“How do I not get lost when I go somewhere new to ride?” – The process of exploring a new area.

Don’t worry, you are not alone if you are asking yourself this question. This was a concern of mine when I first moved to Pennsylvania. It was the first place I had to actually plan rides completely on my own. Not only did I have to locate the trail systems, and find a place to park,  but I also had to navigate my way around them. Before I started riding at new places by myself, this all seemed incredibly stressful to me, and it kind of terrified me to do. It really doesn’t have to be scary if you are prepared! Here are my tips for lone exploration of new trail systems.

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When I say big cup of coffee…. I mean it.

Plan Plan Plan. Get yourself a nice big cup of coffee, some good music, and a comfy place to sit – you may be here for a while if the trail system is tricky. Once I am situated- I like to get out a hard copy map of the trail system, and pull up the trails on either Mountain Bike Project or Trail Forks (most bases are covered on one site or the other).  Being familiar with a paper map will be extremely helpful if you get turned around in the trail system when you are out riding. You can also draw out your route on the map if it is too intricate to easily remember. I usually just write my route in the margins instead of drawing directly on the map in case I want to use it again for a different ride. Carrying a map on the trail is easy, light, and practical, especially if your navigation device (phone or GPS etc.) fails. Its always a good idea to have a backup anyway.

The next step I would take is to download the MTB project or trail forks app to your smart phone if you have one. This will be very helpful when you’re finally out riding  because your location shows up once you are within the parameters of the trail system. You will be able to double check to make sure you are actually on your determined route. This is especially helpful if the trails are not well marked, or if you don’t have cell phone service, because the apps don’t really require service to find your location.

Some other advice I have is to ask locals. This is very worth your while if you have no idea which trail systems around you fit your riding style. It also pays off to go to your local bike shop if there is one. Those folks will know where the best places to send you are for the type of riding you are looking for (Downhill, XC, etc.) and they could potentially know some people who might be interested in riding along with you!!

Some last advice I have – If you are really really nervous (like I was), plan out a very simple ride to build confidence. You could ride a trail system close to home, try a simple 2 mile loop, or ride all trails that are a level well in your comfort zone. There is no shame in doing this. Riding should be fun after all, not stressful because you feel pressured to plan the most epic ride. Once you are comfortable planning smaller rides, you can build the complexity from there.

Finally……REPEAT REPEAT REPEAT! It will get easier the more times you go through the process. AND – always make sure to tell someone your plan if you are going out alone. This is a precaution I always take just in case I do get into some trouble. It is nice to know someone will have your back.

Hope that helps and happy trails,

Ash

 

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How to stay fit for biking when its winter! (and your town is 4 feet under snow for months on end)

I live in a place where staying motivated to ride all winter is hard because everything is under 4+ feet of snow for a large portion of the year. If you don’t have a fat bike your choices for riding areas are limited to slippery sidewalks and even more slippery roads. Even though I commute all winter (see this post) I still feel the need to get real training ride / alternative workouts in. These alternatives have worked great for me, and they keep winter fun. I hope you’ll try some of them this coming winter!

I’ll get the obvious out of the way first. I do try to go to the gym to ride a spin bike or trainer a few times a week. I feel this helps me keep base fitness and strength. However, if you have ever ridden a spin bike, you know this can get real old real quick. I also feel like a part of my day is missing if I don’t go out and enjoy the outdoor so I supplement bike workouts with outdoor winter activities.

To get outdoors I like snowshoe, Nordic ski, and downhill ski. All three of these activities work a variety of muscles and keep the winter months exciting. I like to go out for more leisurely snowshoes to enjoy nice snowy days, but running with them is also an option. You will surely get in a great workout if you try a snowshoe run!

 

I enjoy 2 types of Nordic skiing – classic and skate. Having two styles to do keeps it fresh. When I’m bored with one I can simply switch to the other. Switching it up will also use different muscle groups which is great for being a well rounded athlete. When both of these become tiresome, I can always fall back on downhill skiing for a good time. All three of these winter activities are great to do with friends too! BONUS.

When I do truly want to stay inside for a day because it is blizzarding or just plain frigid I switch it up even more. Sometimes its simply nice to go run on an indoor track, so I’ll do that, or I will go to my schools indoor climbing gym. Climbing is lo impact and it helps to build strength in you legs, core, back, arms, and it improves your structural stability – all things great for being solid on your bike!

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At the climbing wall at my college

I hope this gives you a few ideas for what to do when the snow starts to fly!

