Bikepacking 101 and Bears

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

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

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

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

Had to say goodbye to Tenzen

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

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

Here we go

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nature is pretty neat.
Plus views like this certainly help

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

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

Cracked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Views + Friends like these

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

Okay, this is nice.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I walked down this section

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

One of the many trail debates.

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

Tenzen working so I can go play.

A Different Kind of Lawyer

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

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

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Hand delivered! 

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

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

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

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

 

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Lining up to start– photo from University of Louisville Cycling 

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

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

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

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

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

 

Attack the Pack

I did my first collegiate road race and crit race a few weeks ago (okay, at this point over a month) and much to my astonishment, I did not crash. For some reason I had it in my mind that crits are just full of carnage, broken carbon, and skin shredded on the pavement. It was much more tactic based than I had thought given we were all riding for separate teams but still working together.

start of crit
Who knew that skin suits weren’t just for cross racing…

I went into the road race with the words of another collegiate racer telling me how fun and low-key it was, “we usually just sit up and talk during the race”- oh that seems nice. The race started very much that way, we rolled out and the girl next time me started chatting. I can definitely do this for 25 miles. Then about 5 minutes in we turned right and took a long descent and that was it, no more chatting. I stayed very much within my comfort when going downhill (thanks, brain injury–you’re welcome, mom) and soon found myself out of the lead group and for the most part by myself. Wow, the next 20 miles are really going to suuuuck if I’m out here by myself. Pretty soon a group of two road by and picked me and we continued to pick up stragglers as we worked to get back to the lead group and rotated through pulls. I kept trying to figure out how much energy I should expend off the front versus just tucking in the back and conserving my own energy. It was a delicate balance as I didn’t want to be perceived as not doing enough work but also didn’t want to do too much to be spent before the final hill climb. The final hill was a bit of a doozy, especially since I’ve only been on the trainer for the past 2 months. I was able to pull away from part of the group on the climb as it was deceivingly long and hold on for the half-mile flat stretch to the finish line. I finished 6th, which was nice for having no expectations.

the one time I attacked
The one time I attacked was pretty short lived

The crit was similar to cyclocross racing as we just road around in a circle but less dirty, less barriers, and with much more speed. The course was a large lap following a road around a parking lot. We did 10 laps, the start was flat and turned into an immediate downhill with a 180 turn back followed by a left corner with a slight incline, two rights and back through the start/finish. I stayed with the lead group but was severely inefficient in doing so– that whole descending at high speeds- yea, still not my thing. We’d go down the hill, I would be in the back of the pack and then within the 180 turn we would all be grouped together. It was like doing intervals when you’re already going as hard as you can.

nate's trailI opted out of racing the next two weekends as it was Spring Break and headed to Colorado and then up to my parent’s for a few days. This is going to sound strange but having multiple bikes in 3 states (the same locations that I keep French Presses) is a little overwhelming when trying to plan for rides and the future. I ended up taking both my cross bikes up to my parents house from CO with the intention of leaving my single speed one there and picking up my mountain bike. The weather was so nice that while some of the trails were snowpacked there were enough dry spots to patch together a ride. I took my cross bike up Battle Mountain thinking it would be mostly dry given the exposure and it was until the very last pitch before the top where it was still deep snow pack and ice.

bike in snow
Takes me back to Hartford Nationals

I didn’t think too much of it when I was up there and was trying to be mindful not to pack too much mud and clog up my derailleur. I made it to the top no problem and turned around to start descending. I’m not even sure at what point it happened but I could feel the tension give way in the chain and looked down to see my rear derailleur hanging off from my bike.

broken bike
At least the hanger did it’s job!

Ughhhh, fortunately it was all downhill so I kept riding and being conscious not to have it bang into the spokes of my wheel too much. I got to the bottom and turned onto the pavement. I ran out of momentum and stopped and called my dad, “Hi Dad, I broke my bike will you come get me- I’ll be in the courthouse parking lot.”  I texted Sully, he responded that I should have rode my singlespeed and asked if I had crashed. Uh, excuse me, I did not crash, I was just riding along and it happened. I sat for a little while longer and then realized all the times that I ran the Main Street Mile that it’s actually a slight decline down to my dad’s office. Tired of waiting, I hoped on my bike and adult stridered it down the road. I got some pretty weird looks from people driving as I was scootering but I feel like my hometown is definitely used to my antics by now.

If I had a dollar for every time I broke my rear derailleur at this point I would have $5…

Buff creek
More of this, please!

I spent the latter half of break in CO, riding and running some of the trails. It was definitely needed, but it made it that much harder to come back to South Bend after spending 4 days on dirt with friends. I was even lamenting as to why I didn’t go to CU for law school but then realized I would probably get far less work done than I do now. 

