Endurance and Adventure Team rider Spencer Paxson prompts us to scheme up and get the most out of big days on the bike during the longest day(s) of the year.
Since I’ve begun to keep the racing shoes in the closet more regularly over the last two years, the several-week period around the northern summer solstice (typically around June 21-22) has become my new favorite season. I call it “Solstice Season” for the span of time it affords in terms of daylight and open terrain in the high country – a chance to scamper out beyond the edge of the Shire and put to action some of the harebrained ideas that crop up during the dark winter months.
Three years is hardly a tradition, but for so many solstice seasons I have made a game out of doing something “big” (and yes, in many ways pointless) on the longest day of the year, or checking off a bucket list of long days during the three-or-so weeks on either end of the summer equinox. Each of these experiences has been wildly difficult yet hugely rewarding for me, and have helped re-calibrate and boost my attitude on riding, life, appreciation of snacks, etc. Based on these results, I would wish for anyone to achieve their own version of a big day fulfillment. So with that, a few prompts and ideas for coming up with your own outing this Solstice Season:
Something fun (fun to you…okay, “Type 2” fun) that you haven’t done before – Whether it’s a new place, a new route on familiar trails, or some feat that hitherto you have not achieved.
The right amount of challenge and uncertainty for your experience – If you are new to pushing your physical and mental limits, I recommend a very non-scientific prediction that falls within at least 60% (but less than 80%) confidence that you can pull it off. If you are experienced at pushing your limits, then it’s okay to play around with ~50% likelihood of success.
Get weird, go long – Whatever the objective, at least make it a goal of being out all day. It doesn’t all have to be on the bike, either. If possible, start at sun up and finish at sundown (with as many breaks as you need!). Enjoy the entire day! Get the day off if you can, or wait for the next closest weekend day (after all, “Solstice Season is a season). Plan for child care. Make an extra sandwich.
Have a clear concept – It can be pointless (those are usually the most fun), but should still have some kind of theme or essential mission. Numbers can help to start, but ultimately it’s not about the numbers… It doesn’t hurt to get a little philosophical, either. You’ll be going deep into the mental tank, so some forethought might help. Make a Venn diagram of reasons why you are doing it…that way it forces you to find a common center to come back to when it gets hard, and you can lean in one of several directions as you navigate the day.
Plan your logistics and break the day into units – If it’s going to be a very long day (let’s say “very long” = >10hrs), think in terms of what you can accomplish per hour, and break the day into phases. This is key so that you can imagine the entire effort in advance, but in the moment, take it one chunk at a time and that’s it.
Invite friends – Happiness in this sort of hubris is most real when shared. That said, solo vision quests are pretty good, too, but it does add to the experience to include some company for at least a portion of the experience.
• 16 bottles of CLIF Hydration (~1,300kcal) • 2 bottles of regular water (0kcal) • 1 bottle of coconut water (~150kcal) • 1 pouch CLIF Organics Beet & Ginger (110kcal) • 3 packs of CLIF BLOCKS (600kcal) • 2 CLIF Nut Butter Bars (500kcal) • 1 can Trader Joe’s Dolmas (~400kcal) • 1 CLIF Builder Bar (250kcal) • 1 Whole Foods Pork Burrito (~700kcal)* this was the only nutrition mistake of the day, resolved within an hour • 1/2 PBn’Honey Sandwich w/ Banana (~200kcal) • 1/8 block of sharp cheddar cheese (~180kcal) • 1 Mountain House Chicken Casserole pouch (700kcal) • 1 Banana and PB (~150kcal) • 1 Cold Brew coffee w/ honey (~30kcal) • *Breakfast in the morning was a small cup of coffee (to coax the morning BM at 3 AM!) and • • 1/2cup (dry) teff with maple syrup, almonds, berries, cinnamon, and 2 fried eggs • more pizza and beers at the finish
There’s a first time for everything, even amidst an activity that you have done for over two decades. For the last weekend in April 2019, my wife and I packed up the car for our first family trip centered around bike racing, the inaugural 3-day Cascade Gravel Grinder in Bend, OR. Our 21-month-old Director Spotif sat patiently in the back seat as we finished loading the last of the gear – the familiar bikes and spare wheels stacked up against the ceiling, with the less familiar Pack-n-Play, stroller, story books, extra diapers and cargo bike piled underneath.
