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Monday, November 14, 2011

Girl Power

Ask many women, and they'll tell you that there's a huge difference in learning to mountain bike with men and learning with other women.  Now, I have had nothing but great experiences riding with the guys who've gone out on the trails with me, but there is something special about riding with a group of ladies. 

I joined Team Revolution, a women's cycling group based in St. Louis, as part of my "join a group" goal for 2011, and my year in mountain biking has been bookended with their events: my very first mountain bike ride ever in January and this weekend's trip to Land Between the Lakes, KY.  While I haven't managed to attend many of their events, the ones I have made it to have been great.  I've been reminded that everyone has to start somewhere, encouraged by the positive atmosphere, and inspired to ride things I never would have considered.  This weekend was no exception. 

Since we had the day off (thank you, veterans), Lori and I headed down to Kentucky early to do some riding on Friday.  We were the first to arrive at the rental house and were really impressed with how nice and big it was inside. 

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I could totally live here.
It was an ideal home base.  Some of the other ladies arrived just as we were getting ready to leave, so we talked for a little bit before we headed out.  After getting information at the visitor's center at the Planetarium (and being warned that the trails south of there were for "horses and humans only"), we got onto the North-South Trail at the Jenny Ridge picnic area.

We assumed that it would be pretty hard to get lost on an out and back trail, but we were quickly disabused of this notion after losing our way 100 yards from the trailhead.  The doubletrack leading down from the picnic area was strewn with straw, as if it had just been seeded, and a narrower trail seemed to go off in a different direction.  We eventually noticed a trail marker on the trees to our right and breathed sighs of relief that our adventure racing teams for the Castlewood 8-Hour aren't counting on us to navigate.

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Lori on the North-South trail
The first part of the trail wasn't too challenging, though it made me a little nervous that we didn't know what kind of roots, rocks, or other obstacles were waiting under the thick cover of leaves blanketing the ground.  There must not have been anything too treacherous, though, because we both managed to stay on our bikes.  Eventually, though, the nice flat trail gave way to a rooty climb, and we didn't make it too far before we were pushing our bikes uphill.

I won't lie...as we pushed...and pushed...and pushed, I was internally certain that I'd also be walking my bike down the hill. I've made no secret of my fear of downhills, and this one had tons of roots and thick leaves and little drops and looked plain scary.  After what seemed like forever walking, we made it to the top and got back on our bikes.  There was one more hill where we had to walk partway up and all the way down, but we made it to our goal before it was time to turn around to beat the dark.

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My inner adolescent boy finds this name hilarious. 
We joked that that's where you stay when you've been on a bike too long.
 Since we hadn't reached our planned turnaround time, we decided to go on a little further.  This turned out to be not such a great decision for me, as my tire hit a root wrong and I ended up grabbing onto a tree for dear life.  Lori came around the curve and saw me hanging there, looking like I was waltzing with the tree, and asked, "What are you doing??"  Unfortunately, I managed to extricate myself before we thought to get a picture.

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As if I needed a sign to tell me to go slow!
We headed back and I made it partway up the hill we'd walked down, but I had to walk part of it.  As we got to the top, I was already thinking about that scary downhill coming up.  We got there, and I figured I'd just ride as far as I could manage and then walk the rest.  Somehow, my bike just kept rolling over the bumps and managed to not flip over, and I made it to the bottom on two wheels.  We both did!  We were both a little shocked and very proud. 

We managed to get back to the car without getting lost, and several more people were at the house when we got there.  Ladies trickled in in groups, and the amount of food that built up on the counters was nothing short of astonishing. Put a bunch of girls together, and we can eat.  This is both good and bad: the food was delicious, but I was a little worried about elastic failure on my bike shorts.

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Just a small sampling of the culinary bounty
Dinner was followed by some highly competitive air hockey, ping pong, and foosball in the game room, and then we headed outside for a bonfire.

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Judy and I took on Suzanne and Jackie...and lost.
I'm sure our defeat had NOTHING to do with my refusal to set down my drink.

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Lori and Lo take on Alice and Judy while Kelly and Jean watch.

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Bonfire!
The fourteen of us were spread among 4-5 bedrooms, the basement game room, and the laundry room (Jackie's room of choice on the second night after sleeping in the living room left her awake every time someone got up to use the bathroom).  Lori, Judy, Vanessa, and I shared the kids' room.

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I got the top bunk!!
The plan was to leave the house by 9ish and be hitting the trails around 10, and we actually managed to stay pretty much to the timetable.

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Loading up
For this ride, we drove north to the Canal Loop trail.  Since it has connectors and some good bailout spots where you could just ride the paved road back to the parking lot, it was a good option for a mixed-ability group.  As it turned out, though, there wasn't a need for shortcuts.

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Ready to hit the trails!
As we headed out of the parking lot, I took my typical place near the back of the pack.  Vanessa and Lori, who are both newer mountain bikers, hung back also.

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Regrouping
The leaders would ride for a while and then stop so that the group could come back together.  Vanessa, who was on her third ever mountain bike ride and waaaay out of her comfort zone, was definitely feeling some anxiety, but she hung in there like a champ. 

