Friday, December 16, 2016

The Little C

When I was writing my post last week summarizing all of the stuff than Frank and I had been up to since the end of ‘cross, I wasn’t sure whether to include the tidbit about my breast surgery or not. It seemed like a very minor thing that, in the context of my continued telling of the story of my bike adventures, wouldn't have a major effect on the plot. I still gave it a paragraph, because, despite not making any major impact on my training, especially during the off-season, it felt like it was still part of the larger story and needed to be included.

The funny thing was that I didn’t tell very many people about it unless they read the blog post. Basically, it was just my mom, my boss, the Laser Cat group chat, and my manicurist, who was mostly included to explain the giant bruise my hand that had resulted from a failed IV insertion when I went to get my nails done the day after surgery. It’s interesting because this time of year my Facebook memories are full of six-year-old updates on my pancreas drama posted for any “friend” who wanted to read them. I guess I’ve become less public in my sharing since then, but let’s face it, even minor breast surgery is a lot more “triggering” to people than major pancreas surgery, so I was not in a big hurry to draw attention to it. As I explained to my manicurist while laughing about her inclusion in the small group of people that I had told, “If you tell people, they’re like, ‘Oh my God, you have cancer’, and I totally don’t have cancer.”

Well, it turns out that I totally had cancer. Well, maybe I had cancer? Pre-cancer? Stage 0 cancer? My boob had a small number of cancer cells performing short time trials to see who would wear the leader’s jersey in the first real stage of the Tour de Cancer? (Worst charity ride name ever.)

Whatever you want to call it, a week after the surgery, the doctor called me to say that they had found DCIS in my pathology report. That stands for Ductal Carcinoma In Situ, so the “C” is, in fact, “The Big C” that we all fear. Luckily, the “IS” stands for a Latin term for “in its original place", meaning that it was just hanging out in my otherwise unused milk ducts not really hurting anything yet. It was already removed with a nice “clear margin” before I even knew it was there.

That hasn’t made the week since finding out any less stressful. DCIS was all I was told on the phone Friday night, with no details about my particular case. I would have to wait until my surgical follow-up on Wednesday for those. That made for a not-very-awesome weekend of worrying while still trying to muster the energy to go ride bikes in the cold. I did a pretty good job of holding myself together until the appointment on Wednesday, only crying a bit on Saturday night, mostly because I was frustrated at having important information withheld from me for several days longer than I thought it should have been. Obviously I spent a lot of time Googling from Saturday-Tuesday.

When Wednesday finally came, the news was better than I had feared. I was very afraid of having to have radiation, partly because it sounded awful and because of what it could potentially do to my TSE plans. The first order of business was the BRCA test, which is a genetic test for hereditary breast cancer risk for which a positive result pretty much means a double mastectomy in the near future. Luckily, positive results are also rare. I should get that test result in the next 1-2 weeks, and given a negative result, the decision will need to be made as to whether I will get radiation or not.

The surgeon handed me an article from Time magazine about over-treatment of minor breast cancers and what some researchers are doing to figure out how to responsibly treat patients with less intervention. He showed me a chart of the Van Nuys Prognostic Index which is one guide that can be used to determine the likelihood of DCIS coming back after surgery with no radiation. I was the best case scenario for all columns, except for my age, and he told me that basically any radiation oncologist would say that I needed radiation based on my age. In this case, younger is “worse”, because the longer you have left to live, the more time the cancer has to come back before you die of something else. Then he told me that the radiation wouldn’t be as bad as I was imagining, and that I would “feel normal for the first four weeks, and then get kind of sunburned and cranky and take it out on (Frank) for the last two weeks”.

The upshot is that the decision whether or not to have radiation is really up to me. By the current standard of care, I’m “supposed to” get it based on my age. The problem is that radiation will only cut my not-actually-that-high chance of recurrence in half, give or take depending the source of the information, and once it’s done I won’t be able to radiation in that breast again or have much of a chance at successful breast reconstruction if I get a new, worse cancer in the future. And the chance getting a new, worse cancer in the future is relatively small, but still real, whether I get the radiation now or not.

