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Jul 21, 2020

This week we speak with Caroline Dezendorf of the Easton Overland Gravel Team and the Marin County Bike Coalition. We learn of Caroline's start in the sport and her work supporting cycling in Marin County and beyond.

Sponsored by Athletic Greens, the all-in-one daily drink to support better health and peak performance.

Episode Links:

Caroline Dezendorf Instagram 

Marin County Bike Coalition Website

Automated Transcription, please forgive the typos.

All right, Caroline, welcome to the show.

Thanks for having me, Craig.

Yeah, we always like to start off by learning a little bit more of your background as a gravel cyclist. Can you talk about how you originally discovered riding off road and maybe a progression from other elements in the sport until gravel racing?

Yeah. I didn't get into bikes till the end of college. My senior year of college, I needed a sport that, of like to fulfill the void of growing up, playing soccer and not really having anything. And I found triathlon and did triathlon for a year in college at UC Santa Barbara. And it was really fun at his background as a swimmer, but the only thing I really liked about it was the bike. So I started racing on the road instead, and then went immediately to grad school and walked into a shop in Eugene, Oregon. When I first got up to a university of Oregon for grad school and the guys in the shop were like, have you heard of cyclocross? And I was like, no, they're like, great. You should come out to a race tonight and borrow a bike and like try it out.

And I was, so I got out there, crashed over every barrier I encountered but was immediately hooked. And so I started racing off-road and cyclocross, and then racing in the Bay for team Mike's bikes. I decided to start racing mountain bikes and really enjoyed it. And then it's just kind of like taken off from there. I think my first gravel race per se was the nog girl grind Duro. I think that was 2015. And I raised my rock lobster cyclocross bike and won it, won the pro women's category and it was kind of hooked on this like long distance gravel writing, something that I always do with my friends, but like, it was kind of fun to have this new format that, you know, normally my races are 45 minutes around a very small, you know, two mile a track for cyclocross. And so it's kinda cool now having this like adventure thing that is competitive, but more just hanging out with friends and going on a cool adventure.

Yeah, it's interesting. I was talking to Amanda Naaman a few weeks back and she had mentioned she had the similar progression from triathlon to cyclocross. What do you think it is about the sport of cyclocross that kind of was attractive to you at the time?

For me, it was in Oregon. The cross crusade series is so incredible. It's just like this huge series. Like you go to these events and there's a thousand, 2000 and the women's fields are 50 plus deep and just, you know, amazing talent like Beth and Orton. When I first started racing was like my idol. She was just like this, this amazing. I mean, I love Beth. She's still a really good friend, but she was just like this amazing person. And it was something that I hadn't experienced. And I think, you know, even though you're, you're doing these small circles and cross it's no two races are the same. I mean, you know, there's races. I go back to year after year after year and every year, the conditions are different. The weather's different, you know, the competition is different and it's exciting and it's challenging.

And it's even though like, it's, you know, you can race with a team or race, you know, you're racing with a bunch of really strong competitors. You're really racing yourself. You're, you're challenging yourself and you know, the other people in the race really don't matter. There aren't very many, there are some cross races where you do find road tactics in play. You are in a small group and you are attacking each other, but I'll often, you know, in, in muddy races, it's just, you're fighting yourself and trying to figure out how to do it yourself. And so at the end of the day, you know, you all hug and smile and laugh and high five each other. And like most of my best friends now I've met through racing cyclocross.

Awesome. And cyclocross, obviously being traditionally a winter sport, although it kicks off pretty early here in Northern California. What type of writing were you doing in the off season from cyclocross the last few years that kind of set the stage for you to kind of jump full force and the gravel racing?

I mean, quite honestly it was, it was adventure riding. It was going out on long rides on my cross bikes. I really like riding my cross bikes on single track and on technical trail and kind of challenging my skills in that way. So it was going on these long adventure rides. I, I'm a total math geek. I love making routes. I love finding new routes and challenging myself with like these new places I haven't been. So a lot has been like, I really want to go out to this really remote place that I've never been before. And so let's find a gravel or a mountain bike loop that, you know, is 45 to 80 to whatever a hundred miles and let's go check it out. So a lot of that kind of writing.

