Thursday, October 20, 2016

This Love

This love is good, this love is bad
This love is alive, back from the dead
These hands had to let it go free
And this love came back to me

These words rang in my head during the Emmaus Cyclocross Festival race on Saturday, and not because I was feeling a lot of love at the time. It was actually because I was sort of hating cyclocross at the time, and the words reminded me that it’s okay to sort of hate cyclocross sometimes. Eleven years of racing gives one a lot of perspective on the up and down phases of vastly different seasons over many different years, and I can now recognize that love for different disciplines comes and goes based on the circumstances around them at the time.

Sometimes you have to let a discipline go for a bit and let the love come back on its own. Remember, "XC sucks"? Well, I guess still haven't started racing XC again since 2012, but I'm, you know, willing to give it another chance after all this time.

After a mediocre debut ‘cross weekend at Town Hall/Quaker City, I proceeded to have a rough weekend at Charm City. I did quite badly in my races, with my Saturday power being so low I didn’t even want to finish the race because I could barely propel my bike around the difficult course, much less race other people around it. For various reasons, known and unknown, I was absolutely exhausted the whole weekend and participated in more car napping than heckling fun times, and the snacks tent blew away to add insult to injury. My teammates all did awesome, with Elisabeth and Taylor holding off Katie Compton’s lapping advances in their UCI C1 debut, and Taryn and Emma both making podium appearances in stacked 3/4 fields. While I am happy to see them all doing so well, “the view from the cheap seats” has been feeling a bit lonely this season.

I’d hoped that a smaller field at Emmaus might help me turn things around and get my confidence back. I got a pretty good start and was in fourth place when I slid out on some wet grass in the second corner. The disconcerting part was that I felt more relief than frustration when it happened. Like, “Well, I have an excuse to be in last place now…” That can’t be a good sign. I went on to make up a couple of places, only to lose them back and crash again when I thought, “Ooh, at least I don’t have anyone in front of me, Imma go through this section no brakes. Oh wait, I don’t actually know where the ‘no brakes’ line is…bump, bump, brake, crash.” I’m almost certain that I had never crashed twice in a single race prior to that.

The most satisfying racing that I’ve done in the last two weeks, was trying to pick off the Masters 4/5 men later in the day in Emmaus when the option of a “FatCX” race placed me behind them in the final race of the afternoon. Chasing down old men who have a head start while on a fat bike seems to be way more motivating than chasing down Cat 4 women while riding a normal ‘cross bike.


I started this post a couple of days ago, but I didn’t post it because I couldn’t seem to wrap it up with the nice, philosophical conclusion that I always try to do. I think the challenge is that it’s really not that complicated. I made no secret of the fact that I wasn’t looking forward to this ‘cross season, but decided to give it a go, anyway. I gave it a shot, hoping that the social aspect would outweigh the other challenges, or that I might end up with magically better legs that I was expecting. Neither of those things happened, and I’m ready to move on and hope that the elusive “science, magic, and you” that make up a great ‘cross season come together in 2017.

Until then, I want to get back to spending as much quality time as I can with my main (bike) squeeze, Tormund Giantsbane, before the weather gives out on us. I even booked us a romantic getaway in Virginia in a couple of weeks, where I’m hoping that Harlan Price will help “Imma go through this section no brakes” become a more successful venture for me in the future. Sadly, it’s ladies only, so I’m bummed that I have to leave my main human squeeze at home, but maybe it will give him a chance to sneak away and race some ‘cross without me, as he’s been having a better season than I have.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Town Hall and Quaker City Cross: I Was Nineteen(th)

I felt you in my legs
Before I ever met you
And when I tried to ride you
For the first time I told you

I feel you in my heart and I don't even know you
And the leaders are saying bye, bye, bye
And the leaders are saying bye, bye, bye
I was nineteen(th), pull meeeee

This weekend I kicked off my 2016 ‘cross season in the most painful of manners, with the double, overnight-stay race weekend combo of Town Hall Cross and Quaker City Cross. Not to spoil the race report too early, but I discovered yesterday that I got 19th at Town Hall and 11th at Quaker City, which were the exact same placings that I got at those respective races last year. Furthermore, I have now been in 19th place at Town Hall for three straight years in a row. I figured Teegan and Sarah’s “Nineteen” was the most appropriate into lyric source possible, although I never really fully understood that song. Honestly, my ‘cross-focused lyrical tweaks might make a little more sense.

I mentioned in last week’s post that starting the season at Town Hall would be especially painful because of the long climb at the start. However, this year they added some extra twisty and turning before the climb, but once you hit it, it was straight up instead of snaking switchbacks up the hill. They also added a pair of very small logs on the steep final tier of the climb, which I’ve always been able to barely eke out without dismounting in the past, but the tiny bit of extra resistance this year turned the final tier of the climb into a run-up for me.

The start was definitely painful, but I didn’t go into full mental fetal position as I had feared. I got off the line pretty well but fell back when the starting straight turned steeper and sloggier. It only took one or two minutes of riding backward in the pack to regain my composure and start moving up. When we did hit the base of the big, straight-up climb for the first time, I saw a decent-sized pack of girls still within striking distance who were struggling up the hill as much as I was. I maintained the gap to top and then set to work picking them off on the flat, turny remainder of the course. I can’t remember how many people I ended up passing. It felt like a lot, but the 19th place seems to indicate otherwise. Given, I was probably in 23rd or 24th at my worst point.

Quaker City was pretty similar because they funneled us onto a long uphill drag almost immediately, and I lost a lot of positions going up that for the first time. Luckily, I set to work taking them back immediately after cresting the top and I seemed to move back up in the pack pretty quickly.

Unfortunately, each subsequent grind up the hill jeopardized the places I had gained. I was doing my best to ride as hard as I could up it and stay conscious of my lines so that anyone trying to come around wouldn’t have an easy route. I’d tell myself, “Just get to the top and you’ll be good,” and most of the laps I made it to the top clear. I’d get near the top, click down a couple of cogs, and smash the inside line to the awaiting downhill. I’d do my best to hold good lines through the turns while my brain screamed for oxygen in the hope of pulling away from my competition. Then I’d hit the swooping 180 to another, albeit shorter, grind up to the next swoopy section. And that would be where I’d get passed.

Despite my best efforts to defend my position up until that point in lap, it seems that all my matches were gone each time I hit the second grinding section. I’d recover through the swoopy section, sprint through the starting straight, and fly through the curvy bits that lead to the run-up, eating up the ground back to girls who had just passed me. I even did pretty well on the run-up, as I remember three different times a guy yelling at me to “make the pass” around the same girl. Two of the times I fell for it, sprinting to the top, and holding my lead through the back field section and hoping I’d lose her for good, only to be passed back after the big hill. The third time I didn't really try to pass her and just accepted the place that I was in. Sadly, I couldn’t even maintain that and lost another place to a girl who I’d been holding off for a couple of laps. I was close enough to still maybe catch her going into the last swoopy section, but I overcooked a turn and dropped my chain in the attempt.

The race felt very much like the battle I had with my future teammate Taryn during her first-ever ‘cross race at the Quaker City last year. She’s now close to getting her Cat 2 upgrade, and I’m still battling for 11th place in the 3/4s. Expanding my page, at least from my Pennsylvania era, brings to mind the Battlestar Galactica catchphrase, “"All this has happened before, and all of it will happen again."

