Corpse Pose

I’ve been stuck with writing this post because my drafts never seemed to get where I wanted them to. Which is funny because I’m writing them but feel like a post about death and darkness would make my mother send another care package. It took me a while to get here, just like the darkness that has seeped into Anchorage, but now that it’s here, I’m fully embracing it.

When I started my work I really had no idea what it would look like day-to-day. I didn’t really think about the fact that being based in a hospital means that a lot of the legal needs that are being provided are in anticipation of dying or after someone is dead. As a result, at times there are awkward moments as I fumble to find some form of comfort to provide. It’s like my wanting to be a mortician as a child has finally come to a head, no dead bodies but surrounded by death, careful what you wish for, I guess… and yes, I was a very odd child (but like think of the job security). It’s also odd because had I ended up the route of a mortician I feel like that schooling would have prepared me better to meet people on their worst days. Law school taught me how to read cases, cite statutes, and think on my feet, but also made everything feel so formal and starchy. Rarely were we thinking about the people in the cases, the tears that poured in law offices, the shaky voices as they told their story, and the anxiety that came with the unknown. It boiled down to spotting the issue and not the people.

I spend a lot of time during my days thinking about death and mortality and how fragile it all really is and how at any moment life can completely change. Which is annoying because in a lot of ways I feel like I’m finally understanding my mother after all those years (yes, mom, you were right). When I was a kid and even most recently I get a little miffed at having to celebrate my birthday. I would much rather disappear to the woods to ride my bike or even not acknowledge that the day was any different. But I have grown up with my mother pulling me out of my comfort zone by constantly reminding me that we need to celebrate the good when we can. And there is still a lot of good to be had.

Celebrate the good, but also plan!

I’ve had trepidation about the impending darkness, ever since I took this position, both figuratively and literally. Because that’s one thing law school did prep us for: depression, addiction, failed relationships, and despair in many forms. And it’s hard to distinguish if the zeal I feel towards life right now is because everything in Alaska is a fresh beginning that my outside life of finding new adventures provides a stark contrast to the ones that end in the hospital. But have found that embracing the darkness has made me enjoy it, giving a fresh perspective on trails, adventures, and life.

The trails have been riding well and my gusto for getting outside is unmatched for my usual November ride attitude. Instead of getting on the trainer most days, the last few weeks have been spent outside, after work, embracing the darkness. Which also meant realizing that I need to actively charge and check the status of my lights, twice relying on (responsible) friends to light the way.

One night I was actually grateful that my light had died and couldn’t see the moose standing next to the trail until I was already past it, unfortunately that meant I couldn’t see my friend had slammed on her brakes and ran into the bushes to avoid another moose on the trail. I quickly followed suit and after realizing the moose wasn’t interested in us, cautiously grabbed our bikes, heading back into the dead thicket to circumnavigate around the trail.

The novelty of the darkness hasn’t warn off on me yet, I’m sure it will at some point. Last week I was doing a trail run on a trail I hadn’t been and was submerged into darkness quicker than I anticipated because of the tree coverage but had an adequate headlight to at least stay on the trail. Half way through the run, the tree coverage gave way to a meadow that opened up to the sky. I slowed to a walk and with the glow of the stars and the sliver of the moon basked in the shadows of the mountains and the quiet stillness the dark exhales. Don’t worry if I think really hard about everything that could go wrong or happen in the dark, I still definitely get scared but also find some odd comfort that maybe I won’t see whatever might attack me coming and be at peace when I die, super morbid, yes.

All the clothing options for any adventure – Photo from Rachel Heath

The nice thing is that all these things in the dark and the chaotic quests to pack as much in aren’t individual pursuits, and I think that’s the tough part about moving here and thinking about leaving. The community that’s embraced me seems to be similar to the one I had in Colorado, where people live here to be able to get outside and it’s been really cool and really humbling (especially coming from Indiana) to get to be a part of that.

Photo from Rachel, who also wanted to try out her camera, very convenient

This past weekend the weather and timing lined up, with temps in the mid-40s, the trails beckoned to be ridden. I headed down to Seward with some friends on Saturday to ride a new trail for me.

Again, Rachel crushing the photo game

The trail was amazing and the conditions were unreal, I kept apologizing for my level of enthusiasm to be outside and riding but they both seemed to share similar sentiments.

Photo by Rachel

Sunday I stayed in Anchorage, riding the local mountain bike trails with a bigger group. Most of the trails were really good and tacky but did end up on one that was muddy (no trails got harmed) and cold enough when we ended that the frozen mud on my seat kept freezing my butt to the saddle, which made it slightly awkward trying to get out of the saddle to pedal and have my shorts stay, fortunately I don’t think anyone got a free show. It did require a stop at the car wash on the way home.

When the riding is so good you haven’t washed your hair in a few days….

