Wednesday, October 17, 2012

What I did on my fall vacation

This month my husband and I took a week to travel around southernish areas and do some mountain biking.

Inspired by a recent article in Dirt Rag Magazine on the trails in Brown County State Park, Indiana, we decided to head down to the southern Illinois / Indiana-ish area. Here's a quick summary of our trail adventures!

Ride 1: Kickapoo State Park, IL

I LOVE these trails. These are the trails where I first learned to mountain bike, but I love them beyond that. These are 12 miles of fun, fast, flowy, challenging, twisty, lovely woodsy fun. Ride them if you're passing through central Illinois or even if you're passing nearish. It's so worth it.

Ride 2: Brown County State Park, IN

We were enticed by 25 miles of singletrack, promised to be "not too hard, not too easy." With the exception of the quite technical Schooner Trace (double black diamond) trail, all these trails were just right! The fall colors were just beginning to turn when we were there and the views from the high points of the trail were spectacular. Our main tip: be sure to fill up on water before driving to the trailhead. The only water we found was a feebly dribbling water fountain near the closed, winterized pool! Fortunately since we were camping, we could stock up at the campground for our long ride.

Ride 3: Land Between the Lakes, TN

We drove down to the far southern tip of this skinny, water-surrounded park to stop in at the welcome station and find out more about the North-South trail. My husband wanted to ride the length of the park. When we found out that the biking portion of the trail started a full 20 miles north, we ended up riding at the Fort Henry trails instead, open temporarily to mountain bikers. These trails were described by my husband as "old school mountain bike trails." That is, designed for hikers and horses, maybe a little eroded. Despite the occasional rough section or stretches of doubletrack, this little trail system was pretty fun to ride. We settled in at the campground that night and asked if there were any tent sites left. Suffice it to say we were the only tent in our section of the campground! It made stargazing great. Two meteors! Two satellites!

Ride 4: Land Between the Lakes, KY

The next day we drove up north into the Kentucky portion of the recreation area. We got info at the welcome station in the middle of the park, then Frank started riding up the North-South trail (about 30 miles of singletrack) and I headed up to the north end of the park to do my own riding. This is after ogling bison and stopping to tour a few old family cemeteries. I rode the Canal Loop - a nice 10 mile loop - with nice water views.

Ride 5: Lake Glendale, Shawnee National Forest, IL

More "old school mountain bike trails," these got us a little lost. There's a simple lake loop, plus unknown lengths of trails looping around wildly amidst the woods and rocks. We chatted with a park caretaker who told us that most of the trails were built locally without much organization or official sanction. Luckily for us, we had GPS and basic topo maps on our phones so we were able to wander our way through a 10 mile ride down single and double track - mainly designed for horses and hikers. Poison ivy abounded, which kept me off a few of the trails. The big bonus of these trails? Surprise rock formations buried in the woods and little sections of slickrock-like trail that made me nostalgic for Arizona riding.

Ride 6: Cedar Lake, Shawnee National Forest, IL

I dragged us to Giant City State Park for a hike and a stay at the campground, then we drove to Cedar Lake for our last ride of the trip. More old school trails, these were fairly eroded and rather technical. There was a lot of poison ivy on this trail, so I pulled out arm and leg warmers to serve as a shield. The trail was rough and I was tired, so I didn't do the full trail. By turning around I avoided a copperhead (which my husband jumped with his bike, then shooed off the trail). I also avoided a nest of yellow jackets (allergic) and a 1.5 inch long European Hornet buzzing around the car.

Unfortunately, I did not avoid a spectacular end-over-end crash that left me with a purple chin, hand, shoulder, hip, and this great big bruise above my knee. It really puts those little bruises in perspective! Nothing broken or dislocated though, so I'm putting this in the WIN column :)

We were going to stop by Kickapoo again, or the trails around Peoria (to be reviewed later), or even Rock Cut, but were stopped by rain! A great vacation.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Little Night Race on the Prairie

A few weeks ago I did the Pitch Black Singletrack race at CamRock, part of the WEMS series. I had done the 12 hour race last year but since I've only done a few long rides this year (recovering from a running injury) I just did the 6 hour race.

The weather, at least for the six hour length, was pretty much perfect. Everyone started together at 8 pm with little light left in the sky, the temperature hovering in the low 80's. A band entertained the crowd at the bar which overhangs the start/finish. Everybody was in high spirits.

I'm always surprised at how much easier the trail looks in the dark. I have very poor depth perception, so I've found that the trail lit up by just headlights tends to flatten. Rocks, roots, and divots appear almost as 2D as a pen outline against the dirt. This can lead to bad surprises, for which I am grateful to ride a bike with front suspension. But I discovered that it can also lead to good surprises. At times I took the harder line without realizing it, and found it to be faster than my usual run. So...poor vision for the win!

