Saturday, December 28, 2013

The Season Of 'I'...

... And I'm not talking the pronoun here. Injury, inversion and inadequate funding seem to be the themes of my offseason. With the continuing back injury sustained at the Mammoth Kamikaze Games popping up and holding me down on random days, I've come to value my physical health in a way I never have before. The slightest tweak or pull in the wrong direction and my spine screams before relentlessly locking up for at least 24 hours, refusing to give way. 

After my fall during the downhill race, I knew something wasn't right (especially after my legs had trouble maneuvering the stairs to the awards stage), but I figured I just knocked something out of place. When my toes and knees began randomly going numb during the 12-hour drive back to Utah, I prayed it was simply muscle swelling and pinched nerves. I got home, I ran into The Joint, and had them straighten me out. For a few days, I was okay. I even got back into the gym, not wanting to lose any of the fitness momentum I had built up in the weeks prior to the Kamikaze Games, and preparing for my very first UCI World Cup in Hafjell, Norway. The morning of my flight, however, I had no feeling in my feet and tingles and pins and needles down my legs. Afraid of wasting my savings, I sadly (and tearfully -- I'll admit it) contacted the UCI and withdrew my entrance, and immediately went to see my orthopedic surgeon at the U, who confirmed my worst fears: three compressed discs in my lower back and bundles of pinched nerves, courtesy of my high-speed scorpion at the bottom of the rock garden. 

Devastated and sore, I turned to rest, immediate rehab and the gym, mulling over my options and the 'what ifs' while looking for a way out.  

Option one: surgery. A discectomy to straighten me out that could take weeks or even months to heal from or, option two: painful rehab. I chose option two, thanks to my fear of being sliced open and current level of lingering scar tissue from a lifetime of trauma. And so the rehab began: regular visits to my lovely chiropractic team at The Joint, grueling TENS and EMS sessions, stretching, abdominal exercises, and rest. Lots and lots and lots of rest. I got out on my new bike, but not as much as I wanted, nor in my normal, hell-on-wheels fashion and instead, became back-of-the-pack and 'maybe next week'. There would be weeks without a gym session or a ride as my pain levels fluctuated. And deeper and deeper I sunk into the ever-loving shithole that is an injured athlete's psyche. 

My bed seemed more comforting than the outside world, and my pillow more of a friend than my riding buddies or workout partners. More than once I was given permission to get back into the gym, only to overreach too soon and end up hurting myself again. So I ate. And cried. And watched Hulu. And cried some more. And somewhere in that pitiful, pathetic, self-absorbed darkness, I got lost. I forgot who I am, what I'm doing and why I love my life. I forgot to be grateful for what I do have. I lost sight of what's really important. And as much as I would love to say 'yeah, and then...' and give you a miraculous story of how my back healed and my attitude turned around and some more magical fairy dust unicorn shit, I can't. Because that hasn't happened. Yet. 

There are still days I'm in incredible pain. There are still nights where work and stress and soreness combine into a chocolate-fueled pity session as I comb social media looking for people who are living radder lives than I, but those nights are fewer and farther between. There are days I yank a bit too hard moving one direction or the next and I'll be angry I can't move or workout. But I'm healing -- slowly, surely and quietly, I'm healing. My mind, my body and my soul are coming back into 'fight' mode. I have accepted the fact that what I'm doing, what I'm chasing, could potentially paralyze me or end my life, and I have moved on. I will mitigate risk and take precautions, but I will also accept consequences for my own actions and choices. The most important thing this invisible, debilitating, excruciating injury has taught me is compassion. Never before have I felt so much kindness towards others.. If only because of the silent battles they fight. Everyone has their own demons, and they're all cripplingly real... Physical, emotional, spiritual and mental. Communication and kindness has never hurt anyone.

Action rarely hurts, either. Taking action, making decisions and becoming actively involved in the world and our places in it changes us. Whether it's jumping into a new role or looking at the world a bit differently, we constantly have to adjust and change and morph into active, amazing roles of ourselves. We control our fate, and it is our actions alone that will determine how far we get. Taking steps forward towards our dreams confirms, like nothing else, that we are capable of changing the world. 

I'm moving forward into a proactive, healthy mindset. I cannot change any of my external circumstances without first changing myself. I will not influence change if I don't create a difference within. 

And so amongst the smog and pollution that covers my city, I'm fighting. I'm fighting for a chance. A chance at my dreams, a chance for others' dreams, a chance at change for us all. I've realized that what we leave behind, the legacy we impart, is more important than what we gain while we're here. What I do for others, instead of looking out only for myself, is what really matters. If I can help, even in the smallest amount, to lessen someone else's pain then so be it.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

The (errr) Science Behind the SIESTA...

Have you ever been so tense, so stressed and so overwhelmed that when the light at the end of the tunnel appears, you simply collapse? I was. I did.

After a long few weeks with a LOT of bright spots that I'm still trying to recognize (which consisted of shooting with some new photographers, seeing my family, joining a great company's athlete roster), I simply shut down this weekend. I can't really explain why the system shutdown occurred as things are beginning to be sorted out and the ends of a few stressful things are in sight, but shutdown I did. My mental and emotional legs buckled, my concentration took a vacation without so much as a 'how do you do' and my motivation to do much of anything went completely MIA.

I think we're meant to be strong and resilient. I think humans are built for it -- our minds are built to provide survival management, above all else. That means 'handling shit' even when it's crushingly heavy, like blood test results and legal battles and packing a house, all added to lots of financial pressure and a fair bit of career stress. How do we get through it?

All I can say is that I'm glad it was the weekend. Did I miss some fun ski time with friends and visiting my family to spend my Saturday on the couch, staring at the RedBox movies I had rented, craving a beer (or twelve) and eating cereal from the box? Sure, yeah, I probably did. Did my diet of cheese, crackers, cookie dough and egg nog do my ass any favors? Will missing my workouts make my week any easier come tomorrow morning? Uhhhh, no. No and no. But did my brain enjoy the siesta? Reading Mind Floss and How It Works, watching Hulu and avoiding most human interaction at all costs? You bet it did. So. I'm in need of a shower, I probably have pissed a few folks off and I'll definitely be hating my next few days in the gym, but for my sanity? It all seems a very small price to pay. 

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Is Selling Sex Worth The Cost?

Is Selling Sex Worth The Cost? 

'Sex sells' is a popular term. It's mostly popular because it's true. It's also very honest. This is about the true cost of selling something with intrinsic value through sexualization, but let's touch on a few light particulars of WHY sex sells, shall we? 

Humans need very little to survive, physically. Food, water, shelter. Emotionally and mentally, however, humans need all sorts of things to survive. Stimulation, acceptance, attention, validation. Part of the emotional and mental survival of a human is sexual -- because of the hormones that sexual release triggers, we perceive a physical luxury as love, which translates into acceptance. However, sex is also exciting. It fulfills many emotional needs, as well as physical impulses, so, as physical and emotional beings, we're drawn to it in a way that even money cannot draw us... This makes it the perfect marketing tool. 

