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Personal, Race Report

From Endurance to Enduro and the Monsters that Lurk in the Shadows


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I did say that I wanted to change my relationship with failure, right?

For me, mountain biking is a place to play around with life’s emotions. It’s a place to test out new theories, new feelings and create new stories about myself. It’s a more accessible venue to address some of my negative self talk and less-than-amazing confidence than alone in my head. It’s a place for me to rumble. Here’s the true story of how the (literal and non-literal) places I explore while mountain biking has helped me to re-frame competition, failure and pure enjoyment.

This year has been an interesting year for me, in terms of mountain biking. I’m not riding as much as I usually do. I’m doing other activities (like finally following through on strength training and running). It feels great to be rounding out my physical activities and that rounding complements my cycling in so many ways. The lack of actually riding, however, has left me a little out of shape (from where I was last year) and ill prepared for continuous gnarly descents (I’m doing great on short ones). Despite this, in classic form, I decided to jump in a little over my head. Don’t worry though, I picked the perfect venue, the Sturdy Dirty.

 

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You can feel safe with sweeps like these

Last year one of my goals was to race my first enduro. I’ve been getting a little rowdy on the downhill and wanted to expand my racing experience. So I signed up for the Sturdy Dirty, an all women’s enduro full of fun, laughs and adventure. Unfortunately, this happened, and I was unable to ride. I was able to attend with the crew and hang with some awesome husbands during the event. This year I wanted in on the action. So as soon as registration opened for 2016, Sarah and I jumped all over it. I was pumped. I had really upped my game last year and decided to sign up for expert class despite my fears of racing on an unknown double black trail. I wasn’t able to get out for a pre-ride and I did little (okay no) training for the race. It left me a little nervous, but I refused to back down from expert. Even though I thought about it (and I thought about it a lot). Better to aim high and miss than to sandbag, right? Riiiight.

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Acting as race support in 2015

Because the Sturdy Bitches were really upping their game with the race, there was a pre-ride/skills clinic held the day before. It was ideal since Sarah and I hadn’t made it up north to practice and now we could get a few runs in and polish our skills.

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Is this the shuttle line?

Although the day didn’t go exactly as expected, Sarah and I still got a lot of riding in with a bunch of rad ladies. We started out with a pedal up to lower predator and I loved it! Meggy (aka my Guerrilla Gravity Megatrail) was ready for everything and the thrill of popping over small rooty, rocky drops and rolls immediately put a smile on my face. The day was just muddy enough to splatter your face but not throw your lines. I was reminded that Tiger Mountain is the home of intimidating roots and rocks that all have safe roll outs if taken slow and with confidence. SO MUCH FUN!

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By the end of the day, Meggy’s fun-o-meter was set to the max

We tried to hit up the next shuttle but JUST missed it. Half of our crew got on, so we picked up a new batch of riders for another pedal up to a new, only open for the race, trail known as section D. Again, awesome. I was feeling good and hitting everything with confidence and grace. I was feeling good about my expert decision (especially when Sarah said she wouldn’t let me back out) but still worried about upper predator, that double black with the rocky roll out that I was terrified of.

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Karen showing me how it’s done

We were able to hit up a shuttle at lunch time (thanks to Compass Outdoor Adventures). We tackled our first pass down the mountain and I was still feeling good, albeit getting a little tired. I hit up the V-tree a few times until it felt smooth and found my line. My first attempt ended with me getting stuck between the trees, but balanced enough for me to put up my hands and say, “so this is the vag huh?” I like to think it was pretty amusing for the ladies watching. At least it was to me. By the time we got down, Sarah and I were both feeling tired, but I hadn’t been able to ride the trail that was nagging the back of my mind.

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Shuttle time!

As we rolled up for the last shuttle, Sarah tossed in the towel and the shuttle driver hooked me up with one of the coaches for the day and local predator expert, Karen. As we were waiting to see if anyone else had another lap in them, fellow MBO guide, Mielle, rolled up looking for a ride and I convinced her to ride with us (even though she wouldn’t be racing it the next day and the rain was starting to hit). What a champ!

