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The Adventures of Lycra Grrl: Sauvie Island Savvy

Adventure Saturday has been on unintentional hiatus due to life circumstances, but this week it made a magnificent cameo—on Sunday! Just goes to show you—adventure can surprise you on any day of the week.

After all, how often does one get to claim a mountain of firsts and a new personal best on a single bike ride? In a nutshell:

• First time biking on the St. Johns Bridge!
• First time biking on Highway 30!
• First time biking on Sauvie Island!
• First time keeping up (sort of) on a ride with “Lightning Legs” Ed Groth!

If that wasn’t enough, I yet again racked up a new personal best in terms of distance: 63.3 miles. In winter no less! And I bumped into my lovely friend Michelle, who was participating in a group run on the island.

Successfully awake from a 5am alarm, I hurried through my morning routine and made it out the door shortly after 6:30am. It was about 10 miles from my house in Clackamas County to our group’s meetup point in North Portland—a deliciously quiet ride with few people about so early on a Sunday. (Here I am, ready to ride!) When they arrived, I discovered my co-riders were all very fit men—including the only person I knew in the group, who is reputed among friends for his speed. GULP!

What-ifs danced around my head. Had I made a horrible mistake? Was I going to fall behind until I lost the group completely? Was the mileage too ambitious?

Expressing my concern to the others seemed to help—although their “social pace” was indeed a tad speedier than mine, all three of my co-riders took turns hanging back with me. This also gave me a chance to chat and get to know them individually, and to point out notable birds along the way.

Yes, I’m a bit of a birder, and Sauvie Island is a prime birding spot in the Portland area. We saw (and heard!) quite a lot of sandhill cranes loitering in farm fields, several great blue herons, and a couple kestrels without even leaving our bikes. Other wildlife sightings were roadkill: a freshly dead rat in inner SE which was just a bloody pancake on the way home; two dead opossums on Sauvie Island Road; and a dead skunk in the bike lane coming back on Highway 30.

At the end of what ended up being a great ride, we thawed our frozen toes at Dragonfly Coffee House in NW Portland. The boys sipped coffee and forgot-her-wallet HA drank water and nibbled on the rest of the almonds in her bag. After an hour and a half three of us rode back over to the east side where I bade my new riding friends goodbye and headed southward for the last leg of my journey.

In tackling a challenge head on (and handling it beautifully) I expanded my own vision of what I’m capable of. Turns out my fears about this ride were unfounded—I did not get left behind in the middle of nowhere, I wasn’t looked down upon for being slow, and I didn’t get a flat. Handling these mental barriers and other challenges on my terms has been key to my recent string of confident successes.

How empowering.

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The Adventures of Lycra Grrl: Touring to Clinton

“Hey, look at that bird!”

“A great blue heron!”

“My dad says they’re good luck.”

Indeed, we did have pretty good luck. Riding without a bike pump, we were tempting fate. But there were no flats on our four-hour ride to Clinton and back.

Sarah and I originally had planned a longer bike ride to Alberton on Adventure Saturday, which would have put us at 65 miles for the day. But the weather forecast predicted hot temperatures, so we set our sights on Clinton. No, not that Clinton—the town of Clinton, MT, about 20 miles east of Missoula.

We met at 9am at our office and started heading east. Our first short stop was so I could view what I had been calling “the gay wedding altar,” which ended up actually being a memorial to two teen girls killed in 2009. (Oops. My bad.) It was easily the most extensive roadside memorial I’d ever seen, with a cement patio, two benches, a decorative street lamp, pink petunias, metal artwork, and a large stone pulpit with their photos and story. After leaving Bonner/Milltown, we rode the adjacent multi-use path for a few miles, but then got back on the road until we got to Clinton. In Clinton, we hitched our iron steeds to the horse hitching post and visited the local market for refreshments.

This was the first time I got a close look at the unusual billboard outside Clinton, advertising their annual Testicle Festival. Another first: riding on a two-lane road with no shoulder that had a really high speed limit. Because there wasn’t much traffic I often found myself riding beside Sarah so we could chat as we rode. Gabbing away, just as I noticed an approaching car behind us I would try to fall back and—too late, they had already passed. The cars were going too fast for me to do onesie formation. I guess this is why people wear eyeglass mirrors. Fortunately since there was barely any traffic, all the cars passed us in the other lane, and only one gave a honk. Not even an aggressive honk. Maybe this rural road riding doesn’t have to be so bad after all.

