2023 DTE Pursuit Awards Applications Are Open!

The time is nigh: the 2023 DTE Pursuit Awards applications are open until end of day November 20, 2022! As a reminder of who this is for, if you’re a woman based in Colorado, and looking to pursue something on the bike, whether it be competing in your first-ever gravel event or pursuing a goal of becoming a professional cyclist, but lack the support system and resources to get there, DTE could be your jam.

Want to learn more before applying? In the video below, we take a few minutes to share our thoughts on how our first season with this experiment went, and hint at some things to come. And more importantly, we interview our 2022 DTE riders, and they provide in-depth color on their experiences in their first ever gravel season, and their experiences as our very first DTE crew. 🙂

Enjoy, and we can’t wait to meet you.

The Rad Dirt Fest Wrap

 “Fall seven times and stand up eight.”

While open to nuance and interpretation, this apparently-Japanese ( I say apparently, because nobody seems to definitively know, but everyone seems to agree it originated in Japan) proverb gets to the core of resilience. And while there’s wisdom in knowing when to quit, I love the surface level simplicity and never-say-die essence of these seven words. They’re so applicable to cycling, and to anything hard that is worth doing. And given that some of our crew this year did seven events, it leaves me hopeful and excited about what 2023 might bring…

DTE rider, Lailah, on The Rad course racing rain that never came, late in the day before she found her actual Distance to Empty

Usually in these posts, I add a good amount of third party observations and attempts at color, but being I was on the mend from a second bout of Covid with a fair amount of brain fog, my recollections of the weekend are a little… thin. And with that, let’s hear what the Team DTE riders have to say in their own words.

Lailah

To be honest, I don’t really know where to begin. The Rad was the last race of a very challenging season for me. I’ve never really been quite confident in my abilities and couldn’t help comparing myself to those around me, but with the encouragement of my teammates, Starla, and Gino, I started feeling like I belonged in this community and started trusting myself more. Throughout the season, I gained confidence in myself, realized I could do hard things, and started having fun with it. 

Going into The Rad, I didn’t know what to expect. I was heavily underprepared for the event, but gave it all I had regardless. Unfortunately, I had to be pulled from the race because I missed the second cutoff by just a few minutes. I was absolutely devastated, a blubbering mess on the bike, but I kept going. I wanted to see if I could go the distance, but I also kept going because the feats my teammates had overcome this season inspired me to. I ended up riding for another 32 miles before I bonked so hard I could barely steady myself. I, again, was disappointed and cried even more, but, now I look back and am immensely proud of myself. I rode the longest distance I ever had by almost 30 miles, and while I didn’t end the season or race how I wanted to, I still feel like I accomplished something great. I’m stronger than I ever gave myself credit for and I can’t thank Distance to Empty enough for making me realize that. 

I’ve said this before, but I will never not be grateful for DTE. Through this program, I was introduced to one of the most incredible and accepting communities I have ever known. It still amazes me how everyone in the gravel biking community is so supportive of each other especially the WOMEN! The women in this sport are absolute beasts and I’m so incredibly honored to be one of them. 

Through DTE, I met incredible people, learned more about myself and what I’m capable of, and pushed myself further than I really ever had in the past. I’m so excited to join the next group of awardees and am already preparing for the next season. I know now that I can do hard things and I’m a force to be reckoned with. I will never stop pushing myself and finding my Distance to Empty and I cannot wait to encourage more to find theirs as well.

Kate

The Rad Ride in Trinidad represented for me the final race of this incredible season. After slowly increasing my endurance and skills over the course of six other events I was excited to visit another part of the state and a final race. 

Just after SBT GRVL in August I had come down with Covid and spend most of the next 7 weeks recovering, not spending much time on the bike. I was unsure of my conditioning going into the Rad but knew that if I rode my ride I’d do fine.

While I had definitely lost a step due to my illness and recovery, I was proud of my ride. Finishing my race faster than I had hoped, though the only PRs I set were in my own internal goals of climbing with confidence. Finishing the race was a satisfying conclusion of a momentous first season in the gravel racing world – showing up, riding my ride with joy and confidence, and showing all that all bodies, big and small have a place in gravel.

Hannah

We made it! After my first full season of racing, The Rad was the perfect place to tie it all up. Even though the weather was looking questionable, I was able to finish my first 100 mile ride and beat the rain. Trinidad gravel lived up to all the hype and my legs felt strong throughout the ride. Seeing familiar faces throughout the day at aid stations, on the road, and at the finish line was also such a cool feeling.

