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5 Dec 2010

Elite Alp X – Gear Report

Posted by mercieb. No Comments

Orig. Written Sept. ’10

I came home from being out of town for the better part of 4 weeks to a brand spanking new pair of shoes. These are out early to me in exchange for some feedback. Not sure what they are going to do with my feedback at this late date in the game of shoe production but it seems prudent to do my due diligence.

After driving a rental Dodge Charger like a maniac in the Bay Area for a week and getting the chance to catch up with some long lost friends, I somewhat unwillingly made my way home to the NW. No one bothered to alert me to the fact that it’s become fall here in the weeks I was gone. Getting from the Seatac airport to Kirkland was an adventure as I realized I was driving like a crazed NASCAR driver and probably nearly killed several WA drivers along the way. I clearly needed a good hard ride to get out some of that energy (or I have other issues which need dealing with… or I just need a horse tranq to drive here in WA).

Either way, the next day I cleated up my new kicks and headed for one of my very favorite trails within 2 hours of Seattle – Kachess Ridge. Right away the shoe felt good. Nice fit. Plenty of room in the toe box and nicely secure in the heel cup. It was drizzling as I charged out and began the long grind up the 7 miles of sustained climbing that seemed to go by pretty fast. I should have probably gone back down and done it again but I was running out of time. Climbing in these shoes was great. Stiff enough and comfortable enough, I really didn’t notice them at all and  that’s what I like in a shoe. If they are telling me they are there on my feet, it’s probably not a good thing.

I didn’t stay long at the top of the mountain because it was cold, windy, raining and downright miserable. I was lamenting the fact that I had been in 90 degree temps just the day before as I jumped the trail and headed up the hike-a-bike section. Coming into the huckleberry meadows of the saddle, I realized I couldn’t feel my fingers anymore but my feet were still happy. Climbing over rocks, trees, and roots at a pitch where you can reach out and touch the trail right in front of your face requires a good shoe and these shoes proved themselves good for hiking. Good news.

After the saddle, the rest of the ride is kind of a blur. With completely frozen fingers, I could not feel the brake levers and I picked my way through most of the ride. Took some of it way too fast and then took some of it way too slow. Not sure when the brakes were on or off, I screwed up most of the trail but still managed to have a great time. I was just happy to be on the bike. The shoes were not an issue which is saying a lot since I have problems with most shoes in general. Always have. Yes, I have retarded feet, but they do ok.

With one ride in the bag, the shoes are really comfortable and being back on the bike is even better.

Update Nov. ’10

Writing a gear report on one ride is pretty lame so I’m back to tell the world these shoes kick ass. Since September I have ridden these shoes exclusively and the full carbon MTB shoes are now officially lost in the back of my closet. The Alp X’s continue to be incredibly comfortable, easy to walk in, and very functional.

22 Nov 2010

Uncomfortably Numb

Posted by mercieb. 1 Comment

The First Snow… I love it. Ok, I want to love it. See, I grew up in a beach resort town and the ocean is more apart of me than I even know how to explain which conversely makes the snow a complete wonder. With that said, I also hate being cold. This has become more acute the older I get and this year I find myself obsessively planning my escape to warmer climes on an hourly basis.

This preoccupation with being warm doesn’t keep me from being totally awe-struck by snow. There are many things that surprise me every year with the first snow. First is the quiet. Things get really quiet in the snow. The kind of quiet my brain doesn’t really know what to do with. A kind of quiet that, for me, is unsettling while being totally enchanting at the same time.

Secondly, snow entices me to just sit and watch; something I don’t often do. It puts me in a kind of trance. Look, there’s a big flake… oooh, there’s another big flake… oh my, that one is gigantic, now it’s fast, now it’s slow! Pretty snow…

Yes, I find myself thinking child-like thoughts at the presence of snow. If I were a dog, I’d be running circles nipping, yipping and scratching at the back door to get out only to find I didn’t really want out in the first place. Suffice it to say, not a lot gets done when it’s snowing.

And the sky turns all sorts of crazy weird colors when it’s snowing. It was yellowish-gray this morning and now it’s a bluish-black this afternoon. I can’t keep track of what’s going on and I have no reference for what’s going to happen next. I find mystery and intrigue in all of it. I just don’t understand it. I’m uncomfortable and completely amazed by it at the same time. Weird.

Also, I’m totally freaked out by the thought of avalanches and freezing to death by way of frostbite so my ventures into the snow for outdoor fun have been somewhat limited to classic skiing and a bit of snowshoeing. I always have fun while I’m out there but the surface tension is a perpetual hurdle to overcome.