So. We know why sex sells. But this is an article about the COST of selling a sport, especially a sport like mountain biking, through sex. What IS the cost? Why isn't it okay? And what can we do about it? 

First, let's address the cost: mountain biking is a rad fucking sport. It's the ultimate sense of freedom for us cubicle-bound, student-loan paying adults who yearn for the free flying days of our childhood. Remember when you got your first set of wheels? Do you recall that sense of power and creative flow? Did you ever stay out past your bedtime, riding until the sun dipped below the horizon or the city lights blinked out? On a time schedule of your own, jumping and spinning and sprinting and stopping. Weaving in and out of traffic, launching into ponds or just meandering down the roads where you grew up? We built jumps and dug holes. Aftermarket parts consisted of spray paint, fancy grips and new tubes, with the occasional cardboard fender taped on or playing cards between the spokes. That was freedom. That's what mountain biking feels like now, even as 'grown ups' shackled to house payments, phone bills and grocery lists. Mountain biking attracts those of us not scared by a little pain. It draws those of us willing to put in the work to get to the top of the hill. We're sucked in by the promise of freedom, of delight, of the moments that pass between rays of sunlight and the smell of damp dirt. That is mountain biking to those of us who love it simply because it's biking. 

Mountain biking, in its pure form, a sport that has no phallic similarities or inherent sexual relation, attracts a certain crowd. But when you add sex and naked women and the mainstream marketing bullshit that everything else is sold with, you lose the soul of riding. By sexualizing mountain biking, we leave no room for the mention of the freedom, or the work, or the confidence or the pure, absolute JOY of riding. Because sex shouts so loudly that none of those other things can come through. And little pieces of the soul, of the REASON we all ride, are lost... At that point, we're not sharing the true meaning of mountain biking through advertising. We're not ambassadors of the sport. We're just snake oil peddlers, making empty promises about sexual appeal.

The second half of the negative part of selling bikes through sex is the type of people it attracts. Money is green, yes. And growth is growth, yes. But is it? The people who buy mountain bikes because of sexual marketing won't be long-term customers because they're not looking for long-term, lifetime fun. They're looking for the power that comes with something 'trendy' or 'popular'. Sure, they might try riding and fall in love with it and never look back to the days when they bought a bike because it was 'cool'... But that's a mighty big maybe. The guys and gals who get into mountain biking because it's 'sexy' are fickle -- what guarantees that they won't jump on the next bandwagon of 'coolness' and leave those 'growth patterns' and 'sales rates' that the advertisers talk about in the dust? Nothing, that's what. And THAT, that right there, is the true cost of selling mountain biking through sex... Just like anything else, we'll lose those newcomers when the next sexiest thing comes along. 

That is the cost of 'sex sells'.

Let's take a look at why it's not okay (as if we needed another reason). Most often, sex is sold through very good-looking women dressed in very little clothing. We already have a gender equality gap in this country; objectifying women (or giving them the opportunity to objectify themselves) only to sell our sport is cheapening who we are as both people and as bicyclists. We are RIDERS. Regardless of gender, mountain biking is an equal-opportunity sport; it can eat you alive and it can be the best thing ever. No one gets better at mountain biking because they're good looking. No one crashes less because they have nice boobs or a great ass. Everyone falls, everyone succeeds and everyone rides. Bikes don't have gender preferences, and neither does the terrain. Why should we ruthlessly use one gender or another because of our perceived need to sell a sport to the masses? Everyone deserves equal respect, as riders and people.

Selling biking through sex isn't okay because it also sends a message to future generations of misogyny and inferiority. We have a responsibility to leave a legacy of equality and hope for those that come after us. If we exploit our sexuality for the profit of a SPORT, what are we telling our sons and daughters about themselves and their worth? What message are we sending? 

The third negative of why sexualization isn't okay is this: mountain biking has some seriously rad reasons to do it, like being outside, spending time with friends, going fast, jumping big, feeling confident and having FUN. By using sex to sell mountain biking, we ignore all of the positives about this brilliant sport to perpetuate a bullshit lie based on how 'cool' mountain biking 'seems'. That right there cheapens the hell out of this beloved wheel-rolling. 

So. What can we do about it? How do we fight back against the bullshit sexualization of mountain biking? First, companies and advertisers need to own up to it. How? We work harder. Photographers need to look for more creative shoot options instead of going for the tired, lazy approach of 'let's just throw a naked chick in there and call it a day'. Stop shooting crap. Stop selling crap, because it won't sell forever. Don't cheapen yourself or lowball your skillset -- if you're talented enough to be a pro photographer, you're smart enough to come up with a better creative than some naked chick standing by a bike. 

As consumers, we need to step up and publicly tell these advertisers and photographers that this is not acceptable. We won't allow sex to overtake our sport. We won't exploit our girlfriends and sisters and mothers and wives. We send a very loud, very public message. How? We own it. We talk about it. On our websites, on Instagram and Facebook and Twitter. We get honest. We acknowledge that sex-ing up our sport isn't going to do anything to help with long term, consistent growth. We focus on highlighting and selling the REAL assets of biking. Why do you love riding? Why is it so important to you? 

Selling mountain biking through sex will fail in the long term. It will only create an angry, frustrated core and a confused, insulted mainstream. Demeaning ourselves by selling sex will only leave us empty and broke, as an industry and as people, because selling a lie only lasts so long. The real seller? The truth. Because the truth about mountain biking far outweighs any lie we could ever market. 

Friday, October 18, 2013

5 Things To Keep Doing Even Though Summer Is Over...

Summer is over. And it sucks. Officially. As a bike fanatic and sun addict, I semi-despise cold temperatures and snow (even though skiing is my livelihood and one of my favorite things on earth). However, here are a few things I continue doing throughout the long, dark winter. If you have other suggestions, I'd love to hear them in the comments!

1- Keep drinking plenty of water. 

Why? Hydration is key to cellular construction and brain function; it also keeps organs lubricated and staves off seasonal dehydration. Your body is made up of water -- keep it wet!

2 - Keep buying coconut oil. 

Why? Coconut oil is one of the most beneficial oils on earth; ingestible, spreadable, and jam-packed with vitamins, minerals and healthy saturated and unsaturated fats, it aids everything from chapped lips and dry skin to thyroid function, heart disease and immune system response. Spread on dry skin, cooked with or used around the house as an anti-bacterial, this inexpensive supplement is for much more than sunbathing. Lather away! 

3 - Keep getting your daily dose of sunshine. 

Why? Even just five to ten minutes a day spent in the sunshine has an impact on blood glucose levels, brain activity and vitamin D production. Whether it's taking a walk during lunch or standing in the sun during your morning coffee session, studies show a myriad of health benefits to getting some sunshine! But with that in mind...

4- Keep wearing sunscreen.

Why? Skin damage happens, even when it's cold out or there's a thin layer of clouds. Reflective damage is also a high risk for active folks who spend time on the snow, at high altitudes or near water. Skin cancer is never en vogue.

5 - Keep that Sunday brunch date.

Why? Studies show that social involvement fends off mental decline and contributes to overall well-being. And I'm not just talking Facebook, either. Actually taking time to create and maintain connections with the people we love hinders stress, builds confidence and promotes mental acuity. 


