Thursday, December 16, 2010

Mismaloya, Mexico, a Fun Day in Photos

Grandma and grandson at water's edge in Playa Mismaloya
The monkeys seemed content at Puerto Vallarta Zoo but I was not so sure about some of the larger animals. See my previous blog post.
The vendors will swarm you on Playa Mismaloya. I bought just one slice of lemon meringue pie from the "Pie Lady from Yelapa" - yum! I enjoyed watching others wheel and deal, like this family.
I took a day trip to Boca de Tomatlan- a 15 min. bus ride from Mismaloya.
Boca de Tomatlan may be best known as the place where you can catch a water taxi to Yelapa.

Home, sweet home. Also known as Casa Iguana Hotel, where I spent my first 3 nights in Mexico. 

I loved the tranquility of the Boca beach, below. It's a small beach, but people actually lie on towels not just chairs for rent!

A fabulous sunset to end my 3 nights in Mismaloya.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Prefer Peace to Partying? Try Mismaloya instead of Puerto Vallarta!

Mismaloya is best known as the place where the 1963 film Night of the Iguana was filmed. If that information means little to you, consider that the stars of that film, Ava Gardener and Richard Burton - as well as his soon-to-be wife, Elizabeth Taylor, are today's equivalent of Jennifer Aniston, Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie. 

But celebrity history is not what drew me to Mismaloya. During my three nights here, I wanted the relative peace that bustling Puerto Vallarta could not provide. I landed here by chance after a quick survey of good reviews on TripAdvisor and Priceline's tip that there is free wifi!

This is a beach I will explore tomorrow, less crowded than Playa Mismaloya. The rocks are known as Los Arcos and are a great place for snorkeling.

Mismaloya is a 45-minute taxi ride from Puerto Vallarta's main airport.
The sun set around 5:30 p.m. today.
During my taxi ride from Puerto Vallarta's airport, 7 miles south along the coast to Mismaloya, the driver was certain I would dislike Mismaloya. Juan gave me his card so he could drive me somewhere else with more action. 

It is muy tranquilo at my hotel, Casa Iguana. It's a clean and friendly spot with 50 2-bedroom suites with kitchenettes.
Though it's not on the waterfront, my hotel, Casa Iguana is a 5-minute walk to the Playa Mismaloya on Banderas Bay. The beachfront is dominated by the Barcelo empire (an exclusive, all-inclusive resort). I spent today at the beach, surprised by the number of tourists and peddlers hawking hats, jewelry, sunglasses, rugs, dresses, ceramics, sculpture, candy, peanuts and shrimp on a stick. A remote place this is not, but it is pretty.

I sat on the beach, enjoyed huevos rancheros and watched the tourist action: tons of sun tan lotion, miles of cellulite, a few sets of six pack-abs, and a heated family debate on whether to go to the zoo or take a boat for the afternoon. Tomorrow, I will go to the zoo!

Forget "Eat, Pray, Love!" For me, it's Eat, Eat, Eat at Serrano Restaurant. Here's a plate of fresh chile rellenos!
Here at Casa Iguana Hotel, I am especially charmed by the manager of Serrano Restaurant, which is on the property but owned separately from the hotel. A welcoming ambassador to the restaurant, Jorge Joya Castillon, has been the manager there for just two months, but is a veteran of the restaurant industry. One of my least favorite parts of traveling solo is dining alone and this gentleman made me feel like a superstar! Hopefully Jorge will serenade you, he has a fantastic voice!

Jorge, the manager at Serrano Restaurant at Casa Iguana, has a fantastic singing voice in addition to a warm, welcoming personality.
This is my fifth trip to Mexico - Copper Canyon, Yucatan Peninsula, Puerto Vallarta (P.V.)  and Zihuatenejo and now back to P.V.! I plan to visit Chiapas in October 2011.

Monday, November 22, 2010

No one touched my junk at San Jose Airport and TSA tips on how to travel safely this holiday season

I don't have the power to conduct pat-downs or the authority to use high-powered, x-ray equipment, but I am intently scanning and monitoring the activity of passengers and Transportation Security Administratoin (TSA) agents as they pass through the security gate at San Jose International Airport. I am happy to report I saw no frisky guards here at SJC this morning, the launch of the busy travel season - 24 million travelers will hit the road!

