Monday, December 29, 2014

This Is Motherfucking Mountain Biking.

I wrote this in December of 2014, but after the recent lawsuit against a MTB instructor in the U.K. ended in the plaintiff being awarded £3M (despite eyewitness statements and the plaintiff's claims of experience), I figured that our world needs a bit of a reminder: MOUNTAIN BIKING IS A DANGEROUS SPORT. You may not like the 'tone' of this particular rant but in the words of Rhett Butler: "frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn." I'm sure someone will come along and remind me that the man injured is now paralyzed, at which point I'll direct them to the legions of MTB athletes who have been paralyzed while riding, but who didn't sue, and who continue to ride for the love of it. 

I'm caustic because, of all the bad things happening in the world, a few shitty people seem to be looking at mountain biking lawsuits like it's their cash cow. It is not. And if you cannot claim responsibility for your own failures, do not pick up a mountain bike. Life is hard, it will kill you, and MTB is even harder. It's that simple. 



Hey guys, guess what? You're never gonna believe it. 

Someone is suing a race organizer because they got hurt during the pre-ride of a Super D race course.Yup. You read that right. 

From the Oregonian Article: "Belair seeks up to $23,307 for past and future medical bills, and lost wages. She also seeks up to $250,000 for pain and suffering." REALLY?!

In my obstinate opinion, I'll say this very plainly: THIS IS MOTHERFUCKING MOUNTAIN BIKING. You're riding a bike. On the mountain. During something called a 'Super D' race. And you got hurt? Because of a log? On a PRE-RIDE?! Bitch, please. 

'Super D' comes from 'Super Downhill' meaning that it's a longer form of the ever-dangerous downhill racing. SURPRISE!

Everything that is wrong with mainstream America is infecting my soul right now, and this cute little lawsuit registers on my Rageometer right up there with trail sanitization and people who call my work and ask for a male bike technician. This makes me seriously angry. 

Why? Oh, I'll tell you why. 

First of all, this is bikes. Any and every activity that falls under 'bikes' will have inherent danger to it. After all, human, you're the moron balancing on a two-wheeled contraption hoping that science will keep you from breaking your stupid arm. THAT IS A BICYCLE. That is bikes (and yes, 'bikes' is grammatically incorrect.. Suck it). 

Secondly, this is not just bikes. This is MOUNTAIN BIKES. What happens in mountain bikes? Mountain bikes are ridden on mountains.

What do mountains have? Mountainous shit. Like rocks, logs, trees, water, bark, bugs, mud, wet, cliffs, bears and sometimes naked humans that think they're bears. That is mountain. Occasionally, mountain includes poison ivy, poisonous snakes, cactus, sharper rocks and coyotes. It kind of depends on the location of said mountain. So when we combine BIKES + MOUNTAIN, what happens? Usually, shit happens. Broken bones, hypothermia, snake bites, poison ivy, rock rash, dirt rash, cactus rash, sunburn, tree rash, pokes, prods and sometimes, all of the above. Trying to keep a two-wheeled machine upright is hard for some folks. Even harder is dodging all of the aforementioned hazards, both marked and unmarked. And even worse? Mix in some pride, some stupidity and some good old fashioned asshat-ness and you have mountain biking.

I love this goddamn sport. I love it so much that my face hurts when I ride, and I get all fiery inside when someone insults it or threatens it. I cry why people pull the rocks and roots out of my favorite trails, and I giggle when I go 'SPLOOOOOSH' through a massive mud puddle. I love racing, too. I love the craziness, the insanity, the unknown and the whole intensified mountain biking experience, and I love going fast. There's nothing quite like racing.

So here's what I propose:

Lady, if you don't like my sport and you're stupid enough to get hurt doing it and then try to SUE someone, get the fuck out.

No, but seriously. GET THE FUCK OFF OF MY LAWN.

I'm all about bringing more people into riding, racing and bikes (!), but if you come into our house and threaten to burn it down, karma has a major bitch slap coming for you. Don't slide, don't walk, don't trot away, just get the fuck out. Sell your fucking bike, get a refund on your race entries and go away. You're not a mountain biker. You're not one of us and you never will be, so stop trying.

Mountain bikers don't sue people when shit goes sideways. Mountain bikers don't sanitize the trail in an effort to make it easier. Mountain bikers don't get hurt and blame it on someone. We sack it up, try it again and heal. We move on. We admit fault, we fix ourselves up and we give it another go. We're mountain bikers playing bikes on mountains. Get it?

Whoops. Another 'oopsie'. Should I sue the rock? 

Sometimes, I land on my face. Don't sue. (Michael Darter photo credit)

Life (and MTB) is tough. It's even tougher when you're stupid and you overshoot stuff. (This is not a wheel failure. This is me crushing a wheel by hucking it to flat)

Photos are of me, the author, and my equipment -- just a few of my many UN-sued disasters on bikes.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

"Holy Shit, She's Nuts..." #ProvingPossible & My Choice To Embrace the Insanity

This blank page is staring at me, and all I can think of are the phone calls and emails that have prefaced this. It's not really the questions that have been asked that I want to answer, but the questions that haven't been.

I guess I'll start with the big one: do I know how I'm going to completely fund the #ProvingPossible project? No, no I don't. I'm assuming it's going to be fairly similar to what the last month has been as I jump into this head first -- a wild scramble of effort, time and sanity. Did I immediately plan for a $20,000 comittment? Hell no. I figured it might cost me around $7-10K. And then I started getting the emails. These crazy, amazing emails. The emails wondering how they could get involved, how they could sign up. And the number changed. Drastically.