This past year has been wild – full of new experiences, community, and minimal scrapes along the way. I am super proud of my teammates for riding hard and am excited for what is next!

And that’s it for our final race report of the season! In the coming days, we have some exciting announcements to make, and we’ll be opening up 2023 DTE Pursuit Award applications later this month!

Thanks for the support, inspiration, laughs, cries, and most of all, indelible memories of the inaugural Distance to Empty season. We can’t wait for what’s to come!

FoCo Fondo: a Study in Perseverance and Spreading the Stoke

“To be a cyclist is to be a student of pain. At cycling’s core lies pain. If you never confront pain, you’re missing the essence of the sport.”
– Scott Martin, Paralympic champion, Marine Corp veteran

The moment Kate crossed the line at the conclusion of the 53-mile FoCo Fondo ‘Dare You’ route, her beautiful, emotional release was one that resonated deeply with the crew, and was so familiar to all of us. Anyone who has ever dared to go deep has personally experienced something like this on the bike. It hits differently, and at different times for everyone. Sometimes, it’s letting go of relationship pain, giving self-doubt the middle finger, getting past grief of losing someone, losing part of yourself, or perhaps loosening the grip on who you used to be, and seeing a clearer glimpse of a new path you’re creating for yourself. It’s cathartic and cleansing. Starla and I often joke that the bike is the best place to have a cry.

Earlier that day, my riding buddy Afsana and I bumped into Kate at about mile 20 as she crested the hill to the rest stop where we were downing Cokes and Jojé bars. We all checked in and chatted briefly, and at that point, Kate was in good spirits, but also flirting with bailing on the 53, and just finishing the 32 mile course. As she spoke about where her head was, I could see her battling herself, weighing the current discomfort and self doubt against her own self-imposed future guilt of not completing her goal. We’ve all been there, and I recognized it immediately from so many of my own experiences in similar situations. With a little talking things through, she committed to what she’d started, and Afsana and I were off, back on our own shorter course for the day.

Kate crests the hill to the rest stop

Welcome to Stokeville

A funny thing happens when you decide to dig in, no matter the pain and struggle. After Kate’s emotional finish, we noticed she wasn’t alone. She told us that she’d made a friend out on course. She introduced us, and the woman said she’d actually decided to quit. Done. It was her first gravel cycling event, and she had actually quit her ride, downloaded the Lyft app, and was getting ready to call a Lyft to come get her and take her back to the start. Kate rolled up while she was hailing her ride, chatted her up, told her it was the longest distance she’d ever attempted. They decided they were going to finish it together, and damnit, they did. Every last mile. Every last smile.

Oh, what twelve months can do

After one of the scariest, worst times of our life (and let me tell you, we’ve had a few with my kidney transplant and double bypass), FoCo Fondo was Starla’s first event back after battling for her life earlier this year. A year ago, she won the FoCo Fondo long course, and stepped to the line in 2022 with the well-earned #1 plate. We were both emotional wrecks all morning. Just to see her lining up at the start of a cycling event after not knowing if she’d ever be able to ride a bike again was too much to hold in. We both cried on and off right up to the very point when the race started. A few months back in March, when she was lying in a hospital bed at Cedars Sinai in LA for nine days, we were both too terrified to think of much beyond getting her able to walk again, able to use her hands again, and finding the first steps in an unknown road to what we hoped would be recovery. To be at FoCo was in itself hard to internalize, and we both felt it.

Starla’s #1 bike and enviable quad

Here’s the thing though. Starla’s plan was to not race. It was a test to see how she felt. In fact, at the start line of the 102 mile “Double Dog Dare You” route, Starla’s old Hagens-Berman Supermint teammate and buddy, Jess Cerra, lined up with her. Together, they decided they weren’t bringing hydration packs and were just going to enjoy it – you know, stop at the rest stops, mingle with the volunteers. Ride bikes and chill.

Here’s the other thing though. You can’t put two race horses into an event and believe them when they say they aren’t going to race. Starla has a nice little writeup about what happened over on Instagram, but the spoiler is that they went 1-2, with Jess protecting Starla all day, and slinging her across the finish line to victory. Ride or die.

