Friday, February 4, 2022

Bike Decathlon: It's the New Gravel Triathlon

Have I written any kind of real update here in months? No. Does what I'm about to write fit with the themes of any of my previous writing? No. I just felt like writing this, and I thought I'd share.


Earlier this afternoon, Frank casually mentioned something about a guy wanting to buy a triathlon bike and a trail bike at the same time. Since I had recently heard that gravel triathlon is now a thing, my mind jumped to the question, "What, is he doing some kind of all bike triathlon or something?" 

Actually, that sounds kind of fun. All you have to do is find a mountain bike trailhead with a 5-6 mile cross country loop, plenty of open grass near the parking to fit a cyclocross course, and pavement leading in and out for the road bike time trial. Oh, and just because you *could* do the entire thing on a cyclocross bike doesn't mean you're allowed to. 

Okay, maybe it's still only fun for the participants, but only if they're very fit people with enough disposable income to afford three bikes. At first, I imagined it would be a logistical nightmare for promoters, but then I thought of at least three locations where an event like this could happen and realized it was more feasible than I initially thought. Plus, just think of how much the very fit people with enough disposable income to afford three bikes would be willing to pay in entry fees for an event that lets them race ALL THREE BIKES IN ONE RACE!!! 

Hey, but I'm not one to kink shame. I recently paid $133.44 to race for 5-10 minutes in Tennessee in February on a bike that I haven't ridden since October and that I probably won't ride until two days before the said race. I'd love to tell you how it's actually totally worth it at some point, but for now, we must focus on the evolution of USA All Bike Multisport®.

But what about us not-so-fit and easily bored people with enough disposable income to afford n+1 bikes? To become a financially sustainable organization, USA All Bike Multisport® must find a way to retain the membership fees of this key demographic, who've tried All Bike Triathon®, but that it doesn't fully represent their skillset. Luckily, when we look to our brethren who govern the sport of Track and Field for precedent, we find the decathlon. Moving the acceptable number of events in a single sport that can become one event to 10 opens up a whole new world of possibilities.

Therefore, as the founder of USA All Bike Multisport®, I present our newest national championship titles: USA All Bike Decathlon National Champion®. Also, as the founder of USA All Bike Multisport®, I'm hoping to finally capture my first stars and stripes jersey as the women's age 42-43 Cat 2 USA All Bike Decathlon National Champion®. 

The USA All Bike Multisport® USA All Bike Decathlon National Championships® will be held September 24, 2023 (pending rain) at Major Taylor Velodrome in Indianapolis, IN. Entry fees are as follows:

Pros: One can of Red Bull

Adults: $1297 

Juniors: $2597 

Obsessive Non-racing Parents of Juniors: $5227 (fee to enter premises)

Cat 2 Women Racing Age 42-43: 1 MILLION DOLLARS

*USA All Bike Multisport® membership required


If you're interested in becoming a USA All Bike Decathlon National Champion®, please register using USA All Bike Multisport®'s propriety registration tool. Remember, the 2011-era UX is paid for with your membership dollars!

 I look forward to seeing you this summer (unless you are a Cat 2 woman racing age 42 or 43)!

Friday, August 13, 2021

Downhill Southeast 2021: The Geriatric Millennial Rises Again


Despite my return to racing this season, I still haven't been great at returning to blogging. Of the four races I have completed in 2021, I've only written about one, and that was six weeks after the fact. The second was simply not worthy of a stand-alone post, and the last two were a mere week apart, during which Frank and I were living out of our van in Boone, NC. Just like that, the 2021 Downhill Southeast series was complete, and I was left pondering how I would sum it up. After some reflection, the answer I found was surprising.

After my second-place debut at Massanutten, I viewed the pre-reg list for Snowshoe with confidence. Two of the women registered for Snowshoe had failed to start at Massanutten, and the other had been a couple of minutes behind me in third. Plus, hard rain was forecast for the weekend, and I thought my previous muddy Snowshoe experience would work to my advantage. 

It didn't. What I'd forgotten about my past muddy enduros at Snowshoe was that they scared the crap out of me. I had still been able to soldier on, focusing on steady, non-aggressive riding that minimized mistakes, including walking to avoid crashing when necessary. That approach worked over five stages and ~45 minutes of riding. At the end of my single downhill run at Snowshoe, I found that the approach had landed me DFL instead. I was upset when I saw the results, but my new "chill" attitude towards racing allowed me to almost forget about that by the time we finished the ~15-minute lift back to the village.

