Category: Bike Travel

No Boys Allowed – Ray’s Women’s Weekends

Two years ago my love of mountain biking was ignited by a spur of the moment decision to take advantage of the free women’s clinic at Ray’s Indoor Mountain Bike Park here in Milwaukee. This year I was fortunate enough to be able to attend both of Ray’s women’s events, the February clinic at the original Ray’s in Cleveland, and the March event in Milwaukee. Hosted by 1995 UCI Women’s Downhill World Champion, Leigh Donovan,these events are a resounding success in bringing women interested in mountain biking together, an amazing 218 women in CLE and 203 in MKE.

Ray’s and Leigh put together a list of coaches that read like a who’s who of women in mountain biking, too many to mention but included: Tammy Donohue, Cory Coffey, Angi Weston, Hillary Eglert, Lindsey Voreis, Carley Young, Sarah Rawlings, Suzanne Summer, Nadi Stenbrecher, Wendy Palmer, Rae Gandalf, Jeni Roosen, Tania Juillerat. The women who attended the clinics were a diverse group in all respects  A wide range of ages from 8 years old to late 50s and beyond; skill levels from never mountain biked to regular racers; interests covering cross country, jumping and freeride, along with BMX racing. Both Ray’s locations offer areas for learning technical skills like log overs, drops, rocks and skinnys, areas to work on jumping and bmx freestyle skills, along with pump tracks and a cross country loop around the perimeter  All sections are defined by skill levels from novice to expert allowing visitors to Rays to progress through the park as their skills develop. Following introductions of the coaches, everyone split into groups around the Rays park, complete newbies to learn body/bike position in the Novice room, beginners and intermediates to the sport and beginner skills areas, many to beginning and advanced jump lines, others to the pump track.

The reasons behind the success of these clinics are twofold. First by the enthusiasm, passion and expertise the coaches bring. They break down skills. First explaining in words and gestures and then demonstrating themselves with their bikes. Angi Weston using her hands to explain cornering, Lindsey Voreis using her entire body, and Jeni Roosen demonstrating rolling over a drop with perfect form.

But probably the biggest factor is the women only format. It’s not just the lack of testosterone driven egos and bravado. There’s a sense of safety in the encouragement. Encouragement and urging to not doubt yourself and just try. Cheering as you attempt, even louder cheering when you succeed. A group that picks you up if you fall, and nudges you to succeed. Even more there’s the witnessing other women learn and do. A sense of if she can do it, perhaps so can I. 
Both clinics ended with shared stories over beers while the coaches conduct a swag raffle. All participants were winners – not just of t-shirts, water bottles, forks, tires, even season passes, but of a sense of accomplishment. I will always fondly remember a young woman XC racer animatedly talking  over lunch about crying in joy when she finally mastered the pump track. Or of plans being made for summer rides, contact info shared with other local women. Huge thanks to Rays for sponsoring these clinics, and to Leigh for hosting…and to all the coaches and women riders who traveled far and near to come together for these great days of riding!
My entire album of pictures from the two clinics 

Sightseeing on two wheels

Recently spent a week vacationing in northern California. San Francisco was home base, but we added a night in Yountville (Napa) and Monterey. As with last year’s trip to wine country, I’d researched possible self-lead bike tour routes and bike rental options. We knew we wanted to bike across the Golden Gate bridge and down to Sausalito. Further south, I was intrigued by the idea of biking past the famous golf courses and ocean views of the 17 mile drive between Monterey and Carmel.

Our first adventure was the Golden Gate trip. San Francisco has several options for renting bikes, especially in the touristy Fishermen’s Wharf area. My on-line research lead me to Bike-n-Roll, as I preferred their wide fleet of Trek bikes. I knew I’d want to rent one of their “performance road” bikes (Trek FX7.3 disc) vs. a “comfort hybrid” bike (Trek 7300). My mistake was not reserving the bikes on-line; partially due to their on-line system not working from iPad, iPhone or Android mobile devices, something I’d suggest they fix. I decided our best bet to get the performance bike would be to go to the main tour center location at Columbus and Mason. After filling out the paperwork and discussing possible routes, we were asked to wait 15 minutes for a couple of the FX’s to be brought over from another store. When that didn’t happen, the store manager offered to upgrade us to Madone 2.1 road bikes or switch us to their “performance” mountain bike, Trek4500. Anticipating (wisely) the crowds on the Golden Gate bridge we went for the upright geometry of the mountain bikes.