Monday I was lucky to have the day off with two friends that were also able to take the day to go back down to Seward. We planned on tacking a few trails together to get 30 miles, and to get as much daylight in as possible had an early departure time. We started up the trail and one of the first steeper climbs, ran into a mechanical when a downshift broke a spoke and threw the chain off the cassette. Fortunately we were close enough to the car to go back there and deal with the mechanical. We spent a good 15 minutes wrestling to untwist the valve core from the wheel and finally realized we were getting nowhere so loaded the wheel up in search of the first welcoming looking house (and yes, we had a guy with us, check your stereotypes -haha). We must have been putting out good energy vibes because the first house we stopped at let us in and conveniently had their toolbox in their living room with the pick of pliers in it.

We got the valve core out, took the broken spoke out, put a Canadian dollar in to patch the hole, put a tube in, and started off again. Again the trail, like the on one Saturday did not disappoint, the trail weaved in and out of old growth forest and provided the added challenge of wet roots to navigate.

After being in the forest we were exposed to the ridge line where it felt like riding in the high alpine of Colorado so was slightly disappointed we were only 2,300 feet above sea level.

When it seems like you’re high up, but the air is still very easy to breath–photo from Clint

We started descending the same trail that I rode on Saturday and tucking down off the ridge to eat lunch. The other two had stuffed grocery stores burritos which dwarfed my paltry decision of an apple and peanut butter.

Photo from Clint

As we sat there, with mountains encapsulating every vantage point, my mind wandered to Yale. At the time of my rejection, I was devastated, I mean I even cried, but quickly realized how many rejections and failures put me on that mountaintop and how in that moment I was incredibly grateful for everyone of them. I told my friends that too but prefaced it with “the next thing I’m going to say is going to be really cheesy”.

Grande navigated this bridge much better than I did- photo from Clint

We put another layer on and took off on the descent, a blanket of cold had settled into my fingers and I was worried about how they would fare but seemed like the lower we went the warmer it got so was able to maintain braking power no problem. We got to the bottom, removed a few layers and rode the highway the 15 miles back to the car, cutting out a section of trail in favor of daylight. I got done and jokingly said, might just go in tomorrow and extend my contract.

Going to be basking in this sun all winter- again Rachel killing the shot

As I write this, freezing rain has settled in. I’ve decided to race cross nationals so feel okay having to potentially get on the trainer for the next few weeks. If anything grad school prepared me to deal with it was trainer life. I did splurge and buy a pair of skis so ready to embrace winter whenever it decides to arrive. Still unsure on the whole fat biking thing, but more on that later.

Also, welcome to post-yoga K8 writings. Going on 7 years of practice and I can’t touch my toes but get a pretty good zen going and can savansana with the best of them.

Moose Count: 21 (saw 7 on one ride)

Bear Count: 0 –slightly more concerned now because on average bears are hibernating 11 days later because of the changing weather patterns, which means if I see one it’s going to be so full or very hungry and well we all know what I’m like when I get hangry so imagine a bear.

Bikepacking 101 and Bears

“Oh, going on an adventure?” The REI cashier asked me as I handed him my bear spray. “Yeah, it’s called moving here.” I responded.

When I was in the process of moving I thought about bears and moose encounters but they seemed so far away (literally, more than 3,000 miles), but upon arriving here, I quickly realized that it’s real life and I’m playing the game for keeps. The first few days in Anchorage I didn’t really venture out, I mostly moved my things in and spent time in the garage painting furniture where my chance encounter with a bear was relatively low.

I also realized that I can’t stay in the garage this entire year smelling paint fumes. I saw a flier for a bikepacking course, including an overnight trip by Alaska Bike Adventure. Perfect, baptism by fire in bear country. I figured it would serve two purposes I would likely meet cool people who like to ride far on their bikes and it would introduce me to bikepacking in a way that was structured and comfortable to figure out if it’s something I’d want to further pursue (like when I sell my car and ride my bike home). I always felt like it was similar to alpine touring where it’s something I was interested in but not enough to want to spend money on it first to find out.

I’ve loosely thought about bikepacking. After I did White Rim, Sully got me some bags for Christmas, a seat bag and a top tube bag– apparently when you get off the trail at 1:30am with minimum headlights it warrants the discussion of setting up camp or to keep going. I’ve used the top tube bag for a few races but never the seatbag, because that would mean I’d have to camp. It’s not that I’m adverse to camping, I don’t really mind it but have never slept in a tent by myself, I don’t even own one. If I’m with someone else I’ll sleep in their tent or if I’m by myself I’ll sleep in my car, this is usually a safety thing and it’s definitely limiting in terms of how far you can explore without having to turn back for single day solo-trips.