Yeah, that's awesome. And we'll get into your work at the Marine County bike coalition, but I have the Marin County bike map and I just geek out over it because having the gravel bike and the great roads we have around here, you can just create these amazing mixed terrain loops that I never thought was possible prior to kind of getting this type of bike and, and getting that map.

Totally. Yeah. That map is amazing. Or actually I'm just updating that map with tons of new trails that have come up recently and it should be, it should be out in the next month. And I'll, they'll show a lot more of the good stuff in Marin.

Yeah. I'm excited for that to go check out the Bill's trail that I read about. And a couple of the other pieces that the Marine County bike coalition has been working on.

Yeah. Bill's, if you haven't had a chance to check it out is definitely a worthwhile trail. It's four miles long, but it's incredible. And it was made well re remade. It was a trail already, but re-established with mountain biking in mind, so it's really flowy. And it's through my favorite kind of ecosystem is Redwood Fern forest. And it connects so it's Alan, Samuel P. Taylor, if you haven't been out there which is really cool. So it's a California state park and it's really nice to have another mountain bike trail on the state park and it connects devil's goals, fire road to Mount Barnaby. And so the views, when you're up there are incredible. And then, I mean, connecting that with like San Jeronimo Valley and the fire roads out there, you can just put together such an amazing loop.

Yeah. Interesting note about Samuel Taylor park, it's the birthplace of recreational camping in the United States? I found out,

Huh? I did not know that. That's awesome. They also have bike camping there.

Yeah, absolutely. So 2020 was clearly designed to be a pretty big gravel season for you. You were, you were selected to join the Eastern Overland team. Can you talk about that team and what the vision is and sort of just give us a little insight about what it's like being a member?

Yeah, it was, this is such a surreal season. I was really excited to be racing with Eastern Overland. It's an amazing group of people. Matt Harlan is a team manager and he's just compiled this like amazing group amny Rockwell or who's one dirty Kansas last year at Caitlin Bernstein, who is my best friend in the entire world. And Matt Licata, who's up in Oregon and Michael Vanderham, which is a super awesome Canadian super amazing cyclocross athlete as well, Canadian national champion. And so it was just like this incredible group of people that I was excited to write race with. I've raced with Easton for a cyclocross for the last couple of years, they've been a big sponsor. And it was really nice to be able to like raise with them a little bit more have their support in this different capacity.

And you know, the, the team is really unique in the fact that it brings together people with very different backgrounds and skillsets. And also we get to kind of have our own style in it. So I raced with [inaudible] on the Sparrow and the other members of the team, Matt Leanna, also races on Savella. And the other members of the team also have their own bike sponsors. And so it's kind of neat cause we get to bring our own kind of flare and style into it. And that kind of a water audience and also just represent in different capacities. So I really liked being able to have my personal relationship with Cervelo, but at the same time, like be part of this team and this kind of conglomerate that we all, you know, currently our conversation right now, cause we have nothing else better to do is how to make sourdough bread the best we can make it. I'm not a bread maker, so I'm just kind of listening in, but it's amazing the, the detail that goes into a sourdough bread making.

Yeah. I think it's a super refreshing concept. I love seeing all the team members with different frames. It's just, it, I think that's sort of, to me, it's like, what's, gravel's all about right. We don't want these big pro squads coming in and dominating, but like I love that it's a squad that each member has its own personality in a way to kind of reflect the brands that they want to be riding with.

Yeah. And it highlights the uniqueness of the writers. You know, I, I I'm predominantly an off road athlete. Like I dabble in road races. I did one road race this year before you know, the season got shut down, but I definitely, you know, come from a little bit more of a road background and, and like re like riding on the road. And so having the Savella, that's very much oriented as like a an endurance like fast paced, you know, Peloton kind of racing. Gravel bike is perfect for me, but that being said, it's still rips on descends and still rips on single tracks. So I ride that bike everywhere, but then, you know, Caitlin Bernstein she's on DaVinci and that bike is totally a mountain bike, like Caitlin on, on that bike. I can't keep up with, because it's, the geometry is just so much more of a mountain bike and it's, it's a very different, you know, style. So it's really cool because when we're all together, every bike and every person riding has this unique flair and unique style and it's kind of fun to see it that way. It's very different from any other team I've been on.