First part of the ride was along Fisherman’s Wharf and the waterfront bike path. Tons of folks out riding and walking. Enjoyed riding past Ghiradelli Square and the views of the Presidio.
The climb up to the Golden Gate was a bit of a challenge. Hill weenie that I am, I was surprised when I found the perfect spinning gear and navigated myself up the hill.

 The bridge was crowded, particularly at each end, very middle less so, as I suspect many folks walk part way and turn back. Extreme care is needed riding across. Lots of folks walking 4-5 people wide, taking pictures – nose buried in viewfinder, being typical tourists with no care or even awareness of others. Yes, I realize I’m also a tourist, but do try and respect other tourists. Still the views were stunning. This is something everyone should do. Once. Once and done.

Off the bridge there’s a fun descent down to Sausalito. Sausalito is a charming town, full of cafes, houseboats and gorgeous water views,and tons of clueless tourists. We were tired of weaving (or walking our bikes) through crowds, and decided to ride on through.

We foolishly did not stop to refill our water bottles or grab a snack in Sausalito. Not smart. Our water bottles were less than half full, we hadn’t packed any energy bars, GU or other fuel. This came back to haunt us later. We both were out of water before, and starting to bonk going into Tiburon. I know better.

At Tiburon, views across the bay to the city were stunning. And the Blue Moons (and food) at Sam’s were a perfect reward for a good ride.

The line of bikes waiting for the ferry back to San Fran was surprisingly long. Lucky we put our bikes into the queue when we did – by the time the ferry was loading there was probably 50 more bikes behind us. The ferry only allows 80 bikes per trip. We were # 75 and 76 for this trip. Lots of folks were turned away to wait the two hours for the next ferry. Loved seeing all these bikes on the ship!
Th short ride from the ferry terminal back to the shop concluded our 19mile trip. One I highly recommend. And know even with my once and done comment about riding over the Golden Gate – this is a trip I’d do again. As to Bike-n-Roll, was impressed with their fleet, the well-kept bike conditions and the general bike advocate nature of the staff. A business worthy of your (and my) business.
Trip 2- Monterey to Carmel via the 17 mile Drive

Wow, wow, wow. When planning this trip, I’d originally thrown out the idea of a night in Monterey to possibly explore wineries south of San Francisco. But then I realized folks biked the famous 17 Mile Drive past the infamous golf courses of Peeble Beach, Spanish Bay, and Spyglass, and the winery visits went away. For this trip, I decided to rent from Bay Bikes, utilizing their on-line reservation system to reserve a couple of Specialized Sirrius flat bar road bikes.

Bay Bikes is located on Cannery Row the main tourist area of Monterey. They stock many Surrey style bikes and comfort type hybrids, along with some traditional road bikes, mountain bikes and flat bar road bikes. Their fleet seemed a bit older than I would have liked. Nonetheless, they are a great option for renting bikes in Monterey. The employees are quite helpful in determining routes and helping with directions. In fact when I said we were planning on riding into Carmel for lunch, they questioned how often we rode, and suggested that most folks turned around about 10 miles into the ride. Once they were confident we rode (and even seemed impressed that I bike commuted), they offered suggestions for riding around and sites in Carmel.
Monterey has an excellent bike path running along their waterfront, providing a great 6-8 mile area for surrey bikes and less adventurous families to ride. One of my favorite things about it is the clear delineation between where bikes should go (in each direction) and where pedestrians should walk.
Upon leaving the bike path, there’s 3 miles or so of road with bike lanes until entering the 17mile drive, where bikes can skip the toll booth, $10 per car charge, and ride for free. Views all along the drive are stunning – both ocean and golf course. We pedalled leisurely, stopping often for pictures.
Once past Peeble Beach the road narrows, and there’s a fairly steep descent down into Carmel by the Sea. Followed by a corresponding ascent into downtown. Nothing someone comfortable on a bike can’t handle – but made me realize why the shop suggests casual riders turn back at Peeble Beach. Enjoyed lunch at Flaherty’s Oyster Bar, taking advantage of their yummy oyster selection! They were great about parking the bikes, refilling our water bottles and getting us back on our way.
On our return trip, we spent some time looking around Peeble Beach, including enjoying a drink in the lodge overlooking the famous 18th green.
Before we knew it, our 30 mile ride came to an end…which of course meant a stop for a beer. Cannery Row Brewing Company was a perfect place to try a few different beers, along with grabbing a bite at the beer while listening to live music. A great day, and a must do bike ride! Who needs to tour wineries, when there’s bikes and beer, right?

