Friday, November 15, 2019

How to Train a Mountain Bike Trail Dog!

I’ve been biking with my dog, Presta, for almost a year now. She goes with me on most of my bike trips, and there’s not much we don’t do together. One of the most frequent questions I get is if I have any advice on training a dog to be a great trail dog. The answer is, of course, YES! But it comes with a grain of salt (or five hundred) – every dog is unique, and I am not a certified dog trainer. I don’t consider myself an expert, but I have talked to a lot of people about what they’ve done, and I’ve ridden with lots of dogs, both well-behaved, and some not so much. Here’s what I’ve learned over this journey with both Presta and my previous dog, Tuki, below.

Warning, there’s a lot of information, but I wanted to make sure this was as comprehensive as possible. I’ve learned so much and I’m happy to share as I believe the more information, the better prepared you are to handle all scenarios.

A snowy fat bike ride at Levis Mounds in Wisconsin

Overview:

A casual ride at our local trails in Dubuque, Iowa


My Story

I adopted Tuki when I was 18 and she was 2½-years old. Tuki was a Border Collie crossed with an Australian Cattle Dog. She had been an outdoor dog previously but her owners surrendered her because she kept escaping their yard to visit the neighbors. Tuki and I went on countless adventures all over the US, and I learned a lot from having her by my side. I hadn’t picked up mountain biking yet, so Tuki and I predominantly did longboarding, trail running, hiking, and backpacking together.

I made many mistakes with her, including pushing her too far too fast, as well as taking her out when it was too hot for her paws. On the bright side, those mistakes were a great learning opportunity so I could avoid them in the future. Tuki was a very trainable, loyal, and devoted dog. I hardly did any work to teach her stick by me off-leash. Unfortunately, her body started giving out on her around 10 years of age, and she crossed the rainbow bridge in April of 2018 at 12 years of age.

A few months later, I adopted Presta in October of 2018. Presta’s breed is unknown, but the best guess based on her physical features and personality is she’s an Australian Cattle Dog crossed with some sort of terrier, potentially a Jack Russel Terrier. When I adopted Presta, she was 7-months old and had been in 3 homes, 2 foster homes, and two different animal shelters. For such a chaotic life, she was a very happy, sweet, and loving puppy, but also very stubborn, energetic, and a bit wild at times, which is likely why so many families had decided she wasn’t a good fit for them. Training Presta was an extreme challenge when compared to Tuki, as she isn’t food motivated, has a high prey drive, and was also still very much in her prime puppyhood when I adopted her.

My intention when adopting Presta was to train her to be a mountain bike trail dog, so her energy was an attribute for me where it was a challenge for others. Tuki was always willing to go on adventures to be near me, but wasn’t ever really interested in running on her own. Presta, on the other hand, gets zoomies every time you let her outside and never seems to tire out.

Having trained both of these dogs with such different personalities and energy levels has helped me gain a deeper insight into how many different variables there are when training a dog. Some may take to it quickly, and others might require more work, but the result is the same: an awesome, enthusiastic companion for all of your adventures.


Is your dog a good candidate?

One of the first considerations in training a great trail dog is making sure your dog is a good candidate for it. There are a few factors to consider, and while I’ll offer my take, it is by no means a hard and fast decision. You know your dog best, so it will be up to you to make sure your dog is well-suited for becoming a trail dog.

Temperament is the primary factor in whether your dog will not only make a good trail dog, but also enjoy being one. There are some dogs who don’t like running, and there are others who get lost easily or scared in the woods. Other factors are prey drive, and independence. If your dog has a high prey drive and you are unsuccessful training them abandon the chase when called, then it’s for their safety that you find an alternative activity for you both to enjoy. Same with dogs that are overly independent and prone to being willful when challenged. Ensuring your dog will stick with you and listen to commands off-leash is complete responsibility of the owner.

An additional factor to consider is if your dog shows any aggression towards unknown humans or dogs. Any dog that shows aggression towards strange humans or dogs is not a good candidate for a trail dog. Running off-leash is a privilege that must be earned, and it is your responsibility as an owner to ensure that other humans and dogs are safe from your dog.

Trainability and energy level are traits that can be somewhat determined by the breed of your dog. If you are going to a breeder, I highly recommend talking with the breeder of your intention to train the dog to be a trail dog and see what they say about the potential suitability of the puppy. If you are rescuing, which is how I got both Presta and Tuki, you can talk to volunteers to gauge the personality of an individual dog before adopting. When I adopted Presta, I was very nervous about her small size, at a tiny 20lbs, but after discussing my intentions with the foster family, we knew she’d be a great fit as she had a high energy level and loved to be outside and run.

