Saturday, July 11, 2015

Deer Ramblings

Jason and I went camping at a yurt in Flagstaff this week. Here's a snapshot of my thoughts as I ran into a deer on the trail...
Our humble yurt at the Flagstaff Nordic Center
I can't believe how beautiful it is outsi – oh, shit! That's a deer! Like in the trail, looking at me and way fucking bigger than I imagined, deer. Or is it a moose? Wait, no. I'm from NH – why am I suddenly unable to tell the difference between a moose and a deer? Definitely a deer. He looks pissed, or maybe he just takes his morning walks very seriously and I just fucked it all up for him. Do I turn around? Or is that rude – I don't want the deer to think I am avoiding him, but I also don't want to be trampled to death. Do they even trample? Should I climb one of these trees? What? No. I haven't climbed a tree since I was 10 – so no, I should not climb one of these trees. Those antlers are freaking me out and I'm pretty sure he knows it. I can see the headline now - “Vegan Mountain Biker Gored by a Stern Deer”. How ironic. Or maybe it's a she? No, a female deer probably would have ran. Not that I think women can't hold their own, alright now I'm really an asshole. Maybe if there was another deer here for comparison...

One of the super flowy trails in the Coconino National Forest
I'll just turn around and pick another trail. What if he follows me? No, his legs are so long. It would be a very leisurely pace for him, and without small talk he'd probably get bored. Can I look back? Or will that be seen as an invitation to hang out or fight over something we both think we deserve – like the rights to ride on his turf. No, don't look back. What was that noise – perhaps an oncoming ambush? No, I just ran over a pile of wood chips. Okay – what was THAT noise? More wood chips. What is with all of fucking wood chips?

I can't wait to tell Jason about this encounter once I get back to the yurt. How should I word it – maybe, “I saw a beautiful, serene deer basking in the sunlight in the forest”. Nah, he'll know it's bullshit.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

We All Have Bad Days

“I haven't been able to make it up this since it rained last week – it's all washed out!”, I shouted, out of breath and pissed off. I stopped to watch my husband, Jason, as he effortlessly rolled to the top of the climb. So, I tried it again and bailed halfway up when my rear tire broke traction and I panicked. I stopped to compose myself and drink some water – it wasn't even 10 a.m. and the sun was searing hot – welcome to Arizona. I heard a cyclist behind me and turned around; he made it up and over, no problem at all. Whatever, he had a way nicer bike anyway. Then I noticed a girl coming up the hill, and it happened – I instantly wished she wouldn't clear the climb. Then it wouldn't just be me, right? Wrong. She owned it, and we happened to be riding the exact same bike. Shit. I halfheartedly attempted it a few more times before I gave up and called to Jason that I wanted to head back. I was mad at myself – for my lack of ability to conquer even the simplest obstacle, for my ruthless mental attack on a woman I've never met, and for my willingness to just say, “fuck it” and give up.

As we crossed under a set of power lines, my seat post zapped my thighs with each pedal stroke – awesome. Everything was infuriating – from the patch kit bouncing around in my seat bag to the sports drink that leaked out of my water bottle's cap and drizzled slowly down my calf. I needed something to wake me up, to punch me in the face and yell, “Hey, asshole! Just ride your bike and be happy!”. Then, like an ironic gift from the mountain bike gods, my front wheel came to a dead stop on a downhill section and I wasn't riding anymore. There was an eery moment of silence before I hit the ground, arms outstretched and bike following shortly behind. I opened my eyes, fairly certain that something on my body must be broken. I could feel the tiny rocks ingrained in my knees, and drops of blood peppered my bike's frame. I clumsily stood up and began walking my bike toward the direction of the trailhead, my heart was pounding and I was strangely smiling. Jason kept saying, “Andrea, just let me take the bike.”, but I wouldn't let go. I started walking up the next hill, but stopped on the edge of the trail to sit, or throw up – I wasn't sure. My left thumb was starting to swell and my forearms were covered in road rash but I was so full of adrenaline that it didn't really matter.
A short injury assessment in the shade
We walked together up the hill, and I decided to ride my bike back to the car since it would be faster. I coasted to the parking lot, barely holding on to the handlebar, having to use mostly my right hand. I was starting to shake as I took my front wheel off to load the bike into the car. A guy parked next to us loading his dogs into the back seat said, “Hey, how was your ri – oh, damn! You fell good!”. He proceeded to tell us a story about his most recent over the bars experience, which happened on a motor scooter in front of a crowd of people. I tried to listen, but put most of my efforts into not puking on his shoes. We got into the car, and I sat there, covered in drying blood and with a navy blue thumb; the first words out of my mouth were, “I'm glad that happened, I needed that”.
Smiling, yet also realizing I had to pick pea gravel out of my skin

