Adventure Report

Adventure Report, Personal

Early Season Progress


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My mind is overflowing with excitement and gratitude. The last month has been a whirlwind and I am coming out on the other side of some amazing accomplishments. In the last week I have become both a PhD candidate and a certified mountain bike instructor. Amazing!

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Very tired but excited after a weekend of instructor training

The last two months I have been crunching away and studying for my qualifying exam. For those of you who don’t know (meaning most people) a qualifying exam is the barrier between being a PhD student and a PhD candidate. Each school and department does things a little bit differently. For my department (Botany and Plant Pathology at OSU) we have to write a 20-page research proposal that is NOT our dissertation topic and complete a 2-hour oral exam. The oral exam can cover questions on anything that your committee thinks that you should know from previous classes, experiences, etc. to continue in your field of study. It was terrifying. However, I still needed to get out and have some fun.

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Good Mudslinger times

And I did! Zamora was able to come down to participate in this year’s Mudslinger with me. The Mudslinger is always my favorite season opener. My riding style has changed a bit, but I couldn’t resist chasing Zamora around for 22 miles and 3,500 feet of climbing. Of course, I wanted to have the maximum amount of fun so I rocked it on the Megatrail. Perhaps the Megatrail wasn’t built with this course in mind, but I have to say, it did really well! It left me with a smile on my face the whole time! I had stopped early on in the race to help a group of people with flats. After that, I put down the suffer trying to catch up to Zamora. I kept hearing updates about where my pump was the entire race, but I never did catch Zamora. She was like a hallucination in the distance. Her bright jersey made it so I could see her most of the race but she gained a good 3 minutes on me by the end of the race. After destroying the Sport class last year (haha), we both decided to race as Expert this year. We came in 4th and 5th out of 7. There was a good 20 minutes between me and the first place winner. Good goals for next year!

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Always smiling on the Megatrail Photo by Audra Terry

And just to keep things interesting, the weekend before my oral exam I went out to the Cascadia Dirt Cup She Spoke pre-ride in Hood River. Because why not? Michelle said it was a good idea! It is important to have a group that makes sure you have fun at even the most stressful times. It did not disappoint. An amazing group of women came out! The weather was perfect! The Dirty Harlots did such an amazing job of showing us around. I finally got a good tour of the Post Canyon trails. Before the pre-ride, I had only played around in skills area. There were some pretty amazing trails. There were some nice chunky rock drops that I rode into blind on a less-than-amazing line (so that is what everyone was checking out before riding). I did a front wheel land on a mandatory drop (totally did that on purpose to add style) and got to practice lots of tight berms. And did I mention the awesome group of ladies? Seriously awesome.

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Great turn out for the Cascadia Dirt Cup She Spoke Pre-Ride

And then the qualifying exam! I just kept imagining it like a drop at Black Rock that I had recently ridden for the first time. I had the skills, but it looked scary as hell riding into it. That is exactly what the oral exam was like. Except it felt like an awkward landing that I managed to ride out. The entire exam felt pretty unpleasant and uncomfortable. The entire time, I felt confused and was trying to figure out how best to showcase my knowledge while decoding what I was being asked. I just kept moving forward. After the exam, I was asked to leave the room and I sat outside for what seemed like an eternity while my committee discussed the end result. And after that 5-minute eternity, I was invited back in and was told that I passed! So stoked! I certainly could have done better, but I am so happy to have this behind me. So I move forward. The reality of actually having a PhD some day is starting to sink in. Crazy times.

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The qualifying exam drop

To celebrate (one way or the other) I had signed myself up for a PMBIA training class the weekend after the exam. To make things even better, Kerstin was able to sign up at the last minute. Kerstin and I completed their Level 1 certification, which gives you the tools to teach beginning to intermediate mountain bikers. I decided to sign up for certification though PMBIA for two main reasons: 1. I wanted to go through a different training than Michelle had completed to allow for diversity in our instruction. 2. I was impressed by their organization and set up, which closely follows instructor certification in the ski and snowboard industry. In person, I was even more impressed with the program. I may have spent the whole weekend overloaded with information and a little worried that I wasn’t gonna hack it, but it was so worth it. I feel that it gave me a lot of new tools to use in my own riding and in teaching. I really loved their expectation that instructors should always be looking for ways to improve and learn more about riding and teaching. I would highly recommend it to anyone looking to get certified and would be happy to chat about  more (see contact tab for our email). It was a little hard to spend the weekend in Bend and not be able to ride Funner, but somehow we survived.

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More of this please

And now summer is almost upon us and the adventures are rolling in. I’m excited about this season and can’t wait to do a lot of riding and a little racing. We are planning some end of the season events (a skills clinic in Newport and a Women’s Weekend of shredding), so keep an eye out for those! Until then, I’m going to be analyzing a bunch of fungal RNAseq data and riding as much as possible.