The last thing I want to mention as a precaution is health. There are certain breeds, like Labradors, that are known for hip dysplasia or other injuries that make running many miles harmful to the dog. By no means am I saying a Labrador can’t be a great trail dog; it is just very important that you are aware of any potential health problems of your dog and make sure to cater to what’s healthy for them, rather than your own fitness. Your vet is the best place to go for more information on potential health problems and how much might be too much for your particular dog. Your vet will also be able to tell you when your dog is old enough to start training for longer distances – this is very important to follow, as if you start training your dog too early before their joints are fully developed, you can do long-term, permanent damage that will prevent your dog from running with you.

One of Presta's first bike rides


Professional training and training tools

I cannot stress the importance of group obedience classes enough. You can do all the work on your own at home, but it does not provide the same chaos and distractions as a group class will, as well as giving you an instructor to help you navigate any obstacles in your training. Try to get your dog into a group obedience class as young as you possibly can, as it provides the best environment to start teaching your dog to listen to you even around other dogs or strangers.

In addition to group obedience classes, I would encourage anyone to consider professional training. I trained Presta on my own for the first 6 months before taking her to a local dog trainer. We had a very unfortunate incident where she didn’t recall in a very dangerous situation, and that prompted me to look into professional training.

While I believe anyone can train their dog to be great off-leash, the majority of us are short on time already, and professional training is a great alternative to ensure your dog is well-trained and will be safe in all scenarios. Professional trainers are also much more knowledgeable and competent than most dog owners. This won’t magically teach your dog to be a great trail dog, but it will lay a solid foundation for you to build on. I found professional training to be well worth the investment and have no regrets.

The last item I want to mention is a fairly controversial topic: e-collars. The trainers I took Presta to trained her on an e-collar and I use it on all of our excursions now. There are a lot of people who will say very negative things about them, but for me it’s a necessity for the safety of my dog. I know without a doubt that she will listen to me if there’s an emergency. There are many times when I have Presta off leash with her e-collar on and don’t ever use it, but I feel a lot more comfortable letting her off-leash in my backyard next to a busy street knowing I will be able to stop her the moment she gets too far. It has not negatively impacted our relationship in any manner; in fact, I believe the training has strengthened our bond, as I am able to give her freedom that I was too nervous to give previously.

E-collars are not for every owner, nor for every dog, but I wanted to bring awareness to this tool as I believe it increases safety for your pet when you can reinforce boundaries off-leash. Please consult a professional trainer if you are new to e-collars as the trainers will help you understand them better than I ever could in a blog post. I would also recommend checking out Robin MacFarlane’s dog training videos – she is a widely respected professional dog trainer who uses e-collars. She has an extensive training video collection that can be a further resource for helping you not only train your dog with or without an e-collar, but also build a great bond with them. 

Presta sporting her e-collar at Placitas Trails in New Mexico

Rewards

Rewards are the first step in any training! If your dog is food motivated, this is easy-peasy for you. Make sure to always have a ton of treats on hand, and consider clicker training to help reinforce which behaviors are getting rewarded.

The reason I felt a need to include a section on rewards is Presta couldn’t care less about treats when we’re outside. Even using treats for training inside was less than ideal. It took me a long time to realize that squeaky balls were the best reward for her, so now I carry one with me on all my rides, and some of my runs. If your dog loves squeaky toys, consider finding a small one to carry when working on off-leash recall. There’s a fine line to using it as a crutch to consistently get your dog to come back and using it as a reward, but a good rule of thumb is if you need to squeak the toy to get a behavior from them, they don’t get the toy. If they behave without being bribed, then they get the toy for a short duration, 30 seconds to a minute. I still mix this in with treats for rewards as well, but by incorporating the toy into training, I’ve gotten much better engagement.

Other dogs love tug, and there are great toys to look at trying as a reward, like Ruffwear’s huck-a-cone. Figure out what your dog loves the most, and then make sure you’re only using it as a reward for training, rather than open play. This means picking the toy up when training is over! This way your dog learns to associate good behavior with their favorite activities, as well as with you.


Leash training

Most people want to skip proper leash training and go straight to off-leash training, but if you can’t control your dog when they’re tethered to you, there’s no way you’re going to have control when they can do whatever they want. The first three months I had Presta were dedicated to walks and trail runs on leash, working on loose leash walking and heeling. Trail running is a great way to get your dog used to taking your lead on pacing, as well as build the foundations of trail etiquette.

