Kenai 250 — Finding Grace in the Alaska Wilderness

The feeling in my legs has almost entirely returned, my cough has subsided, my bike is finally clean, my bum has totally recovered and the Kenai 250 is starting to feel like a distant memory where the details are still fuzzy and you’re not entirely sure what was real or what wasn’t– that’s probably mostly due to the lack of sleep over 47 hours. A lot happens during an endurance race/ride/survive and long endurance event = long write up (#sorrynotsorry). Not sure what took longer riding or writing the Kenai 250. And to that point, a lot happened, some graphic information will be shared and not sure who this is entirely suitable for. But you’ve at least been warned.

When prepping for the 250 I had no idea what to do, 250 miles self-supported. I’ve never done anything like that. One year when I raced Leadville, even with a mechanical I only had 8 minutes of stop time and that seemed like a lot but that’s with bottle hand ups/food passed off, no real stopping to get things and knowing that if things really go south you can limp to the finish line (as has happened in previous races). I wasn’t sure exactly what I would need so was maybe a little over cautious in my packing but I ended up using everything I brought (except my bike repair kit–thank you Chain Reactions for the pre-race tune!). I was also unsure of food and what would be available so packed rice cakes, meatballs, sour patch kids, maple syrup, coffee and potatoes to at least get me through the first 70-100 miles.

Not pictured the 5lbs of Sour Patch Kids

Thursday night I loaded up all my gear on to my bike and caught a ride down with a friend to stay in a cabin the night before. It was nice because this way I wouldn’t have to drive home after the race but more importantly would not have to keep track of my keys for that amount of time (I couldn’t find my driver’s license for 3 weeks after so this was a legit concern). We went through final checks on our bikes, hung out with some other racers and talked about what the days to come would bring.

At the start, I did a last minute gear check, not that it really mattered at that point, was fully into the ‘rung what ya brung‘ mode. I checked in and made sure my tracker was turned on and then went to find Grande around the start, we chatted a bit about our logistics, we had loosely talked about riding together but neither of us wanted to hold the other one back so we said we’d see what the day would bring, I was hoping to at least be with her through Russian Lakes (mile 70 and a lot of bears) and then go from there.

Right before the start

The start was anti-climatic (unlike Leadville where they shoot off a shotgun, more like, okay you guys can go now) Unlike every other race I refused to sprint at the start– it’s 250 miles like we have time. Fortunately, Grande also was taking a more conservative approach and we rode side by side to the trail head chatting with others along the way. We tucked behind two guys on the start of the singletrack and kept chatting. I couldn’t tell if I was going too hard or not enough which was a reoccurring theme, sure I was going hard but it wouldn’t be hard enough for a 100 miles race but maybe too hard for a 250 mile race, only time would tell.

We stayed in the group for most of the way up Res Pass, gaining a few additions, we checked in at the top and everyone was good to keep going. We started the smooth, fast descent towards Devil’s Cabin and then down toward Cooper Landing, at one point we caught up to some of the guys I know and was so surprised that I asked what they were doing there thinking they must have had a mechanical or something, he responded same thing as you–oh.

We rode down until the trail split, I stopped and regrouped with Ana and Grande debating which way to go, most of the boys decided to go left we opted to go right knowing what that direction would bring (both ended up in the same place a few miles later). We cruised by the cabin that Alvin did his first bikepacking trip to and I remembered the trip out being pretty quick to the trailhead. And it was for us as well, we came down into the trailhead parking lot and was met by a group of people which again my first thought was, what are these people doing in this parking lot and then it was a quick realization they were there for us, we picked up a ghost rider, Gus (who is dating Ana) and headed towards Russian Lakes (very infamous for bears). We stopped by a water tap to fill up even though it required going beyond the trail, I ate some food and topped off knowing that in about 20 miles we’d be at Wildman’s and could restock.

First water stop

We headed back the way we came and turned onto the Russian Lakes trail, I’ve only ridden it the other way so only had some idea of what was to come. We talked as if our lives depended on it, which it did to thwart off bears, making conversation about nearly everything– we also sang, and I tried yodeling which mostly made me sad that I only knew the first line from Sound of Music, “High on a hill was a lonely goatherd Lay ee odl lay ee odl lay hee hoo!” The last time I had ridden this trail I ran into a Sow and two cubs, the cubs were in a tree and the mom was on the trail so we turned around and went and ate lunch and then came back and they were gone but it seems like everyone has a bear story from Russian Lake and the amount of bear scat would certainly explain why. We ended up coming up on another rider, Duncan, who we had actually met last fall when we stopped to eat lunch on a trail and he stopped to join us. Riding with a group of 5 definitely made me feel better in our bear chance category, we passed the spot where I previously had the bear encountered and I warned of a deceptively deep puddle sometime afterwards but couldn’t exactly remember where, Ana identified it pretty quickly but stopped before submerging her entire front wheel. We stopped at one point to regroup and Ana mentioned having difficulty with her front brake, pulling the lever all the way back to the handlebar with no resistance. It was also maybe the worst mosquito area I’ve ever been in and was grateful when Duncan offered up some mosquito repellent while we assessed the situation. We thought maybe the line had lost pressure but upon closure inspection realized that the brake pads were completely missing and not in a worn down kind of way in a they fell completely out kind of way. We debated potential solutions and decided to ride the 15 miles to Wildman’s and get fuel and work on it there. After some bushwhacking on the final mile of the trail we emerged onto Snug Harbor Road, an 11 mile gravel road that would take us to the highway and to Wildman’s. We were roughly at 70 miles and I felt surprisingly good at this point.

We started cruising down the road and at one point saw a minivan that looked like mine, Grande pointed it out and it was another minute before I realized it was mine and Kevin was on course to see us, I didn’t stop and instead shouted, “we’ll see you at Wildman’s.” We got briefly on the highway before turning off into the Wildman’s parking lot. I went in to grab food and drinks while Ana worked on her brake and Grande held the bike.

I grabbed a handful of things still a bit unsure of what I was going to need for the next section, I was feeling pretty good and so wanted to focus on what was working because at some point I was convinced that it would stop working. We left the store, getting back on the highway before taking a 2ish mile gravel off shoot to avoid a no-shoulder zone and dropping out on the Old Seward Highway Road, a 10 mile gravel road that would take us to the Seward Highway. We got through that section relatively unscathed, I kept eating and drinking, or trying to, and we had multiple changes of clothes at the temperature started to flutter. As we turned onto the highway we decided to ride in a pace line to conserve energy and hopefully get there faster, we traded off pulls every 1-2 minutes and noticed the darkening storm clouds getting blown in from the sea.

We picked up another rider who joined in our pace line and soon we were pulled over and putting on our rain gear. It wasn’t raining hard but enough that knowing we’d be going through the night wanted to do our best to stay dry before temperatures plummeted. We did get caught in a bit more of a rainstorm but seemed to be out of it in about 20-30 minutes and mostly dry again before turning onto the Primrose Trailhead.

