AG Ladies Team riders, Danielle Kosecki and Stephanie Kaplan, headed out West to participate in Rebecca Rusch’s “Gold Rusch Tour” events and race the USA Cycling National Marathon MTB Championships…and oh yeah, they’ve never mountain biked. Read below for Stephanie’s write up of the event!
I’m finally coming down from my Sawtooth Mountain high, and am trying to compile my thoughts and pictures from an amazing week spent in Sun Valley, Idaho with myAsphalt Green Cycling Team teammate, Danielle Kosecki, at Rebecca Rusch’s Gold Rusch Tour “Reba’s Ride Camp”.
When I told my husband that I was going to Idaho (at the last minute, I might add), his response was, “Ummm….you don’t mountain bike!” We’ve been together long enough that he should have known that the fact that I don’t actually mountain bike would not have stopped me…and indeed it didn’t. I don’t know about you guys, but I enjoy a good challenge, and I think doing something that you are ‘scared’ of is actually a healthy thing.
So, I finally got to use my mounting frequent flyer miles, and boarded a flight to the land of potatoes…Idaho. I’m not sure what I expected as far as terrain, but I was absolutely blown away by the sheer beauty of the state. From flat desert land as you drove from Boise, to the rolling green mountains in Ketchum (like straight out of the “Sound of Music), I was constantly craning my neck to look at the scenery. It was simply awe-inspiring. But, that’s not why I was here…to look at scenery…I was here for a crash course (literally, in my case) in how to ride a mountain bike. Luckily, I had my partner in crime, Danielle, with me…and if we were going down, we were going down together.
On day one we rolled out on our sweet Specialized Women Fate bikes — Danielle was actually riding one of Rebecca’s personal bikes, and Specialized had been kind enough to send me a loaner. Honestly, I don’t think we knew how good we had it, since I had no other mountain bike experience to compare it to, but dang…these bikes were so light they came close to the weight of my road bike! After riding it, all I could think was, “I WANT ONE!”
We met Rebecca, and her amazing assistant coaches, in the town center to head out for a lovely ride on Greenhorn Mountain and Mahoney. As a self-professed ‘sprinter’ I was not looking forward to the climbing that was involved in the weeks training and the race…but one downhill on a mountain bike and I was about to change my name to Froome…holy crap, going downhill on the side of a mountain is scary. On one side the mountain runs up, and on the other the singletrack drops off the side…I know they say ‘don’t look where you don’t want to go,’ but I couldn’t help but imagine myself taking a flying leap off the side of the mountain. When I have time I will post the ‘blooper’ video from that first day…essentially though I would speed up, hit some gravel, freak out and fall over…REPEAT. My shins and arms were NOT happy when that ride was over, and to be honest I think I almost cried out of relief when we got to the bottom and the high speed descents were over. I haven’t been that scared on a bike in a LONG time, nor had I ever been challenged so much. I LOVE the challenge of trying to master something new, so although Danielle and I were beat up…we were also excited to get back out there.
That night we went to the Ketchum Pump Track, and watched kids as young as 5 years old school us on the art of riding a mountain bike. We also got a lot of sideways glances and wide eyes at our poor bloodied and bruised legs. One woman approached us to ask what happened, to which we responed that we were learning to mountain bike in advance of the MTB Marathon Nationals…the poor woman’s eyes go so wide and she about spit out her water as she responded, “WHAT?! Seriously? You guys JUST learned how to mountain bike and you are racing on Saturday?! Good luck!” That doesn’t exactly instill confidence…but I just kept telling myself, “If Rebecca believes we can do it…we can do it.”