Happy alternative trails,

Ash

The quest for people to ride with: My first Pennsylvania Group Ride- Buffalo Road

My first group ride with LHORBA was an excellent experience! I met some rad (and very kind) people who were excited for me to join in on the fun of riding at a beautiful place in the Gallitzin State Forest called Buffalo Road  (link to our route)  This area was great for me to warm up to riding in PA. It wasn’t very technically difficult (except one expert DH we descended) and it had plenty of climbing to build up some endurance. We did a nice 18 mile ride that ascended about 2500 vertical feet. It was filled with great views, some fun switchback climbing, and many different scenery changes – from valley streams to mountain tops and everything in between – it was all there.

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Scenic Lookout from Buffalo Road (Photo by Mark Wood)

I enjoyed this group ride so much that I went to the next one the following week. This time we road a totally different style trail at Laurel Mountain State Park (link to our route).  Here there was a fair amount of climbing but the biggest change was the abundance of technical riding. The trails we rode were littered with fun and challenging rock features which gave the ride a totally different feel compared to the first one. We focused on finesse over the rocks instead of speed, covering 10 miles and 681 vertical feet in about 2 hours. This ride was great because we stopped to project some of the more difficult features. The nature of the trails and wisdom of the group members allowed me to learn a lot about attacking difficult rocky trail sections.

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Mark W. Sending it off one of the rock features! Way to go Mark! #toofastformyphonecamera

So far finding biking buds in a new place has been a success. It was slow to start, but with a little initiative and desire to find some pals to get sendy with, I have found my crew… oh yeah – and I can’t forget about Misty the trail pup.

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Misty and the LHORBA Gang at Laurel Mountain State Park. (Photo by Rich Mahler)

LHORBA is GREAT and I can’t wait for my third group ride next week!

Happy Trails,

Ash

Going Further West: Oregon Mountain Biking

As soon as I left Montana (See my post: USA Cycling Collegiate Mountain Bike Nationals: Missoula Montana) I was craving to be back in the mountains, so I planned a trip out to Oregon to visit my boyfriend Eric and his family for the new year. We planned to hit up a few trail systems while I was there and hike at some amazing places on rest days. This was my first time west of Montana, so there were a lot of amazing sites for me to see. Plus, it was a great get a way from Michigan winter.

When I arrived in the Portland Airport it was rainy, but I wasn’t about to be bothered. The 50 degree temperature and greeness everywhere was absolutely incredible compared to the Midwest US! I also could not stop geeking out about the HUGE trees.

The first day of riding was at Alsea Falls Trails System. Here we did two laps of the same loop. We took Mainline trail up to Dutchman trail and then descended on Highballer to Springboard. The climb was mostly gravel road with varying grades from 4% to 36%, and the descent was a well built flow trail.

 

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This was a great place for a first day of riding. It wasn’t too technically difficult, so it allowed me to get warmed up to riding again, and gave me a feel for the bike I was borrowing from my boyfriends mom (Thanks Jane). On our second lap we followed the exact same course, but the weather made for some extra excitement when it started down pouring.

Our next adventure lead us to Silver Falls State Park, a hiking spot featuring water falls – and a lot of them. I would highly recommend this area for a rest day (the hike was about 10 miles but it was not super strenuous).

 

 

The next trail system that we hit up was the McDonald Forest near Oregon State University. The five mile gravel climb to start out the ride was well worth the view at McCulloch Peak (the top of the trails).  I was really glad to have a tour guide for this system, because there was not much for trail markings. We rode two trails called Tin Can Alley and Lupine Letdown for our descent. This is a super fun area to go to. The descents of the trails are steep and can be slippery in places, but they are great fun if you are prepared for the conditions. These trails will keep you on your toes in the best way!

 

We did another day of hiking during my trip, because there is a must see spot called Mary’s Peak. It is the highest peak in the Oregon coast range, and from it we could see for miles into the surrounding hills and mountains. The hike to the top is a multi hour effort, and hikers should be prepared with snacks and plenty of water. It starts down inside a forest and ends way up in a field (there was even snow when we got to the top).

 

The last place we road for the week was Black Rock MTB Trails. This is the place to go if you are into free riding. The many features and trails of this MTB area vary in size and difficulty. At Black Rock you will find table top and gap jumps, drops, steep downhill sections, many wooden features, and so much more. There is a gravel climb that will take you all the way to the top, and it is up to you to decide how to get down. These trails are for riders who have a solid base in technical single track, as they have many rocks and roots to maneuver through. There is also a really great practice area at the bottom of the mountain for building confidence on trail features. Riding here was a great way to sum up my adventure to Oregon.