The day brought a couple other discoveries. First: my sunscreen has been really useful this summer. How do I know? In my morning rush I hadn’t put it on, and I don’t tend to stop for such silly trifles on the road. Back at home I discovered my face was rather pink, my tan arms stung, and a clear line dividing cherry and porcelain skin was visible on my lower thighs.

The second discovery? Look at the photos: I thought the blue wicking shirt, being looser than a regular jersey, would be more flattering on my body. Nope! This is why being Lycra Grrl is kind of a big deal: as a person who does not have what people think of as a cyclists’ body, form-fitting clothes are scary. Sarah was wearing a skinsuit, and we talked a little about the Sweetpea Ladies’ Auxillary skinsuit. Her thoughts: Want it so much! But it’s so expensive. My thoughts: Uh, not even an option. Can’t even pull off lycra in a two-piece format!

Once we were approaching Missoula, Sarah suggested we race back to the office before the Saturday greeters closed up shop. Then we could get immortalized on the wall for our big tour. Paul and Tom had already locked the door, but they let us in anyway and shot our photo before heading out. Rather than partake of the free ice cream at the office we headed over to the Big Dipper on the other side of the river, where a helpful mother volunteered to memorialize our post-ride gluttony.

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The Adventures of Lycra Grrl: A Personal Best in the Bitterroot Valley

In 2000, shortly after I started commuting by bike regularly, I attended the Mid-Valley Bicycle Club’s annual Covered Bridge Bicycle Tour. That day I biked 45 miles, which was a bit of a stretch for me at the time.

Until just a few weeks ago, this was the longest distance I had ever knowingly biked in one day. After all, over the years my daily commute has been up to 28 miles round trip—who would be motivated to ride even longer distances on the weekends?

While I’ve been roaming the northwest over the past year I’ve been living about a mile away from my work or school. I’ve also been jealous of people I know who regularly ride 50, 70, sometimes even 100 miles in a day with ease. So one Adventure Saturday, I decided to don the spandex and explore a lengthy multi-use path in the Bitterroot Valley I had heard about, which reportedly offered great views of the Bitterroot Mountains. Eyewitnesses offered differing opinions on the details, but as a round trip ride it sounded like a good challenge.

Instead of adding another 26 round-trip miles to my ride, I started from the community center in Lolo where path users are invited to park their cars. I hadn’t showered that morning, and my bag was abundantly stuffed with food, my bike jacket (the forecast called for showers), sunscreen, water, and more.

The first half of the journey was mostly sunny. The further south I traveled, the hotter it got and the less shade was available. As I had forgotten my bike lock, in Florence I went inside a fire station to ask if I could use their restroom (the logic being that an unlocked bike would be safer outside a fire station than in front of the local gas station-mini mart on the main strip). Turned out that the doors were wide open, but nobody heard me halloo them. They were all in the garage area. I used the restroom and proceeded on my merry way, tempted to pinch a cinnamon roll from the kitchen in the process.

As I traveled south, the mountains became dramatically craggy, and I hoped the path would lead all the way to Hamilton, a town I had heard good things about. Right before Victor though, the multi-use path dumped me out onto the highway, which was an active construction zone. And it turns out that the only businesses open in Victor on Saturday afternoon almost exclusively sell liquor. Neither of the two eating establishments was open, nor was there a mini-mart in which to find refreshment. Even the city park lacked a water fountain! Streams along the trail had been accessible in Missoula County, but were blocked off by fascist fences in Ravalli County, meaning no cooling off or backup water source was available. If that wasn’t disappointing enough, turning around to get back to the multi-use path for my return trip required navigating about a half-mile of traffic jammed construction zone.

During the return trip I stopped and got ice cream in Stevensville. As I ate my cone, an elderly woman with a charmingly shaved English sheepdog got out of her car and struck up a conversation with me. When I told her I’d have done my personal best bike ride when I was done today, she exclaimed, “Good for you!” (Montanans are so nice!)

It was about the time I left Stevensville that I noticed the sky had become noticeably overcast. As I moved north I looked behind my shoulder and noticed some serious rain was chasing me. Pedaling as hard as I could, I tried to outpace the storm, but soon the sky was black and there was thunder reverberating between the two mountain ranges beside the Bitterroot Valley. Cars on the highway had their headlights on. Just past Florence, I started feeling large water drops on my skin, and the lightning storm started.

