Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Fat Biking in the Wind and Staying Grounded

I really hate going to the gym to work out.  I'd rather go to the dentist than to the gym.  Also, I don't like the cold.  I was born on a July day in Tucson, Arizona when it was 115 degrees outside.  I'm a desert rat at heart. But still, I was jonesing to ride since we'd had two weeks of snow and sub zero temps.  So last Saturday with a break in the weather I rented a fat bike and headed out of town.

My first half mile was a hike-a-bike up a steep ravine.   There was an actual trail before a flash flood washed it away a few years ago and left a jumble of rock and scree.  The ravine was icy and I was slipping all over in my old pac boots trying to carry the beast. Once out of the ravine I was exposed to the beginnings of a stiff breeze.  But it's pretty up on the 'flats' where the trail winds through juniper and limber pine along a red rock rim. The only tracks I saw were those of deer, antelope and an occasional moose. 

The wind picked up to 40-65 mph gusts which kept pitching me sideways into the sagebrush.  I couldn't stay on the trail. Fighting the wind was like trying to slay a dragon and I finally admitted defeat and turned around.

I was too annoyed with being tossed around so I walked the bike, which turned out to be ridiculously hard because I was caught in a crosswind.  I put the bike between me and the crosswind and then leaned my body weight on the bike to keep it grounded. But the wind kept changing directions and once it lifted the entire bike completely off the ground.  I was simultaneously cussing and laughing.  The tires were like balloons.  I needed a tether from me to the bike, like when you were a little kid and your mom tied a string from your wrist to your helium balloon. Or a surfboard leash thingie to my ankle.

My face hurt from tiny stinging bullets of blowing snow and my hair whipping it.  I was feeling sorry for myself that it wasn't a perfect bluebird day like yesterday - when I was stuck in the office.

The universe was laughing at me, except I don't know when to give up. Back at the truck I decided to I head toward the mountains for another ride, this one in Sink's Canyon. It was raining at the mouth of the canyon but slowed to a light drizzle at the trailhead.   Truly, rain on snow is just plain yucky but the trail was actually pretty fine. There was wind but once I got into the trees it was almost balmy.

Then, ta-da! The sun came out and there was a beautiful filtered light through the pine trees. It was a nice reprieve before another squall moved in and the sun started to set below the canyon walls.  Despite the not-so-perfect weather, being on a bike is always better than being in the gym, or anywhere else for that matter.  There's something about biking in the winter that makes you feel like you got one over on the 'man.'  Then there's the beauty and quiet of the trails... and another season or riding. Hallelujah!

On Chain Reaction and out of the wind.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Mountain Bike Joy - Grief and Healing

So yes, of course I bought the bike! (The Rocky Mountain Altitude - that I fell in love with in August, see my Confessions post.) I have to say that it changed my riding completely.  I am shredding trail I wouldn't have dreamed about a year ago.  And I'm conquering my fear.  Each time I push the envelope and achieve a new level it's exhilarating.  But mostly it's pure unadulterated fun.

And that's why I ride.  I love to ride.   It makes me feel like a 10 year old kid. A lot of times I am smiling to myself all the way down the mountain.  I'm living life in the moment, I'm in the zone, and it's all GOOD.  If you don't ride then you should know that there's a little bit of OCD I think with mountain bikers.

Must. Ride.

Not that I haven 't taken a few spills.  One pretty good hit to the head earned me a new helmet.  My legs look like a disaster zone.

The pain on the outside is minimal.  Truthfully, part of the reason that I bought the bike is because sometimes, especially this past year, I have a sadness that I can't shake  I know that we all have our stories but mine is this.  I have lost my share of loved ones in my life...

We lost our beautiful infant daughter Anneliese 13 years ago.  Although her memory is woven into the fabric of our daily lives, we still grieve for her and miss who she would have become.   Our lives have never been the same since.

Eight years ago my best friend from childhood, Sharon, died of cancer at the age of 37. She was a beautiful person, inside and out and one of the nicest people I've ever met.   All my grandparents are long gone and also my most special  aunts - my Aunt Vicki and my Aunt Shirley.  They helped me through the worst of times after losing my daughter.

Last year my mom died of cancer at 69 so this year has been hard.  And you'd think I'd know grief.

