I find the darkness disorienting, or maybe that’s still the head cold I picked up from CX Nats. It wasn’t until I went home for Christmas and returned to Alaska that I realized just how dark it is. The mornings prove especially difficult when waking up any time between 6 am and 9 am casts the same amount of darkness. It seems like everyone’s day sleepily unfolds, including mine. Normal weekend activities that used to begin at 8 am are now leisurely attempted at 10 am because there is only a fraction of light so why rush. My sunlamp helps and most morning I sit in front of it for longer than is recommended before peeling myself away and getting cast back into the darkness for my drive to work. While my natural tendency is to fight disorder and chaos realizing the importance of just sitting and acknowledging these times of off-periods is just as important before taking the next step (you can thank my therapist for that one).
Some of my leisurely attempts at life these days can be attributed to my lack of structured training. After Nationals, I decided to take a minimum of 1 month off the bike, to give myself a mental break and physically recover from what seemed like the longest race season of my life. Mainly because of the bar exam but seemed like I started training last March to really only start racing in September. And while I feel like I have a high penchant for trainer rides, I’m still not quite ready to get back on. I know, I know, but what about a fat bike you ask? I’m not ready for that either, mostly because it’s been (what I’m told is) abnormally cold for Anchorage with temperatures in the negative. If I don’t have to get outside right now, then don’t have the motivation to bundle up for minus 10 and look like Randy from a Christmas Story. The first few times the temperature dipped it felt colder than was reported. In South Dakota I’ve experienced -35 but finally figured out because the lack of sunlight here there isn’t any additional radiation of warmth happening.
Since I haven’t been riding my bike and obviously not blogging what have I been doing with my time? Well, after CX Nats I took the first week completely off, mostly to try and kick my head cold but also to just give my body time to recover. I flew home the next week and embarked on my first physical activity which was just a short run around my parent’s house- leaving the house at 5:30 pm I was thrust into darkness but had at least been able to enjoy the sun for most of the day.
Molly, Wayne, and I hiked Black Elk on Monday, almost convincing Mary Clair to come with us but she bailed at the last minute– but at least Molly and I finally had someone to take photos of us.
Coming down from the summit we were along the ridge line when the sun seemed especially bright and I started singing “sunshine on my shoulder makes me happy.”
The next day I headed back up Black Elk with my dad, I wasn’t planning on it but wanted to see if I could get to the top in less than 50 minutes and the weather for the rest of the week meant that Tuesday was my only window. I was able to get to the top in 47 minutes and back down for a round trip of 1:27, leaving me 4 minutes off of the women’s (unofficial) fastest known time–I didn’t even think to check the times before I left and thought of going back up to see if I could take the 4 minutes off but set myself back with my cold that day. I took almost another week off from any exercise because of my cold, but was still able to spend plenty of time with family and friends.
The trip back from South Dakota was a bit rough, having to drive down to Denver (thanks again, Barb!) and then fly back to Anchorage meant it was about 27 hours of travel time, which is about the same amount of time it takes to get to Viet Nam. Getting submerged into the dark, coldness has meant that I’ve been exploring more things inside, like swimming, bouldering, and a workshop on reduction poetry hosted by the museum.
Reduction poetry (or Blackout Poetry) is created by redacting words from already published work; it’s constraining and freeing because the words are there but requires you to be open to the possibility of what could be while also shifting your expectations as you go. Much like life you learn to let go of the expected outcome, go with the flow and almost count on getting interpreted by some guy asking where the bathroom is when you are on the cusp of a perfect sentence only to loose it and spend the next five minutes trying to recreate it. And no, I don’t know where the bathroom is–which I showcased later by accidentally walking into the men’s….
Reduction poetry is also a rabbit hole to go down, it’s most pronounced form is censorship with the works taking a political stance. But where does the line between editing and censorship for individuals exist? I thought it was a somewhat appropriate space to explore as I had just re-submitted a publication after suggested edits from the editors resulted in 580 revisions. And wondered how much of my voice or narrative got lost in the hopes of having my name in print.
So now it’s been a month since Nationals, my mandatory period off the bike is over but still not inspired to get on a fat bike yet. Yes, I know I have that 100 mile race coming up in March but not looking or planning on being in peak shape for it mostly because my race season goals for next year are mostly focused for August-December so would rather not supernova this season where I burn super bright at the start and then explode for the rest of it. Plus, feel like as long as I do a few plate pushes and get on the bike 4-6 weeks out that’ll be enough, or it won’t.
I have been spending some time in the gym because (1) I don’t want to add too much winter weight, gotta keep my market value up; and (2) “exercise causes endorphins, endorphins makes you happy, and happy people don’t kill their husbands”. So until that sun comes out will be taking more than the recommended daily dose of Vitamin D and keeping my endorphins elevated.
“What goes through your mind at that point? Like what made you decide to keep going and not just quit?” My cousin posed the question to me when I was retelling my experience at Nationals. I didn’t have a good answer for her and told her so, I wasn’t sure what exactly was going through my mind when I took off running.
It’s now been almost 3 weeks since Nationals, my cuts have scabbed over but the cough I picked up on the flight is still lingering. I feel like I’m still processing the races but that’s mostly because unlike last year I didn’t have to jump immediately from finals to racing to finalizing a PhD application. This year I just raced–I pulled the plug on PhD applications about 4 weeks ago when I couldn’t get the appetite to actually submit them. But as a result I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about my preparation, travel, and expectations that went into Nationals. With being in Alaska and the racing season so short its been in the back of my mind that it would be mostly a development year, and racing Nationals for fun and to stay somewhat relevant. For going into a race weekend with little expectations I’m left feeling a little disappointed that I didn’t expect more out of myself but like my dad said I probably learned a lot, per usual, he’s not wrong.
Let’s start with Baby Masters. I got in the day before but arrived at the venue a bit too late to to get my bike built up and on the course. Instead I opted to spin on the trainer, which meant going into the race blind. I knew from talking and studying the course map a general idea but without riding it really wasn’t sure what to expect.
The morning of the race I warmed up and made my way to the starting grid. None of my races in Alaska counted towards points for National seeding so expected to be called up last. I was pleasantly surprised that my points from last year’s nationals counted for this year so was not starting dead last and instead found myself in the second row, slotted behind a friend from Colorado. The light switched to green and we took off, I followed my friend’s wheel down the straight away and as we turned on dirt anticipated the run-up and hesitated before realizing there was still another 200 yards of pedaling before we’d have to dismount. The hesitation allowed a few women to move by and by the run-up I was in a pack, I dismounted and ran up as quickly as I could (which was not very fast).
