Riding off road isn’t for everyone. Katie may just be to be one of those people. Read about her experience this cyclocross season.
After months of badgering from Brittany Jones, Amanda Bye and a coworker, I decided to take the plunge into cyclocross. I bought a bike. I got some new shoes. I was excited about trying something new but also a little hesitant. I run. I bike. But I do not run and carry my bike. I kept telling myself that cross will be good for bike handling and skills but I was definitely not excited about mounting and dismounting or bunny hopping. I’m a warm weather girl. If it’s below 60 degrees you will find me with my North Face coat on. I get cold easily. I don’t like off camber. I don’t like dirt or gravel or sand. I don’t like water or mud or snow. Why am I trying cross again? The answer, simply, was to get better. To get out of my comfort zone, to try something new and maybe change my opinion on the aforementioned conditions.
If the Kokopelli Trail hasn’t made your bucket list items, it should! Read about Melanie‘s experience over the 4 days on the legendary trail.
We considered ourselves prepared as we rolled out from the trailhead of the Kokopelli Trail in Loma, just a few miles west of Grand Junction. But really, we had no idea what lay in store for us. The Kokopelli is a 142-mile route from Loma to Moab, Utah, and it includes everything from singletrack, to jeep roads to pavement. You’ll see spectacular mesas, skirt the edge of the La Sal Mountains and camp alongside the Colorado River.
Our group did it in four days, one of the most common options. Even then, we rode 30 to 50 mile days, which took the strong group about five to eight hours each day. Our group of five was lucky enough to enlist an enthusiastic support driver, who met us at pre-arranged campsites each evening.
Day 1: Loma to Bitter Creek: Singletrack bliss and hike-a-bikes
I knew the first day was only 32 miles, so I mistakenly thought it would be a cinch. The first 12 miles is mostly singletrack on the well-ridden Mary’s Loop.
Next came arguably my least favorite part of the trip — the hike-a-bike portion, which the group would see a lot more of on Day 3.
No one warned me, probably because they knew I’d throw a fit, but be prepared to be carrying your bike for nearly a 1-mile stretch (it seemed like a million miles to me, but that’s what the odometer said.)
Next, we made up some time by cruising a big dirt road leading in to Rabbit Valley, which sits near the Colorado-Utah border.
The day ended with a short but treacherous climb to the top of a plateau, where we were rewarded with a spectacular sunset view from the campsite at Bitter Creek.
Day 2: Bitter Creek to Dewey Bridge: Leaving colorful Colorado
Some might call this 45-mile stretch boring, but I found it thoroughly enjoyable. You’ll cruise into what was once the bottom of an ocean eons ago. This section gets quite windy, and that element combined with copious amounts of sand slowed us down. My friend dubbed it “Sandopelli,” and we spent the first 20 miles with our heads down, pedaling hard, drafting in a single file line like a group of Tour de France riders on a breakaway.
We climbed into the beautiful and isolated Yellow Jacket Canyon, a route that starts with the desert mesa you’ll probably be accustomed to by that point and ends with a sandy descent and a hint of Utah’s famous red rocks.
Day 3: Dewey Bridge to Bull Draw: Into the forgotten valley
This day was 37 miles and not only treated our group to leg-breaking elevation gain but chilling cold. I forgot to bring my walkin’ cleats, because there was more hike-a-bike.
I know, you can’t wait to go, right? However, our group was also rewarded amazing views. You’ll ride through Fisher Valley, with the statuesque Fisher Towers in the distance, red cliffs to the side and a sea of yellow grass before you.
Day 4: Bull Draw to Milt’s Stop & Eat: A well-deserved meal
This day was a cinch compared to the epic Day 3. We descended and climbed the rolling La Sal Loop paved road that sits above Moab, and while most routes take you down a dirt road into Slickrock, our group decided they deserved a little singletrack. We took the famous Porcupine Rim and officially ended the day at Milt’s (a famous Moab eating establishment) for burgers, fries and shakes.
Setting those clocks back doesn’t set Brittany back. Grab the lights and a fat bike and get out there!
Photo courtesy of Wayne Herrick
It always takes me a couple weeks to adapt when autumn sets in and the time changes. Even though there are still 24 hours in a day, I seem to always have less time to get things done. The truth is that I have the same amount of time, just less time with the sun.
This means I have three options with regards to riding: take over the living room with my trainer, find more cookies to eat while I read on the couch, or charge up my lights. I don’t hate my trainer, per se, but I know that he and I will have plenty of time together before March arrives and I’d like to do what I can to keep that to a minimum. Cookies are great. I have almost nothing bad to say about cookies, except that I already eat too many of them.
