Friday, November 21, 2014

Snap ... It's Here!

As much as I try not to think about it, the cold comes when it comes and that is always sooner than I want. Out come the down parkas and multiple layers of clothes. Winter shoes, heavy gloves, windproof layers and way more laundry than expected for a little person becomes my life. Just as much as the cold wind reminds of why I hate winter, I am reminded how much I love the warmth of the sun. I suppose it takes one to make you appreciate the other. Now begins the time of faded color, open skies and vistas. With the canopy gone, the elements of winter seem so prominent. Winter has arrived.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Changing Shades

Another year gone by and the shades of autumn are here once again. Every year the shades are slightly different than the previous year, making it a new experience each time. How lucky I am to be dazzled by a unique spectrum each year. I love summer and never want it to end, but the there is something about the autumn that I embrace each year. I am not sure if it is anything in particular about the autumn or just the needed change each year. I am not the kind of person that is quick to accept big change, but as I am entering the autumn of my life, I sense the colors will change whether I want them to or not. It is the cycle of life.

I recently had the hard drive on my work horse computer fail without warning. I am very thankful that my dear friend CJ, encouraged me to get an external hard drive to back up my pictures two years ago. Thank you! I did not back up everything on that computer which resulted in some anxiety, but I have now come to realize that it was time to let go of that part of my life and start a new chapter. The canvas is now empty and the timing is perfect. So, let autumn roll in. I look forward to having a retired husband, spending winters in the desert, and exploring new trails. I hope to embrace the new shades of life and the changes that lie ahead.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Race Strategy ... Or Not

When I hear the words “race strategy”, road racing comes to my mind. As a mountain biker, I cringe at the thought of anything “road”. I prefer to think of mountain bikers as woodsmen with experience, knowledge or even a plan if it involves beer, but the words “race strategy” sound odd to me. So call it what you want: every racer has the opportunity to make some choices going into and during a race, and as a result, strategies can be formed. I am going to share a few of my recent race strategies.

This past weekend was the Taconic 909 race. Although I pre rode the course a week before the race, the course was wet on race day. A short preview of one single track that morning made me rethink my usual plan. Instead of getting through the climbs and letting it rip on the downhill, I decided to push my limits on the climbs and ride safe down hill. There were quite a few roots on the downhill, and to be honest, with many high speed sections, I was not comfortable going full throttle. I took a hard fall at this race last year, and I was not looking to repeat any of that.

My strategy was working well as I found myself at the front of a train of ladies for 2 and a half laps. However, I did not figure in adjusting my drinking into my new plan. Normally I would drink on the climbs as most of the single-track required 2 firm hands on the bars at all times. I was pushing so hard while climbing, that I forgot to drink enough. This was a big mistake, as I found myself cramping in the last few miles of the race. I often get calf cramps while sleeping, so I have some experience dealing with them, but I rarely get them on the bike. To make things worse, my legs were both cramping in multiple places.

Since I was close to the finish, I stayed on the bike, and tried to keep going, but a few times I could only coast, crying f-bombs like a baby. It took a bit of mental power to block the pain, try to pedal lightly and relax enough to get to the finish line without both legs locking up. I lost one place to a pro women during this time, but managed to slip in only 10 seconds in front of 2nd place in my class. Lesson learned: Always have a feeding and drinking plan that goes with the race plan.

I mentioned above that I pre-rode the course. I know this is not always possible for some, but I highly recommend pre-riding as part of a racer’s pre-race preparation. Not only does it give the racer a chance to dial in technical sections, it allows the racer to know where they are going. This past weekend, a bunch of racers went off course. Pre-riding could have prevented this. Also when pre-riding, I often see racers repeat what they think is the fastest line over and over again. Often, conditions or lines can change within a race day. Heavy traffic can also block desired lines, so keeping an open mind to optional lines can be helpful. When I pre-rode the Nationals course at Bear Creek, I explored many optional lines and never felt locked into one. I was prepared to ride the space between people if needed.