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Requirements for new trails the day before a race: A coach and a buddy

I had built up the trail so much in my mind, but it wasn’t nearly as gnarly as I had expected. Lots of fun lines and several challenges along the trail. I told Karen that I wanted smooth and we sessioned many of the challenging sections until I could hit the right line (or any line in some cases). By the time we got to the bottom, I was so tired that I didn’t even have it in me to tackle the rocky roll out. I rallied enough to ride lower predator again, but that was all I had. Karen was an awesome coach with skills that I dream of having. Seriously, when she talked about pressure control and told me to unweight, I couldn’t even follow her line because I was so amazed by how much air she got from that. Time to start practicing!

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You play with the predator, you’re gonna get scratched

That rock roll out haunted my dreams. Even after an insanely delicious dinner with fellow racers and a spectator/coach (thanks Diana and Kat!), it still danced in my head that night. I like racing because it gives me something to train for. It gives me focus. However, as anyone who has ever played Monopoly with me knows, competition can sometimes make me a little weird (some would say a monster). And this race made me weird. It wasn’t even really the competition. Since I was racing expert, I had already decided it was just about me. The day before I had caught myself saying that my only goal was to not finish last. A minute after I said it, I had to circle back and correct it. My real goal was to get down the trails without injury. And spoiler alert, it’s a good thing that I corrected that. It gives you a picture of where my mind was though. I was getting wrapped up in fear and desperation and was NOT being my best self.  A weird little monster was setting up shop in my head and I played right into it.

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Race time!

Race morning came and I wasn’t able to ditch that monster. I was unsuccessfully talking myself off my ledge. I just kept milling around in my head. I chatted with other racers about my fear of the rock roll out. They met it with amazing confidence and assured me the second roll out (which I rode twice the day before) was much harder. And I could see that. The top one is all mental, but that is where I was. I was in the land of mental monsters. The roll out just gained more and more power and in my head it was a 100 ft cliff but no one else could see that. Really, the idea of the trail became the swamp of sadness to me and I was sinking. I was fighting it, but it didn’t matter. I was Artax. I was sinking. And the weather matched my mindset. It was wet and muddy and the rain kept coming.

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SO MUCH MUD

I kept up the good fight as a pedaled up to the first stage. It is a long pedal and there was plenty of chatting along the way. I tried to distract myself and it worked for a while. The first three stages were fun trails that I really enjoyed. When I finally decided to leave the smell of frying bacon to tackle the first stage I thought to myself, “fake it til you make it.” I lined up and then quickly realized that I had climbed myself into the middle of the pro field. Hmm… The monster kicked around in my head and I quickly abandoned my No Apologies! spirit and started riding for our alternate team, All Apologies. I let one pro go ahead of me and when I realized I couldn’t stand there all day, I let the rider behind me know that I was new at this and to just let me know when I needed to pull over (what else could I say?). There I was. My head was a mess and Oscar the Grouch was timing me. Really, that is how far gone I was. I was surrounded my fun and costumes and I was shaking in my Five Tens. Oscar sent me on my way and I had a little fun as I tackled the muddy trails, but I was in the mindset of the prey. I knew they would be coming.

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Meanwhile, Sarah was in full on stoke mode

 

And they were. I happily made it past the road crossing and found someone else stopped up on a feature I would have ridden. But I didn’t ride it. I pulled over and that is when the first one passed. I jumped to the side of the trail for many people that day. All of them fierce and on point. I still can’t decide if they have racing mojo that I will never have, or if they too were just holding on. I suspect a little bit of both, because no matter how much I like racing, I like fun more. I like to maximize my fun on the course as much as others and I don’t know if you can do that while going ALL OUT. At each stage break I was surrounded by muddy happy faces and amazingly silly aid stations and I still felt confused. Was I having fun? The last stage was still looming in my mind. I had finally come to terms with the fact that I was going to ride it in this muddy muddy weather and that I would survive.

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The last stage!

