Q&A With Cris Rothfuss of The REAL Ride

Cross-country road trips are hard, even when you’re in a car. Biking across the country? You’d better have a pretty good reason. Cris Rothfuss and the rest of The REAL Ride team definitely do. On August 1, this small group of cyclists will head out from Seattle and spend a handful of months crossing a minimum of 14 states, stopping in three other major cities en route to Boston. They’ll be living on two wheels, spending days in the saddle, and pedaling through rainforest, rocky mountains, dry desert, great plains, fertile valleys, and bustling metropolises. Luckily for them, they have a good motivator acting as a tailwind.

We sat down with Rothfuss to hear a little more about her plans.

Rothfus during a practice ride. | Courtesy: The REAL Ride
Rothfuss during a practice ride. | Courtesy: The REAL Ride

goEast: Cycling has been a pretty big part of your life. What drew you to that?

Cris: I grew up in Coventry, Rhode Island, the oldest of three sisters in a tight-knit family. I went to Yale and then UConn School of Law. I grew up playing team sports, including basketball and track and field at Yale. I’ve always cherished being part of a team, and consider those experiences as among the most meaningful and formative of my life.

After tearing my ACL playing basketball in college, I bought a 10-speed bike as part of my rehab. I loved it. Later on, I raced bicycles in three disciplines: road, mountain bike, and cyclocross. Cyclocross was my strongest event, and I ended up racing at the national elite level.

goEast: What do you do when you’re not on your bike?

Cris: Outside of competitive sports, I’ve enjoyed hiking and mountaineering, including having summited all 48 White Mountain 4,000-footers, Mount Katahdin, and Mount Rainier. I also have enjoyed sailing with my family, backcountry skiing, snowshoeing, all manner of water sports, and really anything that gets me outdoors.

And, I like giving back. I consider myself a fortunate human being, and am deeply interested at this point in my life in paying forward. I designed The REAL Ride to be something not only bold and ambitious, but something that could make a positive impact for others. All of us on the team view The REAL Ride as existing at the intersection of seeking adventure and making the world a better place.

bushwhacking

goEast: But, biking across the country? That’s a big step. What made you think that was something you wanted to do?

Cris: My family had a rough year in 2014. In the span of five months, we lost both of my parents and my uncle to a series of illnesses and accidents. In early 2015, one of the things I found comforting and therapeutic was to ride my bike. I had stopped racing by then, and started riding longer and longer distances, usually on gravel.

In early 2016, someone sent me an article about a cross-country bike ride, and I was struck with a compulsion to do something similar, although, I realized almost immediately, I wanted the ride to mean something bigger than myself—to honor my parents and all the boldness and ambition they had instilled in me and my sisters, and to make some positive impact in the world. The seeds for The REAL Ride had been planted.

Cris' bike with Ortlieb bags

goEast: You went beyond your own personal story for motivation, though. What was the rest of the “bigger meaning” you were able to assign to The REAL Ride?

Cris: We are raising awareness and funding for the efforts of a group of alternative high schools—Boston Day & Evening Academy (in Boston), Interagency Academy (in Seattle), Emily Griffith High School (in Denver), Milford Success Academy (in Cincinnati), and C.B. Community Schools (in Philadelphia)—as well as the students, who make their way to the doorsteps of these schools, having recognized that an education is the key to changing their futures.

goEast: Who are these kids?

Cris: They are young adults who have had a rough time in life, including in getting through high school. They got off track, often due to circumstances not of their own making. And, yet they persevere, and find their way to a high school degree, the alternative, rigorous way. Their own words more powerfully describe who they are.

Dan-Perri-Jay-Erin at team training camp

goEast: So, you talk about the route you chose to take across country as being somewhat “unconventional.” How did you come up with it?

Cris: Instead of following one of the established (i.e. paved) routes, we chose to pioneer a new route across the country, focusing as much on dirt as possible. The route tracks through the locations of our five partner schools in Seattle, Denver, Cincinnati, Philadelphia, and Boston, and is unconventional for that reason alone. It’s not the most direct route!

Starting with those points, and without the ability to scout in advance, we then researched “validated” segments that connect those points: Sections of dirt routes already established by others that we could stitch together between our target cities. We then filled in the gaps with our own mapping.

We’ll start on the John Wayne Pioneer Trail and the railroad beds that extend contiguously from it further east, all the way to Missoula. After some “gap filling,” we’ll pick up Adventure Cycling Association’s excellent and well-established Great Divide Mountain Bike Route almost all of the way to Denver. There’s a bit of “gap filling” we worked out with the help of local friends between Kremmling, Colorado, and Denver.

In the Midwest, we’ll spend over 500 miles roughly tracking the historical Pony Express Trail, on a route under development pioneered by Jan Bennett, with whom we connected through Ride With GPS. We followed this approach to stitch established and “fingers crossed” segments all the way home.

We’d be lying, however, if we didn’t admit that we’re scrambling to finish up the eastern portion of the route! We expect to hit snags and surprises on this route, but that’s the nature of pioneering. We’ll adjust on the fly.

team at party

goEast: Who’s “we?”

Cris: Four other riders who fit the bill of being deeply experienced and capable of such a ride, able to make it work in their lives and jobs, able to contribute positively to team chemistry, and crazy enough to say yes to this. In particular, they are Erin Abrahams, a veterinarian and Army veteran, with the world’s most infectious smile; Perri Mertens, a fellow ex-cyclocross racer and graphic and web designer extraordinaire, responsible for our digital presence and ride logo; Dan St. Croix, a visual display artist for Urban Outfitters, a fine artist, [and] a throw-back soul with a heart of gold and legs of steel; and Jay Vasconcellos, owner of Solstice Skateboarding in New Bedford, MA, a boarding legend, [and] salt of the earth [person].

goEast: The grit that it takes to be on the road for that long has to be pretty serious. What are you expecting that to be like?

Cris: We will be averaging 65 miles per day riding (some days more, some less), and we are equipped to camp much of the time.