We picked up Kevin who would serve as a night Ghost Rider (someone who rides behind you but is there for bear safety/overall safety) and set up the trail. When we were still on the road I noticed some tightness starting to set in on my calves and was worried about cramping so downed some extra salt. We weren’t entirely sure about what we would be encountering at the top, reports of snow drifts and having to hike-a-bike for miles had been percolating the last few weeks but no one had real-time trail conditions so in anticipation of snow I had shoved my feet into plastic bags to create a moisture barrier and had latex gloves. Trail features that are normally familiar and rideable feel foreign under the added bikepacking weight and the previous 110 miles that my legs had already pedaled. Primrose, while normally has a few hike-a-bike sections, I felt like more hiking than biking going up. I figured the on and off the bike was upsetting my stomach as I started to notice it wasn’t settling right, I kept moving and kept drinking water hoping that whatever it was, it would be gone soon. Again, didn’t think this was too normal, most 100 mile races at some point my stomach gets distressed and its hard to take in any food/liquids and have found that to just keep drinking, tweaking what goes in a bit can do the trick to at least keep things going down. And not that rare that after an event I throw up. I tried to trouble shoot all while lifting my bike up over rocks and clamoring up behind, was it the salt, did I go too hard, is the temperature weird, maybe I need more gatorade, maybe I need less.

There wasn’t really any option but to keep going and that’s what I did getting further into a hole. I kept track of the 4 mile mark in my mind because someone had said that’s when the snow starts, when we passed it and there was no snow to be found I was pleasantly surprised. Despite my best attempts at mitigating my stomach I crossed the threshold where I realized my body was only interested in one thing: throwing up. I tried to fight it for a bit, thinking of the fuel that I would lose by throwing it up and how that would mess up my fueling plans but even trying to negotiate with my stomach was no use “you know you’re just going to be hungry later– or we really need this fuel.” But it was futile and at a moment of pause in the group, I put my bike down and slowly walked off the trail, near a tree. I’ve thrown up enough times in my life to be able to do it somewhat quietly but it was still apparent what my body was doing when Grande asked if I was okay– I replied “I should be now that I threw up.” What? Are you okay? Kevin jumped in quickly, “Don’t worry she does that a lot – she’s fine.” Okay mostly fine and sometimes do it so was hard to say exactly why I was doing it, stressed, tired, wrong food, too much salt, too hard, not hard enough, who knew, I didn’t. I knew I needed to eat as I just emptied all my stomach contents but that was challenging as my stomach settled briefly but then started to feel nauseous again. We kept moving, albeit, myself more slowly but at least we weren’t trudging through snow. I had dropped far enough back that Ana and Grande’s headlights became smaller and smaller beacons. We regrouped at the top to put on more layers before the descent. I didn’t feel great physically or in feeling like I was holding them back and wasting time waiting for me. I would often remind them that I would be okay if they left or needed to go faster but they seemed okay and after a while figured they would go if they needed to.

We started the descent down Lost Lake, which is arguably the best trail of the whole race so a little bummer to do it at night in the dark. While they call Alaska the land of endless summer sun, that’s not entirely true and we do have blips of darkness bookended by dusk and dawn. We were in the darkest patch going down. I led with Kevin following– fortunately I know my body and bike well enough and wasn’t too out of if that I was still able to respond to obstacles in the trail as they came up, which a few did. I also forgot about the drop off to one side so maybe going down in the dark helped. I would periodically remember to ring my bell to ward off bears and was mostly just screaming the whole time to try and let whatever might be in the trail have a warning. There was also a sense of if there is a bear there wouldn’t be much I can do regardless of my speed so will lean into the statistics that there won’t be a bear and just go (obviously a little tired at this point). We got to the bottom of the trail and regrouped in the parking lot, realizing that the lone van in the lot was a friend (who had done this multiple times and coached multiple athletes in the race) who popped her head out to chat. I don’t remember much other than sitting on the pavement and feeling the cold seep into my body.

She asked if I was tired, “No, I’m not tired, I have a deep rooted fatigue that sleep won’t even cure at this point.” Kevin also mentioned that if I didn’t sit/lay directly on the cold pavement I might be warmer, “Okay.” But didn’t move, laying down and taking in the cold seemed like a better alternative to standing.

I’m not sure how long we were in the parking lot, it seemed like seconds passed slow but minutes moved fast and before I knew it we were back on our bikes and descending down into Seward. We dropped Kevin off at the trailhead we would be back at soon and headed into town. We circled through town, riding by the Sea Life Center before heading back out to stop at the gas station. At the gas station I was trying to figure out what to eat, half my plan was to just make it Seward and restock but with my stomach the way it was, nothing seemed appetizing and so I wandered the aisles a bit, went outside, went back inside, and decided on some lime flavored tortilla chips thinking the salt would be nice and it was something my stomach hadn’t rejected yet. I smashed the bag onto a bike bag and strapped them down. The clerk inside told Grande that there was a food truck that did breakfast and opened at 4:30am. It was about 3:40ish so we discussed options, I liked the idea of getting real food and we thought maybe we could sleep while we waited. We settled on that, sleeping and then getting real food before going back out. Now we just had to figure out where to sleep, somewhere close to the truck, we scanned the area when Grande said, “I’ll be right back” and headed to the hotel across the street, 2 minutes later she popped back out, we can sleep in the conference room. She had gone in and asked if we could sleep in their lobby for 30 minutes and the clerk said, “No, but we have a conference room with couches.” We rolled into the conference room, setting our bikes against the wall.

Super lux accommodations

I was still chilled to the bone so put on my puffy pants and jacket over my cycling clothes and took off my shoes. We all ended up sleeping on the floor since there were only two couches and we didn’t want to get them dirty. I put my legs up on the couch and hoped that with the brief sleep I would awake feeling anew.

In the 30 minutes that we allocated for sleep I was in it deep and woke up not feeling super groggy but was immediately met with waves of nauseousness again. Oh geeze and was consumed with a few dry heaves having nothing left in my stomach to discard. We packed up and left as quickly as we had arrived.

Ana had left a few minutes before us to place our order and I was surprised at the amount of people who were already milling around at that hour in the morning. We got our food and I got an ice coffee and shoved it into my feedbag. I ate some of the hashbrowns, eggs and sausage mix and then packed the rest to go hoping that having real food over the course of the morning would do the trick.

As we were waiting for our food, Ana checked the trackleaders board after one of the guys told us we were in the lead the night before. The woman in second (assuming the three of us were tied for first) showed to be on a boat in Seward when we were getting food, a bit odd but maybe she had a friend with a boat in the harbor she crashed on. We started riding out of town towards the trail head when we pulled over to readjust some tings Ana checked again showing Jenny ahead of us now. The leaderboard only pulls data every so often so not weird to see jumps. I realized my body was not up to the task of chasing anyone down so I turned to Ana and Grande, “you guys should go, you can catch her, I still don’t feel super great.” Grande also suggested Ana go ahead, she hesitated, “riding with you guys is so fun though” “Yeah but you can win, and we’re old you should go!” And with that we decided she would go and we would probably fall off her pace at some point. We rode the rest of the road to the trail, I felt off a bit and slowed to throw up what I had just ingested, oh shoot, I decided then that if I threw up a total of 5 times I would pull the plug regardless. We met up with Kevin and Gus again at the Bear Lake trailhead and ran into Jenny, in bit of a cluster as we navigated the overflowing water on the trail. Upon reaching the singletrack Ana and Gus went ahead followed by Jenny, Grande, Kevin and I. We got distance between the groups pretty quickly on the trail. I had ridden this trail once before but that was not enough to fully prepare for what awaited me.