That leaves lights. I’ll be honest, I kinda have to talk myself into it or let my boyfriend talk me into it. I mean, it’s dark out, the temperature ranges from not-warm to stupid-cold, and getting on the trail is a bit of a process. Not only do I need to layer appropriately, I need to charge lights, attach lights to my bars and helmet, position the battery cord into my pack so that it isn’t whacking me on the side of the head while I ride—and I always try to do all of this without actually opening the car door and letting the cold in. It doesn’t ever work. The cold comes in and I get out of the car.
The thing is though, I love mountain biking at night. The trails that I avoid all summer because they’re busy, easily accessible, close to home, or just not that exciting become really fun and new at night. Green Mountain is probably my favorite; the view you get of the Denver metro is awesome. It isn’t the au natural vistas that we all love and instagram, but it’s a lovely, sparkle-y, almost festive sight.
And the riding is fun! No, I don’t go the same speeds that I do in the summer during the day. But I’m riding outside. My lights are very bright, so I never feel like I’m riding blind. It’s more like a tunnel that just keeps moving with you. It’s exciting and it keeps things from getting boring.
So to make the best of November, the time change, and the many short days ahead, I will continue to pull myself off the couch to charge my lights and ride. I hope you do the same.
Katie describes the internal battle that most competitors will face at some point in their race career.
Have you ever found yourself searching for motivation or just not feeling like you’ve got the mojo to race? Sometimes it’s a doubt in your ability to perform. Other times it’s because we’ve asked our bodies to perform too often and asking our bodies to race one more weekend feels like a mountain to climb. As we get to the end of cyclocross season I find myself struggling with the desire to race. This weekend I found that I was fighting this internal battle.
Read about Megan tackling her real season of cyclocross and diving headfirst into the unknown.
While Megan has dabbled in Cyclocross here and there this was her first season to really go out there and give racing a real try. Her favorite part about the sport is the unknown and the chance that anything could happen. An unknown course with mysterious obstacles could make or break you.
The first official race of the season Kick it Cross had obstacles Megan enjoyed conquering including a nice long run up, lots of fast heart pumping cardio sections, and some twisty turns. Off the line Megan was in 3rd place and kept that through the beastly run up but got passed throughout the course on some of the more technical sections. All of the back and forth from grass to gravel to pavement to mud left a lot of room for sketchy transitions but these didn’t faze her after learning some tricks of the trade at the clinic with Nicole Duke! Add in a short but deep muddy sections, and some awkward angled barriers and the long course really spread out the field. Megan came in 6th place which she was ecstatic about, her best place in cross thus far!
Cathy has some great reminders about the off-season told through two stories of learning how to ride a bike. Worth a read!
Last winter we had an eye opening clinic with Julie Emmerman. She asked a simple question, “Why do you race?”. Everyone had a different reason and story, with various emotions that were stirred up. My reason was as simple as the question: I race because it’s fun! It’s probably safe to say that we all ride because bikes are fun or at least that’s why we start. If you have gotten caught up with training, racing, and everything that comes with this sport, take a step back. It is the off-season for the roadies, and a good time to reflect.
Remember when you first learned to ride? Do you remember the exhilaration of taking off and being free to go where your bike took you? I hope you can remember, or at least remind yourself of that time, and use it to refuel yourself for whatever goals and challenges you are facing. I had the distinct pleasure of helping two people learn to have more fun by learning to ride bikes this summer, and was reminded of the raw pleasure of riding.
My daughter had ridden a balance bike since she was two, but froze when we put pedals beneath her. They got in the way, and the coaster brake freaked her out. After a few frustrating practice rides my husband and I decided it wasn’t worth pushing her. We both love riding and didn’t want to turn her off by forcing her to ride. So this summer (nearly two years later) she mentioned taking her bike to a field to practice, and we go her to that field pronto! She banged up her shins, fell, cried, but kept getting up. Her tenacity was inspiring. She owned the whole experience and wasn’t giving up. After a few days she took off and squealed with joy while she yelled, “I’m doing it! I’m riding!”. And now, she’s tearing it up and loving every minute of it.
The second person I helped was considerably older than my six year old daughter, but no less inspirational. This professional woman sought out a cycling coach, me, to help her to learn to ride. This special client of mine had never ridden a bike – as in never ever. I jumped at the opportunity! How amazing is it to have an adult admit that she doesn’t know how to ride, face her fears, buy a bicycle, and actually learn to ride?!? Well, she did it, and in a very short amount of time. Our first session was about one and a half hours long. That was just to get the sensation of balance. No pedals, no steering, just balance. She struggled, but she slowly gained ground in between the fumbles. You could see her determination. Talk about being in the zone! She was focused and persisted even with strangers looking on. The next time we met she was pedaling! She learned to ride her bike! I could barely contain myself, and was so proud this woman I had met less than one week before.
