (everyone went by me as if I was pedaling backwards), my time is reflected of my initial starting position so something like 56 minutes (for a 20 minute circuit); I tracked down my bike and picked it up from a fedex warehouse at 11pm; assembled it as best I could, got to the race early and Sully put on my brake rotors (because I didn’t travel with the tool);

Thank goodness for mechanics who have tools you don’t.

I started the cross country race and got into a groove after the first 10 minutes; I started to move up in position and approached maybe the one long hill on course and downshifted my chain behind my cassette, had to hop off, fish it out, got it back on the cassette, spun the pedals around, immediately threw it back behind the cassette because I forgot to shift it out of that placement, fished it out again, looked around me and realized that everyone was gone. Got back on my bike and pedaled the remaining 36 miles being mindful to not shift it down too easy. I debated doing the last day of racing with the enduro but figured I would cut my loses, and caught a ride with Sully to Sedona.

When you pull the plug on racing, this is a nice alternative

Not great for the first race of the season but also not terrible for not planning on racing till April. I planned on doing a few crits throughout April but it seemed that between the weather and my workload it never lined up that I felt like I could get to one. I still had it in my mind that I was going to do nationals, and it would have been similar to last semester where I finish finals and immediately turn around and race my bike–but I did it last semester so can do it again, right?

Skipped the Grand Canyon for CO National Monument because we thought we’d be getting there later.

My plans started to change mid-April. It’s the 100th anniversary of the Grand Canyon (still so impressed it only took 100 years to create-ha) and really wanted to make it down there at some point. Sully had been training for a 25 mile trail race and there was one weekend at the end of April that he would be in Sedona and I could leave to meet him and do a big run/hike down to Phantom Ranch with the plan to make it to Ribbon Falls because the bridge was washed out the last time we went. At that point committing to the Grand Canyon scrapped my thoughts of marathon nationals. Even if we didn’t run the whole thing, I didn’t think my legs and mental stamina would be ready to race 60 miles three weeks later. I would rather get to The Canyon anyway. Unfortunately, the weekend before our trip Sully’s grandmother passed away and there was no way he was going to make it back to go to The Canyon, rightfully so. I thought about going by myself but ultimately decided it wasn’t worth it. I had been battling some inner demons the week before Sully called me. One of the girls I used to coach in the summer league was out hiking in Arkansas and lost her footing, fell off a rock outcrop, and passed away (If you want to read about her, this is a great write-up). The most freak accident ever, she wasn’t near the edge but stepped down and rolled her ankle, lost her balance and went over. It seemed like my whole town went into mourning for this beautiful life that was cut short with no rational explanation. I think anytime something like that happens it ultimately leads people (me) to reflect on their (my) life, how many times you (I) could have misstep, or the adventures you (I) take for granted, or the fact that you (I) hit your (my) head just right to make a full recovery. I talked to Molly a lot that week about the life that we choose to pursue and the risks that come with it. I even called my best friend who is a child psychologist to get coping mechanisms for when I went to The Canyon. It was very unfortunate that Sully’s grandma passed away but it made it easier to pull the plug without thinking twice.

I then thought of meeting my friends May 4th for a ski day but didn’t think I could take the time to travel and a day out to have fun while being in the midst of final prep. So then I thought again about doing marathon nationals but at that point, it seemed that the logistics for marathon nationals was too much to orchestrate. My race bike was in Boulder, I was in Indiana, and the race was in Texas. Figuring out the logistics while about to go into finals seemed more than I could mentally handle and instead bought a ticket to Denver to go ride for a week before graduation. The last few weeks of law school were pretty rough. I joke about how I spent the first two months of law school crying and I think I ended a similar way. When I pulled the plug on nationals and the canyon it created this inner dialogue that all the sacrifices that I had made for racing were now moot. But also if I wasn’t racing how do I define myself, am I still an athlete, or am I just now a law student. One of my friends is a nutritionist and actually posed this question to me a few weeks before all this happened. I said yes but also sometimes I don’t know.

Not cycling and not being athletic while being social who knew this could be a thing

 I arrived in CO Thursday with one paper left to submit. I finished formatting it, attached a table of contents and with it submitted had turned in 194 pages of written work over seven days. Okay so maybe that’s why I was constantly in a state of feeling turned inside out. I was able to get on my cross and mountain bike over the seven days and it was amazing. Saturday I crewed for Sully at his 25 mile trail race which made me realize I never want to do one—it looked pretty miserable. Sunday he shuttled me to a trail and rode part of it with the plan that I would attach a few more trails and then ride back to town.