Each team member has a Big Agnes tent, either the Copper Spur or the Fly Creek; these make terrific anchors for our individual sleeping systems. We have a mix of JetBoil and MSR WhisperLite stoves for personal cooking. While we have a SAG vehicle that will find us at the end of most days, we’re prepared to ride “fully loaded” and be self-sufficient in some of the more remote regions where van accessibility is not guaranteed. Ortlieb USA generously provided full bike-packing bag and rack set-ups for our frames, and we’ve been blown away in our testing with how excellent they are.

That being said, the van gives us a “base camp,” so we’ll also have a two-burner camp stove, a GSI Outdoors Base Camper cook set, a huge supply of freeze-dried food generously donated by Mountain House, and other amenities to ease such a long-term trip. Oh, and we’ve budgeted rest days and some nights in motels, so we’re not totally crazy!

Cris' Seven Cycles Evergreen

goEast: Is there anything you’re really worried about?

There is an inordinate fear of bears and snakes on this team! We were looking forward to the two-mile-long Snoqualmie Tunnel before someone mentioned aggressive gopher snakes. Just what the heck?

We’re also extremely mindful of nutrition. Sourcing and consuming the appropriate fuel and hydration for this extended, arduous ride is going to be a full-time focus. We have good guidance and help in this regard, but still…it’s a concern.

goEast: What are you most excited about?

Cris: Experiencing vast western vistas—practically a foreign land for this band of New Englanders. Taking in the diversity and breadth of this country, from an off-the-beaten-track vantage point, at a pace that allows absorption and contemplation of the experience.

 

Follow The REAL Ride on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, and visit their website to learn more and find out how to support them!

Then, check back to goEast later next month to follow their progress!


How to Make a Custom Map

Even in the age of GPS devices and cell phones that can pinpoint your location within feet, nothing is as simple, useful, and trustworthy as a good map. But maps haven’t been immune to the same technological advances that brought us our fancy electronics.

Rather than visiting a store to search through set USGS Quads, atlases, or pre-set maps, today’s adventurers have the ability to customize their own to their exact specifications. The type of map, its details, the trails and points displayed on it, and its area can all be tweaked and adjusted, so that when you head outside, you have the exact combination you need. To make your own, the data is out there, if you can figure out how to put it together.

What are “layers?”

Layers are map sections that can be examined on their own or, through a program, overlaid onto another map to compare and contrast details. For example, when you visit Google Maps, you can choose between street maps, satellite images, and even terrain. By adding traffic conditions or bicycle routes, you’re overlaying one layer on top of another to view even more data.

There are almost too many types of map layers to count, but these are some of the most commonly used ones:

goeast-google

Google Maps

With 1 billion monthly users, Google Maps is probably the most well-known mapping site. It offers three different layers, including Street, Terrain, and Satellite, and has a few additional ones that can be turned on and off, including bike paths and traffic.

If you are trying to get to or return from the trailhead, Google Maps is definitely the best choice for avoiding the traffic and then finding some food after. However, while it adds some vague trails, other stronger options can help you find your way in the outdoors.

goeast-usgs

USGS Topo

Using U.S. Geologic Survey data, the basis for decades’ worth of maps, the USGS topographical map is the most common layer for reading and navigating the outdoors. At a basic level, USGS maps show you roads, dirt roads, and trails, as well as clearings and many other manmade structures. Caltopo.com contains the full USGS map layer, which covers the entire country.

If you plan on traveling off the trail, a USGS or similar topographical map is a must-have for navigation. As you’re outdoors, use the elevation and land features to keep track of your position.

To add to the information you get from the USGS’ basic topo lines, layer in slope shading. Slope shading highlights based on the slope angle, which then shows where hills and mountains get more or less steep and helps you identify cliffs for rock and ice climbing. For backcountry skiers and snowboarders, this feature assists with planning approaches and descents while minimizing avalanche risk.

goeast-satellite

Satellite and Aerial Imagery

Satellite images show texture and visual details that most map layers can’t capture. If you plan to check out specific terrain features or vegetation cover, this type assists with examining these facets more closely. Both Google and Bing Maps have satellite imagery, but the latter uses images from late winter or early spring. This combination allows you to see through the canopy and get more detail in the forests than you would from summertime-only images. As a result, you can look at the area around the cliff to identify trails that might not be mapped otherwise—a benefit to rock climbers looking for approach and descent trails.

Bing maps also have bird’s-eye view aerial imagery, and Google Maps offers a 3D function. Both options create more up-close imagery and provide a perspective different from straight satellite views. In the outdoors, bird’s-eye view can be useful for inspecting cliff faces for climbing routes or even looking at new areas in more detail before you make the trip out.

As another asset, Caltopo lets you layer topo maps over a satellite image to see contour lines on top. Doing so might help you make better sense of an otherwise-2D image—for instance, before finding climbing slides in places like the Adirondacks. First, the satellite images allow you to see the slide itself and pick out your route, and then, the topo map adds terrain information and even trails before and after.

goeast-mapbuilder

Map Builder Topo

Map Builder Topo is a Caltopo layer that uses USGS contours as a base, but then adds in a huge number of up-to-date trails and other waypoints. This layer is helpful for figuring out the best trails to get to where you want to go.

Caltopo allows you to add lines and waypoints, which can be measured for distance and elevation gain. If you are planning a hike, trail run, or even a paddle and want to know the route statistics, this tool gives you a good start. One fault, however, is it makes no distinction between hiking and biking trails. Thus, if you use it to go exploring with your bike, you might find yourself on gnarly terrain or trespassing on hiking-only trails.

goeast-opencycle

OSM Bike

The Open Cycle layer uses many of Map Builder’s trails, but softens the contours. Here, color-coded brown and blue indicate hiking and biking trails, respectively. As a result, this tool is essential for developing bike touring and bikepacking routes.

In addition to trails, it also highlights popular roads for cycling, as well as bike paths and lanes. When you want to get off the bike, it indicates important landmarks, such as campgrounds, hotels, hospitals, bike shops, coffee shops, and breweries.

Keep in mind that Open Cycle Map is open source. As such, the cycling community constantly updates it with the latest trail information.

