This semester at U of M, part of my teaching duties is to supervise several student interns. One of them happens to be a badass sponsored Kayaker who is doing her internship at a local community center where she and her boyfriend (also a badass) teach a kayaking class. So, as part of my supervisory duties, I participated in a class.

I’m sure I made a wonderful first impression- she gave me her spray skirt to use, couldn’t get it on over my butt, and had to have help to pull it on over my head. Then, when I went to sit in the boat (also hers), we had to remove the padding from the hip area.

Hey- life’s not always easy when you’ve got one of these:

Once I was in the water, the first thing I learned was how to bail out if I got turned upside down and couldn’t right myself. I thought it was pretty easy, though I can see how it’d freak some people out. Next, I started learning the basic roll- tipping upside down then using my paddle/hips to roll rightside-up.

After a little practice and a couple of failed attempts at doing it on my own, one of the instructors noticed that I wasn’t actually getting my paddle out of the water once I was upside-down, so I wasn’t really getting the “push” from it that I needed. So, next attempt, I fixed that, and BAM! Up I went! (which also elicited few cheers from some of the other people in the pool)

I managed a couple more successful rolls before moving on to how to paddle and turn. By the end of the class, I was actually a bit worn out. It was a lot of fun, and a useful skill to add to my repertoire.

SS day #2 @ Syllamo

Yesterday, Ryan and I headed out to the Orange and Blue trails to ride the portion of the Syllamo’s Revenge course that we’d skipped the day before. I found that not only was my hanger bent, but the cage on my rear DR was cracked, so I was still pushing a 36 x 23 and staying off the shifters.

Side note- I know a lot of Arkasas guys ride a 32 x 20, which I didn’t realize was nearly the same gear ratio until I did a little calculation. Woohoo!

Just to start the day off right, Ryan ended up taking a stick to his derailleur about 30 minutes into the ride. His hanger ripped apart- luckily he had a replacement, and we were back on the trail a few minutes later. I was still feeling good, and was really getting the hang of negotiating some of the steeper technical sections without the aid of a granny gear. Once we were a few miles into the Orange trail, we started a little climbing. My legs started to feel tired- not just from standing to get up some of the hills, but also from standing on the rocky descents.

If you’ve never ridden the Blue trail at Syllamo, I think the best way I can describe it is one of the more physically and mentally challenging things I’ve ever done. The descents and climbs are all rocky and steep- either large stuff you have to dodge (like Blowout Mt on the Ouachita Trail) or loose “shingles” that slide around as you roll over them. It’s also the only trail that drops all the way down to “river” level before climbing ~2.5 miles back up to Green Mountain Road. It’s the type of trail that some people will swear off and others will pay homage to for making them stronger and tougher.

After the first couple of short, steep hills, I could tell that my legs were getting ready to throw in the towel. At the Highway 5 trailhead, we stopped to have a snack and take a break before heading back uphill. The next mile or so of trail before the 2nd highway crossing was tedious- a couple of steep, rocky hills (and one 350 deg switchback w/a 2 foot drop in the middle) eventually ended in bike-hiking. My legs were really starting to disagree with what I was doing, and my brain was trying to bail with them.

Side note- I think that the term “curse like a sailor” could quite accurately be replaced with “curse like a singlespeeder.”

Once we crossed the highway (and Livingston Creek for the 3rd time), we started to ascend Scrappy Mountain. It’s a tough climb- every bit as steep as Chalybeate on the Ouachita and twice as rocky. The combination of fatigue and terrain took its toll on me as we hiked/grinded up the switchbacks. At one point, I was trying to charge up a short pitch when I accidentally steered into a rock that twisted my front wheel around and body-slammed me onto the ground.

Ow. That hurt. I sat there for a couple of minutes to re-group and let the sting in my hip and elbow subside. Mentally and physically, the mountain had broken me.

Luckily, we were near the top. I hiked up a couple of hills that I might have ridden if my legs hadn’t checked out a few minutes earlier, and eventually finished off the final pitch of logging road climb to make it back out on to Green Mountain road. That’s got to be on the top 20 list of toughest stretches of trail you can find this side of the Rockies. It’ll challenge your fitness and keep you on your toes (literally and figuratively) the entire time (I think its relative shortness will keep it out of the top 10). It’s gonna be a killer for some people in the upcoming race!

Sometimes you’re the hammer…

…sometimes you’re the nail.

Sometimes you accidentally leave all of the conventional tools at home and have to do it Macgyver style.


