Thursday, August 25, 2016

End of Road Season and Locking Myself Out

What an interesting way to end my road season! Being the only Cat 4 Women rider for the final race of the series. Category Megan… I like it! At first I thought I was going to start on my own with the Cat 5 Men, but Gina was looking out for me and asked JR if I could ride with the Masters and 1/2/3 Women. That was an awesome experience! They actually start out at a reasonable pace for a sixty-mile race, and it was just a different feeling to be surrounded by experienced riders. If anything, this was motivation for me to step up my game next season to get the points to become a Cat 3. This might mean more traveling to get those points because it’s hard to get enough women in the Cat 4 ABRA field to get points. We’ll have to see if I have the means to do that, but it would be a great way to experience what riding is like in other areas.


For the amount of riding I have been able to do this year in comparison to last year, I would say I am still pretty happy with my end results especially since I was off the bike three weeks prior to this race. Sure, my time at Appalachia Visited was about the same as last year, but I made up for my not so great start in the second half of the race. I think it showed that I was doing something right during this school year and summer, considering I was riding a lot more distance the previous year. I ended up doing more running and 45 minute workouts on stationary bikes to supplement my lack of being on the road. Not fun, but something worked. Now how to figure out how I can get more time practicing hills…. I know hills are my weak point in races, so more focus will need to be put there.

BUT the best part of ending my road season was locking myself out of my own car at Appalachia Visited. I’m just joking about that, but I was impressed at how close my ABRA family was to getting that Ford opened! My car was ridiculously well sealed. Who thinks of putting the lock/unlock button in the middle where the radio is? That thing was basically steal proof! You go, State Farm, and your roadside assistance. Now time to enjoy a little off time from racing before cross starts.


Sunday, July 24, 2016

Road trip USA!!!

My best friend got married this year, and tho she lives 3,000 miles away in Tacoma WA, she asked me to be her maid of honor. I was super stoked - this would be my first experience in a wedding party - but also because it meant I had a tailor made excuse to do a trip I've been wanting to do for years. I let work know that I would be leaving mid June…and I wasn't sure when I'd be back! The day after we unveiled a huge rooftop art installation I packed up my car and headed west. 
I had about a week to make the wedding so I was booking it to Tacoma - my first stop was Grand Rapids MI where I had an artist friend, then Madison Wisconsin where one of my Positive Spin coworkers had moved. We spent the afternoon riding around one of the lakes and then followed Madisons extensive trail network out to Epic Headquarters, this crazy company that basically wants its site to feel like a theme park. There were Harry Potter themed buildings, wild west buildings, a Lord of the Rings themed state of the art 10,000 person auditorium, Dungeons and Dragons offices, and so many more. It was a playground for adults!

The next day I drove over to Minneapolis, and rode about 60 miles of their mind boggling urban trails. The level of bike infrastructure there was astounding. At some parts I was riding in the middle of the city and it felt like I was on a bike trail in a secluded forest! So amazing.

Mtbing in the "Enchanted Forest"

After Minneapolis I hit my first experience with unbelievable geography. I drove through the Badlands National Park. I really can't describe how beautiful and alien the landscape was there, so here are a few pictures:

Climbing the Badlands Cliffs

South Dakota, land of big beautiful skies

 From there, I stopped in Rushmore long enough to take an obligatory photo, got pizza in Deadwood, got stuck in a herd of bison crossing the road in Yellowstone, and had Old Faithful erupt sulfery water all over me. I saw a grizzly bear in a stream, almost hit a moose, and had to stop for bighorn sheep as they clamored down a mountain into the road. That was week 1! I made it to the wedding in one piece, where I scrambled to write down the maid of honor speech that had be gestating in my brain for about 6 months. The wedding was a US/Canadian bike polo camping affair, and Jill and Leon didn't shy away from making sure their rides were in the wedding photos!

Me and Tara at the Flying Bike Cafe
I stopped in Seattle to visit another old friend and take a spin on my road bike before hooking back up with chunks of the wedding party to head north.

See the Space Needle?!