Of course, it’s too soon to tell if the latter part is true. I’m still holding out hope for a ‘cross comeback sometime in my career and to perhaps earn my Cat 2 upgrade before I’m old enough to wiggle out of it by racing the 40+ race, but I decided back in the summer that this would probably not be the year for it. A little part of me hoped that I somehow magically got faster over the last year without doing any ‘cross-specific training, but unsurprisingly, that is not the case. I’m okay with that because I have chosen not to make ‘cross a priority this year and it shows. I’m just going to keep doing my best and let the handful of races that I’m even planning on doing this season play out however they’ll play out.

I did this little comparison of my lap times, which confirmed exactly how I felt racing. The first super-steady set is Town Hall, and the second is Quaker City.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Keystone Gravel: So I Ate a Taco and Took the Short Course Route

"Nonetheless, this combination of efficiency and precision can be an effective one, and their bluntly assertive style helps them to achieve difficult tasks by sheer force of character."

This was part of the description of my C/D result on a DISC personality type test earlier in the week. I took the test at the suggestion of a business analysis article on the importance of understanding yourself and those with whom you work. I like to think of my work self as more of the “efficiency and precision” part of the sentence, but I’ve also not been a stranger to achieving difficult tasks by sheer force of character in my personal life the last few months.

On Saturday, Frank and I participated in Keystone Gravel, an interesting new type of event planned and produced by our buddy Donnie Breon, near Jersey Shore, PA. It was a 56-mile gravel ride with timed segments throughout the course, including climbs, descents, a mountain-bikey section, and a paved time trial section. The winners were determined by best cumulative times on the segments and the riding in between was supposed to be fun-paced with a waffle stop, taco stop, and bar stop mixed in. Of course, the average participant’s “fun pace” is about the same about my race pace, so I aimed to just ride steady the whole way, although I did try to push it a bit on the descents.

This was far from an “A race” for me, but we wanted to show up and support the event. For the week or so prior, I’d been mentally struggling with work stress and the impending transition to ‘cross season and physically struggling with headaches, digestive distress, and unexplained bad sleep. I've also been so mountain bike focused that I hadn’t been on my ‘cross bike for longer than an hour and a half at a a time since Iron Cross last year. All that being said, I thought that 56 miles of climby gravel still wouldn’t be *that* hard having finished the Wilderness 101 a few weeks before. It was that hard.

We're here for the waffles.

It’s not that I couldn’t have suffered through and finished, but suffering seemed counter intuitive to the nature of the event. I had been doing my best to set decent “get through it” pace, but when we had an extended stop while Frank fixed a flat right before the taco stop and accompanying mechanical support (doh!), I guess he could tell just from the look on my face that I wasn’t feeling well. I wasn’t quite ready to give up on the long course, but the split between the two came right around the bend once we were rolling again.

I ate my taco at the rest stop and tried to decide which direction to take. Frank wanted to complete the long course, so we started rolling in that direction, but when I noticeably fell off the pace on the first little rise out of the aid station, he stopped and said we should turn around. I convinced him to give me the car keys and finish the long course alone. I headed back to the aid station to rejoin the short course route.

It was actually pretty nice. I rolled along the famous Pine Creek Trail all alone for most of the 10 miles to where the short and long courses came back together. I’d never ridden there before, and I enjoyed riding fast for a while, riding slow for a while, attempting to ride wheelies for a while, and taking in the lovely overcast fall day on flat gravel with a mountain on one side and a river the other.

I felt mildly guilty for taking the easy way out, but it was supposed to be a fun ride, and for how I was feeling that day, I kept it to the length that was still mostly fun. I had spent my summer gutting it out through other days when I wasn’t feeling great, but still finished because that was what I came to do. I proved to myself, or teammates, or ex-husband, or my dad, or whatever other voices were in my head saying that I had to suffer to end to not be a failure. Saturday was a day to ignore those voices that make me hate “death before DNF” almost as much as I hate “HTFU”. While both of those things are good advice in certain situations, they are harmful when they start to feel like judgements of character. At the TrailMix I repeated the slogan “so I didn’t DNF” to get myself to get through the day, but for Keystone Gravel I changed it to “so I ate a taco and took the short course route”, and both are perfectly valid responses to the circumstances of each given day.

The coming week will mark the transition to something completely different, as my cyclocross season will finally begin with a double weekend beginning on one the most painful starting grids of the PACX series, Town Hall. While Town Hall is actually one of my favorite courses of the series, I’m having a hard time conceptualizing how the first start of the year pain combined with the long uphill drag to switchback climb punch of the Town Hall course will feel. I’ll do my best, but I’m also at peace with the fact that my brain may crawl into fetal position two minutes into the race and spend the rest of the weekend trying to crawl out. I’m almost looking at it more as a scientific experiment than a race.

I did achieve my goal of getting a photo with this giant floof dog right before leaving.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

The Laurel Classic

This weekend turned out to be an unexpected race weekend for me. This makes the second summer in a row where I’m not quite ready to give up on my late-summer activities, but I know I have to because of ‘cross, so I just jump into a random race to get it over with. Last year I was working really hard on my gravel climbing late in the summer, so I decided to cap that off with unplanned gravel race that was pretty darn flat and favored pack riding. This year I’ve been working on my navigation of TSE stage and my enduro skills, so I decided 22-mile mountain bike race on terrain that I know nothing about. Basically, I say to myself, “Well, I’ve been working really hard and improving on this thing, so I’m totally ready to compete against other people, except let’s find a version that totally does not favor the aspects that I’ve been working on.”

Of course, I didn’t actually have that as a conscious thought last week. Instead I was just overwhelmed by choosing just one ride to brush up on during my final weekend of freedom before racing began. During this pondering, I realized I’d never ridden in Michaux State Forest, even though it isn’t that far. I remembered that the last race of the Michaux endurance series was that weekend, and I thought I might try that. It turned out that registration was a too-steep-for-a-whim $70 a couple of days before the race, but since my brain was already in race mode when Frank messaged me about the $25 Laurel Classic in Northern PA, I went for it. I entered the expert class because the distance was the same between sport and expert, and expert had a payout. At the time I registered there was only one expert woman and zero in sport, but I figured second place expert money beat uncontested first place sport “glory”.

As soon as I stepped out of the car on race morning, I said, “It feels gross out here.” It was hot and sunny, yet the air still retained enough humidity to feel like a wet blanket bogging down even basic activity. When the race started, I immediately fell behind the expert men and the former pro woman to who made up the rest of the class. This was unsurprising, as I had only hoped to get a good time for myself and not actually beat the other woman. However, the “manageably hard” pace that I thought I was setting devolved into “barely able to keep pedaling and I might burst into flames if I wasn’t already soaked” as the four-mile opening gravel climb wore on. At that point, I only hoped for a downhill to generate some air to cool me off.

It was still a while before that wish was granted, as we kept climbing after entering the singletrack. Once we did finally get some downhills, I started to feel better and was ripping the oddly smooth descents on my Camber, which had been a bike choice that I started to regret during the opening climb. So it went for the first half of the race, miserable pedaling, but feeling pretty good on the downhills.