This weekend, Ryan, Eric, and I are in Mountain View. The plan was for Ryan and I to ride the Syllamo’s Revenge race course today, but, from the get-go, thing weren’t going as planned. Somehow, I ended up leaving my beloved Wingnut pack at home (luckily, Ryan had brought an extra hydration pack). That, in and of itself, sucks, because it’s soooo much more comfortable than anything else. However, inside the pack are mine and Ryan’s multi tools, my trail saw, and a spare derailleur hanger.

But wait, there’s more!

I also left my keys at home. I didn’t realize it until we pulled up to the cabin (thank goodness there was a spare in a lock box). To top it all off, I forgot my super awesome memory foam pillow. Crap.

Nonetheless, we headed out to the trails around 10 this morning. We started by dropping down Blanchard Springs Rd. to the campground so that I could get a feel for how the climb & initial singletrack would ride. The climb back was fine, but once we entered the singletrack, things got hairy. It rained a couple of hours last night, so the wet rocks and mud were pretty trecherous. We picked our way through the bad spots and eventually made it to the blue trail.

I was booking along when suddenly, a branch lodged itself in my rear derailleur. I heard it and immediately stopped pedaling, which probably limited the damage, but left me with a horribly bent hanger. I made several attempts at muscleing it back in to place, but it was still prettymuch unusable. I started to resign myself to walking out and ending my weekend early.


Then I reminded myself of the post I made just a couple of days ago about wanting a Singlespeed. Guess there’s no better time than the present, eh?

Ryan and I made a quick calculation about what combination of gears to use, set the grip shift to get close to it, then turned the barrel adjuster until the chain was somewhat quiet on the cassette. Bam. Singlespeed.

OMG! Fun!!!

The first time you ride with one gear, you quickly figure out that your brakes are your biggest nemesis, momentum your biggest ally, and muscle dominates where you once relented to shifting to a lower gear. I’m pretty hooked. I rode about another 30 miles after that on the green, red, and remaining yellow trail and ended up with just over 40 miles for the day. Freaking awesome. I felt like a rock star. Need. More.

So, tomorrow, we’re going out to the Orange and Blue trails. Lots more climbing and rocks. I can’t wait to try it. It’s going to hurt in the best possible ways.

I need a SS

I’m really, really jonesing for a singlespeed 29er. However, between taxes and recent purchases, the money tree has been pruned. If anyone out there is willing to help, I’m willing to be your schill… just shoot me an email: andrea @ brickhouseracing.com

Meanwhile, in Alabama…

While I was out gallivanting in the Ouachitas, Ryan was at the Tour de Tuscaloosa with the team. They had a pretty successful weekend of racing (including a 1-2 finish in the Women’s 3/4 crit!) Ryan managed to get into a breakaway during the road race and ended up 3rd! He wrote a nice race report on his blog

I’m really proud of him :)

Ouachita Challenge Race Report

First, I have to thank a couple of people-

Eric… my crew guy. He met me at most of the aid stations and did some lightning-fast hydration bladder swaps as well and having everything I could possibly need laid out each time. He also looks a lot like a short Colin Farrell. Any time I’d introduce him to someone, they thought he looked familiar, which was pretty entertaining…

You be the judge:

Next is Todd Henne- he’s been a great Womble/Ouachita tour guide to me the past few months, and he let us stay at his place right on the trail & play around on the pump track. He’s an awesome recon guy for both the trail and the people of interest that ride it.

So, on to the race report.