Bear Lake trail is a bit notorious, first any trail name with ‘bear’ in it tells you a lot you need to know, the other is that it’s a lot of hike-a-biking but especially this year with multiple down trees. We started and having to get on and off multiple times in the first part navigating short inclines and sketchy side exposure. There is one steep hill in the middle where we gain about 1,000 feet in less than a mile. We started pushing our bikes up and as we climbed I fell down into a darker hole. Having not been able to keep food down for almost 8 hours at this point and lugging a fully loaded bike up this hill was my breaking point. I started crying while trying to remain engaged with Grande and Kevin so they wouldn’t know that I was in it deep. I tried to keep drinking in hopes of settling my stomach at some point and getting some calories in so I could get out of this hole. We kept pushing up and finally got some reprieve at the top to pedal which was abruptly cut short by having to lift our bikes over a tree. Even the act of lifting my bike over seemed like a gargantuan task and took everything I had to be able to do it.

Me realizing I need to do more than one push-up a year

On one of the descents my tire slid out on a water bar and I crashed, ripping my shorts in the process, I got back on my bike and cried harder. Shortly after, I crashed again on another water bar, Kevin (having recently been WFR certified) called for a coffee break, “hey let’s just take a break for a minute” but also knew he was assessing me to make sure I wasn’t going to go into volume shock or something. At this point I had taken my inhaler three times and was borderline panic breathing on this section. I took a few deep breaths, I realized I had passed the threshold for my body and was in uncharted territory, I was riding super sloppy and at this point was worried about getting hurt worse, I voiced my concerns to Grande and Kevin. But we kept moving, I was ruminating over my dark thoughts when I was startled by another voice in my head “Have some grace” it was overriding everything else in a way. It repeated, “Have some grace with yourself, you’ve never done this.” And as quickly as it appeared it left again with a vacant silence filling the space. It did make a good point, I have never done anything like this before. In that moment I knew I was going to finish no matter what. I’d like to say that I rallied and pulled it all together in that moment but it was a slow crawl out of the dark space I had been in, my stomach was still uneasy but I was able to get in some calories which helped. We finished the trail and I was so relieved my tears of despair turned to tears of joy. We stopped before the next trail and had another snack. We continued on our way, slowly getting out of the hole, my stomach still didn’t feel great but I hadn’t thrown up in a few hours and was able to keep everything down at this point, albeit it was a minimal amount of food.

The best ghost rider

Seven miles later we were back in the parking lot that we had picked Kevin up almost 12 hours prior. We said goodbye to our ghost rider and got back on the highway riding for a few miles before turning off to take a 5-mile loop going up a double-track mine road, the instructions weren’t entirely clear so we bypassed the trail we were suppose to get off on and hiked up further before questioning and going back. I stopped to pee and as I crouched down looked down and was startled to find a deep red substance starting back at me. Now for anyone else it would probably be obvious that this is blood but remember I’m like 30 hours into this race and not expecting my period for another 2 weeks. I stared at it wondering if maybe it’s not period blood, is something else happening down there, am I chafing that bad, no. Okay, must be period blood, hmm well did not prepare for this. Thank goodness I had a chamois on. I decided to just go with it and free bleed, I didn’t have a tampon and thought maybe I would try to get one at the next stop. Once we figured out where to turn off the trail it was a nice two mile descent back to the gravel road to exit back to the highway. I saw my van, thinking Kevin was around but couldn’t see him and figured we had missed him so we kept going. We talked about how fun that little trail was but with only being 5 miles we wouldn’t exactly drive down there just to ride that trail but was cool to check out.

We were back on the highway and headed towards Moose Pass which would be our last stop in all likelihood since we wouldn’t reach the last one before it closed. We pulled into Moose Lodge and saw some friends in the parking lot, they said the food wait time was about 30 minutes, too long. Being low on resources I told Grande I was going to check out the general store across the street. I went in and still wasn’t sure what my stomach wanted so wandered around for a bit, seeing they made sandwiches I asked if they had gluten free break. “What is that?” What? I didn’t even know how to respond, “oh like wheat free, I’m allergic to wheat” “No, we don’t have that”. Hmm, okay I thought, “Can you give me $10 worth of just turkey meat?” “Yeah….we can do that.” I was also being mindful because I only had $20 in cash and it was cash only. I also grabbed two rice crispy treats and skittles. I went back to the Lodge parking lot, running in to go to the bathroom, still no tampons in sight but also after sitting on a saddle for 30+ hours I’m not sure I even wanted to mess with that. I also convinced myself that since I had already torn my shorts people maybe wouldn’t think that much of it but I’m also not sure I really cared at this point. But it was nice to finally be able to use some toilet paper.

We continued on the highway and making small talk to get to the next trail head, it went by briefly and we pulled in, seeing the van and thinking Kevin was in the bathroom we stopped for a bit but I finally yelled out and didn’t hear anything so we decided to keep going. We started up the trail and Kevin popped out of the woods to take photos, each time I saw him or the minivan there was a small rush of adrenaline that helped to keep me going.

I called out something but don’t remember what but took that little boost with me into the next section of the trail. I still had to walk up small hills as the weight of my bike seemed to be beyond my pedaling capabilities and power output at this point. The overgrowth wasn’t too bad and we kept climbing towards the lakes that would mean we could reap our reward on the descent. As we were approaching the lake we saw two guys laying down in the grass, we assumed they were racers but didn’t recognize them and only one had a large load on his bike. We decided to circumnavigate the creek crossing saving our feet from being wet and instead rode on the shore around and through parts of the lake which seems counterintuitive for getting our feet wet but Grande knows all the tricks. We descended down a rocky section and getting through it made me feel more confident, that I had gotten over the dark patch and my body knew what to do when it was on the bike again. We talked about how we only had one trail left after this and thought maybe we would finish at 10-11pm. We got down to the Johnson Trail parking lot and saw some people who were waiting we found out on the rider who had been sleeping on the side of the trail. Someone gave me some water and another friend pulled into the parking lot who had done this before, back when it was more of a tour and had camped out for a few nights. She said when she got to the split on the highway where you go left to stay on course or go right to take the quick way back to Hope, she realized if she took the right she would get there in time for last call so did that and bailed on finishing the event. I also had that realization, the split is 15 miles downhill on the highway to Hope, the course is about 35 more miles of highway/trail to get back to Hope. We stayed longer than we had anticipated and right as we were about to leave, Kevin pulled in. We briefly stopped to talk to him, “Caleb took 7 hours to go from here to Hope” “What?” We were thinking maybe another 3-4 hours. I had enough food for about 40 miles but I did not have enough food for 7 hours of riding. Alright well, I guess we should get going. We calculated it out, 7 hours would put us at 3-4am, we turned back onto the path next to the highway, we cruised down it talking about how we were feeling.