There was an hour and a half cutoff halfway through the race, and I was beginning to think that I wouldn’t make it. It turns out that it was really at about 10.5 miles and I had passed it with just a few minutes to spare without knowing. Unfortunately, I’d drained my single water bottle and still had good chunk of slightly muddy false flat singletrack followed by a long logging road climb before I could refill. With my legs already Jello, and my head and stomach pounding from the heat, the “Green Monster” as it was called, nearly brought me to tears. The base of such a climb when I was not feeling well would normally involve a swig of water, a gel, and some steeling of my resolve, but with an empty water bottle, even that ritual was for naught. The climb up to the water station involved a lot of walking and whining.

Once I was at the top and had refilled, refueled, and dumped some cold water on myself, I felt okay to finish the final nine miles of the course, which thankfully would be mostly downhill. I was disappointed to look down as I left the aid station to see that my time was already at my goal time of 2:30, and that I still had nine miles to go. I made it through a few more miles of false flat single and double track, and in the end I was rewarded with an exceptionally long stretch of smooth, straight, bench cut downhill to the finish.

I got in two minutes after the awards were supposed to have started, so I had no time to clean up before the podium that I was still on, despite being one of the last people left on the course. I was surprised to win $50, because the purse was listed as 100% payback, which for two women at $25 apiece, seemed like it should have been $50 total. It was cool winning that much money, but I also felt weird about it, because it’s situations like mine that give promoters ammunition against giving equal payouts to women.

So I guess the racing Bandaid has been ripped off, and it’s time to settle into a couple of months entry fees, weekend alarm clocks, and long car rides. I guess that also means skinsuits, Laser Cats, and post-race trips to craft breweries, so that part is cool. I’ll be back next with a report on how my first experience with “gravelduro” goes.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Uncomfortably Comfortable

In my last post, I referred to myself as a “curmudgeonly bike hermit”. It’s true; a year of training for grueling backcountry races close to home has set me into a comfortable, or at least comfortable with my level of discomfort, pattern: On Saturday morning I wake up around 9:00 following the 10-12 hours of sleep that I usually need after a week of work. After social media-ing on my phone for about half an hour, I roll into to the living room. Frank and I eat a sausage and sweet potato scramble, and I drink tea while we watch an episode of whatever TV show we’re streaming at the moment. When it’s over, I we begin the slow process of packing up our stuff and getting dressed, then head out to the starting point of our designated 3-5 hour ride for the day. We ride, then we come back, shower, and eat steak and potatoes while we watch the next episode of the show. We might watch one or two more after that, depending on how soon I start falling asleep on the couch. We go to bed,  get up Sunday morning, and basically do the same thing again, with perhaps a shorter ride depending on how much Saturday did us in.

And so it has gone for most of the summer. We did race a few times, take a couple of weekend trips, and go to Philly for Laser Cat business a time or two, but I when I look back on the past few months, I mostly think ride, sleep, eat, TV with that whole job thingy mixed somewhere in between. I’m happy with that arrangement; perhaps a little too happy. I’ve been working really hard on the bike (a level of discomfort with which I’ve become pretty comfortable), and letting myself be otherwise really lazy in return. Many weekends, the only human with whom I interact between Friday evening and Monday morning is my combo husband/best friend. Being the introvert (or curmudgeonly bike hermit) that I am, spending all my time with a single, high-quality human being definitely does not sound like a bad deal most of the time.

It’s very tempting to continue the pattern that, for most part, has been keeping me pretty satisfied the past few months, especially with the goal of completing the 2017 Transylvania Epic looming ahead of me. During the past few weeks we’ve been scouting the parts of the race that we’d never ridden before, which, for being my “home course”, was a lot of ground. I guess that laying out a course of 180 singletrack-heavy miles over five days of racing in Central PA requires straying from the usual MTB Project suggested routes. The last three weeks have involved a lot map referencing (the actual paper kind coz no cell service), bushwhacking, and hike-a-biking. The girl who used to hate racing at Muscatatuck back in Indiana because it was too “old school” and not flowy enough, has been willingly pushing her bike through random sandy moto tracks deep in Bald Eagle State Forest and coming out (mostly) with a smile on her face. We’ve finally covered all but two snippets of trail out of all five stages, but now I’m itching put that knowledge to use and start in with the practice, practice, practice that will required if I want to do well.

As much I feel the urge to keep doing what I’ve been doing, I know that it will soon be time to break the uncomfortably comfortable habits that I’ve established the last few months. As much as I like Frank, there are also other high-quality human beings in the bike community that I also like to see, and doing so requires straying beyond my secret hermit headquarters somewhere along Old Highway 322. I keep thinking of the part of The Happiness Advantage about activation energy, where the author gives the example of a person who has all sorts great plans to do things she enjoys all weekend and instead just ends up watching TV the whole. The person really does want to do all of the things she’d planned to do, but gets stuck cultivating the activation energy to actually do them. Somehow in the last year, five-hour bike rides stopped being a thing that scared me and in some weird way, became the lazy choice.

It’s hard pulling myself away from mountain biking and the work that I know I need to do to accomplish my 2017 goals, but it’s also not healthy to keep at it while sacrificing the rest of my bike and social life. So although I’m much less motivated for ‘cross than I have been in several years, I only have more free weekend left before I start racing again. I’m easing in with a “gravelduro” race on September 17, which should be more a fun ride than a race for me, but then it’s full speed ahead for ‘cross. I think the fact that I’m resisting the transition from uncomfortably comfortable to just plan uncomfortable may be a sign that it’s exactly what I need.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Magic Kingdom

Last weekend Frank and I took our somewhat belated honeymoon to the Kingdom Trails in Vermont. Due to my general travel anxiety, expecting me to take on the stress of a trip immediately after the wedding would have been too much to ask, not to mention pulling me away from my W101 training. Now that both of my challenging but satisfying milestones of 2016 are comfortably behind me, we took the opportunity to sneak in some new trail experiences between Frank's summer and fall class sessions.

We'd planned this weekend for several months, but as our departure approached, the forecast looked pretty rainy and threatened to put a literal damper on our Kingdom Trails experience. There was an additional complication in the fact that chasing down Vermont unicorn beer is a lot harder than we had perceived it to be in our first pass of research. The line at The Alchemist starts forming at 10:00 a.m. Tuesday-Saturday and you need to get there slightly thereafter if you want to acquire some Heady Topper. We'd already made plans to drop off Princess Monster Truck (my Lust) with her new owner in New Hampshire Friday evening, so that left only Saturday morning after a late arrival on Friday night as the only window for the requisite Vermont beer mission. My advice to future travelers is to come earlier than Friday if you're planning a Monday departure. Monday is kind of a useless day in Vermont.

After the beer excursion, I was a little worried that we wouldn't get to ride, as the rain continued to fall through the morning and through our trip back to Burke. The Kingdom Trails website indicated that the trails were still 100% open, so we pressed on, and the rain miraculously stopped around the time we got changed and got on our bikes. Things were still a lot damper than ideal, but they had physical signs to close the trails at the entrances, so we decided we'd ride unless they told us not to. It was a little weird to be worried about wet trails again, since green, yellow, red has not been a regular concern in my life for more than two years. Although swoopy, flowy, purpose built trails are fun, I've definitely come to prefer the experience of riding my chunky, hard, old school backcountry trails in Rothrock, where rain just means you have to be more careful not to slip and rarely see more than 1-2 other people in a five-hour ride. But I guess it's good for the even the most curmudgeonly bike hermits to expose ourselves to new experiences sometimes.