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

A Saddle Bag Made From Upcycled Materials That Is Actually Durable? Product Review: Green Guru Transition

My first impression: “Damn, that's bright!”. Featuring upcycled fabric and a bright logo, this bag demands a double take. I held the Transition up to my current saddle bag for comparison. I was immediately convinced it wouldn't fit everything; one 29er tube, two tire levers, a multi-tool, and a patch kit. I was wrong; this pack is deceptively spacious (1.7L). I could probably fit a CO2 inflator if I wrapped my spare tube tighter and put the patch kit in a small plastic bag instead of the case it came in. The bag has a larger zippered opening than other seat bags I've used - no more taking out three items just to get to my wedged in muli-tool. 
My packing skills leave much to be desired...
Attaching the bag to the seat rails of my saddle was a little tricky. The Transition uses a tri-glide buckle situated on the underside of the bag, making it difficult to see. A side release buckle would be much easier and faster. The stitching came apart slightly on the end of the webbing after one use, we'll see how it holds up to a few months. Once the bag is attached, the wrap-around strap works really well to cinch it in place. For extra security, there is a hook and loop closure that wraps around the seat post. I went over the bars last weekend, and made quite the scene flailing down the trail. The bag held up great, with not a scratch to the sturdy nylon material.
All snugged up!
Looking to use this for city riding? The door of the bag has a vertical reflective loop that you can also attach a safety light to. Though, the loop would work better for most clip mounted tail lights if it was positioned horizontally.
Low profile design lines up with the back of the saddle
While there a few things I'd change about this bag, it is a great addition to my gear family. It checks off a few boxes that other name brand manufacturers can't – like being handmade in Colorado by a company that supports an enormous recycling initiative.
Taking the Transition for its first day on the trails!

Disclaimer: This saddle bag was provided at no charge for review by Green Guru.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Let's Get Nerdy - Tracking Progress

“I will not become a Stravasshole – I'm doing this for science!”, I said to myself as I started the download on my phone. At this point I was riding at least twice per week, but wasn't tracking distance traveled or even my time spent on the bike. I knew I was getting faster (albeit slowly), but basing my progress solely on how I felt was leaving me unsure of myself. I generally hate numbers, but apparently I find them interesting when they pertain to my mountain biking – self absorbed, I know.

I worked on standing up more to pedal on today's ride. Holy hip flexors!

Today, I decided to make a quick spreadsheet of my mileage, speed and elevation gain from my weekly rides at Papago Park over the past month. Seeing the numbers like this instead of in an calendar activity log makes it easier for me to see the progress. One thing to keep in mind – I did not ride the same route every time and my mileage and speed increases have been minimal, but overall I think this is a great snapshot of my improvements. I can't wait to see what this chart looks like 3 months from now. 

Lots of people make spreadsheets for fun, right?
What do you do to track your progress? 

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Take My Advice

“Look where you want the bike to go.” This is probably the most commonly given mountain biking advice out there. So, why is it so hard to do?