Adventure Report, Personal

Dreaming of dirt from the darkside…


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So tired tonight… and in pain. My knee is throbbing, my feet are cold and my leg is itching from wearing a compression stocking that makes my thigh look like a stuffed sausage. I just finished my first attempt at a gym workout since ACL surgery last Monday; but instead of hearing the buzz of a cheering audience or Chariots of Fire in the back of my head, I’m merely trying to keep my stomach attached to the inside of my ribs and stop the room from spinning. Lack of calories and a naturally low blood pressure can have wild consequences under the right kind of environmental stress, and unfortunately for me, my body was letting me know that perhaps my ambitious need to improve my physical state of mobility might have been more successful had I taken the time to digest some solid food. Nonetheless, I worked through an initial set of exercises, and though not as quickly as I imagined, my healing is moving forward. In this, there is much to be thankful for…

Three years ago I opted for an ACL revision to fix a cadaver graft and meniscus injury – not more than six months later, I had torn the graft yet again, and decided to opt out of surgery and see how long I could go without an ACL. Consequently, it wasn’t too long before the injuries began compounding, and fast forward to 2015; I finally scheduled an overdue solution and opted for a new graft, this time, harvesting from my patellar ligament to ensure a stronger, longer outcome. The problem is, going under the knife is no easy decision, and as I’ve “been there done that” on too many prior occasions, I knew I would be looking at a drawn out recovery process. However, measuring the benefits against the risks, and the patience it would take to heal, I believe I made the right choice.

For the last three years, I’ve been prone to knee dislocations, soft tissue tears, and joint inflammation. There simply wasn’t any room for error. Downhill “racing” and jumps became detrimental. If I missed a transition due to lack of timing or poor judgment in speed, my knee would dislocate upon the landing. More than once, this has caused me significant pain and long bouts out of the saddle. Sadly, my confidence waning and my knee simply giving out with a mere squatting motion, I quit riding my beloved playground, Black Rock, altogether, last February. Since then, I’ve had to slow down on climbing – my typical style is to mash the pedals, and my knee let me know this simply wasn’t acceptable. When I switched to higher RPMs, my back gave out. And though I had fun “racing” Crawfish Classic this summer, my speed wasn’t anywhere near where it was even a year ago. The muffin top had become a permanent fixture, and riding became even more painful as my cardio fitness took a dive. In September, I finally jumped in and scheduled my orthopedic consultation – I would spend the holidays learning how to walk again.

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A biker chick’s legs… the good, the bad and the ugly.

So as the surgery date became more apparent, I began to feel the anxiety grow… how long would this really take to heal? I became a fervent researcher in ACL recovery and cycling athletes. To be honest, there really isn’t a whole lot out there for competitive mountain biking, much less downhill or freeride enthusiasts. Asking my doctor, he seemed to have some idea about when I would be able to get on a road bike, but “off road cycling” would have to play it by ear a bit longer. Then there’s all my amazing friends who also happen to be professional athletes – some of whom recently broke their femurs (yep, there’s more than one of you) and a few more having had ACL reconstructive surgeries in the last couple years – they’re all doing great; but I am a small business owner, a mom, a “wife” (of sorts) and while mountain biking is definitely at the top of my list of priorities, it isn’t the only priority in my life, and someone has to pay the bills. This doesn’t leave me with hours on end to focus on physical training and riding bicycles every day. So how long would it really take for me to heal to my desired level of athletic performance? After a long trifle of personal interviews, medical consultations and scouring the internet for relevant information, I have come to the conclusion that my next “racing career” (period of time when I will prioritize my competitive performance as a mountain biker) will begin now, with the goal to seriously hit the race circuit by May 2017. Eighteen months of rehab, training, building my strength, endurance, mental capacity and habits (the most important key here…) that will help me reach success in my desire to excel at the sport of mountain biking.

That being said, six months before I can ride dirt again seems far off, for now. But I know all too well; time ticks onward, and it waits for no one. So, while my garden needed tending, my house needed cleaning and the paperwork on my desk continued to accumulate, I spent the last month, before undergoing the knife, on dirt, with friends and family.

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Our No Apologies! Sandy Ridge Birthday Bash, featuring some of the best NWTA lady rippers Portland has to offer! Left to right: Rheannon, Hazel, Sarah, Kerstin, Elaine, Michelle, Gwyn and Debbie.

No Apologies! kicked off the party with an impromptu birthday ride in late October at Sandy Ridge. Wasting no time, I re-posted the event to the Northwest Trail Alliance Women’s Group. After all, who could resist celebrating at least three birthdays, including Sarah, Kerstin and myself. It turned out to be an amazing day in both weather and company. Some of my favorite adventure ride partners showed up to share the glory, and we worked every bit of the trail system we had time to put two wheels to; rock gardens, drops, big corners and off-camber rooted switchbacks – Sandy has it all. Following the more experienced riders, we tested our skills, raised our confidence and built a whole new coalition of camaraderie. At the end of the day, we left the scene on very satisfying terms; after all, what could be better than a shredfest of beautiful, strong, confident women… and cupcakes.

Sandy Ridge Cupcake Fest
Do cupcakes really need a caption? We rode, they were there, we were hungry, and we ate them… nice way to end the ride! Below photo credit: Terry Causey

Breaking away from the travels up north, I also took some time to hit a few areas closer to home. I took a day to ride Carpenter’s Bypass (lovingly referred to as Whypass, by Eugene-local IMBA chapter, Disciples of Dirt) with my sweetie Matt. Whypass is a chaotic network of trails loosely following a “figure eight” structure around a main road. The trick to finding your way around is to remember which side of the road you’re on. However, the goods are worth a few minutes of confusion; twisting descents through a myriad of forest habitats, wide open viewpoints and multiple opportunities to “choose your line” make Whypass the perfect venue for anyone, at any skills level. What I love is that there really isn’t any extended time in the saddle spent climbing or going downhill – Whypass offers a balanced option for the classic cross country mountain biking experience, and makes for the perfect outdoor “gym” for those who are trying to build up their fitness. Blue skies, tabletop sessioning, and pedaling at a steady, even, pace gave me hope my cardio wasn’t as bad off as I thought.

