01: Peeling Back the Layers
Gravel race happenings meet life learnings.
Friends, family, sponsors, fellow racers – and whoever else may find their way here – welcome to my newsletter! Gravel racing has already kicked off here in California, and it has me dreaming of the rest of the season: traveling to new places, meeting people, racing new races, and learning more about this sport (and myself) and where in the world I want to go with it. With this newsletter, I’ve created a space where I can peel back the layers a bit – where I can reflect and share insights about my experiences, the connections I make, and things I learn. I don’t quite know where this journey will lead, and there’s something beautiful about that. So I invite you to follow along with me – enjoy!
Race Happenings - The Rock Cobbler
Let’s run it back a few weeks. I kicked off the start of my 2022 season with a win (!!) at The Rock Cobbler, down in Bakersfield, CA. This race was one of the first gravel races I’d ever done – and my first ever win in the “Pro” women’s category. So returning in 2022 felt like something of a no–brainer. Partially because I’m a creature of habit, but mostly because a couple of weeks ago I was really feeling the itch to race.
After a December filled with lots of backcountry skiing and hours on the trainer in Vermont, followed by a January of base miles in the Bay area, it seemed like it was time to switch things up again. Don’t get me wrong - I’ve loved my routine as of late. In fact, I’ve never felt happier to be putting in so many miles in the place I’ve come to call home over the past couple of years. My “commute” over the golden gate bridge has felt less mundane than it used to feel. I wake up craving my bike. Feeling it slip under my body, and hearing the sound of my cleats click into my pedals, has become the most reassuring experience. Time seems to escape for a brief period, and I’m left with the feeling that everything around me is unfolding exactly as it’s supposed to.
But enough philosophizing about bikes – back to Rock Cobbler. In the days leading up to the event, I began to realize how much I’d missed the entire experience of racing. From deciding what tires to run (Specialized Pathfinder Pro 42’s!) and scoping out the course on Strava, to feeling those pre-race jitters as you stand in the porta-potty line wondering if you’re going to miss your start or not – there’s just nothing that can replicate this outside of, well, actually racing. So yes, while I spent my Friday night driving 4 hours to stay in a La Quinta hotel room by myself in Bakersfield of all places, I was delighted to do so.
After rolling out on a bike path for the first couple miles from town, followed by a few more miles of tarmac (nothing to write home about), the course before us turned to gravel. Gravel that meandered through rolling fields of bright green grass that seemed to stretch endlessly in every direction. Some of it gentle double track, some of it playful singletrack funneling through canyons, and some unclassifiable steep climbs as well – the notorious “run-ups” that the event has become known for. Roughly halfway through, during the longest climb of the day, I was struck by how unexpectedly beautiful the landscape was. The rolling hills had transformed into larger, rugged “mountains'', and I started to notice that wildflowers had begun to bloom. Cows grazed in the distance (or perhaps they were bulls? Check out this video in case you missed that action) begging the question… is this Bakersfield, California, or somewhere in the French Alps?
To have this shared experience is another beautiful part of racing that I love so much and I’m already looking forward to more early-season California racing with others who are as crazy as I am to ride races like The Rock Cobbler.
Featuring Skratch Labs Founder Allen Lim
I’ve curated a list of questions that I will be seeking answers to by people - athletes, race organizers, friends, etc - over the course of this season. They’re questions that I think about often and am seeking to answer myself. In each newsletter, I’ll be sharing a few answers from a new personality.
We all know Allen Lim - author, creator, coach, personality - and the founder of Skratch Labs and his popular cookbook series The Feed Zone with co-writer Biju Thomas - as well as from his work with a number of fantastic athletes over the years. Most recently he has started advising me in my training and nutrition so I figured he would be the perfect person to kick off this section. Let’s go!
MO: If you could travel anywhere in the world with your bike, where would you go and why?
AL: My relationship with the bike revolves around two things - food and exploration. So I love using the bike, not only to explore new places but to discover new food. With that in mind, I want to go riding in Taiwan. My family is from Fujian Province directly across from Taiwan on the mainland of China, so I understand the dialect. Not only do I want to explore my own heritage, but supposedly Taiwan is a place where you can ride and never bring food because there are street vendors everywhere. It’s a place I’ve never been and a place that seems to be a perfect intersection of food, travel, and riding.
MO: What keeps you up at night?
AL: What keeps me up right now is opening up the brick and mortar manifestation of the Skratch Labs food truck, that we are calling the Skratch Labs Cafe. For me, this is a big line in the sand - a bridge between science and practice. While I’ve always identified as a scientist, there’s a big difference between science and real-world practice. In my experience, the application of sport science means that you need to care, nurture, cook, clean, and facilitate. The Skratch Labs Cafe will not only give us a space to do that, but it will give me an entire team to help facilitate the hospitality that’s needed to help athletes be their best. Ultimately, I’ve learned that it’s better to have a team behind you than to be a lone wolf and I’m so excited for the cafe because it gives me a physical place, infrastructure, and a team to help me take care of our community and the athletes in that community.
MO: What would you do if you knew you couldn’t fail?
AL: I’ll start my answer to this question with a quote by Pablo Neruda. “If nothing can save us from death, may love save us from life.” When I think about what is truly important, it’s relationships and people; it’s love and connection. But it’s also really scary. I’ve always been ambitious, and I’ve never been afraid to fail at the “normal” things society expects from you - school, career, etc. I have this narrative in my head that I can do whatever the hell I want and be successful. Unfortunately, success isn’t about being the headstrong individual and neither is love, which means I’m not in control anymore. So, what would I do if I knew I could not fail? I would fall in love.
While I love a cold hazy IPA at the end of a race, I have to admit that wine has become my preferred alcoholic beverage of choice over the past couple of years. I’m far from an expert, but I hope to learn and cultivate a more refined palette as I explore this unfurling interest of mine.
This week I’ve been drinking a Gamay Noir from Arnot-Roberts winery in Healdsburg, CA. I attended the Grasshopper Huffmaster race last weekend - this is the wine from this video. One fun thing I love about the Grasshopper races is that they always give out podium wine bottles! I had never heard of Gamay Noir before - it’s a light-bodied variety that’s very similar to Pinot Noir, with fruity undertones and aromas. Pairing this bottle with some delicious homemade pizza (made in my friend’s Ooni pizza oven - highly recommend!) the day after the event was the perfect recovery for my race hangover. Realizing that sounds a bit ironic as I write this…
That's all she (me!) wrote. This weekend I'm heading up to the Mount Shasta Gravel Hugger for another fun event, and next week I'm hopping on a plane to my first major race outside of California - The Mid South in Stillwater, Oklahoma. Stay tuned for more Professionally Interested interviews and wine... definitely more wine ;)