Monday, October 17, 2011

Something New

Cross. I've avoided it for at least 2 years now. Two years ago this month, Ron entered his first cross race, Beacon, in New Jersey. Sure, it was fun to spectate, but I had no interest in racing. The single track on my mountain bike was all I craved, I loved it and I had no desire to try anything new at the time. Last year, Ron raced again, this time at Nittany and Granogue. Again, spectating proved fun, the races looked enjoyable for those that were into cross, but I was focused on mountain biking.

This year? Well, this year I'm giving some new things a go. As mentioned in my previous blog, it's the off season. It's time to kick back and enjoy some of the old mixed with some of the new. Running and climbing are my old standby's, and I truly enjoy each one. The new? A little cross, and hopefully a local trip or two with Kim for some ice climbing this winter.

Day 1 of Granogue came early this past Saturday morning. My alarm went off at 6:30 and I hit the snooze. I laid in bed wondering what the day held, what I was getting myself into. Ron and I had races several hours apart, so we decided I'd head down the first day alone. It was a little nerve racking, but thanks to some great teammates and friends that were there that morning, my nerves were quickly settled. I warmed up, took a couple of laps on the course between races, pitted my mountain bike and lined up for the B race. Dennis from Wooden Wheels was so kind to let me borrow his pit bike to race, but I hadn't had the chance to ride it last week, and Friday night when Ron went to fit me on it, it turned out to be slightly too big. So I raced Ron's Motobecane and put my Niner in the pit. Thanks again Dennis!

Dennis Smith Photography
Not so sure yet about cross yet...

The race had a quick road start and I had no idea what to expect. I had never ridden a cross bike, let alone raced one, so my nerves definitely kicked back in, but I was determined to see what it was all about and just have some fun. A couple of laps in, I slid down a hill, dropped my chain, quickly pulled myself together and jumped back on. Shortly after I felt my ankle hitting my crank and noticed my crank arm was about to fall off. I made it to the pit, well, past the pit and was told I could run backward to the entrance and pick up my mtb. Phew. I jumped on that thinking it would be a good familiar feel, but I found it felt heavy and squishy... not quite was I hoping for to finish this race well.

Did I have fun that day? It was undeniably a fun course, but my head wasn't in it. I was too uncertain of what to expect. I headed home to PA, picked up Ron and we headed back down to watch some friends kill it in the women's elite race before his race at 4. Back at Granogue some friends congratulated me on 6th. Huh, did they say 6th? I was surprised and really happy. Not a bad way to start.

I decided I'd ask for permission to bump up to the elite race the next day. With my UCI license I was able to no problem, and I found myself with those familiar pre-race jitters the night before. Kristin (my new teammate on CF!!) was so sweet to hand off her sick carbon race bike to me for Sunday's race. Much lighter indeed. Dennis from Wooden Wheels offered to pit for me and I felt ready to go! Prior to the race, Nikki (my other new teammate and great friend!!) led me around the course and watched me clumsily dismount and remount my bike.

Dennis showed me how the pit worked, Vicki and I chatted about what the day might hold, and Carolyn (another friend and new CF teammate!) made sure I was running the right tire pressure. Vicki and I were both starting in the back of the pack as we're so new to this. It was nice to have a familiar friend there with me at the start. 1:55 came quickly and before we knew it the race started, my first UCI cross race!

Wow, I couldn't believe how quick the start was. I cautiously proceeded, hit the grass and started to pick my way through racers as I was able to. Mentally, 40 minutes seems short compared to the 2+ hour mountain bike races, right? Sure, until you realize it feels like you're starting, full speed the entire 40 minutes. Yikes. Slowly I made my way up and I heard friends cheering out, "16th, Kathleen! 15th! Keep it up, keep picking those girls off! She's right in front of you, go get her!!!" It was awesome, cross is so much more spectator friendly and those cheers are a tremendous help and support during that intense effort! Kristin's carbon ride felt great and though the tubular wheels were new to me, I was able to use what I've learned in mountain biking to take the corners and downhills as fast as I could. The remounts? That's another story. I lost so much time just getting back on my bike, getting my feet jammed in my pedals. I couldn't believe how difficult that simple task proved to be. It cost me several seconds each time. In fact in the cyclingdirt video, I run by the camera ready to remount, and down below you can see several girls who got back on no problem, with no sign of me before the video cuts out. Must work on the remount.