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A typical sunny view at Whypass, because, why pass up a good view?

But then I hit the North Shore Trail (or perhaps I should I say it “spanked” me) just outside Lowell off Highway 58 heading east from Eugene. A rolling river trail, North Shore boasts plenty of challenges to test both endurance and strength. You must be comfortable with constant elevation change – just when you think you can’t pedal up any longer, you’ll be pointing straight down again, right through the middle of a rock garden or a pile of roots with a sharp left turn and a creek crossing ending in a gear-thrusting grind up to the next surprise. A mere 12-mile out and back can become a technical nightmare quickly, especially when (like me) your back tire loses traction across a slimy, unkempt bridge and you’re thrown out of the saddle as your bike dives into the creek you thought you were avoiding by riding the bridge in the first place! Oh yeah, it made for a sore hip and a wet, squishy, shoe, but I persevered. While it continued to rain most of the day, I barely noticed, as I found myself chasing my friend Aimee on her single speed – and for her, single speed means just that; one speed; which is FAST. Needless to say, I didn’t get cold, and there was no dilly-dallying the ride “back to the barn”. We enjoyed an invigorating workout, followed by rainbows, tacos, hot tub and steam. I love riding with women. We know how to see it through – beginning to end, and we don’t have to feel guilty about spoiling ourselves!

North Shore Cruise
Above: This is the classic re-group spot along the reservoir at the North Shore campground. The trees to the left represent the climb out to the last section of trail before the turn around. Although it was a blustery day, most of our ride was protected beneath these canopies.  Photo credit: Carrie Russo
North Shore Team
Me, Carrie and Aimee; wet, happy and ready to eat tacos! Photo credit: Justin Turlak

A good mountain bike tribute in the fall wouldn’t be complete without combining a mushroom hunt into the mix. So I borrowed an extra bike and convinced my friend Angela to join Matt and I for a ride/foray on Larison Creek trail. Located just outside Oakridge off Diamond Drive and east on NF 21, Larison Creek trail is accessed off the west cove of Hills Creek, also known as Larison Cove. Poor Angela. My bike, though a size small, was still a bit too large for her tiny 5’ frame. Coming to a full stop left her unbalanced as she tried to dismount to size up a line, and unfortunately, she took a short topple off the edge of the trail. It was slow motion – three (yes three) endos into the brush. I raced back up trail to make certain she was alright, offering a hand, but she is stubborn, and declined my help, insisting she just needed to catch her breath. After walking down the descent, she was back on it, determined not to go home empty-handed. We culled through our “spots” without much luck, finding enough hedgehogs and chanterelles for dinner, but not much more. So we rode a bit further before turning back. That’s when Angela took off like a banshee… had all the coaching on the way out gotten through already? Suddenly, Angela was naturally shifting her body through the descents, facing roots, rocks, and small drops with ease. This was exactly what I had imagined for her – and I was so happy to finally share my favorite pastime with one of my oldest and dearest friends. Definitely a highlight before going into surgery!

Larison Creek Angela
Angela gets on her serious face as she approaches a small root drop. Nothing like a successful day of coaching and mushroom hunting to round out a “walk down the plank” to knee surgery!

The “piece de resistance” came the last weekend, just before I dove into the black hole of pain, scar tissue, and torture (uh, I mean, physical therapy). It just so happened that I was to drive Matt’s daughter to the Portland Airport for an early morning Saturday departure, so I decided to take one last opportunity to ride the north side of the state in unexplored territory. I put the word on Facebook at the last minute on Thursday, drove up Friday, and spent the night in Vancouver, at my friend Bridget’s place (also my No Apologies! teammate). Following a brisk delivery to Southwest Airlines, Bridget, myself and about a dozen of my PDX-based riding partners met at the base of Thrillium – a well-known downhill trail outside of Camas, off Hwy. 500 in the Columbia Gorge, on the Washington side.

Thrillium Ladies Ride
The ladies of NWTA pair up with No Apologies! once again to hit the Cold Creek area. Getting ready to ride Thrillium, left to right: Elaine, Michelle, Jocelyn, Debbie, Karolyn, Bridget and Inga. Big thanks to our awesome cache of gentleman riders who patiently guided us down trail, took our pictures and helped us shuttle! Photo credit: Todd McCarthy

To be honest, I was completely overwhelmed by the response of so many friends who came out to ride with me. On top of it all, two of the ladies in attendance were also celebrating their birthdays. While they could have chosen to spend the day at any number of other engagements, these folks came out to share the sunshine and the shred, with me! And what a fantastic day! We gathered our gear and bikes up between four vehicles and carpooled to the top of Thrillium for a couple of runs. The trail started out with an abrupt, vertical drop-in. Not knowing exactly what to expect, I decided to let it all go –fear, anxiety, worry about falling… all gone. I jumped in full throttle, chasing Oregon Enduro Cup series champ, Elaine Bothe to the next regroup spot. What a rush… rocky chutes and fast, steep corners, skinny passages between trees, root drops and a swift left turn before we piled out onto the road crossing. The next couple segments took us down a frozen wonderland of freestyle jumps, berms, step-ups and tabletops with hangtime for what seemed like miles. In fact, I think I probably caught my biggest air ever on the second run down. Chainless, I let off the break and launched a big tabletop, dumb-stricken during hangtime, thinking to myself “oh my god, I am flying… I’m way off the ground… my head is in the clouds…” and then, suddenly back on two wheels again, I finished out the segment with a greater sense of euphoria than I’d ever imagined possible while riding a bike. After our second run, it was getting near noon, so we retrieved vehicles from the top, shared cupcakes and exchanged goodwill before everyone went separate ways. Bridget, Inga, Jason and I decided to pedal up to the top of Cold Creek, making one last decent on the wild side of the hill before we called it a day.