FullSizeRender 5.jpgThankfully finals are just around the corner (yikes!) and then I’ll be back to try to get some rides and racing in before starting my summer gig.

 

Stronger Together

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

gravel gridning
Recon training in Boulder last week

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

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Sharon and I riding in Boulder

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

going up hall
Working on power output

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

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

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

 

Thesis Training

When focusing on writing and defending my thesis, my blog posting fell to the way side–Here’s just a brief recap of what I’ve been up to since arriving back in the states in mid-June.

I arrived back into the states, did two trainer rides and signed up for my first mountain bike race in almost 10 months– and my first go back on my mountain bike in 7 months.

helmet pic
Well

It was a bit ugly and 2 hours later I wondered why I didn’t sign up for the 10 mile option instead of the 20-miler. I somehow survived and was surprised that my legs went out much sooner than my lungs, so maybe running actually did something. I decided to do the race to help ‘race my way back into shape’.

podium picture
Well, at least I wasn’t sandbagging!

Within the first week of arriving back into the states I secured a spot for Leadville (yikes!) but with no aspirations of defending my age group title. Instead, I’m hoping to be in good enough shape to ride with another WBR team rider and get across the finish together (more on it all later, promise). It should be a great day and I’m looking forward to it.

thesis picture
This was my view for the past few weeks

Given the limited time frame to get into shape and the fact that I was writing my thesis, I got in touch with my coach from last year to come up with a plan, which meant a lot of road and trainer rides.

road biking nd
At least other ND cycling people were on campus

I did not tell my parents about Leadville until I absolutely had to because was worried my mom would worry more about my stress level between training and writing. Riding gave me a good excuse to take a break and ruminate on what I had been working on. Only once did I go to the doctor to get some blood drawn and have a resting heart rate of 92, minor detail.

I defended my thesis and passed, if you’re interested in reading 97 pages about influenza vaccines, lettme know! I found that prepping for a thesis defense was similar to an endurance race.

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You spend a lot of time, resources and energy working towards the goal. Don’t change your equipment the day of– I walked halfway across campus with the podium I had practiced with, and the night before you realize you have done everything you can at this point and just need to get some good sleep. Afterwards, I was able to spend about a week and half in South Dakota before heading back to ND for graduation.   bh trailsI was able to get some trail riding in with Barb why home. I’m now on my way back to South Dakota and will head down to CO in about a week for Leadville. After Leadville, it’s back to law school!

with parents
Pre-graduation dinner and not cycling clothes!

group at door

It happened to be baton twirling national championships at ND this weekend and I found a discarded baton in the grass that allowed me to relive my glory days, much to the amusement of my family- ha!

Leadville 100- 3rd Time’s a Charm

Racing bikes can be devastatingly, heart breaking. At the finish line of the Leadville 100 I collapsed into a heap of sobs. A nice lady came up to offer me water which lying on the ground and gasping for breath between tears would have been a choking hazard so I waved her off. A man came and laid my finisher’s medal on my stomach and patted it before walking away, trying to offer some level of comfort. I laid there for a while and closed my eyes thinking back to what I could have done differently. Nothing. That’s what hurt so much because I gave it my all and came up 7-minutes short.

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The Team!! A few pros, even an olympian (who Wayne has beat in a race–I did not!)

The week started much like any other race week with me scrambling to find lodging for the race. I think part of me didn’t think it would actually happen, that I wouldn’t actually race and so put off dealing with it. Fortunately the World Bicycle Relief Team had me covered, and I arrived in Leadville with a place to stay. Thursday and Friday both consisted of warm-up rides on the college trails and getting ready for race day with meal-prep and going over logistics with the team, Sully, and my parents.

college trail
Pre-Race spin to take in the views. Photo: Claire Geiger 

The start of the race is always a bit chaotic, I was in the third corral and was trying to start with another of the WBR girls. I found a spot and lifted my bike over the fence but had some hesitation with trying to jump over it, it was pretty wobbly and I didn’t want to be the first crash of the day. Sully held the fence secure and I cautiously made my way over. I saw Katie, the girl I was trying to ride with, behind me. And my parents on the other side of the fence. The gun went off and I slowly started to roll but waited for Katie to go through the start with her. As soon as I found her we were caught up in a sea of people and

katie and i at the start
Katie (on the blue bike) and I (on the red bike) ready for the day!

separated as soon as we had joined. I always get nervous for St. Kevin’s because there are horror stories of the bottle-neck and people jamming up and having to walk. I’ve never had a bad experience and this year was no different. They had recently groomed the track for St. Kevin’s so even more people were riding than in years past.  I did start the race with arm-warmers but vowed to drop them wherever (sorry not sorry) and not have one end up in my rear derailleur like last year. 

