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Adaptive training for the first para-FKT on the White Rim Trail

December 09, 2022 7 min read

Adaptive training for the first para-FKT on the White Rim Trail

Meet Josie Fouts, a cyclist, scientist, and Swiftwick athlete. Josie has ridden bikes all over the world, set national records, and has pushed para-cycling and para-mountain biking into the spotlight. Read about how she ended up training and completing the first-known para-cycling FKT of the White Rim Trail in Utah.

Words by Josie Fouts.

 

Bicycles and tricycles are not only the ultimate human-powered machines for physical fitness, they train the mind: riding with traffic or riding on trails that constantly change with weathering seasons requires your full, undivided attention! So to someone like me, a scientist at heart, I saw jumping into the deep end of cycling as both a physical and mental feat when I decided to quit my lab job in 2018 to pursue the Tokyo Paralympics.

However, when the Games were postponed in 2020, and the pressure of chasing results was lifted, I found myself riding mountain bikes in the natural world wondering how to sustainability solve today’s issues - like social inequality, climate change, and business lulls. My name is Josie Fouts and I am a para-cyclist single-handedly on a mission to save the world with cycling.

An Asian-American woman stands above a 300m descent with a huge grin on her face knowing that she is about to spend the whole day riding her adaptive hardtail mountain bike with a cycling prosthetic on her left arm.  Credit: Dean Warren https://www.instagram.com/deanwarrenphotography/
Credit: Dean Warren

With only 2 years of riding experience before the Tokyo Games, I focused on my unparalleled competitive edge: my scientific knowledge that came from getting a masters in Nutrition and Immunology at Colorado State University. Specifically, I mastered understanding metabolism cycles and the recycling of by-products while the majority of my graduate cohort followed a well-paved and well-paid pathway. In hindsight, pursuing a career at the cost of my physical and mental health was a self-destructive path; I was overworked and underpaid. I obviously wasn’t in it for the money, but for the knowledge. I truly believe that knowledge is a limitless power.

So why would a scientist that loves knowledge enter a world of unknowns advocating for accessibility in the cycling industry? Because this particular scientist is also an adaptive athlete, thus, innately adept in tackling the unknown. I’ve been thrown into a world of unknowns multiple times in my past – being adopted from Korea, moving across the country on a limb, quitting my dream job – and I’ve come out of each experience richer in the type of knowledge that is unteachable in a classroom setting!

Tackling the White Rim Trail – a 100-mile mountain bike trail in the middle of Canyonlands National Park in Moab, Utah – is nothing unknowingly different. Here are the three key mantras (or scientific facts) that keep me balanced while navigating through the long rocky road.

#1: LOOK PAST THE FINISH LINE

After a liberating year of pedaling a mountain bike weighing 25% of my total body weight, over-breathing crisp, clean air, and nourishing a mountain-scaped mindset, the world reset and the Tokyo Games were rescheduled for 2021. I was falling back into an old pattern of self-destruction by not prioritizing my values: sacrificing my personal life to be on someone else’s schedule and burning myself on both ends just to feel shorthanded. This time, I noticed the environmental destruction I was creating in the name of medals, results and prestige. So I leaned on my knowledge to reframe my mindset.

Josie and Taylor stand at the top edge of the Shafer climb in Canyonlands National Park with Roger in the background. Josie visualizes the finish line and points with her left residual limb while Taylor points with his right hand; their pointing converges making it seem like Taylor’s right hand could be Josie’s left hand upon first glance.  Photo credit: Matt Didisheim https://www.instagram.com/didisheim/
Credit: Matt Didisheim

For example, a study published in the journal Motivation and Emotion found that focusing on a stopping point further than the finish line can cause the actual distance to the finish line to appear shorter. If the finish line was the Tokyo Games, the stopping point further than the finish line for me was the White Rim Trail.

This reframed mindset, in turn, encouraged me to move more quickly and reduced the feeling of exertion for the Tokyo Games. In the end, I didn’t make the 2021 Para-Cycling team, and instead was presented with the opportunity to get a head start on setting the first known* time for a mountain para-cyclist!

*Josie acknowledges that she is not the actual first para-cyclist to ride the White Rim Trail but is the first to professionally document the process with the aim of expanding the public’s knowledge of mountain para-cycling. Just as research must be peer-reviewed, any KNOWN time cannot exist without the knowledge of the attempt.