I carried on without him and about 20 minutes into my solo ride kicked a rock up and into my rear derailleur. It threw the shifting off and after battling it for 10 minutes realized it was a lost cause, sent Sully a text to please me meet at the next trail head to pick me up and then hiked my way to the top of the hill. Fortunately at that point the rest of the trail was mostly down hill so lowered my seat and used my feet to gain enough momentum to carry myself the two miles down to the trail head. I had twisted the derailleur and needed to get a new one. I was able to ride with a few friends but did a 6 hour solo day while the bike was getting fixed. I put my phone was on airplane mode and my garmin died after 3 hours which was amazing.

Definitely not ever finding this place again

Being disconnected from the world helped a lot. I feel like I have gotten to the end of law school and have so much left unfinished– there are a few papers that I’m still trying to push out for publishing and honestly thought I would have one out by the time I graduated, I also felt like I had sacrificed a lot of my mental health and happiness in favor of grades this semester –and when I got to the end and was only left with grades I wasn’t sure it was worth it.

The weekend of graduation brought waves of emotion that were the size of the ocean. It was a bittersweet day, I was happy to have completed and gotten though but it was punctuated with a loss of a beloved professor and compounded with leaving academia after four years and uncertainty about the future.

Mary as the last holdout in becoming a lawyer

I knew that last semester was going to set me up for this, what other possibility was there when I raced five national championships with law school. So I’ve failed when I’ve only gotten good grades and competed in zero national races. I know writing this out sounds so absurd. I think I have a lot of fear moving forward because I don’t feel like I’m done wanting to race but I feel like right now I’m having to prioritize other things. I’ve talked about it before but the personal sacrifices that go into racing have always been worth it, but when I’m not racing and it still feels like I’m sacrificing is it worth it? It all comes back to peaks and valleys. Sometimes you ride the high, sometimes you ride the low and you just hope that the peaks last longer than the valleys, just like in races. Sometimes it just requires a bit of shifting gears. The nice thing about the cycling community is that it’s small and plenty of people have felt similar to me so when I reach out they are there to remind me that racing will always be there and it’s okay to take a step back with a different approach–but still working on it.

What I actually looked like all semester #notcyclingclothes

The American Birkebeiner

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).

When your roommate gets you.

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.

1 dog, 3 people, 2 sets of skis, a million snacks

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.

Ann finishing the Korte!

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.

Still unsure of this whole skiing business

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.

The last wave start

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.

Snow nice to see people on the course (get it?)

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.

Skating in with Judy

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.

Not a bad place to spend a long weekend

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 Opposite of Loneliness: Part II

The first year of law school I wrote a blog post called, “The Opposite of Loneliness” based on the short work by the same name by Marina Keegan. In it I talked about how the first year of law school and training was a struggle because I felt all alone in the space–now in my final year of law school I feel like I’ve cultivated a space that while I’m still often alone on plenty of training rides, I’m surrounded by this feeling that there are people, an abundance of people who are on my team.

Recently, I was putting together a list of races from this past season and counted up 26 times that I had competed from April to December. The most of any season. With times ranging from 12 minutes (crit racing with the boys) to 12 hours (Maah Daah Hey), distances from less than 5 miles to 104 miles. It was also the first season that I would have broken $1,000 in prize winnings. I ultimately fell short because races that advertised as equal pay had a asterisk; enough women had to register for them to offer equal pay–and instead if enough women weren’t registered downgraded what you would take home–so instead of getting $70, I would get $20 for a first place–and be told this after the race. Had I gotten paid equally with the men who were competing I would have been over $1,000 for prize winnings.

Don’t get me wrong, winning money is still great but also depressing when I have little control over who shows up to race against me. Fortunately, more and more races are offering equal prize money without the asterisk. The Maah Daah Hey offers equal prize money for the top 3 in both gender divisions regardless of how many racers show up–amazing! Cyclocross race organizers have been and are getting on board with this trend. The Beti Bike Bash has been a force for breaking down barriers, holding a women’s only race from beginners to pros and an incredible prize purse. A lot of teams are independently creating space for women by having equal representation (Donnelly Cycling, Cannondale, Trek, Kona) but there are also some amazing women’s only teams (LA Sweat, Amy D. Foundation, Bitch-n-Grit). Change is happening and largely in part because women and men are both willing to speak up, like Lindsay who used her voice when an announcer was making sexist remarks during a race weekend. Okay, stepping off soap-box now.

Felt like my body’s check engine light came on a while ago.

It wasn’t until I quantified everything that I realized the stress and strain I was putting on my body. This year was filled with a lot of discomfort athletically and personally. Athletically trying to reach the next level, fitting in training plans, dial in new nutritional goals, and having a bit of a break down this summer wondering if it was still worth it and still having fun. Personally, I’m slowly beginning to figure out what I want after law school. I feel like I reached new levels of insight but also continue to question at the expense of what. During National’s I pushed myself beyond any limit that I thought my body had. As well as finishing finals and racing nationals, I was also finalizing a PhD application (lolz)–not only was my body pretty battered at the end but also my mind.

