Reluctant roadie plays in the dirt

Yesterday was another “first” for me in my athletic career. I participated in my first mountain bike race and survived, with minimal damage. The 2016 “12 Hours of Fury (THOF)” is now but a distant, slightly painful memory and resulted in a surprise 3rd place showing by my 4-girl team!

Earlier in the summer, I decided to register for the THOF and thought that that would inspire me to ride more. Well, between day job and night job, there wasn’t much time for anything else, let alone mountain biking. I managed to pre-ride the race course twice this past week….which ended up being my “training” for the actual race. The objective of THOF is to ride as many loops as possible within 12 hours. The race started at 10am and ended at 10pm. Each loop is 15 miles long [N.B. Locals, THOF was at McDowell Mountain Regional Park and the loop is made up of sections of the Shallmo, Pemberton, Granite, Lariat, and Escondido trails. Click on this link for more race details.] There were different categories: solo, duo, quad (4 person team), solo single-speed (SS), duo SS, etc. The course itself isn’t difficult, as it is relatively smooth single track and does not feature excessive climbing. Miles 1-6 were a steady, gentle uphill that gave way to a fast, flowy downhill section between miles 6-9, followed by a roller coaster up and down section between miles 9-15. My team completed 7 laps to secure 3rd place. All of us were first-time racers and 1 of us had never ridden at night before, so this race was a milestone for everyone.

I was the first on my team to ride, so I got to experience the “mass start.”

(Left: just before the start of the race; Right: my race number!)

All competitors gathered at the start and on the word “go,” started pedaling. It was pretty slow at the beginning because there were so many people; the first mile was like one long bike caravan. All those bikers and no recent rain resulted in a very dusty day. Pretty soon, riders started to spread out according to speed and I started to hear some words that became somewhat familiar over the rest of my first lap: “on your left….when it’s safe, I’d like to pass.” [Those words were my indication that I was not the fastest rider on the trail.] About 2/3 of the way into my first lap, I fell. I misjudged a corner, skidded on some sand, and landed on my right arm and right hip. [N.B. When I called my SAT after I finished my first lap to tell him about my fall, the first thing he asked was “did you hurt your bike?” Uh, thanks for asking how I’m doing. For you newer readers, “SAT” stands for “self-appointed trainer,” aka husband.] I now have some impressive bruises and road rash. If it weren’t for my fall, I would have earned myself a PR (personal record) for doing the 15 mile loop. (I had ridden the course twice in the past week, and was aiming to beat the time I set on my second pre-race ride.)

When I was done my first lap, I had a long time to hang out before riding my second lap, as the rest of my team had to do their respective first laps. Here’s a picture of my team during the rubber ducky handoff between our 2nd and 3rd riders (all duo and quad teams had to pass a rubber ducky from the finishing rider to the next rider):

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(From left to right: Meg, Hailey, me, Alana. Meg, our 3rd rider, had just finished her first lap and was handing the rubber ducky to Hailey, our 4th rider.)

So, what do riders do in between their laps? In no particular order, hang out, eat, and drink beer. The whole atmosphere was like a festival, with lots of people, high spirits, and frequent updates via PA system regarding which rider was approaching the finish line. There were also a handful of vendors onsite that riders could visit, such as a coffee bar, energy bar stand, and hot dog stand. I got to chat with some other riders on our collective team, San Tan Racers, as well as hydrate and eat some junk food (I worked hard for that privilege!). I’d also check on the status of our other San Tan riders. Eventually, it was time for my 2nd lap. Because sunset was around 5:30pm and because I knew I would be starting my 2nd lap around 4:30pm, based on what I knew about Hailey’s average speed, I got my bike lights attached to my bike and helmet, drank more water, and ate more food. My goals for my 2nd lap were: 1) don’t fall, and 2) beat my 1st lap time. Despite the darkness for the last 5 miles, I achieved both goals. Hooray!

As mentioned at the beginning of the post, the biggest surprise was the news that we got third place in our category (women’s quad team). Not only did we get to stand on the podium, we all won special race beer glasses! That beer glass is probably my most valuable piece of kitchenware in terms of expended effort, aka blood, sweat, and tears. Here we are on the podium:

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And here is a pic of my hard-earned glass:

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A lot of people elected to camp onsite this weekend, but I didn’t want to bother with packing camping gear AND biking gear, so I chose to drive home after the awards ceremony. As a result, I didn’t get home until close to midnight, tired, dusty, sweaty, and triumphant. Just kidding. I’m glad I survived. I would say that my first bike race was positive and that it was a good experience. Would I do another one? I’m not sure. If you were to ask my SAT, he would say “yes, most definitely.” But then again, this is MY blog, so I get the last word. ūüôā

Random thought of the day

We went for a bike ride this morning and climbed South Mountain. Total distance was 35 miles and total elevation was about 2100 feet. The South Mountain climb is not as difficult as cycling the Red Rock Scenic Loop¬†(that was my first ride on my road bike!), but when you’re out of shape, climbing up a mountain on a bike gives you plenty of opportunities to count your gasps and to entertain random thoughts.

