View From the Back of the Pack: Part 2 – Changing Perspectives

I last left off on a depressing note.  I highly suggest you read my last post before reading this one for it to make sense.  Fast forward a couple of weeks after Kamloops with some fairly unpleasant riding experiences in between.  There’s a point I would really love to add in here because I feel like it’s a factor that has been an issue in the past and really contributes to how I’m feeling on a ride.  That is the issue of the sweep.

For those of you who don’t know, the sweep is the person who brings up the rear.  In a race or event it’s the person who leaves after everyone else and makes sure that everyone gets down safely.  In my experience as a slow person, the sweep really can make or break that ride.  I have experienced wonderful, lovely sweeps who are just out to support everyone and make sure we all get down and/or have fun.  I have also experienced sweeps who feel the need to make snide comments about the slowest rider (me), about how much of a hurry they’re in (when there’s plenty of time left on the official clock), and in some cases straight up bullying.  I’m already feeling self conscious about being slower than everyone else.  I’m not just being lazy and taking too many breaks.  I’m doing the best I can and, especially when it’s a more casual and fun race, it seems unnecessary to give me shit for not being as fast as you want to go.  Again, that being said it is not everyone I have encountered and it won’t be everyone I encounter going forward.  I just wanted to mention this in case someone reading this is a sweep one day and is waiting for someone struggling.  Trust me, they’re not doing it just to annoy you and you very well make someone want to completely quit the sport.

This brings us to the morning of the Canadian National Enduro Series Fraser Valley race on Vedder Mountain.  I was, in a word, miserable.  I didn’t want to do the race.  I didn’t want sweeps to spend the day giving me shit for being slow.  I didn’t want to feel like a failure.  But I was there and registered.  I didn’t want to sit in the car for 7 hours waiting for Ryan to finish.  So I frowned and whined about not wanting to do it and I took off on my bike alone (staggered starts for different categories of riders).  Then something magical happened.  I don’t know if it was how beautiful the forest was or how peaceful it was climbing by myself but I got smacked in the face with an undeniable truth: I was there to have fun.  I can stop whenever I want.  My goals are my own and the only person I can let down is myself.

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A smile?! On a climb?!

It seems simple but after feeling so much pressure and disappointment it truly felt like a sudden realization.  The sun coming out between parting clouds.  Suddenly I was smiling on my sweaty walk up.  I cheered people and made jokes as people passed me.  I set a new goal:  get to the top.  This doesn’t seem like much of a goal but, honestly, if you’ve ever done the climb all the way up Vedder you’ll understand.  It’s brutal and steep.  It took me 3 hours.  I was doing stages 1 and 2 with the pro men and women who left 2 hours after me.  But we all suffered through it together and I actually enjoyed my death march up the hill.

In the end, I only completed 2 stages out of 6 or 7 but I felt so pleased.  I made it to the top!  Something I honestly felt almost impossible until I was standing at the stage 1 start.  I was beaming.  I am not a failure.   That’s why I’m still writing.  For the person who’s scared they’re not good enough to tackle that race, group ride, or even mountain biking in general!  You set your own goals.  If someone else decides to give you a hard time for it, that’s on them.  Maybe they’ve missed the whole reason why we’re all out there in the first place: to have fun.  Even the most serious racers find joy in being out on their bike. Keep that in mind and you’ll never have a bad day on the trails.

Another thing happened during the after party for this race which I am both proud and ashamed of.  An announcement came on saying that anyone who has an “ugly or shitty bike” come over to the Race Face tent for a contest to pimp out your bike with some amazing new parts.  As soon as I heard that I proclaimed, “I got this!” and ran poor Jenny over to the tent.  There were a couple of other people with their bikes mingling around, waiting for judgement and when they saw my bike coming they, no word of a lie, hung their heads in disappointment and WALKED AWAY!  This feeling was cemented as the judge took one look at my bike and said, “what the hell is that?!”  He was particularly interested in my ancient dropper post.  Long story short, it was no contest and Jenny won some amazing carbon cranks, bottom bracket, new chain ring, carbon handlebars, and a new stem.  It was incredible and even I know that those pieces are too baller for my old bike.  I still put them on.  Unfortunately the stem and handlebars didn’t fit my poor, old Jenny, but the cranks went on and she lost a full TWO POUNDS.  I was shocked!  They’re so smooth and I love them. Maybe I’ll get a new fork and put on the stem and handlebars one day.  This particular situation also ended up with my picture in an article and had people recognizing me at the next race.  Pretty crazy, huh?

