OK, so I’ve done a few gravel races I suppose, mostly Old Man Winter Bike Rally (3 times) and a fundraiser called Roads to Ruts in Douglas, but both were either in the winter or very low key events. The Dead Swede in Sheridan, WY, would mark my foray into one of the bigger gravel races exploding onto the scene.
Sheridan is an amazing place to ride. And it’s in Wyoming.
I wanted a podium
I had teammates going which meant for once I would not have to drive to a race (!!!)
The Dead Swede has a few distance options – 100, 40, and 20 miles. Because I have only once rode 100 miles on a bike, I opted for the 40 mile distance as I knew my hacked together fit on my cyclocross-turned-“gravel” bike wouldn’t bring out any weird pains at that distance, and also that I know I can hammer that long. In a weird bike race season that is either a triumph mountain peak or a barren canyon of despair, I haven’t been setting too many goals… except for the Dead Swede. I wanted to win… well, podium. I’ll take that. I’m trying to be better at realizing I can’t control anything about the race except for me, and sometimes you just have to accept a faster person registered (but it doesn’t mean I won’t give them hell on the first climb and make them work for it for a little while!).
After a fun road trip on Friday with dino-sitting, Moe’s, and exploring our amazing AirBnB, my three teammates plus Sam (eh, he became honorary 9Seventy Racing for the weekend I suppose) readied our bikes and prepared for what lay ahead. I kept joking that they were all my domestiques that would tow me to the finish, which I think started to annoy all the boys.
Sam, Mike, and I picked the front row of the 330+ 40 mile racers that lined up. I hate mass starts, and I hate them even more in a crowd mostly filled with people that have never road raced or ridden in a peloton. The incredibly short neutral roll out took place, and then bam! 8 miles of pavement to get us warmed up. For the most part the pace was fast but reasonable, with some surges and weird slow downs. Someone tried an attack, but I also think they were 15 (and would win it overall), so nobody really chased. I kept my eye on the Douglas squad, which all seemed to be working for Terri. Dammit, where’s my domestiques?! LOL.
After eight miles we hit the gravel and immediately the first big climb of the day. The still air combined with my black skin suit and hot sun made me want to melt but I made it to the top as the first female. I think over the next several miles I stayed close to Chuck and Terri, but eventually dropped off. But it was cool, because I was having fun and so excited I was feeling powerful and fast, especially after the disappointing race a week prior at the Gunnison Half Growler. Time to maintain this second overall female position!
Super, crazy fast descents (well, if you’re me… I descend a bit recklessly on gravel… wait, I mean 43mph on 32mm tires and useless cantilever brakes on loose gravel is totally safe…), long grindy uphills. The gorgeous scenes of Sheridan County flew by along with the miles, and surprisingly quickly I reached Dayton for a tiny bit of pavement before turning back towards Sheridan. The next gravel road was rolly, falsely flat, had a mild headwind, and was hot. I started picking off 20 mile racers, who started in Dayton, hoping everyone would hold their line as I flew around on the downhills in some sort of silly aero tuck (making that skin suit do it’s job, clearly). Around hour one I started sipping my Tailwind, cognizant of the fact I needed to be taking on the calories and hydration in the sun.
The third (in my mind) signifiant climb loomed in front of me and I sighed and shifted into the granny gear to spin up. To my surprise, Tony from Rapid City caught me. Tony and his crew saved my sanity during the 2015 Tour de Wyoming, and soon we were flying up the hill together, catching up on the last four years of our lives (which consisted of “I stopped racing and training.” “Hey, so did I!”). I’d hang with him until the beer and bacon aid station, which I blew past. But I enjoyed the company… my pace up that climb had definitely quickened with Tony distracting me!
Soon traffic picked up, just in time for the final climb. Which was a miserable hill with a false summit. The vehicle traffic kicked up dust climbs to insult my lungs, and due to the traffic, we all had to climb in the loose gravel on the side which added some trickiness. I caught my teammate Ty as Sam came around me – I had thought Sam was miles in front of me, but turns out he was chasing back from a double flat.
Pavement. Ugh. The last handful of miles on the pavement sucked. I had flatted on a road ride in Sheridan last summer, so I was weary of the shoulders and road debris, sticking to the travel lane. I didn’t want to risk anything. Ooooo the school… I’m close… ooooo the bike path, I’m even closer! Yesssss the steep downhill into the park… YESSSS THE FINISH LINE!
2nd place overall women, 2nd place 30-49 women, 13th place overall out of 330 or so racers. 2 hours and 26 minutes.
(And all done on a 2012 Specialized Crux with canti brakes and relatively narrow tires in comparison to today’s trends, and hamburger seat bag. I thumb my nose at you, industry marketing tactics!)
It’s been a long time, or even never, since I have been this proud of my race effort and finish. I raced smart in the opening pavement miles, hiding in the pack. I railed the descents, and made sure to stay steady on the climbs. I put forth a solo time trial effort over most of the course, much of it into a hot headwind all by myself. I was so freaking happy!
So yeah… I like this gravel stuff. It’s a whole new different style of racing. It has some roadie tactics without the 15-20 hour a week training commitment Colorado women’s cat 3 road racing seems to command just to not get dropped in the first fifteen seconds. It has a need of skills that crosses over from cyclocross and mountain biking. It has crazy awesome courses on little travel roads. And in events like the Dead Swede, it has crazy huge women’s fields!
So where exactly has 2019 gone? I guess it is true – time just keeps speeding up faster and faster the older you get. I’m already six races into my 2019 season, and haven’t written about a single one!
I kicked off 2019 with the Old Man Winter Bike Rally in February. I had planned on doing the 100km long course, but end of January my whole pre-season was derailed by a crazy sinus and respiratory infection. I played it safe, and bumped down to the 50km course. I was off the bike for a considerable amount of time, so really didn’t know what to expect. Unlike when I did Old Man in 2017, this year was cold (mid 20s) and sloppy. I was riding in a podium position for about half the race, but then bonked. My bottles froze, which is the downfall to running a purely liquid form of nutrition, so I also didn’t take in any calories. I would end up 7th place out of 97 women in 1 hour 50 minutes, which I find to be crazy impressive considering I was still on antibiotics and feeling like I was functioning with half a lung.
Then came a lapse in mental judgement, when I decided I would race some criteriums in March. Yes, criterium as in crit, as in those things I swear I will not race because they’re the most dangerous things ever. I dunno, I’m just as confused as you are.
March 23rd was the Louisville Crit, which seemed to have an okay course. I parked by my pro roadie friend Mel, and we rode to registration together. Cat 3 women would start with the P12’s, which is just silly if you ask me. I almost missed the start because I was too busy not preparing to race my bike. I was dropped in the first ten seconds of the race, so I began my 50 minutes of solo TT effort. About halfway through I started yelling at the Square1 folks and photographers about wanting a beer hand up, and behold, on the next lap, Barry was on course with a beer in his outstretched hand!!! I may have finished DFL in this race, but I won in fun had because I GOT A BEER HANDUP IN A CRIT! That is all. Also, don’t attempt to sprint against Ashley Zoener. Even my 800 watts was child’s play. Lesson learned.
Riding my beer handup high, I entered the Oredigger CSP Crit the following weekend. This race really isn’t very crit-y, and takes place on the Colorado Highway Patrol training track. So needless to say, all I did was wish I was ripping around it in a car. This time I hung with the Cat3/4/5 group for about two or so laps before I was dropped and began my solo TT for 22nd place, which was not last, for the record. Hey, I get the most of my entry fee!
Because I pretty much stopped formally training at the end of January when I got sick, my fitness was being very slow to coming around, and I was beginning a crazy intense block of travel for work. Boulder Roubaix was wayyyyy faster than the previous time I had raced it in cat 3, mostly thanks to young juniors who apparently can just sprint for hours on end. The gravel was fairly sketchy this year, and there were flats galore and crashes. I hung on for about half a lap before being dropped. I was in last place for awhile, but finally caught the girl in front of me and was able to distance myself from her. I stopped briefly to check on Heather who had flatted and was walking it out. In the end, I’d get 11th place. Not last. I got some tan lines.