Almost all of the map layers above can be accessed on Caltopo.com, one of the many free online mapping sites. So, before you plan to visit an area, take the time to review each map layer’s specific details. In doing so, you might even find something worth traveling to on its own.

Make Your Map

After you’ve decided on the layers forming your map’s core, you can customize it even further. Caltopo.com allows you to add waypoints, tracks, and more facets, just like you would with GPS software like Garmin BaseCamp.

Then, once you have your map set up with all the data you might want on your hike, paddle, or climb, print it out yourself. Use Rite in the Rain or National Geographic waterproof printer paper for a durable, outdoor-ready map, and then, hit the trails!


Tuned Up: Your Spring Mountain Bike Walk-Around

If you’re like me, sometime over the next few weeks, you’ll be digging your mountain bike out of the basement, garage, or shed and hitting the trails for the first time since last fall. If you’re also like me, the last time you thought about your mountain bike was when you rode it way back in October or November.

Whether it’s the shorter days, the impending stoke of skiing, or just the fact that the seasons change too quickly, I seemingly never take the time or care to go through my bike before winter. Although it’s tempting to just dig your bike out of storage and go for a rip, a few simple actions before heading out on that first ride can set you up for a great season while preventing a lot of aggravation.

Credit: Mark Turner
Credit: Mark Turner

Clean Up Your Act

The first thing to consider is some spring cleaning. Whether you buried your mud-covered bike in the back of the basement or gave it a good scrub before the off-season, a thorough washing now lets you start with a clean slate and makes the following steps significantly easier.

Cleaning your bike is pretty simple and can easily be done in the driveway or backyard. All you need is a hose, a stiff-bristled brush for components like cassettes and chains, a soft-bristled brush or sponge for your bike’s frame, and some dish detergent or bike wash.

One thing to remember when using a hose on your bike is, you want to avoid anything high pressure. Especially in sensitive areas like the headset, bottom bracket, and hubs, think gentle rain—not a fire hose. The great thing about washing your bike is that it’s the perfect activity for those first warm days of spring. You get psyched to ride as you wait for the end of mud season.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Get On a Roll

With your bike clean, now is the time to start visually inspecting it. A great place to begin is the tires. How is the tread? Is there much left? What about the knobs? Are they peeling off? While there is no “penny test” for mountain bike tires, a good rule of thumb is that if you’re questioning how much life they have left in them, it’s probably time for a new set.

After checking the tread, inspect them for any signs of damage. Make sure there are no small holes in the tread and no embedded objects. After that, go over the tires’ sidewalls to check for cuts and tears. Keep in mind that a damaged tire is never going to get any better, and nothing kills early-season stoke more than being plagued by flats. If you’re running tubeless tires, add in some of your favorite sealant before heading out.

Oh, and one more thing—don’t forget to inflate your tires before hitting the trail!

With your tires all set, give your rims a closer look to check for any dings or dents. Next, elevate the bike, and spin its wheels to make sure they don’t wobble.

As well, check the spokes to ensure none are loose. Wobbling and loose spokes mean your wheels need to be trued. If you don’t have a truing stand at home, bring your wheels to the shop before your first ride to prevent an unfortunate tacoing situation.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Don’t Stop Now

Before tackling the season’s first gnarly descent, first make sure your bike will stop. Most mountain bikes today are running disc brakes. These give pretty obvious cues when they need work, as, if they are out of alignment, they will make a scraping sound when the wheel spins. The silent enemy of many hydraulic disc brakes, however, is air building up in the fluid. While you can find a bunch of great resources online for bleeding your own brakes, the only thing I’ve ever accomplished by trying to do it is getting frustrated. Bring it to a pro—they get paid to be annoyed.

Now you’re ready to roll-check your bike’s brake pads. To do that, simply remove the wheel, and give them a look. Most pads start with 3 to 4mm of compound on them and should be replaced when they get to 1mm. Don’t feel like measuring? Take a peek at what new pads look like the next time you visit the bike shop to drool over your dream rig. If your pads have less than half of what you see on the new ones, replace them, and be amazed at how much better your bike stops.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Get Crankin’

Nothing sucks the joy out of getting back on your bike more than shifting issues. Before heading out on your first ride, examine the teeth on your cassette and chainrings to ensure none are bent or missing. Next, shift through the gears. Unless you shift, you shouldn’t hear any popping or skipping between cogs.

While you’re looking over the drivetrain, you should also check your chain length. If it’s stretched out, replace it. Remember, waiting to replace wearing drivetrain parts can be expensive, as a single worn part can accelerate the wear of other components. Also, nothing is more deflating than when a snapped chain has you mountain hiking instead of mountain biking.

With everything still clean, be sure to lube up the drivetrain before your first ride.

Credit: Mark Turner
Credit: Mark Turner

Suspension

You paid good money for your bike’s suspension, so make sure it’s in working order before you hit the trail. While much of your bike’s suspension requires an expert’s hand, a simple examination of your fork and shock seals (if you’re riding a full-suspension bike) can save you a lot of hassle down the road. If the seals either look to be dry and cracking or have fluid buildup, it’s probably time to get your suspension serviced.

If you’re riding a full-suspension mountain bike, having all of the bushings greased and tightened is good preventative maintenance. Doing this now is an easy way to avoid excessive wear and expensive fixes later. Sadly, this can be a complicated job, and is most easily left to your local bike shop. With the bushings ready for a season of abuse, set the sag, and be ready to roll.

Don’t Forget To Accessorize

Did you take an epic fall last season? Before heading out, scrutinize your helmet’s condition. If it’s had any significant impacts or any cracks, it’s time for a new one. Helmet technology seems to improve every year, allowing them to vent better while providing more protection. These days, you can get a helmet with MIPS technology, which reduces the impact to your brain in the event of an accident, for under a hundred dollars.

The type of person who discovers their bike still covered in last season’s mud is the same kind of person who will find their hydration bladder with water still in it. Surprise—you’re growing something! Even if you did clean and dry your bladder before storing it, I like to pop a cleaning tablet in to make sure I am starting from a good place.