I got through the first aid station and started the pavement descent. Racing is the only time I do sketchy things like tuck on my bike, to get more aero, I got so aero I passed someone with aero bars on their bike. 3 miles on pavement soon turns into an uphill that feeds into the backside of Powerline. One of my teammates, Dave passed me at this point and I sat on his wheel for a little bit but he soon dropped me and I had the plan of riding a bit conservatively to start with. During the climb I had my first Untapped Maple Syrup shot ever (one of the guys brought some for everyone at the house, so I shoved 2 in my camelbak as just in case for the day) straight maple syrup, SOOOOO GOOD! I got to the top of Powerline and opened up my suspension a bit more.

coming down powerline
At the bottom of Powerline. 

This is the only sketchy part of the race where most people are prone to crash. I figured everyone would be taking the “A” line, which is pretty buffed out and easy to navigate which would leave the “B” line, a little more sketchy with loose rocks, open to me. I was right. I’m not the most skilled descender (as a brain injury will tell you) but have enough confidence in my abilities and my bike to be able to handle my own. I blew by people who were jammed up waiting for their turn and was able to gain back some time I had lost on the climb. Even some of the guys started to cheer for me going by them, which I could have ended my day right then.. I mainly kept going so I could eat some more maple syrup.

It was a short 20-minute section on pavement after that to get to the first big aid station, Pipeline and I realized I was only an hour or so out of Twin Lakes. This is maybe the only mistake I made during the race and that was not having pacing times-I was only going off of memory and trying to remember if I was ahead or behind my pace from the last year. I had decided to do this because I was worried that if I didn’t make a split it would create a negative feedback cycle that would take me longer to get out of. I kept riding constantly thinking to push a little harder because it will all matter in the end.

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“I’m just here to get some syrup!”

It was about an hour later that I arrived into the aid station where I was greeted by World Bicycle Relief Crew, Sully, and my parents. I handed my bike off to Sully and dashed into the grass to go pee. Thankfully I had a skirt on which provided some coverage so I wasn’t too worried about it. I got back to the tent and asked for more maple syrup. I handed my camelbak to Sully (as was part of the plan) and took a bottle with lots of salt in the drink mix to head up Columbine, knowing it would be at least 2 hours before I was back.

leaving aid station
See ya later!

I knew what lay ahead of me but it didn’t make it any easier. This section could make or break my race and I was determine to make it. I locked out my suspension and got into a rhythm of climbing in the saddle and out of the saddle. I kept drinking and taking in syrup and rice cakes. Towards the top I peered over my should to see a large chase group coming up after me (okay they weren’t really chasing me, but they were a large group) and I was determined to beat them to the goat track so I wouldn’t get stuck behind them. I did and when it funnelled into the track I kept riding, this section wasn’t as congested as it has been in the past and I was able to navigate around those walking without too much hassle. At the end of the first steep pitch I had to get off my bike because I had hit a soft spot with my front wheel and couldn’t save it. I hiked up maybe about 10 steps before it flattened out again and I could get back to riding. I knew I was faster if I rode rather than hiked, not a lot, but enough that it would make a difference and so I continued to slowly turn the pedals over and ringing my bell to let the hike-a-bikers know I was behind them. I only had one guy give me a hard time when I went around him while he was hiking (I’m going to blame it on a language barrier-he was wearing an Italia jersey, and didn’t ever respond when I called I was coming (hence the bell, boys don’t know a girl is trying to get by)) after I had gone around him and gotten back in line he rammed his front wheel into my rear. I held my line but expressed, “what the heck man?!?” he didn’t respond. Maybe I had gotten too close or maybe he hadn’t noticed that he was that close but I kept my eye on him just to be safe.

Shortly after that encounter I heard my name called out, I looked behind me to see another WBR rider, Jered, coming up behind me. Jered is always smiling and was so enthusiastic to be on course that every time I ran into him it immediately put me in a better mood. He was climbing like a champ and cruised by me like I was standing still, which I certainly almost was at that grade. I saw him ride off into the distance and at this point had to get off and walk again knowing that it wouldn’t last long and it would be the last time as the top was well within sight.

columbine
Thinking about stuff and things….

After I crested the top it’s 50 yards down to the aid station and I made a plan to get in and out. I Refilled my bottle, took some watermelon, orange slices and then was off. I was behind a fat-biker at the top which I thought would be a good one to make a line for me but soon realized I could go a little bit faster and quickly went around only to land behind…the guy in the Italia jersey from earlier. Realizing this was no place to let my pride get in my way I stayed behind him because well he was going faster than me and letting people know he was coming, and with people coming up so close it’s sometimes all I could do to not knock handlebars. I tried to cheer for everyone coming up as most of them were now stuck in the waiting line that had backed up to the beginning of the goat trail. The Italia guy made it around one guy on a pretty sketchy pass and being so close to where the trails opens up into the gravel road, I stayed behind the guy and tried to keep my distance because he was a little all over the place which made me nervous. It flowed into the gravel road and I took a breath to relax as that section makes me so tension. I wasn’t even able to get through a full breath when the guy in front of me crashed and I was somehow able to not have him take me down with him. I’m still praying the rosary for that save. The fat biker pulled up beside me and said, “you must downhill on the weekends, you are so great on the descents!” I responded, “nope, I just chase my boyfriend around!” which is true. Sully is such a fast, fluid descender–and I like to think so of it is catching on…

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“I’mmmm back!”