The face you make when you realize you signed up to ski 30 miles…

I haven’t quite started training for this season yet — a 50K nordic ski race is still on the docket– but I’ve taken a lot of time to reflect on this past season and what this next season will look like. I’ve found a new profound sense of gratitude for what my body can do but also for my support crew.

I get asked a lot how I train and go to law school at the same time–while I’m unique in the law school as no one else seems to be racing; it’s not uncommon for most racers to be training and racing with full time careers, school, parenting, and other pursuits that require master juggling skills. My usually response is to joke that I have no social life, which isn’t that far of a stretch but mostly I’m able to do all I do because of an amazing support crew.

I would be remiss if I started 2019 without reflecting on all those individuals who made the 2018 season happen– so feel free to keep reading for a more sappier post than normal or discontinue now to maintain your image of me.

First of all to my parents who show up to crew races in the middle of nowhere and don’t bat an eye at the wake-up call times. Who share with me in my victories and my disappointment and are always willing to support me even though I’m sure they think a lot of what I do is borderline crazy.

Beyond just my parents, my extended family–Joyce and Margaret who also came to Nationals with my mom; Tom who keeps reminding me that at some point my body will break down and I won’t be able to compete at the level I am so I should keep doing it; Marty who has lent me socks when I forgot mine and wanted to ride home from his house. Barb (and by extension Pat) who has shown me that competing knows no age and has spurred me to sign up for races that weren’t on my radar (Maah Daah Hey) and will even commiserate the really miserable ones with me after (Tatanka).

Molly, Mary, Frank, Abe, and Wayne who all seem to send encouraging thoughts when I need them (and make me check myself before I wreck myself). Mainly I’m thankful to my family who have fully supported me even though I’m not convinced they still know what I do (or some of them).

Squad Goals

Sully who offered unwavering support this season, from warm-up space, to race recaps, to being in the pits, to answering dumb mechanical questions, to switching out parts, taking pictures, bike builds, FaceTimes when I have to pack and unpack my bike, being my race partner when everyone else bailed, and getting me kits from former Olympians.

Then when Sully wasn’t around, Drew who offered embro cream and tire pressure analytics. Alex, Wayne, and Rudy, who tell me my bike looks normal when it’s making noise. #ignoranceisbliss

Thanks Drew!

My coach, Chris who made training easier with school when I didn’t have to think about what I needed to do and who walked through race plans with me and reminded me to trust the process. Uri who helped me dial in my nutrition for the first time in my life and I feel like it actually made a significant difference in my body being able to hold up despite everything I was throwing at it.

Quite the upgrade from chips for dinner

Juliana Bicycles, who makes an amazing bike that climbed like a goat and descended better than me. And also provided me with an incredible group of women to look up to both athletically and professionally.

The ladies at Team Do Awesome who are continuously offering encouraging words and inspiration.

Brian at Boulder Bicycles Works and Chris who both took care of my bike this summer, whether it was replacing parts or packing and shipping it to me.

Lindsay and Leslie who offered warm-up space and dinner when I was alone at a race. People who have offered race course information and friends (Amy) who put me in touch with other racers to get more information (Kelly), especially for the Maah Daah Hey

Beyond the bike community, I have friends who constantly read emails before I send them, research proposals before I submit them, and paragraphs that seem wonky (Luna, Lalla, Danika, Cheska, Emma). All while offering up support to be able to go after those big dreams.

They will all probably hate me for posting this picture too!

Other friends who pretend to know what I’m talking about (Kara, Heidi, Hayley) when I short hand research and talk a million miles a minute. Rachel, who is always there when I call and can pick up without skipping a beat and after a good race asks me how close I am to the olympics (reminding me to always stay humble–lolz).

Laughing because they’re older than me

Caitlyn who communicates almost exclusively through memes or West Wing quotes always offering a good laugh. Plenty of other friends who garner a mention, Christina, Chris, Mary Carol, Jordan, Jessie, Christa, Katie, Allison, Dave, Nicola, Willie, Kristin, Katharine, Wayne, Neven, Abby, Cross, Sam, and Theresa (not exhaustive)

Not Cycling Clothes

Those at Notre Dame who have taken me to dinners and imparted their wisdom on my situation, including Judge Ripple, Dolly, Pete, and Heidi.

Kelly who is always available to print things for me (seriously game changer), go on a candy run, and hash through my life predicaments. Ashley who helped me prepare for a conference in November and understands when I’m on the fence for dinner.

