How to not finish a bikepacking race

BuckshotI would like to share with you my wisdom on how to NOT finish a bikepacking race. Given that the 2019 Buckshot is the one and only such event I have attempted, I am a little surprised too that I’m already such an expert.

This is the inaugural Buckshot race. It is a loop that starts and ends in Kamloops. For more info, see this link.

Take my word for it. If you do exactly as I described, you won’t be able to finish either.

  1. Leave your food behind

On the way out of town, stop at your favorite bagel shop to pick up bagels for your ride. But when you arrive at the start line, leave the bagels in the car. The first resupply point is only 180 km away.

When you are as forgetful as me, you will be fine on Day 1. But you will run out of food on Day 2, with quite a bit more mileage to go until the resupply point. For 3 hours, you will ride on empty, and call it quits when you start to hallucinate.

2. Don’t test out your gear

There is a thing called shakedown rides. You train with all your gear and weight, refine what doesn’t work, and work out the details before a race. Don’t do that. Skip that important step.

I had a new handlebar bag I have never used. I borrowed some lights the night before leaving for the start line. I got my down quilt the day before the race. I had no place to mount the borrowed lights because I left my helmet mount at work. I never tried riding hills with camping gear and the 2L water bladder filled. My knee hits the feed bag when I climb standing.

If you follow all my steps, you’ll be stopping 10 km into the race, trying to re-pack your bags because the heavy weight in the front was causing all sorts of problems. Brilliant.

3. Don’t learn to navigate

You think your “off line map” with Ride With GPS will work perfectly. But because you skipped the shakedown rides, you never tried using that app. So for whatever reason, when the app stopped telling you you’re off course, you ride full steam ahead down the wrong road in complete darkness. Adding 17km to a punishing course will surely suck the life out of you, and make you feel like a complete idiot.

Be confused about GPX and FIT files. Don’t try to understand how they work with your Garmin.

4. Don’t figure out your strategy

Some people “tour” the route. Some people “race” the route. If you “tour” the route, then take your time, camp where you feel like, stop and chat with people, and pack a nice tent and camping stove. If you “race” the route, then you’re going to pack light and go fast.

If you have it figured out beforehand what you are doing, life is much easier. Don’t do that. Be undecided. Then kick yourself for packing too much shit to race, but packing too little to enjoy a scenic tour.

5. Don’t learn about your bike

Be spoiled like me, who has an awesome bike shop who will fix your bike when you break things. Don’t bother learning about your bike. When the shifter stops working, just ride your bike like a single speed bike and hope it will magically start working over the next hill.

 

Alright, obviously, you know by now I didn’t finish the Buckshot ride. All jokes and sarcasm aside, it was very hard for me to make the decision to bail. I bailed on day 2, about 27 hours after I started. At that point, I had run out of food 3 hours ago, and had another 35km of thick muddy hills to go before the resupply stop. At the rate I was going on a single speed bike, the store would be closed before I get there, and I would have to survive on no food for the next 12 hours. I had nothing left in me to continue.

I felt defeated, stupid, and weak. I was lucky that Cliff and the kids drove two hours from Kamloops to come find me and take me off the muddy road. When I saw the family, I sobbed uselessly. 

Did I have the most amazing time? Yes!

Did I have the worst time? Yes!

Adventures are like that. There are moments you think you’re in heaven, and there are moments you feel like you’re in hell. Yet that’s exactly why I want to try this again. There’s some sort of magnetic force that pulls me back into such self inflicted torture. Maybe next year I can write a post about how to actually finish this ride.

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Happy anniversary, Langma

Exactly a year ago today, the Langma followed me home. 5,000 kilometres later, it is going in for new components today.

A year ago, I took the Avail Advanced for a quick test ride. It was nice and comfortable. Then, for shits and giggles, I took the Langma for a quick test ride. Holy moly, I couldn’t believe what I was feeling–there was barely any weight to the bike, and each pedal stroke transferred to moving forward so efficiently that I could barely feel the small hill I was riding up. I was torn for about 3 seconds, and knew I would have way more fun on the Langma.

The bike inspires me to ride. It’s always telling me to climb higher, ride longer, try harder. There’s just something about it that just begs to be ridden.

 

10 years ago

10 years ago, Cliff and I climbed Kilimanjaro together. After that, we went on a safari with some friends. Then Cliff had to go back to work, so I met up with yet some other friends and did an Eastern Europe tour to cover Budapest, Progue, and Vienna.

