The Importance of Researching a Ride Route

While Colorado is my home, I remain a Montana girl at heart.  Every year I make it a priority to visit my family in Montana, where I spent most of my adolescence.  This year I brought my Cannondale Evo along to ride during my visit.  Billings is just large enough that there are parts of the town that I’m not familiar with.  I grew up on the west side and rarely ventured to the other parts of town.  Therefore, I wasn’t exactly sure where each of my rides would take me.  This “from the saddle” discovery is one of the funnest parts of riding and has the potential to turn each ride into a fun adventure ~ or not.

The view from Molt Road.  The wild turkeys didn't make it into this pic.

The view from Molt Road. The wild turkeys didn’t make it into this pic.

On my first ride, I decided to take the Molt Road out of Billings.  I was planning to ride out and back and expected at some point I would see a sign indicating how many miles it was to Molt.  Since there was no sign- or because I missed it – I just rode until it was time to head back to Billings for other commitments.  I could see Molt in the distance, but would have to save the complete ride for another day.

On the next ride, I went to the Billings Heights part of town.  I happened upon a bike lane and followed it until it ended.  I ended up riding in a big loop.  I then came upon a pretty nice bike path along Alkali Creek Road and decided to see where it went.  After a few miles, I caught up to three women out for their morning training ride.  I rode with them for a few miles and it turns out one of the gals was on the committee that plans the Billings bike path.  She was a wealth of information on the bike path system and gave me some helpful directions and ideas about where to ride in Billings.

The route for my next ride was inspired as I drove down Highway 3 northwest of Billings. IMG_4388 It had been a long day in the car because we had decided to drive from Banff, Canada back to Billings all in one day.  As we neared Billings, we passed a street sign out in the country that read “Alkali Creek Road”.  I had just ridden on the bike path along Alkali Creek road the other day when I rode through the Heights.  At that time, I had wondered if it connected with another road, and here I had just driven by the intersection of Highway 3 and Alkali Creek Road.  My ride route for the next day was planned!

As I set out on Alkali Creek Road the following morning, I started my ride on the bike path.  Eventually the bike path ended and the houses became fewer and further between along the road.  I wondered how far of a ride it would be until I hooked up with Highway 3 – a detail I had neglected to look up online before departing.  I came upon a man walking toward me and figured he was a local who might be able to tell me how far I had to go to Highway 3.  I slowed, said hi, and then asked him if he knew how many miles it was until Highway 3.  Instead of answering yes or no to my question, he looked at my bike and said “you’ll never make it on that bike with those skinny tires.”

“Really.” I replied.  He went on to say that the road turned to gravel around the bend.  The gravel was so treacherous that he had a difficult time with it on his mountain bike.  I told him thank you and said that I would go see this gravel for myself and pedaled away.  I was annoyed that I hadn’t done proper research before embarking on this ride and was left to ask a stranger a simple question that he refused to answer.  When I saw the gravel, I agreed that it was in fact deep.  Deeper than I would have liked to have ridden under normal riding conditions.  But I’ve ridden on gravel roads before, and if it was only a short distance, it was certainly doable.  But now I wasn’t riding under normal riding conditions; I had been challenged.  And  nothing makes this girl more determined to do something than a boy telling her what she can’t do.

Shortly after embarking on the gravel, I remembered to check the mileage on my Garmin.  After about two miles, I bagan to wonder if I might be better off turning back.  And then I remembered the challenge.  The gravel was unlike any of the gravel roads I had ridden in Colorado.  It was more like I was riding through someone’s deep landscaping rock, rather than down a dirt road with the occasional washboard and rocky sections.    I kept creeping along the road and thought I may have seen cars moving along Highway 3 in the distance.  As I pedaled along, I became more and more annoyed with my failure to research the ride more thoroughly; with the fact that I didn’t notice the road being gravel as I sped by the other night; and with my stubbornness that wouldn’t allow me to turn around.  I considered letting some air out of my tires so that I might have some traction, but I didn’t want to have low pressure for the remainder of the ride after reaching the highway.  Onward I went.

After about 4.5 miles had slowly passed, I finally reached Highway 3.  There wasn’t anyone around to witness my superior dance, so i kept right on pedaling onto Highway 3 and back to Billings.  Will I do better research for my next ride in unfamiliar territory?  Maybe.  Finding your way is a big part of the adventure.  And if it takes a little longer to get there… that’s not necessarily a bad thing when you’re on a bike.