That leads to the second question: why? Why the hell would I announce something as crazy as offering to pay for a bunch of race entries for women and girls I don't know? Well, to be honest, it's the only thing I could come up with to answer the spinning questions in my mind. Why don't we invest in our sport? Why hasn't anyone else stepped forward to do something like this? Why don't we give a shit about female racers?

Why don't these corporate companies spend their money investing wisely in this amazing sport instead of pissing millions away in federation costs, travel expenses, useless R&D that never sees the light of day? Why do we take advantage of the athletes looking to contribute to our community and then toss them when they're injured? Why can't we seem to have a fund that gives back instead of constantly taking? Why don't we seem to understand that some addictions will start with the first hit? Imagine if this was your mind -- constantly moving, spotting holes, looking at all of the angles.

And then the words: "Put your money where your mouth is."

It's like a fuse to dry gunpowder meeting a match. Always, I hear the casual offering from professional athletes about how they want to grow their sport and share the love... But how many of us actually pursue that, full time? What if one of us did? What if, say, a female pro, offered to not only coach other women and girls into loving mountain bike racing, but to pay for them to try it? To try giving them the skills to jump in head first? To literally shut up and put up?

I wondered not only what the response would be, but what if it worked? What if this crazy idea based on love and shotgun theory actually bore fruit? That would not only give women inside of mountain biking (downhill specifically) a voice, but a measureable, trackable voice. We would have data to show the corporate number crunchers when they asked for 'demographic interest' numbers to prove the fiscal value of supporting female athletes. Better yet, those numbers would show that these women, these ladies on bikes, not only wanted to try downhill racing but that these girls were committed enough to create an entirely new marketing base. Those numbers would prove that we DO exist and that we are a viable target market. We would be able to create a future for women in our sport and have REAL presence instead of a voiceless, ambiguous fringe-market shape.

From clothing choices to marketing tactics to frame geometry and female companies, the possibilities of impact were endless. And that, the simple possibility, was what got me. What if...? What if this creates an entire generation of racers who race because they fell in love with it? Imagine if there were hundreds of new female racers on the scene, passionate about racing and pushing their own limits?

Imagine all of that. And tell me I'm crazy.

Opening my proverbial wallet is much easier than opening doors and tearing down walls, but it's a step -- if we're going to throw money around, we have to throw money in the right direction in order to get it to work for us. If it means a few years of working my ass off, then so be it. If I have to pick up another job to cover race entry fees, then I will. But I won't turn down someone who wants to try this sport just because they're too afraid or broke (or a little of both) to pony up and get out in front of that laser. It's about not just throwing money at a problem, but investing it intelligently in the future of a sport: women and girls who will suddenly understand the passion and strength and fun of racing bikes. Those who are able to broaden their own definitions of what's possible by trying something outside of their comfort zone can eventually give that to someone else; encouragement, perspective, hope. Those are qualities of someone who has been to the edge of fear and chosen to take the leap. And that's what downhilling has given me -- the courage to eye the landing and just jump.

We can push for more progression, more community, more support, simply by sharing what we love. We can do something that no one else will try for fear of failing or not coming up with the funds. I can do that. Shit, I've failed enough to know that falling flat just isn't that scary... So I'll try. And I'll give it my best, my all, my everything... And hope that it works. Am I human? Absolutely. Will there be some sharp learning curves? Oh, most definitely. But I'm here for as long as I can be, and I'll take the lumps and the wins and the work, as long as I can share what I learn with you.

Because sometimes, someone out there needs to push the limits of what's crazy, of what's nuts, of what's possible.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Why 'Giving' Women A Place In Mountain Biking Will Only Hurt Us

'Giving' Women A Place In Mountain Biking Will Only Hurt Us

As a writer and rider, I'm often torn by how I should approach topics, and the gender equality one is no different. However, because the gender gap inside of mountain biking (and how we're incorrectly addressing it) uniquely influences my income as a professional athlete, my value as a racer, and my career, I'm heavily opinionated about it.

And this is a rant.

Most of you know my feeling on the sexualization of our sport (I hate it), but do you truly know why?

This last week, a video was featured on Pinkbike's homepage of a young woman riding. Now, normally, I would be over the moon about this. "Chicks getting press, fuck yeah!" But not this time. Why? Well, for starters, she opens the video trying to 'show her girly side' (her quote) by prancing around presumably topless and licking a lollipop. Wait, what?! Yes. A goddamn lollipop. Last time I felt like being girly, I took a fucking bubble bath. And then I painted my toenails, did my hair, dressed up and went dancing... But I digress.

Sexually charged opening innuendo aside, it was an okay video. Some creative editing, some fun riding... But nothing I would call special. And that's the problem. The video was featured on the homepage of the largest bike site in the world. WHY?! Well, because women need more riding and role models, of course!

Ummm, no. Women and girls don't need THAT kind of reinforcement. The problem that I have with the video, despite the creator being a very nice 20-year-old girl, is that it degrades the value of 'quality' riding and athletic performance expected from women in exchange for sexual currency. How did Linda's video of her very average riding end up on the front page? Well, she took her clothes off, filmed a cute little ditty and slapped it online. Because it was the least mediocre of all the mediocre female videos on Pinkbike (and because naked chicks get clicks), the fine editors over at Pinkbike decided to run it.