Right after mom died, I ran.  I ran on our local mountain trails - obsessively and long.  I think I was trying to outrun my grief.  Frankly I was sick of grief and in complete denial.  I should know better.  The result was that I injured my back and I could barely walk for about a month and a half.  And the pain settled in my hip and leg, too, in the exact place that my mom hurt from her cancer.

Thankfully spring came and I was back in shape to ride my bike.  Biking is way more fun than running.  Although if I'm completely honest then I might admit that I was trying to outride my grief too -- if I could only ride fast enough!  I just didn't want to do the grief thing again.  But the funny thing is that there is a kind of healing that happens when you are communing with nature.  This kind of healing comes of it's own accord, without too much effort on the part of the griever.  You just simply have to step outside.

But sometimes its hard to make yourself take that step.

I've always thought that 'nature healing' happens with long introspective walks in the woods.  That's what I've done in the past. But indeed healing can happen on a bike.  You pedal, climb, breathe.... pedal, climb and breathe.  At the top you stop to thank God that you made it and take in the view.  Then you race down the mountain with the wind in your hair and a great big smile on your face.

It seems like a contradiction but with grief work you can and should soak up life's joys - because they are a present to you, from Life itself.   Joy gives you balance and helps you heal.  I couldn't do this when we lost our daughter.  There was no balance to the sorrow I felt, at least for a very long time.  With my mom it's different and yes, there are levels to grief.  Not to lessen the grief of others, but it's the truth.

Stay with me here, this is not all about grief and sorrow!

Maybe because of my losses, I feel blessed in this life and so very lucky to lead the life I do.  My story is just one of many.  There are untold families that have endured deep sadness that I can't even begin to fathom.  But I do believe that when you've had significant loss it means that the joys of life are, well, even more joyful.

So what does this have to with riding?  On the trails where I ride there are blue grouse and mule deer and wildflowers.  In the fall, the yellows and oranges of the aspen trees are stunning with blue skies and a dusting of snow.  Every time I ride I am celebrating the here and now -- because I can. I am thankful for the day.  This is the way I honor my loved ones that aren't here, by feeling grateful and by living in the moment.

When I ride I don't think about work, or kids or relationships, or the past or future, nada.  I just meditate on dirt on sky.

Take all of what my life is and has been up to this point and mix it up, shaken not stirred, and there you have it.  This is me and my new bike.


I will have loved my life with passion, embraced it with fervor, cherished every single moment of it. I will have contemplated with wonder the sky and its running clouds, my brethren the humans, my sisters the flowers and stars. I will have feasted unceasingly on the treasure of life in all its forms. I will not have dwelled in mediocre ambitions, vain hatred, and useless complaints.  

I will depart with the belief that there is no end to the flow of life in the universe, that there is no death but only an unceasing change of worlds.  - Robert Mullen

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Confessions of a Hardtail Rider

I started mountain biking in college over 20 years ago on a Trek Antelope.  I rode many miles of  U.S. Forest Service trails during my down time as a fire fighter in the Snowy Range of Wyoming.  A few years later and a few dollars more I upgraded  to a used GT Pantera with the original RockShox.  My riding was mainly on two-tracks and cattle trails in the high desert near Green River, Wyoming.

Two years ago I finally upgraded to a Specialized Stumpjumper Comp 29'er Hardtail.  I demo'd a lot of bikes and for the type of cross-country riding I do this bike made a lot of sense.  Plus I'm a minimalist and I like the simplicity of a hardtail.  It's light and fast and she climbs like a demon. She has also turned me into a fast woman on the flowy downhills.  My favorite riding has always been in the desert and we have some sweet single track just outside of town at Johnny Behind the Rocks.

I'm probably an outlier on this but I usually ride alone. Riding is my cherished time for solitude and there's only a few other people that I like to ride with. Luckily, for marital harmony, one of them is my husband.  Recently he started looking into buying a new bike.  In the past he didn't ride much and so only recently has considered a new bike. So -- I'm super excited that he wants to get on the trails with me.  He NEEDS a new bike -  he still has his Trek Antelope from his college days.  And, if he has a sweet new bike that means he'll want to ride more, promoting even more marital harmony, right?

A few weeks ago we were lucky enough to have Rocky Mountain Bikes in town with a bunch of demos. Being the supportive wife I tagged along (what better way to spend a summer day with your spouse?!)

