09 October 2015

On Vanity

These girls! Mountain bikers with their artful side braids, trendy matte visored helmets never awkwardly tilted, never exposing unseemly forehead. Their logo'd raglan three quarter length tees look suited for playing sandlot softball but hug curves and wick moisture like butterfly wings. Their shorts are tailored but not tight, never gaping above kneepads, never riding down in the back to expose undershorts or the dreaded crack. Even at the most unflattering, posterior-widening, torso-shortening angles these girls look perfect, "shred-ready" but approachable. You want to buy them a beer and ask for their number. Even if you are a straight girl.

These skier girls. Winter outerwear presents a more forgiving profile but I still get it wrong. Certain colors and brands scream "I am here on my bi-yearly ski vacation from Florida." I don't want to scream that, or even whisper it. These girls with their bug-eyed reflective goggles and be-stickered helmets, artful side braids again poking fetchingly out from their protective headwear. Uber-technical shell jackets, dirty on the elbows from 100+ days of riding lifts but still appealingly color-blocked with contrasting zippers on trend for this season. Pants that are neither too tight (poser? tween?) nor too baggy (boy butt? ski bum saddle bags?). Even the way these girls stand, on skis or at the bar, natural, unselfconscious, athletic. They probably do yoga in the off-season. Photographers love these girls.

I will never be one of these girls.

My ass is too large to be disguised by light breathable bike shorts.

I always miss the memo on this season's outerwear trends.

I don't own goggles or sunglasses that hide my eyes, which always beseech the viewer: am I doing it right? Do you approve?

My side braid is never artful.

But maybe it's OK. I still get to experience the lifestyle that these girls represent. Even if I will never look as cool/effortless/beautiful while living it.

05 October 2015

The Gravel Pursuit

Two weekends ago now, the Petervarys put on the inaugural JayP Backyard Gravel Pursuit, a 60/120 mile gravel grinder in Island Park, ID. Tyler was out of town so I took Sophie to have a sleepover with some of her best friends at SegoHaus and snagged a ride north with Gary, a fellow gravel grinder. We joined up with a solid Teton Valley contingent at the campsite and after some pasta and beer I had the best night of outdoor sleep I've had possibly ever, thanks to perfect temps and a massive thrift store Coleman airpad. 

The 60 mile start line
All pics courtesy of JayP
We started at eight. I coveted the other bikes. Most people these days are either riding modern cyclocross bikes (disc brakes, big tire clearance) or actual gravel grinders* (mountain bike geometry, huge tire clearance), but I am still on Deutschbike, who is perfectly engineered to goreallyfast for 45 minutes on a dry cyclocross course. Whatever. I spent my whole bike budget on the fun stuff.

*I just realized I used the phrase "gravel grinder" to refer to an event, a person, and a bike. It's so utilitarian! 

After five miles of dodging people and puddles I finally felt awake. I caught Gary and together we blew apart the woman who had been stubbornly sitting on his wheel. Then we hit pavement, a long unexpected climb with a civilized grade. Long gentle climbs are the one thing I truly love about road riding. Every hill crest brought another incline and I was overjoyed, because the more miles of paved uphill there were, the less of a disadvantage I'd be at with my tiny tires and inadequate brakes. I was reeling in dude after dude (ok, so there are two things I love about road riding) and I was on fire. At this point I was counting every unhatched chicken I could lay hands on. Victory, victory, I thought in time with my pedal cadence. 

Then, after the climb, on some unremarkable flat gravel section, I heard psssshhh.


Fixed the front tire pretty quickly (for me) but half the women's field had passed me, looking strong. I settled in for the chase. The feeling of invincibility had disappeared. 

During the grind I didn't forget to look around. We mostly traveled through nondescript lodgepole pine forests but sometimes the course surfaced above the trees and the views were breathtaking. The cobalt sky graced a lush green valley dotted with bright gold aspen groves and surrounded by slate gray peaks. 
Yeah, that view
I came through the aide station for the second time, still sitting in third with eight miles to go, still in no man's land. The next stretch was insulting: very slightly uphill in kitty litter gravel with a headwind. I followed all the other tire tracks as they tacked all across the road on the hunt for firmer ground. 

A huge pick-up came barreling toward me and as I concentrated on holding my line in the soft shoulder, I blew through an intersection. After riding five more miles to the highway without seeing a finish line, I turned around, shattered. I castigated myself when I realized there had been no tire tracks on the road for the entire last stretch. Back at the intersection, I saw an arrow that I'd passed. It was being buffeted by the wind, but to my right was another course marking reassuring me of the turn. I followed and saw lots of tracks again. Whew. 

Unfortunately, I had no idea that the finishing stretch was the same as the start, and that I was following the morning's route deeper onto the course. I had apparently absorbed nothing of the first ten miles because nothing looked familiar. But I started feeling deeply uneasy as I continued traveling south with no sign of the finish. Without any idea of why the arrows had led me astray, I started looking for a road that would cut west toward the highway. It was several miles before one appeared though, and I was too nervous to backtrack, because I was out of water and didn't have another spare tube. I had to stop several times on the never-ending ATV road and rethink the steps I had taken, but they still seemed sound. I knew I was going west and I couldn't be more than five or so miles from the highway. While on my first wrong turn I was cursing and sprinting, this time I was more pragmatic, knowing if I didn't figure out a way back I would truly be up shit creek. 

Finally after six agonizing, thirsty miles of second-guessing myself, I found a paved road and an RV couple who gave me directions and water. I was another seven hilly miles from the lodge but it was paved and I had water, beef jerky, and a tailwind. 
JayP's Backyard Pursuit (left) vs. Julia's Backyard Pursuit (right)
I mashed back into town feeling strong and happy. I had to check in with all my worried friends and just managed to catch JayP before he went out looking. I felt like a huge asshole. He'd told us the night before: bring two spare tubes and bring the course map. But I'd thought since I was doing "the casual distance" that such warnings didn't apply to me.

We stuck around to cheer on the other participants who were still rolling in, the hardmen who raced the 120, the gently stoned recreationalists who relished every lovely mile, and the midwestern family of four on fat bikes that had rallied and finished the 60 with smiles on their faces. Seeing their perseverance and good attitudes humbled me, and I decided a little less swagger and a little better preparation would probably serve me well in future endeavors. (But how many times have I learned that particular lesson, to no avail?) 
Riding in fall is the finest
At the racers' meeting the night before, JayP had said, "This is the inaugural Gravel Pursuit, and when this race gets huge, you will be able to say proudly, I was there for the first one." I absolutely believe that is true, because despite my foibles, it was a beautifully designed course and a flawless event.