When I think about adventure, I immediately think about my adventure buddies. The folks that have inspired me, pushed me, encouraged me, watched me fall down and helped me get back up. These people are my best friends, my life partner, my family and my teammates. It would be remiss to overlook some of my most loyal adventure buddies, my dogs. With this in mind, I would like to launch a short blog series: Dogs Don’t Apologize. We will pay homage to a few of the dogs that are by our side or sniffing nearby as we pursue our adventures. I will kick it off with an introduction to the dogs in my life.
I have been animal obsessed for as long as I can remember. I was raised that way. Some of my favorite childhood memories centered around animals. I learned how to handle animals several times my size and take care of the ones that were always by my side. I was an only child until I was out of the house (another story), so our animals were often my adventure mates. Sometimes they liked it and sometimes they just put up with it with unbelievable patience.
In my adult life, there have been two (and now a third) very important adventure pups in my life. They came into my life at around the same time. Branson came to me through a relationship and I took on Lloyd as my own. These two saw me through my 20’s and helped me keep sane. They gave me structure, a reason to come home and an excuse to have fun. Adventure buddies though and through. These two never needed an excuse to explore. The third, Higgs, is a brand new addition to the family and an adventure all in herself. Our first puppy! So, without further ado and in no particular order, meet the canine adventure companions of my life. You might recognize them from our photos.
This special lady passed away in November. A rocking 12 year old Pit Bull, she never shied away from any adventure and kept at ‘em up to the very end. She was a professional snuggler, kisser, runner, rope wrangler, bike mechanic, backpacker, mountain biker and all around goody. I can’t say enough good things about this lady and my heart aches for her. She didn’t go down easily and stood up to four different cancers until it finally became too much. She taught me how to have fun no matter what, to be kind despite past abuse, and how to enjoy every second of life. She was the ultimate embodiment of the No Apologies lifestyle. She loved mountain biking more than anything (except maybe a comfy bed) and never apologized when she had to pull over for you to pass, for falling off trail or for being the last to an intersection. She just enjoyed the ride. Miss you little pit stuff! #BransonBlount
This handsome guy came to me when he was a one and a half year old mess. Abandoned in a backyard, he had no life skills but badly wanted please. He wiggled his way right into my heart. We built up his confidence the best possible way: through adventure! This guy learned how to pull his weight by “working” at bike shops, playing endless chuck-it, backpacking, and biking. He is now 10 years old and still accompanies me on mountain bike rides. He smiles the most when he is tired from a run. He has taught me that structure and exercise is the best medicine for anxiety, how to rest to play harder (i.e. the recharge nap), and how to be loyal to your loved ones. #LloydDogler
Higgs Humerus Boson
This little lady is a new addition. As my first puppy in my adulthood, she is teaching me the art of patience. Seriously, this lady loves to put everything in her mouth! Right now she is reminding me how important the small everyday adventures are. My short walk through the forest is her epic trek. It has been so much fun teaching her the wonders of the outdoors. Everyday she learns a little more and becomes a little more confident. I can’t wait until she is running along side my mountain bike! #HiggsB
The Oregon 24 is a very special race for me. In 2012, when it went by the name of High Cascades 24, it was my very first mountain bike race. I hadn’t been mountain biking for long, but my enthusiastic friends and husband had somehow convinced me that a 6-person team would be a lot of fun. I was a ball of nerves leading to the race and I was was convinced that I would be slow and in everyone’s way. However, my fears did not come true and by the end of the lap I couldn’t stop smiling. My night lap was a little more of a challenge and the only way I got through it was by staring at the glow sticks adorning my bike and repeating “This is fun. I do this for fun” to myself until I almost started to believe it. At the end of the 24 hours, it felt so good to survive it that I actually did believe it was fun. So much fun that I decided that maybe, just maybe, I could be a mountain bike racer.