As regular road racing seems to be going the way of the Rock ‘n Play (sorry, parent joke), the new road racing, that is, gravel racing, seems to be realizing its own manifest destiny. In any case, it’s still road racing in my book because it happens on drop-bar bikes with skinny-ish tires. The roads are rougher but the bikes are smooth. The Cascade Gravel Grinder was touted as the first gravel omnium event in the country. An omnium is a multi-day event similar to a stage race, but instead of tracking overall time, riders score points based on their result each day. The rider with the most points wins. I just hoped the points I might win in the bike race would balance out with the points I needed to spend to get the family to come along.
The plan and outcome went as follows:
Day 1: 7-hr drive to Bend, set up shop at guest house, jump in 5-mile prologue time trial. The dry washboard was a wake up call compared to the damp dirt of Bellingham, and the car legs were good enough for 5th.
Day 2: 70-mile loop through the dusty sage and pine near the Newberry National Volcanic Monument, clean up for a cargo bike ride an afternoon picnic at Drake Park. An early morning gave way to a blistering pace across the sage land, zipping around in the lead group and 3rd on the day.
Day 3: 67-mile loop outside of Sisters, OR at the foothills of the Twin Sisters and Mt. Jefferson, load up for a visit to great grandmother’s house. A good start was thwarted by drawing the short straw in the rocky road pace line and popping my tire. After fixing, and despite a few KOMs during the chase, I was unable to make it back to the lead group, and rolled in for 10th.
Day 4: travel home, admire faint tan lines, tally our lessons learned
Family + bike racing works as long as everyone can accept that only about 80% of their needs can be met. For those too young to accept, the others must work an extra 20% harder to keep the wheels on the wagon 😉
To whomever is racing, the fitness required isn’t just about the racing, but also about the post-race activities. You’ve got to have fuel left in the tank to be useful!
Again, to whomever is racing, make the effort count! Any time wasted on course is time lost with family!
And so it ends. The 16 weeks(ish) of my Spencer-Paxson-Tries-to-Make-Me-Suck-Less-at-Climbing-and-Other-Things-Too program. I’d say it’s been a whirlwind, but really it’s been a hell of a challenge and it FEELS like it’s taken me four months to get here.
The question everyone seems to be asking me: Did it work?
Well, that depends on what the goals were. Looking back on my first post in this series, I wrote that more than any real quantifiable goal, I wanted to just suck less on my bike, and mostly on climbs. I wanted to be able to climb with my friends, not get flustered so easily when they ride so much harder than I do, and overall just enjoy group rides more. What makes a program like this interesting is that there were very few quantitative measurements. No power meters. No heart rate. No watts. All of it was mental. “How do you feel,” I would ask myself as if I were propped haphazardly on a Shrink’s couch after each ride trying to dissect what went well and what didn’t.
Basing a structured training program on feel alone is very unconventional, but we decided to do this for a couple of reasons: both Spencer and I are very cerebral and analytical thinkers, and I’m also someone who commits hard to anything. If I’m in…I’m really in, so it seemed like we would be able to see results without having massive charts and graphs and spreadsheets full of data in front of us.
We tackled this by doing a mix of high-intensity interval workouts on the trainer. Normally I’d lose my mind spinning on a trainer when I could be outdoors, but Ma Nature blessed (???) us with a crapload of lowland snow this winter so I had six weeks to really focus on the trainer and develop that base strength. These came pretty easy to me. I like routine and was able to hammer these workouts out while digesting 14 freaking seasons of Grey’s Anatomy (I’m not even joking). Before too long, the 4×4′ at 70-80% didn’t feel like death and I was able to do 2x 4×4′. Improvement! On top of the trainer, I’m do a lot of yoga and stretching so keeping mobility high was key. The last key was to embrace the winter, so I bought a splitboard and went on some great uphill adventures. Turns out going uphill on snow is way more fun than uphill on a bike… but I digress.
