When I was 4, all I wanted to be was a princess…She-Ra, Princess of Power. I used to spend my afternoons in a fantasy land of imagination with my best friend Jared, who wanted nothing more than to be He-Man. When my mom met my stepdad, he introduced me to Star Wars, and of course, I spent the next few years daydreaming of being Princess Leia (also Gem, the rockstar until I realized i can’t carry a tune). In high school, my first real job was as a “sandwich artist” at Subway, the only franchise in town, located at the other end of our mile long stretch of highway. Every day I would walk there after school and walk home in the dark, even in the winter, my head held high as my parka-bundled form made its way down the road. One of my parents friends saw me walking and said I reminded him of Xena, the Warrior Princess and while I never got into that show but nevertheless appreciated the homage.
Tonight, as I rode home from a friends house on my Specialized Enduro, I realized what it is that draws me to biking. As I sit upon my bike, above the ground, head held high and shoulders back, I am strong. I am amazingly badass, even cruising down a gravel road. The wide bars of my bike and the height of the 29″ wheels make me an intimidating form in the shadows. It is the place the warrior princess of power in me has always been searching for. As I conquer a trail, an obstacle, a race, I am infinitely closer to the woman I once dreamed I would be. And somewhere along the way of the ride, I lose all pretense and societal pressure, and become my best self, even if sometimes my best self is a sweaty mess.
Upon my bike, I feel capable of feats beyond what I ever imagine. I am fearless and capable and independent. My bike has brought to me what I spent my childhood dreaming of. And as I finished my evening walking with my daughter, I realized all I want is for her to find something in life that makes her as free and fierce and strong as biking makes me.
“Find yourself a place you belong in the universe, a place where the dirt feels like goodness under your feet.”
Pam Houston, Waltzing the Cat
This spring I had so many plans, races to be raced, training to be tackled, spin classes to be taught. I pushed myself harder than ever before, taking on hill repeats that had friends calling me crazy, long days in the saddle on a trainer suffering without end. And then the first race arrive, the Iron Horse Bicycle Classic, a 47 mile race from Silverton to Durango, over two mountain passes (they don’t mention the 10 mile “hill” you take on your way to the base of the first one), and topping out at almost 11,000 feet of elevation. I finished a little over 3 1/2 hours, well under my 4 hour goal and just in the middle of the my group. I walked away happy to have completed it but knowing I had made mistakes and could have raced better.
Two weeks later, I took on the RAT race, a 2 lap, almost 30 mile mountain bike race on my local trails. With a brutal 3,800 feet of climbing in the June sunshine, it kicked my ass. I went it to it exhausted, having spent the last week helping with the race itself, as well as work and yet another rocky spot in my long distance relationship. As I dismounted from my Specialized Enduro, which had been purchased only weeks before to replace my Trek Lush, I knew I needed a break. I needed to stop spinning my wheels, both literally and figuratively. I needed to be feel solid ground beneath my feet for a while.
I spent the following weekend hiking with Hailey at Cutler Creek, on Father’s Day. It was her dad’s favorite trail and I wanted to share it with her since he doesn’t live close enough by us to do so himself. The next weekend we hiked Dallas Trail and reveled in wildflowers up to our chests. Then Hailey departed for the summer, and I continued on hiking, walking, spending time learning to be a part of the earth again instead of hovering above it. I felt my true self begin to settle back into my bones. For the first time in over a decade, I felt the place I grew up becoming part of me once again. Then I went to Park City, which became a wreck in every sense and left me with nothing but confusion and heartache and unanswered questions and so much pain. And I struggled to get back on my bike. There was so much tied between it and the loss I was feeling and it tore at my in a deep way. After allowing myself a couple weeks of self pity, I knew from it was sink or swim. If I couldn’t ride, I needed to hike. I had been re-reading my favorite author, Pam Houston, and the line about finding a place you belong in the universe struck a chord, so I went outside, seeking out new places. Finding Moonshine Park and Spirit Gulch along the way. I found that both in biking and hiking, it is all about keeping your feet moving, one in front of the other. It is about remembering to breathe, and keeping your balance. Today, I took Hailey on a 7.5 mile hike to Blue Lake and shared with her my favorite place from my childhood and felt complete and whole and well in a way that is new. This slower moving action has given me time to process my pain and allow it to be a part of me without defining me. And hiking has been great because it has been something solely mine, something I share with my daughter and my friends. Something tangible that was left untainted for me this last month.