We also decided to charge our lights for when we would need them on the final descent which on our timeline would coincide with the darkest patch of the night. We cruised down the path and it spit us out at the juncture for Hope or staying the course. We stopped. Grande talked about pulling the plug, she had some things she needed to get done and didn’t want her partner to have to come get her at 3am to go back to Anchorage. I said I was going to keep going but in my mind was mostly just like “oh fuck, bears” but understood where she was coming from. We stood there for a bit longer and talked about what I would need for the final push. It took me a minute to realize, before exclaiming, “We have a minivan! We can take you back to Anchorage!” volunteering Kevin to drive us back after (which was the plan anyways just now with another person). “Yeah, we can fit all the bikes and us in the van and we’ll get you back so Dusty won’t have to come down in the middle of the night!” That was enough to make it work, we planned on stopping a bit further so Grande could call Dusty. I had rapidly been firing messages off to Kevin with my satellite phone that went like this:

 “Grand is going to head to hope, I’m going to try and make a push of it”

“We can sleep in the van in Hope or whatever after”

“Going to try and catch the guy in front of me to ride with”

“Scratch that– we’re going to drive Grande home with us and keep riding together”

None of these ever got delivered because I forgot to switch my bluetooth on (good thing I didn’t actually need to relay any important information) so after handing Grande her lights back (which she gave me when I thought I would be solo) we took on on the final push.

We started riding again, this time on the highway which was a bit of a slog, Grande put a gap in on me and I didn’t have it in me to catch and sit on her wheel. The race director pulled in front of me to see how it was going and to say he probably wouldn’t be at the finish line. I switched my rear light on for cars watching the miles tick by on my watch. Kevin again pulled in front of me, I relayed the whole scenario and apologized for volunteering him to drive us back, he was good with the plan and said he was going to head to Hope to get some sleep. He was also glad that Grande would be with me for this section, I said yeah me too, I understood her stopping but also didn’t fully process what riding in the dark by myself would have actually entailed. He left me and again I was alone with my thoughts, it was still too early in the race to even envision finishing so mostly just focused on one pedal stroke at a time. We stopped at the last spot before we’d lose service again until we were done, Grande touch based with Dusty, who said he would leave Anchorage when we were at a certain point. After what seemed like and was ages on the highway we finally reached Devil’s Creek Trailhead. We again saw Wes (the racer who was sleeping earlier) and his crew. He was going to sleep for a bit and then take off. We decided to start the push of what we hoped would be the final leg. We both felt good, not energized but not too tired and decided we would wait until the descent to use our lights so they would be fully charged. We left the trailhead around 10 or 11pm and still had some daylight, we descended down the trail which was a nice reprieve before starting our last climb. Okay, 10 miles to the Res Trail and that brings us back to Hope. Mind you it was still about 25 miles from the Res Trail to Hope. We started the slow climb up and at a few of the switch backs I got off to walk even though under different circumstances they aren’t too challenging to ride. Have Grace, it’s okay to walk you aren’t doing this fresh. As we climbed we got denser into the shrubbery and it got darker, we still refused to use our lights still anticipating needing them for the descent and so we plunged further into the darkness. Even with it being close to solstice there are waning period of lights, it’s not fully pitch black but easy enough to lose yourself in the darkness. There is something so lovely about the dark and it felt extra special being submersed it for how much daylight we had. In high school and most of college (much to my roommate’s dismay) I would do late night runs when the world was asleep and it felt like the night had stay up just for me. That’s how it felt now, as if we were the only two souls out there at the moment with the vastness swallowing up anyone or anything else.

 I thought about seeing a bear, if I would even see it, and surely I was going to so slow it wouldn’t be threatened, would I be threatened, all the adrenaline had seeped out of my body over the past 38 hours, my heart rate wasn’t even getting about 125, so if anything now was the best time to see a bear because in all likelihood I wouldn’t be able to overthink the situation. I also imagined that this is what it must be like to ride drunk as my front wheel would sometimes weave back and forth on the trail and I was grateful it never fully went over the edge. At one point we both realized we had gotten sleepy but were navigating how to assess the other person’s status. I told Grande something to the extent of you know I think I’m tired and could probably take a nap but not sure I’m fully tired and could also probably keep going. We had some coffee and kept trotting along but the darkness continued to steal our energy. “You know there is a campground just up ahead we could take a little nap, being in the dark made me more sleepy.”  “Oh yeah, that works for me.” We crossed through a river and took a bend in the trail which put us right at the campsite. During day trips I always found it strange it was there, only 5 miles from the trailhead who would ever use it. Luckily for us  no one was and we put our bikes down, pulled out our puffy gear and bivys (mine was really an emergency bivy which made me feel like a chipotle burrito. I thought about how close our bikes were to us and the food on it and then my eyes shot up worrying about the blood in my shorts, I wracked my brain trying to remember if it was an urban legend that bears stalk women on their periods or not. I convinced myself it must be but surely if it was true we wouldn’t be there that long. I clutched my bear spay harder and tried not to think of what I was potentially attracting. Wes rode by us not too long after we settled in asking if we were sleeping, Grande responded and he kept going. The alarm came all too soon this time and I asked Grande if we could snooze another 10 minutes, she agreed but this was a dangerous game as we were both master snoozers. In that brief time it was enough to have a very real dream of a man standing at the camp telling me it was time to leave and waking up to realize that my bear spray had nestled in under my back. We got up with the next alarm and put away our bivys, I mostly just stuffed mine away since folding it seemed to require too much brain power. We stayed in our puffy clothes to help warm up. We commented how we timed it right because when we woke up it was light enough we didn’t need to use our lights, so much for charging them the whole time. We stopped and filtered some water and I made some coffee. I tried to take some syrup in but my stomach immediately threw it back up, no matter we were close to being done and I was on fumes anyways.

Time seemed to be arbitrary during the race but this was 5:30am

We began to cross what was maybe the most treacherous crossing of the ride, Grande went first and started riding but soon hit a rock and tipped over submerging most of her body and bike into the water. The current was working against her, she wasn’t in any real danger just having to lift her bike back up and get out of the water. I felt helpless as I just watched as there wasn’t anything I could do from shore and she quickly exited the stream. I put together enough rocks to scamper across not caring anymore if my feet got wet. We came upon Wes who was sleeping in his clothes next to his bike, he stirred awake and asked if he could ride with us, sure no problem. We took off on a flowy section and about a mile later came to a snow crossing, I went to grab my phone to snap a picture but panicked when I couldn’t feel it—“I dropped my phone” I had it when we were coming up on Wes because I went to get a picture of him sleeping but then decided against it. I’ll go back and look, you don’t have to wait, Grande didn’t mind so she could change out her wet socks, I sprinted (or what sprinting looked like at 44 hours) back and right after we had seen Wes my phone laid in the trail, relief washed over me because in all honesty was going to leave it if it wasn’t there and deal with it later.

After finding my phone

I got back to Grande and Wes and took off realizing we were close to the summit maybe a mile or two away. Still too soon to think about the finish. We regrouped at the summit, realizing it was mostly downhill I pulled out my speaker to blast some tunes—not so much for us but for any potential animals and anyone coming up the trail. We rallied down, hooping and hollering (or at least I was), my body in perfect sync with my bike as I navigated the trail, pure trail magic. There were six brief uphills on the trail which we regroup on during the first five. On the last one Grande and I waited a bit for Wes and ultimately felt bad ditching him but we were close enough to the finish and he had given us permission. We took off down the trail and crossed the familiar bridge that had led us up the trail nearly 2 days earlier, okay now just 6 miles into Hope. We cruised on the road, stopping briefly to take a photo with a sign for the Kenai 250 riders.

We chatted about what had transpired over the past two days and both agreed we’d probably do it again (this was Grande’s second time). We turned onto the mainstreet of Hope and to our surprise there were actually people waiting for us, I scanned the crowd and with my terrible eye sight only made out Grande’s dog, “Lil Snugs!” I yelled, “oh man we’re here”.