Had to say goodbye to Tenzen

The bikepacking course was modeled after a NOLS course, we had 4 hours of instruction and then a 24 hour trip. I showed up for the first course and found out I was the only one who signed up– 2 guides for 1 Kate is a great ratio. We chatted for a bit at the start and they talked about the races and tours that they’ve done and I immediately recognized that I was going to be in very good hands. The first course we went over gear for the bike, looking at the design and application. From the function and weight of the gear it was apparent that the gear for the bike was racer/rider designed. We talked about what gear of my own to bring. They humored me by answering my most remedial questions from lycra vs. baggies to all things bears (like how close to the tent to pee is too close?).

The next course was me pulling out my bin full of gear and asking about this versus that option but at the end felt confident with my gear choices. The morning of I packed up my camelbak with my snacks, gloves, book, and light rain jacket and put my riding gear in the car. I met them at the trail head about an hour north of Anchorage. Being in the parking lot assuaged my fears a bit as kids were pouring out of cars–surely parents would not be sacrificing all of them to bears so figured the risk must be pretty low. We loaded up our bikes and split some more group gear and took off.

Here we go

The trail was mostly flat but I appreciated that when getting used to the gear being on my bike. I found that the front end actually felt more stable with the loaded weight. We rode about 10 miles out. We pulled off to a campsite and then rode through some trees to arrive at a gravel bar that was on the opposite end of the lake from where we started.

We scoured for a position to place our tents that would offer some shield from the wind and then they explained the bear triangle to me. Basically you position your cooking station and your food storage at the bottom end of the triangle with the tents as the third prong, all dependent on wind position. We unloaded our gear and set our tents up –I tried to played it cool, like I knew what I was actually doing when I in fact had no real idea because Sully usually set the tent up, but they even helped me with that.

We took our bikes and explored the trail a bit more until it dead ended at a public cabin that you can reserve (remembering that for later). Then we turned around and headed back to the campsite to cook dinner. First they showed me how to filter water (beyond just dumping iodine tablets in) and we got 10 liters of fresh glacial stream. Then we made tacos for dinner and chatted for a while because it had started raining and it seemed like 7pm was maybe a little too early to go to bed. Like I said they have a well of knowledge when it comes to long distance riding and racing, so we talked about everything from the race scene in Alaska to training to other races and routes to explore. They were maybe the perfect people to spend my first weekend in Alaska with.

We finally headed off to bed but tied our food up first. I stayed up and read for a bit, mostly to distract me from any thoughts about what my body would look like if I got mauled (do not google images that). The rain and wind had settled in which also provided enough of a white noise to cover any noises I might have been startled by. After the sun set, I soon realized I had to pee but I didn’t want to have to get up and go pee just in case there was a bear (plus it was raining). I spent time convincing myself I did not have to pee until I fell asleep for a bit but then woke up to the realization I still had to pee. I still wasn’t sure how close was too close to pee to the tent but didn’t want to go far so I came up with a plan; I would pee right next to the tent but then dump my extra water on top just to help neutralize the odor quicker. I moved quickly, kept my head down, and my bear spray close. I then dump all my water out but lost my pillow because I had been using my water bladder as a headrest– but worth it if I didn’t end up with a grizzly sitting on my body, right? After that I finally fell into a deep sleep.

The next morning we cooked an egg and hash brown scramble, and drank copious amounts of coffee while taking in the morning fog rolling out of the mountain valley.

We packed up our gear, I was grateful that the wind had pushed the rainstorm through in the night so I didn’t have to have most of the gear end up soggy in the stuff sacks. We headed back on the same trail but I swear it was more amazing heading back.

The mesmerism of the landscape tugged at me and on that trail I realized how easy it is for people to stay here [the tables might turn come December and no daylight].

We got to the end and unloaded our packs to divvy things up. I returned the bags but keep a new found sense of ‘hey, I just might be able to do this’. It wasn’t nearly as daunting as I had envisioned and like the idea of exploring multi-day routes. Still need to figure out the whole potentially sleeping outside by myself thing but baby steps. Through talking with the guides I’ve found that the community in Anchorage of endurance athletes runs deep, I gather it’s from the magnetism of the landscape that draws people to want to explore but with limited access (limited roads, trails) they pursue activities that give them that ability. I even left contemplating returning to Colorado next year to take on the Colorado Trail Race and see what I’m really made of beyond a single day event.

I told the guides that if any of my friends who ride come and visit I would probably just have them guide us on a trip like this (so now you’ll know what we’ll be doing when you visit and you can pack accordingly).

We also didn’t see any bears on the trip, which is good and bad. It feels like the early spring days when you start to venture outside and at some point you know you’re finally going to run into the first snake of the season. It’d be nice to just get it over with running into a bear or moose on the trail and being like see I survived, I can do this…unless I didn’t survive… which would a real bummer. I think I struggle with the wildlife because in our ever increasing controlled and manicured lives, they serve as a blunt reminder of how unpredictable and uncontrollable mother nature is. There are definitely things that I can control (like bear spray, proper food storage, bear bells) but in the end it can come down to simply bad timing. But then I remind myself that I’m much more likely to be attacked by some guy up here than any wildlife (Alaska is the #1 state for violence against women, South Dakota is #2). So maybe I’ll just carry bear spray on me at all times…

Some of it is just giving myself time to get comfortable in this space, I keep reminding myself I’ve learned to live with running into rattlesnakes, buffalo, mountain lions, getting caught in lightning storms, and reminding myself that it’s okay to be afraid and do it anyways.