We rode all afternoon.  It was hot out.  I was super tired from camping out the night before.  The first bike I rode was the Rocky Mountain Element which was the first full suspension bike I've ever ridden.  Holy cow!  It's like the first time you (...fill in the blank) and you think, "So, THIS is what it's all about." 

I rode the Element on a section of nasty trail that is pock-marked by horses and boulder-strewn.  It's a trail that I ride several times a week.  This year our local bike group, Lander Cycling Club, has been hard at work building trails in the foothills near our town and I've found myself really enjoying the technical terrain.  (And sort of getting back to my roots, pardon the pun!) Riding with FS was an eye-opener - the bike didn't care that I was tired and was picking a terrible line.  It just took me up and down the mountain like a dream.

The last bike I rode that day was the Rocky Mountain Altitude which was not only dreamy but it fit perfect - like my favorite little black dress.  It felt FANTASTIC, like I'd been riding it my whole life.  I felt invincible on this bike.  It was a complete and total joyride.  I could go through all of the specs that made it so but the fact is that I was in love.

So, the dilemma.  Do I abandon my hardtail purist stance and dive into the realm of full suspension?   I keep hearing about how riding a hardtail makes you a better rider, blah blah blah.  But the full suspension opens up a whole new level of riding fun.  And I do love my stumpy niner, but I'm kind of already feeling nostalgic for her - kind of when you look back to your very first love and realize that it wasn't quite as perfect as you thought. (Gosh, but I feel unfaithful!)

But even with a new bike, I will never be the fastest girl on the trail.  I always come in last in any event (who else stops to make snow angels during a fat bike race?).  But we only go around once and life is too short not to enjoy this ride to its fullest, and sometimes, newest ride...

Friday, July 11, 2014

Dispatch from the Field - Rattlesnake Mountains

And there I was, on top of a mountain range in the middle of a thunder storm -- lifting my bike over my head and praying that I wouldn't be hit by lightening...

In my many years of field work I've been in a number of sticky situations. Hazards include rattlesnakes, grizzly bears, broken trucks, bad roads and foul weather.

Given all that, I have the best job. My summer consists of visiting about 20 ranches for field work that I do for The Nature Conservancy.  I love meeting with the ranchers and being out on the land.  The most remote ranch I visit is in the Rattlesnake Range, a mountain range smack dab in the middle of Wyoming, i.e. the middle of nowhere.

To get to the ranch you have to take a number of nasty two-track roads up to the top of the range.  The directions are so confusing that no one has ever bothered writing them down.   Now that we have GPS it's a little bit easier to find  - although the country is confusing and there's no good points of reference.

This particular area used to be part of a large ranch called the Matador but some of it has been subdivided and as a result there are a handful of cabins up in the hills.  Some are nice and some are downright scary and consist of little more than plywood shacks.  They bring to mind gun-toting anti-government-recluse-freeman types living in the hills.  A place I don't want to get lost.

The Rattlesnake Range is intriguing and unexpected - it rises straight out of the sagebrush prairie into red-rock faults, canyons, spring-fed creeks and high open valleys. Pronghorn antelope, mule deer, mountain lions,  elk, and any number of raptors call it home.  Because of its remoteness it feels wild and intimidating but it's also beautiful.  It has a strange feel about it, like you'd imagine the vibe within the Bermuda Triangle.

I always try to get out early in the day to avoid afternoon thunderstorms.  Naturally on this trip I was running late and then took a wrong turn.  Once I got to the ranch gate it was locked, double-locked in fact.  The landowners were not home for my visit.

At the gate I ate a quick lunch on the hood of the truck before setting off on my mountain bike.  I'd been packing my bike for situations like these, where it would take a long time to walk in and the roads are often too rough for a vehicle.

The country was so lush, it seemed like there were thousands of butterflies this year with the abundance of wildflowers. My goal was to get to a high spot on the ranch to take photos and it wasn't until I was up there that I could see a wall of blackness closing in.

I was in a race to beat the storm and I rode back to the truck as fast as I could, but it was dicey.  The two-tracks are deeply rutted and I couldn't see the ruts because the grass was so thick and high. I took one spill over the handlebars and scratched my bike frame. That nearly made me cranky (the scratch not the spill).