Finally it was time to end the road racing nonsense with the CSU Cobb Lake Road Race in mid-April. Pulling in for my volunteer shift, I was pretty set on not starting the race. Less than an hour before the start, I pulled my bib numbers and walked to my car and got ready. I am so happy that I decided to start! I actually like this circuit course, and every time I race it I end up just riding solo most of the time, and I don’t mind it. Strangely enough, two laps in I was still in the front pack, which included Jennifer Valente (a Google search tells me she’s an Olympic medalist… so you know, not slow at all). Third lap of the six lap race I was dropped on the climb. That’s probably the hardest thing for me as I struggle with weight and regaining form is not being able to climb like I use to, so my ego cried a bit. I put in the work to try to catch the group, aided by Dejan, who was moto-reffing for the day, cheering me on during a crazy sprint effort when I recontacted the group… to have them all take off sprinting. Yeah, I don’t get road race tactics. Oh well, onward I continued. I was lapped by a finishing men’s category at the end of my 5th lap, and there were a few seconds of confusion while the officials debated if I had another lap to do or not. I didn’t want a DNF, so out on the sixth lap I went. Whew. Long race… I was last among the finishers, but there were three DNF’s. I am happy I wasn’t a DNS, as DFL is better than a DNS!
And then I started a crazy two weeks which included travel to Las Vegas, then straight to Florida, then back for barely 48 hours before heading to England and then onto Finland. No bikes, and sea level. Great combo heading into mountain bike race season!
The UW Cycling Team decided to host a race on the brand new trail system east of Laramie called the Schoolyard Scramble on May 4th, and I figured it was a lot better than getting my butt handed to me down in Castle Rock at Ridgeline Rampage. I get my bike off the car, and go to warm up, and immediately hear a loud, “liquid squishing” sound coming from my rear shock. I let Alan, John, and finally Dewey from the Pedal House listen to it, who confirmed it was blown, but “still okay to race on.” Greattttt. I silently thanked my lucky stars I never sold my other Epic (aka “the old race bike”) so I would have something to race the Growler on in a few weeks, and took to the starting line.
Schoolyard Scramble had the weirdest XC race start ever… where we just soft pedaled. I eyed Isabell, watching to see if she’d jump, but nothing. Finally with the single track appearing, I jumped in front, and pushed the pace, and she stuck on my back wheel and we dropped Melanie and the rest of the field. It was all going well until on a fast downhill I followed the guy in front of me off course, which allowed Isabel to jump into the lead. Dammit! So I took to just keeping my pace steady, staying upright, and not listening to the liquid squishing sound. I noticed my handling skills were quite rusty, and I wanted to over steer on every corner. Eek. However, I kinda felt like a bit of my old XC racer self, which was a relief! I’d finish second, a little under a minute back from Isabel, and about a minute over Melanie. And the best part is I got a UW cycling team kit as my prize!! Woohoo!
With my mountain bike race season started, I feel a new renewed interest in mountain bike racing. I know deep down I am shifting towards cyclocross being my primary discipline, but I think having last year off from an intense mountain bike season has rekindled my fire a bit. Though my season is really a 180-degree difference than the one I had planned, I still want to race a lot and just enjoy the fact I can race a bike. So needless to say, I’ve filled every weekend through June 8th with mountain bike races, including a USAC nationals qualifier (Battle the Bear), just so I’m qualified just in case I decide to race nationals for the experience.
Oh man, where has the time gone? I blinked, and went from cyclocross season to the beginning of March just like that!
First, I want to give ONE BIG SHOUT OUT to my amazing sponsors and supporters for my 2019 race season.
I am once again honored to be a part of 9Seventy Racing, a multi-sport racing team based in Fort Collins, CO (but with awesome teammates from all over the Front Range, Western Slope, and even Durango, CO… and then me in WY).
Also returning for 2019 is Tailwind Nutrition, the only fuel and recovery brand I trust for my training and racing – and all my adventures in between! I am so happy to be returning as one of their official Trailblazers for the fourth year in a row.
New for 2019 is Maxxis Tires. I switched to using Maxxis Tires in 2017 for my XC mountain bike race season, and never looked back. They perform great (hence why world champions use them), and are tough to stand up to whatever gnarly stuff the trails can throw at them.
And, last but not least, Dirt Components! Still nothing better than those pretty carbon fiber Thumper wheels on my fat bike during the winter!
My 2019 race plans have changed seemingly weekly as I figure out what I want from my season. I did give myself a taster of racing in February with the Old Man Winter Bike Rally, where I placed 7th out of 97 ladies in the 50km gravel race. Otherwise, my race season will begin in April with some early road racing (weather pending… we actually are having a winter this year!), and mountain biking begins in May!
I’ve never been a mantra type person. Never really had a saying or anything, except for some self-talk like “keep it smooth” or “don’t freaking wreck now!” in the heat of a mountain bike race. But this past cyclocross season taught me something, and morphed into the mantra I ended up embracing: Keep Fighting.
I really didn’t know what to expect from cyclocross this year. Honestly, it’s my favorite discipline and I was just very excited to get back to my little wacky cross family for a few months, but my fitness never seemed to recover to previous levels after surgery. Nonetheless, I decided I would attend every Front Range BRAC/USAC cross race, minus the three I’d miss due to my Iceland trip (I know, horrrrribbbbllleeee excuse!). I’ve never raced every single event in the season; in fact, I barely did any races in 2017. I also decided to supplement the USAC stuff with weeknight races at New Belgium and a few of the Southeast Wyoming CX Series races. Ambitious. Maybe crazy.
So after nearly a month off the bike and three weeks spent hiking around at nearly sea level, I dived into the 2018 cyclocross season in the single speed category.
The single speed women’s category grew… like double/triple from last year
It got super fast
Ummm, I barely ride a bike
The first race at Primalpalooza on September 30th was a disaster for me. I ended up finishing minutes off the back. I think I was just walking my bike at one point. It was miserable and heart wrenching. Immediately I thought “oh crap,” and stared at all the races I plotted out. Now, some might roll their eyes and think I only like racing a bike when I’m winning. Which hey, winning is super nice, but so is also not being like 4 minutes off the next racer. I thought I maybe jumped in over my head.
But alas, the skin suit came out one week later at CycloX Interlocken. It was rainy, which led to some slippery conditions which plays to my technical strengths. I had a decent start, and on the second lap was just about to contact 4th & 5th places when I got lost on course, rode the sand pit twice, and later got lost AGAIN near the end of the lap. So… freaking… frustrated. Luckily, I was able to make up a few positions, and ended up a mid-pack 6th, which was a relief. OK, it’s still there. Barely, and with some weird route finding issues, but there. But I did find myself whispering over and over “Keep fighting, Heidi, keep fighting!”
Next big weekend was the US Open of Cyclocross weekend at Valmont. I always race like poo at Valmont, but I do like the mountain bike-ness of the course, and the fact I can usually find something to launch my bike off of. I had a good start on Saturday, but for some reason decided to not turn my bike in a gravel corner, which caused me to panic brake and wipe out. Seriously, WTF?! I ended up 4th on the tough course that involve to many steep run ups, but one awesome jump I went off of every lap to spectaculars’ delight. Once again, mid-pack. Sunday’s conditions had me eagerly bouncing off the walls, with weather doing a 180 and dumping about a foot of snow on the course. Usually Valmont races are hot sufferfests, so I was all for the snow! I had a great start, but soon my shoes and my pedals each were balls of ice, which led to me having to strider-bike a lot of parts where Sarah could clip in and keep pedaling. The time I wasted trying to get my feet to even contact my pedals for more than 2 seconds meant a 2nd place finish. But finally, in my 6th season of racing cyclocross, I got my elusive podium at Valmont! Only took a ton of snow for it to happen. Lesson learned to pack some flat pedals in case of a repeat.