Seeing the finishing line made me realize I was actually going to finish

And we rolled into the finish but were quickly told that we actually had to ride another 20 yards to the official finish, which we did and then came back to meet up with our friends. We arrived in around 47 hours and soon were swapping stories with other finishers and friends. I love sharing the individual pursuits that we all collectively experienced. It really was a different race for everyone out there. Grande and I even joked that we won’t ride together unless it’s at least 200 miles.

Felt like I had just won Miss Mount Rose
For not being allowed an official crew, this guy sure showed up a lot during the race

Kevin took me out to breakfast which when I ordered two dishes the waiter thought I was ordering for Kevin and I but had to quickly correct him that they would both be for me. The recovery period proved a bit longer than anticipated, I quickly came down with a cold and spent most of the following week taking it easy. But fortunately was able to recover in time to participate in the Jurassic Classic.

A nice change from the sour patch kids

Riding the 250 was like finally being able to exhale. I had no idea how much my body missed riding/racing until I was back doing it. And I wasn’t exactly sure if those deep reservoirs still existed after taking time off to study for the bar and then COVID. What was I made of, who was I, could I still consider myself and endurance racer even if I had not done any race over 45 minutes in 2 years? The rhythmic turn of the pedals allowed my brain to finally stop turning and just be, to exist, not worry about COVID numbers, data, work, or what the future might look like, all I had to do was pedal and that’s what I did.

Roads that lead us home

Over the course of the race a good family friend died, I got word when were in Seward before the hellacious trail and before my moment of grace, after the race I texted one of her kid’s this, “I got notification of your mom passing when I was on course, a few blimps of service kept me updated and my mom told me when I was about 130 miles in and headed for the hardest section of the race – I often think a lot of the draw of doing endurance events is how ethereal the next world feels, like a thin veil and often finding myself thinking of the grandparents, songs will come on that I’ve associated with them for years and I feel like they’re right next to me. When I was in the thick of it during the 250 and I mean the thick of it like I had never been before while racing—I had thrown up twice, was crying, was pretty worried about how I was riding and how I was going to continue, there was an overwhelming presence that just drowned out all my thoughts and told me to “just have some grace, you’ve never done this before” I’d like to say in that moment I turned things around but truth be told it was a slow process out of the dark hold but it was the start of crawling out of it. I didn’t think much of it at the time like maybe my body had finally had enough fighting and it telling me to go with it but also not fully convinced it wasn’t one of the grands or your mom reminding me of my own strength when I was doubting myself (as is so often done).” Maybe it’s this draw of tapping into this infinite grace that exists but is so easily drowned out by the daily hustle that continues to draw me to trail. The stillness and simplicity of just having to pedal.  

Big thanks to Grande for riding with me, Ana for hanging with us the first day, Kevin for being everywhere during the race, riding with us, taking photos, and just silently encouraging me when I was near my breaking point. Rachel for being a “gold sponsor” and loaning me the bike repair kit + all the bike bag gear (one day I will get my own). Chain Reactions for getting the bike in race shape so I did not have to use my bike repair kit. Juliana Bicycles for making such a rad bike. The race organizers for putting together this amazing event– and mostly everyone reading this and who followed along while we were out there. It’s such a fun little event and I was blown away how many people reach out after to say that they had so much fun tracking us– here’s hoping to recover fully in time to do it next year- ha

CX Nationals

“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.

I know you’re wondering so that is real rabbit fur on my vest

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.

All the gear but none of it for Singlespeed ha

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.

Me on the far right having the best start of my life

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.

Mere seconds from breaking my bike


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.

And dragging my bike…

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.

Smiling but close to tears

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.

Corpse Pose

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

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

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

Celebrate the good, but also plan!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Again, Rachel crushing the photo game

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

Photo by Rachel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo from Clint

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

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

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

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

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

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

Moose Count: 21 (saw 7 on one ride)

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

Alaska State Championship

After the bar when I decided to commit to racing cross, I realized I would be racing my way into shape. Even as I said that I had no idea what that would look like. I feel like in years past I’ve rolled into cross without top end speed, but enough base fitness that I never really thought about the fitness progression throughout the season. While studying for the bar I maintained some level of fitness but riding my bike 4 hours a week is a vastly different approach to the season from 15-20 hours/week in previous summers. But like most things in life, there are cycles of yin and yang and knowing this summer would be a reduction, I approached cross with mostly a development perspective. Spend this season working on skills and technique and then keep developing to build for next season when I move back south.

Ahh yes, one of the many joys of bar prep

I thought the last race would be in the Arctic Series, and I think my body was ready for it to be but realized there was one race left down in Soldotna that was being broadcast as the State Championship. With the snow about to set in I decided to race it, or at least plan that I was going to race it and if the weather looked terrible pull the plug.

I was able to catch a ride down which is good because I still can’t get to work without the GPS (yes, mom and dad making friends). Because of this when we got there we all pre-rode the course together. Which was nice because I was able to see how different lines worked and talk through options. One corner I took tight and had to get off and one of the guys had taken a different line and told me during the race to hit it wide like I’m about to ride into the berm and I’ll be fine. There was also a lot of sand on the course and was pretty convinced that since I had just written about how sand was a strength of mine, it would prove not to be.

When we lined up it went elite men, elite women and then another group of men behind us. One of the other girls from Anchorage and I kind of looked around and then slotted into spots right behind the guys. The course started on ski trails with a slight uphill, kind of like the last race. The gun went off and I took off up the hill, I got to the top and finally put my head up to see that some of the really fast men were right in front of me, “Oh shoot” realizing I had maybe started a little too hot, “this is not where I want to be” but no other option than to keep going.

The first obstacle were barriers which seemed slightly higher and farther apart than normal. I had even put embro-cream on my hip-flexers so my legs would be loose enough to step that high. I ran over them and hopped back on, only to realize that the sand on the course made it impossible to simply clip back in. I knocked my shoes on my pedals, while still trying to pedal/not crash and break my face. I followed three wheels into an “S” shape and up a hill, followed by another “S” shape in full on sand which I bobbled and had to scoot around, loosing precious seconds. Just in case my heart rate hadn’t spiked high enough at this point, my breaks squealed down a short hill before turning up into the long, sustained climb. Because of the pre-ride I took the right side line, which held long enough for me to stall out at the top before dropping down an equally sustained descent.

Blissfully unaware of the dark times ahead

The course took us through a blueberry patch, which was rideable to some but much faster for me to run it. Because the course doubled back on itself I was able to get a glance of the woman in second place who wasn’t far behind. I ran to the top, re-mounted and struggled to get my cleats clipped in, again. The second half of the course had more sections of punchy power singletrack sections and stretches of recovery which I tried to take full advantage of. The final feature of the lap was a death spiral, which has you ride in a circle in and then follow the same line back out. It might be my least favorite feature on a course, ever, because if enough people are riding around me, I get very motion sickness. The first lap had a few people going in and out at the same time I was, I tried to focus on the guy in front of me as a stable point to prevent my eyes from darting to the other riders, it mostly worked. As I was turning to go back out the woman behind me was just entering, ah shoot, she’s close.

I circled around to the start and began it all again. Up the hill, over the barriers, try to get clipped in, through the S, un-clip for the sand, struggle to get back in, up the sustained hill, back out for the blueberry patch, glance at 2nd place, try to clip back in, up the punchy singletrack and back down around to the death spiral, glance at 2nd place again, through the finish line area.