Tuesday, September 24, 2013

'Normal' Is Just A Setting On The Dryer.

In February, I had the rare opportunity of spending a day shopping with my lovely mom, whom I absolutely adore. We were in a home goods store, perusing the random kitschy items that can usually be found in such a venue when I stumbled upon a sign reading, "Around Here, Normal Is Just a Setting On The Dryer" and ended up buying it; she proudly hung it in her kitchen and, every single time I'm home, I get a good laugh.

This last weekend, I was lucky enough to again be able to spend the day with my mother, hiking around Park City and talking about life, my upbringing, more life, and other random things. Near the end of our hike, we got to talking about what I'll call The Big Lie. Basically, it's my theory that in American society we all try to live by a series of lies perpetuated by fools who believe in The Big Lie. The Big Lie tells us we're all weird but that it's possible to be 'normal' if we just pretend to be happy, buy a bunch of shit we don't need and keep our mouths shut. The Big Lie also contains Other Big Lies, including the Lie about women looking like Barbie dolls in order to achieve physical perfection and the Lie about men who display real emotion not being real men. Lots of Big Lies out there these days. Among those Big Lies is the myth about happiness being a destination, a place you'll reach 'someday' if you follow the rules. Another Big Lie is that everyone had a sterile, 'normal' childhood and you're the only one that's still messed up because you have a messed up family with messed up people. Even bigger than that Big Lie? The Big Lie that says everyone is perfect.

So I'm talking with my mom. And we're talking about what a miserable teenager I was and how I ended up in the juvenile justice system for being a runaway. It was at this point that it hit me: I ran away from home as a young teenager not because my home wasn't (and isn't) a place of love and comfort; I ran away from home to escape The Big Lie and the perpetuating cycle that The Big Lie creates. The craziest part? The first time I saw heroin, it was in a group home. Yeah. You read that right. I saw heroin for the first time while rooming with a girl my age who freebased it and continually offered me some. No, I never tried it. In fact, I was a pretty damn good kid who ended up in the juvenile justice system because of some archaic belief that everyone has to live by the same system of growth. Another Big Lie. Also: I was a thief, which didn't help my cause. Har har.

The discussion with my mom led to a few more truths, which led to more discourse about how we change the perception of perfection and start living like human beings. This is my first step forward.

Time for a little confession: I'm not normal. I'm far from perfect. I'm opinionated and hotheaded. I'm stubborn, outspoken and I can be a real jerk if I get angry enough. I'm too nosy for my own good and I'm a know-it-all. I'm curious and would poke an angry bear if I thought I'd get some answers. I'm bad with money. Like, really, really bad. I also used to be a pretty shitty person. Like, really shitty. Sometimes I have really poor judgement. And I've made a LOT of stupid choices. But guess what? There's also a lot of good in me. And for every bad, awful thing inside of me, there are great moments of shining brilliance where I restore my hope in humanity, just by being myself. I've pulled myself out of a pattern of abuse and neglect and dumb decisions to become someone I LIKE. And The Big Lie says you can't do that. The Big Lie tells us we can't change. The Big Lie says that if we mess up once and we're not 'normal', we're doomed forever. The Big Lie says that teen moms end up on welfare and that felons can't get jobs and high school dropouts are dumb. Guess what? I'm all three. The Big Lie is wrong.

You know what? Fuck The Big Lie. It's a lie. And it doesn't matter if you're purple, blue, green, white, grey or yellow; it doesn't matter if you're straight or gay or bisexual or transgendered or asexual. It doesn't matter if your mom and dad are Nobel winners or alcoholics or doctors or frauds or credible masters of the universe; it doesn't matter. None of it matters. What matters (and what The Big Lie will never tell us) is WHAT WE DO. What matters is how we treat people and ourselves. What matters is the change and the passion and the fight we inspire and the people we help. We matter.

So stop selling yourself short. You matter to me. You're not normal, and it's supposed to be that way. Your dreams matter. Your thoughts and hopes and saddest moments matter, because they're all part of who you are. Embrace that. Embrace every second of life because it's brought you here. We need to celebrate because we're not normal. And that's a good thing.

Guess what else The Big Lie says? The Big Lie says that our fear is there to protect us. It also says that we're not good enough to go for our dreams. The Big Lie says that other people are better than us and that they deserve happiness and success, but we don't. The Big Lie is wrong. Again. Anything (and I mean ANYTHING) is possible. You may have to work your ass off. You'll probably have to cut a few naysayers out of your life. You may even have to scrimp and save and clean toilets and go without and and break some rules. But ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE. Tell me that cancer is going to kill me. Tell me that getting pregnant at 17 is going to ruin my life. Tell me that having a criminal record (a few times over) will ruin my chances at success and happiness. And I'll tell you you're wrong. Anything and everything is achievable. It'll be painful and it's going to suck more days than it's fun. But that Big Lie? It's still a Big Lie. It will ALWAYS be a Big Lie, no matter who preaches it or lives by it or swears that it'll make you happy and perfect.

I'm not normal. And neither are you. And that's perfectly fucking okay. 

Monday, September 9, 2013

Happiness (Or, finding passion and of riding bikes) ...

In modern culture, we're taught that personal happiness is paramount to a life lived well. Whether that happiness comes in the form of endless consumption, drug and alcohol use and abuse or the rejection of all things unselfish, it all seems to be tolerated and encouraged; as long as we're all individually 'happy', that's all that matters. 

It's all total bullshit. 

REAL, tangible happiness is a choice. It's a choice between fear and possibilities. When we choose fear, we retract. Other people are interruptions and inconveniences. Our hatred for the world grows and we end up bitter. When we choose to explore the possible, the exact opposite happens. We grow into kind, considerate beings who believe in good. We thrive. Others present opportunities for kindness and sharing passion. Connections happen and the world becomes a community. 

I learned this because of cupcakes and mountain biking. 

I began making cupcakes in earnest after a local sweet shoppe closed down and I was left without my weekly (or rather, daily) sugar fix. This led me to start making my own, which quickly spawned into a full-fledged cupcake racket that had me in the kitchen 18 out of the 24 hours that are in a day. And I did it. It took off. I couldn't make ENOUGH cupcakes, and every idea I came up with was absolute gold. 

But I never would have started making cupcakes had it not been for mountain biking. You see. I've always been the 'smart one', but I was lazy and lacked direction. It's easy to bullshit your way through life... I know because I did it for two decades, riding on my intelligence and a keen sense of observation. As it turns out, a life full of bullshit is just a lie; living that way isn't satisfying or fulfilling. Because of my constant laziness and bullshit, I had no confidence in myself -- I knew I was all talk and all of the 'bad' or 'unfortunate' events in my life were self-created. That's enough for anyone to questions themselves. 

