Tuesday, July 21, 2015

BCBR Recap Episode 7 - Day 5, North Vancouver *Crash!*

The gnarly North Shore is the stage looming on most racers' minds. Famous for its signature technical steeps, ladders and roots, it sure isn't one to take lightly, even though it featured one of the shortest distances of the week.

In preparation, I did a short loop the week prior with a qualified tour guide who showed me all the quick lines -- some were hiding very well. The Bridal Path climb was therefore my favorite section because I was able to avoid traffic, even while in traffic, by snagging all the secret up-and-overs. Flow is the key to riding the North Shore and once you lose it, it's really hard to get going again so I was stoked to be flowing like crazy. Partly thanks to preriding but also partly thanks to the condensed lesson in mountain bike skills that is the BCBR. Also it's possible I was too tired by day five to get off my bike so just letting it roll actually felt like the easier option. 

The day's most poignant climb was Old Buck, a trail as steep as it was long. It was a toughy and I was starting to feel like maybe I didn't bring enough gears as I kept grinding out the up. To my surprise, looking up from the wheel in front of me, I saw a racer coming the other way.  Then another. Then a bunch in the leaders' jerseys. What the heck? 

Our group started murmuring and this huge pack of riders riding down told us we were fine, they'd gone the wrong way. But it doesn't matter, you still panic that you're going the wrong way too. We reassured ourselves all the way up Old Buck while remarking, when we see those riders again, they are going to be mad ...

Apparently, rumor goes the entire front of the race had become victim to some course sabotage on the streets leading to the trails. A couple of our pink trail-marker flags were pulled down from a turn and that sent them off on a tangent. They had to haul ass back the first aid-station to make sure they checked in. I couldn't even imagine how bummed I'd be, but everyone I talked to was so good natured about it. BCBR is full of the best people.  

With heightened awareness of pink ribbons, I kept on trucking, processing nerves as I went but also really happy with how smooth I was riding. Thunderbolt was home and you could tell. It was a joy ripping corners, dropping steeps, and shredding through the tech.

Eyes forward!
That said, this is also the day I had my one significant bail of the week. In preriding, I knew there was a section that was a little too steep and loose for me to tackle. I planned to grab the hiking route because smooth is fast and I knew that running it would be the smoothest for me in that section. Except on race day, I was better than I guessed, and was happily following a flowy wheel through all the awesome rocks and roots and yup, down that same section. Just as I started my drop, my tired brain caught up and said "oh hey wait, we were going to walk this!" .... And I hit the brakes. 

Probably, I had it. Probably, it was actually already completed if I'd just kept my head up. But I "tripped" and the back end of the bike came up over my head in slow motion. Seriously I had some remarkable hang time. Enough to tell the guy behind me in a full sentence, "I'm going to need some room." Than *splat*. Full face plant.

Collarbonecollarbonecollarbonecollarbone ...?? Check. Hands??? Check. Nothing but a few scrapes on my elbow and knee and I had to pull the chainrings out of my hip but they'd only made a dent. Didn't even rip my Eliel bib shorts. The guy I crashed in front of was a doctor so that's twice in two years I have wrecked in front of medical professionals. But this time I knew I'd be continuing. Phew. Close call. 

I was proud of myself that the incident didn't get into my head and I got right back to riding with the same confidence as before. In fact more, because by then, Christine Shandro had caught up from getting off course and was keeping all the riders around us in check single handedly. With her on my wheel, I had the chance to focus 100% on regaining flow, until she'd got around the last rider between her and me. I led her until she was ready to dust me and then she was gone, fueled by that earlier frustration no doubt, but also offering an awesome clinic as I watched her. The North Shore is her backyard so I was only too happy to hop on her wheel.

I rode and rode, and some of the climbs were the toughest of the week, combining some line choice, tech and pitch that had you out of the saddle redlining around every switchback. At the end of the last single track climb, we met some awesome locals with the best signs of the day: "beer ahead", "ride it like you stole it" and my personal favorite: "only five switchbacks left". 

We saw this gang and their awesome signs later on the trail. Here they are at the start line. 
I knew where we were: the bottom of the final fire road climb that would take us to Expreso, the day's feature trail, and one I'd had the pleasure of seeing before last year, although this year, we'd get to ride it dry. Someone passed me what I swear was the most delicious orange wedge that ever did wedge, and I settled in and pushed lactic threshold all the way to the top, passing riders and eventually getting a great amount of space between me and others around me so that I could ride how I ride without worrying about holding up some of the guys who LIVE for this kind of stuff.  Wade Simmons and friends from the Rocky Mountain "Living Room" up top gave me a super soaker dousing for the road and I was off! Barreling down Expresso was a highlight of the week for me. I rode the entire thing where last year I was too timid to even attempt some of the sections. With a new bike and new confidence I felt like I did some of my best descending of the week so far. Plus, a rider I passed told me I had the best kits out there (I was wearing my Team Ninja kit so of course he did!) 

