Just about two weeks ago, I finished the Colorado Trail Race for the second time. The race consists of 470 miles of unsupported, non-stop racing along the Colorado Trail from Denver to Durango. It took me 5 days and 5 and a half hours. Twenty-four hours faster than I did it last year. It’s a race that has an attrition rate of over 50% and brings grown men to tears. It’s brought me to tears more than once.
In perusing the internet, I’ve found plenty of tips and tricks from a guy’s point of view. While the challenge is the same, I thought that I’d share my Top 5 Tips for being a bike-packing chica, because a few tricks really will make a world of difference.
1. Bring two pairs of chamois and be diligent about washing them.
Many guys will take one pair of chamois for a race like the CTR or the Tour Divide. When it comes down to it, girls are simply more complicated down under and only having one pair of shorts is a recipe for disaster for anything longer than two days. Accept the extra weight and wash the previous days chamois with Dr. Bronner’s Soap in a creek when you stop to filter water. Gas station bathrooms also work well and you can hang them out to dry on your pack when you get moving again.
2. Get a hair cut before the start.
There is nothing worse than having to brush long hair after 5 days on a bike, even if it’s been in a braid for the entire time. It
gets nasty, and matted, and yucky. I’m afraid to rock the super-short hair, but I had mine cut just long enough to put into a ponytail right before the CTR start. It was one less thing to deal with on a daily basis.
3. Distribute your weight evenly between your bike and back and be able to move it quickly.
Boys tend to have stronger upper bodies than most women and thus can push their bikes faster over rocky or steep terrain. Compartmentalize your gear so you can move stuff around easily. If you know you have a long hike-a-bike, put as much weight as you can on your back to make pushing the bike easier. If you’re on a long road section, put the weight on the bike to save your rear. If you’re riding trail, distribute it as evenly as is comfortable. I personally dislike a lot of weight on my back so I’ll put as much as I can on the bike if I know I’m not going to be pushing much, but you’ll see people line up for the CTR with nothing besides their spare tube on their bike and the rest on their back, so in the end, it comes down to personal preference.
4. Be willing to carry bear spray or mace.
The only time I got really scared on the CTR was traveling on some rural dirt roads after dark my first year racing the event. While the fear may have been unfounded, I would have felt a lot better if I had some sort of backup plan in case of encountering unfriendly people. That being said, I didn’t carry any this year either, but if you think you’d feel safer traveling out in the boonies by yourself packing at least some protection, by all means, do it. Plus, it could come in handy if you do encounter a bear.
5. Pack tampons.
Extreme physical exertion causes the body to do some strange things and I’ve talked to plenty of women who get their periods on the second or third day of these events, or even during a 24-hour solo race, completely out of the blue. Best be prepared. Plus, tampons are really good for soaking up blood from deep wounds should you have to administer some first aid.
Bike-packing races are one of the few athletic events where women can compete on a seemingly equal playing field as the men. While the preparation is similar for both, a few tweaks to accommodate the female body will go a long way in making the experience far more comfortable and enjoyable.
Eszter Horanyi is a regular contributor to girl bike love, providing us with some of the most amazing trail food recipes we could ever wish for. This year she beat the women’s course record, which she set last year, by 24 hours. Read more about her amazing adventure here.