A late work day meant a late arrival. Ryan and the rest of the TSE crew stayed up to make sure I could navigate to my cabin!
I had no idea how many people I would be with or where they were sleeping.
I didn’t want to wake anybody up [the door creaked] so in a state of awkwardness I decided I would be fine sleeping in my sweatpants and t-shirt and did not unload the car.
It was pretty cold so I used my pillowcase as a micro-sleeping bag.
Turns out nobody even heard me come in and took all of about 10 minutes for our floor to basically become an instant family! One of my favorite parts about each day was spinning back to the lodge and hearing about everybody’s races. Seriously, this crew was amazing!
On Stage 1 Bob charged ahead at the start as I buried myself to stay with him and the leaders. After about an hour of XCO pace he called out and said that it was not sustainable and we slowed up a bit. Good thing we did because at the 90 minute mark my back seized up and it was my turn to ask for a pace change.
We were able to rally and with rain pouring down and thunder clapping, we finished strong with nothing but smiles on our faces.
The rest of the stages went by crazy fast and we learned more about how to pace without blowing each other up, which is something I haven’t had to think about when racing before. I would pull us on the gravel sections and Bob, a more experienced technical rider, would help guide me through some gnarly sections. Teamwork was definitely making the dream work!
Here are some of the stage highlights:
Stage 1: Finishing the race in a thunderstorm. This made it dramatic and exciting! Four more days to go.
Stage 2: Eating 3 GU gels + drinking a bottle of drink mix per hour. I may have gone overboard, but man did I feel energized on the ride!
Stage 3: Nabbed 5th in the Enduro Timed Section. I have been working on my descending skills so this felt like a well-earned victory!
Stage 4: Conquered the Three Bridges of doom. These were slippery bridges with a 16-ish inch step-up to get onto them. Physically it was hard, but mentally is was REALLY challenging!
Stage 5: Helping an injured rider off the trail to get to a road where she could be taken to the hospital. Bob and I ended up missing the GC podium but it was well worth it to help the rider get out safely. Completing this stage meant I completed my first stage race!
The week was definitely challenging as I learned about how to be a good partner and manage my pace and expectations. Not going immediately into the red meant that I was able to see technical sections more clearly and gained a whole new sense of rock-riding confidence.
While my legs and mountain bike skills (especially riding rocks!) will come out of this week stronger and more capable, I feel like my mental strength and balance as a competitive athlete have shattered a ceiling I didn’t even know I had.
I am still processing what I put my body and mind through on Sunday. I went through many emotions, but surprisingly most of them were on the happy side. The Belgian Waffle Ride is the BEST event I have ever done. From the recon rides to the race itself to the after party, every aspect is meticulously planned to give the rider the best experience. I am in awe with how awesome the crew for BWR is. Some say this is the most difficult one day event in North America. Regardless of difficulty, it is certainly one of the most fun!
I absolutely suffered out there but my headspace was in a place where I was just stoked to be out there! My Pivot Vault ended up being the perfect machine. My Shimano gearing was just what I needed and I suffered ZERO flats thanks to my Kenda tire and Orange Seal combo. This in itself was a major victory as I passed more people with flats than I could even count.
I ended up finishing 14th in the largest and fastest field of women in the history of BWR! The field more than tripled over last year and I bet it will increase even more next year. In case you want to see how I stacked up, check out my Strava!
And now, a recap of my race and how it played out:
Start (0-20ish) – I WENT OUT HARD!!
To be honest, the start was terrifying! It was yo-yo’ing for the “neutral start” and my power was fluctuating a lot! I was committed to going out hard to get onto Lemontwistenburg, the first dirt section, in a good position. I did just that…and then unfortunately people did not go all of the way to the end of the U-turn and I ended up mid-pack going into the dirt. The first dirt single track was painfully slow. I will admit, there was some anxiety in those first dirt miles as I imagined the lead women gaining minutes on me just from getting in ahead of me. When I got back onto Del Dios Highway, I kicked it into high gear and got with a pack that was moving forward. When I say I went out hard, I mean it. I got my third highest one minute power EVER on this section. Near the end of the next dirt section there was a pile up in the sand. All of a sudden I saw two more women!