I picked up Bike polo extraordinaires  and fellow wedding attendees Kyle and Sarah to head up to Orcas island to visit a former Pgher I had only met that weekend. Mike is a potter who lives above the studio he works for in a rainforest, on the beach. GEEZ, it doesn't really get more beautiful than that! This may have been the best weekend of my life. We hung out in tree houses, jumped off cliffs into a mountain lake, fished for salmon, made homemade pizzas, skipped rocks for hours into the sunset and then had a beach fire. As the sun started to set that night, Mike hopped into the ocean water and swished a stick around, jubilantly demanded to know if I could see the sparkles. Kind of? Maybe? I think so? Or maybe thats the sunset reflecting off the waves??? But! as the sun set for real and the night got darker, I could clearly see sparkles jetting off the stick he kept waving, like a magic wand shooting stars. There was a bioluminescent algae bloom off the shore!! Soon enough the waves washing up the beach were full of glitter, and Mike was finding big logs to drop into the water so glow-in-the-dark halos would radiate outward, like some kind of electricity field. I went out on a row boat and let my hand drag through the water, unable to stop my amazed laughter at seeing the sparks flow under my fingers. When I saw Kyle come back in from his turn on the boat, every time the oars hit water they sent a shock of glow through the waves, and the hull of the boat was lit like it had LED light underglow. It was the most spectacular thing I'd ever seen.

Sarah getting ready to jump/friends in the treehouse!
skippin rocks into the sunset

Too soon, it was time to leave Orcas. Our next stop was Seattle, where a friend of mine was promoting her line of women's cycling-specific jeans; RYB Denim, at Peloton, a polo kids-owned bike shop and bar. It also seemed like the whole wedding party reconvened to keep the buzz going - people I had just met kept filtering in to grab a beer, pick up some spare parts, and try on the jeans! The next morning was more of the same - breakfast at Peloton, giving a final hug to everyone I had just said a final goodbye to last night! - and then Kyle Sarah and I headed out to Portland. Sarah spent most of that day at her new house, getting her gear together for the 4th of July polo tournament in Pittsburgh (ironically, they were flying back to my city, and I was heading down to crash in Kyle's pad in Oakland CA). Kyle and I found a Lemmy themed bike ride to crash after we checked out Red Star Bags and Cascade Brewing.

 I said goodbye to my friends that night, and started my solo trip down the coast. I took the scenic highways all the way to San Francisco, stopping along the coast to pick starfish out of tide pools, binocular watch a pod of humpbacks, and stand under the redwoods. I had a couple amazing friends in the Bay Area, so I ended up staying there for about a week. My July Fourth was at a boathouse in San Fran, I visited DZR headquarters and King Kog bike shop, saw the Sutra Baths, pet stingrays at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, saw a flock (a flock!!) of hummingbirds dine on a 30foot agave at Hearst Castle, wandered the labyrinth that was the Winchester Mansion, and even made some money doing an art handling gig just outta town.

   Orgeon coast                                                                                    tide pools!                  

Hearst Castle                                                                                indoor pool                  

I went to the Winchester Mansion and King Kog with Carolyn


When I finally left the Bay Area I had picked up a friend from back home, and our first stop was Death Valley. We got there around midnight and stopped to camp on the side of the road. Camping in Death Valley was awesome and I'm glad I did it, but we stepped out of the car into an oven, and though I was pretty sure we weren't going to die, I wasn't completely sure I wasn't wrong about that. I couldn't drink water fast enough so I had to resort to just pouring it on myself all night, because it would evaporate completely in about 20 minutes. Every once in a while a donkey scream would echo across the hills, making me jet bolt upright and send my heart rate skyrocketing. Around 2 am we got up to stand under the night sky, staring at the clearly visible Milky Way and counting shooting stars. We broke camp at 4:30 and headed down into the valley, the elevation dropping from 9,000 feet to zero real fast. I stopped to get on my bike and road the downhill through the desert until I ran out of water and couldn't take the chapped lips anymore. (I made it about 20 miles). As the sun rose, it was 90 degrees.
almost 300ft below sea level!

Devil's Golfcourse
We stopped by the Devil's Golfcourse, a sea of coral-shaped salt covered rocks sharp as cut tin, that would creak and ping in the sun in a cacophony of metallic acoustics. I stood in the lowest point of the US, Badwater Basin, and wandered out onto the blazing beach of salt for sand.

From there we passed through Yosemite and skirted by Area 51 on the way to Vegas. This was the only time we got a hotel - the Hotel California in Old Town Vegas! I wandered through the themed casinos, met up with my long lost German cousin for the first time in 10 years for New Orleans themed buffet, and then booked it to the Grand Canyon the next day.