So far, I have witnessed none of the horrors making headline news recently - a breast cancer survivor being asked to remove her prosthetic breast, a young, shirtless boy being patted down aggressively in Utah. And no one has loudly stated what John Tyner said to set off the national outcry over increased security: "Don't touch my junk or I'll have you arrested."

I abandoned my fantasy plan to walk naked through the security area - that could lead to other problems! So instead, I just did as I was told and walked thru the controversial scanner. I was told to put my hands up in the air (as in being arrested) and plant my feet apart on painted footprints on the floor. Then, I knew someone I couldn't see was looking at my body contours to check for concealed weapons.

The only weapon I have is my words! But others are taking action on Wed., Nov. 24. I hope you are not flying that day = unless you are protesting. The protest, National Opt-Out Day, is scheduled for Wednesday to coincide with the busiest travel day of the year. 
Most importantly:

Here are the TSA tips for safe travel- Check them out here!

Helpful Hints for Holiday Travelers - Checklist
Before Packing
0 Quart sized zip top bag (Hint: 1 bag per passenger is permitted)
0 3 ounces or less sized containers of liquids, gels and aerosols
0 Visit to review the prohibited items list for both carry-on and checked baggage
0 If purchasing a luggage lock, be sure to look for those that are recognized by TSA
0 It can be helpful to tape a card with your name and contact information on any large
electronics (like laptops)

When Packing
0 Pack items in layers (shoes one layer, clothes one layer, electronics one layer, etc.)
0 Pack large electronics on top layer of carry-on for easy accessibility
0 Place your 3-1-1 bag with liquids, gels and aerosols in front pocket of your carry-on
for easy accessibility

Before Leaving for Airport
0 Give yourself enough time to arrive at the airport early
0 Wear easily removable shoes 0 Make sure to have accepted government issued identification and boarding pass (if printed at home)

Before Entering Checkpoint
0 Look for Family/Medical Liquids Lanes if special assistance is needed for families
0 Be sure to place all items from pockets and any bulky metal jewelry in carry-on bag or purse
0 Have ID and boarding pass out for inspection

After Entering Checkpoint
0 Remove 3-1-1 bag and place in bin
0 Remove shoes and place directly on belt for quick screening
0 Remove coats and jackets and place in bin 0 Remove computers and large electronics from carry on and place in bin alone (video game
consoles, remote control toys, etc.)
0 Ensure no items remain in your pockets before proceeding to the walk-thru metal detector
or imaging technology (keys, cell phones, comb, eyeglasses, etc.)
0 Remember to check bins and collect all belongings following screening.

Have a safe flight!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

One Inspiring Hour with Rafiki of Rwanda

Rafiki Callixte described his family as a "soccer team." 

"There were 11 of us," he told the audience. But after the genocide in Rwanda, just 8 survived. At the Firelight Foundation's open house on Tuesday, November 16, in Santa Cruz, California, I was riveted by the hour-long talk by Rafiki Callixte, project manager for Rwandan grantee-partner Les Enfants de Dieu ("Children of God"). He spoke passionately about his process of forgiveness and subsequently devoting his life to helping street children in Kigali.

Rafiki talked about the youth-focused programs he manages at Les Enfants that empower children living on the street to become self-sufficient and to be reintegrated into their communities and families. He explained that often parents did not want their children back because they simply could not afford to raise them or did not have the space to house them. He spoke with humor and compassion.

 A survivor of the 1994 genocide, Rafiki chose to forgive those who had caused him and his family immense suffering. "Forgiveness is the champion of healing," he said. Through forgiveness and helping others in need, Rafiki is working toward his goal of changing the world around him, one child at a time.

Rafiki and his staff give children living on the street hope by showing them that they are worthwhile. Les Enfants provides short-term shelter for more than 100 boys, equipping them with literacy and vocational skills while working to identify biological or foster families for them. Rafiki says, "We are empowering youth so they can become peace-builders and change-makers." He refers girls to a different program.

The Firelight Foundation was one of the first sources of funding for Les Enfants. The evening concluded on a high note with a $6,000 check presented to Rafiki from the Firelight Foundation.

Les Enfants de Dieu owns and runs a residential care center in Ndera, a suburb in Kigali near the international airport. The center is situated on over 4 hectares of land, mainly in the valley.
Currently, there are 117 former street boys aged between 7 and 18.