We ended up only doing about 10-15 miles each day due to travel fatigue and wet conditions. I guess my other lesson learned was that, even if I stress about traveling, it's worthwhile to make longer trips when I do so that I have time to settle in and get more time to explore the new area. Rides on new trails feel way longer than the same distance at home, so if we want to fully see what a new area has to offer, we need to schedule more time for that.

Finally, on the way home Monday, we did a little detour to check out the Millstone Hill trails in Barre. In a weird way, I enjoyed this ride more than I did the Kingdom Trails even though we had a terrible time with navigation and it took us over two hours for a 5 mile ride. It was still very satisfying for me, though, as those five miles contained some of the hardest features that I've actually talked myself into riding. As I've mentioned before, a lot of Rothrock is technically difficult while still presenting a pretty low level of danger. If you mess up, you just fall over sideways at a 2 mph and bruise your hip or something. Endos and high-speed face plants have been rare, although that may change now that I'm focusing on getting faster at TSE enduro segments. At Millstone Hill, I found the courage to ride a lot of wooden features, drops, and steep sections that scared me, but I made it through them, so in a way, that was the highlight of my trip.

Of course, Tormund got his first scratch due to a dumb decision on my part, so we both rode away from the experience changed, although perhaps in ways that are for the best. He's a gnar bike by trade, and I'm trying to become a gnar rider, so maybe living through scary sections and scratches is what needs to happen for us to reach the next level together.

"Oooh, there's that church that people always post pictures of when they visit the Kingdom Trails!"

The #cambyfambly got to stay in the room with us on special bike hooks. Did I mention Frank got a Camber of his own?

Shredding some of the swoopier stuff on Day 2.

Climbing the fire tower seems like a great idea until you remember you have a crippling fear of heights.

The most ostentatious mountain bike trail entrance that I've ever seen at Millstone Hill.

#scenicquarryselfie at the the lookout in Millstone Hill.

Millstone Hill was full of features

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Our Week As Free Folk

After three whole posts dedicated to my recent bike purchase, the actual arrival of my 2016 Specialized Camber Expert Carbon 650b, aka Tormund Giantsbane, was overshadowed by the Wilderness 101. Since I’m on a Game of Thrones bike-naming theme of late, it was convenient to have a character with the name “Giantsbane” for the bike that pulled me away from my typical Giant brand fangirldom. The character Tormund is a wilding, one of those who reside north of the great ice wall that serves at the border of Westeri civilization, who prefer to call themselves “the free folk”. I think the name fits the bike well, as his arrival marked my freedom from months of rigid Wilderness 101 training and for how he indulges my refusal to reside in either the XC or the enduro boxes that Giant was offering. Our first week as free folk has been refreshing, and I can only hope it gets better as my legs continue to recover.

First Ride

Tormund actually arrived on Thursday afternoon before the W101, and training/taper plans be damned, I had to try him out. He climbs just as well as my Lust did, and I got a nearly one-minute PR on Bald Knob, a chunky, slightly downhill ridge top trail on which I’d fought to improve a mere 37 seconds on during the previous 15 months. One ride on Tormund, and BAM!, my Bald Knob game is at a whole new level. Rolling over chunk at reasonably high speeds seems to be his forte. The first time down McGuire was not my fastest, but I also wasn’t pushing as hard as I did when I set the QOM. I took it kind of easy while I figured out how he cornered and stuff. Although it wasn’t a blazing fast run, I can tell that he’s a lot more stable through the corners than my Lust, so I think we’ll rip with a bit more practice. The only downside is that the 130mm rear end does have a tendency to get bogged down and/or bounce weird when going over bigger rocks at slower speeds. It was a lot more manageable that it was with the Trance that I test rode, and I think I’ll be able to overcome it with practice and some adjustment to my monster-trucking technique.

Although our first week as free folk after the W101, was mostly spent trying to recover and doing trail bike inappropriate “easy” rides that didn’t turn out to be that easy, on Sunday Tormund finally got glimpse into his destiny. We took our first tentative steps (and yes, there were nearly as many steps as tire revelations) through the enduro stage of the Transylvania Epic.

Posing before Wildcat

You see, while part of me is relishing the freedom of having my big goal race done for the year, aimlessness on a bike is never been something that I’ve been able to enjoy. I think what I’ve really been wanting freedom from was not goals in general, but the panicked, cramming for finals, I’m not allowed to do anything else feeling that I’ve been feeling about the W101 the last couple of months.

This is mostly what drove my decision to put ‘cross on the backburner for the year. Last season I learned that “being in good shape” wasn’t enough for a successful ‘cross season, and that if I wanted to do well this year, it would mean jumping into a rigorous interval regimen as soon as the W101 was over. I’m just not willing to do that right now, so I’ve resigned myself to another season of “going through the motions ‘cross”. Since that is the case, I also figured why bother putting myself through those horrible, hot, dusty early season points grab races when I could be enjoying the real mountain biking that I’ve been missing out on all summer. I would probably skip the season altogether, except that ‘cross is an important part of the Laser Cat lifestyle and the only time of year that the whole team comes together at the same races. So it’s worth a few weeks of going through the motions for the social aspect.

Instead of cramming for ‘cross in August and September, I’ll instead focus on more relaxed pre-work for my big goal 2017, which is the Transylvania Epic. Although the race covers many of my old standard trails, with five days of racings, there’s still a lot of stuff that I’ve never seen. My focus for the next 6-8 weeks is to explore as much of the unfamiliar parts of the TSE as possible, as well as reacquaint myself with old favorites that I’ve missed out on because of the W101 (Hello, John Wert). In keeping with my tradition of weird, hard, obscure goals that more dependent on knowledge and stubbornness than speed, I’m following up my basic goal of simply finishing the week with no regard to GC placing with the stretch goal of actually being competitive in the enduro classification. While my enduro career has not been a rousing success so far, I have the advantage of practice, practice, practice on my side, as well as the fact that I don’t think that many women show up with the focus of actually trying to win the enduro category. I think Meg Bichard’s appearance this year was the first occurrence of an actual female pro enduro racer showing up with the intention of winning that classification. I chose the Camber for the specific purpose of being the biggest bike that I thought I could comfortably pedal around for five days of hard, climby stages, while still having better descending ability than an XC bike.

Bottom of Old Laurel

Yesterday was my first time down Wildcat and Old Laurel, which wasn’t an impressive start to my journey, but the beauty is that I have many, many chances to improve in the next 10 months. Hopefully, my recent experience with learning to ride No Name on a hardtail is typical on how quickly I can improve once I conquer my initial fear of something. I also can’t wait to see what No Name with Tormund will be like!

During the next few weeks I look forward to being able to work towards a goal without feeling like it consumes my whole life. Besides TSE trail time, we’ll also try to work in other fun things that I didn’t make time for while training for the W101, namely a honeymoon. We’ll be heading to the Kingdom Trails in Vermont in a couple of weeks for our belated honeymoon (mine and Frank’s, I mean), and we’ll try to check a few other trails outside of Rothrock before settling into ‘cross. I doubt we'll run wild forever, but for August and September, I'm looking forward to being one of the free folk!