Another thing that I feel is important to mention is: not giving up. It is easy to get discouraged. It can be overwhelming. I know, because I have given up a few times myself. However, there have been times when it seemed like I was failing in my attempts to race, and then something turned around and I rallied back. This past weekend the 2 ladies that went off course, figured it out, backtracked and were able to continue. They both regained their positions to finish 1st and 3rd. The race ain't over until it is over.

While riding a mountain bike seems quite physical, it is very mental in so many ways. So whether I think I have a strategy or not, I always have a plan, even if the plan is to not have a plan.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

East Coast Party: Nationals

As confident as I was with my handling skills, the national championship course and my long term experience, I somehow was feeling very apprehensive because of my lack of motivation to actually race this year. I suffered some mental burn out a few years back and was lucky enough to get some good advice from a friend and coach. I took that advice to heart this year and it really paid off.

This year, a few strong ladies aged up into my class, some of which had beaten me every time we raced together. I knew there would be a high level of competition for me. Actually, I doubted that I could pull off a win, but I was going to give it my best and race my strengths.

The gun went off and I fell into 3rd place behind Lynch and Sandefer. Both these ladies are strong climbers and very motivated. I saw each of the ladies in front of me push close to anaerobic resulting in a foot down or bobble at some point, yet they still held their leads. I stuck to my own riding style and stayed loose, off the brakes and did not allow myself to flail or loose efficiency.

Sandefer and I went back and fourth four times on the first lap climb. She really pushed me hard, and I eventually worked into 2nd place near the top, with Lynch putting a minute and a half between us according to Strava. God bless Lynch … She is one hell of a climber! From that point on, my mission was to ride it like I stole it!

I did not think it was possible, but I caught sight of Lynch ahead of me climbing back up to the heckle zone. As I entered the heckle zone, my eyes met with the eyes of a friend who was spectating, resulting in some big smiles for us both. I can’t remember exactly, but she may have said something like: “ I can’t believe Ellen is smiling”. The cheering was awesome and really motivated me in that section. I do not know how I did it, but I passed Lynch and several men in that section without missing a beat. I had a great run all the way down to bottom, but I never thought I could hold that lead up the climb on lap 2.

This was the perfect motivation to push me up the climb. I made a huge effort and pushed even harder at the top knowing that the climb was almost done. At the top, I glanced back and was relieved to see no one close.

By the time I reached the heckle zone, I started to ease up a tad in fear of flatting or doing something crazy stupid. However, I could not contain my excitement too long and I eventually revved it up again by the bottom. This has to be my best National Championship performance to date. Coming in and finding out that my teammate Marianne also won her Championship Race was icing on the cake. What a day for Team Campmor!

The whole vibe at Nationals this year was awesome! Bear Creek supplies one of the most fun courses that I ever have raced. It was great to see so many locals have their day. The heckling area was a total party including a nun, a devil, a chainsaw and plenty of beer and crazy people. Pennsylvania rocks for sure!

Monday, July 14, 2014

Steel City Enduro

I made a last minute decision to race Steel City Enduro last week. I had done this race two years prior and was sick day of the race and did not quite get the lines on the famous "Boulder Trail". I have been wanting to go back and master that trail for 2 years. I love technical riding and anything that gets my mind off of training or suffering is a good thing to me. Some may dread and fear rocks, but I see them as an opportunity to challenge myself while not noticing the suffering. There are times to suffer and that is good too, but I'm just not feeling the suffering part of racing these days. Perhaps I just need a break or a change of pace. This is where enduro's are a good fit for me.

For those that do not know much about them, enduro is not short for endurance. Enduro's are more like a stage race of short Super-D's. They are mostly, but not solely downhill and can often have super technical features or downhill features. Some include lift access and some are ride transfer. Being a XC racer, I prefer the technical and ride transfer type over the downhill and lift access type.

I headed over to Bethlehem on Friday afternoon to ride the park and face the Boulder Trail. I spent about 30-40 minutes going over various lines until I got them just right. Wow, there are a lot of rocks on that trail! It was pretty cool just to session that section. One thing I like about being a racer is that I will make the extra effort to master something like this. I don't know if I would do that just riding by myself. I get much more satisfaction from mastering a rock garden than I do from doing hill repeats.

