20 August 2014

Annadel XC

The 5:15am alarm didn't startle me Saturday morning as I jumped out of bed with a huge grin on my face. It was RACE DAY! I had neurotically packed my bag and made up breakfast the night before, so with the hour-ish drive ahead of us, all I had to do was throw on some pants, fix up my race-day braids and we were out the door on time! Score!

Who wants to go play bicycle?
The morning was a little grey and foggy - apparently typical for August in NorCal, but I'll take it over 90 degrees with 90% humidity any day. It was kind of refreshing to need a light jacket to warm-up in :-) Aaron, Kyle and Justin were all racing too, so it made it even more fun to have friends to warm-up with and wait in the massive crowd of 500+ people as we waited to start our 31-mile dirt adventure. Based on some pre-reg stalking - there was a solid turn-out in the women's fields - gotta love California mountain biking! I was hopeful to race well, and meet some cool ladies to ride with along the way.

We were let loose right at 9am and in a bit of a frenzy everyone rolled out through the streets of Santa Rosa on our way to Annadel State Park. I tried to jump on Kyle's wheel for a bit, but he was hauling and I opted for self-preservation and dialed it back after a few minutes.

After a few miles on pavement, we hit the trails in a massive cloud of dust. This was quite the rowdy free-for-all. I noticed two girls up ahead of me and tried to keep them in my sights for bit. Mass-start races are fun but also slightly crazy. It can be challenging to tell exactly who you're racing, and who's doing what distance (31 miles for Pro/Expert/Some Sport Men vs. 25 miles for Sport/Beginner). I'm not saying I mind racing with mixed groups at all - but sometimes it can be frustrating when trails get clogged or people (boys...men...you know.. cough cough) blow past you on the downhill but then you pass them on the climb...or they yell at you to let them pass, and then when you move over they say "no I want to pass on the other side" .... Yay bike racing! Smile and keep going.

The race course was a big loop with two big climbs and two big downhills. With the mass start, and not sure what girls I had seen earlier, I had no clue where I was sitting in the race. Since I hadn't seen too many other girls, my deep down competitive nature was thinking I was doing OK but again - so hard to say. Near the start of the first big climb, one other girl - another Emily! - caught up with me. She was super nice and we chatted a bit before the climb got the better of our abilities to talk and pedal at near race-pace....and then I got my tail dropped like a bad habit on the downhill.

While the first climb had been smooth flow-y, as well as a good portion of the subsequent downhill, the second climb felt like an eternal rock-garden. We climbed on rocks, we traversed over rocks, we descended a little on rocks, and then climbed on rocks again. My lower back was screaming for a full-suspension, but that only motivated me to keep spinning so I could finish faster. Whew. Whoever told me that trails out west weren't rocky or technical was playing a mean joke on me.

Soon the trail opened up into a big fire-road signaling the home stretch! Whoohoo! First mountain bike race in almost a year was almost done and almost a success!  Talk about a home stretch - the finishing downhill was about 5-miles long, with the final few on fire road. Time to get over my fear of downhill fast!! Butt off the back, light on the brakes when necessary, hold on for dear life and yeee hah!


I crossed the finish line, smile on my dirt-covered face in 2:55 - excited to have broken 3 hours for 30 miles on the mtb (fast for me!). I wasn't sure how I had finished - but hey, I finished in one piece and that was exciting in and of itself. Mike and Megan were cheering and taking pictures at the finish, and Justin, Kyle and Aaron were all waiting, smiling and dirt-covered too. Even with a few spills for Kyle and Aaron, I think we all were relieved to be done, but also happy to have finished in solid times. Now it was time to cash in on some fantastic post-race food.

