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Adventure Bucket List for 2016

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Ambition will probably get the better of me, but I’m fired up about 2016 and I’m making plans.

I lust for adventure, but with a tight schedule and tighter budget, I take what I can get, and work to create the rest. This year I’m looking at some “local” adventure, and with a little luck and the right celestial alignment, I might manage to get out west again in some shape or form (I’d love a repeat of Whistler but haven’t committed to a location quite yet). So here’s the list: some are bike related, other are not. The whole point is to get outside and explore new places and have new experiences with cool people, old and new friends alike.

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En route to Whistler, BC.  The snowpack still up there in early August 2 years ago.  

1.) Bikepacking  This is happening!  A campsite is booked this spring in the Berkshire hills and Laura and I are in. Doors are open to other participants, but ladies only (sorry fellas, it’s a girl’s weekend).  I’ll be recon riding the area prior to the trip, and finding a good spot to safely and collectively park cars.  In the meantime, I’ve been doing a ton of research, collecting gear necessary, and reading up on some really great resources for this new endeavor.  Check out cyclewrite for backpacking in western Mass or Bikepacking.com for great gear hacks.

2.) Hammock Camping This very well may be a part my bikepacking experience.  I have the gear, but need to field test in my backyard or someplace relatively close to home before trekking into the woods for the real thing.

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3.) Dog Sledding This is a birthday gift for my son that I could not deliver upon, since we are in full El Nino here in New England. We finally got snow this week. A bit more snow will make this work. I found a great place with a team of Siberian Huskies in mid-state Vermont. We’re hoping to go by the end of January.

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4.) DH Mountain Biking I’m doing this-either here on the east coast of on the west coast or ideally, both.  I’ll have to rent a ride since I don’t own a full suspension rig (yet).  I had such a great time at Whistler 2 summers ago, I want to do more of this while I still can.

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5.) More Camping My parenting win of the year was successfully hooking my son on camping.  Our trip with friends last summer was so much fun, he cannot wait to do it again and talks about it all the time.  This is great news. He’s even talking about going on a mini version of bikepacking with me.  I have to plan a few trips to get out into the woods more with him.  Hey, it’s better than Minecraft all day long!

Hope you are carve out your own adventures in 2016!

-Karen

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MTB Nirvana: My Vacation To Whistler, BC

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Speechless, which is what this post will be for the most part. I was utterly speechless walking through the Village of Whistler at the base of Whistler Mountain.  DH, full suspension mountain bikes leaning everywhere, being walked, being coasted and hopped down the playful mounds of earth sculpted in the mountain bike park. I did a couple hours in the park and did a ton of other riding, and hiking. It was freaking awesome. Go to Whistler if you love mountain biking or hiking or being outdoors and seeing beautiful mountains and bikes pretty much every time you open your eyes. I’ll leave you with some of the sites I saw while on vacation. Whistler, I’ll be back!!    -Karen

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Root 66 Domnarski Farm MTB Race Report

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The last time I raced my mountain bike it was 2002. I had been mountain biking for about 2 years and raced only twice before. I was in northern Connecticut and don’t remember how I did. I remember my seat post slid down so low over the course of the race my lower back felt like someone had slammed it with a 2X4. Afterwards, I got into one of the worse fights ever with my then fiancée. It was one of the worst days I can remember. That was 2002.

Fast forward to last Sunday, June 1st, 2014. I have finally (and just recently) replaced that same mountain bike with the slipping seat post. I signed up the the Root 66 Domnarski Farm Mountain Bike race. I did this because I finally feel (gasp–wait for it) comfortable with the idea of racing my bike. Sure I still get nervous but I’m not worried about how old I am or how I might look or sucking incredibly bad. I’m happy and comfortable in my own Cat 3 skin.

Just before the race.

Just before the race.

The smartest thing I did with this race was to preride the course. Twice. I did this the day before. I arrived around 11AM and met up with this guy named Joe who had the same idea. We fumbled around looking for the parking lot, and eventually found where lot was (behind a gate–so we parked on the street) and with the use of my cell phone and the Strava App, figured out where to start.

Preriding revealed an immediate, steep, rocky climb that had me off the bike and pushing on and off for about a mile and a half. There were a few breaks with singletrack, stream crossings, and a snaking ascent. Some spots I just had to dismount and hike-a-bike. It was so steep and rocky, on my first pass I thought “maybe I won’t come back tomorrow for the race.”  Yeah. It was that unpleasant.

