Mountain Bike Racing in Canmore… In June-uary!

The Canmore Nordic Center never lets us down. While us Edmontonians pride ourselves in our majestic mountain biking river valley, we are always a little too excited to go race or ride in the mountains. The same way mud is to cyclocross, mountains bring all of our romantic-dreamy images of mountain biking to life. All sorts of trail option; fast, flowy, gnarly technical, pump-tracks, features, drops, coal-chutes and lung-crushing climbs. Soaking up the whoops on Soft-Yogurt, or burying my gut into the back of my saddle and nearly sitting on my tire the first time through Laundry Chutes are some of my fond Canmore memories. Even when all the racing is done, and I’m hypoxic from the altitude, beat up from the roots and sporting a sexy torn chamois (bike shorts) I feel like a champ. I don’t think there is anything more freeing for the soul than a mind blowing weekend of mountain biking on actual mountains.   

So there we were again. Piled in van among gear and bikes, telling stories of past races and arguing over our opinions over which trail was the rad’est. That same buzz in the air as we whip down the QE2. That super excited, “its been too long” anticipation to be back in the mountains. 

This time the Races were the Iron Maiden XC on Saturday, hosted by the Spin Sisters, and the Organ Grinder 5hr Marathon XC on Sunday hosted by Cyclemiesters. A regular XC cup and a Marathon XC Cup on the same weekend, meant boat-loads of trail time. What could be sweeter?

Well, it had been raining all week leading into these events. So much so, that there were lakes collecting under the trail overpasses, bank collapses, road-wash-outs, and culverts kicking out tonnes and tonnes of sediment and rock debris at their mouths. It looked like gravel trucks were dumping loads of mountain debris all over the lower stadium. Pictures were floating around facebook of skiers/biathletes thigh-deep in water on the roller-ski pathways that they train on. With a wet weekend forecast, we all knew that we were in for more than just a need for mud tires.

and still. There we were. Pulling into Canmore Friday afternoon in the driving-rain. 

In addition to my own racing plans, I was on Coaching duty for the weekend. 5 of my youngens, two of which had never ridden in the mountains before. We saddled up, donned rain capes and layers of warm clothing (7 degrees) to make our way up to the race site. Much to our surprise the trail conditions were amazing. I was impressed at how well they were holding-up with all that precipitation. I mean they were slick/slippery, and puddles had collected in all the depressions, but for the most part the course was ride-able. When I say it was ride-able, i’m not kidding, I was riding my full Rigid chromoly Scott Adventure Peak Single Speed and managed to stay alive (see pic below). Even my two green-newbies were clearing most of the sketchy sections. Not to mention how much fun we were having. The wet trails added an extra element, and getting muddy is a good time!

A Rigid 39.8lbs of steel, canti-brakeless, Single-Speed FURY!

This is clearly the ultimate muddy-mountain bike course machine. Go ahead, ask me how well canti brakes work in those conditions… Or how good the climbs felt on a 34/18.

The rain continued to hammer the nordic center through the night, and when we woke up… it was Christmas!

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All of a sudden the racing became Epic! Lap numbers got cut, and riders switched from focusing on racing, to just surviving the conditions and cold. Rather than warm-up, people just stayed in their vehicles until it got close to their start times. It was enough to make any normal person miserable… but mountain bikers are different. Once the racing got started there were cheers and smiles coming from every direction. Crashes and laughing, and plowing through puddles at full speed. All I heard from riders crossing the finish line was how much fun it was. Everyone was cold, wet and muddy – but they were all jacked about the accomplishment of finishing. Even my two newbie mountain bikers had shivering smiles-for-days. They didn’t even complain!

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Look at these tough kids! What an Epic race day

How’d my riders do? Well, 3 podiums! they don’t make these kids any tougher!

My race was awesome. I thought I was never gonna warm-up or dry out before my start, but then Mangey (mom) came to the rescue with a pair of rubber-boots. Those boots changed everything as I was able to keep my feet dry and warm before my 2pm start. Dry warm feet can do wonders for your mood state. Anywho, there happened to be 2 other Elite women racing Single Speed and then the rest were on lame geared bikes 😛 . Kate Ardel took the wholeshot and quickly gapped the field. We didn’t see her again, and I was pulling up 2nd wheel with the rest of the group on my heels. What a great time. Slipping, sliding, wiping out, and slightly out of control with my limited braked ability. I even had a flat-land endo caused by a small depression on the trail that was full of water. I was uber cold on my fist lap. Frozen legs, feet and hands that felt like cement blocks. I was concerned about weather or not I would finish, but gradually warmed up heading into my 2nd lap. Finally, I got comfortable and really started having fun. I nearly forgot about my competition as the challenge was in weather or not I could ride the sketchy section on my rigid single speed. I finished 2nd!