The Beartooth Mountains are just barely visible on the horizon.  More on that adventure coming soon!

The Beartooth Mountains are just barely visible on the horizon. More on that adventure coming soon!

2014 Cycling Year in Review

I was recently inspired by Heidi Rides Bikes to take a look back at my 2014 racing season.  I competed in 12 races:

1 Road Race

Carter Lake Road Race - photo credit to Shawn Curry

Carter Lake Road Race – photo credit to Shawn Curry

2 Hill Climbs

2 Criteriums

2 Circuit Races

3 mountain bike races

2 cyclocross races

All but one race was finished – see more about that here.  I was involved in two crashes.  The first crash was in my first crit of the year.  After the injuries healed, I did another crit and was involved in yet another crash.  Smashing into the pavement was beginning to take a toll on my body, and I wasn’t interested in totaling my new Cannondale ride.  By this time it was nearly June, so I turned my attention to other kinds of races.  I did the Guanella Pass Hill Climb again, which is one of the few races that make a cyclist feel bigger than life.  I did my first endurance mountain bike race on Independence Day.  I finished off the racing season with two super fun cyclocross races.

Strava stats indicate that I put nearly 3,500 miles on my Cannondale since I got her in January.  While I rode outdoors in every month of the year, I raced in 8 of 12 months of the year.  On the non-racing side of the fence, I participated in my first Triple Bypass.  I also started using my bike as a mode of transportation rather than solely as a recreational or training vehicle, all be it sporadically.

While the racing season didn’t turn out as I had hoped in the criterium category, I was pleased with my results and the number of races overall.  But most importantly, I’ve come to respect what my body is capable of and learned to listen when it tells me it’s time to try something different.  I’m the first to say that it’s important to have a plan; but it’s equally important to allow those plans to change when the time is right.

For 2015, I’m looking forward to more crits and more commuting; to continuing to improve my cycling fitness; and to sharing cycling joy wherever and however I can!

2015 bike

Primalpalooza: From Excitement to Dread in Milliseconds

If you read my last blog post about cyclocross, you know that I was racing on a borrowed bike.  I’m pleased to report that passing the woman I borrowed the bike from in the Green Mountain Sports CX race did not result in a loss of  bike borrowing privileges!  I was even able to do a couple of mid-week cyclocross training clinics where I learned the proper form of a suitcase lift (where no suitcase whatsoever is involved) and mounts and remounts.  After all this practice and success with the last race, I was very excited to register for “Primalpalooza“… with a name like that, what’s not to like??

I had observed this race last year from a vantage point where I could see the stair run-up as well as the switchbacks leading up to the stairs.  For those of you unfamiliar with a stair run-up, it’s where you dismount from your bike and carry it (like a suitcase) up the stairs.  Here’s a video of a gal who happens to be pretty good at it:

Beyond the portion of the Primalpalooza course that I could see, I had absolutely no idea what the rest of the course was like.  I was in for quite the surprise as I started my pre-ride on race day.  Each lap was 2 miles of twisty, turny chaos with a couple of sides of barriers, stairs and whoop-de-do’s.  Oh, and let’s not forget the howling wind!  Despite all this, I was super excited about the race right up until the moment when someone mentioned that there were 64 women registered in my category for the race.  64.  My heart immediately sank as I thought about what it would be like to try and maneuver through this course, particularly the narrow sections, with so many other racers.

As the race official began call ups, I waited patiently to see if my name would be called.  Very near the end, I was happy to hear my name.    I guess one race earns you a call up!  With 64 women to contend with, I’ll take whatever advantage I can get!  When the whistle blew, we took off in a sprint down a fairly wide street that quickly narrowed to a one lane uphill dirt road.  The pack quickly thinned due to the incline.  The twisty sections of the course caused many women to fall; I’m still not sure if the wind played a factor or if it was inexperienced riders.  Some women went down in sections of the course where wheels were ~ or should have been ~ straight.  One woman rode forearm to forearm with me through two corners only to fall over when we entered the straight away.

On my third lap, I was pulled from the race, along with everyone else who was behind me.  Because each race runs for a specified amount of time, the officials stop racers at the finish line once that time is almost up.  This keeps all the subsequent races on schedule.  I’d never had this happen before and was a little disappointed that I didn’t get to keep going.  Nevertheless, when the race results were published, I was pleased to have finished in the top half: 25 out of 64.