Vienna is a beautiful city. Although not my all-time favorite, I am very much looking forward to being there for Cliff’s first time in Europe. As much as I whine about being away from work during a busy time, and leaving the kids behind (which I’m still freaking out about), I know I will enjoy some “us” time with just Cliff.

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Flying the coop

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For the last 8 years, we have never really left the kids overnight.

Let me clarify. We have left the kids with my parents in Taiwan for 4 nights last year, and Cliff and I went on a cycling trip. But we were never more than a 3-hour drive away from them. So while that was a huge step for us, it felt like we were close by enough that we can be there right away if needed.

The rest of the time, the kids have either had both of us there, or one of us there, every single night. This is partly because we just don’t have any family members to help if we wanted to get away, and partly because no other opportunities have come up for it.

Next week though, I have to attend our firm’s AGM in Vienna for a whole week. No big deal, I’ve been away this long before at conferences. The twist is, this year, all the spouses are invited to the AGM. I’ve been to Vienna and a few other cities in Europe before, but Cliff has never been. So we had a choice. Either Cliff stays home with the kids while I go to Vienna, or he comes with me and we leave the kids at home. After much discussion, we are now going to Vienna together, and his mom has agreed to watch the kids for us.

I tend to get into a lot of details describing my freak-out when I’m freaking out over something. Like this trip. Leaving the kids for this many days, being in a totally opposite \time zone, and being this far away for the first time–I’m not ready for this.

Let’s be honest, I think the kids will miss me, but they’ll be fine. They will have school everyday, they have their swimming lessons, they will be sleeping in their own bed, and they will be with someone who loves them to the moon and back.

Me, however, will be royally freaking out. I will not be coming home to them every night, I will not get to snuggle and kiss them goodnight, or nag them to pick up the damn Lego. The scariest part is, I will turn around and see Cliff–the only other soul on earth who I trust the kids with–right there with me, without the kids in tow! My little brain can’t even process what this is going to feel like!!!!

Itti is probably reading this and rolling her eyes. Yes, I’m sure “it’ll be fine”. And maybe it will be fine. But right now it does not feel fine. Right now it feels scary. Unfamiliar. Risky. Stupid even. There is absolutely no logic in how I am feeling.

We leave in a few days. I will report back if I survive this.

Adulthood

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When I was a kid, my mom told me I had no idea how hard it is to be an adult and I needed to be grateful that I was a kid. I remember thinking, yeah right. Adults get to decide when they go to bed, what they wear, what they eat, and how to spend the unlimited amount of money that they keep getting each month. And there I was, just a kid, with someone else always telling me it’s bedtime, I must wear this, I must eat my vegetables, and my allowance never covered every mechanical pencils my heart desired.

After some years of practice of being an adult, I have to say, my mom is right. Being an adult is hard.

I’m not whining about my life being hard. In fact, I am very grateful for how awesome my life is. What I still couldn’t come to grasp with is the responsibilities I have.

The responsibilities came when Josh and Savanna showed up. But honestly, it was pretty easy when they were little. I was pretty good at making sure they are fed, their diapers are changed, and they had somewhat of a sleep schedule. Luckily for me, they are healthy little humans, so I managed just fine.

Now they are bigger. They now have their opinions about things, and their little heads are always trying to make sense of the world around them. They ask a lot of questions, and they observe everything I say and do. How do I explain the swear words they learn from kids at school? How do I explain I use those exact same swear words regularly myself? How do I explain savings, investments, and not spending all your allowance on shitty toys? How do I explain that the adults in their lives aren’t perfect?

At work, it’s pretty easy for me to work hard and do extra things to get ahead. I was raised to keep my head down and work my ass off. As a young practitioner, I always had one of the highest billable hours, and faithfully worked weekends and evenings. I’m happy to be responsible to get files out the door because I can do what it takes.

Then I became responsible for other people, even when I have no control over their ambitions and work ethics. So what happens when they don’t hand in the file by the deadline? What happens when they seem to park their brains at home and give me half-ass files to review? What happens when they sleep in and miss meetings, or take time off without approval?

It’s probably to my detriment that I’m on social media at all. Seeing everyone else on social media with clean houses, well dressed and athletic children, successful careers–I wonder if I’m the only adult who isn’t very good at being an adult. I try very hard to put that thought out of my mind. It’s just that some days I really wonder, am I the only one who is just winging this?