Rather than treating my age and its accompanying long window for recurrence as a reason to take the “kill it with fire” approach now, I’d rather take the approach that with current medical technology, I only have so many cards to play, and I’d rather save them in case I need them worse later. I’d prefer to just keep a close eye on the situation, and hope that treatment options improve before my long window for recurrence is up. Better yet, my real hope is that I side with the majority of women with my size and grade of DCIS who never have a recurrence and thus don’t have to worry about future treatment options. Plus, I’m already going to be tired and cranky enough this winter getting ready for the TSE.

It’s interesting because, as stressful as this week has been, my brush with “The Big C” doesn’t feel as huge as one might imagine. It’s tough making the decision about what I want to do when it goes against what I’m “supposed to” do. Luckily, my in-house rhetorician supports me, and has been helping me practice my talking points for defending my choice as well as practicing them himself on my behalf. I know that I’m going to have be vigilant for the rest of my life about this, but once a little time passes, I think it will feel normal and less stressful, and this little brush might have saved me from something worse in the future.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Transition Season

I thought I’d write a short check-in post, because it’s been a while since the last one.

Since our last cyclocross race, Frank and I spent a week in Oklahoma visiting my parents for Thanksgiving. We didn’t ship bikes out this time, and were a little stir crazy by the time the week was over. We tried to get as much physical activity as we could by walking dogs and petting cats.

We came back just in time to help out with No Scrubs 2: Electric Boogaloo, Team Laser Cats’ now annual fundraiser alley cat race. Frank hit all of the checkpoints with a little help from local friends while I hung out behind a Walmart and facilitated the feeding of some feral cats.

Once we were home and settled back in with our own kitties, we began our off-season weight training program last week and had our first session with a trainer. I haven’t worked with a trainer since 2013 and Frank hasn’t since high school, and I feel like my strength has really fallen by the wayside since I moved to State College and recovering from the day-to-day strain of life on the rocks began to take priority over from serious and consistent gym efforts. My plan for the next 12-13 weeks is to learn some new tricks, establish a fresh routine, and get really strong again for the first time in nearly four years.

It doesn’t look like there will be a New Jersey fat bike series this year, which is just as well for us, since I’d already made the decision to focus on strength training this winter. We have pulled out the fat bikes a couple of times since Sly Fox, even though it’s not really snowed much yet. I really just prefer riding Hellga when it’s below 50 degrees, whether there’s snow or not, because working hard to go slow is actually a good thing when it’s cold, and I can fully commit to looking silly in the name of comfort, Cobrafists and all.

A very serious post-surgery cat-filled fat bike ride.

Finally, I completed an important transition season milestone on Friday by getting three papillomas removed from my left breast. While getting things cut out of your body is never really convenient, if you’re a cyclist who isn’t gearing up for cyclocross nationals, December is a good time to do it.

Luckily, it really was as easy breezy the surgeon made it out to be. I got a good excuse to use one of the many surplus sick days that I have stored up at work, and got to take a nice drug-induced nap. I took my doses of hydrocodone the first day as the anesthesiologist recommended, but when I woke up Saturday morning never having passed 3 on the pain scale, I stuck with just ibuprofen from that point on. I was able to go the gym Saturday and do a short, easy fat bike ride at Accuweather on Sunday. I’m pretty much down to just minor discomfort that shouldn’t stop me from any of my planned gym sessions or roller rides this week. I’m pretty glad to have that behind me, and that it’s unlikely that it will turn into cancer or anything worse in the future.

