In this listener submitted story, Kasia Michalik shares some of her firsts on the bike–gravel biking, bikepacking, and a solo century ride. It will leave you feeling inspired to try new things as well.
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In my early 20s, I dabbled a bit in mountain biking, never fully falling in love with it but falling one too many times. Living in Arizona, I just couldn’t get comfortable on the rocky terrain.
So I put the bike down and focused on my life school and raising my brother. Cycling entered my life in full gear in 2019. When I met my partner who has been in the industry for over 20 years and loves biking, Aaron took me on my first gravel ride with a group of his friends one night, and as I rode the streets and dirt roads on his dad’s salsa journeymen, I knew that gravel was my calling.
I’m not gonna lie, I got a little sad that it took me all those years to get back on a bike. The more group rides I went on, the more I fell in love and realize that I wanted to do more than just ride a bike. But I didn’t know what that more was two years of riding and I’m still playing with many ideas, but they all lead to community and opening up more doors for kids, beginners and diversity.
As a mom of two boys who are four and eight, and a bonus daughter who is five, my world revolves around them. But when my boys are with their daddy and my daughter’s with her mom, my world shifts and I focus on my biking and whatever travel I can squeeze into my day. Erin, and I love camping and biking locally, but we try to bop around beyond our beautiful state of Arizona.
My mind is always going 100 miles an hour as I continue to ponder the “What more can I do?” question. While I work on that I make sure to ride my bike as much as I can setting personal goals.
This January, I did my first mini bike packing trip and I fell in love instantly planning all the places I can visit on my bike. My first ride took us from our house in North Phoenix through Scottsdale and Fountain Hills, about 40 miles of dirt roads, paved roads, Parks canals all the way to McDowell mountain Regional Park. At first though, I was hesitant because I couldn’t imagine how I was going to pack everything onto my bike.
I’m not really an over Packer but the thought of packing just two panniers scared me a bit. There was a lot of Do I need this? Do I need that?
If I asked those questions I knew the answer was no. So I packed and repacked and went with essentials: chapstick, change of clothes, sleeping bag and pad. Even the food was minimal as we stopped along the way to refill at grocery stores and gas stations.
Although the last stretch of the road was all uphill, as we neared our campsite, I felt energized. I love camping so having that to look forward to made the ride easier. That night I slept so good under the star covered sky. As March rolled in, Aaron finally convinced me to sign up for my first race. I have always been a little competitive, and I’m pretty good at pushing my own limits. But as a new cyclist I had zero desire to compete against professionals. But I finally gave in knowing that I wasn’t racing for first place. I was on the bike for the experience to be with like minded people and to show my kids that they can do this to one day.
Typically, if I set my mind up for something, I know I can successfully reach the goal. Sometimes it just may take a little bit longer, but I always get to the finish line. I decided that this was going to be it because if I kept saying I’m not ready yet, then I would never be.
I did the same thing when I went back to school for my masters. Oh, I’ll do it when my kids are older or Oh, I just need more money, more time more freedom. But one day I woke up registered for school and finished my program once again showing my kids that you can do anything you put your mind to.
Over the last year. I have done some rides with climbs and I’ve taken longer adventures and decided that this 40 mile and 2800 feet up in elevation race would be a good start. I have already done the pre ride for the September Chino grinder gravel race. So I know what to expect. The elevation wasn’t the issue I thought that it would be it was the loose washboard and rocky terrain that I was not expecting. The 20 miles per hour one didn’t help either. But I made it on my pre ride and I know that I will do it again in September. My son who is eight is super excited for me and it gives me that much more confidence to show my kids that mom kicks butt
With two firsts already this year I decided that it was time to do my first century. I had hoped this would have been accomplished last year. Thanks to COVID-19 I had decreased my hours on a bike. I was working more hours and didn’t have the energy to push through.
So this year, I knew it had to happen. I really enjoy biking in groups, but I equally enjoy a long time on a bike as someone whose mind is always at top speed. I like to be alone in my own thoughts not going anywhere but forward and uphills. The ride was successful. I just finished it this past weekend.
I picked an intown route started at 4:30am and was able to complete my first solo century and under eight hours. I was thinking originally it would take me 10 hours. So with a right time of under that I felt amazing. I honestly got home and thought I would be exhausted, but I felt great. I kind of felt like a superhero a little bit because I never knew I could push myself that much. On my adventure, I brought enough snacks to keep me going and made several steps to rest. I got to visit a family member member to refill my waters. I stopped at a coffee shop to eat some carbs and have my morning coffee. And then mal 90 I popped into surprise Damien who was at his grandma’s house doing homeschooling. I surprised myself because I thought I would be listening to music the whole way because I don’t do much without music. But I spent about 60% of the time in silence just admiring the surroundings and focusing on my own thoughts.
I’m really ready for my next century and I bet I will do another one in the next few months. To finish off the year, or in reality five months of firsts.
Earlier this year, I also kicked off my little blog and an Instagram account called a life must be candy. As a huge fan of the Latin culture, including the food, music and people errand I gave it that title, because life should always be a little spicy and full of adventure. Life is boring and plain without adventure. Just like a good Mexican meal is boring without something a little must be candy. I started the blog because I want to build a community.
I started listening to a lot of podcasts lately and see social media posts about how there’s so much community in Portland and Georgia and New York and everywhere. And I want to make that a reality in Phoenix. There are many amazing cycling groups here. But I always feel like something is missing. I want biking to be an inclusive sport where kids are welcome where beginners feel comfortable. And whatever color or sexual orientation you are. You feel like you belong and are a part of the life must be candy family. I crave family and community because of my past life.
Coming to America, I was that awkward Polish girl who didn’t speak English and never made many friends and was made fun of my family life was dysfunctional with an alcoholic father and a mom who loved me an insane amount but wasn’t mentally herself. My brother came into my life when I was 10. And from early on, I was his caretaker. Eventually, when he turned 14, he him moving in with me because he couldn’t take it anymore.
I can’t change my past and there are days where the sadness takes over. And I still struggle with what happened during my childhood and teenage years. But then I get on my bike and I feel a calm come over me and the beauty of what tomorrow holds.
I have kids that look up to me for guidance and biking makes me the best mom I can be. I involve my kids in rides and hope that one day we have an epic adventure together. When we’re all on a bike, our moods change, our family becomes stronger and there’s more hope in the end.
I really hope you have enjoyed my story as I have taken you on my first five month journey of my biking first. I know that there will be more to come and I hope you join me on my adventures.