Sunday, December 13, 2015

Dwell in Possibility

 Second floor of Olympic Training Center gym
Winter? rides in Vermont

"Dwell in possibility" -Emily Dickinson

Inspiration comes many forms.  In my experience, opportunities are really motivating, and this is where I draw a lot of my inspiration from.   I was at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, CO last week, and this place has a way of spelling out the many amazing opportunities in front of me.  Being there felt like the most beautiful opportunity firework show.  I traveled to Colorado last week for a USA Cycling board of directors meeting.  I was lucky enough while I was there to gain access to the OTC's gym.  Hands down, this is the absolute best gym I have ever been to.  It's filled with every piece of strength equipment I could ever need and each free weight and weight plate is engraved with 'Team USA' and the Olympic rings.  The wooden lifting platforms have 'USA Olympic team' written on them.  At any given time, there are resident Olympians or Olympic hopefuls working out.  It's fascinating to see what various sports require different strength routines.  There's a track around the second floor.  Resident athletes put on their own music.  It's beautiful, and it made me want to do doubles.  The whole complex makes me want to live there.  Walking in the front door of the complex, there's one hundred gold plates with american gold medal winners' names on them.  This is where dreams are born.  This is also where sprouts of dreams are nourished by handwork and grow.  It's great to be amongst athletes that live similar lifestyles and put in as much time and effort.  Sometimes being a professional athlete can be isolating.  I mostly work out alone in my basement.  Being surrounded by all of this is energizing.  It's motivated me to train hard and recover harder.

I also had an opportunity while I was in Colorado to travel up to the CU Sports Medicine and Performance Center to work with Andy Pruitt and Charles Van Atta to dial in my bike fits.  While I was honing in the new Specialized Power Saddle on my Era, sports physiologist, Inigo San Milan, walks in because he recognized my voice. We chatted about the importance of physical testing, and he convinced me to take a threshold test that afternoon.  This is no easy task since the one and only physical test I did, I had an anxiety attack because breathing into the mask made me feel claustrophobic.  I vowed to never do this test again, but Inigo assured I could stop at anytime.  Plus, the mask covered my nose and mouth so it was a bit more promising.  The last mask only covered my mouth and my nose was plugged.  This is a true test of mental strength.  I only panicked a little bit, but I made it through thirty minutes of riding on a trainer with the mask on.  I'm happy I powered through because I got some great data out of the test.  Again, an opportunity that I couldn't let pass by.

Now, I'm back in Vermont as motivated as ever to get strong.  The weather has been unseasonably warm so I've actually been riding my bike when I should be skiing.  I'm keeping my fingers crossed for a white Christmas, but it hasn't been the worst thing to be spinning outside instead of inside on a trainer.

Happy Holidays! Hope everyone is seizing opportunities wherever they pop up.

 Flying back into Vermont
Sally gets me.  My friend greets me with a quadruple batch of cookie dough

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Not All Summits are Created Equal

Not all summits are created equal.

For the past two months, my sister and I have hiked up Mt. Mansfield in varying degrees.  Sometimes for five minutes, and other times for thirty minutes.  The only common thread is that we never summited.  My sister, Sabe, has been recovering from a concussion, and it's been a long road.  During the proper recovery, there's no stimulating the brain.  This is the only way to let the brain heal. This means no screens, no reading, no social situations, and definitely no elevated heart rate.  There's lots of sleeping and even more podcasts.    Working out is one of the last things to come, and Sabe has learned to be very conservative with the whole process.  If she pushes through a headache physically with a workout, socially, or mentally, it could set her back for days.  It could take many hours of napping to get back to ground zero.  So, we started with a fifteen to twenty minute walk up the mountain.  We made it up the first steep pitch and turned around after seven minutes.  As Sabe said, 'we didn't even go anywhere'.

Then, things really improved after a handful of days post walk. Sabe passed the concussion tipping point.  She started out a hike up to Taylor Lodge on Mansfield hammering.  It was so exciting.  We made it all of the way to Taylor Lodge and hiked for one and a half hours. She even ran for two hundred meter stretches.   Sabe was so happy to be back to normal that she started to cry.  I was so overjoyed to have my sister back that I started to cry, and this was one of the best hikes I have ever been on.  It signified that Sabe healed.  Concussions are scary because one never knows.  There can be personality changes. There can be life changes. There can be memory loss.  There's pain, in more forms than one expects, and there's always a question mark.  In a society where we strive for exceptional and better than average, I've never been so happy with a normal, average sister.  I am so relieved.

