Sunday, May 12, 2013

Mountain Biking Family Style

"Oh, c'mon Mom, you've ridden over much harder stuff than that!" That's what you'll hear if you're around and I take the bail out, easy way around a trail obstacle. It's the voice of my kiddo pushing me forward, urging me on, seeing skills and technique in me that I doubt in myself. We're not your stereotypical mountain biking know the ones you see at trail campgrounds and race weekends. The ones where the husband has been riding for years, the wife picked it up from him (or just watches from the sidelines), and the kiddos have been riding trails nearly as long as they could walk. Oh no. That's not us. Not at all. At times I joke, we're like the blind leading the blind.

But a mountain biking family we are.

A bit over 3 years ago after years of being a sloth, I started cycling as a way to get fit and lose weight. Road riding was good. I enjoyed it, but as a new cyclist in a semi-urban area, the traffic gave me pause. Riding paved paths was good, but still something was missing. On a whim in September of 2010, I attended a women's mountain biking demo event. 2 hours later I was hooked. Convinced Hubby and Kiddo to try some local trails. In June of 2011, the whole family attended clinics at the Midwest Women's Mountain Bike Clinic weekend. Fast forward two years, we're a month away from our third trip to this great event. We ride together nearly weekly. Have been season pass holders at Ray's Indoor Mountain Bike Park the past two winters. Kiddo, now 13 but at 10 years old was afraid to ride his bike fast, will be attending his second freeride/downhill camp at Woodward at Copper in July. We plan vacations around mountain biking. Bought a bike or two (each). Even tried our hands at a couple of races. I won the women's intro class of The Brown County Super-D, while Kiddo and Hubby both earned medals in their age class at the Fall Colors Festival in WI.

To say mountain biking has changed our lives, brought us closer, made us healthier is a huge understatement.

Last weekend was our first family trail ride of the season. I'd been out riding by myself a few times already this year. In fact having done the most riding I'd done in months combined with starting a new strength training program, I was in need of an easy rest ride. Well, a full rest day, but the sun was shining and the trails were open. Hubby and Kiddo were eager to go. Especially Kiddo. He asked if he could go ahead and push to see how far and fast he could go without stopping. Last summer, our rides consisted of resting at nearly every bench and the top of every climb in our main local trails, the John Muir system in the Southern Kettle Moraine of southeast Wisconsin. Kiddo wanted to see which bench he could make it to before he had to rest. We agreed to do a 5 mile loop of the brown&white trails and meet back at the shelter. Kiddo first. Hubby behind. I'd take up rear (knowing I was going easy and stopping to take pictures). They quickly dusted me. Never saw them after the first descent. Hubby got dropped at the first climb.

I got back to the shelter to find two smiling guys. Kiddo was still breathing hard with a bit of a flush on his face behind his beaming grin. He'd done the whole loop, 5 miles without stopping. Totally clean, no dabs, no feet down. The trail is flowing up and down with a challenging, root filled, sustained climb (yeah, yeah it's WI, challenging and sustained to our scale). He was so fired up. Kept saying how glad he was he'd tried. That he had to prove to himself he could do it. The pride and passion in his voice made this Mom proud.

Yes, we're a mountain biking family. It's gonna be a great summer.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Flights are my fancy....

I write a lot on this blog about how I try to rent a bike whenever I can on my travels, or pop into a Botanic Garden, but there's another destination I seek out on many of my trips. Brew Pubs. Sometimes it's the brewpub connected with a known nationally distributed brand, others of a smaller regional player, and sometimes those that only sell their beers at their Brew Pubs. I love trying different brewers beers. Plus it gives me a chance to try new styles (hopefully, we don't end up in a world where everyone only makes IPAs, how boring would that be). My very favorite thing to do on a first visit is do a flight of beers.

Many brewpubs offer the groupings of samples known as flights. Some define them, grouping  3oz samples of 4 -6 of their beers together. Others allow you to select from the beers currently on tap. While most brewpubs will give you tiny little pours as free samples, I prefer the flights. That bit more liquid allows a good AATMF of the beer. I try to give every new beer a true appearance, aroma, taste, mouthfeel, finish tasting. Both helps me appreciate the beer and continue to develop my palate.

Here's some of the brewpubs and flights I've had in the last year or so. All pictures should be able to be viewed bigger if you click on them. Unfortunately, I've not been good (understatement) at keeping a log of exactly what I tasted. But I at least know where I was....

While in Colorado, we made it by several places, Mountain Sun Brewery in Boulder, Tommyknockers in Idaho Springs, Backcountry Brewery in Frisco. Was even able to do a flight on on tap beers at Cheeky Monk at Winter Park when we visited Trestle Bike Park.