Sunday, July 24, 2016

In My Wilderness 101 Dreams

He said let's get out of this town
Drive out of the city
Away from the crowds
I thought heaven can't help me now
Nothing lasts forever
But this is gonna take me down

I’m actually struggling with what to say about this one. Ten years ago I learned that a national series of 100 mile mountain bike races existed, and I thought it sounded exactly like something I needed to do. Seven years ago I dropped out of my second attempt at the Lumberjack 100, and then, lots and lots of stuff happened. That I have lost half my pancreas, won an OVCX series championship, and am now married to a completely different person than the last time I entered a 100 mile mountain bike race is not insignificant. Of course, the most influential change is that I moved a couple of states over and ended up with a NUE series race right in my back yard. One year ago I rode my ‘cross bike alongside Wilderness 101 racers up Alan Seeger, and decided I might just want to join them this year. Finally, yesterday I had my first successful finish of a 100 mile NUE series race.

Taryn and I doing our "What am I getting myself into?" faces

I wasn’t feeling very confident leading up to the race because I hadn’t hit some training milestones that I’d hoped to, the forecast was 94 degrees, and I was feeling like I had mistimed my taper. My confidence wasn’t really inspired as we started the first climb about ten minutes into the race and I settled into my pace, which resulted in my being literally DFL for a lot of it. I went back and forth with a guy for last place until the first aid station, which I arrived at not very long before the 9:00 a.m. cutoff. We caught and passed a guy on Thickhead and then I passed him for good up Bear Meadows. When I hit the second aid station I saw several people still there and realized that I wasn’t *that* far behind.

As horrible as Greenlee is, it was where I actually started to feel like I might be okay. Although I had to take a stretch break and shift to my small ring not long after the steep grades started, I soon began seeing guys walking or just straight-up sitting on the side of the road. It sucked and I was going much slower than what I’m capable of, but I was still pedaling when other people were cracking. The same thing happened on Seeger, and by the time I reached the third aid station and saw Frank for the first time of the day, I declared my intent/expectation to actually, really finish.

From that point on, it was just a matter of setting it up and knocking it down through each segment of the course. I didn’t worry about the fact that I was going well below my normal PR speed and just kept moving as fast as I could. Even though my hands, back, and most of the rest of my body were killing me, I was determined to tolerate it to the end and make my pain worth it. I spent a lot of time purposely checking out mentally to try and deal with the pain and pass the time. Part of this included mentally writing a Ghost Trails-style flashback story of how exactly I came to be suffering there at that moment, except that mine was a musical with Taylor Swift songs. “Wildest Dreams” was the opening number…

Approaching aid station 4

Once I reached the top of Stillhouse with all of the singletrack and the “big 3” behind me, I focused on my goal of reaching the final aid station before 6:30 so that I wouldn’t have to do the final part of the course with lights on my bike. (I already looked like I was going on a freakin’ bikepacking trip with all of my food and water accoutraments.) I ticked off the miles, passed a lot more blown-out riders, railed Panther Run, and then hammered to the final aid station with plenty of time to spare. I left feeling good and easily knocked out the last 13 miles with just a little bit of struggling and stretching on the final climb. I rolled into the park, banged the gong, and relished my well-awaited Wilderness 101 finish.

Although I was more than an hour and a half past my 11-hour goal, in the end I was pretty happy with my performance, considering the heat and that I didn’t feel that great in the days leading up to the race. This year has been an interesting learning experience for me, since I’ve now had three big races where I started off slow and then picked off people as the race wore on. I guess it’s partly good pacing and perhaps I’m actually better and riding through the pain that I thought. (At least when properly motivated.)

Now that I have finally got two big goals knocked out this year (TrailMix Long Course and the W101), I finally get some time to relax and play around on my Camber. It came on Thursday and I took it on a very successful first ride, but I’ll give it a full review when my butt heals and I can ride it again. Of course, while I’m exploring and having fun, I’ll probably be starting the recon on my next big goal: the 2017 Transylvania Epic.

The after. Taryn did great in her first 100 miler and ended up 6th.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Bike Decision 2017: You Belong With Me

You're scrolling through Liv posts
And you’re upset
They seemed to put the trail bike idea to bed
'Cause they don’t get “Rothrock XC” like I do
I'm in the warehouse
It's a typical Tuesday night
I’ve got the kinda head tube angle they wouldn’t like
But she'll never roll down Croyle like I do

But she’s got frame art
I’ve got dude parts
She's #ladycarbon
And I'm in the back stock
Dreaming about the day when you wake up and find
That what you're looking for has been here the whole time

For the small, yellow, 2016 Specialized Camber Expert Carbon 650b that has been sitting in the East Coast warehouse for probably a year, that day finally came on Friday. Now he’s on his way to State College, just in time for me to do a 100-mile race on my hardtail and then be too physically trashed to ride him for a week or so. For him, better late than never, and for me, better early than September. Yes, #BikeDecision2017 has reached an unexpected conclusion.

There, I fixed it.

A week ago I was 80% leaning towards the 2017 Giant Trance Advanced 2, as I liked the idea of being able to ride a big bike that could shred steep stuff with abandon. I was also growing kind of fond of the “plaid shirt” color scheme. At the same time, I was scared that it would be too much bike to pedal around the slow, monster-trucky parts that make up the majority of my riding. I definitely didn’t feel that Adam Craig hopping through swoopy Pacific Northwest loam was in any way representative of my real life.

Frank sought to help me resolve my remaining trepidation about the Trance by borrowing 2014 Trance Advanced for me to try out. It was a size too big and perhaps had the suspension set up on the soft side, so I wasn’t expecting a miraculous ride experience, but the trial ride was not indicative of anything that I’d want to take on full-time. I rode it once on the little XC trails in town and once on the ridge. Both times I was exhausted by the end because it just felt like so much work to ride. I just didn’t have the power to propel it at a speed where it was actually fun most of the time.

I briefly reconsidered getting the Liv Pique Advanced SX and just using a Cane Creek AngleSet kit to slack it out a degree or so to assuage my descending concerns, but there also comes a time when even the most loyal brand patron must evaluate other options. Since I get a similar discount on Specialized and already have Hellga sitting in my garage as precedent, I decided to give them another look.

I remembered briefly perusing the Specialized collection a few months ago just in case the 2017 release turned out to be a bust. I thought I remembered a women’s bike that was 130 in the front, which was the women’s equivalent of the Camber, but with what I thought was more travel. (It turns out that I was comparing it to the men’s 29er.) I told Frank that if they made a “carbon Lady Camber” for 2017, I might be interested.

As it turns out, they will, very literally have a “carbon Lady Camber” this year. The Rumor is being replaced with the “Women’s Camber”, which is available in carbon. This means that instead of a slightly different women’s-specific frame in 2016, the frames of the 2017 women’s models will be the same frame as the 650b men’s models but with different colors and parts. I wasn’t really even aware of the men’s 650b version until I started researching this, but I figured if I was getting the same frame either way, it was really a question of color and spec. I mean, since I can no longer use “Rumor Has It” for the title of this post, what good are a women’s saddle and grips that I’ll probably swap, anyway?

When comparing the colors and builds available for 2017 in both the men’s and women’s versions, we discovered that the best monetary and aesthetic value actually lay in the men’s 2016 Expert version. It’s marked-down, end-of-year price perfectly rode the Bob Barker line of getting as close to my budget as possible without going over. Both the 2017 men’s and women’s Comp level have red on them, which is probably my number one color deal breaker, and would have less-nice components. The next step up was the boring black men’s Pro level, which was over budget. Since the 2017’s didn’t promise any massive updates, it just made sense to go ahead with the 2016, which was a better color, a better value, and I could have lots of time to enjoy it before ‘cross instead of waiting until September to get a 2017 model.