I quickly remounted at the top and followed another wheel down a path before turning 180 and another 180 into a muddy descent. I followed a wheel down the descent but my front wheel got sucked into some mud and I tumbled off my bike. The pace was moving so quickly that I hadn’t even registered what had happened until I was back mounting my bike on the downhill and hoping not to crash again.
The course went around to the first pits and up and over a fly-over before hitting the second run-up. I dismounted and ran up (really more power-hiked). I got to the top and re-mounted and followed the false flat into a few switch backs before descending down, looping through some trees and getting sent down a muddy shoot back into the flats and by Pit 2. Then it was into the sand pit, which I bobbled and had to get off after 4-5 pedal strokes but I didn’t get off quickly, it was like let me unclip, straddle the top-tube, and then pull my leg over, really one of my worst dismounts of the year. I dashed through the sand and then re-mounted to try and stick on the two wheels in front of me. The last section of the course looped back through the woods before hitting the straight away.
After the first lap the field had spread out a bit and I was sitting in with two other ladies as we started the second lap. Having then previewed the course I knew what lines I wanted to take and I took them, no longer having the traffic of the first lap. I was able to stay upright on the descent and at Pit 2, Sully called out he thought I was in 10th. 9th remained in my sights and I tightened up my lines, getting off before the sand pit to run it.
Lap 3 the gap remained the same between myself and the women ahead of me. My bike was making a bit of a noise, and I thought of switching it out, really for no other reason than there was a noise and I had a bike so why not. I waited until Pit 2 and then signaled. I hadn’t done a bike switch since last year and came in hot. I was so nervous for the bike toss and at the last minute another racer’s mechanic popped into the field so I threw my bike to him and got the hand off from Sully. For not doing it in a year it went very smooth. I hopped on the bike, since it was Sully’s the fit was a bit different and the shifting was also a different mechanism. It took me a while to realize that I had two chainrings in the front and shifted down to the easier one. The saddle was a little lower than I was used to (even though I had ridden it around and adjusted it). On the last lap, I switched the bike out in Pit 1 and switched back for my bike. At this point the woman in front of me had put in a little more time, and I was trying to reel her back in before I ran out of course. I chased her up the second run-up and around the top section of the course, before dropping back into the flat section, by the pits, through the sand, and the woods. I ran out of course and was 8 seconds behind her.
I ended up 11th, which I kept referring to being the most talented non-finalist, which no one in cyclocross seemed to get since they don’t have pageant backgrounds.
I was a little bummed to miss the top-10 but mostly because it just sounds nicer. I made some mistakes on the first lap that I just couldn’t recover from but showed me that the fitness was still there.
I then did the Mechanic’s mile which if you know, you know. It’s kind of like a beer mile except the length of the course and four beers, and mud, and mostly dudes. I crashed in almost the exact same spot riding but this one drew a bit more blood.
Friday, Barb and I did some sight-seeing. I’ve always kind of thought about living in the PNW, especially because Seattle tends to be a hub for a lot of non-profit health organizations as well as health law scholarship. But Friday confirmed that I’m not cut out for the broody, dreary landscape that sweeps the area. Clearly many people seem to love it, or at least tolerate it because there are a lot of people living there.
I also planned on racing singlespeed because I have a singlespeed bike, it’s a very nice bike. It’s actually what I started cross racing on. Sully built it up for me and took me to my first cross race in 2014, I think I walked/ran most of that race but it hooked me to say the least. I figured out in September that I had shipped it to Colorado and not my parents house last May. I had talked to Sully about getting it to Nationals but we also talked about rigging my geared bike into a singlespeed so I wouldn’t have to ship a second bike and then pack it up after. That seemed easy and less logistically complicated, done.
Sully rigged it up and set me up with 42 x 18 gearing and told me to ride it around to see how it felt. I did a quick spin in the parking lot and the gearing felt good. Sully asked if I wanted to try it on course, I said nah, I knew the course, he said to double check the gearing and I said nah, because I’ll either be running or mashing and was pretty familiar with the course at that point. I think he was trying to nicely say to test out the equipment better but in my mind I was good to go.
I talked to Sully about pit logistics. Because I didn’t have a “B” bike he wouldn’t be switching anything out and realistically thought my only potential issue was with a front flat so joked about just having a spare wheel with him. Even without any equipment and my potential for a mechanical very low he still decided to go stand in the pits. I had a pretty good starting spot, and when the light changed I was I was grateful for a larger gear because of the straightaway. I weaved through some bikes and narrowly avoided a crash that happened to the side of me. It reminded me of when I run over a snake and impulsively pedal faster to avoid the danger.
I turned on to the dirt and looked in front of me, immediately recognizing Meredith Miller (former SS National Champion and former World’s team rider – very fast lady on a CX bike) as the woman in front of me, oh shoot, I might have started a wee bit too fast but no sense of letting off now. I attacked the run up, navigating up the right side, I was motivated from my good start and hungry for a top-10, if for no other reason than it sounds nice. I went down the descent and again found myself behind Meredith, okay stay on her wheel.
I was approaching the pits, rode by Sully and turned a 180 to start the back half of the course. I went through a mud puddle and stomped on the pedals, only to find my momentum dwindle. I was loosing speed but still pedaling, I quickly realized I had lost tension in my chain. I looked down to realize the chain was off the back cog. I hopped off and struggled to get it back on, giving it a quick pedal turnover to check it, popped it back off again. Time was standing still as each woman rode by, with each frenetic moment of struggle, another woman would pass by me, making it feel like the seconds took forever but a minute was lost quickly.
I should take a moment here to explain the pits, the pits allow you to receive help from your mechanic at two spots during the course, even changing out bikes. The only problem is once you pass the pit you can’t go backwards, only forwards (insert some cheesy metaphor about life). 20-yards earlier I could have been in the pits to get help, I called out to Sully what had happened, he said something about the barrel adjuster, which I fumbled to turn having no idea if it was the right away. Because we had zip tied the shifter (so I wouldn’t accidentally shift it off) I could not shift it back into realignment. If you’re struggling to follow what happened, my chain popped off the one cog I had, that was in perfect alignment and got out of alignment and I couldn’t get it back in alignment. I looked at Sully, “it’s not working!” I looked down the course, and back towards the pit. I didn’t even think before I took off running, in my mind I just needed to get to the other side of the pit to get it fixed. I ran with my bike next to me, and shouldered it up the run-up. At the top, people yelled at me to get back on, but joke was on them since that wasn’t an option.