It hurt a lot more a few weeks later when I found myself DFL out of 10 racers a few weeks later at Windrock. Not only was I last, but I was last by a lot. I'd had an issue when I rode high onto a banked turn to let a faster woman pass me, but I lost traction in the loose dirt and fell down the slope into her. We both lost time as we untangled our bikes, and it was probably more for me as I encouraged her to stop asking if I was okay and keep racing. Even with that premade excuse, I did BAD. I couldn't believe I'd placed that poorly out everyone, including several first-time racers. I'd actually been passed by the girl 30 seconds back only to watch her walk technical sections in front of me that I was able to ride, yet somehow she kept putting time on me everywhere except for the most butt-rubbingly steep parts of the course. Like, seriously, how did no one do worse than me?

I almost felt the urge to be disappointed in myself for not being more publicly distressed about my results. Like, if I wasn't an asshole about placing poorly, maybe I didn't care enough. It's true; I even shared toilet paper with my competition before the race. I've definitely gone soft. I suppose the sarcastically radical self-acceptance of the above Facebook post after the Windrock was just a minor pressure release for my true feelings. My 25-year-old self's worst nightmare would be seeing myself at 40, getting last place, and pretending that I was "just there to have fun" while also low-key using my age as an excuse for my performance. I also tried very hard to make sure everyone in my category knew I had broken my back last year to feel heroic instead of just dumpster.

I realized that since turning 40, I had begun using my age as an excuse the same way I used to blame my lack of natural talent when it came to race results. As I learned regarding natural talent, although I might not immediately be good at something skills-based, I could always get better than I was. Downhill is undoubtedly a young woman's game. However, I expect I still have a few years left before my myelination decreases and my fear of mortality increases to meet in my inevitable plateau. 

Going into the finale' at Sugar Mountain, it became clear that I had miscalculated my forks for the season. To protect myself from being too upset if I did badly during my first downhill season, I had put almost zero effort into getting better between races. I pretty much admitted that after the first race, but I took it too far, barely riding or improving my fitness at all over the summer. I think a tiny part of me wanted to find out if I might be decent without trying, but with every other physical endeavor of my life, that was not the case. While there was little I could do to improve my skills or fitness in less than a week, I made the commitment to myself that I would start caring again.

I still needed to pull it together for Sugar, though, as the one consolation prize I still had on the line for the season was the overall series title. I was set to be the only single crown woman who did all four races. However, my two last-place finishes had let a couple of women with fewer races get within striking distance for the final event. 

Sugar was the first course of the year that I actually enjoyed. Once I rode through slowly on my first lap to check out the track, I was confident and even found some flow in my practice laps. However, it rained during the night and throughout race day to take the course from dry and loose to slick. I struggled a bit in the wetter, more technical parts at the top but still felt good on the bottom half of my practice lap the morning of the race. 

I got a good starting place for the race. I was third to start out of the 12 women in my class. The first started with the single crown men so she could finish and get back up to race 2/3 open, as well. Then it was two minutes until the rest of us started, beginning with the woman who would eventually win by nearly a minute and a half. I definitely didn't have to worry about her slowing me down. The woman thirty seconds back from had beaten me at Windrock, but she hadn't looked particularly fast in practice. I made it my goal not to let her catch me before the finish. 

My run was clean save a little tripoding, which is expected in those conditions. I waited at the finish to see that I had not only made it without being caught, but I'd put extra time into the woman 30 seconds back. I ended up 8th out of 12, which is definitively not last, and only 42 seconds separated 2nd-8th, meaning it was the tightest racing our class had seen that season. I would have loved to have made it to the top half, but it was still a nice uptick in my results to end the season.

I quickly did the math, and I saw that I was tied for the series lead. The website didn't say how they would break the tie, but I figured it wouldn't fall in my favor. As they began giving away the awards, they announced other ties that they had resolved based on who did better in the final race. With the other woman's second and my eighth, I realized that I'd lost the series championship by a mere second in the last race. 

It was stupid to be disappointed in not winning a series where I hadn't really done well all season. However, as I had predicted at the beginning of the season, just getting myself to the finish line of four races this season was a massive challenge for me. Frankly, no other woman in my category had accomplished the same challenge. 