Contact info:
B.P.616 Kigali, Rwanda

E-mail: info@enfantsdedieu.orgThis e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Telephone: (250) 520 663
Fax: (250) 574 290

Sunday, September 26, 2010

My Paddleboarding Debut - Tips & Resources for Standup Paddle boarding - SUP!

I am a land-loving cyclist, for the most part. But through the years, I have enjoyed a variety of water sports, including surfing (long boarding), ocean swimming, and even river boarding (outside Seattle - brrrr!). Plus, I have kayaked and canoed many times! Finally, this fall, I got to sample stand-up paddle boarding, better known as SUP, or just paddle boarding, thanks to my friend here in Santa Cruz, Max Montgomery.
Here I am: virgin paddleboarder at Natural Bridges State Park in Santa Cruz on a sunny Saturday in September. Max Montgomery generously volunteered to be my instructor and loan me his paddle board. It's so big, it;s like a small boat. Yet, I was still a bit wobbly standing on it even in flat surf conditions.
Max and I drove to the beach and hauled two big, heavy boards down from the parking lot to the surf. Actually there was no "surf," the ocean, which is technically, the Monterey Bay here in Santa Cruz, was smooth as glass, ideal, flat conditions to venture out into the water for a tranquil paddle. There was a little tiny bit of shore break. Max pointed out that is the most dangerous part; entering and exiting the water with the huge board, so he kindly managed that part for me!

Max provided three excellent pieces of advice for a beginner paddle boarder:

1. Use your knees! The first position to get onto the board after bellyflopping onto it, is to rise to your knees, just kneel on it, before standing up. Then, once standing, be sure to have your knees gently bent, not locked for optimum balance.

2. Momentum is your friend. A gently, steady glide is the best way to maneuver about because it's much harder to maintain your balance standing up, even on a flat ocean, if you are at a dead stop. So keep on gliding along, using your paddle on alternating sides.

3. Paddle using your core muscle group at the center of your body, not just your arms. This was the hardest part for me! I worked on the concept but will have to try again to get the paddling right so my arms and shoulders are less fatigued.
Max Montgomery has been a surfer for 30+ plus years and is a world-traveled Santa Cruzer. He says that he also loves stand-up paddle boarding because it's a calmer way to appreciate the amazing Monterey Bay!
It's impossible to mention Max Montgomery without talking about the group he co-founded with Brooks Lamber and passionately maintains: Best Day Foundation,, which helps children with special needs build confidence and self-esteem through safe, fun, adventure activities like surfing.

Max is also on the board of Ride a Wave - Creating Special Days for Kids with Special Needs. I deeply admire his dedication to giving disabled children and adults the chance to experience riding a wave and enjoying the ocean. Check out photos of past events and become a a sponsors at

For more information about stand-up paddle boarding in Santa Cruz, here are a few (of many) options to visit:

1. Covewater - Stand Up Paddleboards, Santa Cruz, owned by Scott and Leslie Ruble
They offer paddle board classes, lessons, rentals, boards and accessories.

2. Neil Pearlberg, the freelance surfing columnist for the Santa Cruz Sentinel, offers private classes on stand-up paddle boarding. Check out his website! He also wrote about how the well-established Santa Cruz company Caution Kites is manufacturing paddle boards in addition to their signature wind and kite surfing boards.

3. Inflate your SUP!  Can't stand to drive your car to a stand-up paddle board session? You will have a heckuva time hauling the typical 11 to 1- foot, 30-inch wide, 30-pound board on your bike or your back to the beach, so check out the inflatable paddle boards (iSUPs). Pete Gauvin, Editor of Adventure Sports Journal, suggests checking out's inflatable model.
A disadvantage of paddleboarding is that they are so huge you really can't put it on your bike to get to the beach; meaning a need to drive there then haul the heavy boards to the beach. Max did the heavy lifting - thank you!
Enhanced by Zemanta

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Santa Cruz State Parks: 3 Family Fun Fall Events to Visit

Here's a sampling of what's happening in Santa Cruz County, California, at some of our finest state parks! Take family and friends or go solo, and enjoy!