I kept alternating between running and fast walking. I got to the top of the switch backs and a woman handed me a shot of whiskey, she was like you’re going slow enough to grab it, and she wasn’t wrong. I was able to get back on and coast down into the switchbacks where I lost all momentum and hopped back off to take about 20 steps and hope back on for the steeper descent. I rode the momentum as far as I could before getting off and running towards the pits. I rounded the corner and put my hand up to denote to Sully I would be coming in, in case it wasn’t obvious.
I ran in and didn’t even have to tell him what had happened before he had cut the zip tie did some mechanic magic to have it back on the cog. I jumped back on and pedaled away, the bike was still cranky so I was gingerly pedaling, not wanting to pop it off again, even getting off halfway up the flyover so I didn’t mash too hard.
This went on again for the last half of the lap, being able to make it through the straight away and up to the first run-up, back down and by pit 1, and towards the second run-up when it popped off again. Since I was so close to the run-up figured I would keep going and deal with it at the top. At the top I fumbled and couldn’t get it back on, running through all the shifting which I’m sure only made it worse, so started running again. I got to the top of the switch backs and the lady again handed me another shot telling me my race was right there in that cup and she was there for my off day. I took it and hopped back on to cruise down, this time staying on the bike and kicking with my left leg to get enough momentum to carry me down the second steep downhill.
Once I ran out of that momentum, I hopped back off and ran again into the pit, Sully fixed it again and got me back out there. I didn’t trust it enough to full let go and got off for the fly-overs, and even some mud puddles just to be sure. I was able to pedal the entirely off the final lap, but still resisted going full gas, I have a bad habit of ripping derailleur a off in prime conditions and figured this was one of those times. I finished on the third lap, the leaders did 4, I was 8 seconds off beating someone but just like top-10 sounds nice, dead fucking last sounds better than 42nd so I guess careful what you wish for. I limped out of the finish area, more so with a bruised ego than anything else and met Sully and Barb.
I was glad to have Barb there just to take some focus off my emotions and just lay out the facts of what happened. She remained upbeat and positive that I had even finished with as much running as I did and some of it transferred to me. I thanked Sully for being in the pits and at least keeping me going, allowing me to keep fighting as painful as it was. It’s the hardest I’ve ever had to work for last place. I cried the next morning packing up my bike, which Sully was like crying while packing a bike is never about packing the bike. It took me a while to write this because I’m still wading through my emotions of it. Not racing for 2 months prior to Nationals left me coming in with a lot of doubt about my ability, which only nasty things stem from a place of doubt. I think it’s hard because that first half a lap of singlespeed showed me that I can compete beyond just showing up to show up. This logic is also following the premise that I would have had a clean, smooth race if I hadn’t broken my bike and stayed at the top, which in of itself is a lot of pressure to put on that thinking. It’s certainly left me hungry for more. I have some lofty goals for 2020 and not sure where Cyclocross will fit into the mix but I’m sure it will, although Nationals are in Chicago next January so might be taking a sabbatical on that race.
I’ve been stuck with writing this post because my drafts never seemed to get where I wanted them to. Which is funny because I’m writing them but feel like a post about death and darkness would make my mother send another care package. It took me a while to get here, just like the darkness that has seeped into Anchorage, but now that it’s here, I’m fully embracing it.
When I started my work I really had no idea what it would look like day-to-day. I didn’t really think about the fact that being based in a hospital means that a lot of the legal needs that are being provided are in anticipation of dying or after someone is dead. As a result, at times there are awkward moments as I fumble to find some form of comfort to provide. It’s like my wanting to be a mortician as a child has finally come to a head, no dead bodies but surrounded by death, careful what you wish for, I guess… and yes, I was a very odd child (but like think of the job security). It’s also odd because had I ended up the route of a mortician I feel like that schooling would have prepared me better to meet people on their worst days. Law school taught me how to read cases, cite statutes, and think on my feet, but also made everything feel so formal and starchy. Rarely were we thinking about the people in the cases, the tears that poured in law offices, the shaky voices as they told their story, and the anxiety that came with the unknown. It boiled down to spotting the issue and not the people.
I spend a lot of time during my days thinking about death and mortality and how fragile it all really is and how at any moment life can completely change. Which is annoying because in a lot of ways I feel like I’m finally understanding my mother after all those years (yes, mom, you were right). When I was a kid and even most recently I get a little miffed at having to celebrate my birthday. I would much rather disappear to the woods to ride my bike or even not acknowledge that the day was any different. But I have grown up with my mother pulling me out of my comfort zone by constantly reminding me that we need to celebrate the good when we can. And there is still a lot of good to be had.
I’ve had trepidation about the impending darkness, ever since I took this position, both figuratively and literally. Because that’s one thing law school did prep us for: depression, addiction, failed relationships, and despair in many forms. And it’s hard to distinguish if the zeal I feel towards life right now is because everything in Alaska is a fresh beginning that my outside life of finding new adventures provides a stark contrast to the ones that end in the hospital. But have found that embracing the darkness has made me enjoy it, giving a fresh perspective on trails, adventures, and life.
The trails have been riding well and my gusto for getting outside is unmatched for my usual November ride attitude. Instead of getting on the trainer most days, the last few weeks have been spent outside, after work, embracing the darkness. Which also meant realizing that I need to actively charge and check the status of my lights, twice relying on (responsible) friends to light the way.
One night I was actually grateful that my light had died and couldn’t see the moose standing next to the trail until I was already past it, unfortunately that meant I couldn’t see my friend had slammed on her brakes and ran into the bushes to avoid another moose on the trail. I quickly followed suit and after realizing the moose wasn’t interested in us, cautiously grabbed our bikes, heading back into the dead thicket to circumnavigate around the trail.
