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!

Finding Peace on Two Wheels

There are 365 days each year, most of which pass us by with little to no fuss.  But there are a few days each year that we anticipate ~ be it with excitement or dread.  The days I look forward to are primarily happy days: my birthday, my husband’s birthday, our anniversary, June 21st (the longest day of the year), July 4th (who doesn’t like fireworks?), December 21st (because it means the days are getting longer and we’re halfway to June 21st).  Someone queue Bon Jovi.

Then there’s my daughter’s birthday on February 9th.  It was certainly a life changing day and is one of the happiest days of my life.  Next month she’ll be 13; a teenager.  January has been my least favorite month for most of my adult life.  It’s such a dark, cold month.  There aren’t many January days that are good for outdoor riding.  Combine that with back to work and school following the holidays and it’s simply dreadful.   However, after I had my daughter I found a new way to make the passing of January more tolerable.  I went into birthday party planning mode January 2nd.  Now that she is getting older, the party planning has dissipated and the January winter doldrums have returned.

In 2010, on February 7th after my daughter’s 8th birthday party, we returned to our home.  It was a cold, snowy Sunday afternoon.  At that time, we still had a “land line” to our house.  The phone rang as soon as we walked through the door.  When I realized my husband had picked up a call from my mom and she was inquiring as to whether we had received the birthday gift she had sent, my daughter and I quickly bundled back up into our snow boots, coats, and hats and ran down the street to the mailbox. After retrieving the box from Texas, we ran back home as fast as we could. My mom got to be “with” us on the phone as my daughter tore into the box. It was a joyful conversation.  Later that night after the Superbowl, the phone rang again.  This time it was my dad calling to say that my mom had collapsed and died just a couple of hours before.  February 7th officially became the saddest day of my life.

When I started riding the bike in the fall of 2011, it was one of the best things I did for my mental health.  In another blog post I wrote about how I was not a cyclist when I joined my team, but quickly started pedaling my way to becoming one.  While I longed for someone to ride with in those winter months before my first race, it was more therapeutic that I was riding alone.  I’m not going to lie, there were many tears shed behind those sporty Smith sunglasses.  As winter turned to spring and spring to summer, I began to notice the birds chirping as I pedaled along.  One day, as I pedaled along a familiar road,

I heard the distinctive song of the meadowlark.  My mom always loved that sound and would point it out to anyone nearby whenever she heard it.  I started spending more time riding on this road because it was one of only two roads where I heard the meadowlark.  Being out on those deserted roads with the sound of the meadowlark made me feel closer to her.

As I gained strength and endurance during that summer of 2012, I began to ride further and further from my home, and further from that road where the meadowlarks sing. But I’m frequently drawn back to that road.  Sometimes I hear the meadowlarks calling to me as I go by; sometimes I call out to them.  Riding on that road is where I found peace on two wheels.

Lessons in Encouragement

This post has been percolating in my mind for several weeks.  It’s about the affect our words can have on other human beings.

At a recent cyclocross race I was very near another racer whose family speaks a foreign language.  On each lap when we passed her family members, I would hear them shouting to her in what could have been Russian or German.  Since I don’t speak the language, I was unable to understand what exactly was being said to my competitor.  Regardless of which language it was, I didn’t get the sense that what was being shouted at her was entirely encouraging nor supportive.  At the finish line, I saw an exchange between this competitor and her family that clearly was not supportive.  As her family walked away in what appeared to be disgust, the cyclist sat down in a heap on a curb in the shade by herself to catch her breath.  At about that same time, my family approached me and offered hugs, high-fives, and congratulatory words, despite the fact that I finished nowhere near the podium.  When I finally quit coughing, I looked around for that competitor because I wanted to congratulate her on a tough race, but she was already gone.  I was disappointed that I missed her and I thought of her and what I had seen at the finish line often over the next few days.

At the next race, I arrived at the start line a little early.  As I stood there, my competitor from the previous race appeared.  Since her family was not around, I immediately approached her and struck up a conversation about the previous race.  I told her that I was sorry that I had missed the opportunity to tell be positiveher after the previous race what a strong racer she is.  As I finished this sentence, I notably saw her stand a bit taller as her chest expanded with pride.  She began to radiate confidence as we talked.  Not long into our conversation I realized that she was just a child.  A younger child than my own, in fact.  I wished her good luck on the race as the call ups began.

I once heard a phrase or saying that went something along the lines of: you are responsible for how another person’s words make you feel.  I never agreed with the saying because it implies that one person’s words should have zero affect on another person.  But clearly from this example, they do.   Especially when they come from the people you know and love.  I’m grateful that the opportunity presented itself for me to offer kind words to that young competitor.

I challenge you to find one person each day who you can offer kind words of encouragement to, whether it’s a friend or a stranger, a team mate or competitor, a child or an adult, even your partner.  Then sit back and watch that little seed of confidence grow into something bigger.  Sometimes you’ll get to see it blossom before the conversation is over.

feel

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.

Triple Bypass – A Ride Review

I signed up for a ride called the Triple Bypass back in January.  I’d heard about this ride for years; it’s been around for 26 of them!  It’s a 120 mile ride over three Colorado mountain passes, with 10,000 feet of elevation gain.  And for those who think that distance and elevation gain are simply not enough, there is the Double Triple Bypass option where you turn around and ride back to where you started the next day.