Sunday, October 10
10 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.
Welcome Back Monarchs Day  at Natural Bridges State Beach
Come celebrate the homecoming of our over-wintering, migratory monarch butterflies.   It’s a special day to welcome back these winged-travelers—it’s the 30th anniversary of this event. (Plus it takes place on 10-10-10 starting at 10am!)  The park is located at the northern end of West Cliff Drive in Santa Cruz.  For more information, call (831) 423-4609.  Guided walks of the Monarch Grove take place weekends at 11 AM and 2PM beginning October 11 until the monarchs migrate, (Jan/Feb).

Saturday, October 23
11:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.
Heritage Harvest Festival at Wilder Ranch State Park
Choose and decorate a pumpkin, take a wagon ride, try your hand at harvest activities, learn to square dance, listen to live bluegrass music, apple tasting, play cow-pie bingo, and much more!   The park is located 2 miles north of Santa Cruz on Highway 1.  For more information, call (831) 426-0505.

Saturday, October 30
Sign ups begin at 6:30 p.m.  Walks start every 10 min. beginning at 7:00 p.m.
The Missing Arm of William Waddell at Big Basin Redwoods State Park
Bring a flashlight and see this slightly silly, slightly spooky, slightly true story unfold along the trail.   Register at Park Headquarters.  The park is located 9 miles outside of Boulder Creek on Hwy 236.  For more information, please call (831) 338-8861.
Enhanced by Zemanta

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Gearing up for Cyclocross Season with New Women's Team

I am in the center of this group of Ciclista Bonita, a new women's bicycling team and club. We all attended a Sept. 5 cyclocross clinic in Aptos, California. Photo Credit: Tom Feix.

I have not raced cyclocross for a few seasons, so naturally I'm a little rusty on the signature moves of the niche cycling sport. Jumping on and off my bike, running up steep hills and leaping over wooden barriers while carrying my bike is not part of my normal rides, but it is critical training for cyclocross. Since this style of riding includes such a unique blend of road and mountain bike techniques, practice is key. On Sunday, Sept. 5, I was inspired to pump up the tires on my purple Rock Lobster cyclocross bike and attend a cyclocross skills clinic. Hosted by Bike Station Aptos and Ciclista Bonita  -- a new women's cycling team based in Santa Cruz County -- the clinic boasted professional cyclist Ben Jacques-Maynes as one of the several instructors. The half-day session filled to capacity with 60 people, including a handful of juniors.

"We had a waiting list," said Mary Perez, Ciclista Bonita Team Manager.
Perez is considering hosting another cyclocross clinic in October. Meanwhile, the team is organizing a series of health and fitness talks focused on women but open to everyone.

On Sept. 28, Dr. Goldi Jacques-Maynes of Golden Chiropractic will talk about "Self Care for Ciclistas: How to keep your body happy with simple stretches, foam rollers & massage sticks." The talk will take place at Bike Station Aptos. A $10 donation is encouraged to help support women's and junior cycling programs.

For a listing of other cyclocross clinics and a cyclocross race calendar, visit

Ciclistas Bonitas show their high stepping practice moves for jumping over barricades in cyclocross bike racing.  Photo credit: Tom Feix.
Enhanced by Zemanta

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Mountain Biking in Lake Tahoe 2010 @ Zephyr Cove Campground

It's been a fabulous summer of "firsts" for me! First time mountain bike racing cross country at the Downieville Classic 2010 in July (race report and photos here). Last week was my first time mountain biking at Lake Tahoe! I had not visited the Tahoe area since going to Burning Man in the Nevada desert in 2007 (haven't been back yet). So three years later, I made my mountain biking debut on the gorgeous, rocky trails of South Lake Tahoe. I joined an organized camping/biking weekend with friends from Mountain Bikers of Santa Cruz and other mountain biking clubs.  I quickly discovered that Tahoe was even better with my bicycle, friends, camping and feasting! I have posted my full Tahoe photo collection on my Flickr page. Take a look!
I loved the spectacular views on our rides. I joined group rides on Thursday and Friday and then did not ride on Saturday and Sunday.
What brought me to South Lake Tahoe to camp for four nights in August? The lure of organized bike rides, camping, warm sunshine and someone else working out all of the logistics. (Thank you!) Although I had planned to do the trail work on Saturday afternoon, a key part of the trip, I bailed out due to exhaustion and multiple crashes from the ride the day before. Yes, I felt bad about not doing the work but much more remains to be done, so it's not my last chance!