Lately, I have been pushing myself back on my bike. It is hard. Not having the same person to encourage you and to share your accomplishments with is hard. There is a part of biking for me right now that is relearning what I trained myself to associate with it for the last year. And possibly even further back than that ( see Getting Lost..and Finding Yourself Along The Way). I am trying to be one, solid, riding for myself and no one else. I will race again, I will train and push and suffer again. I will work to be better than ever before, but this time I will do it for myself. It will be harder without the push and encouragement and praise, but it will be my own victory. In the meantime, I will make sure to take time to find places that feel like goodness under my feet..keeping myself on solid ground.
Yesterday I took my trusty Trek Madone for bit of an adventure on the gravel county roads that encompass most of where I live. While there are only 3 paved roads out of town, there are seemingly endless loops of gravel that cut between farm and ranch land, most eventually leading to National Forest. While the day ended with a brutal flat after hauling ass over some freshly laid gravel as if I were racing Paris-Roubaix, I was left stranded on the side of the road mere miles from home. But before that came to be, I got some pretty nice shots of the ride, which I of course shared on various SM platforms, reminiscing in the joy that road and many other like it had brought to me in my life from a child to a teen to an adult.
Tonight, I received an alert an old friend had commented on my photo, and sure enough, the views brought back to him the same reminiscence of growing up here and what magic that was. And I began to sob, as it came full circle to me how ingrained the place I live is in my happiness, and how biking has brought me back to the person I was as a child, awestruck and giddy at the paradise that awaits me out my front door. And how close I came in some ways to losing that.
I spent my teen years planning my escape from small town hell, my twenties in purgatory torn between my love of the city, the ocean, the endless summer of California and the mountains that called me home and the cool summer evenings that allowed me to sleep like a newborn. I spent the last year in limbo, one foot in the door, one foot out, trying to balance work and love and family, and pushing myself to embrace the idea of living somewhere other than here. Ultimately, the decision was made for me, but it was the right one. And perhaps the fact that deep down, I love this place with every beat of my heart became the final straw in a relationship fraught with so much difficulty.
Now, as I try to rebuild aspects of my life, make new plans, come to terms with the loss and questions that gnaw at me as the sun sets and the night comes down, I find solace on my bike on these solitary country roads. It’s not the hardest riding I have done, not the most challenging or strenuous, but it allows me to be in the moment in a new way. The simple turning of pedals as I breath in the floral air is a long forgotten meditation I am beginning to pull form some ancient muscle memory.
As I ride down these roads, I recall my first mountain bike, a magenta and yellow Huffy that sat waiting under the Christmas tree for me, that then had to lie in wait for months before the snow melted and I could ride it. I can still close my eyes and remember the feeling of freedom it brought to me as I sailed down the county road, ending at the reservoir and dipping my feet in the water that was snow just days before.
I have spent the last few years so focused on being better, stronger, faster, that I have often forgotten the real reason I ride my bike. Rides like yesterdays bring me back to that simple joyful place. And moments like tonight, when my experience can evoke a response from someone else lucky enough to remember how great it feels to come home on these roads, make all the struggles, both on and off the bike, worthwhile.
I was alive with blood and sweat
I was burning up inside
I was over everything
The dust of my life
I was alive with blood and sweat
My head was in the clouds
No water left to tread
Your best self. It is what we all strive for. Being the best version of ourselves, however that may manifest.
It is funny how we define what makes us our best. For years I let Strava define my best self on my bike. For the last year, I gave my time and heart to someone who I felt made me my best self in many ways. All of this can be great until it fails you.
Sometimes I am slow on my bike. My log of miles and time and elevation only tells a small story of who I was on that day. Today, I rode slowly up the hills of my hometown trails. Trails I haven’t ridden since I tackled the first annual race on them, riding 30 miles and climbing almost 4,000 feet of elevation under cooking sun while dust blew all around me. Today was only my second day back on those trails, and also my second day on any trails since the metaphorical rug was pulled out from under me.
