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Adventure Bucket List for 2016

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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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

 

 

 

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

Is All Publicity Good Publicity?

I’m sharing this blog post about a video put out by Limitless Performance, a clothing company out of the United Kingdom.  It is by @SheRidesCycling and is worth a read.

Is All Publicity Good Publicity?.

I think it articulates very well the past and current problem with sexism in general, more specifically, sexism in cycling, and more commonly (but come on–boring at this point) sexism in advertising.  Here is the main point, from the link above:

“that video is an indication that we can consider women to still be inadequate; not fast enough, not strong enough and not interesting enough.”

I have considered blogging about some of my personal experience with being a woman in a sport (even in recreational space) dominated by men. I have some stories. But for now–this will do.  This isn’t a sweeping condemnation against men (and shouldn’t be because a lot of men are awesome about welcoming and celebrating women who ride), but rather acknowledges an attitude that women experience rather regularly.  It’s lousy feeling.

I know many of my readers are male and my interactions with them have been 99% positive.  The connection is about cycling, as it should be.  I thank my male readers and the other men in the cycling community who recognize that inclusion beats exclusion.

I’m on the fence about saying more about this.  I’ve tried very, very hard to keep the focus of this blog strictly to cycling without overlap into political or social issues.  But maybe it’s time.

-Karen

PS–that 1% was a guy I verbally spanked after a snide remark.  He apologized and said that I made him feel bad.  I don’t like to make people feel bad.  But if it changed his attitude a bit, then there’s no reason we all can’t get along in the end, which is my entire point.

No race, no regrets

So I bagged Rockbuster.  My phone rang at 8AM Saturday, the day before the race–it was my brother. “It’s today, right?”  Of course the answer was no–but he mixed up the days and was standing in his kitchen in Lycra–not something little brother wears often weighing in at 225 lbs, apologizing as he confirmed his mistake with me on the phone.

I thought I might go anyway, because I still kind of wanted to.  But we had a soaking rain forecast.  Then I did a little math….3 total hours of driving for an event that lasted an hour.  $40 in gas.  No one there to cheer me on, in the rain.  No one to suffer it with me in solidarity.  A warm bed.  A hard ride on Saturday.  These factors, in combination, spelled doom for my chances of showing up for Rockbuster.  I slept 9.5 hours Saturday night and don’t regret the decision to take a little time for myself.

It wasn't in the cards for me & Rockbuster this time around.

The upside to this little disappointment is that my ride on Saturday was pretty zippy.  I hooked up with one of my mountain bike friends who is returning to cycling after the birth of her first son.  She spent the winter in spin class and wasn’t fooling around as we set off at a pace of 19.5 mph–her on a road bike, me on my ‘cross bike.  I stayed with her for the first few miles, we backed off to about 18 mph–all on flat roads.  Finally the hills hit us and we slowed down a bit.  But all said and done my first 5 miles was at a pace 5 minutes faster than my best lap when I’m out on my own.  My home route is hills, hills, hills so I’m not beating myself up too much–but no doubt cycling with her made me up my game.

So–you win some, you lose some, and sometimes you sleep in.  I’m in it for the love of the ride and the shared experience, and I got a satisfying dose of that on Saturday.  That to me was a win, no race necessary.

-Karen

Riding Alone

If my little brother doesn’t join me for Rockbuster this April, I will still go to the event alone. I do alright solo, but that’s mostly because I’ve had so much practice. Although this seems like an appropriate time to bring up a problem I’ve had for years, a problem I continue to have.

People to ride with. I love that the cycling community brings people together. Group rides are easy enough to find, but in truth, these are mostly populated by men. I like men just fine, but I’m not going to hold back a bunch of strong guys wanting to move at 18 or 19 mph. My top average is 15 mph here in hilly western Massachusetts.

Then on the other side of the spectrum, I’m too intense for the causal, recreational rider. I have tried this.  This is not my group. I attended a meetup.com group ride last summer. I was one of 2 women, and she dropped off after about 3 miles. The rest of the group moved at about 12 mph on straight, flat, smooth country roads. I wanted to be moving at 17 or 18 mph. The group’s goal was to pedal to someplace the served really bad, greasy, delicious food–gorge themselves, then pedal back to the meeting spot. We took several breaks. It took 2.5 hrs to travel 18 miles on perfectly flat roads. This ride made me late for other plans and I had to apologize to the group and then race away from them to try to not miss my date.

A few years ago I tried to assemble a women’s mountain bike group and had moderate success. It was a good group–but half of the group stopped riding due to pregnancy and child rearing. I haven’t been able to reassemble or re-create the group since. All the women was just as good or better than me–which in my opinion is the perfect type of group. A few to ride alongside, a few to push you harder.

Now I have 2 or 3 female friends I ride with, and that happens infrequently at best. I may get 2 or so rides in with each one over the course of a year, yes–a whole year. Most are Moms like me and scheduling is often like waiting for just the right planetary alignment. But it’s something, anyway. As a result, I am solo most of the time. I usually don’t mind this, but I’m growing a bit lonely on my rides. It’s hard to find women in sport after a certain age. Motherhood, careers, and investing in personal relationship are all really important for a balanced and happy life. I just wish there were more planetary alignments in my life. Don’t get me wrong–I really enjoy quiet, solitary rides most of the time. It gives me time to reflect on problems or ideas I have, and I get a break from the demands of my regular life. But every once in a while, I could use the company.  To talk, to climb, to race, to coast, to share the ride.

-Karen