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.

img_2113
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?

img_2115
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!

You Can Do It! (Brake Edition)

In my last post I touched on how my front brake has given up the ghost.  I put it off for a little while but was getting really itchy when I couldn’t get out and ride my bike.  True, I did one trip out and used Ryan’s hardtail and then swapped it for our friend’s full suspension downhill monster bike (talk about opposite ends of the spectrum!).  Both were fun but I was on new trails and I was missing poor Jenny.  It was time to take the matter into my own hands!

I decided that I had enough money to replace just the front brake.  I would’ve loved to do both at the same time but I’ll have to wait a bit on that I think.  I was also super keen to put my new mechanic skills to the test and actually take it home and install it myself.

This journey starts with a bit of research but I decided which kind of brake I wanted and headed into the shop.  My history with bike shops has been pretty good, actually, but I’ve found that I spent a lot of time beforehand studying what to say and how to say it to make it seem like I have some idea of what I’m talking about.  Mostly I’ve just given up on that endeavour as it’s always better to just admit when you don’t know something and ask for help, but I still get a bit nervous that I’ll be looked down upon for my ignorance.  I headed into Dunbar Cycles and, luckily, was mostly just tired having come from work and didn’t have time to feel nervous.  I walked up to the service desk and, astoundingly, found myself saying words like I knew what I was talking about…. wait a minute… I DID know what I was talking about!  There wasn’t a panicked text to someone about a question I didn’t know how to answer or even much of a pause in the conversation for me to think!  Honestly, it felt so good to be asked a question and know exactly what the answer is.  It’s quite the turning point in my biking career and I loved the feeling of it!  Hell yeah I can tell you about my bike and its parts!

img_1939

So I get the brake home and look at it.  It looks familiar.  There’s nothing too foreign about it in comparison to the brake I had already.  I can do this!  I must say without help of Ryan OR Youtube I changed the pads (swapped organic for metallic), changed out my rotor for a gently used one, installed the brake, routed the cable properly, and got the lever on in the right spot.

img_1938

I must say the moment I put the wheel back on I was holding my breath a little bit, worried it would somehow not fit… or explode… or something dramatic that ruins my entire bike. But it slid right in, fit like a glove and I felt so proud that I used what I’ve learned and that I have the confidence to just tackle it without second guessing myself (too much)!

I’ve already taken it out for a ride and had a blast.  It took about half a lap for me to get used to it but after that it felt totally fine.  I think it may need a bleed so I’m going to get a kit and do it myself rather than go to the shop.  I’ve got this!

img_1944

I know sometimes these things can feel incredibly daunting and intricate.  It feels like somehow you’re going to do one little thing that will absolutely ruin the entire mechanism or even bike itself.  My only advice for people like me who get nervous about this stuff to seek out and take a bike maintenance course.  If you’re in BC and can make it to Abbotsford, I really do recommend taking the UFV Bicycle Mechanic course like I did.  I feel so much more confident because I got to play with bikes, screw up, realize it wasn’t a big deal, and learned how to fix what I’d done.  That alone is worth so, so much.

What about you folks?  What are your home mechanic victories?

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!

img_1905

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.

img_1777

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.

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.

img_1785

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

img_1837

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.

img_1820

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!