But I did come back, and good thing too. More on that later. The parking lot was open the next day and was as the race promoter had warned, a complete mud bog. There was a grand total of 4 Cat 3 women racing. Me (+35), Sara (19-34) and 2 juniors (12-18). Each age category was considered a separate race so Sara and I were going to win our respective age groups as long as we finished. I race against Sara in the CX season and we finally got to formally meet at the start line. We lined up together and my plan (based on the preride) was to hang back, not get in the way, and do my own thing. I thought we’d be starting with the other Cat 3’s–with the men, but they staggered each age group among the men and then let our little group of 4 women go together. So my plan changed. There were 2 clean lines heading into the woods and up the mountain. I was on one of those lines. I took the lead early and just tried to ride steady and clean. I had done 2 laps on my preride the day before so I knew most of the lines to take. I still was off the bike for at least 1/2 of the long, rocky ascent. But when I got to the top, I realized I was alone, with no one in sight behind me.

THAT NEVER HAPPENS.

And now that the rest of the way was downhill or mostly flat–I went. I pedaled hard where I could and kept trying to ride smooth and clean. I blew through the start line and ended my first lap, and just tried to repeat for the second lap.

On the second lap, I caught a couple of the Cat 3 guys and played leapfrog with them for most of the race. In the end, I passed one mid lap and I passed the second near the end (he had flatted). I tore across the finish line still not believing that I had come in 1st. And yes, I was going to “win” my age anyway, but I’ll be honest, it felt pretty good to win overall.

All done!!

All done!!

Winner, winner chicken dinner!

Winner, winner chicken dinner!

As an added bonus, afterwards I noticed CX Pro and phenom Crystal Anthony wiping down her bike. I had seen her out there preriding the course–she had past me but I recognized her immediately. I’ve watched her race at Northampton CSIcx and she’s crazy-amazing-good. I walked up and introduced myself and told her she was a pleasure to watch race.  Fan-girl moment of the day.  She was very gracious and friendly.  It’s not every day you get to meet one of the top women cyclocross racers in the country.

All & all, Domnarski Farm was a great time.  I’ll aim to go back next year and race the Sport category (Cat 2), and get my ass kicked again like I’m used to.

-Karen

PS- I wore a heart rate monitor for this race.  My average heart rate was 181 and my max heart rate was 191.  Discuss.

The Rapha Women’s 100km

The Rapha Women’s 100 was held today, an International celebration of women on bikes.  On July 7, 2013 women worldwide celebrated by riding 100km.  The Facebook page is hereScreen Shot 2013-07-07 at 8.39.59 PM.

“The Rapha Women’s 100 is not a competition to see who is the fastest, it is about gathering a global community of women around the world to take part in this shared adventure.”

There was a wonderful organized ride in Amherst, MA held today.  I was invited to go by my friend Gail, and it was a great opportunity to ride with group of local women.  A BBQ was planned afterwards, and the entire ride was preplanned, and supported with SAG vehicles and water stops by the husbands of several women riding (not that I’m an expert on husbands but seriously, these men are dolls for doing this).

I couldn’t go.  I couldn’t get 5 or 6 hours or childcare for my extremely energetic 8-year-old son.  I guessed approximately 4 hours riding with stops, plus the necessary set up/break down and talking before and after. That comes out to about 6 hours by my social calculator.

Bummed as I am for not being able to participate  I did sneak out for an hour (and hour is a lot easier to get a friend to watch the offspring than 6 hours).  My riding time has gone way down between the new job and the rain and now the extreme heat.  I’m getting a bit cagey, and 60 miles (or 100km) today would have been great, even in these crazy temperatures of 90 degrees with dew points of 70+.  I do regret not being able to connect with some new local women.  It’s so hard to find women to ride with, and I know if I did, my riding would improve.  I have a few friends and contacts to call for a ride, but honestly, I am now squeezing in every minute of effort into miles….I have no extra time and every time I get on my bike, it’s squeezed between one commitment or another.

I’m back to my old mantra of “Something is better than nothing.”  But at least it’s something.

-Karen

Just a girl?