Then I started mountain biking again when I met my best friend, BV. And I hated it. I freaking hated it! It was hard. It was REALLY hard! It was dusty and dirty and sweaty and I fell. A LOT. Rocks and roots and trees caught pedals and hands and feet and arms. It was stupid. But then I did it again. An again. And I got better. And because I got better and overcame obstacles and learned important lessons, I tried harder. I rode further and more often. There's no bullshitting a bike, or having bike skills. If you're out there and you crash and burn or you get a flat tire or have a mechanical and you don't know how to fix it? You're screwed. Really, literally screwed. And no amount of talking will get you out of it. And no amount of money or manipulation or a really hot, useless boyfriend will save your sorry ass. YOU have to do it. And you'd better do it before it gets dark or an animal eats you or you run out of water or you bleed to death. 

And mountain biking kicked my ass. And it taught me the important lessons. And on those rare, horrible, awful days where nothing goes right, I still hate it.. But I don't. Mountain biking taught me I can do anything, even if it sucks. Even if it's making thousands of cupcakes in a broken oven yourself for a wedding that's 24 hours away. Even if it's hiking out 10 miles with no water and living through it. Even if it's training for months for a race, only to fall in practice and get hurt and not be able to race. Mountain biking made me who I am because it's not easy and the bike doesn't lie. Either I can ride or I can't. The hard work and practice and commitment and dedication never fail, and I can do it. I can put the work in and prepare and improve and excel. I can do it, and I can do anything! So I did. And I am. 

I went from trying mountain biking to finally getting educated and certified as a personal trainer and losing 80 lbs to making cupcakes for people who like good food and great ingredients. I taught myself how to ski and printed my photographs I had taken. Then I built my own businesses because I knew it was possible. I created websites and started volunteering and working harder. I started trying to make others happy because my confidence grew with every second of work I put into the things I wasn't afraid to try and I wanted everyone to be happy. I embraced myself with all of my failings and every day, I fight a battle to be who I want to be... Everyone does! And knowing this, and remembering it, makes me kinder. And I'm trying to be better, but when I fail, it's okay. Because failure makes me human. And failure is part of awesome. And being awesome is a work in progress. 

And that's the key to real happiness: progress. Work. Kindness. Compassion. Passion. Growth. 

Mountain biking saved my life. 

Fear. Peace. Everything In Between.

I thought I knew what fear was until I started getting what I wanted. I thought I understood the lines between right and wrong and black and white. And now? I'm beginning to think I don't know shit about shit.

Let's go back to the mental implosion that began this thought process. A while ago, I wrote about 'To Thine Own Self Be True'. I was going through the end of an odd relationship and had many questions that (I imagine) most 26-year-olds have at some point or another about self, loyalty, how far is too far and whatnot. What I didn't know and couldn't plan on was that in a few short months, the words I had scrawled on my bathroom mirror in an enlightened fervor would become a taunt and I would be asking myself the same questions over and over again as I desperately search for peace. Is there such a thing as peace? Will the only solace I take from being true to myself be the words from Frank Sinatra's infamous 'I Did It My Way'?

How far will I allow myself to be pushed?

Over the past year, I feel as though I've evolved into someone more kind and more generous than I ever have been. More forgiving, less criminalizing. More understanding, less judgmental. Kinder and confident in my ability to differentiate between that very kindness and spineless weakness. What I'm struggling with now is how to draw the line between chosen magnanimity and seeming easily manipulated... Because I'm no dummy. Part of successfully bullshitting someone is knowing where to stop the bullshit, and I was a master at both for a very long time. However, my chosen naivete (or optimism or sunny perspective or kindness) has seemed to open the door to people who truly think me a fool. What to do about that? On the rare occasion I do choose to show the steel that lies beneath (i.e. 'the claws'), I'm suddenly transformed into a demonic monster bitch of epic proportions who can level cities with a singular angry glare (or so it's said).

More often than not, it's just me standing my ground.

I honestly am beginning to believe that people simply aren't accustomed to young women who refuse to be belittled, mocked or bullied into a corner yet who still treat others with kindness and consideration. I'm met with shock, confusion, rage and the occasional 'you're just insane' when the niceties DO stop and I'm still baffled about how to deal with it all. But I digress.

So do I wear a sign? Maybe tattoo a warning on my forehead? Or do I keep plugging away with the hope that someday it will just be common knowledge that I'm really, really nice until someone tries to fuck with me? Or that I'm actually not super scary; just behave and we'll all live through this?

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Gravity Nationals, Broken Bicycles and Ted The Magical Unicorn.

The USAC Gravity National Championships in Angel Fire, NM were a big deal. Not because I won (I didn't), or because everything was perfect (it wasn't) or even because the entire event, getting there and racing went off without a hitch (far from it). It was a big deal because I met myself again through the eyes of a few very special people and was reminded of who I am, why I ride my bike and what the hell I'm doing racing all over the world chasing a career of riding bikes.

I suppose I should start from the chaos with the rental car company that nearly kept me from going to Nationals at all, but I really don't care to rehash it in detail. Basically, race preparations and changes in schedule kept me from picking the rental car up on time and Hertz decided they wouldn't honor the dates or pricing I had reserved, so I was left without a very-necessary rental car the morning I needed to begin the drive from Salt Lake City to Angel Fire, NM (My '87 Saab, Greta, broke down a couple of weeks ago and has been a pain in the arse to repair; more on that later - okay, probably not).

I was crushed and, of course, tears ensued. However, I was determined to get to New Mexico whether by thumb or hitch-riding, so I ran home and jumped online to check out flights into Albuquerque. Holy shit! I'm definitely not a millionaire, so buying a ticket was out. However, having just enough Delta frequent flier miles leftover and a couple of friends (read: near-strangers) flying into town on Wednesday, I was able to snag a flight (and a ride) to race in Angel Fire. One problem down, two billion to go!

**Actually, the rental car wasn't the start of the chaos -- I lied. Lola was. The weekend before nationals, I decided to go race in Pomerelle to gain my confidence back (which I did, thanks to my Go-Ride teammates Mike G and Noah) and happened to explode my headset and destroy my derailleur, amongst other injuries to my beloved Lola. So. Monday and Tuesday were spent packing and rebuilding the broken pieces of my lovely girl, only to have hell rain down on Tuesday morning. However, it all worked out... Ish.**

So. Back to the flight. Lola, finally fixed by my hero/mechanic Krispy at Go-Ride? Check. Flight into ABQ? Check. Ride to Angel Fire with the two most interesting (if not comical) men in America? Check, check and check. Perfect. After selling some personal affects, a piece of my liver and the rights to my soul, I had some pocket change, a working race rig, a flight and a ride. I was GOING!!!

Cue Wednesday morning: me, frantically trying to smash 500 lbs. of race/camping/rain/life gear into a 10 lb. bag and get to the airport before 8:30. BV, just trying to get my into the damn car. The guy at the airport, racking up fees because GUESS WHAT?!?! My bag was over the limit by 9 lbs. With Delta, 9 lbs. over equals $90 in overweight charges that they'll slap on your card without even giving you the chance to move some stuff around. So... A special item charge + overweight charges + baggage handling fees all equalled out to a lovely number of $325. Yeah. Whoops. Not awesome! But the bags got checked, my bike was on its way, and I finally managed to get en route to the race.

