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Feb 28, 2023

What are the stories and motivations behind our local bike shops and those who run them? In this first of a series of conversations we’ll be having on this topic, Katya Morzhueva joins Randall to share how she went from growing up in Siberia, to traveling the world (including an eventful stint in China), to founding Cool Cat Cycles and leading group rides in her chosen home of Katy, Texas. Katya’s is a story of curiousity, compassion, resiliency, and service to others, and is exemplary of transformative energy that the best shops bring to their local communities. Visit Katya and Cool Cat Cycles at 22010 Westheimer Pkwy in Katy, TX.

Episode Sponsor: Dynamic Cyclist (code THEGRAVELRIDE for 15% off)


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[00:00:00] Craig Dalton: Hello, and welcome to the gravel ride podcast, where we go deep on the sport of gravel cycling through in-depth interviews with product designers, event organizers and athletes. Who are pioneering the sport

I'm your host, Craig Dalton, a lifelong cyclist who discovered gravel cycling back in 2016 and made all the mistakes you don't need to make. I approach each episode as a beginner down, unlock all the knowledge you need to become a great gravel cyclist.

This week on the broadcast, I'm going to hand the microphone over to my co-host Randall Jacobs. Who's got Katia Morris waver from cool cat cycles in Katy, Texas on the show to talk about the community she's building around the shop and leading group rides in her hometown. Before we jump in, I need to thank this week. Sponsor, dynamic cyclist.

As you know, I've been working with a dynamic cyclist stretching routines for a couple of months now working on increasing my mobility and support of strengthening my lower back. Dynamic cyclist has hundreds of cycling, specific stretching routines for you to work through, including some very specific injury prevention routines. I myself am working on the low back injury prevention routine right now.

The team at dynamic cyclists has a free trial for all their programs. So head on over to dynamic and check out what they have to offer. Additionally for podcast listeners using the code, the gravel ride. You'll get 15% off all programs. They have both a monthly membership model as well as an inexpensive annual model to cover all your stretching.

And strength training needs again, that's dynamic and the coupon code, the gravel ride. Would that business behind us? Let's hand the microphone off to my co-host Randall Jacobs.

[00:01:52] Randall: What are the stories behind our local bike shops and those who run them. In the first of a series of conversations we'll be having on this topic, Katia Morzhueva joins me to share how she went from growing up in Siberia, to traveling the world, including an eventful stint in China that we'll get into in a moment, to founding Cool Cat Cycles and leading group rides in your chosen home of Katy, Texas. Katia is a story of curiosity, compassion, resiliency, and service to others, and is exemplary of the transformative energy that the best shops bring to their local communities.

We dive right in here. So I hope you enjoyed the conversation. And now we bring to you Katia Morzhueva.

[00:02:28] Randall: Do you have like a meditation practice

[00:02:30] katya: uh, you know, we can talk about this a little bit more if we start talking about my injury in China. Cuz when you are alone with a broken back, nobody to talk to because you don't speak the language. All you can do is meditate. You know, I, in a, in a irony, like black humor sort of way, a good way to lose weight and become a Buddhist is break a back in a foreign country.

[00:03:00] Randall: I'm fortunate in that I had a somewhat parallel experience of breaking my neck in China, I was a bike touring through Hine Island in the South China Sea, but I had zero dislocation. I just ripped a process off a C3 through C five and I was in a neck brace, for a few days and then I saw a specialist and they're like, yeah, you're probably more likely to injure yourself due to muscle atrophy than, to aggravate the injury.

And so I was back on my bike in two weeks, which is a very different thing.

[00:03:29] katya: Yes,

[00:03:29] Randall: so I had version of that

Yeah. I'm seeing you shared this picture of your spine with a bunch of rods and pins holding what looks like some of your upper lumbar,

[00:03:42] katya: Five vertebrae. Yeah, it's T 12 to T nine.

[00:03:47] Randall: Yeah

[00:03:48] katya: right. Um, yeah, so I have two plates and 10 screws they're holding five vertu bread together, but it's only one that shattered. So one, actually, the piece fell off and they went in to connect T 12 to 10 and to nine, but then, um, a T 11 to 10. But then the, he was not happy with the result of the surgery, my surgeon.

he came back and he said, you want to be active in the future, we want to go back in, redo the surgery, but we will have to connect more vertebrae. And he gave me like half a day to think about it I just went ahead with it. So they went in again, um, you know, 12 hour surgery again, and now I'm like a myoni woman,

[00:04:45] Randall: Uh, well, let's, so let's, let's take a step back and kind of talk about how we ended up having this conversation.


um, I think Craig and I had put out word in the ridership looking for, um, you know, recommendations from the community on a guest. And one of the members, uh, had reached out and be like, you have to talk to Kaia.

She does, uh, a, you know, an outstanding job building community, uh, in your community out there in, uh, uh, what part of Texas is this? Remind me.

[00:05:15] katya: Um, we are west of Houston. We're about 20 miles west of Houston and Katy.

[00:05:21] Randall: Yeah. And I had seen, uh, some of the rides that you organize. You have a beautiful shop that you've started, um, you are of Russian descent. Spent some time in, uh, living in China. Uh, really just a fascinating story and a lot of kind of values and ethos, alignments around community and so on. So, where do we start?

Where do we want to kick off?

[00:05:44] katya: Whew. Um, well, I think we're wanna start in 2016 when we moved back to Houston from China,

[00:05:57] Randall: Uhhuh

[00:05:57] katya: because that was, um, that was a pivotal moment when decided to get into a business ownership and open a local bike shop,

[00:06:08] Randall: this is you and,

[00:06:10] katya: And it's me and my husband. Um, we traveled a lot with oil and gas. We both were in oil and gas.

Uh, and when we moved back here, um, the community where we are has a lot of potential and there was no bike shop to work with that potential. Um, and I, you know, I would be riding my bike everywhere. Uh, we ended up, Even though we have a child who ended up having only one car, which is very unusual. Um, and as I was commuting everywhere by bike, uh, or I would be working and taking the car and Robert would be riding around everywhere and my son could ride to school.

we found out that there's nowhere for us to go is bike commuters, just to get basic service, to get a rack and piners that would fit my bike. Um, and there was a little, you know, there are a couple of places that I thought wouldn't it be nice to have a bike shop right here? Cause I would bike pasted it all the time on my commune and yeah, just come to thousand 17, we opened a shop

[00:07:15] Randall: That's, uh, so you, so have you always been avid cyclists, you and your husband?