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Black Rock Mountain Bicycling Association

I hope you enjoyed seeing my journey, and will ride these sweet trails!! I will definitely be back to ride in Oregon some day!

Until then – Happy Trails,

Ash

 

 

 

 

Tips for living in a new area and trying to find people to ride with.

I recently moved out to Pennsylvania for the summer, and I found myself desperate for some people to ride with. Not knowing where to look for great trails to ride I was feeling a bit lost, so I turned to the web. I found some local trail systems on MTB Project, which was quite helpful with information and trail ratings, but I still didn’t have any people for some trail company. Riding alone can be fun, but some of my most favorite rides happen with groups, and its a good way to meet new friends. Also, there is safety in numbers – especially when you are in a new and unfamiliar area!

Finding a group to ride with on google initially showed potential, but after a great deal of deciphering what groups were actually close enough to ride with – I was still coming up quite empty handed. I eventually had the best luck when I did a “bike groups near me” Facebook search. Through this search the bike crews in my area were listed and I was able to figure out which was the closest. Luckily for me! I found a group that I am very excited about, Laurel Highlands On & Off Road Bicycling Association. From here I could like the page, and send a message to the administrators about joining. They also allowed me to make a post to attempt to connect with some new people!

Pretty immediately after reaching out I heard back from the vice president of the club offering to show me some trails. Our timelines for the day didn’t line up, but we were able to chat on the phone so I could get some info on where to bike near me, and when the next group ride would be. I tested out one trail system that they mentioned called, OMNI Bedford Springs, located in the Evitts Mountains of Bedford, PA. This was a fun place with a variety of trails for all levels.

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The group leaders have been very welcoming and easy to contact which also helps with the process. I’m excited to go ride with the group in a couple days at a place called, Buffalo Road, which is located in Gallitzin National Forest – Babcock Division,  without the group, I’m not sure if I would have the courage to venture out to these trails by myself. It will be great to have some experienced tour guides, and great company!

One other step I took was to find a local bike shop near me. Luckily there is one about 8 miles from where I’m staying for the summer. The shop, Fat Jimmy’s Outfitters, will be a great place for me to go to get bike parts and accessories necessary for hitting up the trails! Bike shops are also a great place to get knowledge on the local trails that are must rides!

I’ll keep in touch on how my pursuit for summer biking pals works out!

Happy trails!

Ash

USA Cycling Collegiate Mountain Bike Nationals: Missoula Montana

If anyone would have told me five years ago that I would be going to nationals for collegiate mountain biking, I would have laughed and called them crazy. Recently though, that exact thing became a reality. I decided that I would race the 2017 collegiate season for fun, and to see how I could ride against other ladies. I was excited to finally have some girls to ride with, because they are far and few between at my college. My first couple of races for the season started off with ups and downs, but I always had a great time pushing myself to the limits. As the end of the season neared, I had to make a decision. Should I try to earn my ticket to nationals? ..or not. I didn’t know if I was ready, and did not want to make a fool of myself if the course was to difficult – or the other ladies were too fast for me to keep up with.

Of course,  I decided I had to go for it, so I did one last race to qualify for nationals, which were in Missoula Montana. I had never been west of North Dakota before so I was exceptionally excited to see the mountains, and actually bike in them.

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Chestnut Mountain Trail

The day finally came, and our mighty crew of myself and seven guys (who were also racing at nationals) piled into a van pulling a trailer with all of our bikes. We got rolling down the road, and 24 hours later we arrived in Bozeman, Montana. Our crew decided to go for a shake out ride up Chestnut Mountain which is a 13 mile trail covering 2,699 feet of Elevation with an average grade of 8% (24% max). This trail would have been great, but we were all feeling rather destroyed by the radical elevation change from Michigan to Montana. The trail starts around 5,000 feet, which was a hefty difference for us. We enjoyed the sights anyway, and got back in the van to drive the rest of the way to Missoula.

Near Missoula we found the way to our airbnb- The Historic Rattlesnake house in Lower Rattlesnake, Montana. This was a great place to stay at!! It had 5 bedrooms, was fully furnished, had a fully stocked kitchen and cruiser bikes for commuting around town.