The novelty of the darkness hasn’t warn off on me yet, I’m sure it will at some point. Last week I was doing a trail run on a trail I hadn’t been and was submerged into darkness quicker than I anticipated because of the tree coverage but had an adequate headlight to at least stay on the trail. Half way through the run, the tree coverage gave way to a meadow that opened up to the sky. I slowed to a walk and with the glow of the stars and the sliver of the moon basked in the shadows of the mountains and the quiet stillness the dark exhales. Don’t worry if I think really hard about everything that could go wrong or happen in the dark, I still definitely get scared but also find some odd comfort that maybe I won’t see whatever might attack me coming and be at peace when I die, super morbid, yes.
The nice thing is that all these things in the dark and the chaotic quests to pack as much in aren’t individual pursuits, and I think that’s the tough part about moving here and thinking about leaving. The community that’s embraced me seems to be similar to the one I had in Colorado, where people live here to be able to get outside and it’s been really cool and really humbling (especially coming from Indiana) to get to be a part of that.
This past weekend the weather and timing lined up, with temps in the mid-40s, the trails beckoned to be ridden. I headed down to Seward with some friends on Saturday to ride a new trail for me.
The trail was amazing and the conditions were unreal, I kept apologizing for my level of enthusiasm to be outside and riding but they both seemed to share similar sentiments.
Sunday I stayed in Anchorage, riding the local mountain bike trails with a bigger group. Most of the trails were really good and tacky but did end up on one that was muddy (no trails got harmed) and cold enough when we ended that the frozen mud on my seat kept freezing my butt to the saddle, which made it slightly awkward trying to get out of the saddle to pedal and have my shorts stay, fortunately I don’t think anyone got a free show. It did require a stop at the car wash on the way home.
Monday I was lucky to have the day off with two friends that were also able to take the day to go back down to Seward. We planned on tacking a few trails together to get 30 miles, and to get as much daylight in as possible had an early departure time. We started up the trail and one of the first steeper climbs, ran into a mechanical when a downshift broke a spoke and threw the chain off the cassette. Fortunately we were close enough to the car to go back there and deal with the mechanical. We spent a good 15 minutes wrestling to untwist the valve core from the wheel and finally realized we were getting nowhere so loaded the wheel up in search of the first welcoming looking house (and yes, we had a guy with us, check your stereotypes -haha). We must have been putting out good energy vibes because the first house we stopped at let us in and conveniently had their toolbox in their living room with the pick of pliers in it.
We got the valve core out, took the broken spoke out, put a Canadian dollar in to patch the hole, put a tube in, and started off again. Again the trail, like the on one Saturday did not disappoint, the trail weaved in and out of old growth forest and provided the added challenge of wet roots to navigate.
After being in the forest we were exposed to the ridge line where it felt like riding in the high alpine of Colorado so was slightly disappointed we were only 2,300 feet above sea level.
We started descending the same trail that I rode on Saturday and tucking down off the ridge to eat lunch. The other two had stuffed grocery stores burritos which dwarfed my paltry decision of an apple and peanut butter.
As we sat there, with mountains encapsulating every vantage point, my mind wandered to Yale. At the time of my rejection, I was devastated, I mean I even cried, but quickly realized how many rejections and failures put me on that mountaintop and how in that moment I was incredibly grateful for everyone of them. I told my friends that too but prefaced it with “the next thing I’m going to say is going to be really cheesy”.
We put another layer on and took off on the descent, a blanket of cold had settled into my fingers and I was worried about how they would fare but seemed like the lower we went the warmer it got so was able to maintain braking power no problem. We got to the bottom, removed a few layers and rode the highway the 15 miles back to the car, cutting out a section of trail in favor of daylight. I got done and jokingly said, might just go in tomorrow and extend my contract.
As I write this, freezing rain has settled in. I’ve decided to race cross nationals so feel okay having to potentially get on the trainer for the next few weeks. If anything grad school prepared me to deal with it was trainer life. I did splurge and buy a pair of skis so ready to embrace winter whenever it decides to arrive. Still unsure on the whole fat biking thing, but more on that later.
Also, welcome to post-yoga K8 writings. Going on 7 years of practice and I can’t touch my toes but get a pretty good zen going and can savansana with the best of them.
Moose Count: 21 (saw 7 on one ride)
Bear Count: 0 –slightly more concerned now because on average bears are hibernating 11 days later because of the changing weather patterns, which means if I see one it’s going to be so full or very hungry and well we all know what I’m like when I get hangry so imagine a bear.
I thought a lot about racing after the bar. Mainly how much I missed it (there just aren’t a lot of other ways to get your heart race insanely high while tasting metal in your mouth). It was the first summer in 6 years that I haven’t done a long endurance race. I contemplated not racing and just hitting pause, but realized that I’m still having fun when I race, want to keep seeing what new limits my body can get to, and generally like the sense of community that racing gives me.
When looking at the position in Anchorage I found they have a small cross series so figured I would at least have something to do. The series runs until mid-October and then Nationals are in Tacoma, Washington. I’ve loosely thought about Nationals but won’t decide till end of October if I want to keep training for that or just start my first ski season early.
I also thought that cross racing would help me to find a community, as has been in the case in most other places I’ve been, because finding friends when you’re old is not the easiest. I’ve actually found Anchorage to be surprisingly friendly and open to newcomers. It definitely helps that my roommates like to be outside and have plenty of friends who do as well. So wasn’t heading to the race to make friends (ha, kidding!).
The first race happened the weekend I went bikepacking, I was still waiting on my cross bike to get delivered (note to future self shipping is 7-10 business days- haha). I spent the week before the race getting back into training, and actually doing intervals for the first time since before the bar, it was a bit rough.
I wasn’t sure how big the field would be, because they race the women all together (don’t worry they also race all the men together). It turned out to be nice because there were about 25 women who showed up to the start line. The last time I was in a field that big was singlespeed nationals and before that I’m not sure. They called us to the starting line and did a pre-race meeting. The line-up was loose, no call ups, and it seemed like people slotted in wherever. I saw an open spot on the front row so took one of the ends. Nobody else seemed to want it and feel like I go back and forth with my confidence in my ability a lot (especially in a new place where I have no idea how my fitness lines up) but decided to be brave. During the meeting the guy asked if anyone was new to this, I raised my hand but then realized later he probably meant new to the sport and not the series. And then laughed at the thought of lining up in the front row to my first cyclocross race, ever. I’m sure they were even more mystified if they thought it was my first race when the gun took off because so did I. I got the hole shot and then led down the straightaway onto the grassy “S”s where you go down, do almost a 180 and climb back up about three times.