[00:07:21] katya: Uh, no. Uh, but I was, I was always. Not a human powered commuter. my first car, um, I got my first car, I was 30 years old. Uh, and before, before that I lived in about six countries as a resident with oil and gas. I was born in Russia. Um, you know, for my first 20 years of life, I spent as, as a pedestrian walking, using public transportation.

Um, even though family had, we had one car, I never used it. Um, and then, you know, Australia, Dubai, New Zealand, uh, traveling all over Europe, never felt like I needed a car. And then we moved to Houston and the reality hits you here and it's just so shocking because I think Houston is epitome or Texas of car dependency in, in America.

And it was such a shock to my system and I think largely, Um, that formed me as, as almost an American. I'm an American who doesn't have a car.

[00:08:30] Randall: Yeah. It's, uh, all too common for the cities here to have been built. Uh, especially the further west you go around automobiles is the primary way of getting around you. Some places you can't even cross the street cuz it's lanes and there's a fence in the middle. a lot of cities were built, at a time when the automobile was already present versus older European Asian cities where, it's much more walking or horse path oriented.

Uh, so, so yeah, it is, uh, something that fortunately cities are, a lot of cities are starting to. backfill, uh, human-centered, uh, transportation infrastructure, uh, and bike lanes and things like this. But, uh, my understanding is that Houston is tough for infrastructure and also for weather.

[00:09:13] katya: hmm. Well, you know, in my firm belief, uh, I was born in Siberia, so Siberia is not too far from Polar Circle. Um, in, my opinion, you can ride all year around here. actually if you look, um, at professional cyclists in the US, quite a few of them come from Texas. Um, so Emily Newsom, um, she was raised in Tour de France this year.

She's from Fort Worth, that's Dallas. Um, a bunch of people like Beon, MCCA, McCan, they are from, uh, hill country, like Austin area. So, um, I think. The heat of Texas is underestimated. I realized that when we actually moved here, cuz we came from Dubai in summer and we arrived in in August and the second day we went to Zoo and, and everybody was telling us that we were crazy to go to the Zoo Park in August.

We're the only people there with a two year old and tow. But we came from the desert and this felt amazing. It actually cools off from a hundred degrees to 98 at night. , is relative. Uh, one thing that you learn when you travel and when you leave is anat in many countries. It all depends on your frame framework.

[00:10:37] Randall: And so, uh, you mentioned some of the countries you've been an expat in this. Was this all working with

[00:10:43] katya: With oil and gas, yes. In the same company. My husband and I, we met in Neighbors Drilling International. It was the biggest land drilling contractor in the world. I was their first Russian employee working for them in a Russian, in the territory of Russia. But I'm a linguist. I'm not AUM engineer. I have masters and linguistics.

[00:11:01] Randall: Oh, interesting. So how many languages do you have?

[00:11:04] katya: Uh, I studied a bunch of dead ones.

[00:11:07] Randall: Okay

[00:11:08] katya: like you have to, uh, ladin an old Greek old Russian old English. Um, I speak English and Russian. Russian is my native. Um, . I speak French a little bit if I, I studied it in college, but it's been such a long time since I actually spoke French. But I think I will pick up pretty fast.

I said at Mandarin in China.

[00:11:29] Randall: Uhhuh.

[00:11:30] katya: Um, I found Mandarin and writing to be extremely interesting. and I would recommend everybody to go and look it up. find that it's like plain Lego where you have a couple of bricks, well, a lot of bricks, and you can build anything you want if you know how to combine those bricks together.

It's so interesting. Um, great intellectual challenge. I could not speak Mandarin because I could not understand the tones. Even though I play piano and I have musical ear, I should be able to, I could not, I was never understood. I would go to the market in Dion and try to say that I, I want to buy this, or this is my name and nobody would understand what I'm saying.

I know I'm saying it correctly if I was to write it in, transcribe it in in Pinine,

[00:12:19] Randall: Yep.

[00:12:20] katya: but nobody could understand what I'm saying.

[00:12:22] Randall: Well, and there's a certain, um, certainly coming from an English background, there were a lot of sound. Oh, there were a few sounds that we don't have in English. . So getting those mastered was critical cuz the subtlety is, is a critical piece. And then you have the tones and then you have the way that the tones relative to each other. So um, you know, it's really easy to call out a non-native, native speaker because even if they get the tones right, generally they, we, um, you know, the, they won't have the musicality of a native speaker. Um, it was something I had to pay a lot of attention to,

[00:12:54] katya: How did you, I know you, you speak Mandarin, right? Or Cantonese.

[00:12:59] Randall: uh, I speak Mandarin, uh, fairly fluently and then enough Cantonese to, you know, convince uh, somebody that I speak Cantonese before I switch to Mandarin.

[00:13:09] katya: Okay. How long did it take you to capture the tones?

[00:13:13] Randall: Uh, I, Hmm. Um, I would say it was like my second trip. So I was, I taught there for a semester as an undergrad, and then I went and studied for a semester at a university, uh, junction University in Guang Jo, for one semester, and really paid attention to tones and got a, a, a firm foundation in grammar and so on at that time.

Uh, and so, you know, that made me very aware and I would constantly ask if I got the tones right or check the tones.

I had a I

act actually let my little pocket dictionary over there, uh, that I would have with me at all times. And so I was, I had to be very intentional about it, but once I got the hang of it, I, it, it was very natural.