Let me ask you this:

If she had been a dude, would the riding footage have earned her a spot on the front page? Even if she wasn't a dude, would the riding alone landed her a spot on the front page?

No? Well then, the video shouldn't have been posted on the front page. Period. This sort of pandering does our progression ZERO favors.

"But, but the pro guys run around with their shirts off all the time!" Those guys are also digging gnarly ass lines at rampage, breaking world records atop bicycles and in general, pushing our sport where it has be never been before. They can take off their shirts, pants, and whatever else they want because they've EARNED IT. You, my dear, have not. If you have not earned your notoriety through riding or somehow contributing to the progression of our sport, it is false. If you took your clothes off to get sponsors or your first 'sponsor' was because you modeled for them or you got hooked up because your boyfriend shreds hard? Yeah, you still haven't earned it.

Do something meaningful. Progress the sport. Push your limits. Take on the unknown and WIN. Encourage the women around you to be more than just talk. Stop talking trash on those of us DOING and get of out of the fucking bike park. Learn how to RIDE, not just pretend to ride.

And then we wonder why we aren't taken seriously? Ladies, you're not taken seriously because you won't stop demanding equality while still exploiting your sexuality. You can't have it both ways. You either earn your spot or it's handed to you as consolation for being a sexual object.

Is the riding good enough to stand on it's own? No? Well then, go fucking ride your bike some more and stop taking off your clothes in public.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Traumatic Brain Injury and the Consequences of Decaying Brain Matter

Over the last 27 years I've had 28 recorded traumatic brain injuries; concussions, as they're frequently referenced. Ranging from mild to very severe in damage, some I've been sent home with and others have landed me in the hospital overnight, or even in the ICU for a few days. They've been caused by a myriad of events including falls, slips, bonks and, my personal favorite, landing on my tailbone too hard. 

Research has shown us that some brains are more suceptible to damage because of a complicated genetic makeup, while others can miraculously survive horrific damage and emerge virtually unscathed. Luckily for me, I possess the latter. Unfortunately, even the strongest grey matter has a failure point, and mine is no exception. 

In the past two years, I've only sustained one head injury. But in the four years prior to that, I had fourteen concussions. Since I was 18, I've hurt my brain more than 20 times and in irreversible ways. Ways that I felt, even when I wasn't seeing a neurologist. Headaches, light and sound sensitivity, temperature bounces, forgetfulness and the worst: mood swings and emotional bursts.

The mood swings aren't just slightly inconvenient, either. They cripple relationships, confuse the hell out of me and crush my everyday productivity. Imagine being fine one moment and then, for no reason whatsoever, growing irritated and then angry... Without any provocation. Or having a great day, only to dissolve into heaving sobs in the parking lot because the world feels so dark. Spending sprees, uncontrollable rants, despair, drinking... The symptoms go on and on. The forgetfulness and emptymindedness spur frustration and a lot of the moods; for someone who has always been wordy and capable of communication, being unable to come up with a word or a thought is infinitely heartbreaking. Knowing I know something but having it elude my mental grasps... It is one of the most terrifying feelings in the world. It feels like being lost in my own brain.

There are ways to fight back. Once I decided to question and confront the problems, my neurologist and I came up with a plan. I started seeing a speech therapist, a psychologist and a behavior specialist, and we all work together to keep my mind from dropping off the edge. We moderate my ADHD medication depending on my activity and hormone levels, and I try to keep my diet and exercise regimen steady. I do brain exercises -- memory, attention, focus, mathematics, speed -- every morning. I read as much as possible and try to limit my screen time, and I regulate my sleeping patterns and water intake. However, all it takes is a few small missteps, and I'll careen off track. 

My point of all of this brutal honesty? 

Brain damage, right now, is irreversible. Do I hold out hope for stem cell research and neurological advancements? By Christ, I do. I hope and pray that one day science and medicine can correct what foolishness and ignorance created.

Why? Because I didn't wear a helmet. Because I wasn't aware of the consequences. Because we just didn't know. Because I was stubborn and proud and stupid. Why am I writing this? Because it's important to me to share the importance of helmet use and brain injury awareness. Because if my story strikes fear and curiosity into the hearts of parents and athletes alike, GOOD. Because if one person has a longer, stronger, better future because of helmet use, then it's worth it. And because even after a TBI, there's a life. 

I'm writing this because our limits don't define us. What we are capable of is far more important than what we aren't, and the only prisons we build are those we create for ourselves. 

My life, and my legacy, will not be one of fear or shame... I'm writing this because I'm tired of holding people at arms length to protect them. I'm tired of constantly worrying about when my mind will go, and I'm desperately afraid of losing control. I'm writing this because I can't continue to ignore the risks and consequences of being a professional athlete, and to not address my decision to pursue racing. 

Life is short and because of that, I'll keep racing. My mind isn't a lost cause, and it's not a death sentence... It's mine. And to the people I love, all I can say is this: 

Wear a helmet. 

Sunday, April 20, 2014

A Tale of Romance: A Girl And Two Wheels

I love lots of stuff. I have many hobbies and interests too numerous to count. But bikes... I LOVE bikes. I mean, I LOVE bikes. Road bikes. Dirt jumpers. BMX, trail bikes and of course, my main squeeze -- the downhill bike. Everyone knows I love bikes. It's pretty apparent. 

But why? 

I'll tell you, but first, go crack open a cold one and put up your feet. This story goes back a ways. 