When I got home, I put my second-place series plaque next to the trophy I'd received for winning the MASS Enduro Series in a similar fashion in 2016. How ironic that I'd been borderline mad and embarrassed to win what was essentially a participation trophy in 2016 to being disappointed to getting an inferior participation trophy in 2021. That is such a millennial reaction for me. More specifically, it was such a geriatric millennial reaction of me.

The path I've traveled since I began dabbling in gravity racing five years ago hasn't been easy, but it's been the most satisfying I've had since I started riding bikes in 2003. I've learned that downhill is its own brand of Type II fun that is entirely different from enduro. I was afraid to fully invest myself this season, but now that I understand what I've gotten myself into, I actually want more. My sixth major reinvention as a cyclist may not seem like a rational choice, but let me enjoy my rose-golden years in peace.

My new downhill bike arrived just a few hours after we return from North Carolina, and I signed up for the Fit4Riding program the next day, so I'll be less tired and sloppy in my races next season. There's still plenty of time left for bike park days before winter, and I plan to, in the words of Josh Prater, maximize. 

It's still unclear which coast I'll be on next season, but Downhill Southeast or Northwest Cup, I'm looking forward to more downhill racing.

Thursday, June 3, 2021

Trust Your Talent; Manage Your Forks

So sorry for everything 
You know I really wanted it to work out 
I put the blame on everybody 
Was incapable of not being stressed out 

I, I wanted to move on 
But I, I kept writing the same songs 

Now that everything's burned down 
I can put it all to bed 
If only I could make sense of it 
When it's swirling in my head 
I'm so sick of being proud 
And I've got nothing left to say 
Guess I'm really still the best at 
Getting in my own way

I started my first corporate job and completed my first downhill race the same week. The old me would not have let either of these events go nearly six weeks without blogging about them, but the last couple of years have changed me a lot. I sat down to blog about the race when the pictures came out, but I quickly decided that this Instagram post was a sufficient public race report.

I religiously posted reports of all my races from 2007 through my last race in 2018. Race reports were then replaced with reports on my bilateral mastectomy, breast reconstruction, and recovery in early 2019. I never planned to take two full seasons off from racing, but the universe, as well as Frank's and my bones, had other ideas. I also never expected that when we raced again, we'd bring along two dogs in our camper van, but such is life. The person I've become is the mom of a stinky 11.6-pound Ewok dog who I am always trying to kiss on the lips.

I've often bemoaned my lack of work/bike balance in the few posts that I've written since the end of 2018, but I think the change in jobs was necessary for me to actually start doing something about it. When I look back at the trajectory of my bike career and my work career during my seven years of employment at Penn State, a clear pattern emerges. 

I took the job at Penn State and moved to State College expecting that I would be there 1-2 years while Frank completed his Ph.D. and looked for a permanent teaching job elsewhere. It was awesome at first because it was a significant increase in pay over IU, a more relaxed work environment, a well-balanced team, and a gifted supervisor who I respected immensely. I flourished in my new role even though I theoretically didn't care about work that much since I saw the job as temporary. 

However, by the summer of 2016, Frank and I were still in State College with no real prospects of leaving. Despite "not caring" about my job, I had continued to take on additional responsibility and earn the praise of those above me on the org chart. I was rewarded with an unexpected job reclassification that came with a 10% raise. Looking back, that is when my "not caring" about work subtly pivoted to chasing my new high of professional achievement. 

The change wasn't that noticeable at first, and I still managed to complete the Wilderness 101 that summer using fitness that I can accumulate when I still had a healthy relationship with my job. 2017 saw my big dreams at work start to outpace the power of my role, which led to disappointment and conflict with my supervisor, while bike success came easily during my first season racing the West Virginia Enduro Series. In 2018, I spent my weekends checking parks off of my MTB Parks Pass and sometimes making time to race enduro in between. However, my weekdays were filled with increasing anxiety as I watched my supervisor play a key role in our organization's transformation, and I couldn't ever seem to do or say the right thing to get her to include me in her plans. The breaking point came when my mastectomy surgery and subsequent return to work coincided with her prolonged and painful transition to a central role outside of our department. Despite the positive changes that my next supervisor and I made in our department after she left, the next two years were filled with a long series of dead ends for my career at Penn State. 