So for the most part, you know, uh, my tones are pretty good. Like I can order, I can order food over the phone and then show up and they're looking for a Chinese person,

[00:14:08] katya: Oh that's amazing Yes Congratulations Uh um my my dissertation and my specialty in college uh was to teach Russian as a foreign language to grad students and freshmen who come to college in Russia to get their degree in Russia but they would come from foreign countries um I have so much appreciation for anybody who can at adult age capture a foreign language you know acquire it to an extent that they can actually freely communicate

[00:14:43] Randall: And yet so many people, uh, especially here in the us, uh, do that. There's, know, they don't get credit. It's more like, you know, why, why do you have an accent? Is kind of the response that is often, you know, that people often get and uh, I, having gone through that journey myself, I definitely have a lot of respect. And from what I hear, Russian is especially difficult to learn because of the number of tenses and things of this

[00:15:12] katya: Yes Russian is pretty hard Um but I would recommend if you ever wanted to to just immerse yourself and um you'll get it It's hard to learn it on your own for sure uh I assume mentoring would be the same if you just try to use dual lingo

[00:15:31] Randall: The

uh, the, the grammar of Mandarin is really easy and that helps a lot. So I found it easier than Spanish.

[00:15:38] katya: Oh yes But just being able to converse

[00:15:40] Randall: Yeah. Yeah. Um, so, okay, so you had a background in linguistics and teaching, uh, Russian to foreigners. Um and then you went into the oil and gas industry, traveled around the world husband ended up in, outside of Houston, Texas, and you have this idea to start a bike shop. So let's what what, is that journey like? Like what was your analysis? Uh, like what has, what has it been like actually running a small business and dealing with the, the ups and downs and the, the risks and the vendors and all this other,

[00:16:12] katya: Yes Um well we definitely had no idea what we were getting ourselves into I just had this dream so need to back off back off a little bit and explain Um so you know coming first I arrived in Houston in 2010 and I saw this as an extremely car-centric community society city with no real urban planning Um and then you know then I would go to China Then I returned in 2016 and we moved to a completely different area and suddenly I realized that there are a lot of bikeways here Uh the bikeways were built by um well some are shared use pathways so they're like extended sidewalks uh you can say And some are actual bikeways that follow the bayou So as you know Houston floods this area floods everybody remembers Harvey We have a diversion channel system to remove the water um into the Gulf And uh this neighborhood is crisscross but a lot of bayou e and it's Bayou uh has easements So they actually own the land around the bayou So imagine that this channels uh that Water grass a lot of land and the local management of this channels will afford drainage district are run by wonderful people who understand the value of investing back in the community So they have realized with the help of some bike advocates cuz none of the board members actually ride bikes or not much but they have realized that there's a huge value in investing into bikeways along these channels So all of this community has about 30 miles of bike trails just through our little you know there's about 7,000 homes here So it's not huge and the amount of bikeways per square mile is pretty impressive Uh every kid can bike to elementary school here so with middle and high school it's a little bit more longer to commute But every kid can get to school by bike walk or on a scooter When we came here it's pretty impressive And there's about five elementary schools here but when we came in 2016 I was shocked how empty those paths are Just made me really sad I would be the only person riding around you know to local grocery store or very few other people There maybe were other people I could never see many Um there were a bunch of kids who would go to school but also even now you know we have the streets that are full of carpool parents people who said for 30 minutes and they only have to cross from one street to the other that would do have infrastructure to support their kids bike into school So it just made me really sad And then I thought you know believe there was a bike shop and they they could do some advocacy They could maybe you know help the community to realize the potential that they have to see that this investment is done for them to improve their life quality um and to you know reduce carbon monoxide pollution It's that simple Right Um and We had the resources to do it So you know we started to look around and we thought well let's try So right We opened the shop we get all the wholesalers on board And then um and then it became very interesting because um one thing I did not realize you know speaking of being woman in the in the industry think I had a blind spot for any um like uh misconception about what women can do Uh because you know coming from Russia Russian women deal with uh slightly different issues In the World War ii huge population of Russian men was um just disappeared as victims of war and Russian women had to carry the economy essentially on their shoulders We had female sks we had women factory directors we had female drivers like women could always do everything Uh my mother is a doctor Super typical Um you know there was never an issue that oh well she's a woman and she will have a harder time going to school or whatever my grandmothers have college education Um it was never even a question Um you know working in oil and gas as well I have never felt um that I'm less then Amen And then here ran in a local bike shop in Texas opened my eyes towards some of the biases that are out there And I remember just not even recognizing that and I would just think oh well that was strange interaction which has just happened But I wouldn't have somebody from here And it typically would be a man some of my friends And she would come and say oh you know they talk to you like that because you're a woman So first of all they think you don't know anything Uh they probably make an assumption that you are $8 an hour who just comes here to say hi Bye

[00:21:17] Randall: Mm-hmm.

[00:21:18] katya: And we're a very small shop So initially when we opened it was May and my tech uh Michael who is African American and an Eastern European woman and we are running a bike shop in a suburb of Houston

[00:21:35] Randall: Text

[00:21:36] katya: So you can only imagine Uh but know despite all that I think we brought um so much interesting um so many interesting characteristics like from our our personalities and backgrounds that it it works out

[00:21:55] Randall: So what has been the, uh, the learning curve as you've been both preneur and in terms of, you know, maybe specifics to the industry or the machine?

[00:22:03] katya: Oh gosh Well I'm trying to be positive and all I'm seeing is a Potential for um and I think you know honestly COVID has opened a lot of people's eyes to what's possible when uh you don't have to commute long hours in traffic to work and you can work from home and what's possible um for a local Environments to be built more human centered Uh so many cities in Europe uh have um revamped their urban planning and even here in the US I see potential with electric bikes Um I really hope that understanding of climate change and the human impact in on climate will help as well So in terms of bike commute I see a lot of potential with sports and bi bi cycling is a sport It's a little bit different story This is where I see gravel is playing a huge role

[00:23:08] Randall: Mm-hmm

[00:23:08] katya: um and adventure by bike Um and that I think is

[00:23:14] Randall: with you there.

[00:23:15] katya: right and I think that's something that not just I learned as you know as we went into the business I think everybody figured that out in the industry that this is kind of where we're heading uh for um in terms of know just running a small business uh in this part of of um the us mean it's what it is You learn the skills You you you know you help you try to stay positive uh you try to work with community Um yeah it's it's been quite a journey

[00:23:52] Randall: So talk about, um, some of the, like what do you carry, what type of shop, and then how have you gotten the word out and how do you engage with the community where you are?