As for my race the next day; my rear DR cable snapped 5 minutes into my race, where I managed to single-speed a 26x11 to my time out in stage one. I tried my best to salvage the cable by pulling it towards the bolt, but it did not reach so my race was done. I figured a way to SS out catching the last of stage 5 so that I did not have to walk my bike up hill. Somehow I did not feel like my weekend was wasted. I mastered the Boulder Trail, donated my entry fee to the local trail builders/promoter and had some good beer at the local brewery.

I was taken back when the promoter prized me for third place when I did not finish all the stages. I was reluctant to go up on the podium, but the other girls were waving and calling me up. It is easy to get hung up on yourself, and I am glad I had the sense to realize that a full podium is better for them. I let my self involvement go and jumped up to get my medal and prize money. I hope that more women will come out to explore the challenges of technical riding in the future, as you can see there are open spaces waiting to be explored. I am looking forward to the rocks at Bear Creek next week!

Quinoa 'boulders" for dinner

Steelworkers Stout

Friday, July 4, 2014

To Be a Mountain Biker

What I love about mountain biking is that mountain bikes go just about anywhere anytime. When the pavement ends, the ride goes on, and usually gets better. It is about unstopped adventure and true enduring with little to no boundaries. It is freedom.

Mountain bike national championships are only a few weeks away and while many would expect me to blog about racing or training, what interests me the most these days is fun rides and building cool trails. I look forward to my Thursday trail build day each week.

This week, we were working on a repair a few miles in from Lot C. With severe thunderstorms pressing, we opted to ride bikes in and haul tools with a trailer. This way we could high tail out if rain came before dark. We got only an hour or so of work done when it started to sprinkle. Working under the canopy of trees, it was hard to tell how hard it was really raining, but it seemed light enough to keep working. Then our phones gave off the verizon severe weather alert, and Art said “two more buckets!”.

Art dug and I started packing up. He dumped dirt and I tamped while he packed tools. We were on our bikes and heading out in no time but it was already dark in the woods from the storm clouds. I could see fire flies light up as I rode down the trail. The clouds opened up and drenched us with what seemed like warm water. I had this comforting dejavu feeling taking me back to nationals last year.

I could taste sweet rain mixing with sweat as it ran down my face and found it’s way onto my lips. My wet pants clung to my thighs. All these subtle sensations reminding me how good it feels to be alive and moving. As I passed duck pond, I noticed it was transformed from glass to texture from heavy rain. Then, everything went white in a flash of lightning. I hurried a bit up the final hill and hoped for the best as I passed down the corridor of trees going to lot C. Under the last tree there was another flash. Luckily it did not strike the area. We got into the truck and noticed it was hailing. What a great night of trail work, and how nice to just be a mountain biker!

Monday, June 2, 2014

Bearscat 50

When I registered for the Bearscat 50 in February, I had no idea what role it would play in my season. I had a few minor hick-ups in my spring training schedule, and I use the word “training” loosely. I like to think of it more as riding with a purpose. Whatever term you want to use, I had a minor set back and was trying to play catch up. The Bearscat 50 had been approaching too quickly and to be honest, I had some doubts on how well I would handle the race.

Day before the race, I received an email saying that it would be a mass start, staged according to estimated finish time. I had about an hour of panic, envisioning aggressive men elbowing and running me off course or brow beating me to stay behind them while they flailed about, but I decided to let go of all that negative stuff and take a deep breath. It is always best to embrace the positive. I slept better that night and was mentally prepared to be patient and positive towards my fellow racers at the start. After all, I entered this race mainly to become a stronger rider.

As it turned out, the traffic on the start kept my heart rate down, allowing me to ease into the race, as well as offering me a lot of practice on passing, both in handling skills and etiquette. By the end of the Pumphouse trail, I had somewhat calmly worked my way through what seemed like 100 Keystone Cops and finally found some space to ride.

It was kind of strange, but it seemed like I would pass the guys in the single-track and they would pass me back on the climbs. Once a strong climber with apprehension on the descents, I now find myself struggling on the climbs and chaffing when I want to flow more in the technical. A few seconds of patience often allows enough rest to pass cleanly. This was great passing practice for Nationals, and I now know that I need to work on my climbing.