#2: NOTHING IS ABSOLUTE, AND EVERYTHING IS RELATIVE

The sun lights up the depth of Canyonlands in the background while the canyons in the midground stand behind the shadow of a wall of canyons unseen. Upon scrutiny, there is a faint path, the White Rim Trail, that is relatively less impressive in the foreground, barely visible due to the details of the natural beauty in the background.  Credit: Dean Warren https://www.instagram.com/deanwarrenphotography/
Credit: Dean Warren

To be ironically straightforward, the White Rim Trail is no easy feat, especially after an unpredictable flash flood changed the dynamics and features of the known route. What I did know is that it would be an exposed 100 miles that elite mountain bikers could accomplish in 1 day’s worth of sunlight. I also knew what bike I was going to ride, a custom steel-frame hardtail adaptive mountain bike. And after securing both an access and media permit, I knew the date I’d be riding.

Based on the information I did know, I made a plan to make the White Rim Trail seem as easy as possible by metaphysically applying Einstein’s Theory of Relativity that states that everything is relative based on your perspective. I did this by coming up with some scenarios that helped make the White Rim Trail seem like a more manageable feat.

  • If a hardtail was the bike I owned with the most suspension, underbiking (riding a more technical trail than your bike is meant for) would be relatively more difficult.
  • If the White Rim Trail trail is 100 miles, a 142-mile ride would be relatively more difficult.
  • If I wanted to complete the FKT attempt in 1 day, an 8-day bikepacking trip would be relatively more difficult.

My first training block for navigating the ruggedness of the White Rim Trail consisted of building up my underbiking skills. I was conveniently honored to be the only para-cyclist accepted for The All Terrain Bicycle (ATB) Challenge, a reality game show on bikes bribing the challengers with a custom bike as a prize. The perfect motivation for acquiring a specific skill set.

Specifically, I learned how to clear wet and rooted water crossings, climb steep and loose terrain with maximal efficiency (ie not stopping or putting a foot down), and descend similar conditions with the perfect balance of speed and style. After a full 12 months of fine-tuning these ATB skills, the unexpected landslide and anticipated slick rock of the White Rim Trail felt relatively smooth and soft on my prepared body.

The second training block for enduring the length of the White Rim Trail consisted of building up my base training. Competition is comparatively high-intensity for a short course, and what I needed more experience in was low intensity for a long course. Luckily, the gravel scene provided the perfect event for me to stretch my legs.

I was honored to be the first para-cyclist to be accepted for the Ride For Racial Justice (RFRJ) team. For the whole year, we built up our endurance individually and then came together to ride a prestigious course at SBT GRVL. After watching the 142 miles add up all day, I knew that I was relatively ready for the 100 miles of the White Rim Trail.

Finally, the last training block for surviving the unknowns of the White Rim Trail consisted of building up my resilience to the wild side of the world by bikepacking. Specifically in the middle of the ‘Empty Mountains’, halfway across the world in a country where I did not speak the native language. When I was invited to the Komoot Montanas Vacias Women’s bikepacking rally, I honestly didn’t know if I could get by with what I had. But I knew surviving and living on the edge of my saddle for 8 days would relatively make only one day on the White Rim Trail seem short.

Surprisingly, there was one common lesson that underlined the success I had for all three life-alternating experiences…

#3: WORK TOGETHER

I entered the ATB Challenge with the mindset of getting everyone to work together so we all could win our bikes. Additionally, being a part of a team that has experienced life similarly to me created a sense of family with Ride For Racial Justice. And seeing 57 friendly femme faces fill up the vastness of the secluded mountain passes kept my wheels turning.

Two adaptive mountain bikers ride side by side leading a third rider into a coordinated lift with the front and rear wheels level and in sync with each other. As a consequence, all three riders are also synchronizing their smiles.  Photo credit: Matt Didisheim https://www.instagram.com/didisheim/
Credit: Matt Didisheim

Working together is the foundation of physical life: similar functioning cells work together to create a tissue, neighboring tissues work together to make an organ, distant organs work together to make a system, and complementary systems work together to make an organism. My brain defaults to this logical line of reasoning whether I consciously know it or not.

So when my value was 100 percent measured by the individual time trial for the Tokyo Games, my brain stopped functioning properly. The lack of mental will and physical power showed in my training as I could hammer out more watts in a dynamic road race riding as a part of a team than a time trial of a shorter distance with fresher legs. And it showed in my results as the more time trials I did, the farther I would fall in the rankings. These were the most obvious observations of riding my time trial bike.

In contrast, riding any bike outside in nature requires shifting my mindset from, I have to speed up to make the light now just to get stopped farther down the road,  to, I have to slow down to make sure the group sticks together now so we collectively have a more enjoyable experience farther down the road.

Documenting the first para-FKT is no easy task alone which is why anyone who wanted to help was invited to come along. One person working alone towards a goal is like a cell trying to function as a tissue. If humans are the cells of the world, then we must work together to evolve: similar-functioning humans work together to create friends, neighboring friends work together to create a community, distant communities work together to make systemic change, complimentary systemic changes work together to make a better world!


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