The last climb up was amazing. A good trail climb can always put me back on track and it did. The lush green foggy forest was too much to handle. It was the picture of the PNW. It was rejuvenating. I took a breath and focused on what I was doing. I was living in the beauty of it all and I was riding my bike. Inspired by some summer camp graffiti, I thought to myself, “Be heer now.” I found my reset button and I was so happy that I hadn’t bail out of fear. I found my fellow climb loving expert riders and chatted about science, fungi and life as we rounded out the last of the climb. We had all been given the advice to walk the last climb to save our energy, but I couldn’t agree more with their sentiment, “I just want to ride my bike.” That is what were were here for and I was finally ready. I just wanted to ride my bike. And while I didn’t make it up the climb without some pushing and I CERTAINLY didn’t make it down upper predator without some walking, I finally beat the monster. Sometimes it takes conditions that you can’t take seriously to make you realize it is all about fun. Life is all about fun. There were so many spectators on that last section and they cheered me on when I was on AND when I was off my bike. After walking the rock roll out (I’m sure it is harder to walk than ride), I started a conversation mid-race (yep, certainly not a serious racer) until they reminded me I was racing! Oops. I set down lower predator with a smile on my face. That is why I race. For fun, for pushing my limits and for community. I whooped and made faces at spectators as I tried to keep my traction over roots and rocks. I came across the finish to find Sarah and other friends. I thanked a fellow racer for her infectious smile throughout the race and she gave me a big hug. Seriously. That is why the Sturdy Dirty rocks. You cross the finish line and hug muddy happy strangers. I love it.

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The muddy finish

I still feel confused about my race, but ultimately, I think it was good for me to wrestle with that monster. Perhaps I could have wrestled with a smaller version of that monster in the sport category, but it doesn’t matter. I was the 4th one in from my category, but my time left me dead last. It is hard not to be a little disappointed in being so far behind, but I had made my goal. I didn’t give up and I made it down. Even better, I was laughing during the hardest part.

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If you aren’t smiling, you aren’t doing it right

 

Thanks to all who made it possible and to everyone who have me such and awesome environment to struggle in. I wonder what next year will bring.
For a less conflicted write up of the event and some awesome photos check this out: Nikki and Colin’s Pinkbike 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.

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The Importance of Failure


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This year I have one big goal. I want to change my relationship with failure. Last year was an awesome year. It was packed full of fun and adventure. However, I didn’t really come out of the year feeling like I had achieved my goals. This was partly because of an early season injury and partly because of a mindset change. My vision of what I wanted to achieve on a bike changed. I wanted to focus less on hammering out miles and long sufferfests and more on downhill skills. Because of this my beginning of the year goals didn’t really mesh with my end of the year goals. I tried to adjust as I went along but it left me feeling a little unsatisfied. I felt that I had achieved so much over the year but I didn’t have that clear feeling of success. Then I started thinking about my goals for this year. I do really well with goals. I love the process of achieving them. They help me stay on task. I started thinking about trail features that scare me and I started thinking about speed. However, more importantly I started to think about the process. Big(ger) features and more speed is a hard thing for me to tackle. It’s scary and it is messy. While looking at a feature the task frequently seems so cut and dry– just ride off the damn thing (with body positioning in mind). There is so much to learn about body positioning and line choice, but so much of it just comes down to courage. You just have to pull yourself together and ride the damn thing. Then I started thinking about courage. I started to think about how to get the courage, and for me so much of it is wrapped up in how I feel when I don’t do something or don’t pull it off they way I want to.

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Sometimes you gotta pay attention to the omens 

Then I read some of Syd Schultz’s posts about doing things you are bad at and it really hit home. I have perfectionist disease and I really hate being bad at things, especially in front of people. But you know what kills courage? Being terrified of failure and not allowing yourself to suck at something. Most of the time it isn’t even about being bad at something. Instead it is about not being as good as you would like to be at something (hence the name perfectionist disease). Well you know what? Having the courage to be bad is the first step to having the courage to ride tricky features. And that is what No Apologies is all about. We are not going to apologize for not being perfect because we aren’t perfect. We are learning. We are pushing ourselves and we will fuck up. We will case that jump, ride a sloppy line, be scared, push our bikes over and up, but we will do that while knowing that we will do better next time. Part of the process of growing is doing all of the above. It is about being out there, trying, and not apologizing for who you are or where you are in the process. It is about being okay with vulnerability.