[00:24:01] katya: Ryan So we started the idea was to have a community centered shop to help people quote unquote to get out on bikes our initial focus was mostly bike commute so we were the kind of shop that always carried bunch of cruisers step throughs uh single speeds racks fenders commuter backs veneers Cute helmets um you know a bunch of gear for commuters And then we have evolved a lot uh with gravel uh with all I was a roadie even before I opened the shop Um I actually started psych I was in track and field in school and then my knees just started to get really bad when I was In like late twenties I couldn't run as much Um so I you know I had miles and I would ride with him in the trailer and like try to fight the roadies on the local loop with my cruiser bike and a kid and a trainer then I thought well maybe it's time for me to get an actual road bike So I started you know I love the fitness aspect of Cyclone for sure but roads here are pretty unsafe Uh where we are in in our little pocket in It's tolerable You can actually I don't mind doing solo 20 30 mile ride out here with uh a good portion of it being in traffic you can only do it on certain times of the day only uncertain roads The rest of the roads are just so crazy fast and dangerous Uh but we have a gravel levy two miles from the shop you can go there 24 hours Uh it's always empty You will see a bunch of deer very few people You're totally safe And uh we started to train out there uh and then we introduced a bunch of people to the levee and now we have rides out there But my true gravel rides are about an hour from here in the car we drive out in the country And that's when you have your hundreds and hundreds of miles of gravel

[00:26:05] Randall: Got it. Very, very cool.

[00:26:07] katya: So yeah it it has moved a little bit and then bike packing you know that kind of jumped on board Natural progression I do feel like if you have a gravel bike and then tell it to my customers who come to get a bike and say well think you only wanna do 20 miles of this little gravel path over here but look at this this is what you could do And we have this big photographs of backpacking trips on the walls so people can see and hopefully get inspired and you know and go to one of our cuz we do this beginner backpacking trips I have one coming up this weekend by the way

[00:26:39] Randall: Oh, no kidding.

[00:26:40] katya: Yeah Mm

[00:26:41] Randall: That's great. And it is part, um, so I'm fully on board with you. I've been, I mean, gravel bikes have existed in, in other forms. For a long time people were riding road bikes with 23 roads, long before there was something called a gravel bike. And people have been bike packing since before it was called bike

[00:26:59] katya: Mm-hmm

[00:27:00] Randall: but the fact that there's this focus on making versatile machines that can, you know, really tackle a variety of road surfaces and have mounting points for different gear and so on, just makes it so well, why not get a machine that can do a lot more? And then it just begs the question, and why don't you get out there and have some of these experiences?

And there's a, a lot of people who do good work. So, so having, having a group activity, like what you're putting on, I would imagine just radically reduces the barrier to entry for a lot of people.

[00:27:31] katya: Hmm You know I remember uh when I got my first road bike and in general and in it's gonna be a little bit philosophical but me cycling became an entry into society here when we moved from Dubai That was in 2010 when we first arrived in Texas in Houston and I didn't know anybody Um it is people are super friendly here and it's very international and you do start making friends very quickly And you know I had a kid um so you know making friends with other parents was relatively easy but I didn't I wasn't here long enough to start going to school or to get a job I was still uh getting my green card then And I met so many people through recycling My best friends here in Houston were all mad through recycling group but I remember that when I got my bike I was still really shy I didn't know anyone and I ride alone I would ride every single day by myself or have a kid and tow or have you know a babysitter looking or my husband looking o after him And I would go and do loops by myself in the same time just as a way to stay fit And I did that for about a year before I was brave enough to join in a group And I remember I was Intimidated uh when you're a beginner and and you and you don't you don't know if you're gonna be safe out there and you don't know if you're gonna act right and you gonna you know say right things especially you know my language is improving hopefully but you know it's so far from where it could be and just being so anxious about it And then all the friends that I made through cycling were so friendly so helpful I think that experience allows me to be that helpful and friendly face in the shop when I have somebody who comes in and these are my favorite customers my favorite person in the shop is someone who wants to get into biking Maybe they want to get their first bike or maybe they want to start biking for groceries or to work uh because I know what they experience And as someone who taught in college I know how to break down activities into steps so I can just really kind of micromanage their entry Uh I do beginner road rides where anybody's welcome on bike We will talk about what hand to use how to ride together in a group how not to bump into each other how to act with traffic What is the safest road to ride I just love helping people in that way because you never know where are they gonna end up Maybe they're gonna be like me and open a bike shop years later

[00:30:27] Randall: It's, I, I can't tell you how many examples, uh, including my own, uh, of people who have used the bicycle. As you know, I, I've said many times on this podcast a vehicle for connection.


so like, you know, I, the, the, the thing that I recall, like the first thing I recall being able to do on my own pretty much at any time for extended periods and really enjoy my own company, was riding a bicycle. the rolling meditation part of it.

The going out

and exploring a place from a different vantage point. Like if wherever you live, you're going to experience it very differently on a bicycle, especially a bicycle that you can take off and explore the back trails and parks and the roads that you don't take, cuz it's not the direct line between any A and b. and then the community element of it. You know, rolling up next to somebody, striking up a conversation, going to your first group ride, you know, showing up in jorts in a, in an old helmet and a bike that's falling apart and whatever. And then slowly like learning the ropes and going through that, that rite of passage.

Uh, and then I also resonate very much with, um, the opportunity for folks like ourselves who've kind of gone through a lot of that journey to just make it easier for others, you know, reduce the, the friction, make it so that there's educational materials, make it so that there are rides that are accessible.

Make it so that there's content like this conversations where people can hear like, oh, I'm, I'm. Uh, unique in my slight awkwardness in getting into this. Um, you know, even the, the people that seem all put together and the cool kids on the bikes were, uh, well, I'll speak for myself. I was definitely, definitely a socially awkward awkward in general when I first started riding.

And, um, very much the bike has been kind of a, a, a means of, uh, I mean career, uh, relationships all around the world, uh, opportunities and so on. And even if you don't take this extreme path or taking, you know, starting a bike shop, um, just the friendships that, you get cultivated

or like

the, the healthy habits that get developed,

the reduced

stress and how that impacts one's entire life.