Wine Country Trip: Part 4 Biking

Alright, this 4 part series on my trip to wine country is finally coming to a close. You can catch the other pieces, by clicking below:

 Part 1. Sonoma
 Part 2 .Napa
Part 3.Gardens
One of the things I was most excited about on this trip was the opportunity to bike my way around Napa and Sonoma. Because of our schedules, I did two separate rentals. One in Sonoma and one in Napa. This gave me an opportunity to try out a couple of different kinds of bikes. I searched on-line, read reviews on Yelp and Trip Advisor and decided to rent through Wine Country Bikes in the Sonoma town of Healdsburg, and Napa Valley Bikes Tours in Yountville. Both shops provided maps and excellent guidance and suggestions. Highly recommend either. Napa Valley Bikes tours has a sister shop in the city of Sonoma (called, guess…….yep, Sonoma Valley Bike Tours). However, because we were staying at Korbel, Healdsburg was both closer, and in the area I wanted to ride.

Day One: Sonoma, Wine Country Bikes

Wine Country Bikes is located a couple of blocks outside downtown Healdsburg. They rent Trek bikes with a variety of options from Hybrid/fitness style Trek 7200 to high end Trek Madone road bikes for those wanting to feel like Lance Armstrong for the day. I knew our day riding in Sonoma would be the longer and hillier of our routes, and decided to go with their Trek 2.1 Road bikes. These bikes were nicely equipped with a computer to track mileage, time and speed, a back rack and expanding trunk bag big enough to hold a bottle of wine, or pair of shoes, a jacket or lunch – or a combination of the above. They’d also swapped out the standard pedals for a set of Shimano SPD Sport clips. A couple of spare tubes and a multi tool completed the package.

Well, not quite….the rental also includes free roadside service within the area shown on their guide maps. Which proved to be a good thing.

Wine Country Bikes location in Healdsburg gives you the option of heading south towards Windsor/Graton/Sebastopol for a much more challenging hilly route, west out River Road towards the coast, or north through Dry Creek Valley. We choose to head north, creating a 26 mile route through somewhat rolling terrain (a bit over 1000ft elevation gain/loss). The shop suggested that with winery stops, lunch etc this would make a good days ride.

We rode a quick tour of Healdsburg then west to pick up the southern end of West Dry Creek Road (which parallels Dry Creek Road). The shop had warned us the only place to pick up lunch would be the Dry Creek General Store, requiring a quick mile across Lambert Bridge Road (and the actual Dry Creek) then back after grabbing our lunch to go. The plan was to continue onward with the lunches, picnicking at either Preston or Bella. The plan got slightly altered when in a bit of deja vu to our Ride for the Arts experience, my husband got a rear flat.

We aired up the tire, and it immediately went flat again. Neither of us are adept bike mechanics, so decided that rather than waste time and add frustration, we’d take advantage of that roadside service. They were out quickly with a new bike – actually just pulled the rear tire off that one and swapped it out and off we went. Cute metal sculptures at the corner of West Dry Creek and Lambert Bridge.

At the north end of Dry Creek Valley we stopped at Ferrari Carano, having been told I shouldn’t miss the gardens. Thought we’d picnic here, but signs said no picnicking. Did take advantage of the chance to try their wines, then headed next door to Dutcher Crossing winery. So glad we did. This small independent (not nationally distributed) winery is owned by a woman from La Cross, WI. Has an old time bicycle as its logo. Provides a lovely, scenic picnic space. And has great wines – we even joined their wine club.

