Fall forward, 2019


This climb is pretty civilized, but it’s also 20 miles long. By the time we’re over it, I’m over it: I dump my bike unceremoniously on the rocks and stumble off to stuff my face and drink the view—Lake Tahoe in dreamy blue haze far below.

Sean’s moving my bike out of the way when he notices the headset is loose. After many years of watching my eyes glaze over at the first mention of mechanics, most of these guys would rather fix something for me than watch me make it worse, which suits my version of feminism just fine. Sean tightens the headset and, being both generous and thorough, starts checking the rest of the bike, too. 

“Uh, you might to look at this, actually,” he says.

“Don’t care, do whatever,” I reply around the last of my sandwich.

“No, seriously. Do you have a 10?”

One of the pivot bolts has loosened to the point you can see daylight between pieces of the frame. To fix it takes a tool nobody’s carrying, so I face the prospect of a long, baby-head-strewn descent on a bike coming apart at the seams—or on foot.

I’m cry-laughing at my options when a pair of riders appears over the hill behind us—the only other people we’ve seen on the trail all day. After a suspenseful few moments of rummaging through his pack, one of them presents Sean with a 10 millimeter Allen wrench.

I will end the season with my trail karma deep in the red.

At Mormon Station State Park, an unrelated ailment and an unrelated cure.

Usal Hopper

I thought sea level might help, but—apart from dropping things out of my pockets—I’m having all the same problems I did at Lost and Found. It’s a beautiful day and the course is a treat, but with a number on I just want to get it over with.

Being not especially athletic, my best strategy for doing this involves spinning slowly up climbs, then riding the descents at a speed at which I can’t actually see anything and a wreck would end in the hospital. Every time I careen past someone fitter than me I hear echos of my former self watching the podiums for my first race, circa 2008.

“It’s not fair,” I’m hissing at my boyfriend, who’s (quite correctly) ignoring me. “She was behind me the whole time and then she just passed me going downhill! Does that even count? It’s just gravity!”

Twelve years, twenty pounds, a ponytail, and a literal awkward turtle ago …

I’m glad, truly, to be better now both at losing and descending. But I still miss those days—back when riding bikes wasn’t cool. From my sample size of two, it appears that organized gravel events are my petty, contrarian hell: something I want to do that the Popular Kids want to do, too. 

In the evening the beach is awash in craft beer, peppered with Ibis and Thesis bikes (Ibises? Theses?) posed against driftwood and the sunset for Instagram. In the gentle surf, a pair of yoga-bodied blonde chicks splash naked arm in arm, while various indistinguishable bearded men mill around their string-lit Sprinter vans pretending not to watch. I’ve been trying to study pelicans through my binoculars and now I have to put them down so I don’t look like a creep. I do recall graduating middle school, but I’m so irritated with the whole scene I could spit.  

They’re out here, too, though, my Freds, my people. They were the retirees trundling the 60+ miles on un-ironic hybrids; the red-faced couple on a tandem. We don’t speak apart from brief congratulations at the finish, but I decide they’ve dated since high school and met in marching band. I love them as fiercely and unjustifiably as I resent everybody else.

Good reason, at the end of the day.

Big Chief

The much-hyped, new-to-us trail is too technical for me: I’m walking more than I’m riding. It’s also bitterly cold, occasionally raining, and, by the time we get back to the car after getting lost and riding in circles for an extra 45 minutes, almost dark. 

And I am so, so happy.

so, cyclocross.

The short-track test race was a musculoskeletal failure. But that was a whole month ago, plenty of time to forgive and forget and do penance/PT. There’s also the fact—pointed out to me by my housemates, all of whom managed to notice this even while watching football—that because I cannot do the simplest goddamn piece of wrenching unsupervised I finished the course at McLaren with my saddle slipped backwards to an angle that would probably have broken Nina Caprez‘s hip, never mind mine. That’s not exactly setting myself up for success.

So last weekend I picked the quietest, smallest, least intimidating race on the calendar (i.e.,not Murphy’s), watched in predawn awe as George Tetris-ed three bikes into a Honda Fit, and went to Orangevale. It looked like this (to a drone):

I found cross racing largely as I’d left it: I got stressed out by the techno and the hecklers and thought maybe I was taking things too seriously; I saw a six-year-old warming up on a trainer, front wheel propped up on her overturned car-seat, and thought maybe I wasn’t taking things seriously enough. I rode geometrically irrational lines on the grass and I did all my remounts at a complete standstill. That was always my M.O. The updated analysis?

  • I considered crying when the cards showed six laps to go. Conclusion: I am not very fit.
  • Despite this, my final lap benefited so much from my joy at the prospect of leaving the park to go and eat waffles that it was actually my fastest. Conclusion: I love Black Bear Diner and am not riding at my limit.
  • The woman in front of me finished more than a minute ahead. Conclusion: Eh, it wouldn’t have made a difference if I did.

Obviously, if the only value I derive from competition is in the results, I should cash in my gene lottery ticket and get the hell out of endurance sports. But of course there are many other reasons to race, and thanks to years of babbling on the Internet I’ve got written evidence that those reasons have trumped the pain and the early-morning alarms and the entry fees before. Now, though? Mmmm … unclear. Ask me again when it’s too rainy to ride mountain bikes.

PT addendum: Hip and knee seem OK, which is really, really awesome. On the other hand—nope, can’t take me anywhere.


tl;dr: I raced, I broke, I moped.

It’s been … going on three years since I’ve stood on a start line, and I’ve been thinking lately about giving it another try. When I saw this—

—I figured it had all the makings of the right opportunity to dip a toe in the water/tire in the dirt/whatever.

  • Date: The weekend I was supposed to be getting my armor and my bro on at Whistler. I had to cancel last-minute and was on the market for a replacement distraction.
  • Location: BART-able, sparing me the indignity of chatting up carpools.
  • Format: A rare occurrence of short track, my favorite thing ever. Short track is cyclocross stripped of the stupid, contrived requirement that you get on and off your bike and, worse, carry the damn thing around, often uphill. (Yet NorCal has a five-month CX calendar and, like … two short-track events a year. Why?)
  • Course: Not terrifying, eliminating the 50-75% of my race jitters usually attributable to the possibility of cracking my skull open.
  • Forecast: Highs over 80°F—the threshold at which I start to gain an actual, physical advantage over white chicks. I’m not joking. Heat’s tough for everyone, but I’ve consistently found that even a half-dose of pigment means I’m often the only one in my field not literally burning.
  • Entry fee: Easily rationalized as a donation to the worthy cause of resurrecting an urban bike park.

So … I went. There were few surprises: I got super nervous, blew up after the first lap, phoned in the next two, finished ahead of anyone with a dualie or a sense of humor and behind the born athletes. Felt like old times, really.

Unfortunately what also feels like old times is my hip, which has returned to radiating total wretchedness—that feeling that I spend 18 months beating back with PT and NSAIDs. So it would appear that the options are:

  1. Ride hard, hurt constantly.
  2. Go slow, live normally.

Leaning Option 2, right now, alas.