I worked hard the whole race, pushed up the hills, shouldered my bike (ugly as it was) where I could to save some time.

I was in the red for most of the race, but I wanted to hold my spot and keep pushing forward. At the end, I lost two places right at the end, one in a sprint finish and ended up 13th out of 32!!

A day later, Ron and I find ourselves watching the coverage on and looking at friends' photos of the race, craving more cross. Oddly, I find myself daydreaming about the race and more cross. Being so different from mountain biking, I never knew it would be so fun. Kim always says, "Cross is Boss," and Vicki says it's addictive. Now I know exactly what they're talking about. Nikki has asked me to travel a bit, and I find myself tempted to take her up on it. I don't know what cross holds for me in the future, but I do know, I couldn't have picked a better race. Granogue was put on by an incredible group of people and the courses didn't disappoint. I'm really enjoying the something old this off season, definitely mixed with the something new.

Ron, picking people off, flying up the climb on Day 2.
Photos by Mike Campbell
Thanks Campbell!!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The Off Season

After 6 months of racing, the end of September is welcomed with its shorter days, colorful changes and a huge exhale after a hard and exciting season of competition on my mountain bike. It's a time to look back and reflect on what I learned as a racer, how I grew, and what I look forward to for next year. It's time to enjoy fall rides mixed with climbing and running. It's time to rest.

Looking back over the 2011 season, I feel fulfilled and excited after experiencing so many incredible races in different places on such varied terrain. We traveled from West Virginia to New York, and even to Idaho for my first ever PRO XCT race in the Sun Valley National Championships. To have finished that race alone was a huge personal victory! It was a great season filled with many memories that I will honestly never forget.

Photo from KPDS

The end of September also brings our annual trip to East Burke, Vermont with some of our closest friends where we sleep under the stars, sit by campfires, and enjoy long days of riding on some of Vermont's finest trails in the Northeast Kingdom. There's no better way to end the season, and it's something I'll look forward to each year for years and years to come. We couldn't ask for a better group to share that time with...

So what's next? This past summer I received my USAC Pro license and could not be happier to have been offered a spot with the elite riders on Team CF for the 2012 season! They are an incredibly talented group of riders with years of experience, and I respect each of them greatly. I plan to race several more races in the PRO XCT tour and hope to make it to Mellow Johnny's in Texas, Ute Valley in Colorado, Mt. Morris in Wisconsin, and I wouldn't want to miss the 2012 National Championship back in Sun Valley, ID. I'm also hoping to try a couple of the longer races, hopefully in the NUE. After October, training starts and I'm excited to work with a coach for the first time ever! I look forward to snowy rides, long weekends on the road and fun nights of climbing in the gym. The winter can often be long and intense in PA, but with the anticipation of next season and so many fun events mixed into the interim, it'll be a great few months.

For now, I'll enjoy the rest and all the joy that comes with the off season.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Coal Cracker Classic

"Someone must blog about this race." As I crossed the finish line of Sunday's Coal Cracker Classic in Tamaqua, PA I was filled with a mixture of disbelief, relief, and a bit of pain from a pretty classic endo I took earlier in the race. I caught the glance of a teammate, and words were not exchanged, we just shrugged our shoulders, shook our heads and began to laugh.
We weren't sure what to expect when we headed north to our second to last 2011 MASS race on Sunday. It was a course with new trails and pre-riding was forbidden as part of the race was on private property. We got up there, set up the tent, kitted up and headed out for a warm-up.

Ron, Mike O. and I headed down the hill into town, up the initial hill (street) climb and into the woods where the trails began. We continued riding uphill for the next half mile or so before we turned back and headed down to see the finish area. As soon as we got there we knew something was up. Most of the sport riders were gathered in a large group, confused and frustrated. As it turned out, some of Tamaqua's finest locals removed some of the race signs in an attempt to be funny. Many sport riders were lost and their races ended early that day. CCC's race director gave them an option to race another lap later that morning.