Mountain Bike Tahoe 2010 trip stats. This was the 5th annual group mountain biker outing, but the first time at the Zephyr Cove Campground in Nevada- which I loved for its proximity to the lake - just 10 minutes' walk to a dip in the clear, cold, refreshing water.
Photo Credit:
 There were about 108 attendees this year from 7 clubs from Monterey, Santa Cruz and the San Francisco Bay Area.  There were 12 rides organized over 4 days. During trail work day, 1212 feet of finished Tahoe Rim trail was completed and 539 feet of usable (not finished) trail was also done. The Tahoe Rim Trail work leaders were really impressed with how much was accomplished! Here are trail work photos taken by Chris Matthews of Specialized.
This was a fabulous overlook that reminded us of our hard climb. Photo Credit: Karen Kefauver
I could have stopped even more often to take in the amazing panoramic views. Photo Credit: Karen Kefauver
It was new to me to get in a car to drive to the start of a ride, but it was worthit and we had willing drivers, some of whom could fit up to 15 bikes in one vehicle! Talk about bikepooling! Photo Credit: Karen Kefauver

Thursday, July 29, 2010

London, Here I Come - for Summer Olympics 2012!

The Olympics would not usually be on my radar now, but I have joined a group, Journey to the Games, to go to London for the 2012 Summer Games, so the countdown is ON! Just 700+ more days...

Background - Going to the Olympics is on my Bucket List
I have been interested in attending the Olympics as a spectator and/or sports journalist for many years. I came very close to making that happen at the 2010 Winter Games held in Vancouver, British Columbia,  on the west coast of Canada - only a few hours' flight from me in Santa Cruz, California.  Ultimately, I decided I didn't want to deal with the cold weather and housing logistics by myself so I did not go. But I have many friends who went. I enjoyed reading their updates and resolved to go the next chance I had.

As a freelance sports and travel journalist, I  visited Olympic venues in Vancouver, Whistler and Richmond a year prior to the opening of the 2010 Winter Games. I wrote some Olympics preview stories, too. In addition to making me want to learn to curl and ski jump, my trip made me determined to go see an Olympic Games - it's on my bucket list.

 Ready, aim, fire! Then, jump on your cross country skis!  I got to take a shot at biathlon in British Columbia before the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver, Whistler and Richmond. Here, an instructor guides me on the basics of shooting.

My 2012 Olympics Tour Group and Guide
After witnessing the many talents and great charisma of Merritt Hopper, an organizer of my Costa Rica running trip with The Coastal Experiences in October 2009, I decided to join him and his crew for the Olympics in 2012. He has rented a youth hostel in London and I have paid a deposit to join his group - (which is now full). I feel lucky to be part of the gang.

Words of Wisdom from Olympics Veteran Merritt Hopper
"I know it's tough to get excited for a big trip like this so far out, but trust me, it's worth this much build up!" wrote Merritt in a recent email.  "Our trip to London will mark the first summer Olympics where more than 8 of us will be going on the journey overseas.  [For past Olympics group trips] we had 3 in Salt Lake, 4 in Athens, 8 in Torino, 7 in Beijing, 80 in Vancouver and now we're matching that 80 mark in London!"

Merritt Hopper leads the pack of runners during our Costa Rica 2009 running vacation.
Photo Credit: Karen Kefauver

Resources for the 2012 London Olympics - courtesy of Merritt
* - official site
Start getting the lay of the land.  See what venues are hosting what events.  The more of a variety you have in terms of venues, the better.  The architecture alone is always something special.
*  - If you haven't already registered to get ticket info, DO IT!  You could miss the boat on the first phase of ticket sales if you don't.  Sign up to receive their newsletter.
* * - Merritt's site for his 2012 London Olympic group

More Helpful Hints from Merritt
*   Will Call vs. Mailing tickets to your home - Will Call is for suckers.  Don't do it.
*   Airline tickets - If you're planning to use miles, GOOD LUCK!  It's doable but you'll need to be on the ball exactly 331 days before your departure and again 331 days before your return.  That is the first time airlines allow you to utilize frequent flyer miles.  Phones light up at redemption centers when it's 331 days before a global event in a certain city.  Mileage will be somewhere between 50,000 and 90,000, so if you're two decades behind the time, it's probably time you got a credit card affiliated with an airline that flies to Europe.  You could start building your point base now, get bonus points for signing up for the card, fly with that airline a few times, and potentially hit the required mile number 13 months from now.
Enhanced by Zemanta

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Downieville Classic 2010 - My race report, photos & videos from mountain bike festival!