I led through that section and then into the next section which was a steep run up (okay, Anchorage cyclocross–I see you).
I got to the top took a quick breath and then hopped back on my bike. I went a little wide on the next corner because it was a bit off camber and that’s when someone made their move. She took me on the inside and the pass was so smooth, if I had any time to be flabbergasted I would have been. Then I was in the chase and she was moving quickly. As she pulled away another woman went around me before the course dipped into the woods. I followed them in with another one hot on my wheels –only one way to go when you start at the front.
The woods had a few perilous moments with options like go off the trail or go into this bush and a sharp right uphill that made me do a dirty dismount (getting off on the wrong side of the bike but feel like the name sounds like something public schools would try not to teach you in sex ed #sorrymom) run up and hop back on. It was around here the the woman behind me asked to pass when there was a spot but at that moment there was no give on the trail. It hugged the hill side and dropped off on the other side. There was one punchy little uphill that opened up enough that she made her move and I let her go. At the top we got on pavement and looped back around towards the start but not before running two barriers. No, I cannot #bunnyhopthepatriarchy yet but working on it. I went through the finish area…8 minutes per lap so that’s five laps plus one so six laps, there I decided to settle into my pace because it was going to be a long race.
That’s exactly what I did, I decided I might not catch the women in the lead but I could work to not have anyone else catch me as well. I tried to focus on little things to work on, like a better dirty dismount (but it never happened) and to stay strong even at the end. I held on to my spot but also felt like the woman behind me was getting a tiny bit closer each lap. It wasn’t bad for not having raced since last December. I did get last in my category, the 3 women that beat me took 1-2-3 but because we all raced together did not feel like I got last when I was out there–besides if you’re not first you’re last so…
In the few days leading up to the race I did get outside and ride, still haven’t ventured on a trail here by myself but like I’ve said the community is pretty great so that helps. I did run into two moose on one ride, one required us turning around and the other required quite the off trail deviation that I might consider riding in pants next time. Still no bears.
Moose Count: 2
Bear Count: 0
All race photos were courtesy of Dan Bailey who took so many great photos! You can check out the whole album here
“Oh, going on an adventure?” The REI cashier asked me as I handed him my bear spray. “Yeah, it’s called moving here.” I responded.
When I was in the process of moving I thought about bears and moose encounters but they seemed so far away (literally, more than 3,000 miles), but upon arriving here, I quickly realized that it’s real life and I’m playing the game for keeps. The first few days in Anchorage I didn’t really venture out, I mostly moved my things in and spent time in the garage painting furniture where my chance encounter with a bear was relatively low.
I also realized that I can’t stay in the garage this entire year smelling paint fumes. I saw a flier for a bikepacking course, including an overnight trip by Alaska Bike Adventure. Perfect, baptism by fire in bear country. I figured it would serve two purposes I would likely meet cool people who like to ride far on their bikes and it would introduce me to bikepacking in a way that was structured and comfortable to figure out if it’s something I’d want to further pursue (like when I sell my car and ride my bike home). I always felt like it was similar to alpine touring where it’s something I was interested in but not enough to want to spend money on it first to find out.
I’ve loosely thought about bikepacking. After I did White Rim, Sully got me some bags for Christmas, a seat bag and a top tube bag– apparently when you get off the trail at 1:30am with minimum headlights it warrants the discussion of setting up camp or to keep going. I’ve used the top tube bag for a few races but never the seatbag, because that would mean I’d have to camp. It’s not that I’m adverse to camping, I don’t really mind it but have never slept in a tent by myself, I don’t even own one. If I’m with someone else I’ll sleep in their tent or if I’m by myself I’ll sleep in my car, this is usually a safety thing and it’s definitely limiting in terms of how far you can explore without having to turn back for single day solo-trips.
The bikepacking course was modeled after a NOLS course, we had 4 hours of instruction and then a 24 hour trip. I showed up for the first course and found out I was the only one who signed up– 2 guides for 1 Kate is a great ratio. We chatted for a bit at the start and they talked about the races and tours that they’ve done and I immediately recognized that I was going to be in very good hands. The first course we went over gear for the bike, looking at the design and application. From the function and weight of the gear it was apparent that the gear for the bike was racer/rider designed. We talked about what gear of my own to bring. They humored me by answering my most remedial questions from lycra vs. baggies to all things bears (like how close to the tent to pee is too close?).
The next course was me pulling out my bin full of gear and asking about this versus that option but at the end felt confident with my gear choices. The morning of I packed up my camelbak with my snacks, gloves, book, and light rain jacket and put my riding gear in the car. I met them at the trail head about an hour north of Anchorage. Being in the parking lot assuaged my fears a bit as kids were pouring out of cars–surely parents would not be sacrificing all of them to bears so figured the risk must be pretty low. We loaded up our bikes and split some more group gear and took off.
The trail was mostly flat but I appreciated that when getting used to the gear being on my bike. I found that the front end actually felt more stable with the loaded weight. We rode about 10 miles out. We pulled off to a campsite and then rode through some trees to arrive at a gravel bar that was on the opposite end of the lake from where we started.
We scoured for a position to place our tents that would offer some shield from the wind and then they explained the bear triangle to me. Basically you position your cooking station and your food storage at the bottom end of the triangle with the tents as the third prong, all dependent on wind position. We unloaded our gear and set our tents up –I tried to played it cool, like I knew what I was actually doing when I in fact had no real idea because Sully usually set the tent up, but they even helped me with that.
We took our bikes and explored the trail a bit more until it dead ended at a public cabin that you can reserve (remembering that for later). Then we turned around and headed back to the campsite to cook dinner. First they showed me how to filter water (beyond just dumping iodine tablets in) and we got 10 liters of fresh glacial stream. Then we made tacos for dinner and chatted for a while because it had started raining and it seemed like 7pm was maybe a little too early to go to bed. Like I said they have a well of knowledge when it comes to long distance riding and racing, so we talked about everything from the race scene in Alaska to training to other races and routes to explore. They were maybe the perfect people to spend my first weekend in Alaska with.