 

Penticton 2018

I started to write this blog post as a ride report. As a rookie cyclist, a lot of the stuff I write about seem fresh and interesting to me, so I go on and on and on about them. You might read this and think, “Wow, she’s an idiot.” Just keep your thoughts to yourself, and remember that I’m still new at all this.

Back in the fall last year, “Coach Jill” told me about the Penticton fondo. Jill is probably 103 lbs soaking wet, but can power up a hill like a boss. Penticton is easy enough to drive to with the whole family without too much fuss. Naturally, I signed up with little prompting.

Since March this year, I’ve been faithfully following a schedule to train for the fondo. After much anticipation, the day finally arrived and I was pumped.

Before this, I have only ever done one fondo (the 2017 Whistler fondo). Whistler was rainy and cold, and I was miserable, but I finished. Whistler has more net elevation gain than Penticton, and I handled it just fine. I figured I’ll be ok with Penticton. Right?

Not so much.

Whatever mistakes I made, I chalk it up to stupid rookie mistakes. The fact that I actually finished the ride was a huge win in my mind.

The route starts in Penticton, goes up to Summerland, back to Penticton, then down to OK Falls on the east side of Skaha, back up the west side of the lake, back to Penticton. It is absolutely gorgeous. Breathtaking. Beautiful.

I started the ride waaaaay at the back of the chute, and I couldn’t find anyone I knew. Mistake number one was trying to chase down other people I might recognize. Right out the gate was a hill, and I tried to pass everyone in my way. Eventually I found another familiar jersey (Emily), and hopped on her group. I already knew I blew more energy than necessary to try and catch someone. But I was so happy to find a friendly face. Emily was full of energy and it was infectious.

Things were great in the flats and turns, until we hit the KOM hill in Summerland. Mistake number two, I tried to keep up with the girl pulling, and it was a long hill. By the time I crested the hill, my legs and lungs were burning and I was on my own. After only 35km, I was *this* close to pulling over to throw up, and I still had 90km to go! Somewhere around 40km, Emily found me and we rode together back to town again with a big group.

After 50km and back through town, I lost Emily. That sucked. I found a big guy with giant calves and stayed behind him for a good while. It was like having a windshield, so I can take a breather. I tried eating, but my stomach was very unhappy with me. I have already drained two full bottles of electrolyte, and about half way through my 3rd bottle. Mistake number three–likely the biggest mistake I made–I didn’t want to stop at a busy aid station to get more water, so I went further down the East side of Skaha Lake with only half a bottle of water left.

Between 60-80km, things were pretty decent. I was very thirsty, obviously. Half a bottle of water for 20 km was not smart. I will pay for this very dearly later. I found two guys with Spandex Panda jerseys riding just above my speed. I asked if I can join them, and they kindly accepted. We all took turns pulling, but I knew for certain they were just being patient with me when I pulled. At 5’3″, I’m not giving them much draft. That was probably the most blissful part of my entire ride. They were going at a great speed I can manage, and rode smoothly and predictably.

Sadly, the Spandex Panda guys were doing the 160km ride, and I am doing 126km, so I had to wave them goodbye at the bottom of Secrest. By the time I took that turn, there was barely anyone on the 126km route. Was the rest of the world doing 160km? I looked up that hill, and looked down on my empty water bottles, and just thought to myself, you’re an absolute idiot.

I like hills. But Secrest is not like many other hills I have climbed. It was steep. It was relentless. I stood up on my pedals to try and use my body weight to push my way up this hill, and that’s when the cramps hit me. At the same moment, both my quads and both my calves cramped. I nearly fell over as my legs just gave way. I quickly sat back in my saddle as a “fuck!” involuntarily escaped my lips. What the hell was that? I have never cramped before.

My little brain was still trying to work out what was wrong with my legs, and how I was supposed to do this climb sitting on my butt the whole way. I pedaled slowly like a drunk person, zig zagging all over the pavement trying to not fall over. I ran through my options in my head. I can pull over and call it quits. Or I can try to ride through the cramps. I also really wanted to call the super athlete Tennessee and ask her what I’m supposed to do with the cramps, but the hill was too steep and I couldn’t take one hand off the bar to use my phone. So I kept riding.

My legs were in excruciating pain with each pedal stroke. I rode up the entire hill doing the drunken zig zag. The worst part was, at this point, I felt like my crotch was on fire. Maybe not enough Butt’r (a chamois cream I applied quite liberally before the ride)? Too much sweat? Too warm of a day? I don’t know, but I swear I was sitting on burning coal.

