Racing rookie.

I stood, slightly chilly, under the big top tent as the rain poured down outside. My heart was pounding already. My stomach was in a knot. The other ladies all stood in a group, all friends from previous races and events. Most of them raced for the same team. They were all kitted-out, matching bibs and jerseys. I overheard a conversation about a 100k mountain bike race. Holy shit. They’re going to be really fast. 

I stood alone. I’d met some of these girls last night and they were really cool, but I wasn’t brave enough to jump into their conversation. When the rain slowed down a little, I jumped on my bike and pedaled circles around the parking lot, waiting for the start.

I was about to do my first mountain bike race in a very long time. I am calling it my first race ever, because the couple that I did when I was a kid don’t really count. I don’t remember them much at all. The only thing I remember is that I was the only girl. It’s been a long time since then. I had figured racing wasn’t really my thing. Then Annie convinced me to try it. So here I was, in the pouring rain, about to go ride 20 miles of rocks and roots and steep climbs as fast as I possibly could.

5 minutes til start. I found myself a spot in the parking lot, next to Jason. I knew he looked vaguely familiar and then he talked to me and I realized that we knew each other. We exchanged small talk.

30 seconds. He wished me luck, and I returned the regards. We all were lined up. And then we were off.

We briefly rolled downhill and then we climbed up rocky, muddy doubletrack. I wanted to hang back in the beginning of the ride, be careful not to let the adrenaline get the best of me and burn out too early. But I still found myself passing people right off the bat.

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Photo: Derek Bissett

Over the dam, and into the woods. I got ahead of another couple people when the techy stuff began. My plus tires did the job in the wet conditions. The wet logs seemed sketchy but I tried them anyway and made it over most of them with no issues. I tried to keep a consistent, moderate pace. I was excited now, still feeling slightly nervous I suppose, but it was definitely an excited nervous. I wanted to do well. My goal was to just have fun and ride my best, but of course I knew that if I messed stuff up that I knew I could clean, or blew up too early, or otherwise rode in a way that I knew was less than I best that I could, I’d be disappointed. I felt really good physically, so that was a good start.

It was really nice to ride in wet conditions again. It’s been so dry in Central PA, I’d forgotten what riding in the rain feels like. The mud wasn’t bad, and the rocks were a little slick but not as much as I’d anticipated. Crack Trail was lots of fun, one of my favorite parts of the race. My adrenaline was going, I was still fresh, and still taking it sort of easy. The bridges through the rock cracks were super slippery, so I opted to walk rather than ride them, and even that was a challenge. There were a couple other rocks gardens that I had ridden last time I was at Big Bear that I decided to walk today. Not crashing was another goal.

By the end of Crack, I’d passed all the other ladies, but I didn’t know it at the time. I didn’t pay any attention to who was in front of me or behind me at the start, so I had no idea how many people were ahead. I’d passed a few guys too.

Somewhere around mile 5 or so, we did a climb known affectionately as “soul sucker.” I didn’t remember it from riding with Annie and Jeff back in June, and I realized that we hadn’t ridden the second part of Crack then, for good reason. It really was a soul sucker. This is when I started to wonder how far in we were. I knew we would pass 3 aid stations, and we hadn’t even passed the first one yet. It felt like we’d done 10 miles, but I knew we hadn’t.

I tailed a guy on the doubletrack past the first aid station, waving and saying hello to the volunteers standing there, but not stopping. I had plenty of water and some food if I needed it, but I wasn’t hungry yet.

I’d waffled back and forth between wearing my Camelbak and just stuffing a bottle in my frame bag, and opted for the Camelbak because I figured I’d stay better hydrated with the easy-access drinking. And I wouldn’t have to stop to fill up. I’ve been riding with the pack all the time lately anyway, so why switch it up? They say don’t do anything differently on race day.