Mile 54ish – I CRASHED AND HAD A DUDE LAND ON TOP OF ME
Black Canyon was sandy! It was graded a few days prior which left massive sand piles everywhere. All of the dirt was the same color so it was hard to tell where the sand was. After the first section of the long climb, we started descending. After passing a man who was very unsure about this section, I went into a sandy section and started sliding. Boom! The man rammed into me, flipped over me, and landed on top of me. My chain was stuck in between my derailleur and my chain ring, my kit was torn at the hip, and I was bleeding at my elbow, arm, hip, knee, and shin. Yikes! As a mountain biker I am used to crashing so I got up and kept on going without thinking twice.
Mile 54-59ish – I CRACKED SO HARD
I was in a dark place here. I was cracked. Bonked. Done. I thought my power meter was malfunctioning because the power was reading so low. Nope, I was just not doing well. I got passed by countless women. It was a bit demoralizing. I kept looking at my mantra bracelet that says, “Be where your feet are.” It helped remind me that it didn’t matter who was behind or in front of me, I needed to be present. I drank fluid as much as I could going up that climb in an effort to stick to my nutrition plan.
GÜP Aid Station (mile 60ish) – BACON AND COCA COLA BROUGHT ME BACK TO LIFE
Tomas of GÜP saved my day! He hand fed me turkey bacon and several cups of Coca Cola… and I came back to life! What?! Over the next 20 miles, I continued eating, took an electrolyte pill, and continued to focus on hydrating. I was with two other riders and we were going at a decent pace; not too fast and not too slow. A faster group caught up and I was recovered enough to hop on!
Mile 80-100 – ALL OF A SUDDEN I FELT AMAZING
Out of nowhere, I started feeling really good! This was a huge, welcomed surprise! These miles included a lot of dirt and I was able to pass people along the way. During this part of the race I started to notice that every aid station (they were spaced about 20 miles apart) had women at them as I stopped quickly and kept going. I was moving up! The crazy thing about this race is that you have no idea where you are in the field. It truly is a race against yourself.
Mile 100-133 – I KICKED BUTT AT THE END
This is the part I was most mentally prepared for. I had such a positive attitude and I am so stoked on my performance during these miles. I continued to pass people while encouraging them, was able to get in with a fast group, and I was still taking pulls! I raced in fear for much of the race because I didn’t want to get a purple card/jersey, which means you were sitting in and not doing work. Thanks, MMX (Michael Marckx, the race director) for the scare! Double Peak was grueling but I was able to turn the pedals over, with a max grade of over 20%. Ouch! With less than a mile to go I caught up to two more women. On the last little kicker of a hill I got out of the saddle and and was able to get a big enough gap to finish ahead without a sprint finish. The crazy part is, I would have been ready for it.
Finish – THIS IS THE BEST PARTY OF THE YEAR!
At the finish I was greeted by Nic and MMX. I got a big hug and a congrats from both. Having part of my tribe at the end was really special to me! I chugged a recovery drink and went straight for the waffles and ice cream! Next, I had a delicious Cinco de Mayo meal with a Lost Abbey Cinco de Drinko Mexican Lager. Pure epicness!
The BWR is hands down the best day I have ever had on a bike. It is everything a bike event should be. As MMX said before he sent us off, “this is a parade of bikes with your friends.” We are here to help each other out, before during, and after. I am already looking forward to lining up for the 2020 BWR. You should join me!
I’m headed to Jasper National Park in Alberta, Canada in a few weeks for Frosty’s Fat Bike Festival again, and I couldn’t be more stoked! The event features two races: a crit style XC and a 50K, fat bike demos, skills clinics (with fat bike instructors, including me), a “Ride with the Pros” event in Maligne Canyon, dinners, beer tasting at Jasper Brewing Company, discussions on fat bike-related topics, and mostly a whole lot of fun. PS, it’s not too late to sign up! The snow is stacking up in the Canadian Rockies and temperatures are tracking in the 20’s Fahrenheit so conditions will be perfect. Last year an Arctic flow consumed the region during the event and I fine-tuned my fat biking essentials to ensure I had fun no matter the weather. The lessons I learned have made fat biking even more fun and taken away my anxieties about getting cold. They can help you too!
It’s All About the Tires
You hear this all the time from fat bikers, but how your bike engages with the snow is the difference between floating across terrain or sinking so deep your axles are at snow level. My “must have” tires for any snow condition are Kenda Juggernaut 4.8’s. They always find traction, roll fast on hard pack, and have a sidewall that allows for even spreading of the tread across the snow. I spend the first few minutes of any ride adjusting my tire pressure. My start-point is generally 3PSI in the front and 3.5PSI in the rear.