What else is this post supposed to be about?? Oh, yeah. A race. I think there was a race in there somewhere...

Flash forward to Thursday morning following dinner, Lola's rebuild, getting the best nights' sleep I would get all weekend and awaking to the MadKats crew (Jarad, Jordan, Brian and Isaac), fresh off of a straight 26-hour drive from the East Coast. Okay, maybe 'fresh' is the wrong word to use... Comatose? Nearly-dead? And I thought I had it rough!

After setting up the pit and getting semi-organized, breakfast was a welcome break. It also included the largest burrito this side of the Rio Grande. Maybe the whole world. Like Texas, everything seems bigger in New Mexico, where they take the word 'grande' seriously. If you ever decide to order the 'Grande Breakfast Burrito' from the Ridge Cafe, expect to be eating all weekend. It's THAT big. It's big enough that our lovely hostess came out to ask me how I was holding up and laughed when she saw I'd only managed to consume about a third of the ten pound behemoth. Yes. I was THAT full. However, it provided ample fuel for the insane riding that was about to happen.

USAC is a very interesting organization. Loved by few, appreciated by some and despised by many, I can't exactly say I don't see the logic in such emotions; the weekend was a poorly-organized disaster, to say the least. From number plates not being available at registration and packet pickup to race time for the pros initially being set at about 5 hours total for the weekend, it wasn't exactly a clean operation. However, they are the singular racing federation in the US, and it's nice to have someone who will take the responsibility of corralling hundreds of rowdy downhillers into a semi-composed group of athletes out of the goodness of their hearts and not in the best interest of their pocketbooks. Oh, wait. That doesn't actually happen.

But I digress.

I have to say that the Nationals course at Angel Fire this last weekend is one of my top-ten fast trails of all time. Yes, you read that right. The builders and imaginers at Angel Fire pulled off the longest, craziest, funnest trail possible that had a little bit of everything and challenged each rider individually. Thursday and Friday's practice laps contained some of the best riding I've done this summer... It was just that awesome (aside from the dust-shoveling I decided to do with my face/helmet/chest after a particularly speedy section of trail where I swallowed a bug and proceeded to cough my way into the ground and over my fork. Mud-filled teeth? YUM).

The company wasn't too shabby, either, thanks to my new friend Brian (and his insane amount of talent) as well as Jordy and Isaac. With high fives and grins emitting sunshine and stoke, it was tough to call it a day on Friday, even as dark clouds threatened to open up on us.

But open those clouds did, and the resulting storm overnight on Friday left the track in a completely different state for Saturday's qualifier/seeding. Water erosion of the newly built sections left rocky, rooty technical spots where it had been smooth sailing; fast, flowy turns became braked-out, holey nightmares that sucked in front tires and blew riders off the track. The entire weekend suddenly became a test of strength, agility, focus and stamina that would pop spokes, snap wheels and break bodies if one failed to adapt. It was insanely fun. With the speed and the length of the race course, conservative riding would only serve to exhaust me while careless hellraising ended in injuries. The best riding was a mixture of attitude, loose control, constant focus and the knowledge that at some point, the trail would end and my bike would come to a stop.

The seeding runs on Saturday proved to be a valuable asset, especially followed by a short bit of riding/hiking/previewing the course and its rapidly changing textures with Mike G and Noah. Lines appeared out of thin air and hope was restored that Sunday would bring a new sense of reason and sanity. After taking a very mellow seeding run where I overtook the gal ahead of me, I ended up with a respectable 6:51 in qualifying and a bit of confidence, despite the various injuries that popped up. Comfortable with a little bit of timing lag and a strong performance, I fell asleep after watching a lightning show (courtesy of mother nature) that outshone any gunpowder-fueled, human-imagined fireworks spectacle. Off to the land of ZZZZZZZZZ.

Disclaimer: This next part is going to sound unreasonably insane. However, it was awesome. And I loved being part of such an adventure. And, in the spirit of semi-full disclosure, I can't exactly say that it didn't affect my outcome on Sunday. So... Here goes. Hang on.

Sunday morning shone bright and lovely after another night of fairly consistent rainfall that left the dirt at the top of the course slick and undependable. After a heartbreakingly stupid mistake at the top of the trail that left me sore, disappointed and confused, I decided to limit practice to a single run and instead, meet a new friend who would, in a roundabout sort of way, lead me back to a great place.

Said awesome friend and I met online.

Yup -- you read that right. Online through an app.

"Why on earth is she trolling online?" you may be asking. Trolling isn't quite the right word for it... Okay, maybe trolling is a great word for what I do when I'm bored and icing some various broken body part or suffering through cardio at the gym. There's a rather amusing app that's a brilliant time-waster named 'Tinder'. If you haven't heard of it, you should go look it up then come back to this. If you have, you obviously need no explanation as to why I find it so hilarious and so addicting. So. That's how aforementioned friend and I met. It's kind of a long, interesting story full of truths that sound like lies, so I won't get into it, but he's awesome. And he's a magical unicorn sort of person in the sense that someone like him comes along so rarely, they may as well be extinct. Like a magical unicorn. He's on his own amazing adventure atop a motorbike (which you can find out more about here) and was in Utah for a few days visiting friends when we connected and started talking amidst my race prep chaos. However, we never had a chance to fully meet before I left Utah for the race and he was on his way back east and decided he wanted to watch some crazy folks huck themselves down a mountainside at some point, so we planned a day and time to catch up.

But I digress. Again. So Ted the magical unicorn and I made plans to get pancakes the morning of the race, mostly out of sheer dare and mutual curiosity. However, when he got in touch with me Sunday morning about meeting up, I had just totaled my LCL during a shit practice run and wasn't feeling superb about myself, my direction, meeting someone new or even being at the race. But we met. And we got coffee. And we talked. We talked for about two hours about me, about his writing, about me, about him writing a piece on me and what I'm doing and then we talked about me a little bit more. Yes, I cried while we chatted.

But more than the awful self-pitying tears or the amount of self-involvement displayed by me during our conversation, we reached one immensely clear conclusion: I need to race.

I need to ride my bike.

It's in my blood, my heart, my soul. Without biking, without that self-expression or the joy I take from it,  I wouldn't be who I'm supposed to be.

Without biking, I wouldn't have ever found parts of me I thought didn't exist. Without biking, I doubt I'd ever have learned the lessons of failure, progression, passion, strength. There just wouldn't be a full, happy Amanda.

And I rediscovered this because of Ted, who put up with a whole lot of nonsense.

And suddenly, I was okay. Not because I had someone who told me what I needed to hear, but because someone had wanted to listen to what I needed to say. I was calm, I was quiet and I was happy. Sitting here now and reflecting on the events of the weekend and the string of emotions that ranged from one end of the spectrum to the other, I can't honestly say that I had my shit under control. I didn't. I don't think anyone ever does, but especially not the people who seem like they have everything under control. I had allowed the residual stress and mental garbage pileup from my shoulder injury, a repeatedly broken bike, racing pressure, gender politics, financial stress, nationals stress and on and on and on to accumulate into something larger than my dreams and my goals and what's really important. And it finally took its toll.