We rode back to the tent and shared the update with our teammates. I put my phone in a plastic baggy for the first race ever, threw it in my jersey pocket, and decided I would make a go of it. Our course was different than the sport course. We had a 1 lap, 20 mile loop to complete. We'd heard that none of the expert signs were removed, but I had my phone just in case I found myself in no-man's land for a few hours.

At the start, we climbed for awhile before hitting the new trails that traversed the ridge. After the record breaking rainy week we'd had with flooding, the trails were loose, technical and made it tough to get into a rhythm. I'd never been so happy to see a dirt road section in a mountain bike race. After a lengthy section of smooth dirt road, we headed back into the woods for several more miles.

The rocks reminded me of Michaux, but many of the ascents were too steep and filled with boulders to ride, and the descents were loose and gnarly. I exchanged comments with a couple of guys about how exciting it was at one point to be on the bike for even a 15 second period. One replied that he'd never walked so much during a race. I agreed and found out later many of the elite men/women felt the same. After an endo on a rock face, some bottom bracket destroying puddles and more hike-a-bike action than I've yet to experience, the race came to a close at around the 2.5 hour mark. I was so happy to hear those cowbells and cheers.

CCC photos courtesy of Mike Campbell

As I looked around and listened to the conversation of the expert/elite riders, I found that we were all basically on the same page. It was great to check out some new trails, but nothing could have prepared us for that much time off the bike, grunting out several miles with our bikes above our heads. We all came out of there with some classic stories and unforgettable race memories.

Hats off to all who competed in this year's Coal Cracker Classic. Next year? That's yet to be determined.

Monday, July 25, 2011

National Championship, Sun Valley, Idaho

It was the weekend of a lifetime, one I will never forget...

Rewind... A week and a half before the race I shipped my bike to Salt Lake City, to this fancy shop. I was pumped, I talked to the owner who was so kind and planned to build my bike and have it ready upon my Thursday arrival. The plan was to take my tent, pick up my bike and drive from Salt Lake to Sun Valley, a little 5 hour drive similar to our frequent journeys to southern Vermont. Sometimes things don't go as planned.

The day before I was set to fly out, I learned my bike was on a truck "somewhere in Illinois". I couldn't believe it, I had no idea what to ride for the race. So, I consulted SLC Bike Company again and they were willing to have a bike ready for me to race. It was a size smaller, but it was a bike and they were incredibly generous in their offer. After our Wednesday group ride, I sent out a Facebook message to ask our (awesome) biking community for any possible connections in Utah or Idaho. It was my last plea and attempt to get a bike that might fit better for my most important race to date. The response was tremendous and overwhelming. Within 10 minutes I had emails, messages and phone calls from friends old and new who wanted to help. It honestly gives me the chills. We are so lucky to be a part of such an incredible community of cyclists.

Ali and Mark Flis who I had only met once offered to take me in, give me a place to crash in Salt Lake, and fit me on Ali's Cannondale Flash. Again, I was overwhelmed and so grateful for their willingness to help me, someone they barely knew! We quickly became friends, and I can't wait to see them again. What an awesome couple.

Once in Sun Valley I pre rode the course and called Carolyn who so kindly offered me a place to stay with her friends from Utah. They took me in and I felt instantly at home. Such a great group of people! It was so great to spend that time with them and especially with Carolyn. We all ate meals together, raced together and rode some of the beautiful, local trails the day after the race in Sun Valley. It was an amazing weekend, and I can't thank each of them enough for making it so memorable!

Driving to the race I talked with encouraging friends & family and most importantly my husband who believes in me 100%. I knew they were all praying for me and couldn't wait to see how I'd perform. I was more nervous and excited than I had ever been. My hands were shaking on the wheel. I got there, warmed up and got to the start line about ten minutes prior to the start. Once the call-ups started, it hit me. You are about to line up with (behind) :) the top professional female riders of our nation! The course was on a ski slope and started with ~1 mile climb, followed by a switch backed downhill and a rock garden or two before climbing again. We'd race 5 laps total.