With a podium behind me, I dived into the following weekend, deciding to also race my women’s geared cat 3 category at Schoolyard Cross after the single speed race. Schoolyard was a bit annoying, as we started after the cat 5 men, which led to a lot of guys blocking the path. I sat in 3rd most of the race, but kept getting caught up in men falling over in front of me, or zooming around me on flat/straights and then slowing up horribly in the corners and blocking my way. The lost seconds added up, and I settled for 4th. Shoot. However, in the cat 3 race, I had an amazing start, and held on for 5th place, even though I kept forgetting I could shift on the bike. I hadn’t raced cat 3 in nearly 3 years, so it was a nice change. I split a hotel with my friend Wendy, just like we did “back in the day,” which was quite enjoyable.
CycloX Louisville, aka Bowl of Death, was the day after Schoolyard. My legs definitely felt the previous day’s efforts, and Bowl of Death is no cake walk. There were a few position changes throughout the race, and I knew I just had to keep pushing to hold onto my 5th place. Once again, that whole Keep Fighting thing came up. I professed my love to Meredith Miller as she lapped me. Sometimes the suffering just needs to end!
By now, it was end of October, and it seemed like we were on the downward side of the cross season hump. I launched into my first official week of 2019 training, motivated by ambitious race plans to get back to structured intervals and the trainer. I knew it can always be a challenge to juggle intervals and base training while still racing cross twice a weekend, but I felt up for it.
I’ve never raced the Feedback Cup before, and was nervous how the course would treat me, as it seemed very fitness based vs. skills. It was also hot in the morning, so I decided to race without gloves because I felt too overheated (I think this was the last time I’d think that this cross season). I had a great start, keeping on Errin’s back wheel. The course at race speeds ends up being a blast, and challenging. The field strung out a bit, and Michelle and I traded positions a few times before I could power away on a gentle climb. Now sitting in 3rd, I knew I wanted this podium more than anything else at that moment in time. I pushed and pushed to increase the gap, as I knew Michelle was quicker on the two sections that required being off the bike. Excitingly enough, I finished on the lead lap, and was not lapped by the open women! 3rd place, amazing podium hair, so excited!
Tired legs greeted me for Sunday’s race that weekend, the Republic Cycles Northglenn race. I had decided to do 15 miles of gentle mountain biking in Boulder County to kill time Saturday afternoon, and was semi-worried it was too much for my legs. Oh well… it was the Halloween race, and shenanigans were meant to be had! The course, which is rather flat aside from steep, loose hills on the backside, was fast. The start was fast and furious, and Sarah and I took to the front. I ended up rear ending Sarah twice on the first lap, which is the great thing about racing single speed… it’s really hard to break the bikes! Sarah would end up gapping me off the front, so I settled into maintaining my 2nd place position. This race made for the best podium photo of the year, with me and a giant bottle of vodka, Sarah with her winner’s jersey, and Melissa just posing completely normal with the two lunatics. OK, maybe the mojo is back…
So one of my biggest flaws that I’ve always had as a bike racer is mentally setting myself up for the outcome based on pre-registration lists and who shows up at the start line. You know, one of those, “ughhhh SHE registered, now we’re all racing for 2nd” type of mentalities. I’m bad about it at cross. I see Liz, Heather, and Errin (aka the Mosaic squad) roll up, and I know I’m racing for mid-pack-off-the-podium at that point. I don’t care how many times you tell me I’ve beaten them or hung onto their wheels, I won’t believe it. CycloX Sienna Lake started out just like that. It downpoured rain during our pre-ride, and while I was giddy to race in more crappy conditions, I knew the “fast chicks” were there. BAM! We start and I’m 3rd wheel. Umm… where’s Errin? Well, ok, they’ll catch me soon enough. Pedal pedal pedal, run smartly, bang mud off my cleats, clip in and GOOOOOO. Errin is back there, but I’m holding her off. KEEP FIGHTING DAMMIT! And so I did, oh so hard on the slick course. Second to last lap I gave up hope of securely clipping in and took to single speeding on essentially flat pedals as I knew I was losing precious seconds. I ran the run ups, and rode smart. 3rd place!!! Time to stop with the start line prophecies.
I raced in Laramie the day after Sienna Lake. 50mph head winds and bitter cold temps. My mom came out to watch which was fun. Laprele Park is horribly bumpy, and tumbleweed kept getting stuck in my cantilever brakes on my geared bike. I won the women’s category, and ordered a new geared bike the next day with disc brakes. Whoops.
Finally it was time for the most wonderful weekend of the year: CROSS OF THE NORTH!!! Seriously, I LIVE for this weekend every fall. It’s the closest I get to a “hometown” race for cross, and I love how many are out there cheering and heckling me. I decided to be ultra ambitious this weekend, and registered for SSW and SW3 both days. I had the new geared bike and I love the course/venue so much that it seemed smart.
Saturday’s SSW race took place at a chilly 8am. Like Schoolyard, we had the luxury of starting behind the cat 5 men. And by luxury, I mean headache. Another fast start, so we soon began catching them. Errin had a good, clean, impressively fast race, and took to the front, and never looked back. I settled into second, with Liz and Sarah stalking me from behind. I felt odd during this race, like I was experiencing it from out of my body, and never really felt like I was in it. But I kept on pedaling, enjoying the technical features that I’ve use to racing on between the short track and weekday cross series held on the same course. Eventually on the second to last lap Liz, Sarah, and I would all end up together, and I knew it would important to get my crap together for the final lap. Sarah slipped into 2nd, and I all out sprinted to maintain my 3rd place over Liz. In the end, I think less than 3 seconds separated 2nd-4th places! Such an exciting race, but that final sprint was horribly painful! Most importantly, I kept my COTN podium streak alive, with my 4th year of appearing on a single speed podium! (2015 – 3rd SS4/5; 2016 – 3rd SS4/5; and 2017 – 1st SSW). I took to some recovery, and enjoyed a sloppy SW3 race in the afternoon, still trying to figure out what I’m suppose to do with a shifter. But my new bike rocked!
Sunday’s weather forecast held up its end of the bargain for COTN, and snow greeted me in the morning. Once again, I was giddy to be racing in sloppy, icy conditions, and wondered what I did to appease the weather gods as Colorado cross seasons are usually 70 degrees, dry, and horribly dusty. The cat 5 men ended up being a huge ordeal to deal with, especially on the first lap. Sarah got off the front, and once again Liz and I battled out for our positions, with Heather sneaking up on us. By the last lap a curvy section of the course turned into an ice skating rink, and Liz and I took turns wrecking in front of each other numerous times, getting to be so comical I was just laughing. Finally I was able to stay upright long enough to create a gap, and hold onto 2nd place. Yessssssssssss! My SW3 race in the afternoon was the muddiest bike affair I’ve been part of aside from the 2014 Rumble at 18 Road. New bike was given a thorough mud coating, along with my mouth, teeth, face, and every item of clothing. I managed to fight to hold my 6th place finish after the next girl getting pretty close to me a few times. I’m getting better at this fighting thing!