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Because what goes together better than cupcakes and mountain biking?
Cold Creek Snow Field
A chilly opening into a lightly blanketed meadow on Cold Creek trail.

While Thrillium shuttles are fun as hell, Cold Creek offered us a sense of adventure from a different perspective. First, there was the climb. A steep gravel pedal to the top of a power line road left my legs feeling like rubberbands that had been stretched too far. Legs shaking, I downed a REV’D bar and a couple of gels to try and get some motivation back in my muscles. The decent started out smoothly enough, but gave way to rock gardens and an open beargrass meadow delightfully dusted in snow. Skinny, exposed trails led to a sketchy shale ridgeline, requiring just enough speed to clear the last corner into a protected trail bed, but it was tricky. Too much brake or speed would have seen the novice attempt battered in bruises. But we all rode it with grace. Next up, I took a good spill shooting around a corner down a narrow channel of rocks, but I quickly recovered and tried to catch Jason, launching whatever booters I could find along the way. My confidence was soaring and by far, this was one of my best days out the entire season. We cleaned a couple of bigger drops along the way, and once again chainless toward the bottom of the last segment, I let out the throttle, pumping and jumping my way to the end of the line. Truly an amazing day, I left Inga and Jason with a couple extra cupcakes and drove Bridget home. Now it was time to head back to Eugene and face the music…

Cold Creek Cornering
Heading out of one section, into the next – bonus view of Mt. Hood in the background. Photo credit: Inga Beck

But not so fast! My band of “Merry Bikesters” would not settle for me spending my last day of mobility taking care of yardwork. Oh no, the blitz to bike my ass off before surgery was on, so Matt and I prepared for an early morning departure with our friend Carrie, hoping to squeeze one more shred session into our Sunday repertoire at Alsea Falls, a mountain-bike specific flow trail system located northwest of Eugene following Hwy. 99 barely past Monroe to a cutoff road toward Alpine and out toward the Alsea coast. The Alsea Falls Flow Trail has fast become my favorite go-to place to ride, in part because it’s only 40 minutes away from my front door, but also because it’s just plain fun. I can’t think of a time I’ve been there to ride bikes and haven’t seen everyone in my pack drive off with ear-to-ear grins.  After a warm-up climb for about three miles – four, if you want to ride the top segments (and the extra mile is worth it, even if it’s a grunt) you’re in for the proverbial action-packed rollercoaster of mountain bike parks! From swift vertical descents littered with technical challenges, to smooth high-speed corners and sideways berms, tabletops, doubles and pump track sessioning to fast switchbacks, pedally root sections and grumpy little rock garden climbs, Alsea has something for everyone.

Alsea Crew
Ah, the homies! Showin’ some love in the chilly morning hours on Saturday. Left to right: Aimee, Michelle, Matt, Carrie, Julia and Eriel.

Upon arrival, we were pleasantly surprised to see our friends, Julia and Eriel, in the parking area, and just before we took off for the climb, Aimee showed up as well. Matt was our token man for the day, but he held out like a champ, patiently photographing our silly group portraits and attempts to session the big tabletop at the end of the central trail section, known as “Lower Highballer”. We had so much fun chasing each other, and in the end, I became chainless again, and somehow losing all inhibition, I transformed into the speed of light by pumping everything possible. My adrenaline kicked in as I felt my body loosening up and I became the hero I always wanted to be, jumping each and every double, landing perfect transitions and sliding into home base at the hoots and hollers of my companions. Another great ride in the books just before surgery, and little did I know or understand how much these experiences would mean to me after I would essentially lose mobility as I knew it, for at least six months.

Alsea Jumpin Jack Flash
Michelle “pop-a-launches” while Aimee sails through the transition. Photo credit: Matt McPharlin

Fast forward to now. It’s Monday, and a week after the surgery and those last few adventures that left me hopeful, inspired and determined to heal, no matter how bad the pain would get. And it’s gotten bad. The Tuesday after the nerve block wore off was the worst, as I lay crying out between the tears trickling down my face, my leg being manipulated into an excruciating state of flexion. These are the moments I hide from almost everyone, as I attempt to put on a happy face and focus forward on my goals, but real, nonetheless, and part of the recovery process… and hell, let’s face it – pain is part of living, and it’s part of succeeding. Letting go isn’t easy, and freedom isn’t free, but working hard means we get to play hard and the possibilities at the end of this rainbow seem limitless to me at this point. Already, I can feel a major difference in my knee stability; I just have to embrace patience and look at going the distance for a proper recovery, and for that, I will look back on these last few excursions for inspiration and courage.

From the Couch
Dreaming of dirt…

You’ve heard, “life isn’t measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away.” Well, pain is part of that – trust me, it takes my breath away daily. But so is joy. That said, my mountain bike community has imparted an enormous sum of incredibly joyful, breathtaking moments on my behalf. I am eternally grateful for sharing these past few months with friends and family, both on and off trail, and know that I am drawing motivation and strength from each of these experiences, every day.  I’m coming back –stronger, bolder, faster, and yes, a bit older. In the meantime, keep on pedaling… I’ll see you all on the flip side soon!