Like most love affairs, it began with  a serendipitous introduction. For me, it was being buckled into a child's seat on the back of my dad's bike as an infant. We lived in a mid-size suburban town and since before I can remember, my parents would strap me into the seat, load up my older brother and sister and we'd all pedal to the park for an afternoon of sunshine. 

I think I was born with wind on my face. 

As soon as I was old enough, my dad put me on a Big Wheel. After that, it was a big red metal tricycle, followed by a hand-me-down bike with training wheels from my sister. 

Weekends, afternoons, and whole days were spent ripping around on the tricycle, and I'd back it up next to my little sister's matching rig so we could color as buddies. 

When I was finally ready to ditch the 'baby wheels' (as I called them), my parents fixed up a cousin's bike and painted it pink for me in the basement of our house, then gave it to me for my birthday. Dad gave me a push and WHOOOOOSH... That was only the beginning.

Barefoot and grinning, I'd tear around the neighborhood like a bat out of hell, offering rides to anyone who dared accept, boosting about with someone (usually my little sister) propped up on my handlebars and grinning like a fool.

After we moved to a small, quaint horse town in central Utah, bikes played an even larger role -- from summertime lake jump hucks to Popsicle trips to the convenience store about 2 miles down the road -- bikes meant freedom. It was more than a source of transportation... It was love. 

It was adventure and speed, as I'd learn years later as a teenager in an outdoors immersion class, after being repeatedly scolded about sticking with the group and not going so fast. 

I never did quite figure that particular lesson out. 

But larger than my drive for competition or my hunger for speeding down a trail was my need for exploration and discovery... Of the world and myself. I love bikes because they gave me the answer to both. 

Bikes (and mountain bikes in particular) touch a place inside all of us... The freedom of our own power, the courage to try anything once, the confidence to go at things again and fight through the uphills and the technicalities. Mountains don't move, and we can't just give up in the middle of a trail. We can't fake it, we can't force it, and the bike won't work without effort on our part. 

Riding bikes is beautiful because we're never too good to learn. There's always room to improve; a new challenge, a new obstacle. We never stop growing and changing and becoming

There's always a reason to climb on a bike and head out, like dry corners and dust in my teeth, or the wet squelch of my tires on a rainy day. It's the way the bike moves underneath me, ebbing and flowing and pulsing and dancing. It's a partnership. It's the flow, and the smile, and the wind in my hair. It's sunrises and sunsets and the sweaty exhaustion of a day spent in the sun and the dirt, or the wet and the mud. It's the heartbreak of a tough ride when nothing goes right and the glow of a good one when nothing can go wrong. It's high fives with my friends, and post-ride beers with the boys, and farts and road trips and laughs and inside jokes and heckles and cheers. It's LIFE. All wrapped up in the best adventure in the world. 

It's a give-give-give relationship, and nothing will take more from me than my love of riding... It's not a bad thing. Because for everything I give to ride, I gain twice as much.  

Obsession? Maybe. Love? Definitely. 

But it's a love affair that will never end. 

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

How To Save Downhill Mountain Biking

In the last 10 years, a lot of speculation has been tossed around about the so-called 'death of downhill'. With the emergence of 'Enduro' and the surge of popularity in style and freeride events such as RedBull Rampage, its impending death seems even more frequently mentioned, alongside words like 'outdated', 'expensive' and 'extreme'.

Every day, industry sponsors drop downhill-specific athletes over budgetary concerns; companies cut funding for races and downhill events; the entire mountain biking industry seems to greatly shift in consciousness towards being more of an 'every man' sport. With this overall shift, downhill becomes more and more scarce. Entire series are scrapped for more 'all mountain' or 'enduro' races, downhill events are cut back in time, funding, promotion and marketing, and more and more symptoms of an ever-decreasing audience appear. Even the downhill athletes themselves have opted to migrate towards more moderate styles of competition, citing jobs and families and injury-free weekends. 

It seems as though we've all forgotten one thing: downhill mountain biking never was and never will be an 'every man' sport. It's not an activity taken up by the masses in an effort to feel good and enjoy their lives. It will never, ever be that. Downhilling is dangerous. It's technical, it's scary, and it's wild and risky. Downhill bikes have 8 inches of full-suspension travel to mitigate the risk that such tomfoolery presents, and it's still dangerous. Now put that all on a timer, in a competition... You have downhill racing. And gravity racing is, with the exception of its deranged participants, a spectator sport. 

However, that isn't a bad thing. 

There are many extreme sports that garner billions of dollars a year on spectation alone. Snowboarding, skiing, motocross, surfing, skateboarding and even NASCAR are just a few of the ever-growing list. 

In the last 7 years, I've seen a distinct, noticeable change in what qualifies as a 'downhill race' event; not only have the trails changed to appeal to a wider, tamer demographic, but the promotional marketing and live or recorded broadcasts have been altered, too. In some cases, promotion has been a forgotten aspect, giving way to lackluster crowds and decreased profit.

So how do we save downhill, and create mountain biking as a mainstream sport? 

We monetize it. Monetize it? Yes. 