Yeah. And I think that's, again, going back to it just being sort of indicative to the sport in general, I love that, that you need to choose the equipment for how you want to ride the bike. So if you want to be aggressive, you can go bigger tires and a slacker geometry, or if you're more comfortable on the road section, you know, and that were, you know, roadie type position. That's cool too. But at some point in any given race or ride, you're going to have a shortcoming or you're going to have a better setup than the other person. And I think it just makes it really interesting when you're out there.

Totally. Yeah. Before everything got, got shut down this year, I was able to race the super sweet water grasshopper, and I raised it on my server yellow with 35 millimeter Schwabie tires. And so I definitely had a gravel set up for this very much long, you know, 60 plus mile road race, but that bike was amazing. I was, you know, up there top five women for the majority of the race and, you know, keeping up with everybody on 28 millimeter tires and on, on, you know, true road frames. And the Sparrow is just like, it's so fast. Like it climbed so well. And it was like ideal for that. And then two weeks later, you know, we, we flew out to Oklahoma for mid South gravel, right before shelter and place happened. And I threw on 33 millimeter essentially cyclocross shall be cyclocross tires.

And, you know, we had this eight hour Mudfest through Oklahoma red clay and, you know, the bike on that, like handled super, super well just, you know, so it's like it's and, you know, Caitlin and I rode together and she was on her DaVinci with like 40 millimeter tires. And, you know, we're, she's, she's pushing the pace on the climbs and I'm doing my best to keep up with her. And then I, anytime we hit like a flat section, I was just like, alright, right on my wheel, let's go. We were just like, use our strengths in different ways to work together. But it, and it was kinda nice cause it could compliment each other.

Well, that race was certainly a sloppy mess. Did you make that tire selection kind of knowing that it was going to be quite muddy on race day?

Yeah. Yeah. Matt Lido. Who's on my team and also rides for Savallo. I, I probably bugged him every day for like two weeks going into mid South, trying to figure out the best hire selection. And ultimately we decided the narrowest hire, I could run would be better and, you know, so something that would shed really well and give me the most clearance. They, before the race gave us like Pete six to scrape the mud off our wheels. And thankfully I never actually had to use it. My demise in that race came at mile 90 when my chain dropped between my frame and my chain ring and Katelyn and I spent 45 minutes and watched the 15 girls go past us trying to get my chain and stuck. And it was just, we know, we went from sitting in like top five to sitting top 20. I was like, Katelyn, just leaving. And she's like, we've just done 90 miles together in seven and a half hours. I'm not leaving you out here on the side. And so yeah, that was, that was really the biggest bummer of that race. But it was yeah. Tire choice for that one was pretty key. I think there are a lot of people I ended up running selects for that reason.

Yeah. I've heard stories from that race. It's a really interesting in terms of like what the, what, what worked and didn't work for people. At the end of the day, I don't think there was a particularly good choice to other than making sure you had at least as much clearance as possible.

Yeah. That, that totally was the biggest thing was just get enough clearance and hope that you don't get bogged down and hope that you know, any chances where you're going to get that peanut butter, mud, or clay all over your bike, just run. And like, so I never even dealt with the, my tire clearance was perfect. I had, my equipment was a dial and I just got super unlucky with a drop chain that I couldn't get unstuck.

Yeah. What were you, what were your plans for the rest of the season?

Let's see. I, I don't know a lot. I wanted to do, I really wanted to go to raspy Tita in Vermont. I was really looking forward to the Jackson grasshopper that was supposed to happen to may. I was going to go up to Canada for a ride for water. And then, you know, Downieville, which just got canceled, lost and found. I always love racing stuff up in the Sierra Buttes. And then, you know, trying to figure out a couple more from there. I had seen Bo on my radar Oregon gravel was on my radar, a couple of, up in, in Oregon as well. So I was trying to be selective with races because I do usually have a full cyclocross season that runs from September to December and that ends up being a lot of travel and a lot of racing. But at the same time I was feeling really good at the beginning of the season and really excited to be racing. So I kept like texting Katelyn and be like, what about, should we go to the lessons? Should we go to that? And should we go to that? So my season kept expanding because I was so excited to be racing gravel with Easton. And there's just so many cool events that happen all over, all over the place.

Yeah, absolutely. I think most of those events that you mentioned we've had as previous guests on the podcast and I would love to see them all.