I also love the prairie at night. The occasional super tall plant peeks up like a head over the densely packed vegetation and the white boneset flowers catch the moonlight and capture the eye. Riding the sweeping prairie trails opens up the sky too, so you can enjoy the stars or in the case of that weekend's race, a moon muddied orange by thin clouds.

One of my favorite things about this race is the party tent on the back edge of the loop. They always play great music and cheer wildly all night. Sometimes they don't have snacks a non-beer-drinker vegetarian might want...but I did have a guy desperately hand me a chocolate filled twinkie on my last lap. I say "desperately" because he jogged after me on the trail and handed it off like a pro support team! Now that's dedication :)

My race was molasses-slow. Pain meant that I took time in the open areas to do rolling stretches since I'm still kind of broken. But oh, it was fun!

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Mad FORCs at Stump Farm

Great Riding had by all the
 Mad FORCs at Stump Farm.

I rolled into Reforestation Camp, full of butterflies.  I was thinking what had I gotten myself into?  In years past I've raced with the Mad FORCs 12 hour women's team, and during that time, I always thought, what's the hurry for those 3 hour solo people - I've already been out riding for hours.  The Stump Farm race put the hurry to the test.  Shannon was looking for a training race and Stump Farm was available for both of us, so between being mom's, each with 2 kids, working full-time and having active significant others - the 30 mile event was the max miles in the min time (and the temperature was supposed to break).

Our first 3-4 miles of the 1st lap was a push to not be left in the dust, manage what was ahead and get some space.  We managed to move around one lady, but then as we passed another lady (on the left), she was strong and caught us (on our right, but wait- she passed on the left?) on the up-hill.  I thought it was a little strange, that she called out "on your right" and passed on the left, but it can happen.  They managed to get in every hill SF had to offer, some sandy, some short, and sweet, always a great reward was the awesome flowy fast single track, puts a smile on my face.  I knew Shannon would blast through the single track, but we got caught behind "on your right" and passed her again.  A while later, she caught us on the double tracks and passed again "on your right, but really it was on our left"  so we knew she was strong on the double, but slower in the single track and was confused about the passing.  On the 2nd lap Shannon - took her and eventually on the 2nd I also took "on your right"  and left some dust on her left - she was strong so I knew she would always be lurking behind me.  We kept pushing - I lost Shannon during the 2nd lap.  I thought wow, this lap is hard, and I realized my seat had snuck down several inches, a quick re-adjustment, I felt like I had all of a sudden gazelle legs and the third lap was a thrill to ride with my seat in the correct position.

30 plus miles went by really fast and I enjoyed the race and think it was very funny how nervous I was.  Overall, Shannon & I each got in 30+ miles, and the 12 hour relay team (Kathy, Barb & Berlie) got in a combined 80+ miles, so Mad FORCs were able to cover 140+ miles.  (This is not including Carol's joy ride - no telling how many miles she also added!)  Great job and great fun was had by all.  

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

WEMS Race Update: Northern Kettles

Mad FORCs' Team Tortoise ruled the 100 mile women's team category at the WEMS Northern Kettles race. Here's their report:

We arrived late Friday night around 11 pm, set up camp and slept at the parking lot in the car. Woke up the next morning to NO RAIN! Yea!! It was a very nice day with a nice breeze.

Kathy went first and had a good lap. I went second & was slower than her by only a few minutes! (We took our time in between laps but seemed to have very consistent times regardless of the talking, eating, etc.) On my second lap, while pulling over for the fast guys, I saw a man in the middle of the forest picking up stuff with a poker. I thought he was picking up trash so asked what he was doing....he was picking mushrooms during the race! He was oblivious to all the racers whizzing by! (Not oblivious to me, though...I'm not fast!) We chatted for a little while, since I've never seen anyone picking mushrooms!

Kathy heard owls & cranes during her laps. I heard feisty horses neighing while I was waiting for her in the parking lot....there was a group riding horses on the other side.

Kathy did her third lap. And after resting awhile, did a 4th. We won first place! (ha! ) And won prize money!

It was a perfect day for a race!

Saturday, May 19, 2012

2012 Women's Dirt Retreat

From Renee:
It’s hard to believe but 2012 marks the 11th year for the Mad FORCs organizing the Women’s Dirt Retreat.  It was a treat to be able to have Alison Dunlap back to be our featured instructor and, of course, it is always great to have Madison’s own Sue Juedes out assisting.  Both of them are amazing riders and genuinely fun people to be around.

In an amazing stroke of luck we also lucked out with perfect weather which has not always been the case.  Anyone else remember the year with the tornado watch when lightning struck the ski jump at Blackhawk?  That was a stressful day!  Our featured instructor that year was Jacquie Phelan and I don’t think she’d ever been in a true Midwest style storm before.

Once again we had a great group of women participating.  This year we mixed things up with one day for women newer to mountain biking and one day for those who have been riding longer.  Overall I liked the new format although we decided to go with a short day on Sunday since it was Mother’s Day.  Next year we plan to do a longer day on Sunday (but avoid Mother’s Day hopefully!).  We also moved the event to Cam-Rock because everyone in the club is so psyched about the trails there.  