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Higgs B. scoping her line on “the portal”

I have been getting a little dorky about teaching theory, and someone recently told me about this video by Carol Dweck. I loved it and have officially made it my goal this year. I have already been working on this, but it feels good to have an official goal. For me, mountain biking is the perfect place to practice my growth mindset. I am going to replace “can’t” and “didn’t” with “not yet.” I am going to give myself permission to fail. I hope that you will join me in my quest to view failure in a new way, because in the words of Leonard Cohen, “there is a crack in everything. That is how the light gets in.” Let’s get out there and there and enjoy the process!

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Nothing builds courage like awkward high five selfies!
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A New Year


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January, the start of a new year and a slate cleaning of sorts.  I have new adventures awaiting, racing to do and riding without a thousand layers to look forward to.  January always seems to be this weird transition back to reality for me.  You’ve successfully made it through the fog of the holidays, perhaps a bit heavier, less active, and hopefully with some new motivations for the upcoming year. The end of fall came and went, and here we are in the thick of winter.  I know it’s only January, and the Mudslinger is 3 months away but it will come quickly.  I have some work to do between now and then.  My plan for fall was to start trail running, and that I did successfully until, well the holidays happened.  Even Aspen the Golden suffered from not enough outings and visitors with food, but we enjoyed every minute of it.  Being a sloth is good for the soul every now and again.  But, we have now emerged from the holiday fog and started trail running again; we are back on track!  I yearn to MTB more but our trails here on the island are so swampy and the roots are wet and very slick, and I know somewhere in the back of mind it’s a bad idea.  Some may say I have become soft.  Trail running of course seems like a much safer activity where the chance of falling is less, or at least I have rationalized it somehow.  Since turning 40 I have come the harsh realization that I am in fact, not made of rubber. It’s this fact that makes me rational, which may be equivalent to the fun police.  I know I have many miles of MTBing come spring, so for now we enjoy the trails on foot.

The other thing I enjoy about the new year is looking at races and deciding what my season is going to look like. What races will I return to? What new races look intriguing? And of course, what I can I afford?

After a fairly (for me) successful season last year, I plan on upping the ante for this season.  50 mile MTB races are a thing of the past; it’s time for 100 mile MTB races.  Why, you ask? well I like misery quests in hot weather, simple enough.  It just seems like the next logical step.  So my winter now is filled with goals of nutrition, yoga, just to keep everything moving, and of course riding.  I am fortunate to live someplace I can ride year round if I choose and have Aspen the Golden as my workout motivator. I am not going to lie, I miss my group cross-training classes and my MTB family.  It’s not always easy or fun to work out by yourself with a dog, but it’s what I got and she keeps me very motivated.

This year my goal is to go into the season more prepared physically, race smarter, stay healthy and of course injury free! Actually racing never seems as hard as all the preseason work.  Again, 3 months to the first race will come quickly, but I’ll be ready.

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So onward I go with Aspen the Golden, another dog who doesn’t apologize!

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Dogs Don’t Apologize


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(aka ramblings of a crazy dog lady)

When I think about adventure, I immediately think about my adventure buddies. The folks that have inspired me, pushed me, encouraged me, watched me fall down and helped me get back up. These people are my best friends, my life partner, my family and my teammates. It would be remiss to overlook some of my most loyal adventure buddies, my dogs. With this in mind, I would like to launch a short blog series: Dogs Don’t Apologize. We will pay homage to a few of the dogs that are by our side or sniffing nearby as we pursue our adventures. I will kick it off with an introduction to the dogs in my life.

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My first aussie, Mai Tai

I have been animal obsessed for as long as I can remember. I was raised that way. Some of my favorite childhood memories centered around animals. I learned how to handle animals several times my size and take care of the ones that were always by my side. I was an only child until I was out of the house (another story), so our animals were often my adventure mates. Sometimes they liked it and sometimes they just put up with it with unbelievable patience.