Instead of relying on disappearing participant fees and sponsor dollars to bear the fruit that defines an event's success, we need to create appeal to the general market of adrenaline sports, and get them to show up. To watch. I know; it sounds rather obvious, doesn't it? You would think so... But it's not. Increasingly, the downhill race events are dry. With the exception to a few select events and festivals, downhill racing is relatively boring for your average American consumer. Which is saying a LOT. The American consumer is someone who will not only want to watch stock cars make 500 left-hand turns, but someone who will pay for the privilege. In fact, American consumers shell out billions of dollars a year for entertainment alone. In that multi-billion dollar category, a few standout sports exist: Adrenaline sports (like the ones I suggested above), WWE wrestling, NASCAR, Ultimate Fighting... Etc. And it pays big. REALLY big.

So what is downhill doing so wrong that we've missed the adrenaline sports market by so far? We have the intrigue. We have the adrenaline, the fear, the challenge, the death-defying and the timed-descent. We have crazy stunts and wild athletes. It's fun, it's easily broadcast (compared to other cycling disciplines [ahem, road cycling]), and it's something the entire family actually could watch. Every athlete is different. Every race course is different. It should be something that's widely accepted and loved across all of North America and the globe. But it isn't. Why? Because we've failed to engage the consumer. We've forgotten that while this may be a serious sport to most of us, to the spectator, it's ENTERTAINMENT. Can it be both? Absolutely. 

As a racer, I understand the hesitation to 'sell out'. Believe me... The last thing I want is to have downhilling be made some sort of mainstream farce. But we live in a world of adaptation and survival, and downhill is dying in the age of mass appeal. 

So how do we save downhill? We monetize it. We make it cool again. We look at its strengths, its weaknesses, and its uniqueness, and we market the shit out of it. We create something fun to WATCH, and we ENGAGE. We bring gravity racing and downhill and mountain biking into the homes of the everyday joe. We show them just why DH racing is so fun, and why they need to buy a ticket to come watch it live. 

When we can pull American audiences in because of the spectacle (and downhill is nothing if not a spectacle), then, and only then, will we have a financially sustainable sport. 

The world wasn't ready for downhill in 1998 or 2002; extreme sports hadn't become a 'lifestyle' at that point. Hell, snowboarding was still a joke in '98, not even close to resembling what it is now: a multi-billion-dollar, mainstream, Olympic sport. However, the world is ready for downhill racing. It has been for a while now, but there's only one way to make it successful: we have to stop relying on the athletes and sponsors to create a cycling economy. That business model doesn't work.

We have to create a healthy, spectator sport to save gravity racing... But we'll have to do it together, and we have to do it soon. 

It's time for a shift in another direction if we want to save downhill and downhill racing. 

Pre-sender Reflections

In the last few days as I've wound down my winter prep and have rounded up my gear in preparation for the three-week-long race season sender I'm about to begin, I've had the privilege to spend a good amount of time around or talking to people who have given me a bit of perspective. As I've been forced to dial in my mindset and walk away from the emotional and philosophical riddles that have plagued my off-season, a clarity has emerged, due in large part to these very people. 

Across the board, one thing has been made very blatantly clear: 

I am loved, I am supported and there are people out there who are rooting for me. 

Over and over and over and over again, my heart and mind and soul has been filled to overflowing with the unbelieveable amount of confidence and excitement of the people surrounding me. From long phone calls to simple texts to emails and comments and stop ins, I'm reminded so much of how full my life is... And how I can be such a jerk for not realizing it sooner.

In my demand to be loved only under my own terms, I've largely failed to recognize the level of genuine excitement and affection coming from my friends, my community and my family for what I'm doing and who I am... 

I'm so excited. I'm so ready for this, and so unbelievably ecstatic to finally be here, at this point, and have the world laid in front of me. 

There are so many emotions coursing through my heart and so many thoughts running through my mind, but in both places unanimously, I feel so much goddamn gratitude. No burden, no fear, just gratefulness for the people I have in my life. There is no expectation of me but to do my best and play my hardest, and the chips will fall where they may... And that's love.

From my friends who have quietly helped fund my race season or do favors I know they should not be doing to the people who push me and urge me and love me, even in all of my imperfection... The many, many encouraging, supportive, loving hugs and smiles and grins. The nods and the long looks and the forever understanding of how important this all is, and how unimportant it really is. My little world, encompassed by a grand belief from those around me, has grown... And with it, so have I. 

It hasn't been easy, and it likely won't be going forward. But it has been amazing because of every individually incredible soul in my brilliantly beautiful life... And no matter what, that means I've already won. Because I have you. 

And that's all that matters. 

Thank you. I love you. 

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Decisions, decisions...

Why is deciding have to be so hard sometimes, and so simple at other times? 

I just want to ride bikes. Seriously. I want to ride fast, and ride slow. I want to jump big stuff and small stuff and maybe fall over a few times. I want to rail into a few fast corners every week and emerge with a silly grin on my face. I want to pedal until my legs burn and my chest heaves. All the time. Day in and day out. I want to travel to other places and ride. I want to teach other people to ride, and to love the ride. 

I guess it's probably a good thing that we don't always get what we want, eh? 

That's where decisions come in... About racing, about working, about riding and buying more bikes and bike stuff. About dating and how a boyfriend would REALLY cut into my ride time, race trips and bike budget, as well as which races to race, and which weekends to just stay home and go jump off of stuff with my buddies? 

I work hard for my money ( insert "she works haaaard for her money!" sound clip here), and at the end of my life (which could be next Tuesday or a random Tuesday 70 years from now), it's important not what I bought with that money that comes from effort + time, but what I did with my funding that will matter. 

So with the (extremely limited) amounts of cold, hard cash I have, I have to make decisions. Hard decisions that will ultimately determine which direction my life (and legacy) go in... Like the Olympics. Or just influencing cultures and seeing the world and loving people. 