Coming off 5 races of podiums and a great COTN weekend, I was optimistic for the rest of the season, but naturally cautious and still predicting my finish based on who I lined up with. CycloX Westminster was greeted with freezing rain. It was actually quite awful. I had a decent start, but suddenly my lungs gave me a big fact NO and I struggled to breathe in the moist, frozen 25-degree air. As racer after racer passed me in my category, I got a bit down, but eventually pulled on my big girl chamois and fought to stay not-last-place. Before the last lap I even had to toss my glasses as they had a thick ice layer over them. The bike was all icy, and even my chest and arms had an ice layer frozen to the fabric. I like bad conditions, but not freezing rain. I held on for 6th place, wheezing at the finish line and hightailing it home to set up an appointment with my doc. You need to breathe to race a bike…
The following day was the Wyoming Cyclocross State Championships here in Cheyenne. I hadn’t raced a state champs for Wyoming since 2015, when I easily pedaled to the win. I didn’t know what to expect this time around, as there’s some fast junior girls coming up in this area, and that sneaking fear Christy Olson could always appear, and I always am aware of the large target on my bike when I race in southeastern Wyoming. Luckily it was sunny, not too windy, and mid-30s, which turned Clear Creek Park into another mud fest. I swear I can’t keep the new bike clean! The course was very nicely designed, and utilized some good terrain features for off camber climbs and descents, sand pits, barriers, and tight turns. My plan was to go out hard, build a big lead, and then just hang on. Being non-USAC, Wyoming cross races tend to run a lot longer than the BRAC mandated 40-45 minutes the women see in Colorado. I knew I probably had an hour of racing to do. I executed my plan… and something totally cool happened… I finished on the lead lap of the open men! I wasn’t lapped by the fast dudes! Bad thing is I had a nearly 70 minute long race… but I wasn’t lapped! Wahooooo! Proud of this win for sure!
Then it was two weeks off before the Colorado State Championships. I briefly considered driving to Fruita to race the USAC double-header there to pad my CO Cross Cup standing, but realized I didn’t want to deal with I-70 traffic and wanted some quality family time (I’d curse when I’d see some SSW ladies go race it in the end… looked like an awesome course!). Kubo and I got out on the fat bikes for a ride, and otherwise we ate lots and relaxed.
The CO State Championships were at Salisbury Equestrian Park in Parker, where I rode to a 1st place finish last year on a muddy day. No mud this year, just hardback dirt and freezing cold temperatures. The single speed was at 4pm Saturday evening, meaning it was even colder, and getting dark fast (I’d finish after sunset). In what USAC is maintaining as “an honest mistake,” they intermixed the women in with the men, which meant one gal had a front row start and the rest of us were in rows 3-4. Not ideal and we all exchanged confused banter and looks at the start. I lucked out with a good start thanks to a parting of the men I could ride through and took off. I’d end up settling in 4th place, until the steep run up that was hard as concrete and slippery took my mojo and I was passed. So there I was in 5th, fighting, with a charging Liz, Sarah, and Melissa behind me. If this was a time to keep fighting, it was now with 1.5x cup points on the line, and a desire to at least say I was top 5. I once again came around the finish with Liz a few seconds off my back wheel and I nearly cried thinking of the pain of the COTN sprint. Luckily, it didn’t come down a full on sprint. Whew. 5th place!
Sunday of the state races I raced in SW3. I had the 3rd call up , which made me giggle as a junior girl thought they were calling her name instead. Big, tall 35 year old me in a sea of teenage girls! They took off fast at the start, and I hung to them, because hey, I have like 100 pounds of extra body weight which translates into one hell of a sprint and wattage cottage when needed. My great position ended at the steep wall run up, which everyone struggled to get up without slipping (100 extra pounds is a disadvantage when climbing straight up on slippery dirt apparently). So it was back to fighting for my mid-to-bottom pack finish. Racing with more than one gear available is super hard, and even harder on a fast course like Salisbury. On the last lap Lia would end up sneaking onto me, and into the tree portion coming into the finish she attempt to sprint past. I don’t know where I got the watts from, but I responded to the sprint and held her off through the sharp 180 turn into the finishing straight. Crap! I have to sprint again! Except we were sprinting straight into the back of the cat 4 winner who was posting up. Nonetheless we went for it, me getting the advantage in what felt like in my mind an impressive bike throw. I honestly wish I could’ve seen the finish line camera photo from it… cat 4 girl all posting up, two crazy cat 3’s behind her sprinting for 9th and 10th!
Finally the final race of the year… the Rocky Mountain Regional Championships. Though a bit fitness course, I do enjoy it. My race ended up not going as well as I wanted. I had a pretty solid first two laps, staying on Errin’s wheel in 4th place. I managed to power past her on the 3rd lap, and had a great gap until I slid out on one of the off camber, grass downhills. This completely killed my mojo, and my heart spiked to 196 as I ran up the hill. I’d proceed to fall back and back, eventually finishing 5th. But not before I took a double beer hand up on the last lap! So not exactly the result I wanted to have (and almost did, if I didn’t wreck), but at least I finished, which is more than I can say for regionals last year! My placing was good enough to land me in 2nd place for the third year in a row for the Colorado Cross Cup for single speed women!!
So that’s my 2018 cyclocross season in one long nutshell. A season that taught me to never give up, fight for every position, whether it’s a podium or not-last-place. To never look at the women around me and determine what place I’ll finish on their race resume alone. A season to use oxyclean to get out all the mud and grime, and to never wear drop-tail Pearl Izumi thermal bibs ever again. A season that finally gave me my mantra: Keep fighting. And that applies to so many more aspects of the world than a cyclocross race.
A long, ambitious cyclocross season takes a village. Though an individual sport on the course, no one can do it alone. To my boyfriend, who came and cheered and held bikes, and otherwise dealt nicely with the weird ass world that is cyclocross and competitive cycling, and my parents for dealing with another “no, I have to race that weekend, I’ll see you in mid-December” answer to planning time together. My team, 9Seventy Racing, and awesome teammates who also raced cross, or who would volunteer, cheer, etc. My extended cross family, that feels like a team though we all hail from other teams.. .from Feedback Sports jumping in to helping with wheel issues both days of CO States, Tricia loaning me a heart rate monitor, Without Limits for granting volunteer opportunities. The awesome, amazing, STRONG women of Colorado’s single speed category, who aren’t afraid to fight for women’s cycling and ensure we have a better playing field to play on. Tailwind Nutrition for keeping me fueled and recovered, especially on those crazy back to back weekends, or double race days. Anthony Zegan of BikeWyo (best bike mechanic ever!!) for keeping my bikes running smoothly. Patrick and the team at the Bicycle Station for getting me my pretty new Specialized Crux in an amazingly quick time. To Alan and Seth for posting “mediocre” on all my podium photos as an inside joke.
It’s time to rest, and train up for my most ambitious year yet – 2019.
Ahhhhh recovery drinks. The bane of my cycling existence. I think I’ve tried multiple kinds over the years, none of which were rememberable enough for me to recall their names. The only one I could say I used “regularly” (aka 5 times a year max) was chocolate milk. I remember for mountain bike nationals in 2014 I bought a case of Nesquik chocolate milk at Sam’s Club. The key was it didn’t need to be refrigerated (!!!), so it was car friendly for that two week long road trip.
So long story short… I wasn’t doing much for my recovery after training and races.
Thankfully, Tailwind Nutrition swooped in to save the day with their Rebuild Recovery mix.
I gotta admit, I was skeptical, even though I swear by Tailwind’s Endurance Fuel for my nutritional needs on a bike, XC skis, hiking boots, whatever. Mix something flavored chocolate with water?! Are you crazy? Chocolate goes in milk! (I always mixed protein/recovery mixes with milk historically.) After being a guinea pig for some interesting flavors during the testing phases, I received the vanilla and chocolate flavors in their final production form. I hesitantly poured it into a Blender Bottle with water. I scrunched up my face and sipped it. And drank… and drank… and let my face unscrunch… damn, it’s not bad!
And that’s how Heidi started using a recovery mix after workouts and races.
Tailwind Rebuild is the first sport recovery drink based on a patent-pending perfectly complete protein. We start with organic rice protein, and supplement it with amino acids to make that protein complete. Then we add carbohydrates, some healthy fats from coconut milk, and just the right amount of electrolytes. Nothing repairs your muscles more efficiently, restores your energy faster, and makes you feel better sooner. And athletes love the great tasting healthy vegan ingredients.