Corners, what a mind fuck. I'm entering a turn and looking at the apex, then all of a sudden I'm in the apex and staring straight down – or more likely at a trail-side cactus that's calling to me like a desert siren. I have vowed to stop this compulsion, but it's easier said than done. It's not just corners for me; hill climbs also like to play games with my head. Motivation turns to frustration as my eyes slowly shift from 20 feet ahead to two. My eyes focus on the trail surface and within seconds I'm obsessing over rear wheel traction and front wheel tracking. I'm zigging and zagging back and forth and somehow manage to hit every rock on the trail.

One of the mini climbs at Papago Park in Tempe, AZ
Today was hill repeat day, and I paused at the bottom of the climb to reaffirm my game plan – look ahead. I dropped down into my easiest gear and started pedaling, with my gaze fixed on a spot about 15 feet ahead of me. I slowly crept up the hill, spinning and staring, spinning and staring. A few times I caught myself starting to look down at my front tire and quickly picked my head back up. It was a strange feeling, everything in my peripheral vision became blurred and I locked my eyes on the crest of the climb. The bike was doing all of the work, I was just turning the pedals. Did I discover some sort of secret? Thinking this must have been a fluke or an out of body episode, I circled back around to the bottom of the hill. Again, I kept my focus and ascending felt like floating. I reached the top, in awe of how much my perceived effort of that climb had changed. I used the same bike, same gear and same cadence that I use every week, but my experience was totally different. Usually I stop to catch my breath, then look down at the beast I just slayed, and pedal off with a smirk. Sometimes, I sit down and try to calm my seemingly uncontrollable breathing. Today, I just kept pedaling.

Corners – you're next.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

"I Hate Climbing", and Other Excuses of A Mountain Biker

“Sorry.”, I said as my foot slipped off the pedal during a small hill climb. And again as I slowed to a halt on a switchback corner, “Sorry”. If you have ever been behind me on a group ride, chances are you've heard me say this word many times. I say it instinctively, as if to shield myself from criticism or condemnation, to ward off the attack that never comes. Newsflash: the person riding behind you probably doesn't care that you currently suck at climbing/descending/cornering. My husband, Jason, used to ride behind me on climbs; listening to my constant apologies really bothered him. Not because I was slow or had to stop a few times, but because I felt the need to keep telling him I was sorry. I believe, “Dude, I don't care.” was his exact sentiment. Now, he goes ahead on the climbs to avoid my self-defeating hill climb monologues. I still lead on the descents, which are my strength, but my mind is fixated on those sections of trail where I come undone. I'm tired of sucking at climbing, and also tired of invariably announcing it. 

Target Acquired
So, I've decided to take action; I am on a mission to turn myself into a great climber. The first step was figuring out why I hate climbing so much. The answer - because I suck at it. Why is that? Because I avoid it at all costs, in my head I have made hills out to be some unconquerable behemoth, something to never face. The second step – removing my clipless pedals from my bike and switching back to flats. Don't worry, I'm not moving over to the Flats or Die camp (yet), but clipless pedals were not helping me learn to climb. Any time I would slow down or approach a technical section, my right foot would unclip and be on the ground without me even realizing it – another bad habit. Going back to flat pedals is like learning to mountain bike all over again, the right way, relying on body position and smooth pedal stroke.

Taking a Break and Enjoying the View
Step 3 – hill repeats, several times per week at a small park. The hills are short and rocky and perfect for a short training session after work. If my foot hits the ground during a climb, I start all over again at the bottom. While challenging, and often frustrating, this has actually started to be fun. One day, I realized at the end of an hour and a half of riding that my bank card fell out of my pack somewhere on the trails. I retraced my entire ride trying to find it, and I made it up every climb on the first try. I thought, “Why can't I ride like this all of the time?”. It turns out, I can. I just have to focus on the crest of the climb, and not all of the rocks, which are just distractions along the way. So, what am I so sorry for? Sorry for showing up, trying my hardest, testing my limits, or facing my fears? These are not things to be sorry for; these are things to be celebrated. 

Yes, this is me smiling AFTER a climb!

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

I had a great opportunity to take a skills clinic with Kat Sweet in January. Check out my review of the class on Dirty Jane