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Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Epiphany Ride

This Saturday I had an epiphany about Gary Erickson, the founder and owner of Clif Bar.


Every year Gary hosts an Epiphany Ride. An epiphany is the crystalline moment when a thought…becomes more than just an idea. Such a thought by its very existence can alter the reality in which it occurs, forever cleaving the world into halves, one in which the world remains as it was and another in which the world will be dramatically changed.

Gary’s Epiphany Rides commemorate a ride he had taken with a friend years earlier. One hundred miles into that ride Gary decided that he could not, would not, should not take another bite out of a certain malt nut flavored energy bar he had been eating.

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Gary and his wife Kit...

There had to be a better alternative. And with that thought, Clif Bar was born.

Recognizing that every rider and each ride is different, Gary organizes rides of 150, 100, 50 and 30 miles so that everyone has a chance to experience an epiphany during the day. Then the riders all gather for a huge dinner and bragging session. I’ve always wanted to go on one of Gary’s Epiphany Rides. But, usually there is a conflict with a film shoot, race, or a Red Bull event. One year I was all ready to ride, but had had a knee surgery a couple weeks earlier so I could do was roll from the start a little and come right back, straight to the beer tent and wait for all the other riders to tell me how great it was.

This year I had ambitious plans to do the 150 mile ride. Mark, my husband, and I drove our VW bus from San Luis Obispo up to Napa where Gary’s ranch sits among the hills above the small town of St. Helena. It was a six hour drive, so around midnight we pulled over to one of the narrow turnouts on the winding country road just a few miles from where the ride would begin in the morning.

At 4:00 am when we were supposed to wake up I hit the snooze button. And again at 4:15. And 4:30. (For the last few weeks I’ve been sick…over training I think)

In our sleeping bags I promised Mark that if he let me sleep until 6:00 I’d get up, get dressed and so we could do the 100 mile ride which was supposed to start at 8:00.

A little while later in the dark outside, I heard the clanking of gears. The whirr of rubber on asphalt. And the heavy breathing of bike riders. We were brushing our teeth.

Though I was embarrassed that I wasn’t among them myself, I scrambled out to stand on the side of the road and cheer them on.

“Allez! Allez!” Mark and I, still in our less than formal underthings, called out after the riders, Gary among them. Their lights all pointed our way and Gary screamed, “Hey, hurry and get dressed! You can catch up!”

I’ve got a cool boss. That’s my recurring epiphany.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

2005 NORBA National Championships- Mammoth

A lot of celebrating this weekend in mammoth. Congrats to all the 2005 Champions!

This was Luna Chick Alison Dunlap’s last race, thirteen years after she began her pro mountain biking career right here in Mammoth. Alison will now have more time energy to focus on personal coaching with Carmichael Systems and her growing Adventure Camps. She will quickly be inducted in the Hall of Fame. Two time Olympian. World Champion. Numerous American Championships. Cyclocross, and Road championships, too. I’m surprised that she never wanted to try downhilling, too.

Well, maybe not.

Proud to say my other teammate, Shonny Vandlandingham, won the short track title. She was minutes away from winning the Red, White and Blue jersey for the cross country too, but moments after thinking to herself, “I got this one!” she sort of flatted, stacked, and hiked-a-biked across the finish line to a disappointing 4th.

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Alison Dunlap at the NORBA National Championships in Mammoth...

Mary McConneloug, Alison, and Willow Koerber slipped past Shonny’s carnage for first, second and third. Jeremy Horgan-Kobelski kept Todd Wells at bay and took the men’s title.

In the men’s short track, Adam Craig blasted to the finish after attacking the upside-down mountain cross course on the last lap. I was rooting for him, especially after seeing him race the Single Speed Worlds in tight cut-off denim shorts and no shirt!

In the downhill my other teammate, Kathy Pruitt, was flying down the course on her way to a sure win and flipped over the handlebars in the rock garden, but was able to compose herself enough to garner second place. Melissa Buhl put together a clean and smooth run to earn her first Red, White and Blue jersey.

Cody Warren won the men’s downhill, beating fellow occasional blogger and unusually literate for a downhiller Chris Van Dine by 8 seconds. Next year it’s yours, Chris!

In the mountain cross, current World Champ and Red Bull rider Jill Kintner surprised no one by winning another championship. Buhl and Pruitt rounded out the podium for second and third. Eric Carter handily won the mens’ race, vindicating himself from an injury-riddled season.

A few legends did more than just show up to this event. John Tomac won the Kamikaze, beating names like Sam Hill and Chris Kovarik. Ned Overend podiumed in the men’s pro cross country, getting 5th and beating lots of current 20-something year old pros.

Many people asked me if I was going to try for another title or two. Even though I was registered, I decided not to race the Marathon (which Gretchen Reeves rode away with) or the Super D, (which Kelli Emmitt ended up winning), because I wanted to concentrate on a new discipline which Elke Brutsaert and I introduced into the sport:

The No Fear Extreme Downhill Tandem Folding Bike Class. We won. But because the event was for “exhibition purposes only” NORBA forgot to make us special jerseys! We griped about that back at Alison’s retirement party until all the alcohol was gone.

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Elke Brusaert in the Extreme Tandem after Marla had fallen off. Photo by Tom Moran.