[00:32:43] katya: Well and you know with going back to how we may appear all put together on our rides um I when I first meet people who are interested in something like a gravel rod like say they're roadies and they're hear about gravel rods but they're not sure if they have the skills or if they can tackle this you know climb and the ground under you shifting all the time and you're sleeping And I always say look uh when I broke my back I was still I was told I'll never get a bike again And I was told that if I can I should not And with all this screws that I have in there I'm still out there you know and I'm 42 year old mother and I'm riding bikes and I'm doing this you know crazy adventures My next trace is 280 miles

[00:33:37] Randall: All in one

[00:33:39] katya: Oh in one go Yeah It's it's an ultra bike fucking thing Shout out to bikes or Death it East Texas Showdown

[00:33:47] Randall: All right. When is this?

[00:33:49] katya: I uh I'm a month from now so I've been geeking out on tires and setups but I've done that before though it's not my first show so

[00:33:58] Randall: of course. Well, well bravo on that. You definitely, I've never done a ride that long. Longest I've ever done was, uh, a 300 k ride when I was, uh, training in Europe for a couple of weeks. And, uh, that was the hardest day I've ever put in the saddle. So

[00:34:14] katya: 300 K That would be about 200 miles

[00:34:17] Randall: yeah, a hundred. And I think it ended up being like 188 or 189 miles.


180 6 I

think is, is 200, 300


[00:34:26] katya: or off road

[00:34:27] Randall: road.

[00:34:28] katya: Yeah

[00:34:29] Randall: Yeah. So very different

animal right

Road is easier. Even with the mountain passes road is definitely easier to cut. And I was in a, I was in a Peloton with a bunch of other fast riders and we were like, you know, so I was, I got carried through certain sections. I mean, had to do the climbs, but on the, on the flats we were doing 25 and I was probably putting out 150 watts and just kind of cruising.

[00:34:50] katya: We'll be doing 12

[00:34:52] Randall: Yeah.

[00:34:53] katya: miles an hour It's off road or 70% offroad

[00:34:58] Randall: That's awesome. Very, very cool.

[00:35:01] katya: So if I can do it anyone can

[00:35:04] Randall: Well, and so I also, I didn't appreciate, this at all. When, um, you know, when, when I first reached out, I only knew about a little bit about your background, um, and, uh, that you had this shop that was very community focused, but, you know, you spent, so you broke your back cycling in China. That's not the, the full extent of your, your China story.

So especially as someone who spent so much time there myself, I want to hear more about how'd you end up there? Uh, you were working at, with, for an orphanage there as well.

[00:35:37] katya: Uh yeah So with China it was the the time when my husband was still fully involved in oil and gas and um he was Offered an opportunity to manage a huge huge project in Dion that's just across from South Korea On on the Sea Uh there's several massive shipyards so whatever we receive over here a lot of that stuff when it comes from China it comes from Dion or that area generically It's about two hour flight north from Beijing And um yeah we all decided to go So um I was going to school here but I you know I said you know that's such an awesome opportunity to discover that part of Asia I haven't been there before and it's very close to Russia as well So uh we moved and um yes I ended up um I was cycling there ended up hurting myself really bad about a month in South Korea Um my injury quite extensive so I had to be Placed uh in a jet and taken over to Samsung Medical Center in in Seoul for spinal surgeries Um it was easier from Dian It was easier to go to se than to Beijing for the style of surgery that I had because it was faster and I had collapsed lung so I couldn't be on the plane for a long time as well So they needed to move me somewhere where it's close and uh good quality of healthcare

[00:37:11] Randall: Mm-hmm

[00:37:11] katya: And yeah Seoul was the closest place where they took me And when I returned from so I spent about a month my son and my husband were in China I was in Korea uh in the hospital for about a month Uh then I moved back when I was allowed to walk Um and when I arrived in Darlin I thought well I can't ride my bike uh and I can't I I can't really go anywhere far Um what am I going to do And there was a community Now Dion is not very well known among Westerners most of expats who go to that part of China are Chinese or Cor uh Japanese or Korean So I was surrounded by um awesome awesome families from Japan and Korea We made a lot of friends especially if we could speak Yeah if they knew a little bit of English that would help Um but yeah there were not very many expats at all So I tried to like find myself in that community And there was a little group of women who were going to a local orphanage uh just to help out Um cuz the orphanage was understaffed It's a public orphanage I don't know the number the name Just kind of know where it's located I could not ever read exactly what it said and then I so I would come and I would just help help the nurses help Daise to take care of little kids then I heard that they this orphanage was selected to participate in an program where older kids so age seven and up uh would possibly go to the US and would be possibly adopted in the US at that old I think the limit is 15 years old So between wanna say between seven and two 15 that age group I suggested you know as a linguist I said oh they have to be speaking English a little bit Um because it's gonna be such a trauma for a child even you know we might think with a white person complex that we're doing this amazing thing by removing this child into a Western society but it's a huge trauma cuz they're going from a familiar environment you know people who take care of them they're friends uh and they're dropped in you know this com like on the moon and they don't they can't even express that they're hungry or that they need to go to the bathroom or you know any discomfort that they have And insisted it took about a month to get a permission I think the orphanage was very concerned about teaching something that's not correct I don't know maybe some know it's very political right Um so I had to be I had to be persuasive but also I had to be you know very precise and say look this is what I'm going to do These are the books I'm going to use It's gonna be so simple It's gonna be just conversational language so that the kids don't suffer as much as they would with the separation anxiety from their environment And eventually they allowed me to come I had a group of about maybe 10 kids and it would change some would join and some would leave And eventually um about half of them were adopted in the US and it was uh it the program became so good I mean I would be there several times a week regularly with lessons plans Uh I had typically one of the teachers stay with me The the orphanage uh supervisors stay with me so they get to learn as well And it became so good And the demand was so good for this type of lessons that I trained other uh English speaking women in uh our little community so they could come and do this And there were some women who had teaching backgrounds so they got it really quickly and they could come and work with kids There was documentary made I mean I had a TV crew to come and film I think it was made for the prospective parents to see that you know this orphanage has this program so you will be able to communicate with kids I've never seen the end product but to me that was a sign that something that I'm doing is helpful I was not paid It was just totally volunteering but I really enjoyed it Really enjoyed it and it's something that I know how to do So

[00:42:02] Randall: that's. , really wonderful. Truly, truly wonderful. And something that, you know, when I, when you had shared that with me again, uh, was very resonant. One I've, I taught in, in, I

taught English was teaching

uh, high school students and I got to create my own curricula. I actually had 40 classes and they would rotate every two weeks.