Since you have your hydration bag out, clean all of last season’s empty gel packets and energy bar wrappers out of it. Once you take out all of the junk, make sure your pack has a spare tube, a pump or CO2 inflator, a chain master link, a multitool, and a small first aid kit.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Let Us Do It

If you like riding more than working on your bike, or simply don’t feel comfortable doing everything yourself, bring it to one of EMS’ fantastic bike techs, and let them get you ready for the season! Just remember: You’re not the only one digging a bike out from behind a pile of skis, snowboards, and snowshoes this spring. So, the sooner you get your bike in the shop, the quicker it’ll be ready to hit the trail.

 

Of course, you could do what I’ve done for the majority of my mountain-biking life and just pull your bike out and ride it. But, that has never worked out particularly well for me. It’s amazing how spending just a few hours on maintenance before the season can save you hours of aggravation—and perhaps even add days of riding.


Winter-Summer Pairings: Shoulder Season Multisport Days

As we head into spring, many outdoor people find themselves conflicted on which sports to pursue. Should they get a head start on their favorite summer activities? Or, should they wring the last bit of life out of their favorite winter sports? Around this time each year, I find myself torn between the desire to get back on the trails (or rock) and—with the knowledge that, once the snow melts, it will be months before I can ski again—my love for spring corn. Luckily, New England is full of great opportunities for those of us who can’t decide what we want to do.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

1. Bag a 4,000-footer and ski the resort

New England springs often offer cold nights and warm days. This means the snow is firm in the morning and soft in the afternoon, so the ski trails aren’t always in prime condition until later in the day.

Waterville Valley is perfect for days like this! With the Tecumseh Trail leading directly from the Waterville Valley parking lot to Mount Tecumseh’s summit, you can tag a 4,000-footer in the morning and ski in the afternoon. Being the shortest of New Hampshire’s 4,000-footers, Mount Tecumseh is one of the easier hikes to tick off your list (roughly six miles round trip and with 2,500 feet of elevation gain). This leaves you with plenty of energy to enjoy the steep runs located off Waterville’s aptly named Sunnyside Triple trail in the afternoon.

Cliip a Dee Doo Dah (5.3) at Rumney. | Credit: Tim Peck
Cliip a Dee Doo Dah (5.3) at Rumney. | Credit: Tim Peck

2. Ski and send

Over the years, Cannon Mountain has developed a loyal following of skiers and boarders more interested in amazing terrain than in on-mountain amenities. If you’re like me and consider a chairlift an amenity, they even offer an $8 uphill pass that allows you to skip the lifts and skin uphill on designated trails. Even better, in good seasons, the mountain will close for the year with an abundance of snow still on it, offering great skiing for only the price of the calories and sweat it takes to get you to the top of it.

Coming from south of Franconia Notch in the spring, I love to blend a morning of earning my turns at Cannon Mountain with clipping bolts at Rumney on the way home. With an abundance of crags close to the parking lot, many of which get great afternoon sun, this trip is the perfect way to bid farewell to skiing and usher in climbing.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

3. Mount Wachusett, multisport playground

For years, I was lucky enough to live close to Mount Wachusett in Princeton, Massachusetts. While the mountain may be limited in terrain, it is in no way limited in opportunities for an incredible multisport spring day. Whether you’re skinning up the mountain before it opens, riding the lifts, or lucky enough to be getting turns after it has closed for the season, the skiing is almost always fun. As well, the mountain’s more limited terrain won’t have you feeling like you’re missing out as you leave to pursue other activities.

Much like Mount Tecumseh, Mount Wachusett’s summit is attainable simply by following trails leaving from the ski resort’s parking lot. Combining a morning on the slopes with a quick trek to the summit is a fantastic way to get your hiking legs under you without missing a chance to ski the soft spring snow. My favorite route has always been following the Balance Rock Trail to the Semuhenna Trail to the Harrington Trail to the summit.

Of course, as good as Mount Wachusett’s hiking trails are, the roads surrounding the mountain are basically tailor-made for cycling. After a morning on the slopes, I love to challenge myself with any number of loop rides that start in the ski resort’s parking lot and climb over the mountain. I like to descend Route 140 and hook up with Route 62. From Route 62, you can connect with Mountain Road to climb up and over Mount Wachusett.

If combining hiking or biking with skiing isn’t interesting enough for you, Mount Wachusett is also located only a few minutes down the road from Crow Hill, one of Massachusetts’ oldest and most notorious crags, and is roughly an hour away from some of New England’s most popular bouldering at Lincoln Woods in Rhode Island.

Although I am not big on playing in the water, one of my friends insists the ultimate multisport opportunity afforded by Mount Wachusett is the chance to play on frozen water in the morning and moving water in the afternoon. For those that don’t know, Mount Wachusett is roughly an hour away from popular surf spots in both Massachusetts and Rhode Island.

 

While spring is the season in which we say goodbye to our favorite winter sports and welcome in our summer activities of choice, there are a few magical weeks where your outdoor options are almost unlimited, making it perfect for the person who wants to do everything.


Tearing Up Attitash

Don’t overlook your own backyard, especially when it happens to be the majestic mountains of the Granite State. Pat Noonan, one of the North Country’s best riders, and friend Corey Smith, who has been living the Vanlife for four years, tackle an epic ride at the Bike Park at Attitash Mountain Resort in New Hampshire’s storied White Mountains.

Corey and his girlfriend, Emily King, have been crisscrossing the continent living, working and exploring in their 1987 VW Vanagon, with thousands following their adventures at Where’s My Office Now on Instagram, YouTube and Facebook. They’ve explored rides from the deserts of Arizona to the mountains of British Columbia.

When their travels returned Corey and Emily to their New England homes this fall, Corey connected with good friend, Pat, to navigate the 20 miles of Attitash’s amazing downhill and cross-country trails he had overlooked during his youth. Loading the van up, they pointed north for an awesome, wild day of roots, loam and granite, lots and lots of granite.


Women Who Crush It: Nichole Danis

Nichole Danis is crushing motherhood, the weekday grind, and every moment in between. The 41-year-old grew up in Plainfield, Conn., and now calls Canterbury home with her husband, two beautiful daughters (who will also be crushing it, sooner than later), two dogs, chickens, and a bunny to boot! Nichole and her family absolutely love the outdoors, staying active and getting the most out of every day.