Anyone who knows me even a little knows that I'm regularly split in a bunch of different ways, and I usually battle myself over which road I head down. With bikes it's no different, but because it's my passion, these warring paths seem a bit larger choices. Right now, those choices are: 

1: Build American DH and mountain bike racing up through business efforts, example and competition incentives with the hopes of one day, having our precious sport represented on the largest athletic stage of all -- the Olympics. This endeavor will take years of work, cooperation and immense amounts of money. Like, corporate sponsor kind of money. However, there's a formula to doing so, and all it will take is %100 commitment and work towards that goal. Do I do it now? While I'm fairly young? Do I chase this and hope that my broken body will hold out long enough to realize the dream of representing my country alongside my teammates at the largest sporting event in the world? Will I sacrifice to grow downhilling into a mainstream career, where the athletes and teams actually do more than break even? Or do I go after this dream, knowing I'll never have the chance to participate, but that through my efforts and work, create the chance for other American women to achieve greatness? To give Natalie and other girls one more opportunity for success? Another path to choose from? Changing the future of downhilling so that others can successfully participate and live out their dreams is one of my strongest desires. Creating that chance for other racers and riders can be done -- am I the person to do that? 

Or, 2: do I take the immense amounts of cash it will take me to pursue choice #1 and just go ride? Not participate in internationally federated races that cost a ridiculous amount of money to 'play' in, and instead, go race grass-roots local races in other countries all over the world and meet new people, create my own adventures and live happily ever after my doing anything of historical significance, but things of immense personal value? Do I pursue these adventures and photograph and write about them, and possibly inspire others to do the same? Do I grab the chance to interact and ride with other girls across the world and run with it in the hopes that somewhere, someday, I can change one life, even if it's only my own? Do I, essentially, go play on bikes from location to location and leave behind all convention and safety? Do I walk away from my life as I know it and embrace what could be my greatest adventure of all? 

Or 3: Do I stay here in Utah, get a 9-5 desk job, find a husband who understands my unique brand of insanity, have 4-5 kids and ride only on weekends when I can, all while sleeplessly tossing and turning at night, feeling the infinite weight of unanswered 'what if's and 'should have's? 

(Okay, #3 isn't really any sort of option because we all know that's not in my plans... Ever? But I had to throw it in there, right?)

So many questions... And all so pressing. 

With so little time. 

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Objectification... And being human.

A few weeks ago, I was walking downtown with my best friend (who happens to be male -- yes, this is relevant. Keep reading.) when a man approached us at a crosswalk and proceeded to murmur and coo 'ooh baby' in my direction. Having dealt with this on numerous occasions in public, I ignored him and turned to my friend, continuing our conversation. Dissatisfied with my reaction, the man then said, very loudly, "Mmm, man. What you do to get a woman like that, huh?" And "It must take a lot to snag an ass like that."

Taken aback, slightly weirded out and trying to diffuse the situation as I openly seethed, my friend then jokingly replied that he regularly goes to the gym, etc, to which this enterprising fellow nodded and eyed me up and down like a blue-ribbon Hereford cow. 

I looked both men in the eye, and angrily responded, "I am not a shiny fucking bicycle. I'm going to walk away before someone gets punched in the throat". 

Laughter erupted from this stranger, and other men in the area, as I stalked away. Someone even called out, "Hey honey, he was just complimenting you!" 

Let me get one thing straight, right now: A compliment is when one person approaches another person and directly says, "Those are great shoes!" Or "you're absolutely beautiful." 

It is not complimentary to ooh and ahh over ANYONE as though they were a nicely floral patterned sofa; male or female. 

I am not an object. I am a human being with feelings and thoughts and a soul. The fact that I won some sort of genetic roulette and have grown past my baby fat stage isn't cause to approach me as anything less than an amazing, unique, capable human. 

Not only can I communicate, but I can communicate very well. If you want to talk, let's chat. If you want to get to know me because you find my perpetually disheveled appearance or my clumsily assembled bone structure semi-attractive, FUCKING TALK TO ME LIKE A HUMAN BEING. Grunting at me like a caveman and then resorting to 'barter speak' with the man at my side is insulting, objectifying and frighteningly enraging. 

Why? Because when a man grunts (or catcalls or shouts or whistles), he assumes that his laziness (lack of effort) is all that is required to get my attention, and thus, my affection. When someone hollers at another human being out of physical attraction, it's a marketing pitch directed at our very lowest animal instincts instead of acknowledging the individual qualities that make us special and unique beings, and appealing to our smarter, more intelligent minds through clever communication. It's an insult because it's assumptive. Not only am I better than that, but so are you. We're not mere animals... We are humans, with the capacity for much more than animal instinct. Don't grunt or murmur at me. Talk to me.

Secondly, do not treat me like a goddamn fucking camel. What does it take to 'get me'? GET ME?! Like I'm just so easily 'gotten'? Like a box of cereal, or a new TV? I'll tell you what it takes to 'get me': speaking to my face ad treating me like a person, not inquiring about my 'price' from my male companion. It takes class, and effort, and self-education, and understanding, and kindness, and respect, and value and humor and care. It takes morals and opinions, wit, strength, wisdom, hope. 

Again, it takes RESPECT. Yeah, like the song. 'Getting' me requires respect, not reps in a gym or a college degree. 