So I get an each class every two weeks. And so I would create curricula around, um, you know, there one where we did, uh, song lyrics. So we you know, singing Beatles tracks and things

like that

Um, and then others were, you know, just a, the creative element of being able to create, uh, um, a curriculum for an audience that was really stoked just to interact.

Um and

this was back in 2004, so China was a very different place. Um, the changes have been so, . And then also I, I also recall, uh, so I lived in Guang Jo for a period and a lot of the adoptions go through, uh, Shanda in, Guang Jo in, um, it's the, uh, the US consulate there.


I think it's Beijing and Guang Jo is where most of them go And so you'll, I remember going to that part of town and seeing, you know, mostly Caucasian American families there adopting these mostly, uh, uh, female Chinese

[00:43:26] katya: Mm-hmm

[00:43:27] Randall: And it didn't occur to me at the time, um, just how, I mean, just how traumatic, even at that age that is, kids have already gone through the trauma of like not having their mother,

[00:43:42] katya: mm

[00:43:43] Randall: which.

You know, it's something I, I didn't appreciate, uh, until doing a whole lot of, uh, therapy and me meditation and various other things, just how critical that early is. to imagine what you're describing of, you know, someone who's a teenager and mm is, is very much, uh, uh, in many ways formed.

Mm-hmm constantly changing, but there's a lot of deeply ingrained patterns. There's language, there's familiarity. Then you go to a place where maybe there's no one who looks like you

[00:44:15] katya: Mm

[00:44:16] Randall: and maybe it's not welcoming.

[00:44:18] katya: mm

[00:44:18] Randall: Yeah

who, who want to love you but don't know how to speak.

Not just language with words, but your language with behaviors and Um, were the, I'm curious, were the kids, um, in general, were they excited about the prospect of go being adopted outside of China or,

[00:44:37] katya: They were but they were also very scared

[00:44:41] Randall: Yeah

[00:44:42] katya: I think And it's it's going it's very sad what I'll say right now But I still remember when we were talking we had lessons when some fa some kids were already selected they knew they were moving one kid is trying to explain push like he shows this poof poof that people shoot that something that he maybe has seen in the movies mass media the guns in America And that's one thing he shows to me and he is trying to explain I'm scared that there are a lot of guns and and maybe I will be killed People shoot in America a lot So I then have to explain and of course their language you know they've been taking classes maybe for six months prior their language is quite limited But I'm trying to explain will not be shot in the America There are a lot of very good people and kind people and they will love you and they will take care of you And look I lived in America I never seen a gun in America never Nowhere on the street there was a person with a gun You will not see the gun But that that's one thing they told me immediately

[00:45:56] Randall: Mm-hmm. . It

[00:45:58] katya: It's sad This is these are the stereotypes that

[00:46:01] Randall: well, and those stereotypes go very heavily in both directions. I

remember when

I was first going to China, um, Uh, family members being, uh, certain family members being deeply concerned. You know, it's a communist country. And, um, there's all these, you it comes from, comes from ignorance ultimately.

Um, but you know, the, it's people often fear what they don't understand. Um, my experience there was profoundly different and, you know, it's been in, in my very limited way in my circles. Like, I consider it a real opportunity to have been, uh, immersed in that culture. It's, it's my second culture and be able to dispel a lot of those myths actually.

Um, yes, there's the Chinese Communist Party and yes, it has, uh, you know, a fairly authoritarian bent, but, um, here's a mirror on our culture and in many ways, like you, Communism in China doesn't mean what you think it means

[00:47:00] katya: mm

[00:47:00] Randall: it's largely capitalist in some ways, more capitalist ways that have their own problems.

Um, and more fundamentally at the end of the day, like people are people.

That's the thing that

I have learned, um, and that I think learning a another language and immersing in other culture teaches more than anything is that we all have, you know, we all have, um, hopes and fears. We all have, you know, basic needs that are largely common, like, you know, and shelter and food and companionship and esteem and things like this.

Um, and while culture can result in various seemingly disparate manifestations at our core, there's a hell of a lot more in common. In fact, I, I find that at the end of the day, if I can identify someone, something in someone else, positive or negative, um, That I have it in myself as well.

[00:47:58] katya: Hmm mm-hmm Yes You know through all the travels that I've done I've figured out we've really need so little uh to well I maybe I speak for myself but I think most people and I've seen it in other expats um if you have a job you have self-fulfilment fulfillment and you have friends and you have um you know close people that you love and take care of and and that's pretty much all you need And it doesn't matter where you are you can be uh you know in uh beautiful So in China we lived in Shula so you know Shilla

[00:48:41] Randall: Yeah. The

[00:48:42] katya: right So in Dion Shangrila Hotel had apartment complex next to it and it was just so luxurious right And then in Australia we lived in a tiny little farmhouse uh in the middle of nowhere And I all my life I lived in small apartments in Save or in Moscow Uh and it doesn't matter where you are if you have family good health hopefully um know basic needs are met Uh you're good so simple

[00:49:16] Randall: Now this actually brings up, uh, what I think might be an interesting topic, which is, I mean, you're of Russian descent. you lived in Russia, you spent most of life in Russia. Um, there's a conflict between, well, there's a perceived conflict between Russia and the West at the moment. There's a lot of.

I think concern in, in American society, uh, and in European society about But, uh, maybe we can, well, I think already this conversation should dispel some myths from, uh, of Yeah. Amongst people who've never heard, uh, you know, truly heard the voice of a, of a native, uh, Russian in terms of just how much love and kindness and so on, uh, you bring to the table.