This year was my third Oregon 24. I missed 2013 because after a year of training for the CCP I had filled my sufferfest quota for the year. I believe that this was the best year yet. I raced on the best 5-person women’s team in history! No Apologies! represented with myself, Soso, ZimZam, and guest racers Bridget and Clarinda. We started out by setting up our home base in style. We had two onsite bike mechanics/personal cooks, a crazy friend riding a solo 12 hour, three dogs, a homemade banner made from beer boxes, mood lighting, multiple tents, two double eno hammocks, endless amount of food, fresh brewed coffee, adult beverages, lots of spirit and endless excitement. We were living like kings and we were ready to rock. After an obscene amount of pancakes with various fillings and flare, we made our plan of attack while our mechanic (my husband) dutifully tuned our bikes.
We were sending out Zimzam for the first shift and each of us would (if up for it) complete two lap shifts. Once Zimzam placed her bike at the startline and meandered to the beginning of the Le Mans start, it was on!
It took us a few rounds to really fine tune our off time, but eventually we got it together and heckler’s corner was born. Heckler’s corner was close to camp and allowed us a view of the incoming racers as they made their descent into the transition area. We could clock our riders’ times and heckle all those who passed!
Lap times were impressive and were much faster than we had initially thought. It was clear that we were going to do a lot better than we had planned for. Although there were 4 other 5-person women’s teams, we were blind to our competitions’ progress because of a timing booth hiccup. However, it didn’t matter. We were feeding of each other and pushing hard. We were determined to make this our best 24 hour yet!
My reaction to our better than expected lap times was a mix of excitement and fear. Once we got going, it was clear that this would not be a relaxed attack. We were going to give it our all and get as many laps as possible. Excitement was so high that when Soso went to take over she almost started riding through the transition zone (a big no no with a 30 minute time penalty). By the time I went on my first lap, the sun was setting and we were about to enter the hardest part of the race. After ZimZam’s second round of two laps, Bridget was ready to attack with the dreaded late/early shift: that 1:30 am time period when no respectable person should be on their bike. She handled it well and barely lost time even when her lights failed her on her way back in. She had to desperately creep behind racers to use their light. Later, I heard a racer describing a lap at night where she was convinced she was being stalked by an animal. I only smiled and imagined Bridget creeping behind her grasping for any stray light she could get.
We were barely gaining time on our laps and rocked it out for the rest of the race. We were stoked to finish with 20 laps! That was about 5 more than we expected (we will have to address our sandbagging problems later). Since the results were still a mess, we had to ask our neighboring team, the Dirt Divas, how many laps they had done. We had just gotten in at 24 hours and 15 minutes and they still had a rider out finishing their 21st lap. Damn! So close! We only hope that the Dirt Divas are willing for a rematch in 2016 and that we can have another full field for 5-person lady teams. All of the teams were really close and we all killed it out there! So, if you are reading this, start getting your team together and meet us out there! We might even share our pancakes and heckles.
On Saturday, June 20 I volunteered as a sweep for the Mary’s Peak 50K trail run. Being a race sweep means I stay behind all the runners, making sure they are safe and on the right course, all the while clearing the course of all the signs and markers.
I had looked forward to sweeping this race on my bike because since I started training for the Cascade Creme Puff Fritter 50, I’ve got the crazy eyes for long distance rides. Plus, race promoter Mike Ripley always creates an interesting and challenging course.
This experience ended up being different than I expected, and I learned a lot from both the long hours spent on the course and my riding/volunteering/training buddy, Clarinda.
I drove up Woods Creek Road to meet a group of very fast looking runners swarming out from the Mary’s Peak North Ridge trail head. An army of nicely toned legs and the crazy look of ultra-anything flew past me as I frantically pulled my bike out of the back. Yes, I was a bad volunteer that morning. I was running late and had parked my truck just moments before the racers took off.
After I got on my bike and checked in with Ripley, I joined Clarinda, and we set off for what was to be be a very. long. day.
A word about my friend Clarinda. After working in Minnesota for the past few months, she was back in Corvallis for a handful of days when she was asked to fill in last second as a volunteer sweep the following morning. She said yes, and I was happy to get to catch up with her and chat about what she’d been up to.
We took off down to the North Ridge extension trail. Whoops. wrong turn. Now we see the trail head. That was just a warm-up, we told each other. Haha, right? As we headed up the extension we ran into the 25K runners just bombing down the hill toward us. I always tell trail runners that they have it easier because I can at least sit down on my bike. Sort of a joke, but these guys in particular struck me as seriously aggressive and impressive.