When all the snow finally melted and I was able to start riding again, I started checking off little milestones. Rides that were hard 4 months ago felt slightly less hard. Climbs that seemed daunting were now just a thing I could mentally handle. They were still hard, but not soul-crushingly challenging, and I considered that a massive victory. I had PRs on Strava segments that I’ve ridden hundreds of times, both up and down hill. I also noticed an unconscious change as a result of this training, too. I found myself riding with different people of different speeds and abilities. I was riding with people that weren’t on such a hammer fest. I was riding with people who just really freaking love to ride bikes. I still had occasional rips with my fast crew, but found a new joy in riding farther, longer, and for no other purpose than just to ride.
This was perhaps the thing that helped me more than anything else, because as I found out when I rode with the fast crew, they’re still faster. I’m still off the back, though maybe slightly more within earshot of their conversations. But, whatever. My mental game had an evolution. I cared less about being right there, and more about laughing, enjoying the views, and taking bonus laps because my legs felt strong enough to do it. That! That is a victory! So when a couple of my girlfriends decided to join their own Spencer-Paxson-School-For-People-That-Can’t-Climb-Good-And-Wanna-Learn-To-Do-Other-Things-Good-Too program, I had buddies who dove into the same mentality. We trained to learn to love the hard parts more. We trained to learn to love riding with each other more. We trained to learn to just love riding more, no matter what speed we were going or how freaking steep the fire road got.
This all culminated in one of their final test rides last weekend. Spencer loosely told one of them that was training for a downhill race to go pedal her ass off and then ride some of Bellingham’s most challenging descents. This would put her in the physical hurt locker, but require a mental fortitude that it takes to win and be really freaking strong. When she messaged me about this insane route she had roughed together, I didn’t hesitate. I was in. I estimated 30 miles and around 6,000 feet of climbing. That’s 1500 feet more and 7 miles more than my biggest ride, but I felt up to the task.
Days before we were set to leave, another friend working with Spencer decided she wanted to join us, too. She loathed climbing the way I did. We all had this weird stake in the game. Mine was putting aside my mental demons for a long day. Katie’s was just to see how far she could go and be ok with failure if it came to that. Lauren’s was just to finish and feel mentally strong enough to race her big upcoming event. I won’t get into the nitty gritty of our ride, but I will tell you that we learned something critical. On the scale of 1-10 perceived exertion, we all excelled at Level 2. “Team Two” we dubbed ourselves. “We will climb every climb at a 2, so we can make these transitions with enough power and strength to really enjoy the descents.”
And hot damn! Climbing at a 2 forever is EASY! I felt like a freaking superstar! I cruised, sang songs, whistled, chatted my friend’s ears off. I became a version of Mindy! I chugged and chugged and ate everything in my pack and drank all the water, and at the end of the day, the 30.1 miles and just over 6,000 feet felt damn good. That amount of vert coupled with some seriously spicy descents that required me lugging around my chin bar for my helmet had me feeling like, yeah, this program worked. It worked because I was able to set aside my insecurities about being slower and instead use that pace to OWN that ride. In fact, had we had more daylight, I think we would have kept going. But, darkness had set in, we were ready for some copious amounts of food and a solid night’s sleep.
So, in summary, yeah. It worked. It was hard. Some days it totally sucked. Adding in a structured training program while working full time, teaching yoga, side hustling other projects, and maintaining relationships is hard. I don’t think I’d want to dedicate myself to this for the long haul, but I also don’t think I need to now. I’m left with a wealth of new knowledge about how to handle my mental hurdles, how to pace myself on climbs, and most of all, how to just sit back, pedal at my level 2 (which may have formerly been a 4 or 5), and just enjoy the ride.
But, enough about me. What about Spencer? This was a challenge for him too, since if you’ve made it this far you may realize I’m a total head case. I asked Spencer to sum up our time together because I wanted to see this from his perspective, too.
“One of my core beliefs is that no effort is worth it unless it helps you learn and grow. I learn something new with every single client I work with. It usually has to do with communication, and it’s specific to my relationship with the client: how to guide, motivate and educate in a manner that is relevant to their needs. In this case, when the client is a friend who I know fairly well, but someone new to a structured training process and with an objective to realize comprehensive athletic improvement (as opposed to a specific, competition-focused performance objective that I am used to), it presented a unique challenge for me to develop and communicate and refine a custom training platform. Of course, we couldn’t do everything, and I didn’t want to overwhelm Lacy with all of the technical jargon that is so top-of-mind for me and many of the clients I work with. After all, we were only planning to work together directly for a period of about 16-weeks, which, in the grand scheme of a training process, is a fairly short period of time. My goal was to provide Lacy with tools (by way of simple, practical examples) that she could apply in the long term, far beyond our short winter project. I worked on creating a custom training journal template (which we eventually migrated into TrainingPeaks) in order to focus much more on the qualitative aspects of Lacy’s work.