One of the best parts of the day was having my family there to cheer me on and hand up water bottles.  I loved hearing “go Mom” all over the course; these cheers weren’t for me necessarily, but I love seeing and hearing kids of all ages cheering on their mom.  It makes my heart sing.  In reviewing the race results, it did not escape my notice that the woman who lined up in front me ~ very near the back ~ had a top 10 finish.  If she can do it, I can do it… with a little more practice!  It’s time to learn to race smarter…. and maybe invest in a bike of my own.

Reaching for water.

Reaching for water. AND it’s time for new gloves.

Cyclocross Race Excitement!

I finally did my first “real” cyclocross race.  By “real”, I mean that I raced on a real cyclocross bike.  I don’t count the other two races I’ve done because one was on a mountain bike and the other on a cross bike that was much too large for me. The latter IMG_2461race resulted in the lovely sprocket punctures to my calf after a stair run-up.  I had a friend who offered me her old cross bike for a couple of races because she had upgraded to a newer model.  She’s very close to my size and I was able to use her bike with minimal adjustment.  I carefully selected which race I would do.  I didn’t want to race in a large field of racers or on an extremely technical course.  After all, the bike was new to me and I had only a few days to get used to its nuances.  I registered for the Green Mountain Sports CX Race.  After registering for the race, I felt something I’d never felt about a race before: excitement!!  Typically, my pre-race feelings range from dread to denial to fear.

My excitement level for this race was almost on par with the excitement I have each year in the days leading up to my birthday.  All week I looked forward to the race, counting down the days.  I was excited that my whole family was coming to cheer for me because most cycling races are just not spectator friendly.  Even my dad, who would be passing though town that weekend, would be watching me.  He had never heard of cyclocross nor seen the shenanigans that are involved with a cross race.

On race day, the women who had completed other cross races would be called up to the start line.  This is great for those receiving the call up because it means you get to be in the front of the pack when the whistle blows.  Those who do not get called up are left to line up behind everyone who was called up.  The bottom line here is that racers with call ups definitely have an advantage over those who don’t.  Despite the fact that I was near the end of the pack, I was happy and excited to be racing on such a beautiful September day.  The field was small and I felt confident that I would have a respectable finish barring any major crashes.

gmx

Photo credit: Gary Mullins

When the whistle blew, we took off.  There was much shuffling for position as we moved through the parking lot and took a sharp right onto a narrow sidewalk.  I was cautious as I didn’t want to crash before we even got to the dirt section of the race.  The day was very hot for September and I knew that pacing myself in the heat would be critical to a strong finish.  I was able to avoid a couple of crashes near me and kept going as fast as I could.  Hydration via water bottle hand ups was key.  I’d like to take this opportunity to apologize to anyone I may have inadvertently thrown a bottle at… I certainly wasn’t aiming for you.  Disposing of a water bottle when you’re sprinting through a parking lot sounds easy until you actually try it!

As we settled into the second lap, I lost sight of the race leaders and hoped that I would eventually be able to catch them.  There was a group of about 5 of us clumped together.    We played cat and mouse and continued to shuffle our positions for the next two laps.  I had a wheel slip out in a corner, which allowed the group to pass me.  I didn’t let them get far and eventually caught and re-passed two of the three cyclist, while the the third continued to pull away from me.

Eventually I caught my teammate – the gal who loaned me the bike on which I was racing.  You can imagine the mental conundrum this created as I debated whether she’d loan me her bike for another race if I passed her.  We eventually came to a steep hill run-up, where I uttered encouraging words as I ran by.  This was the last lap and I wasn’t able to chase down anyone else.  I was thrilled to finish 11th out of 25 racers, particularly since I’d started in the back of the pack.  Best parts of the day:

* Having a bike to race on – thanks to Linda!

* Hearing my family cheer for me.

* Water bottle hand-ups on such a hot day and dusty course.

* Not crashing.

* This awesome picture from Ryan Muncy Photography.

* This awesome video from my honey that makes me look really fast!

muncy

Photo credit: Ryan Muncy Photography

Lessons From Dude #4

I went for a mountain bike ride today with a friend.  As I loaded the car, I was sure to pack a variety of clothing.  We were driving to the trail head and it sits about 2,400 feet higher in elevation than where I live.  I wanted to be prepared for wind, rain, and the potential for a hot ride as the sun climbed higher in the sky. I packed a variety of food.  Some of which would be eaten on the go as the trail (and my one-handed dexterity) permitted, while other food would require a stop to open and consume.  Lastly, I’d want something more filling for the drive home post ride.   Maybe I do this because I don’t like to be cold, or maybe it’s because I’m a mom.  Whatever the reason, I just like to be prepared.