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Riding the dip...it looks a lot scarier at the top than it does from the picture.
Thanks, I guess, to 10 months of rides with people far above my level, I felt pretty comfortable on the trail.  It definitely had its share of roots and hills, but I was able to pick good lines and ride with confidence.  The whole time I just kept thinking back to my first ride and how nervous I was.  This was a completely different  (wonderful!) experience. 

We rode a while longer and stopped for a snack break/photo op.

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On the trail again, we encountered an older couple out hiking.  They tried to warn us about some trees down on the trail and the lady suggested that we might want to turn around.  Her husband mentioned something about going around them (which to me is kind of an obvious thing).  We figured we could probably get past the trees one way or another and rode on as the lady exclaimed to her husband in a thick Kentucky drawl, "Those girls ain't hardly ever ridden a bike! Why are you tellin' them to keep going when the man who rides all the time wouldn't do it?!?"

The doubting hikers and downed trees weren't the only obstacles we met.
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We were riding from the far side (top) of the picture towards the near side (bottom).
I don't remember who went through the logs first, but I thought to myself, I'm pretty sure I can do that.  Jean went next, and then I went through with no problems.  It was so cool to finally have the confidence to ride through some challenges.  We all hung out there and cheered on the girls who took on the logs.

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Suzanne

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Lori

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Judy

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Cheering section
There was a great vibe with this group.  Very encouraging to people who weren't so sure about trying to ride through this section, lots of cheering and support, it was awesome.  And it's fun to watch people try and succeed.  I know it helps me a ton to watch someone else ride a spot that looks tricky.  You see that yes, it can be ridden, maybe it's not as hard as you're making it out to be, and you get a better idea of what line to take.

While I readily tackled the above section, the next tricky place stopped me short.  There was a tree fallen across the trail, and smaller logs had been used to build a ramp up to the tree.  It looked intimidating, so I opted for the bypass trail, but then Lo rode up and over the tree like it was nothing.  "You going to do it?" Judy asked me, and I decided yes, yes I was.  I'm not sure who this new, daring me was.  The crazy thing is that I didn't even let the tree scare me; I looked it over, decided where I wanted to ride it, and went for it.  I got over with no problem, and I know I had a huge smile on my face. Although the whole ride was just wonderful, that was a real high point for me...finally feeling like I can do this

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Looking at the picture, it doesn't look that scary.  It's more intimidating in person. :)

Next, Judy went, and she made it to the top before she had to put down a foot.  Not satisfied with that, she headed back and rode it again.  Her wheel went just a bit too far to the right and slipped down.

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I'm really glad this happened after I rode over!
It was the most graceful fall you ever saw.  She kind of dove down into the log.  She got a few scrapes but was fine.

Then Sara went.  I kind of feel like Sara was my kindred spirit out there.  She talked about balance impairment and falling a lot.  Really, a lot of those girls were like kindred spirits.  The guys I ride with seem fearless; maybe that's because they really are, or maybe it's the confidence of experience, or maybe they just don't talk about being nervous because they're guys.  Some of the ladies had that same kind of kamikaze spirit, but others talked about dealing with fear and the mental aspect of mountain biking.  It's nice to hear that you aren't the only one...and then to watch as people overcome their nerves.

Sara got up to the top of the tree twice, falling once on the way.  The third time, though, she nailed it.  The look on her face as she came down the other side was pure joy.

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Sara on her way up
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Jackie making it look easy.
We finally reached the area the older couple had warned us about, and there were indeed a few trees fallen across the trail.
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Who put these here?
 So we shouldered the bikes and started carrying them across the trees. 

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We quickly realized that an assembly line would be a more effective method.  That was a great opportunity to realize just how heavy my bike is; I couldn't believe how much lighter a lot of the other bikes are.  A lighter bike isn't going to go on my wish list any time soon, though.  Too many other things I want first. :)

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Another regrouping spot.  Pretty view, but windy.
The back half of the loop held more technical climbing, with the kind of rooty areas that are always hard for me to get up. It's not so bad to ride over roots and small ledges when you're on level ground or going downhill, but I have a much harder time keeping momentum and getting my wheel up onto the higher spots when I'm going up. Even so, I was pretty successful on the early climbs. Some of the later uphills were harder (and longer), so I didn't make it all of the way up and had to walk the rest of the way.

k climbing hil
Where there are uphills, though, there are also downhills, and that's a good thing for people who embrace speed.  For me, though, downhill riding is always a pretty tentative affair, punctuated by the squeal of brakes and a muttered curse or two.  I had a blast on the last long downhill, though.  It had twisty roots and some areas that dropped down a bit and was the type of thing that generally makes me want to throw up a little when I look at it.  This time, though, everything kind of clicked.  I still hit the brakes, but I cruised down that hill at a much faster pace than normal...and enjoyed it!!  I had such a feeling of...triumph, I guess, like finally, finally, all these months of dragging along at the back of every pack I've ridden with are paying off.