My roommates (Ann, Megan, and Michelle) who are subject to endless cycles of laundry, constant rotating coffee in the fridge, and odd hour trainer rides. I feel like a lot of my achievement last semester was in no small part to having a place to come home and decompress and have a social life with. I think it also helps that three of us used to live in Colorado and all of us like to be active.

Morning Trainer Session

The women from my hometown who I feel like have been cheerleading for me for most of my life–Denise, Dana, Mrs. Muller, Lynn, Mrs. Stokes, and Mrs. Huddleston, and one who is not from my hometown but still amazingly supportive, Cheri. And to those in my hometown community who are carving out a place for MTB (mainly Nate Ritterbush) by doing trail maintenance and hosting a race.

My interns this summer, Laksumi and Allyson who still snapchat me hilarious antidotes and swipe me into the dining hall.

The guys at ND who often pull me around on their rides and no doubt make me faster as a result–Ron, John, Sam, Mike and Yuri.

The pain train

This year as with years past, this sport has taken me into the presence of truly great people who are pushing athletic and professional boundaries. I feel that I’m constantly trying to up my game because of them.

If you’ve read this far and have not been mentioned, my truest apologies–I almost thought about not doing this for that fear–this list is nowhere near exhaustive and if you’ve been a part of my life this year or really in any years past I guarantee you have influenced my direction. There are a lot of people I can’t thank–like the woman who saw me having a breakdown before I was to leave for nationals and hugged me for a good 5 minutes--the guy who jumped my car after having parked at the airport for MTB Nationals with my lights on and after getting a jump from the airport, with no gas left, I stopped at the nearest gas station and didn’t drive far enough and killed the battery almost immediately again, and he gave me a jump so I could drive home. Or the group of girls during the MDH who gave me food and water at checkpoint 77.

I get by with so much help from my friends.
Get yourself some Hufflepuffs like these two–haha


Cyclocross Nationals

I know with this post I’m bypassing mountain bike nationals, and two cyclocross races but figured I would at least catch up with Cyclocross Nationals. I jokingly called it the Cyclocross Nationals Stage Race because I signed up to do three races: Master’s 30-34; Collegiate; and Singlespeed. I’d also like to start off by saying I’m not 30 that’s just my racing age.

The week of nationals, I started Tuesday morning with a two hour final followed by three hours on the phone with my bank after discovering my bank account had been hacked. While the bank was accommodating having no local branch and all my accounts shut down I had about $40 left over from some prize winnings to get me to Louisville. Luckily my family was flying into Louisville the next day.

Emotions were running a little high and I’m pretty sure this is the point that I cried for a good 20 minutes. And then quickly added electrolytes to my water to replace what I just cried out. I departed for Louisville much later than anticipated, given my first race was at 9am the next morning. I made it there around 9:30 and stopped by Sully’s house to drop off a french press and make a race plan for the next day. He was also key in packing me breakfast since I hadn’t made or packed anything for breakfast.

Teamwork makes the dream work.

I picked Sully up the next morning around 7 and headed to the venue. I warmed up but didn’t preview the course–I had a general idea from racing there last year. I felt mediocre going to the starting line but was also sure that my body was on the verge of falling apart so felt like I had to gingerly balancing asking it to do more and being okay with what happened. At the start I knew that it was the most broken and battered my body has ever been going into a race. [To give you a brief preview of the week before I had two 10,000 word papers, one 8 hour final, one 5,000 word paper, and a two hour exam over the course of 7 days–I don’t think I slept more than 5-6 hours in the 10 days leading up to Nationals. That’s not to try and humble brag and be like look at everything I’m accomplishing (loosely applied), more of an observation that given some of the races I’ve completed and the limits I’ve pushed my body, this was the deepest I’ve had to reach into my well of resources.]

Rolling into the start gate–I know it looks like my legs are there but they are in fact not.

The race started and I had what was a pretty good start for me, finding myself just behind the leaders. The course is relentless, that’s one of the reasons I targeted nationals because I felt like it played to my strengths well–but only if I was having a good day, if my legs weren’t there, it would be a long race. After about 300 yards we reached the sandpit and the field started to spread out. At this point I felt like I had exhausted everything in my legs–it was going to be a long race. I spent the first two laps quietly asking my legs if they had anything in them. After that I pulled back and shifted into an easier gear to at least try to flush my legs out for the race the next day.

I know, I know, I’ve already been thoroughly made fun of for my socks

I also used the race as a true course preview, taking notes of various lines. The race finished and while the result might not have shown it (12th) I felt like I had accomplished what I set out to do, preview the course and get my legs ready for the next day. I also felt like getting to the start line was a win.