The cuts on my shin and elbow are starting to fade, but the memories of my mountain bike debut at Downieville Classic 2010 are still fresh! The epic mountain bike festival was held Friday, July 9, through Sunday,  July 11, in the historic, Gold Rush town of Downieville, California, about 3 hours northeast of Sacramento.

 Here I am ready to roll out at the very crowded start line
Photo Credit: Hank Coffin

The premiere events at the Downieville Classic are the cross country race, a grueling, 29-mile doozy of a course (on Saturday) that attracted 800 racers, and the downhill race (on Sunday). Plus, there are 200 people who are eligible to do BOTH events (on the same bike!) Those nuts are called "All Mountain" competitors.

One mountain climb on Saturday was enough for me! My race was a point-to-point event, starting in Sierra City and ending in Downieville, including a 4,413' ascent and  5,692' descent. Having never ridden in the hot, steep, rocky terrain of Downieville, I was quite nervous that my first time riding there would be for a RACE! In fact, writing my monthly bike column, Spin City, for the Santa Cruz Sentinel, made me even more anxious! Here's my story that appeared in the paper the day before the race: Spin City: The low-down on Downieville, cycling columnist aims to stay upright on technical mountain bike course - Santa Cruz Sentinel

For the quick visual tour, check out the links to my photos, two videos (taken by my friend Hank Coffin) and race results.
I tried to keep a Cool Head while racing 29 tough miles
Photo Credit: Kind Aid Station Volunteer

Karen's Downieville Classic 2010 photos on Flickr

1. A Taste of the Festival and Talk with Karen @ 2010 Downieville Classic
By Hank Coffin on Vimeo - 2 minutes

2. A Huge Splash: Downieville 2010 Bike Jump Contest 
By Hank Coffin on Vimeo - 2 minutes

Race results and event info here!

My goal for this race in women's sport category, was to treat it like an adventure expedition, rather than a race. I planned to explore new land and enjoy the journey, ideally, building my strength and confidence, and emerging uninjured. With that in mind, I abandoned some traditional race tactics such as riding as light as I could! Most racers pare down their bikes, bodies and clothes to eliminate unncessary weight that might slow them down. Instead, this is what I brought with me on my race:

1. My Dakine hydration backpack filled with two liters of water
2. Camera (not a digital SLR, small Panasonic Lumix)
3. Cell phone (in case I felt chatty)
4. 1 baseball cap (handy for naps in the shade)
5. 1 pair nylon pants (it's all about fashion)
6. Cloth to clean camera lens
7. 1 water bottle filled with Cytomax
8. 2 Gus (energy gel)
9. 1 Clif Bar
10. 1 peanut butter and jelly sandwich

Sadly, there was no room to bring a pump or extra tubes.
Ok, half kidding: I only noticed at the last minute I was missing these essentials.

I looked at the hard-body women, my competition, and tried to restrain myself from comparison of our fitness differences.  Why was their body fat so low? :) Many of the gals weren't even wearing hydration packs on their backs; instead they opted to refuel at the aid stations on the course. The start was a chaotic jumble of 800 cross country racers squeezed in tiny channel. When they called my group, we could barely ride because it was so crowded in the start area. 

The low point came soon after the 9:30 a.m. start. The start of the cross country race is a notorious 8-mile uphill grind. About 30 minutes into it, in the hot sun, I felt nauseous. Wanting to hold down my nutritious, whole grain cereal breakfast, I got off my bike and walked. For a long time. Slowly, uphill. It was not the last time I walked during the race, but it was the most challenging. I thought I was gonna be sick and took a while to regroup. It was a big mental struggle to stay positive while feeling so sick. By walking, drinking more water and forcing down a Gu, I stayed in the game.