If the thought of frostbite weren’t bad enough, you don’t tromp out into the winter laden backcountry with just anyone – at least I don’t. There have to be considerations like, “Am I going to have to dig this guy out after he stupidly triggers an avalanche?” and “Will I be able to fashion a litter out of my poles, empty gel packets and band-aids to drag him back to safety if things go awry?” Snow adds a layer of uncertainty I have not reconciled yet.

That’s not to say I won’t. I’m open to getting bitten by the snow bug and suddenly acquiring the uncontrollable urge to move to Aspen, the French Alps or Santa’s place at the North Pole, but for now I’m satisfied with the stupor it puts me in. Today, I’m enjoying being hypnotized, mesmerized and stupefied. Not so bad for a Monday.

The Rhodies under the first real snow of the season

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11 Nov 2010

Giving In

Posted by mercieb. 1 Comment

The Rain Bike. Yes, here in the NW, we have rain bikes. This is mine and I love her.

I actually can’t even remember the last time I rode her but I think it had to be sometime last winter. I can’t be sure; my memory is not that good. My lovely Gunnar Crosshairs originally did start out as a ‘cross bike. Aside from some math-like geometry stuff I don’t really understand, a single chainring up front, knobby tires and SPD pedals, the Gunnar makes for a pretty sweet road bike. [Oh, and the super ridiculous cantilever brakes but we won't talk about those.]

After only 4 CX races, (I really don’t appreciate CX racing), she was retrofitted with slicks, road pedals, a front derailleur and the double chainring was restored to the crank. With fenders installed she was ready to take on the somewhat ominous distinction of being “The Rain Bike.” A bike to ride in the rain. A bike where your riding partners don’t get a face full of water and grit from the road. A bike you can beat to hell in adverse weather and not feel bad because hey, it’s your rain bike. A bike you leave the lights on because after daylight savings ends you never know when you’re going to get caught out in the dark. A bike you stash a $20 bill in so you can stop and get a shot or two of whiskey on your way home when you find you can’t feel your fingers and toes and the ice cream headache you have won’t go away. Actually, it’s not that bad yet but it’s what we have to look forward to with winter bearing down and this bike makes it all better.

The Gunnar is steel and really, what’s not to love about steel? She’s also rigged up with a 7800 DA group and Shimano RS80 wheels. The ride is ultra smooth, super fast and downright lovely. I know how lucky I am to be riding such a thing decked out in better than good components but there is a certain amount of kicking and screaming that goes along with pulling the rain bike out for the first time this season. It’s an admission that for the next 3 or so months the riding will be wet, mind-numbingly cold and quite likely not at all comfortable.

Throughout Fall I have been slowing inching my way toward coming to terms the seasons changing. First it was the leg warmers, then full-fingered gloves, then shoe covers and finally the rain bike. She is the very last piece to the puzzle that states I have given in.

So be it.

At the current rate time is going by, it’ll be Spring soon enough and the rain bike will be forgotten. Until then, the rain bike and I will get reacquainted, fall in love all over again and choose to suffer through another dark season together. After today’s wet and rainy ride, I am happily reminded there is no other bike I’d rather suffer through winter with.

7 Nov 2010

Waxing Philosophical-A Tree Goes Boom

Posted by mercieb. 2 Comments

I was going to make some wise crack about it being Fall or a comment about how stupid the question is of whether or not a tree makes a sound when it falls if no one is there to hear it or a general statement about nature and all it’s happenings but I just have numbers for you today.

Apparently you have  33.333333% chance of actually bearing witness to a tree falling of it’s own accord… At least that’s how the numbers worked out at Duthie Hill a couple of days ago. Sometimes riding off the back puts you in the perfect spot at the perfect time and I was off the back on Ryan’s Eternal Flow. I’d just cleaned the big step-up, rounded the sweeping berm, jumped the right hand turn and was setting up for the “flow” section of the trail that starts by diving into a gully-like deal when I heard a deafening crack in the middle of the forest.

I looked in the direction of the cracking sound just in time to witness the base of a tree exploding on the other side of the forest. Like July 4th fireworks, the trunk splintered with incredible force spitting wood in every direction and I watched spell-bound as the tree came down. It was headed straight for me and I worried for one millisecond it was going to reach the trail and I’d be squished under a pile of future nurse logs.