We finally headed off to bed but tied our food up first. I stayed up and read for a bit, mostly to distract me from any thoughts about what my body would look like if I got mauled (do not google images that). The rain and wind had settled in which also provided enough of a white noise to cover any noises I might have been startled by. After the sun set, I soon realized I had to pee but I didn’t want to have to get up and go pee just in case there was a bear (plus it was raining). I spent time convincing myself I did not have to pee until I fell asleep for a bit but then woke up to the realization I still had to pee. I still wasn’t sure how close was too close to pee to the tent but didn’t want to go far so I came up with a plan; I would pee right next to the tent but then dump my extra water on top just to help neutralize the odor quicker. I moved quickly, kept my head down, and my bear spray close. I then dump all my water out but lost my pillow because I had been using my water bladder as a headrest– but worth it if I didn’t end up with a grizzly sitting on my body, right? After that I finally fell into a deep sleep.
The next morning we cooked an egg and hash brown scramble, and drank copious amounts of coffee while taking in the morning fog rolling out of the mountain valley.
We packed up our gear, I was grateful that the wind had pushed the rainstorm through in the night so I didn’t have to have most of the gear end up soggy in the stuff sacks. We headed back on the same trail but I swear it was more amazing heading back.
The mesmerism of the landscape tugged at me and on that trail I realized how easy it is for people to stay here [the tables might turn come December and no daylight].
We got to the end and unloaded our packs to divvy things up. I returned the bags but keep a new found sense of ‘hey, I just might be able to do this’. It wasn’t nearly as daunting as I had envisioned and like the idea of exploring multi-day routes. Still need to figure out the whole potentially sleeping outside by myself thing but baby steps. Through talking with the guides I’ve found that the community in Anchorage of endurance athletes runs deep, I gather it’s from the magnetism of the landscape that draws people to want to explore but with limited access (limited roads, trails) they pursue activities that give them that ability. I even left contemplating returning to Colorado next year to take on the Colorado Trail Race and see what I’m really made of beyond a single day event.
I told the guides that if any of my friends who ride come and visit I would probably just have them guide us on a trip like this (so now you’ll know what we’ll be doing when you visit and you can pack accordingly).
We also didn’t see any bears on the trip, which is good and bad. It feels like the early spring days when you start to venture outside and at some point you know you’re finally going to run into the first snake of the season. It’d be nice to just get it over with running into a bear or moose on the trail and being like see I survived, I can do this…unless I didn’t survive… which would a real bummer. I think I struggle with the wildlife because in our ever increasing controlled and manicured lives, they serve as a blunt reminder of how unpredictable and uncontrollable mother nature is. There are definitely things that I can control (like bear spray, proper food storage, bear bells) but in the end it can come down to simply bad timing. But then I remind myself that I’m much more likely to be attacked by some guy up here than any wildlife (Alaska is the #1 state for violence against women, South Dakota is #2). So maybe I’ll just carry bear spray on me at all times…
Some of it is just giving myself time to get comfortable in this space, I keep reminding myself I’ve learned to live with running into rattlesnakes, buffalo, mountain lions, getting caught in lightning storms, and reminding myself that it’s okay to be afraid and do it anyways.
I do start work this week so that will in all likelihood limit my penchant for merrymaking. My cyclocross bike did just arrive though so planning on racing this weekend (race my way into shape, heyo!).
If you’re interested in checking out the gear I used it was from Revelate Designs. I would definitely recommend if you’re in the market for bike gear. If you want to visit Alaska and plan your own bike adventure I can’t speak highly enough of Grande and Dusty at Alaska Bike Adventures!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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);
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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
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.
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.
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).
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)
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.
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.
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.
The morning of the Maah Daah Hey 100 I surprised myself with how well everything came together. The chaos getting to North Dakota (shipping a bike from CO after I had left– thanks again, Chris! Driving from Indiana to North Dakota, somehow only forgetting my headlight, which Barb was able to save me with an extra one!) settled and I felt ready, excited, and nervous. One of my friends put me in touch with the 3x time winner, Kelly–thanks again, Amy! I was able to pick his brain about the trail, mechanicals, and even what time zone it started in. He was very generous with his accrued knowledge. He gave me a heads up about the third section, to mentally prepare for 30 miles and not 25. He also talked about what an amazing race it was and how I would probably surprise myself. He gave me enough confidence that I felt excited but not so much so that I still wasn’t nervous about what I was about to embark on. My plan was to go as hard as I could for first 50 miles and then go from there…I mean I had 18 hours to get there so what’s the worst that could happen?
I pulled into the campground with my parents and started going through my routine.
I noticed that my front tire was a little squishy and figured I had a slow leak somewhere but it would hold for at least 18 hours, this logic was based on nothing other than optimism. I chatted with a few other riders which also helped to take the edge off. The staging area is self-selected depending on how fast you think you’ll be. I saw the first girl a few rows back from Kelly and slotted myself behind her. She turned around and said, “if you’ve won your age-group at Leadville you should definitely be in front of me…sorry I stalked everyone online.” I laughed and told her I had no idea how this was going to go so was going to stick to my spot.
The race started quickly, I moved up to get a good position for the climb as I didn’t want to have to maneuver around too many people. I missed the lead group but managed to get in a pack of 4. I knew from talking to others that the first climb was about 3 miles and 800 feet up. I stuck on the back of the group until about half way up I realized I could get around them and put more distance in between me and the others.
I got to the top and it released into–maybe the only flat section of the day. It was also the only two-track of the day and I saw that my front wheel looked a little low. Hmmm, it’s probably fine but just in case took my phone out (also probably the only place I got service) and texted my dad, “bring my pump to aid station”. I rolled through the first check point at mile 10 and shouted, “does anyone have a floor pump” and drew blank stares. One woman said she did but at her car down the hill, I passed, it wasn’t that low, and turned the corner. I shouted it once again and a lady grabbed one from the back of her car. I popped it on, 20 psi…hmmm I definitely had at least 24 in it this morning, pumping it up. Just make it to mile 25 and get more air.
At mile 14 I heard a noise I couldn’t place right away but my subconscious recognized it as it sent chills down my spine. I immediately searched for the culprit and saw it right in front of me, my front tire was shooting sealant out (bet you thought I ran into a snake). Nooooooo! I hopped off and spun my front wheel like I was on the Price is Right trying to get a dollar. Please catch, please catch, please catch as I kept spinning. It did and fell silent again. Ohhfta that was close. I hopped back on and started to catch the guys who passed me.