Flagstaff AZ was our next stop, where we met up with a super lovely character who was also a cross-time teammate of mine! We busted out our homemade gin and killed an evening gabbing with Mike V, catching up on subjects like Pgh/Motown, Hillybilly Roubaix, and how across the board awesome JR and Gina are. When you're traveling across the desert, have been home in 4 weeks  and have been sleeping in your car, a soft bed and a shower feels so so good.
Just outside of Flagstaff is an inactive volcano that one of Mattress Factory's favorite artist installers bought decades ago and has been converting into an art installation that isn't yet open to the public. However, we managed to catch the artist's crew at the studio and they were happy to give us a private tour of the place. It was incredible! There's really no way to put it into words, so here are some pictures that are sure to amaze and confuse:

The trek across Utah was a series of scenic drives and National Parks. We stopped in Zion, a lush oasis in the desert, where I stood under a rock overhang that wept water. I hiked barefoot up the most beautiful lush creek of rock cascades, sand pools, tadpoles, and water plants. We saw mountains that looked like melting ice cream, others that looked like needled rock, and natural red dusty arches. I've realized that every chunk of mountains in the US has a completely different look and feel and texture, and was wishing I had a flashcard deck of mountains like the constellation playing cards I had gotten in the Grand Canyon (I realized in Death Valley the only constellation I know is the Big Dipper). We stopped in Moab and I hiked my mtb up a hideous 9 mile climb to a super fun flawy hour long single track descent. To cool off after the ride we found the local watering hole (a gorgeous creek, of course), and I parked myself on an expanse of flat rock that a beaver dam forced a gentle waterfall down. Bright colorful dragonflies flitted around and parked themselves on my bikini.


Mtbing in Bryce

Bryce Canyon

Mtbing in Moab

Beaver dam/rock waterfall Creek in Moab

Full creek pano @ Moab

We had two stops left. Denver Colorado, where we stayed with previous Mattress Factory coworkers and hit up Casa Bonita, the crazy strip mall cliff-diving labyrinth Wild West wonderland, and Kansas City MO. We left KC at 6am and made a pit stop in St Louis to scope out the City Museum and grab a deli sandwich, then marathoned the 14 hour total drive back to the Burgh. Popping out through the Fort Pitt tunnels and seeing that beloved skyline and the brightly lit PNC park was heaven. I finally made it home!!! Unfortunately, a work-related gash I had gotten on my leg the day before I left had festered for 5 weeks and gotten infected, so I spent all of 20 minutes at home, unloading my bikes and giving my new roommate an exhausted hug, before she carted me off to the ER and I spent my first night back in a hospital bed with an IV slapped in my arm :(
Oh well. It was totally worth it.
too much fun.

Monday, July 4, 2016

Race report: Hilly Billy Roubaix

Last Saturday marked the 7th annual Hilly Billy Roubaix, a tour of some of “best” roads in northern WV and Southern PA. It is arguably the hardest race on the ABRA calendar each year.

This year was my 4th year participating in the event and I was looking forward to the challenge! I had set 3 basic goals, the first (as it is every year I have done it) was to finish the race. The second was to break the 6-hour mark and the third was to break the 5:30 mark. The course was slightly different than last year due to the fact we had a new venue to the start/finish. This made the course basically 2 different loops. The first loop of 33 miles would be the toughest due to the amount of climbing. The second loop was about 41 miles still with some good climbs and pretty much unchanged from prior years. It would however be an easier finish with no finish climb like the one up to Mylan Park like in previous HBR editions.

I had pre-rode the first loop with friends the weekend prior so I had a good idea on how tough it would be, still I went into this race thinking I had sub-5:30 legs. While the past 2 editions of the race featured rain and cooler temps, I had noted many times that “we were due for a hot one”. Unfortunately, that prediction had come true. I can remember steeping out of the car after arriving at Mason Dixon Park to a noticeable feeling of heat! Oh well, got to deal with whatever comes!
The race started with a gentle rollout on paved roads but started to stretch out when we hit the rolling initial portion of Smokey Drain. Once we hit the steep pitches of the climb, the race exploded and the suffering began! After the hitting the highlights like L.I.C.E and John Fox, I was still rolling pretty well. I completed the opening loop feeling pretty good and still thinking about the sub-5:30 time. It was helpful to see my teammate EJ marshalling the turn onto Henflint for some more gravel. After negotiating the tough climb and descent of Henflint I was still feeling good and back on paved roads for a bit.