WWCI Nichole Danis
All photos credit: Jennifer Langille

goEast: Who gave you the “bug” for being active outside?

Nichole: Would have to say that my love of the outdoors comes from my dad. As a child, my father was always involved in outdoor activities. I enjoyed seeing him excel in the sports he played, but I think the camaraderie with his friends was what I remember most. Besides playing softball, he also was an avid golfer, hunter, [and] fisherman and enjoys hiking. Today, he is in his 60s and still lives an active lifestyle.

WWCI Nichole Danis

20170116_Danis_Family_087

goEast: You don’t have the average job. Your daughters are equally passionate about living an active life, and your husband is just as driven. Can you tell us a little bit about finding time between work, family, and personal fitness goals?

Nichole: Well, I just celebrated my 15-year anniversary at Pfizer Pharmaceutical, where I’m a working supervisor in a high-output histology laboratory. It’s true: I have two very active daughters. Leah is 10 years old and participates in karate. Avery is 8 years old and plays soccer. They each participate typically twice a week. On top of their sports, they are also both involved in a local theater club.

My husband Matt and I have been happily married for 15 years. He is an avid cyclist. If he’s not on his bike in his spare time, then he is tinkering with them! If I am not at work or running my children to their activities, then you can usually find me tying up my laces for a run, jumping on my fat bike, or in the pool for a swim.

“Free time” is not a word we use a lot around our house! We are always in motion. I find it very important to make time for the things that make you feel good. I’m up at 4 a.m. each morning, put in an eight-hour day at work, and then squeeze in whatever exercise I can for myself.

Getting regular exercise is really important for me, so each year, I like to set a goal for myself. The goals over the past few years have been quite challenging, but [I am] extremely grateful to have a family who recognize just how important it is to me. They are my biggest cheerleaders!

Recent events I’ve completed include the Olympic Distance Triathlon, Half Ironman Triathlon, [and] Vermont 50 trail run, and last year, I biked up Mount Washington in the Mount Washington Auto Road Hillclimb. There are days when it is really challenging to train, or simply doesn’t fit in, but setting goals makes me get out. It becomes something that I almost have to do, and I secretly like having that pressure to get it done!

WWCI Nichole Danis

WWCI Nichole Danis

 

goEast: While you’re crushing it across all points of interest here, can we also add you’re crushing the textbooks?

Nichole: Ha ha, yes, I’m pursuing a master’s degree in public health with a focus in nutrition. Thankfully, I can do this online! Might be a good time to talk about nutrition, which truly is a passion of mine! In the past, I would beat myself up a bit: “I’m not fast enough, strong enough, or have the energy I used to have; if I were only five pounds thinner,” etc. These are the things that would actually cross my mind! I have decided to let all of that go. Today, I focus on being healthy, happy, and want to be a positive role model for my girls. So, my kids make fun of me for drinking protein shakes and eating salads, but that’s okay.

Nutrition plays a huge role in how you feel and perform. I’ve learned my lesson the hard way! These days, I tend to eat a mainly plant-based diet; however, I incorporate lean proteins, such as chicken, fish, and beans. When I’m on the run, I’ll quickly throw together a shake. My favorite is chocolate protein powder, coconut water, [and] a tablespoon of peanut butter with a frozen banana. Yum! When out for a long ride or run, I choose Shot Bloks. They tend to be quick and easy to grab from a jersey pocket.

WWCI Nichole Danis

goEast: We’ve covered a lot of ground here, but one cannot “go east” without touching on the gear you cannot live without! Can you share, say, your three must-haves?

Nichole: Three items I just can’t live without…When I think about this question, the first thing that comes to mind is my winter wear! It doesn’t matter how cold it is, as long as you have the right gear. I have a heavy pair of tights that I wear for both running and riding. Another important item would be a reflective vest or coat (safety first!), and lastly, I need ear coverage. I’ve had the same two EMS headbands for close to 10 years!

WWCI Nichole Danis

goEast: OK, Nichole, it feels like a fairy tale, from supportive family to an incredible career and even grad school. We know this is just a snapshot, and it’s not always easy. What inspires you to get out of bed at 4 a.m.?

Nichole: What inspires me to get out of bed? Honestly, as much as I love being active, I also love the friendships I have through being active. For instance, I have regular running dates with my friend, Nicole. Not only will we get out for eight miles, [but] we will also catch up on all the craziness our lives have brought us that week. Most of my friends whom I exercise with are in the same boat. We are all trying to be good moms, and exercise helps us do just that.

Sounds funny, right? I have a feeling that many of you know what I am talking about. Exercise helps us feel better about ourselves. It releases stress and keeps us healthy. It gives us confidence and helps connect us with others who have the same interests. I just won’t spend an hour talking on the phone with friends but schedule some running or biking time, and we will have plenty of time to chat.

WWCI Nichole Danis

WWCI Nichole Danis

goEast: To wrap up our time together, do you mind sharing advice on how to stay inspired?

Nichole: Do what you love, and love what you do. If you don’t like running, then don’t run. There are so many other options. My knees just can’t handle another full marathon, but that’s okay. I enjoy getting on my bike more and have added more pool time. I guess that would be my advice to other women. Don’t beat yourself up or give up. Do what you like doing and have fun!

WWCI Nichole Danis


Women Who Crush It: Laura Drenen

Meet Western Massachusetts native Laura Drenen who is a true goEast gal at heart. Even after being seduced by the mountains of Colorado, Drenen found her way back East to the Green Mountains of Vermont. Through a balanced life, she manages to crush-it daily while being devoted to her career, husband, pup, and self.

Laura Drennen

Laura Drennen
All photos credit: Jennifer Langille

goEast: You are one of the busiest gals I know, crushing it from the yoga mat to the mountain, and every little bit in-between. Would you mind sharing with folks a little bit about what you do as a day job, the outdoor activities which inspire you the most to be outside, and your secret to finding the time to work and do what you love?