Nature is pretty neat.
Plus views like this certainly help

I do start work this week so that will in all likelihood limit my penchant for merrymaking. My cyclocross bike did just arrive though so planning on racing this weekend (race my way into shape, heyo!).

If you’re interested in checking out the gear I used it was from Revelate Designs. I would definitely recommend if you’re in the market for bike gear. If you want to visit Alaska and plan your own bike adventure I can’t speak highly enough of Grande and Dusty at Alaska Bike Adventures!

Gowdy Grinder

“Everybody hurts. When I don’t have words to articulate my pain or
frustration, I get crude. But crude is probably better than repressed”

I went back and forth for a bit before deciding to write this, it doesn’t portray me in the best light–surprise sometimes I’m aggressive when I race–usually only with myself but this time it spilled over. My mom pointed out that there are people who lead us. They lead us to the realization all the amazing experiences we’ve had and also make me grateful for all my male friends and racers who have given me space and not been threaten by the fact that I’m a female and sometimes fast (and also sometimes last).

The Gowdy Grinder started like most races, debating if I should race. “Yeah, but you like racing.” Ohhhh yeah, I do like racing my bike. I was debating pulling the plug on racing to go ride with friends. To get the best of both options I moved my race time up to race the expert category instead of the pro. Which meant that the two hours I had to warm up was now reduced to 30 minutes. I quickly changed and realized that warming up wouldn’t do much so hung around the finish to see a friend finish her race and do some jumping jacks.

Won’t be replacing my warm-up with this anytime soon

At the start I chatted with the other women in my race that I knew. Sully and Katie gave me some final words of wisdom and told me that the start is a bit of a climb and to take the inside corner.

We started two minutes behind the pro men, which I didn’t think much of because they’re pro men. For not having a warm-up I started pretty hot. I followed Heidi, one of the women I knew around the corner on the inside and then pulled ahead of her at the top of the short hill. I looked up to see that the hill kept going, so I kept going. It was about 90 seconds into the race and given my track record was expecting anyone to come blowing by me at any moment. I realized that I could either settle in or just push a little hard to try to get some space for when I really blew up. I dug in and saw my heart rate soar. Within about 5 minutes of the start, we were on single track and encountering the first male. I called out ahead that the women were coming and the three guys ceded way. I kept pushing because I was convinced that soon I would explode so figured the faster I went the less I would have to limp home.

I should have just followed Heidi since she actually knew the course

I vaguely remembered the course instructions (another reason I should never lead) at the start was told we do the short loop first. I got to a fork with signs that said “long loop” and had arrows pointing. I stopped, and looked around, no arrows for the short loop. So I waited, it probably wasn’t more than 30 seconds when my cousin, Sarah crested the hill and descended to where I was, “which way do we go?” we debated for about 15 seconds and then opted for the long loop arrows and figured if we both took the wrong way we would just tell them. I got back on and with Sarah right behind me and called out to let me know when she needed to pass.

We worked our way up through a technical section and a small gap opened up between us. I rode a rocky feature and came up the trail in front of me to see a guy who must have had to walk that section attempting to get back on his bike and he turned and looked at me. I get it, I’m in a sports bra and probably look like a prepubescent teenage boy, but he didn’t just do a quick glance, it was long enough for him to give that look of “oh crap, the women are catching me”. And I’m not proud of what I did next, maybe it’s because I dealt with egos in law school or that I had spent last weekend at a women’s only mountain bike race (where everyone was so nice) or that my heart rate had been insanely high for the past 10 minutes. So he stares at me and then turns to get back on his bike to get in front of me on the trail. And I go, “Are you F-ing kidding me?” (Except I said it for real) which at least got him to give me the trail. As soon as I said it I felt bad, I’ve never done that in a race. And then I realized I couldn’t let up because I didn’t want this guy to immediately pass me again. I kid you not that I spent the next 10 minutes of that loop questioning what I had done and telling myself I would immediately apologize to him at the finish. And then I questioned that, why should I apologize, he’s the one who was getting caught, I’ve given the trail to plenty of faster guys and girls. And then I decided I would apologize for what I said but not for what I’ve done.