Meanwhile, on my end, I worked on refining my presentation of methods. That is, starting with, “who are you, where are you at (in terms of training status), and where do you intend to go”. Then, based on that information, and applying some guidance, I shifted to the dance to the 3-part equation of “how hard, how long, and how often”. Through all of this, we navigated a valuable host of obstacles: limited daylight, full work, and social schedules, winter sniffles, winter snow…lots and lots and lots of snow (for us, anyway), grappling with the visceral discomfort of exertion and the discipline of rest. In the end, I hope Lacy learned as much as I think I taught her. We didn’t measure many metrics beyond private Strava segments (by design), and Lacy might say she isn’t even sure if she’s stronger or not. If you ask her riding buddies, she is, but I’ll let her figure that out for herself. After all, it’s her process. It was a pleasure to be a part of it. ”
Thanks, Coach! Thanks for sticking with me when I was near tears. Thanks for kicking my ass in a kind way, and most of all thanks for being empathetic to my situation and really going out of your way to structure something that made sense to my weird brain. I’ll see you on the trails, and I’ll probably be eating a burrito half way up some hideous climb.
If you’re interested in learning more about Spencer’s coaching, Peak Energy Performance, be sure to check out his website and hit him up!
“For those skeptical action-oriented new parents out there, it turns out that cargo biking is a way, for me at least, to experience a terrific oxymoron: to step out of one comfort zone while staying completely comfortable. That is to say, my comfort zone on two wheels typically involves some element of performance, speed, distance or other mix of benign masochism. It was gratifying to have none of those elements, save for the 100-pound bike to lug up the hills, yet still have every bit as much fun on this trip as I had on pre-kiddo outings. Instead of being stressful, I found it satisfying to feel the responsibility of our family outside the comfort of home. And like any backpacker has experienced, we were energized by the simple act of traveling under our own power with all of our needs at hand.”
This is the third installment in From Zero to…? A firsthand account of taking a normal sucker (me) and putting me through a tough training regemen to try to get stronger on the bike. Chapter 1. Chapter 2.
It’s hard to believe I’ve rounded the bend of Week 7 in this three(ish) month experiment of Make Lacy “Feel” Stronger. Having mostly intangible goals makes noticing an improvement (or lack thereof) somewhat challenging. Some days I feel like a superhero on the bike. Other days I feel like I have lead weights tied to my quads. They just don’t want to move!
The last couple weeks have been spent building up my “engine” as my coach, Spencer, would say. I’ve been packing in more interval sessions on the trainer as well as on actual rides. It seems like every couple weeks I have a little victory as well as a sobering realization. I’m definitely learning to hate bigger rides less. Two weeks ago I did roughly 23 miles and 3800′ of climbing. That may seem like small potatoes to some people, but that was a fairly long day for me. Fortunately, one of my girlfriends is an ex-pro road racer, a CX phenom, and a total masochist, so she is PSYCHED to do these death marches with me. It’s a total blessing. While I want to barf on the climbs she just chatters away telling me all kinds of stories from her life. It’s kind of like an autobiography on tape, only way more interactive. If you don’t have a Mindy in your life, you should all find one!
The Chuckanut death march route.
I was happy with how that big ride went. Aside from a few moments of utter pain, I felt pretty strong overall. I know I didn’t break any speed records on the climbs, but I was pleased with my ability to stay consistent ascending. We even did a bonus loop just so I could have a little ripper of a descent. Spencer says it’s important to balance these big, challenging days with reward. I guess I’m really just like a dog. You want me to do something hard? Give me cookies (or in this case, Organic generic Pop Tarts. They are delicious and I can pronounce every one of the ingredients!) Even better than completing the big ride was the fact that I didn’t feel awful the next day. I ate everything in site, which I thoroughly enjoyed. I stretched and stretched and drank a lot of water. I’m learning to eat more “whole foods” that help aid in recovery and energy. I’m adding in more natural proteins and good fats. Avocados, hard-boiled eggs, nuts, and dried fruit have replaced energy bars and mini bags of Swedish Fish.