So that’s what I’ve been up to the past few weeks, and the next few look to be more of the same: weights, rollers, and long Sunday fat bike rides. I’d be lying if I said that I wasn’t already getting nervous that I have now officially entered into my TSE build-up period after three years of wondering if I’d ever be able to actually do it, but we have many months left to discuss my inevitable progress and inevitable doubt on the journey to #singletracksummercamp. For now, I’m doing my best to embrace the somewhat boring routine of base-building, as it will make for better exciting stuff later.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Sly Fox 'Cross: Out With a Bang

Now the majors called up ol’ what's her name
And one more Cat 2 rises tall
And suddenly we're all grown up
And this Cat Squad ain’t quite so small
But I wouldn’t miss that middle size race
In the in ‘burbs to Philly’s west
With sweet off-cambers, and local beers,
And vegan baked goods, and all the rest

They brew their beer with Belgian yeast.
We bake our cookies egg-free, no gel’tin.
That race director, what’s his name?
Well we can't even spell it.
We don't worry about our upgrade points.
We just hit the run-up and dig deep.
There's nothing like the view from the cheap seats.

(A continuation of last year's Sly Fox post.)

I spent the past weekend in Philly with Frank, as it was the annual conference for the National Communication Association, the biggest gathering of the year for academics in his field. Although I admit that driving into Philly in the Lime-a-Bean alone on Friday night and sleeping a hotel for two nights probably weren’t the best for my body and brain, both of which have already been driven pretty far into exhaustion lately, it was fun to finally get to witness the phenomenon of “NCA” to which my husband disappears every November. I also got meet a lot people who I previously only knew from their Facebook profile pictures over the last 3.5 years.

The other upside was that my birthday was on Saturday, and I got to spend it with my Laser Cat friends. Frank and I finally got to meet “Mother Belmont”, as the team lovingly refers to the Belmont trail system, which is known for its Thursday night hot laps and for its twists, turns, and logs. I was actually pleasantly surprised by the trails, which is likely because I have mostly heard stories from people who first learned to ride there or at least weren’t that experienced when they first took them on. I went in with the expectation that it would be slow and frustrating the first time, but it was actually pretty fun. It was a great opportunity to employ my recently-improved wheel-lifting skills that I developed at the Take Aim cycling clinic the previous weekend.

(I realize that I never posted about the clinic, but post-Raven Enduro depression, lack of sleep, potential boob surgery, and Trump elections all conspired to destroy my blogging motivation the past couple of weeks. At least the boob surgery situation looks to not be that bad. I just have to get some benign lumps removed as a preventative measure on December 2, and according to the surgeon, I can be back on the bike the next day.)

Sunday was the Sly Fox Cross race, which, despite my ‘cross ennui of late, I wouldn’t miss because it is the best race in the in the Mid-Atlantic region and an important fundraiser for our team in the form of the second annual Team Laser Cats bake sale. I was certainly tired from the weekend so far, but I figured it was my last “real” race of the season, so what’s 40 more minutes of hard riding for the year?

Because Sly Fox wasn’t part of a series this year, the call-ups were by order of registration, and I was the second one to be called up based on my motivation being much higher whenever registration had opened. This didn’t really help my start at all, as I was distracted by the crowd and a million other thoughts, and I had a very delayed reaction to the whistle. I slid backwards through paved opening straight, and got caught behind a crash as we entered the course in earnest. By the time I got untangled from the girl most of the field had flooded around me, but rather than panic, I just stood up, tightened my shoe, and calmly started riding my bike.

Thus began three laps of working my way back through the field. It was nice because I was so past caring what my result was, and my main motivation was the technical nature of the course and not wanting to be stuck behind slower riders on the features. It apparently worked for me, because I picked off a lot of people. The last lap was a little lonely, as I could no longer see anyone in front of me to chase down. I knew my teammate Michaela was up there just out of sight, but when I met her in pretty much the exact same spot that I had in the last lap, I knew I hadn’t gained any ground. I did my best to just stay on the gas and ride out the final eight or minutes of my 2016 ‘cross season.

I finished pretty satisfied with my effort in working my way up through the race, but it was a pretty big field, so I figured I was still in the bottom half. I wasn’t in a huge rush to look at the results, so when I finally started to mosey in that direction, I saw Frank coming toward me making jazz hands. At first I thought he was just happy to see me, but it turns out that I got 9th out of 30, which was by far my best placing since moving to PA.