I was a wreck. Even with the support of my friends around me, the friends and family back at home, everyone... I was still a complete wreck. Until the talk with the magical unicorn. And then it was time to suit up and race and, in a quiet place inside of myself, I knew I was going to be fine. Whatever the outcome, I would persevere and adapt. And I was and I did.

And then I almost died.

Okay, not really. But... It was a unique, crazy kind of sketchy that I've never experienced and I hope to never face again. During my race run, my rear wheel rim exploded in a rock garden and compromised my rear axle and hub, which left my entire rear wheel freely spinning, rubbing and rotating inside of the swingarm, my chain between the cog and the frame, and my pedals and cranks useless. I realized I had no pedaling power about halfway down the course but was too involved in the moment to understand the ramifications or to recognize the cause. I simply wanted to get to the bottom as fast as possible.

I'd make a great racer if I wasn't an idiot.

So I pumped. And I pushed and I hucked and pumped and tried a few pedal strokes and shifting and more pumping the rest of the way down the course. And when I could finally send the finish section over some roots, I realized something was loose... But I thought it was just some loose dirt, not my bike. So I railed into the G-turn, over the rollers and into the next fast berm. Too loose, but too slow. I pumped into the long table top and sent it over the last jump, landing awkwardly and feeling something wobble, but blamed it on a dropped chain, a failed drivetrain. Frustrated and out of breath, I pumped across the finish line, furiously banging away at my bike. And then, when I had gathered myself enough to stop and walk to the spectator area where the other women were sitting, I heard someone say, "Yo, your rear axle is out."

I shook my head and instantly dismissed it, but when he insisted again that it was out, I turned around. He was right. Lo and behold... Lola had broken. Her one mechanical cost me my pedal power, but I was still alive. I had somehow landed on a totally broken wheel with a compromised, unthreaded axle and a damaged hub multiple times over and lived to cross that finish line -- in fourth.

How I escaped that final sprint and the mad dash to the bottom without careening into the trees or exploding my bike, I'll never know. But over a beer with Ted, I talked about the possibilities of such a thing and began to understand the ramifications of what that would have meant for my health, my career and my future. I'll never know the cause of the failure or why that bike held together for as long as it did, but it did, and that's as much as I need to know.

I'm here, I'm home and I'm moving forwards. I can't call it anything else besides a win.

To everyone involved in my success this weekend, I thank you. I can't thank you all individually, but please know that I know who you are and that I hold you very close to my heart. From Rob and Steve to Jarad and company, you made it happen. To Ronny, who always has the right words, and Brian S, who gave up his practice time to work with me and coach my through my lines, and Mike G and Noah who, once again, gave me the confidence to just handle it, thank you. To my sponsors who believe in me and what I'm doing, Thank you... may I help you as much as you have helped me. To the women whom I raced against and who continually inspire and push me: I love you girls!!! Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Friday, July 19, 2013

The Road To Gravity Nationals...

I leave for Angel Fire to race at Nationals in a week and I'm not entirely sure my shoulder (or my mind) can handle the excitement. I've never ridden Angel Fire, having forgone the ProGRT there earlier this summer to regroup financially and mentally... I'm more thrilled than terrified, and I feel ready for (mostly) anything. 

I've learned the hard way that when it comes to my racing, my mental well being and my race results, the more prepared I feel on the day of the race, the better I do. Injuries are usually kept at bay, major falls and mistakes tend to be less so, and I have a cleaner, clearer mindset about the big picture I've got going on. Racing is an interesting psychology, especially when preparing for a large race of particular importance while recovering from a pretty major injury, but I'm desperately trying to just take it one day at a time and prepare the best I can. After hearing the final diagnosis of my shoulder (broken clavicle, torn front, rear and mid-deltoid muscles after a posterior dislocation and muscle hemorrhaging) and being told to just mellow out and use my pain as a scale of limitation, the first thing I asked the doctor was, "Can I ride?". In response, he kind of smiled and told me, "Sure... On a road bike." 

"But how will my shoulder heal if there's no pressure on it?"

"With time."

"I don't have time."

"You'd better make time; you're lucky you didn't break anything major... With injuries like yours, we usually see shattered humerus bones, pieced-together clavicles and even, in some cases, broken necks."

He's right. I got lucky. I got very, very, very lucky that it wasn't worse, especially with my history of injury. But he cleared me for mountain biking... Eventually, when I promised to do a LOT of my rehab work at home. Bands and lazy pushups (I can't call them girl pushups after seeing a few of my buddies unable to complete a full set) and stretching and icing (ICK!) and lots of sleep and water. 

For now, I'm back in the gym, back on a stationary/spin bike and pushing myself as far as I can go. Tomorrow will be my first day back on my DH bike. I'm telling myself to just keep it upright and slow. The race times will come if I just put time in on the bike and there's no need to push everything to an immediate 14 (on a scale of 1-10) right now... Am I convincing you? Because my subconscious is just screaming, 'LIAR!!!! LIAR!!!!'. 

However much my subconscious doubts the power of my self-discipline, my conscious self understands the absolute requirement of taking it easy right now. Give it another week before I try to match STRAVA times... I can work on my skills. I can kick it in the gym, at PT, at the pool (pool time? Ha! Who has any of that?!?) Take the damn calcium/vitamin D. Pedal more. Push a little less, for now... Stay in competition. What good will I be next season if I destroy my shoulder? Two seasons from now? Ten? 

Holy shit, I'm getting old! 

It helps to surround yourself with people smarter than you. Believe me... I totally just plagiarized my friend Jarad and his perfect advice. But I believe it; he's a pretty smart dude. I have this habit of meeting really fantastic people and sort of adopting them into my heart. It's a really great thing I have so much space in there, because it feels like everyday I'm meeting someone new who sends a smile straight to that funny organ... Anyway. Love the tangent. 

So. I work on getting gear and equipment and bikes and money to all roll together (with any luck) and stay smart about my riding. Stick to the plan, playing smart and keeping everything toight (like a tiga). Strategy is key right now. Getting sleep. Continuing to ruin my legs in all sorts of horrific manners akin to medieval torture (aka, the weight room). It's all going to matter, because the little stuff becomes the big stuff. And over time, that big stuff creates a legacy of rad.  

And legacy is what this world needs. 

I think that's why I identify so much with the book 'Outliers'. Is it talent? Is it work? Is it genius? Or is it all time invested for the sake of passion? I think it's a little bit of everything. It has to be. Talent without work is useless, as is genius. Time without passion is what convicts do. 

What drives me? WHY do I ride that bike? WHY do I race? WHAT am I contributing to the community that has given me so much? WHO am I giving back to? Big questions... But those answers eventually come. It's the small questions, the everyday, the mornings when you have emails and voicemails and text messages piling up and criticism from every corner that can fog the important stuff. The mundane, but necessary, stuff that keeps the lights on and the water running (not hot, but running; we're not fancy here!). That crap can kill anyone's work ethic. But the challenges are just as consuming once conquered as the actual quest. It's a pile of cumulative work. Whether it's working or handling business contracts to training and dialing in diet regimens to working on skills and actually making time to ride between long blog posts (ahem.) and updating the websites, it all takes some sort of miracle time management system. But once you handle that, there's more. Ha ha! There's always something to do, someone to call, some sort of errand to run. 

