When I tried my first UCI race 2 years ago at Marshall Mountain, it was exactly that: I was just going to try one race at that level and maybe never do it again. I knew it was completely beyond my training and comfort level but just couldn't resist the temptation to see what might happen. Lining up with the riders I'd read about in Mountain Bike Action or watched on Red Bull TV for the World Cup circuit was more than I could comprehend, and perhaps to a fault at times, I LOVE a challenge. At that point, I wasn't all that sure where I wanted to go with mountain biking. It had rekindled my love for training and my desire to strive for improvement, but I figured my time in competitive sports had come and gone. In college I had been recruited to play Division 3 Ice Hockey, a sport that I had loved dearly until it began to take more than it gave. Bikes on the other hand, were becoming increasingly fun and had become a breath of fresh air when my life needed it most. I made myself a promise at that point: If bikes ever stopped being fun, the racing was over. I wasn't going to lose my favorite passion to staleness or overwhelming expectations. So I jumped into the deep end that day- and man, am I glad I did.
Something else about Missoula though, its a place that I can never seem to spend enough time exploring. This time we had the lucky fortune of staying at the Missoula KOA campground- I've developed a particular fondness for these clean and family oriented campgrounds. We even splurged and opted to stay in one of the cabins (only about $50 per night) with access to a pool, hot tub, showers, electricity, fire pits and friendly campground hosts everywhere you turned. For dinner we cooked in but made a point to stop by Blackcoffee Roasters for their amazing roast selections and toast. No really, their toast is worth a stop, all on its own (just ask my husband.)
With a heavy winter throughout the West, the rivers were barely lower than flood stage; a veritable tragedy for my husband and I (who are avid fly fishermen). We managed to console ourselves by counting local fly shops (although we stopped after hitting double digits) and reading about the local Blue Ribbon waters that surround the valley. It is safe to say that we need to return in order to better inform you of Missoula's bountiful and scenic trout waters.
This year, my goals for Missoula were pretty straightforward: (1) Don't crash (2) Try to hold a steady position. My rib cage is still a bit creaky from my glorious OTB (over the bars) and "through the meadows" tumble last year, and as Race director Ben Horan puts it, “MSLA is always a real test of where you are at on any given year” so I simply hoped to better my result from last season and hold on to some freshness in my legs for the short track the following morning. Race day brought us a brief mountain rain storm, followed by sunshine just in time for the Pro Women's staging. It was so powerful to see familiar faces, family and dear friends to either side of me as we waited for the whistle to send us off- a big reminder that our racing community is a family. We look out for each other, encourage each other (even on course!) and respect the journey that each of us have opted to embark upon, regardless of destination.
Racing is the reward for all of the hard work that we (and our families and support teams) put in over the course of a season. It sets you free from your thoughts, and is SO INCREDIBLY HARD that nothing else in the world can penetrate your mind, except maybe a crash. That in itself is a kind of absolute freedom, and is extremely hard to find anywhere else. What better way to celebrate that kind of experience than to share it with others who are passionate about the same pursuit?
In the end, the XC race was a solid one for me; I've found a new spot further up in the field this season but continue to sit just outside the top 10. This year has been a very different experience for me, and I am constantly learning how to deepen my appreciation for what real patience actually involves (hint: its not just waiting for all of your dreams to happen in one season.) One good winter can make great improvements for a rider, but it will take more than a few of those to assemble the skills, endurance and experience necessary to create a World-Class rider. With that being said, I'm already SO EXCITED for this winter and next spring.
Much love to my husband, family and support crew for helping make this journey possible!! If you happen to be traveling to the Oregon Coast during this GORGEOUS summer weather, please stop in at the Chinook Winds Casino Resort for Chef's amazing oyster bar or check out their summer deals for the beach side accommodations.
A very long time ago, I was (ok, get ready for this) a figure skater. I loved the feel of the cold, crisp ice crunching under my little skates as I warmed up at 5:30 in the morning (although I DID hate that morning part with a vengeance). I always relished the chance to isolate myself with (don't laugh) my Walkman's private music selection, and lived for the huge satisfaction of finally nailing a footwork piece or jump section after the one-millionth time of stumbling through it or falling on my bum. I remember how it always felt impossible until it clicked just once- after that, the spell seemed to break and I could usually finish the "sticky piece" reliably after that watershed moment. Until very recently, I hadn't thought much about my figure skating days. In junior high, they had helped me to find my way into ice hockey, which subsequently became my collegiate sport (and like figure skating) eventually faded into the background as life moved forward.