At the start of the third lap I finally looked at my garmin, yikes, my heart rate was excessively high, even for a cross race. Holy, moly, me, oh my it was at least 3 if not 4 more laps of this. I was unsure with my hot start if I’d be able to hold on but figured there was only one way to find out.

When it looks like you’re focused but really just thinking about fries you’re going to eat later

I’m unsure if it’s because I looked at my garmin, the realization of the length of the race, or because I only had 4 honeystingers instead of 6 but this lap I entered a pretty dark place, like the place I enter when I’m 85 miles into a 100 mile race and gone. Except I’ve never had this feeling in a cross race, it was like my processing slowed down and I was delayed taking anything in and only just reacting. Boy, was I sloppy out there and it was stupid things too, like taking a line over a rock instead of just to the side of it, or deciding I could ride up the blueberry patch and making it about two pedal strokes before my bike hit something and I lurched forward into the stem, immediately having to get off and run up. I got to the top and realized that if I didn’t pull it together I was probably going to crash myself out.

Ahh yes, my favorite activity of running with my bike

I tried to focus on what I knew how to do, keep pedaling and stick to the basics. I went through the start/finish area again, “3 laps to go!” someone yelled. Oh shoot, this is going to hurt. I vastly underestimated this course and the time length.

I kept coaching myself, “smooth is fast” and reminding myself that I was on the downhill portion. 

I tried to keep my focus on each feature and not make stupid mistakes, getting off the bike when I needed to and not trying to ride through the blueberry patch. My panic breathing had also set in, which I think was maybe at play with the cold but between my breathing being out of sync and my snot sitting at the back of my throat it was enough that I dry heaved, got a little bit of mucus out, opened up my airways and breathed into the pain cave. 

With two to go through the finish area, I asked if it was the bell lap but they just looked at me. With the doubling back on the course I was still able to gauge how far behind me second place was; she was still close that if I made a mistake she could have easily capitalized on it. I somehow pulled myself out of my bonk. I kept reminding myself that it’s not easy for anyone, which I’ve found to be oddly comforting, probably because misery loves company. 

Right before the finish area for the final lap, the men’s leader lapped me. As he went through, I got my bell lap and he was done. Oh wowzer, just one more lap to try and hold on. It was a bit rough but at that point at least my tunnel vision had gone away. I tried not to look behind me to see if second place was gaining ground and focus on what I could do, which was not take sloppy lines. I’m pretty sure anyone I passed at that point thought I was dying, as my breath wheezed in and out. 

I crossed the finish line for the last time, with the momentum carrying me up the hill I pulled off to the side and got off my bike and laid down on the side of the trail. Now, in high school there was this kid from our rival high school that every time he ran the 1600m, he would collapse at the finish line, and most of the time we were like “oh he’s so dramatic.” I like to think of this getting off and lying down as a savasana, trying to let my body take it all in, or at least that’s what I tell myself so it doesn’t seem dramatic AF. 

I was lying there when the race director came up to me, “Ah, good race! But you did one extra lap.” I sat up, “Por que? Um…what?”Apparently there was confusion when the lead man was finishing and with my bell lap because they weren’t sure how far he was going to get on the course so gave me the bell lap but then tried to yell at me to stop. It clearly didn’t work. It was mostly funny, especially because I had convinced myself on the last lap I was going to get caught, but it turns out there was no one behind me because they all finished on the correct lap. Okay, so maybe I never fully pulled out of my bonk.

World’s most northern cyclocross champ…err just Alaska

I hung out in my chamois probably a bit too long post-awards sitting near the fire pit. They ended up with some extra gift certificates and were nice enough that they gave me one for doing an extra lap, unfortunately it was to the brewery we went to after the race but I didn’t realize that so instead bought $26 worth of sweet potato fries with my own money— so here’s hoping one day I get some common sense skills and not just a book brain.

In other non-cycling related Alaska updates, I have studded tires on my car now, except South Dakota seems to be getting far more snow than I am at this point. I’ve found that drivers like to start in one lane and change 2-3 lanes in one go, sometimes even just a full on left turn starting from the right lane and crossing three lanes of traffic. The community continues to amaze me with how friendly people are, Costco still terrifies me with the sheer amount of quantities things are available in– do I need 50 gushers in one box, seems like I do. And every time I look up at the mountains a part of me whispers, “how am I going to leave this place”

This view from work is certainly a perk

But then I get a picture of Tenzen and remember that little nugget hates traveling more than 8 hours. 

Long distance belly scratches are tough


Unreliable Narrator

I’ve never done a full cyclocross series to recognize my strengths and weaknesses. In years past, I’ve ad hoc races together mostly depending on (1) Sully’s schedule, (2) no mountain bike races, (3) my study schedule. So there was really no rhyme or reason for picking these races. So I’ve never really thought about course design plus my abilities. When I decided to race nationals in Louisville last year it was based on the course the year before but in my mind I was just like, oh that course was really fun I want to race it again, and it’s only 5 hours away so why not.

Louisville= fun + sand!

I prerode the last race in the series and was cautiously optimistic because it seemed like it was going to be a fun course. It was mostly on trails with a long sand pit staked out in a sand dune that went up one side and down the other. I went to the start and took off all the layers I thought I was going to be riding in, tights, wool socks, two buffs, a baselayer and decided to race in what I’ve been wearing all season erring on the side of getting cold.

The race started and I started fast again, because of the course design I knew there was about 600 yards until we reached the single track which was technical enough that I figured the further to the front I was the better. I got the hole shot and kept pushing, there was a short hill that as I punched up it, expected the group of women to blow by me, I got to the top and realized I was still in the lead so figured I would at least have one lead lap on the technical section before the sand pit.


There were two small mounds which during preride I made a mental note of which lines to take on each, which came in super handy during the race when I realized I remembered the note but not which lines. The first one was rollable at the top which gave me a boost of speed for the second one. There were two people near the second mound and I called ahead to give them a warning since they were abnormally close to the trail, because of this I took a line to the left, and with enough speed, launched myself off the top, into the air and over, I somehow stayed upright on the bike-in that brief moment of landing with a thud I thanked Sully for designing a bike that has better skills than me. I navigated through the roots and shoots in the trail that ran along a fence line. I shifted down in anticipation of the sand and powered through as much as I could (which wasn’t far) before dismounting and running the rest of the way up.

This was the race after but gives you an idea of what we were dealing with

Halfway up the sand I heard the cheers change for those behind me, realizing they were hot on my heels. I crested the top and hopped back on my bike using gravity to pull me down the sand and loosely holding onto the bike to gingerly guide it around a tree. The exit out of the sand was more perilous than during the preride, with additional speed and the leaves covering any lines it was mostly a guessing game on where to ride down, again the bike landed like a champ with a thud and I was in fight mode.

The back half of the course was small punchy climbs and more singletrack. The course seemed to pull me along and up the climbs. There were a few spots were it doubled back and I could see the group was not far behind. I looped around to the start and went over the barriers and onto the start of lap 2. I tried to settle into a rhythm without getting complacent. I often think of Molly yelling at me to not slack off –like she did in high school during the 800m because the curve between the 400m and 600m I would always falter on.