While I don’t go around fantasizing about yellow bikes, the fact that it is a clean, pleasant shade that could be perked up with some pink and blue still won out over the other options. Our Laser Cats kits will be going full baby shower (pink and blue on black) beginning this cross season, but the new bike should actually be a pretty great match to the stripes on our current kits and our enduro jerseys. At 130mm front and rear with a 68 degree head tube angle, it promises to be the “in between” bike for which I’ve been searching. I should get noticeably better descending capability for a much smaller adjustment in the amount of slack and squish that I have to learn to push around, compared to the Trance. Finally, once we build up and install the carbon rims that Frank bought a while back, it should be no heavier than my Lust and even more “pleasantly obnoxious” in color. So with the “pro” column quickly filling up and heavily outweighing the cons, I have finally come to a bike decision that I feel confident about. I can’t wait to see what new adventures we will have together.

There, he fixed it. Stickers are cool.

And yes, he already has a name. Since my hardtail is Jamie the Climbslayer I thought her bigger, burlier trail bike buddy should be Brienne the Beauty. Unfortunately, since I tend to name my bikes in the gender for which they were marketed, and Brienne is not so gender neutral as Jamie, it no longer seemed to be the best choice. So I took a note from all of the GOT “shipping” articles that came out in the spring and went over one degree of separation…to Tormund Giantsbane.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Bike Decision 2017: If It Fits, I Sits?

As you may remember, the announcement of Liv's 2017 line a couple of weeks ago prompted me to ask some important questions about my next bike purchase. Since then I've been Googling, hashtag clicking, and social media trolling trying to dig up any more data to inform my choice. Giant's national sales meeting was last Thursday and Friday, so I thought that Monday would be big release day, but nothing happened. Despite the lack of a big reveal, I dug up just enough information to make me feel like the cat in the picture above. The Giant/Liv 2017 line up has presented me with a series of boxes, and it's unclear which one I should shove myself into.

I got a peak at the geometry for the Pique Advance SX and was really disappointed to see that it still had a 69 degree head tube angle, even with the 140mm fork. That's a degree steeper than the men's Anthem with a 120mm fork. I actually posed the question on Liv's Facebook page as to why the women's models have so much steeper head tube angles than similar-purposed men's bikes, but have not yet received a reply. They seem consistent in this design enough that there must be a reason, but I certainly don’t understand it. If they provided some justification based on their women’s geometry research, I might feel a lot better about the bike’s ability to do what I want it to do. I’m willing to accept that the Internet bike nerd hive mind by which Frank, and in turn I, am heavily influenced, might not know everything, especially in the niche of women’s mountain bike design. However, while “No weaknesses - fast up, faster down” is an awesome combination of marketing words, I want to know what that really means when the numbers don’t seem back it up.

Unfortunately, it seems that the Pique is not so much the love child of the Lust and the Intrigue, as the Lust 2.0. It’s still an XC bike before all else, with a little bit of added trail capability in the form of more suspension. It’s not like I haven’t been getting by on a Lust for two years, but there are certain downhill trails that I’m afraid to try on it, and others I’ll do but don’t enjoy. My fitness has improved enough in the last couple of years that lugging the 26 pound bike (aluminum, lower-end build) to the top of Rothrock’s climbs doesn’t really bother me so much anymore, so my upgrade goals aren’t to get a lighter bike that climbs faster (I have a hardtail for that), but to get one that packs more fun into my 26 pound climbing capacity. As I stated my one-sentence criteria for my new bike to Frank last night: I want to a bike that’s efficient enough for me to ride for the whole Transylvania Epic race and that descends well enough that I don’t feel like I’m going to die on the enduro segments.

My dream was that 2017 would bring a carbon Intrigue, but instead it brought no Intrigue at all. I was emotionally prepared for that dream to not come to fruition, which is why I was basically set on a Trance Advanced when the new Liv bikes were announced. With so much flash and fanfair, I really wanted to be on team #ladycarbon, but the more I research, the more I don’t think options offered will meet my needs. The Pique is a little too XC (probably even with more fork), and the Hail is a little too enduro. I’m glad they made the Hail, and it will fill a need for a lot of women who are wanting to get into enduro, but I don’t think it will be a good fit as #1 bike for me. It's meant to shine at fast speeds, and the majority of my time spent in Rothrock composed of monster-trucky slogs. I just don't think I'm fast enough to make the bike go fast most of the time. Of course, I'd love to have one just to bomb down fall line trails and to race enduro, but I need a better everyday bike first.

Things have come full circle now that I’ve got a visual on the 2017 Trance Advanced 2 from the Australian Giant site. The Trance Advanced 0 is too expensive, the Trance Advanced 1 is too ugly, and my first reaction to the Trance Advanced 2 was, “It looks like a plaid shirt, but not necessarily in a bad way.” I more I look at it, however, the more it grows on me. The orange and blue kind of look like paint brush strokes, and it I think it would lend itself well to some pink highlights. 

I’m a bit concerned about the jump to the 150mm fork and the man carbon. Okay, I joke about special #ladycarbon, but I do believe that choosing a bike that is designed for a lower average rider height and weight isn’t complete B.S. In perfect world, the #ladycarbon version of the Trance would probably be lighter, but that isn’t a thing. I’m not sure how much difference it actually makes, anyway, and it’s probably more important to choose a bike based on the riding style for which it was designed than the body for which it was designed.

I go back and forth about the pros and cons of each, and then soak in the bummer news that neither will supposedly be available until September. I was already making big plans for the fun times me and my new bike would be having in August before ‘cross starts to take up all my weekends until winter. I’m holding on to a thread of hope that it will be sooner based on my past experience of getting my hands on that new, new shit early, thanks to especially wonderful, vigilant account reps, but that’s probably unreasonable to expect a second time under very different circumstances.  I’m very tempted to just to choose whichever bike I can get my hands on first, since I feel like I’m not going feel 100% confident in my decision either way.

This has already been the most agonizing bike decision that I have ever tried to make, and I realize that it’s because I actually have choices, albeit imperfect ones. Prior to this, it was always just a matter of buying the newest thing in XC bikes at the best spec I could afford (which usually wasn’t much). Now that I have the budget, experience, and terrain to step up to my first big girl bike, the world just got a lot more complicated. 

I know that people do all kinds of things on kinds of bikes, and ultimately it’s up to me to overcome where my bike falls short. When I moved here, I couldn’t imagine anyone riding more than 100mm of travel as an all-purpose bike, because that’s all I could drag around fitness-wise. I overcame that, and now I feel like I’ve outgrown Princess Monster Truck. Even if the Trance doesn’t climb perfectly, I suspect I can overcome it the way I did with my Lust, and the downhills will be way more fun. Maybe the Pique Advanced SX will be so light and efficient that I finally feel confident enough to enter the TSE, even if I end up scared to death on the enduro segments because my bike is steeper than I’d like. Maybe forcing myself through the scary stuff will improve my skills, so when I get a real enduro bike I rip it up like a boss.

Perhaps I need to take some wisdom from our kitty friend above. Life presents you with a series of boxes, and they are rarely the exact size and shape of your body, but they’re all fun to sit in nevertheless. Sometimes you just have to jump in one, sit in it, enjoy it for what it is, scratch the hell out of it, and know that the mailman will always bring new boxes in time.

Monday, July 11, 2016

The Hay Is In The Barn

Scene:Friday Night, Bedtime

Me: After tomorrow, the hay will be in the barn.