Replenish glycogen stores: contains the right kinds and amounts of carbohydrates to restore your energy after a hard workout
Rebuild muscles: perfectly complete protein based on a patent-pending mathematical model to rebuild damaged muscle tissue and mitochondrial protein
Rehydrate and restore electrolytes: sodium, potassium, calcium, and magnesium to restore electrolyte balance
Mix a packet of Tailwind Rebuild with 16oz (500mL) of water (shaken not stirred). Drink within the first 30 minutes after exercise. For longer or more intense workouts, follow with another packet of Tailwind Rebuild in the following 30 minutes.
Though I use both flavors almost equally, I do give a slight benefit to chocolate. Usually after super hard rides and most races, my body has no desire to have anything in its stomach, but Rebuild goes down easy, stays down, and doesn’t cause any post exercise tummy trouble. I’ve incorporated Rebuild into my habits for most rides above the easy spin/recovery threshold, and after races. Compared to my history of not using anything after the bike, the next day after Rebuild my legs don’t feel as dead and I can do more back to back to back hard races/rides with less fatigue.
During this fall’s cyclocross season I’ve definitely come to love Rebuild as some race days I double up and do two separate races (sometimes with only an hour in between). Getting my muscles a bit freshened up after 45 minutes of mashing them to death is very important when I have to have another round of it in an hour or so.
Rebuild comes in single serving stick packs, which are very handy when traveling and race days (I just have to remember to bring the Blender Bottle… but I have mixed it into a Hydroflask before. Just make sure to not let said Hydroflask go unwashed in a car for a bit…). There are also 15 serving bulk bags, which I use at home.
So it’s true… Tailwind is really all you need, all day… really… for both during and after activities!
Disclaimer – I am a sponsored Tailwind Trailblazer athlete. However, I don’t endorse products I don’t use/personally dislike, regardless of what my sponsors expect. So what you are getting is my true opinion!
I have a history with the Laramie Enduro. Not necessarily a pleasant history, but a history.
2013 – DNF at mile 52, which honestly was an impressive effort for my first year of racing a mountain bike and still very much being at the intermediate/cat 3 XCO distance.
2015 – Raced pro, finished 6th (not last!). Did well until mile 55 or so, then bonked, but I finished and I cried dramatic happy tears.
2016 – Gave my entry away. Wish I didn’t because it was the last year of that course style and weather was perfect for fast times. I think I could’ve been on the podium. Boo.
2017 – First year of the “half” course offering, and it was the last place I wanted to be in the world. I actually stopped and chatted up my friend for a good 15 minutes. No desire to race whatsoever.
Then came 2018. I registered for it before my hysterectomy was scheduled in late April, but knew it was a fun course, and 31 miles isn’t that bad, especially with the other long races I’d have under my belt. And I figured I would try to do halfway good.
So I showed up in much better spirits this year. My fitness had slowly started to come around with some strong days on the road bike, and a surprise not-last-place finish at the final LMBS race of the year, which I raced on incredibly sore and tender legs from the Breck-32 and quad 14er hike I had done mere days before. I let thoughts creep in about trying to make the podium, but knew I probably didn’t have that long MTB endurance it would take.
For the first time since 2013 I didn’t start in Wave 1, or “pro” wave. I think this actually was better, as the pace was definitely a lot less crazy. I tried to jump in a pace line for the first few miles of dirt road, but couldn’t hold it on some of the climbs as my legs struggled to warm up. Luckily the extra weight I’m carrying means I’m kinda pretty fast on the downhills.
Due to all the recent rains, the course was muddy with some gigantic mud puddles. I fretted over keeping my drivetrain in one piece, but otherwise had fun in the combination of mud, rain, and cow poop.
I was several miles in before any other wave 2 women caught up to me, which was surprising. Unfortunately in this race it is really hard to tell who is full or half course racers, and also age groups, which was new for this year. It makes things a mystery, but did provide some motivation for me to try to stay ahead as long as possible. Eventually around the time of the hike a bike from hell (which I actually rode halfway up for the first time ever!) a Honey Stinger rider caught me, followed by Roxzanne, who I proceeded to creep on like I do everyone at races (that’s how I befriended my dear friend Lydia during the Gunnison Growler… “Are you Lydia Holmes” all creepy on a hill… ha!). I tried to pace her for awhile, much to my delight (I’ll take pacing a national champion any day!), until I slipped my back wheel on a steep climb and had to come off the bike.
Overall the race continued to go well. I was in good spirits and happy to just be racing, and to not have been swallowed by a million other women. The dirt road portion that separates the Twin Mountain trails from Happy Jack was a bit obnoxious, but I rode with another guy and we chatted to pass the time. Once I was in Happy Jack I definitely got more excited as I can ride all this stuff eyes closed!
Up, up, down, through more mud, and on and on I went. I was pretty happy until the new re-route of Middle Aspen, which I found to be “enduro bro flow” stupidity and it soured me ever so slightly. Luckily it wasn’t that long before I was on LiMBS and headed towards the final massive climb of the day up Haunted Forest. Which took forever because I can’t climb anymore. But I knew once I was on the top it was just a short jaunt up Brown’s Landing, then the one last climb on Death Crotch and I was free!
On Death Crotch I nearly cleared a rock feature that I have never even tried to ride before which was a bonus… and then I spotted a lost Garmin that I picked up. I walked up the climb of Death Crotch because I simply didn’t feel the need to “prove” that I could ride it. I actually rode Death Crotch kinda crappy, mostly due to fatigue. Soon it was time to limp down Hooch… until the finish came into sight and then naturally, I stood and sprinted from the few racers behind me. Kubo told me I was one of the few he saw do that. Well, of course… I only have energy at the finish!
I finished in 3 hours 47 minutes and with a smile!
I really had no idea how I did, especially since there are multiple waves all timed differently. I finally found a spot where I could pick up cell reception to check the live online results… and who would’ve thunk, I got 3rd!
Four tries, and I finally had a podium at the Laramie Enduro! Woo hoo!
And with that… my 2018 mountain bike race season is over. I know… it seems like it didn’t even have time to get started! This summer went by damn fast! I’m kinda sad that I worked so hard trying to get a bit of fitness back, and now it’s all over, but hopefully some carries over to cyclocross.
600 calories of Naked and Green Tea Tailwind Endurance Fuel in 2L of water.
And I did a horrible job at consuming it due to the cooler temperatures. Luckily, like always, Tailwind had my back, though!
I had never ridden in Breckenridge, CO so when I realized I didn’t have plans for the weekend of July 14th out came the credit card and I registered for the Breck 32 (part of the Breckenridge 100, but the way more reasonable course option!).
So let’s see… raced this course unseen, only had heard of infamous portions like the loose rocks of Little French Creek. First major thought is how much damn road, both paved and dirt, it involved. I no longer own a hardtail, but aside from some rooty sections on the Colorado Trail, hardtail would’ve been nice for all the road racing portions and slogs up dirt roads. Or a road bike. Or gravel bike.
I don’t know where my body was for this race, but it wasn’t on my bike in Breckenridge. It was probably still sleeping in the hotel. Or back in 2016. One of the two. The start involved a paved slog up Boreas Pass road, which I took pretty chill as I knew there was a lot of climbing on tap. Have I mentioned how much I hate climbing paved roads on a mountain bike? Yeah, ugh.
Little French Creek led to some of the first hike a bike sections, which I’m horrible at. I can hike. I can bike (barely). But I can not hike and push a bike at the same time. I legit forget how to walk. It’s odd.
Pretty much I was just in the race to survive. I had nothing. I’ve never stopped so much on climbs in a race in my life. I even peed, I never do that! One point I ran into two older gentlemen and started chatting them up and then realized they didn’t have number plates so I started pleading that one of them take mine and finish out the race. I’m really good at apparently finding ways to waste time as the clock is ticking, ha! But it’s always nice to socialize. I mean, I wasn’t going to win!
What really killed me was getting so out of breath while descending. It was strange. I think the max altitude of this race is 11,100 feet, give or take, which historically isn’t high enough to trigger any sort of high altitude reaction from my body. But I wasn’t relaxing on the downhills.