Then, the following weekend I thought we were going to summit Mansfield.  I thought we were taking this story from average to slightly above average.  After how many summit attempts we have had, one would start to think this mountain was Everest.  What Sabe used to run up and down in two hours, for all intensive purposes, was our current Everest.  We set out, bright eyed and bushy tailed, and we made it to Butler Lodge.  Butler Lodge is about three quarters of the way to the summit, but it's not the top.  For the conservative approach, the extra forty minutes of hiking was too much.  The two hours of hiking to Butler warranted some major Sabe nap sessions.  I am normally summit obsessed.  There are very few things in life I like more than standing at the top of a mountain.  But, the concussion recovery is a good practice in letting go, patience, and appreciation.  A new bar is set low, and the best expectation is to have none.  I let go of the top and started to enjoy being outside and moving with my sister.

In classic concussion recovery, when I least expected it, we were back to Davison normal.  It was cloudy, snowy, and rainy, and Sabe wasn't that motivated for a hike.  From below, it was an awful day for a summit.  But, I saw from a friend's Instagram that the top of the mountains may be peaking out of a low cloud bank.  So, armed with headlamps and spikes, we set out late afternoon for a summit.  I didn't want to get my hopes up for a summit and especially for a view at the summit.  I just set my focus on scrambling up the mountain behind Sabe while she hammered up (yea, she's officially back).  Most of the hike was a frosted Narnia scene.  It was gorgeous.  We saw two white rabbits dart in front of us, a good luck charm.  Then, as the sun slowly dropped behind the horizon, we busted through the cloud layer and summited.  We were standing on top of a mountain island in a sea of clouds.  It was well worth the wait.  To me, this was just as good as any other summit in the entire world.

Not all summits are created equal.

With much gratitude,

 Photos don't really convey the feeling, but I can try.  Magical

 The moment when we busted through

 Frosted Wonderland

 Summit Scramble

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Vermont is Home.

 Millstone, VT, Angry Gnome Trail
 We used the unusual temps to take the L.L Bean SUP for a cruise
 This is what a dream gym looks like with a dream strength trainer.  HP Sports. Philadelphia. 
Hiking in some of the first snow of the season!  Mount Mansfield, Vermont

It's been awhile since I have actually spent a good chunk of the off season at home in Vermont.  In the recent past, I unpacked my bag from the world cups and turned around to repack with tropical things for two months on Kauai.  This year is different.  I am staying at home for the majority of fall, stick season, and winter. If something says anything about my nomadic lifestyle, this story does.  I was walking through our local grocery store with my sister, and we ran into one of our highschool friend's parents.  The first question out of her mouth was, 'Lea, what are you doing here?'  Well, I live here.  And, I am actually living here.  I do have to say, after avoiding stick season for the past five years, I had a bit of trepidation about this year's stick season. Stick season is when all of the leaves have fallen off the trees in Vermont, but it's not yet winter.  So, mostly, it's a dreary, cold thirty five degrees with rain. But, the dreary weather has completely been brightened up by actually laying down roots somewhere for a long period of time.

As a result, it's been so fun to reconnect with my friends here.  I just returned from seeing my college roommate, Tyne, and meeting her new baby, Wilder.  This five week old is a little cutie.  I live with my sister, Sabe, and a good group of my Middlebury friends live in the area.  It's been so fun.  We have been hiking, riding, eating, and we even went to go see some music on Friday night.  I'm getting dangerously close to living a normal lifestyle.  It's refreshing.

I say the tell tale sign that I have finally settled is when my toiletry kit finally gets unpacked, along with the other packed luggage from the season of course.  I haven't fully settled into Vermont quite yet because my toiletry kit is still sitting on the counter.  Good thing though because I had to grab it last week and pack it away for a trip to Philadelphia.  I drove down to HP Sports in Philly to meet with my strength coach, Bill Knowles, and map out and prepare for the oncoming season.  Bill Knowles is an absolute genius when it comes to strength and injury recovery.  He is also like a 10,000 volt shot of electricity straight to the soul.  So much so that I usually come out of a meeting with him four days post surgery excited.  Now that is a challenging task.  So, it's saying something that this past week at HP Sports with Bill has been the most exciting one yet.  We dialed in a lot of new moves and strength circuits, and I'm thrilled about this freshness in the routine.  It makes all the different.  I am ecstatic to start training for 2016.