One more congratulatory note goes out to Katerina Hanusova, the Luna Czech Chick”, who was married this past weekend in her hometown to studly pilot Marcus. Sorry guys, she’s now officially taken!

*Note: For complete results, go to

Monday, September 12, 2005


Over the weekend I was at a (surprise!) mountain bike race. The Cougar Mountain Classic at Sears Point in Napa.

I wasn’t there to race, but instead to provide TV commentary for Fox Sports Network. I’m a decent mountain biker, which in no way suggests that I have any idea how to provide commentary during a bike race.

The race organizers had assembled a wagonful of mountain bike pioneers and Hall of Famers for me to “interview”. Gary Fisher, Otis Guy, Charlie Kelly, and Alan Bonds. These are people I know and admire and while we were taping I could not think of a thing to say.

However, I occasionally possess an uncanny ability for the illustrative historical anecdote, witty non-sequitor, or keen insight...but only later when the audience is me, myself and I.

I’ll be out on a grocery/video store ride and another biker will wave and yell, “Hey Marla... Run into any trees lately?”

I can’t think of anything to say so I just grunt and focus on my cadence.

On the way home, my messenger bag stuffed with organic milk, free range chicken, growers’ cooperative decaf coffee, I’ll cough out something lame like, “No, but I’m trying to save a few!”

During the six hour drive home from the bike race, I was able to think up a litany of penetrating questions, funny follow ups and concluding epigrams. I was so entertaining that I even turned down the radio so I could listen to myself better.

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Fat Tire Flyer...

Charlie Kelly, who raced the very first documented mountain bike event in history, had handed me a grip of old “Fat Tire Flyers” saying, “Here, take ’em. I was the editor. I printed way too many and have been moving ‘em around my house from pile to pile for twenty years. I thought that they were going to be valuable someday.” He shrugged.

But, did I utter a single comment? Did I say anything of note at all? My “thank you” for the mags was polite, but not prolix.

Last night at home in bed I thumbed through Flyers. They were a bit brittle, and thin. Mostly high school year book photo quality. Hand drawn cartoon ads for Famer John Tires and for cloth covers to protect brake assemblies from mud.

Right there on the cover of one of the staple bound 1984 ‘zines was Dave Mac, my team coordinator! I had no idea he was so old school. Rigid forks. Steel frame. Toe clips. And check out those high-thigh tight shorts. His velo cap turned backwards gangsta style!

I was getting sleepy, but then a thought popped into my head. I squinted at the cover once more. Oh yeah. There was Steve Tilford. And Stetina. And...Jimmy Deaton.

I shut off the light, dropped the Flyers to the floor beside the bed, and twisted into the pillow.

For just a second there flitted the kernel of a funny comment that I could have made at the interview. Something about a ‘safety meeting’. But then, the thought was gone.

I guess that’s why I’m only mountain biker.

NOTE: If you’re on the West Coast, check out the coverage of the Cougar Mountain Classic on Fox Sports Net on October 1st.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Surfing by bike

Several weeks ago, my 1989 VW Vanagon camper bus, with only 283,000 miles on it, broke down 25 miles from Downieville on the way home from the Hell Ride.

Not a big deal. As a bus owner you get used to that.

I already use my bike for errands, to visit friends, go to the movies or dinner etc.

So for the last four weeks I have “upped” my training miles, and altered some of my “work outs”. And made some other minor adjustments.

One adjustment that I hadn’t contemplated was how to go surfing.

I haven’t enjoyed surfing since the bus broke. Not that I actually surf as much as I paddle out, get pummeled, and paddle out again. But, it’s the principle.

I tried clutching the long board under my arm, but if I pedaled faster than a geezer the wind would catch the board and I’d spin out of control like a chopper going down.

I tried balancing it on my head. The flying nun made it look easy. It isn’t.

Tried lashing it to my B.O.B. Trailer. That might work for Kelly Slater’s 'dagger’ but not my 8 foot floater. Not even with a skateboard bungied under the skegs.

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Marla with her surf rig...

Even so, one afternoon I pedaled that board halfway to the beach, when I realized I had forgotten my wet suit. By the time I had struggled back home I was too frustrated to head out again.

Once I did walk the whole way. I started out wearing my wetsuit. Carrying it seemed like just one more thing. Black wet suits a mile from the beach under the August sun are hot. Just a few minutes into my surf safari, I was sprawled out on the shoulder of the road squirming out of my now wet only-on-the-inside suit.

I turbaned my sweaty suit on top of my head and it worked out pretty well as a cushion under my board. And the board did provide some shade.

But my spindly deltoids and tiny triceps were throbbing before I dipped a toe into the water. My back ached a little bit, too. And my neck was stiff.

Huffing home was such a travail that I hid the suit and board behind some bushes on the dunes, and later pedaled back out to rescue them. First the board, then another trip back for the wetsuit.

Not my best surfing sojourn.

My bus is now finally around the corner at the specialist’s. The injectors or the CPU or something else expensive I’m sure to find out.

As a Cyclist, my broken down bus wasn’t too much of a hassle.

As a Surfer, it really sucked.

*NOTE: If anyone's interested, I've offered a comment below to last week's many observations, opinions, criticisms, and rebuttals.