I was in a good group of 5 other riders which formed shortly before climb up Mason Ridge Road to the original next rest stop. As we approached the turn where the rest stop used to be a small group of people yelled “It’s around the corner” obviously referring to the new location of the rest stop. After pedaling up the climb across I79 then turning on to the next gravel section I started to wonder if that “It’s around the corner” was a “West Virginia” reference just like “down the road a piece”. It wasn’t hard to start to wonder because we had gone around many corners and had pedaled about 2 miles with no rest stop in sight! After finally spotting my buddy Terry marshaling a corner he yelled that the rest stop was at the bottom of the upcoming gravel descent.

After a much needed pepperoni roll thanks to my teammate Shawn, some chain lube and bottle refills, I was off again. After some more miles and another dose of encouragement from Nate Clair, I was finally starting to feel the effects of the growing heat but soldiered on. The legs were turning over pretty well, just feeling a bit of energy starting to leave the body. I can remember distinctly when the goal to break 5:30 was put on the back burner and that was at around the 52-mile mark. It was on the climb on County Road 54 which ultimately would get me up to the last rest stop which was JR and Gina’s house. This climb was a real struggle and even after making it to rest stop #4 and consuming a couple freezer pops, a small cup of peanuts and some salt pills, I left still not feeling all that great.

Knowing what all was left in the race, it became a matter of survival and setting small goals. The biggest of which was getting to the top of Smokey Drain because from there it was pretty much literally all downhill! While the heat was becoming oppressive I do remember being glad it was dry which made Smokey Drain slightly easier. The bad thing was I couldn’t fully remember where the “top” of Smokey Drain actually so after a few small “downs” and more “ups” it was becoming a real drag! Finally, I made it, then the next small goal became to get down to the rolling section of it. Descending on a steep and rough gravel road when you are pretty much knackered ain’t easy but I managed. After hitting the bottom rolling section, I only had 2 small goals to go, hit the main road off of Smokey Drain then the finish itself. The legs still actually didn’t feel bad but I was running on fumes but it was glorious site to see the sign for Mason Dixon Park and after turning on to the grass for a little cyclocross action I had made it!! While I didn’t reach my sub-5:30 goal I did manage to get in under 6 hours and for the day that was quite OK with me! 

Thursday, June 30, 2016

June 2016: A Month of Adventures and New Experiences

As I looked back at the month of June, I realized just how many adventures I had packed into the 30 days between May and July. It has been a month of great experiences, and I hope the trend can continue into the rest of my summer, and ultimately the rest of my life.

The first experience was graduating from High School. Twelve years of mostly hard work and dedication finally payed off, setting me totally free for the next two and a half months. 

Thank you, Mom and Dad, for always encouraging me to be my best! 

The second, and probably most notable in my book, was the return of my best friend from Saudi Arabia after about ten months. It is very weird when your friend lives right down the street from you one day and halfway around the world the next day. But now he is back, until mid-August at least, and it has been a blast so far.

Featuring Pathfinder Nalgene Bottle. Unfortunately it was turned and the logo didn't make the photo. 
This is a small one but it has facilitated many great memories throughout the summer: I bought a hammock! This thing is awesome! I take it everywhere and can put it up just about anywhere that I want!

"Currently covering my face with shame BUT IT'S OKAY"

Hammock at Sonic? Oh yes!

Hammock Camping!!
Something totally foreign to me: I got a Cannondale! I've never had a Cannondale before, and I've never even ridden a Lefty, so this but is totally new to me, but I'm incredibly happy with it! 1x11 is the bees knees! Thanks to Pathfinder of WV for this awesome ride! Be sure to check them out for all of your outdoor needs!

First ride/race on the new bike! Unfortunately my skills are a little rusty, leading me to crash about 10 miles in and forcing me to quit :(
Some photos from some random adventures this month!
Going to watch the sunset is one of our favorite things to do

You never know what you will find on the way to Ohio! 

I also recently watched Into the Wild, which is now one of my favorite movies. I'd like to end with a quote from Christopher McCandless, about adventure and experiences because I think it is very inspirational(don't worry I'm not going off the grid).