Slack jawed, I watched the tree ending it’s own life and I realized my worry was for naught as the top of the tree was being sheared off as it gracefully roared through the forest canopy and plummeted to the ground. It wasn’t even close. Well, it was kind of close. But that’s Ma Nature and it occurs to me that sometimes, every once in a great while, we get to participate in nature happening.

Now, one tree falling in the forest is a seemingly non-consequential event in the grand scheme of things, especially if you didn’t see it like the other two-thirds of my riding party, but I did see it and I’m reminded of a few somewhat inexplicable ideas and truths of living on planet earth… like being in the right place at the right time or being the wrong place at the wrong time; like nature is an unstoppable force not to be messed with; like don’t tempt fate when you’ve just almost been smooshed by a tree, count your lucky stars and go home; like being grateful for all the crazy wonderful things you get to experience in this world for which most have nothing at all to do with you; like being aware of the fact you’ve just witnessed something a lot people on this planet will never get to see; like destruction is a part of creation; like once in a lifetime events only happen once. It never ceases to amaze me how a 1 second event can bring into full focus the absolute randomness of life. On the other hand, I apparently never cease to be amazed.

15 Oct 2010

Inside Out

Posted by mercieb. 3 Comments

With sunny skies bursting out on a Friday afternoon, I was itching for a ride after Thursday’s bout with a head cold that made me wish for death. Actually having not died, I somewhat reluctantly put on a thermal jersey and a wool base layer along with knee warmers, which magically turn into leg warmers on me, and headed out for a spin around Victor’s Loop. I have no idea who Victor is but the loop is nice; up and over Jaunita to the Burke into Redmond and back over Rose Hill into K-Town.

Fall is settling nicely into the Northwest as the trees are turning brilliant shades of red, orange and yellow. The dahlia’s are out in full force and the air is crisp and cold. Reminds me of an apple out of the fridge. My knees thanked me for the warmers. I haven’t been warm since returning from this last trip to Kona and my toes were numb almost immediately. Must remember to pull the shoe covers out of hibernation.

I was chasing the sun and lost it for a while until I was most of the way through the loop. The Olympics were peeking out of the clouds and Mt Rainier’s top was popping off the horizon in that special way which is wholly unique to big mountains. It’s really no mystery to me why the Native Americans worship the mountains here in the Northwest. They are magnificent and demand to be paid attention to. I did pay attention with my usual awe stricken grin.

I was chasing answers to my life’s big questions and riding always put things in perspective as long as there isn’t too much suffering involved. Today I worked my muscles as well as my brain. Sometimes the ride makes me feel like I’m getting my eyes poked out and I figure the pain is punishment for the abuse I put my body through and bad behavior I indulge in.

Not today. Today the work felt good. No. It was better than good. As I pushed hard to turn myself inside out, I was greeted with the lovely feeling of tendons, ligaments and muscles being stretched, pulled and massaged. Better than bacon, the satisfaction of breathing through my eyeballs as my lungs opened up and my spine straightened out, the stress and crud of daily life oozed from every pore in my body leaving me feeling more fresh than 12 hours of sleep on a sunny beach.

At the other end of the spectrum, I could feel my brain relax and the thoughts came easily in a nice logical flow. In a rare moment of super clear-headedness, I was figuring it out. It was working. Mind and body finally in sync, I enjoyed every second of this ride despite the numb toes, being annoyed with it being cold enough for a thermal jersey, dodging in-line skaters and dogs on long leads.

At the beginning, middle, and end of the day I am a cyclist. I proudly define myself to this world as a cyclist. It’s not just that I ride a bike but rather without the bike I am lost, sick, and grumpy. Without a method for turning myself inside out both physically and mentally, I am just a lost little girl unsuccessfully looking for answers to life’s big questions.

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27 Sep 2010

Just a Little Retarded

Posted by mercieb. 1 Comment

Interbike… uh… right. Another week of Vegas weirdness is in the books. After what feels like a semi-successful small scale lobotomy, I survived yet again this thing we bike folk flock to in droves every year.

For those who need reminding, Interbike is a gathering of miscreants, misfits, and social outcasts who make up the bike industry as a whole. That would be manufacturers, dealers, media, hangers-on’ers, and shameless bike loving groupies. Once a year Vegas is inundated with this motley crew and their saran wrapped pallets of shiny chromed, anodized, carbon, powder-coated colorful tid-bits. Add in copious amounts of alcohol and voila, you have Interbike.

And if I could remember what happened, I would share it with you.