Laura: I am a Registered Nurse as well as a Nurse Practitioner, and have practiced in various settings including as an NP in orthopedics for almost 6 years. Currently working as a nurse at Copley Hospital in Morrisville, Vermont in the field of Oncology which I feel truly passionate about. I worked in this area previously and felt the desire to come back.

One of the reasons I love living and working in this area, I’m able to do the job I love while finding the balance to enjoy what really matters most to me. Unless I have the flu, you will find me outside playing. A typical day involves commuting to work on my bike, then returning home to fetch my dog Zoey. Depending on the time of year: mountain biking, skinning up any one of our local mountains, cross country skiing, and/or hiking. I practice yoga almost daily and when the weather is nice, I find a place to practice.

As for my “secret” – I’m very lucky to have an incredibly supportive partner in my husband, Noah. He supports my goals and visions for fitness. Shares the love of the outdoors. Luckily, we enjoy the same activities too!

Laura Drennen

Laura Drennen

goEast: Vermont was not always your home, in fact you lived out in Colorado for a bit and came back East. What drew you back?

Laura: Yes, I lived in Colorado for a couple of years but eventually made my way back East. Vermont was the natural stopping point because of it’s proximity to family and it being an outdoor enthusiast haven due to it’s natural playground. There are lots of little secret zones I love to bike and back country ski, each very close to my home. Feel like I could live here my entire life and never find all of the amazing places the Green Mountains have in terms of great hiking, biking, swimming, and skiing.

I learned to mountain bike in western Mass where, believe it or not, the biking is super rugged. There are so many exposed rocks and roots, it made me love difficult and challenging terrain with a lot of natural technical features. The White Mountains are an area I would love to explore more of. I drive through those craggy mountains on my way to Highland Mountain Bike Park  and think, “I’d like to do more hiking and camping in that area, so that’s on my list for next summer!” The coast of Maine is also pretty sweet and I’d like to do more weekend surf trips in the future.

Laura Drennen

Laura Drennen

goEast: Riding bikes and finding time to be on your bike is clearly important to your active lifestyle—so much so we met up with you at 6 a.m. to catch you on the way out the door to work one snowy morning! How do you stay motivated to hop on your bike and not into the car?

Laura: For me, I try to focus on how I will feel after I do something which initially may be difficult. Getting up to skin when it’s dark feels like, “why am I doing this, I could be sleeping in!?” But of course, the reward of watching the sunrise over the mountains and having early, fresh turns is always worth it. Biking to work is the same way (although with maybe a little bit less adrenaline). I often have a sense of gratitude that I am able to commute to work via bicycle, for my health, ability to afford a bike, and to live within proximity to work where bike commuting is even an option.

 

Laura Drennen

Laura Drennen

goEast: To make your commute more comfortable on a cold – snow – wintery morning, what are your must have pieces of gear?

Laura: Well, in short, bike commuting in the winter requires—at the very least—studded tires (or a fat bike which I do not have), and neoprene booties to keep your feet dry and warm. Fenders are also a must-have because they prevent the water from spraying you the entire way. Before I got the fenders, I would be soaking wet when I arrived to work! They aren’t cheap but these few things make a huge difference. Warm gloves and keeping all skin covered on super cold days is also necessary. I like to wear sunglasses to keep the wind from making my eyes water. I also suffer from a condition called Raynauds which is where there is very poor circulation to the extremities. This makes outdoor activities difficult in all of Vermont’s seasons, but most especially in the winter months. I am very prone to frostbite and painful fingers and toes. This requires a lot of planning: I sometimes take a hot shower before my activity, pack extra dry layers, hand warmers, etc.

Laura Drennen

Laura Drennen

goEast: We caught you mixing up something of a potion, collecting eggs from your chickens, as we trekked through your now snow-covered veggie garden—all clues your nutrition is equally as important to you. As a nurse, a pretty reliable source for information on the topic, could you share more?

Laura: Nutrition is a huge part of an overall healthy lifestyle for me. I try to start my day with either a super food smoothie or a bowl of warm cereal like quinoa or oatmeal to heat me up in the winter. I think the best snacks are the homemade ones but I have to admit I don’t do that as often as I should! In general, I’ve been trying to incorporate some principles of Ayurveda into my diet and have found it’s had a dramatic influence on my health. This includes something as simple as starting the day with a warm glass of water with lemon which I have really found to be helpful with digestion.

My husband is a lifelong vegetarian and we eat a vegetarian diet. I am super lucky that he loves to cook, and is really great at it! We both value healthy living and enjoy growing our own food when possible. We’ve also really love caring for chickens who give us delicious eggs. We are extremely fortunate to eat so well.

Laura Drennen

Laura Drennen

goEast: A part of your story which really blows me away, aside from gearing up and riding your bike to work in all sorts of conditions, is learning that you use to be an avid snowboarding until an accident on your bike. Though your passion to be on the mountain inspired you to take up alpine skiing/touring. Could you share a little bit about your experience of letting go of something you loved, and what it took for your to take up a new sport later in life?

Laura: Getting hit by a car has affected my life more than I guess I really admit to. Most notably, I did stop snowboarding because it bothered my back. But I don’t focus on giving something up, but rather how happy I am to have discovered skiing. Unlike most people in a ski town, I did not grow up skiing. In fact, when I moved to Colorado I had hoped to chase the good weather and try to mountain bike and race year round.  But I made friends and people convinced me to stick around and experience the Rockies in the winter. I had never liked winter before then. I was 29 and learned to snowboard- it was my first ever experience on a ski slope. Instantly fell in love.

Since I love mountain culture, learning to ski at 35 was just another challenge; one I readily accepted! It’s never easy being new at something, and it certainly affects the ego, especially since I feel that everyone around me has been on skis since before they could walk! I feel grateful that I found all of these sports and hope to continue to enjoying them into old age. And I hope to continue to learn new skills on my bike, skis and yoga. Yoga is great at teaching us to take things slow, realizing growth comes in time and cannot be rushed. My practice has taught me to be easier on myself, and enjoy the present moment.

Laura Drennen

Laura Drennen

goEast: You must tell us more about your adorable pup and the role she plays in your active lifestyle. From what I see she and your husband are your greatest cheerleaders in your crushing-it lifestyle!