I go through the same process in preparing my bike for the ride.  Tire pressure is checked and adjusted to the characteristics of the trail to be ridden.  The chain is checked and lubed if necessary.  The hydration pack is filled with water and checked for a multi-tool, tubes, pump, patch kit, and compressed air.  Having experienced a variety of mechanical problems along the trail, I like to be prepared to address the issues I may encounter or lend a hand to anyone else in need.  Ultimately, however, I’m there to ride and not push my bike back to the car.  The people I ride with seem to share this philosophy of preparedness.

As I was riding along a 12 mile loop called Centennial Cone, I encountered 3 mountain bikers from the same team* with matching lycra.  The third guy told me that I could expect one more dude wearing the same kit.  These were the kind of guys that like to go fast and I was concerned that I might meet Dude #4 on a blind corner.  There is some cliff exposure along the particular section of the trail where I was expecting Dude #4.  I kept calling out as I approached blind corners in the hopes of alerting anyone who might be flying along the trail to my presence.  Nearly two miles passed, and Dude #4 still had yet to make an appearance.

As I approached the crest of a hill, I stopped to wait for my buddy and have a snack (the kind that requires two hands to open).    We both took the opportunity to remove excess clothing as all the climbing coupled with the sunshine was warming us up.  At this point, we were roughly halfway ~ 6 miles~ into our ride.  As we began the descent into Elk Creek, we soon came upon Dude #4 who was pushing his bike up the hill.  As he limped along, I could see he had a rear flat, no water, no tools… nothing but him and his bike.  I asked if he needed a pump.  He replied that he also needed a tube.  I suggested that he could  use a 26″ wheel tube in his 29″ tire, but he declined.  He went on to say that he was the one who came out to ride unprepared, so he would continue walking the remainder of the way.  I suspect he had about a 2.5 mile hike ahead of him, based on where he had likely parked and began the ride with his buddies.  And his buddies probably still hadn’t realized that he’d crashed out miles before.

At the next stop as I waited for my friend to catch up, I continued to think about Dude #4.   How could anyone even consider riding this loop so….. unprepared??  The loop is 12 miles long with 1,850 feet of elevation gain.  At some point, even the best of riders will want at least a sip of water.  The climbing is strenuous.  Once again, at some point, even the best of riders will want a mouthful of energy.  I’ve seen broken chains and flats on this trail.  Mechanical issues can and do happen to bikes, no matter how well they are cared for.  Crashes can and do happen, even to the best of riders.

As I reflect on today’s ride, I’d like to thank Dude #4 for the lessons and reminders.  First, thanks for the reminder of why I prepare for a ride the way that I do.  I’m thankful that I carry all that extra gear that I don’t need 99% of the time, because I’m there to ride and not hike.  I’m thankful that the people I ride with wait for one another at periodic intervals and circle back when it seems to be taking someone too long to appear on the trail.    Lastly, thanks for owning your decision to ride unprepared and not interrupting my ride to fix the issues you could have addressed yourself, had you been properly prepared.  I suppose all that time hiking with your bike gave you lots of time to think about your ride.  I hope it was fun before the crash.

*  The team that Dudes 1-4 represent shall remain anonymous.

cone 1

Views from the Centennial Cone trail.

Listen and Learn

IMG_2956One beautiful October day last fall I was out for a mountain bike ride near Red Rocks Amphitheater in Morrison, Colorado.  I was riding with my usual mountain biking buddy, JQ.  We got off to a slow start as it had rained the night before making the first section of the trail muddy and slippery.  Our pace picked up as we reached some smoother single track.  Eventually, we got very near to the amphitheater itself and the single track became very groomed and un-technical.  Maybe that was why I let my guard down.  As I crossed a road and jumped over a water bar, I landed all wrong.  As I was sent sailing over my handlebars into the air, I saw that I was headed face first toward a group of large boulders, strategically placed next to the trail as a barrier.  The only thing I had time to do as the precipice of a rock rapidly approached my face was roll my head back toward my shoulder blades.  This slight movement prevented me from breaking my face, but the full force of the impact was taken in my chest.  I was not wearing a chest protector.  And I don’t have a lot of “cushion” in that area, if you know what I mean.