-Michelle (AKA: Miss Sunshine)

Adventure Report

McKenzie Double


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As we work our way into Fall, I thought it time to review one of the most epic rides of the Spring.  It’s called the McKenzie Double, or simply just “the double”.  It happens over Memorial Day weekend, and is a birthday celebration with bikes and people you love to ride with. As a bonus, it also includes at least one night of crazy camping.

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As the name suggests, it is a double day event. The first day is a road ride via the 5,325 ft McKenzie Scenic Pass ride aka 242 (As seen on this year’s custom Yanco hats). The second day is the Mckenzie River Trail (MRT). The ride up the pass is in short: amazing! The beauty of 242, aside from the scenery, is that the road is closed to car traffic every spring. It was great to have zero cars to think about while riding and enjoying the view, and there is a lot to take in. It was great to share the road with only cyclists and the occasional walker while making our way up to the pass.  The pass is like a moonscape and offers amazing views….IMG_4647 IMG_4639  IMG_4646

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…and smiles all around, because what comes next is a lot of downhill, a temperature increase, and ice cream in Sisters, OR.  All worth the ride up!  Arriving in Sisters was like riding into New York City after being in the solitude of the mountains, but ice cream was worth it! We weaved through town to get our well deserved treat before heading back up the pass from the other direction. This is a shorter, steeper climb and it is over before you know it.  Happy to make it back to the pass, we layered up for our ride down, cause it was winter-like cold.  I think Dan probably was the most prepared for his ride down….IMG_4641

As we made our way back down to camp the reality that this epic ride was coming to an end began to sink in.  But the fun wasn’t over yet! When we rolled into camp, the size of our group almost doubled with more bike friends that had done a mountain bike ride that day and wanted in on the birthday fun.

And what’s the most important and first thing one should do after riding 70 some miles? Go stand in the VERY cold creek for 15 minutes.  Everyone swore that it would make my muscles feel better in the morning. Since we did have a mountain bike ride the next day, I decided to partake in this recovery ritual.  It was cold but I hafta say my legs felt ready to go for the MRT in the morning. After recovering from our recovery bath, we had an amazing meal, some good hang out time, a great fire with friends, and dogs, enough said!  The next day would have some fun things in store, or so we thought…..

We started the morning off with fresh legs, and coffee in hand ready to conquer the MRT.  We ate, packed up camp and drove on down the road to the trailhead.  We arrived and organized ourselves into groups and rolled out for a full day. It was beautiful with not too much traffic, bike or otherwise.  That was until we reached the Tamolitch Blue Pool and it was as if someone had turned on a people hose and sprayed them everywhere, and I mean everywhere!  We sat for a small break and a bite to eat and gazed at the blue pool and hoped the people would thin out. It was a good hope, they just got more layered to the point where we had to walk our bikes. This went on for what seemed an eternity, in reality it was maybe a mile.  Our next short term goal was to make it Trailbridge, and figure out if this mt bike ride would continue.  There was an escape vehicle there, so bailing was an option.   I was surprisingly exhausted mentally from the ride the day before and had come to my end point.  Too many people to enjoy riding, and a few of us decided that we would end our ride there and get shuttled back to the car and head home.  Sometimes you just gotta call it.  Despite the people on the trail it was a beautiful ride, and it’s a trail that certainly keeps you engaged.  Even though we opted out early it was still an awesome weekend! You can’t beat riding, hanging out with friends and just being a dirtbag for a few days.  I can’t think of a better way to spend a holiday weekend.

Adventure Report

Lessons of the 50K


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On Saturday, June 20 I volunteered as a sweep for the Mary’s Peak 50K trail run. Being a race sweep means I stay behind all the runners, making sure they are safe and on the right course, all the while clearing the course of all the signs and markers.

I had looked forward to sweeping this race on my bike because since I started training for the Cascade Creme Puff Fritter 50, I’ve got the crazy eyes for long distance rides. Plus, race promoter Mike Ripley always creates an interesting and challenging course.

 

Crazy Eyes, aka me on a mountain bike.
Crazy Eyes, aka me on a mountain bike.

This experience ended up being different than I expected, and I learned a lot from both the long hours spent on the course and my riding/volunteering/training buddy, Clarinda.

 

The 50K course
The 50K course

I drove up Woods Creek Road to meet a group of very fast looking runners swarming out from the Mary’s Peak North Ridge trail head. An army of nicely toned legs and the crazy look of ultra-anything flew past me as I frantically pulled my bike out of the back. Yes, I was a bad volunteer that morning.  I was running late and had parked my truck just moments before the racers took off.

After I got on my bike and checked in with Ripley, I joined Clarinda, and we set off for what was to be be a very. long. day.

A word about my friend Clarinda. After working in Minnesota for the past few months, she was back in Corvallis for a handful of days when she was asked to fill in last second as a volunteer sweep the following morning. She said yes, and I was happy to get to catch up with her and chat about what she’d been up to.

We took off down to the North Ridge extension trail. Whoops. wrong turn. Now we see the trail head. That was just a warm-up, we told each other. Haha, right? As we headed up the extension we ran into the 25K runners just bombing down the hill toward us.  I always tell trail runners that they have it easier because I can at least sit down on my bike. Sort of a joke, but these guys in particular struck me as seriously aggressive and impressive.

The part where I got silly
Getting silly: just for cyclists? I hope not.