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Hot and happy dogs post MTB ride

In my adult life, there have been two (and now a third) very important adventure pups in my life. They came into my life at around the same time. Branson came to me through a relationship and I took on Lloyd as my own. These two saw me through my 20’s and helped me keep sane. They gave me structure, a reason to come home and an excuse to have fun. Adventure buddies though and through. These two never needed an excuse to explore. The third, Higgs,  is a brand new addition to the family and an adventure all in herself. Our first puppy! So, without further ado and in no particular order, meet the canine adventure companions of my life. You might recognize them from our photos.

Branson Blount

This special lady passed away in November. A rocking 12 year old Pit Bull, she never shied away from any adventure and kept at ‘em up to the very end. She was a professional snuggler, kisser, runner, rope wrangler, bike mechanic, backpacker, mountain biker and all around goody. I can’t say enough good things about this lady and my heart aches for her. She didn’t go down easily and stood up to four different cancers until it finally became too much. She taught me how to have fun no matter what, to be kind despite past abuse, and how to enjoy every second of life. She was the ultimate embodiment of the No Apologies lifestyle. She loved mountain biking more than anything (except maybe a comfy bed) and never apologized when she had to pull over for you to pass, for falling off trail or for being the last to an intersection. She just enjoyed the ride. Miss you little pit stuff! #BransonBlount

Lloyd Dogler

This handsome guy came to me when he was a one and a half year old mess. Abandoned in a backyard, he had no life skills but badly wanted please. He wiggled his way right into my heart. We built up his confidence the best possible way: through adventure! This guy learned how to pull his weight by “working” at bike shops, playing endless chuck-it, backpacking, and biking. He is now 10 years old and still accompanies me on mountain bike rides. He smiles the most when he is tired from a run. He has taught me that structure and exercise is the best medicine for anxiety, how to rest to play harder (i.e. the recharge nap), and how to be loyal to your loved ones. #LloydDogler

Higgs Humerus Boson

This little lady is a new addition. As my first puppy in my adulthood, she is teaching me the art of patience. Seriously, this lady loves to put everything in her mouth! Right now she is reminding me how important the small everyday adventures are. My short walk through the forest is her epic trek. It has been so much fun teaching her the wonders of the outdoors. Everyday she learns a little more and becomes a little more confident. I can’t wait until she is running along side my mountain bike! #HiggsB

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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.

Sandy Ridge Riders
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.

Whypass
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.

Cupcake MTB
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)

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Back in the Game


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My early summer was struck down by injury. I was off the bike for almost 7 weeks. Completely off– I didn’t ride around town, the block, anything. For an average American, this doesn’t sound like a big deal. To me, it was a major life disruption. It made me realize how amazing my life is on a day to day basis; how thankful I am to have the opportunity for adventure every day of my life. I know that a big part of it is me, my husband and my community. We put a lot of energy into building a life of adventure, wonder and sheer bliss. I struggle with anxiety and adventure is the best medication I have found. It just has to happen- bike or no bike. And it did. There were sunsets and waterfalls all around, but I have to say, there is nothing like mountain biking. I sometimes feel like we have been let in on the best secret in the world. I don’t understand why everyone isn’t spending all their waking hours (and more) on a bike.

The best views
The best views…

After 7 weeks off, I am reminded of another reason why mountain biking is the best sport ever (p-value = 0.000000007). It is such a mental sport! It takes me to a place in my head where I have to meet some of my deepest fears and one of my biggest critics. It is a constant dance with yourself and with your limits. Last week, I did my first real trail rides since the injury. I wasn’t sure how I would feel about it, even though my injury wasn’t from a big crash (I literally fell over sideways from a standstill and dislocated my shoulder), I was still feeling timid. This has a fair basis in reality since the odds of dislocating it are much greater right now, but I was surprised at how timid I was.