I laid in the weeds wondering if this was going to be the crash that I didn’t walk away from.  As I tried to catch my breath, I began to wiggle fingers and toes.  I tried to call out to JQ to stop and wait for me, but it came out as a whisper.  I slowly sat up and continued to gasp for breath.   Eventually I stood and was shocked and pleased that everything still seemed to work.  My bike was laying in a heap about ten feet away.  It, too, still seemed to work, so I climbed on and started to pedal in the direction of JQ.  By this time she was coming back to find me.  We took the shortest route back to the cars, which was up Morrison Road.  As the adrenalin started to wear off, the scrapes and bruises started to voice their discomfort.  I had an x-ray the next day which showed a bruise to my sternum.  I was told I could ride again when I was able to do a push up.  I was back on the bike about four weeks later.

Four weeks after the crash puts us in November, and I didn’t ride the mountain bike much through the winter.  In the last couple of months, I’ve been doing more mountain biking as I gear up for summer races.  As a result of that crash, I’m a little gun shy of riding over boulders that normally wouldn’t even give me a reason to pause.  It’s so frustrating to know what you are physically capable of only to have your brain bring it to a complete stop.

JQ and I recently weexpertnt and rode at Alderfer/3 Sisters Park outside Evergreen, Colorado.  The trail system there was great because there were many shorter loops you could connect into a substantial ride.  We started on some flat trails with minor obstacles.  Normally I have to try and chase JQ down to keep up with her, but that day, she held back and talked me through lines and over obstacles.  I guess she, too, had observed my mental block on previous rides.  Before I knew it, I was rolling over boulders like nobody’s business.

It would have been easy for me to let my pride get in the way of being open to her coaching.  But I decided when I started this cycling journey that I would have to listen if I wanted to learn.  I’ve learned so many little gems along the way because of that decision.  And those lessons often come from unexpected sources.

listen

Riding With Your Senses

When I first started riding, it was simply to become a cyclist.  I had no idea how much more of my life would be affected by the simple action of getting on my bike and pedaling.  This spring is the third spring of my short cycling journey.  While I am able to ride year round for the most part, spring and autumn are my favorite riding seasons.  The reasons for this are many, but include the mildbike temperatures and great scenery, just to name a couple of them.

I shared in a previous post called “Simple Pleasures” some thoughts on spring riding.  In that post, I focused primarily on the sights of spring and the gift of witnessing nature’s rebirth from the moving perspective of a bicycle.  In this post, I want to share with you a connection with the outdoors that tends to get noticed a bit less.

As a cyclist on the road, I constantly call upon my eyes and ears to help navigate through traffic safely.  If I’m out riding my mountain bike, I’m constantly scanning the rapidly passing single track for rocks, tree roots, sand, and other obstacles that require reaction.  The sense of touch also comes into play when making clothing choices for a ride, feathering brakes before rounding a corner, or feeling for sharp objects inside a tire.

But smell??  I’ve learned over the years that my nose has the ability to pick up scents that go unnoticed by many of the people around me.  It’s both a blessing and a curse.  Because of my sensitive nose, smell is a component of each of my rides.   Some smells are obnoxiously pungent… like the dead animal along side the road.  Others are subtler… like the

lilacssmell of lilacs that linger in the air for a couple of weeks in late spring. I often wonder as I pedal along whether I will encounter the same smell in the same place as I last experienced it on any given route.

For the last two years in a row, I’ve encountered a sweet fragrance that lasts only about four days before it dissipates.  The first time I noticed it, I wondered what it was and before I knew it, it was gone.  Last year when I smelled it, I remembered it from the previous year and knew that I needed to get out and ride while it was there or it would soon be gone.    I’m anticipating that fragrance this year.  I hope to be able to identify which plant is giving off that scent.  It will likely be difficult to pinpoint because it thoroughly permeates the air.

I like to think that all the time I spend riding my bikes has made me a wiser person as I pedal along and ponder life.  Here’s the correlation I have made between that fleeting scent and life as I have experienced it: We may or may not have the opportunity to re-encounter an experience, let alone realize the significance of any experience until it has passed.  Engage your senses ~ all of them.  Thoroughly experience what life offers you, even if it’s just for a fleeting moment in time.  Take in the experience, and take it with you when you go.

amazing