At the end of the extension trail we were back at the parking lot and faced the biggest elevation gain of the day – North Ridge trail up to the top of Mary’s Peak. I think Ripley has fun planning his routes, because as a cycling and running event promoter, he seems to enjoy having his runners run up what is popular for cyclists to cycle down. Take North Ridge for example – rooty drops characterize this switchback-heavy technical climb. Most people choose bike up East Ridge. Buuuuut, this was not a race for mountain bikers, so a’slogging we did go, hoping to finally catch up with the slowest runners and feel like we were doing our job.
Multiple runner-free switchbacks later and reality was settling in – we had ridden only a few miles and climbed just a sprinkling of the 5,000 total feet of elevation. We stared up at Oregon’s highest coastal peak and started asking ourselves questions. Clarinda wondered why she had so readily agreed to this the night before. She pondered on her general tendency to agree to things. I wondered: did I trick her into doing this? Am I a total jerk? Am I going to break my friend? Will we ever see those damn runners? (Nope on the last one.)
My friend Chris calls this “Level 3 fun.” The kind of fun that is often only enjoyable in hindsight and includes a mixture of misery quests, getting lost, and in this case, realizing early you may be in over your head and there’s nothing you can do about. Just finish. Get your butt in the saddle and your feet on the pedals and seal the deal.
Our slog-fest up to the peak ended at a very busy parking lot; in addition to the 50K there was the Mary’s Peak Hill Climb Time Trial. I checked in with my fellow volunteers and then cruised over to the other event aid station. Oh yeah, new station with new treats. These folks did not disappoint, and offered me bowls of full-sized candy bars.
Non-bike related commentary: Different aid stations are much like different houses on your trick or treating route, and getting the full size stuff is like when your mom drives you to the rich part of town and you end up totally scoring.
After making an unappetizing electrolyte cocktail of Gatorade, Heed, and Nuun (taste buds < bonking), I biked up to the proper top of the peak. Riding a figure 8 pattern with a view that spans the Cascades to the coast, I cleared the trail and met Clarinda back down at the parking lot. We reminded ourselves that the hardest climb was over. Down East Ridge we rode, out of the Siuslaw National Forest and into the vast network of singletrack on mostly Starker Forest and other private land. I appreciated the opportunity to discover some pretty cool trails and revisit some that make up the Mudslinger XC race held every April.
Bagging Mary’s Peak may have been the hardest section, but our ride was far from over. After checking in at several aid stations, we realized we were never going to catch up with even the slowest runners. I guess when you sign up for a 50K trail run you mean business.
So, cruising along the course, we had a lot of time to chat and had established a nifty little system for clearing the all the signage: roll up to the tree/fern/green thingy, carefully extract the fluorescent pink and white ribbon from the branch/frond/green thingy, apologize to all fronds damaged in the process, pull the signs stapled to the trees, scoop up mini traffic cones, and cram them into a giant pack on Clarinda’s pack. Slam dunk. Do you know how many slam dunks you can have on a 32 mile course? So dang many. We rode a bit, we cleared a lot. Rode a bit, cleared a lot. This resulted in an interesting cadence and fewer apologies to the greenery as we yanked ribbon, roped off sections, and oh so many little orange traffic cones.
The rest of the ride pretty much followed this uneventful pattern. But the final stretch was most memorable for me. At 4:30 p.m. we rode an exposed, high grass trail called Mohawk that affords a beautiful view of the coast range. We stopped to eat and check in with people via text. Yes we are still alive. Clarinda and I had expected to be done by this time, but all in all we still had another 3 hours to go. As we made the final stretch down the gravel road to the finish line at the Blodgett school house, a truck came roaring up behind us. It was Ripley, rolling down his window and gingerly trying to find an acceptable way to tell two hard-working ladies that they were “balls deep.” Go ahead and say it, I told him. He agreed, and offered to help clear the rest of the course leap-frog style. Yeessssss please. To this day (7 whole days later) I see an innocuous little ribbon tied to a tree in the forest and I scream in my head NOOOO!