I’m not kidding about those Pop Tarts. Pure joy!
As all things that rise eventually fall, I did have a real struggle, too. On a recent interval day where I had to do 4×8 minutes at 80% power, I had a near-panic attack. Since I work full time, teach yoga, and have a healthy social calendar, I have to squeeze in every ride/workout before or after work. The Pacific Northwest is dark in the winter. The sun rises at 8 am and sets at 4:30 pm. This means that no matter when I ride, it’s dark. It gives an illusion of it being late and I think it tricks my brain into feeling tired. So, it’s a constant battle to stay motivated and switch from “tired” to “strong” in my mind. This interval session got the best of me, though. On the first leg after a ~2o minute warmup I hit the cranks hard. The gravel road turned sharply uphill. I timed the ride all wrong. Pushing power up a steep hill for that kind of sustained time sucked the life out of me. My breathing was panicked. My heart rate was too high. I felt like there was no way I was going to complete it. I felt like I was going to cry and fail- two things I do not enjoy. I’ve had panic attacks on climbs before that forced me to pull over and take a long rest and remind myself that biking is fun. Yet I have a tendency to be intense and take things way too seriously sometimes. I’ve learned this lesson on rides before so when I felt this emotion washing over me I was able to calm myself down and keep pushing up the hill with fervor.
After the first interval I found a less intense grade for the remainder of the ride and was able to complete the workout satisfactorily, but I still felt a bit shaken after that initial incident. It’s weird doing these workouts alone in the pitch black. My only other companions were two bats that kept darting in and out of my light beams. I was oddly glad they were there to distract me from the pain. Eventually, I made it to the top of the climb and enjoyed a cruisy rip down one of our longer downhill trails. I got back to the car and struggled to even walk. Everything hurt-even my shoulders from pushing so hard up the hills. But whatever, I guess this is my engine going from a V6 to a V8. It better be working because that ride totally sucked.
What’s next? Another mega day. Tomorrow’s plan is 4+ hours of moving time and 4500′ on the bike. I’m oddly looking forward to it… or perhaps I’m just looking forward to more of Mindy’s and shoving more Pop Tarts down my throat. Wish me luck!
Guess who’s back? The Kona Endurance and Adventure Team! This four pack of distance/type-two/pain-loving cyclists plan to travel across every kind of terrain on multiple continents throughout 2019. In its third year, the Kona Endurance and Adventure team returns ready for some big days in the saddle. From lung-busting gravel grinds, mountain biking in places we may not have ever heard of, to a full season of Elite XC, gravel and marathon racing, they’re ready to dig in, ride hard, and capture all of the excitement they can find aboard two wheels.
The Endurance and Adventure team is made up of Kona veterans that know exactly what it takes to squeeze the most out of every single adventure. Team ringleader Barry Wicks is back with a full agenda of rides all across North America and the World accompanied by probable world record-holder Spencer Paxson, 24hr World Champ Cory Wallace, and the ever-keen-to-crush and party pumper Kris Sneddon. And be on the lookout for guest appearances by Kona Maxxis Shimano CX racers Kerry Werner and Rebecca Fahringer. Together they make up a crew that is champing at the bit to push the limits of where bikes can go, how hard they can be ridden, and how much fun is actually possible while inflicting what seems to mere mortals like some sort of self-inflicted punishment.
Oh the places they’ll go! They’ll cross the plains and race the Dirty Kanza, traverse BC’s best trails in the BC Bike Race, leave their marks in the Oregon Trail Gravel Grinder, spend days in the high alpine of the Trans Rockies and pay visits to the Epic Ride Series of events. In addition, they’ll be busy crossing many a mountain pass, bikepacking to locations that seem impossible to reach, racing the races that scare most people, and leaving dusty contrails in their wakes as often as possible. If it sounds like a challenge, these guys are up for it.
Cory Wallace Photo: Margus Riga
Stay tuned to the Cog and Kona Features for the latest on their travel shenanigans.
This is me… taking life seriously, as you can see.
