Old Cabin Classic 2018: My First Long Cross-Country Race

Old Cabin Classic: May 19, 2018

I’ve always been a fan of taking breaks – from anything. When I’m feeling exhausted to the point of pessimism, taking a short rest is exactly what I need. Within the realm of Enduro mountain bike racing, you get to take these breaks without penalty, and give the timed stages your all. Cross-country racing, on the other hand, is timed start-to-finish continuously, so taking a break becomes less preferable since you lose time. I weighed the realities of this when I did my second ever cross-country race, the Santa Cruz Old Cabin Classic.
The course winds through Wilder Ranch in Santa Cruz, California, climbing from the ocean up staggered marine terraces that meander gracefully through mixed woods and grassland. It is gorgeous in its own right, and the sweeping ocean and Monterey Bay views add motivation to its steep climbs. Wildlife is abundant, and the two times I’ve ever seen a mountain lion were on these trails. I’ve been riding these trails for years, and know them like the back of my hand. Over the last few years, however, I haven’t ridden much there as I’ve been riding on the other side of the mountain along Highway 9, where the trails are better. Wilder is known for having rough, sandy trails that can get especially rutted out by horses; some trails are better than others. There is one awesome trail on its Eastside, but it wasn’t part of today’s course.
I went for several training rides to preride the specific course, though it was already in my muscle-memory. I rode about twenty miles one ride, with about 3,000’ of climbing, and I was pretty beat afterward. I knew that 29.3 miles in the Expert category was going to be long, hard, and a physical challenge like none I’d ever done. Though I raced the California Enduro Series last year (and won the Beginner series), and am about to kick off another season next weekend at Round #1: Toro Park, I’d never done a long-distance cross-country race, and I’d always been curious about how I’d do.
A few years ago, I raced the inaugural Old Cabin Classic 2016 in the Beginner category, an 11-mile ride in which I placed second for my group. It was fun and didn’t feel particularly hard, so I figured I’d try a longer race next time around. I missed registration last year for 2017, but decided to go for the full-course this year. I ride all the time, but my rides are usually around 10 miles or so. I go for longer rides as well, what I’d call around 15-20 miles, a few times a month, and when Ron and I go on even longer rides, we always take breaks and eat. Riding non-stop for such a long time was going to be my biggest challenge. There was a Sport option of 23 miles, which I considered, but if I can do something almost or all the way, well you probably already know what I tend to do.
I registered for the full-course to see how I would do under a constant clock paired with long-distance. Endurance would be key, but so would a mental awareness of being “on the clock” without taking breaks. Pacing would be crucial. I knew I wouldn’t be placing in the race, and that I would probably come in last in my Expert category, full of bombass women who eat up these kinds of grueling grinds for breakfast. I’m an Enduro racer, not a cross-country racer by training. I would have to put my ego aside in regards to “losing”, and look at it simply as a chance to try something I’d never done before; I love doing new things, especially if it’s physical. I knew it would be a challenge, and I wanted to discover just how much of one it would be.

Old Cabin Classic Course Map
To boot, it was on my home dirt, on the trails I learned to mountain bike on years ago as a college student at UCSC. The trails are pretty mellow to ride, and I knew I could go fast on any trail that went downhill. I know every corner, turn, and wayward root. Uphill? I’m a good, consistent climber, but I don’t normally climb 3,500’ in a single ride. I’m pretty fast on short to medium distance rides, in the 10-15 mile range. Persistence and tenacity would be key for this race.