Yeah, yeah. There's some, and everyone is so unique and has its own vibe and experience. And you know, the thing I love about gravel and I think that brings me back is just the community around it. And just how amazing everybody is in the as like I said, famous cyclocross, like as competitive as everybody is like at the end of the day, you're having a drink and celebrating each other and just excited to be out there racing. And I kinda love the comradery that comes with that.

Yeah. I hope everybody listens time and time again to the podcast gets that loud and clear because it's really just show up, hit the start line. You're going to have a blast, whether you're first or last. And that's the beauty of this sport. It's quite unlike. It may, maybe it's similar to cyclocross, but quite unlike other elements of the sport that people may have experienced like road racing, where if you get shelled off the back, it's a pretty miserable experience. It's just simply not the case in gravel.

Totally. It's, it's totally unique. And I mean, even, you know mid South this year, like Katelyn and I are on the side of the road, we're trying to fix my bike. And everybody that came by, I was like, are you guys okay? And I'd be like, no, we're not okay. And you know, they'd be like, do you want our help? And you know, we kept having all these groups of people come and try to help us, you know, that's knowing you don't get enrolled road Pilcher. Like people aren't just like people are, are in it for themselves a little bit more than helping each other. And I just love like, and gravel that, you know, you're just out there to, to be there. You're not out there like to, when you're out there to enjoy it and to see a unique place and, and ride with, you know, hundreds of your friends.

Yeah, absolutely. So you're also working with the Marin County bike coalition as communication director. Do you want to tell us a little bit more about that role?

Yeah. So it's a new role for me. I came on with red County bike coalition in March, so I'm just started there, but it's been an organization that I've known very well for the last five, six years since I got into bikes, I moved into the Bay move to the Bay area. And so it's a great organization, it's they do so much good work in Marin, on the roadside, on the off-road side and on education and outreach. And it's been a really unique time to work with them because we've kind of had to change the way we're structuring to deal with the current pandemic. The most amazing thing about this time for us is there has been such an increase in the number of people, riding bikes. And so we're really trying to reach them and, and reach out to them and get them involved with us to be able to support them and give them that better infrastructure.

I mean, Marin is just, it's, it's a Mecca for a cycling, the paths you know, beyond grief and Barack, he's our policy and planning director. He works on the roadside and he's worked so hard in the last four years since he came with the organization to really improve on road infrastructure and Moran and, you know, make it a more bike friendly place for everybody there. And you know, Tom boss who runs our off-road program, he's phenomenal and, you know, really, really working to get access to more trails and trail stewardship and, and engaging with so many different people in different groups of people. So you know, I coach I started at NorCal league high school league mountain bike team last year. So it's a program that's really near and dear to my heart. And Tom works really closely with North Hollywood, with Vanessa [inaudible] to get students out, doing trail stewardship and learning how to build trail and Morin.

So the last trail day they had was out on the Ponti Ridge trail, which isn't open trail yet. It's a trail and Marin wood Lucas Valley area that will be opening hopefully later this year. But we had 150 kids out there from high schools, high school league working on building trail. So I'm really excited for that trail to open. Hopefully it will open under the season and you know, Bill's trail, like we already mentioned as new trail and Morin that took 14 years to finally be bike legal. I think plans were put into place in 2006 for it to finally be, to, to submit it, to change of use for us to get access to it for a cyclist. And, you know, Tom has been instrumental and, and projects like that that have really opened up more and more land for for mountain biking and Morin.

Yeah. And I think it's been done in a really thoughtful way. I remember when Diaz Ridge project was announced and like it's a six or seven years to get that trail finished. And now it's just such an amazing single track for a gravel bike or a mountain bike. And it's such an important connector. And I know one of the future projects is kind of connecting the bottom of Diaz Ridge to coastal view trail, kind of a, they have Heather cutoff, which is a running trail, but cutting another trail through there. And it's just that kind of thoughtfulness that makes me super pumped to have Marine County by coalition supporting my, my desire to ride new trails. Cause it's just going to be an a, it's going to be an amazing connector and all these pieces, I think Tom and the whole crew they think about like, what does that do for your loop? All of a sudden it makes this completely, off-road starting at the golden gate bridge and going all the way, the other side of Tam completely off-road and completely legal possible.

