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.

Monday, July 11, 2016

The Hay Is In The Barn

Scene:Friday Night, Bedtime

Me: After tomorrow, the hay will be in the barn.

Frank: The hay will be in the barn?

Me: It’s something my old coach used to say. It means that all of your fitness is packed in before a big race, and all that’s left is to taper.

Frank: I guess that is where you put hay.

Me: Until you take it out and feed it to the cows in winter, but I’m hoping it will be a gentle winter and the cows don’t need too much hay.

Frank: So you’re already getting into your blog post metaphor for the week, huh? Are there any pop song lyrics about cows and hay?


My official Wilderness 101 training concluded on Saturday with more of a fizzle than a bang. It really served to reinforce my belief that the Bald Eagle side of the course somehow has it in for me, as any time I’ve tried to cross 322 this year, things have gone badly. Stillhouse has treated me okay, as well Stillhouse knows how to treat anyone, but a good day on the opening climb or any of the final parts of the course have eluded me.

Things went well during the 4th of July weekend, when my teammates came to town to ride. Taryn came on Saturday to join my W101 training ride, since she was considering signing up for the race herself. I always knew she was fast, but I was kind of astounded at how she was riding out of sight so easily on my home turf when I was actually riding pretty fast myself. I ended up PRing Seeger and all of the singletrack on the ride by huge margins.

Laser Cats in the Wild 

Several other girls came on Sunday for a “best of” tour of Rothrock, which included the XC Loop, up Lower Lonberger, Tussey Ridge, and down Camp. I struggled to keep up after the long, hard ride the day before, but I made it through. I think I dug myself into a hole, though, and going to a 4th of July party and drinking too much on Monday instead of resting also did not help.

With two weeks before the big day, I wanted to get one more good, long ride in, but my body was simply not having it. The temperature was hovering just above my breakdown level (maybe 85?), and though I forced myself over the 4.5 mile opening climb, it wasn’t pretty. Since that was the hardest part of the ride that I had planned, I was hoping my legs would wake up along Decker Valley Rd., but they never did. I ended up sending Frank ahead to get car, which resulted in a miscommunication about our meet-up spot, and him driving around for an hour and a half looking for me. It was a much less productive day than I was hoping for.

Now I’m past the point of being able to do anything except come into the race well rested. Instead of a gentle winter to save my hay, I’m hoping for reasonably cool weather to save my legs. If I actually ride everything as fast as I have in training on race day, I’ll do pretty well, but I’ve also seen the damage that heat and fatigue can do.

So the hay is in the barn, winter is coming, and the big question is whether my legs will win the great battle between the living and the dead? Yes, I just made up a really mixed metaphor about bikes, farming, and Game of Thrones. Sometimes, that’s how it goes.

Friday, July 1, 2016

Bike Decision 2017: What Actually Happens When You Go Full Enduro?

I haven’t been inspired to write much since the TrailMix. It took me a full two weeks to physically and mentally recover from that experience, which was a lot longer than I had planned. Of course, the race itself took a lot more time and mental energy than I had planned. Now I’ve kinda sorta returned to climbing gravelly things on my hardtail, but not nearly at the level that I was in May. With only three weeks left until the Wilderness 101, and having not really met any of the milestones that I had planned along the way, I’m not feeling super confident. I guess after the TrailMix, I am feeling confident in my ability to choose an ugly finish over no finish, so I’m pretty sure I’ll find a way to gut it out one way or another. It just might not look the way I hoped it would when I set out on this journey.

With the march to the Wilderness 101 nearing its end, I’m thinking a lot about what I’ll do with my life no longer dedicated to climbing all the gravel all the time. In the short term, I realized that I’ve been in hard-driven, goal-oriented mode since December. I think it’s good to get into this mode sometimes, as it helps me push through barriers that I might not otherwise, but it’s also not sustainable forever. Once the W101’s over, I’m not going to take a rest week and jump into high-intensity intervals and full season of ‘cross as I'd originally planned. I’m just going to do whatever sounds fun for a while, even if it means an abbreviated and not particularly competitive ‘cross season. I probably won’t manage to show up in any sun-scorched corn fields by the end of August.

I think part of this is just plain ol’ burnout, and part is that I’m really wanting more time to really mountain bike, since training all spring and summer for a mostly gravel “mountain bike” race has kept me really enjoying the best of what Rothrock gnar has to offer. Along with that, I see a new gnar bike in my near future, and I don’t want to not ride it because of ‘cross.

 I’ve been wanting a slacker, more descending-capable bike for about a year with the thought of future enduro-racing pursuits. Of course, I tried a couple of enduro races on my Lust this year with basically no planning or practice, and they didn’t go so well. I think the more accurate saying should be “never go partial enduro”, so I skipped last weekend’s race to focus on W101 training. Next time I enduro, it will be when I’m ready to give it the attention it deserves.