But, uh,


[00:50:00] katya: Uh yeah know my biggest takeaway from this whole conflict right now is protect media and freedom of speech But but for the media especially I have respect for those big resources uh like Washington Post or like New York Times or like b C you know these big channels because once they get controlled by someone uh it's so easy Even in modern society with all the access to information that we have is so easy for them to block it Whoever is in control of the narrative controls the mind controls the politics the Russian society is uh really divided right now And um sorry to say it but I think it's heavily brainwashed And the reason it's brainwashed is precisely because uh all the media were banned the free speech So to speak uh media were banned uh right now The Russian the Russian platform that I personally follow they have been uh broadcasting from Europe since 24th of February When the war started they were banned immediately so they had to move out and start broadcasts from Europe The only way to listen to them in Russia towards them would be through vpn but just very recently they were called pretty much a terrorist organization and anybody who shares a screenshot uh an audio recording a screen grab from a video from the program anybody who shares on their social platform private Like Facebook's band Instagram's band So it would be Telegram Okay Telegram is still allowed If you share you are looking at potential arrest in jail time uh because you are supporting terrorism This is how far it's gone since 24th of February last year Um and you know if somebody told me a year ago that you cannot control the whole of Russian population you cannot switch all of the internet Well now my answer is yes you can If you make people if you if people are so afraid to share um the you know their conversations become very personal They maybe will talk face to face and they will say you know what saw that Russia just has bombed this houses and 10 children died and these were not military um you know groups It was just a house You can say that in conversation but you cannot broadcast it on any any social platform And that's how you just slowly slowly you're closing closing it up And people who are brave enough to speak out they either end up in jail or they get out

[00:53:14] Randall: Mm-hmm.

[00:53:15] katya: and yeah

[00:53:16] Randall: Well, and just for anyone who is, uh, listening and is somewhat sat self-satisfied, thinking that it can't happen here, these same forces are at play in, um, you know, quote unquote democratic societies.

[00:53:31] katya: Mm-hmm it can happen anywhere

[00:53:34] Randall: can happen anywhere. There's definitely, uh, you know, consolidation of media. There's definitely.

you know, certain, you know, there have been times when having certain opinions could, can get you shouted down, can get you essentially canceled in a way. you know, I remember when the, the Iraq war was being debated

[00:53:54] katya: Mm

[00:53:55] Randall: you know, the buildup towards that. And if you had a dissenting opinion, uh, you were, you know, anti-American.


well, you know, it's, uh, in, in retrospect it seems like a number of people on both sides of the political spectrum, uh, look at that conflict as not, uh, having born the fruits that were promised

[00:54:16] katya: Mm-hmm yes

[00:54:17] Randall: Um, and you know, the point that I would make is, You know, we all have our beliefs, we all have our, uh, predispositions.

Um, but you know, another form of this that seems quite pervasive here is the bubbles.

You know I only

you know, I, I only read certain types of media and the other media is bad. And

then the people on

the other side have the same sort of perspective. And so getting, having a diverse diet, including of opinions you don't like, including of opinions you don't agree with from parties that you, um, don't, uh, necessarily resonate with, but treating them like people who are doing their best and who may look at you in the same way and have some merits in that perspective, uh, I think is tremendously valuable and is also essential in not having a society progress in

the direction

towards extreme polarity, I factionalism and so on.

[00:55:11] katya: Mm

[00:55:13] Randall: Oh

[00:55:14] katya: You know I think one of the best thing each of us can do to combat our own biases step out of our own echo chambers the more even if you have very polarized opinions around yourself the Opinions you surround yourself with the better your selection is the you know the more the wider the picture you see And even you know being a extremely liberal super left leaning person in Texas um you know I'm surrounded by people who don't feel the same that I do But for you know for many reasons I want to know where they're coming from because there's no way for me to br to build the bridge towards that side If I ignore that side is there you have to see the other bank to be able to reach out to it So I know there is a lot of you know there's so much polarization whereas some people say oh I proudly don't I'm not going to include in my circle This type of person who thinks that way like for me would be a gun owner I would say oh well but hey you want to have as many opinions around yourself and you know to get a full picture And uh you know my message to my son who's 13 and who's super interested in ev in all politics right now um in being of Russian descent as well loves so socialism communism he loves the iconography of it he would wear Russian C C C P U society t-shirt before the now he's not But uh you know my message to him and everybody in his age group is Hey critical thinking is what you want And to develop critical thinking you wanna have a lot of sources of of information know how to process information know how to you know digest it find the key moments and don't just trust the loudest wa voice in the room And in Russia going back to that in Russia right now um all the loudest voices have extremely conservative They're very polarizing It is hard but that gives me even more appreciation for anybody who stands out And there are still people who are out there protesting Uh there are a lot of women who protest cons The wives of those you know guys imagine that Imagine you're an IT specialist or you're a banker You have nothing against Ukraine never had you have relatives over there Uh you are very peaceful never had a gun in your hand You maybe have two kids at home and a dog and then somebody shows up To your office cuz they do it They can script now through offices uh they come to your boss and they bring him the name of the list of names and they're saying we know that such and such works Here you will be responsible for distributing the conscription notes And the boss comes into the room They don't even know what's going on You're just okay guys you were all conscripted because as soon as you receive the paper you acknowledge that you know you've been called and you can't really back out So you can hide and not open the door if they come to your house People literally have been hiding Russian men have been running from their homes There is a guy who build a camp in the woods like in Taiga Forest so that the people don't find him He's got no address Nobody knows where he is because once they see your face and once you receive it in your hand they got you And yeah imagine this Bankers go to war and a month later the wife gets a note that he's dead This is what happens to Russian soldiers and these poor women know now they have kids they have a dead husband in the war they it wasn't his defined uh there is a story of uh of an it or yeah someone from administrative you know side of life who was hired a lawyer to fight his conscription because by law he was not supposed to be conscripted He was killed while the lawyer was protesting his conscription he was killed at the war zone Um not I not trying to you know Russia look like a victim is an aggressor and I'm terribly ashamed what my country does And when people come to the shop and they ask me oh where's your accent from It is so difficult to answer this question like it's always been cuz I don't wanna be stereotyped as someone who's Russian or someone someone at all Like I don't want you to know like I live to so many places who knows what has formed me as as a woman right now but right now especially it's really hard And I always give a disclaimer and I say yes I'm from Russia I support Ukraine I feel like I have to say because I don't want Anybody to think because there are so many who do support the war unfortunately it's hard Um it's very difficult

[01:00:23] Randall: Well,

and, and again, like to, before we bring it full circle, like, you know, I, I, I sus, I wonder if there are, you know, if, if there are any Vietnam veterans who might be listening who might with some of that experience. I mean, we are immune to this in, uh, in the us And furthermore, you know, in my own travels, um, you know, I've been to places where I've been asked to account for the choices of the government, of the country I come from particularly, um, back in the, you know, 2004, 2005, 2006.