Despite my overall short and disappointing ‘cross season, I was able to go out with a bang at Sly Fox. I can already feel my November SAD lifting, because now I can actually proceed with the “off-season” that I’ve been planning for months. It’s been four years since I took a few months to back off the bike and hit the weights hard, but every time I’ve done so in the past, I’ve had awesome results. We’re visiting my parents for Thanksgiving this year instead of Christmas, so once we’re back from that, we can start a solid three months of weights and rollers without much interruption. (Boob surgeries and a very short Christmas trip to Florida aside.)

So even though my SAD started early this year, it looks like I’ll be able to shake it sooner, as well. Right now I’m feeling very motivated and hopeful as I start laying the foundation for big things in 2017.

Monday, October 31, 2016

Down the Drain

"You can never go down the drain." - Mr. Rogers

After my last post I realized that what I was feeling after the last couple of ‘cross weekends was nothing new, it was just my own version of Seasonal Affective Disorder kicking in a bit earlier than normal. In the same vein of being able to see my cycling ups and downs for what they are, I can look back across my career and see that pretty much every fall I hit a point where the remaining promise of what the calendar year could bring seems pretty low, and I’m just ready to move on. While it’s quite possible that it is actual SAD coming into play, I don’t quite fit the typical description in that I usually bounce back in January and February when other people are complaining about the terrible winter weather, and the SAD should be the worst. It’s not that I like winter weather, but’s it the time when everything still seems possible and there’s plenty of motivation put in the work that will hopefully make the following November a little less SAD.

Back in the summer, our team put on a cyclocross clinic where Arley Kemmerer gave the analogy of the big training build-up prior to the ‘cross season and subsequent backing off once racing begins as “draining the bathtub”. It feels like most years I never quite get my bathtub full enough and I’m left wet, naked, and shivering for the last 6-8 weeks of year until January gives me the opportunity to dry out and start filling the tub again. Looking back, I’m pretty sure my tub was already empty for the year as I sat and listened to her on July 30, but I just wasn’t ready to admit that yet.

This weekend I completed the MASS enduro series at the Raven Enduro just outside of State College. Even though the race is nearby, I had never ridden most of the trails for it until September. I had hoped to jam in enough practice sessions to gain some sort of home course advantage and actually do well after really struggling on unfamiliar enduro courses early in the season. I guess the Raven course just didn’t suit me, or I didn’t have enough time to learn the subtleties of the many unfamiliar rock gardens around the course. This lead to a very disappointing finish, despite my becoming the “series champion” based various technicalities including the fact that I paid $20 to be scored for the series when quite a few faster girls in my category did not.

I had typed up a much lengthier race report that detailed how things came apart, but it doesn’t really matter. I have already come to the logical conclusion that I always reach in these situations, which is that I have the choice to quit racing bikes or keep working to get better, as slow and frustrating as the progress is relative to that of other people sometimes. I think we all know by now that I never to end up choosing quit, at least not permanently. It’s going to take a while for my emotional self to catch up to that conclusion, though, so I still might have a few weeks of chilly bathtub moments ahead.

I guess the benefit to recognizing your old patterns from the past is that it gives you the opportunity to change them, although I’m not quite sure how yet. I guess for starters, can somebody hand me a towel?

Thursday, October 20, 2016

This Love

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, September 19, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

We're here for the waffles.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

The Laurel Classic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Uncomfortably Comfortable

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, August 19, 2016

Magic Kingdom

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shredding some of the swoopier stuff on Day 2.

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

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

#scenicquarryselfie at the the lookout in Millstone Hill.

Millstone Hill was full of features

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Our Week As Free Folk

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

First Ride

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

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

Posing before Wildcat

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

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

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

Bottom of Old Laurel

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

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

Sunday, July 24, 2016

In My Wilderness 101 Dreams

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

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

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

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

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

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

Approaching aid station 4

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Bike Decision 2017: You Belong With Me

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

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

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

There, I fixed it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There, he fixed it. Stickers are cool.

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

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Bike Decision 2017: If It Fits, I Sits?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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