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Photo: Derek Bissett

Past the aid station, the course turned to singletrack again. This part in the middle of the ride is a blur. I don’t remember exactly what trails we rode. I don’t remember exactly who I saw. I know I leapfrogged with one guy for a while—he’d get ahead on the descents and then he let me go ahead for the climbs. We really didn’t talk a whole lot. It was hard to talk and try to navigate these trails. But it was nice to have some company and someone riding a similar pace. I eventually lost him on one of the longer climbs just past the second aid station, and I was alone.

I didn’t see anyone else on the trail for the entire rest of the race. It was weird, knowing there were so many other people out there, but not seeing a soul. Sometimes, I forgot that I was racing. I found myself spacing out, and I had to remind myself to focus and keep pedaling hard. At this point, I knew that unless someone passed me, I was on the podium. I still didn’t know that I was first. That’s probably a good thing. Earlier, I’d passed Annie taking pictures, and she told me that I was doing great. She didn’t tell me that I was ahead, even though she knew I was. I later thanked her, knowing that I’d have felt a lot more pressure if I’d known it at the time. I was still just having fun, going for a mountain bike ride in the woods on some sweet trails in West Virginia on a wet, humid Saturday. No big deal.

I rode alone through the ferns, the pines, and down the bone-rattling descent towards the campground. I knew I had to be close to the finish. Soon, I saw the signs: Ultra 2nd Lap, and 1 mile to finish. On my drive down the night before, I had thought about switching to the 40-mile Ultra course, because the idea of challenging myself just to finish something appealed to me more than trying to race other people and do a distance that I knew I could do. But at this moment, I was so glad I had stuck with the 20-miler. I was worked. I don’t doubt that I would somehow finish the 40 miles, but it wouldn’t be pretty. And trying to go fast was a lot more fun than I thought it would be.

The last bit to the finish was the reverse of the start. I pedaled across that orange line painted on the ground and received a handful of claps and cheers. The food was spread out and looked amazing. I rode over to Annie.

Did you know you won?!?

Really?!?!?!?

Despite the fact that I’d considered it as I was riding solo those last 10 miles, I still figured there was probably someone in my class ahead of me somewhere. But no, I was first.

Annie offered me a Gatorade and told me where the hose was to spray off my very muddy bike.

Jason asked me how it was. Great! Apparently I won! 

There was a group of people standing there who were super stoked for me.

I saw you riding around in the parking lot before the race, and I noticed you weren’t all kitted out. I said to myself, that’s the underdog. I’m glad you won. 

I changed out of my wet, muddy clothes and grabbed a plate of food. Now for the awkward part. Riding bikes I can handle. The socializing with people I don’t know, that’s the tough part. Luckily, everyone was super nice, and I ended up making some new friends, which was a major goal for the day.

I had way more fun than I thought I would. And actually, I’m looking forward to doing another race at some point. I’ll definitely be back for more Big Bear events, and I’m already planning on trying out the 40-mile Ultra course next August.

Thank you Jeff and Annie Simcoe for the encouragement, support, delicious breakfast sandwich that helped fuel my ride, and for putting on a great event. And thank you to all the other volunteers and crew who helped make it happen.

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Big Bear Ultra Lite Women’s Open— 3rd: Robyn Stewart, 2nd: Christa Humphrey Ross, 1st: Helena Kotala

 

Conquering.

 

I had this teacher in high school who said he went into teaching because he was always scared of public speaking, and he tries to do things he’s scared of.

I don’t think about much from high school. It wasn’t exactly my favorite period of my life. But I think about this statement a lot.

Most of us tend to avoid the things we are scared of, myself included. I hate talking on the phone, especially to people I don’t know, so if I have to call someone, I’ll put it off as long as I possibly can. I definitely scared of public speaking. Basically, I’m scared of any social situation in which I don’t know people, and even when I do, I don’t like being the center of attention. I’m scared of failure, of being the worst or the slowest, of disappointing people, of trying to fix something and not doing it right and making a situation worse. And I’m pretty f-ing scared of heights.