Laura: Zoey is my constant companion on all adventures (except riding to work and the lifts at the mountain of course). We adopted her from an amazing no-kill animal shelter here in Morrisville and instantly fell in love with her. She loves bike rides and hiking, but skiing is her favorite—a true snow dog! Think she would’ve made an amazing sled dog, actually! I make it a priority to get out with her pretty much every day. A tired dog is a happy dog, which leads to a happy dog parent! I use to compete in down hill mountain biking, however gave it up because I didn’t want to leave her every weekend. It didn’t feel fair to her, but in the long run ended up finding more balance in my own life. That’s what it’s all about: doing what you love within reason.  I would never entirely stop something because of a dog, but in ending the weekly travel, I was able to enjoy my life here and find time for everything that I love!

Laura Drennen

 


Six Ways to Break Even on Thanksgiving Dinner

The average American consumes somewhere between 2,000 and 2,500 calories every regular day. But, on Thanksgiving Day? That’s a different story. Turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, carrots, and more, all doused in a puddle of gravy, balloon the typical caloric intake to more than 4,500 on the holiday alone.

While most people doze off, dreaming of the leftovers they’ll eat, some of us might be interested in getting out to put all that food-energy to work, but breaking even might be a little harder than you think. To help, here are a few activities the average 150-pound male might have to do to burn off all that deliciousness:

Credit: Hannah Wohltmann
Credit: Hannah Wohltmann

1. Climb Mount Isolation after a snowstorm

Mount Isolation’s name speaks for itself, with 14.6 miles round-trip and no views until the summit, but a nine-hour trek in snowshoes, the day after a dumping, would just about compensate for a Thanksgiving filling, and you can cross it off your list of 48! Don’t forget your snowshoes and your cold-weather gear!

2. Bike from Boston to North Conway

A full meal calls for a full day of biking, and this 150-mile route is at least a simple, if not easy, way to burn off your dinner. Start your route at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston, follow through Boston and into New Hampshire through various little towns, and finish at the base of the White Mountains in North Conway. This scenic route will leave you tired, but fully relieved of everything you ate.

Credit: Chris Bennett
Credit: Chris Bennett

3. Ski Tuckerman’s Ravine four times

All the way up, and all the way down, for 13 straight hours. Thousands travel to New Hampshire to break in ski season and head down the ravine, but you’ll have to work a little harder post-Thanksgiving. Start your hike at Pinkham Notch off of Route 16 and take the Tuckerman’s Ravine Trail 3.6 miles until you reach the top of the bowl. Climb up, drop in, and then take the Sherburne Ski Trail, before you ski back down to the parking lot. For this to really burn off everything you consumed, you’ll have to repeat this path around three or four times, for a total of 13 hours of skinning and descending.

4. Run an ultra-marathon

Sure, this requires months and months of training, but for burning off all of those calories, this activity is perfect! 50 miles of straight running should about take care of it, but if you have any leftovers to snack on along the way, you might need to add a little extra distance.

5. Ice skate for 9.5 hours

If you live in an area with a lake frozen over by Thanksgiving, 9.5 hours of skating is always another option! This frozen fun can involve the whole family, as long as the ice is thick enough! If it turns into a hockey game, you’ll be able to drop an hour and a half of ice time.

6. Play 17 hours of table tennis

With the family home for the holidays, it can be a great time for game nights! If you’re looking for some friendly competition indoors or out, table tennis for 17 hours straight will burn those calories away! If you’re skilled enough to rally the ball the entire time, you could even set a world record!

 

Although some of these activities are out of reach for the average person, it’s always important to be aware of what goes into your body, and how you can stay healthy. Have a safe and happy holiday, and if you’re out exploring, don’t forget to tag your photos with #goEast for a chance to be featured!

How will you be burning off those 4,500 calories?


10 Essentials for Taking Your Road Bike to the Dirt

For many, cycling brings to mind imagery of pedaling at extreme speed on a flat and well-paved road. But, it doesn’t always have to be this way. Taking your road bike to the dirt can offer some of the season’s most fulfilling riding, especially here in New England, where getting off the pavement can bring silence, beautiful foliage, and an experience that is usually unique to activities like hiking, climbing, and camping.

The bike I ride was built for the pavement and is by all means a conventional road model. Although it’s probably not the most ideal for riding dirt roads, it gets the job done. Some may argue otherwise, but when it comes down to it, you can throw any old road bike on dirt paths. It might get a bit dusty, and flats are possible, but this is also the case on the pavement.

This type of riding isn’t mountain biking, and it isn’t high-speed road cycling. It is something somewhere in between, where the enjoyment comes from seeing new places, feeling like you’re in the woods, or struggling through mental and physical challenges. These are the elements that make it so satisfying.

You don’t need to run out the door to buy a new dirt road-specific bicycle, either. A model like the Kona Esatto is an adventure machine that seems to have no bias about whether it is pedaled on a major paved route or a back road.

Breaking the monotony of the pavement and relishing in the pursuit of the dirt doesn’t take much besides a few essentials and the willingness to explore:

Credit: Joseph Frigo
Credit: Joseph Frigo

1. Plenty of water

Usually, there are plenty of places to stop and fill up your water along paved roads, but when you’re out on the dirt, they might not be so easy to find. I typically bring two CamelBak Podium bottles with me on dirt road rides and store them on two frame bottle cages.

2. Repair kit

I store mine in a Timbuk2 seat bag, so I can put other things in the pockets of my bike jersey. My repair kit contains a CO2 tire inflator with a spare cartridge, a Topeak multitool, a spare tube, a small piece of an old inner tube for tire punctures, a pre-glued patch kit, and some toilet paper. If you’re having more bike issues than these items can handle, that’s an indication you’re having a tough day.

3. Physical map

I tore off the southern portion of a Vermont State Tourism map (free at many gas stations), and find this to be sufficient for most of my riding. If I am looking to get more off the beaten path, I reference a Vermont atlas before heading out. Although I bring along a smartphone, having alternative sources like a physical map and a compass (mine is on my GPS watch) will always give you something to navigate with, plus the confidence to explore roads that maybe you’ve never been down.