Sitting on a steel bike in the middle of a lightning storm—that can’t be good, can it? As a Pacific Northwester, I’ve never really needed to know safety procedures for lightning, but was filing through my brain to recall any helpful advice. (There was none.) I kept pedaling as fast as I could in an attempt to make the last nine miles back to my car before getting drenched and/or electrocuted. Eventually I approached a minuscule shelter on the side of the path—a bench with a tin roof normally intended as shade. Two people were already huddled under it.

As I approached them, I asked if they knew what to do. The man, it turned out, worked for the local power company. He and the woman, another random cyclist, had both called rides to pick them up. The woman offered a lift back to my car, but I said it was important for me to complete this ride by myself. Her ride came and she was gone. The man said to sit on the bench with my feet off the ground (now that there was room on the bench) and I’d be fine. Then his ride came and he was gone. There was pouring rain, with enormous drops that almost sting when they hit you. And despite the shelter, plenty of drops hit my hand while I was conversing with my mother via text message. The rain only lasted about 10 minutes though, and after about 15 minutes the storm had passed north. The sky was beginning to return to an eerie yellow, so I decided it was safe for me to proceed.

It was still a few miles back to Lolo, but I made it! And when I mapped the route out, even though I didn’t get all the way to Hamilton, I still biked 50 miles. Of course, many people I know could do much better, but this was a personal best and served as a thermometer of what I am truly capable of without much work (remember, my current commute is currently two miles round trip). Experiences like this severely curb one’s anxiety about attempting the unconquered.

After getting home from my ride, I ate one metric ton of food. While I was eating, I excitedly started making plans for the next long bike ride, hopefully to happen before leaving Montana. Ideas included using an Adventure Cycling Association map for a long ride to get some experience using the maps in the field. Doing a century. Tackling some mountains. After hearing of my success, my friend and well-matched riding partner Sarah suggested the two of us do a long ride together before I leave. We have tentative plans to make it happen next weekend.

Wish us luck!

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The Adventures of Lycra Grrl: An Outing with Montana Dirt Girls

Apologies, my loyal spambot following, for being light in the blog recently. My time in Montana has been flying by, probably in large part because I actually have a full-time “job” again (for which I am blogging: check out my short history series called Backstories!). Another reason: the sun finally came out a few weeks ago! The 90 degree temperatures then necessitated the expansion of my wardrobe to include things that aren’t corduroy, so this past Sunday my awesome Missoula friend Sarah and I embarked upon Tour de Thrift Store on our bikes.

Last night though, I got a chance to beckon my alter ego Lycra Grrl and do a little mountain bike riding with Montana Dirt Girls.

A women’s bike group? Mountain biking in Mountain Bike Town, USA? I’d been wanting to check out the Dirt Girls since I arrived and my wonderful coworker Julie (at left, in orange shirt) told me about the group. The problems: no mountain bike on hand, and no confidence in my skillz.

Julie generously loaned me one of her husband’s mountain bikes, a bright orange Trek which I’ve christened Orangina, which solved the first problem. And yesterday when Julie told me their weekly ride would be heading up the main Rattlesnake Trail, my confidence was high—I’ve explored the trail several times, including on my other bike, so I knew exactly what to expect.

However, I didn’t find out about the ride until I was leaving work, a half-hour before the meeting time. And Orangina? She wasn’t shifting. Being rushed as well as not having the luxury of downshifting to make it up the little hills to get out to the trailhead, things didn’t look good.

As 6pm passed and I was still in the grassy fields outside the forest, I suspected they wouldn’t wait for me too long before taking off. Since I was huffing and puffing, I decided my goal would be to ride to the trailhead and, assuming they’d be long gone, I’d ride back home and that would be just fine. Even if I missed the ride, getting out for a spin was better than sitting at home eating Ben and Jerry’s.

Amazingly though, when I pulled up to the trailhead at 6:15, the congregation was still there! When I confessed how exhausted I already was, a nice woman named April said she was slow too and I could just ride with her. Before we left I caught Julie’s attention and we spent the first half-mile of the ride figuring out Orangina’s shifting. Once I got it though, the world was my oyster! I was still pretty winded, but at least I could climb the trail without worrying that my heart would explode.