Still not sure where the whole day went. Never did make it to Preston, or back over to Quivra to tour their gardens. Next time.
Day Two: Napa, Napa Valley Bike Tours
As the name implies, this company leads a lot of tours. The carry Specialized bikes, a brand I am fond of – now owning both a road bike (Dolce) and hybrid/all trail bike (Ariel). The napa terrain along Rt 29 and Silverado trail is much flatter than Sonoma. For this day, we went with Sirruis, Specialized hybrid/fitness model. The shop also rents  road bikes (Roubaix and Dolce models), full suspension MTB, tandems, and electric bikes.  The women on the yellow bike on the right of the picture above is on one of the electric bikes – her husband rented a regular bike. And they were already arguing as they pulled out. That might have been a pair to follow. NOT.

Our main Napa ride was an easy 16 mile loop from Rutherford across to Silverado Trail down to Yountville to look around, have lunch, then back up Rt. 29. Just enjoying the scenery and leisurely riding. Did make a fortuitous stop at Bottega to see if we could get reservations.Open Table said they were booked – sometimes doing things in person pays benefits. Dinner here was my favorite of the trip.
We kept the bikes over night – which allowed us to do some early morning riding around the vineyards at property at BV. Such fun. Riding over the dirt, discovering the grape vine covered pergola in the picture at the top of the post. Seeing the workers put up netting to keep the geese out of the vineyards. One of the highlights of the trip.

Fortunately, for this rental we did not need to use Napa Valley’s roadside assistance! They do offer it free within a fairly large area around their shop. Even telling us we didn’t need tubes or tools, because all we had to do was call them. As mentioned before, both shops provided excellent maps and advice, helped fit the bikes, supplied the pedals to match our bike shoes, and of course, helmets and locks. Great companies, great bikes, really nice people.
Can’t wait for my next trip out there. Will be much more bike riding next go round! 

Self-Image Mindshift

This weekend brought a couple of unrelated incidents that made me realize how my mental image of myself has, or maybe more accurately, is changing. Hubby and I were down in Chicago celebrating our 10th Anniversary. First up was a surprise trip to the spa for a massage and facial. When the massage therapist asked me if there were any areas in particular for her to focus on, I caught myself saying, “Well, I have a tendency to hold tension in my traps and my IT bands really need work”. Say what….

After the massage as I was waiting for the facial technician in the “relaxation” room, it hit me that I really was relaxing, fully comfortable in the robe they had supplied. That I hadn’t had to ask for a larger robe, or sit there in one that didn’t quite close – or worst of all, sized up by the receptionist at check-in and offered to swap out the usual robe for a plus sized one. Instead I was perfectly comfortable sitting there waiting in the normal robe, which actually felt large, wrapped over completely in front. Such a nice feeling, couldn’t help but smile.

Then again none of this really should have surprised me. Hell, we’d brought our bikes on this trip; planning to take advantage of Chicago’s Lakeshore trail and a promise of sunny not too cool weather. That would never have happened 15 months and 65 pounds ago. Yet as I’ve made these changes to healthier foods, healthier eating, regular exercise, gone down several clothing sizes; I’ve never really thought about the changes to my mindset to the way I thought about myself, the boxes I put myself into.

But this weekend, I realized that I think of myself as a bit of an athlete. That being active is not something I do, it is something I am. And that while my weight loss journey is not over (35 pounds to go), I have taken great strides forward, I have changed not only my body, but my mind.

Which leads to this morning’s ride. The trail along Lake Michigan is a gem. One enjoyed by a wide variety of people. Sure there were plenty of people out for a casual stroll, but for the most part on this Sunday morning the path was populated by other athletes – folks out for a serious work out. Some passed us, plenty we passed. It felt good, I felt strong. We rode 32 miles on the trail – a loop north to Foster Avenuse and south to about a mile past the Science and Industry Museum. But best of all, I felt like I belonged.

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