One pivotal thing to remember when training loose leash walking is to not use the leash to force your way, as your dog will learn that pulling on the leash is a means of communication. Everything you do should help your dog learn to correct their behavior on their own from verbal cues only. Don’t reel them in with the leash, merely stop, wait for them to stop pulling, and then reward them for the correct behavior. This is hard to learn to execute consistently, but it will help down the road as you won’t be relying on the leash to get your dog to behave.

The commands I taught Presta for walks and trail running were:
  • Heel – her shoulders must be by my heel and she needs to follow my pace. It is equally important that a dog does not lag behind significantly in a heel as well, although it’s fine if they’re a bit behind you.
  • Close – Get in as close as possible when passing someone. If your dog knows not to pull on the leash, this is easy to train, as you just tighten the slack on the lead as you give the “close” command.
  • Back – Get behind. Done for passing in tight corridors. This will translate directly over to biking.
  • Sit-stay – Learn to ignore others as they are passing when we are stopped. If this one is a challenge, pull your dog away from the point of passing and put them in a sit-stay to start, and gradually move closer as your dog learns to ignore other people and dogs.
  • Let’s go – I’m moving and she needs to generally follow me. This means if she’s in a sit-stay, she releases, but can be in front of or behind me. This does not mean she gets to pull on the leash. This is how you communicate to your dog to start moving verbally, rather than relying on the leash to get them to do what you want.

Off-leash training
Ironically, the first step in off-leash training is to use a long lead line, preferably 15ft or longer. This allows your dog to have greater range of motion while you work on recall and other training behaviors while still ensuring you have a safety net to make sure your dog can’t run off.

Recall

Recall is the most important command you will teach your dog, and it also must be respected in all areas of your life. For me, I only use “come” when I have a reward or it’s an emergency. There are some outliers, but they are few and far between. I do this so when there is an emergency and I need her to abandon whatever she’s having fun doing, I know she will listen because she associates “Come” with good things.

To start training a solid recall, use the long lead and call your dog to you, give them a reward, and immediately let them do whatever they want next – this was vital for training Presta. “Come” does not mean “fun is over,” it means that I have something wonderful for her, and she needs to come to me to get it, and then she gets to keep having fun.

The next step for training recall is to start doing this in the house – stash treats or favorite chewies in other rooms, call your dog to get the treat, and let them go back to doing whatever they want to do after. This way your dog starts learning that “Come” always means good things and it’s in their benefit to listen.

Leave it

Another item to work on with the long lead line is “Leave it.” Start with teaching your dog to leave treats you place on the ground, and then move to having them abandon things they are sniffing while on the lead. Each time your dog should move away from the object and check in with you for a reward. You can then start moving on to using this command for calling your dog off prey while on the lead.

Next steps

Once you are comfortable with your dog’s recall and ability to leave prey and strangers alone, it’s time to move towards off-leash trail runs with your dog at a heel. I recommend either getting a short leash that doesn’t drag on the ground, or tucking their leash into their collar at first, that way you still have something to grab on to to help correct any mistakes.

It’s important that you get your dog used to running with you in a heel without a leash before you introduce the bike. Biking adds a new level of complexity as well as speed, so laying a solid foundation before introducing the bike will set you up for success in the long run.

Fat biking at Levis Mounds in Wisconsin


Bike Training

Finally! After all that work, we get to the biking portion! Unfortunately there’s even more work to be done here to teach your dog proper trail etiquette. This is where you will need to make some decisions about how you want your dog to run with you while you’re biking.

In front or behind?

The first question you will need to answer for yourself is if you want your dog to run in front of or behind the bike. For me personally, I want dogs to run behind the bike, and if we’re on a group ride that’s evenly matched for pace, I want her to be behind the last bike, not in between me and someone else. There are a few reasons I chose to train my dog to be behind the last bike:

  • Dogs can be prone to stopping randomly if they hear prey or catch a scent. This can be quite dangerous for the dog, as well as for the rider immediately behind the dog. I’ve been behind dogs that randomly stopped and have almost gone over my handlebars.
  • As we go along the trail, I am the first to see any other person, dog, or animal, so I can anticipate my dog’s behavior and gain control of the situation. If she’s in front and runs into another dog that’s aggressive, I have less time to react and take control of the situation. If there are hikers or other bicycles ahead of me, I want to be able to communicate with them that I have a dog, and also be able to stop Presta and restrain her as they pass if necessary. Being in front means I get to make decisions and have control of my dog before there’s a problem.
  • When going downhill, there is the possibility that you might be faster than your dog. I know I am, and my dog will cut trail to keep up. It’s much easier for your dog to accommodate your speed when they’re behind you. You can train them to get out of the way when you tell them, but it’s an additional thing you will need to work on training.