I am honored that I could help these two ladies, and thankful that I could witness them both learn to overcome some pretty darn big challenges. I hope you can harness the fun as you tackle your own challenges next season!
*My client happily agreed to share her story publicly in the hopes that it will inspire other adults to learn to ride a bike. If you don’t know how to ride leave a comment and this supportive community of cyclists will answer!
Natalia climbed 10,023 feet in one fell swoop, tackling Maui’s Haleakala. Add this to your bucket list! Read more about her island adventures…
Hawaii was never on the list of places I wanted to visit. I like to travel off the beaten path and see places that most people wouldn’t dare visiting, but in 2012 it all changed. The ‘travel bug’ bit me and I had to pack my suitcase and go somewhere, anywhere. The problem was I could not find anyone to join me and I thought to myself why would no one want to go on a trip? But this didn’t stop me. I never traveled alone before so I wanted to go somewhere were a girl traveling solo would be safe. I also wanted to go somewhere where the roads are suitable for cycling. In 2006 my cousin moved to Maui so I thought I could go visit her. I’ve heard of the beautiful beaches, magnificent waterfalls, mountains, sea turtles, hot surfer dudes, but what had me convinced was the infamous ‘cycle to the sun’ bike race. Two weeks later I was on the plane.
When I arrived in Maui I was in a complete awe. While most people spend most of their Maui vacations sprawled on the beach perfecting their golden tan, I spent countless hours in the saddle sharpening my biker (not farmer!) tan lines. Since Maui is home to Haleakala, deemed the ‘world’s longest paved climb’ I had to check it out. The ride starts at sea level in a small beach town of Paia and ends at the top of a dormant volcano crater at 10,023 feet. If you are trying to do the math and are thinking is it over 10,000 feet of continuous climbing? You are correct. The 36-mile long silky smooth road takes you through several climate changes and the views are so breathtaking that you never notice the pain and lactic acid building up in every muscle of your body. The ride was everything and much more than I imagined. It was hard but also one of the rides I will never forget.
While I absolutely love discovering new place by bike, I am always amazed by how warm and welcoming cycling communities are anywhere I go. I don’t mind riding by myself but I rarely get to do that. Anywhere I ride I always meet people and we end up riding together. My new cyclist friends showed me the hidden gems around the island and made me feel like I was a local.
My time spent in Maui was an unforgettable experience. I rode my bike, I hiked the mountains, I saw waterfalls, rainbows, painted trees, pineapple fields, huge see turtles, and I even got to do some kiteboarding. I almost forgot, I did see some hot surfers too
After that trip I was hooked on Maui! It has become my favorite vacation destination, but it wasn’t until this fall when I returned to the island.
My second trip to Maui was just as good as the first one and it was the perfect way to end the racing season and prolong my summer. I kept in touch with the cyclists I met during my first visit and I got to ride with them again and they showed me new roads around the island. By now I can say that I have explored most of the island by bike, but unfortunately I didn’t get the chance to tackle the infamous Haleakala climb again. I’ll just have to come back again soon!
Rachel explains some reasons behind her first DNF in today’s Interlocken Cyclocross Race. No bike mechanicals, just mechanicals of the mind. Don’t worry, she’ll be back at it tomorrow.
Is a DNF still considered for a race report? Even when I quit pretty much in my first lap? I’ve had plenty of DFLs, a couple DNSs due to injuries, a couple of time cuts as well as some lackluster results in the 8 years of bike racing. But I have never had a DNF so I feel it deserves some explaining. Especially since I encourage all of our women to never quit a bike race no matter the circumstances. So this is not an unpacking of excuses as to why, but rather offer a comparison to life, losing and other “L” words. Don’t worry, it won’t be a diatribe either. But it will be heart-felt. It would be easier to accept my first DNF if it were due to a broken bike or mechanical of sorts, but unfortunately it’s due to a broken heart coupled with a mechanical of the mind.
This hasn’t been the best week of prep for a weekend of fun cross racing. Having consumed less than 1000 calories and getting less than five hours of interrupted sleep in the last three days and throw in a great deal of waterworks adding to the dehydration factor, I didn’t have stellar expectations for today. But I did expect to have a top 5 finish. This course was perfect for me and it was fun. My first two pre-laps of the Interlocken course, I rode the sand and was darn close with my first attempt at the mud pit. I was confident. I was tired and weak, but yeah, I was confident and looking forward to forcing pain upon my body, making it hurt as much as my heart. I choked a Gu down and couple swigs of Naked Juice as the only calories I had taken in that day despite riding an 1.5 to the race and it was approaching almost 3 pm. It was tasteless and hard to make myself eat lately, having lost 6 pounds in 3 days according to my Withings. Weird how the mind does that to the body.