Hi! My name is Lacy Kemp. I work in the marketing department at Kona and have the keys to this blog, so I figured I’d invite you all on a three-month journey with me. I’ve been riding mountain bikes for about 10 years. I started kinda late (I’m 38 now), so the learning curve for me wasn’t as fast as, say, an 18-year-old, or a kiddo. I mean, have you seen the kids these days? There are seven-year-olds that outride me. It’s humbling, to say the least.
I ride so I can experience moments of solitude like this one.
The thing is, I’m not a bad rider. I’m a proficient climber and find my comfort in the scary steep stuff. But, for whatever reason, I feel so inadequate when I ride with my crew. Granted, I try to keep up with some exceptionally talented riders, but still. I am a capable human and I want to feel better on my bike. It has gone from just cruising with my buddies to me putting this weird pressure on myself to be “better” and “faster,” even though none of them care whatsoever about my pace. I think this is something a lot of us deal with – especially women. Mountain biking has been a male-dominated sport for most if its life, and therefore many of us ride with the guys. Personally, I love riding in a coed group. It’s the vibe I like most. It’s silly, fun, strong, and always a good time – in spite of the mental traps I set for myself.
While I *can* climb just fine, I absolutely loathe how it makes me feel.
So, what’s a person to do? I’ve taken clinics and classes every year since I’ve been riding. I’ve raced downhill and even klunkers. I understand how to ride a bike, but what is lacking is how to keep myself physically and mentally in the best condition for enjoying my rides. Maybe you’re thinking, ‘who cares? Just go ride your freakin’ bike.’ You’re not wrong. In an ideal world, I’d just ride and not care about my pace or my hangups. But I’d be lying to myself if I said I didn’t want to ride better and feel better. The feeling is the most critical thing to me. I want to be able to laugh and chat easily on climbs. I want to be able to absorb the surrounding beauty of the land while I’m out on an adventure versus focusing on breathing and keeping up my pace. But, how do I improve my overall feeling on a bike? It seems to be largely a mental hurdle.
I want climbing to make me feel like crashing in the snow. Silly and carefree!
I decided to give myself a fighting chance at overcoming the barriers that seem to be constraining me. It just so happens that Kona Adventure Man and all around freak of nature on a bike (and I mean that in the most loving way), Spencer Paxson has transitioned his career into athletic performance services at Prime Bellingham- a high-end institute where athletes can go for goal-focused training, psychology, workouts, and many various forms of training. I’ve never had a bike coach before. I’ve never even had a structured workout plan at any point in my life. I don’t know what the difference is between circuits, high-intensity training, and intervals. They all sound like math to me, and math is scary. So to get over the scary, I have hired Spencer to be my personal coach, guru, and advisor for the next three months. My goal? Feel better on my bike.
I mean why wouldn’t you hire this guy as your coach? Clearly, he knows it’s all about having fun!
I am going to be a unique challenge for Spencer. Unlike every single other athlete he works with I have no quantifiable goal. I’m not training for an event or a milestone, per se. I’m training to understand why I get caught up in my head when I pedal. I’m training to cut myself some slack when I fall off the back. I’m training to maybe fall off the back a little less. I’m training to see what the hell training is all about. I like systems and processes and structure as much as like a free-spirited life. I’m a quintessential Libra if you believe in that kind of thing.
Our first meetings have set the tone for the next 12 weeks. We are working on what is known as Rate of Perceived Exertion (on a scale of 1-10), where I usually hang out at the 4-5 range and want to die around a 6 or 7. We are hoping to make the 7s feel more like 5s… but again it’s all based on feeling. As of this week, I’ve begun logging my miles and vert and RPE for every ride. I’m forcing myself to take recovery days (which is REALLY hard for an exercise junky like me). Next time we meet we’ll do a movement screen to see where I have physical weakness and room for improvement. We’ll check in to see how my sanity is holding up. I’ll see if Spender is ready to kick me and my quirks to the curb. Who knows, maybe I’ll actually enjoy climbing after all of this is said and done? Wouldn’t that be something!
I’m writing this for you because I plan to share the experience with you. The highs and the lows. The learning and growth. The frustrations and challenges. Maybe I’m crazy for starting this around the holidays, but if I can make it through without royally screwing up the next few weeks then the rest of the program should be manageable. I think as cyclists and humans we all have insecurities. Some of us are just better at not giving AF. Maybe that will be my greatest takeaway- learn to let go. It’s a lesson we could all probably use.