Early in the pandemic, it became clear that remote work was here to stay, and I realized that I was no longer limited to the options available in whatever college town I happened to live in at the time. I'd always been a bit afraid of private-sector jobs because of the supposed longer work hours and lower benefits compared to university jobs. However, as I began looking into remote private-sector jobs, I found that those stereotypes were far from being true across the board. Plus, in my last couple of years at Penn State, I was putting in the corporate-level effort, so I figured it was time to try and get corporate-level pay. I eventually got serious about searching for the right remote job at a higher-ed related technology company, and an offer finally came through at the end of March. I'm nearing the end of my sixth week, and so far, I am thrilled with my decision.

An appropriate start to my second bike racing career.

It was a happy coincidence that the Downhill Southeast season opener at Massanutten took place at the end of my first week at my new job. The course was more challenging than expected, and I was more rusty and timid than expected. However, I gave myself a lot of grace since the last time I got on a chairlift, I left in an ambulance. I never had a clean run of the course in practice and felt very physically fatigued due to my lack of fitness. It took a certain amount of force of will just to get myself into the starting gate, and once I did, I walked an 18-inch drop and crashed three times during my race run. I still managed to get second place based on my ability to complete the race run with no significant injuries and a timing chip attached to my bike. I didn't get a podium picture because they did awards immediately after each category finish, and neither Frank nor I had our phones on us. None of that mattered, though, because I FINALLY RACED MY FORKIN' BIKE AFTER 2.5 YEARS OFF!!!

Speaking of forks, it was nice to finally give some about bikes again. What I've come to realize in the weeks since my rebirth as a #professionalslashbikeracer is the beautiful coincidence of embracing a new job and a new bike discipline at the same time. I've decided to make the Downhill Southeast series the primary focus for my racing this summer. This decision is not because I imagine myself to be a budding downhill star, but because a four-race downhill series requires the ideal number of bike-related forks to optimize my mental health right now. It requires me to show up and give just a little effort when I might otherwise spend all weekend on the couch playing Fishdom. I don't need to "train" or really do anything other than show up, do practice laps, then eventually do a race run. However, the satisfaction of completing these tasks will help me rebuild my motivation around my bike and my body so that I can slowly become less of a depressed workaholic. 

In turn, pulling my bike-related forks up from rock bottom has enlightened me on keeping my work-related forks in check. Part of the reason that I was excited about my new job was the novelty of finding a job posting for a Marketing Business Analyst when I was pretty sure that it was just a job I had made up for myself at Penn State. I was motivated by the fact that my new company was advertising for someone to fill a role that I'd cobbled together based on process gaps I'd observed in my previous job. They were motivated because I had direct experience doing the thing that they wanted someone to do. It was a rare and serendipitous match. However, as I began the job, I was a bit anxious and frustrated that I couldn't pick up exactly where I left off when the new job was similar to the old one. 

It was a similar job, but not the same job. I didn't have seven years of institutional knowledge, established relationships with my coworkers, or access to the information and systems I was used to. I eventually realized it was similar to transitioning from enduro to downhill racing after 2.5 years of no racing in between. 

For the first time in either my bike or work career, I showed up with confidence in my foundational abilities, even if I wasn't ready to perform at my top level yet. I learned from racing enduro that even if I sometimes got frustrated with the pace of my progression, practicing going downhill fast and the skills related to it will lead to improvement in a much more direct way than I ever saw in the fitness-centric disciplines I'd raced previously. From this experience, I know that I'll be better at downhill racing by the end of the season just from doing more bike park days and completing the races. I'll actually probably improve faster if I don't try too hard. I feel like my new job might be the same. Rather than working too hard to force an outcome that I think I want, I need to just do what I'm good at and see what happens. I'm at peace with the fact that I probably won't see a category upgrade or a promotion for a while, but I know that I have what it takes to achieve both eventually.

In my previous bike racing career, I struggled to balance my forks given with my talent, but I also discovered that I have more gravity racing talent than I initially thought. Working at Penn State revealed talent that I never knew I had and inspired me to work harder than ever before. Unfortunately, I fell into the trap of thinking that more forks would bring me more success, but it mostly just left me with no forks left for biking racing and little to show for it. It turns out that in both gravity racing and communication/soft skill heavy jobs, too many forks can lead to crashes. 