Even though I thought I was super fast, there's always someone faster so when I got passed by local (and fellow Rocky Mountain ambassador) Melanie towards the end of the stage I was a little bummed but I turned it into energy and got by her again, trying to stay on the gas to widen the gap back as much as I could. I did a pretty good job, dropping her on some of the trails through the residential areas, but her home court advantage was actually enough to have bridged to my start wave from the one behind. That means she had two minutes on me that I didn't realize were there til I checked the results. So although I crossed the line ahead, I was 6th on the day behind her 5th, and holding my 5th place in the GC, still enjoying the buffer I'd built up on Day 1.

I was thrilled to have survived the North Shore and was surprised how much it had been weighing on me. With the weight lifted, and my awesome team of mom, dad, and Gerhard, we loaded up and headed to Squamish in the air-conditioned comfort of our RV (which is the envy of most RV-ers we'd discovered ...always someone asking about "our rig"). 

The end was in sight but there was still so much racing to do. My brain was having a hard time getting it actually, and when we arrived in Squamish, a blistering heat wave was waiting and added to my addlement. No doubt about it, I was tired. With Squamish being the last chance to make any big GC moves, I wanted to have a good race. Gerhard helped me get refocused and we put some extra effort into recovery that night so I could be as fresh as possible. 

We joined Ryan Leech for restorative yoga, and then why not? I signed up for some recreational IV support, sucking up a bag of vitamins and minerals through a tube in my arm. More stretching, rolling, deep breathing, eating (the food on our trip was excellent!! Thanks Mom!) and then it was bed time. Squamish -- the tallest and second longest stage of the bunch -- was waiting to say "gooooood morning!" 

More photos from Day Five: 

Rise and shine! 

The start waves begin filling in

Game face

I was in the second wave, so I had the pleasure of trying to catch these speed-demons every day

Last-minute instructions from Dave

The support crew checked out Lynn Canyon while I was out racing

G and Mom, photo by Dad! 

Some of what they saw on their hike

Me, crossing the line on Day 5


Checking out the day's results with Mom

Friday, July 17, 2015

BCBR Episode 6: Day 4, Sechelt to Langdale ... + CANADA DAY

Happy Canada Day! Let's Party. 

For Canada Day, we were back at the finish line in Sechelt, which was now the start line for Day 4. Somewhere on Day 3, the BC Bike Race surpassed the Belgian Waffle Ride for the honors of "hardest thing ever," and I remember thinking, wow, I can't believe we're only a hair over the halfway mark. Therefore by Day 4, I was definitely well into my daily morning whine of “I’m really tired,” so I was in need of an extra energy boost.

Just as I was feeling a little dubious about my capabilities, we got to enjoy the most uplifting rendition of “Oh Canada” by one of the ladies from Obsession: Bikes. It brought goosebumps. That was followed by a Sasquatch ripping a guitar solo so really, anything can happen at BCBR. Stoke restored. 

My Princess Leia Impression ... so much single track! 
I figured since Day 4 was another A to B course, we would have a similar experience as the day before – plenty of fireroad connectors and long climbs to look forward to. I was wrong to assume. Day 4 snuck up to the top of my list of “favorites” in the bunch thanks to its healthy dose of tight, twisty singletrack featuring rocks, roots and flow. I kept waiting for those “Death Marches” up gravel roads, and they never really came. So. Much. Single track. 

Oh wait, there was one stand-out climb. I had run out of water as well which just added to its endearing qualities. Luckily, Tippie and a full cab of BCBR Crew came by and thus, this moment will always be remembered as that time I sucked on Tippie's hydration pack hose, while he held it out a moving truck window, while we climbed up up up. The Thunderbolt loved the climbs, but it really shone on the grand finale ...

The end of the climb (and day) was an insane near-9km descent through some of the most fun singletrack of the week. It was the kind of thing that makes you feel like Princess Leia on Endor. Just insane. Though it was quite technical at times, Thunderbolt and I stayed upright, though I saw plenty of people toppling over off of bridges and ridges. My only complaint of the day was that I was not mentally prepared to really find that extra shredtacular gear, and therefore traffic was a bit intimidating. 

Once we got to the bike park (!) I found my flow (hard to miss!) and had a good rip through trails I probably would have thought twice about dropping just a few days before. BCBR has the added benefit of making you a better bike rider. Adapt or die.