More importantly, I have the Downieville Classic All Mountain race coming up this August, which has 29 miles and 4,400’ of climbing on the Day 1 Cross Country route; Day 2 is the Downieville Downhill. Though I’ll preride that course this Summer, I figured now would be a good time to get my first long race out of the way. I’m only riding its cross-country course because I have to; it’s required to race the fun Downhill the next day.
When I woke up on raceday, I was feeling exhausted and a bit queasy. I got some sort of flu bug earlier this week, and stayed home from work on Wednesday from it. I was feeling a lot better than I was before, but not the best way to feel when you’re about to start a long-distance race. I parked near the Wrigley Building on the Westside of Santa Cruz, and rode the paved path along Highway 1 for a couple of miles to the race at Wilder Ranch. There were about 500 riders, with vendor tents set up around the start of the Cowboy Loop Trail. I’d picked up my raceplate the night before at MBOSC, so I could relax for a few minutes before the race.
Around 9:00 a.m., we began cuing for our 9:04.30 start time.
Looking around at the roughly ten other women racing in my group, I began doing what I can’t help but do when I’m around other mountain bikers: go voyeur on their gear. Checking out others’ stuff is half the fun of these races. It was in this moment when I realized a few key differences between me and them.
First, I was the only one in flats. Out of all the guys I noticed, as well. Everyone had clips. Second, most riders had hardtails or cross-country style bikes, like my old Specialized Camber Comp with 110mm of travel. Third, most riders had skinnier, likely lighter than my 2.3cm tires which weigh about 1200g apiece. Fourth, every one of them had a team kit. It seemed like everyone had a jersey full of sponsors. Like I had anticipated, the Expert category would be filled with cross-country racing experts. No surprise there.
Within no time the pros took off. As we sidled up to the starting line, I reminded myself not to focus on my time and how I was going to do compared to the other women. I knew they were going to kick my butt. I lined up toward the back of the pack and remembered that I was there to see if, and how, I could test my endurance in an entirely new way. I was there to prove it to myself.
As the race director announced our official start, we all took off quickly onto Cowboy Loop Trail. There were people on the sidelines cheering for all the racers, which was awesome. Within a quarter of a mile, we hit the start of an uphill. Somewhere up this climb, the rest of the women just soared ahead of me effortlessly as I felt myself breathing hard up this hill. Blessed be it was a short climb, but I had lagged behind from the rest of the women. I took a sip of water from my Camelbak, and committed to just finishing the race.
As we turned downhill and then continued out to the Ohlone Bluff Coastal Trail, a couple of single-speed riders passed me. They’d started a minute after we had, no less.
One of the women asked me, Are you even racing?
I don’t care how good of a rider you are; when you make comments like this to others during a race, you make yourself look like a condescending meanie. To be fair, comments like hers are few and far between; most women I meet at races have been super cool and non-judgmental.
Ignoring her snide dig at me, I remind myself of my mantra: Just do you. You got this!
Soon after, a nice man rode up behind me and asked which category I was racing.
Expert, I replied, probably unconvincingly as I huffed and puffed to keep up with the ever thinning out pack. As I looked at his raceplate, I saw that he was the Race Sweep for our Pro/Expert/Single-Speed category; it’s his job to ride behind the last rider in that group.
And that last rider, apparently, was now me. Awesome. Only a couple of miles into the race, and I knew I was already the slowest.
Again: just focus on riding the race until the end! I would have to remind myself of this several times.
But I was discouraged. I’m competitive. I like winning. I like doing well, and feeling on top of my game. Suddenly, I felt like a polar bear in the tropics. My fantastic new Enduro bike, with its slack headtube and 150mm of travel, was now looking bulky – gasp! – compared to all of the streamlined cross-country bikes and hardtails around me. And it is pretty difficult to compete against someone riding clips, which are proven to be more efficient when climbing, if not when riding all the time. They’re just not part of my toolkit; I don’t fancy super long gravel grinds on fireroads. Riding uphill is simply a means to an end: going downhill, and something I wouldn’t be doing a ton of in this race, unfortunately.
We crossed underneath Highway 1 through a tunnel and started climbing up Baldwin Loop. About half-way up this climb, I saw a Sport rider approaching behind me. Knowing he was leading his 18-29 category, and that they’d started a full 10 minutes after we had, I moved to the ruttier side of the trail so he could keep his momentum climbing the more established single-track. He was someone who knew what he was doing, clearly; I didn’t want to slow any real racers down.
Then there was another rider; I moved to the side and kept riding up the bumpy trail as a few other riders caught up to pass me as well. I could see the top, which I knew would be the start of the best downhill of the entire ride: Enchanted Loop Trail. I pushed as hard as I could, but I was unfortunately part of the male 18-29 Sport pack now. On the plus side, I knew this trail well and could fly down it with ease. With the crowd only going to get worse as the older categories started catching up behind us, I knew I had to jump in and go for it.
I flew down the top section of the trail, among several other riders who seemed to ride more timidly over the many roots and drops of this trail. One rider stopped right in front of me on the biggest drop, but I was able to go around him as a small pile-up ensued behind him. I passed a few other riders who were also taking their time to negotiate the trail with their hardtails, and felt, for a second, confident again.
And then we started climbing. I knew there was a lot of race left to go, and didn’t want to burn out by pushing too hard too soon. Soon, I was being passed again by the Sport guys. With clips. Every single one of them. I began looking for anyone who might be riding in flats like I was, but everyone I saw had clips.