If you can overcome the small, required details, you can take over the world. 

And I thought making and selling cupcakes was taxing? HA! 

Now. Does anyone have any HGH?!?!**

**Dear WADA and USADA and the entire US Military (or was that the post office?): This is a JOKE, not a reflection on my actual behavior or training methods as an athlete. Please don't piss test me though... I'll test positive for too much AWESOME. 


Friday, July 12, 2013

The Power of 'NO'.

'No' is a funny word. It's an interesting word. It's a word that most of us utter before we can even string sentences together. As children, we enjoy the shock that using this particular word creates. Later on in life (around age four and five as our personalities develop and we become characters), we despise the word 'no'. It's limiting, it's annoying and most of all, it means we're being told we can't have what we want the most.

Over the past eight months, I've grown fond of this awful little term. During the first few emails and calls I placed in request for sponsorship, I assumed that being told 'no' was an immediate and very personal rejection and I internalized it, becoming dejected and afraid to ask for what I wanted. I thought it mean 'not a snowball's chance in hell, kid'. I was hurt from being told no, and figured there was something wrong with me. These days? It's a different story.

Hunting for money or free stuff is never an easy task in the first place. Asking for support is time consuming, embarrassing and doing such goes against everything I was raised to think about making it for myself and creating my own success. However, doing it mid-season and being told to 'wait and email us in the fall' is much harder and something I would never have imagined doing... But. I kind of love it. I love the feedback, the criticisms and even the 'we're not going in that direction right now's.

Today, when I'm told 'no' by a sponsor, by a company, by an individual donor, I just assume that it's just a bad time to be asking. Hell, they might all just hate me at this point, but I'm sticking it out and I'll call them and email them and approach them at a networking event again in a few months when things settle down. For now, 'no' just means 'give me a few days and I'll be ready to hear your pitch again'.

So. If you're a sponsor (or the rep or the team manager or the company president) and you're reading this, expect a call from me. Again.

And if you're just like me, out there asking for money so you can race bikes and help grow a market and change the world, stop taking 'no' for an answer. Call that company back. Email that donor. Ask again, but change the way you ask it.

Because 'no' really isn't an answer, is it? It's just a word. And words can change.

Friday, July 5, 2013

East Coast Racing And The Art Of Not Punching Doctors...

Windham Mountain treated me fairly. I have to at least say that. Mountain biking for the first time on the eastern seaboard taught me a few things, but most importantly? Never let your guard down. I also learned a thing or two about riding in real mud, avoiding turkey platter-sized slate tablets that fly through the air and how to look AWAY from the trees. All of this stuff is grand and beautiful, yes, but the best part of my race weekend spent in the Catskill Mountains was the people... Oh, the people. The warm, welcoming, brutally honest and incredibly funny people of the East. From my host who was gracious (even at 4 am while picking me up from JFK) and his lovely friends and race team to the event organizer Dan, the other pit teams and my fellow female competitors, I was (and still am) absolutely taken aback by the genuine warmth and affection. Those folks somehow managed to make riding in the greasy, challenging mud such an enjoyable experience that I'm considering flying back out there just to do it all over again in a few weeks!  

Driving back to the city, post-rainstorm.

I'm kind of a mess, however. My laundry has yet to be washed and Lola (my downhill bike) is still enroute. My shoulder continues to sit unattended and although the facial bruising has slowly dissipated, I have a gut feeling that I'll be babying the injuries from my latest fall for a while. But... My heart? She's doing just fine. New faces, new courses, new challenges and new news all bring amazing joy to my heart as new routes to my dreams open up (I can't tell you about the news until Monday though; stay with me!). There are always downs to match the ups, but that's why the ups are so darn 'up'. We all have rough days when everything has gone to absolute shit and the fridge is empty, we're tired and the tunnel seems to have no light at the end. My body will heal, my bike will arrive, the skies will clear and the laundry will end up on my floor in a 'clean' pile, as usual.

This is probably the weirdest, most-fragmented post I've ever written. Sorry.  

But let's talk about what happened in Windham, sometime between my saying goodbye to my Grandfather Wednesday night and meeting the angels who would safely deliver my broken self home (Thank god for Delta Airlines and their flight attendants -- Ice, snacks, hugs and support go a long, long way!). I arrived at JFK early Friday morning/late Thursday night to a pajama-clad Jarad, whom I drug out of bed at 3 am, then headed back into Brooklyn to catch a few hours of shut eye before meeting Petey, the other half of MadKats Productions, around 9 am. The three of us (read: Jarad and Petey) then loaded the truck to the gills with filmmaking and bike gear before embarking on the drive north, but not before stopping to wait for fresh Sammy Sticks to come out of the oven at Sammy's in Scarsdale. 

 Sammy Sticks, in all their glory. The everything bagel that's not actually a bagel. Oh,  hell. 

What is a Sammy Stick? Only the singularly best thing to ever come from a stoned kid who forgot to twist bagel dough into a circle and instead baked delicious, NY-style bagel dough into (you guessed it!) STICKS. Sticks, that is, that are slathered with full-fat cream cheese and cut in half that, when you bite into them, spew melty cream cheese perfection everywhere. I may have eaten more than one, but I'll never tell. Onward!

So. We drive. And drive. Then we drive some more. Past Fishkill, where I'd visited for the first time, nearly two years earlier. Past Poughkeepsie and the Hudson Valley, where the great American Industrial Revolution took place. Past miles and miles of green, lush, are-we-there-yet forests. And then we passed some more forests, until we burst out into a valley with winding roads, a teeny, tiny church and a Main Street snatched right out of a Mark Twain novel. We'd reached Windham, NY.* 

Jarad had kindly helped me (read: all by himself) put Lola back together that morning, so we rolled into the lot at the resort and, after a bit of finagling, snagged ourselves some room for a pit where we immediately began claiming space and setting up tents and bikes with the help of our ever-informative Parking Guy. He'll be called that for the rest of all eternity, hopefully... The man was one of the many highlights of the weekend. #vancoooooooooopah 

Lola, Friday morning. In pieces, in a loaned bike case (thank you, Christine!!!).

Lola, Friday evening. In the pits with a number plate. What a difference a day makes!
(Thank you, Jarad!!!)

Shortly thereafter, A.J. rolled up with the trailer, Isaac and Jordan appeared out of thin air and it was time for one of the funniest course walks of my short career. No, I'm not kidding. Between mud-filled flip flops, a running comedic commentary and mouthfuls of bugs, I'm still a bit shocked that any of us actually previewed the course. It was an important pre-race preparation though, and one that served as both a reality check and excitement boost for what would come. 