If you adjust your PSI in a warm place, like in your house, when you go outside in cold temps the pressure will lower. It’s easier to reduce pressure after you have been out for 20 minutes than to add it back, so head out with more pressure than you think you will want.
In hardpack conditions I run more air pressure, between 5-8 PSI. If it is extremely cold, the moisture will be sucked out of hardpack snow and it starts to behave like sugar. As more people spin through the sugar bowl it starts to become bottomless. Run a low PSI as if you were in a little fresh powder
In fresh, fluffy snow you will want to spread out your time footprint as much as possible to stay on top. I run as little as 2.5 PSI.
In soft, moist snow or deep fresh snow it is just about impossible not to bury your tires. If you are leaving a tire impression that is more than 1” deep and your PSI is as low as you can make it, this is not the day to ride. The trough you leave and the subsequent post holes from hiking out will destroy the trails for others until a groomer is able to repair the damage or a big snowfall covers it up.
If it’s going to be really cold, top off your sealant and carry a tube. Tubeless tires may fail in extreme cold. Alloy rims conduct heat well, meaning they quickly give any heat they have in them to the snow. Rubber contracts a little when it contacts cold conditions too. Sealant is water based which may freeze and expand. The increased space between your rim and tire may be too big a feat for your sealant to hold together and sealant that is normally sloshing around to fill the gap may be an icy mass. I’ve only had this happen to me when the temperature is below -15 Fahrenheit, but it was a long and cold hike home. Always carry a tube and tools to fix a flat.
Frostbite is not a love-bite
Frostbite can happen in just a few minutes if the wind is blowing, you are wet from sweat or snow, or if skin is exposed even briefly to extreme cold as when taking a glove off to open a snack. A solid layering solution that prevents wind from getting in but allows moisture to escape is a must.
Hands need to be bundled up, but not so much that you can’t maneuver your levers to shift or brake. BarMitts are basically mandatory. I put heat packs in the BarMitts and turn them into an oven.
Your face, especially around your nose and mouth, are hard to keep covered when breathing hard. I use Aeemelia Every Day Skin and Lip Oil my face to make a waterproof barrier between my skin and the elements. The oil has a natural SPF, but I will apply a higher power sunscreen over the oil if the sun is out in full force.
Feet are notoriously hard to keep warm while cycling. I have had several pairs of winter riding boots, and I believe Lake Cycling MXZ303 is the best out there. They are warm, waterproof and windproof while being just breathable enough to prevent your feet from wading in a sweat bog. They adjust by a Boa system, so the fit will never put circulation reducing pressure on any part of your foot and all sizes are available wide. Most of the Canadians were wearing these too!
It is easy to think you will keep your feet warm with more socks. However, pressure on your feet from being squished under several socks will reduce circulation and cause them to cool down. I experimented one day in Jasper and wore a thin wool sock on one foot and two on the other and went for a ride. The double sock foot chilled a bit while the single one was comfortable.
For crazy cold rides, I back-up my warm feet strategy by rigging my ski boot heaters to my cycling boots.
When it’s cold, your desire to eat and drink is “Meh” at best. However, just keeping warm consumes a lot of calories. Not to mention, you are exercising! Liquids freeze. Hydration and nutrition is a bit of a conundrum.
Put edibles in your BarMitt ovens. The heat packs will keep them from becoming solid, so you won’t break a tooth trying to gnaw on your GU Energy Stroopwafel.
If using a water bottle, put it upside down in the bottle cage to keep the nozzle from freezing up. If it much below freezing, this will only work for the beginning of your outing.
I found an Osprey hydration vest works best for me. I put it over my first base layer and under all others. The nozzle I run under my neck gaiter. My body heat keeps the liquids from freezing.
When I’m done drinking, I make sure to blow some air into the tube so the bit that is exposed does not have liquid in it to freeze.
If the nozzle does freeze, putting it in your mouth (like biting a stick) will melt it in a minute or two.
This trick came from my coach Mike Durner at Mind Right Endurance: put 1 oz of liquor in 1.5L hydration bladder. This lowers the freezing point but is not enough to make me impaired.
I found putting my nutrition in my water was the best strategy to keep me fueled AND hydrated. My favorite blend is Blueberry Pomegranate GU Roctane Hydration Mix, a dash of cinnamon, and whiskey mixed into hot water. It tastes like mulled cider.
I increase my hourly calorie replacement by 100 Kcal or more. I weigh 125 lbs and consume 300 Kcal/hr during hard rides lasting more than 1.5 hours and am still ravenous for lunch.