I crossed the line with a huge grin on my face (and sore hands!), sweaty, dusty, and happy in 5th place. I was so happy to have a support crew that day as well because the race ended at the Langdale ferry terminal on the tarmac, but I just went and hid in the RV with the AC on, sleeping off the heat, and emerging only for a quick bite of gelato, and a pep talk about mental toughness with Alex Deibold. Thanks mom, and Olympians!

On the ferry, I got some more interviewsdone for Bike Mag, hunted down Margus Riga (who I had been ambushing every day with my "subject du jour" demanding portraits), and even did an interview with Tippie where I was answering questions instead of asking them (which hopefully will never air anywhere because I was a tired, babbling wreck). And then we were off to North Van, where I had to get a little work done with the my new friend Nathan and the other amazing health pros that travel with the race. Knee/leg/back were holding on ... but only barely. Once I was restored as best we could, it was back home to bed, and ready to race Day 5, which had definitely been on my mind. Mom, Dad and Gerhard hiked up to the Lions Gate Bridge and watched the fireworks but I was saving whatever "pop" I had left for the course.

Day 4: Sechelt to Lansdale Presented by Ryders Eyewear from BC Bike Race on Vimeo.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

BCBR Recap Episode 5: Day 3, Earl's Cove to Sechelt + An Airplane Ride!

Ripping the feature trail. Photo by Margus Riga after I yelled, "hey Margus!" 

For Day 3, I got to fly in a float plane for the first time. It was the race’s longest day, and toughest logistically as well. We woke up in Powell River but then had to transfer to Earl’s Cove for the start of the stage. The majority of the BCBR took over a ferry for the trip, but a few of us were selected for alternate transportation with the race’s title sponsor: Harbour Air.

BCBR 2015 Day 3: Earl's Cove to Sechelt from BC Bike Race on Vimeo.

ExaminingAlex Deibold's
Olympic Ring

Our flight crew was awesome and included Olympian Alex Deibold and the newly engaged Sir Geoff Gulevich, and adventurer Tito Tomasi (check out his race report for Enduro Mountain Bike Magazine here!) as well as some other awesome characters savvy enough to wait for the last flight (or who like me, just listened to BCBR Med Team member-turned-racer, Jenn Thiel). Since there was no one waiting after us, we got to go the long way and our pilot Reggie skimmed the treetops before the earth fell away as a cliff, complete with waterfall; a sparkling mountain lake; over some cool tidal whirlpools and we were even joined by some other aircraft and flew in formation with them all the way into the dock. It was like being in--and watching--an air show all at once.

Up up and away with this crew

Regardless of how the race went, I felt like that was a good day.

However, taking the last plane ride, though extremely exciting, also left very little in the way of time for getting dressed, ready, and warmed up. So the start was a little more frantic than I would have liked – in fact, warming up was out of the question. Plus, it was a mass start, so before we were going anywhere you had to muscle your way into a good position on the line. Mine wasn’t great.

The start line, right at the ferry terminal
Luckily, the course began with a road section to get us off the ferry dock and into town/trails. With a large pack in front of me, I was able to get warm in the first few minutes of racing and was ready to rock by the time we hit the day’s first dirt climbing. Which was punchy to say the least. It would be easy to underestimate this stage if you judged it by its first 15-20km as there was plenty of double track, fireroad under power lines, and even a rude hike-a-bike so steep and hot it made my calves cramp. 

photo credit: BCBR

It was a long one, and I was beginning to get to know some of the competitors around me so it was also mentally taxing as I worked out some strategies for staying ahead of them. It was also becoming clear what each of us brought to the table in terms of strengths and weaknesses so it was hugely fun to try and use that knowledge to some advantage. Thank goodness for Eliel kits and chamois!! 

The day finished in grand fashion on a huge descent which also happened to be its feature trail section. It was fast, steep, loose, and littered with photographers and cheering sections. It was so fun, swoopy, with just enough chunk that you could easily forget baking in the exposed sections earlier in the day.

photo credit: BCBR

Day 3 was the longest, and in some ways the toughest of the week, so it was a wonderful feeling to put it behind me, again back in 5th place on the day, and holding 5th in the overall.

Day 3 was also dad’s OFFICIAL birthday – June 30 – so we hopped in the RV and headed out to a local brew pub to celebrate his 60th. There were some other racers/support crews there as well, enjoying the great location by the water. Back at the campsite, we gave him his birthday gift of a new Garmin 810, and had delicious coconut ice cream because have I mentioned? It was hot.  