The section back to the aid station was quick and I kept trying to push it a little more, knowing that I had lost some time on the climb. I was back to the aid station and chugging pickle juice before I knew it. Sully gave me my camelbak, I grabbed more maple syrup (I had dropped one riding Columbine and let out an agonizing scream, not because I actually needed the food but because it was so delicious), rice cakes, another bottle, and made my way out of the aid station, after drinking more pickle juice. I can remember staring at a

IMG_7815
And I don’t even like pickles….

bottle of IBUprofen on the table when I came in thinking I should take some. My right quad had started to feel strained and I wanted to get on top of it. I left without taking in and was focused on getting something at the next aid station. I got onto the next section and followed the wheel of two guys who pulled me for a good portion back to the Colorado Trail Singletrack. It was only a mile on the section (much too short) before getting back on two-track that took us down, up, down, up, down, up and then down into the aid station (this is a rolling, quick, section that I always try to recover on). I pulled up to the medical tent, “do you have aspirin?” “No.” “No? What kind of place is this?!?” The guy then hesitated, “hold on, I’ll get my personal bottle from my car” which luckily was right behind the tent. “How many do you want?” “4, will you give me 4?” “Good girl, I had someone ask for 2 earlier and I talked them into 3” I really should have said, ‘how many will you give me’ but had gobbled them up and jumped back on my bike before I had thought of that witty response. singletrack down

I got onto the pavement section and had a guy come up behind me saying something about “ginger power” I was slightly offended at first because a.) I did not want to pull him back to Powerline and b.) If anything my hair is red not ginger. He got in front of me and only then did I realize that he was a ginger and then I thought it was hilarious. We worked together to get through the headwinds and around to Powerline. I thought maybe I would see Sully somewhere near the bottom where I did last year (we had a rough plan of it) but as I kept getting closer to the climb without seeing him I started to count what calories and figure out if it to make it last  90 minutes. I saw Katie’s husband who didn’t think Sully was there and he gave me a syrup and a push which was awesome. I started up Powerline and shifted into my lowest gear and just slowly kept turning over as people around me were beginning to walk up. I turned the right hand corner to see the WBR girls cheering me on. Claire used to be a coxswain in college and it’s pretty amazing how well she can motivate you, she also calls out to everyone, “Girl riding, get out of the way!” Yeah, she’s the best! I kept riding up to see Sully there waiting, he began walking up along side of me (that’s how slow I was going) when again I hit a soft spot and jumped off to take another bottle, a straight shot of salt and was on my way. And by on my way I mean hiking up. Just before the top I was greeted by a little old man, “You are the first girl I have seen today in a skirt…Pound it!” I pounded him and laughed and then he called all the guys behind me perverts. They just don’t make them like they do in Leadville. At the top there was a guy in a pizza suit (or maybe banana) who after I got on my bike he pushed me for a while and told me not to pedal- it was great! Powerline is only a 200 yard section but really I think of it as the 3 mile climb that it entails, it has 4 false summits and a few relief points but it’s about 45 minutes of suffering at 81 miles in the race. All I knew was that I need to keep pedalling and do as little amount of walking as possible. Which I did, again not fast, but faster than hiking. At the top I saw a group of guy riders all congregated around a table. I kept going around them only to see a girl handing out “Hot Shots” “Do you want one?” She asked me. “What is it?” It’s for muscle cramps and soreness” Remembering my right quad I grabbed it and drank a sip. Ohhhh I get the name now, it’s hot, like Fireball (later we made everyone at the house who hadn’t try some and they all made the same face I did). I immediately dropped the rest of my bottle and went for my camelbak trying to squash any remaining taste. Plus I was getting so close, one more descent and then one more 3 mile climb and then I’m at the last aid station. IMG_7808.jpgI tried to do the mental math of what my pace was, going sub-10 was going to be close, so, so close but it might just happen. I kept pushing and going between tucking and pedalling whenever I started to lose momentum. I began the laborous climb that would bring me into mile 90. It’s not very steep or very long but at mile 87 it’s more than I wanted to be doing. I stayed focus though and got into a rhythm again of climbing, just 20 minutes in the pain cave. I made it to the top at about 9:15, I saw my parents, dropped my camelbak with them, grabbed another bottle, gushers, some chews, and a chunk of chicken and took off. It was going to be sooooo close to get under 10 but I had to fight. I went, I pedalled and climbed and when it released into the last descent I opened it up and went down with everything I had, making sure to keep eating and drinking because it’s really 104 miles and not 100. I was frantic and when the downhill slope slowed I kept pedalling and mashing. I came around a corner and a volunteer told me and two other guys I was with at that point that we were going to be so close to 10 hours but we had a shot. That was all it took. There was one section left, up the boulevard, which is just enough of a grade to destroy your soul if you have it left. The guy in front of me started pulling harder and I held on. Although I’ve never done a time trial, I imagine those last 4 miles were a similar experience. I could tell the guy in front of me wanted to go under 10 just as bad as I did. We kept taking over other riders who would hold on to the rear briefly before getting dropped again. We were so close but so far still-get there, get there, get there! The gravel takes you back onto the road that we started on and back to the finish, with one more crest being on the pavement. I saw a girl in front of me and figured she would be the one to beat to not get 8th for the third time (at least 7th would be nice…) I knew if I could get in front of her before the descent I could maybe hold her off. I made my move on the small climb to start going but she immediately quickened the pace to keep on me.coming into finish