The biggest downside to having your dog behind you is that you can’t see if there’s a problem, so you need to stop frequently to check in with your dog. Your dog might become injured, fatigued, fall behind, or even go off-trail and get lost. I’m constantly checking for Presta to make sure she’s close and doing well. You can add a bell to their collar to help keep tabs on their location, but it doesn’t eliminate the need to stop to confirm your dog is still happy and healthy. There is also a lot of joy that comes from watching your dog exuberantly take a berm at full tilt.

Whichever way you decide, it’s important to stick with that decision at the beginning of training so your dog doesn’t get confused. Once your dog is trained, you can give them more freedom to move in front of or behind the bike depending on the situation.

Left or Right (aka DSO or not?)

There will be times when you want your dog to run alongside you, such as for passing, to check in on them, riding double track, or when you need to have them on a leash. My preference is to have the dog on the right side of the bike, as it keeps the dog on the outside when passing on coming riders, or passing cars if you’re on a road. A lot of places will teach you to keep your dog at a heel on the left side, which can cause some issues training your dog to run on the right, but most dogs will be able to pick up the difference between biking and walking.

Fall time at Levis Mounds; DSO bike and dog!

The basics

Once you’ve made your decision on where you’d like your dog to be, it’s time to leash them up for a ride. I prefer having my dog on a harness when riding with her on a leash, as I feel it will help prevent any potential injuries if the leash accidentally gets jerked or tangled.

With your dog on the side of the bike you want them to run on, start pedaling slowly. I called this position “Bike up.” From here, if you’re going to train your dog to run behind, move the leash behind the bike and use the “Back” command. Drill moving between the “Bike up” and “Back” positions until your dog moves on your verbal commands rather than waiting for the leash to move.

Once your dog understands what “Back” and “Bike up” mean, it’s finally time to go off-leash!

Start the first few off-leash rides with your dog solo so there aren’t any distractions. Always wait until your dog is in the “Bike up” or “Back” position before starting to pedal. Check in periodically that your dog is with you and make sure to stop any time they deviate. If your dog runs ahead, you need to stop and not continue until your dog moves back behind the bike. This is paramount in ensuring your dog understands that being in front of the bike means the fun stops, but once they’re behind the bike, they get to have fun again.

Once your dog consistently moves behind you when you give the “Back” command, you can introduce another rider. Ride behind your friend, and make sure your dog is behind you before you start biking. Have your friend start riding first to help train your dog to follow the last bike.

If you ride in groups often and want your dog to consistently follow the last person, get a close friend to train your dog with you. Take turns as the last rider, and have the rear rider ensure the dog is “Back.” Once your dog is behaving for both you and your friend, start adding in more riders, with you or your friend always taking the rear position to keep your dog in the “Back” position. Eventually your dog will understand not to be in front of another rider by default and you can start having other riders take the rear position.

One last command to consider teaching your dog is “Move!” This is useful for when your dog is the way of you or another rider. There are a number of ways to teach this, but if your dog dislikes being too close to the bike, it’s easy to move in close to them and shout “Move!” and they will get the idea quickly.

Once you’ve trained all of these commands, you should have a bonafide trail dog on your hands! While training is never truly over, the focus can now be on refinement as well as gradually increasing mileage with your pup. More on that below!

Other considerations

Weather

Your dog’s ability to run long distances will be largely dependent on the weather in addition to their fitness. Hot weather is the biggest challenge, and your dog’s size, coloring, and coat type will factor into how much heat they can handle; however, a good rule of thumb is if the temperature plus relative humidity is 150 or greater, it’s not a suitable running environment for your pooch. There are some outliers, like 60°F and 95% humidity might not be super pleasant, but likely won’t be too hot. Use your best judgement and always keep an eye on your dog, including their paws. After enough time, you’ll figure out where your particular dog’s limits are.

As far as cold weather goes, I don’t worry until it gets below freezing. I have found that Pawz booties are the best for allowing natural gait and traction, while keeping your dog’s paws dry and ice free, but there are a lot of other options out there depending on what you’re looking for.