More photos from our flight: 

Monday, July 13, 2015

BCBR Recap Episode 4: Day 2, Powell Riviera and Conquering Demons

Day Two is Rocky Mountain Day! But you could count on the Rocky Mountain lounge all week :)
The night before this one, I had to make a stop at the rehab tent where I had the occasion to meet Nathan, the race's physical therapist, who is amazing. Quickly, all the work I had done with Dr. Hagner seemed to be coming unraveled which was both half-expected and maximum depressing. At this point, I still had the idea of DNF looming in my mind because while I wanted to finish this thing so badly I'd already done so almost every night in my dreams, I also didn't want to rip apart an achilles or blow out a knee to do it. 

Nathan made sure nothing was tearing, and helped to unlock some of the muscles that were having their tug of war and then helped my system out with some strategic taping that was like a miracle in how well it worked. Later, I was walking by the area again and my old friend Dr. Colin (Wilson) stopped me (he had been witness to all the aftermath of my debacle last year, AND had consulted with Nathan as to why I was hanging around the med area again) and did a drive-by adjustment on a couple of things which instantly made me feel better. At the BC Bike Race, you feel like a queen in how well they take care of you, and it's so clear how much everyone wants you to get to the end. I love it. 

So with renewed faith and hope, I headed to bed (after pounding out some words for Bike Mag in one of the nicer "offices" I've ever had the pleasure to work in). 

My Office on the eve of Day 2 ... wrote this piece sitting right here while Margus Riga shot one of the portraits we needed with the same backdrop -- absolutely loved working with the BCBR Media Crew! 
Powell River is where my race ended last year (review that sad story here and here)--so this was my return to the scene of the crime. I didn’t think I had a problem with it though because I knew what went wrong  and how to make sure it didn’t go wrong again. But I was surprised to find I couldn’t shake the thoughts of what happened. 

It felt like every root and tree was out to get me and that caused me to ride very cautiously. Like, I was a total road block in the singletrack.  I was still strong on the climbs so I made time there, but lost it again once we narrowed up through the trees and those darn roots had me all tense and sketchy. I was passed by two of the women in my field, and couldn't do a thing about it, so I came in 7th that day. I was bummed about the result, but also really happy to have made it to the end of the stage. It was one of the best and surreal feelings of my week to NOT be sitting at the (albeit lovely) Powell River Hospital. It felt like I got away with something. 

By the way, the stage was a pretty brutal one as well, made slightly more gentle by the amazing people of Powell River who upped the ante on their ferry-boat welcome by lining the trails in costume and high spirits to cheer us on -- even in places that sure felt pretty darn remote!! Vive Powell River. Their encouragement was welcome, as there was much more pedaling required over very bumpy terrain so it took it out of you, both mind and body (with special call out to hands). There was a long “flat” section that was a full-body experience that had racers fighting for every inch. And the bridges, which were awesome (especially the one featuring hula dancers and an amazing corkscrew trail construction) often had railings that were exactly as wide as my Thunderbolt's 760mm bars. Tight squeeze! 

A year ago, I was thinking the entire time about walking tired, hot quads into the cold ocean but never got the chance since I had to detour to the hospital. This year, my prize was I got to wade out into the water. I was feeling pretty overwhelmed (like, a tear or two) standing there. Even though it wasn’t my best result, it was the best result. Take that, demons. 

At last, I got to join fellow racers for that well-deserved dip

Meanwhile, the boys had gone fishing with Captain Dean (again), and although they didn’t catch anything, Captain Dean wasn’t going to let them go empty handed so we had some fresh salmon on the BBQ for dinner. A perfect evening spent with the Gross-Lake clan. Night's like that make you grateful to have the support of family in your crazy adventures, especially thinking back to a very different salmon dinner just a year ago. Onward!!

Team Kris, at our same camping site! Christine, Dad, G, and Gerhard, headed back to the ferry escorting my in-laws after an awesome dinner together, prepared by Mom, our 5-star chef
For my Bike Mag coverage of Day 2 (with awesome photos as well as interviews with the Tent City boss, Pup, and Olympic snowboarding bronze medalist Alex Deibold) head over here

Day 2: Powell River presented by Rocky Mountain Bicycles from BC Bike Race on Vimeo.

Yoga in Powell River with the gang from Lululemon 

A glimpse of my favorite basecamp

The race's Penske trucks all seemed to have their own hashtags -- this one is #R2D2 because of course. 