Until next time, I’m turning on my Strava (something I NEVER thought I’d say) and will see where this sweet little bike takes me.
Freehub Magazine‘s hound dog Lucy takes no prisoners when she hangs on the couch with athletes during their “Hounded” series. The latest episode features Kona Adventure Team Rider, Spencer Paxson. Spencer is known for his mega rides (remember that 32,000-foot day on Solstice 2017?) his penchant for capturing podiums at MFG Cyclocross races, and his Tally Tuesdays where he breaks down some facet of cycling with all the data points one could ever imagine.
Spencer is entering “Season 9” with Kona Bicycles as part of our factory endurance and adventure program, as well as an assist with the product development team, and we are looking forward to even more good stories unfolding along the way…and his hopefully improving his Neglin game, too!!
Trans-Cascadia is a blind-format, backcountry enduro race held in the wilder corners of the Pacific Northwest’s Cascade Mountain Range. Previously held in Oregon, the fourth-edition of the event made its way north to the deep corners of the Gifford Pinchot National Forest in south-central Washington State. This year’s edition included a heavy-hitting cast of gravity heroes, including international stars Greg Minaar, Steve Peat, Loris Vergier and more. Factory rider Spencer Paxson was on site to represent not only for Kona, but for his local heritage, having grown up just over the hill from where the race took place. For Spencer, Trans Cascadia was a full-spectrum experience of modern mountain biking, from exploration to advocacy to participation. From helping vet the quality of the routes to volunteering in pre-race work parties to finally racing the event, Spencer shares with us his special account from this piece of MTB goodness.
I credit the terrain around Trout Lake, WA and the greater Gifford Pinchot National Forest for inspiring my deep connection with sport and the outdoors. When I was informed that Trans Cascadia would be venturing to this area for 2018, I leapt at the opportunity to help out. From writing letters of support to the local USFS districts to participating in trail work days, my connection to the region gave me the sense that I owed a concerted effort to support the Trans Cascadia crew and their terrific event. My family’s history goes deep with these forests, including four generations of a family-owned timber and sawmill business and many years of my grandfather and father flying surveillance patrols for the US Forest Service. Not to mention my own experience growing up in these hills. Now, as the economic landscape continues to evolve, it is inspiring to think of mountain biking becoming a more important part of the recreational activities in the area. What better way than to usher it in with revamped trail systems and a world-class event!
I never dreamed I would share these trails alongside 100 other like-minded mountain bikers, let alone legends of the sport whom I’ve looked up to throughout my cycling career. To be clear, this was the zone where I would often go to be solo, or perhaps accompanied by a stalwart family member or friend. I even performed my marriage proposal on one of these trails! This was the zone where I fostered my “benign masochism” on long rides and bushed-out loops with heinous amounts of vertical ascent and frequent hike-a-bikes. But the reward of alpine vistas and remote singletrack was always worth the effort. Fast-forward a decade-and-change later and there I was sharing the same routes with a dozen good friends, trading high fives and trail snacks with the likes of Steve Peat and Greg Minaar, and being able to reassure others with local knowledge of: “don’t worry, it’s almost the top”.
Speaking of more meet-and-greet, the video above captures perhaps the best “nice to meet you” moment I’ve ever experienced. If you follow the big mountain ski world, you’ll get a kick out of it. If not, the running commentary is entertainment enough.
For all the fun that was had, the week was not without a healthy reminder of the fragility of pleasure and the sheer remoteness of the place we were riding. On Day 1, a long time fellow pro racer and friend dropped in ahead of me on Stage 2 and ended up losing control and impacting a tree. I had given enough of a gap on the high-speed stage that I didn’t notice that he had sailed off into the woods until after waiting at the bottom when he was nowhere to be found. After a few riders passed without seeing him, I notified the stage timers and medic and ran back up the trail. Sure enough, my friend was a few minutes run up the hill and laid out on a gentle slope below the trail. The thought that I had ridden past him without seeing gave me a pit in my stomach. A medic and I arrived on scene at nearly the same time and began to administer care (I have my WFR precisely because of these backcountry activities…it’s not much, but it’s far better than nothing). As difficult as it was to see a friend in so much distress, and as scary as the uncertainty of injuries was in the first hour, it was amazing to witness the clockwork of the Trans Cascadia medical crew and staff as they switched-on to expert care for my friend while keeping the rest of the event running smoothly and out of the fray. I can’t speak highly enough of the medical crew and organizers for rallying the way they did to ensure safety and care. After three tough hours, my friend was able to get up and move out on the back of a motorcycle. As for me, I coasted out the last two stages of the day, race brain totally fried.