Dog jackets can be hit or miss, and I have yet to find one I like. The key is to not overheat your dog or restrict their movements. I don’t run my dog when it gets below 15°F. I think with proper precautions, acclimation, and gear, it’s possible, but for me it’s not worth the risk since my dog is smaller. Bigger dogs and breeds more accustomed to colder weather will have much different limits. Consult with your vet for specific info, but a lot of it will be trial-and-error, so make sure to keep an eye on your dog as the temperature drops.

Distance

Just like you would do if training for a marathon, make sure to increase distance gradually. Incorporate rest days, and make sure to monitor your dog during and after rides to make sure you aren’t pushing them too far. Presta has gone upwards of a 12 mile day, and there are many other dogs who can do 20+ miles in a day. Nutrition is also a big factor on a dog’s health, so make sure you are feeding your dog like the athlete they are.

What to carry with you

Mandatory:
  • Water 
  • Snacks
  • Tag with current info
  • Leash 

Optional:
  • Rescue harness 
  • A bell
  • Light up collar for night rides

Water is the most important thing to consider when biking with a dog. Presta drinks about a quarter of what I do during a ride, so if I will need 1.5L, I make sure to bring 2L. Larger dogs may need up to the same amount as you, so be prepared to carry double the amount of water than you would on a solo ride.

Smaller dogs can drink out of your hand, but larger dogs might require a bowl. I taught Presta how to drink out of my CamelBak hose by having her drink out of my hand while I was pouring water into it, and eventually removing my hand.

I always take treats with me as rewards, but also as a snack. Just as you might have a Clif Bar for a long ride, your dog will also need to have small snacks throughout the day to help maintain energy. If your dog likes sweet things, oranges are a great way to give them a snack with hydration.

Always make sure your dog has a tag with your current information in case they get lost and carry a leash. You can also consider getting a collar-leash combo, such as the NiteIze RadDog Collar,

In case of emergencies, consider carrying a rescue carrier, like the Mountain Dogware Pack-a-Paw.

A bell for your dog's collar is a good way to help keep track of them, as well alerting other animals or humans to your dog's presence. I have been told this is effective for preventing dogs from startling bears in bear-country.

If riding at night, consider a light up collar for your dog. I use the NiteIze NiteHowl, pictured below.

One of Presta's first night rides with her light-up collar


Above all else, enjoy this journey with your dog! There’s nothing quite like sharing the thrill of the outdoors with your four-legged pal. Please feel free to contact me or to follow our adventures on Instagram, under @melodictrailyogi and @prestapup!


Updated 11/19/2019 at 12:43 PM CST to include some additional optional items for "What to carry with you."

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Fearless Women of Dirt Updates

We've been busy this year riding bikes and having fun! Curious as to where to go for new biking adventures? Josie is starting a new series called Bike Life Adventures on Josie's Bike Life. So far there are two posts published of her most recent trips to Hayward, Wisconsin and the trails at Levis Mound located in Neillsville, WI.

The Fearless Women of Dirt Ambassador application is open and applications are being accepted until November 1st. This is open to communities that already have a FWD chapter and want to further spread the stoke in their area or for those who are looking to establish FWD chapters in their area.

Ideally, applicants will be in the Midwest area, but consideration will be taken for those in other areas within the United States. We understand at this time that there are folks in areas overseas who are interested in representing Fearless Women of Dirt, but we're looking to stick with our local roots for the time being. This way we can truly offer our support and have the likelihood of working together with fellow ambassadors for rides, etc.

Remaining stock for Fearless Women of Dirt jerseys is on sale at Decorah Bicycles!
The full-zip jerseys are $49.99 and the freeride style jerseys are $39.99 There are limited jersey styles/sizes left, so keep your eyes on the FWD Facebook page for updates. Decorah Bicycles jerseys in a similar colorway are also on sale for $49.99 and they have the FWD logo on the sleeves. At this time, we do not plan to re-order jerseys, so if you've been eyeing one up, now is the time to snag one!

A shout-out to anyone who has a FWD jersey- Send a photo of you wearing your jersey to the FWD Facebook page and your image may be used as the main photo for the FWD page! Josie likes to change them out on a monthly basis if possible, so send multiple images if you like! You can be riding your bike or posing with your bike. Front and back images of the jersey are welcome. If you want to email Josie some photos send them to josiebikelife@gmail.com

Friday, June 21, 2019

Fearless Women of Dirt at the Borah Epic

The Borah Epic is a race held in Cable, Wisconsin on the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest. The event is hosted by Borah, the company that produces the Fearless Women of Dirt jerseys, and all the proceeds benefit CAMBA, the local IMBA chapter that maintains and builds the trails out there.