I’ve always been intrigued by rock climbing/bouldering. I did it a few times as a kid, at various adventure camps that I went to. I went to the indoor rock gym with my cousins a number of times when I went to go visit, because that was something they were really into. Almost two years ago, Evan and I moved within a couple miles of some really great bouldering spots that are super popular with the local climbing crowd. If I didn’t take advantage of this opportunity, I was just dumb.

So I went bouldering a few times with people. My friend Erica even gave me a pair of rock climbing shoes that were too small for her. Now I really didn’t have an excuse.

Except for all my fears.

Like heights. And failure. And social situations.

Bouldering is often a group activity. Sure, it can be a great solo activity too, but especially when first starting out, it’s helpful to have someone to help you figure out where to place your hands and feet, and move the crash pad with you, and spot you so that you don’t impale yourself on the tree with spiky limbs sticking out of it that’s laying on the ground a few feet from where you’re climbing.

So, that means going with other people. And other people sometimes make me nervous, especially when they’re all sitting around watching you climb.

And then there’s the fact that as soon as I get higher than 3  or 4 feet off the ground I start to shake.

There are a lot of things about rock climbing that scare me. But I think that’s all the more reason to do it. How else will I conquer my fear of heights, or other people watching me, or being a beginner?

So I will continue to climb. I will continue to strive to do things that terrify me. And I will try to conquer my fears, one step at a time.

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Topping out. Photo: Marci Chamberlain

 

Riding on the Moon.

After a full day of riding at Big Bear, our plan was to hit up Coopers Rocks on Sunday. But discussions with Jeff and Annie left us intrigued about the Davis, WV area. Over post-ride beers at our cabin, we all grew increasingly curious about Moon Rocks, a giant, cratered expanse of rock atop a plateau just outside of Davis. It wasn’t long before we were convinced to make the hour-long drive the next day.

So after an evening of drinking and dancing to live music at the MoonShadow Cafe with our new friends Jeff and Annie (for some reason they wanted to keep hanging out with us!), we hit the road early but not too early. Carissa bid us adieu to head to Coopers Rock to climb and then head home (she had an interview the next day).

We parked along Camp 70 road just outside of Davis. The trail up to Moon Rocks started out in grassy fields, gradually heading uphill. It became more and more technical the farther up we got, crossing some boggy areas before becoming dominated by rock gardens. As we were navigating the mud, I was stopped by a group heading in the opposite direction who was also looking for Moon Rocks. They were convinced they were going the right way, according to the map.

I’m following the locals, I told them, and asked if they wanted to tag along. After some hemming and hawing, the group finally decided that maybe I knew what I was talking about, and turned their bikes around.

During all this, I realized that the gal standing behind the guys I was talking to looked pretty familiar.

Kelly?, I asked. I took off my sunglasses and she recognized me. She was someone I knew from the mountain bike scene back home. It’s amazing how small the world can be.

So we continued uphill, our new group in tow. Forested rock gardens suddenly gave way to the open, cratered rock face. It was quite a challenge to ride on. You had to either pick your line just right, or blast through it and keep up enough momentum to make it over the little pockets and cracks between smoother sections of rock. But it was beautiful. The scenery and view was stunning.

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moon rocks

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At the top, there was quite a crowd hanging out. This was the weekend of the Canaan MTB Festival, which was just wrapping up, so there were more people in town for that. And apparently this is a pretty popular ride in the area. We stopped long enough to snap some pictures, but moved along pretty quickly.

HooDoo Rocks brought more rocky goodness. I likened it to many of the trails we have locally in Rothrock State Forest, so I felt right at home. After descending back down into the grassy fields, we stopped for a snack break, and talked about potential options to finish out the day. We were only a couple miles from the car, but Jeff and Annie suggested adding on Splashdam Trail to end up with some more ride time.

Splashdam is a lesser-known gem, built rather recently and mostly only ridden by locals. It’s follows the Blackwater River, and despite the fact that we did the trail in the upstream direction, climbing was minimal. Instead, the challenge lay in the rock gardens. We took a moment to chill by the river before finishing the trail and riding out the gravel road back to the car.