It's not about how much money you make, or how white your teeth are. It's not about how loud you grunt or how much of a kill you bring home at the end of the day. It means you treat me like an equal, with feelings and thoughts and value. It means that you don't ogle a stranger's behind, or make sexual remarks about a woman. It means a lot of things, and it means you behave in a way that would reflect positively upon how you feel about both yourself and me. 

I cried that day, and not because they scared me or hurt my feelings or made me feel unsafe. 

I cried because I was ANGRY. I was so angry, and so sad... Because right now, no matter how hard I work or how smart I am or how great and effective and wise my ideas and thoughts are, the world isn't my oyster, and it's because I'm female. It's because I LOST the genetic roulette, and as much as anyone wants to protest about how 'equal' things are in the world, or how 'far we've come', it's not enough. For every board meeting I walk into, for every hour of work I put in, I will still be judged by the way I look, not who I am underneath. 


This is my own realization, and it is a challenge, not a defeat. Everything I have always believed about being equal is truer than ever. I am equal. We are ALL equal. And if I have to work harder, and be smarter, and beat the system, I will. 

I will put the hours in and I will fight tooth and nail and I will speak up and I will reach out BECAUSE I CAN. I will confront those beliefs head on, and I will call them out, and I will disprove every single erroneous belief about inequality and violence and sexualization because there are little girls and little boys who deserve a world filled with equal opportunity... TRUE equality. A world where a woman speaks for herself. A world where we don't have to base our schedules around daylight hours to ensure our safety. A world where courts and governments rule in favor of our reproductive rights and freedoms, and where respect for all is a real thing. 

Watch out, men (and women) on the street. You're about to snag a whole new plane of reality. 

Monday, March 3, 2014

"Ya Gotta Be Tough, Ya Gotta Be Strong..."

Earlier this week on Instagram, I briefly highlighted the challenge of the last six months of my recovery from the nasty lower back injury I sustained during a race in September (

While I keeping it short isn't a strong point (little miss long-form answer over here), I try not to delve too far into paragraphs in most social media posts; I do, however, find much deeper meaning in what I've learned from this injury than the words I attached to the above photo. 

Let's just say this: prior to compressing a bunch of important stuff in my back, I always viewed people who talked about constant back pain as whiners, or complainers. I felt that life was a lot harder to more people and that they should probably just 'suck it up'. In short, I was a super jerk. From my ignorance rose an apathy that could only be cured by a similar blight: the onset of continuous, prevalent pain that stemmed from an injury to my spine. 

Fast forward six months, almost to the day: getting together with a new friend for a couple of beers and some chit chat, the subject of back injuries came up. A former world class skier and aerialist, he also damaged some pretty important physical gear in his back and, after a short bit of discussion, wryly pulled out his keys, from which dangled a small, red pill container. "It's become a marker of chronic pain", he explained. I excitedly reached into my own pocket and removed my keyring, which holds my own 'bad pain day' insurance. We both grinned as we tucked our collections back into pockets and zippers, newfound comrades in the daily fight for simple physical function. In that moment, I knew I'd never hear from him what I would have so quickly thought a few months ago: 'suck it up'. 

Some days are good. Hell, some days are REALLY good. Then you have good weeks, and you hit a stride. It feels as though you're 'getting it back'. The weight at the gym comes easily again, and you can (almost) spring out of bed. And then there's a bad day, like an unexpected rain cloud burst during a lovely summer picnic. It just happens. And life goes all to shit. One more time. Again. 

And it happens, over and over and over again. 

But that dark cloud has a few silver linings, and I'm learning to appreciate those linings more than I hate the pain... And that's the difference. Whether it's my newfound empathy and compassion for anyone feeling poorly and making friends, to having a set barometer for my body's limits and knowing myself better than ever, it's important to recognize the positive in every situation. 

Part of that positive is knowing how far I'll  be able to push myself this spring on the competition circuit. Another area is being forced to listen to my body or suffer the consequence of not being able to move. But the best thing about this injury? Not taking anything for granted, and never assuming that my limited experiences sum up the entire spectrum of circumstance. 

And that's a gift, that perspective. It can mean the difference between a positive day and a negative one, which always dictates my thought patterns and behavior. And behavior, folks, determines success.

Everything is a win-win when you look at it that way. Even Mondays. 

Thursday, February 20, 2014

World Cup Prep 2014...

Whew. Almost two years... Where has the time gone? 

I never knew how two years can feel like an eternity and a millisecond, all at one time, until just this week. I feel as though the last two years has changed me completely as a person; how do I summarize that? Going into my third season of racing, how do I pay homage to everything racing and riding has given me in the past two years? Whew. Two years. That's it? It feels like a lifetime... Or three. I've morphed from a terrified, insecure mouse to a fighter, a worker, a dreamer and most importantly, a doer. 

Two years. Twenty four months. Seven hundred and thirty days. Seventeen thousand, five hundred and twenty hours. 

The last weekend of May, 2012. Nearly two years ago, I raced my first-ever DH race and fell in love. I decided I wanted to take it somewhere, but ultimately, it has taken me. And 23 months to the very day that I began my bicycle racing journey, I will be achieving my dreams of competing on the UCI World Cup circuit. It will be closing a circle, but opening up a whole world. 

I gave myself two years... And I have somewhere around 14 weeks left of that two years. 