After a year, the man I had grown to love and who I felt brought out my best qualities left, with no warning or reason. He left so unexpectedly that my bike gear remained in his car as he departed. It arrived less than a week later, also with no apology or explanation. The box holding my helmet, gloves and glasses sat untouched on my counter for days. Finally one morning, I woke early, took out my new puppy, and decided to ride. As I donned my helmet, tears began to run from my eyes. I don’t know when cycling became intertwined into my relationship, maybe it was that I had finally met a man who enjoyed riding with me, maybe it was that the last time I had worn that helmet was on vacation with him. Maybe it was just simply that I had spent the last year sharing my rides with him, sending him pictures and Strava results. Whatever it was, going through the motions was the hardest thing I had done in quite a while. But once I was out on the road, as I watched the sun rise over the mountains, I began to feel myself again. The air was cold, the chill from the nights’ rain was cold against my bare arms. My legs ached and my lungs burned. It wasn’t easy, it wasn’t pretty. It just was me at my basic level, alive with blood and sweat, burning from the inside out. It was me learning to be me again. the girl who existed before I let others define who I was.
Sometimes the outside validation of who are at a certain time in our life is inaccurate. Sometimes we have to be able to look into ourselves and know that who we are in the most intrinsic sense. Sometimes we have to put all of those exterior results to the side and know the truth that lies deep within us, know all the struggles we took out on the road or the trails that day, and know we conquered something just by being out there. Sometimes our best, our best self, is the not the side that gets up and rides when the sun is shining and all is well, or the side of us that conquers a race after months of training and preparation, but it is the most broken side of ourselves that picks up the pieces and rides in the rain, low on sleep and all cried out, suffering just for the sake of knowing you are alive and living.
Today marks the finish of the first mountain bike trip of the season, a 2 day adventure in Fruita, a mere 2 hours from my door. I set out Friday night for Grand Junction, my trust Trek Lush 29’er as my passenger, and spent an evening catching up with some good friends. I have ben friends with Elisa and Matt since I first raced cross (for more on that read Zen and the Art of Cycling in the Snow (and mud). They are one of my favorite couples and in general favorite people, full of love and enthusiasm and adventure (Elisa’s blog, Trails 365, is one I highly recommend if you like reading about hiking, biking and general badassery).
Saturday morning, I woke up to a great breakfast snd some amazing coffee brewed for me in an antique coffeemaker, and a huge delicious breakfast; perfect fuel for the day. I join up with my friends Nadia and Evie and we headed west to the high desert trails of 18 Road.
Nadia is a newly found riding buddy, who also happens to date my best guy friend,and I was super psyched to get time to ride with her again! And Evie is my birthday twin, the sister f my best friend growing up, who was born 4 years to the day after me, but outside of spin class, we had never had an opportunity to ride together.
We started the day with a fast loop on PBR (Pumps, Bumps and Rollers), a fast flowy fun trail, with Nadia’s dog Stella leading the way (man can that dog run!). We returned to the parking lot, dropped off Stella for a little rest, and headed over to Joe’s Ridge, which takes you up onto a narrow ridge, and drops you ups and down and all around before dumping you back at the lower parking lot. We then grabbed Stella for one more lap and hit another round of PBR, this time taking Prime Cut single track up instead of the road.
Trying to get the dog in the pic take 1
Nadia leading the way
Evie topping Joe’s Ridge
Stella checking out the Westfalia
As the temps started to drop, we made it back to the car for a celebratory cheers, and spent quite a while conversing with the van owner parked next to us, while Stella explored the totally awesome Westfalia and we talked Ridgway Area Trails (RAT) and the upcoming Ridgway Fat Tire Festival and RAT Race (make your calendars!!) happening June 10.
Then it was time for the real treat, an early dinner at Hot Tomato, the place to eat when in Fruita. And yes, as you can see in the picture below, we all got our own pizza….
We retreated to our hotel for the night only to discover that I had brought neither a bathing nor underwear that could pass for such in a public pool….so we dipped back out to Walgreen’s where we ended up with a 3 pack of what I dubbed “granny panties”, as well as 3 bags of Haribo Gummy Bears (more on that soon).