Front porch and entryway
Link to Airbnb – Historic Rattlesnake house

The next day, we went and pre-rode the long cross country race course at Marshall Mountain on Marshall Canyon Road. This course had 1,700 feet of climbing for each 6.5 mile lap. On the first day, the course was extremely difficult for me. I thought I would never be able race it, let alone do two laps. I was winded and tired (little did I know I was still poorly adjusted to 5,000+ft elevations) and mildly discouraged. I set a goal to finish strong and race with my heart, instead of worrying about what place I would take.

Race day came, and I was so nervous I couldn’t even eat my peanut butter-banana toast that I made myself for breakfast. I watched the men take off for their race, and then I started to warm up, and it started pouring rain – a very cold pouring rain. I think it was about 35 degrees that day. Eventually, I got warm and made my way to the starting gate. The countdown began and the race was off! IMG_6552

I went for the a steady pace straight out of the gate because I knew how difficult the next two hours of riding were going to be. I was excited because I actually didn’t feel horrible while riding for the first time while out in Montana. I got to the top of the first lap, and was mildly exhausted – thinking to myself, “gosh, how will I ever do that a second time?” regardless I had to go back down to the bottom first so I pushed that thought aside. The descent for the course was incredibly fun. It was a windy-switchbacky-heck-of-a-good-time. Once at the bottom again I started my second lap. I told myself that would ride with my heart, and that’s exactly what I did. I ended up negative splitting my ascent, and passing a few people along the way. The second time I did the descent I felt unstoppable. To that point, it was probably some of the best riding I had ever done.

I was happy as a lark to cross the finish, and to find out that I had taken 23rd place.

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Commuting in Upper Michigan: Yah just gotta get out and do it! eh?

People ask me many questions about commuting by bike in the winter in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. I get mixed reviews by all who surround me on a daily basis. Whether it is elderly women at the grocery store, my professors, other students, or my friends, there are usually conversations that revolve around winter commuting. Some folks are incredibly supportive and offer up- good for yous, and that’s amazing. While others tell me to be safe, or say I shouldn’t be biking, ‘it’s winter’. I also get the ‘….you’re crazy’ comment a lot.

My favorite people though are the ones who ask how I do it, and if I have a fat bike.

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Photo Credit: Seth Vidal

I answer (in my rather Michigan/Wisconsin mixed accent) “Yah just gotta get out and do it!.. and no I don’t actually have a fat bike.” I won’t lie, it does take some practice biking through the snow (especially when its 8+ inches deep and the roads haven’t been plowed) but just like mountain biking, the more you do it the better you become. As far as riding a fat bike goes, they a super cool for riding in snow, but I don’t think they are necessary. You also don’t need to spend a ton of money on your winter commuter either. I ride a Trek Multitrack 720, which I bought for 75 dollars, and it gets the job done just fine.

Personally, I think commuting by bike is one of my favorite parts of the day. Sure, some days I don’t want to go out in the 0 degree weather with 30 mph wind, but once I’m out there I’m happy as can be. I love to start out my day with a nice wake-up pedal to get the blood flowing.

One of the largest aspects of commuting is proper attire. Not becoming too hot or too cold in the Keweenaw Peninsula while pedaling to your destination is a very fine line. My words of wisdom are to cover up while still being a bit chilly when you first step out the door. When it’s cold I prefer to cover up as much of my skin as possible- Gloves, a buff, a cap for under my helmet, and glasses are my necessary items beyond a typical jacket, pants, shoes, etc. An additional handy article of clothing is water proof (ish) pants. They are really great on days with deep or wet snow.  They also help warmth on extra cool days by cutting the wind.

Secondly, bike lights are necessary. If you are planning on biking anywhere in/near traffic, or after dark, bike lights will aid in your commuting success. Not only will they keep you safe from drivers, but they will also light your way if you find yourself out after

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My NiteRider light can be found here

dark. I have a NiteRider headlight that I have rigged onto my helmet. (Putting it on your bike will also work well!) I also have red bike light, which I have attached to my seat tube. This allows cars to see me better when they come up from a distance behind me. Both are rechargeable by USB which is incredibly nice when you commute as often as I do.

My last piece of advice is to choose a safe and fun bike route, you don’t want your daily commute to be hazardous or laborious. Commuting by bike is all about having fun after all, isn’t it? I like to bike where there isn’t a great deal of traffic, and also on a rolling hilly rode. This keeps the ride fresh and variable. It also helps me feel like I’m staying in shape for Midwest XC mountain biking’s punchy/rolling style. BONUS!

Join me in biking 365!

~Happy Trails,

Ash