I felt really out of place in that moment, and decided to just pull off the trail for my first “break” of the day and let the men pass. I lost my footing somehow, and fell down instead of standing over my bike into some weeds. Keep ‘em coming! I mused to myself, half-embarrassed, half too over it to care. The men were kind enough to ask if I was alright, which I was physically, except for my ego, which was becoming less stoic by the second. No matter all that talk about just doing the race for a physical challenge. Being passed and losing doesn’t feel good, no matter how you cut it.
The only solution was to keep riding. I got back on my bike after they passed, and noticed more coming up the trail. Just go; they can pass you later if they need to. I regained some rhythm and finished the climb out of the canyon with only a few more guys passing me.
Then, we started down Old Cabin Trail. One guy slipped out on a root and fell, and there was a small pile-up which I averted with a hard left. Soon, we were climbing again, and the trail became narrow single-track where passing is all but impossible. Though I was climbing steadily again, I could see about thirty guys behind me down the trail, with someone steadily gaining on me. I pulled off to the side of the trail, and resigned to just let them all pass.
Standing there waiting, my noble Sweep pulled off the trail next to me.
You all good there? he gently asked.
Yeah; just wanna get out of all these guys’ way, I dejectedly replied. I drank some water and let out a hefty sigh to catch my breath.
Okay. But remember: this is your race, too. You’re doing a great job so far. So get in there whenever you’re ready, he encouraged.
His words struck me right in the heart, like a childhood soccer coach. What a nice thing to say in that moment. The pack finished passing me, and though I could see more riders down the trail, I knew he was right: I had to get in the pack and just ride with all these guys.
Just ride, man; just ride: I could hear the words of my late good friend Peter Miller in my head.
We climbed until the top of Old Cabin Trail, and I was surprised I was keeping pace with most of them. There was room enough to pass, finally, so that took off the pressure of worrying about slowing anyone down.
Once the downhill section started, it felt like such a relief after jockeying for position among all of the men. I could only imagine where the other women in my group were down the trail. Probably drinking beer back at the finish line, I mused.
The downhill ended back at the finish line, where we turned to climb back uphill on Long Meadow Trail. I heard someone yell Mrs. Deetz! as I rode past the spectators at basecamp, but couldn’t make out whom it was.
As I began climbing up the steepest part of Engelsman’s Loop to Long Meadow, I saw a few riders walking their bikes up the punishing hill. Thank you for inviting me to do the same! The prospect of five more miles of climbing uphill was starting to feel menacing, and I was going to conserve my energy now that I was almost halfway through the ride.
Taking that time to get off my bike and push it uphill, hard as it still was on the incline, helped me catch my breath and pull myself together. I got back on my bike quickly, and slogged ahead up the fireroad. Along the climb up, I was passed by some more riders, including a few Sport Women.
At the top of the long climb, we turned down Chinquapin Trail, a flowly fireroad that I’ve ridden hundreds of times. I took off, riding as fast as I could, happy to have some downhill. I know the smoothest lines to take on it to avoid its notorious pitfalls of ruts. I passed a few riders who struggled to maneuver over the awful holes in the trail, and felt confident again as I flew down it with speed, commitment, and attack.
We connected with Twin Oaks Trail, and ended it with a course marshal signaling the Sport riders one direction, and me, another: a hard right uphill. I had a little over six miles to go, starting with a super steep climb. I was on my own now, the last rider among the Pro/Expert/SS categories, so at least I didn’t have to worry about anyone passing me anymore. Eyeing some shade and feeling downright exhausted, I stopped to catch my breath. And there again was my trusty Sweep.
This is my first long-distance cross-country race. I usually race Enduro, so I’m used to taking breaks, I began explaining to him. I felt I owed him some sort of justification for my pace. This is way harder. Sorry I’m so slow; you’re probably used to riding faster with all the actual Experts, I lamented to him like a patient on a therapist’s couch.
You’re doing awesome! he retorted. I couldn’t keep up with you on the downhill back there! You were flying down that; I see your Enduro skills. I’m sure it’s a big adjustment coming from that racing format, he assuaged me in a genuine, kind way that again lifted my spirits. Once again, words of inspiration provided by my trusty Sweep.
Thanks for the encouragement; I really appreciate it, I smiled with gratitude.
As I got back on my bike to start climbing, again, he retreated to his usual post – out of eye and earshot of me, so as not to pressure me, but always shadowing. He was a really cool, nice guy, and did a great job as Sweep. Thank you Super Sweep Man, whoever you are!
I finally hit the start of the final descent along Wilder Ridge Loop Trail, which parallels the city landfill, but is pretty fast and flowy. The view of the ocean with the cool breeze on my skin signaled impending relief.
I soon connected to the Zane Gray Trail and Dairyman’s Trail, which is especially bumpy and sandy from horse use. Though my suspension on my new bike ropes, I could feel myself bouncing on the rutted hardpack. I hate this trail, I thought to myself. I could feel myself getting over it.
Almost there…
At long last, I was actually getting closer to the end. Make it stop! I half-joked. I felt pretty darn miserable, and was so ready to get off my saddle. Pulling into that finish line, I turned in my timing chip and drank some water. I was so relieved to get off my bike I didn’t even check my time for a few minutes. I knew it wasn’t going to be pretty.
As predicted, I came in dead last in my category, with a total time of 3 hours and 26 minutes, a full 25 minutes after the #8 girl. I was #9 out of 9. I’ve never lost a race altogether, and I’ll admit it doesn’t feel that great. I sucked at this race. The #1 girl who won our category? She did the race a full hour less than me: 2 hours, 26 minutes. I was about 40%, or ⅖, slower than her. Yikes. I was clearly an outlier, and not in a good way.
I didn’t expect to win, of course, or even be competitive. I don’t underestimate the role that some dedicated long-distance training, and a cross-country bike with clips, would have played. I did this race just to see how a long-distance race would feel at my current fitness level – on flats with an Enduro bike.