The race started from Oden, AR at 8:00 to the sound of a ringing church bell. The first 8.5 miles were a little pavement & some gravel. My plan was to really concentrate on pacing myself. I tend to go out too fast then end up “death marching” the last 20 or so miles of a race, so, when we hit a few rollers, I forced myself to sit back & spin while others kept the intensity up. It was painful to watch the ride away, but I knew that I wouldn’t last the entire 60 miles if I stuck with the lead group.
I kept the disciplined pacing going across the 3 Ouachita trail mountains (Brushy, Blowout, and Chalybeate). Over the latter 2, I was back & fourth with local gal Heather. However, once we hit the forest service road, my bladder was about to explode (NOT the one in my Wingnut pack!), so I was forced to pull off for a “nature break” while she rode away from me.
That stretch of gravel went on for about 8 miles and cut off the hardest part of the Womble. I made sure to keep my tempo pace nice & steady, and managed to find a guy to trade pulls with so we could make up a little time. Once we reached highway 88, I got my much needed pack swap. While I was stopped, Namrita O’dea from Topeak-Ergon flew past me onto the singletrack. When I started going again, it was tempting to chase, but I reminded myself that I still had a long way to go, including two more significant climbs.
The remainder of the singletrack before the 298 aid station passed quickly, though the gravel seemed to go on forever. When I got there, Eric told me that Namrita was a couple of minutes ahead, and that there was about 15 miles left. I was feeling good, so I decided it was time to burn the matches and empty the tank on the last bit of singletrack up & over Mauldin Mountain.
After numerous mudholes and creeks, the climb started. I finally caught sight of her and, unlike the other climbs, started to push the pace a bit. It seemed like forever, but I finally caught up and passed her. From then on, I rode as hard as I could and never looked back. Exhilarating!
Approaching the finish, I actually saw Heather up the road from me, though we were within a 1/2 mile, so there was no catching her. I ended up 4th in the women’s field (Carey Lowery won, finishing about 5o minutes before me!)

I am really, really happy with my ride. I now have a really good feel for what type of pace I can sustain for that type of distance. I finished with a little bit of gas in the tank, so I know that next time, I can push a little harder in the parts where it’d be most advantageous to me (like windy fire road sections where I could either draft off of someone faster or put my head down and go at it TT style). With one weekend open before the Mississippi Grand Prix, I am planning on heading out to ride at Syllamo with some friends to get in a little more rock garden practice before Syllamo’s Revenge in just over a month.

…and now, for something totally different.

I read this article about a month ago. I was immediately inspired to try something different. What can I say- I’m just a rebel like that. So, with the exception of my hands, I stopped using soap. Altogether… no soap for about a month now. I know what you’re thinking.


I never said I stopped showering, I just said I don’t use soap when I do it. I won’t go in to every detail, but it involves a washcloth and the usual warm water shower. I didn’t tell anyone at first, because I figured I’d see if anyone noticed, though Ryan didn’t even know until I informed him two weeks in to the experiment. (I also just use deodorant instead of antiperspirant… but that’s been for a couple of years now)

The result? My skin is obviously not dry. It isn’t greasy, either. It just feels nice. The texture of my hair is different as well. It’s naturally curly, and, even though I keep it really short, it is less frizzy and the curls seem to form more naturally (I still use a touch of some sort of styling product in it, and as far as I can tell, it all rinses out when I shower). If you’ve got curly hair, I highly recommend NOT using shampoo. Even if you don’t take the full plunge into soap-free-ness, the reduction in frizz is pretty awesome.

I’m still considering this to be an “experiment” since I haven’t been out in the real heat yet, but I have made it through a couple of races (road and MTB) as well as some 70+ degree rides, and, as far as I (and any honest friends I’ve asked) can tell, I smell normal.

Anyone else care to try?

Hell of the South (belated) Race Report

Not much to see here, folks, move along…

The race didn’t quite go as planned for me. First, rewind a little bit. Back at the Spa City 6hr, I had some pain in the palm of my hand & forearm. It subsided within a day or two, and I thought nothing else of it. Then, over Spring Break, I did a lot of MTB riding in Arkansas. The pain came back. When it started to subside, I was left with weakness in my 3rd and pinky fingers. It was causing me to drop things & generally be uncoordinated with my right hand. This is consistent with compression of the Ulnar Nerve…

So, I’ve been avoiding the MTB. I think that the padding on my gloves (swapped from winter ones to summer ones) was putting pressure on the area, and I’ve been riding my road bike in the meantime. It didn’t seem to irritate the area as long as I paid attention to my hand position.

Back to the race…
I lined up with the B race (W1/2/3 and Cat 4 men). The start was generally mundane. Someone attacked from the start, and rather than chase like crazy, a few guys got up front and rode tempo to bring him back steadily. Early in the first lap, we hit the short gravel road section. Unlike Rouge, I was able to stay with the pack’s little bit of a surge. My legs were actually feeling good. A few of the guys up front (including Dale Sanford, who eventually won) briefly picked up the pace in order to shed the riders struggling with the terrain.

A mile or so later, the pace slacked up a bit. It was at that time that I noticed that my problematic fingers were totally numb. I’d had my hands down in the crook of my drops and hadn’t been paying any attention to keeping the pressure off of where it didn’t need to be. I tried shaking my hand out a bit and resting it in a more neutral position, but it felt horrible. In the interest of saving my “tough the pain out” day for next weekend’s Ouachita Challenge, I pulled out of the race. My first DNF ever. Crap.