Pre-riding the lush and scenic Utah Tech-Devo course brought back a flood of those memories. It was the kind of course that, like a good skating routine, was made or broken based on an athlete's ability to string their fitness and technical mastery together smoothly. An even mix of non-technical singletrack and wide, paved 12-16% grades separated four different A-Line/B-Line options (including a rather menacing drop), as well as a rock garden, large boulder drop, one troublesome technical climb, and some really fun, steep "slalom" descents towards the end of each lap. Every feature was rideable, but practice was essential for smoothing out transitions and ultimately defusing the (almost) overwhelming sense of anxiety that hung over me after my first quick look at the course- I knew my routine needed work. Here the figure skating of my childhood past would finally pay some dividends as I began my work of breaking the course into smaller pieces and practicing "my footwork." It was funny to think about my iPhone library, now serving as a much smaller and more durable Walkman substitute. The times have really changed, my friends.
In what was possibly one of the biggest highlights of our Utah Adventure, Greg and I visited a Park City Restaurant called the Grub Steak for a Pre-Race meal. I struggle with eating enough calories on race day, so a big dinner the night before is helpful. When they heard we were in search of a place for dinner, our dear friends Nikki and Zep Tittensor steered us to the Park City locale and promised us the quality would be incredible- and let me just say, they were so right. Started in 1976, The Grub Steak has been serving up some mean orime rib, steak cuts and seafood year-round since that time. Sticking with my usual Pre-Game routine, I ordered a small sirloin with Garlic Mashed Potatoes which was as tender and perfectly done (Medium Rare) as a steak-lover like myself could dream of. For dessert, a giant Rum and Huckleberry Bread Pudding mysteriously appeared on the table before me. As to how it got there, I have no idea. If you ever find yourself on Sidewinder street in downtown Park City, UT be sure to check this place out. They don't do frills but they definitely know how to do real, delicious and top-quality food- stop by if you're ever in the area!
Race day arrived early the next morning and we lined up at the base area of the Soldier Hollow Nordic Complex, the site for the 2002 Winter Olympic Nordic Competitions. The first 3 minutes of the race involved a sprint on pavement up the steepest grade on-course, winding us through the resort's steep but small acreage before butterfly-ing back through the pits for the start of the second and more technical half of the loop. Pit Note: The Kenda Honeybadger was a perfect tire selection for the pavement and technical feature combination on this course, as I didn't have to sacrifice speed on pavement for reliability when things got hairy. To date, I believe this was the hardest, and my favorite course on the XCT circuit- it was just so dynamic and required constant attention to detail. I gave what I had to give that day and finished up 11th (my best UCI XC result to date), moving me to 29th in the overall US standings. I even received my FIRST UCI payout! This year will be my third racing and second at the Pro level; as a result, I find that I'm constantly humbled by the gaps in my racing knowledge, fitness and skill. Time on the bike and racing experience are essential for progress in those areas and I have to remind myself (or be reminded) that consistency and hard work will get me there. It's all too easy to get discouraged for reasons that essentially boil down to impatience with ourselves. For any of you readers who might be pursuing goals of your own: Remember to be kind to yourself, acknowledge your progress and remind yourself that it's not against the rules to believe in yourself- it's actually essential to achieving those goals.
If you find yourself looking for a place to ride this summer, be sure to head through the Utah mountains to Park City, Heber City and Soldier Hollow- its gorgeous, the mountains are big, there's plenty of camping and the locals are wonderful. The ski resorts in the area also provide plenty of lift-assisted climbing for those who prefer adrenaline to lactate.
Another huge thanks to Chinook Winds Casino Resort for the opportunity to represent my tribal community and chase big dreams!
One year ago, roughly around the same time of year, I struggled to find the correct registration line at the chaotic tables of the Sea Otter Classic for the first time. I'd been back on the bike for about a month and a half after a two month bout with drug-resistant pneumonia, was starting my first season as a Pro, and was without question, COMPLETELY overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of the scene at the Mazda Laguna Seca Speedway. Filled with every kind of cyclist and cycling product vendor in the history of everything, the crowd spread throughout the infield of the speedway and well into the grass overflow lots like a single vast ocean of carbon fiber, neon sports gear, display banners and number plates. I remember the sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach well as I skimmed down the list of 65 elite female riders- China, Argentina, Canada, Australia, Venezuela, Czech Republic, the best from throughout the US... oh, and my name at the very bottom.