I couldn’t shake her and fell behind her wheel. We were going down and quickly up into the finish shoot and it was all I could do with one last great effort to put my head down and begin to sprint with everything I had left. Thankfully at this same moment I was greeted by Claire’s voice telling me to go now, go now, go now! I did. I over took the girl and finished. 10:07:24.

finish
All the feelings 

This now brings you back to the beginning. After picking myself up and rushing to my mom I told her I just wanted to go under 10 so I could be done with this race, I just wanted 9-something, that’s all. But Leadville doesn’t care what I want. Sully called me the glass-half full girl given that I had PR’d. I hesitantly looked up the results, figuring I would have to settle for 8th again. “Holy fudge!” except I didn’t say fudge. I had won my age group, which was shocking but this year they had a separate pro category so that helped to take the really fast women out of my age group.  I’m really happy that I won and it’s a nice ending to the season that seemed a little tumultuous with training during law school, racing in South Dakota, not doing a lot of high-atlitude rides, changing schools and programs (more on that later), and bouncing down to Colorado to try and race. It put a lot of strain on my personal relationships though and when I had finished I wondered if it was all worth it, if all the sacrifices to feel like I had come up short were. As much as I shouldn’t say it, it was. The struggle, the process, it was all worth it because I gave everything I could at Leadville. That’s what’s so beautifully heart-breaking about bike racing because it demands so much and you might come up short but then again, you might not.

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My crew–it was their 3rd Leadville too!

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Mary only showed up for the photo-op 

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Grateful he hasn’t dumped me through this process….

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Laurens crushed it in his first MTB race (he did the Tour de France for his training-ha) and Katie not only took an hour off her Leadville time but raised enough money for over 100 bicycles!

I’ll be transitioning to collegiate racing this fall (yay for club sports that don’t have eligibility rules). But I also intend to take next summer off from Leadville and do some reassessing in terms of what my goals are when it comes to racing and riding.

on podium
I’ve peaked! 

What’s really incredible though regardless of my time or where I finished is that the WBR team raised more than $80,000!!! That puts more than 500 bicycles in the field, that’s 500 lives that have a real impact. I’m so lucky to be able to be a part of it!

with gold pan
My parents made me do a photo shoot in the Safeway Parking lot…casually

  • Here are the numbers:
  • Time: 10:07: 24
  • Avg. Speed: 10.2
  • Distance 104.3 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 11,631 feet
  • 50 oz. camelbak with water (finished it twice)
  • 6 bottles, a mix between Skratch and GU (500 mg of salt per serving)
  • 5 or 6 rice cakes
  • Roughly 12 Untapped Maple Syrup (seriously, so good- and water soluble so it did not destroy my stomach!)
  • 1 Skratch chomps package

 

Copper Crush…Crushed It

I did not want to do the Copper Crush. Most of the week leading up to it I felt discombobulated, having spent two days driving, one day flying and not a whole lot of time on the bike. Throw in a wedding the night before and it was all I could do to even fathom racing. My coach thought it would help just to shake things out after the Tatanka and as much as I didn’t want to I had to admit that he was right. I was slightly nervous that the race would end up more or less of the same as the Tatanka and not actually boost my confidence going into Leadville. I had just enough champagne the night before at the wedding though to think that racing wouldn’t be so bad. I didn’t preregister just in case the wedding drinks got the best of me but I was up and ready to go the morning of the race. I opted for the 30 mile course instead of the 50. It would be three laps, 10 miles each, a 5 mile uphill section followed by a 5 mile downhill section. Didn’t seem that bad.

wedding
Yay weddings…and bikes!