 The drive down to Philly was a pretty one
 Quarry Views in local mountain bike trails
 It SNOWED!  My favorite.  Getting amongst it. 
 View from Taylor Lodge, Mt. Mansfield
Meeting baby Wilder.  

Now, my whole family will be together for Thanksgiving for the first time since high school.  Usually either Sabe is away at a ski camp or I am on an island somewhere.  This will be great to spend the holidays together as a unit.  I'm really cherishing this time at home.

Enjoy it…where ever you may be.


Sunday, November 1, 2015

The Rio Olympic Mountain Bike Test Event

 Photo: Michal Cerveny
 Photo: Michal Cerveny
 Room with a view in Rio
 Photo: Michal Cerveny
Photo: Michal Cerveny
This last off season trip was absolutely epic and probably rates as one of the best trips so far.  It started at the Olympic test event in Rio.  Here, we got to preview the Olympic course with two days of training and a race on Sunday.  We stayed right on the beach so it was great to be able to jump right in the ocean after a long overnight flight.  We went for a spin along the coast and then the next day it was immediately on the course.  This course is fast and technical.  The majority of it is manmade, and it is made well.  There are a lot of man made rock gardens, a drop, some jumps, and some more rock gardens.  The course starts out with a short one minute climb and then is capped off with a significant climb around five minutes.  After spending a long time getting the lines dialed in each of the sections, I finally rode an entire lap with some flow and had a lot of fun.

The next day was more training on the course and a race prep day.  It was interesting to try and get back into the racing groove with no racing since World Championships in Andorra.  Actually, I did do a race at the Clif Bar CykelScramble in September, but I was wearing angel wings and riding a cruiser bike.  So I'm not exactly sure I was fine tuned for this event.  Regardless, I was excited to actually get a race effort on the course despite what my preparation was like.  And the mixed preparation was what made this race one of the weirder international I've ever done.  Some people hadn't race since Worlds and were shut down, and others had raced cyclocross world cups and kept their fitness going.  It was a crazy mash up of motivation and fitness to bring a weird race dynamic, but it doesn't matter.  There was a start and finish line, and it was a race.  It was a test event for the Olympics nonetheless. How exciting!

I didn't get the best start.  It's a fifty meter sprint straight away into three downhill, 180 degree corners, and I kinda struggled.  I was in the back half of the pack, and there wasn't much passing room.  We came into the first rock garden bunched up and all the lines funneled into one line, and this is a problem. My U.S teammate, Georgia, demonstrated how big of a problem it could actually be.  There was traffic here, she didn't have enough momentum, she went over the bars, and she took this rock garden to the face.  She made sure her right cheekbone was still intact and finished the race with a black eye.  This was one of the toughest things I have witnessed.  I was able to run around this crash, and, at this point, I still had hope I could bridge up the leaders.  But, then I crashed in the next rock garden, and this left me racing in no man's land unable to bridge up to the lead girls.  I still went as hard as I could in the hottest conditions I've ever raced in.  I was able to ride all of the technical features smoothly and move up a couple of places to seventh at the line.  At the finish line, I realized that finishing this race relatively unscathed was more lucky than I originally thought.  Erin Huck, my other U.S teammate, crashed on the last drop on the last lap.  She crashed in a place that makes me shudder to think about it.   She had two black eyes and bruises everywhere, but the general verdict was that she was okay.  Again, my teammates are tougher than yours.  Those two weren't the least of the crashes.  Sometimes crazy things happen when the word Olympic is involved.

This was a short, but packed trip to Rio, and it was great to fit so much in.  The Specialized team did a Specialized concept store visit in Rio.  This was one of the nicest bike shops I've ever been in, and we were warmly greeted by Specialized Brazil.  We had a great question and answer session.  The Brazilians posed questions to the team and they said, "the loud one should go first".  That loud one was me.  I was dying laughing.  I guess my reputation proceeds me.  The Specialized Brazil crew also took us out on the town in Rio after the race which was an absolutely blast.  It was great to get a local tour and experience more of the culture.  The U.S team also got to go to a Brazilian Barbecue, which was definitely high on my to-do list.  Here, servers bring around large cuts of deliciously barbecued meat on a stick and cut it off for you onto your plate.  There's a card on the table. The green on one side means you are ready to eat.  The red on the other side means you're done.  If the multiple types of meat on a stick isn't enough, there was a buffet with every type of food imaginable.  I felt like I ate everything from the land and sea that night, and that's because I did.  I started out the evening with a server putting about twelve chicken hearts onto my plate.  I had no idea what they were, but I figured it out after one.  Those weren't my favorite at all.  I ate a clam, a leaf of lettuce, a lobster, fried plantains, sushi, sashimi, every type of BBQ meat imaginable, and topped off with chocolate lava cake.  It was awesome and delicious.  It wasn't my typical pre-race meal, but it was totally worth it.