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Post-ride, we gorged ourselves at Hellbender Burritos, stopped at Blackwater Falls for a quick look at the giant cascade of water, and headed back to camp.

The next morning, we did one last quick ride at Big Bear before jumping in the Jeep to drive home. Our weekend in West Virginia was amazing. Thank you to Jeff and Annie Simcoe for their excellent guiding skills, hospitality, and for putting up with us!

I can’t wait to head back in approximately a month to take part in the Big Bear Ultra Lite!

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Ladies of Big Bear.

At the grocery store in McHenry, we divided and conquered, spreading to all ends of the store to grab provisions for the weekend. It was then about a half hour drive to Big Bear Lake, where we stopped at the guard shack to grab our key. The other ladies hung out while I dealt with the administrative end of checking in, falling into a role as the “unofficial welcoming committee.” I stepped out of the small building to find them waving and smiling at the line of cars driving by. The young, blonde kid in uniform who was checking parking passes didn’t know what to think.

We found our cabin, unloaded the car, and quickly realized that it was BYOTP. Bring Your Own Toilet Paper. Ooops. Didn’t know that. We found some napkins in the car and used those for the time being. We later found out that the guards at the entrance station were supposed to issue us a roll of TP—standard for all guests. I guess we were just too intimidating that they were flustered and forgot.

The cabin was really nice—small but clean and very well-maintained. We claimed bunks and unloaded all the food on the table. Time to crack a beer.

To stave off sleep, we decided to take a drive around the premises. We quickly discovered that this was not a “typical” campground. Most people don’t just stay for a weekend. They lease plots of land where they keep a camper, usually with a porch and other infrastructure built around the shell to the point that many of these dwellings actually looked like homes. And everyone had a golf cart. Some of them were even souped-up, with light-up wheels and extra beefy tires. Some of them were mega-carts, with multiple rows of seating. The little vehicles zoomed back and forth like little ants. I’m used to being looked at strangely because I’m on a bike. Now we were being looked at strangely because we were in a car, not a golf cart. What a weird little world.

By the time we’d gotten slightly lost in the maze of campland roads, and stopped at the “Country Store” to grab some TP, it was a decent hour to go to bed, and we all welcomed our sleeping bags.

The next morning, Jeff Simcoe and his wife Annie met us at our cabin to ride the trails at Big Bear. I’d started talking to Jeff almost a year ago when I was about to take a road trip to Colorado, and wrote an article for Singletracks about potential places to stop and mountain bike along the way. Big Bear Lake, and nearby Coopers Rocks, were on the list. Jeff sent me a message offering his ride guide services if I stopped through, but I decided against it because it’s only two and a half hours from home, opting instead to hit places further west that I wouldn’t ever go to for just a weekend.

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But Big Bear was certainly still on my radar, and it wasn’t a tough decision to make it the destination of our ladies weekend. Jeff was more than happy to hook us up with a great deal on the cabin, and show us all around.

Having never ridden with Jeff and Annie, I was a little nervous. I’m always a little nervous before riding with new people. I never want to hold anyone up, and sometimes I think that other people expect me to be a really great rider because I write about mountain biking. So, I put extra pressure on myself. But the couple was nice and chill as could be, and I was quickly at ease in their company.

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The trails were awesome. We started out with some of the more technical ones, as they happened to be close to camp. Beaver Creek, Voo Doo Rocks, and Crack Trail offered some challenging rock lines, which I probably wouldn’t have tried on my own. But following Jeff, I was able to commit and I surprised myself when I nailed most of them. I even tried a sort-of-scary maneuver through a downhill rock crack. I stopped just before it and shrieked a little during my first attempt, but the second time around, I made it without a dab. Then there was the infamous “Crack” for which Crack Trail is named. It’s a giant crack between two rocks that is just wide enough for most handlebars. In the middle, you have to make an almost-90 degree turn, which tripped me up a little, but after a quick brace off the rock wall, I was able to ride through.