My brain quickly went through scenarios of what I should do. This happened to me once before at my very first 50 miler, I got a puncture, got it to seal and rode it for the next 27 miles to get 2nd. The next day when the tire was holding air Sully told me, “you did the right thing, ride it until you have to put a tube in.” Okay I told myself, ride it until you have to put a tube in it and then go from there. But here’s the thing, under no circumstances did I want to have to put a tube in. Given the terrain I figured if I did put a tube in it would puncture again and would need to be replaced at least 1 if not 2 more times. Less than ideal.
I constantly fluctuated from trying to ride gingerly, including holding my breath at moments of peril when I thought it would go again to might as well go hard while I can. It blew again around mile 18 and I pulled off to the side and spun it again, and again, and again. And then in a genius ‘past Kate’ moment I realized that I had my hand pump with me (I didn’t want to use a CO2 in case I needed it for a tube). I pumped more air into the tire and spun it again. It was at this stopping point that a woman passed me. I mentally took note and finished as quickly as I could to keep her in sight.
I wasn’t sure my strategy now, I wanted to try to stay close enough that I could be within striking distance if something happened but also with 80 miles left in the race had no idea how it would play out. We traded positions once again and came into the first aid station together. I found my parents and a volunteer filled my camelbak while my parents restocked me with maple syrups, peanut butter, and bananas. I checked my tire again and put chain lube on.
The tire was still sitting around 25 psi. I saw the woman lead out of the aid station and the volunteer was still fumbling trying to figure out how to close my bladder. I took a breath as this wasn’t going to make or break any position. Number one rule I have when racing: Don’t be an asshole to the volunteers, no seriously, they are amazing. I told him to screw it on and then jokingly asked, “is this your first rodeo?” He said yes, I told him he was doing great and he would have plenty more to practice with during the day. I headed out knowing I would meet my parents at the next aid station mile 50.
For the first few miles out of aid one I was able to keep the woman in my sights. I really tried to not let the mechanical get in my head. I reminded myself that it’s still a long race and that anything can happen, and that I’ve benefited from other’s misfortunes before- it’s part of racing. I prayed to anyone or anything that would listen asking them to hold the seal on the tire and get me to aid 50.
At the start of the race one woman was talking how her husband (who was racing) showed her a video of Devil’s Pass and she couldn’t even watch it because of the heights and exposure. My mom was like, do you know where that is? I responded, no, I don’t even know what that is while laughing. I found it on this section.
There was a sign followed by a cattle gate and it pretty much turned into a narrow ridge that has dropoffs on either side. I hit the ridge line and starting singing very loudly, not even coherent words, just a automatic response to the build up of fear in my body. Luckily, no one was around as my voice leaves much to be desired. I got to the other side and was greeted again by a cattle gate. I stopped and figured I might as well take a picture but just as I did my tire burst.
I did the same thing as before, spin, spin, spin, air, spin, spin, spin. It seemed to do the trick.
A few miles later and close to the 50 mile aid station I was greeted with the Little Missouri River crossing. I hoisted my bike and shouldered it across. The passage had smooth rock on the bottom and the water hit just below my knees offering a brief reprieve from the heat that had began to coat the land. The aid station was a short climb away and on the climb up my tire blew again. Noooo, seriously?!? I got it to catch again and rode into the aid station asking if there was a mechanic there. I put more air in and got it to catch, and then not catch, and then catch, and then not catch, and had a volunteer spinning it while another lubed the chain and I debated putting a tube in. My parents were rockstars and switched out my bottles gave me maple syrups, peanut butter, bananas, and potatoes.
I left the aid station but didn’t feel super confident so asked my parents to meet me at the next check point, Mile 57. As I was about to turn onto the trail another rider said, “great riding” I didn’t hear him but saw that his wife had a Santa Cruz bike on her car, “Is that a Tallboy with non-boost wheels?!?” Homegirl was dessssssperate. They both looked at me and then I explained what was happening and thought maybe she would switch wheels with me (ha!). It was a 27.5″ wheel so no luck but then her husband who is racing goes, “do you want some more sealant”? “Oh my gosh you have some, that would be amazing”. Here’s the thing, I knew if it blew again at some point I would be out of sealant and would have no choice but to put a tube in. His wife pulls out this tool box with a valve-core remover, a syringe for the sealant, and then it dawns on me…Ohhhh this is what people have if they don’t have extra wheels or a mechanic on course, huh…I’ll have to remember this. They were quick and efficient putting a full shot of sealant into my tire and pumping it up to 30psi (I told them to just in case it blew again I would have extra air in there). I thanked them profusely and offered beers at the finish line (and #42 if you’re reading this please send me your address so I can send you all the beers!). I took off with more confidence in my tire. It did blow one or two more times but it was more when the sealant monster would fall off and pull what was cauterized with it before it could reseal. There was enough sealant in there that I didn’t have to get off my bike at all.
I checked in with my parents at Mile 57. It was still at 30 so the small blows weren’t really anything. I got another potato and said I would see them at Mile 80. Kelly’s info really helped me prepare for this section and I was grateful. There were two more checkpoints after that. The first one I stopped at and there were so many women there that I said, “this is the most women I have seen all day.” They were all part of this team that were either crewing or racing, they gave watermelon and filled up my camelbak at both checkpoints. I was feeling really good going into aid 3. I met my parents, grabbed more syrup, another potato, and a fresh bottle. I told my mom, “Uh, I think I’m going to ride back to town now” she looked at me, “you’re quitting?” “Oh, no I’m just going to ride this last segment.” So maybe I wasn’t feeling that fresh and the heat was starting to get to me.
Soon after leaving Aid 3 my stomach started to resist anything and everything. I was able to force down another maple syrup to try to get some energy but was having none of my drink mix. I kept trying to force water down. I went by the first check point and the workers asked if I needed water and I literally just stared at them because I couldn’t comprehend what that meant. I kept pedaling and forcing down the water.
The last 15 miles were the hardest miles I have ever done in my life. I was so tired, I could barely keep my eyes open and even tried to closed them twice for extended periods, “I’m just resting my eyes” really only works when you’re lying on the couch. I convinced myself that was a really good way to get another brain injury. I also debated taking a nap, I had 6 hours till the cut-off so I could take a little nap but then what if the lady in 3rd is close to me and I’m napping. Then I thought maybe I would just lie on the side of the trail that way whoever the next rider was would wake me because they would think I was injured or dead, also not a great plan. Finally, I convinced myself that getting through the last few miles would be the quickest way to take the longest nap. I settled on that reasoning and kept pedaling. I topped my bottle off with fresh ice water at the last check point.