I had plans to pre-ride all the passes, but unfortunately, time got away from me and before I knew it, the ride was here.  I went into the ride knowing I was capable of the distance and elevation, but unsure of how long it would take me.  The other concern was the stormy weather we’ve been having in Colorado recently.  I knew the earlier I started the ride, the better my chances of finishing it.

I departed promptly at 6:00 AM.  As I began to pedal my way up Squaw Pass Road, I knew that I could go faster, but I intentionally kept a pace that would be sustainable for the entire ride.  The road had recently been repaved and was super smooth with a very nice bike lane.  I was surprised at how many cyclists insisted in taking up so much of the roadway.   The road was closed to all traffic but law enforcement and Sag vehicles, and apparently the meaning of the words “keep right” and “ride single file” were not clear to some cyclists.  One State Trooper actually pulled a cyclist over for riding on the left side of the road in the wrong direction.  I’m not sure what the outcome of that meeting was, but the conversation sounded unpleasant as I went by.  I stopped at Aid Station #1 (18 miles into the ride) and had a banana and bagel and refilled a half full water bottle.   I pulled on my wind jacket before leaving for the descent into Idaho Springs.

The descent into Idaho Springs went smoothly and the route through town was well marked by volunteers and law enforcement.  As we headed west, I found myself in a sustained climb for the next 28 miles.  When I came to Aid Station #2 (42 miles into the ride), I stopped to eat and refill my bottles.  The best snack of the day was had at this aid station:  it was a chocolate chip cookie sandwich with peanut butter and banana filling…mmmmm!  The weather this far into the ride was still perfect: blue skies and lots of sunshine. I hopped back on the bike and continued to pedal towards Loveland Basin where I knew lunch awaited me.

As I approached the third Aid Station at Loveland Basin Ski Area (56 miles into the ride), I could see it was quite crowded with cars and cyclists.  I found a place to park my bike and made my way to the food tents.  Here I discovered an extremely long line of hungry cyclists awaiting their turn to grab food.  When I finally got my chance at the food tent, I had the BEST ham and cheese sandwich ever, a handful of pretzels, half a banana, and a cookie.  The line was moving so slowly that I was able to stand and consume all this food before I had moved 10 feet toward the water table.  When I realized that I had already been there for 30 minutes and it would likely take another 30 minutes to fill water bottles, I decided to go with Plan B.  Plan B was relying on my one full water bottle to get me to the next aid station where I was hopeful I would find less of a clusterf@ck.

loveland passI began to pedal up Loveland Pass, which I can’t say I’ve so much as driven over before.  It was quite scenic and a rather short ascent of 4 miles.  On the other side of the continental divide, it was quite windy.  As I approached Aid Station #4 at Summit County High School (77 miles into the ride), I was nearly out of fluids.  I was delighted that there was virtually no waiting at the hydration station and lots of shady places to sit.  I picked up a small sack of trail mix, an orange slice, and a Cliff Bar and found a shady place to sit and eat.  Keeping a close eye on the clouds to the west, I didn’t sit for too long before hopping back on the bike.  I was thrilled to have made it this far into the ride and knew without a doubt that I would be finished not long after summiting Vail Pass.

The last time I rode my bike over Vail Pass was during the Copper Triangle two years ago when I ascended from the west side and descended on the east side.  I was pleased to see that the east side of the pass had been repaved recently and was silky smooth.  The

At the Finish Line

At the Finish Line

ascent from the east went quicker than expected and I’m pleased to say that I passed, but did not get passed by anyone.  As I pulled into Aid Station #5 on the summit of Vail Pass (92 miles into the ride) I could see some dark clouds building to the west.  I grabbed just a few pretzels, an orange slice, and another bag of trail mix.  I had topped off one bottle with the Cytomax hydration mix at the previous aid station and had not had any gastrointestinal problems with it, so I decided to go full strength with the drink mix.  If any problems arose, I only had 18 downhill miles left.

As I descended into Vail I was struck in the lips by an insect with a very sharp stinger.  In my efforts to rapidly brush it from my lips, I nearly crashed.  As I sit and type this blog post two days later, I have swelling in both lips as neither were spared by the angry insect.  I’m just grateful that I had my mouth closed!  As I continued to pedal through Vail, I kept looking down at my Garmin to see how much further I had to go.  On the summit of Vail Pass, I had somehow mis-calculated that I had only 18 more miles to ride, but it was in fact 28 more miles to the finish.  Those last 10 miles, despite being flat, felt like the longest miles of the day.  At one point, I began to think I had missed a turn as the signage was not as prevalent in Avon as it had been along the rest of the route.

I did it!!

I did it!!

As I approached the final round-a-bout, I was greeted by Avon Police Officers with “Congratulations! Welcome to Avon!”.  It was the best news I’d heard all day.  By this time, I’d been listening to my bike make lots of noise for the last 90 miles and couldn’t wait to get off (check back for another blog post on that… I have video!)! Not to mention that my legs were a little tired.  As I pulled to a stop I felt a tickle under my jersey near my waistline.  I lifted up my jersey and saw what I can only conclude to be the little insect that had stung my lips 20 miles ago.  Now he was leaving his mark on my tummy.  I guess it’s my very own souvenir from the 2014 Triple Bypass!