When these two crossed the line, I involuntarily ran over to them while they were embracing, grabbed both of them in a giant hug, and with ugly tears pouring down my face told Jess thanks for chaperoning my girl through her first event back. We’ll never be able to fully articulate what the first half of 2022 was like, but hopefully this start to the second half of the year is a sign of things to come for a while. Thanks again Jess. You’re solid gold.

FoCo was also my first event in twelve years. I ride often, but my days of endurance events are gone, and I’ve had to redefine (if not accept) what my new normal is. Our good pal Afsana was in Colorado, she’d never done a proper event since her arrival in the US from Afghanistan, and it just sounded great to ride the Fondo with her, and show her one of the many beautiful places to ride here on the Front Range. Plus, FoCo Fondo does it better than just about anyone – within the “sanctioned” confines of the event, Afsana and I had a skid contest, we shot a BB gun at targets (her first time ever holding a gun; welcome to America?!), we said hello to alpacas and baby goats, ate ridiculously good local tacos and ice cream sandwiches, and basically laughed all day (except when we were crying). It was a rad day out, every way you slice it.

Here’s to the next one! We’ll be at The Rad, Leadville 100, and maybe some others!

Ned Gravel 2022 Race Report

“Well, I guess I’m officially a cyclist now.”

That quip, accompanied by a half-grin and a brief huff of self-effacing laughter was all DTE Pursuit Award rider Lailah could muster as we dropped her off at her apartment near Denver. Earlier that day, coming down Switzerland Trail during the race, a bad line choice sent her down hard, and while her helmet did its job and cracked clean through directly at the center of her forehead, she got a nasty welcome to Concussionland – her first, and hopefully her last. The race medical team gave her a thorough examination, and while they cleared her to leave the event, they thought it a better idea for someone else to drive her home.

Kate, another DTE rider who had her own (mis)adventure offered to drive Lailah down the canyon from Nederland to Boulder after the race, and then Starla and I rendezvoused with them, and drove Lailah back home to rest and recover under care and supervision of her roommates. Starla and I were both wondering if Lailah would be hesitant to get back on the bike after her first real spill, and on the ride home she told Starla that she was already planning to go back to Switzerland Trail. Heck yeah.

2022 Team DTE crew post-race, partially bruised, concussed, and scraped, but full of stoke

The next day, we checked in with Lailah, and after confirming she was on the mend, she said, “Ned Gravel was everything it promised to be and more! The climbs were extra spicy and the descents were just as tough. [Despite my concussion and DNF], I still had so much fun and am planning to compete in Ned again next year! Before then, I definitely plan to go back to conquer the Switzerland Trail; it’s personal now!! So proud of my teammates and the strength they exhibited during the race! See you next year, Ned!”

We also followed up with Kate the day after the event, and she gave us more details of her Ned Gravel experience. Here’s her take about tough navigation lessons in gravel and adventure events, helping a stranger with a spare tube, and receiving help from random people on (and off!) course:

Ned Gravel continued my journey of learning and challenging myself with gravel. A missed turn led me off course farther than I’d like to admit… While I rode the distance of my race, I wasn’t able to finish the [actual] course due to my mistake. I’m proud of the ride with difficult climbs and fast descents even if it was not as the race planners had intended. I learned more about my bike computer, the value of carrying extra equipment to help others, and the kindness and support of the gravel community.

This year, Ned Gravel took no prisoners. With an ever-changing course depending on what winter snow and spring melt dictate, conditions tended toward brutal this time around, with gnarly babyhead rocks, sheer cliffs, steep climbs and descents, and unusually hot weather, even at a minimum of 8,200′ elevation. Line choice was everything. At the mid-point of the race, we spoke with the folks from Tin Shed Sports running the rest stop, and they said that many of the fastest riders on the Ultra distance were coming in bloody. That said, this guy was enjoying the ride to the fullest; he was the only one to stop mid-Ultra to have a beer at Tin Shed before continuing on his way. You go, Mr. Stachio.

Eric manages Tin Shed Sports, and he and Starla go way back in the industry. Stop by Tin Shed when you’re in Ned!

DTE rider Hannah was the only one to cross the finish line unscathed this year, and we’re still wondering how she did it. Clearly, it has something to do with pre-race focus… but also grit.

“It was hot, hard, and full of ups and downs. While the riding was tough, seeing the D2E ladies and so many other friendly faces was awesome. It makes me feel like I’ve made my  own little space in the gravel community, and there are some pretty rad humans there with me! I’m still learning how to best fuel, stay cool in the summer heat, and push through hard climbs (Nederland hills are no joke) – but I met my goal of finishing under 5 hours and am pretty proud of that.”