...and the best friends.
…the best friends…

My first lap down the beautiful steep, rooty mess that is Cummins Creek introduced me to one of the biggest problems with fear: sometimes it makes you do stupid stuff. I had to find the line between being too timid and too brave. Even though I roll my eyes whenever my husband says it, sometimes you just need speed AND you just need to go for it. You are either in or out, but being in between often throws you over the bars, into the corner or on your butt. This is the line I was playing with. It’s the line that I am always playing with, but it is heightened when returning from a crash or injury. I have to both trust myself and know my limits.

...and the happiest dogs.
…and the happiest dogs.

The second lap was pure joy. I opened it up. I played well on that line. I loved every second of it. This is why I love mountain biking. If you are able to examine your fears, your trust issues, and your own criticism, it will reward you one hundred fold. It’s a bonus if you can apply these lessons to your daily life as well, OR perhaps I am overthinking it. Either way, I love it and I am so happy to be back at it!

Personal, Race Report

The Racing Gene – NW Cup #3 -Ski Bowl


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July 19-21, 2015

Mt. Hood

NW Cup # 3 – Ski Bowl

You never realize how much something means to you until you put it all on the line. What I mean by all on the line is: “to give whatever it is you are doing, every atom of energy that you have to give”.


For me this past weekend I realized that my dreams, goals and vision are truly becoming my reality.


Growing up my dream was to become a Professional Motocross racer. Every weekend we would load up the dirt bikes and I would watch my Dad compete in races. He was stunning to me, watching him soar in the air, rip apart the dirt from the surface of the earth and roll on the throttle like hell on wheels. My Dad is relentless, resilient and never backed down from his dreams. At 52 years old he is on one of the fastest series known to man. Parallel to a graceful poetic dance he finds the fountain of youth on the Moto America Road Racing circuit.

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What is incredible is that my Dad retired from Motocross and Arena cross to make sure my sister and I were raised right. He raised me alone, my half-sister had a mom and our Dad, so most of the time it was just Dad and I. After decades of being out of the racing scene he taught my sister and I how to ride motorcycles. The first time I rode my own dirt bike I knew that I was hooked, already at only 6 years old. I rode around in a big open field on my Honda z50, the good old kind with a red metal gas tank, big wheels and leather seat. My Dad had to chase after me to get me to stop.

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From then on it was an addiction I would not be able to relinquish. The racing gene was inside of me, it has shaped me, helped me grow and it challenges my capacity for growth everyday.

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My dad discovered road racing at a track day at Infenion raceway in Sonoma, California on his newly gifted Yamaha R6. We could see it in his eyes, how the racing gene boiled inside of him, as he grinned from ear to ear. This one single day eventually led my dad into racing in the AFM (American Federation of Motorcyclists) and he had his Professional-racing debut when he was almost 50 years old.

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My dad displayed unyielding results in AMA SuperSport West and made the move up classes to Daytona SportBike. He currently is still moving up the ranks and pushes his limits not only as racer but as a father, my inspiration, my motivation, the apple of my eye and the person I think of when I’m on the starting line. In my mind he tells me that I CAN do this, I CAN win and I CAN achieve anything I put my mind too.

This weekend was my debut as a Cat 1 racer, winning my first race of the 2015 season. It also happened to be Father’s Day. Before the race I thought to myself. “Wouldn’t it be cool if I won for not only me but for my dad?”


The Pro/Cat 1 race-course was burly and unforgiving. My first time on the course Friday I wasn’t sure if I could make it down the full length of the rock garden. I managed to buckle up and gain my confidence & speed throughout the weekend. On race day June 21, 2015, I released ever atom of energy that my body, mind and spirit could expend. All I could think about was my Dad and how proud of him I was and how proud he would be of me for chasing my aspirations. My time was 5:13:68, winning by .18 of a second, the last few petal strokes and grunts of pain were worth it.

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All of my tears, pain, heartache, joy, passion, optimism and strength came down to this moment. I cannot wait to race for what matters in the Professional realm next season. Having the racing gene wasn’t a choice but something that I was born with. If I had a choice I wouldn’t change a damn thing. Cheers to my Dad, Roi Holster for instilling in me the work ethic, passion and drive that it takes to be a successfully racer. I cannot thank my sponsors enough for believing in me and helping make my dreams a reality.