Credit: Joseph Frigo
Credit: Joseph Frigo

4. Food

When you’re riding on the dirt, distances can add up unexpectedly at times, and it is important to have enough fuel on hand to keep your engine running. Food—like water—is not always accessible when you’re riding on the back roads, and to prepare for this, leave with more than enough calories to sustain what you plan to do. It is best to bring along foods that your body can digest quickly, like Clif Shot Bloks or gels, as well as anything heavy in calories for your body to burn slowly, like a classic Clif Bar.

5. Cycling gloves

The Pearl Izumi Elite cycling gloves are long lasting and provide excellent grip and cushioning for long gravel descents. Going down dirt roads on skinnier tires is both exhilarating and challenging, so having good bike gloves can make a big difference.

6. GPS watch

Instead of using a bike computer, I find that, for touring-style dirt road riding, a GPS watch is a much better option. I use the Suunto Ambit3 Peak, which provides me with all of the information I need, including compass bearing, total mileage, and average speed. Afterwards, you can upload your ride to Google Maps through the Suunto Movescount application to see your entire route.

7. Cycling wallet

I put my phone, money, and map into an Outdoor Research Sensor Dry Envelope. You can still use your phone through the clear film, and because I just put the whole envelope in my jersey pocket, it keeps the contents dry from both sweat and unexpected precipitation.

Credit: Joseph Frigo
Credit: Joseph Frigo

8. Helmet

The Giro Savant helmet with MIPS is an excellent choice for all types of riding, and is my go-to for road and mountain biking. It breathes well, is lightweight, and has a secure, comfortable fit. I never head out on my bike without it.

9. Clear glasses

Smith Pivlock glasses are perfect for all types of biking. Pairs come with three lenses that can be easily interchanged, depending on the conditions. I find myself most frequently using the clear lenses for riding dirt roads, since they are usually well shaded by treecover. Wearing glasses also provides an additional element of safety by protecting your eyes from bugs, dust, and debris. An added benefit to the Smith Pivlock is that they seem to almost never fog up.

10. Lightweight wind shell

The Mountain Hardwear Ghost Lite Jacket packs into its own pocket and provides some added protection from unexpected winds and precipitation. When not in use, it can fit into one of my cycling jersey’s pockets, making the jacket an essential piece that adds a good deal of protection and warmth for minimal weight.

 

For me, the fall season in New England captures why I love living here, and pursuing the path less traveled by taking your road bike to the dirt is one of the best ways to experience it.

Credit: Joseph Frigo
Credit: Joseph Frigo

Women Who Crush It: Mountainbiker Clair Sick

We recently sat down with Clair Sick, an empowering young woman who rocks the 9-to-5 Monday through Friday all for the rush of spending her weekends racing bikes down mountains. An up-and-comer on the Women’s Pro VITTORIA Eastern States Cup Enduro Series, Clair was born and raised in Rochester, New York, but now calls Vermont home.

Credit: Jenn Langille
All photos credit: Jenn Langille

goEast: So, lady, tell me: What led you to riding a bike in the first place?

Clair: I wish it was a deep, passionate story about my turn to biking, but in reality, it was a blown ACL and torn meniscus. Snowboarding caused the injury, but biking was the rehab. Then, the rest is history. The obsession of bigger and faster continued and still does every day I get on my bike. Each ride is an opportunity to progress.

Credit: Jenn Langille

goEast: With every sport, there comes the gear and kit that keep you going. What keeps you crushing it?

Clair: Do my friends count? Biking would be incomplete without the community of folks I live to shred with! Though, for real, [it’s] my sports bra! It’s near impossible to send it and feel comfortable without this piece of gear. Okay, for real real: While that is the truth, my bike is my pride and joy – an extension of my body. I’ve been incredibly fortunate to ride a Liv Intrigue SX this season, and it has progressed my riding to new levels. Typically, I am a strong believer that it’s the wizard, not the wand. But, my wand is pretty badass this season!

Credit: Jenn Langille

Credit: Jenn Langille

goEast: You mentioned friends and community. If you could name three women who’ve inspired you, who are they and why?

Clair: Clarissa Finks convinced me to do my first enduro race, and I’ve been chasing her ever since. In work and in play, she crushes it. Casey Brown is incredibly talented and has a killer style. [She] makes me want to get out there and push the limits of my own biking. My mom inspires me to give back to others and genuinely love those around. In addition, she taught me that hugs and saying “I love you” can never be done too much.

Credit: Jenn Langille

Credit: Jenn Langille

Credit: Jenn Langille

goEast: You have college degrees, a full-time job at Burton Snowboards, live out of your Jeep, and compete every chance you get. What drives you, Clair?

Clair: Life is short, and you only get one shot. There were a few factors that I knew would get in the way of my racing. Finances were one of them. Bikes, parts, entry fees, [and] travel costs are just the beginning of the list. I looked at my budget and something had to give. I had spent time living the simple life out of a vehicle in the past, when I was a whitewater raft guide, so I knew it was possible. To most, it might seem crazy to give up the comfort of home for a sport, although the experience has been freeing in so many ways. It is all worth it when I’m out on the trail.

Credit: Jenn Langille

Credit: Jenn Langille

Credit: Jenn Langille

goEast: About those trails: When you escape the desk, where do you play?

Clair: I can’t give up my secrets that easily! Between the lift-access downhill and VMBA’s great trail networks, you can find a variety of amazing single-track just around the corner in the Northeast. Perry Hill in Waterbury is where I ride most often. The uphill climb to get to the trails will be a butt-kicker, but the descents are well worth it! High-five to WATA for doing an amazing job with trail maintenance!

Credit: Jenn Langille

Credit: Jenn Langille

goEast: OK, Clair. This is the point where I ask you the proverbial question we have to ask incredible people like you: What’s the best advice for inspiring others to get out there and crush it?

Clair: You’re the only one that is going to make it happen!

Credit: Jenn Langille

Credit: Jenn Langille

Do you know a woman who crushes it? Get in touch!