Last up for this report, all hats off for DTE rider, Aimee. She bit off the Ultra distance race, and at 8,200-10,500′ elevation, 107 miles, with more than 12,400′ of climbing, she took third overall. Just amazing! Even with this performance, Ned didn’t let her off without a solid smash to the knee in a crash on the Mammoth Gulch descent. She quickly pulled it together, and continued on to podium. Thanks for leaving the blood on your knee for the podium photo, Aimee. Hardcore.

It pains us to not see these women in Distance to Empty kit, because they’re all achieving so much individually, and truly have embraced our mission. But hey, supply chain, Starla’s medical crisis earlier this year, and life as it comes delayed the DTE kit launch. But, that’s about to change! The DTE kit orders are all in, and Eliel is working on production as I type this. We can’t wait to have these ladies in proper DTE gear.

Lastly, THANK YOU to Ned Gravel for providing race entry to the DTE riders, and THANK YOU to the residents of little quintessential Colorado village of Nederland. Y’all are amazing.

That’s it for this report. See you at BOTH Outside Events Crooked Gravel and Foco Fondo in a couple weeks in what will almost certainly be a painful weekend for our riders. LOL? Come out to Winter Park and Fort Collins and support the racers, have a local drink and bite to eat. There’s so much to do in Winter Park and FoCo, and we can’t have this kind of fun without our local communities and their support!

DTE cycling kit order window is open!

Today is the day! It’s time to get your Distance to Empty kit order in, the window is only open through Sunday, July 10th, 2022 at 11:59pm PST. Place your order here.

By repping Team Distance to Empty, you’ll be sporting some of the most comfortable cycling gear available, but more importantly, you’ll be setting up the next group of Colorado-based women who will become the 2023 DTE Pursuit Awardees. That’s right: 100% of our proceeds of these sales will go directly to the 2023 Pursuit Awards program. How good is that? You buy the highest quality, made in California cycling kit, look great, and help get more women on bikes and challenging themselves. Win, win.

If you haven’t see our 2022 Pursuit Awards program, here’s the lowdown: it’s designed to empower and provide opportunities in cycling for girls and women who are looking to pursue something on the bike, whether it be competing in their first-ever gravel event or pursuing a goal of becoming a professional cyclist, but lack the support system and resources to get there. Check us out on Instagram to see what they’ve been up to – and be prepared to be inspired.

Hit us up if you have any questions about the kit, program, or anything else.

Not What We Expected

You pour everything you have into a project or goal for months or years, only to have the universe seemingly attempt to thwart your efforts in what feels like an act of deliberate cruelty – except there’s no one to blame because it’s all random. Welcome to our start of 2022.

When we launched Distance To Empty in February after working on it all fall and winter, we had no idea we were days from facing yet another set of serious health struggles that would impact at least the rest of the year, and reinforce why we started Distance To Empty in the first place.

Despite being vaccinated and boosted, and taking all the precautions to stay safe, we both contracted Covid in late January. We’ll never know how we got it because we’ve been so careful. Fortunately, we both got through it, with Gino needing to receive the monoclonal antibody infusion due to immune suppression from his 2017 kidney transplant.

After ten days, we were testing negative, and that’s when things started to rapidly decline for Starla. First, it was a wildly erratic heart rate and swollen left arm that led to scans for blood clots and heart function in the ER. They showed clear results. Next, her hands went numb, and she started to lose muscular control of her left arm and hand, nerve/numb/tingling/burning sensations and weakness started to affect her entire body, and breathing was more and more difficult. It was an all-out fight with the medical system for Starla to even be seen, much less heard. After fighting to get into a neurology appointment, a neurologist told her because she is a professional athlete she was surely high strung, and most likely manifesting these symptoms due to being anxious. Anyone that knows Starla knows that anxiety is the opposite of how she lives her life. As you can imagine, this did not go over well. This was the beginning of an all-out offensive to seek out a medical team who would listen and actually work as a team, and this landed us in Los Angeles due to help from dear friends who happened to know the right people there.

When you haven’t been on a plane since 2019, but you love to travel, you don’t have fantasies of your first flight being to fly to a crowded city to find answers to a mysterious neurological illness that is rapidly degrading your ability to function. We’d envisioned our first flight would maybe be to Australia, Hawaii, or Belize rather than to specialists in LA, and ultimately the emergency room at Cedars Sinai followed by nine full days in the hospital.