This isn’t to say I was confident about Thursday’s race. I wasn’t at all, especially the way my legs responded during that race. But I was optimistic, for most races throughout the season I seem to have performed better the second day of racing, and that’s what I bet on by doing back to back races at Nationals. I was currently doubting this reasoning given what I had just put my body through with finals. After the race Sully and I went and ate tacos, analyzed the course and race tactics, and then I went home and put my legs up the rest of the afternoon, worked on one last 10,000 word paper until my family arrived. (They were delayed from the day before so that’s why there is only one photo from the first race). We went grocery shopping, to dinner, and to bed.

If I was going to have expectations for any of the races, Thursday’s race was it. I went through my usual race morning routine and went to the course early enough to ride one preview lap. The course had dried out a bit from the day before and sections that I was running the day before were now ridable. I did one lap and then went back to the tent and warmed up on the trainer. I only really had one goal for the race: not to panic. If I could stay calm even when things didn’t go my way I knew that would be the difference.

Because my start was so smooth the day before I was hoping for that, but instead when the gun went off I’m not sure what happened but I was nowhere to be found.

I had a lot of work to do at this point– if you can’t find me I’m at very right edge of the photo.

I told myself not to panic, even though in the back of my mind I knew that the race would be mostly decided on the first lap. I didn’t panic and made up some spaces in the grassy section that lead into the “key hole”. It was a rooted out section around a tree and I took the highline that I had done the day before knowing I could ride it, unfortunately the girl in front of my couldn’t and crashed. I had to get off my bike and run around her…don’t panic, don’t panic, don’t panic. From the day before I knew that I was faster to dismount at the start of the sandpit and run through it than ride half-way through and have to dismount and then run.

Exiting the sandpit

I did this on the first lap and was able to make up a bit of ground. I kept working to catch those in front of me. I knew I had to be strategic while not burning too many matches. And I was, before pit 2 I was able to make up significant ground and found myself in 5th.

Thank goodness for MTB skills

I then switched my mantra from don’t panic to smooth is fast. Like I said the course was brutal, after the keyhole and the sandpit was a flyover and then pit one, followed by a steep downhill, a steep corner up, brief time on pavement, around a tree, up stone stairs, down a chute, across a field, up a steep hill, back down, back up, to pit 2, under the fly over, over the barriers, and through the finish.

It was a slog into pit 2

With two laps to go I had caught the girl in fourth place and was bidding my time to pass her. I followed her through the first section of the course and after the first downhill when there was enough room made my move to pass her and I got around no problem. She stayed on my wheel through the next section, and after the downhill chute she took me over again. I tried to stay on her wheel but I might have made the move too soon because this was the point in the race that my legs finally realized what they were doing.

They weren’t completely dead but another surge of power was not in my cards. I had 3rd and 4th in my eyesight for the remainder of the race and finished with no mechanicals and I didn’t even have to switch out a bikes because the course wasn’t that muddy. I was able to stay in 5th place which I was really happy about–especially because they do the long podium at nationals.

Clearly did not bring clothes in the event of a podium position…

After that race I had even less expectations for the singlespeed race on Saturday. I had only signed up for it because I was going to be there had a bike and figured another nationals experience wouldn’t hurt. Because that was my attitude, after Thursday’s race I joined mainly the mechanics for the (and I’m totally going to botch this) Second Annual Bi-Annual Mechanic Lap.

Off season here I come!

Where you drink a beer at the start, the first pit, the second pit, and the finish. Handup Gloves even gave me a glove to better grip the can for chugging #sopro. It was fun and for guys who mostly work on bikes they are fast at running. Doug defended his championship and won, and I think Sully got 2nd or 3rd. I finished closer to last than the start but my chugging skills aren’t what they used to be and since I was the only girl won that category.

Friday I did what my coach told me to do and ate a lot of food and finished up my last paper. I think I only left the house to go get lunch and that was about it.

Saturday because it had been raining all Friday and misting Saturday morning the course was completely different conditions from the previous two races. I had been joking with Sully that my off season had started and I was prepared to take all the drink handups that were offered during the race. At the start I met my long lost cousin, Sarah (okay she hasn’t been lost but for a while now I’ve heard from other people that they’ve met my cousin at races, and I’m like who? Apparently we have the same great-great grandfather and same last name).

We didn’t even plan our braids

The race started and with it being my third race I felt pretty familiar with the course. The start was on pavement with a slight downhill which gave just enough speed that we hit the grass and it became a slip n slide. Luckily I didn’t slide out but a few did. I felt surprisingly strong and was able to ride the sand pit (it had been packed down quite a bit from the races). The downhill which was slightly sketchy when dry and even more challenging with mud caking the lines and covering up any potential hazards. I found that if I took the high line I could slide down while still staying in the course boundaries. I somehow managed to stay up. Right at the bottom of the hill Sarah went around me and got in front. Unlike Thursday, I stayed on her wheel.