This year threatened to feel the same in many respects, but I knew at least a few things would be different. I was healthy, had worked my tail off in a sweaty basement all winter, actually knew a few people in that giant crowd (thanks Roger, Phil, Gary, Maria and Anastasia), and more than anything else- I was STARVED to be back at this incredible level of competition.
I try not to write much about my actual race experiences- mainly because my mind tends to go white-hot blank for the duration of my time on course. However I must tell you that the winter's work was astonishingly, immediately apparent out there on the Sea Otter Course. Rather than dangling helplessly off the back of the hammering International Pro Field after one glorious and explosive lap, I found myself squarely in the middle of it, moving forwards. My Kenda Sabers were perfect for the tarmac and hard-packed terrain and it felt like a dream to be able to execute tactics (of absolutely any kind) on legs that could follow through. In a sport where gains are made so gradually, finishing nearly 30 spots higher than the previous year, on the leaders lap with current olympic champion (Sweden's own Jenny Rissveds) was a huge victory- and one which I needed to sit and think about for a while before writing on it. When you work really really hard for something, especially something big- its actually unnerving to make progress. You want so badly to believe it, but you don't want to be fooled by a 'fluke' good day. But it had been a good day, and one I was eventually going to be proud of- no matter the number next to my name. Because that's how progress works.
Greg and I celebrated a good race, cloudless-warm weather and a break from the Idaho winter basement cave at Old Fisherman's Wharf that night. As a huge Steinbeck AND seafood fan- this was a form of true paradise. We opted for The Old Fisherman's Grotto, which (at least according to their sign) had been voted the best chowder in Monterrey for the last decade. We were not disappointed, and I ate more fresh seafood and chowder than you might think possible- the waiter actually seemed concerned at one point.
With a little bit of precious time still on our hands, we made an early start the next morning, traveling North up the coastline along the infamous Highway 1. Along the way we watched as the postcard-version of California began to unfurl. Farm stands full of fresh kiwi, artichokes, almonds and strawberries seemed to be only a few miles apart. I daydreamed for miles about all the cooking I could do with such a bountiful source of fresh produce. Further down the road, giant white pelicans floated over the Moss Landing Preserve while dozens of colorful kayaks below them ambled out into the slough. Its a good thing I don't live there because I don't think I could ever get anything done in California. With nowhere in particular to be, we eventually wandered up one of the side roads near the southern edge of Redwoods National Park and stumbled upon Beauregard Vineyards- nestled into a gorgeous little canyon amongst the wild nettle, Ivy, Queen Anne's lace, scrub oak and innumerable wildflowers. One highlight of their offerings included a sweet and very dry small-batch apple wine, which had been harvested from the 95 year old apple trees on the vineyard's original family acreage and aged in oak casks. Such a treat.
As the day grew long, we made our way to Route 84 through a long farm valley and up over the coastal range surrounding Palo Alto. The rough spring weather had done little to disrupt the tall redwoods of the area, but had certainly done its very best to remove as many small sections of the tedious and winding road as possible. Slowly, we made our way down the mountain and into the metropolis where we capped the day off with a giant steaming bowl of REAL Ramen with pork belly from Dohatsuten, a Bay-Area favorite.
I may never be able to love the crazy traffic, but I now have a new and very deep love for the vibrant food, culture and flavors of California. HUGE thank you to Chinook Winds Casino Resort for their support this season! Also big big thanks to Kenda Tire, ESI Grips, Dryve Wheels and Bauerhaus Bikes for helping make the dream happen this year. Be sure to check out the video below for a quick fly-by of the Sea Otter Experience!
Its been a long winter here in Idaho. I've spent an inordinate amount of time in my basement trying not to fall off the rollers, counting lumps in wall paint and re-watching Indiana Jones and Zombieland. In other words, the time to escape and get after some good dirt has finally arrived, and not a moment too soon.
To celebrate, my Mom and I flew down to the second round of the US Cup Series at Frank G Bonelli Park, in San Dimas California. The park is named for Los Angeles County Supervisor Frank Bonelli (1958-1972) who was instrumental in pushing for the development of this recreational area. The original planners had only intended to create a water storage reservoir for the region's rapidly growing urban development and population expansion during the early 1950's. Frank had pushed for recreation opportunities and helped to negotiate water purchase agreements that would allow the city to keep the man-made "lake" full year round. Bonelli Park contains roughly three square miles or about 2,220 acres of open space and natural areas. According to the park website, this area is ''compromised mainly of rolling hills and moderately steep canyons covered with chaparral, cactus, and costal sage scrub habitat." With roughly 14 miles of hiking and riding trails, picnic areas, parking for "up to 4800 vehicles," boat-launching areas, an RV park, equestrian facilities, and a golf course, this little urban gem was an ideal locale for a bike race.