Sunday, July 12, 2015

BC Bike Race recap, Episode 3: Day 1, Cumberland

Race Ready with my Rocky Mountain Thunderbolt 770 MSL and brand new AMAZING custom kit from Eliel Cycling

Day 1 – Cumberland
Course info found HERE

This stage was important for the race because it would decide your start wave for the week. It was important for me because I love riding in Cumberland, and knew I had my best chances for good racing since I was most familiar with this course. I used the ride from Courtenay to Cumberland as a warm up and a moment to get centered. Even with the Day -1 debacle, my knee seemed to be okay, bike was perfect, and I was raring to go. It was awesome to take a minute on the way to the start line to do some big deep breaths, and reflect gratefully on all the people, miles, and work it took to get to this place. Honestly, just making it to the start of the race feels like an achievement to me. There is so much that goes into an event like BCBR, and then on top of that you also need to hope for a little good luck. 

Learn more about the Cultural Undertones of the BC Bike Race in Cumberland here

Racers were rolling up Dunsmuir already getting into the start gates so I joined them, quickly finding Bjorn (the athlete I coached to get him ready for this event) and his partner Eric in the 3.5hrs wave. I had to work really hard not to get swept up in the pre-race festivities because I knew if I started chatting and commenting on all the interesting things happening, I'd lose some focus and I was determined to be 100% "on" this time (lest I wipe out chit chatting on a trail as per last year). And there were festivities! A beautiful "owl" and "raven" danced in the store windows (we later saw them on course as well) and the Comox valley poet laureate, Kevin Flesher delivered an amazing poem, "I am a Mountain Biker," that had us all grinning. 

Later, when I was speaking with course designer Jeremy Grasby about the stage, he told me that Flesher came to a few Cumberland events to help immerse himself in our MTB culture before he wrote this masterpiece. He nailed it, so obviously he is a worthy man for the title of Poet Laureate. Check it out (kudos to Step Carruthers for uploading this awesome memory!): 

During his performance, I was nervous but not nervous. Excited maybe is the better word. I felt like even though there was the surprise heat, I had a good race in me and was eager to get through the weird energy at the beginning of the BCBR, when everyone is gnawing on fears of the unknown, and move into the "in progress" stage of the ultimate singletrack experience. 

On "go," I had some ground to make up to get to the front of the wave and hopefully cut down on the dust inhalation. I skirted the pack up the side, and got into the fireroad near the front. Gave it some gas before settling in to the first big climb of the day … about 45 minutes to the top, with plenty of it exposed under the hot sun. 

The start of the start of the ultimate singletrack experience.

I remember last year the first singletrack was tough as it was technical, uphill, and wet from the morning dew. This year, there was no morning dew. It was bone dry, I had a different bike much better equipped to handle the technical roots and drops and I was rolling really well. Nothing to do but pedal. 

I made great time on the climb, and lost none in the singletrack. Thank goodness for the women of the Wednesday night ride for showing me some of the opening sections, including Blockhead, Bucket of Blood, and Bear Buns. I was able to coach a rider through some of the sections to prevent any impediment to my own progress, and nailed a few lines I was too shy to hit the week previous, including a gnarly drop, the likes of which are not normally in my bag of tricks. Before I knew it, we were beginning the second loop. It was tough to go through camp … and lots of people opted not to finish the stage, that’s how hot it was. 

Next up was the Trent Main ascending to Thirsty Beaver. I got some serious work done passing another three women in my category suffering on the climb. This is where living in SoCal I think gave me an edge. I was working, but I never crossed the line into "suffering" until the final few meters. I could just "set and forget" at lactic threshold and diesel my way up like I was back on my old dump climb at La Costa. I LOVE Thirsty Beaver, had practiced it, and nailed all the cleanest lines. Powered to the day’s feature trail, Blue Collar, and shredded the hell out of that too. It's always awesome when a rider gets on your wheel, you ask if they want by, and they say "no way, you're ripping" -- so I was stoked. 

Crossed the line super happy with my ride, confidence, and focus, and was even happier to find out it was good enough for5th place. I juggled my delicious daily dose of GU Recovery Brew (in hard-to-find chocolate, thanks to Yuri!!), Coke, and as many potato chips as I could cram in my face. 


Day 1: Cumberland presented by BC Ferries from BC Bike Race on Vimeo.

The team was with me, and after grabbing a quick shower at the race -- which was 100%, all-the-way-over cold -- we were off to Courtenay and then the ferry, ready for Powell River. I did some more interviews on the boat and then we got to walk off and enjoy the amazing hospitality of the town as they welcomed us with drums, pipes, and crowds. We felt like rock stars.

Welcome to the Powell Riviera! A warm welcome from the community. 

The first time I've ever been piped in anywhere! So awesome.