Did not ever think sand was a strength, and yet here we are. Also photo from other sand race

I ended up being able to hold on to my lead for the duration of the race–and realized I must just really like sand since both courses I won on had sand in them. As a result of that placing, I ended up 2nd overall for the series. Which is kind of funny (and I’m terrible at math so still not convinced it checks out) because this whole season I feel like I’ve been less concerned with results and have become the person I would roll my eyes at, where I’m like, I’m not fast and then win and get 2nd overall, yeah I’m the worst. Don’t worry my parents continue to humble me, when I called to tell them I won my dad asked I won a participation medal and my mom asked if there was any prize money to pay bills-lolz. I won’t bore you with too many more race details, mainly because of the lack of pictures but was really happy with my tire set up once again and the overall course design.

I was able to get out and ride Sunday and Monday after the race. It’s a weird feeling here because unlike South Dakota which just gets blanketed in snow in early October the snow is slowly creeping down from the mountains here. I look up and they’re covered in snow and I realize there is only a matter of time before I’m blanketed it in as well.

My family still trying to convince me the weather is worse in Alaska than SD…

Sunday was just a long ride with a friend on some trails I hadn’t ridden before which were just steep enough that my legs felt more interested in walking than turning out power.

Monday I met a friend at the same local trails I’ve been riding but we rode by some cut up logs and I was like oh yeah, four moose were camped out here last week with the wood (I did not see them only heard from friends). We rode around and I mistakenly put my dropper post down in the cold and couldn’t get it to come back up so was mostly out of the saddle pedaling for the ride. I was fidgeting with the lever to see if it could come back up when my riding partner slowed down a bit and I caught up to him just in time to see us going by two bull moose on the side of the trail. We got out of the section and continued on without incident but I exclaimed, “oh my gosh, they were so close, I didn’t even see them!” Which is my fault for not paying attention, he said that he slowed down thinking it was better to have us both rolling through at once. We rode a little bit further and turned a blind corner to go up a small hill, I was still fumbling with my dropper when I heard the rustling of shrubbery and movement coming down the trail, it was a cow moose that was running down where we had hoped to go. We both stalled and it parted ways soon enough she wasn’t charging in any way but it was a little too close for comfort. I was more concerned that a bull would be following her but we were able to get out of the area before we saw another one. The rest of the ride everything seemed to shape-shift into a moose, including a short man in a black jacket.

The final cross race is tomorrow, it’s not in the series but the Alaska State Championship. It’s about 2 hours away which means I’m finally leaving Anchorage and seeing more of this state. Then slowly starting to make plans for winter.

Moose Count: 9

Bear Count: 0

Still bear free!

Hindsight

“Kate, how are you still alive?” While this question has been posed many times, in this context it was by my best friend who also happens to be an optometrist. It was the first time she had examined my eyes and apparently realized that I had absolutely zero depth perception. Molly seemed somewhat relieved by this information like “oh it’s just because of your eyes that you fall or crash a lot and not something serious.” Since then (2012) and really grad school I’ve made a habit of wearing my glasses but still struggle with contacts. I really hate eyes and having to try and touch mine to put the one lens on, well seems to be too much for this girl to handle. So that’s all to say that I wear my glasses for most everything except outdoor activities, which is really just how you want it.

Don’t worry- she was still willing to go to the Grand Canyon with me

Because of this, I usually preride the courses I can because I’ve been known to bust through the course tape only to then realize I was not going the right direction.

This is my nightmare

I did a preride lap on the course last weekend before beginning my warm-up. The course was long and strung out with limited course tape and mostly pink flags highlighting the direction of travel.

Photo: Josh Estes

I slotted into the start line, unsure of how my legs were going to respond, they felt tired which means one of two things, they’ll never wake up and I’ll struggle to the finish or they won’t realize what hit them and I’ll have a great race. I took off from the start, fast (is there any other way at this point) and hammered through the grass. We went up a steady hill and down a steeper pitch only to turn around and head right back up, except the line was too steep so I had to get off and run up. I was still leading when we went down the other side of a hill, into a tunnel to the other side of the park, up a short embankment and down onto a leafy, slick trail which briefly put you back on a path to send you back through another tunnel with enough speed to hit the back section.

Photo: Josh Estes

Unfortunately I was still leading so when we emerged from the tunnel it seemed there were two choices: left or straight. There were pink flags and I stared hard trying to decipher which way to go but a decision was rapidly approaching. I hesitated a moment and then veered straight, immediately overtaken by the pack going left. I slammed the brakes and rerouted going up. I killed any momentum I had to carry me into the hill, I shifted down and scampered up the hill doing my best to catch up and hang on to the lead group.

Photo: Josh Estes

It was mostly futile, after that steep hill there was only a brief moment of reprieve before having to surge up another hill. The three women started to surge ahead with a long downhill pulling them just out of my reach.

The next section presented a “S” that slunk around and out before putting me over the barriers. I did preride the barriers twice during the warm-up, and by preride I mean ran over them, still not interested in breaking my face and decreasing my market value (you’re welcome, mom). They were positioned slightly on a slope so if I got off on my normal side dismount then when I was remounting my bike was positioned higher than I was used to and felt clunky getting back on, so during preride I decided to dirty dismount, that way I would be on the higher side and then jumping back on my bike would be a little less terrifying. It wasn’t as smooth getting off, or going over and it seemed like a bit of a wash so after doing that for two laps switched back to the regular side for the last four.

Photo: George Stransky

The last section of the course had two sections that threw me each time when I was approaching them with which way to go, one area saw me running over a flag each time and the other area had a traffic cone that marked where the trail carved into the hillside in front of all the spectators.

Photo: George Stransky

I squinted real hard on this section because it was in front of everyone–not exactly how I want to be remembered in the cross scene here. The climb up was slightly off-camber and followed the fence line down to the field before going through the start finish area. It was a bit precarious as there were three lines that fed into the singular line at the top and found myself alternating the lines depending on the traffic. But being mindful not to do full pedal strokes and slam my pedal into the ground and throw my balance off.

Photo: George Stransky

At the end of the first lap the group was just far enough ahead of me that I still had the illusion I could catch maybe one of them, that was quickly quashed as the race went on. The course rendered itself to a lot of pedaling, which might be a weird statement to say but, is not my strong suit. I’m still totally fine with being a one-hit-wonder and back to my main position. I also don’t think that my missing the course made any real difference in my position, the women here remain fast and put in significant time over the course of the race. But did I spend this week trying to get a contact in, yes, did it work, no.

Photo: George Stransky

In other non-race news, I finally did a mountain bike ride by myself. I had ridden with a friend for a bit but she had to leave to catch a flight and I figured I would keep going. With notice of four moose on the trail (I avoided that section) I could hear my high school basketball coach yelling at me, “Keep you’re head on a swivel, Ginsbach, see that girl, she went by you because you didn’t see her.” I felt like my pace was much slower than when with a group because with others there is a sense that someone else will see what you don’t. But either way I survived and didn’t even see any animals. I did run into one moose when I was running with some friends in my neighborhood (why I should just not run) and cautiously trespassed through a yard to avoid it.

Last race of the series is tomorrow and then awards on Sunday, hoping to pick up the Lantern Rouge! There is one more race the next weekend about 2 hours away which depending on the weather might happen…

Moose Count: 6

Bear Count: 0

One-hit Wonder

They say motivation comes from a place of hope and not of despair. This is useful information to be reminded of when dealing with human rights, the environment, and bike racing.