In a show of solidarity, my friends actually rocked the GPs with me to the pool, where we swam and soaked until we could barely move, and then we headed upstairs to chill. We then carried off blind taste test of Gummy Bears to determine who had picked the best flavor, and watched Cruel Intentions (total 90s high school throwback for all of us)….
This morning brought a search for coffee, me sharing McDonald’s hash browns with Stella, and 2 laps on the Kokopelli trails located west of Fruita towards Utah. We stopped for picture at some of the awesome view points overlooking the Colorado River, and finished out day with a hard cider and of course, more Gummy Bears…
Tri flavor gummy bear, Evie’s creation that blew our minds!
Cheers to a successful weekend!
Seeing up pics is hard work!
These ladies are rad!
The best part of the weekend for me was beyond the miles or climbs or skills or even the bike (although DAMN do I love my bike!)…it was about something I felt this past year or so I had lost from my life to some extent. It was about friendship, fun, camaraderie and just some pure silliness. Remembering the person in you that wants to laugh and smile and not be such an adult. These moments become more and more rare as we grow, as our children grow, as we struggle through bigger thoughts and ideas and issues and concerns. This year in particular has had a literal and figurative pall cast over it, I spent January in the depths of a funk when the sun refused to shine for a month, and cold air and wind ripped though me and eroded my cheer and good nature. Even when the sun emerged, I couldn’t shake the chill of the winter. This weekend, in the warm spring desert, my son soaking up some much needed Vitamin D, I found my smile again. At he end of the day, this weekend wasn’t about the miles or trails or technique, but the friendships I have begun to build with friends who love the same things as I do: bikes, pizza, wine and fun!
As always, much love to Primal Wear whose awesome apparel keeps me happy and comfy on all my rides, Skratch for being the best hydration mix in the world, and COPMOBA for all the work they do to make these trails available and rideable. If you are in need of a new super cool pair of leggings or a riding tank, or a fun headband like this cat one I am rocking below, check out my friend Nadia’s Etsy shop: Lycra Unincorporated!
Since the moment I began to truly ride bikes, I have loved it with my heart and soul. There is such a deep passion for cycling within me, that it can pull me from the deepest depths of my despair and bring me unending joy. But back in June, I wrecked on my beloved Trek Lush mountain bike. I crashed badly, but walked away with some road rash and bruises.
As I dusted off, checked my vision and verified I was able to ride home, I thought through all of the what ifs of the crash, and it hit me how badly I could have been hurt. Everyone told me to get right back on the bike, but I truly hurt too badly to do so, or I told myself.
As days turned to weeks, I would eye my bike warily from across the room. I felt betrayed. I know it sounds silly, but I put my trust and faith in my bike to carry me safely along the trails, and in my eyes, it had failed me. What once was my most trusted companion was now a stranger. The inanimate item I had placed my faith in, now was just a piece of metal against my wall.
It made me feel as though I had lost my religion. I felt so far apart from my favorite places out on the trails. I tried to return to nature, my church, but was lost and unsure, wary that maybe I would find none of what I used to, that without my trust in my bike, riding was but a hollow activity, one full of fear and uncertainty. Although not religious, I assume this must be how one feels after they lose their faith in their god and the inanimate adornments and rituals that once brought them solace.
It took a lot of time to examine my deepest fears that came to life when I approached trails, descents, berms, rocks….I had to come to terms with the fact that my bike is nothing more than a vessel to deliver me to my passion. I had to believe once again that I could ride these trails without fear, understand there is no guarantee of safety and embrace the unknown. I had to be less naive, more aware that in life there is only an illusion of safety.
This weekend I returned to Phil’s World, where I raced and trained last spring, and forced myself to tackle the trails as I used to, to once again put my trust in myself and my faith in my bike. As I returned to the trailhead 18.7 miles later, smiling from ear to ear, I breathed in deeply and was born again a mountain biker.
It has now been 2 years since I began the journey of writing about riding. I have enjoyed putting into words my journey; my struggles, my successes, and the lessons learned along the way.
Last month I hit the breaking point, my lower back was in agony, I avoided my bike or stuck to short, easy rides. My energy was sapped from the culmination of school beginning (for Hailey), work travel and general craziness of attempting to do too much. I spent 5 days in Boulder between 2 events, and was possibly the worst guest ever. I could barely open my eyes some mornings, I was sleeping hours later than usual, and even with the added rest, was still too tired to do much of anything. I was referred to a sports massage therapist to help with the cause I could identify, which was the lingering pain in my left low back that was worsening with each day.