The course was pretty awesome and I can honestly say that for most of the time, all I thought of was the actual riding. I had received an early report from a marshal that I was 3rd women on course. My team mates Darlene and Marianne, as well as my riding buddy, Wendi were all close to me on course, yet with the entertaining trails, traffic and rest stops, I did not know where we all were through most of the race. Then in the last few miles, and right before Porcupine trail on our last lap, we merged into a train together, and I took the lead. You may expect some narrative of a dramatic sprint to the finish, but at 45 miles tired and as humble as we all are, we all rolled in quite calmly within minutes of each other. Dar and I even held hands for a tie for 3rd.

Our finish time: 5:43. Our estimated finish time, and where we lined up: 6:30. Once again, the humble Jeresy girls, rocked the rocks in style almost an hour faster than we thought we would. I am feeling much better about Nationals after this race!

Thursday, May 22, 2014

A Junkyard Wedding in Bend

Event: Junkyard Wedding.
Activities: Mountain biking.
Destination: Bend, Or

Oregon had been on my "must visit" list, yet I had never been. This trip was long overdue. It took a dear friend getting married to seal the deal. So, six of us headed out to Bend to witness and share in this grand event, and of course, we would spend a week mountain biking as well.

As we flew across the country, my anticipation grew. The dismal clouds that engulfed Chicago finally gave way to snow covered mountains in Montana. I had been to Montana, so that was not a new sight, but as we approached Portland I noticed wind farms along the Columbia River. And then, snow covered volcanic peaks came into view. Independent and statuesque, they rose into the sky alone with no range around them. This was all new to my eyes and indeed spectacular.

After a hectic morning getting set up with rental bikes, we got out on the trails to ride with the bride to be. The trails themselves were also a sea change difference from our home trails. First off, no rocks. The trails were super buffed out and smooth. The most noticeable difference, and this comes from a trail builder, is that the trails were bike specific. There were burmed turns, one way trails and bike only trails. Bend is a biker town indeed!

The big deal of the day was riding the Woops trail. Imagine sampling a slightly downhill 2 mile combination of pump track, table tops and woopty’s. What a hoot!! Every single one of us came out of the trail smiling like a kid. This is a must ride if you are ever in Bend.

The bridge that we crossed to start one of the most beautiful and spectacular rides....

McKenzie River Trail .... WOW! ....

clear lakes

gigantic trees

volcanic rock and ferns

pine forest

100 foot gushing waterfalls

crystal clear, brilliant blue pools

pools that come from under ground

The trail zigzagged along the river, crossing it many times. There were ups, downs, volcanic rocks gardens and smooth twisty sections that meandered through forests of gigantic trees. We did a double car shuttle so that we could see the whole length and still make it back for the rehearsal dinner. It was really spectacular! When I got to the top of Sahalie Falls, I was awed with the sheer volume of water launching over the edge. No guard rails on this trail, so you really felt the closeness to the natural forces... spectacular!

The Wedding:

I am fortunate to have a friend like LW. My life has been enriched through our friendship and being inspired by her gentle spirit, her passions, her creativity and her connection to a simple life. Her wedding held true to her passions in many ways. Held in a salvage facility, the eclectic mix of table linens, dishes, and cuisine at the wedding, were as refreshing as the mix of people joined together that day. It was awesome to see her get married to her perfect match in a junkyard. It was a perfect celebration. Add margaritas and dancing, and you have a great wedding that begins a life story of these beautiful two people!

Our motto of the week was 500 laughs a day. I’ll have to admit that this was harder than we thought it would be. We had a schedule to follow, and that did add some stress now and then. I have to thank Patty for often interjecting laughs to keep us on track. It seemed like every day we over extended our riding time and were under the gun to get home in time for social activities. We did manage to end our trip with some epic adventure, and although I am smiling now, there were fewer smiles during that ride.