Honestly, ugh. Such a negative race report, but this was a struggle bus the whole time for me. I know I have my limits physically due to deconditioning and my body still in some weird hormonal mess, but I have some big mental barriers, too. It’s just not fun anymore. Mountain bike racing. I don’t like how it hurts. I had so many thoughts during this race about how I could instantly walk away from the sport and not look back.
I finished in 4 hours 57 minutes. About 90 minutes back from the winner of my category. OMG. But I finished! It’s honestly a race that is not easy to DNF at if you don’t know the area and roads and how to get back to Breck. The easiest way for me was to just follow the course. And this, friends, is why I like single loop endurance racing 🙂
I got 2nd in Cat 1 30-39 women. If I was in pro, I would’ve gotten 2nd and a payout. But alas, no pro license anymore… Much to my utter surprise, I pulled off 2nd place in the Colorado XC Mountain Bike State Championship series with my points from this race. My podium photo made me laugh as I was not prepared for that. Made me happy, though getting 2nd for racing 1 out of the 3 races is a debatable accomplishment. But hey, I showed up on a hard ass road race mountain bike course and finished, which broke the tie with 3rd place and I as this was a higher ranked race.
I have two MTB races left for the year… LMBS tomorrow night (might be a likely DNF due to the fact I can barely walk my legs are so sore from Breck 32 + a quadruple 14er hike the next day) and Laramie Enduro in two weeks. I’m kinda sad the season/summer slipped by so fast, but also kind of relieved my attention can turn to cyclocross shenanigans when I back from Iceland.
As always, my nutrition for Breck 32:
700-800 calories of Tailwind Nutrition naked and green tea endurance fuel
2- Clif banana pouches (which I discovered to my horror have been discontinued and these were my last two… *cries dramatically*)
8 oz of water
I filled the 2L bladder at the second aid station, diluting the bit of Tailwind I had left.
Bad ideas are born from insomnia at 11:30pm. Like signing up for 8 hour solo races as you’re recovering from having organs removed from your body.
But… there I was driving up to Casper on June 22nd, the night before the Bear Bait 8, to give it a go. A week prior I had inquired about dropping down into the 4 hour category (which I would’ve been competitive in), and Christy Olsen convinced me to stay in the 8 hour category. You know… I haven’t decided what’s worse: chasing Georgia Gould in a race, or chasing Christy Olsen in a race, but there I was… remaining in the 8 hour. Dammit.
Luckily pulling into the venue area in search of camping I ran into Tracy and Nick Thelen, who invited me to crash their parking lot car camping party. It was nice to have people to chatter with, and it was intriguing watching them map out their duo race. They’re quite the badass duo when it comes to these races, so it was nice to observe the strategies and preparation. Tracy was also the latest 24 hour mountain bike national champion, so she knows a thing or two about riding a bike for a long time. I mostly know how to toodle along in the woods, crash into things, and how to make one hell of a bed in the back of my car.
Race morning came after a surprisingly good night of sleep in my Subaru Forester. It was chilly, but not cold… refreshing if anything. I hate riding/racing/anything in the heat, so I welcomed the forecast predicting highs in the 60s. Amelia Meyer (who I raced at the Tatanka last year) bumped up to the 8 hour solo female category, meaning at least there would be three of us for a full podium. I had never been on a bike for 8 hours, and didn’t really know how things would go as it was my 4th race in a 7 day period, and my body is still figure out what the hell is going on. I set a goal of 6 laps for myself. I knew I could never challenge Christy even on her worse day and my best day, and that my lack of training and time on the bike all spring was making me pay the price, so personal goal setting is where I was at for this race.
1st Lap: Was Awful. My legs screamed and I quickly got discouraged at my lack of ability to climb anymore and how my bike tires feel like they’re filled with concrete. But I settled in, just paying attention and learning the course. I’ve only raced on Casper Mountain once before in 2015 at the AMBC, but knew they added in new trails. The trails were still damp, and the tree roots slick. I got taken out suddenly by a diagonal one that caught my rear wheel and was thrown left knee first into a stump. I actually let myself cry, which I normally don’t do while actually racing. That’s it, I was done. I’m riding back to my car and driving back home and pouting. I hate Casper, I hate mountain bike races, and I hate being slow. Yay pity party in the woods!
2nd Lap: Well, clearly I didn’t drive back home. I continued on. The 58 minutes of the first lap allowed my legs to kinda warm up and I fell into a better groove. Then I just started getting silly. The trees/scenery in parts remind me of footage I’ve seen from the Nove Mesto World Cup in the Czech Republic. So there I was, giggling in the woods thinking about Jaroslav Kulhavy appearing out of the trees, wearing a gnome hat and confessing his love to me in Czech… which I can’t understand, so how would I know it was words of love?! I digress… then Peter Sagan would roll up and say, “Heidi, let’s do donuts!” Yes, this is what was going through my mind while “racing” my bike. It kept me entertained this entire lap. Which was good… it got me in mentally better spirits. Crazy, maybe. But it worked. I’d giggle about it the rest of the day.
3rd Lap: This lap I then started daydreaming that I was leading a World Cup race. Ha! I knew I would take a break in the pits after this lap to refill and snack, so it was mostly about getting through it.
I took a break, and ate a pizza Lunchable and drank half of a Pepsi. I don’t drink soda normally, but it is so delightful in the middle of an endurance race. I refilled my Camelbak, as I had drank 2 liters of Tailwind Nutrition mix of lemon and green tea flavors.
4th Lap: Onward! I just wanted to keep pushing to hopefully meet my goal. I would stop at the port-a-pottie before coming through the timing line to pee. I normally never ever pee during races. But today was definitely more about surviving then racing. And it beat going in the woods.
5th Lap: Yes, second to last lap, I told myself. I knew 7 laps was quite possible. But 6 was the goal. Into the Czech-wannabe gnome woods, out into the sage brush of Wyoming… into the gnome woods, out into Wyoming. The course seemed to be flying by as I really knew it by now. I applied some Squirt barrier balm that I found a sample of in my Camelbak to my palms which were chaffing and wanting to blister. What a weird substance. I think I’ll definitely stick to Chamois Butt’r for my chamois area bits, but the Squirt stuff worked in a pinch on my poor palms.
I stopped for another break at my pits to check my Camelbak. It was still decently full, so I ate one cracker sandwich from another Lunchable and set out. My back badly needed stretched out, too.
6th Lap: It had begun to rain as the afternoon wore on, and I knew to start playing it safe on the rocks and roots again. I told someone it was my last lap, and he told me I should really do 7. Sigh. I’ll see how it goes. Luckily it only appeared to have rained on half the course, leaving the part with a ton of roots, logs to ride over, and rocks, mostly dry. As I approached a narrow part between two trees, I lost focus and punched another tree at speed with my right hand. I stopped and whined as feeling left my poor right pinky finger. Grrr… I wrapped it around my bars and continued on.
7th Lap: I had plenty of time before the 4pm cut off to set out on lap 7 at 2:45pm, so there I was… beating my goal of 6 laps without even really hesitating as I crossed the line. I actually felt a bit more energy for this lap, though the rain had started to fall steady (and temps dropped into the 40s), and I felt like I was all alone out there in the gnome woods. I was trudging up a hill when the solo men’s leader passed me, scaring the crap out of me as he approached suddenly. It’d happen again. My bike’s chain was making all sorts of noise, so these quiet riders were way too sneaky! The rain soaked the entire course, making things rather slippery. Since I already had a bloody knee and battered pinky finger, I ended up walking some of the log features for my own safety, and stared intently at the trail for roots waiting to take me out. I couldn’t tell if I felt hungry, but just kept moving. I actually managed to big chain ring the final climb, which I hadn’t done all day, and the sun poked out as I neared the finish…
…And I came through at 3:58pm. Technically, I could’ve gone out for an 8th lap. I probably would have if I knew how much Tailwind I had left in my Camelbak, or had a time for another solid food snack. But by then I had been on my bike for 51.8 miles and 7 hours 58 minutes, so I felt plenty accomplished!