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The kindness of strangers…. someone gave me a much needed fruit cup!

I felt completely renewed by this experience and I was so excited to tackle the next weekend’s race in Kelowna.  That story is up next!

New Summer Challenges

Last summer I really challenged myself with my 45 days of mountain biking.  This year I was struggling to come up with an idea of what to do as a new and fun challenge.  Suddenly it came to me . . . last year I participated in my first ever race (the NSMBA Fiver) and I thought I’d keep the fun, competitive spirit going!

I have signed up for a number of enduro races this summer and have created quite the fun schedule of trips around BC and Alberta to participate in the sport I love and really test myself by being pushed to the limits.  Will I win?  Absolutely not!  Will I finish?  That’s the hope.  Will I have fun?  That’s a given!

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The races are all part of the Canadian National or BC Enduro Series as of now.  So far the schedule is as follows but there may be 1 or 2 more races added and I will update when I add more:

April 21st – Kamloops Beaver Classic

May 13th – Fraser Valley

May 20th – Kelowna

June 3rd – Kamloops

June 24th – Crowsnest Pass

July 8th – Canmore

July 21st – Squamish – Hot on your Heels

Of course I will be riding in between these as well.  Maybe participating in some Fivers again or just getting out there for some no-competition fun.  I also can’t imagine a summer would go by without a trip to Coast Gravity or Whistler as well but time will tell for those.

Naturally, Ryan will be joining me on this adventure.  He is registered for the races with me and is going to be a great cheerleader . . . waiting at the finish line for hours for me to be done.  So far we’ve managed to negotiate which races we should register for, figure out accommodations, and estimate any expenses that we’ll come across.  There was some debate over camping vs hotel vs Air BnB and while I absolutely love camping I got a bit nervous about riding a billion hour race and not having an actual, comfy bed to return to.  Luckily, Ryan could see my point and we have some rooms booked up with some lovely local folks at each stop.

An exciting addition is a new logo made by the lovely Kristina at Sketchy Trails.  It is absolutely beautiful and I love that she captured my “popsicle nightmare” look of colourful gear.  I have an order ready to get some custom jerseys printed to wear to the races and maybe one or two extra to give away.

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The other issue that is at hand is training.  Other than the mountains being covered in snow at the moment, I’ve also run into a snag of my front brake giving up the ghost (just before a descent no less) and me scrambling together money to replace it.  In the meantime, I’m hoping Ryan is okay with me borrowing his hard tail.  At least my legs will get an extra workout that way!  Pretty soon I’m going to be kicking it into high gear and getting out on trails as close to every day as I can.  I have a long way to go before being in form for racing.

I will be documenting the whole experience.  I plan on having my trusty GoPro on me for every race so you can all enjoy my suffering and my triumphs.  I will also be writing all about it in my blog series which will be called:  (Drumroll, please!)

The View from the Back of the Pack.

I’m not saying I won’t be giving it my all.  I just know how many wonderfully talented riders are going to be out on the same trails as me and I know that just finishing each race is an amazing goal for me.  I fully intend to get to know some of the trail sweeps and to fall over, exhausted, at the end of each race.  But through this I’m going to learn so much, meet new people, and have fun experiences to remember forever.

Wish me luck, all . . . I’m going to need it.

Sarah the Mechanic?

I have to start this by apologizing for not posting more than I have been.  The weather’s been awful and I’ve been working non-stop which leaves precious little time for bikes (or sleep) BUT I have had the fantastic opportunity to go to the University of the Fraser Valley Bike Maintenance Level 1 Course.  This course ran once a week for 6 weeks and taught us the basics of bike maintenance.  After this class I can do a full tune up on my bikes as well as some more advanced skills like brake bleeds and hub overhauls.

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My first try at wheel truing.  Does this look straight to you?

The (more than qualified) instructor for the class is Bruce Wenting, owner of Wentings Cycle & Mountain Shop.  It would not be an exaggeration to say that this man knows and loves bikes.  He had awesome stories about every kind of biking you can think of from road races, to cyclocross, to old school mountain biking.  We were all definitely in good hands.  He taught us so much and was able to answer all of our questions, and even solved the mystery of my constantly breaking spokes!  We worked on a variety of types of bikes and the last couple of classes we paired up to work on our own bikes!  Jenny has never looked so good!

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Dirty brake fluid from my gnarly summer of hard riding.