Trying not to bring shame to our family

I slipped and slid the whole next section making my way to the stone stairs. What was once favorable sections had been replaced with decrepit lines. I made it to the stone stairs, which offered some stable footing as I bounded up them. After the stairs I went to get back on my bike to go down the chute when I realize why it’s so necessary to wear bibs during cross races (because it was going to be muddy opted for a pair of shorts because they had more black than my other pair of bibs). In my attempt to remount I somehow hooked my waist band behind my saddle and when I moved up to swing over the bike, my shorts moved down. Welcome to cyclocross, folks. I then had to stop, pull my shorts back up and at that point wasn’t worth remounting and just ran, mostly slid down the chute.

I was able to gingerly ride the section that traversed the hillside, but being at the ready to put a foot down. I mostly slid down to the bottom and then had to hop off and run the hill up to Pit 2, where I remounted just to switch bikes with Sully (my first bike exchange of the season, happening at the last race of the season).

I exited and re attached to Sarah’s wheel. We went under the flyover and over the barriers and through the finish to start our second lap. Similar to the other races, the gaps that were created were large we didn’t have anyone in front or behind us for about 15 seconds. The section between the start and pit 1, while wet, wasn’t too muddy so didn’t need to switch bikes out. I followed Sarah down the hill, still managing to stay upright. As we traversed back up to the stone stairs I made my move back around her, all the while running.

Still trying not to bring shame to our family

Right as I was approaching the stone stairs I saw Emily (an aerospace PhD student that raced against me in collegiate), standing there with a dixie cup of bourbon–well it is the offseason, so chugged what I could and continued on my way. I made it down the chute and traversed back across the hill. I ran up to Pit 2, and switched bikes out again. I came through the finish and was noted by the officials that I was done. No bell lap, or anything. Because of the course conditions, lap times were much slower- both Wednesday and Thursday I did five laps; Saturday I did two with the leaders doing three in the same amount of race time.

With one of the hardest working mechanics in the biz

After the race my mom asked me why they announced my name wrong the first few times, and I told her they didn’t there was two Ginsbach’s in the race. It was a proper ‘cross race to end my season on and the only time it was muddy enough during the season that I had to switch bikes. I got off my bike that day an only got back on it two days ago. It was a nice and much needed break.

And also took a few showers

I was lucky that my mom and Aunt Joyce and Margaret were able to be at the races. They were able to stake out around various points of the race and I feel like it really helped during Thursday’s race. And feel like most races that I have a crew at, they have to do something because it’s usually 100 miles whereas this one they could just cheer–I think I saw my mom more times in 40 minutes than I did during the Maah Daah Hey which took 12 hours.

At the start with Drew–I’m sure he was offering great words of wisdom

I’d also be remiss if I didn’t thank Sully at Donnelly Cycling who was in the pits for me during Wednesday and Saturday’s races–and gave me warm-up space. And Drew who was in the pits for me on Thursday.

I loosely did exercise over break. I got Molly to hike Black Elk Peak with me when we were both home for Christmas.

Not even that cold!

I also did my first hut trip in Colorado (thanks to Sully and Jessie for all the gear). Which really just solidified my desire to move back there after graduation. It was my first time on skis in about 19 years and found that I really liked going up by was incredibly slow going down (you’re welcome, mom). The crew I was with was super nice about didn’t show annoyance with having to wait for me while I pizza’d down the mountain.

I spent my last weekend before school started in Miami with two college friends. It was the perfect ending to winter break and my time off the bike. It was nice to see my friends and the sun once more before entering the permacould in Indiana.


Cross is Here

 To catch you up on the logistics of my bike,  it showed up in South Dakota and by the grace of God, Sully would be coming through in 6 days, so I sent a shipping label to South Dakota and didn’t think much of it until 4 days later when I got an email notification that it had shipped, putting it here 2 days after Sully. Perfect training for therapy. So then I had this bike in a box in my garage because no way am I touching this super expensive bike with limited mechanical knowledge. 

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Instead he fixed one of my wheels 

Last weekend  I woke up sick, clearly my immune system didn’t take into account my racing schedule. Friday morning I scratched going to St. Louis and emailed my coach and was granted permission to take the weekend off racing and riding.  I texted Sully, “scratched St. Louis, half tempted to come to Madison if you would have time to build my bike” he texted back and asked if that would be the best thing if I was sick. Uhh, maybe not but it’s not like I’m going to race so it’s just drive time.  

Saturday morning I woke up and loaded the boxed bike into my car. I put limited riding gear in and left my cyclocross bike at home because I knew if I got to the race with a bike I would want to race and I really shouldn’t race. I got to Madison just after Sully beat 100 men in his field. I heard them call for Women Cat 3 and figured the race started in 10 minutes. Sully asked if I wanted to race and use his bike, “nah, there isn’t enough time” and unloaded the box from my car. 