I wasn't alone in suffering on the uphill grind at the start of the cross country race.
Photo Credit: Karen Kefauver, Playing Race Photographer
When I got to the top of the massive climb, what stretched before me was miles of downhill! The part that many racers love best. But when I saw the size of the rocks on the trail I felt terrified. I was kicking myself that I had not worn protective knee and elbow pads. Before cautiously going down,  I said my new mantra, aloud:  "STAY ON THE BIKE!"

The good news is, I never fell off my bike in a crash. The bad news is, I needed to adjust the mantra to say: "STAY ON THE BIKE AND KEEP IT UPRIGHT." The second scariest moment (following the introduction to the hella sized rocks on the trail) was when I panicked with a racer close behind me, looked back, lost my balance, and fell hard - essentially tipping over on my bike -onto my left side, scraping against the rocky side of the trail. That's where I earned my shin and elbow bloody badges. But my adrenalin surged and no real harm done. So I kept charging!

Without an odometer on my bike to measure miles, I imagine it was the final 10 miles of the 29-mile course where I experienced a wonderful second wind. By that time, I had seen the ugly impact of the race; clumps of people off their bikes, huddled in the shade, working out leg cramps, other riders off the trail fixing flats; folks walking their bikes... Even after the initial hard climb, there were more climbs, in the woods. I felt good and rode those sections when many others were walking. I felt proud I had paced myself well.

Closer to the end, when the last downhill sections were upon me, something clicked: I was on FIRE! I was flying by a gal who had passed me ages ago (felt good!) At last,  I was racing. Didn't want her to catch me. I was UNSTOPPABLE, Olympic caliber, HIGH, ecstatic. You racers know that glorious feeling. A combo of caffeinated Gu, and taking good care of my hydration needs - drinking lots of water and putting it on my head, too, all helped fuel this grand finale.

I felt strong and happy heading towards the finish.
Highlight was coming down the finishing shoot and seeing my friend Hank with his video camera pointed my direction (See his video!). Was great to have a good friend there to welcome me. With his camera rolling, I felt like a celebrity racer. I was happy and proud of my strong finish especially given it was my first time riding such rugged terrain. After the race, I sought out shade from the scorching heat, food and drink.

Woohoo! Race over! Let the eating, napping, celebrating - and showering - begin!
Photo Credit: Kris Suta Pederson

As I slowly recovered from the race effort, I got to hear bits about friend's races as I chatted with Kris Suta Pederson, Meredith Obendorfer, Anastasia Flores, Alex Anderson and others. Also was a nice treat to bump into Brian Vernor, filmmaker and cyclist.

I was happy that I finished the race a shade under 4 hours; in 3:57:25 in the women "veteran" sport category (ages 35-44).  Though I had vowed not to be attached to the final time, since that was not part of my goal, the competitive athlete in me was proud of breaking four hours. I had looked at the race results for the women's sport category in 2009 and noted that out of the 10 women in that group, half had finished in four hours or more! So that was a good measuring stick for me.

THE ICING ON THE CAKE: For me, the most rewarding aspect of my Downiville race debut was maintaining a positive attitude, stoking my joy of adventure and coping with challenges. I also am pleased that I was taking really good care of myself with food and water along the way. Those are lessons I can always apply to my daily life! See you on the trails soon!

The Yuba River runs right through Downieville, making it a great spot for hot bikers to cool off!
Photo Credit: Karen Kefauver

Enhanced by Zemanta

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

A Downieville Virgin Tackles the Classic Mountain Bike Race and Festival in Northern California

Confessions of a Downieville Virgin: Interview with Myself

Why are you going?
Now that I am badass after riding the North Dakota Badlands in June, I am ready for anything! Well, not quite. Truth: I've heard about Downieville as a biking destination for nearly 20 years and haven't ridden there yet. In particular, this bike festival, the Downieville Classic, is supposed to be a blast! At last, I will go check it out! Kind of like how I heard about Burning Man for ages and finally made the pilgrimage to Black Rock Desert, Nevada in 2007.

Photo credit: from Downieville Classic website

Karen, what event did you register for? The one where you ride your bike into a lake? 
I finally signed up because my friend Winona wore me down with her repeated invitations to join her at this race. But she went to Japan instead. (Thanks a lot!) No lake jumping for me, instead just hours and hours of rocky, hot climbing and descending: yeehaw! From the website:

"The Downieville Classic cross country race is one of the last remaining point-to-point bicycle races in the United States. The 29 mile course follows a rugged "Gold Rush" era route that departs the mountain town of Sierra City (elevation 4,100'), climbs to the crest of the Sierra Nevada (elevation 7,100'), and then plunges 5,200 vertical feet into downtown Downieville."

