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.

Sunday, March 3, 2019

Fearless Women of Dirt at Sweaty Yeti

FWD Ambassador, Melody, shares with us her Sweaty Yeti race report! Melody and Team FWD did the team race (or you could race solo) The Sweaty Yeti race was held at Levis Mound up in Neillsville, Wisconsin.

This is my first ever race report, so please bear with me! Someone requested that I do a race report on the Triple D race this year, and, unfortunately, I didn’t pay attention enough to have anything meaningful to say. I went into the Sweaty Yeti with the intention to pay more attention to the event to see if there would be anything worth writing about, and I’m glad I did!

The biggest thing I want to highlight is that if you haven’t made it out to Levis Mound Trails during winter, you absolutely need to put this on your winter riding list. I took the Friday before the race off and traveled up with my faithful pup, Presta. We knocked out a solid 8.5 miles on the groomed trails, which turned out to be the best riding of the weekend. As a side note to those of you with trail dogs, Levis is a great place for them, however, dogs can mess up groomed snow surfaces before fat bikes do, so be mindful of the conditions and your dog’s size. A lot of places that groom trails forbid dogs!
After riding, I headed into Black River Falls to pick up dinner and go the pre-race shindig at Sand Creek Brewery. I assumed I wouldn’t know anyone there and make a quiet exit after a beer and finishing my dinner, but soon as I walked in, I realized I actually knew some people there! That felt so incredibly cool to know I’ve been in the riding scene long enough to know people at events and chat comfortably, instead of feeling like a complete outsider. If there’s any one thing I love about mountain biking over other outdoor recreation activities, it’s the community that forms around it.

The next day, my group and I got to the trailhead around 9:45 AM. Check in went smoothly, and we worked on dialing our bikes in for the current snow conditions. I was riding on a team with two other women for Fearless Women of Dirt, Annie and Kate. They apparently decided that I was going to go first, which meant I got to have my first running start. Let me tell you that wasn’t the most pleasant experience in the world! They piled up all the snow from the overflow parking lot into Mount Yeti, and we had to run up it and around back to the bikes. Overall it generated a lot of laughs, and it was at least a good way to warm up a bit before getting on the bikes.

I was feeling gassed from riding the day prior by the time I got on my bike for the race, and that was compounded by the trail conditions. Between the chaos of the mass start and the soft snow conditions, the double track trail was extremely rutted up by the time I got it to it. There were a few rideable lines, but as soon as you fell off it, you were toast, and there were always at least three riders directly behind that I’d have to let pass before I could get back on the good line.

The double track turned to singletrack before long, and that first section was completely not rideable. I lost a lot of time by being stubborn trying to ride, just to get stuck in churned up snow. A lot of people ran sections like that with their bikes. In retrospect, I wish I had run as well, but I felt like I was going to make the trail surface worse if I did that.
At 1 mile in, it finally smoothed out enough and I could ride the rest of the two miles back to the chalet.

This is where I discovered the biggest mistake of the day; I didn’t consult the race course map or ask anyone about it, I just assumed my memory was correct.
It turns out, this race course takes you right past the start just to go up a huge hill. I kept thinking it was a simple out and back to allow the transitioning riders time to get ready; it was anything but. This section was a full extra mile of the race course that I wasn’t expecting, and it had two hills and two big descents. Silly me for not double checking the course map! The descents were quick and quite a bit of fun, but the trail conditions made it super never wracking and I bailed quite a few times out of sheer uncertainty on how my bike would react. Times like these are when I wish I was a bit more brash about crashing and would push my limits more. I also kept wishing I had the stability and extra float of 5” tires vs. my 3.8s at that time. Oh, the things you wish for mid-race!

Eventually, the course flattened out to double track and I pushed through the finish line and transitioned with Kate. My official time was 1 hour, 24 seconds. I felt absolutely wrecked by the time I finished my lap and knew between the race cutoff of 3 hours and my pace, that there was no way I was going out for a second lap. Kate finished her lap at 40:48, and Annie at 49:41.

I’m going to admit I looked through the lap times seeing where I stack up overall, and while I’m not the absolute slowest, I am in the top 5 slowest team racers this weekend. I know I’m not the fastest rider out there, but I was a bit disappointed at how much I struggled this race. I think a large part of that was riding so much the day before. I didn’t quite intend to do a full 8.5 miles when I went out, but I was having too much fun riding the trails to turn around before I was tired. This is a great exercise for me in self-kindness: the point of this race was to have fun, and I need to focus on that, not my physical performance. I want to work on getting faster this year, but I need to honor where my fitness level is currently at. I should be stoked that I’m in shape enough to even attempt doing these things because at one point in my life there’s no way I could’ve even finished this race. I had solid handling for some of the gnarlier sections of trail, and that’s such an improvement for me. Now the next thing to focus on is maintaining speed!

The after-party of this race is also something worth talking about – there are a ton of door prizes, Sand Creek provided a keg, and there was a potluck in the chalet. I went for a short ride that afternoon as well, and the trails got much better throughout the day between all the riders on it as well as a bit of freezing rain.

All and all, this is a great event worth checking out. I had a ton of fun and I left with more motivation to work on becoming a faster rider. I will most definitely be coming back during the winter to ride those trails!

Huge thank you to all the volunteers at Levis Mound for making it happen; I hope to come back next year.