We then headed up the mountain to some more mellow, flowy stuff. Annie and I chatted, and the topic of racing came up. I’d been friends with Jeff on Facebook and he posted a few pictures of her in some recent mountain bike races. I’ve been thinking a lot about trying racing again lately, but I’m pretty apprehensive. I’m don’t particularly like competition or pressure, but I do like to challenge myself. And I’ve been wanting to put myself out there a little more in the mountain bike world, meet new people, and try new things.

It wasn’t long before Annie convinced me to try a race at Big Bear in August. She and Jeff are great, and I wanted to support their endeavors (they are the ones putting on the race). And I thought that it would be really fun to try to do these trails as fast as I could. The mix of tech sections and flow seems ideal. Anybody want to join me?

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Unfortunately, once we’d climbed for a while, Carissa got a stick caught in her derailleur and it bent to the point where we couldn’t quite fix it. She could still use a few of the gears, but without the full range, she decided to ride back to camp. Later, Allison took a spill and twisted her foot, eventually ending her day on the bike as well. So it was just four of us to finish out the ride. We rode about 20 miles, through a mix of all sorts of terrain and ecosystems. Rocks, streams, swamps, pines, and ferns. Lots of ferns.

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pinestam ferns

Jeff and Annie ended up hanging out with us the rest of the weekend. We all went out to dinner Saturday night, drove down to Davis for a ride on Sunday, and did another 11 miles at Big Bear on some trails we hadn’t hit yet on Monday morning before heading home.

Stay tuned for some words and photos on riding the CVI Trails near Davis, WV. 

 

West Virginia bound.

Last year, my friends Tammy, Allison, Carissa, and I started a tradition of a yearly long-weekend mountain bike trip, ladies only. All of us ride with the guys all the time, which is awesome (I’m usually not really one for girls-only stuff anyway), but we thought it would be fun to do our own trip at least once a year. We went to the Pittsburgh area at the end of last summer, and this year, we decided to head south to West Virginia.

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Let the giggles begin.

I’d made a contact at Big Bear Lake through my work at Singletracks, Jeff Simcoe. He’s the trail manager there and graciously offered us discounted lodging for the weekend and his time as a guide for one of our rides. It turned out that him and his wife, Annie, loved riding with us and we loved riding with them, so we basically hung out all weekend long.

On our way to Big Bear Lake, we stopped at Fork Run, near McHenry, MD to ride. As we rooted through our bags in the parking lot to find our riding gear, an older gentleman was finishing his ride. We started talking, and he warned us against doing the ride we had planned. It’s really rocky and there’s a lot of tough climbing, was basically his point. We assured him that we were used to both of those things. He asked where we were from, and we told him Pennsylvania. He said he’d never been anywhere in PA that was as rocky as here.

I didn’t believe him, because there are places I’ve ridden in PA that are just about as rocky as you can get. And last year on our trip to Pittsburgh we had a similar experience at Moraine State Park. Some dude in the parking lot told us a certain section of trail was “almost impossible” because it was too technical, and yet when we got there, we all thought that was the best part.

I can’t help but think that if we had a man in our group, we wouldn’t get such warnings. Chicks can ride rocks too, you know.

Fork Run ended up being great. Yeah, it was a little rocky in spots, and there were a couple steep (but super short) climbs, but it was nowhere near the “psycho ride” that we were told it was. Just a nice little leg stretch after being in the car for a couple hours. It was really wet—locals told us there had been torrential rains the night before—and the soil was sandy and gritty, causing my drivetrain to make all sorts of terrible noises. But it was hot and humid and the water felt amazing.

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Ferns became a familiar part of the weekend.

Fork Run also has some climbing areas, so we took a short detour at the end of our ride to check them out. A couple beers, some pizza, and a grocery store trip later, we were en route to our cabin at Big Bear Lake.