Over the next 10, however, I'm going to prepare to tackle a course that is returning to the circuit after a ten year hiatus. It's one of the longest, hairiest DH tracks on earth, and as I'm most comfortable in waaaaay over my head, I figured I'd start my WC journey there. After all, what better way to hit the ground running than on the craziest track possible as a new racer? Sink or swim, baby. Sink or swim. 

(You can see a course preview here with Ms. Tracey Hannah:

So over the next 70 days as I'm winding up my winter training, leaning out, racing a few test races here in the US and pulling money together, I'll be broadcasting all of it -- the physical, emotional, mental and financial aspects of what I'm doing in the final stretch. Through video and photo updates, weekly blog posts and song and dance numbers (okay, probably not the last two), I've decided that it'll be more fun sharing it with everyone I know. 

I've already got a few posts up, so keep an eye on the hashtag #WCprep2014 across Twitter, Facebook and Instagram to hangout as I go for the win in Australia. Yes, you read that right. I'm aiming for the big 'W'. 

"...sooner or later the man who wins is the man who thinks he can." 

All in all, I can't wait to get back on track and kick some ass (even if it's my own), and I'm glad you all are along for the ride. Here's to two years, folks! 

Thanks for being along for the ride... Please don't hesitate to reach out and ask questions, make comments or poke fun. ;) 

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Out With The Out...

Ohhhh, the New Year post. Every blogger/somebody writes at least one, where we celebrate what the year brought us and we thank our friends/family/sponsors/family pet profusely for being along for the ride. 

Have no doubt, this will be an example of exactly what I'm talking about. 

And yet, it won't be. 

I, like millions of people this year, lost folks I care deeply about and whom I'll never forget. For example, both of my grandfathers, one of whom was my... Everything. I didn't see him much in the end, and that was my failure that I'll regret for the rest of my life. I'll never get that time with him back, and the unique opportunity to truly find out who my Grandpa Batty was will never present itself again. It hurt so much to watch him deteriorate. It hurt so incredibly much. But the difficult lesson I learned from my own weakness is that nothing is guaranteed. No one sticks around forever, so I need to have those important conversations NOW. I need to make time for the scary, deep talks about who we really are. I need to savor the laughs and their stories and those memories I have, even as we all deteriorate (or grow). That's one thing I do know. Family is everything. EVERYTHING. 

I know something else: I'm a brakeless goddamn train when it comes to getting what I want. When I really want something, when I'm really dead-set on it, the universe could explode entirely and I would still be chugging away at whatever it is I'm after. It's a powerful, terrifying thing to know I'm capable of whatever I set my mind to. It's so very exhilarating. Nothing is impossible, everything is reachable and I AM. That's it. I am. 

Speaking of 'I AM', I am strong. I learned in 2013 that I'm resilient. Even when the world has backed you into a corner, you're not done yet. I said final goodbyes to a toxic group of people I trusted as friends for a while, and while it was tough, it was okay. My goal this year is to celebrate the positivity of life, of others, of myself and what we can all do to make a difference; anyone who isn't down with that game plan gets to go play somewhere else. I can and I will surround myself with those who echo the best of life and the universe; the kind, the compassionate. The intense, the passionate, the driven and the curious. The smart and unusual thinkers, those who possess qualities I don't -- you are only as good as the personalities you allow in your life. Choose wisely. 

I learned that my body and my mind are sacred. My body is just as strong as my mind is, but I need to respect it and care for it. Downtime is to be given, rest is to be taken and nourishment is to be consistent. The mind cannot operate optimally if the body is in disarray. Our bodies are beautiful, lovely science projects... Growing and moving and morphing and constantly working. We're the stewards of these brilliant computers, and without proper care, the computer will stop working.  

I learned about potential this year. My own, and others'. I learned about criticism and how it breaks us down and how NOT to go about love. I learned so much about people, but more about myself. And the more I have learned, the less I really know. I learned to be kind, but to everyone... Including myself. 

In 2013, I found out that the old adage 'practice makes perfect' makes perfect sense. It's true!!! Victory loves preparation, but fate also favors the fearless. I learned how to jump without a net, and how to let go. I can't control everything and sometimes (most of the time), it's not really even up to me. 

Oh, 2013 was an incredible year for racing. But 2014 will be even better. This year, I found out how much of myself I really need to be to succeed -- ALL of me. I found out the cost of distractions. I figured out what TRUE freedom and independence feel like. I enjoyed the rush of meeting new people, and for once, felt comfortable in a room full of strangers. 

I know how to laugh now. Not the hollow laugh of someone trying desperately to find a way out, but the gut-bursting, belly heaving, tear-inducing laugh of real joy. I also know how to cry. How to experience emotion. And that it's okay to have those emotions. 

I know the value of the word 'no', and the power in it. I also understand the words 'I believe in you' and 'no matter what' and the magic they posess. 

The world became smaller as my view became larger. My heart grew and my mind opened. The fire within burns so brightly that nothing and no one will ever extinguish the flame. The possibilities are endless and no matter what, we all count. We matter. We make a difference, just by being ourselves. 

2013 was the hardest year of my young life. But it was also the greatest. I find myself greeting the new year with open arms and uninhibited joy because of who I had the chance to become... Because of who you all helped me become. Because of my family and friends and sponsors and community. Because of strangers and loved ones and even the estranged ones... I am so grateful for my life and to have you all in it. My existence is forever blessed because I am loved by so many beautiful people. ❤️

Life is moving poetry, someone said. And yes. They're damn right it is. 

So thank you. And Happy New Year, everyone. Welcome to 2014.