Upon removing my right glove I discovered a bloody and blue pink finger that had swollen up so much I could barely bend it. I actually had forgotten about punching a tree on lap 6, with adrenaline erasing that short term memory. I was concerned, but not enough to really care, and stumbled over to my chair to gather my pit belongings… which I insisted on trudging back to the car with my bike in one single load. It was like hauling groceries in when I carry all 20 bags at once… I was hoping someone would offer some help, but they didn’t. Grr. Don’t worry, I’ve only been riding my bike 8 hours, I got this load of a mountain bike, cooler, bag full of gallons of water and Tailwind powder, chair, Camelbak, and clothing bag all by myself! Ha!
My effort was good enough for 3rd place in our 3 woman field, LOL! But hey, it was mostly about racing for my own personal goals. I had never done a lap-endurance format before as a solo, only as a 4 person team and duo, so this was something new to try. I bettered my goal by one additional lap to boot. Luckily the trails on Casper Mountain are super awesome, though tough (it always seems like you’re climbing, even if you’re descending). That made it all the more better. I’ve done some terrible endurance races for 50-60 miles (like Battle the Bear… what’s with races named after bears?!) with awful courses that are boring and/or exposed, so suffering with a fun to ride course is just better. And, Strava gifted me with the knowledge that on several trails my times from this race in 2018 were much faster than times during my cat 1 race in 2015 when I was fit, 30 pounds lighter, and only racing a couple of hours! Woohoo! Always nice to see skills improvement, especially on the descending.
7 laps @ 51.8 miles
5,636 feet of climbing
7 hours 58 minutes 18 seconds total
Breakfast: 1 cinnamon raisin bagel with plain cream cheese, banana
4 liters of Tailwind Nutrition
1st round: The rest of my lemon bag with 2 scoops of green tea (hoping that was about 700 calories)
2nd round: 4 scoops of naked, 3 scoops of green tea (700 calories)
1 bottle of Pepsi
1 pepperoni pizza Lunchable
1 sandwich (cracker + turkey + cheese) from a Lunchable
Nutritionally, I felt great during this race. Tailwind kept me going, and the Lunchable and Pepsi were just comfort foods as I was sitting down for my break. I’ve never tried to use Tailwind on this long of a ride before and had it work successfully (last attempt was the Leadville 100 in 2015, and that was before I really had my formula of Tailwind down and had squandered the “omg, I must eat food, too!” notion). I did switch it up, and use a non-caffeinated flavor as my main flavor. I think too much caffeine leads me to getting really weird during races. Not that imagining Jaroslav Kulhavy in a gnome hat isn’t weird… but I didn’t need to see where that daydream would’ve gone if I was running a straight caffeinated mix!
I definitely can see myself returning to this race next year, and even continuing on racing it as a solo! Now that I’ve done both a duo and a solo, I can confirm the rumors I’ve heard that duos are harder. They are. At least with going solo my legs never have a decent break to allow the lactic acid and fatigue to build up. Solo keeps them spinning. And it’s nice to know I’m solely responsible for myself and my result.
Next up is some recovery. My form is at -69 right now, which is comical as I tend to race best around +2-10. I’m not really sure I will attempt LMBS #2 this week, as I think it’s just too much and I need some recovery from weeks of trying to cram in fitness. My next big race is the Breck-32 in mid-July, and then the Laramie Enduro at the end of July.
Though this summer has quickly morphed into a “I can cram a winter’s worth of training into a few weeks in June to get ready for race season, right?” frenzy, I have something else looming on the horizon: my 19-day trip through Iceland.
Oh, yes. Iceland. The trendy hotspot.
In my defense, I’m not going there because I saw the Blue Lagoon on Instagram *insert LOL smiley here*. I’ve always known Iceland was some sort of misnamed haven of natural beauty, but my own obsession started in January 2014 when I saw The Secret Life of Walter Mitty in theaters (which, to tie it to cycling… was the evening after my first USAC cyclocross podium!). The movie is mostly filmed in Iceland, though they’ll have you thinking it’s Afghanistan or Greenland. The first scene where he’s off the ship, riding the bicycle through Iceland I immediately said (probably out loud) “I’m going to go there and do that!” So there’s the backstory. No Blue Lagoon, no Instagram. It wasn’t until the fall of 2015 or so I really started planning, as international travel was a daunting task to me, and I was still trying to chase a pro mountain biker dream.
Original plans really settled around some expensive mountain biking tours in the highlands. Which, still, I’d love to do. But those plans faded away as I got deeper into my Iceland research and realized there’s a whole lot more I wanted to see from off of a bicycle. Then when the Glacier 360 mountain bike stage race was created, I decided I would go there to do that. But hell, the entry fee is nearly half the price of what I’m paying for having a camper van 19 nights… Ugh. 3 days of mountain bike racing, or maybe a longer trip? Finally in the summer of 2016 I made some lodging reservations for September 2017, happy it was finally starting to get planned… and that plan was really basing myself out of Reykjavik for day long mountain bike tours and snorkeling (never mind my fear of water over 5 feet deep and how I won’t put my face in water…). Then… naturally, life happened. I changed jobs. I no longer had a massive bank of PTO and flexible hospital nurse schedule. Iceland would have to wait 😦 *sobs*
After finally ditching the Glacier 360 race idea (though, naturally, I’d love to do it some day if I could find a willing partner since you must do it as a duo… hint hint), I set my sights on September 2018 and didn’t look back. Wham, bam, full Iceland planning ahead! Camper van reserved, nonrefundable airfare purchased, tickets on the bus into Landmannalaugar, and hopefully tonight, tickets for the ferry to the Westfjords. That’s it, I’m going to Iceland!
I’m probably done about one thousand times the research as the typical traveler to Iceland. I know this is true from reading the various Facebook Iceland travel groups I’m a part of, and how at least once a day I cringe at what appears to be someone buying international airfare without an ounce of research, who then wants to know what to see, bitch that Iceland is expensive, and that the roads are scary. But I digress… I have an obsessive personality. I have to know everything and anything. If there’s a travel blog on Iceland, I’ve probably read it. Travel guides? Yep, there’s 3 on my coffee table. Facebook groups? Already discussed. Quizzing friends I know who have gone there? Done. Million bookmarked sites on my laptop? Most definitely. I worked probably well over a year on my itinerary, growing it from 5 days to 19 days, and changing and adjusting as I discovered new things or when my boyfriend pointed out that we were missing the northeastern part, and that we shouldn’t (hey, I’m just happy he had some sort of input, ha! And it was brilliant!).
I’m two and a half months from departure time, and feeling a bit of a crunch all of a sudden. Not really on my itinerary, as in fact I have relaxed on that bit after being mad at myself for not going for 22 days and realizing it would be quite pricey to change my return flight home. It’s all the little details… ensuring what time we get picked up for our camper van, getting PINs assigned to my credit cards, getting my middle name added onto my Icelandair ticket as they didn’t have a middle name field when I booked it, buying inverters and European electrical outlet adapter things (which lead to me shamelessly yelling “Didn’t the US invent electricity? Why can’t they use our plugs? —-> the one stereotypical American attitude moment I’m allowed to have once a year), do I need a Sprocket printer to print photos for my bullet journal, where is the cat cafe located in Reykjavik, and how exactly do I photograph the Northern Lights?!
Arghhh… let’s not mention me buying a second rain jacket because it’s red and will look better in photos.
Travel bloggers make it all look so glamorous and easy. Which is probably why I blog about my cycling races and life, not travel. Because no one wants to read about how travel really is.