After an amazing 90 minute massage, my massage therapist came back with a surprise diagnosis of my pain: an overly tight right hip flexor from too much time in the driver’s seat, coupled with a slightly weaker left glute. I walked away from the appointment alleviated from the pain, although still sore from the weeks of muscle tightness and misuse. What I also walked away with was the realization that there was more I needed to deal with than just the physical.
When I returned home from my travels, I took some time to rule evaluate where I was at physically, mentally and emotionally. And I realized I was drained on all fronts. I had been failing to let my mind and body truly rest. And both on and off the bike, I had allowed myself to fall into poor form. I pushed too hard with too little fuel, allowing anxiety and worry to carve away more and more from me with each sleepless night.
If you spin, or do Sufferfest videos, or are lucky enough to have a trainer, you probably are often reminded to reset your form. These last few weeks have been all about taking a moment to breathe, look up at my surroundings and adjust.
Physically, I began to take Pilates again, and work on strengthening my whole body. To help clear myself mentally, I cleaned my house from top to bottom, took on all the projects I had left sitting for another day, set up a schedule for myself. I stopped letting myself procrastinate. And then I sat down and evaluated my desires and set new goals for myself.
As you know if you have read my previous post “Fear of Failure“, I struggle to take on things that I may not succeed at, that I fear being perceived as weak or to acknowledge I gave my all and still came up short.
My goal this fall, as I cleared my house and my mind of clutter and reset myself for what lies ahead, is to give my all and embrace the art of trying, the grace that lies within not always succeeding.
This week, I hit the reset button, sat up tall and strong, shoulders back, and began to take on the climbs ahead, knowing I will make it to the top if I don’t allow myself to give up and turn back.
Life is often a choice between the path of least resistance and upping the resistance. Too little resistance and you spin pointlessly, never gaining any strength; too much and you get hurt and feel unable to try that hard again.
The hardest part of riding/spinning/life is finding the right balance, and getting to know ourselves well enough to know when to push and when to hold back.
There are so many times I have let myself give up on a hard climb, on a long day, on an exposed descent, telling myself I need to reserve something for later, only to return home with regrets.
There are as many times I have pushed too hard and have ended up hurt. I have stood in front of my bike, injured, no longer trusting it but instead fearing the pain it can bring when I allow myself to be free.
Other times I have walked the fine line between the two, a tightrope between fear and love, yearning so badly to feel the wind in my face, the sun on my back, the birds singing in my ears as I race down mountains while at the same time I quiver at the thought of the possible crash, the skidding, the slow motion halt of motion as skin and bone collides with ground or gravel or asphalt.
The only solution for this is following something stronger than stats and plans and rational design..instinct.
Following our hearts is just as hard on a bike as it is in life, trusting ourselves that we can be stronger than we feel, taking on challenges we never thought possible, the things we have grown to tell ourselves we will never be able to accomplish, and in the end reaching pinnacles we never before have experienced. But we also must acknowledge the side of our hearts that tell us there are some things we will not be capable of on this day, that we can only give so much as we grow, that we are not quite that strong or fearless yet, or maybe we will never be no matter what we do. The question every time you begin to ride is how far you desire to go and how much strength you are willing to expend to reach that goal? The biggest gift you can give yourself is the freedom to decide when the resistance is too much, and whether it is worth it to push through and risk being hurt, and accepting the outcome whether you reach the finish line or turn back. And most importantly, in life as well as on the bike, the key is always to enjoy the ride.
“You have been weighed, you have been found wanting”
Mumford & Sons
As always, that time of year approaches yet again..cross is here. I have spent my last 2 years in a valiant attempt to be a semi decent cross racer. I love the sport, I relish how I feel when I arrive at the finish..but at a certain point, failure begins to take its toll.
The first season I did well, because I raced against no one..the second season I wrote off to lack of training. But in year three, I either need to train and truly race or admit defeat.
Defeat would be the easiest path. And to be honest, its the one I have taken so many times before. I can’t say this is the first time I have let fear of failure hold me back. And of course, the question I must ask myself is why?