Now that I've been given a second chance at both, I'm embracing the mantra of "Trust your talent; manage your forks." I'm stuck with the amount of talent that I have in a given area of my life, and the number of forks I give can either enhance it or undermine it.  Hopefully, I'm getting to the point in my life where I have the wisdom to know the difference. I think it will help to remind myself to modulate my forks between work and bikes and remember to save some for Frank, pets, and occasionally cleaning the house. If I get too stressed, angry, or anxious, rather than trying to give fewer forks, I'll examine my life to see how I can redistribute them.

Sunday, March 28, 2021

'Tis the Damn Season

We could call it even

Rock a number plate for the weekend

'Tis the damn season, write this down

I spent a year inside my house

And any race finish looks real good now

Time flies, messy as ruts under mud tires

I'm maybe missing dirt miles, hear me out

We could just ride around

But any race finish looks real good now

Frank and I have joked many times over the past year that 2020 was 14 years long. I think that further proof of this is that Taylor Swift released about eight years' worth of albums in a year and a half. It's a lot to absorb, especially since I haven't had much commuting time to listen to music in the past year. I've recently begun to grow fond of her latest work, despite the lack of direct relatability of many of the songs to my life. For example, I've never taken personal responsibility for avenging a Haim sister's murder, while all the other sisters do is provide me with an alibi.  Twenty-something me also never had the foresight to retain a hometown booty call for the holidays (probably because she also didn't have the foresight not to get married at 24), but there is something about "Tis the Damn Season" that's so...aspirational?

Another sign of the past year's relative length is that I've done 23 years' worth of bike races in the past two and half years. By that, I mean I've done the same number of bike races that I did in my life up to my first triathlon in 2004. After that, I made it 15 consecutive summers, where I paid money to be timed while riding a bike in one capacity or another. Then it all unexpectedly fell apart. My bilateral mastectomy in 2019 was quickly followed by Frank's broken collarbone as soon as I was strong enough to think about racing again. 2020 brought a canceled first half of the season, followed by my fractured vertebrae and subsequent spinal fusion. It's been...a lot.

When the Downhill Southeast series schedule was announced a couple of months ago, I set the opening race at Massanutten on May 2 as the end of my 2.5-year racing hiatus. I admittedly spent a lot of 2017 and 2018 poo-pooing the idea of downhill racing. Why would I want to drive 2.5 hours and sleep somewhere besides my own bed just to race for about five minutes? That makes the Philly-centric cyclocross racing that burnt me out after two years in Pennsylvania seem positively convenient.

I recapped this all for Frank as I reconciled it with my excitement for the Massanutten race. "I used to think five minutes of racing wasn't worth all the bullshit around it," I said. "However," I concluded, "It's been so long that I miss the bullshit of racing."

It's true. I just want to go to new places and see people and attach some meaning to bikes again. I'm so out of shape that five minutes of "racing" is about all my body can handle right now, so I appreciate the convenience of being able to just jump in rather than waiting even longer to be in shape. I also never blogged about it, but we were driving to Missouri to buy our sweet VanDoIt van the day the world shut down in March 2020, so I actually like having excuses to sleep away from home these days.

This was en route to my breaking my back at Snowshoe in July, but you know, it's a nice picture.

This afternoon, I saw the number of spots available at Massanutten had dropped from 160 to 135 in a couple of days, so the race is likely to sell out. It felt a bit scary to put down an entry fee five weeks out, but ultimately, I knew it was what I needed to do—Tis' the damn season, after all.

Thursday, November 26, 2020

Still Not Unfixably Old

I hope you still feel small when you stand beside the ocean

Whenever one door closes, I hope one more opens

Promise me that you'll give faith a fighting chance

And when you get the choice to sit it out or dance

I hope you dance

I hope you dance

Buried deeply within my diatribe about how mastectomies are bad (they still are), I once casually mentioned how the morning before my 32nd birthday, I decided that I wasn't unfixably old. Eight years later, I think, "Ugh, 32 was so young!" However, at the time, when I reflected on my life, I just saw a future with little to look forward to and a lot of time left to kill. I felt old because I had reached an adulthood that didn't suit me, but I felt stuck in it. 