The roads through the wet meadows were completely grown over so I put up cairns on the way in to mark the turns from one two-track to another.  (I was glad I took the time to do this, it would be no fun getting lost on the way out.)

I was riding through bogs in wide-open meadows when the storm broke.

Cairn as a marker.  I also found a plastic coat hanger that I picked up and used as a marker at a junction.  Why on earth would a coat hanger be out here?  Completely strange.

I debated whether or not to hunker down and wait for the storm to pass.  But if I waited then the rain would make the roads impassable.  I wouldn't be able to get off the mountain.

It was a catch-22 so I said a prayer and high-tailed it across the open country, hoping that lightening wouldn't strike me whenever I had to hoist my bike above my head and over a barbed-wire fence. 

I arrived at the truck soaking wet.  I was feeling panicky about the road conditions but I also felt like it had been dry enough in the last few days that they wouldn't turn to mush too quickly....

No such luck -- the roads were complete snot. I slid sideways down the mountain for a good hour.  It was a rodeo and I did all I could to keep from getting stuck or sliding off the road into the borrow ditch.

Whenever I started to panic I did what I recently learned from my mountain bike coach.  "When things start to go to hell, stop and take a deep breath and start again."  Sometimes I couldn't stop and had to gun the thing but mostly this worked. It's been awhile since I'd been on roads this bad. Amazingly -- I had radio reception and sang out of tune classic country all the way down the mountain.

"She's a good hearted woman in love with a two-timing man."  It was a goofy scenario all around.

To add insult to injury I had to open a number of gates in the pouring rain.  Cattle congregate around the gates so wherever I got out I was deep in a quagmire of cow shit and mud.   I deal a lot in cow and horse poop which doesn't usually bother me.... but this was really... yuck.

Finally I made it to Poison Spider Road, a very nice graveled road and about two hours after that I was home in Lander.  It took me 45 minutes just to wash the mud and @#!* out of the wheel wells.

What's that saying about fishing?  A bad day of fishing is better than a good day in the office.  Same with field work, but then again, all's end that ends well...

The main county road, I could have kissed the dirt.

Road/no-road, all the grass made it soft for riding, an odd cushy feeling.

My destination was to find the cabin which is on the southern end of the property.
A weird side note, I was so happy that I made mangospacho the night before. I'm pretty sure I'm the only person to ever mountain bike in the Rattlesnakes and for sure the only to have a picnic with fresh mango soup.

New bike accessory, a mount for bear spray for when I am working in grizzly bear country.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014


When I went to the farm to help take care of my mom last November, I didn't expect to lose her so fast. None of us did.  I had only two days with her at the farm before she went into the hospital -- and then she never came home.  Stupid cancer.  I never dreamed she wouldn't be back at the farm for Thanksgiving - our big family shindig with truckloads of food, laughter and love.

Mom was diagnosed with late-stage uterine cancer and by the time she was admitted to the hospital it had destroyed her pelvis and part of her lower spine.  Until right before she went into the hospital, she was still up walking around.    She was so darn tough.

They say people's personalities become more prominent when they are sick.  Mom's grace and courage and especially her sense of humor were magnified.  She was always kind to the nurses and endlessly stubborn and funny with her palliative care doctor.  They all loved her.

Watching her die of this horrible, painful cancer was one of the hardest things I've ever done in my life.  Every day was a different medical crisis as her condition worsened.  Thank goodness for my brother and my Aunt Sandi because we all took turns taking care of her 24/7.  As bad as it was sometimes, I wouldn't have traded my time with her for anything.

You know all of those petty things that drive you nuts about your parents?   Those things went by the wayside when I was with mom those three weeks. Everything was distilled down into the best parts of a mother/daughter relationship.   Now that I have kids of my own I know to the core of my being how much my mom loves my brother and me.  I'll never forget one time in the hospital when Dave and I were standing on either side of her bed holding her hands and she was completely, totally happy.

A funny thing happened before mom went into the hospital.  She told me a story that I had never heard before and I've been wanting to share it.  Why she choose this particular time to tell me, I'll never know. But I'm so glad that she did.  It goes like this...

When Mom was in high school she was dating a cowboy and was at a rodeo watching him compete.  While she was sitting in the stands waiting for the next bull rider to come out of the chutes, her name came over the loud speaker. The next thing she knew her boyfriend and his friend had picked her up, carried her to the chutes and set her on the bull.  That was mom's eight seconds of fame! They had secretly registered her for the event and she never even saw it coming.