I have ridden Chequamegon two previous times, once in September 2016, 3 months after I started mountain biking, and then again in September 2017. 

I knew from experience that there was a huge variety in the trails, from some epic flow stuff, like Gravity Cavity, to some more technical riding like the Ojibwe trail. When the race was being promoted this spring, the race seemed like the perfect opportunity to go ride the trails again since I didn’t make it in 2018, as well as a great opportunity to do my first mountain bike race that wasn’t a winter fat bike race.

I signed up for the half race, as 36 miles seemed like a lot to take on, especially for a spring race when it’s hard to get dedicated single-track training miles in. The half race was advertised as “18+ miles of single-track,” which, unfortunately for me, I assumed meant it was an 18-mile race. It turns out the race was 18 miles of single-track, followed by an excruciating 3-mile haul on a mix of gravel and paved roads, with a short stint on a double track road to finally get to the finish line.

Going into this race, I didn’t think about too much besides just trying to make sure that I got training miles in. I knew I had ridden 18 miles on a mountain bike in a day before with no training, so it was physically possible for me, but I wanted to feel strong going into it. What I didn’t take much time considering was race-specific nutrition, hydration, or strategy. In retrospect would’ve been good to work on dialing nutrition in prior to the race, and also talk with some more experienced riders about what to expect the riding and pacing to look like.

Waiting in the starting gates was when I started to realize that I had no idea what it was like to ride in an actual race. My only other mass-start race experiences had many wide sections where passing was easy. Those races were also on snow, so it was less about passing people and more about not falling off the rideable line for as long as you could manage. There were close to 200 people riding the Borah Half Epic. I started in the last wave, which I believe had the most amount of riders. I started getting really nervous being around so many people and realizing I was going to be surrounded by other riders all day. As much as I like group rides, I adore the independent aspect of mountain biking, sometimes never running into a single soul out on the trails when I ride solo. It was that moment that I realized I was going to feel like I was racing all day, not merely going for a long ride.

I enjoy running 5k races because mass starts always feel so cool to me – it’s a very primal feeling of a massive amount of people all running in the same direction, and my pace is always way faster than I usually run on my own due to the adrenaline surge. This race gave me the same giddy feeling at the start – it was so neat to be pushing myself, surrounded by a ton of other people doing the same. It was about a quarter of a mile of double-track before it narrowed down to single-track, and I did my best to find a comfortable spot to before then, as I expected to be one of the slowest people of the day. That was when my first surprise came – the girl I first ended up behind was considerably slower, and was struggling handling over roots and rocks. There were 5 other people right on my tail, so I knew I needed to pass her as soon as I could. Once it opened back up to doubletrack, I upped my pace to sneak past before it narrowed into singletrack again. This led to my second surprise – I was by myself riding for 5 minutes after passing her. In less than 10 minutes into the race, I was already not in large group, despite there being 200 riders on the trail, and plenty of people behind me.

Quickly people started to catch up though, and I’m of the sort that I’m not going to wait for anyone to ask to pass – if they’re behind me, they’re faster, and I’d rather be proactive in choosing how and when I let them pass instead of having them right behind me for an extended period of time. A lot of people commented that I “didn’t have to do that, but thank you” when I slowed down and told them to pass. Ultimately, I think this led to a better race experience for me, as I was able to chase people more frequently to motivate myself to go faster, but also felt like I had more control over when I needed to slow down for other riders.

Mile 4 is when I had my next surprise of the day – I passed people on climbs. I don’t consider myself a strong climber nor a fast rider, but the folks who were my speed or faster on the downhills and flats were walking or stopping on the climbs.I had no problem slowly cruising up the trail, passing all the folks who were off of their bikes. That was one of the more incredible experiences of the entire day that was repeated on every major climb and technical section – I rode past competent bikers who were walking their bikes. This was one of those “Fuck yeah!” moments for me, as I constantly have to stop myself from thinking I’m a terrible, no-good cyclist. It was a reminder to me of how far I have come as a mountain biker, and that my hard work and training pay off. Two years ago, I would’ve been walking all of those sections myself.