A quick late afternoon snapshot on Mohawk trail, in the Blodgett area. Note the exploding flannel in my new favorite accessory, Revelate’s Feedbag.
And that brings me to the point of me writing this post – after riding 10.5 consecutive hours with Clarinda that day, I was amazed by the smile on her face and her super positive attitude in the face of something challenging and frustrating and more than a little tedious. Hours before she had doubted herself, but she was totally fine! In fact, she went for a ride the next day. I don’t always reflect such positivity but she inspired me by her actions. Earlier Clarinda had questioned her tendency to agree to things, but her willingness to get out there is what makes her a good friend for me to learn from. At the end of the ride as we loaded up our bikes, she reflected on many things she learned that day: her limits are far higher than she thought, she isn’t so worried about some upcoming Oregon 24 Hour Race, and she knows a bit more about the right mix of hydration and nutrition on long rides. As for me, I was pretty happy to log so many hours on my bike, since the Fritter could take me nearly that long, and Clarinda’s positive spin left me in a pretty good mood. We never did catch those runners, though.
NO Apologies! team members, Rheannon, myself (ZimZam), and Soso represented at this years Mudslinger. We had two podium finishes and 1 happy upgrade to the longer loop (Cat 2). The morning started early with volunteering at registration, followed by a quick change, a lightning speed warm up and a one mile group ride to the start line. And there is where this years Mudslinger began….we all started together in the same women’s group, you could feel the nervous energy of the first race of the season. We were off with a 30 second countdown, Rheannon and I stayed together for the first couple of miles, it felt good to be racing again and to be riding in my old backyard. As we progressed uphill though I couldn’t keep her pace, and I slowly fell back. I kept Rheannon in view for a bit and then the pink jersey became a small dot before it disappeared. My first goal was met, stay with her as long as I could, and then race my race, and as long as I could keep a decent pace I knew I would finish, and not finish last.
There we were, riding and jostling for position. Looking for the position you most likely will maintain during the race, you usually end up leapfrogging with people. This results in riding with a group familiar faces by the end of the race. I settled in and was happy to keep picking people off. Races for me are funny, I scream going uphill and I am always caught by the slow climbers on the downhill, it seems to be a good equalizer. The first major uphill was a virtual mudslide, and it had some walkers already in progress. I was never going to make it up and past 3 walkers, so I dismounted and fell into the uphill walk. This is where I lost time, a lot of time. I knew though if I could get up the hill, back on my bike and put my feet to the pedals I could make up some of the lost time. All I could do was just keep pedaling, the course played to my strengths of climbing and singlestrack, so I focused on those and let the rest go. Most importantly I still felt really good and was happy to be riding, I wasn’t dying or wanting to throw my bike off a cliff. The only times I get really nervous in a race is if I don’t see any other riders for awhile, that happened more than twice but I eventually caught up with other riders. In the back of my head I was hoping one of those riders would be Rheannon, but no such luck. I did fall back with the group I had been leapfrogging, and we were near the entrance of the Panama Canal I got in front and took off, disappointingly it was the readers digest version of the Panama Canal, as soon as it started it was done. I was so looking forward to that section, its technically challenging, some great single track and just enough off camber to make it fun. I knew we were getting close to the turn off to head of the road, and if I could conserve enough energy to get up the road quickly my race would be done. Once we made the turn to the road I shifted into the large ring and took off. And yes I did use a few groups along the way for a pull, but it was up to me to stay in front of them. And that I did, I finished by myself at 2hrs. I was scanning for Rheannon, I knew she had finished and in the back of my head I did wonder how far off her time I had finished. It ended up being 8 minutes, and a great motivator to know what things I need to work on to stay with her. So 2 of No Apologies had finished, we waited anxiously for Soso.
We were excited to hear how her race had gone, and if she felt like the long course was a good decision. We of course believe the longer you are on your bike, the better. But I am sure not everyone feels the same. She looked great as she crossed the line, and decidedly was glad she had done the long course. We were excited to have the first race with multiple No Apologies! in the books, we were officially a team. We finished, had some fun, and came out unscathed. All of that equal success in my book. As we stuffed our faces with food we recounted our experiences and waited for results.