Sonya Looney is a World Champion and still has issues like this

I went through the finish area, realizing that we must have taken the correct route because I was at 4 miles and the longer loop was 8. I headed back out and glanced behind me, that guy was still a little too close, I wasn’t racing him but still felt bad and didn’t want to run into an issue again. About a mile after the start area, the course diverts and goes to the left, which proved to be a more technical trail than the previous one. I was going down a big rock that hooked around into a bridge, I wasn’t going to make the turn so hoped off and kind of scooted down, the guy came in hot behind me, so I called out “Oh so sorry if I messed you up” and “I’m also really sorry about what I said earlier.” And then he started yelling at me, and I think he was joking because he kept saying, “I’m f-ing kidding” but I told him to just pass me, I don’t want to deal with this, which he kept saying “I’m just f-ing kidding”, to which I told him there are plenty of guys that aren’t kidding and apologized again for how I had acted earlier. It’s one of the most striking altercations I’ve had on a trail. I looked around to see if anyone else was nearby, they weren’t and realized how vulnerable I was at that moment. I scooted away as fast as possible, and I think he was kidding because he gave me a lot of room following that; I didn’t see him again. It reminded me of earlier this fall, I was riding a trail and came upon this guy and he wouldn’t let me pass him for a good mile with me asking nicely to please pass. I finally took him over on the inside of a corner to get around him. And then immediately realized how stupid that was and sought the nearest exit from the trail.

After that interaction I was trying to get my emotions back in check just to focus on riding so that I wouldn’t make a stupid mistake. Shortly thereafter I came upon a group of young girls at a trail intersection that were there to cheer and they were so excited to see me and cheered super loud because I was a girl. Which definitely made me feel better and reminded me that if I had stayed silent with that guy, the next generation would still have to deal with this bull shit (and they probably will, but hopefully less!).

The back section was pretty rocky with more technical feature than the short loop and I was having to hop off and run up something and get back on. The few other guys I ran into on the trail were super nice, and actually got out of the way before I even needed to say anything. There was a little uphill which I was starting to fade on but towards the top was able to catch a second wind. I soon hit the first section and I at least knew what to expect but I still had to run up a few things. I took advantage of the last two miles that were mostly smooth and downhill. I saw one lady gaining ground on me but was able to hold her off long enough to finish. The first three finishers were all within 2 minutes of each other so I think any longer and they would have caught me. Sarah came in third and I asked her if she had any issues with that guy and she said she didn’t see him and then we chatted about guys and egos for a bit while waiting at the finish for our other friend, Heidi. Unfortunately, Heidi had snapped her chain on the first lap, which given the insane power spikes and some of the technical things I had to get up was glad that I didn’t run into a mechanical.

I thought about waiting at the end to talk to that guy but realized it wasn’t worth it, I apologized on the trail and there was no point in dragging it out.

After the race my friends camped in the area so I was able to meet them the next morning for a ride at Happy Jack, which was nice because I feel like sometimes my brain is over thinking so they were able to navigate the trails and I just followed them around.

How much skin can I show while also still being warm…a fine line was walked

Bar studying is going well and then it’s not and then it is and then it’s not. Just riding the waves of emotion right now. I’m taking the 4th off to race the Firecracker 50 with a friend in Breckenridge which is something nice to look forward too. But I think after that it will be mostly short rides and no racing in the last few weeks before the exam.

But to reward myself I’ve also decided to do the Maah Daah Hey again–okay not the 100 because as much as I want to because it’s amazing I think July will really see my training take a back seat to studying and to take the bar on Tuesday/Wednesday and then turn around to race 100 miles on Saturday is even a little much for me. So instead I’m going to race the 50 and this is for a few reasons, first I feel like the MDH is like the room of requirement in Harry Potter, that trail gives you exactly what you need even if you don’t know what that is, and secondly I feel like the last oh 20 miles of that race I essentially blacked out on so looking forward to seeing that section of the course again. It’s not confirmed but it seems like they let you split the course so if someone wants to race the first 50 miles, I would be down for a team.

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

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.

fixing my wheel
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.

Spirit Journey 3.0

Did you think I sold all my bikes and stopped racing at this point? I thought about it. I can’t put into words how I’ve been feeling but most of the summer felt jumbled and messy and while I should have kept this up-to-date with the races I’ve done I could just never get into it. I still haven’t exactly figured out why I’ve felt so off this summer. I think it’s a bit related to thinking about graduating next year and not really knowing what my life will look like after that, where I’ll be living or what it will even look like to train and race. That in itself has created larger questions like do I want to keep racing and training, am I still going to be fast enough, am I still having fun, are the sacrifices worth it. So far the answer has been yes.

prairie riding
There were a lot of South Dakota Spirit Journeys this summer

I started off the summer with a gravel race (the one race I actually wrote about) and then two XC races, both about 25 miles. I was able to win both of them, the second one by default as the conditions of the day (muddy and wet) made the other girls who were register not start. They were smart as that seemed to be the start of my bike problems.