Speaking of out of shape, here’s a random thought: most road cyclists, or “roadies,” wear kits when riding their bikes. A kit is a¬†cycling outfit that includes shorts or bib shorts, a jersey, and accessories¬†(i.e. socks, shoes, and a cap). Many athletes like to dress to impress, and cyclists are no exception. The truly committed¬†coordinate their kits with their bikes. Kit material tends to be stretchy, like spandex, and are typically made out of some fancy material that wicks away sweat. Wearing a kit can be considered more daunting than riding a bike because that form fitting outfit reveals EVERYTHING. [N.B. I believe that buying and wearing one’s first kit is like a cycling initiation rite, of sorts.] In fact, wearing a kit is rather like wearing your underwear in public….kind of like wearing Spanx in public. Why Spanx? Because the form-fittedness of the kit sucks all the loose jiggly bits closer to the body. Take a look:

(The first 2 photos are of a Spanx tank top and shorts. Both items are supposed to be worn underneath regular clothing. The photo on the far right is me on my first road bike ride [Red Rock Loop]. Note the form fitting kit. I am not happy in the picture because riding the Red Rock loop was really challenging for a beginner. Guess whose idea it was to ride the loop for my inaugural road bike ride?? My shoes that day were regular old running shoes and not the fancy clip-in shoes; the idea of being clipped into my pedals horrified and terrified me.)

In conclusion, if I ever want to feel tight, toned, and tucked in, all I have to do is wear my cycling “Spanx,” i.e. kit, and all will be hidden and camouflaged.

It’s autumn in AZ….at least according to the calendar.

Dear readers, I confess that I have neglected this blog. Why? Because I haven’t had any grand adventures to share with you. Since my last post, I’ve done a few “outdoorsy” things, such as sharing a lovely camping weekend with friends (we ate and lounged for the entire weekend. The only exercise I did was raise my fork to my mouth!) and going for a few local bike rides. Work has been rather intense lately and my boy choir has started up again, so that’s also been taking up time. However, I have a couple of events coming up in November that will hopefully inspire me to DO SOMETHING BIG. The first event is my first bike race! Well, technically, my 4-girl team is doing this race more for fun than for any racing glory. The “12 Hours of Fury” race consists of solo riders and teams riding a 15 mile loop. The most number of laps completed during the 12 hours wins! I plan on doing a wee bit more bike riding between now and November 19.

The other event coming up is an idea I had while talking with my SAT (that’s “self-appointed trainer,” a.k.a. wheel addict husband) yesterday. Here in Phoenix, there is such a thing as one trail system connecting the various regional parks in the metro area. That trail system is called the Maricopa Trail and most of it is completed. The trail is open to recreational users, like hikers and cyclists. The main trail is currently 242 miles long, according to Wikipedia; if one decides to explore the “spur” trails off of the main Maricopa Trail, that will add distance onto the 242 miles. Anyways, my idea is to bike pack the entire Maricopa (main) Trail in one weekend, probably Thanksgiving weekend (this date could change!). This self-appointed event would give me a training goal and an opportunity to DO SOMETHING BIG. Also, I like the fact that my SAT and I could do this starting from home without having to drive to a specific starting point. (Yes, my SAT will be doing this with me. Who else would carry all the bike packing gear?)

The last thing I wanted to share with you is that I will have my first guest post very very soon. This guest will share details from his recent crazy ultra epic bikepacking race that crossed Nevada, affectionately known as the Trans Nevada Trail, the TNT, or “the race across Nevada that almost killed me.” The official name is the Comstock Epic. Stay tuned!

“That is a luxury. We can’t take it.”

This past weekend, my SAT (“self-appointed trainer”) and I joined a few other novice bikepackers to camp on the Mogollan¬†¬†Rim. The Rim, as it is more commonly and easily known because NO ONE knows how to pronounce “Mogollan,” sits at around 7500 feet elevation, which results in perfect summer temperatures of 80-85f. Phoenix, in comparison, is averaging 107-110f everyday….