They started the women last, and all together, which made it seem like there was a lot of us, and we would not have to worry about the guys trying to get by right away. The race began with a neutral role out, which was really the first neutral role out I have experienced and we actually talked about how most of the time people are gunning for it. We hit the single track but even then the pace didn’t quicken. Maybe people knew something I didn’t, then a lady made a move around me and I quickly got on her wheel and we made our way to the front. We started climbing and I soon realized this climb was going to be more than I had anticipated so I settled in while still trying to push to keep position. We made our way to the top and after about 4 miles it opens up to a gravel road that loops you back around the single track, I kept grinding not sure what the descent would bring. By now we were spaced out enough that I wasn’t too worried about getting overtaken on the descent so long as I held on.The descent was fast, with some technical sections, enough that I had to pay attention and fully open my suspension. Lap one was done at 1:20. As I came through I was on the wheel of a pro woman who had gotten lost three times on the first lap as we went through the finish line she told me she got lost almost right  away and not to take that turn again. We took that turn and only realized our mistake when riders started coming towards us on the single track with mystified looks on their faces. Oops we cut through the field and got back on course. out of the woods

The climbs seemed a bit steeper the second time around but being a little more familiar with it I knew where to push and where to save. After about a mile or so up I made my way around the lady and kept trying to pick off the guys in front of me. I also knew there were still two women in front of my but wasn’t sure of their lead time. I made it to the top and was relieved again to open up my suspension and make my way downhill. The single track opens up to a gravel road about a half mile from the finish line, I was cruising down it when I saw a green bike and yellow shoes making its way up. Sully had stayed to help with post-wedding activities and I wasn’t sure I would see him. I stopped and switched out a bottle with him and told him I would grab food on the way through and that I would see him in an 1:20.

The third lap presented more of a challenge. I got passed back by the pro-lady who told me to eat something, which I had been doing but I don’t think I had eaten early enough and out of teh woods 2now was slowly bonking. Just get to the top, just get to the top. I started to count down 1/10
of a mile while trying to do mental math of how many yards that would be. That definitely kept me occupied for a good portion as I’m not sure my math actually ever came out right. I got to the top and saw a volunteer, I asked him for salt as I had been borderline cramping going up and had an in-depth conversation about salt with Barb after the Tatanka. He didn’t have any salt but could get some as I kept climbing up before looping back around to his post. That certainly helped to keep me going, the thought of getting salt. When I arrived back, even with it being a downhill I knew that I could easily cramp and the time it would take to stop and get some salt would save me time. He had ran into the resort at the top and gotten a salt shaker. I shook it directly into my mouth, it’s the first time that much salt has not been accompanied by tequila. I immediately realized (probably placebo effect) why people risk so many potentially fatal diseases for this jewel of the earth. It was like a flip had been switched and I felt like a human again, I imagine that salt is what Pinocchio received each time he became a real boy. I crushed the descent, okay not really but I felt really good and was able to finish strong as a result.

podium
Where my girls at?!?!

I finished first in my age group, the other girl had dropped out after two laps and was 2nd for women overall. As much as I despised having to race before hand, I’m really glad I did, especially because it was at altitude, and it certainly helped to realize how much salt factors into my performance level. I ended up taking the Leader’s Jersey and when I told a friend that she asked if it was like the Tour de France…I responded, “exactly like that” 😉

I had struggled the week leading up to the race with wanting to race Leadville, I went back and forth with it more times that I could even list, and really debated for the first time ever just walking away from everything. I’m not saying that winning helped, it was more of a conversation with my Godfather who pointed out that even if I didn’t want to when would I get another chance like this. I’ve just been getting nervous because even with breaking my rear derailleur last year I had a great race and I’m just not sure I’ll be able to top it. There is only one way to find out!

100 Tatanka

“Hi! Can I jump in the back of your truck?” I asked as the man rolled down his window. I was about 30 miles into my scheduled 100 mile ride, out of water and 2 miles from the first scheduled stop when I ran into the “Big Herd” of buffalo.
“Yes! Jump in!” I threw my bike in his box and then jumped in behind it. A few minutes later he stuck his head out, “do you want to sit up here?” “Sure, do you have room?” So I jumped out and then hopped up into the front seat. I was greeted by a man and wife and their niece and two puppies on vacation from Missouri. My mom thought this was funny as the lady who found me on the side of the road when I got a brain injury was also from Missouri.