At the end of the extension trail we were back at the parking lot and faced the biggest elevation gain of the day – North Ridge trail up to the top of Mary’s Peak. I think Ripley has fun planning his routes, because as a cycling and running event promoter, he seems to enjoy having his runners run up what is popular for cyclists to cycle down. Take North Ridge for example – rooty drops characterize this switchback-heavy technical climb. Most people choose bike up East Ridge. Buuuuut, this was not a race for mountain bikers, so a’slogging we did go, hoping to finally catch up with the slowest runners and feel like we were doing our job.

Riding down North Ridge in May
Riding down North Ridge in May

Multiple runner-free switchbacks later and reality was settling in – we had ridden only a few miles and climbed just a sprinkling of the 5,000 total feet of elevation. We stared up at Oregon’s highest coastal peak and started asking ourselves questions. Clarinda wondered why she had so readily agreed to this the night before. She pondered on her general tendency to agree to things.  I wondered: did I trick her into doing this? Am I a total jerk? Am I going to break my friend? Will we ever see those damn runners? (Nope on the last one.)

My friend Chris calls this “Level 3 fun.” The kind of fun that is often only enjoyable in hindsight and includes a mixture of misery quests, getting lost, and in this case, realizing early you may be in over your head and there’s nothing you can do about. Just finish. Get your butt in the saddle and your feet on the pedals and seal the deal.

Our slog-fest up to the peak ended at a very busy parking lot; in addition to the 50K there was the Mary’s Peak Hill Climb Time Trial. I checked in with my fellow volunteers and then cruised over to the other event aid station. Oh yeah, new station with new treats. These folks did not disappoint, and offered me bowls of full-sized candy bars.

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Hmm. Bananas or full sized Snickers? This involves classic high road/low road decision-making skills.

Non-bike related commentary: Different aid stations are much like different houses on your trick or treating route, and getting the full size stuff is like when your mom drives you to the rich part of town and you end up totally scoring.

Busy summer day at the top
Busy summer day at the top

After making an unappetizing electrolyte cocktail of Gatorade, Heed, and Nuun (taste buds < bonking), I biked up to the proper top of the peak. Riding a figure 8 pattern with a view that spans the Cascades to the coast, I cleared the trail and met Clarinda back down at the parking lot. We reminded ourselves that the hardest climb was over. Down East Ridge we rode, out of the Siuslaw National Forest and into the vast network of singletrack on mostly Starker Forest and other private land. I appreciated the opportunity to discover some pretty cool trails and revisit some that make up the Mudslinger XC race held every April.

Clearing the top of the trail run on a beautiful and clear day at Mary's Peak.
Clearing the course on a beautiful day at the top of Mary’s Peak.

Bagging Mary’s Peak may have been the hardest section, but our ride was far from over. After checking in at several aid stations, we realized we were never going to catch up with even the slowest runners. I guess when you sign up for a 50K trail run you mean business.

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Clarinda pauses in front of some very dangerous looking ferns.

So, cruising along the course, we had a lot of time to chat and had established a nifty little system for clearing the all the signage: roll up to the tree/fern/green thingy, carefully extract the fluorescent pink and white ribbon from the branch/frond/green thingy, apologize to all fronds damaged in the process, pull the signs stapled to the trees, scoop up mini traffic cones, and cram them into a giant pack on Clarinda’s pack. Slam dunk. Do you know how many slam dunks you can have on a 32 mile course? So dang many. We rode a bit, we cleared a lot. Rode a bit, cleared a lot. This resulted in an interesting cadence and fewer apologies to the greenery as we yanked ribbon, roped off sections, and oh so many little orange traffic cones.

The rest of the ride pretty much followed this uneventful pattern. But the final stretch was most memorable for me. At 4:30 p.m. we rode an exposed, high grass trail called Mohawk that affords a beautiful view of the coast range. We stopped to eat and check in with people via text. Yes we are still alive. Clarinda and I had expected to be done by this time, but all in all we still had another 3 hours to go. As we made the final stretch down the gravel road to the finish line at the Blodgett school house, a truck came roaring up behind us. It was Ripley, rolling down his window and gingerly trying to find an acceptable way to tell two hard-working ladies that they were “balls deep.” Go ahead and say it, I told him. He agreed, and offered to help clear the rest of the course leap-frog style. Yeessssss please. To this day (7 whole days later) I see an innocuous little ribbon tied to a tree in the forest and I scream in my head NOOOO!

A quick late afternoon snapshot on Mohawk trail, in the Blodgett area.
A quick late afternoon snapshot on Mohawk trail, in the Blodgett area. Note the exploding flannel in my new favorite accessory, Revelate’s Feedbag.

And that brings me to the point of me writing this post – after riding 10.5 consecutive hours with Clarinda that day, I was amazed by the smile on her face and her super positive attitude in the face of something challenging and frustrating and more than a little tedious. Hours before she had doubted herself, but she was totally fine! In fact, she went for a ride the next day. I don’t always reflect such positivity but she inspired me by her actions. Earlier Clarinda had questioned her tendency to agree to things, but her willingness to get out there is what makes her a good friend for me to learn from. At the end of the ride as we loaded up our bikes, she reflected on many things she learned that day: her limits are far higher than she thought, she isn’t so worried about some upcoming Oregon 24 Hour Race, and she knows a bit more about the right mix of hydration and nutrition on long rides. As for me, I was pretty happy to log so many hours on my bike, since the Fritter could take me nearly that long, and Clarinda’s positive spin left me in a pretty good mood. We never did catch those runners, though.