Thank you to www.ralbisurez.com / Instagram: pnw_roo for the amazing photos!

Hi-5 Bikes, Raceface, Fox Suspension, Royal Racing, Ride100percent, The Gravity Cartel, and No Apologies MTB.

Personal

Goal Reset


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I dislocated my shoulder 5 weeks ago. I have been dedicating myself to dealing with this injury as gracefully as possible. I vowed not to have any major meltdowns or sink into depression. Injury is integrated with the sport that I love and I have to learn how to deal with it. I prefer to keep it to a minimum, but it is an unstated risk that we take every time we get on the bike. I won’t say that I have been 100% successful with cultivating grace, but like any challenge, sometimes it takes a few tries. I might say it is a little like that skinny that you keep riding off of. You don’t fall, you just kind of ride off the side. You keep doing this until you listen to yourself and look ahead and relax. Nothing to it after a few tries. So, that is where I am. I keep riding off the side of my injury skinny, then I shake it off, relax and look ahead.

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And the good news? This shoulder dislocation isn’t as bad as it could have been. I have a mild Hill-Sachs impaction and a minor tear in my inferior glenohumeral ligament. It will take time, but it won’t require surgery and likely won’t take as much time to heal as the other bad things that can happen when you dislocate your shoulder. I am trying to be good and listen to my physical therapist even when he dodges all questions about timelines involving the bike. I guess we will know when I am ready. I just have to be patient.

MRI
Not too bad!

In the meantime I have been finding ways to stay busy. I gave my PhD proposal seminar. I have have been camping and hiking with friends. I am taking advantage of not having wheels by hiking in wilderness areas and with some of my very best friends who don’t ride bikes (I still love them). I have been playing the role of the supportive shuttler; when you can’t ride it is important to enable your friends to have as much fun as possible. And of course, I have been doing PT exercises and spending a lot more time on stationary recumbent bikes at the gym.

Shredding it in the gym
Shredding it in the gym

Now that I have a plan and an end in sight, I am starting to look ahead and think about how to adjust my goals accordingly. I really love goal setting. As cheesy as it can be, it is a system that works well for me. My goals pre-injury were to finish the Cascade CreamPuff  and my first enduro, climb 500,000 feet for the year, improve my downhill skills, and learn how to manual. I don’t have a date I will be back on the bike and I don’t know how slow the progression will be. However, I can think it is safe to say that my planned enduro and the CreamPuff are out. I still have my fingers crossed for the Fritter (the half CreamPuff). I will have to wait and see if that will be possible, but a girl can dream. What does that mean for my future with the CreamPuff? Will I tackle it for 2016? Well, I wouldn’t want to give any spoilers. What about my climbing goals? Missing two months when you are trying to climb half a million feet in one year is a pretty good setback. I can’t imagine being able to make up for that AND make progress on my PhD. I will say that IF my return goes well, I will have to shoot for 417,000 ft. That means I will have to come back strong with my climbing, but I am going to be optimistic with that. Downhill skills? Well, that was a loose goal anyway. I just wanted to go out and practice. I can do that when I am free to do the fun stuff. Manual? Yep, I can still work on that towards the end of the year!

A lot of blank days...
A lot of blank days…

I am extremely stubborn, so I hope that these will be realistic adjustments to the year. It is possible that I will have to readjust as I go farther down the road to recovery, but that is part of the process. Goal setting is a process of getting to know yourself. It is about learning where to put the end point for maximum growth. It isn’t about hard and fast rules. It is about setting yourself up for accomplishing things that are just out of reach. It is about learning from failures and setbacks. This injury is just a setback. I hope to learn how to let go of some of my stubbornness and be kind and patient with myself. Dealing with downtime can be just as important as pushing performance. It can also serve as a reminder to appreciate everyday that I am a well enough to spend hours on the bike doing what I love most.
Do you have any suggestions for dealing with setback? How do you deal with injury?