I had started the morning, like I start all big ride days, putzing around. I finally rolled out around 11 (I know, I know…) and wanting to get some miles in took the back road into Custer State Park, I also thought this route would have me avoid any of the herds thinking they would be up higher since the temps were over

100 degrees. I was getting off of Wildlife loop road and heading towards Blue Bell (maybe 2 miles) where I could refuel (I had just run out of water), I looked to my right and saw the ‘Big Herd’ to the right and looked ahead and saw a line of cars stopped. I thought they were all stopped to take pictures (uh, tourists) when I took the right and realized that the herd was on both sides of the road and buffalo were zigzagging back and forth over the road. I wouldn’t be able to turn around and ride 30 miles back without water given how hot it was so my only choice was to negotiate around these guys (this herd is a little aggressive, already having one goring for the year). I edged a bit forward keeping close to one car, there is no way I’m going to make it through this without getting gored, I saw the headlines, “Higher-up at Wind Cave National Park has his niece gored by Buffalo, clearly not teaching her anything….” I would never survive another family dinner if that happened. I looked ahead and saw a truck with a tandem in back, seeing they were still about 30 feet back from the hustle and bustle that was taking place ahead I made my move. Thankfully they took me in. We made it through without too much trouble. They then dropped me off at Blue Bell where I could get more water and snacks and continue on my way.

Top of Mt. Coolidge

I did continue but cut it short at 80 miles instead of 100, my computer read out 106 average temp for the day and my stomach started to fight back after about 50 miles with some fatigue setting in. I’ll blame it on the heat, but it was a good ride to have after the Tatanka 100- did the same amount of mileage in half the time.

2/3 of people in this picture are legal scholars (hint the one in the middle is not….)

I also finished working and for those of who don’t know I ended up working at my parent’s law office. Which I really tried to avoid coming into the summer, because I didn’t want them to realize I
had NO idea what I was doing!  I had a different internship to begin with but once that fell through at the last minute this was the only thing open. I’m actually so thankful that I was able to be in my parents’s firm. I ended up spending most days with my dad and had a really inside look into the legal profession, which is certainly filled with hilarity, and not a lot of dull moments. I also realized just how lucky I was to be able to have my dad as a mentor in a potential career, and to see him in that capacity as I’m sure most people aren’t that lucky.

I’m headed to CO now to hangout until Leadville (I have wedding festivities down there the next 3 weekends). I’m looking forward to is, although this has been the first summer I’ve spent in the Black Hills since getting into mountain biking it has been better than I thought. I am hoping for less snake sightings in CO!

106 degrees=straight to DQ!

Tatanka 100

I spent a lot of the Tatanka 100 thinking about Lance Armstrong, but probably not for

Getting ready

reasons you would think. There is a video of him doing a Beer Mile (run a lap, chug a beer, repeat x4) I was watching it with Wayne one day and after the first lap he walks off the track mumbling, “this isn’t what I expected…” Wayne’s response was, “what did he expect..it’s a beer mile!” That’s what I kept saying, “this isn’t what I expected…” and then a little voice would pop into my head saying, “well, what did you expect, it’s the Centennial Trail” and I would respond back with, “I don’t know…not this” which is how 13 hours of racing could really be summed up, not at all what I expected.

There wasn’t one thing that went catastrophically wrong but enough little things that results in one large biomechanical malfunction which resulted in my slowest race ever. I had started the day not feeling at 100%, maybe around 70% having raced the

Monday before but I figured I had 83 miles for me legs to figure it out so wasn’t too worried. I had only decided to do the 83 miler a few days before, thinking I would just be doing the 35. I figured the longest it would take me would be about 10 hours. We started on pavement for a neutral roll out of about 3 miles before hitting the trail. Within about the first 6 miles I soon realized why the times were so slow from last year, the trail gets pretty congested to begin with and then there are a lot of hike-a-bike sections, but not hike-a-bike roll your bike along with you, more lift your bike up, put it on the rock and climb up yourself. Oofta, definitely no rhythm to the ride. The first aid station was at mile 16 so I kept thinking about that, trying to stay on pace and get my legs shook out.

I made it to the first aid station and made a plan to get what I needed and get out of there- I moved quickly. I left following two guys out, one local and one from CO. The heat was definitely starting to take its toll and after about 3 miles and half way down a descent the local guy went down on the left of the trail, he cramped up and and waved both of us along saying he’d be fine, so we kept descending and I kept drinking to stay on top of any cramps that might be headed my way. We got to a road with no course marking….ohhhh crap! Still not sure where we missed the turn we turned around and started back up what was initially a nice reprieve. We realized our mistake was where the guy cramped, as we both had been looking left the trail had taken a fork right. It was frustrating and took me a while to recover mentally from. Between the 1st and 2nd it’s still pretty primitive trail, with stair hiking (my favorite), and a feeling of bush whacking through some areas with grass brushing against my handlebars and thick grass stalks that had only recently been pushed down to forge the trail.