Aaron, me, Justin & Kyle post-race
While we were patiently waiting on our chicken sandwiches, I popped over to see if results were up, and was pleasantly surprised to see I had managed to snag a 5th place finish and the last podium spot! Room for improvement for next time for sure -- but again, with about a month of intermittent training under my belt and racing against some fast ladies in California - I was super stoked to have finished my first California mountain bike race and to have finished on the podium! My sweet reward - an awesome poster, some Lagunitas and a medal that doubles as a whisky rock (Mike was excited about that). Plus - what better way to break in a new kit and a new season than a little taste of podium and motivation for more racing to come soon!

Annadel XC Women's Expert Podium
Thanks to Bike Monkey for putting on a fantastic event and thanks as always to Bicycle Outfitters for the support even from 3000 miles away - I miss you guys!

Up next....?

Cross is coming ....

15 August 2014

Here we Go....

Ready to rock the new Bicycle Outfitters Kit!!
2014 has not been a year of bike racing. One might say it's been a year of life racing - new coast, new state, new apartment, new job, new husband, new routine, new roads, new trails, new adventures. And with the life racing slowing to a more managable pace -- it's time once again to pin (or perhaps zip tie...) on that number, feel the adrenaline pulse through my veins, the giddy knot in my stomach, feel the grin spread across my face, clip into the pedals and GO! It's time to race again.

While I did jump into a road race a few months back for kicks - it was more a "let's not be bored while everyone's out of town" distraction rather than a race. Tomorrow marks the start of my 2014 race season, better late than never, but for the past month I've been so stoked to have started working with Coach B again and have a purpose for my constant need to explore on two wheels.  I've still got a ways to go to get back to race prime, but I'm feeling excited and ready to see what the tank holds tomorrow.

In perhaps a chapeau to how I stumbled into racing almost 7 (!) years ago now - I'm heading out to a mass-start 31-mile mountain bike race through the hills of Santa Rosa tomorrow - Annadel XC is the challenge, and I'm thankful to my friend Kyle for giving me the heads up on it. I don't know what to expect, other than some sweet single track, some rocky dusty climbs and a crazy start through downtown Santa Rosa. The rest is going to be a fantastic surprise and I can't wait.

While there is more to life than bike racing, bike racing is also a big part of my life and I cannot wait to get it back tomorrow. I love the anticipation, the nerves, the challenge, the sweat, seeing how all my hours on the bike have paid off and seeing what more I need to learn about California mountain bike racing. Tomorrow is my tabula rassa for mountain bike racing in California and I cannot wait. I've got a great support crew and owe munchkin a huge debt of gratitude and a pile of cookies for getting the Heartbreaker Stumpy in shape to rock tomorrow. I'm also so excited to be representing the Bicycle Outfitters WEST COAST Racing team tomorrow as Dave was fantastic to send me my spiffy new kit. Top spot or DFL tomorrow - I will be smiling since I'm back to my love, my roots with the support of fantastic friends.

Giddy up :-)

12 August 2014

New York City!

Adventure time again :-) Last weekend Mike and I headed back east to the Big Apple to celebrate McKenzie and Travis's wedding and do some exploring of course!

After another redeye (redeye expert by now!) we landed at JFK and took the subway into Manhattan where we were staying at Jim and Kirk's "Unicorn" of an apartment. Kirk refers to their apartment as a unicorn since spacious 4-bedroom apartments apparently just don't exist in the East Village, but they happened to find one.

We wandered around the city a bit - and thankfully I was able to get over my prior impression of NYC. My one and only other trip had been in university, where despite visiting the Met and the MoMA, the rest of our time was more or less spent wandering around looking at pretty much every H&M in the city and going to some weird bars. But I was there with a bunch of girls - so what else would be expected? Ha. While I was still skeptical of the ever re-appearing smell of pee and the massive amount of gum wads on the sidewalk, East Village was all in all a pleasant experience, had fantastic smoothies, and things only got better when we ventured over to Brooklyn.
Classic NYC - Brooklyn Bridge and Lower Manhattan


Baby Karl in NYC!