Right now, I imagine people with kids scoffing at my privilege of having so much time for self-reflection and so little responsibility. While it's true that caring for small humans might have grounded me and helped me grow out of the child I still am sometimes, it would have been really bad for everyone if it didn't work out that way. 

I mention this because the last couple of years and my recent 40th birthday have caused me to begin feeling unfixably old again. The feeling isn't unwarranted, considering how many fewer of my original body parts I have now than when I turned 30. The past decade has indeed inflicted some damage to my body that I can't undo, but I know that I can restore it to better function than its current state, which is 30 pounds heavier than when I won the West Virginia Enduro Series in 2017. Two major surgeries and a global pandemic can do that. If declaring myself not unfixably old and ditching my binge eating habit at 32 taught me anything, it's that fixing my life and fixing my body are inseparable aspects of the same challenge.

It's the fixing my life part where things start to get interesting. I have mentioned a few times in the past year or so about how I have become too focused on my career. As I think back on the past few years, I realize that late 2017 marked a transition from unexpected and effortless career growth during my first few years at Penn State to fruitless grinding, where I began working harder and rarely seeing it pay off. At least in 2018, I had my newfound love of riding ALL THE BIKE PARKS to distract me, but 2019 and 2020 weren't so kind. At the beginning of 2020, I came frustratingly close to getting my dream job in my dream town of Bellingham, WA only to have it fall through.

Even a casual toe-dip into the mountain bike YouTube-verse will likely expose you to Bellingham's hundred or so miles of a gorgeous loamy, steep, and amply jumpy singletrack. There are also multiple pump tracks and dirt jumps scattered through the town, and Whistler is a mere three hours away. 

Beyond the mountain biking, the whole place just makes me feel like I'm embraced by the warm (okay, cold and damp) hug of Mother Nature's wonder. On the other side of town from the lush, mossy green fairy forests of the mountains is the dark, moody Bellingham Bay dotted with rocky islands. As someone who is resolutely not a beach person, it's the kind of ocean I can get into. Plus, porcupines were cool and all when I moved to State College, but I'm yearning to see a whale that isn't at Sea World.

Finally, when I visited Bellingham for my interview at Western Washington University in January, it felt like home in a way I haven't felt since I left Bloomington. It's hard to explain other than to say that the town has a personality. Within my first week in State College, I ran into another former Bloomingtonian who joked, "Yeah, there's a lot fewer crust punks here." I don't think I necessarily need crust punks to be happy, but it spoke to the diverse spirit of Bloomington vs. the upper-middle class football-obsessed homogeny of State College. I'll forever be grateful to Rothrock for turning me into a real mountain biker, but this town has never been a good fit for me. 

Plus, I'll never get good at jumping while I live here, and my ability to progress as an athlete has become more important to me than my race results. 

When the job at WWU fell through, I did my best to resign myself to living my best life in State College, but COVID-19 had other plans. The possibility of any career advancement was shut down, as Penn State and the handful of PNW universities I'd been watching all went into hiring freezes. There were no races to race, and bike parks weren't even an option until June. Then my accident in July killed what was left of 2020 for me. I realize that 2020 has still been great compared to many others', but it has been hard feeling helpless for so many months just when I had hoped to get my life back on track.

Well, do you find you like to fall in love with people that you're never gonna meet?

It's easier than breaking up and crying in the street

Do you curse the happy couple?

Do you cringe at wedding bells?

Do you drink up all the punch while you wish 'em all to hell

At some point in August or September, I watched something on TV about people looking for orcas in the San Juan Islands, and I reached a breaking point. Yes, it was the freakin' whales and not the mountain biking videos that got me. I wanted to be THERE and have those experiences before I was too old to enjoy them. Afterward, I listened to Alkaline Trio's "Love, Love, Kiss, Kiss" a bunch of times and cried. I know that sounds like a weird choice, but it's a song about wanting something so badly that comes seemingly effortlessly to others. Believe me, I listened to it many times before I met Frank when I could take the words more literally. When I declared myself not unfixably old at 32, romantic love was the thing I was missing, and I mustered the strength to repair that missing piece, even when it meant tearing down my life and starting over. 