The big question is what bike will I be riding when that happens? In their current state of evolution, MASS enduro races don’t require, or necessarily even favor, a “full enduro” bike. I think it’s more of a matter of a dropper post, a sub-70 degree head tube angle, and to putting in the time to know how to use both. In my first two enduro racing attempts, I really only had one of three on the list (a dropper that I wasn’t good at using). The new bike should be capable enough in MASS enduro races, but also still climb well enough to ride in the TrailMix and perhaps in next year’s Transylvania Epic.

I’ll admit that last year when Liv released the Intrigue SX that I was very, well, intrigued. It was a very pretty bike, and pedaled well enough in the short trial I took on one at Brown County last fall, but I couldn’t afford it at the time coz wedding and stuff. It's just as well, because as the year passed, it just never felt like it was *the* bike. Because Liv kind of pushed as it the pinnacle of their years of women’s mountain bike research, I held a little hope that 2017 would yield a carbon fiber version. This is based on the typical Giant pattern of tweaking new technology in aluminum versions before committing them to carbon. However, based on the fact that Liv has still not produced a carbon ‘cross bike for retail purchase, despite a Liv rider winning the women’s world championship every year since the brand was launched, I steeled myself for possible disappointment.

When I bought my Obsess in May, a friend joked about our love/hate relationship with the Liv brand. I summed it up by saying that the relationship is that I’m mad that they don’t give me more opportunities to hand them my money. Obviously I’m capable of straying when I have to (buying a Specialized fat bike), but despite occasionally missing the mark, they’re usually the brand most likely to deliver the things I want, in the prettiest colors, at the best price (partially because I’ve never not had a shop discount on Giant/Liv at any point during my cycling career). So like a lifelong fan of a losing sports team, each new bike release season starts with “maybe this will be our year”.

Anyway, after much research that I decided that I wanted a carbon fiber bike in the 130-140mm range both front and rear. If my dream of an Intrigue Advanced did not come true, I would go for a men’s Trance Advanced or a Juliana Furtado. Then I found out that for all its pretty color, the Furtado was 2-3 pounds heavier than a similarly-priced Trance, so I would definitely be sticking with Giant/Liv one way or another. The new 2017 editions were announced this week, and they yielded both excitement and confusion on my part.

The Trance Advanced has been bumped up to 150 front and 140 rear, and is even more trail-y than it was in the past. The only pictures released are of the highest level model, which I think is quite pretty, and makes me worry that they chose something ugly for the model that’s actually in my price range. (Edit: They totally did.)

Liv dropped some new #ladycarbon options, but an Intrigue was not among them. Instead the Lust and Intrigue had a baby, and as the bike media was way more excited about, Liv did, in fact, go full enduro. Considering that I take the Trance off the table and stick with #teamladycarbon, here are my choices:

The Pique is supposed to be an XC race bike and trail bike all rolled into one, with a pure 100mm race bike no longer offered. It’s 120mm in the rear with the option of a 140mm fork on the Pique Advanced SX model. That definitely sounds like the closest thing to a “do it all” model on either men’s or women’s side of the brand. However, something about the fact that “race” comes before “trail” in all the marketing languages makes me worry that was built more for "Indiana rock gardens" than actually rock gardens, and the "rowdy" 140mm option was an afterthought to fill a gap in the line. Can it get to the bottom of Wildcat better than my Lust? Probably. Can I take it to the bike park with my #babesinbaggies teammates? Probably not.

Then there is the Hail, a high-end carbon 160/160 enduro bike for women. My first thought was that I don’t need that much travel, and that it might be too heavy or bouncy for all-around riding. However, Frank has recently traded in his Anthem for a carbon 150/150 BMC Trail Fox, and he seems happy enough. The girl that won the TrailMix short course last year did it on a Roubion, so I guess enduro bikes can still be fast if you put a fast person on them. Liv keeps bragging on the Hail’s efficiency, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it doesn’t weigh that much more than my bottom-model aluminum Lust.

It will probably still be a few weeks before I can buy either, and I probably will end up buying the Pique Advanced SX. However, the Hail does have me asking the question, “What actually happens when you go full enduro?”


I just realized I wrote the whole post and didn't include a full list of all the travel options that Giant and Liv have announced this year:

160/160: Reign (M) or Hail (W)
150/140: Trance (M)
140/120: Pique SX (W)
130/110: Anthem SX (M)
120/120: Pique (W)
120/110: Anthem (M)

Theses are all 27.5 bikes (and at 5'4" all I care about), and word on 29ers is sparse. I'm also assuming they will still be offering their Glory full DH bike, but that it's just pretty well dialed and there won't be major changes.

As you can see, lots of choices are offered, it gets a little spread out in the middle range where I was originally planning to buy. The format of the XC, what we'll call the XXC bike at 120-130, and then a jump to the 150-160 seems to be the norm for a lot of companies this year.