I made it to the final 5 miles that I had pre-ridden the day before. Now I should mention the cattlegates, they are spring loaded so you lift from one side, it fans up, you go under, and it releases back down. Now I have been doing one pull-up so you can gauge my strength. There are probably 12-17 on the course. There were maybe 3 in the last 8 miles, which let me tell you were a struggle. I wondered at some point if I would just have to wait for someone to show up to open it. At the beginning of the race I would hop off, bend over, lift it up, wheel my bike under, release, and hop back on. Well, by the last few miles I would hop off, squat down, load my legs, use all my strength to thrust it over my head, hold it up, wobble underneath, while praying I didn’t release it onto the back tire, and after a moment of sheer panic thinking my bike would get smashed, get back on and ride away.
After getting through the last cattleguard I was somewhat relieved that I just had to pedal home now. I got back on and started down the first little descent when I suddenly saw the first snake of the day. At mile 103, I just stopped and went, “excuse me sir, I’d like to pass, would you be so kind to get off the trail.” Yeah, I was fully delirious at this point because I definitely did my best Mary Poppins impression. I wasn’t even scared I had no energy for any kind of emotion, it was like all my adrenaline was gone, there was no flight or fight response. But he obliged and slithered off the trail. “Thank you!” And I continued on my way.
I hit the last section being the only pavement of the day and went under the finish banner. I immediately pulled off to the side, got off my bike, and laid down. I laid there for a while, taking everything in, like when you do savasana in yoga to absorb all the good juju. I laid there as everyone talked around me swapping stories of the day with me interjecting when I could muster. I remember thinking this is what it is all about. I finally got up and talked to the woman who beat me. She was an incredibly strong rider, having done the whole thing on flat pedals which convinced me that even without my mechanicals she would have beat me.
Am I going to do it again? Ohhhh you betcha! I’m honestly a little sad that I spent so many years doing Leadville because this race and community is so amazing. Every rider that passed me when I was dealing with my mechanicals offered to help, every volunteer was so great on course, my parents also put in a long day and even drove my car through a river to get to an aid station.
I for the life of me can’t figure out why this race isn’t sold out every year. The terrain is incredible, it reminded me of the Grand Canyon, where there is just so much life and levels of vegetation–definitely not what I was expecting spending time in the South Dakota Badlands. And it’s 99% singletrack. Next summer I’ll be studying for the bar so was thinking of doing it as a team with 50 miles each (yes, you read that as an open invitation), and hoping the next year to possibly go after the women’s course record. My time was 12:45 and I had 44 minutes of stop time, for a comparison at Leadville I usually have 8 minutes of stop time.
Here’s the thing, I’ve never had a race crack the ‘Top 5 Experiences on My Bike’ list but this one definitely did.
“That’s what the trail means. You can go out there by yourself and cry and nobody will hear you except the spirits, and they’ll help you.” -Mr. Baker.
I thought for sure by this time I would have more of a reason to write but atlas, I don’t. I had planned to go to CX Nationals over break but with a lot of hoops to jump through with ND Cycling it didn’t exactly pan out and by the time I realized it wasn’t going to happen there was no way to orchestrate my logistics to get there. I was pretty bummed about having to miss it and commiserated the fact over a lot of fries with my dad. I decided over break that I would either go to Old Man Winter in CO or back to Fat Bike Nationals –both the same weekend in February. I was leaning more towards Old Man Winter (Ryan and his team put on a great event!), mainly because after I pulled the plug on CX Nats I took some time off so didn’t feel in shape enough to race at FB Nationals. I figured Old Man Winter would help me to get some early season base miles in too.
The races were last weekend and I didn’t attend either–I had decided to sign up for a three week course on transnational civil litigation and with my final being yesterday didn’t feel like I could take a weekend or day off to travel for an event. So instead I’ll catch you up with what I did over Christmas Break- which because of how cold it ended up being, it was a lot of running and hiking.
It did start with some biking- back when I thought I was going to nationals I tried to get into racing shape after finals.
After about two days of riding, it got cold. Cold enough that having to ride outside would be miserable even with all my layers– and there was snow. Instead I opted to hike/run up Black Elk Peak.
The first day I was going to go up alone, but my mom always worries so my dad offered to come with. Which meant he sat and mostly cleaned out my sister’s car (finding $1.63 so well worth the trip) while I ran up and then back down. Going up was a little rough, coming from sea-level and not doing a lot of running to begin with–I alternated between running and hiking. I got to the top and was about to check in with my parents when my phone shut off from the cold. I then ran the whole way down the mountain to get back to the car before the cut-off time I had told my parents so they wouldn’t worry. I was a bit smoked at the end. But not enough to not do it again, and again, and again. Fortunately for me I found at least found a few friends who tolerated the 20 degree day (Laura) and the 7 degree day (Jessie).
I think I ended going up and down Black Elk 4 times when I was home. I’m about 25 minutes off the fastest time up and down so that’s something I have in the back of my mind.
I also made my way to the Badlands- which to be completely honest I’ve only stopped in once that I can remember. I’m pretty deterred from ever going there in the summer because of all the snakes but fortunately for me when the ground is frozen so are the snakes! I was able to run about 6 miles on various trails and just kept thinking (1) how did the pioneers reach this and decide to keep going and (2) how I’ll have to come back next winter when all the snakes are frozen again.
And then because the pass was good for the whole week and I had spent $20 on it. I went back the next day too. Unfortunately it was under a winter storm alert so didn’t not spend that much time outside the car.
Spending two days in the Badlands made me definitely want to do the Maah Daah Hey 100 race in the North Dakota Badlands (snakes be damned!). The race has been on my list for years but always was too close to Leadville to make both of them work and since I didn’t get into Leadville figure this is my window opening to a door closing. I’m already starting to mentally prepare- the man who has the MDH course record is really fast and it took him 8:56 – just for comparison the Leadville 100 course record is about 5:59 sooo yeah I might be in the pain cave for a while, but they don’t call them the badlands for nothing.
“Maybe the desert wisdom of the Dakotas can teach us to love anyway, to love what is dying, in the face of death, and not pretend that things are other than they are.” –Kathleen Norris
*I debating putting this post up at all because of how rad South Dakota is and I don’t want everyone to move there.