It was our last day of riding and we headed out for what we though was a three hour ride. I can assure you that my legs were toast as we had ridden mountain bikes close to 150 miles already. Rain showers were pressing, so I packed a trash bag in my pack, as I had no real raincoat. I did this with superstitious hopes that it would keep the rain away. We were doing a big loop with no short cut and that may have been a risky choice, but our NJ transplant friend, now Bend bike mechanic/dog musher, wanted to show us his favorite trail loop.

I struggled early on the ride because my legs were really tired. As we approached higher elevation, we were faced with hundreds of blown down pine trees and snowdrifts. Some snowdrifts were 3 feet deep, making it hard to find the trail. This went on for almost 5 miles. It was actually a welcome break for my climbing legs, to have to get off and walk and lift my bike over trees. At that point we were feeling like we were digging ourselves in past the point of no return. I even began to question if we would make it back to the bike shop in time to return our rental bikes.

Finally we reached our trail junction to start our descent down the other side of the mountain. This was comforting, however, the snow and blown down trees continued. Finally the trails cleared and it began to rain. I put on my trash bag, which was a lifesaver to keep my core warm. I could barely feel my hands when we got to the bottom, but I stayed positive as I knew I was past the half way point and there would be more downhill from this point on.

Eventually the sun returned and the bag came off. Our loop spit us out at the top of woops trail, so we had one more run down woops. However, we were all so tired, I wondered if the trail would make us smile like it did the first day. Tired, beaten, soaked wet and feeling lifeless, I smiled my way down! After 45 miles and 5.5 hours ride time, we were done.

The next morning we were up early to drive to Portland for our flight that was terminally delayed and doomed from the start. Watching lightning nearly strike our plane during landing and sleeping in an airport refugee camp in cots seemed minor compared to the effort of our last ride. I made a point to try and catch up on smiles while camped out in O'hare Airport. The sun came up the next morning and those of us still laughing ran to the window to see the sun rise. It was a hopeful sight that seemed perfectly timed near the end of a few epic days. I am now home resting up for Bearscat 50.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Passing the Torch

Way, way behind schedule this year, but here is my recap for my first race of the season:

I usually have a few races and plenty of training rides under my belt by mid April, but this year was a bit different. At some point, I just gave up. I got back from Arizona in mid March, had a great few weeks on the bike, and I was poised to take charge of race training once it warmed up and the snow melted. But something unusual happened, …. spring never came. After a month of pulling on tights and winter jackets to try to go out on my road bike in 30 mile an hour winds, I folded. I decided to put my efforts into trail building and trail advocacy. With an increase in hiking activities and unknowingly riding a bike with a broken rear shock, I some how, ended up with a strained glute and an extremely sore back.

So now I was back on my trusty, old, steel, hard tail at the start line of the Jamis Bicycles H2H Spring Cleaning Race at Wawayanda State Park. Discouraged, sore and lacking race fitness, I started my race, knowing it would be a very long and slow day of riding. However, I was determined to finish the race, if I could. I proceeded to get my heart rate up on my first lap, but it was only a matter of time before I had to resign myself to just plodding along just to make it to the finish. Half way into my race I had a discouraging thought that I had just passed the point where I was on my longest ride of the year, and still had half the race to go.

I do not recall all that much about the race, except there were some gigantic mud holes and running water in spots. Many people mention rocks, but I just call that riding and really do not remember any rocks in particular. It was just a long steady ride that seemed to go on for a long time. I am happy to report that my back did not hurt during the race. Perhaps it was because everything else hurt enough that I did not notice my back. I did finish the race, and I am still amazed that I was not the last person on course to finish.

Through my 20 years of racing, I realize that I have learned to hang in there and get the job done, and by doing so, it seems to get easier each time. However, Sundays race was extremely humbling, and I do not know how many more are left in me. I certainly am not going to quit racing today, and I have much to do before Nationals. I also have a master plan: It is to pass the torch on to other women coming into the sport. It is great to see more women racing and taking charge of their lives on bikes. There is so much healthy fun out there for the taking, and I sure hope we all take and share or pay it forward in some way. Ladies- Go get some!