What I can tell you is if you were there and you found trouble, which you most decidedly did, it probably wasn’t all your fault. If it was your fault, thank you very much. I was told I had fun.

This was the only picture I took all week. We were at The Cut where you can get a $150 steak smothered in the buttery goodness that is bone marrow and a moderately priced $300 bottle of wine. Of course, this was many drinks into the night and I think I was trying to capture the light in the wine glasses behind James and Wayne… Despite the looks on their faces, the wine was really good.

19 Sep 2010

Eeeeeeeeyaaahhhh! or What’s Most Commonly Heard in Whistler

Posted by mercieb. 2 Comments

The world would be a much better place if everyone took at least one long weekend in Whistler every year. It should just be a requirement of life. Whistler is an amazingly beautiful place with spectacular views around every corner. We, of course, went to mountain bike.

After a crazy mad dash to build a proper downhill bike in the 2 days I had between coming home from CA and leaving again, the Intense 951 come together in the 11th hour with help of almost everyone I know and a few I got to know along the way. There was a late night wheel build, many trips to the storage unit & local bike shops, and an early morning stop at Fanatik in Bellingham on the way over the border. It truly took a village to build this bike. I kept getting told it was a part of the experience… right. An experience I’m not eager to have again but I did learn a lot about these huge monster truck style bikes.

We finally got to Whistler mid-afternoon after Jayden at Fanatik valiantly put the finishing touches on my bike and even swapped out the spring on the shock to accommodate my lighter riding weight. In the parking lot there was much cursing, jumping up and down and general frustration as NG and I wrestled to get the Schwalbe Muddy Mary’s on our wheels. This is no easy task with 2.5′s, (someone needs to invent a tire lever that actually works). After a pinched tube and everyone taking their turn trying to get the bead out and then back in with a fresh tube,our tires were finally seated and ready to roll.

There SHE is... Fox 40, Muddy Mary's, SAINT, PRO. She ain't dainty but she sure is pretty

What followed was 3 days of pure bliss on bikes. Yes, we were riding lifts up but don’t knock it til you try it. What can I say?

DH’ing is maybe the best thing ever. Yes, that’s right folks, I said ever.

The first day I spent most of my time trying to get a feel for the weight of the bike. Not being so comfortable in the air, I was having a hard time not riding the thing like an XC rig. Also, the bike is so heavy it kept pushing me around and it didn’t take a whole lot to get myself into the weeds. Crank It Up was a great trail to find some flow. Nothing too scary but jumpy and bermed enough to work things through to find some balance over the bike.

AG made sure we got onto Ninja Cougar first thing… why? Well, last year I had a unfortunate incident on a wooden platform that resulted in me hitting a tree headfirst on Ninja. Or I should say, face first. The speed at which I met up with that tree resulted in crunching and cracking noises in my head that scared me first off the mountain and then completely off the bike for a while. Simply put, I’d never hit anything that hard before and while feeling lucky to be alive, I didn’t want to tempt my fate so my DH trip was cut short last year. I was at Whistler this year to make up for lost time.

Day 2 was more fun as I started to get a feel for how to handle my not-so-dainty rig but this time with some fog included. A long night of partying with the boys will definitely add a little fog to your life but no worries. After a few hours of following JW around the mountain (we did Crank it Up and A-Line a bunch), I headed off the mountain and back to the condo to sit in the sun. I was not so interested in killing myself this time around but it was super fun to spend the day watching JW’s progression into the air as he became more comfortable hitting everything on Crank it Up harder, faster, and bigger.

At some point early on the 3rd day, it was decided my seat post was still too tall. Hack saw procured, damage done and we were on our way. Boy, did that make all the difference in the world. Maybe it was the fact it was the 3rd day of riding, maybe it was that the boys were nice enough to let me tag along with them, maybe it was that we were doing full-mountain runs or maybe, just maybe, it was that damn seat post but I was finally getting in the air.

No, this is not me or any of my Compadres... but you get the idea.

A-line, Dirt Merchant, Blue Velvet, Freight Train… we rode them over and over again. Each run became a little faster until finally I was mostly not casing the transfers and hitting the jumps hard enough to grab some lines I had not been seeing before.

I love, love, love being in the air. It totally makes my hair stand on end. It’s crazy to think that 2 days before I could barely get the front wheel off the ground, let alone actually enjoy the huge step-ups or put a series of jumps together without using too much brake, or manage a drop that is denoted by 3 black arrows pointing down. It was all happening so fast and then we were done… 3 days of riding went by way too fast.