I was hoping for top 10, and not last place. They have WebScorer, which gives live results, and as people cross the line the results are continually changing. So there I was in the open women category looking at a 3rd place finish, I thought it was for surely a mistake, so we waited, everybody was in and they were updating and getting people into the correct categories. Strangely I was still 3rd, unbelievable I thought to myself. During all of this 3rd place uncertainty in my mind we checked Rheannon’s results, she was first in her age category for women. It then started to sink in, we really are badass. I was 3rd and she was 1st, and Soso made an upgrade to Cat 2, it couldn’t have been a better Sunday.
For the following months I felt pretty frustrated and disappointed. I felt that I could have finished if I would have trained harder, pushed myself more, started earlier etc. I found endless alternate versions of reality where I was able to finish the race. That is when the big question started to appear: would I try again? The answer went back and forth. I knew that I need a break. Training kind of sucked. I wasn’t able to go on fun rides with my friends. I needed to put it behind me.
However, I am thankful that I didn’t leave everything behind. After a month off (mostly due to a terrible flu and moving), Jim and I started to get out on the bike again. After all the misery was cleansed from our psyche, we found that we were still riding close to training volume minus a few misery quests. It was like our bodies had been reset and we now operated at a higher level. I started my PhD that Fall and at first it was a challenge to get rides in. I was teaching, researching and taking classes. To counteract this, I sold my road bike and bought a cross bike so that I could make my commute into a longer ride. We invented the dimple commute, which changed the trek to the university from a flat 6 miles in town to 1,400 feet and about 14 miles on mostly trail and gravel road. It was amazing. It allowed me to get more riding in and experience more sunrises and sunsets. Both are good things.
The following year (last year) Jim and I both logged greater mileage and elevation than our year of training. It felt amazing. No training (see TOE image from part 1 as evidence that sometimes it is good to train for things), lots of fun and more riding. Training for the Puff had unknowingly caused a major lifestyle change. It took such a large goal to create such a dramatic change. Looking back, I feel a little crazy for choosing that goal, but I am better for it.
This spring I was addressed again with that nagging question and I answered yes. Actually to be honest, I momentarily went crazy and when I came to I was holding a free Cream Puff entry in my hand. What happens at ACM should stay at ACM, but it won’t. Instead it opened up a new year of training, misery and challenge. What a good year for it too!
I have more base miles, better routines, an amazing team and the best race support (since Jim says he will never try again he has made it his mission to make sure that I cross this finish line). I will even have Bridget out there with me again! So here it goes. I have officially started my homebrewed training plan. Wish me luck and if you feel like you can force me to actually do training stuff (what are intervals?) or just want to have some fun please come ride with me! Or if you feel up to it, join me out there in August!
The day of: After a night of poor sleep, I awoke to my knee wound still aching from the crash, sleepy and nervous about how the day would unfold. I was anxious to get on my bike and start riding. I was bursting with anticipation as we lined up at the start line. After a short delay we started down the road for our neutral start.
As the race officially began, we all filed into a short section of river trail. It was madness. Everyone was clustered together in a tight, impatient line, waiting to get up the hike-a-bike sections. If I pushed past someone, my heart rate skyrocketed. If I stayed behind someone, I got delayed even longer. I cursed the pile up and made another tally mark on my mental checklist of reasons why I dislike river trails. Eventually we started to spread out and we hit the gravel road. I was already frazzled, but the miles of climbing started to melt the frustration away. I was in the back of the group, but I started to catch people along the gravel road climb. I found my friend (and hopefully future No Apologies! member) Bridget. We leap frogged back and forth as we began the descent. Her single speeder legs destroyed me on the climbs as I would sit down and spin. Then I would catch her on the downhill.