Where is Downieville?
A long, solo drive from Santa Cruz! Downieville is on California Highway 49, and is just over a two-hour drive from Sacramento. The drive from Reno or Lake Tahoe's North Shore takes just under two hours.

Where are you staying?
In a small cabin with a guy I hardly know.

Have you been training for this cross country race?
 Karen negotiates dangerous descent through grass in Maah Daah Hey, North Dakota. 
(Mom, I am kidding!)
Photo Credit: Jereme Rauckman

What do your friends say about Downieville?
 "Oh my! EEEK! Be careful-- it is challenging especially in a racing situation. I am very proud of you-- I'm ready to ride there, but not race unless I am comfortably at the back! Can't wait to hear your report!" — Henrietta Stern  

"We rode most of the cross country course - very difficult course. I suggest bringing extra food, water and clothing as it will probably take a long time to get through the whole thing. Good luck!
— John Caletti, Caletti Cycles
Custom Bicycles Handmade in Santa Cruz, California

* "I am impressed that you're riding Downieville."
Dwight Follien, survivor of  many broken ribs and concussions from mt. bike riding/racing
* Dwight being "impressed" makes me more nervous than anything. Except maybe for the red-lettered note on the Downieville Classic website:

"Be prepared for adverse trail conditions, including deep and fast moving water crossings and snow drifts. We will be removing all downed trees from the course and installing drainages, however we will not be shoveling snow from the trail. This year will be Classic!"

Wish me luck and feel free to send me advice here!

Enhanced by Zemanta

Friday, July 02, 2010

Turning Badass in the Badlands: Mountain Bike Trip on the Maah Daah Hey with Western Spirit

I was inspired to mountain bike in North Dakota after a random encounter with a woman with hot pink hair, a pierced tongue and great attitude. I bumped into Gnat Harris, an acquaintance I hadn't seen for a year, at Sea Otter Classic in Monterey, California in May. She told me she was going on a guided fat tire trip in North Dakota with Western Spirit in June and suggested I sign up too. So I did.
Karen Kefauver is ready to ride!
Photo credit: Jereme Rauckman
  Western Spirit guide Emily leads the way on the Maah Daah Hey Trail; Jereme follows.
Photo credit: Karen Kefauver

Three other factors inspired my North Dakota trip this summer:
1. Western Spirit - The 5-day, 4-night camping and mountain bike tour in North Dakota was organized and led by Western Spirit, a Moab-Utah based company I like and trust. I had toured with them once before on Colorado Trail singletrack. (Here's the story I wrote on that epic trip for Singletrack Magazine). The only drawback, potentially, of rejoining this company was pigging out; the guides are famous for being fantastic cooks and this trip was no exception!
2. Badlands - I loved the name "Badlands" so I had to see for myself what the terrain was like. I was pleasantly surprised: it was more beautiful than I had expected. I loved the lush green grass of the flat meadows *but not the mud* and the rock formations were colorful and spectacular. With five full days of riding, I felt like I was doing interval training: there were short, steep uphills frequently. Maybe just one day with a significant sustained climb. Rolling terrain is the best way to describe it!
3. Good story potential: I had never visited North Dakota, and was curious to see what I would find in America's "friendliest state." It is also one of the least populated states. I often write about my sports and travel adventures (here is my website) and was further inspired to go on this trip because it's off the beaten track for many mountain bikers - and travelers in general.

My North Dakota Photos: Here are my shots from the Maah Daah Hey Trail, which is more than 100 miles long and connects the northern and southern units of Theodore Roosevelt National Park. Part of the Missouri River Plateau, the Badlands of North Dakota were formed by thousands of small streams working their way through hundreds of feet of sediment over millions of years. The trail travels through the grasslands, on top of the mesas and then dips in and out of the canyons. 

 Western Spirit Guide Simon Stewart points out the trail to cyclists Kathy of New York City, Rich of Chicago, Illinois, Nate of Eau Claire, Wisconsin and Gnat of Redwood City, California. 
Photo Credit, above, and below: Karen Kefauver

Enhanced by Zemanta