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To be continued… 

Fox tail.

Summer evenings are my favorite. The heat fades, the sun becomes less intense, and, my favorite piece of all, it’s light until 9pm (or later, around the solstice). I love daylight. When I was in Alaska in the summer and it was light almost all the time, it was heaven. I know they make lights for a reason, but I don’t particularly like using them. I like being able to see everything around me. I love being able to go for an evening bike ride in the daylight.

Anyway.

On Thursday, Evan texted me from work about riding Coopers Gap. Our friend Levin bought a new bike—a brand new Salsa Pony Rustler—and he was going to come along and test it out. I scrolled through my phone and typed messages to other bike-loving friends. In the end, we got a good crew together, including Jalon, whom I hadn’t ridden bikes with in way too long.

We got to the lot late, and Ryan and Levin weren’t there yet. We wondered if we’d somehow missed them. Ryan is usually prompt. Just as we were getting ready to go ride anyway, they pulled in, quickly prepped, and then we were off.

I hammered quickly up Chestnut Springs, pushing a little harder than I usually do off the bat. I’m slow to warm up, but I’ve been trying to work on digging a little deeper from the get-go. It hurt, but felt good.

Down Lingle, I was flying. I got some air off the drops. Having a suspension fork really helps on the downhills, and since I’ve been riding with it a whole lot more as of late, I can see a noticeable difference in my riding style on the descents. I have learned to love letting loose and tackling technical sections with a lot more speed than I used to. I’m getting a whole lot better at high-speed cornering too, which has made a world of difference when it comes to maintaining flow.

Splashing through the streams at the bottom felt so good—always a treat on a warm day.

Up Otter Gap, I was killing it. I was almost all the way through one of the rock gardens that I’ve never been able to clean in the past before I even realized that I was in it. I was focused, staring ahead. Just keep pedaling.

Up the “rock sidewalk” into the next troublesome garden. Evan and Ryan were stopped, pulling their bikes to the side of the trail to let me pass. I barely paid attention, still focused only on the rocks. I cleaned that one too.

No dabs yet!, I excitedly proclaimed. You better not have!, was Evan’s reply.

I could barely contain my excitement. I had just cleaned two rock gardens that I’d never cleaned before, back to back.

I entered the wet section, basically a stream running down the middle of the trail. This part always trips me up too. I made it through the mud bog, barely, made it past the intersection with Penn Roosevelt Trail, and then my wet tires slid out. Dab #1.

Damn, I was starting to think I’d clean the whole trail! That would have been something.

But if I’d done that, I’d have nothing to work for next time. One more foot down when I missed the trail entirely and had to make a sharp turn to get back on it. I let Evan pass me again. I cranked all the way up to the top without another dab. Only two on Otter Gap ain’t bad at all.

I am still really excited about this, actually.

While I feel like my strength has plateaued a little (I have a plan to work on that), my technical game is steadily improving, and I love it! There is no better feeling than smoothly making it all the way through a rocky chunk of trail that has given you so much trouble in the past. More skills=more fun. And no matter how good I get, there will always be new challenges to work on.

We stayed in a tight line across Brush Ridge. The trail is narrow and grown-in at this time of year. At the intersection of Indian, we stopped, expecting to take it back to the road. Ryan suggested a different plan. There’s a newer trail that runs from the road all the way back to the deer fence, and eventually the lower part of Indian. This would allow us to finish out Brush Ridge, and then take trail back instead of gravel road.

Let’s do it!

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Ryan and Lucy

We were still tire-to-tire, across the tiny wooden bridges, one of which is becoming quite decrepit, off-camber, slightly broken. I think if I had been alone, or not quite so close to Shannon’s giant rear tire, I might have chickened-out. But there was no stopping. Levin was right on my tail as well. He saw what we were about to do and screamed. Fuck! 