muddy race
Definitely not worth the replacement costs

I ended up throttling the drive train and having to replace the chain, cassette, and chain rings-yikes. I should have just listened to Sully and shipped it back to Colorado right away but instead thought maybe I would get it all together in time to race the next weekend. I didn’t and ended up shipping it back to CO anyways. Since I didn’t have a mountain bike I opted instead to race a crit. They put the women and the men together and pull you when you get lapped. As a result the 40 minute crit turned into the 12 minute crit for the women. I ended up 4th, which was a bummer because 3rd place got $100 (they seem to pay way better for road racing than any other discipline).

crit racing
When you put a waterbottle on not realizing the race will be less than 15 minutes

I was able to fly back to CO/SD for a few weeks and work from there. I did the Firecracker 50 as a duo with Sully, he went first and crushed it. I went out and attacked the first climb and quickly realized that living in the flatland has made sustained climbing one of my weaknesses, or maybe it was the lack of oxygen. Either way I could never get into a groove. I finished the race and even though we did it for fun I was a little disappointed with my time. I was about 10 minutes slower than the previous two years (I was told later that most people were because of course changes) and had only beat Sully by 4 minutes. He’s deceivingly fast but it also made me question if I am getting faster. FullSizeRender  It was a rough few days after Firecracker, and even told my mom I wanted to sell all my bikes (dramatic, much?). Fortunately I had signed up for another race already and when my mom asked why I was even doing it I said the entry fee was too much to not show up. I showed up and had an okay race, I crashed twice, breaking my shoe and having to wrap it in duct tape to finish. I focused on trying to treat it like a training race. I was glad when it was over as the day brought temps to the high 90s and it was pretty miserable. I finished 4th, which again was a bummer because 3rd place got a pretty sweet plaque. What’s the rhyme, 1st is the worst…false– 4th is the worst. 

after tatanka.JPG
But at least there was a snow cone involved

That’s it, I had hoped to do about 3-4 other races but between bike issues and traveling I just couldn’t make the others happen. I started the summer trying to do as many races as possible because I’ve been going back and forth with USA Cycling about points and upgrades, and I feel that’s part of it, if I’m only focused on getting enough results for USA Cycling. Like the race that throttled my bike, I was like oh I can get a podium result here when really I should have just driven home.

I signed up for the Maah Daah Hey 100, its been on my list for a few years. I don’t feel like I have been focusing on the endurance that I probably should for 100 miles. But I wasn’t sure the next time I would get back to do it and with the cut-off time being 18 hours, hoping I can struggle into the finish line if need be. It’s the first race that I’m actually putting a headlight into a drop bag to pick up if I need it. I’m not exactly sure what to expect but feel like it’s going to be a mixture between the Tatanka 100 and my White Rim adventure. It was a little chaotic getting to this point. I have a new bike on order and thought it would show up in time so had other bike in Boulder ready to sell. Having then flown back to Indiana I realized I wouldn’t have the new bike in time and I was fortunate enough to have a friend who was willing to change the handlebars, wheels, and pack and ship it out to me.

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Throwback to having a great support crew

One perspective that I’ve gained this summer is how much of a team effort is behind my racing. Being so far from Boulder made me realize how much I took for granted having a great community and support for myself and my bike, either with Sully or other friends when I needed it. Also going to more races by myself this summer it’s pretty anticlimactic; when you finish, you get in the car drive home and try to scour the internet for a race photo. If you’re lucky some random kid is cheering for you at the finish but it’s not the same community I’m used to. When I was back for the Firecracker 50 I ran into people that I used to race with or know from other areas and that was really nice. Even in South Dakota the state is so small that you end up knowing other people at the races. Fortunately, for the MDH 100 I have both my parents coming up and Barb. Barb is racing the 25 mile option and my parents are starting with me and going to head to the aid stations, which even if I don’t need that much from them it will be nice to see familiar faces on the race course. And unlike at the Tatanka 100, I doubt my mom is going to let me lie on a cardboard slab for an hour while I contemplate going on, if that happens she’ll be like, “no, you’re not doing this, we’re going home” and then I’ll get up and start riding again. Super helpful.

on the lake.JPG
Still working on that balance

Wow, does this blog post seem super depressing? Maybe that’s why I haven’t written  because it makes me seem like a Debbie Downer about racing and bikes but that’s why I signed up for 100 miles to press the reset button.

ice bath.JPG

 

 

 

 

Leadville 2017- Fourth and Final

It has taken me a while to get together this blog post and I came to realize because I don’t exactly feel like it’s my story to tell and law school has taken a bit of time (lolz). Mainly I was there as a supportive role to Sharon but also felt like I had a lackluster performance in that area. I set the goal to have this written before Christmas break was over and since classes are about to start up figured time to start writing. Instead of boring you with an 11:30 hour race report mainly just pictures with some added commentary from the day–okay more than commentary.

at the start
Final thoughts before the gun

At the start line I wasn’t sure how to ride with someone for the full day so I told Sharon if we get separated on any climb and descent and I’m in front I’ll wait for her but if she gets in front of me just go. Even with that I still managed to lose her, a few times.