Last weekend, I was at my favorite LBS when I picked up a copy of SingleTracks.  SingleTracks is the free magazine put out by NEMBA (The New England Mountain Biking Association). It’s a nice black & white publication with stories, photos, trails, events  and of course, ads.

I was thumbing through SingleTracks tonight when I came across an ad that sounded vaguely familiar.  It was a company based in Maine that offered 30 miles of single track at their location, tours, weekend trips, rentals, and events.  I had an experience with this company back in 2002 that I’d like to share with you, since I checked the url and the company and owner appear to be the same.  I do not plan of reporting the name of the company publicly in this blog (but email me and I’ll dish freely).

In 2000 I started mountain biking, and jumped in with both feet.  I couldn’t get enough.  I read a very favorable review in a magazine about a mountain bike company in Maine that hosted miles of single track trails, camping, a freestyle park, and yurts for weekend trips.  My family owns a camp very close by to this outfitter, so during my annual vacation there I set out to check it out with a companion.  While I was relatively new to the sport, I had already raced and placed at a local event, and my companion had been a serious cyclist for many years, racing and placing in road, triathlon and mountain biking events.  We were both very comfortable in the woods and happy to explore wild areas.  For the record, we were (and still are) both women.

Granted, there are not a lot of female MTBers in comparison to male MTBers.  It’s a little better now, but back then, it was really hard to find other women who MTBed.  But we weren’t completely mythical creatures.  The following is my story of how our experience went with this outfitter.

We found the location and met the owner.  On the property there was a freestyle park and a yurt, the owner’s home, and allegedly trails in the surrounding woods.  After a warm welcome from the owner, we started to get down to business.  No we didn’t need overnight accommodations–I had a place nearby.  We expressed interest in riding his trails, which as advertised, was free.  His trails, he disclosed, were mostly built on public land, only a small portion of the trails were on his land. He offered to take us on a guided tour.  We declined, we really just wanted him to point us to the nearby trails.  We didn’t need a guided tour, we’re more interested in exploring on our own and setting our own pace.  Then his warm welcome evaporated.  He pressed the guided tour idea.  He wanted to make a dollar on us.  Sure, I get it, of course he’s looking to make some coin, but the trails were on public lands, and advertised as free.  We were too independent to take a tour.  We politely declined again.  Could he sell us a map?  Those too were advertised.  At least our exchange wouldn’t be a total loss.  I didn’t really want a map but I offered to buy one as a gesture.

Then, and I will never forget this moment, he looked us up and down, then glanced at our bikes on the roof rack of the car, and said, “You’ll never find my trails.  I have them hidden.  You won’t find them.”

I was pissed but didn’t show it.  Years of customer service training made me an expert at this.  “We’ll just take the map then.” I said, upbeat.  He left  to get a map.  When he returned, we paid him for it and drove off.

In the car, we were mad.  Really mad.  We both understood exactly what he thought of us, our ability as cyclists, and our ability to find our way out of a paper bag in backwoods Maine.  He discounted us.  And he did is because we were women.

Why do I think this?  Because it’s happened so many times before.  I know because I know that look he gave us, the one of disregard, of no confidence.  He wrote us off with a glance.  You know what this means when it happens to you.  Especially when you’ve always been told you couldn’t play because you were “just a girl.”  Yeah, he was probably a bit put off that he wasn’t going to get a tour fee from us too.  But we just showed up.  He had no other clients, we were not monopolizing his time.  Why he thought it was OK to act like a DB I just won’t understand.

Instead of staying mad, we got even.  We found the trails after 10 minutes of driving.  We shredded the rest of the afternoon.

I’ve always been extremely athletic and active and participated in sports.  I ran as fast as the boys, was MVP of my baseball team. played basketball with boys, fished, camped, hiked, explored, made forts, climbed trees, rode dirt bikes, road street bikes, swung on rope swings, did all and anything the boys did.  I still do.  As a young girl, I fought hard against anyone who told me I couldn’t do something because I was female.

His once over, and his open challenge to us shocked me, even back in 2002, because I hadn’t experienced it in so many years–really since girlhood. And I’m happy to say, I haven’t personally experienced that since.  Men I come across in cycling these days are encouraging, and are excited to talk to women who love the sport they love.  But once you’ve been discounted like that, you don’t forget how it feels, and you know when it’s happening.  People may argue with me about this, but my friend felt the same way I did.