I made the “ride of shame” back to the start/finish area and waited for Ryan to get back from his race. Oh, well. Live to fight another day.

Singletrack and Tweed

Ok, Ok, I know I’m neglecting the blog a little bit, so here’s the latest:

My final day in the Ozarks was somewhat of an “easy” one. David (mechanic from Bikes Plus) made the trip over from Memphis Saturday evening to get his new Rip9 out on some real trails. So, in the morning we headed out to the Orange & Green loops (my personal favorites). He hauled all sorts of *ss on the rocky decents and overall had a pretty awesome time (as did I).

Monday, I took it easy & went for a hike with the puppies out at Shelby Farms. It always sucks to get back to reality after spending a large part of life focusing on training in some amazing & gorgeous scenery. Makes me want summer to hurry up & get here!

Tuesday, the first RB’s group ride of the season. Ryan and I rode there. I felt kinda crappy and got reminded that road stuff hasn’t been my training focus at all this winter. This weekend’s gonna hurt.

Wednesday has been the highlight of my week, though. I happened to catch wind of a “Tweed” ride in Midtown. At first, I didn’t believe that such a thing could be happening in MEMPHIS, but Facebook confirmed it, so it had to be true.
I gathered together some of my old horseback riding clothes (corduroy jodpurs and tall boots) then made a trip to Goodwill to find everything else to pull a couple of dashing British outfits together. Once I was home, I dusted off the old Free Spirit that I found in someone’s garbage almost a year ago (Ryan brought his cruiser home from the poison factory), and we were ready to rock.

When we arrived at the Midtown Peddler Bike Shop, I knew we’d be in for a good time. About 35 people gathered and left the store to make a slow 5-mile jaunt to a nearby Fox and Hound bar. The ride has gone (way up) on my top 10 list of “most fun I’ve ever had on a bike.” Drivers and pedestrians were entertained as well. Apparently, all you have to do to win Memphis drivers over is to be well-dressed and tip your hat to them as you ride by.

Once we made it to Fox & Hound, the judges deliberated over who had the best costume (I’d had no idea it’d be judged) while everyone enjoyed refreshments. First prize was a new Brooks saddle! The Free Spirit was in dire need of one, so I was hopeful. To my surprise, my name was called along with 3 others. However, I was a runner up. The two finalists both had (fake) moustaches, which was apparently more along the lines of what the judges were looking for. Nevertheless, we had a wonderful time, and ended up riding back with a small group.

I’m anxiously awaiting the photos. I’m also anxiously awaiting the next event. If you can get 35 people to show up on a weeknight, I wonder what would happen if it were held on a Sunday afternoon…

Edit: Photos! (Thanks to Danny Wilson)




Morning on the Ouachita Trail

Yesterday afternoon, I headed over to the Mt. Ida area and camped out for the night. Along the way, I stopped at The Ride bike shop in Conway. I was going to buy a new cassette because I’d somehow bent a cog on mine while riding fire roads the day before. When I got there, instead of just selling a new cassette, they took a look at mine, then went at it with a screw driver… lo and behold, he was able to fix it! Woohoo! Gotta love good customer service- if you’re ever in the Conway area and need something, check them out.

Anyway- After a chilly night in the tent, I woke up in the morning and went to a local cafe for breakfast (French toast!) then headed out with Todd to the Brushy Mountain trailhead near the Ouachita trail. We took forest roads to the beginning of the singletrack for the upcoming Ouachita Challenge race. Brushy is tough- I didn’t get off my granny gear most of the time because the trail was either straight up or straight down.

Once we arrived back at his truck, Todd gave me instructions about how to get to the next couple of sections of trail (he wasn’t feeling well). So, I headed off to Blowout Mountain on my own. After the initial climb, it’s not that bad- there are a couple of hike-a-bike sections where the trail is piled over with rocks (see photos below), but it’s otherwise just a lot of picking your way around a lot of medium-sized rocks.

The last mountain was Cleabit (I could be mispelling that… but the name reminds me of the word “fleabit” so I’m sticking with it!) It starts with a steeeeeeeeeep climb. OW! It also had a random rockpile (the photo below with the blue blazes on the trees). I paced myself and was still feeling great by the time I reached the trailhead where Todd was waiting to pick me up. Great day! I’m feeling confident about doing well in the OC race.