Was able to enjoy a flight at Breckenridge Brewery. Visited both the BrewPub in Breckenridge and at the main brewery in Denver, CO.

On a trip to Washington, DC and Ocean City Maryland stopped first at Ramshead Shore House in Stevensville, MD. As a bonus there, my brother in laws band was performing, Kiddo's beautiful sister stopped by along with my niece and her fiance.
Tho no visit by a beer fan to the Ocean City area would be complete without a detour to Rehobeth Beach, DE and a visit to Dogfish Head Brewery.
I make frequent trips to Grand Rapids, MI which has a thriving and ever growing beer culture. The first brewpub I discovered was Founders Brewing. That initial flight of samples is long forgotten, and the pictures buried deep in folders of files. Still I make a point of stopping by for a pint on most trips to the city. I love trying their limited releases or experimental brews on tap.
Newer to the scene are Grand Rapids Brewing and Brewery Vivant. Both offer samples, and have interesting food selections (you must have the Kale chips at Grand Rapids Brewing and the Truffle fries at Brewery Vivant!)  I fell instantly in love with Brewery Vivant with its Belgian theme. Located in an old church the atmosphere is incredible, and the beers equally so. I especially love how the flight is in small snifters which enhance these traditional Belgian style beers. It will become a staple of my Grand Rapids visits.

Bikes, beers, and Botanic typical Yelp or google searches when visiting or researching a new city. These are a few of my favorite things.....

Friday, May 3, 2013


To really know if you are improving, you need some kind of benchmark to evaluate progress against. It's as true in sports as it is in business. At work, we routinely set baselines or benchmarks, and this week's first trail rides of the season have me thinking about benchmarks in my mountain biking. Every sport has its own ways to measure training and skill progression. As with road cycling or running, there's the simple measure of time taken or average speed within a section of trail. More important than a speed measure in mountain biking is judging the development of technique and how that allows you to ride harder trails, tackle larger obstacles, get more air, be more aggressive. if you are only interested in speed it can be bench marked against your own performance or that of others. There's tons of gadgets and smartphone apps that help you track this. Many of these allow you to compare how others rode the same routes. I find this interesting and a piece of the bigger picture, but my biggest competitor is myself. I need to measure my progress versus the trail, improvement in technique. I am at the point in my mountain biking skills development that increasing strength and stamina play a significant role, but I still have so much to learn in this sport. So much technique to develop.

By riding the same trails regularly, I can easily judge the progression of my skills. Now starting my third summer mountain biking, I'm realizing both what I've already learned along with an awareness of how much I don't know. It brings a smile to my face when I look back at pictures like these from 2011 and remember struggling with a climb I can now top, being afraid to ride across rocks I barely notice, coming to a dead stop in front of a log, I now pop over without a thought.
As I rode this week, I remembered how we used to have to stop at each and every bench, along with at the top of every small climb to rest and recover. I'm working hard at active recovery, continuing to pedal while I catch my breath. Limiting rest stops. I continue to be surprised how much the line you take or the momentum you have going into a climb, descent or obstacle plays a part. There were places on Sunday's ride I struggled due to a line that put me into bigger roots or rocks, or how by not having proper momentum, I had to put a foot down in areas I've cleaned in past. At the same time in a section of the Muir trails called The Beach, I was pleasantly surprised by how easy it was to ride. I remember the first time we rode that section, stopping half way up to rest. It's the first time I've actually felt like I was enjoying a climb. Minutes later Hell's Kitchen reminded me why it has the name it does.
But with increased confidence and skills, also comes increased chances for error. I'm riding faster. Attacking sections more. Weaknesses are being exposed. At the Ray's Women's clinic, I struggled with both speed and bike angle/position in the bermed turns of the pump track. At Valmont Bike Park in Boulder, I did better at speed, but Kiddo chastised me for not leaning the bike, for going through upright. On Sunday's ride, in a section called Bermuda.... Damn bermed turn. I just don’t trust myself to lean the bike through them. Towards the bottom of the section, the final left turn, took the turn too high on the berm, upright, no real lean. On the exit there’s a small tree to the right. Because I was high I was on the right edge of the trail and bbeing upright meant my handlebars were not leaning away, I clipped the tree. Leading to a face plant and a bloody nose. Funny how many thoughts go through your head in a millisecond. ....Don't look at tree! You're gonna hit tree. I'm flying. Splat. Oops there's gonna be a bloody nose. Get off bike off trail before someone barrels into you. Feel blood begin to pour. Pinch nose....
Still work to do. Benchmarks set, and continually updated. I'm super stoked about this summer's riding. Here in Wisconsin  I hope to do some rides with other women in addition to the family and solo training rides, there will be rides and the Women's Clinic in Brown County, IN in June, riding on our family vacation to Breckinridge, CO in July and another prior to my nieces wedding at Killington, VT in August. Plan on doing a WORS race or two, The Brown County Super-D, Fall Colors Festival. Hopefully we can sneak in another spot or two, like maybe a trip up tp Copper Harbor, MI.