A while ago someone asked me (my Argentine friends), "are you a cowgirl?"  Well, I guess that question might come up now and again if you live in Wyoming.  My mom most definitely had some cowgirl in her and I'd like to think that I do too - and that it came from my mom.  Truthfully I hope that there's a lot of my mom in me.  I miss you Mom.

Mom on the far right in front of the pump house.

Mom and Laura shucking corn, seems like a long time ago that Laura was this little.
In front of the make-shift dance floor built for the Centennial celebration.

Post script:
About a month after Mom died, my two best friends in Lander took me to Jackson for a weekend getaway.  We skied in Grand Teton National Park and that night went out to the Cowboy Bar.  While were standing near the dance floor, drinking and listening to the band, a tall handsome cowboy from Big Piney grabbed my hand and swung me onto the dance floor.  Like my mom, I love to dance.  It doesn't matter if it's in the kitchen or on top of a mountain pass or on a dance floor.   He was a great dancer and I suspect he was heaven-sent to spin the grief right out of me, at least for one evening.  The only thing he asked me all night, was, "what's your story?"  And so I told him that we were in Jackson having a girlfriend weekend to honor my mom. 

Post ski beers in Grand Teton National Park.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Beginner's Mind - Fat Biking

The first fat bike I rode was three years ago in the Equinox Challenge in West Yellowstone, Montana.  I have terrible technique as a skate skier and wanted a fun option for 12 hours of endurance racing. So I was psyched when they invited fat bikes to the Event starting in 2012.  I'd never been on a fat bike until about 5 minutes before start time.  I was on a Surley Pugsley named Mabel - and I was immediately hooked.

In 2014 when I rode in the Equinox Challenge again, I rode the Salsa Bucksaw, courtesy of Fitzgerald's Bikes.  It is one sweet bike and I still feel dreamy when I think about her.  

Aside from the Equinox Event, I never thought I'd be a true fat bike enthusiast.  It hadn't caught on in our small town of Lander yet and frankly, I just don't like the cold (which I mention ad naseum in every single post).  

This year both bike shops in our little town offered fat bike rentals and so over Christmas break I treated myself to a three week rental from The Bike Mill.  We'd just gotten about 16 inches of snow and the temps had been hovering in the minus teens and minus twenties.  When it warmed up to five below I took a test ride along the river near our house.

It didn't take me long to figure out how to stay warm and toasty.  The first thing I did was duct-tape hotties to the outside of my socks over my toes, then added another sock over the hotties.  My Sorel pac boots are big anyway so this was a nice fit and not too tight.  I have a pair of heated gloves and this year I bought the warmest down coat that Patagonia makes.  Until I move to Central America for the winter, I'm going all-out to stay warm.

One of my favorite trails, a rocky section in the summer, turned magically into flowy 
single track in the winter.

Besides the pure joy of riding there are some wonderful things about riding in the winter in particular.  The trails that you know so well are transformed into new trails entirely.  And the snow conditions change daily and even hourly, challenging your technique.

The other fun part is taking chances on the squirrley stuff.  I could point the bike down something steep and soft, but falling was inconsequential.  I had a number of painful knocks this summer, including a cracked helmet, so it's relaxing to ride in the fluff.  

The quiet and stillness of the forest in the winter is nothing short of magical.  I don't ride a fat bike fast and I stop a lot just to soak in the beauty.  Every day is different, even when riding on the same trail, depending on the weather and snow.

A few weeks ago I was out riding on a dreary overcast day with intermittent fog.  But the fog cleared and the sunlight made the snow glitter.  There were ice crystals in the air and chickadees flitting across my path.  And on another day a raven kept pace with me on the continental divide trail, showing up now and then like a random thought on the edge of my consciousness.

Riding on a section of the Continental Divide Trail in the Wind River Mountains.  

Fat biking in the snow will keep you humble.  

 Be a courteous fat biker and yield to all other traffic.  Skiers don't have brakes.

Something about riding in the winter makes me feel like I've gotten one over on 'the man.' 

 Last light on the canyon walls.

Another way to warm my toes.  The Forest Service was burning slash piles near the trail.

Have lab, will bike...Wind River Mountains.