I’m a very private person with regard to my relationships or my family life. Though I’m very active socially more for my profession, most people would never know that I’ve even dated or anything about my family other than superficial info since living in Colorado unless you’re a considered a pretty close friend (not the Facebook, Strava or Twitter kind-sorry). I’ll spare details but it’s been a long time since I’ve suffered a broken heart. Around 12 years for it to hurt this much to be exact. Yes, I’ve been in relationships since then and have loved other partners since then, but this was a different type of feeling. I was beginning to question if I were capable of having emotions that would even remotely bump over or under a flatline until this person was in my life. Let alone have tear ducts that worked.
Anyway, this is a race report. Got my usual very back of the pack, last row call up and lined up behind my super fast starters of teammates Amanda and Emily. Also, had my usual bad start but was able to pick through the crowd of racers in front of me. I rode the sand but slowly through the congestion and got stuck on the hill behind some other riders. I still pushed, picking off riders knowing where my ranking among the other racers would be if I kept this pace as I had done in all my previous races. It felt good and my heart rate was stable but certainly at threshold. But then I saw THE person. I wasn’t sure if they saw me. I had never seen said-person at a race before because our start times are very different. We’ve never even crossed paths when I’ve raced, unless it’s intentional and long after my race is finished. Why was this person here this time?
And at that precise moment, I proceeded to fall a part. My mind completely shut off, and I forgot how to ride my bike. That has never happened before. Ever. In looking at my heart rate, it was the highest it had been all year and it wasn’t even a difficult part of the course. It couldn’t come back down and then…I nailed a root driving me into the tape and knocking my chain from my bike. I struggled even getting off of my bike because my body didn’t want to work. I couldn’t breathe, I couldn’t see, I couldn’t swallow. My chest felt like it was going to explode, and I was going to spew that Gu everywhere. An eternity passed while trying to get my chain back on my rings with hands that weren’t working. Then I was quickly the very last person in the race. I thought I could give it another try, and passed three more folks to charge my way back. Heart rate still through the roof and getting higher, I then rounded the corner through the sand (terribly might I add) and at the top I saw that person on a different part of the course. Cheering me on. Why? Why now and never before? Was it an accidental crossing of paths? A lot more why’s ran through my head in the 1 minute it took for me to get out of eye shot. Heart rate hit 182 which it hasn’t done since moving to altitude. Once out of sight, I slipped through the blue tape and told my kind teammate I needed to go home but to finish strong. She understood.
I returned my timing chip and left quickly with my tail between my legs, tears streaming down my face. Thank everything holy that cycling isn’t my job because I would have surely been fired from the team that day. I’ve always prided myself on strength and determination. Why had my mind told my body to give up? I remember talking my teammate earlier this year through a tough experience, and she had the mental fortitude to push through and challenge her body and mind in a way she had never done before on much more technical terrain. How hypocritical of me that I can’t eat my own dog food? Perhaps this experience will provide me more empathy for others who have a bad day on the bike, no matter the circumstances.
In any event, I’m certain this won’t be my last DNF. It won’t stop me from riding or racing again either. I love the bike and all it provides: freedom, experiences, transportation, memories, career opportunities, exercise, camaraderie, passion, opportunities to give back. My heart will still be heavy, but I will go back out tomorrow, and I will finish that bike race, even if I’m DFL. I will also love and likely lose again. But that’s a part of life. It won’t stop me from giving 100% and allowing myself to be vulnerable again (I just hope it’s not another 12 years). Breaking up is like a big fat DNF – the probability that it will happen again is high throughout the course of your life or racing career. It’s how you choose to deal with it, learn from it, and grow from it that matters.
From this experience, I am also thankful that I “get” to feel this way. No longer do I walk the flatlined life that I had thought was going to be my eternal purgatory. I get to experience excruciating pain because that means I truly felt the opposing yang. The same could be said for a bike race, especially the grueling cyclocross style of racing. How amazing does it feel once you’ve finished the hardest race you’ve ever done in your life: your body hates you, you want to throw up, and you’re already thinking about your next race? I’ve been reading a lot of Rumi lately and am grateful his words are still relevant nearly eight centuries later. This one excerpt in particular really sticks out, especially as it pertains to the season and the roots that knocked my chain from my bike
“Sorrow prepares you for joy. It violently sweeps everything out of your house, so that new joy can find space to enter. It shakes the yellow leaves from the bough of your heart, so that fresh, green leaves can grow in their place. It pulls up the rotten roots, so that new roots hidden beneath have room to grow. Whatever sorrow shakes from your heart, far better things will take their place.”