The Organ Grinder was less like winter. In anticipation of bad weather they reduced the race by an hour the day before, only to find an improvement in weather the day of, and even some sunshine. I raced on a relay team with my mom as we thought it a good training opportunity for our planned Furious 3 Moab race later on this September. The race course was still muddy and full of puddles, but that didnt keep team Spokes n’Nipples away from a 1st place finish!!!

all in all – it was a great weekend. More fun than anyone would have expected. It was the type of conditions we’ll be laughing and talking about for years. Remember that epic race in canmore, when it snowed 6inches in June and flooded the Nordic Center?

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Not your average garden Gnome

The boys and girls from Hardcore Mountain Bike Club (Edmonton Alberta) hosted an Alberta Cup Mountain Bike race this past Saturday. The Royal River Valley Rumble: Revenge of the Gnome, featured some of the funnest single-track in the E-town River Valley. Fast flowy sections, stuttering rooty sections, and straight up rail-the-trail sections. Seriously, Edmonton Alberta has got it going-on for mountain bike trails. There is something for every level of rider; on a network of pathways accessible from multiple access points along the river valley. The Revenge of the Gnome, successfully showcased a little taste of what us lucky Edmontonians have right off our doorstep.

Not only was the course super-rad, but the boys and girls from Hardcore Bikes added a little extra race flare by adding prologue prime’s. That means first rider through on the prologue lap gets a prize. In this case for the adult categories a fancy bottle of Belgian beer. For those who are learning, a prologue is a short loop that is designed to spread the category out and in some cases even add a bit of distance. 

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Fastest Prologue in each Adult Category Got a Bottle of Belgian Beer. Youth Categories got Gourmet Chocolate Milk!

What about the slower racers? Well the people at Hardcore thought of them too. For each race, a male and female miniature Gnome was place at random spots out on the course. These things were tiny enough that they would be easy to miss at speed, but for the lucky-dogs who are still finding their race legs, well, they got a Pound of Coffee from Crowsnest Coffee roasters if they found and brought back a Gnome of the same gender.  

And that’s not all – Just for Signing up you got a sweet “Coffee, Ride, Repeat” coffee mug for free (in the picture above). They also offered citizen categories! That means no race experience required. I already mentioned the super-rad course, beer, coffee and sweet swag… so what’s your excuse now? 

The Elite womens field was small, and some of the usual heavy-hitters had other commitments over the long weekend. My mom decided to give the Elite Category a try and my plan was to get away from the group with her and start getting in some good team training and practice for Furious 3 Moab. Unfortunately she had some mechanicals and course issues that forced her out of the race. So with plan-A scrapped and the other girls behind me I resolved to challenge myself against the Expert Men category. The distance was 5 laps @ 5km each plus a prologue. Felt great! I love those trails, and it’s an amazing feeling to really ride them at speed and tackle the lines. I haven’t spent a tonne of time on the mountain bike over the last couple seasons, and I can tell I’m a bit of a hack in the technical right now, but that didn’t stop me from having fun. Had great recovery in the legs after hard efforts, and an improved mental tolerance that I’m pretty sure I can partially attribute to Crossfit. I’m really looking forward to the next couple of mountain bike races. 

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I coach Anna (Girl in the middle). She won her first mountain bike race that day. She actually raced my mountain bike and then I borrowed it back for my race. She crashed prior to her start and sheared the water bottle cage off! hahaha – better start packing spares!

Next up – Pigeon Lake Road Race. 

First Stage Race of the Season, Racing the boys.

Last weekend was Alberta’s season opener for Road Racing. We were fortunate to have a couple Spring-Series races leading up to last weekend to help clear cobwebs outta the legs; but Velocity is the first legit Road Event on the Calendar. It’s a Stage Race, meaning that there are multiple stages to the Event and in this case it was an Individual Time Trial (ITT), Road Race (RR) on Saturday and a Criterium (Crit) Sunday afternoon.

Brand New this season, the Alberta Bicycle Association introduce some changes to the Women fields and Category Designation. So long explanation summed up – I now race with the Cat 3 men. I’m no stranger to racing with the boys in Cyclocross, but it was a new aspect for me on the road. I had a great time. It really was nice to race in a much larger pack, against some legs that easily put some hurt into my legs. Even though from a results perspective it didn’t matter how I placed against them, it was still great to be in among a little more race action. It’s still early in the season for me, and I raced hard and raced strong, but I did notice I didn’t quite have the same snap in my legs as some of my male pack buddies. I would easily get gapped a couple bike lengths from some of the stronger Cat 3 men when they Jumped or Attacked. I don’t quite have the “Man-Snap” in the legs right now… but I’ll come close to matching it soon.

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That said – still only 3 Cat 3 women showed up for the weekend and 4 Cat 4/5 Women. Having been the only one of the three of us to hang in with the Cat 3 men in the Criterium, I walked away with top spot. SO, unfortunately building the Categories is only half the battle. The next step is targeting initiatives to get women into road racing.