Saturday's practice was exhausting and, at times, a painful reminder of how far I have yet to grow. I sometimes forget there are places I haven't ridden and things I have yet to experience, only to be humbled by varying terrain and conditions. It's a very good thing, and always refreshing, this new understanding... An awareness of one's insignificance, if you will. But riding bikes is always fun (always!) and riding with two guys that can kick my ass every day of the week and twice on Sunday made it even more so. Splashing through mud puddles, maneuvering slick rocks, overcoming fears and feeling the accomplishment of managing unfamiliar terrain all held magic for me... Nearly every run was finished with a smile and some serious arm pump! After practice, it was time for seeding runs (where I seeded dead-middle at 5th after dislocating my hip at the bottom), then bike washing, fueling my tired body and waiting for the stars to come out amidst great company. 

If Mr. Newth doesn't achieve imminent success as a racer, maybe rock-throwing can be a backup?

 A slick, grassy first turn led into rocky, rowdy, hold-on-for-your-life tree sections. And that was just the top.

Sunday dawned sunny, but gave way to cloudy skies that threatened rain and air that was both humid and electric... While previous days had meant lighthearted banter between riders, teams, directors and supporters, that morning the pits were filled with the sights and sounds of racers going for the win. Last minute practice runs mixed with trips in for small adjustments, tire changing and (always) bike cleaning; I wolfed down some breakfast and headed for the lift to get my own pre-race ride in. The first lap was touchy and jumpy as track conditions had changed overnight: what had been dry Saturday was dripping in mud and slick from dew and humidity while wet, slow areas picked up speed and dimension as the ground dried. After a slight suspension adjustment, I jumped back on the lift and gave myself a slight talking-to: 

"You have this. Trust your abilities. You've worked hard. You have a great bike. The bike will go where your eyes go. Chin up, eyes forward." 

Confidence. Quiet. Excitement. Fire. Trust. Faith. Power.

It was go time for me. One last run, then race time. 

So in I dropped. Perfectly. Pedal. Rotate. Outside foot down. Round this turn. Over the slick roots, the jagged rocks. Arms pumping, legs keeping the bike under me, eyes glued to the trail in front of me. Launch off of this rock, roll that one. Link this turn. Moto-slide that one. Push the tail around. Pedal. Harder. Next turn. Eyes up. Breathe. Arms roll. Pump through this. Push through that one. Pedal again. Splash. Perfect. Smile... 

And then down I went.

 In a split second through a dip I had managed all weekend. One millimeter too far to the right and it was front wheel into a rock garden, and Lola had too much rolling speed to pull back out. I had too much velocity to avoid rocks that don't move... Shoulder slamming, body sliding, head slamming into the ground and my helmet meeting a rock with a loud 'CRACK!'. That was it. 

Like a drunk rag doll, I slid, then stopped.

 Laying on my back on the ground, feeling the sound erupt from my throat as I yelled unintelligibly. Then again, louder as I screamed, "My head! Holy f*ck! My head!" 

And the fog cleared. I was okay. My head was intact. As someone called my name, another someone helped me pull off my helmet, away from my rapidly swelling face. Told me to lay still. But then it hit me -- the arm, limp and lifeless underneath me... It was my own. My shoulder was out. "Help me sit up. I'm fine. Thank you. Sorry." And then the tears came, hot and salty, pouring down my cheeks. If my head wouldn't keep me out of the race in just hours, my shoulder would. Crying silently in between words now as I explained what happened to the patrollers and concerned onlookers, I realized I wouldn't be riding again. I think I knew it the second my head fell against those stones... I think I felt it when Lola began to slide. I wonder if I gave up halfway through the slide, or whether I went soft and hoped the fall would be kind. Either way, I'll never know. But I'll constantly question everything I recall and review every split second before and during the wreck, wondering how I could have moved, looked, ridden, felt differently to avoid it. It's part of why I compete, that critical thinking... It's that quest to find what went wrong and how I can change it next time. 

The tears kept coming, into the truck and down the mountain, towards the patrol station. But I was smiling, dammit. I knew even in that excruciating moment of pain that what my reaction was would dictate how I saw the entire weekend. So I laughed and told the patroller Pat, "It was the cleanest run of the weekend. I had that track." Smile. Tears. Frustration. Acceptance.

AJ and Jordy came to retrieve me at first aid, one pushing my bike and the other carrying my gear that had slowly been peeled away, piece by piece. They talked me through the walk back to the pits, then AJ bagged up ice while Jordan looked over my bike and we talked. I told them I was going to race, and they smiled. We all knew I couldn't ride. And then Isaac was back, prepping for his race run, and was off. Then it was Jordan's turn to wipe his bike down, climb into uniform and leave as the storm settled in and all pros were called to the lift... But not this one. Not this time. Heartbroken, I slid into a rain jacket and headed for the finish line with AJ to watch the finals. Isaac soon flew past to our screams and calls, sending the bottom kicker into a very respectable 4th place in Junior Expert class. Then it was the Pro Women, one after another, chasing each other for that top spot and trying to outrun the incoming rain. 

God, they looked good. So fast. 

The men followed through at lightning speeds, rocketing out of the woods and over that jump as the times dropped lower and lower. Jordan railed through the turns and into the finish line (and 7th) just as the skies opened and the rain began hammering down. 

It was over so quickly. 

Never have I yelled so hard or been so proud of my fellow riders... 

Thank you, Windham. Thank you all. 

To Anne, Becky, Alli and the other girls: You all are beautiful, incredible creatures that inspired me and pushed me towards progression and fun. Every single one of you gave what you had and that is exactly what mountain biking needs: 
passionate, powerful ladies who aren't afraid of embracing the madness of our sport.

Thank you so much. xo


 Two of the amazing humans I spent the weekend with: Jarad (left) and Jordan (right).

It's muddy!

So we packed up and were nearly the last crew out of the lot as another storm rolled in... Hit the city late that evening, and then into bed. Bikes back into boxes the next morning and then it was JFK - SLC and avoiding suspicious looks from concerned strangers at the woman with the black eye who was traveling alone. It was an interesting cultural experiment, that's for sure! 

Hello, Brooklyn.

I arrived home to a hyper-concerned BV, who took me to the ER as soon as I walked in the door, and although not much (read: anything at all) was done about my shoulder, I sure did get a lot of morphine and HEY! My back isn't broken... ?!?! Yeah. Something like that. It wasn't the most productive 10 hours of my life, but that's why I have health insurance, right? Ha! After a night spent on a backboard and having everyone in the emergency department ignore my claims of 'no, my back really wasn't broken but hey, I'd appreciate it if you looked at my shoulder blade that's sticking out 3 inches off of my back', I decided enough was enough. I politely said thank you (or at least I think that's what I muttered), asked to have my IV removed and left with the assistance of my ever-helpful roommate and best friend. It was a wobbly exit, but an exit nonetheless. 

As of this afternoon, I have a shoulder appointment with a well-known orthopedist next week, so everyone keep your fingers crossed that I can be fixed! If not, I'll be writing a lot more awful blog posts... Kidding. Sort of. I hope your 4th was sparkly and independent and amazing. Best wishes, y'all. 

*(Okay, it really wasn't all that much driving -- Windham is only about 4 hours north of the city. But this is my BLOG! We have to have DRAMA!)