Beer and burritos after a long day of sweeping.
Beer and burritos after a long day of sweeping.
Adventure Report

Let the Training Begin!


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As the Willamette Valley baked in the first heat wave of the year, I spent about 4 hours Saturday afternoon meandering from peak to peak throughout the Macdonald Forest. My wanderings had a specific purpose: to get me in good shape to ride 50 miles and climb 9,000 feet of the Fritter 50 race in Oakridge, this August.

Let me get something straight right away: I love fritters. Specifically apple fritters from Nutcakes. Those face-sized, sugary, doughy concoctions of perfection have just enough grease and lovely little apple chunks, leaving my hands with doughnut dust that usually ends up in my bike glove, having most likely eaten it on the way to some trail head.

My spirit doughnut - THE FRITTER
My spirit doughnut – THE FRITTER

So…..what better race to go for, and what better weekend to start a new training regimen?

Since I began mountain biking, I’ve ridden a handful of races for the experience, but nothing that made me question whether I could complete the course. Not that I don’t think I can complete the Fritter, but I’d like to at least finish by rolling, rather than hobbling in. And I want my face to be equal parts smile and grimace, if I can swing that.

This morning’s inaugural training ride started much later than I planned (I blame it on the cider the night before), and after loading up a new bag, I hit the Oak Creek trail head shortly before 11.

My hot new fanny pack. I've tried 4 packs this spring and this one doesn't hurt my back or bounce around, and it has a reservoir! A winner!
My hot new fanny pack. I’ve tried 4 packs this spring and this one doesn’t hurt my back or bounce around, and it has a reservoir! A winner!

As I pedaled past the initial crowd of hikers always found on Homestead, and up the virtually empty old South Road, I smiled at the thought of my specific purpose on the bike for the next couple of months. I had a focus to improve my endurance, and a motivation for those days ahead when I won’t be feeling as excited as I am now. Also, it doesn’t hurt to know I have five remaining days of the school year. Even with my odd jobs throughout the summer, gone will be the long days spent in the classroom, replaced by long sunny, hours in the saddle!

I climbed up to the “Wall” below McCulloch Peak. Surprisingly there wasn’t a gaggle of riders at the bench, which is what I expected on a sunny Saturday. Alone, I made my way down Tin Can Alley and Brown’s Nose for my first descent. Another goal I made this year was to better familiarize myself the trails, but as I got back to the road, I started wasting a bit of time and phone battery trying to find the way to Funnel Cake, a trail I’ve never actually ridden. So I decided to stick to what I know, and eventually made my way down the Plunge to Sulphur Springs.

Sign at the Extendo trail head - at least we now know that the logs won't be removed until late summer!
Sign at the Extendo trail head – at least we now know that the logs won’t be removed until late summer!

Sulphur Springs is my favorite place to ride on hot day – it just seems a bit cooler, and there’s always the sound of water that surrounds you. It’s too bad that logging has taken out Log Bridge, messing up a perfect loop, but today that didn’t matter as I was focused on making it back up to Dimple for the third leg of my ride.

The lovely Baker Creek Bridge
The lovely Baker Creek Bridge

Following a route of Rheannon’s, I rode down the road until I got to the lovely Baker Creek bridge, which leads back up to moderately challenging Alpha trail.

By this point I was hot and tired. I had lagged a bit earlier, waiting for the map to load on my tiny iPhone screen. Repeatedly pulling it out of my bag reminded me that I need to get a proper GPS or stop relying on technology and just ride. A wrong turn before Alpha took me to a confusing network of Betas and Gammas that leads back down the opposite way I was headed, so I turned around and could barely push my bike back up to the right trail.

Alpha alpha'd me this day.
Alpha alpha’d me this day.

Once I got onto Alpha I was tired enough to just stop in the middle of the trail. This was when I realized I wasn’t passing anyone on the trail because it was, indeed, an unpleasantly warm day.

When I finally arrived at the top of Dimple, I felt far more spent compared to my regular Quimple up Dan’s or Horse. I stopped long enough to drink the rest of my electrolytes, look out over my Corvallis Queendom, then hit Two Face and Hocus Pocus for a bit of fun before I arrived back at my truck at the Oak Creek gate.

My stats: 3, 734 feet; 16 miles. Not bad for my first training ride, but I need to get to 5,000 feet in a single ride pretty soon if I’m going to get the doughnut glory.

Afterward I felt pretty tired, but laughed at the thought that the next day’s ride was going to be an “easy” ride up to McCulloch. Just a few months ago that was my hardest ride, so I’m happy with how far I’ve come with endurance!

A simple Dimple shot.
A simple Dimple shot.
Adventure Report

Sunday Fun Day at Thrillium


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It’s Sunday. A day where most American’s go to church or sleep in and read the morning newspaper, go to their local breakfast spot and grab some eggs, bacon and toast with a steaming cup of coffee. For us it’s a bit different, our Sunday has become a ritual of waking up early, loading our gear and bikes, slamming down whatever breakfast we have at the house and cruising on the highway as the sun is rising to our favorite downhill spot in Yacolt, Washington.

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Having access to the Cold Creek Trail System is one of the many advantages of living in the great Pacific Northwest. There are a variety of trails for different types of riding. Cold creek is one of the trails, for a more enduro style rider. Cold creek features bermed switchbacks that link corner to corner, a rock garden, a few bridge crossing over the river and is speckled with roots, rocks and fun all the way down the trail. There is another trail in the Cold Creek system called Thrillium, this is one of my all time favorite trails. It’s a dynamic downhill specific trail. It is shuttle-able, fast, technical, steep, rocky, plenty of roots, and has lots jumps. It is the perfect training spot to gain confidence with tech and speed. It is full of laughs, smiles, stories of close calls and most of all it makes trips that you will never forget with your friends.