Frank: The hay will be in the barn?

Me: It’s something my old coach used to say. It means that all of your fitness is packed in before a big race, and all that’s left is to taper.

Frank: I guess that is where you put hay.

Me: Until you take it out and feed it to the cows in winter, but I’m hoping it will be a gentle winter and the cows don’t need too much hay.

Frank: So you’re already getting into your blog post metaphor for the week, huh? Are there any pop song lyrics about cows and hay?


My official Wilderness 101 training concluded on Saturday with more of a fizzle than a bang. It really served to reinforce my belief that the Bald Eagle side of the course somehow has it in for me, as any time I’ve tried to cross 322 this year, things have gone badly. Stillhouse has treated me okay, as well Stillhouse knows how to treat anyone, but a good day on the opening climb or any of the final parts of the course have eluded me.

Things went well during the 4th of July weekend, when my teammates came to town to ride. Taryn came on Saturday to join my W101 training ride, since she was considering signing up for the race herself. I always knew she was fast, but I was kind of astounded at how she was riding out of sight so easily on my home turf when I was actually riding pretty fast myself. I ended up PRing Seeger and all of the singletrack on the ride by huge margins.

Laser Cats in the Wild 

Several other girls came on Sunday for a “best of” tour of Rothrock, which included the XC Loop, up Lower Lonberger, Tussey Ridge, and down Camp. I struggled to keep up after the long, hard ride the day before, but I made it through. I think I dug myself into a hole, though, and going to a 4th of July party and drinking too much on Monday instead of resting also did not help.

With two weeks before the big day, I wanted to get one more good, long ride in, but my body was simply not having it. The temperature was hovering just above my breakdown level (maybe 85?), and though I forced myself over the 4.5 mile opening climb, it wasn’t pretty. Since that was the hardest part of the ride that I had planned, I was hoping my legs would wake up along Decker Valley Rd., but they never did. I ended up sending Frank ahead to get car, which resulted in a miscommunication about our meet-up spot, and him driving around for an hour and a half looking for me. It was a much less productive day than I was hoping for.

Now I’m past the point of being able to do anything except come into the race well rested. Instead of a gentle winter to save my hay, I’m hoping for reasonably cool weather to save my legs. If I actually ride everything as fast as I have in training on race day, I’ll do pretty well, but I’ve also seen the damage that heat and fatigue can do.

So the hay is in the barn, winter is coming, and the big question is whether my legs will win the great battle between the living and the dead? Yes, I just made up a really mixed metaphor about bikes, farming, and Game of Thrones. Sometimes, that’s how it goes.

Friday, July 1, 2016

Bike Decision 2017: What Actually Happens When You Go Full Enduro?

I haven’t been inspired to write much since the TrailMix. It took me a full two weeks to physically and mentally recover from that experience, which was a lot longer than I had planned. Of course, the race itself took a lot more time and mental energy than I had planned. Now I’ve kinda sorta returned to climbing gravelly things on my hardtail, but not nearly at the level that I was in May. With only three weeks left until the Wilderness 101, and having not really met any of the milestones that I had planned along the way, I’m not feeling super confident. I guess after the TrailMix, I am feeling confident in my ability to choose an ugly finish over no finish, so I’m pretty sure I’ll find a way to gut it out one way or another. It just might not look the way I hoped it would when I set out on this journey.

With the march to the Wilderness 101 nearing its end, I’m thinking a lot about what I’ll do with my life no longer dedicated to climbing all the gravel all the time. In the short term, I realized that I’ve been in hard-driven, goal-oriented mode since December. I think it’s good to get into this mode sometimes, as it helps me push through barriers that I might not otherwise, but it’s also not sustainable forever. Once the W101’s over, I’m not going to take a rest week and jump into high-intensity intervals and full season of ‘cross as I'd originally planned. I’m just going to do whatever sounds fun for a while, even if it means an abbreviated and not particularly competitive ‘cross season. I probably won’t manage to show up in any sun-scorched corn fields by the end of August.

I think part of this is just plain ol’ burnout, and part is that I’m really wanting more time to really mountain bike, since training all spring and summer for a mostly gravel “mountain bike” race has kept me really enjoying the best of what Rothrock gnar has to offer. Along with that, I see a new gnar bike in my near future, and I don’t want to not ride it because of ‘cross.

 I’ve been wanting a slacker, more descending-capable bike for about a year with the thought of future enduro-racing pursuits. Of course, I tried a couple of enduro races on my Lust this year with basically no planning or practice, and they didn’t go so well. I think the more accurate saying should be “never go partial enduro”, so I skipped last weekend’s race to focus on W101 training. Next time I enduro, it will be when I’m ready to give it the attention it deserves.

The big question is what bike will I be riding when that happens? In their current state of evolution, MASS enduro races don’t require, or necessarily even favor, a “full enduro” bike. I think it’s more of a matter of a dropper post, a sub-70 degree head tube angle, and to putting in the time to know how to use both. In my first two enduro racing attempts, I really only had one of three on the list (a dropper that I wasn’t good at using). The new bike should be capable enough in MASS enduro races, but also still climb well enough to ride in the TrailMix and perhaps in next year’s Transylvania Epic.

I’ll admit that last year when Liv released the Intrigue SX that I was very, well, intrigued. It was a very pretty bike, and pedaled well enough in the short trial I took on one at Brown County last fall, but I couldn’t afford it at the time coz wedding and stuff. It's just as well, because as the year passed, it just never felt like it was *the* bike. Because Liv kind of pushed as it the pinnacle of their years of women’s mountain bike research, I held a little hope that 2017 would yield a carbon fiber version. This is based on the typical Giant pattern of tweaking new technology in aluminum versions before committing them to carbon. However, based on the fact that Liv has still not produced a carbon ‘cross bike for retail purchase, despite a Liv rider winning the women’s world championship every year since the brand was launched, I steeled myself for possible disappointment.

When I bought my Obsess in May, a friend joked about our love/hate relationship with the Liv brand. I summed it up by saying that the relationship is that I’m mad that they don’t give me more opportunities to hand them my money. Obviously I’m capable of straying when I have to (buying a Specialized fat bike), but despite occasionally missing the mark, they’re usually the brand most likely to deliver the things I want, in the prettiest colors, at the best price (partially because I’ve never not had a shop discount on Giant/Liv at any point during my cycling career). So like a lifelong fan of a losing sports team, each new bike release season starts with “maybe this will be our year”.

Anyway, after much research that I decided that I wanted a carbon fiber bike in the 130-140mm range both front and rear. If my dream of an Intrigue Advanced did not come true, I would go for a men’s Trance Advanced or a Juliana Furtado. Then I found out that for all its pretty color, the Furtado was 2-3 pounds heavier than a similarly-priced Trance, so I would definitely be sticking with Giant/Liv one way or another. The new 2017 editions were announced this week, and they yielded both excitement and confusion on my part.

The Trance Advanced has been bumped up to 150 front and 140 rear, and is even more trail-y than it was in the past. The only pictures released are of the highest level model, which I think is quite pretty, and makes me worry that they chose something ugly for the model that’s actually in my price range. (Edit: They totally did.)