Levin is the only person I know who complains constantly on a ride but still has the best time of his life. It’s hilarious, really. Normally, no one likes a whiner. But Levin doesn’t whine; he basically just says what the rest of us are thinking, and makes it sound funny and endearing. I hadn’t ridden with him in forever, and I missed it.

We all made it over the bridges, and it was a good thing I didn’t have time to think about it. My biggest enemy is often my own head telling me that I can’t do something. I love closely following riders who are slightly better because then I’ll usually just follow them through stuff that I might second-guess normally, and I’ll wind up doing things I usually wouldn’t, out of fear. It’s exhilarating. And it rarely ends with me falling on my face. That usually happens when I overthink a move, and then try it. Of course, there are always exceptions.

Speaking of falling on faces, Ryan did a pretty graceful over-the-bars move in front of me just after the bridges. Luckily, neither him nor bike were too banged up.

We jumped on the gravel briefly before Ryan led us back into the woods on what was clearly a much more primitive trail. It wound up and down the hillside, rolling, with a lot of log-overs and tight, twisty turns. I loved it. Fox Tail, it’s called. It’s not on any maps (yet), and honestly I’m not sure how easy it is to find from the road. I’ll have to go back and try to find it on my own, because I was stupidly not paying any attention to where we were going and just following Ryan. It acts as a great connector from one end of Brush Ridge back to Conklin Road where Indian pops out, and offers the option to do a longer ride and all of Brush Ridge rather than just bombing down Indian. There isn’t any really tough climbing on it, just a few short spurts.

As it grew darker, the trail was hard to follow in a couple spots, but after a harder look, it was always apparently where it went. Eventually, we popped out along the deer fence. I let off the brakes and blasted down the doubletrack, right behind Evan and Ryan. The dogs were running alongside us, adding some extra excitement. Sometimes I worry that one will jump into my path as I’m speeding downhill at 20mph, and, well, that would be really bad for both of us. Luckily, Ryan’s dogs are very used to being around bikes, and usually, they stay out of the way. Oslo sprinted along, off in the woods, while Lucy was right on my rear tire.

On the gravel climb up Conkin, I pushed it again, and it felt great. My legs felt strong. I was breathing hard, but steadily. My lungs opened up. I focused on getting up that hill as fast as I could without blowing up. Evan and Jalon were ahead. I set my sights on them and hammered.

I was so thrilled to feel good climbing again. Climbing is normally my jam, but lately, I have just felt sluggish, tired, and weak. I think part of it has been the heat. In May, it went from being in the 50s to being in the 90s basically overnight. My body doesn’t like to exert itself too much when it’s above 80 degrees. Of course, I force it to anyway, but I can definitely tell a difference in both my performance and my perceived strength. Throw some cooler temps in there—60s and 70s—and I’m a happy lady again.

We rode Chicken Peter all the way back to the lot, just in time for darkness.

fox tail ride

Here’s a super rough reference map of all the trails I mentioned.

Proprioception.

I taught Evan this word as we were doing an impromptu hike along the Mid-State Trail yesterday. Basically it describes body awareness while in motion, such as knowing where to place your feet while running through rough terrain. Having good proprioception means not tripping on a rock and falling on your face.

An essential skill for hiking the ridges in central Pennsylvania.

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On the Mid-State Trail, between Jo Hays Vista and the Indian Steps.

Hiking is outside the recent usual realm of joint activities for Evan and myself. We both used to do it a lot more but have been much more bike-focused lately. I go for hikes every now and then, once every couple weeks, almost always solo, and hardly ever very far. Having the company of Evan and Dinah Dog, and spending 5 hours on the trail putting in a little over 13 miles, was a nice change of pace.

We had planned on going for a long bike ride, but when we looked outside at the howling wind and swaying trees, we both thought maybe riding on the road wasn’t going to be the most fun thing to do. We waffled for a little while longer. Should we do a shorter ride? Should we go ride mountain bikes instead?

I casually suggested a hike with Dinah, and the ball started rolling.

