View From the Back of the Pack – Making a List and Checking it – – oh wait I didn’t check it.

The next race we headed out to was in Crowsnest Pass, Alberta.  A few things stand out to me for this race.  Firstly, it was our first trek out of BC for an event which led to some road trip excitement (audiobooks ftw!) and it was also the scene of me forgetting to pack something important.

The trip out was fairly uneventful with the exception of a torrential downpour which flooded out a bunch of roads we were planning to take and causing us to divert in a town we’ve never been to before.  It went from clear skies to apocalypse so fast it was shocking.

Just as fast as the rain came, it went away and we safely made it to our Air BnB in Crowsnest Pass.  If you haven’t been there, I really recommend it.  Lovely little town where everyone was friendly and all seemed to be outdoorsy in one way or another.  The place we stayed was awesome and the owner was even the head of a local mountain biking club!  It also meant that they were well equipped for having bikes around.

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What really made this trip particularly memorable for me is that about 5 hours into our drive I had a sudden realization:  I forgot to pack my riding shoes!  That means I came equipped with a lovely pair of ballet flats and nothing else.  Not even runners.  Shockingly, I remembered socks.  Luckily, the local bike shop in Crowsnest Pass had a selection of women’s shoes to choose from and happened to have my size.  It was an expense I wasn’t expecting but super lucky it worked out.    What wasn’t nice was breaking in new shoes during an 8 hour race.  I would be lying if I said I walked away without blisters.

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Happily resting after breaking in those shoes.

The race itself was interesting.  Some of it was a ton of fun, some of it was torture, and some seemed like the organizers were just testing our will to continue.  The first climb was mellow but ended in everyone waiting in line for over an hour to start the first stage.  Nothing cools your muscles down like standing around on the top of a mountain for an hour after a climb up.  It also was the scene of men showing off how easy it is for them to pee in the woods.  Which they did.  All of them.  Often.  I won’t lie, I was jealous they didn’t have to fully expose their butt and squat as well as risk a Miss pissy pants situation.  But that’s not important in the grand scheme.  The excitement peaked when the man behind me took the opportunity to scrape all the dirt from his tires using a stick.  The thrills of this race were clearly non-stop!

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One of my favourite ways to catch my breath but pretend like I’m not about to drop dead is to enjoy the scenery.  Luckily, the views were stunning and I had a lot of opportunity to stop and smell the roses (if I could breathe, that is).

One thing that seems to stand out in my memory for this race is how much time I spent alone.  I know I’m always in last place but usually staggered starts means I’m just hanging out with people who started 3 hours after me (read: pro men) but in this race it was different.  I spend a ton of time on my own and even ended a couple of segments with nobody at the finish line to tell you where to beep out.  It was odd and one thing in particular made it even more frustrating.  No matter how much bug spray I had on (deet and natural) I was being eaten alive by mosquitoes.  You’d think it would be a minor inconvenience but it had me in tears and ready to quit the race.  A few mosquitoes would be annoying but I was completely surrounded by swarms for hours at a time.  I managed to take some pictures of the aftermath so know I’m not exaggerating.

I typically don’t mind being alone while riding and even prefer it quite often as it gives me a chance to go at my own pace and think my own thoughts but I think the combination of the mosquito torture and the gratuitous, extra long climbs made it kind of get to me a bit.  Doesn’t help that I knew I was in grizzly bear territory and spent a lot of time looking over my shoulder just waiting to meet my grizzly (heh) end via some giant murdermits.

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All in all, the race really was fun and I felt particularly accomplished when I got to the end of it.  I was able to enjoy my beer and pulled pork with the fantastic riders there.  Like other races, I’m just proud that I took it on and finished it.  I didn’t give up, even when my mind and body were screaming at me to just throw in the towel and go home.  That’s really what’s important.

Off Season

Living in Vancouver makes it a bit tricky for the “off” season.  For the most part, our weather is temperate to ride all year long.  This makes it hard to make excuses as to why you’re not getting out on your bike but, as I’ve discovered, riding shouldn’t be a chore or a box you should feel like you need to check.  It should bring joy!  I’ve definitely had days where I felt less than enthusiastic about the ride I’m on but I never want to get to the point where I feel miserable getting out on my bike.  To that end, I’ve (mostly) avoided riding when there’s a lot of snow on the mountains or if I really, truly feel like it’s just too much.  Unfortunately for you, dear readers, that means my updates have been VERY sparse.

We did get out on a lovely ride on New Year’s Day which, luckily, refuted something I was very afraid of happening.  I haven’t lost all of the progress I made last year!  Sure, I may have gained the weight back (sigh) but the skills are still kicking around in muscle memory.

While I wasn’t out on my bike a lot I did find ways to stay active this winter.  For Ryan’s birthday, he wanted to go snowshoeing with a group of friends which we did.

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I went for some runs, some rides, and some hikes.

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For the most part, I worked a billion hours a week and went to my mom’s house for the holidays where I ate a massive amount of food and indulged in a bit too much wine.  Obviously, the training needs to start again…. as soon as this pesky snow melts!

As far as indoor training goes, I was lucky enough to borrow a bike trainer for a friend of mine (as seen in the Port Moody excursion) to keep moving while the weather is bad.  I’ve also enjoyed some much needed yoga.