I love the Cream Puff course (seriously, sign up for the 50 miler). It is on one of my all time favorite routes and I kept getting caught up in it. It was hard not to enjoy the wonderful views in the open meadows. I wanted to stop and hang out but I had to keep going. I felt good. Or at least I did until I rounded up to the last big climb of the first lap. Once we hit the newly built singletrack climb, the day started to catch up with me. But somehow, like magic, the last downhill portion of that lap erased it all, and I found myself at the lap point, ecstatic from the descent. I looked at my time and thought: I can do this! I hit the river trail again with all my might. That is when it all started to fall apart. As I mentioned earlier, I kind of hate river trails. I think they are beautiful, but I’ve never gotten used to the constant ups and downs. The rolling terrain really takes it out of me. I would much rather tuck my head down for a brutal climb than deal with the constant undulation of a river trail. I tried to ignore the pain and enjoy the sound of the water. I focused a little too much on that sound and I started to think it was calling to me. I imagined stopping there and taking a swim. It was a hot day and nothing sounded better than jumping in that cold water. But somehow I kept going. I hit the gravel road climb for the second time, put my head down and started spinning. I kept spotting Bridget in the distance, but she was pulling away from me. I became keenly aware of my declining speed. I looked at the time. It started to sink in that there was no possible way for me to make the final cut off. I could make the first cut off but probably not the second, and definitely not the final one. This realization really took the wind out of my sails. How far would I keep going? Would I wait for them to pull me off?
I watched as more and more people passed me going the wrong way on the road. They had officially pulled out of the race and were headed back to the staging area. It was hard to keep my spirits up as I watched my fellow racers give up. When I was nearing the next aid station, I found my Jim limping along the road. He looked worse than I felt. I knew then that we were done. It was time to call it. One of the sweeps started circling us like a vulture, waiting for our bodies to drop to the ground. We alternated between walking and riding to the next aid station. When we rolled in, our friends confirmed our decision to stop. Bridget had decided to keep pushing until she was pulled (at her next pass of this aid station). We asked about our other friends who were still in the fight (one of them eventually made it across the finish line). But we were done. We gave it everything and we didn’t make it. As we waited for the shuttle to take us back down, I didn’t even have the energy or mental capacity to feel bad yet. It was over.
Have you ever pulled out of a race? How did you feel about it later? Tell us about it! I will share more about my experience in part 3: the aftermath.
Sometimes it isn’t about the end goal. Sometimes it is about the work you put into it during journey. I am usually a fan of making hard but attainable goals, however, in 2013 I set a huge goal for myself that walked the line between attainable and unrealistic. I had been mountain biking for 2 years. I was consistently riding a few times a week during the year and even more during the summer months. I had done one race as part of a 6 person team at a 24 hour race. I was obsessed with mountain biking and I wanted to become better, so my husband (Jim) and I decided to sign up for the Cascade Creampuff (organized by our very own Michelle). For those of you that don’t know, that is 100 miles and almost 20,000 ft of climbing. Seems like a reasonable next step right?
Jim and I both knew that we were taking a big step, but we were fully committed. We signed up for early season races, started putting in mileage on the road bike and spending LONG days on the mountain bike. We became competitive with each other as we sought out longer, crazier routes in our local forest, the McDonald-Dunn. Our routes started to look like a toddler had taken a crayon to the map. It was fun and it was miserable.
The first BIG task was the Test of Endurance 100k. The Test of Endurance had over 10,000 feet of climbing which included a rooty, steep climb up Mary’s peak on the North Ridge trail. This is a trail that any sane person only descends. I managed to survive the race. I didn’t make the best time and I came in last in Open Women, but I finished. I felt like I was limping to the finish line because my muscles were cramping like they had never cramped before, but I accomplished my first long race.
After that, the base miles continued. Longer rides, better nutrition and more electrolytes. A friend of ours shared her homemade “salty tang” sports drink recipe and it changed our lives. It banished cramping forever! We experimented with more “food water.” Eventually, the race day details started to come out. I knew I could do it with unlimited time, but I wouldn’t have unlimited time. I was worried, but I tried to hold on to the hope of finishing. I would tackle it with all my might.
A few days before the race I went out on a fun ride to relax. It was a beautiful day and I really needed it. After that much training, all I wanted to do was ride for fun. With only a few minutes of descending to the trailhead, I went down hard. I still have no idea what happened. I was “just riding along” and then I hit the trail with a scream. Nothing was broken, only an impressive bruise and some pretty good scrapes. Those scrapes would be my war paint for race day.