The cooler temps were a welcome reprieve from the high 80’s we’ve been experiencing lately. Being chilly had never felt so good. We made a second French Press full of coffee, filled our travel mugs, and got in the car for approximately 10 minutes before arriving at Pine Swamp Road, where we began our hike on the Ironstone Trail.

From the gravel road, the trail heads uphill, briefly following a primitive, grassy drive that leads to a camp. We missed where the trail turns off the doubletrack, ending up all the way at the cabin, so we hiked back down and found the singletrack.

hikingwithcoffee

#coffeeoutside

newtfriend

Trail friend, a Red Eft. 

Our pace was brisk. I heated up quickly, pulling off my long sleeves. Then it started to rain, so I put my shell on. The weather was as indecisive as we had been earlier about our plans for the day. It got sunny again, and I took the shell off again, stashing it away for the rest of the day.

Trying to keep up with Evan and his long legs required some jogging on my part. We danced through the rocks. My legs felt alive. Having someone to keep up with pushed me, in a good way. We cruised through ferns, swampy sections. We talked a lot about hiking, speed hiking, rather. Not just strolling through the woods, but trying to hike as far and as fast as possible. We talked about trying to do things like the entire Standing Stone Trail (72 miles) as quickly as we could. Maybe in one shot?

We talked about how doing more hiking is a good way to get to be active with Dinah. She doesn’t do so well with trying to keep up with bikes anymore, unless it’s a really short ride. She burns herself out too quickly. But fast hiking/slow running is the perfect pace for her.

We talked about trying to do at least one good long hike a week with her, while she is still able. She’s 9 this year. Not old yet, but getting up there for a dog.

sogreen

The trail turned left and we headed straight up the mountain.

I felt better than I have in a long time while on foot. My calves didn’t cramp up immediately like they have been so much lately. We pushed to the top without stopping.

At the top, we headed left on Jackson Trail, which follows the ridgetop to Rt. 26 before hooking back up with the Mid-State. I was almost sure we’d see a rattlesnake (this is prime territory), but it might have been a little chilly and damp for them.

evvista

ridgetop

The vistas were, of course, incredible. The skies cleared a little by the time we got to the top of the mountain, and though it was still very windy, the threat of impending storms seemed to have passed. We noted the layer of lichens covering the rocks. Rumor is that they glow green at night. I think we’ll have to come see for ourselves one of these days.

lichens

dinahshredder

We were continually impressed with how well D-girl did! 

By the end of Jackson, we were at mile 8, and my knees were starting to feel it. I have been struggling with knee issues for the past couple of years, for no apparent reason, which is a little frustrating. They feel fine when I bike, even long distances, but if I run more than about 5 or 6 miles, the pain flares up. But I am hopeful that with more consistent stretching, and working my way up to doing longer miles on foot, I’ll be able to minimize the issues.

But, there wasn’t enough pain to cause alarm, so I pushed through.

We crossed 26, and continued on the ridgetop, deciding to go even farther than we originally planned. Dinah was doing well, and though I was starting to feel some effects of hiking/jogging farther than I had in a long time, I was still feeling great too. We passed our original route down the mountain, Campbell Trail, and set our eyes on the Indian Steps.

indiansteps

I can’t seem to find any info on the origin or story behind these steps, when they were built or why. The mountainside is so steep here that they are almost necessary, and they certainly make the going easier (but far from easy!).

mushroom

I found this little mushroom growing on one of the steps. 

The steps were steep and the going was slow, but we reached the road pretty quickly. Then it was a nice and easy power-walk on gravel most of the way back to the car. The final mile was on Lowery Trail, a doubletrack snowmobile trail paralleling Rt. 26 as it makes its way down the mountain from Jo Hays Vista towards Stone Valley. At the powerline cut, we found some interesting plants with a mix of pink and green leaves. I’ve never seen anything like it.

pinkplants

We made it home in plenty of time to jump on the tandem and pedal over to McMurtries for some wings and a pitcher of Dales Pale Ale to celebrate a good day on the trails.