Now, I know you all don’t just come here for stories about me learning things completely successfully without any bumps along the way.  We all know how awkward of a person I am and this class wasn’t an exception.  There are a couple of things I’ve learned from this course (parallel to and outside of the curriculum) and they are:

1.)  No matter how many times I’m told not to, the only thing I ever want to do is squeeze the brake levers when the wheels are off on hydraulic brakes.  This is a no-no as it can cause the pistons in the calliper to get stuck which means you need to reset them.  I did this no fewer than FOUR times when working on my partner’s bike and eventually stopped apologizing and just pulled out the brake pads to fix my blunder yet again.  It was funny the first 2-3 times.

2.)  If you’re going to crouch down to take somebody’s picture in a quiet room filled with cool, bike people, make damn sure you aren’t going to fart.  It happened… loudly…. people noticed.  *sigh*

3.)  When throwing out cables and housing in a metal garbage can, either don’t coil them at all or make sure they’re secured well when coiled so they don’t spring open in the garbage can with a loud crashing noise and get yourself called “rowdy” by the teacher.

Another cool thing I’d like to note about this program is that it’s held in the UFV Aerospace Centre in Abbotsford.  This is where people learn to work on planes.  Planes!  How cool is that?!  So we were all fixing our bikes next to empty planes in a hangar.  Not to mention the bunch of them outside.

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Bikes were also made to fly.

 

This is also the home of Paul Brodie’s Bike Frame Building Course where you actually design and build a frame from start to finish, all the while being guided by the legendary Paul Brodie.  You walk away with a bike frame that you get to build.  I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t tempted to do that for a hardtail frame.  But one thing at a time.  I will most likely be taking the Level 2 of the bike maintenance course when it’s offered in the new year to learn things like suspension maintenance and wheel building.

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Jenny ready for her makeover.

I’m so excited to not have to take my bike into the shop for everything anymore.  Working on your bike may seem scary at first but it is honestly so fun and accessible!  I encourage anyone out there with a bike to take some sort of course to at least know the basics of how to take care of it.  It saves you money and gives you a deeper understanding of your bike and how it works.

Happy trails and stay dry!

 

 

Day 18/45 – Going the Distance

To anyone who's been reading along with my journey, you'll know that I'm not great at climbing… or distance. Throughout this 45 day challenge I must say that my endurance has improved, however, it's definitely not where I'd like it to be yet. Recently I was asked by the organizing team at the Innovative Fitness Adventure Challenge (http://www.ifac.ca/) in Port Moody to check out the mountain bike portion of their 3-part challenge. At first I was completely stoked. In fact, I wanted to do the whole challenge: kayaking, biking, and running. Then I took a look at the biking course and realized it was 17km and thought, "oh no what have I done?" BUT, not to be dismayed by a seemingly giant distance (I'm basically toast after 4km usually) I called up my buddy Bryan (of the unicycle fame) as a road cyclist and cyclocross star extraordinare to hold my hand through this harrowing experience.

When I picked Bryan up it was apparent we were a mismatch. Not including our foot and a half height difference, we were definitely geared out and dressed for different outings. The person who took this picture even said, "you two weren't riding together, were you?"

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Even though I was terrified of going such a distance (and so much of it steeply uphill), we set off with determination and excitement for something new. I have to say…. we had a lot of fun! Luckily on race day, the course will be marked for everyone because Bryan and I definitely got lost and had to backtrack quite a bit. Somehow we still made it to the 17km by the end and tested our exploration abilities.

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The trails themselves are a combination of paved and gravel walking/riding trails through the park, residential roads, and proper trail climbs complete with roots and rocks. There are some downhill segments but definitely beginner-friendly and easily done on a cross country bike.

What was not ideal, however, was me on a full mountain bike and Bryan on a cyclocross bike. We took turns leaving each other in the dust: him climbing over flat, grippy surfaces like a champion, and me shredding anything downhill or with less traction like a bat out of hell. What WOULD be perfect is either an enduro or a cross country bike. Don't be like us. Dress and gear appropriately.

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There's still time to sign up for the Innovative Fitness Adventure Challenge (https://raceroster.com/events/2017/11617/innovative-fitness-adventure-challenge?target=blank) which supports two charities: Physical Literacy For Life and I AM SOMEONE Ending Bullying Society. The race itself is September 9th. If you want a fun day out with friends and a very BC way to get some exercise go ahead and sign up. If it's not your thing, come out and cheer the awesome folks who are out there killin' it or donate to one of the participants.

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