Tired and incredibly sore, Sunday eventually rolled around and NG was set to compete in the Red Bull 5000 Down, which is a Mega Avalanche style mass-start race from the very top of the mountain on the gnarliest trails available. 130 guys and gals trudged through 8 inches of snow at the top to bomb their way down as fast as possible without dying. NG did well. He didn’t die and the huge smile on his face told me he had a great time. I think he got 53rd. Kudos.

All in all, it was a really fantastic weekend. I’ve already started shopping for proper fitting armor, a new full face helmet and apparel that actually fits. As an added bonus, it tuns out we have all been dreaming about being in the air ever since we got home… Yep, next year I’m getting in my annual requirement and it’s going to be incredible.

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13 Aug 2010

Close Encounters

Posted by mercieb. 5 Comments

I’ve been in Alaska now for 5 days and, aside from 1 bald eagle, I have not seen one single animal of the wild sort. Kind of disappointing. That’s not to say this trip has been void of excitement. No, not at all.

Greg, the owner of Speedway Cycles (home of the Fatback), offered to hook me up with a bike and take me out to Kincaid Park in Anchorage. I love riding in new places with new people so I jumped at the opportunity. We headed out at 7pm after the shop closed. With no worries about it getting dark, (even now the sun doesn’t go down until about 11pm), we took our time getting things together.

Bike adjustments made, gear sorted and loaded up, we headed over to the park. It really is “park” riding. Being a world-class nordic ski area in the winter, most of the trails are wide smooth tracks. The single track trails are short, root jammed jaunts between all the double track but being guided through I felt like I was getting the best of it. The perk of riding with a local.

As we were riding through head-tall brush, I was just about to ask about bears when Greg happened to mention they do see some bears out there every now and again but qualified that with the fact that they are black bears. Ok, black bears. No biggie. In the back of my head I wanted to ask about the likelihood of running into a grizzly but not wanting to sound paranoid, I kept the thought to myself.

We headed over a couple of small ridges and I could tell we were getting closer to the bluff that overlooks the top of the Cook Inlet and the head of the Turnagain Arm because the trail was starting to get sandy and a little loose. All of a sudden I hear this incredible crashing sound. It sounded like the whole forest was coming down around us in one piece. I rolled up on Greg as he was yelling, “Get back! Turn around! Huge fucking Grizzly!” So I did. As I started off in the direction we’d just came from, I realized the crashing noises coming from just off the trail beside me were going the same direction I was now going. I stop, listen for one second and decide to flip it again and head back to Greg. I’m imaging the moment when the bear loops back onto the trail to come back to what it was doing before we almost ran into it.

This decision was met with approval by Greg and we hi-tailed it out of there as fast as we could, yelling the whole way to let any other bears know we were coming. He relayed to me the moment he came around that sweeping corner and almost ran head long into the 600 lb grizzly. (He would know… he’s been in AK for more than 30 years). This guy was a monster of an animal and Greg was shaken for sure. We rode hard and fast for a while to get clear of the area.

Later over a bunch of beers and dinner, out the blue Greg got real quiet and whispered to me, “We dodged a fucking bullet today.” Indeed. The good news is no one got mauled by a bear but I never did see the thing. Just as well.

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7 Aug 2010

Dance, mutha f***er, Dance!

Posted by mercieb. 1 Comment

I’m a big proponent of biking with headphones in. Never while riding with other people but on the rare occasion I get out on a trail or the road by myself, the tunes are cranked. Yeah. Try Fugazi’s ‘Repeater’ for going uphill or some Aloha or even the Silver Jews or Wolf Parade… or… All good for going up. Good pedaling rhythm.

Coming down, you want 50 Foot Wave, Cat Power, Jane’s Addiction, Gorilazz (wins the prize for ‘most ridiculous band name ever’) , the Pixies, or some good ole’ Iggy Pop. Pearl Jam? Oy!

Whatever gets you into the flow on those switchbacks, berms and long descents. Maybe some Interpol, Beach House or Radiohead…?

Oh my goodness, there are so many ways to go down.

I’m pretty happy with it all right now. Eclectic? Sure. But if you just want to catch a moment to dance, then put your iPod on shuffle and go for it.

5 Aug 2010

And Now for Something Completely Different… (If you like rally racing, watch this)

Posted by mercieb. 3 Comments

My favorite part of this is the spectators cheering, clapping and laughing. Kind of like a bull-run but different… or bowling?