Kirk played tour guide, and we strolled along the river and under the Brooklyn Bridge before grabbing brunch at a great little spot called Siggi's (aliens eat free...). Time flies when you're having fun, and soon it was time to prove that we know how to clean up and look like presentable adults and celebrate with McKenzie and Travis. Gorgeous wedding and great to catch up with friends from Virginia.

And of course - nothing tops off a NYC experience like grabbing pierogi at 1:30am to soak up a little too much wedding fun :-)

Sunday was a little more tame, as our favorite tour guide, Kirk, showed us Washington Park, bagels and lox and the High Line. The High Line was fantastic - an old railway track converted into a walk / garden. I would have stayed there all day and taken a nap had we not had to rush back to JFK to make it home to California before midnight.

All in a weekend's work :-) And New York - you did not fail me this time - I hope to see you again!

22 July 2014

Take It In But Don't Look Down

Booked myself a one-way flight to Bend, Oregon on a bit of a whim this past weekend to catch a little adventure while playing a little "team mom" for my friend's team as they raced the Cascades Cycling Classic.

Taking off from SFO after work, I had an amazing view of mountains and high desert as we flew north to Redmond/Bend Airport. I was lucky enough to catch a glimpse of Mt. Bachelor and the Sisters as we landed. This part of Oregon is a high desert and while there were mountains in the distance, the airport was strangely flat and surrounded by tumbleweeds ... and it was HOT! Oregon apparently gets real summers.

My friend scooped me up and we were off to grab a quick dinner (bacon & kale pizza!!) before jumping right in to a mini-adventure to say "Welcome to Bend, Emily!"

Bambi -- but no Bigfoot
Admittedly I have a weak spot for fast cars and good music played a bit too loud, so it didn't exactly seem out of the ordinary as we went for a little post-dinner drive to explore Bend. One of the (many) things I love about summer, and especially summers in those larger latitudes, is that it seems to stay light forever. Your days never end and your nights are cool and short. So we twisted down a little two lane road through pine forests that I was pretty sure Bigfoot would pop out of any second until we hit a little bit of gravel. Adventure time.

Pretty sure we startled a deer mid-bathroom break - cute little bugger! But then it was on to see where the road led. A few more twists and turns and then up a little pine-tree lined parking lot where I stepped out of the car and caught a glimpse of something that might just be described as magical.

Tumalo Falls!

Here we were, not even 30 minutes outside of Bend and here was this amazing, wild waterfall dropping into what looked in my mind to be the perfect place to start any wild outdoors adventure. Towering pine trees, lush wildflowers and a rocky gorge with the appropriate amount of moss had Tumalo Falls looking to outdoor magical perfection.
Loving the green and wildflowers!

So of course we had to scramble up a narrow trail along the small gorge to see the view from behind the waterfall. I somewhat felt like I was trespassing on one of nature's forbidden spots - the place that's always going to be difficult to get to and dangerous if you make a wrong step. But thankfully this waterfall was forgiving and I was able to get close and peer out from behind its curtains.

From behind the falls
And if that wasn't magical enough, it was more scrambling ...and possibly climbing over a stone wall ... possibly .... to sit for a few moments on top of the waterfall and ponder life. Yes, that sounds cheesy but when there are thousands of gallons of water rushing by you and over the edge of a cliff. But thankfully the feet stayed on solid ground and a fantastic evening adventure was topped off with some froyo. #thingswhitekidslike

I'm on top of the world! ... well waterfall at least...

The rest of the weekend was a fantastic blur - of bicycles and adventure, but I'm starting to feel something stirring and I think that this may be the brink of more adventures to come, so keep your eyes on the horizon, this girl's finding her west coast wind :-)

08 July 2014

Into the Wilds

Hello Sierra-Nevadas!
With three whole days to play thanks to America's 238th Birthday, it was time to pack up the car and head east to somewhat crash my buddy Kyle's camping and biking trip.