It’s no secret that I have a short attention span and am always up to something new but it’s hard to give up on an event as cool as the Dirt Retreat.  After many years of mountain biking it can be pretty easy to take the sport for granted.  Not at the Dirt Retreat though.  There’s nothing as rewarding as hearing a rider say that they successfully rode something for the first time or just hearing the excitement as people even try things they hadn’t before.  That never gets old!  Every year we have women who are just so new to the sport that everything is novel and exciting.  I love getting that reminder about just how awesome mountain biking is.  It definitely makes me want to get out and ride more.  It also reminds me that I don’t have to challenge myself by taking up a new sport (can you say road biking, cyclocross, running, cross country skiing, rollerskiing, swimming, etc) but I can push myself out of my own personal comfort zone once in awhile on the mountain bike.  Or I can just take some beginners out on a trail I’ve ridden a million times and see it in a whole new and exciting way.   Thanks to everyone who attended for making me appreciate mountain biking for the great sport that it is.  I can’t wait for 2013!


Monday, April 30, 2012

Luck was on our ride

Riding this time of year can be tricky with the weather.  Luckily, this spring has been really good to us, and the trails in Wisconsin have opened early.   The ride was scheduled a week ago, and as it drew near, anticipation grew….watching the weather daily to see how the forecast would pan out.  Ugh… 100%-90% rain, 40F temps and trails closed, so –postponed the ride for a day.  Now, what to where?  More?  Less?  Today a little breezy so – opted for more.  Sure enough after 3 miles in – time to strip down.  Puddles weren’t too bad, mostly little ones here and there, just enough getting dirty.  Lots of nice grip and the sandy section is always pleasant after a rain.  Lots of light as the trees are not fully leafed out yet.  From the pictures, we all had a little bit o’ mud on us.  All the more satisfying is that we squeezed in great riding (as I write this it is raining, again) for the weekend.  Why is that with the rain on either side of the ride – makes it just that much more enjoyable for a Mad FORC?

Friday, April 20, 2012

Women's Dirt Retreat

The eleventh Women's Dirt Retreat sponsored by the Mad FORCs will be May 12 and 13 at Cam-Rock County Park.  We're excited once again to have Alison Dunlap as our lead instructor.  She will be joined by awesome local gals like Sue Juedes.

The format has changed a bit this year.  On Saturday we'll be focused on our Beginner and Advanced Beginner riders with a one day clinic. Beginners and Advanced Beginners have long been the focus of the Dirt Retreat as we want to get more women out on their mountain bikes enjoying riding and feeling confident. This year on Sunday we'll have a morning clinic for our Intermediate/Advanced riders as we realized that even more experienced riders enjoyed the opportunity to work with Alison to take their riding to the next level.

Registration is available online at and space is limited so register now.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Spring training

The time has come for me to start my spring training. With my work schedule and vehicle availability, I don't always make it out to the trails during the work week. And sometimes (like today) it's just a bit too rainy for good trail conditions. At the end of last year I made a resolution to do some urban skills practice once a week to stay sharp on the bike.

I will use Brian Lopes' and Lee McCormack's book Mastering Mountain Bike Skills as my guide. The first thing on my plate is to work on my timing for going over logs and other obstacles. Right now I seem to rely more on a suspension fork and luck, which is not a good long term solution!

Previously I used this book's breakdown of techniques to work on pulling more energy out of a turn. This week I will start with the chapter on wheelies and hopping. I'll be the person on the east side hopping over parking blocks and practicing wheelies in the schoolyard!

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Spring . . . or summer is here

Yesterday I was super excited to think that the trails at Cam-Rock had opened for the season which has to be some sort of record. It is March, right?!?! Then in the middle of the night I woke up to hear rain and I was sad to think that their would be no mountain biking this weekend. However being a cross country skier I have become quite accustomed to the weather disappointing me. Still it is March and the transition from winter skiing to summer riding temps took about one day.  It's been hard to get my mind around biking and in shorts and short sleeves no less.

Anyway, given the overnight rain I decided to get out on the road bike instead. Being ever sensible I reflected on the riding I have done so far this season. A 28 mile ride to Paoli and at least two bike path rides of 15 miles or so. Clearly it was time to step it up so I decided a ride to Belleville was in order. Never mind that the route has hills, it would be windy and it was hot which is basically all the things I don't like. Oh yeah and the ride would be 50 miles.

 So how did it go? Surprisingly well actually . . . by which I mean I didn't cry, lie down in the road and refuse to continue on or call a cab. Confession time though - Dave went with me and I drafted a lot. As in I took like 3 pulls into the wind. I figured he was in better shape since he has ridden to Paoli twice already this year.

I realized on the way home that this crazy warm spring will either make it possible to get into semi-good riding shape before November or I will become totally burned out on riding by Memorial Day.

Relieved to have made it to Belleville and that we brought Clif Shots!