Although I didn't get to see any of the typical tourist sights, I really feel like I squeezed as much as I could out of this trip.  I love it there, and I really hope to go back come next August.

Fingers and toes crossed.  Let the hard work begin.  Thanks for following!


 Photo: Michal Cerveny
 Rio beach outside of our hotel
 Beach bike path
 I'll take this hotel room anyway
 Bike shop visit  photo: Michal Cerveny
 Specialized concept store question and answer photo: Michal Cerveny
 Signing the wall of the one of the coolest bike shops ever Photo: Michal Cerveny
 Georgia and Erin show that they are the toughest
 Photo: Michal Cerveny
 Photo: Michal Cerveny
It was the hottest race I've ever done Photo: Michal Cerveny

Sunday, September 20, 2015

The Off Season!

 Andorra Mountain Sculptures
 Little Bellas first night ride

Can't get enough of Mediterrean water

The off season is here, and Sabe and I kicked it off in fashion with five days in Andorra and Spain.  Sabe came over to worlds to support me, and we started the 'off' season the day after the World Championships with one of the coolest climbs I've ever done.  Sabe had scoped out a climb that she only made it one third of the way up earlier in the week because it was forty degrees and raining.  One of the coldest days I've been on a bike in a long time.  So, when it was sunny, we climbed and climbed and climbed for about two hours snaking our way up a valley and to one of the most beautiful ski areas I've ever been to.  The Andorra mountains are rugged in their very own way, and they are stunning.  We rounded a switchback, and, around the corner was a massive 'O' metal sculpture framing the landscape.  I've never experienced anything like it.  We were hanging out around that and then, all of a sudden, five guys on three wheelers, what looked to be adult hot wheels came flying around the bend.  They were descending the whole pass.  It was incredibly random.

The next day we headed to a gem of a town on the coast of Spain, Cadaques.  We stopped over in a medieval village on the way called Besalu.  This town still had a castle bridge, gate, and a moat still intact.   And, it even had tiny little streets that were more narrow and cobbled than your average European town.  The whole thing was incredible.  But, Cadaques really stole our hearts.  For a town on the Mediterrean, it's relatively quiet.  It had trails etched into the side of a cliff going to an overlook (which was technical and I rode on my mountain bike and Sabe rode on a road bike).  It had a one lane paved road out to a lighthouse.  Gaudi had a home in Cadaques which inspired quite an amazing art scene there.  We spent hours wandering around the streets.  I also got to experience paella and sangria for the first time, and I was thrilled.  Sabe just kept say, 'you will never have paella like this again.  This is incredible'.  I guess we have to go back to Spain.

On our way out, we spent a day exploring Barcelona by bike.  We were lucky enough to see the Sagrada Familia, and this was the most incredible church I've ever experienced.  Gaudi set out to construct a natural experience, and he really succeeded.  I felt like I was right at home in the woods.  The church pillars branch off at the top to look like tree branches and the top of the church looks like different layers of a tree canopy.  This combined with the colors coming through the many stained glass windows is simple breathtaking.

I have continued the off season momentum at home.  I met one of my best friends at the Tunbridge Worlds Fair this week.  I've also been going on some great mountain bike rides with my sister and my coach and even got to a new Vermont swimming hole.  This was a momentous occasion.   Swimming holes are my favorite past time. Tonight, I joined the Little Bellas older ride group for their first ever night ride.  It was adventurous and a blast.  The quote of the night was, "I really didn't see that coming".  Tonight, failing to see a line or roots and rocks is actually a legitimate excuse.  We talked about our next adventure, and the girls came up with some phenomenal ideas that got me really excited.

The off season continues with a trip to California for a Clif Bar event this Thursday and Saturday in Marin county.  Let the good times roll.


 New Vermont Swimming Hole
 Hanging out with my bestie's kid at the fair was the best

 Cadaques, Catalonia Paddling
 This was one of the coolest and most exposed trails I've ever been on
 Even the door to Sagrada Familia was incredible
 That light is natural in Sagrada Familia
 Gaudi's other creations in Barcelona
 Sagrada Familia looks like a forest
 The best trail in Cadaques

 Sabe owning this trail on her road bike

 We actively had to lay down on the beach and try to rest


When you round a corner and see this!