The majority of the course is mostly flow, with a few sections that require some handling skills, but at mile 14, the course goes onto the Ojibwe trail, which is one of the older trails in the system and becomes quite technical with a lot of rocks, roots, off-camber surfaces, and twisting turns. This is where I started to fly on my bike – I felt great, I thought there was only 4 more miles left to the course, and I’ve been working really hard on my technical riding skills. Everything clicked and I was passing a few riders who had passed me previously in the day. It was most definitely my favorite part of the course to ride as well. It required a lot of focus and energy, but it felt so good to nail that stuff when I know how much I used to struggle with those kinds of trails.

Unfortunately mile 16 is where things started to go downhill. I thought I only had two more miles left, so I was pushing myself to use the energy I had left even though I could tell I was starting to fatigue. That’s when I misjudged a very short, two foot long rock garden and ended up stalling my back tire causing me to launch over my handlebars. My abdomen slammed into my handlebars and I landed pretty rough on my left side. My main concern was making sure I got out of the way before another cyclist came through, so I got up as quick as I could. Luckily my bike appeared to be in working order and while I was hurting I figured the best bet was to ride it out. But as I started riding, the adrenaline from the crash started a chain reaction of my body protesting that it had enough abuse for one day. I started getting really bad cramps, was struggling to maintain power on the technical terrain, and I was almost out of water.

Good news was there was only 2 miles of trail left to the race! ...or so I thought. I kept pushing thinking I was almost done, and when I hit mile 17.5 with no end of the race in sight, I knew I had miscalculated. At mile 18, the course dumped out onto a gravel road with no support crews or other riders nearby. The saving grace was that the gravel road was downhill for a mile, so I was at least able to coast, but I was exhausted, out of water, and starting to cook on the road, especially when it turned to pavement. At some point I had to stop in a shaded area on the road to recover, which I believe was the longest break I took all day. I was really hurting at this point and it took a lot of effort to get rolling again and keep riding. Eventually, after 20 miles, I finally saw the finish line, just as I was passed by the first and second place winners of the long race! It took those men 30 less minutes to cover almost twice the distance as I did.

I was so relieved to get to the finish and the only thing I wanted was water, but as soon as I got off my bike, the cramping was so bad I couldn’t even walk. I had to sit on my knees for five or ten minutes until I was finally able to walk again to get some water but I was getting really nauseous at this point. After drinking some water, the nausea was bad enough that I went to go find a secluded spot since I thought I was going to throw up. Luckily, I dry heaved a few times and then felt good enough to go find ice cream, the ultimate dehydration and heat fatigue recovery food. I don’t know that I have ever enjoyed a cone of ice cream so much in my life!

Overall, I greatly enjoyed the race, and I felt like I pushed my physical limits. My official time was 3:19:31, coming in 32/44 of all women for the half and 145/170 overall – but ultimately it’s not so much about where in the pecking order I fell, it’s about finishing. On my first visit to ride Chequamegon, I did 18.4 miles in one day, but it took me 5h45 to complete with 400ft less climbing than the race course. It would’ve been close to impossible for me to complete another three miles that day. In reality, I was able to finish this race in half the amount of time when accounting for the extra road miles. It’s a great feeling to have demonstrable proof of progress in my riding skills, as well as having pushed myself for pace in a competitive environment. If you’re looking for a great race with a lot of single-track miles, I highly recommend checking out the Borah Epic next year!

-Written by Fearless Women of Dirt Ambassador, Melody

Thursday, June 6, 2019

Fearless Women of Dirt Survey

We have a ride survey going for the Decorah chapter and we would love your input on how we can increase the number of attendees per ride! We're always looking for feedback on how we can better what FWD offers to the Decorah area.

Monday, June 3, 2019

FWD Visits Brown County State Park

Ride Report from FWD Ambassador, Patty Kotecki

What does a girl do when crappy weather comes calling on a three day weekend? Head to Brown County State Park in southern Indiana. Easy to get to, the six-hour trip (from Madison) is well worth it for a few days of riding in the woods! The park offers three campgrounds, an Olympic-sized pool, two lakes for paddling, towers to climb, a lodge with a restaurant and indoor waterpark, scenic vistas, and over 35 miles of SWEET, SWEET SINGLETRACK. (Turns out, it's an IMBA Ride Center).

We left a rainy 45 degree Madison on Friday morning. We watched the temperature climb and the weather clear as we headed south -- when we arrived it was 85 and sunny. Yay! We took the afternoon to set up camp and get enough wood for our stay. Once chores were done, we headed out for a pre-dinner ride.