SO – If your a Female who loves riding the road bike and maybe… just maybe would like to try racing in an environment that is much less demanding or intimidating. NOW IS THE TIME! You’ll be hooked. Just get out and try it 🙂

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Ever Tapped a Birch Tree? I have… Birch Water is Tastier than Coconut Water!

Yep! That’s right. Took a little time away from my bike world to hang with my dad back up north near Lesser Slave Lake where I grew up. We had a mission over the last few day’s. To make Birch Syrup! My dad wears many hats, and is skilled at a lot of things, but his passion is that of Wilderness Survival and Bush skills. He’s like a Yoda when it comes to fire-starting, super-shelters, knife-skills, wild edibles, you name it!

Anyway – I’m not trying to sell anyone on the properties of Birch Water or Syrup. Do a little work on google and you’ll sell yourself on it. I mean it’s chalked full of nutrients and minerals. For all you natural-paths out there, you’ll get a good bunch of info on the healing qualities of Birch Water too. For me, it’s tastey! Sure beats a glass of water and from a training perspective, it’s nice to have something so enriched without it coming in a powder form and full of artificial flavors or sweeteners. When rendered down, the natural sugar properties in Birch water makes a syrup. Also tastey! Again, if you google you find out that it has different sugar properties than Maple Syrup. The flavor is just as they describe – a little hint of fruitiness, with some caramel sorta spice-ish overtones.

That was the goal. To spend some time with my Dad, Collect Birch water (sap), and make some syrup to take home.

Collecting Birch Water is actually the easy part. When I say Birch Water, I’m really talking about Birch sap. There is a bit of a window in the Spring when the frost in the ground starts to melt and the Birch tree’s go into a kind-of Sap over-production mode. Just like with Maple trees, you tap’em and collect the sap (See Photos). Now, my dad has collected Birch water every spring for quite a while and shared the rewards of his hard work. This time was my first hands on experience with tapping birch. I was instantly blown away by the output that these trees have. Literally put the tap in, and there is a steady drip almost instantly.

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My dad placed 8 taps attached to 5gallon containers. The next morning, we collected 30 gallons of Birch Water!!! They were full!

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Making Syrup. Now that’s the hard part. That’s the part that takes a tonne of commitment and time. Because the sugar content in Birch Water is much lower than that of maple. It takes a much larger ratio to produce Syrup. Basically the ratio is 100 Liters Birch Water for 1 Liter of syrup. WOW!

But hey! We basically had 100L off our first round of Water Collection – So we started rendering Friday at noon. It is now 8pm on Monday night and we have our syrup nearing it’s final stage on the stove right now. Tomorrow morning, I get to go back with my Birch Syrup!!! YESSSS.

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On top of spending some quality time in the bush, I got re-aquainted with wood chopping to keep our “rendering” fire going for 3 days, Knife-Skillz, and my new skill of tapping Birch trees and making birch syrup. Had a lot of fun. It was a long process but I really enjoyed it.

Now it’s time to head back to my bike-world with my hard-earned stash of Birch syrup and dwindling stash of super amped Birch Water. Took some notes for next season. I expect to be able to double production 😉

The Prize!!

We have some catching up.

Tada! Blog time. 2012 is a big year!

Not that 2011 wasn’t a big year for me. Last season was my biggest season yet, and when I say biggest, I mean I did more events, did bigger events, and raced really fast people throughout the season. I also mean I had some of my biggest results. It’s a messy paper trail, but Cracking top ten in USGP’s, finishing 8th at Cross Vegas, and missing the top podium spot at Canadian Nationals by 33seconds are among many of my seasonal highlights. Not to mention meeting and staying with some exceptionally cool people, doing ridiculously epic rides, and rocking two-wheelers all season with some of my best buds.

Naturally, none of this goes without giving alll the credit to those committed to helping me achieve more every season. Specific shout-out to my Family, Silvertip Rentals, Pedalhead Road Works, Edmonton Juventus Cycling Club, and Tracy Shearer. Thanks for helping me get’r done, and keep on racing.

So what’s on tap this season?… Well, just a little thing called World Championships! In January, World Cyclocross Championships will be held in Louisville Kentucky. This marks the first time in history that this event will be held outside of Europe. That’s a big deal for cyclocross in North America. The Plan; is to make the national team and rub elbows with the top CX riders in the world on the closest thing to “home turff” this side of the pond.

That’s not all. January is a way’s away, and there’s all that in-between stuff that has to happen. It’s still really early season in Alberta. In fact, the first spring road race was cancelled due to snow. So that means the blog gets updated. Although I’m itch’n to race, I’m being patient and investing in my season by focusing on all those other aspects of getting faster. The simple stuff that always seems to get a little less attention. Mainly Strength, Nutrition, and Mobility.

The races will start soon though. Got my brand spanking new race license in the mail and it’s all I can do to contain the excitement and anticipation. Giddy’up.