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Fear of Flying

Usually I am very aware of takeoff when I am on a plane, but on this particular day, I felt a little bit different. The winter had been so cold and snowy, and I was finally en-route to someplace warm, where I hoped to ride my mountain bike on dirt under a warm sun. I looked out the window and I was overcome with a feeling of peace. There is something very comforting about a big, deep, blue sky above. White puffy clouds gave only tiny glimpses of the cold, white, frozen world below. It felt oddly encouraging.

Usually, planes make me a bit uneasy, mostly because to my simple brain, a metal tube flying through the air long distances seems to defy physics. As a child, I did not fly. Actually, my whole family did not fly for a long time. I grew up in a family with fear of flying. As much as I want to say that I am over that phase, there will always be that deeply buried fear. So, what would cause such a fear? … the story of my grandfather’s death.

October 28 1949, Air France Lockhead L-749 Constellation crashes into Monte Redondo, San Miguel Island Azores, killing 11 crew members, and 37 passengers. There is plenty of information available about this crash because Middle Weight boxing World Champion Marcel Cerdan was killed on the same flight. Stories and even a movie were created about Cerdan's life and affair with Edith Piaf. As for my grandfather Raoul, my grandmother was shipped a body thought to be my grandfather. Weeks later a misidentification was reported and my dad had to identify another body which turned out to be my grandfather. He could only identify my grandfather by his teeth.

The whole story seemed kind of creepy to me as a kid, but there is a good reason why my dad told me this story. I am sure it bothered him emotionally at the time, but he looked at death, realized his fragile mortality and decided to keep living. This is something each one of us must do at some point in our life. Fear can keep us alive, it can also keep us from living. There is a time to look past fear and get on living.

My dad is gone, and now Art’s dad is gone too. A little of them is in us both. Whether we care to embrace it or not, it is life.

Today’s journey in my life, is to travel to a sunny place where I will ride my bike, laugh, love and live. I will live a little bit like my dad and Art will live a little bit like his dad. It is a beautiful day! .....Hello Arizona!

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Homemade Bone Broth Soups

During the winter, I like to make soup every week. They are healthy, economical and taste yummy on a cold winters day. I usually start with roasting a chicken for dinner. After using most the meat, I save the whole carcass to make bone broth or stock.

Bone broth is an excellent source of minerals and is known to boost the immune system and improve digestion. It's high calcium, magnesium, and phosphorus content make it great for bone and tooth health. Bone broth also supports joints, hair, skin, and nails due to its high collagen content.

In selecting the bones for broth, look for high quality bones from grass fed cattle or bison, pastured poultry, or wild caught fish. Since you’ll be extracting the minerals and drinking them in concentrated form, you want to make sure that the animal was as healthy as possible.

Fill large pot with water. Add:
chicken carcass or bones
1 chopped carrot
1 chopped stalk of celery
½ chopped leek

Cook for 2-3 hours. Let cool, and then run through strainer and remove all bones, skin and cartilage. Use broth to make your favorite soups.

I like a tortilla soup with greens.

Tortilla Soup:
chopped fresh chili or pepper
chili powder
spinach or kale

Monday, February 3, 2014

Winter Fun and Games

Winters come and go, but this year winter seems colder and icier than most I can remember in the last decade. It is not that we have had any big snow falls this year, just long periods below freezing with some form of ice and snow cover, making it hard to ride my bike outside regularly. I enjoy the big snowfalls that allow for XC skiing , but this year has been lean on that as well. This winters activities have included a few days out skiing on the county golf course and a few scattered days riding the road or trails when the conditions have allowed, but in all it has not seemed like a lot.

One thing I have noticed is the feeling of real winter when I am outside. The kind of real winter that I have not noticed in a while. Whether real winter just has not been or I have been in too much denial to notice it during the past decade, is something I do not know. It just seems to be here now.

I have been re-acquainted with the squeaky sound of walking on snow, and cold dry air that freezes my snot. There have been days so cold, that cold doesn't feel cold anymore. As long as the sun shines, I am happy. I feel a tad out of sorts not spending time with bikes each day, but the bike has been replaced with my puffy coat. My puffy coat has been a good friend that I never leave home without these days. Right now I can only dream of the day when I strip down to my skin, leave my coat behind and feel the sun and wind once again on my arms. This thought keeps me going.