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When you think you have all the time to drink coffee, not realizing you should be warming up

I got back to the tent and looked at the schedule, oh actually the race is in 35 minutes. Hmmm. “OKay, I think I might race, I’ll just go see if registration is still open.” I went to registration and after a bit delay got registered and back to the tent. I quickly changed and adjusted the saddle height on Sully’s bike. I ran over to another tent that has a major nutrition sponsor and grabbed some chews as I had only opted for coffee for breakfast. I had just enough to eat some chews, pedal backwards to check the seat height, and head to the staging area, clearly the optimal warm-up. 

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Camouflage handlebars, no wonder a girl crashed into them- haha

As they were calling names, mine never came up. After all were called, I rolled up to the officials and gave them my number and slotted into the last spot for the category. They put us in the gates a little prematurely and still having some time decided to warm up by doing some calisthenics. If that wasn’t enough to show how unprepared I was, I asked the girl next to me how long the race was going to be. Yikes.

The race started and I got stuck behind some traffic going into the first corner. There was one pretty good line but plenty of room to maneuver around other riders. I settled into a comfortable pace thinking I should spend the first lap warming up. About 3 minutes into the race I realized I had no idea how to shift, I had never ridden the brand and only remember someone briefly explaining it to me a few years ago. After a few shifts putting me into a harder gear I was able to figure it out just in time to hit the one steep hill. The course was was maybe the most ‘cross’ course ever. After the hill was a little rock hop, followed by a rock step-up, some log stairs, a flyover, barriers, a slight off-camber slope, a fly-over, and another fly-over just after the start. A lot of getting on and off the bike.

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One of the three fly-overs each lap 

The start of the second lap provided some space but I took a terrible line going down the hill that turned into the uphill. I cut the corner a little tight and came out wider than I wanted but had salvaged my poor decision. Or at least I thought until out of the corner of my eye I saw someone who had gone wide come up from behind and run straight into my handlebars, tangling us both up and taking me down. Being on the hill, I untangled it as people passed by and ran up the hill as fast as I could. I focused on staying smooth and worked to stay in front of those behind me while working to catch those in front of me. It kind of worked, I didn’t lose any more spaces but only made up 2 or 3 from the crash.IMG_7626.PNG

Most of the spectators were hanging around at the top of the steep hill and before the rock step-up. On the third lap I got to the top and took a beer hand up but immediately had to dismount for the step up and then remount and in the midst of a one-handed remount I dropped it. Not that I was going to drink it anyways because it’s not tequila, but sometimes you gotta give the people what they want.  The last lap was also pretty uneventful. Still not being able to breathe great I feel like I was right on the cusp of pushing it but not over doing it.  I finished 18 out of 39, which I felt okay with but also showed me some weaknesses early in the season. The plan as of now is to stay off the cross bike until end of October, with three more mountain bike races to go.

Oh yeah, and I got my bike all built, so stopped going to therapy because clearly all my stressors are gone! haha (just kidding)– No maiden voyage yet, but it’s coming!

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Woohooo!

 

A Different Kind of Lawyer

After the Maah Daah Hey 100, I took a week off and then started back to training. I knew I wanted a full season this fall and end in December with Cyclocross Nationals. In the past, I’ve usually taken about 3 weeks to a month off mid-August and then dabbled aimlessly for racing in the fall. Each year I’ve been in school (4 Falls) I always have the same thought of getting more in shape for shorter distances but then keep racing 100 miles. This year I’m making more of a concrete effort to get in shape and stick to shorter.

I had some issues with communication this summer on when a new bike would arrive. Part of the reason I left my old bike in Colorado, twice, only to have to figure out how to get it to Indiana. Less than ideal.

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Hand delivered! 

All of my stressors manifested themselves in this sole issue. It came flowing over when it was two weeks after the said ship date and no word on the arrival or the location it was going to ship to (yeah…). I found out the arrival date would be another month which really only put it here for nationals.  I was sitting at my kitchen table, crying over this issue when Sully reminded me that bikes should be fun, I agreed. Because my best friend, who is a therapist, was on her honeymoon, and there were no 100 mile races to be found, I signed up for a real therapy session with the counselor at the law school. I was hesitant about going, mainly because stress around bike racing is not really a common law student problem but it seemed kind of silly for how much it was impacting my life.