Though I may do a cross-country race again in the future, I will likely opt for a shorter ride next time. It felt too long on the bike without a proper break. I commend those who do it, but I don’t think I’ll ever be a long-distance cross-country racer. It’s just not my style. Mentally, it was tough knowing you were on the clock so long; that each short break, rest, or setback was taking time away from you. Every time I heard a rider coming up behind me, I was reminded of how comparatively slow I was going.
I don’t doubt that I could train and improve for a race like this, but I don’t think I want to. I like the Enduro racing format much better: timed, mostly downhill stages combined with untimed transfers. I like how the focus is on how you ride downhill, not how you climb.
For now, I’m happy to have simply done it. Hallelujah. Check that box and done!
And now I’ve raced 29 miles on my 29er.

H Is For Humility: On Falling Down

A Reflection on Mountain Bike Crashes

Every now and then, life smacks you upside the head, interrupting your flow and derailing your grace.  I’m talking about falling down: crashing, specifically. Mountain biking has one of the highest rates of injury from crashing of all outdoor sports.  If you ride regularly, and you push your limits, you are going to crash hard at some point. You just hope you don’t crash too hard.  All it takes is one wrong fall to possibly end it all – a humbling truth that most of us don’t like to think about.  

I, certainly, don’t tend to dwell on the risk of injury and possible death when I’m out for a ride, flying past trees and hopping over rocks.  But then comes the fall – always unexpected, always served up like a giant slice of Humble Pie. This is why H stands for Humility in my ABC’s of mountain biking.  A-G are Awareness, Balance, Confidence, Discipline, Endurance, Flow, and Grace. Flow and Grace are sometimes the last thing your ride is full of, though.

Ask any professional or elite-level mountain biker how many times they’ve crashed, and they’ll tell you more than they can remember; likely, they’ll add that they expect to fall again in the future.  With big risk comes big consequences. This is why you see most riders wearing varying levels of protection: full-face helmets, knee pads, elbow pads, anti-whiplash neckguards. The amount of gear depends on the level of risk you’re taking on your ride.  However, protection only provides so much actual protection in the case of a fall. If you’re going too fast and stop too quickly, there’s going to be some whiplash and possible concussion. It’s simple physics. The very thought of my brain crashing against my skull gives me the heebie-jeebies.  With every fall, whether you’re a pro-rider or a newbie, you are faced with your humility – your limitations, mistakes, and weaknesses.

I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve fallen over the years.  Going over the handlebars is a standard in mountain biking at some point or another.  Sometimes, I’ve managed a sort of gymnastics roll, letting my shoulder and hip take the brunt of the impact.  I did some gymnastics as a kid, and it helped me learn to fall; it’s all about keeping your momentum, and not coming to a sudden stop.  The only times I’ve been able to react with any sort of roll or grace have been low-speed falls.

The worst falls are those in which you have no time whatsoever to react.  Like a slap in the face, it happens in a millisecond. These are the higher-speed falls, often accompanied by a drop or jump and challenging terrain.  When you flow down these lines with grace, they’re the funnest rides in Santa Cruz; people come from all around to ride the trails we’re so lucky to call home.  As with anything, when you ride them enough, statistically speaking you’re bound to fall at some point.

I’ve seen several riders walking out of trails, supported by their friends, arms in a makeshift sling, blood on their faces after a bad fall. Their eyes are wide in bewilderment; adrenaline rushing through their veins keeps them moving along.  In the worst cases, they’re being carried out or helivaced; sadly, many riders have died over the years in awful falls. It’s the one aspect of riding that we all try to avoid, but know we’ll encounter personally should we push ourselves to ride just a little bit faster, a little bit riskier, and a little bit more confidently.

I mention confidence because I think it’s an essential trait for mountain biking.  It is not helpful to waver in your intention, hesitate in your action, or commit only halfway.  Believing you can ride it is part of it as well. But you don’t want to get too cocky, too confident.  You can’t “believe” yourself into riding above your ability, after all. It’s a fine line. Of all the times I’ve fallen hard, I could say I was feeling a little overconfident those days, riding a little too fast.  It’s so much fun to move quickly yet gracefully over the land, but the punishment of falling in doing so can be menacing. This is where humility comes in, reminding me of my boundaries, and highlighting my need to improve in certain areas.  Humility reminds us that our work is never done, that we are always growing, and that some things are simply out of our control.

Sometimes you’re surprised by an evil parallel root in the trail, slick as a salamander, sliding you out like a derailing train.  That happened to me, and I literally ate dirt as I fell on my face; fortunately, it was relatively soft duff I fell into. The first thing I did was check to make sure my teeth were still there.  Luckily, they were.