April and I did ride together, because she sounded like someone who needed encouragement and heck, I needed an excuse to catch my breath after the harrowing ride out on my inadvertant singlespeed. It turns out that April moved to Missoula a mere nine months ago from Olympia. She hasn’t been mountain biking for long, but had gone on a long road ride the previous night and was a little saddle sore. (Side note: I love newbies, because I love to talk to newbies and encourage them in any way I can!)

Once I discovered the ride hadn’t left without me, my new goal was to make it to the first bridge along the trail—slightly further than I had previously been. And hey, look (left)! I did it!

After bidding goodbye to April and another woman who had joined us, I headed home to try and get Atticus out for a walk before sunset (which didn’t happen, due to a thunderstorm).

I flew down the trail on the way back. Over areas which were completely covered with large rocks sticking up out of the dirt. Over large patches of thick gravel. Through mud puddles made from nearby farm irrigation. In fact, in some places I was aiming for the hugest rock in the road, just to see how I’d handle it. And every time, Orangina and I handled it just fine.

When I got home my voice was a little hoarse and my legs and messenger bag were muddy. The muscles of my lower back and neck were so sore it was hard to move. Clearly Orangina doesn’t fit me properly. I don’t think that’s a problem I’ll be able to solve in the next month, but when I’m trying to find a cross bike to use this fall for my new adventure, I’ll be paying special attention to sizing and comfort.

In the meantime though, I’m hoping to ride with the Dirt Girls again before I have to leave Montana!

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The Adventures of Lycra Grrl: Taking on the Deer Creek-Pattee Canyon Loop

Adventure Saturday is the time I designate each week to get out of the house and explore Montana. This week, I did a 17.6 mile mountain bike loop recommended to me by Ted as tame enough for the Sweetpea to handle with no problem.

Since the weather looked promising, I also decided to unveil my brand new alter ego: Lycra Grrl. (My spectacular ex-choir teacher and stupendous human being Kelly Carlisle used to go by the name “Spandex Man” when he would show up to school wearing spandex.) Lycra Grrl dons a Super Relax jersey and thermal jacket with bike shorts. When not biking, Lycra Grrl fights for truth, justice, and for bike clothing manufacturers to make bigger sizes.

The Deer Creek-Pattee Canyon Loop starts and ends at the University of Montana. The first section is technically the most difficult, as the Kim Williams Nature Trail is unpaved east of Missoula, so I took it fairly slow over the bumpy, gravelly trail to avoid falling over or getting a pinch flat. When the trail ends past East Missoula, I continued along single track that parallels the railroad. Rifle shots started ringing out a bit before my turn at Deer Creek Road, and I learned that I had been skirting Deer Creek Shooting Center. Yeeps!

Deer Creek Road quickly turned to dirt dusted lightly with gravel, with the first couple of miles pock marked with potholes. The potholes were a breeze to navigate when I looked for the straight lines of level ground between them. It was also here that the climbing started.

And goodness me, there was a lot of climbing.

It was during this very long climb that I realized my fatal error. I should have eaten lunch before leaving my house instead of skipping to leave “on time,” and/or I should have brought more food than just a single Clif Bar. My hands were shaking about halfway up, so I ate what I had. Fortunately, the little energy bar instantly powered me up and single-handedly saved the day!

When I had finally chugged up almost to the top, I enjoyed a cool drink from Deer Creek and a small clearing that afforded the best view of the ride (above). Ominous clouds started moving in again, and I soon pulled over to put my jacket and helmet back on, both of which I had removed on the long climb up. I was now on Pattee Canyon Drive, and the road soon became paved again.

What had taken more than an hour to climb took about 15 minutes to descend. A moment of cold rain caught me on the way down, but I quickly outpaced it. After navigating some new areas of Missoula by bike,  I was back at the University of Montana, taking photos of the Thriller Bears (left) before tackling the last mile home.

About that climb: my sources/calculations suggest that I climbed about 1300 feet, roughly equivalent to climbing two Mount Tabors, if you were starting from the Willamette River. All the climbing happened in about five miles. Not that impressive to many bikey people I know, but it was the perfect challenge for me. And that’s supposed to be what I’m doing this summer, is expanding my capabilities in terms of hill climbing and distances.

Lycra Grrl may very well make another appearance next Adventure Saturday. Tune in next week! Same bikey time! Same bikey channel!

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