That is when I started to see the silver lining in COVID-19. It had already become clear that I would likely never have to go back to work in person at my current job unless I wanted to. Frank had also mentioned he would probably be able to continue teaching online for Penn State if I were to get a job somewhere else. I realized that nothing was really stopping us from moving to Bellingham and working remotely for Penn State. The challenges would be the higher cost of living on the same paychecks and the fact that moving to full-time remote would likely kill my hopes of career advancement at Penn State. I also realized that maybe it was time for those hopes to die, as they had caused me so much more misery than joy in the past three years. The money part would be more challenging, but we could handle it.

Ultimately, we decided to buy a lot in Sudden Valley, have a house built there, and move when it is complete in about a year. That means we will be riding bikes on the East Coast for one more season, and I am okay with that. I still have to wait a bit more for my Bellingham dream to become a reality, but I will still get to spend most of my 40's in that magical place. I will probably benefit from the extra time to refocus my energy and rebuild my body before heading out there, anyway.

When I was 32, I realized that I been unsuccessfully and unhappily focused on my career to cover up a big missing piece in my life. I somehow manage the strength to pull myself together and find that missing piece despite the risks it posed. The events of 2020 have shown me that I've reverted to using my career to cover up other missing pieces in my life. I couldn't have named my missing piece at 32, and I can't exactly name it now. I've just realized that when my mind starts to hate my body instead of taking care of it, and I blame it on my body, the truth is that neither my age nor my body is the problem. The beautiful thing is that the risks I took last time I felt unfixably old led me to the love of my life, and now I have a wonderful partner to join me in whatever comes next. Such a big change is scary, but so is growing unfixably old. 

Why would you live anywhere else?

Why would you live anywhere else?

We've got the [mountains], got the [bay]

Got the [loam], we've got the [lake]

This is the only place for me

Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Me (and My Back) Are Back

So...2020 amiright? A lot of stuff has happened since my last post, but the one thing that didn't happen was me racing bikes again. I kept thinking I would write something early in the COVID shutdown, but unlike all of the supposedly bored people I kept reading about, I remained as busy as always. Eventually, I got so behind on the events of 2020 that I didn't know where to start and considered abandoning this blog altogether. Blogging is a dead art form these days, what with the YouTubes and all. 

However, a few days ago, I re-read some of my mastectomy posts, and I realized how helpful this dead art form was for me. Because I didn't end up racing in 2019, my posting dropped off drastically as soon as I was allowed to "resume normal exercise" following my second surgery. In retrospect, I can see how rudderless I've felt since then, and I initially attributed this to a lack of racing. A string of disruptive life circumstances has continued near-constantly since my mastectomy recovery, and it emotionally disconnected me from racing and bikes in general. I don't miss wrapping my self-worth up in my race results and can no longer fathom crying after a race. However, I do miss that sense of purpose.

The biggest challenge of resuming blogging after a long break is knowing where to begin catching up on what has been missed. In this case, I think it makes sense to pick up where I left off, although not in the way one might expect. I lost my sense of purpose and stopped posting regularly upon my recovery from major surgery. In that case, it is only appropriate to pick it up again under similar circumstances. You see, on the Fourth of July, I pushed myself off a rock drop Snowshoe without a proportional push to my bars and fractured my T7 vertebrae and a few ribs.

Snowshoe hadn't opened until that weekend due to COVID. It was only our second bike park trip of the season after visiting Thunder Mountain a couple of weeks before. Despite only two bike park days in 2019 and the late start in 2020, I had been riding with a confidence that I'd never had before. We visited North Park in Pittsburgh to check out their jumps and freeride line at the end of May.  I was pleasantly surprised when I was able to just go out and hit drops bigger than I'd ever done before despite having not having done a drop of any size in a year. 

I arrived in Snowshoe eager to progress, although I knew their janky rock drops would be more challenging than the smooth takeoffs and perfectly sculpted landings of North Park. I was determined to hit the log drop on Lincoln Log before the weekend was over, but I began to doubt myself when I realized how slow and rough the entry was. During my second run of the trail at the end of the first day of riding, I skipped the log, but I felt like I could hit the 3-ish foot rock drop a turn or two later. However, when I came around the bend, I saw Frank stopped above the drop, which caused me to lose my nerve, as well. We were well within sight of riders going back up on the lift, and their jeers of "just stay off your brakes" didn't make me feel any better.