Flying over face-first over the bars (ENDO!) never leads to anything good.  I’ll never forget the first time this happened; I hit my head, and separated my left shoulder.  I was in my early twenties, young and dumb, and I went for a sunset ride without a helmet.  I cringe typing that! I typically rode with a helmet, but there were times, like this, when I completely ignored the biggest risk of riding: traumatic brain injury (TBI).  That was the last time I rode without one, which was, quite frankly, the stupidest thing I could have ever done when moving on two wheels.  I still have a small bald spot on my head from that scar to remind me of my mistake. I was lucky I wasn’t going too fast or I’d have split my head open – or worse.

The next time I took a bad fall, I had gone off a small jump with my weight too far forward and my seat a bit too high; then I front-braked.  Textbook rookie mistakes. I cracked my helmet, and I separated my shoulder again. I was on my face faster than I could blink.  That’s what most people don’t realize about falling from a bike at high speed. I was asked by a few people, “Didn’t you have time to react?  Like put your arms down or something?” No! There is no time to react. Unless you’ve experienced it yourself, it’s hard to fully understand how you can simply fall on your face, let alone how quickly it can happen.  Sometimes there is no, “Let me gracefully do a gymnastics-roll out of this one”. It sneaks up on me every time, reminding me there is a razor sharp edge to the envelope I am pushing. The goal is to not fall, of course, but the risk is always there.

Certainly, having an automatic dropperpost would have helped tremendously.  I typically rode with my seat all the way lowered, which was good for the downhill, but not so good for cross-country riding, when I’d have to put my seat back up again. When racing, I just kept the seat down all the way for the timed stages, which proved exhausting on the flats and uphills. I can’t believe I am only just now getting one on my next bike: my Santa Cruz Hightower LT Carbon XX1, on order from the factory at the moment.  When I demo’d it awhile back, I couldn’t believe how good it felt to have a dropper!  Being able to adjust your seat height with the click of a lever seems so much more efficient, and ultimately, safer.   

I’ve been concussed a few times, shuffling around in a mental fog for days as my brain heals.   One concussion was so bad I just sat around staring at nothing for a week; I was too tired to watch TV, talk, think, or barely move.  My husband took me to the doctor for that one, but as most doctors will tell you, rest is the best remedy. The painful accompaniment of whiplash in your neck and shoulders, and behind the eye pressure don’t help.  When you whack your head into the ground going 20+ mph, all that kinetic energy warps through your body like a shockwave. The tension in my neck and shoulders took weeks to fully unwind.

About a year ago, I fell on my head – literally.  I was coming down the end of Magic Carpet, a trail I’ve done a thousand times, off a small log-drop.  The bottom of the drop has an uphill section like a V, and usually I land the drop and roll up the little hill with ease. On this ride, however, I had my front tire pressure way too low, noticing it minutes before on my prior landings on the way down when I was hearing the telltale sounds.  At the end of the drop, my front tire bit hard into the trail, deflating momentarily down to the rim (“burping”), and turned sharply to the right. I buckled and landed headfirst on the uphill section. I also ended up punching the ground with my left hand, which was still holding onto the handlebar.  As I lie face-first in the dirt with my bell rung, Ron approached on his bike.

“I’m fine,” I said, as I always do after I fall; Ron jokes that if I say that, he knows I’m hurt. By the time we made it back to the car at the bottom of the trail, I had a big goose-egg right on top of my head, which felt hot and itchy. My right eye felt mounting pressure. I’ve hit my head before, but usually after first hitting my chin or face. The angle of this landing put the brunt of the impact directly on top of my head.  Overall, though, I was fine. Or so I thought.  My left middle finger still troubles me. I never had it looked at by a doctor, but Dr. Google indicates a tendon rupture from crashing into the ground.  For months, it was hard to ride because I couldn’t tightly grip the bar with my finger. It’s getting better slowly, but I have to be  careful not to jar it at just the right angle to make me wince in pain. I also stopped climbing at the gym. Hopefully, it will get stronger.

At Northstar in the Summer of 2016, I did my biggest jump at the bottom of Flameout (check out this  Flameout Video I found on YouTube of the trail and the jump; between 5:40 and 5:50 shows the center jump I went off).  I surprised myself – I launched with speed, and was way higher than I’d ever been. Having time to realize this mid-air was both exhilarating and terrifying.  On my landing, I ended up coming down with my bike frame pinning my left knee in a desperate, semi-controlled, slide-out of a “landing”. I was mostly fine, glad I’d managed to avoid a catastrophic fall, but my knee was killing me.  I’d basically crushed my knee under my bike frame. My inside left thigh was abraded by my bike seat slamming into it. I never went to the doctor about my injury, until six months later when I noticed the atrophy in my knee. I saw an orthopedic surgeon, who told me to keep on doing what I’m doing – exercising and yoga – in hopes of building my tendon and muscle strength back.  I basically bruised the hell out of my knee – bone, tendons, muscles and all. He said there’s no guarantee it’ll ever be as strong as it once was, but I’m working on it.