So there it is, my tale of sexism in cycling.  I’m happy to say I’ve only really experienced this once.  Most bike shops treat me with respect, and the men I meet who love cycling are really excited to share it with another, regardless of the chromosome arrangement.  This guy, however, is still in business.  Who knows, people change.  I know a lot of people who have changed their opinions of lots of things through the years.  But I don’t plan to send him any business.

And I still have that map he sold me 11 years ago 🙂  Anyone want to ride with me in Maine?  I know the way.

-Karen

 

 

 

Is that a wrap? Not quite yet.

I’ve been absent a bit.  Sorry about that, I was off trying to get my groove back.

I didn’t do that last race of the season and I struggled with the decision right up until a a day after it was over.  I wasn’t going to be happy either way.  I probably should have done it, but meh–I didn’t.  My year’s recap is still pretty freaking good.

I had been needing a break and resisting taking one.  That said I managed to back off on my rides, started playing hoop again Saturday mornings, and started running a bit and hiking.  When I cycle, 90% of my rides have been on the mountain bike.  Low mileage, high fun riding.  Making the transition to less riding and more resting, peppered with alternative exercise has been a bit uncomfortable.  However, my legs finally feel fully recovered.  I’m having a lot of fun exploring a network of mountain bike trails that is close by and I haven’t fully explored due to my focus on mileage and CX training.

I plan to approach 2013 with some seriousness in training.  I plan to race again next fall, and I’m looking at building a credible base and at last some speed.  I plan to upgrade my Strava membership, purchase a US Cycling License, and dive headfirst into heart rate, suffer scores, and watt analysis. I have about 5-7 pounds to lose, but I’m giving myself until September to do that 🙂

I’ll chronicle more tangible goals and events after Christmas.  But for the last few days of 2012, I’m going to keep riding the mountain bike, increase my running distance and frequency, and enjoying my women’s pickup games, which have really taken off this year (I’m actually playing guard for the first time in my life, since 50% of the women showing up are 5’11” – 6’1″  -I am 5’8″ in shoes).

-Karen

Cyclocross Women’s Clinic

After 12 years of watching from behind the yellow tape, snapping action shots with my camera while guarding my beer, I think I might actually be fool enough to give cyclocross a try.  I heard about a CX clinic for women through a Mountain biking group I belong to on Facebook.  I had never met any of the other members of the group nor have I ever attended a ride.  I have wanted to but my schedule just would never allow it–my parental duties always took precedence. The clinic was held on Labor Day at 6PM–and it was only because it was a holiday that I could have a friend watch my son so I could attend.

I convinced my friend Heidi to join me and a total of about 10 women in Southampton, MA.  There is a group of farms and unbeknownst to me, an entire practice cyclocross course just off the main road (a road I ride on fairly regularly–this little gem was under my nose all along).  The clinic was led by the founder of the MTB group along with Molly Hurford, a writer for Cyclocross Magazine, and another local racer.  Molly did a nice piece about the entire event in Cyclocross Magazine and you can check that out here, complete with photos.

Most of us had never raced a cyclocross bike.  A few of us had cross bikes, some had mountain bikes.  The clinic touched on the basics of cyclocross:  the dismount, jumping the barriers, the remount, the carry, and off camber turns.  The group was friendly and the emphasize was on fun and camaraderie.  We went through the drills and had plenty of time to practice and ask questions.  I had a great time and learned a lot, and feel really excited about taking on my first cyclocross event this fall.  The women who hosted the event were super–graciously giving their time and expertise to our band of enthusiastic beginners.

Riding ’til the light was gone…

Today I returned to the course alone to practice what I learned.  This was a telling experience.  Without the natural stopping points to receive instruction or ask questions in a group setting–I decided to reset my Garmin and just ride the course loop.  I managed 2 loops and I was exhausted–less than 25 minutes.  Two things played into this–one–I was not caught up with the energy of a group.  Race conditions always make people faster–they carry you along.  I didn’t have that.  Two–I discovered just how fatiguing riding on grass can be.  There is a fair mount of climbing on the course and the grass is like a million tiny arms holding you back.

I plan to return at least once a week for practice. Building up my endurance for the specificity of the event will be important.  Riding 50 or 60 miles on the road might not be a big deal, but 8 or 10 on a cross course is an entirely other matter.

-Karen