Odds and Ends
Your iPhone is good for 1-2 pictures before the battery is drained in the cold. I put heat packs in my internal pocket to hold my phone and it will warm up enough to take another 1-2 pictures 30 minutes later. Better yet, ride with lots of friends and have one person take a picture at any stop and share your images and/or only take the amazing shots.
I get asked over and over if hydraulic brakes work in cold temperatures. My Shimano brakes have not let me down. To keep the brake fluid viscous, I pump my brakes a few times every 20 minutes. When riding in fresh snow, I scrub speed most of the time by nudging my tires into the soft edges of the groomed trails, avoiding touching my brakes all together.
Access to a hot tub or bath is essential. As soon as I get back from a chilly ride, I take a hot soak to restore my core temperature. I gobble up all my energy reserves trying to rewarm otherwise; leaving me a zombie at post ride festivities. This also lets my body recover to head out the next day.
KS Lev Ci Dropper Post Retail $460. KS does not sell Direct-to-Consumer so you can go visit your local bike shop to get your hands on one (they can also install it for you). Better yet, win one! Submit a reason the person you would gift this to really needs one by Sunday, December 2nd HERE. Include Good to the Last Drop on the first line of the comments section. The winner will be notified by December 7th and the story will be shared on our social media after the holidays.
Hyperthreads Hyper Pro Jersey and Bib Retail $270, use our discount code HYPERKSKENDA for 50% off of a shopping cart with $250 or more! ** This discount is good for the first 15 shoppers** Even better, you can submit a pic of the person you want to gift a kit to (or self-gift) in their ridiculous “dirty laundry” riding outfit on on Instagram or Facebook by December 2nd to win one. Please tag @ks_kenda_women (IG) or @kskendawomenmtb (FB). We will sort through the submissions and post the finalists on our IG for public voting. Winner will be notified by December 7th!
MTB stage racing takes riders back to the roots of the sport. Expect big loops on the best trails in the area and be ready for an epic day on the bike! Self-support skills are mandatory: ability to fix a mechanical on the trail, route finding (courses are flagged, but they often get removed by “wildlife”), inclement weather preparedness, planning hydration/ nutrition strategy for the day, and of course a mindset to embrace the unexpected. Quebec Single Track Experience, like most stage races, will have aid stations along the course. However, racers should not depend on these because mechanicals typically happen at the furthest point from civilization, the cookies may have been stolen by Yogi the Bear, and Mother Nature has a wicked sense of humor.
Here is what I’ll carry with me each day of QSE
Osprey Pack My ride pack must be comfortable, adjustable, and big enough to hold all the stuff I need to be self-sufficient for the day
Flat repair kit
Hand Pump. For whatever reason, when I am stage racing, a flat is followed by another. The ease of a CO2 cartridge is out ruled by repeat and reliable use of a hand pump.
Tube. Make sure it’s the right size, but in a pinch a smaller diameter tube will work – but a larger diameter will not.
Hyperthreads duo jacket. With removable sleeves, water resistance, and windout fabric this garment can tackle the weather.
Arms and knees. These are easy to use for warmth, are easily stashed in my pack, and if I forget to put sunscreen on one of my arms (I’ve done this); a hot arm is better than a sunburnt arm.
Fleece Beanie. If you get really cold, keeping your head warm will have the largest return on investment.
Hot Hands. These small single-use heating pads can be put in gloves or socks to keep them warm if I get soaked, cold, and have a big descent in front of me. Numb hands make braking and shifting nearly impossible.
I plan to carry .5 – 1L of water per hour of riding.
I use one scoop of GQ-6 Green Apple Base per hour of riding in my hydration pack. This provides electrolytes and some of the calories I will need.
I carry a water bottle with plain water to wash down gels
King-sized PayDay bar. If my stomach turns or my stoke needs a little fire, this saves the day!
I carry enough nutrition and water for an hour longer than I expect the stage to take me, just in case. Bonking makes a hard day more difficult.
Bumps, bruises, and scrapes are just part of the game. Stage races have excellent volunteers on courses who will help with a serious medical issue, but sometimes there is the in-between injury. Here is my mini first-aid kit:
Big Band-Aid (2)
Steri-strips (8) for a laceration that may need stitches
Ibuprofen (4) to dull a cramping low back
Benadryl (4) to slow the swelling of a bee sting or itching of poison oak (Epi-Pen if you are allergic!)