Whether it was having too low front tire pressure, my weight too far forward, seat up too high, or using my front brake at the wrong time, I’ve learned crucial lessons from each fall.  Each lesson sticks with you like muscle-memory.  No matter the circumstance, each fall is reminder that we aren’t totally in control all the time – even when we think we are.  The word Humility comes to mind again. It’s good to push your limits, but within the realm of your skillset for the trail you’re riding.  Only you can make that call for yourself.

At some point, we all fall down.  What really matters is getting back on the saddle.



Winter Wrap-Up, Spring Equinox

Today is the Vernal Equinox, the first day of Spring! In the temperate regions of Earth, we are defined by the cycles of four distinct seasons. As we say goodbye to Winter and welcome the Spring, I always feel bittersweet: I love Winter, and I love Spring. There is something so comforting and rejuvenating about Wintertime, however, that I don’t want to let it go. I relish long nights inside while it rains outside; I beam with excitement thinking about the snow that’s falling at Kirkwood, where Ron and I have season passes. Winter is restful, but there’s a lot of progress internally – writing, playing music, home improvements, you name it. Winter is the time to get your ducks in a row so you can go out and play all Summer long. It’s a time for taking care of all those “little” things that you’re too busy to get to when the days are longer and you’re out playing until dark. It’s also time for one of my favorite activities: snowboarding.

Robins, a sign of Spring

Last weekend, Ron and I spent three days snowboarding amid a massive Winter storm that ultimately dropped five feet of powder! We rode Heavenly on the first day because Kirkwood wasn’t accessible with both Carson Spur and Pass both closed on Highway 88; with our season passes, we got half-off tickets. I hadn’t ridden Heavenly since I was a teenager, when my Dad and I had a magical afternoon in Mott Canyon. Ron killed it driving through the blizzard conditions on Highway 50 over Echo Summit as I slept most of the way, getting us to Heavenly, where it was dumping. We hit Gunbarrel, a notoriously moguled run, but with waist-deep powder and inches falling by the hour, it was bottomless pow – truly Heavenly! We had an amazing day exploring the mountain mostly by ourselves, as there were few people there on that Friday. Riding on a weekday is a real treat!


We stayed at one of our favorite places in South Lake Tahoe, the Lakeshore Lodge & Spa, for two nights. Looking out on the lake invokes serenity and gratitude. As the sunset through snow flurries, I couldn’t help feel that I never wanted to leave this place. Tahoe has a special place in my heart, through Winter and Summer seasons, and I dream of owning a cabin up there someday.




Kirkwood was amazing the next couple of days. Every run was soft, buttery goodness with no bumps or hardpack. We had fresh powder on every run, and got epic first runs on the backside of the mountain, Chair 4. Flowing over freshly fallen powder is indescribable. You have to experience it for yourself to know the feeling. It’s like floating while being gently pushed by wind. There’s an effortlessness to it, a real flow that just goes without force. There is nothing quite like the Sacred Silence of Snow


It doesn’t hurt that I’m riding an amazing new snowboard: a Burton Custom Flying V 158cm that I am in love with. I also have new Burton Ion boots and Malavita bindings. My setup is tight. The board is unsinkable – even in 4’+ of powder, its nose stays up like duckbill. Through untracked powderfields, it cut with authority. It’s quick and responsive, yet plows like a barge. Both sportscar and Cadillac, I’ve found my perfect board!




Fresh Tracks at Kirkwood


These trips to Tahoe, Winter or Summer, are gems I treasure – each one faceted in its own way, its luster shiny or earthy. Experiences outdoors with our loved ones are what life’s all about. Doing what we love with whom we love is a true gift to be cherished. I’m grateful that we got to ride our bikes a lot more this Winter than last year when Él Niño brought record rainfall.


Thunder Saddle & Eagle Bowl

Speaking of bikes? I’m getting a new bike! I just ordered it a few hours ago, and am beyond excited to get it in a couple of weeks! What is this new steed? A Santa Cruz Hightower LT! I demo’d it about a month ago, riding all my favorite trails in Santa Cruz, and absolutely fell in love with it. I’m happy to use my Grassroots discount with Santa Cruz bikes for this one! Even with it, I might be eating canned tuna and crackers for awhile until it’s paid off. But at least I’ll have a rad bike! I’ve got my priorities straight, alright.

With Spring approaching, our calendars start filling up with plans – parties, camping trips, and races. I’ll be racing the Sea Otter Classic in April for my fourth year, and have a full slate of races scheduled through Summer. I cannot wait to ride my new bike at the races! After almost five years on my Specialized Camber Comp, I was beyond ready for an upgrade.