Yeah, totally. We that's called our, we have this project that's the gaps initiative. And so it's closing three of the biggest gaps of off-road or lack of access to off road from the golden gate bridge to point rays. And so that connector that you just described between Diaz Ridge which drops you down to near beach, you have to go on highway one to connect to coastal and hopefully we'll have a trail there soon. It's still on the planning phase. And we're hoping to get some more grants and money to help us work on that. And then there's another one out kind of on the backside of Mount Tam and the lakes region that's Azalea Hill and that we just got notice that the water district is going to give us access, give bike, to ask, ask, give bikes, access to a mile and a half of trail that will connect to fire roads and help start decreasing that gap a little bit more. So we're, we're making progress and Tom has been huge and in getting those things done and Moran such a unique place because we're dealing with a lot of different land managers. And it's really amazing to see the relationships built with those and how, you know, the, the progress progress that we can do. And so many different unique environments.

Yeah, I think for the problems like this around the country and around the world who are listening, Marin County is an amazing place to ride a bike and there's tons of miles and miles and miles of trails and a lot of great loops that you can create. It's interesting because I think other parts of the country or world might have somehow a little bit more cachet as a destination to go ride your gravel bike. But by my likes, Marin counties should be tops on anybody's list.

Oh, totally. I a hundred percent agree with that when I moved down after grad school and moved to San Rafael and Moran I think that's what hooked me. Like we would go out, you know, on these all day adventures and you'd be on road for maybe a mile and he'd be on trail for, you know, 45 miles and, you know, circumnavigating Mount Tam and have these amazing views of the golden gate bridge and, and the Pacific ocean. And it was just like, it was incredible. I mean, there's no other place like it. And you know, there were a lot of nights, like in the middle of the week that we'd be like, Hey, let's go bike camping up on Mount Tam. Cause there's these bike camping spots that no one goes to. And it's something that's really.

Yeah, absolutely. You disappeared for a second. It might've been on my end, but no worries. I know also the, the Marine County bike coalition is putting on a couple of events later this year pending obviously the safety of events you've got the dirt and then adventure revival, two events, which showcase those trails we were just referring to and how good they are. Do you want to talk a little bit more about the plan dates for those events and you know, how people should be thinking about it in their calendar, giving you know, everything in the uncertain and be going on in the world?

Yeah, so the dirt Fondo is one of our signature events that happens August 15th. And it's, it's a really amazing event, gravel friendly it's mountain bike friendly. I could argue that you could do a lot of it on a road bike because I've read a lot of those trails on a road bike, but not recommended. But it highlights the Marin Headlands and it highlights Mount Tam. So the Queens, the queen route, if you will is 45 miles and it starts when we're at Hedlands and climbs up to the top of Tam and back around. And it's, it's incredible. And then there's routes that are, you know, 30 miles, 20 miles, 10 miles. So it's something that, you know, the whole family could go out and do I drag my sister out there a couple years ago gave her my mountain bike and I rode my cross bike and, you know, she did 30 miles and she's written a mountain bike like four times.

And I was like, yes, you're so awesome. It's something that's, and it's, it's just beautiful and everybody's out there. It's not a race, it's not a competitive event. Everybody's out there to have fun and to enjoy the trails and to just like be part of this amazing community. So we're really hoping that happens this year. We are kind of chugging along with plans for that. We're, we're paying really close attention to the gift current situation. And I think, you know, Tom and I are, are talking every day about it, you know, and trying to see what's going to be like, but it's a small event. Registrations capped at 300 people. So we're hoping if anything, this is the kind of event that will happen because it's a regional pole, it's a small event. And we're keeping our fingers crossed because the more we talked to people and the more, you know, we talk, we, we need things to look forward to.

And with, everything's starting to be canceled. We're just kinda, we're hoping we don't have to, because we want that normalcy back and we want to be back with our communities. And, you know, we're, we're making contingency plans just in case and where we're strategizing, you know, how potentially, if we are allowed to have a small event, how we can kind of keep social distancing requirements met. So really, you know, taking into consideration what our County and what California says, but we want to be able to, to host it this year, it's a really special event for us.

[Inaudible] Wow. And then adventure to revival the later man supports the mountain.