Thanks to Day 1’s strong reminder of two-wheeled hubris, I had the mind to savor and respect Days 2-4. We were still deep in the woods, and any serious incident meant a long wait and (likely) helicopter ride at best. That said, topic for a future piece is the phenomenon of continued risk-taking in the wake of incident. There are so many angles to open up on that topic that I’ll save it for later, but suffice it to say, I didn’t feel like I slowed down despite the experience of my friend’s crash. And I wouldn’t have gone any faster, either. F#@(%…it felt fast!! And on average I was still 3% off pace. I’m happy leaving that remaining sliver to the forest gods. That said, over the next three days I managed to eke out a top-3 and a few top-5 stage placings, which seemed remarkable to me (and scary/exciting?). Maybe everyone else slowed down? Whatever the case, the local pride probably had something to do with it. Witnessing everyone’s enjoyment of the trails and terrain gave me that special form of joy that comes from sharing with others. In that way, I don’t think I’ve ever been more excited to have my ass handed to me on fairly familiar trails than by the likes of the international gravity stars in attendance.
In the end, we grimy bunch of mountain biking adults spent 4-days feeling like 19-year-olds with no curfew, no homework, and European drinking privileges. Our cups runneth’d over. I bathed in cold streams and lakes each evening, ate delicious food, and shared lifetime good laughs and high-speed trail sensations with old friends and new ones. As for the racing part, I got myself to 9th place (FULL RESULTS HERE). The morning after the race, a bunch of us loaded into a truck and started the long drive back home. On the way we stopped in sleepy little Trout Lake. There was the gas station and cafe as it always had been each morning before school started, the mountain looming over the valley. I was a visitor in my own home this time, but there was a new twist that felt good. It had been put on everyone else’s map, and in this capacity, it felt really good to share it. I hope people come back. I certainly will!
Cross is still on its way… and that means one thing for sure. PARTY TIME. While some folks race the old CX for fitness and prestige, others get after it for the party. Back in 2015 Spencer Paxson put his fitness to the test as he donned his red undies (aka party pants), ripped around on his Private Jake and went the distance for one of the rowdier Single Speed Cyclocross World Champ races.
For those of us in the northern hemisphere, we’re celebrating the summer solstice today. It’s annually a day where we pack as much into a single day as possible, taking advantage of the gratuitous daylight that mother nature has granted us. We thought it fitting to take a look back at last year’s amazing solstice achievement by Kona rider Spencer Paxson as he packed in more vertical in one day than almost anyone else in the world ever has on two wheels.
When I heard Spencer was attempting to ride one of Bellingham’s most awesome trails as many times as possible during daylight hours, I became really intrigued. Spencer is freakishly athletically talented, but that climb is a MONSTER….not in length but in steepness. The average grade is puke-inducing on a good day. I remember polling my friends asking, “How many times do you honestly think you could climb to the top of that trail in a day? Honestly?” Some said two, three, four. One said six…but he’s also freakishly talented. While I’m not the most talented rider on the planet I consider myself to be in good shape and I think I could maybe do it four times. That four times includes me crying, barfing, screaming, trying to quit at least once per lap, and consuming as many cookies as my body could handle. In other words, four would be a massive stretch for me… but if my life were on the line I could probably make it happen.
Spencer climbed that climb FIFTEEN TIMES. Over 32,000 feet of climbing. My mind is still blown. Every single time I ride that trai
Spencer, no doubt planning some sort of Type 2 mega sufferfest. Photo: Sarah Paxson
l I am in awe of that accomplishment. You can read all about it in this feature from Bike Magazine.
Today Spencer and Kona product manager Mark Allison are attempting another brutal feat that includes climbing an actual mountain on foot (the North Twin Sister off of the Mount Baker Highway) and a bit over 100 miles of riding their Honzos on some of Whatcom County’s most epic trails.
Stay tuned for an upcoming report of their day. Do you think they’ll make it?