I hope your first day of Spring is inspiring you for the longer, warmer days ahead. Whatever your passions, enjoy them whenever you can, as much as you can. Passion is a gift, and should be revered and celebrated where ever it’s directed. We are lucky to have people to love, and things we love to do. At the end of the day, having fun is one of the simplest yet most profound experiences in life. It gives both purpose and motivation. Having fun is living life the way you want to, allowing yourself the liberty to pursue your interests, while connecting with people in a loving, positive way. Each person’s definition of “having fun” is unique, and equally respectable (given that no one is hurting anyone intentionally, of course). To each their own. Doing what you love with whom you love is having fun.

Get after it and go have some fun! Celebrate this short life and make time to do what you love to do. We are lucky to live in a world where we can focus on such a concept. Enjoy the start of Spring as the Winter storms linger, blessed may it be so.

Follow your flow, and lead with Grace.

– Katrin Deetz

Soquel Demonstration State Forest “Demo” MTB

Soquel Demonstration State Forest (“Demo”) is a gem within the Santa Cruz Mountains of California. Its name is what it is: a demonstration of how active logging operations can be paired with recreation. In the case of Demo, it’s mountain biking mecca for the South Bay and Santa Cruz regions. Though a bit of a drive to get to, it’s always worth it in my opinion.

Where else can you find miles of uninterrupted, well-designed and maintained flow trail within the Santa Cruz Mountains? We are spoiled with a plethora of awesome trails in Santa Cruz, but when all six stages of Demo’s Flow Trail were completed a few years ago, it opened up a new standard for how long and “flowy” a downhill could be. It is like a roller coaster; so fun! It is beautifully crafted and diligently kept up by the stewardship of many mountain bikers, like MBOSC, who lead Dig Days for trailwork. This is the main attraction of Demo, although it’s not the only one.

Braille Trail is another awesome trail within Demo; it’s shorter than Flow, but boasts more log jumps and features than Flow, and is more of a black-diamond run.

Sawpit Trail is the longest trail, mostly cross-country as it traverses Ridge Trail until its starting point. It was recently rerouted, and is a nice, fun trail with some good steeper sections. It has the longest climb out up Hihn’s Mill Road, at a little under four miles.

Corral Trail is a relatively short trail between Ridge and Sulphur Springs; a nice addition if you’re looking to do a longer ride, but I usually skip it.

Demo sets the bar for how much climbing you have to inure to go downhill. A 3:1 ratio of climbing to downhill feels about right, although the math doesn’t make sense, of course. Usually, I climb up via Buzzard Lagoon to Aptos Creek Fire Road, taking a rest at the Santa Rosalia overlook, which has a nice peek of the Monterey Bay. You can also climb in through Hihn’s Mill Road to Sulphur Springs (a.k.a. “Suffer Springs”), if you want a slightly shorter but steeper-pitched climb that skips the first part of Ridge Trail. It earns its nickname, though, as it feels harder than climbing up Buzzard Lagoon.

These rides will keep your endurance and strength up, no doubt. It’s a long ride in, and out, but totally worth it. I love the peace, quiet, and solitude of a long ride. It always sets me right.

Here are some videos of Demo:

Flow Trail from top to bottom:



Flow of A Ride: Sea Otter Classic 2017

A Beginner’s Foray Into Mountain Bike Racing

The Sea Otter Classic is the world’s largest cycling festival, taking over the Laguna Seca Mazda Raceway for four days every year since 1990.  There are dozens of bicycling races: everything from Criterium to Cross-Country, Downhill Mountain Biking to the newly added E-Biking.  Thousands of people flock to this beautiful area near Monterey, California to celebrate two wheels in motion, as I did today on April 20, 2017 for fun in the sun on Day 1 of the festivities.


Today was my third year racing at the Sea Otter Classic in the Open Women’s Enduro Mountain Bike race.  For anyone unfamiliar with what “Enduro” is, it’s basically a category of racing that combines downhill and cross-country trails, which are divided into timed laps.  Your cumulative time ranks you, so you can relax a bit on the untimed transfer sections in between the laps.  It’s about 15 total miles.  I’ve only done one race where we were timed consecutively from start-to-finish, the Santa Cruz Old Cabin Classic, and it felt like a lot more pressure to keep going.  I like the format of the Enduro better so far.  Today was my fourth race ever, and it definitely felt like the best!

I arrived around 7:30 a.m., and checked in for my racing bib and wristband.  There was a heavy drizzle, but tons of excitement in the air.  Probably every bicycling and mountain biking company in the world have booths set up in the pit of the raceway; bikes of all kinds are going every which way; enticing aromas are brewing at the food tents.  By about 7:50, I proceeded to practice the Downhill Course (Stage 1), along with hundreds of other riders, literally.  With a 9:18 a.m. race-time, I figured I had plenty of time.  The line moved at a snail’s pace, however, taking about 45 minutes to get to the start.  I had a great practice lap, and took advantage of the shuttle back up to the start.  By the time I made it up to the top of the Downhill Course, though, it was 9:22!  I lined up at the end of my group, with only about six girls left to go in front of me; I barely made it on time.  And I didn’t have time to practice the Dual Slalom course.