This was a great trail.  It had long stretches I could ride comfortably, where I could work on maintaining some speed and handling without riding my brakes, and it had plenty of areas that challenged my abilities, conditioning, and courage.  I can't even tell you how much I loved the ride.  I really can't wait to go back, and I'm so thankful to have had the chance to experience it with such a great bunch of girls.

As awesome as the riding was, it was improved by the company.  The entire weekend was embued by a sense of camaraderie and fun.  For someone who grew up with brothers, is surrounded by sons, and has a family life that doesn't leave nearly enough time for a social life, this time away was a real gift.  I found not only thirteen other trail companions and bike mentors, but new friendships.  If you have a chance to do something like this, jump on it.  You absolutely won't regret it.  And if you're a woman in the St. Louis metro area who loves biking, check out Team Rev.  You'll be glad you did.

(Note: All the good pictures are courtesy of Lori.)

20 comments:

  1. Looks like a great get away weekend with some awesome single track and friends! Oh, great weather too.

    So true about seeing someone else clear an obstacle first. There are a couple out a SIUE I know I can do but want to see someone else's speed, line, and body weight position first.

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  2. Great write up, Kate! So glad you recruited a fantastic group of women to join in the fun this year. Looking forward to seeing you on the trails again.
    Suzanne

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  3. This looks like an absolute BLAST! You damn near make me want to bike with this post :) So glad you are overcoming fears and meeting challenges head on - go YOU!

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  4. wow! looks like so much fun! all of it! some parts of the ride look scary to me but I am a huge wimp!!

    I love ping pong! we had a table at my parents house..I am not good at double though!

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  5. Nice articles. I'm just blogwalking and very happy to stop here. And also give you some comment here.

    Dont forget to give us some your comment into my blog too.

    Thanks for share,
    * Rio Prasetyo *

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  6. Oh man, I am so jealous! One, because you have such a cool group of chics to ride with and two, those trails are rad! Your post makes me itch to dust off my Ruby and head out on the trails. I just may do that this weekend and I will take pics and post them and you will be my inspiration to get out there. Thanks Super Kate! Rock on sista!

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  7. That just rocks! I love mountain biking but I am like you...a chicken w/ the descents. But as you keep practicing, you will improve by leaps and bounds. Today's bikes help tons, too. Glad you had such a great time!

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  8. Oh good...another short post by SK!! :) You know I love it!

    You are nothing short of amazing. Seriously, I would freak with one tree obstacle and there you and your clan tackled countless ones. Sara is my hero...her and I have a kindred falling down bond :). Your girls' weekend riding reminds me sort of like the relays I have done....all about team spirit and friendships formed. So glad you had an awesome time!! And if you want a daughter, I have one you can rent anytime. Just be sure to pay her college tuition on time, ok?

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  9. This *really* makes me want to go mountain biking. I have access to a friend's bike, and another friend keeps pestering me to go.

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  10. Love the dead beaver sign and your analogy. Too true.

    Also love the pic of you by the go slow sign.

    How great that you are more confident. The whole weekend looks so great. It sounds like a great team to be a part of. Good for you.

    I can imagine (actually I can't) what you want. Everything to do with biking is so expensive. And you have so many kinds of bike. Is mountain biking (is that what you call what you do) your biggest love in the biking field?

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  11. I loved reading this post. It sounds like you had a great time riding with these ladies; I have been doing some mtbing with a couple of gals from our local tri club and while we are all novices, I think we have nearly as much fun as your group!

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  12. Adding though, that I don't think any of us would ride over that log! Way to go!

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  13. Oh, I am still cracking up at your dead beaver joke!!

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  14. You wrote about liking mountain biking because of the hard won accomplishments. I think that is also why I am liking swimming so much. Other people fly down the lanes near me and I worry about sinking to the bottom but I am doing it and damn it I am getting better!

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  15. Another fabulous SuperKate adventure! I think your the only person i know who waltzes with trees, would've loved a pic of that!

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  16. Those are some serious obstacles you rode over!

    I think of myself as a pretty cautious rider, too, but I guess it's all relative. I know lots of experienced racers who would stop and carry their bikes over some of those logs.

    Sounds like an awesome weekend!

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  17. I'm so happy that you had such an amazing weekend. And those obstacles looked pretty gnarly - especially the log ramp leading over the tree. Great job!

    And the Dead Beaver pic is great! And hilarious.

    Maybe I can get my wife to do this sometime in the future.

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  18. Sounds like a great weekend!

    I think I would have to lift my bike over all those trees:)

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  19. What a beautiful post with wonderful pictures to describe a great week-end.
    You won't believe but long time ago (before joining the Navy) I was a "champ" of the table football and I made money playing against men older than me.
    Last year I tried again but the rules are very different than in the past and now this is not anymore "my game".

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  20. Nice narative, I've heard those trails are awesome. You guys do it right my friends always camp. Well the guys I know taught us all kinds of mbiking stuff and they are awesome! Just can't keep up with them but they are always willing to help. You should try Farmsdale..the trails are really awesome there, I've heard better but def closer!

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