Yeah. So adventure revival is September 12th. And that we run in combination with nor Cal league high school league. And so it's a fundraiser for both MCBC and the high school mountain bike league. So again, it's something near and dear to my heart because I coach a team. I ran a team I love I've been involved with the high school league for the last five years. And so that one's really cool. It's it's promoted as a gravel event. So it's a little more fire roadie and a little more has a little more road in it, but it also highlights, you know, some of the most amazing gravel routes around Marin. And so going out to places that are a little more off off the beaten path.

Yeah, absolutely. It's, it's super creative loop that Tom created over there. I hadn't been on some of those trails kind of in I guess Sandra Autonomo and they were awesome. Like it pushed all the buttons, like you have this great, I think all single track bales, arrow, big climbs, like it was on a route that I, and, and support that event.

Yeah. It's and there are trails that don't get written very much. There, it's funny cause they're really not that much farther away than everything else, but they seem a little more rugged and some really steep climbs, but it's beautiful. It's rain. We're we normally put together like training routes for, or training rides for the Fondo and the venture revival to get people out and writing some of these things beforehand in a group setting. And obviously we can't do that. So what we're doing instead is doing kind of curated DIY gravel rides. So I just put together a ride that we shared with our member base and it's on our website. We're calling it the dirt ramble, but anybody wants to check it out. And it's, it kind of highlights some of those Sandra animo Ridgeline. Why am I often forgetting the name of where, where it's going out behind the lakes but highlighting a lot of those trails that you don't get written as much and highlighting just like the unique terrain around Marin, because there's so many different ecosystems and so many different habitats and, and you can experience so much in such a Stuart ride.

Yeah, absolutely. I mean, just having as a, sort of a city-based rider previously, having those roots and understanding like, Oh, maybe I'll ride the road out to Fairfax and then start hitting the trails. You all of a sudden on your gravel bike create these really interesting loops that you never thought of. Because if you, you know, that's, that's quite a long way if you're riding off-road the entire way from the city, for example. But if you bypass it cause with the efficiency of the gravel bike and just hop into the trails, like there's some great stuff up there.

Yeah, totally. And it's, it's, you know, it's easily accessible from so many different locations from the city I used to my parents live in Petaluma, so I I'd ride, you know, out from Petaluma and hit the Belinas Ridge trail. And you have this amazing really hope it's a long day, but it's so worth it to come down and ride these trails.

Yeah, definitely. So is your plan this season to go back to cyclocross at the end of the year again,

We're, we're kind of making the joke with Eastern Overland that it's like hashtag cyclo mountain gravel season, because everything is now being pushed into one. So right now I'm just looking forward to riding the dirt Fondo and writing adventure revival in September and kind of going from there seeing what what's still happening and seeing what changes I definitely will still race cyclocross. I'm hoping maybe to start a little later this season so I can do some other gravel events as they happen in late September, early October. But, you know, I think at this point, the biggest thing that I want to focus on is connecting back with my community and having fun and racing. You know, obviously I'm competitive, obviously I want to do well on my racing, but I'm kinda like it's secondary right now. Like I miss my community, I miss my friends, I miss my competitors. I want to see them. And I also just want to have fun. And it's kind of weird because I'm still training, hoping everything happens and, you know, putting in the hours and putting in the miles and really trying to find to the engine. But I also am trying to balance that with just having a good time on the bike and seeking the ventures that are really important to me.

Yeah. Well, I think that's the dream for all of us. It's just to have something back on the calendar that we all get our municipalities approving us getting together and enjoying that gravel community. Cause I think the important thing to remember for everybody listening is it's still there. If anything, there's more pent up demand and love and desire to get back together as a community, as you just said. So we'll get through this together.

Yeah. I think, I think just staying hopeful right now is the biggest thing. And knowing, you know, that bikes aren't canceled, like you can get out and ride, you know, like I said MCDC is putting on our kind of own challenges. There's a lot of other challenges out there, although I'm biased towards the challenges that I'm creating. So I would, I would encourage you to check them out on our website. But you know, we can stay connected in different ways. I started twisting a little bit more to stay connected with people. But I think that's the biggest thing is staying connected, staying hopeful and hoping things work out soon.

Absolutely. I think that's a good note to end on Caroline. I appreciate all the time and the insight about the events. I'll put some links out to Marin County bike coalition so people can find the events we're talking about and I wish you the best of luck and hopefully, I'll see you out there soon.

All right. Thank you, Craig.