True Faith

The rest of my ride was full of flow and grace; no falls or close-calls.  I pushed my speed, but maintained good control.  I enjoyed myself more, appreciating the ubiquitous wildflowers and birds.   It was much better than the first year I rode in 2015, when I made all kinds of rookie mistakes.  I practiced the Dual-Slalom three times in the morning before the race, thinking it was the Downhill course.  By the time I realized the race was starting, I had to hurry over to the actual downhill course, having never ridden it.  I rode it too fast and ate it face-first on the downhill.  Although I was bleeding a little and had a dirty face, I was fine, so I continued riding.  I got off-course, however, and rode the Dual Slalom again (the fourth time that morning), before riding stages 2 and 3.  I fell on a sandpit section of the second stage, but was okay.  By the time I got to the Dual Slalom lap that actually counted, it was my fifth time doing it that day, and clearly an advantage.  I rode it in 56 seconds, not bad compared to others.  This proved one of the most obvious lessons: the more you practice a course, the better you’ll do.

In 2016, I raced again, and did better; I felt more familiar with the course, and had returned to practice riding the trails of Fort Ord National Monument all of two times.  My rank went up a little (I was 36 out of 48), but mostly I was happy I didn’t fall!  I enjoyed the experience a lot more, knowing a little more of what to expect.

This year, I specifically trained on the sandy trails of Bear Mountain, near my house in Ben Lomond.  The topography is quite similar to Fort Ord, with lots of variations of sandstone – everything from pits of beach sand to tacky, grippy, compacted sand.  I don’t typically ride there often, but it’s been a great place to work on my skills in the sand. However, nothing compares to riding the actual location, and I probably should’ve made time to preride the course this year.  Nothing compares to practicing the actual trails; duh!  I wish we’d have more mountain bike races on the trails of Santa Cruz, where I am at home.  I know I’d do better than I did in this race.  Although I’d still like to improve, I went up in rank this year, improving by 33 seconds from last year (15:45 compared to 16:18, cumulative times); a 7% percentile improvement in overall rank.  I’ll take it!

Why am I trying to race at all?  Self-edification.  Growth and improvement are important to me.  I love a good challenge, physically and mentally.  Setting a goal and working toward it motivates me and keeps me excited about life.  I also feel like I have some unfinished business in the realm of competitive sports.  It’s a long story, but after years of playing many childhood sports, I stopped playing competitive sports in the eighth grade  (yes, I regret that! Especially quitting soccer).  By the time I tried to get back into it as a Junior in high-school, I was too far behind compared to my peers to make Varsity-level.  Although I’ve always been athletic and active, I have a hunger for more winning, more success athletically.  Being a sponsored, competitive athlete is something I’ve always dreamed of.

I like the mental challenge of a race; in fact, that is probably the biggest challenge for me.  I’ve done some running races, too, and I can get distracted, either by external stimuli (other people), or internal (self-doubt; comparing myself to others).   I know I’m a good athlete, and I want to learn how to be a pillar of grace under the pressure of competition; to tune out the background noise.  I want to learn to perform at my fullest potential, despite what other people are doing, or the obstacle of crowded pathways resembling the old Atari video-game Frogger.  Yes, I’d like to prove myself as well; ego is part of it.  But it comes from a place of unfulfilled dreams, that resonates with me on a deep, emotional level. Athleticism is part of my identity, and to be recognized for it someday would be awesome.  I have a flame lit under me that, instead of needing to be extinguished, needs to burn and glow.

I try to keep a few things in mind during a ride, summarized with the letters A-G: Awareness, Balance, Confidence, Determination, Endurance, Flow, and Grace.

Each word embodies an essential quality for a successful ride, in my opinion.   Total awareness is everything; without it, riding is plain dangerous.  Balance is key, not just for physically shifting your weight, but for balancing effort, approach, and expectations.  Confidence is what you get from all those rides over the years; it’s the muscle-memory of instinct.  It’s sure-footedness, committed action.  Determination is my trait; tenacious K.  Endurance is the obvious one to see you through the long, hard climbs when your muscles are tight.  Flow is the secret code that unlocks the beauty of the whole experience; it connects everything together into positive, forward momentum.  Grace is the blend of all these traits, where skill and intention combine for a smooth ride; it’s being a courteous, conscientious rider.

Ultimately, it’s a lot of fun to go for a ride in a beautiful place with a bunch of cool people.  I loved talking with other competitors and hearing their stories.   We all shared a good, hearty laugh watching a pair of Wild Turkeys gobble in unison.  Meandering through the booths after the race, warm sunshine on my face, watching the pros ride the pump tracks was a total highlight (names are on the Rider’s chalkboard in one of the pics).

It’s inspiring being around so many others who share the same passion.  I love being part of the mountain biking community – an outdoorsy, thrill-seeking, and fun-loving crew of people, all trying to push themselves to their very best.  I can’t wait for next year!

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