Now back to that part about cactus. I'm always wary when I find myself in the midst of a trip that is going smoothly; I just don't trust it.
Our plane that day had departed and landed on time, we had retrieved all of our baggage items with ease and caught the shuttle within minutes of landing. Our rental car was ideal and fit the bike bag perfectly, we had found the hotel easily and were able to check in early before grabbing a nice lunch at Sprouts Market and taking scenic Route 66 (the long way) to the course for an early pre-ride and packet pick-up...you get the idea- too good to be true.
After building up my bike, the warm California sunshine pretty much went straight to my head- it felt like paradise in that 75 degree light breeze and bright sky. I spun through the parade lap at a light clip and prepared to ride out onto the short but hilly and power-focused course, feeling giddy and carefree. About halfway through the lap, I decided to push the pace and went a little (ok, a lot) too fast into a corner that was hardpack and ball-bearings. After failing to steer out of the death swerve, I was vaulted over the bars- haphazardly landing on the uphill side of the trail. My first thought was "Oh man I got lucky, something broke my fall- that should have hurt more" but as my senses returned, the reality of my situation sank in quickly: a large, friendly and well-established prickly pear cactus had, in fact, been so kind as to break my fall. The adrenaline started to fade and I began to notice sharp, little stabbing feelings ALL OVER my right side. A few juniors pedaled by at this time; seeming both concerned and amused they asked me an uncertain, "Uhhh, are you ok?" I'm sure something was muttered through clenched teeth about having been better but I can't quite recall, and they carried on as I attempted to wriggle my cactus-covered behind out of its unfortunate predicament.
Ever had cactus spines in your armpit before? Pro tip: Don't. Just don't.
After an excruciatingly "long" ride back to the expo area, I realized my Mother had the rental car keys and had gone off to take photos for at least another hour. I picked as many of the fine little spines out as I could, but without the skills of a Cirque du Soleill contortionist, it just wasn't going to happen and I was COVERED in them.
Enter Adam Pulford, Ridebiker Alliance Team Director and all-around great guy.
Without too much laughter, Adam walked me down the row of expo tents to one that I knew well, the bright yellow and familiar ESI Grips family tent. Maria and Gary seemed to have lots of experience with cacti and quickly took me in like one of their own. Have I mentioned that they are also my (amazing) grip sponsor?! Talk about going above and beyond to support your athletes, waaaaay beyond. 45 minutes later, and I could at least sit down again. Maria, if you are reading this: YOU ARE MY HERO!! It wasn't my most comfortable night's sleep and even now, I'm still a little banged up from the crash but I was very fortunate to be able to line up to race the next day.
Bonelli Park is the first HC level race on the 2017 US Cup Tour- this means maximum UCI points and a very competitive, World Cup-quality field. National Champions, Pan-American Champions, Olympians, Olympic Medalists and World Champions all toed the start line in the corral ahead of me. As the anthem finished and we awaited the whistle, I was so glad to be back on that white paint line, finally ready to start my second season with these amazingly talented athletes.
The course was fast: full of steep climbs, rocky descents, fun features and lots of singletrack. To date, it might be the most challenging course I have raced and I am content with my first real ride of the season. There's still lots of work to be done but I am so glad to have the season off and rolling!
Huge thanks again to my Mom, Maria and Gary Stewart of ESI Grips, Adam Pulford of Team Ridebiker, Mike and Nico of Shimano Multi-Service, Roger from Kenda Tires, Marty from KTM Ridebiker, Philip from PB Creative for the on-course heckling and all of the wonderful volunteers from Team Big Bear who helped make the whole event happen. Also big thanks to Chinook Winds Casino Resort and the Confederated Tribes of Siletz for helping me make this season possible! If you are ever in Lincoln City, OR be sure to stop in and say hello to them- Chef Jack does a mean oyster bar.