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The other big event was my bike maintenance course.  I did write about it at the time, but it has come in handy SO much in terms of feeling comfortable with taking care of my bike (and the bikes of my friends) and saving some money on mechanic fees.  I highly recommend taking one if you have the chance.  Getting to know your bike feels so freeing.

NOW, what’s on the horizon?  After the 45 day challenge last year, what could be coming this summer?  That, for now, will remain a surprise.  Stay tuned for updates on this year’s exciting challenge!

How We Learn

Everyone learns things differently. Some people like to jump in feet first and soak up all they can which is fantastic. I, however, am a bit of a school junkie and respond super well to more formal classroom-type settings. Learning how to ride my bike was no different. I was out looking for some kind of instruction and at an outdoors show in Vancouver and I found just that! At one of the booths set up there I met Tammy from Escape Adventures. They normally run kids’ programs and camps but were rolling out an adult mountain biking course and it sounded perfect! (You’ll have to forgive me but I didn’t take any pictures when I was taking the course so this blog will have some randoms.)

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This was definitely a foundations course covering a range of topics including: basic bike parts, body positioning, cornering, how to chose lines, climbing techniques, and more. It is very safe to say that I went from barely being able to ride in a straight line to starting to be comfortable with cornering (which terrified me previously). The climbing tips that were taught to us also have helped me immensely in my ability to drag myself up the mountain.

The course started in the safety of a flat lot where we learned a bit of the basics of body positioning and form as well as some tips for cornering. We practiced getting on and off our bikes safely and quickly (a huge improvement on my previous technique of stop, fall over, and hope to land on my foot), played some games to help master cornering, starting and stopping, and even got to ride some skinnies in the parking lot.

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After that, we moved to real trails on the North Shore. I am absolutely not good at climbing. My endurance is garbage. I felt a little bit intimidated when everyone else seemed to be able to zip ahead and, magically, weren’t red as a tomato, completely drenched in sweat, and panting like their lives depended on it. I was nervous about being so far behind but Tammy always made sure to loop back to check on me and make sure I wasn’t killing myself. She even rode along with me for a while. When all else failed, I got off and walked.

Learning the trails was extremely fun. We were on beginner trails like Roadside Attraction on Fromme (where I developed an arch nemesis that I will talk about later) and practiced looking ahead, picking our lines, and keeping good form just like in the parking lot. Everyone was super supportive and it was a ton of fun.

While I was still struggling with some things when the course was over, I definitely had the foundation skills that I could keep building on. I am proud to say I can now climb up more than I could before using the skills I was taught, and I’m not terrified of cornering!

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I know this isn’t how everybody learns and some people would rather just go out on their own and figure stuff out, but I would highly recommend courses like this for developing the foundation skills that are so important. We all know how hard it is to break a bad habit so even better if you start practicing good habits early on. It really felt more like a group ride than formal classroom instruction; we all supported each other and made sure no one was left behind–not even me.

If you prefer to learn on your own but still want some support there are some really great options. Ryan Leech has some free and some paid skill development courses. If you’re looking for free, there’s a great YouTube channel called Skills with Phil. Both of these guys are great teachers and you can learn a lot from them. However you choose to learn is great as long as it works for you and you’re having fun on your bike because that’s the most important thing.  So how about you guys?  How did you learn?

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Lady biker? Mountain biker? Female mountain biker?

The inspiration for starting this blog came to me on the side of a mountain, as most good things do. This time I was not on my bike or even out for a hike but was watching a very entertaining compression jump of the enduro bike race that my boyfriend was taking part in. My friend Laura and I sat with the crowd, a small picnic, and enjoyed cheering and heckling the riders as they hit the jump… or didn’t. What stood out about this experience is that there was a woman sitting behind us who every time a female rider came through would excitedly exclaim, “ohhh! It was a girl!!!” Granted, there was a U21 group, but many of these riders were, in fact, full-fledged women. What compounded it was the fact that if one of these “girls” hit the jump really well, she would further yell, “even THAT one was a girl! Wow!”

I try not to be oversensitive, but this was like nails on a blackboard to me and Laura. Why was it so astounding that women can jump too?

I promise this blog will not be preachy about gender rights and equality, this was just the jumping off point that got me thinking about my experiences as a woman who loves to mountain bike. Then, after comparing notes with some male and female bikers I know, I realized that patterns started to come out as far as our experiences go. It seems that there are some fundamental differences between men and women in this sport. I’m not saying that that is good or bad, but I feel like it’s something worth talking about. These are what I’d like to explore a bit more in this blog; my experiences as well as those of other people.

I am also a novice. I rode my first mountain bike about three years ago but really have been only been riding regularly for about the past two. I, in no way, am capable of jumps or drops or completing an enduro race. But I want to get there. In fact, I want to ride the very race that I was watching so many talented men and women complete. So this blog is a few things. It’s some talking points on shared experiences or maybe just some weird experiences I’ve had, it’s some accountability for me to get out and ride because even if no one’s reading this I can say that I’ve ridden and here’s the proof, and it’s also a chance for anyone out there who decides to read see a rank amateur develop. I will post embarrassing videos and pictures showing the ups and downs. I want to see your proud and scary and embarrassing moments as they come. Let’s learn from each other and most important of all: let’s ride bikes!