So for those who do, here’s how I’ve been surviving through this planning process of a 19 day road trip around Iceland:
Google Doc: One page for each day. I put sunrise/sunset time at the top, followed by travel time. Under that I list each stop/thing I want to see/do, with possible maps (of hiking routes mostly). Next are any hot pots planned for the day (yes, really, I’m NOT going to the Blue Lagoon). At the bottom I list the campsite, price, and amenities (like free shower), followed by grocery stores the route passes through.
Google Maps: You can create custom maps with Google Maps. This is really so awesome. I have 19 maps, one for every day of the trip that mirrors the information in my Google Doc. I also have one that just shows planned things for my one day in Reykjavik that is walking based.
Leuchtturm1917 Medium Size Hardcover A5 Notebook – Dotted Pages- White: I’ve been using my version of the “bullet journal” for about 1.5 years now. I decided I wanted to create one for this trip that would have all the important details (flight info, embassy contact, insurance info, packing lists, whatever) and then space to journal and jot down stuff.
Iceland Travel Reference Map 1:400,000-2015: Though there’s amazing cell service in Iceland, paper maps are always good. Plus it’s been a good planning tool. I’m a person that still likes paper and analog format (hence the Leuchtturm journal), and it’s a good idea to have a paper map when driving hundreds and hundreds of miles around a foreign country.
Lonely Planet Iceland & Lonely Planet Iceland’s Ring Road: Two of the paper travel guides I got. Though not as useless as the all powerful Google search engine, still lots of great information. There’s many Iceland travel guide books on the market, and they all seem to have their pros and cons.
I’ve also decided to start making a pile in my spare bedroom of my house of stuff for the trip. Though luckily I have a ton of tech gear thanks to my general lifestyle, I beefed up my rain gear options and bought new hiking boots. I’ve also discovered the wonder of packing cubes, which I have gone crazy using for all my work travel. Oh, and let’s not forget the amazing double person sleeping bag! Some of the gear in the Iceland pile includes:
North Face Resolve Parka: what, a rain jacket with polka dots?! Yes!! I have gotten to use this in a few instances of Wyoming wind and rain, and it works well.
The North Face Women’s Venture 2 Half Zip Pants: Haven’t had a chance to play in the rain with these, but they came with good reviews. Much better than my ripped up Showers Pass ones that I wore cycling in Seattle, and ended up more wet from sweat than the rain…
PackTowl Personal Microfiber Towel: Space is key in luggage and a camper van, and I only own regular bath towels, mostly with cats and dinosaurs on them. Enter this towel.
Salomon Women’s Quest 4d 2 GTX W Backpacking Boot: I usually wear trail running shoes on my hikes because I was never a fan of my existing hiking boots, but realized something more durable and waterproof would be good for Iceland. I’ve only worn these around the house so far, but am a fan and will hike in them more this summer. I use Salomon trail running shoes as well, so the brand just fits me well. Luckily like most things I’ve purchased for this trip, they will get used beyond Iceland on all the hikes I do.
Kelty Tru.Comfort 20 Degree Double Wide Sleeping Bag: This sleeping bag is simply amazing, regardless of fitting two people! OK, but it’s HUGE. Luckily I smooshed it down into a 35L compression sack. They told me it could not be done… but I got it done! I didn’t want to rent a sleeping bag from the camper van company, as it would be hard to know how warm it would be. This bag has already been used on several camping trips this year, too. Warm, snuggly, and even if you’re single it’s nice to have a big bag to stretch out in… or maybe share with a pet? Either way, I’m a fan!
So yeah… enough Iceland brain vomit for now. In a way, I can’t believe the trip is really happening in just a couple of months, especially after all these years of research and planning. There’s still more to buy, loose ends to tie up, and then of course packing and all the preparations involved in any vacation of this length. Until then, there’s plenty of mountain bike racing, hiking, and adventures to be had in my Rocky Mountains!
Well here’s a start line, let alone a finish line, I wasn’t really sure I’d make!
I got back on my bike post-op day 17 from my big surgery, and took things slow and easy and realized how quickly I lost fitness, but also core strength. I had the refund deadline on my calendar, and debated back and forth if starting my fourth Gunnison Half Growler would be a good idea. Finally I decided the best idea would be to give it a try… 5 weeks after surgery. Yeah, don’t tell my surgeon…
This year I was unsure if I could get Friday off from work to make it to the Saturday rendition of the Half Growler, so I signed up for Sunday’s “late bus” offering, which I heard is actually a lot chiller and more fun.
Sunday’s version is indeed a lot more chill! The neutral roll out, which I’m use to burning a match or two to stay at the 20+mph pace in the peloton, was in fact a lot more neutral, and served as a good warm up. Kill Hill was painful as ever, and I started in on successfully going backwards through the field all day. But racing wasn’t my goal, my goal was to finish, however long that took!
This being my third time racing the course in this direction, more and more of the rock features are rideable to me since I’ve had a chance to see their line. Definitely nice, as my technical skills remind intact… however, sometimes the lack of strength and fitness meant I had issues with uphill technical features. I only had one “crash” and it was on an uphill rock face where I just ran out of steam and stalled out, and luckily there was a tree there to catch my fall. Which left me awkwardly stuck on my bike, leaning onto a tree at a 45 degree angle. Thankfully there were two other girls nearby to assist me. Whoops! I’ve never been ashamed of walking, so walking I did when I thought I had to, or if a feature was beyond my abilities at the moment! Including some non-technical climbs that I simply didn’t have the lungs for this year. But overall I was feeling good, apart from my usual 15 minutes in “I wanna quit” thoughts, which soon faded.
About the time of Skull Pass I started traded spots with a 16 year old racer, which was actually nice for the distraction. She had amazing descending skills, and I’d get her on the climbs. Back and forth we went! This year I remembered my dropper post on Skull Pass, and rode what seemed to be a lot more of it this year.
The course was dry, sandy, loose, and dusty this year, which made me think my tires were constantly flat, and made me miss the year of mud. Or just a good rain the night before to pack things down. With a 7am start I wore arm warmers and a thin base layer. Arm warmers I yanked off within the first hour, and by mile 24 I decided to stop and take off my base layer and dump another Tailwind stick in my refilled camelback. Imagine that, stopping to wardrobe change during a race! Who was I?! (Honestly, quite weird to do this race NOT wearing a thermal jersey, like previous years)
Overall, I was really positive mentally during this race. I just felt so lucky to be even riding my bike that I didn’t care that I was going a lot slower than my previous three times. Even on Ridge (a trail I will always hate), where I decided to walk a hefty amount, I knew the finish was coming and I just had to keep moving forward. And that I did, crossing the finish line at 4 hours 57 minutes! Woo hoo! I had given myself a goal of 6 hours, so needless to say I smashed that goal… and was only 23 minutes slower than my next slowest time. 23 minutes I don’t think is a huge amount honestly with all my extra circumstances coming into play this year!
Oh, and the pro men in the Full Growler race never lapped me! Victory! I think I had 21 minutes on Dave Wiens, ha! Though I was thinking several times during my race, “Where in the world is Kalan Beisel?”
Nutritionally, things worked great. I had worried about the longer time on course impacting my nutrition, but was able to pace things well. I started with a 2 liter camelback with 7 scoops (700 calories) of Tailwind Nutrition green tea and lemon flavors mixed in. At the halfway point at the Skull Pass aid station I had them top off the water, and later added another 2 scoops (200 calories) of naked Tailwind. I also ate half a pickle slice and one Clif banana pouch. I only drank about half of a 16oz bottle of plain water. Sadly no aid stations had coke this year 😦
I was pleased to discover after the race that I felt no worse than I had in 2015-2017, and happily rode back to the start line to discover there’s no finisher prizes for this year, but still free beer.
There is just something about this race that keeps bringing me back to Gunnison year after year, so of course on December 1st I’ll be registering for my fifth Half Growler! Now that I have experienced it both on Saturday and Sunday, I will be torn on which day to register for. I liked the more chill neutral roll out for sure. We shall see! Just happy to be back on my bike, and “racing” and rebuilding.