 All but one of the trails are two-way, so we did a connecting out and back on the Limekiln (2.4m/beginner) and Walnut (2.1m/advanced) trails from the campground. Both had lots of fun elevation changes and a couple of neat wooden features - both also had muddy patches, which the locals said would dry up bun Saturday. There were a few hike-a-bike moments when larger rocks and roots on the Walnut Trail were presented on an ascent. All of the descending more than made up for it.

After a hearty breakfast, on Saturday morning we rode singletrack + the road down to the North Gate trailhead to start our day. We got some serious speed as we barreled down the road! And of course, what goes down must come up...our day would include a lot of elevation change and eventual climb back up to the campground.
Saturday’s ride included the following trails: Limekiln (2.4m/beginner), Walnut (2.1m/advanced), North Gate Trail (1.2m/beginner), North Tower Loop (3.5m/beginner); Aynes Loop (3.4m/intermediate), Green Valley Trail (5m/ intermediate) and Hesitation Point (2.1m/advanced). The warm day had dried up the trails considerably - so much so that they felt almost dusty and I often felt like I had grit in my eye. It was sunny and warm, and I consumed a full 3 liter CamelBak and then some. Lots of climbing, descending, and fun riding. Overall, a gorgeous 28+ mile day.

On Saturday night we had dinner at the lodge (buffet!), walked some towers, and then did the pretty mile+ walk around Ogle Lake to stretch our legs. We enjoyed the sunset at Hesitation Point before heading back to camp for a fire and an early bed time.

What you need to know: All trails except Hobbs Hollow (5.2m/expert) are two way; we rode many both ways, which was really fun. Campgrounds are densely sited - Taylor Ridge (where we were) is the most wooded. No swimming in the lakes, but there’s a pool. We drove our car to the lodge and to Ogle Lake. The lodge restaurant has a kickass breakfast buffet, which we did on Sunday morning on our way out of town...it kept us satisfied the entire trip home.

Overall, Brown County State Park is totally worth the drive for a three day weekend and a great way to extend the season when Wisconsin weather doesn’t cooperate.

Friday, April 26, 2019

Fearless Women of Dirt at the Dairy Roubaix

Race report by FWD Ambassador, Patty Kotecki

On April 20 I rode the Dairy Roubaix. This gorgeous self-supporting ride is a mix of gravel and country roads in the very hilly Mississippi River valley that starts and ends at Wyalusing State Park. In its eighth year, the ride offers both a 54 mile and 108 mile route. We did the shorter route and ended up riding 60 miles with 3800 feet of climbing. As a mountain biker new to gravel riding, it was my longest + climb-iest ride ever, with the fastest descending speeds I’ve ever had the joy to experience on a bike. Overall, it was a spectacular day!

While the majority of participants were on gravel bikes, I saw pretty much every variety of bike: road, mountain, hybrid, and even a fat bike. While not officially a race, I got the sense that many riders treat it as such. Both routes are on Strava, and the majority of participants were kitted up and ready to ride. I was ready, too - I was really looking forward to checking out the 11-42 Shimano XT rear cassette I put on my Salsa Warbird (spoiler alert: it did its job!)

Our first descent was a freshly graveled road. People were barreling down it with abandon. I was not so confident, especially after my rear end fishtailed a bit. I found myself questioning my 37mm tubeless set up and wished I had the widest tires possible. Then I reminded myself to relax and treat it as an opportunity to hone my technical skills. A couple of breaths later, and I was in the game. Turns out, that road was an anomaly and the remaining gravel was perfect. And so was the scenery for pretty much the entire ride.

You want bluffs? Got 'em. Little hillside waterfalls? Done. How about a hidden valley with a lush pasture and a winding creek? A field of goats? Pretty barns? It can all be yours to see! Our route wandered up and down the Mississippi valley through wooded hollers and along the river. We were also on regular roads, but it was all countryside. I had a big grin plastered on my face all day - especially on the beautiful rolling downhills. While lovely, there were no opportunities to take pictures because we were going so fast!

Of course, what goes down must come up. I certainly don’t want to undersell the climbing, as there were a number of steep grades and some mile+ long grinders. On some climbs it was all anaerobic “leg day.” In the end, a decent range of gears, fitness, fortitude, and riding with friends definitely made the ride super enjoyable. I may have been one of the last finishers, but I’m cool with that. For this ride, it was not about the miles, but the smiles. :)

Thursday, April 4, 2019

Decorah Time Trials


We would love to see some Fearless Women of Dirt attend the Decorah Time Trials!
Check out the event on Facebook. Registration is the day of and there are 2 course options.