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Rob is an ex-pro downhill racer that has come out of a serious neck injury; this past trip to Thrillium was his second time on his new bike and he was sending it like he was never off a bike at all. Both Rye and I look up to him because of his positive attitude, his ability to always make you laugh and jeez this guy can shred.

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Rye grew up shredding the mountains of Santa Cruz, which shows in his natural ability and flowing style. I admire those traits! He sees the lines through a different lens and is always teaching me new techniques to rip through the really technical sections of the mountain, which makes him great training partner.

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Hi 5 Bikes teammate Gordo is so naturally gifted when it comes to riding bikes it amazes me. At the rate he is going I feel he will be at the World Cups in his later teenage years. This kid is flat out pinned all the time

This was the first run of Thrillium we have done this season that was dry. Normally until about the beginning of June it is still pretty moist and wet out at there. However, this May it has been so fast and tacky, it is some of the best conditions I have ever experienced on this trail. After riding in the rain back to back all winter, it is almost a learning curve to get back to riding tacky and fast rolling trails.

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No flats, minor crashes and all of us in great laughing spirits, we packed up our bikes and heading back home as the sun was going down. I wouldn’t trade the experience with my friends and our bikes for anything.

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Thank you to No Apologies, Hi-5 Bikes, Raceface, Ride100%, Royal Racing, The Gravity Cartel, Fox Suspension and 7protection.

And another big thank you to our awesome photographer Ruandy Albiseruz check him out on his instagram: @pnw_roo

Adventure Report

Ridin’ and buildin’


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Epic lunch spots deserve nothing less than an avocado sandwich.

Rheannon and I rounded out our spring breaks with a nice balance of some all-day epic trails at Oakridge, followed by an early morning OSU trail build day out at Vineyard Mountain. (It makes me wonder – what would be the third addition to make this weekend a mountain biking trifecta?)

Jim and Rheannon’s good omen en route to OROR.

Since Rheannon is training for the Cream Puff, she, Jim and a couple of friends decided to get up early and eschew Oakridge’s friendly bike shuttle to make the 3,500 feet climb up road 1910, where the rest of our group met them at Kate’s Cut-in. The road climbing crew arrived with smiles on their faces and we had a blast riding ATCA – Upper Alpine, Tire Mountain, Cloverpatch, then lower Alpine.

Five minutes into my first descent on Alpine I thought to myself, “Why haven’t I ridden this before???? Like, a LOT of times????” I had a perma smile pasted on my face that propelled me through the tough climbs (and seemingly endless switchbacks at places). Thankfully our crew knew how to infuse some leisure into a long day – it was the perfect mix of shredding, climbing, snacking, repeat, repeat, repeat.

Perfect ‘lunch on the ridge’ weather

After falling face first into a table full of tacos Saturday night at Eugene’s Tacovore and getting a good night’s sleep, Rheannon, JIm and I headed out to Lewisburg Saddle Saturday morning for an OSU trail building work party. The college is taking out the unauthorized Tower (Antenna) Trail and digging the new Vineyard Mountain Trail corridor that will connect the top of Vineyard Mountain with the Saddle.

We were there the whole time, yet new trails always appear almost magically!

We were happy to help break ground on this new project, and I’m pretty excited about all the new trails that volunteer coordinator Matt McPharlin said the college has in store – a Horse-Saddle connector plus an overhaul of the High-Low trail that will connect Peavy with the Saddle. It’s gonna be great when we can leave from the Saddle and hit more single track without so much gravel grinding!

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A great view on the new trail!

What a great weekend – and it’s only going to get better! We’re looking forward to more trail stewardship and definitely getting out to Oakridge more this season (especially since that is Rheannon’s training grounds for the Cream Puff!)

Adventure Report

March Bend Adventures


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IMG_3772  There is nothing that describes a good time like hanging out with your buddies around a campfire roasting weenies and smores. Chatting about the way you bombed into that slick berm, and railing it like a moto rig with a two wheel drift.. or the way you didn’t quite hit the drop with enough speed which resulted in bars to your chest and a face full of dirt at least in my case..

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Traveling out to Bend, Oregon has become a winter & spring weekend destination for us. The dirt soaks up so much moisture that by the time the rain hits the ground, to railing berms, the dirt is pristine. Soft but not too soft, tacky but not enough to cling onto your tire, and loose where you want it to be.

We started out Saturday morning, after a hot roast of campfire coffee, some eggs and sausage we made the ascend up Storm King in the Deschutes National Forest. The dirt was so perfect calling it “Hero Dirt “ wouldn’t have done it injustice. From Storm King we worked over to Funner and no wonder why they call it that. It was flowy, technical and had some pretty good rock drops. One that I decided to go a bit front heavy on and dropped myself onto the forgiving dirt. Mouth & eyes full of dirt and with a couple of bruises later I was still begging for more descent down this trail.

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Ariel climbing up the trail

After some well deserved lunch and refreshments we met up at the top of Wanoga snow park lot and headed up Tiddlywinks. We worked through patches of snow, ice and down trees at first then rounded off to the top of the trail leaving the beautiful sights of Mt. Bachelor behind us. Through the trees and around rocks and logs we made it to the best part of the trail, the descend part (in my opinion).

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