Um, and, um, it, you know, as much as, uh, there's an American. Belief in, you know, a certain set of values and like this idea that we, uh, are promulgating these values in the world. Well, oftentimes the things that are, are that the population here is not paying attention to are going counter, uh, to the narrative that's being put out.

But, um, we've, we've gone gonna, I think you and I will end up having another conversation

[01:01:25] katya: Yes. Yes.

[01:01:27] Randall: sort of thing, but to, to bring it full circle, you know, talking about like connecting with people

[01:01:34] katya: Mm.

[01:01:34] Randall: who have different perspectives and backgrounds and so on. Um, I don't think it's at all trite to say that like, this is an experience that you can have on a bicycle.

Like on

a bicycle. You go show up for a group ride and you know, you can find rides where everyone, you know, is a skinny, shaved shave legged white guy and Lyra going, going hammering on the road ride. But there's a lot of diversity to be had as well if you find your group and there's nothing quite like the shared ordeal of a long bike ride, um, to break down barriers and help realize the humanity of another person.

[01:02:10] katya: Oh, for sure. And, you know, speaking of diversity in Cycline, um, I, I really do feel, and it's, you know, it's not just, you know, thinking someone's tune or what's the phrase that. Adventures. Cycline in general does that, and by that I mean gravel events. So I'm not specifically not saying racing, but gravel events, bike packing events.

I feel like my contribution, um, to build in or to help in reach out is because I'm a female and I'm not from here. And, you know, English is my foreign language and I'm just trying to have a good time on the bike. So for me, I'm coming from this, you know, vantage point where I really don't care you look like, how old you are, what your bike is like.

I just want us to go out there and have a great time and I want you to have a very good experience. Um, and you know, the fact that Cy. Still perceived as, you know, middle-aged men or younger men, super fed, um, out in old matching kid, you know, beautiful bike. think it's very, uh, retro. I think it's dying out.

Um, the people that I see, uh, are becoming a lot more how would just different, you know, come with what you have. And I'm so happy that, uh, at least on the gravel side of things, is really welcoming. There's so many women's clinics, they're, you know, there are these pros who do great videos and they write it in these amazing places where in Jordans and flip flops.

Um, I think that is actually super encouraging too. Like everybody, and it's funny, I do some advocacy here where I go out and meet some decision makers, um, for local infrastructure investments. Like when there is some, I just want to a, a meeting about an extension of a highway, you know, stuff like that. I make sure if I can, I make sure to come on my bike in a skirt and like flip flops or not to look at all as a cyclist.

Um, just to, to say, look, we look the same. We are the same, we speak the same language. Like there's nothing that really separates me from you. I think there's nothing worse than going to places like that full decked out and Lyra and, and screaming pretty much, I am so different from you. Um, know, at the end of the day we wanna find more commonalities than, you know, something that separates us.

And, uh, biking for sure can be both. Uh, and I think that's why I gravitate to commuting by bike. Fuck adventure though I love road cycling for sport. It's amazing. increases my F tp hopefully.

[01:05:10] Randall: Yeah,

[01:05:11] katya: I follow my metrics. I do my intervals

[01:05:15] Randall: well, Katy, um, it's been really, really lovely connecting with you, hearing your story. I'm sure that, uh, you know, some of the members of the community will, will appreciate it as well. Uh, if folks want to find your shop, find information about, uh, the work that you're doing, how, how would they go about doing


[01:05:33] katya: Um, well, thank you very much. It was very nice. Uh, I, I should have mentioned that I got to know your podcast through my 20 hour drive to Colorado, and I listened to 15, 15 episodes in a row, just binged on my drive, so I'm extremely honored. , don't even know how honored I am to be here. Two years ago when I was driving to Timbo, it was Timbo gravel race I would've never, ever imagined.

Um, but to find us, um, cool Cat Cycles website, cool Cat Cycles is just one cat and she cycles with c ccc. Easy to remember. Cool cat cycles. Um, dot com and then Facebook page. All my events are on Facebook. We are also ambassadors and right with gps, so you might be able to find cool cat cycles. Uh, there is at least one word there, backpacking route.

Um, and then Instagram. Cool cat cycles as well. I answer all the messages quickly. Uh, I love sharing my roots. All my roots are right with gps. My personal roots are public. I'll be very happy to send a bike back in route, the gravel route. I'm out in the country, uh, about 50 minutes from here, twice a week, riding gravel, and I know those roads like my 10 fingers.

[01:06:59] Randall: Well, um, for anyone listening who happens to be in the area around katy,


[01:07:05] katya: Cat cycles.

[01:07:06] Randall: Cycles strongly encourage you to pay them a visit and join one of their rides. And I also just wanna say that it's been an honor and a privilege chatting with you as well.

It's one of the joys of this role, and it's something I don't take lightly. So thank you for coming on.

[01:07:20] katya: Thank you so much Randall.

[01:07:21] Craig Dalton: That's going to do it for this week's edition of the gravel ride podcast. Big thank you to Randall and Katia for that interesting conversation. And big, thanks to our friends at dynamic cyclist. Remember, use the coupon code, the gravel ride to get 15% off

any dynamic cyclist program. If you're interested in connecting with me or Randall or Katia for that matter, I encourage you to join the ridership. That's That's a free global cycling community where you can connect with other riders around the world. To trade information about roots and rides, parts and equipment.

Anything that's in your gravel vocabulary.

If you're able to support the show, please visit buy me a gravel wide. Or ratings and reviews are hugely appreciated. Until next time. Here's to finding some dirt under your wheels.