The gun started and I wasn’t sure what to expect, sure I’ve done the race 3 times before but was starting only one corral from the last one and still get worried about St. Kevin’s getting bogged up. I followed Sharon’s pace on the pavement and towards St. Kevin with the plan to jump ahead of her and create a pathway going up St. Kevin. It worked well with me glancing back occasionally to make sure she was not far behind me.

st kevins
Bright, misty morning

Unfortunately I soon realized that the woman I thought was Sharon was actually not and I had forgotten what helmet she was wearing. I rode on until the first aid station and stopped there for her. She wasn’t too far behind and handed my arm-warmers off to Doug (who was volunteering at the aid station there). Sharon raced by and I jumped back on to catch up with her.

Sharon is an amazing descender and it was all I could do to stay behind her on the pavement descent. The descent down powerline was pretty uneventful too. Being further back than my pace in previous years it meant that even less people were opting for the B line. I had one woman yell at me to be careful, I replied back, “thanks, mom!”. Sharon and I hit the pavement and started forming a pace line, I took the front thinking Sharon could save some energy here, soon she was in front pulling me. We alternated with another person going towards the next aid station and the pace line blew up when we hit the dirt. One woman came up to the side of us and said all the men should thank us for pulling them, thinking it was only one or two I looked behind to see at least 20 men had been on our paceline– wimps.

sharon leading
Sharon also paced me- see I’m not a great pacer… haha 

The next section is rolling and we chatted with other riders and each other. One woman was on her 11th (or some outrageous number of Leadville) and had just finished Ironman Canada like 3 weeks before. I was just like, oh I just spent my summer writing a thesis soooo…

IMG_1868
Sharon pacing me, again- ha 

At Twin Lakes we were greeted by the the WBR tent with Sully and Michelle which is always such an energy boost. I swapped bottles and we took off again. Just across from the dam Sharon had an issue with her camelbak so we stopped and diagnosed it. I did mental math of how many fluids I had to get us to the top and realized that I had left my camelbak on when I meant to drop it. So plenty of fluids. Sharon was able to dislodge the drink mix that had clogged up her hose and we were off again.

We split up for the climb and I started going to a dark place. I kept eating and drinking but my stomach had been giving me problems on and off the whole day so not my usual schedule and I just kept thinking get to the top and make it back to Twin Lakes and take a breath. So that’s what I did, I focused on getting to the top and once there focused on getting down. I saw Sharon at the top as I was headed down and she was just about to the aid station. I figured I was maybe 3 minutes in front of her. I had thought of waiting for her at the top but had gotten cold and thought it was best to get down.

twin lakes stop
Taking a minute to breathe

At Twin Lakes I handed my bike off to Sully and took a minute to sit behind the tent and just breath and refocus. Sharon showed up quickly after and I hopped back up, grabbed some new bottles, new food, and a full camelbak and took off behind Sharon.   The next section back to Pipeline was again uneventful and even back to Powerline I was able to sit into a paceline that pulled into the bottom of Powerline.

I rounded the corner and saw Sully and Michelle at the bottom so I pulled off, Sharon was in a groove and said she was going to keep going so I said I’d catch up. I restocked and told Sully this was really hard. He told me I was almost done. I started up Powerline knowing Sharon was in front of me and made it to the point where riding brings diminishing returns and walking is more beneficial. I started hiking and focusing on drinking.

powerline
At the base of powerline

This section was the most frustrating for me because I could ride a lot of the uphill beyond Powerline but there is only one really good line to do it on. I would yell out “rider” for those hiking up taking the good line and no one would move. It happened over and over so I would either take the B line if it was feasible or get off hike around the person and get back on. I couldn’t figure out if it was because it was all men and I was a woman and they didn’t want to move for a woman who was riding or if they were just tired. This was the biggest thing I noticed from having a slower pace- in the past if I said “rider” people would move no problem and usually say ‘nice riding’. It was so frustrating at one point I almost started crying and then realized I didn’t have enough energy to waste on crying. I got to the top and still didn’t see Sharon, it was starting to drizzle and I wanted to get down so opted against putting on my jacket. It was pretty foggy and starting to rain as I descended the back side of powerline and onto the road. Hitting the last road climb I knew it was only 25 minutes till the aid station and should make the 12 hour cut off mark. I still hadn’t seen Sharon and while I thought I would have caught her also figured she had probably put time into me on the descent.