Liv dropped some new #ladycarbon options, but an Intrigue was not among them. Instead the Lust and Intrigue had a baby, and as the bike media was way more excited about, Liv did, in fact, go full enduro. Considering that I take the Trance off the table and stick with #teamladycarbon, here are my choices:

The Pique is supposed to be an XC race bike and trail bike all rolled into one, with a pure 100mm race bike no longer offered. It’s 120mm in the rear with the option of a 140mm fork on the Pique Advanced SX model. That definitely sounds like the closest thing to a “do it all” model on either men’s or women’s side of the brand. However, something about the fact that “race” comes before “trail” in all the marketing languages makes me worry that was built more for "Indiana rock gardens" than actually rock gardens, and the "rowdy" 140mm option was an afterthought to fill a gap in the line. Can it get to the bottom of Wildcat better than my Lust? Probably. Can I take it to the bike park with my #babesinbaggies teammates? Probably not.

Then there is the Hail, a high-end carbon 160/160 enduro bike for women. My first thought was that I don’t need that much travel, and that it might be too heavy or bouncy for all-around riding. However, Frank has recently traded in his Anthem for a carbon 150/150 BMC Trail Fox, and he seems happy enough. The girl that won the TrailMix short course last year did it on a Roubion, so I guess enduro bikes can still be fast if you put a fast person on them. Liv keeps bragging on the Hail’s efficiency, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it doesn’t weigh that much more than my bottom-model aluminum Lust.

It will probably still be a few weeks before I can buy either, and I probably will end up buying the Pique Advanced SX. However, the Hail does have me asking the question, “What actually happens when you go full enduro?”


I just realized I wrote the whole post and didn't include a full list of all the travel options that Giant and Liv have announced this year:

160/160: Reign (M) or Hail (W)
150/140: Trance (M)
140/120: Pique SX (W)
130/110: Anthem SX (M)
120/120: Pique (W)
120/110: Anthem (M)

Theses are all 27.5 bikes (and at 5'4" all I care about), and word on 29ers is sparse. I'm also assuming they will still be offering their Glory full DH bike, but that it's just pretty well dialed and there won't be major changes.

As you can see, lots of choices are offered, it gets a little spread out in the middle range where I was originally planning to buy. The format of the XC, what we'll call the XXC bike at 120-130, and then a jump to the 150-160 seems to be the norm for a lot of companies this year.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Rothrock TrailMix: So I Didn't DNF

This past weekend I accomplished a goal that had eluded me for two years: I finished the long course at the Rothrock TrailMix. A couple of qualifications to this are that a) A bridge was out on the road up to the John Wert trail, which is the most technical trail of the traditional long course, which adds an extra “ain’t nobody got time for this” aspect with its placement near the end of the deceptively hard 36 mile course. So having not included the John Wert trail, I still don’t feel like I’ve finished the *real* long course. b) Implicit in my goal of finishing was that finishing meant something closer to the five hour mark than the six hour mark and not just simple dragging my blown-out body through the length of the course before the point that the race staff kicked me off of it.

However, when my body came undone from the heat less than halfway into the race, I was not too concerned with the qualifiers. As I drug myself up the next climb, which took over 38 minutes, and later as I passed various points of the course that would have provided an easy bailout, I mostly thought about telling my teammate Taryn about my two years’ worth of attempts at finishing this race. She seemed impressed that I was still trying after my previous failed attempts. She’s only been riding bikes beyond commuting for about a year, and she’s already way faster than me, so it’s a little hard telling such a story to someone who has yet to fail really hard at something cycling-wise. You never know whether you’ll get sympathy, admiration, or judgment, because it can’t actually be as hard you say it is, right? Luckily, I got the first two from her and latter mostly just came from myself. As I continued my slow and painful forward motion through the rest of the course on Saturday, I realized that I couldn’t control the course modifications or my lack of speed, but it was totally in my power to avoid telling Taryn that I had DNF’d again. So I didn’t DNF.

I knew going into the race that my speed wasn’t where I wanted it to be, but I thought that with the substitution of gravel road for John Wert, I might still be able to finish in around 5 hours. However, the mid-to-upper 80’s temperatures prompted me to throw out any time goals the morning before the race began. The rapid jump from 60’s to 80’s a couple of weeks ago has left me reevaluating my perceived fitness level and hoping some heat tolerance kicks in before July 23.

I started off at a purposefully moderate pace, repeatedly reminding myself to reign in my effort, and still managing a pretty okay pace through the top of Bear Gap. I was ahead of at least three long course riders that I’d passed on the XC Loop and had made it through first singletrack section with only the top 5 men from the short course race catching me. During my first long course attempt in 2014, I was already at the back of the short course field, who started 15 minutes after me, by the time I finished the XC Loop, realized how far in over my head I was, and called it a day. The only place I actually tried to go fast was the McGuire descent on the XC Loop, a QOM that I’ve been chasing as long as I’ve been chasing a TrailMix finish. With the course clear and the trail as buff as Rothrock trail gets, I laid it out for 5 minutes and 57 seconds to become ruler of one of two descents in Rothrock that are actually more fun than exhausting and scary.

Speaking of exhausting and scary descents, the Croyle descent was where I started to crack. This one gives you the choice of exhausting or scary. It's steep but not crazy steep with some loose rocks and very small drops, stuff that is actually pretty easy in small doses. It just goes on forever and the speed at which you will hurtle over the individually-tame loose rocks and small drops becomes scary, unless you ride your brakes the entire time, which is exhausting. I tried to let loose as much as possible, and it was by far my fastest time on that descent, but the eight minutes it took was still enough for my quads, arms, and core muscles to all be screaming from the sustained aggressive descending position by the bottom.

I had a couple of minutes of easy spinning on gravel before the biggest climb of the day. That’s where the real “everything hurts and I’m dying” kicked in. From there it was just a matter of will to turn pedals through each section and win the negotiation with myself to move on to the next one. I was surprised when I saw a decent number of people from my race at the one full aid station just beyond the halfway point of the race. They all left before me, but when I set out onto Tussey Ridge at a pace so slow that it was confusing to see the familiar trail at that speed, I still managed to pick people off one by one. I guess my two years’ of failure did result in a proper respect for how hard the race is and even when I’m hurting, save something for the challenges to come. Finally, many rest breaks and internal negotiations later I reached the finish line with the peace of mind that I would not have a third TrailMix DNF hanging over my head. Better yet, I was several places out of last place and managed to avoid the six-hour mark, even though I was thoroughly past my goal of five.

As someone whose history with big, long goal races is mostly split between DNF’s and races that I stubbornly gutted out at the back of the pack when the merits of doing so were questionable, with a precious few occasions where things actually ended well, I feel like I have a different perspective on the whole “death before DNF” thing. I have huge respect for those who stick it out through sometimes hours and hours of drudgery when their plans go south, but I also don’t hold any negative judgment for those who choose to hang it up and live to fight again another day. Each person has their own goals and motivations when they roll up to the starting line, and some days when go wrong the price of finishing is simply not worth the reward, and that’s totally okay. It’s your investment of money, training, and pride to do with what you want. As I rolled through the final stretch of pavement, I reflected on my past attempts at the race, how my riding had improved since I first started scouting the course in April 2014, and how even though I still wasn't as fast as I wanted to be, on that particular day it meant everything to me just to say that I had finally made it to the finish line.

I do recommend dragging yourself to the logical conclusion of a death march (not the fun kind) at least once just so that you know you can. There is a definite satisfaction in knowing that, and in my case, getting a reminder every once in a while. Saturday was a good reminder that I can do what I need to when price of not DNFing is great, but the reward/consequence is still greater. So I didn’t DNF.