Tho, face it, even with a desire to more formally train this summer, I still want to stop and smell the roses so to speak...pausing to snap a few pictures and enjoy the view will always be a part of my enjoyment of mountain biking.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Washington DC...Biking Family Style

One of the joys of family travel is rediscovering the world through the eyes of your child. With Kiddo in 6th grade beginning to understand and show interest in politics and government, a spring break trip to Washington, DC seemed a perfect idea. Planned a trip that included all the typical touristy highlights, along with side trips to reconnect with family (Kiddos sister & hubby's brother live outside Baltimore).

Of course, many of the sites were visited by bike. Others by foot. Or via the use of public transit. Or a combination of all three. We're a get up and go kinda family with a firm belief that exploring by foot or bike allows a much deeper experience no matter where you are. WARNING: FAILED AT LIMITING PICTURES AND WORDS BELOW. Hang with me. In a complete aside for biking people: All three days I was rented a mixie (being a *girl* and all). And I don't think I ever stepped through it. Always threw leg over saddle. Old habits.

Our first rental was from the Union Station location of Bike and Roll. We'd taken the subway from our hotel, choosing this vendor both due to location, and we've rented from these folks before in San Francisco (read about it). This location only had "comfort" bikes - whose wide, padded saddles are the opposite of comfort when riding all day, just saying. Once we got suited up with the proper sized bike and helmet, off we went.

First stop was the Smithsonian National Air & Space Museum. Spent a couple hours wandering around looking at the exhibits. In our case it was just enough time. We were ready to move on.

Started heading up the Mall, with a couple of photo opportunity stops. First by FEMA then by the Washington Monument.

In fact most of the rest of the day was stops for quick exploring of monuments, reading plaques and taking pictures. The World War Two Memorial, Vietnam War Memorial, Lincoln Memorial.

A spin around the reflecting pool brought us to the Martin Luther King, FDR, and Thomas Jefferson Memorials. Sadly we were a couple of weeks too late to enjoy the cherry blossoms.

The day was getting long, so it was time to head back to return the bikes. But first a swing past the White House.

A great day of sightseeing. Much, much more seen, much more enjoyable, cheaper, healthier and fun than a bus tour.

On another day, we rented bikes from Bike and Roll's Alexandria location, opting for their Combo bike rental, Mount Vernon tour and ferry package. In this you bike 11-12 miles on a bikeway along the Potomac to Mount Vernon, receive tickets to the site, lock your bikes up on the grounds and take a ferry back to Alexandria. 

It was a nice easy ride, great for families. Mount Vernon is such an interesting place to visit. The gardens, the plantation house, the glimpse of how for Washington and others of his day their lifestyle only existed due to slaves.


The ferry ride home was also quite enjoyable (even if I would have liked to bike a bit more).

Equally enjoyable were the oysters and beers when we got back to Old Town Alexandria.

Other trip highlights were visits to the International Spy Museum, and using their GPS enabled "Spy in the City" handheld to go on a walking spy adventure around the city.

Plus visits to the Ford Theater (make reservations!), the US Capitol, The Library of Congress, Baltimore's Inner Harbor, Fort McHenry (oh say can you see....), seeing friends and family, catching Uncle Mike's band perform, meeting cousin Wrenn's fiance and hanging out with big sis, a Food Network inspired trip to DC-3, a visit to Dogfish Head Brewery, and another bit of biking this time along Ocean City, MD boardwalk.

Yes a busy week...that's how we roll...and how we like our vacations!

Read all the way to here, and wondering why I wrote a recap of a 2012 spring break trip in spring of 2013? It has occurred to me that maybe if I either deleted or finished all the partially written drafts I have hidden behind the scenes of this blog that I might feel like writing more. Take away some of the pressure created by evidence of procrastination. Or some such. I have a tendency to start a post, give it a title, throw in a picture, and then get stuck - usually because I can't figure out how to limit the # of pictures or words. Looking at the list in the draft folder, a few were easily deleted. Others I would like to finish.

This recap of our spring break 2012 trip to Washington DC fit under the need to finish category.