Driving the struggle bus…. Photo: Randy Ericksen

This is the only time in my life that I’ve actually been concerned with a race cut off time- and it was going to be close, especially because I had taken a break to sit down on the side of the trail and eat something. I rolled into the aid station and saw lots of riders milling around. I ate some apples and laid down on a slab of cardboard for a while. I then got up and walked over to two women that I had talked to earlier in the day, they were calling it, not wanting to waste their whole day. It was so tempting, to bail with them, so I sat and ate some chips and pickles that they had given me while weighing the pros and cons. Pro: I’ll be done with this wretched race. Con: I’ll have to ride longer tomorrow. I got back up and overheard people talking about turning the aid station into a recovery aid station, that they were going to start pulling people…I grabbed my bike and got out of there deciding to at least make it to the next aid station.

The section was hot, exposed, dusty, and on a two-track open to motorized vehicles. It sucked the life out of me, or what was left at that point. I really started to get frustrated and started to do a lot of soul searching to get me through- I came up with a mantra “sometimes fast—sometimes last.” I also thought back to a ride I had done earlier that week with Barb when I had looked down and saw a snake below me on the side of the trail. I called back to Barb, “there is a snake back there” her response “where?!? I don’t see it, but I don’t look down, I look at where I’m suppose to be going” very wise words as I had started the day trying to look where I was going to avoid any mishaps with snakes and as the miles slowly crept by and the time seemed to be exponentially faster at passing, this became my thought process too, stop thinking about where I am right now, in this very moment and think about where you are going, this is training for Leadville, this doesn’t matter. It didn’t make it any easier though. I stuck with it but getting to that third aid station almost did me in. I

He was suppose to be tied up for directions

rolled in 3rd aid station, grabbed the only drop bag I had packed for the day and promptly sat down in a chair that was provided by the boy scouts running the station. I grabbed a cup of chips, then grabbed another one, then another, then another, then another, then another-the most chips I have ever eaten during a race but I think my body wanted the salt. And then I sat there, and sat there, and sat there, and sat there weighing if I should drop out or not. I talked to the race directors from the gravel race I had done earlier this year in Spearfish as one had crashed out and the other pulled the plug and they offered me a ride back and then I weighed the pros and cons with them. It was most frustrating because at this point I was already toasted and racing for the next weekend was off the table so even if I didn’t finish at this point I didn’t gain much. They were familiar with the next section and gave me low down. It seemed there was really only one good climb out and then it was rolling. And so I finally got out of that chair and back on my bike.

The climb wasn’t bad, no more rock features so I was able to stay on the bike and just pedal. And that’s what I did. For the next 35 miles, there were a few short climbs that I had to get off and walk up because my legs had nothing left in them. I rolled in to the last aid station, nearly depleted and so happy to know I was now getting so close. The man put a cold wash cloth on my neck and the lady poured me a coke, which I didn’t think I wanted but promptly drank. I sat down on a cooler and pulled out my cell phone to text Barb and give her an update, I had a message from my coach, “how’d the race go?” I burst out laughing and yelled, “THIS IS THE LONGEST RACE EVER!” I texted Barb with an update, letting her know I still had 17 miles to go. Even with 17 miles left I still knew it would be close to 2-2.5 hours. I left the aid station with enough fruit snack bags to get me through the week (better to be safe than sorry). I was doing well until the last 4 miles. I thought back to this little girl who was put a bike with training wheels, on her parents taking their hands of her she began screaming, “GET ME OFF THIS BIKE!” I have never identified more with a child than those last miles. Tears began to well up in my eyes from the frustration the day had brought. I cut through a cow track, which had a goat walking down it, which was a bit of a comedic relief. I knew the ending was at a city park but had no idea where the park was in relation to where I was and when I came up on one park that was

desolate I had figured that everyone had left, fortunately I saw signs to keep going and was soon on the bike path. I was ushered into the high school track and saw a lone person standing at the opposite end. Again thinking this was the end, and was depressed that it took me so long that everyone was gone–she then pointed me around the corner where I was greeted by Barb and the finish line.

I rode the next day, just to make sure that I could but the next few days were a little rough. I’ve even spent time questioning why I’m doing Leadville again. I’ve been opting for trainer workouts over going outside so I could at least watch 30 Rock and not have to think about anything.

I’m so thankful that Barb did the 17 miles and was willing to drive me home, otherwise I think I would have just laid down in the grass and stayed there until I ran out of fruit snacks.

She finished wayyyy before me!

Here are the numbers:
Distance: 79 miles
Time: 12:56
Avg. Speed: 6.10
Elevation: 10,417
Avg. HR: 145
Avg Power: 95
Time spent at aid stations: 2 hours–I wish I was kidding!
Quarq provided live tracking, which was nice when I was talking to Sully about dropping out at each point along the way and he could offer me up points of encouragement.
Just a note my goal time for Leadville is 9:35- I was at mile 53 when I hit that mark in this race…almost comical.

Finally got my summer tan!