struggle bus
Definitely hurting

I got up to the aid station and stopped when I saw Doug, he asked me where Sharon was and I said, “she hasn’t been through?” But in my mind it was more “ohhh fudge” and then he said, well I haven’t been out here the whole time so she probably went past. I debating staying at the aid station for a while longer but not knowing if she was in front or behind me opted to keep going and assumed she must have been in front. Even though the back half of St. Kevin is uphill it still pulls you through and I was soon enough at the crest. I calculated time to finish and knew that (fingers crossed) no mechanics I would finish well within the 12-hour mark. I cruised down the front side St. Kevin and made it back to the pavement without any issues but still no Sharon. I rode the dirt section that takes you to the Boulevard and tried to find a pace line to get on to to pull me  but there was no one. With about 2 miles to go and knowing I would be well-within the 12 hour cut off I saw some wildflowers so put my bike down by the side of the trail and wandered into the field to pick some up. I was putting together my bouquet when I heard, “Kate?” and it was Sharon. I stuff the flowers into my back pocket and grabbed my bike. “I thought you were in front of me- where did I pass you?” She told me that she had stopped on the side of the road with a group of people to put her jacket on and it must have been there and I missed her. I told her that I bet Rebecca Rusch never lost her pacee. I apologized for not being a better pacer but she told me that I was there when she needed it so I’ll believe her. We cruised into the finish area and I congratulated her and stayed back a bit to try and get a photo of her but instead the announcer thought I was taking a video of the crowd so people started cheering thinking they were on video. I crossed the finish and was so happy to be off my bike but also so happy to be a part of helping Sharon get to the finish (although she definitely did all the work to get there) although she definitely helped me.

IMG_3909
Almost to the finish 

My motto for most of the day was “Fourth and Final” it was my fourth Leadville and convinced that it was also my final. Which I had planned on it until I put in for the lottery and now just waiting to find out if it will be a “Fifth and Final”.

finish line
When people thought I was taking a video but really I was taking a selfie

A lot of my struggles of the day, my stomach, aches and pains, and even my dark places (almost crying) I actually blame on getting my period at 6am that morning. I know my body pretty well but usually it throws a whole wrench into the system and when I get it I take the day off from training so this was a big 180 for my body. I debated mentioning it but it is a reality for 100% of the women racing and it was the first race that I’ve had to deal with it which I guess makes me lucky.

finish .JPG
Post race essentials: Sour Patch Kids, Birkenstocks, and flowers from the course 

I realized that in years past when I’ve done Leadville a lot of the fun comes from the prep work, the rides and other races that I do in preparation for the race. This past summer though it was a lot of intervals and time on the trainer to balancing getting in shape with writing a thesis. I really debated not putting in for the lottery but figured, uh why not. I think I find out in about an hour if I got in but wanted to get this done first! Ha

I finally got my racer’s jacket and 2 years ago I tried to put on “K8 the GR8” which they rejected and just put on “Katherine” so the next year instead I put on “Princess Kate” thinking they would also reject that but they didn’t. This year I put on “K8 the GR8” again and when my mom opened it up she texted, “what does that mean?” So maybe a fifth year to finally get it right? IMG_2726

Stronger Together

I didn’t plan on doing the Leadville 100 this year, at least not after I didn’t get in through the lottery. I didn’t think about it when I was trekking through the Grand Canyon, finishing finals or traveling in Viet Nam. In fact, most of the time in Viet Nam I thought about how out of shape I was getting and thank goodness I wouldn’t be racing 100 miles. Then I got to Switzerland and started running and had a few long days on trail in France and the thought began creeping back in that maybe I can ride 100 miles with Sharon. When I got back to the states I contacted WBR and it was almost serendipitous as one guy had to drop out due to a medical condition and was willing to give me his spot to ride with Sharon.

gravel gridning
Recon training in Boulder last week

That’s been the thought the whole time, at least since Michelle planted the idea in my brain last December that the only way I would do Leadville is with Sharon. Sharon is another member of WBR and due to circumstances outside of her control wasn’t able to finish the Leadville 100 last year. Since we’re both passionate about WBR and riding long distances (she has quite the impressive stage race resume) thought we would be stronger together.

sharon and I .jpg
Sharon and I riding in Boulder

I really thought after Leadville last year I would be done, knowing I would be traveling for a good chunk of the summer and thinking I wouldn’t be able to do enough early season riding to build up the engine I would need to PR (4 years of training for Leadville has taught me a lot). I’m convinced that riding with Sharon is the only way I can top last year’s experience is to help someone else reach that finish line.

going up hall
Working on power output

This year, Sharon and I will both be riding for World Bicycle Relief. WBR is a program that helps distribute bicycles in Africa. After a year studying global health I truly believe that the one thing we can do that will create the largest impact and ripple in a community is to educate young people, girls especially. With a Buffalo Bike (the one that is designed for WBR) a student increases classroom attendance by 28%. In all my years of schooling, I’ve been granted the privilege of never having to worry about how I would arrive for my education.

Head on over to the World Bicycle Relief to learn more or wanting to donate head over to my donation page at WBR.

boulder riding
Hoping I look this ‘fresh to death’ after the Leadville 100