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Barbarella: The Barbara Howe diary

Just as Barbarella bumps through the universe, comically oblivious to the dangers and threats being thrust at her, Barbara Howe has had a few misadventures of her own. After an illness-filled season in 2006, the 31 year-old Velo Bella rider is working to get her fitness back in 2007. Although 'cross is still the favorite discipline of the Marin County, California resident, Howe is returning to action by racing her mountain bike. When not training on and around Mt Tamalpais, she keeps busy cooking and sewing.

Follow the fortunes of this free-spirited individual here on Cyclingnews.

August 1, 2007

Heading for the hills

Headed for adventure
Photo ©: Barb Howe
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This weekend it was back to my favorite swimming hole, back to the mountains and the Downieville Classic. I've been fired up about this race since I started riding again this past winter. This race is of the old school epic variety--point to point with loads of climbing and descending in between.

I've also been excited to go back to my favorite swim hole in the Yuba River. Friday morning my legs felt heavy and slow, so I cut my normal prep ride in half. Sam, Rachel Lloyd's boyfriend joined me for the drive up. He chose Downieville for his first cross country race and only owns a single speed mountain bike. We stopped at Ikeda's in Auburn for fruits, veggies and cookies before heading into the mountains. I bought a bag of the best nectarines ever. No joke, these were like eating pure ambrosia straight off the dessert cart on Mt. Olympus. They were much better than the cookies, and I have a terrible fondness for cookies.

Long Lake
Photo ©: Barb Howe
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Next stop was the swimming hole on the Yuba and not a moment too soon, the heat was starting to make me cranky. The water was still cool and clear and this time Sam and I did a bit of exploring down river. We could float from pool to pool in deeper rapids or get out of the water and hop along sun baked granite boulders when the rapids were too shallow. Sometimes I'd spot trout circling the deeper pools, other times my swimming disturbed water bugs flitted across the surface on their endless aquatic travails. We finally made it to our forested campsite in the early evening and met up with Rachel just in time for dinner.

Saturday was clear and sunny, what better way to start a race. The race starts up a long steady grade on a paved road that turns into a gravel road then into a loose rocky road. It's a mass start event--all pro's, singlespeeds, and experts start at the same time. I pushed up as far as possible trying to keep an eye on the other female competitors. I can't remember if there was a whistle, a gunshot or just some one yelling go, but the group surged forward, stopped, surged and stopped again before we really got rolling. This seemed a prudent time to move up as quickly as possible to avoid later traffic jams and people stopping on the hill in front of you.

Swimming in the yuba
Photo ©: Barb Howe
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Slow speed dodging and weaving brought me up to Rachel, then slightly in front of her. When the loose road kicked up, I lost traction and ended up trudging a section of hill, Rachel rode past me and that was the last I saw of her. At the first feed station, I heard one of the volunteers say second female into his radio, sweet, not a bad place to be. Just when you think the climb is over it kicks up again. I was able to make use of all the guys around me by jumping onto the tail end of a paceline on the fast fire roads sections. There were loads of spectators at the highest point in the race, it would've been nice to enjoy the view but no time for that today.

More fire road descending led to my least favorite section of the course: the babyheads. Several minutes of loose fire road filled with babyhead size rocks. You basically get tossed here and there and hope to get through without dinging a rim or tearing a tire. This is where I started to really think about getting a full suspension bike as I stood up the entire section and watched guys pass me sitting down. The babyheads finally ended and as the trail smoothed out. My speed went up. The rest of the race was spent ripping along narrow winding singletrack, crossing streams and sucking in loads of dust. Only a few minor climbs interrupted the otherwise downhill run.

My favorite swimming hole
Photo ©: Barb Howe
(Click for larger image)

Noticing landmarks that meant the race was nearly over, I had another race to overcome, finish riding before the bonk. I had eaten all of my gels and was getting signal flares from my stomach that it needed food soon. The last bit of riding along pavement into Downieville was with shaking hands and the start of tunnel vision. Once in Downieville there was all sorts of fun to be had. The race organizers provided a spaghetti lunch, free beer from Sacramento Brewing company and Chris King himself cooked up tasty fajitas for hungry racers. The awards weren't until after the river jumping contest. A long runway with a ramp on the end was set up on the Yuba and contestants jumped off and landed in the water. After awards it was time to go back to the campsite and get some sleep before the next days adventures.

Since I had registered too late to participate in the All Mountain race (combined cross country and downhill times), I chose a different adventure for the day. I headed up to Long Lake with the intention of taking a nice mellow ride to a lake, swimming, then heading home. With my swim suit in hydration pack and a bunch of food, I took off on the Grassy Lake trail. The riding lasted for a few feet before the first obstacle had me off and walking. Little bits of riding interspersed with large bits of walking characterized the majority of my ride.

I haven't done that much walking with my bike in a long time. The highlight of the walk/ride was summitting Mt. Elwell after a half-mile talus walk followed by a three-quarter mile push to the top. The backside of the mountain was fun fast singletrack that blasted through stands of pines and idyllic meadows. It almost made up for the long walk but not quite. By Sunday afternoon, I was completely exhausted and ready to sit in traffic on the way home. By some minor miracle the traffic was somewhere else that day, and I only came to a complete stop once on the freeway.

Now it's time for several loads of laundry and a major bike cleaning before heading off to Vermont for National Championships.

Take care.


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Images by Barb Howe