“Mogollan” can be pronounced “muggy-own,” “mo-GOY-an,” and “mug-goy-OWN.” However you say it, the Rim is gorgeous. It is easily accessed via the small communities of Payson, Strawberry, and Pine on the west side (the way we drove). Drive time was about 2.5 hours from Phoenix to the Forest Road 300 trailhead, including one bathroom break.

Let me say a few things about the preparation for this trip before I get into the details of the actual trip. Because this trip was our first bikepacking ¬†trip, we didn’t really know what to bring. Although we have backpacked a few times, bikepacking ¬†is a little different. Most of your gear is in bags that are attached to your bike. So, in addition to the usual camping gear (tent, sleeping bags, sleeping pads, clothes), you have to bring bike stuff like spare tubes, lubricants, pump, etc. Let’s not forget food and water and a stove to cook the food.

The night before the trip, we were up late trying to cram whatever we thought we needed into our bike bags….or, rather, my SAT’s bike bags. He has the full bikepacking setup because he will be doing a weeklong bikepacking race next month. I do not have any setup. My bike frame is too small to accommodate m(any) bags, so my plan was to let my SAT carry all of our gear. Hey, he has to train and I am happy to help!

As we were picking and choosing what items to bring, I kept hearing my SAT say that we are not going to bring a stove because that’s a luxury….not going to cook….that means no coffee…camp towel is a luxury so no….no cokes or chocolate….Meanwhile, I’m thinking, how¬†fun will this trip be without “treat” food and drinks? The moratorium on luxuries would make us a little sad at dinner the next day….

The next morning, we met up with the other riders at McDowell Mountain Cycles in Fountain Hills, just north of Scottsdale, AZ. After going through the introductions and arranging carpools, we were off. A couple of hours later, we were ready to roll.

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(Before we got covered in dust.)

Our plan was to ride along Forest Road 300, aka Rim Road, to Knoll Lake campground. That was a distance of about 30 miles with approximately 2500 feet climbing. I quite enjoyed the descents as they were really fast. The climbs? Well, anyone who knows me on the bike knows that I don’t tend to talk much on climbs. I don’t like to waste oxygen talking when I need to BREATHE. The whole ride was very beautiful with gorgeous views of the valley, perfect temperature, and good company. We got pretty dusty from the vehicles passing us both ways, but decided to remedy that when we got to the campground and lake.

(Clockwise from top left: enjoying the view; my SAT on the left loaded down like a pack mule; at the turnoff for Knoll Lake campground; Rob and Gary pedaling away.)

Knoll Lake campground is on a first come first serve basis. When we arrived, we thought that all of the campsites were full because there were white slips of paper attached to the numbered campsite posts. Those slips of paper were actually informational papers, not campsite reservations. We scored a campsite near the bathroom and water spigot. Easy access! After setting up camp, which ranged from bivy sacks to our 3 person tent, we ride down to the lake and had a refreshing swim. That felt AMAZING. The water wasn’t too cold at all. Well, the water wasn’t too cold for all of us, except for my SAT, who complained about how “my feet feel cold and I don’t need to get in the water” (except he was wistfully gazing at the rest of us enjoying ourselves in the water) and “it still feels cold.” I told him that the water felt SO refreshing and wow, I didn’t think you were such a baby and didn’t you swim competitively as a kid? He finally took the plunge – literally – and swam to the other side of the lake and back. (The other side of the lake was about 60-70 metres by my SAT’s estimation.)

(Our campsite, bikes, and Gary’s “Christmas tree” clothes drying rack.)

Side note: neither my SAT not I brought swimsuits. That’s right, they were deemed luxuries. I went into the water in my cycling clothes and my SAT dove in wearing only his underwear (when he FINALLY went into the water).

(Enjoying the water and getting all that dust off!)

Back to camp. Dinner was highly anticipated by all, except us (remember the “no luxuries” motto?). Everyone else had a little stove of some sort, from a JetBoil to an ultra tiny, ultra light folding camping stove like this. They all had soup or pad thai or quinoa for dinner. We had peanut butter and honey sandwiches. But wait!¬†As we were munching away on our less-than-gourmet sandwiches, our campsite neighbor walked over bearing 2 freshly caught and cooked trout. “Hello! We can’t finish these, but we thought y’all could use them!” They were traveling from Alabama and were just so gracious (and apparently felt sorry for the bedraggled looking bikers.) We happily accepted the trout and wow, they tasted great!

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(I will happily violate my vegetarian leanings when someone offers me this.)

The next morning, we all enjoyed camp coffee and oatmeal, except us. We had a few biscuits and more peanut butter and honey sandwiches. My SAT really missed his morning coffee….I think he will allow us some luxuries next time.