Imagine the Okanagan paper headline, “Fondo participant from Vancouver started a forest fire with her crotch“.

Some guy was being friendly and was chatting me up, and I was just so not in the mood. I really wanted to say, dude, my crotch is on fire, how is yours? (Don’t worry, I didn’t say that out loud. I just smiled and nodded, and pretended not to speak English.)

I crested the hill, and rode the next 7 or 8km all by myself. It was a remote piece of road, with no traffic, no signs, and no other cyclists. It was a little creepy. I went from, “This hill is finally over” to “Am I even on the right course?”

Eventually I see a few people ahead of me, and it gave me motivation to try to catch up. I rode a bit on and off with a few guys who look like they didn’t even sweat. They were chit-chatting and joking around. I’m pretty sure their crotches weren’t on fire.

At the next aid station, I was so happy to see the volunteer with two jugs of liquids. When she filled my bottles, I almost wanted to kiss her feet. Then a cute young man even peeled a banana for me. He could probably tell I was in shitty shape. The volunteers at this fondo are freaking awesome.

Eventually I caught up to someone riding somewhat at my speed. I found out later his name is Rob. Since I wasn’t going anywhere fast with my useless legs on the climbs, I chatted him up. He looked like he was suffering too. On the downhill, I ducked behind him for a quick descend. On the uphills, I would ride in front to give him a little break.

During the last 20km, it was so warm and the wind picked up. Back on the last stretch of the highway, all I can think of is how much pain I was in, and hashing over all the mistakes I have made to be where I was at that moment. My Garmin wasn’t giving me an accurate read of the distance, and I don’t know Penticton at all, so I really couldn’t gauge how much farther I had to go. I was nearly in tears. Even my inner thigh was cramping. Like really, I didn’t even know there was a muscle there!

When we started the steady 1% climb up Main Street, Rob said that was the last climb. I figured the fact that I saw a Starbucks, we must be near the edge of downtown. It couldn’t be much further now. I had nothing left in me to go any faster than I was going. I keep waiting for Rob to lose his patience and ride past me, but I guess he likely had nothing left either. Main Street eventually flattens out, and the last 500-600m everyone starts to sprint. That was probably the clue that the end is near. Rob pulled out in front of me with a couple of other guys, and I gave it all I had to hang on. We rode as fast as we could to the last corner, and sprinted down the chute to the finish line.

The poor volunteer who cut my timing chip off had to catch me as I almost fell over. I limped my way up the curb, shook Rob’s hand, met his wife, and went to look for my family.

I finished. I couldn’t believe I finished. As much as I was cursing my legs for not working right, I knew it was my mistake. I started out too hard, tried too hard to keep up, and I was dehydrated. Even though I took enough electrolyte, there wasn’t enough water to deliver it to my muscles. And when you over-stress your body, the digestive system shuts down to allow all the blood supply to support the “flight” mode. That’s why I could barely eat and was at the edge of throwing up for more than half the ride.

I have learned so much on this ride. I’m still trying to digest all the valuable lessons. More importantly, as shitty as I felt physically, I looked back on the day and thought to myself, I will be back.

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Things I learned on a road bike

XIAOYI

Exactly a year ago, I bought my first road bike. It was love at first ride.

Shortly after buying the bike, I decided to do the Whistler fondo–122 km ride from Vancouver to Whistler. Not knowing what I was getting myself into was probably a blessing.

I have become so addicted to cycling, that I decided to sell my motorcycle. Yeah. I know.

I have learned so much in the last 8,230 km.

First, a big goal can be broken down to small chunks. Riding the fondo started with riding 20 km, then 40, then 60, then 90, then 120. Each stage is a new learning experience, with different challenges.

Second, eating for performance can be very different from eating to be skinny. I have had to learn to eat for riding, and the timing of when to eat to sustain a long ride.

Third, it’s amazing what each individual can achieve when you all work as a team. All of my fasted times on rides are results of riding with other people. Sometimes this is because we take turns pulling/drafting, and sometimes it’s because someone pushed me to climb faster and harder than I ever would on my own.

Fourth, the learning never stops. There are so many skills to learn and practice, and so much knowledge to be acquired. I first learned to ride a bike when I was seven years old. But now at 42, I feel like I barely know anything.

Fifth and last, riding is so badass. I absolutely LOVE it when my lungs and my legs are burning on a steep hill climb. I love being scared shitless letting my brakes go on a downhill. I love being challenged to go farther and faster, and seeing other kickass women ride like its nobody’s business.