Love to you all- stay tuned for Sea Otter in 2 Weeks!! -FF
The Boise trails are finally uncovered from a long and snowy winter, the foothills are starting to green up, and those blustery winds of ours are starting to smell like sage and fresh dirt again. There are so many things to share with you all: First, I want to send out a huge THANK YOU to Chinook Winds Casino Resort and the Confederated Tribes of Siletz Indians for their continued support for the 2017 race season. I am honored to represent my tribal community and look forward to starting the season off in California this April. Chinook Winds and the Siletz Community at large have played an integral role in my opportunity to pursue my goals as a Professional Athlete. They have also provided an opportunity to continue learning about and connecting with a heritage that has shaped me, my family and a community I care deeply about.
Someone recently asked to know more about my family's native heritage. The opportunity to share a story about some of the most amazing people who have inspired me to be bold, strive for greatness and remain persistent in all forms of adversity made my heart soar. After sharing with her, I realized that it was a story I didn't share often enough-even with my own fellow tribal members. Each one of our lives is shaped by amazing people -those people inspire us and help guide us to better versions of ourselves. I believe one of the things I love best about being a nurse is the opportunity to connect with people and to share in some of their stories, drawing my own inspiration from them. So if you'll humor me, I'd like to share just a little bit of my history with you, and maybe a little inspiration, too.
Officially, my tribal heritage is that of the Aleut and Siuslaw tribes. Aleutian descent is geographically considered to be the Aleutian Archipelago, off the Southern Shores of Alaska. My own Aleut heritage starts on remote Umnak Island, well-offshore of the Alaska Panhandle. In contrast, the Siuslaw tribe was one of more than 30 different Oregon Coastal tribes that were later "officially recognized" by the US government as the Confederated Tribes of Siletz Indians. My great grandfather Nick lived on Umnak Island until he was taken from his mother and sent to the Chemawa Indian School in Oregon to learn tailoring- I'm told this sort of opportunity was reserved for the more "promising" Indians by government officials. Nick was always a very smart, curious and driven individual. After graduating Chemawa, he enlisted in the US Navy where he worked as an electrical engineer and welder during WWI. He later returned to Chemawa to propose to my great grandmother Hattie, whose family lineage was Siuslaw. The name Siuslaw is said to originate from a small creek that feeds into what is now known as the Siuslaw River. The headwaters of this creek are where the winter village for the tribe was once located. Nick and Hattie travelled back to Umnak and taught at the tribal schools before returning to Hattie's home town of Florence, Oregon on the banks of the Siuslaw River. There my grandfather (Kenneth Martin Hatch) grew up attending a tiny 1-room school house. Hattie and Nick were adamant that their children pursue educations to the highest level possible. Around the time the draft began, my grandfather had just started his studies in Engineering at Oregon State University. Determined to continue his passion for engineering, he applied to West Point Military Academy where he later thrived as a student and talented gymnast. For lack of better records, he is considered to be one of the very first Native Americans to graduate from West Point. In his distinguished and long military career, Ken served as a Full Bird Colonel, was recipient of a Silver Star, Bronze Star and Purple Heart Medal, completed a masters in Civil Engineering at Cal Tech and taught Calculus at West Point. He never stopped striving- sometimes I think thats why he loved fishing so much; there was always a bigger one to go after.
I never knew my great grandparents well (due to my young age), but my grandfather Ken was always an inspiration and strong influence in my life. His motto was always "Never Give Up the Ship" and he religiously passed this on to his children and grandchildren. Like his parents, he was adamant about education pursuits, and constantly pursued community service and involvement. When Ken retired, he taught himself to carve traditional tribal art- some of which still adorns the Elders Housing on the Siletz Reservation today. I'll never forget driving around Newport with him (then in his 70's) delivering Meals on Wheels to people his own age, or watching him haul heavy crab pots out of Yaquina Bay during a strong tide and seeing his subsequent sly smile when I tried (unsuccessfully) to do the same. He was so tied to the ocean and coastal way of life that, as they say, the salt verily flowed through his veins. Oh, and no one could out-fish that man, not ever.
I wanted to share this story because it is probably very different from what many picture when they think of a "Native American." My heritage is rooted in fishing the salmon runs far out on the Pacific Ocean, in clam digging on the mud flats, crabbing in the bays, and hiking through the dense Oregon woods to find blackberries and salmon berries. I've been taught to have discerning tastes for creamy white buckskin, elk stew, seafood chowder, trader beads and Pendleton blankets by my mother. And I'm nearly impossible to remove from a jewelry table at a pow-wow, provided there's plenty of local abalone, dentalium shell and pine beads on display. Equally however, my history is tied firmly to the pursuit of higher education, military service to one's country and the constant pursuit of a better self through hard work, accountability and no excuses.