Day 2 saw us doing a loop of the Marathon Nationals course on Bald Mountain. We met up with the other ‘campers’ and headed out to Bald Mountain to practice the ascent and descent. After yesterday, I was SO happy that we got to climb for a while…I was literally petrified of the descent. I had heard from others that it got very technical towards the bottom with a lot of switchbacks…so needless to say, I wasn’t looking forward to that part. The climb was beautiful and we stopped along the way for pictures…there were definitely technical and steep sections, but overall nothing terrible. However, what goes up must come down, and once again I was slamming on my brakes, screaming expletives, and falling over…A LOT! Rebecca and a few of the other coaches patiently rolled at a snails pace behind us and kept coaching us on cowboy legs, relax your arms, get off the saddle, shift your weight back, your bellybutton is your eye…and slowly…VERY VERY slowly we got a bit better. I even thought that this descent was easier than the day before. After returning to town though, our work wasn’t over…that night was the Ketchum Costume Crit, and as luck would have it, a road crit as well. Being the glutton for punishment that I am, I popped over to a great shop in town, Sturtevant’s, and rented myself a road bike…because hey, why not ride for 3 1/2 hours, race a costume crit on a fat bike, and then do a women’s open race…my entire week was literally a week of, “Why not?” And honestly…that brings the BEST adventures. The town center was bumping, as the festivities rolled on through the evening. The costume crit was an absolute blast…Danielle brought the mustaches for our team, and Rebecca supplied the sweet feather boas and knee socks. Each person completed 4 laps of the sprint course in a constant team rotation. After completing my first lap I thought I might pass out I was breathing so hard. That race HURT! The worst part was, we were going to get to do it again, in the women’s open race…except faster and more laps. Ugh…what was I thinking?!?! We got a bit of a reprieve while the Masters Men raced, and then it was our time to line up. I was SUPER PSYCHED to see some amazingly strong pro women in the field, including crit star Tiffany Pezzulo, who was fresh off some amazing results at Tulsa Tough. One word describes that race…OUCH! Luckily, I stayed with the pack (Tiffany and her break mates lapped us…), and survived, but my legs were hating me.
The next day was a low key day, as we rode the ski lift to the top of Bald Mountain and worked on the descent portion of the course. That was terrifying (as going downhill still was for me), but it helped to see it again and try and work on some of the skills that all the instructors were trying to teach us. That afternoon, we had a really nice time atZenergy Spa as we did a Restorative Yoga class and had an amazing lunch by their pool. It was nice to just relax and get a chance to talk with some of the other ladies attending the events. It’s so nice to hang out with people who are as passionate about bikes (MTB or road) as you are…and with the common bond of ‘bikes’ we were all fast friends.
Friday was our ‘rest’ day as we did a leisurely spin and then made our way to one of the many riverbanks to ice our legs down. It was painful, but ultimately helpful, to dip my legs in the icy cold waters…and Danielle took the opportunity to collect some rocks to bring back to NYC to remember the trip by. Afterwards, we rode over to the Specialized truck and as part of the camp, we were signed up to have our bikes professionally tuned up. It was so nice to drop the bike and come back and pick it up all shiny and purring like a kitten. We headed to reg and got our race numbers, and then proceeded to feel sick to our stomachs about what was to come, and we kept looking at each other saying, “What the hell have we gotten ourselves into?!?!” That night, Rebecca came over to our condo, along with a couple of the other ‘campers’, Nicole (but you can call her National Champ Nicole, since she won her age group at Marathon MTB nationals!) and Sarah, to eat our pre-race dinner. Rebecca had whipped up a fantastic meal of Chicken Tikka Masala, straight out of Allen Lim’s amazing, “Feed Zone Cookbook.“— that’s right, ‘The Queen of Pain’ cooked US dinner. How frickin’ amazing is that…I almost had to PINCH myself. Honestly, the entire week I felt like I needed to pinch myself. Here was this AMAZINGand ACCOMPLISHED athlete, taking time away from her training, etc. to run this “Camp” for all of us…and she couldn’t have been more patient and down to earth — trust me, it takes PATIENCE to go that slow downhill for her, I’m sure. I honestly don’t have words to describe what an amazing athlete and person Rebecca Rusch is, and her dedication to getting women into the sport is truly awe-inspiring. It was an honor to get to spend the week learning from her…and I HIGHLY recommend people taking advantage of her camps and programs. ANYHOO, I got sidetracked….not only is she an amazing person and athlete…she’s also a pretty killer cook! The food was fantastic…we kept saying it was the ‘ride fast’ food…honestly, my only hopes during the big race were of the ‘don’t crash and hurt myself’ variety, but hey, “eat like Reba…maybe ride like Reba,” right?