Cathy channeled her inner cowboy (or cowgirl) at the Cowboy Cross Race. From the looks of the pictures, seems like this was one event you didn’t want to miss! Yee-haw!
What do you get when you throw some yellow tape up and a huge pile of dirt at the site of the National Western Stock Show? A cyclocross race, of course!
I have to admit that the sight of the monster truck -like jumps in the arena was a little intimidating, but once I was out there it was ridiculously fun. The course was a short, quick, and crazy loop that meandered inside, outside, through stables (that smelled much better than the last time I was at the Stock Show), and up and down enough runs to make you think you signed up for a running event. Oh, and there were three devilishly placed barriers just after a crazy roller coaster of an embankment. All super fun!
And just as in previous races, the women’s field was fairly large – 28 or so starters! I love that there are so many new crossy friends showing up. My goal at every race is to chat it up with a new face, and it’s inspiring to find out that many of these cowgirls are stepping up for their first races. I love it – especially when I can cheer them on as they pass me!
If you didn’t make it to this year’s Cowboy Cross mark your calendars for next year. And if the women’s fields keep growing it will have to be renamed the Cowgirl Cross!
Check out all the great Cyclocross photos on RacerShots.com!
Brittany tried a few tactics to get through the mud as cleanly as possible this weekend, but there was no escaping it whether you ran, rode or did a combination of both. She still managed a 5th place spot! Read more about the muck and fun!
Try it and see what happens.
I’ve said that two weeks in a row with very different results.
I’m typically very conservative during races. The old rule of “don’t try new things on race day” extends to technical obstacles and even so far as not deviating from a line or approach that seems to have been at least OK the previous lap.
Every year that I can remember Primalpalooza has had a section of baby barriers. Lots (if not most) people ride right over them. I’d never been brave enough to attempt it before, but this year I tried it in my warm-up. Not only was it doable, I found it remarkably easy! That little move saved me a ton of time in the race and ultimately helped me land a spot on the podium. I know I wouldn’t have been able to ride those barriers in years past, so it’s nice to have a tangible marker of skill progression.
This week at Cross of the North race 2 however, I had a slightly different experience. No barrier experimentation, but I changed up my approach mid-race. The race featured a long, slightly turn-y stretch of deep, sloppy, thick clay mud. During my warm-up, I’d muscled through the first corner without needing to dismount and was able to again power through the last bad corner. I wasn’t racing at that point—I was mostly just trying to keep mud out of my cleats and pedals before the race started. It was hard and I didn’t ride through it quickly. But I rode at least part of it, and for the rest of my warm-up I stewed on whether to try it during the race. Would it be faster than running or would it be better to carry my bike and not add twenty pounds of mud to the rims right before I try to accelerate up a climb?
The first lap, the woman in front of me dismounted and I was forced to brake, dismount and run. I passed at least one person and was closing down the gap on 3rd place, so running the entire long stretch seemed to be at least OK. I still felt slower than I wanted to be. By the time we came to that stretch on the 2nd lap, I was sitting in 3rd with a 12-year old close behind me. I again dismounted and ran the entire stretch. I opened up the gap a bit more, but was worried I was working too hard trying to sprint through the over-the-ankle deep mud.
The 3rd time through the mud pit I decide to change my tactic. I had a solid hold on 3rd place at this point, and it looked like 2nd place was fading a bit. My race-addled brain kept saying, “It’s rideable! Ride it! The sun is out, it’s warm—the mud is drying up and you can ride through it faster than you can run with twenty pounds of mud on your feet!” So I rode…until my bike just stopped moving and stuck in place. I awkwardly bailed off, un-suctioned the wheels from the slop, and clumsily dropped a twenty-pound heavier bike on my perpetually bruised shoulder. Then, I “ran” through the mud, gaining another several pounds on my feet. Back on the bike, and the mud-covered wheels refused to get up the hill without considerably more effort on my part. The 12-year old in 4th place had closed down the gap between us. I managed to stay in front for the remainder of that lap, but she and another rider came around me on the final lap (on which I reverted to my previous tactic of running the entire mud stretch), knocking me from 3rd to 5th.
I can’t say I that if I’d consistently run the mud I would have—without question—won a podium spot, but trying to ride it clearly and certainly did not help me hang on to that 3rd position. So, I guess you take chances and sometimes they pan out and sometimes they don’t.
Photo Credits: Ilavee Jones