Multiple MRIs found a lesion on Starla’s cervical spine on the C5 and C6 vertebrae, along with potential spots on her brain that could lead to an MS diagnosis, but this diagnosis is still TBD, and could take months or years, if ever. Blood work also came back with Antiphospholipid antibodies posing a potentially dangerous blood clotting problem. Starla was diagnosed with acute transverse myelitis first treated with a three-day course of steroid infusions, hoping to calm down the autoimmune attack, but her health continued to decline, and she was losing control of her legs. She couldn’t close her eyes without falling over, couldn’t get onto her tiptoes, and couldn’t walk a straight line. At this point, she was admitted into the ER and over a 9-day stay, she received 5 treatments of plasmapheresis to remove the attacking antibodies. Plasmapheresis, or plasma exchange, is a process where they put two IVs (one in, one out), and are able to separate your blood into its various components. In Starla’s case, they removed her plasma holding the antibodies that were attacking her body and put the “cleaned” blood and a plasma substitute back in. She then received an infusion to suppress her immune system, and to prevent further production of the “misguided” antibodies. Little bastards.

Now back at home, with the help of the LA medical team we have built a solid team of doctors in Colorado who are taking over Starla’s short and long-term care to get her stable, and, hopefully, eventually back to racing. It will take an unknown amount of time for the daily symptoms of nerve damage to heal, for her to regain strength, and to diagnose the underlying autoimmune condition that was triggered by Covid. The day-to-day is a new experience for Starla, for as long as she can recall she has had rigid structure, a schedule that separates her days into blocks, of training, recovery, work, and daily chores and tasks. Now she wakes up to no alarm, she assess her energy and pain levels. Because of where the lesion is on her spine (base of her neck), whenever she looks down it triggers an electrical shock sensation that shoots into her legs. She has roaming vibration sensations, and sensations like sunburn on her legs, feet and sometimes torso. Her hands are still hypersensitive to touch, with ever changing sensation and sensitivity that becomes more intense with an increase in her body temperature. She is learning to navigate what she can do and when she needs to ask for help. We are taking walks, and she has gotten on the trainer a few times to spin her legs and remind her muscles what they have been trained to do all these years.

From Starla:

“In some ways I feel at peace, maybe even free. I’ve never not had a schedule, which was a longer term goal I was working towards. I’ve always had internal and external pressure to perform, to produce work, or to show up and be something or somewhere for someone. Now, I’m living minute by minute, focused on healing my body and learning to listen to it. I have spent the last 15+ years training my mind to ignore pain, to push through in order to make gains, and to quiet my mind when it is screaming at me to stop. I’m learning to listen and be patient, while preparing for what is next. To be clear, this has all been traumatizing, and letting go is hard. Seeing my body change, the hard work that I put in for the season, turned to trembling muscles and a soft belly, it’s hard to love my body in this moment. I’m covered in nasty bruises from the infusions and blood thinner injections, and getting softer every day. It has been so hard to watch the race season kick off, and know all the hard work I put in to build the Distance to Empty racing program will not be realized. I received an email from Leadville Trail 100 MTB race notifying me of my corral placement (starting position); in big bold letters it read, “GOLD.” I am both beyond proud to have done the work to get that starting position, and heart broken I will not get to take to the start. I never fully believed I was capable, and am disappointed I will not get the opportunity to prove to myself that I belong. I experienced a very clear moment when I felt I was mourning the loss of myself, of who I was, and who I believed I could be. I will never be that person again, with the perspective I had. But another version? Yes. I am hopeful, I remain positive, and strong. I am feeling the sadness, fear, and anger that comes with any chronic illness, but I choose to live with joy in every moment as much as possible. I haven’t lost my sparkle, my fight, or who I am at my core. I’m learning to navigate life as I know it now, and continue to dream of what’s possible”. 

This has been a life-changing experience for us that will take time to process, heal from, and eventually put into words. So many people have reached out with similar stories of having to fight for their own healthcare, and we believe these are stories that need to be told with the hope of empowering others to fight for the care they need, to trust that they know their bodies and that they aren’t alone. We are committed to our mission to growing awareness around everyone pursuing their own Distance To Empty more than ever. We get one go in life, and we’ll live it to the max.

Starla & Gino