That morning I woke up early and went through my typical pre-race ritual. We packed our CamelBaks, lined up our nutrition, and sat nervously as we waited to leave. As we rolled up to the line my nerves REALLY set in. The event seemed so HUGE and there were so many people there. I feel like at that point, the only thing you can do is just take a deep breath…and just go…no thinking, no worrying, because at that point you’re committed, and Danielle and I were committed. We made the decision to stay together for at least the first part of the race and then we’d decide later if we wanted to split up. As the gun went off the girls in our field took off and I raced to just clip in and stay on a wheel. We immediately began our climb, and I knew I was in for a rough time. I don’t know if it was the bronchitis, the elevation, or just nerves…but my legs did not want to function. My HR was soaring, my breathing was labored, and we’d barely started the race! Halfway up the first ascent of Bald Mountain the emotion and self-doubt started to creep in. I went from thinking to myself, “I can do this,” to “Oh sh*t, I don’t think I can do this.” It was so overpowering that I almost got off my bike and sobbed. I don’t think I’ve ever been that overwhelmed in any race…but I was barely 25% done and I was literally on the verge of quitting. I kept looking ahead and pedaling as best I could, and tried to concentrate on drinking. I thought about what Rebecca said to us, “there’s a start and a finish, and the struggle is in between,” and I tried to think about that, to concentrate on this ‘struggle’ that I was on. Slowly, as I looked ahead, the white tent at the summit of Baldy was getting bigger and bigger, and I knew were reaching the top. Every day this week I was dreading the moments of downhill, but I can’t tell you how elated I was to see that white tent and to start going back down. I even PR’ed the descent on both times down, mainly because I think I was so tired and delirious that I just sort of ‘let go’ of a lot of the inhibitions and fear that were dominating my other attempts at it. Once we came around the for the 2nd lap, I knew that if I just took it slow…like SLOW, granny slow…that I would be able to make it to the top and back down again. DK and I both ran out of water about part way up, so when we reached the top of the mountain we were PARCHED and even more delirious than the first time. When we crested the true final climb of the day, I actually stopped and made Danielle give me a hug…the relief in knowing the hardest part was over was simply overwhelming for me. I honestly don’t think I’ve ever felt so terrible on a bike, or done something so challenging in my recent memory…so knowing that we were actually going to make it (unless we fell off the side of the mountain) was satisfying.
We flew down the final descent, and Rebecca saw us coming as we weaved our way through the final switchbacks. I could hear the music thumping, and as we came around the corner for the finish line, there was Rebecca — Polaroid camera in hand — cheering like a maniac for us. I believe I might have even shouted out, “Never again” multiple times as we rolled in — but that changed quickly to a “Well, maybe with better preparation.” Danielle and I rolled across the line together and I literally wanted to cry in relief. There were a LOT of hugs, and lot of congratulations, and a lot of pictures taken. For all the struggle and self-doubt, we had done it. We had stepped off the plane in Boise having pretty much never ridden mountain bikes…and somehow Rebecca, her crew, and the Gold Rusch Tour had turned us into USA Cycling National MTB Marathon Championship Finishers — and to top it all off, we were informed that we came in 4th and 5th…so we even nabbed a couple of podium slots for our efforts — much to our disbelief! Rebecca, of course, had finished hours before us and had handily won her Singlespeed Division as well — it was inspiring watching her grind out that hard gear as she flew past us on the first lap.
There was a lot of celebrating, laughing, hugging, and maybe a tear or two (I got champagne in my eye!). We returned our bikes to the Specialized trailer — mine was being shipped back to Specialized HQ (THANKS for the loaner), and my Idaho adventures were coming to an end. It’s hard to truly express all the emotions that I felt during my experience at Reba’s Ride Camp…grateful, I think is probably the foremost one. I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to challenge myself, I’m grateful for where my bike has taken me (once again), I’m grateful to have had an awesome teammate and friend to share the crazy experience with, I’m grateful for all the amazing and inspiring women I got to meet and get to know in my time there, I’m grateful to all the amazing sponsors of the Gold Rusch Tour who make these events possible, I’mgrateful for the pain, I’m grateful for the struggle, and I’m grateful that there are women out there like Rebecca Rusch (and all the people that helped her pull off the camp…Karoline, Michelle, Jenn, Muffy, and many many more) who dedicate their lives not only to athletic achievements, but to the goal of getting more women on bikes!
I keep going back Rebecca’s credo, “There’s a start, and a finish and the struggle (journey) in between,” and honestly this week was exactly that…an epic journey, a struggle with fear and self-doubt, but ultimately a rewarding and unforgettable experience…and for that I am most definitely GRATEFUL!
Thank you to Rebecca for making this week one of the most amazing weeks I’ve had, and for being a role model for not just young women, but us older ladies too!