Fast forward to the next morning when I set out on my first run with renewed determination to hit both drops on Lincoln Log and move on with my day. Frank and I sessioned the log drop, and after a couple of roll-ins, I completed it, albeit with an ugly landing. A less stubborn person would have taken the ugly landing as a sign to just roll back to the lift and focus on other things for the rest of the day, but it was me. 

I paused for a few seconds to compose myself and rode straight for the rock drop, but made a last-minute switch in my line choice. As I rode off, my front wheel dove, and I could see the ground come up way too fast beneath me. I landed on my head first, then my upper back, before my body came to a full stop, and my bike ended up somewhere downhill. I did a quick check to confirm that I could still feel and move my arms and legs, but the pain prevented me from moving beyond that. I just lay there crying and moaning until Frank found me. 

Luckily, the person who came along next does ski patrol in Michigan in the winter, so he got to work on the boilerplate trauma check. This time I benefitted from being within sight of the lift, as all the onlookers were able to direct the bike patrol to my location relatively quickly.

The bike patrol arrived, and I began my harrowing journey to civilization. I passed all the initial checks for a spinal injury, and all of my pain was to the right of my spine, so the bike patrol guy had me walk to the nearest clearing. It wasn't far, but every step was excruciating. I joke that Frank slow danced me down the hill, as I put my hands on his waist as he slowly walked backwards downhill to lead me. 

At the clearing, an ATV pulling a trailer with a stretcher picked me up and drove me to the bottom of the lift for an ambulance to pick me up. I was sorely disappointed to arrive at the ambulance to find that they could not give me pain meds because there we only EMTs and no paramedics on board. After a 30 minute drive to the nearest hospital, I finally got pain meds and a series of CT scans. They diagnosed me with the T7 vertebrae and rib fractures, along with a partially collapsed lung. They transferred me to a helicopter to the WVU hospital in Morgantown, where I could receive proper treatment.

The next morning, I had surgery to repair my fractured vertebrae, which meant fusing it to four others, two on each side, using titanium rods and screws. I'm fortunate that this happened in the least flexible part of my back, so I won't lose a ton of mobility in the long-term. Once the surgery was over, I didn't need a back brace or anything, and they made me start getting out of bed to use the bathroom within hours of the surgery. By about 36 hours post-op, I was able to take a short shower and freely get out of bed to walk around as needed. I still needed a ton of pain medicine to function, and spent most of my time sleeping, but my rapid independence was pretty amazing.

I had to stay in the hospital a week while my lungs recovered, and the doctors made sure I was safe from fluid build-up in my chest. Once I was home, the next few weeks were a saga of pain management. Since I had already been working remotely for months due to COVID, I tried working part-time as soon as I was out of the hospital. However, it was four more weeks before I could stand to sit upright at my desk for more than an hour straight, so I got really good at taking Zoom meetings in bed. Around five weeks after my injury, a thorough cupping session with Jason helped me break through to tolerating work and everyday tasks, like walking the dogs.

I was given permission to "ride rail trails and stuff" at my six-week follow-up appointment with my spinal surgeon as well as some light PT exercises to do. I've ridden my full-suspension mountain bike on gravel a couple of times a week since then. Still, I've been pretty careful not to overextend myself until I hit the three-month mark when the spinal fusion should be fully set enough to support my lifestyle. Some new flowy beginner trails opened in State College last week, and I've ridden them a couple of times. However, the fact that I'm sitting at 17 out of 21 among women on Strava on one of the two downhill-only sections is a testament to how careful I'm still being.

My three-month follow-up is on Thursday. I'm expecting to be released to start lifting weights again and generally return to everyday life within reason. My surgeon came to check on me the morning after my surgery and laughed when she saw that I was watching American Ninja Warrior. I pointed and asked if I would be able to do that within three months. She said no, four. It's been a nice change from my plastic surgeon's vague instructions after my mastectomy to being given very clear guidelines as to exactly what I am and am not allowed to do at various points in my recovery. Until the last couple of weeks, I was often "allowed" to do things well before I felt like doing them.

So here I am at the end of two full years where life has kept me from racing entirely and away from bike parks much more than I would have liked. Another long winter stands between me and my next opportunity to do either. This is a good thing in many ways, as I need time to get my body strong enough to race and send it again. It's also going to be tough to motivate myself to get through the blah stuff to benefit the fun stuff that is still many months away, though. Perhaps starting to write again will help.