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When you’re just trying to be a ‘different kind of lawyer’ hahah (ND’s motto)

I went and talked through everything in 50 minutes (I’m cured!) and came to the realization that because I’m forging my own path forward (avoiding corporate law) it leaves a lot of questions up in the air of what next year will look like. Right now everything and everywhere is a possibility, which is amazing and terrifying! As a result I’m focusing so much on wanting good results this fall because in the back of my mind I’m like what if this is it, what if this is my last season. If I do terrible can I justify  racing when I have other things going on in my life that need priority too. The therapist thought maybe because bike racing is the one thing I can control, meticulously, with the racing schedule and all my training plans that I’m focusing so much on it as a result.

It’s somewhat comical that I decided to try and control the one area of my life that does not yield well to control. I haven’t had a clean race this season, either with mechanicals or crashes and have been able to roll with it.

 

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Lining up to start– photo from University of Louisville Cycling 

The first race of collegiate mountain bike started 2 weeks ago for me. The cross-country course was reduced from 4 laps to 3 the morning of. I didn’t think much of it because a 15 mile race vs. a 20 mile race is still the same in my mind compared to 100 miles. During the race, though, I was so glad we were only doing 3 laps. The race started on pavement and went up a climb of about 10-15% grade for 1/3 mile or so. Just enough to get my heart rate abnormally high. After hitting the trail I had to scramble with my bike to get over a log and then probably lost 30 seconds trying to get back on because my heart rate was just coursing adrenaline throughout my body, I scurried to the top of the hill to  find an even piece of land to get on from. The course was relentless, even the downhills offered little recovery as they were littered with rocks or technical turns that required ever vigilance. It was all I could do to drink.

Fortunately the start of the second lap took out the pavement climb and instead offered a traverse over the hill before zig-zagging up to connect to singletrack. On the traverse over I washed my front wheel out and went down, it happened so fast I didn’t even have time to react and took the brunt of the force with my knees and hip (better than my face!). I made the mistake of putting my Garmin mount from my road bike on my mountain bike (in the midst of switching parts over, I convinced myself it would be finnnnne! Jokes on me). The mount snapped off, luckily I found my Garmin lying in the trail and snatched it up and stuck it in my jersey pocket. The rest of the race was uneventful, and mostly just slogged away at the trail for an hour and 40 minutes. I got done and finished 3rd, more by default, only 4 women started and one dropped out due to a mechanical in the first lap. I thought she was behind me the whole time, which was nice to at least have that thought to push me.

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The next morning I debated doing the shorttrack race. It had rained overnight, so much so that I got a flash flood warning on my phone. Unsure of what the course conditions would be like I was hesitant to register before the first race of the day. The crew did a good job of restructuring the course at the last minute and avoided the areas that were flooded. To add a dimension to the now the mostly grass course they put in a death spiral. You ride all the way in for about 4 circles and then turn and unwind out. After the first race I saw that the bikes mostly picked up pieces of grass but not a lot of mud so decided to race (not looking to replace my drivetrain…again). They combined the A and B women so our field grew to about 9. After the pavement start we immediately hit the soft grass. It was slick and took one girl down when she slid out of a corner. I followed the train into the death spiral which was a really terrible idea because as I was circling in, others started circling out, while more were circling in and for someone who gets motion sickness, it was all I could do to orientate myself, and not throw up.

We raced for 25 minutes and after sitting on the 3rd place girl for 3 laps through the death spiral knew that I would be sufficiently dizzy if I followed her again, when we hit the pavement I went around and worked to put in some time in between the start of the death spiral, it worked but I still wasn’t completely out when she was entering but it was at least better. The race finished with pretty big gaps in between the finishers, I think I was almost 2 minutes from first place and 30 seconds behind 2nd (the girl who crashed and got up, yeah she’s fast).

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I felt good with my results (even if cross-country was by default). Since I’m trying to get my top end fitness firing for shorter distances, the weekend was more to figure out where I was and where my head goes during such short events. It’s much easier to stay in the race, I often find myself after 7+ hours of racing being like, where am I, what am I doing here, what food do I get to eat, yeah when it’s only 25 minutes those questions don’t come up…at all. 

 

Maah Daah Hey 100

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.

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The first of many sunscreen sprays for the day

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 start .jpg

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.

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Almost took my finger off in one of those spins…

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.

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Image from: Maah Daah Hey Trail Association

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.

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The only photo I got from the day!

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.

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The only time I ever eat pickles…100 mile races

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.

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All the snacks!

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.

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Just a few more pushes and I’ll be there…

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.

finish line photo
Okay, so maybe my parents could improve on the finish line photos hahaha

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. nap at the end .jpg 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.

podium .jpg
When you finish just in time for the awards ceremony…haha

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.

with age group
Taken right before I ate a whole chicken.

with barb
Barb won her division in the 25-mile distance

with parents
My parents should definitely win an award for how willing they are to jump into my adventures!

“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.