Ian, my SAT, and I left camp earlier than the others because we were already packed up and the others hadn’t started doing so. We ride back the way we came, arriving back at the trailhead in under 3 hours with many great memories, loads of dust, and one lesson learned: luxuries may actually be necessities in order to have a more enjoyable camping experience.

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(I was tired.)

 

Let’s do something different

This is not a blog post about any sort of bike ride. Keep reading though….!

A couple of days ago, a few work friends and I spontaneously decided to check out the Flagstaff Extreme Adventure Course. This is something I’ve wanted to do for the past year, ever since I learned about it during a random internet search. The adventure course is essentially an obstacle course that is ¬†suspended in the trees. You have to wear a harness and clip yourself into the cables that run all along the course at all times. Safety first! There are 5 courses that progress in difficulty and you are not allowed to continue to the next course until you finish the previous one. At the end of each course, you get to zip line to the next (that was my favorite part because, well, no effort was involved!).

When I say “no effort,” I mean no effort. Zip lining was definitely the easiest and most fun part of the course. Just clip yourself to the steel cable zip line, step off of the platform, and go! The rest of the course required a considerable amount of upper body and core strength, as well as a head for heights. Anyone with a fear of heights would probably not enjoy this adventure course. For instance:

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(Zip lining to the next course. This was super fun!)

What are some other types of obstacles? Well, take a look:

(Clockwise from top left: Connor demonstrating the “no legs” technique on the rope swing; wooden “pogo stick” steps; rock climbing wall; Lindsey navigating the wobbly wooden beams.)

I would definitely do this again….after my arms and core recover….seriously though, I had a great time and would love to take any out-of-town friends here. ūüôā ¬†This was a really fun day at higher altitude with good company and a nice change from biking. If you’re in the Flagstaff area, check out the adventure course!

What have I done?

Today marks two straight weeks of riding my bike every morning.

For those who know me, you should indeed find that fact astounding because 1) I have to ride my bike in the MORNING, before work, very early due to the desert heat, 2) I am NOT a “morning person,” and 3) riding my bike is not without effort for me, even after accomplishing the purpose of this blog and gaining all that cycling experience. It has admittedly been difficult to get up some mornings the past two weeks knowing that the third thing I was going to do (the first thing being go to the bathroom and the second thing being eating breakfast) was place my posterior on my saddle and pedal my lethargic body some miles somewhere.

However, I want to lose the pounds I gained while working my day job and get back into shape. Or, get back some of the shape I used to be in….or something like that.

So, my dear “self-appointed trainer” (SAT) enthusiastically and too quickly suggested I start riding my bike each morning with him. The dialogue went something like this:

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SAT: “So it’s summer now and I know you want to get back into shape. The only good time to get out and exercise is the morning because that’s the coolest part of the day. Let’s ride our bikes together each morning!!!! [insert his maniacal laughter at suggesting this “brilliant” idea]

Me: “–urgh–grunt–”

SAT: “It’ll be so great. You’ll get SO STRONG in NO TIME. Think of how awesome this will be!!!!”

Me: “–gs#$98d–meh–blurgh–”

SAT: “It’s settled. We’ll start tomorrow. Let’s not be too ambitious this week. Let’s sleep in a bit, maybe get up around 5:30am, then start riding around 6am. That should allow you to get used to the schedule.”

Me: “–hiss–”

SAT: “After 3 weeks, your body should be fully adjusted! You’ll feel awesome!!!!”

Me: “–whimper–”

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Another small motivational factor in this new riding regime is the fact that I am now part of a cycling team. Ok, so the “cycling team” is really more of a “social club,” but members have the option of entering whatever cycling races — road bike races or mountain bike races — suits his or her fancy. I decided reluctantly (in keeping with the name of my blog) to enter my first team race in November. It’s a 12 hour mountain bike race and before anyone gets too excited, no, I am not going to be riding my mountain bike for 12 hours. I am not stupid. I will be part of a 4 person (women’s) team and we will all take turns riding a pre-determined loop. The team that rides the most number of loops, or laps, wins!

I don’t want to be the “weakest link” on my team, so I’ll do my best to stick to a regular “training plan.” I’m not certain if I’m feeling stronger yet….I don’t feel “awesome” [you LIED to me, SAT!], but getting regular exercise hasn’t been scientifically proven to harm anyone….yet. So, I will carry on.

I hope to update again soon with some mountain bike stories and pictures. In the meantime, I will leave you all with a couple of pictures from this morning’s mountain bike ride. The first is of a pretty cactus in bloom and the second is of a gila monster¬†(they’re rarely spotted, so seeing one in person was cool!).