Fear is easy. It allows us to excuse ourselves from life. It is said you fail 100 times before you succeed, but never once do they acknowledge how hard it is to fail 100 times and keep trying. I have sat on the fence for so long, never really trying, never really making a true effort, so that I could never feel like I truly failed.
I admit it. I am scared. I am so scared to say I tried and failed. I am scared to be weighed and found wanting. I am so scared to push myself to my limits and see what I cannot do, when I should embrace this challenge and fins out exactly how strong I am.
This is me. A strong woman so full of fear and self doubt. I would rather sit on the sidelines than come in last.And it terrifies me because I know that this is evident in my life in more than just cycling. In work, in friendship, and mostly, in love, I am so full of fear that I give up rather than say I tried and failed.
“There are two basic motivating forces: fear and love. When we are afraid, we pull back from life. When we are in love, we open to all that life has to offer with passion, excitement, and acceptance. We need to learn to love ourselves first, in all our glory and our imperfections. If we cannot love ourselves, we cannot fully open to our ability to love others or our potential to create. Evolution and all hopes for a better world rest in the fearlessness and open-hearted vision of people who embrace life.”
So this season, I am going to try. In every aspect of my life. I am going to stop acting out of fear. I will embrace my weaknesses, my imperfections, my flaws and faults, and race purely for the love of cycling. And I will hope this allows me to approach other parts of my life without fear.
I have never considered myself to be high maintenance, but over the years I have found that there are some things I consider to be necessary to make me a happy girl. And last week, I found the things I need for a happy girl on a hut trip. Now I know all of you know about things like water, bike tools, spare tube and a (hopefully working) backpack. I’m talking about the true components to make sure you have a smile on your face at the top of every climb, the bottom of every descent and everywhere in between.
Now that I’ve summed up my tour experience, I thought I’d spend a minute covering the lesser considers but equally important components of a multi day tour.
1: Good friends. This is a must! Friends make or break a day, can bring you up when you’re feeling down, and there is nothing better than ending a day of riding and knowing you have built not only stronger muscles but a stronger bond of friendship, and created lasting memories.
2: Music. Huts are quiet. Eerily quiet when you’re used to traffic, electronics, phone calls…and plus, music is life. I can’t go a day without it, let alone a week. And it’s the perfect way to get going in the morning, wind down in the evening, and fill that void as you all spend some time in your own minds after a grueling day in the saddle.
3: Good chamois. Need I say more? My personal recommendation is Primal Helix bibs. They make both men and women specific and the top of the line chamois is key. I have ridden in a number of different brands and this is the only one I would trust for a multi day trip.
4: Skratch….the exercise mix, the rescue mix, the chews…if you’re really feeling sassy, add in their cycling cap. In my mind there is no comparable product on the market, and its a must on any ride.
5: Training. Can be on a trainer or my preference is at a fun, awesome spin studio with talented instructors. I go to my local studio, Alive Fitness, and even during the hardest classes, I have a great time! It’s been amazing the gains I have seen from spin. I know a lot of people feel just going out and riding is all the training they need, and for some that’s true, but a controlled environment really allows you to tap into unknown potential. And it’s great to keep your strength up during bad weather and time crunched schedules. Bonus: if you attend Jasmine’s classes you may also get introduced to great new music, as she has eclectic taste and a great knack for finding lesser known musicians.
6: Badass socks. Because sock doping is not a crime. And nothing pops like a bike short/sock tan line combo. Especially attractive when you’re lounging at a Vegas pool, as I learned last fall. In all seriousness, I have some friends who just ride with regular athletic socks, and I have found those to be of lesser quality. I am usually rocking some vivid Handlebar Mustache apparel socks, or of course, one of my many fun Primal Wear pairs. For colder weather, SmartWool makes a cycling specific sock that I love as well.
7: A sense of humor. Be able to laugh at yourself at any given time. At your mistakes, your struggles, your low blood sugar induced tantrums, your inability to accurately throw a horseshoe….and always be ready to strike a fun pose!
At the end of the day, what you really need to remember it is all meant to be fun. As John F Kennedy said, “Nothing compares to the simple joy of riding a bicycle.”