Photo courtesy of Spoken Chain

Photo courtesy of Kyle Miller
Thanks to the advice of a new friend out there, I started off moderately, knowing I was not used to the elevation, and I needed to maintain a consistent pace and energy for all 5 climbs. 

I followed that plan and felt pretty good considering. I refused to get off my bike on the climbs, mainly so I could say I never got off my bike for the climbs. :) It was a small personal victory. On the 3rd lap I started to feel much more comfortable with the terrain. The west is such a different place with dusty switchbacks and exposure unlike anything you see on the east coast. I dropped my chain in the rock garden, and got a bit sick, but kept plugging along. I just wanted to finish without getting pulled or lapped. On the fifth lap I was so happy I was almost teary thinking about it. I met my goal... I finished the race, didn't get lapped and didn't get pulled like some of the other girls. The race is under my belt and it feels so good. I can't wait for next year (with Ron) already! 

The weekend came and went and Monday I was back in Salt Lake with Ali and Mark. It was great to see them after the weekend and catch up on all that happened. Monday morning I went out for a solo ride in Park City, UT before my 2:15pm flight. Chad from Ogden drew me a map, gave me directions and sent me on a great ride. I was so happy to get that in before flying out.

Park City, UT

Looking out to Park City, UT from the trail
Sometimes things don't go as planned, but they may turn out better than expected. I will never forget this weekend... truly, the trip of a lifetime.

Sun Valley, ID

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Home trails

I never tire of rides along our home trails. Summer days, fall afternoons, winter nights and fresh spring mornings are spent in these woods year after year. Sometimes rides are solo and quiet, sometimes they're spent with friends. This unique, wooded trail system is filled with rocks, roots, off camber log overs, spunky climbs and technical downhills. These trails have taught me to be a better rider. They've made me faster, stronger and given me more passion for the sport I love... Laughter, tears, curses, and stories have been shared along these trails. Friendships have been forged that will never be forgotten. I never tire of these trails.

Bud's Memorial spot in HH

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

For us, West Virginia's Big Bear 2X12 was...

Photo by Solo_Goat

...driving through the mountains as the sun sunk behind
...finding out there was free camping with hot showers right at the start of the course (score!)
...pre riding the course, mostly in the dark with one light (because, why not?)
...eating summer sausage and cheddar for our pre-race meal
...braving the thunderstorm, crazy winds, and torrential downpours in our trusty two-man tent
...finding a diner in the morning with WonderBread french toast (yikes) as a coed duo on a 13 (not 12, what?) mile lap course (meh, no biggie)
...pushing hard to each do our part
...subsisting on Coke, cookies, and Hammer during the race
...crashing hard twice (me) and getting a mechanical (Ron)
...pushing forward hard to make up the time
...twisting and turning our way through the 3rd best pine tree section I've ever ridden (1st and 2nd include Webs and Old Webs in the Kingdom Trails of course)
...placing 3rd with my incredible teammate
...meeting our awesome competition and making new friends
...considering the Stoopid for a little more fun and a lot more pain
...turning the car to get Mexican instead and call it a weekend
...watching the sun sink again behind the green rolling mountains and fog filled valleys
...a weekend with priceless memories

Thursday, June 2, 2011

The first post

...and so it begins. The story of a girl whose parents placed her on her first, banana seated (pink) bike at age 6. Nestled in the countryside in neighborhood between two farms, riding was fun, riding was exciting, riding was vital. As a teenager, my father placed me on my mother's road bike and our 20 mile rides were long and tiresome, yet exhilarating. In college my then boyfriend, now husband gave me a lifetime gift and placed me on my first ever mountain bike. The passion that developed for mountain biking as we wound our way through the Pennsylvania woods, over the Pennnsylvania rocks, and up and over Vermont's Green Mountain range remains unmatched. 25 years after sitting on that first pink bike, I stand on many a start line humbled and thrilled by the professional, elite women competing at my side. This is the story of that girl, who fondly looks back on the many rides past and with great anticipation looks forward to the numerous roads and trails she has yet to discover.