The first two cyclocross races were very similar, hot start, fast fade, hang on for last (can you hang on at that point). But after the second race I was really embracing it–like hey I’ll be the one who bridges the gap between the pro and the intermediate so those in the intermediate will see I’m not that much faster and maybe consider moving up. I’ve also never been in a consistent race scene. Sure, in years past there were consistent people that I would occasionally race again– but not the same handful of people each weekend. Last year every start line brought new competition and new questions of strengths and weaknesses. I messaged my coach after the second race, “somewhat liberating getting last, feel like I can try different techniques and approaches since the pressure is off.” And it’s true what’s the worst that happens if I go super hard on a lap and blow up, get last, oh okay (I literally can’t imagine me having this mindset last year so props to my therapist haha). It also released some stress around training, like when you get a call to ride but it’s your day off, might as well ride because if my legs are tired and I get last, oh well.

I went into the third race with the same mindset, start hot and see what happens. The course had equal parts grass and equal parts dirt. From past experience I knew the grass would not be my strong suit. Not to bog you with details but I started fast and then quickly got passed. When I got passed I didn’t feel like I was shooting backwards, so after the next two passed me I caught their wheels and bounced on and off for the first lap. I managed to stay on one wheel for most of the second lap before getting lurched over the handlebars going through a bog style mud-pit and having to dismount and run through. I caught back to a wheel and then crashed on some roots, lucky that my leg took the brunt of the force and not my face (you’re welcome mom). At that point I lost her wheel and was riding by myself for most of the next lap. I eventually got overtaken by the last two women, but was able to hang on their wheels for a good lap before having them pull away in the grass again. During the race I kept asking, “can I give more” or “is my body tired, no”. I finished last but was pleasantly surprised with my racing, I didn’t just start fast and then immediately fade. There were some things I did good and some things I could work on (like changing my tires so I don’t crash four times (2x in the bog, 2x on the roots).

So fresh and so clean!

This past weekend was the only weekend that lends itself to a double headed, so another race on Sunday. I went to bed pretty tired and decided I would see how I felt in the morning, or mostly if it was raining or not. I do like racing back to back, I always feel stronger the second day but wasn’t convinced that would be the case this time. The expected rain got pushed back so figured why not–I did change my tires and wash my bike so might as well get it dirty again.

I did a warm-up lap: two logs on a hill, hit the pavement, loop around and into the sand pit, turn 180, back through the sand pit, across a field and down to dash up a steep hill, down into the woods, which had two punchy climbs, sharp right and down back into the field, run over two barriers, around the goal post, and into a steep, slow hill, down around to the finish. On the practice lap I did crash on the last hill when I stalled out and couldn’t unclip in time, so that’s how today is going to go. I did a bit more of a warm up and then headed to the line.

I started but the others started faster and followed two onto the course that funneled us up over the two logs on the hill, I was able to ride over them (always a concern) but took a wide line at the top. I chased the two women down and stuck onto their wheels.

I was sucking air following them into the sandpit when one went right, one went left, halfway in the middle opened up and I surged through, I hooked a hard turn and back through the sandpit, I powered through and got to the other side, putting mere seconds between us. Oh shit, what do I do now? I circled around to the steep run up and took the far line to get a better exit. I hopped back on and headed down into the woods and with a 180 turn I was able to see that they weren’t far behind me. I kept pedaling, “smooth is fast” because the next section was a damp dirt path littered with rocks.

Hit it wide, and let it slide

At that moment I was very happy that I changed my tires, they gripped the ground and gave me the confidence to lean harder into the corners and not worry about washing out. I came out of the woods and down over the barriers, I hit the other side of the grass, knowing I would loose time here so just tried to maintain what I had before hitting the hill. I pedaled up the hill to the point where I fell on the pre-lap and then got off and dashed up the remaining 10 feet to the top. One of the guys at the top was yelling, “what the hill, Kate” or maybe he was saying what the hell. At that point I felt that, what the hell. I took the descent as a time to recover and regroup. Okay, you’re still in the lead, but these women are strong and will in all likelihood catch you, so I figured I would try to ride as hard as I could until I exploded or they caught me and then limp home and get last. Yeah, let’s see what we got. I rode over the two logs but then near the top, hopped off and took the inside line to maybe save some time. I hopped back on and headed towards the sand pit. I rode through both sections and as I was exiting one woman was entering. I kept pushing knowing there would be sections to recover on.

Each time I hit the woods I was reminded of how grateful I was that I switched the tires (can you tell I love these new tires). I kept trying to push knowing that the grass section would slow me down. I hopped over the barriers, still half tempted to try riding them each time, still half tempted to not break my face, so I kept running them. I got through the finish area and settled into the lap, knowing where my strengths were and where I just had to mitigate my weaknesses. Each sand pit, I felt like I was able to gain a little more time, I kept saying, “big legs, little arms” to let my bike go where it wanted to without fighting it and keeping the power on.

I was able to mostly maintain the pace that I had, although when it was two laps to go I did ask if we could do the bell lap instead, but the lap counter said no. I finished and was able to maintain my position for first and I think for a few reasons, (1) the tires, (2) my legs were fresher since I didn’t go as hard the day before, (3) the really fast woman who usually dominates the field raced with the men, and (4) the day before I got just enough confidence in that race to remember that my legs are sometimes capable of going fast.

Hot dogs or legs?

While I’m sad to have broken my streak, I’m more than happy to embrace the one-hit-wonder role now. I will say though that not winning or finishing high the first few races allowed me to realize that I just really like racing. Often I figured that I just liked winning and doing well and wondered if that stopped if I would still enjoy racing and it turns out I do, maybe more, is that weird? Probably.

Otherwise, Alaska still remains amazing, the cyclocross (also cycling) community is really unlike anywhere else, they do a pot-luck during the races so feel like there is more a community feel to it. As a result I feel like I’ve met a lot of people which is great and the only bummer is that trying to remember all the names really shows off my brain injury (kidding, mom…kinda).

Work is good, I wrote to a professor saying that it’s not what I expected but I’m also unsure of what I was expecting, so actually really enjoying it. I feel like I’m finally in the trenches and can swap war stories with my family.

I did really show my non-Alaska roots the other day when I went on a bike ride that finished on a hill above Anchorage with views for days, no seriously. As I was looking around I saw a massive mountain in the distance and asked what the name of it was, the guy just kind of stared at me, I was like “oh, do you not know either, that’s okay.” Still with a befuddled look on his face, he was like “oh you really don’t know,” and I was like, “should I?” Apparently it was Denali, and you can see it from Anchorage. I imagine that’s how Sarah Palin felt when she realized she could see Russia from her house.

Moose Count: 5 (two on the trail this week plus one in the hospital parking lot)

Bear Count: 0

Cross is Here

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!).

Glad I was riding with 2 nurses when we hit this line #yourewelcomemom

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.

New Season; still supernovaing

I led through that section and then into the next section which was a steep run up (okay, Anchorage cyclocross–I see you).

Not exactly Mt. Krumpit but it was almost better

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.

Not bad for not running in 2 months….

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…

All by myself

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

Gowdy Grinder

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Opposite of Loneliness: Part II

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Squad Goals

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

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

Thanks Drew!

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

Quite the upgrade from chips for dinner

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Laughing because they’re older than me

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

Not Cycling Clothes

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

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

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

Morning Trainer Session

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

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

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

The pain train

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

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

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