On the road slightly later than planned (I was lazy and didn't want to get up....) traffic was surprisingly light as we made our way east on I-80. Still funny to me going east to find mountains. After about 2 hours of driving, we hit National Forest land and started to lose cell service...and still had about an hour and a half to drive. Apparently we were going way off the grid.

The two-lane road (California 49!) twisted and turned following the Yuba River through the cradle of California's 1849 Gold Rush Country. Towering pines lined the roadside, with the occasional glimpse of the river and rocky cliffs as we gained altitude. We hit Downieville early afternoon - just in time to grab lunch at the local pizza joint before heading the last 30 minutes to our destination at Packsaddle Campground.

After lunch, it was time to play rally-car navigator and find the fun and fast way to the campground. I had managed to use my pretend tech-savvy skillz to save a copy of the map on my phone, so we had a functioning GPS despite no cell service. I saw what appeared to be a short-cut to the camp road and figured we had to at least check it out. Sure enough, the maps did not lie and there was a little gravel road to the left.  All-wheel drive? Check. Sense of adventure? Check. Time to see where this road goes!

Sometimes the low road is just more fun...
And it went up, up and up. I got a little nervous as the road was narrow-enough that it was one car, one way, with nowhere to turn around. But -- the view at the top, when we finally hit the camp road, was well worth the adventure!

Now - on to making new friends and camping!

What I love about people who share a love of adventure, the outdoors and mountain biking - is that 99% of the time, they are awesome, and Kyle's friends did not disappoint. We pulled up just as they were working on inflating a giant turtle and orca to use on the lakes. My kind of awesome :-)

After making a a round of hellos, we set up camp and set off for a little adventure to check out the trails. Of course this meant starting off with a 1.5 mile climb that averaged 9%. Ouch. Our effort was rewarded though, with sweeping views of the "Lakes Basin" of this part of the Sierras, as we explored some trails and managed not to get completely lost before returning to camp for a quick clean-off dip in Packer Lake and a fantastic campfire dinner with our new friends.

Up early as usual while camping and was excited to break out my spiffy "Handpresso" for the first time. Nothing says "Glamping" like a portable espresso machine... After our fantastic breakfast it was time to hit the trails. With a long day in the saddle on the schedule we packed the CamelBaks full of food and water and rolled out - of course back up my new favorite climb and then into the Sierra backcountry.

Riding above Lakes Basin (Photos: Aaron Johnson)

The trail network in this region is amazing. Kyle's friend Aaron acted as our guide and photographer extraordinaire as we wound along ridge-lines, with a new crystal lake around each new bend. The trails were incredible, the scenery, un-real and the company was fantastic. We had a bit of hike-a-bike to get up and down the top of Mt. Elwell, but all part of the adventure!

Hike, hike hike your bike!

Mikey took a little tumble but luckily Kyle is a sales rep for Adventure Medical Kits and had one of their field kits out in no time to fix Mike up and get him back and rolling in no time. Tough Canadian Cookie! :-)

Mid-ride break on the summit of Mt. Elwell (Mike, Kyle, me & Sean)

We stumbled through some more hike-a-bike, circling some of the lakes before heading up one last peak to finally drop into the Downieville trail network. Downieville is known for his downhill mountain biking and the trails definitely did not disappoint. For the girl on the hard tail who still has a slight fear of downhills from one too many endo's - you couldn't get the smile off my face. I was flying and re-learning how to ride downhill and falling in love with it all over again. The wind in your face, the feeling of flying and the slight knot of terror in your stomach - all from riding a bike down a mountain. My perfect type of day :-)

Trailside waterfall - Tahoe National forest is full of surprises!

The trails drop you almost right into downtown Downieville, where Aaron and Sean's girlfriends (and adorable pups!) were waiting with pizza and beers for us. After 6+ hours of running and pedaling around in the woods - perfect ending to a near perfect day!!

Got back to camp for dinner round 2 and some campfire time before calling it a night. Fun filled weekend of adventure, sweet single track and new friends! California is starting to feel like home!

And super thanks to Aaron for all the awesome photos!!